Michael Wesch made a very convincing argument for the connectivity of YouTube and, more specifically, the potential value in broadcasting to a vast and unknown audience.  I have never used YouTube for more than sharing iMovied slideshows with family and friends.  I didn’t really dial into the social connectivity of the site until one of my slideshows (of a camping trip to Lett’s Lake) showed 302 hits and a video clip of my daughter’s indoor skydive showed 159 hits.  At first I felt fear.  I was involved in a nasty custody dispute over my daughter when she was an infant and was forced into terminating all contact with her biological father.  It is for that reason I’ve always been very cautious about what and how I post to the web.  Over time I came to realize that we were not being cyber-stalked, that people were simply doing searches for “Lett’s Lake” and “indoor skydive” and these videos came back in their searches.  Suddenly I realized that my “channel” didn’t exist in the isolation that I had once imagined.  I honestly believed that no one would be interested in my videos unless I had specifically sent them the link – or unless they were a psycho cyber-stalker.  So, while my experience was different than speaking to the glass dot, I became aware of just how many people lay beyond it.  This realization can be both frightening and empowering.

Social networking sites, such as facebook, can also be frightening and empowering.  Who, in our generation, doesn’t have a story of some blast from the past coming to haunt them on facebook?  Scary for anyone who would like for their past to remain, well, in the past.  But there is a fascinating psychology behind the way that people develop their profiles on such sites.  As danah boyd points out, these sites offer the “opportunity to craft a personal representation”, something that is not so easy to do in face-to-face situations which require more immediacy in response.

These sites offer a way of collecting people that sit like window dressings on any user’s friend list.  Some people will accept and solicit friends in an attempt to get their number up, while others will carefully select who may enter the sanctity of their fb domain.  boyd, in “Why Youth (heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life“, suggests that, “by looking at other’s profiles, teens get a sense of what types of presentations are socially appropriate,” but savvy teens can also make moves that others may not in order to generate more social interest by who they have on their friend list, and what types of postings appear on their wall.  Facebook can be incredibly clicky in that you can see in your news feed that certain people’s wall posts and status updates generate an obscene amount of comments while yours may sit, if not unnoticed, uncommented on, which can make you feel on any given day like a HUGE loser!

Scrolling through your friend list on fb is kind of like looking at a bug collection in a shoe box – you can open the lid (or click on the link) and admire all the critters you’ve picked up along the way.  The only difference (ok, besides species and the fact that hopefully most of your fb friends are still alive and crawling around) is that the collection helps to tell you something about yourself every time you look at it.  Are your friend choices authentic?  Are most of your friends nerdy or hot?  How many of these people interest you enough so that you visit their profile independently?

It is all so interesting how we can be little sociologists on our own playground.  For more danah boyd check out her dissertation.

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3 comments on “

  1. You’ve focused on one of the most difficult aspects of social media for me, here. The whole idea of the blurring of public/private boundaries (ignoring Boyd’s nuanced types of “publics” for a minute) and the resulting identity crises people face is really interesting to me. I’ve always been someone who acts very differently around different groups of people–one group knows me as quiet, serious and studious, one knows me as boisterous and goofy, and my parents know me as a strange mix of the two sides. This is really nothing at at all new.

    But the social networking culture has really forced me into a sort of corner, since I am friends with people from every group (except my parents) on there, and everything is done publicly. I frequently don’t know quite how to act, who’s going to notice what I’ve said, who will know when I’m joking, etc. And it’s all permanent. I’ve become so anxious about it that I mostly stop posting entirely. This is also nothing new–the Stokely Carmichael example is a pretty vivid reminder–but these media have made it an issue for a lot more people, now.

    Your post ties really well into Mark’s post, because the questions these issues of identity raise for compositionists I think have to do a lot with audience. The same questions we see YouTubers wrestling with in Wesch’s video are some of the same we’ve been addressing for years–you’re talking to yourself, and you’re talking to the world. The essays we assign students to write–are they addressed to the student, are they addressed to us (the teacher), are they addressed to some vague community? The people in these videos are all figuring this out.

    If we bring these materials into the classroom, is Elbow’s brand of expressivism still relevant? Should we try to spend any time teaching them to ignore audience and compose for themselves, when so much of this type of composing is for an audience? The identities they create on Facebook and YouTube can be seen as methods of practicing writing from different perspectives and identities, like Valentine/Demosthenes and Peter/Locke in Ender’s Game. Are these new questions or ideas that I’m raising here, or just old questions with new technologies?

  2. And speaking of identity crises, I’m sorry, I still feel too much like I’m lecturing at everyone when I want to be talking with everyone. Even my genuine questions sound too rhetorical. Maybe I’m having trouble envisioning an audience, even though most of the people reading this I’ll see in class tomorrow? Weird.

  3. I agree… there are some really crucial questions raised here, and I’m curious as to how we can reconstruct new understandings of public and private (or a blending of the two?) spaces in today’s age of new media. A friend of mine had gotten himself in a controversy recently by posting quotes from students’ papers on Facebook. The issue becomes really convoluted when one starts to think about how Facebook is public on some levels, and how it’s personal on some levels (if it is considered a more “personal” space, then should it be considered okay for graders to talk about the stuff they’re grading? If what goes on behind closed doors in a teacher’s office is considered private, then can Facebook also be considered as a similar kind of space where it is separate from conversations in the classroom, on campus?). I’m really interested in how we can carve a space that can satisfactorily accommodate both the personal, the academic, and the public… I think it definitely requires new understandings of the public and the private, and whatever’s in between…

    I also wanted to thank you for sharing your personal experiences… They made me connect with your ideas on a more concrete and compelling level — thanks!

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