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.

youtube 2006 screenshot.png

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.

Youtube Today.png

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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Social networks, identity, etc

Often, academic discussions of social media describe a place where people can connect with each other in a multiplicity of ways, not just by using various tools and services, but also by how they present their identities and selves through these mediums.

For example, Michael Wesch’s talk Anthropological Introduction to YouTube (recorded and published on YouTube, no less) gives a sampling of YouTube culture, and the various ways its users interacted through vlogs and video responses.  As part of their study of YouTube culture, Wesch and his students participated by creating their own vlogs and interacting with the communities they were studying. Through this, they came to various insights about identity, authenticity, relationships, community, and  social networking.  “YouTubers” share small portions of their authentic selves through video–selves that are sometimes reflective, sometimes performative, sometimes narcissistic, and sometimes even fake.  And, others respond, subscribe, watch, and participate in those same activities in ways that are just as various.

Wesch’s talk was published on YouTube in 2008, long before Google and YouTube began to merge all of its social networking features into one account and require its users use their real names instead of psuedonyms.  With this in mind, I would like to know what Wesch and his students think about how YouTube culture has (or hasn’t) changed after the rules of how to use the site have changed.  “Media mediates human relationships“, afterall, and the YouTube culture that existed in 2008 made heavy use of pseudonyms and anonymity. I wonder if the same kinds of emergent communities are still possible now that YouTube asks its users to connect their accounts to their Google+ account, and asks everyone to use their real names.

Amber Buck’s article “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites” looks at the literacy practices of one student who considers himself an expert at social media, and uses it frequently as an important part of his social, personal, and academic life. Buck saw how Ronnie “Filtered and processed his offline life through his online activities”, essentially using media to mediate parts of his life and connect with others.

What I found especially interesting and important is how Ronnie not only manipulates and plays with his identity on various networks by presenting some details in some places, but not in others, he also actively manipulates what personal information he shares, going so far as to give false information (e.g. saying that he graduated from Hogwarts) in order to make a statement about how his peers were using social media.

Robbie is shown to be sensitive to privacy issues and the question of who controls and owns his information.  These questions of privacy and control of personal information have grown since this article was published in 2012, and seem to go hand in hand with the use of social media.  At the time Robbie’s use of social media was being studied, Facebook had not yet implemented its controversial rules about requiring users to only use their real first and last names.  If these rules existed, Robbie’s playful interactions with friends and experiments with identity would not have been possible in the same way.

If media mediates human relationships, as Wesch says it does, I think it follows that media and social networks need to be flexible enough and open enough to allow people to form relationships and identities in all the different ways that human beings are capable of.

I find policies that dictate how users present themselves or identify themselves online to be terribly problematic and counter to the powerfully human and productive ways that people would otherwise use social networks.  Judging by the controversies these policies sparked and continue to spark, I know I’m not alone.

A response to these issues by danah boyd goes even farther and describes how dangerous these kinds of policies can be to the privacy and safety of its users, and not just to users for whom disclosing their real names is dangerous for political or legal reasons.  Some people have private but still very real reasons for wanting to be anonymous, including simply being a minor, or having unpopular opinions, or being a target of bullying, or feeling discomfort with what current news about the NSA suggest is happening with our private data.

What all of this teaches me is that I think it’s that social media, identity, and community are things that are not possible to separate from each other, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s something to keep in mind when we think about what institutions, companies, or governments are providing the platforms for so much of our identity-creation, community-formation, and social interaction.  So much of what we do is captured and shared online, which does allow us to connect with each other in awesome ways, but it also means that all of that connection and sharing is mediated by the decisions that the social media companies make.

While social media may mediate human relationships, the companies that control that media may also be in a position to mediate and change us.  And, I am not sure any of us really knows what that means yet.

YouTube, ITube, WeAllTube

In ‘An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube’, a team of students from Kansas State University and their professor, Michael Wesch, provide viewers with an emic account of the video-sharing site. In this, the students and professor joined their online culture of study by uploading their own videos to YouTube. It is impressive and captivating to watch the clips of their videos as they figure out the unique experience of talking to everyone and no one at the same time, and as they relate their experience to those of others.

After watching the KSU video and their use of YouTube as a field site, I am curious how this website could be used in the composition classroom. From a class of our’s recently, we know that students use YouTube for a variety of projects. These projects typically involve a remix of some kind; often, a piece of literature is transformed by a student or group of students in some way. Anyone searching can find a myriad of these videos, tackling a variety of books and readings. However, if you search YouTube for various key terms (composition, writing, classroom, revising, essays, etc.), you will not see videos of students referring to their own writings, but only videos of students repurposing someone else’s writing. So, in a writing classroom that focusses on the student’s writing and their process, where does YouTube come in?

Instead, your search of these terms will likely uncover a legion of educators sharing different strategies and instructing online. In fact, there are many different videos where teachers are teaching other teachers to teach using YouTube (how meta is that?). Indeed, we have taken it so far as to write about the ways we are using videos in the classroom. Admittedly, the instructional video route is a good racket. I watch them, I search for them, and sometimes, they are even helpful. However, very little is happening by way of writing-centric student activity on YouTube.

If you look through educational blogs, you can see a few different ways in which teachers are currently using YouTube in their own classrooms. With a large focus on watching videos for informational purposes and as a way of providing alternative examples of different topics, the way we are currently using YouTube in the classroom seems to offer the same ethos problem that an early post discusses. Sure, YouTube is flashy and fun, but if we are just plopping it in the classroom to replace video strips, are we really providing students with new ways to interact with new media?

The KSU video offers a key moment where I think we as instructors could begin to consider new ways of incorporating YouTube into the writing classroom. As the KSU video grew in popularity, Wesch looked to how their video had circulated through the internet. After being tagged on a user-generated site, moving through the blogosphere, and showing up across the web, their video hit number one. My question, for instructors near and far, is how do we use this idea of user-generated and circulated content to get students to consider the complicated audience-awareness/presentation of self and performance that YouTube so brilliantly highlights? And, how do we incorporate YouTube in a way that showcases both process and awareness in a student’s personal writing while still considering the overall ethos of new media?

If there are any interested or informed parties, please share your thoughts. In fact, you could even post a video about it.

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.