Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

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Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

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As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)

 

Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!

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“Don’t Bite the Noobs!”

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Love them or hate them, online media (blogs, wikis, forums, etc.) are new aspects of composition classrooms that are quickly becoming part of the norm. With Tryon’s “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First Year Composition,” Hunter’s “Erasing “Property Lines,”” and Benson and Reyman’s “Learning to Write Publicly,” one of the main connecting ideas between the three articles are the difficulties instructors experience in creating an authentic environment for students to write genuinely and for students to feel like that their writing is making some sort of difference on the world (with hopes of connecting with at least one other person). Luckily, the four authors mention and present different solutions and statistical proof on how online media can assist in conquering these dilemmas.  

 

ned-stark-blog.jpgWith this group of reading, I instantly started comparing the differences between blogs and wiki pages. Generally, blogs are written by one author and have content that is open for criticism by outsiders. According to Tryon, students become better writers because of this instant publication of their writing. Through this instant publication, students are capable of escaping the perception that they are “passive consumers” of writing and instead are becoming “active participants” of a specific writing community (Tryon 128). In the case of Tryon’s experience with his “Writing to the Moment” course, he was lucky to have readers outside of the classroom comment on his students’ blogs. As intimidating as that may be, this aspect of the course blogs made it so much more impactful for Tyron’s students because it showed an establishment of his students becoming part of that community. Rather than having the criticism in the comment section bring down their writing, students were able to strengthen their writing by incorporating the criticism into their next writing or using it to further establish their stances present in the blog; “blogging’s ephemerality, its focus on the everyday, and its no-holds-barred argumentative style” (128).

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Wiki pages are generally content manifested together through a community of different authors who are able to add their own content and are also be able to edit other community members’ writing. Despite the strong community aspect to wiki pages, these authors also have a “lack of ownership attached to mistakes” (Hunter 48). Unlike blogs, wiki pages are more of a group effort where authors can directly communicate with each other on their writing and how to fix it.

 

Although blogs and wiki pages are separate online genres, they share a commonality by emphasizing on some sort of community development and individual growth through that community. In a way, blogs and wiki pages fit Benson and Reyman’s use of Walker’s take on network literacy, “understanding a kind of writing that is social, collaborative process rather than an act of an individual in solitary” (9).

 

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I’ve always felt tension when incorporating new media in the writing classroom –both as a student and an instructor, especially with blogs. Having gone through my undergraduate career, I can say that the strictly writing courses were tedious. Don’t get me wrong… I learned a lot, but they felt so repetitive. The saying, “Don’t Bite the Noobs!” in Hunter’s article stuck out to me because I think it’s something that we all can incorporate into our classrooms. Writing itself is such a hard thing. Even as a graduate student, I still find myself stumbling with words when typing the simplest of things: Facebook statuses, Instagram posts, and even text messages. Knowing that a community is open to new individuals definitely eases the tension and is something that can be beneficial for students.           

    

 

Video Games, Affiliations, and Critical Optimism

This is the screen-worshiping zombie mothers across America are seeing in their children, young adults and fully grown children. This is the social stigma James Paul Gee is up against in his attempt to debunk the idea that video games are a waste of time.  In What Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, Gee cites three things involved in active learning: “experiencing the world in new ways, forming new affiliations, and preparation for future learning (24),” and adds that a meta awareness of the particular domain brings “active learning” a step further into “critical learning.”  I would like to discuss here the aspect of new affiliations in gaming.  “Since semiotic domains usually are shared by group of people who carry them on as distinctive social practices, we gain the potential to join this social group, to become affiliated with such kinds of people (even though we may never see all of them, or any of them, face to face(24).)”  Though from our perspective, the child in the illustration above seems to be zoned out to technicolor nonsense on the screen in front of him, he could easily be communicating with others across the world having the same gaming experience.  From our position as outsiders looking in on a semiotic domain of which we are not a part, we have little way of knowing with who or what the boy may be interacting.

While some parents may be concerned about the amount of time their children spend locked up in their rooms with their video games away from society, research in numerous fields has caught on to the community aspect of the gaming world.  Gee states: “Reading and writing in any domain, whether it is law, rap songs, academic essays, superhero comics, or whatever, are not just ways of decoding print, they are also caught up with ways of doing things, thinking about things, valuing things and interacting with other people—that is, they are caught up with different sorts of social practices (Gee 18).”  Similarly, in “The Rhetoric of Video Games” Ian Bogost presents the social world of gamers as a community of practice:

“We often think that video games have a unique ethos. Video game players have their own culture and values. Video game players often self-identify as “gamers” and devote a major part of their leisure time to video games. They discuss games online, follow new trends, and adopt new technology early. Video game play could be understood as a “community of practice,” a name Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger have given to a common social situation around which people collaborate to develop ideas. In this sense, the people who play video games develop values, strategies, and approaches to the practice of play itself (Bogost 119).”

My friend’s recent marriage proposal

is a great example of the use of he and his fiancé’s shared practice of play, just as their relationship is a great example of the possibilities of affiliations in the semiotic domain of MMORPGs.  (The two – a videogame tester and college student in California and a working mother of three in Kentucky – met playing WoW) It is interesting to note that he posted this image on his Facebook page with the caption “I do things nerdy,” followed by a picture of her physical engagement ring with the post “but I also do things for real.”  I think this distinction is connected to the meta understanding of our semiotic domains that Gee stresses, and is probably the main legitimate worry parents have in seeing their children retreat to fantasy worlds.  Can gamers connect their community values and practices with practices that will help them be successful outside of their niche communities?

This post on Gee’s blog in which he discusses truths about books and what they have to do with video games made me think about the dangers of immersion in fantasy in another light.  It immediately made me think about Richard E. Miller’s Writing at the End of the World “TheDark Night of the Soul” and his discussion of the idealistic literary immersion that led to Chris McCandless’ death in the Alaskan wild. I can’t help but wonder whether the domain of video games, especially with its propensity toward social interaction within an easily accessible community (as opposed to the unreachable authors McCandless believed in so fully) already exhibits the ideals of the critical optimism Miller argues for in writing.  Most importantly, how can we use this to our students’ advantage?

Video Games, Textuality, and Community: This Post is Not Self-Indulgent at All

In the spirit of Henry Jenkins’ collective intelligence, I’m posting cumulative thoughts about video games and pedagogy based on discussions I’ve had in the past year with several people (including Kory, Nathan, and others).  Their ideas, along with my own, have become so wiki-fied in my head that I find myself not being able to formally attribute them to specific entities.  Huzzah.

James Paul Gee and Ian Bogost seem to be so hopeful in terms of using video games as effective learning tools that I find myself wanting to step back to tend to the reservations expressed by crusaders of conventional pedagogy.  Gee (the person, not the exclamation), in his introduction, does touch upon what he acknowledges as tired debates over sex and violence in video games (10-11).  To his own arguments, I would add that, at certain historical moments, other “new” media such as the novel (17th-18th centuries), film Continue reading