[iDC] How does social media educate?

Alex Halavais alex at halavais.net
Sat Feb 10 22:08:18 EST 2007

I'd like to respond to something danah said, and Trebor lighted upon...

On 2/8/07, danah boyd <zephoria at zephoria.org> wrote:
> In unmediated spaces, there are walls that allow us to separately
> contextualize different situations without dealing with the
> ramifications of those collisions.  Online, no such walls.

I recall having a related discussion with Trebor a couple of years
ago, in the context of student blogging. While I fully recognize that
danah is drawing out this dichotomy in order to highlight the
differences, I think it is more complex than this. While that
description may be true generally, it may not be true specifically.

It wasn't long ago that we assumed that interaction in social spaces
online was *especially* walled. The anonymity available online (where
"No one knows you are a... whatever.") allowed for the creation of
multiple identities relatively separable. That ability to construct
identity in a more liminal and acceptable context online is still
pretty clearly a norm. I think we'll see an example of this in the
move to voice (rather than text) in Second Life. Enough people
consider their Second Lives to be separate from their RL that voice
seems to be an unwelcome intrusion. Likewise, I blog under multiple
names, including an identity ("Alex Halavais") online that is really
quite different from my offline self, and from alternate online
identities and offline identities. Again, nothing new here--the idea
that "cyberspace" allows for identity play is a big part of why a lot
of us probably got interested in online interaction.

Of course, I do think that in certain kinds of social spaces now
prevalent ("sociable media"? "web 2.0"? what is it this week?) those
walls are intentionally and unintentionally diminished. I think it is
worth asking how micro-actions (and inaction) lend themselves to the
creation and destruction of connections among these online segments.

And I also think that (re)reading Simmel's Web of Group Affiliations
in this context is worthwhile. It is, essentially, a work that focuses
on the degree to which the move from unified community affiliation to
affiliation with multiple communities--separated by the walls between
groups enabled by urbanization--led to changes in identity from the
singular to the multiple.

It would be an oversimplification to suggest that social networking
online is a return to Gemeinschaft. But there is something to this I
think. Engaging in online networks of affiliation leads to a kind of
integration of identity, and that is having an effect on our social
world more broadly, which--at least from what I have seen--is becoming
a much smaller place, where moving cities or leaving work does not
mean changing your web of affiliations.

- Alex

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// Alexander C. Halavais
// Social Architect
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