[iDC] How does social media educate?

tobias c. van Veen tobias at techno.ca
Fri Feb 2 11:08:56 EST 2007

Hi there & thanks Ulises,

As I scanned the post, I feel the need to ask -- what is social media?

I had a chance to look through your article Ulises that you recommended, "A
Nomad's Guide to Learning and Social Software" --


-- but here it seems you use the term "social software" and include the
following quite extensive list:

€ multiplayer gaming environments: Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs), Massively-
Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), etc.
€ discourse facilitation systems: synchronous: instant messaging (IM), chat;
asynchronous: e-mail, bulletin boards, discussion boards, moderated
systems (e.g. Slashdot, Plastic, K5)
€ content management systems: blogs, wikis, document management (e.g.
web annotation utilities
€ product development systems: especially for Open Source software, e.g.
€ peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing systems: e.g. Napster, Gnutella,
€ selling/purchasing management systems: e.g. eBay
€ learning management systems (LMSs): e.g. Blackboard, WebCT, Moodle
€ relationship management systems: e.g. Friendster, Orkut
€ syndication systems: list-servs, RSS aggregators
€ distributed classification systems: e.g. Flickr, del.icio.us.

--> I guess I'd like to hear more what "social media" is exactly, also how
in this article at least (and there is too much to digest here right now)
you account for differences others would see in the above list between what
industry calls "Web 2.0" and everything prior to it. For example, many would
argue for the historical-technological dimension as significant to the
construction of the social (and the changing impact of the digital upon the
world as medium): MOO is very old web indeed (indeed, pre-web, reaching back
to BBS days), eBay is dot-com era, and Flickr, delicious and YouTube newer,
21C, aggregative applications that are commonly associated with Web 2.0. It
is the latter especially that are usually associated with the nebulous use
of "social." Are these valid differences between media?

Or are these differences merely a discourse wherein the totality is, in
fact, social media? (With social expanded to include all manners of human
interaction and significantly, blatant transaction in the economic sphere).
If this is the case, and the list is all social media, is this "media" at
all (in the plural) but rather the "social medium"?

It would seem this latter collapse of media (as theorized by Kittler, for
example) implicitly drives many of the later questions and issues concerning
the (usual?) fears of the digital medium: rendering classrooms, teachers,
pedagogical practices and the education system as we know it, etc.,
obsolete. The underlying concern being that this isn't a list of media at
all but rather the many applications or formats of the medium governed, at
one level, by bits and bytes, and at other levels, by protocol, and so
forth, all leaning toward an underlying structure that computes the social
to the digital.

If one social medium encompasses all of the above, not only does it ask some
serious questions about what we mean by "social" (as Darin Barney might
argue in terms of how "community" isn't possible online), then it also adds
a different spin to the statement "without a fundamental shift, social media
will eventually end up contributing to that outcome [compliant workers and
consumers]." For it would seem that already we understand the very basic and
forthcoming idea of eBay isn't to educate (in any classical sense) but
rather to sell, which appears a rather banal thing to say, but if eBay is
already part of the social medium, it would seem that what is at stake here
isn't what appropriations might become of the social medium or even of
new-and-up-and-coming social media but what fabrics it has already come out
of that entrench it from the get-go to producing "compliant workers and
consumers." You can see what I mean here -- with eBay in the list, why this
note of "we better act soon or it will get sucked up into the Machine" when
it is a product of the Machine to begin with? What is meant here by
"fundamental shift" would have to be a very big and fundamental shift

Now if we back up a bit and say a) wait a minute, not everything in this
list is "social media," there is a historical shift of forces at work here
in technology, discourse, socio-economic realms in complex & global shapes
and b) moreover there IS a difference between social media and social
software, for example at the level of technology and its strictures (and
here Alex Galloway's theorizing of protocol might come in handy) and c)
debate the big question as to whether there IS a collapse from media to the
medium (for example, challenge Kittler with Mark Hansen, or re-read
Kittler's work as not phenomenological, as Hansen seems to assume, but
rather the conditions of epistemology under what Marcuse would call
technology-capitalism), then it changes the nature of what education is, has
been, and will be, in the era of the digital... and what strategies are
needed to do what I agree, with you, needs to be done: something of this
fundamental shift.



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