[iDC] How does social media educate?

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Fri Feb 9 23:06:50 EST 2007

The question of context, which Danah raised, is important. If a teenager writes on MySpace she speaks to her friends and not to a potential employer. That is often forgotten when
people read MySpace pages. All topical mailing lists with large subscriber numbers have an aspect of professional visibility that is distinctly different to friends-of-friends
environments. In MySpace teens speak for the very most part to their friends. That is obviously a completely different context than speaking to a large group of people (most of
whom one does not know). 

The point is not that professional discourse equals closed-minded conservatism. (Where did those who pose as radical anti-academics get their formal education, which now
privileges them to this position?) What matters is that different contexts ask for different speech; it is crucial to understand who is addressed in the framework of a social networking
site, for example. Professional language has many often-discussed limitations and advantages. I'd not want to "talk shit" on a mailing list (as Danah put it) but on MySpace (where i
talk to my friends) that's fine. It's not the same to chat in the pub or talk to a group of a thousand invisible people.

The cyber-archipelagos or ego-islands or cyber-cocoons or whatever you want to call it-- that are based on special interests and exclude difference (the "haters") are not only specific
to social networking sites. They emerged all over the sociable web. (Just think of Robert Putnam who was thrown out of a chat room about a particular model of BMW as being
"off-topic" when he wanted to talk about BMWs in general.) 

Many of the questions that we raised in this thread about sociable web media and education (social networking sites, educational resources delivered through mobile phones, virtual
worlds, new scholarship and emerging forms of publication, massively multiplayer educational gaming and user-generated content) were also cohesively addressed in NMC's Horizon
2007 report. 

http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2007_Horizon_Report.pdf (Thanks to Geert for the link). 

I'm curious about Danah's suggestion that  "What I think changed has more to do with social organization in networked public life." Danah, you say: "I don't think
that the shift is about becoming social." You do point to the history of online group formation (a shift from interest group to ego-type "friend" networks) and agree that they enabled
sociality. But you say - "what has changed has more to do with social organization in networked public life." Well, there is a huge step in the scale of networked sociality. That, in
fact, is new and that is why I'd call what happens now a "social turn." You, when I understand that correctly, emphasize the shift from clustering around interests to crowding in
groups of "friends." You complicate the term friend, of course ("friend"), but even American notions of friendship, which are really more about weak ties, don't really describe the
arbitrary looseness of these relationships. Remember Zefrank's rants about "small worlds"? (http://www.zefrank.com/smallworld/) 

What is portrayed as "friends" is really more often than not, an interest group. I may call people in my del.icio.us network, "my friends," instead of the silly "fan" language Joshua
put there. But the Del.icio.us Network is really a loose interest group. And arguably, also in many larger mailing lists subscribers are grouped around their interests rather than their
friendships. (In Myspace that's a different story.)    

And in response to Tobias, yes, I do think that one reason people take to the web is the vanishing of the public sphere. I use Putnam's "Bowling Alone," however problematic it may
be, to demonstrate the decline of civic participation in the US, and then show the “massification” of networked sociality.  


Technology and the changing face of relationships

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