[iDC] How does social media educate?

Grant Kester gkester at ucsd.edu
Sat Feb 10 15:07:49 EST 2007

Dear Trebor, and list,

Just a quick note. Putnam's book is not a particularly reliable guide  
to civic participation in America. While he bemoans the decline in  
bowling league membership he gives only passing mention to the  
dramatic growth in church membership over the past thirty years in  
the US, especially the emergence of mega-churches and the explosion  
of Christian popular culture (music, movies, television programming,  
etc.). This is one of the most significant "social movements" in the  
US since the 1960s. The statistics are equally dramatic if we  
consider the penetration of evangelical Christianity into southeast  
Asia and South America, where it has threatened to displace  
Catholicism (and forced the articulation of a new, "Charismatic" form  
of Catholicism to compete). The "technology" of religion is changing  
global culture today with at least as much force as digital media. In  
addition, evangelicals are often very savvy first adapters of new  
technologies (Fundamentalists of all stripes, if you want to include  
Islamic fundamentalism). We may want to consider what the resident's  
of the oft-cited "favellas" are actually doing with their spare time  
(overthrowing capitalism is not always a primary consideration).  
Theoretical speculation about democratic will-formation and  
participatory ethics is great, but how about some discussions of  
social  media that are grounded in an analysis of the actual  
complexity, and contradiction, of social formations on a more global  
scale? I'm also struck by the extent to which many of the social  
media arguments on this list reiterate the language around early  
cable television (which in turn reiterated democratizing claims  
associated with rural electrification). I have to assume that most  
posters are aware of this history, so I'm curious about it's  
perceived relevance or irrelevance in current debates over social media.

Grant Kester

On Feb 9, 2007, at 8:06 PM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> 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.
> Trebor
> Technology and the changing face of relationships
> http://www.blogherald.com/2007/01/16/technology-and-the-changing- 
> face-of-relationships/
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Grant Kester
Coordinator, Ph.D. Program in Art & Media History
Associate Professor, Art History
Visual Arts Department, 0084
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0084
(858) 822-4860
gkester at ucsd.edu

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