[The OLD] Attempting Elegance

danah boyd keynote at IL2008

Posted in conferences, IL2008, Libraries, Technology, Users by Jenica Rogers on October 24, 2008

(I discovered danah boyd ages ago when I was searching for Ani DiFranco lyrics on the internet.  If you ever have the same need, go there, not to one of the random pages the internet will provide you with; boyd’s collection is better organized, ad-free, and charmingly straightforward.    From there, I started checking out who this woman was… and another avenue of information opened up to me, and later, a blog was renamed.

So I was really pleased to have the chance to hear her speak at Internet Librarian, in the real.  She has interesting insights and research to share about the social web, and listening to her synthesize information in ways that had not occurred to me was fascinating.  I’m glad I dragged myself out of bed to hear her speak!)

Web 2.0 is totally part of the rage and hype, but a lot of people don’t know what the hell it is, and it means different things to different people.  To some, it’s a shift in development and deployment — the notion of the perpetual beta, in which users can affect the technology cycle.  For the business crowd, 2.0 came after the tech crash, and so 2.0 was about hope.  “The venture capitalists repurposed hope because they wanted four more years”.  But what’s radically different from the early days of internet participation is that everything has become extremely social, rather than topically hierarchical.

The way we think about spaces:  You got up this morning “and you happened to be in your body, conveniently”, and you put on clothes that reflect who you are and what you care about in this venue — identity performance in public spaces.  But online, you’re an IP address, and it doesn’t come with all the things we’re accustomed to marking up.  So a profile is a digital body, that we create and craft to express who we are to the people around us, repurposing the technology we use to suit our desires.  Consider profiles in which people blatantly lie about their age, location, etc, in order to make a statement, or because they don’t see why they have to fill that information in, so they lie creatively, etc.

Social network site profiles are a lot like bedrooms — teens decorate their profiles the way the decorate their bedrooms, and parents hate them just as much.

Friending is just as uncomfortable, publicly articulating how much you like or don’t like someone, being forced to run around and say “I like you, or I don’t” to people.  But it’s getting easier to articulate it.  There are three major patterns:  30-50 friends (connecting with closest friends), several hundred friends (connecting with everyone they know at church, school, sports), and the “as many as possible” crowd:  14 yo boys, musicians, and politicians.  And we forgive musicians and politicians, but we denigrate the teenagers.  (interesting statement.  Not wrong, interesting.)

MySpace makes you rank your friends.  It’s like middleschool all over, where you declare BFFs and reject others, and the fact that we’re regressing back to middle school social politics is extremely odd.  But young people online are dealing with it, coming up with rules and codes — family first because family’s safe, bands next because bands are safe, then friends….

The Wall/Comments.  The vast majority of content there has no meaningful efficacy, just idle chatter all day long.  But it’s a form of social grooming:  “I like you!” “I like you too!” “We’re friends!”  We all do it all the time; she saw us all doing it out in the lobby, checking in with colleagues.  Moving it online is just a way of marking friendship and maintaining relationships.  “So all of you who’ve been ignoring the people wishing you happy birthday on your wall might want to reconsider that.  It’s just a nice way of being friendly.”

Microblogging is creating a culture of peripheral awareness online.  IRL, we’re all aware of the moods and actions of the people around us, but how do we do that online?  Microblogging.  Mood checking, action monitoring, and thus social awareness.

We have significantly decreased the social and spatial mobility of children in America:  They no longer have any freedom to be alone and mobile.  Communities where children are allowed the freedom to travel, explore, and live socially without oversight have nearly disappeared in America; we watch ’em like hawks, all the time.  Because of these structural effects of modern life — two working parents, no car, overscheduling — children have lost the option to go hang out and socialize.  And so they go online.  In order to exist within peer groups, youth now have to participate in online venues.  For kids who don’t see each other, it’s the main social action.  For kids who do have an IRL interaction space, the online community becomes the place to share artifacts of their existences.

If you’re an educator who wants to see where the future is going in order to help young people adapt to change, you need ot understand the properties of the new world.

Persistence.  What we do online, emphemeral or not, is now persistent.  There are now traces of every online action we take.  Things that were meant to be ephemeral are now publications, stored as records to be looked back on.  It changes the dynamics of interaction online.

Replicability.  You can copy and paste things from one place to another.  But you don’t know the copy vs the original, how much things have been chopped or stretched or folded.  It’s the reason Jon Stewart is funny, but it’s also a way that young people bully each other.

Scalability.  Our crisis about online content is that “its PUBLIC!!!!”, but the average blog is read by 6 people.  The internet has all sorts of wierd scalability issues — we all have the potiential to reach millions of people, but the reality of reaching nobody.  The thing you want to send out to millions, no one reads.  The thing you want to keep hidden gets read by millions.  It’s an attention-driven medium, with complex ways that scale plays out which you may not expect.

Searchability.  People don’t usually know where you are in space, when you’re walking around.  “One of the best things about the mobile phone is that your boss doesn’t really know where you are…” but one of the things about the internet is that you become searchable.  Searchable is most deadly when it’s the people who hold power over you: parents, bosses, law enforcement.  One of the reasons young people lie on profiles is so that they cannot be effectively searched.

Invisible audiences.  “Here I am standing before you, and … you’re supposed to sit here and pay attention.  This audience is very visible to me, but I don’t know the audience that might hear me if I’m being recorded.”  So in person we adjust our delivery to the responses of our audience.  But online, given the searchability, scalability, and persistence, we don’t and cannot know who our audience is.  So we cannot adapt our delivery.

Collapsed contexts.  We’re accustomed to distinct contexts, and when they collapse, we have social scripts.  Weddings are all about collapsed contexts, but we have social rules for how to manage that.  Online, we may be forced to collapse contexts without those same rules — your boss and your kid on Facebook at the same time.

Public/Private.  No longer so clearly bounded as they were.  Social network sites have tools to mark public and private, but it’s complex, complicated, and sadly ineffective.

The embodiment of culture on the internet is changing our cultural literacies.  Youth are creating content and editing content, rather than just absorbing content.  They’re reading in huge quantities — in order to create fan fiction.  They’re questioning truth by editing wikipedia.  But are we teaching our youth anything about how to do that effectively?  Or are we wishing they weren’t doing it?  Which is more productive and important?

We also have to deal with the fact that we live in an attention economy: That which bubbles up to the top is not the best, but the most popular.  And how do we deal with THAT?

“Librarians get this stuff much better than so many people do, and I want to say thank you.  Even when you don’t understand the technology, you understand the forces at play.”

Important projects to pay attention to in order to foster the new information economy:

Net Neutrality.  Do you have the right to download as much as you want whenever you want?  Do you have the same access to information as anyone else, regardless of what you want to look at?  When people are marginalized and cannot contribute at the same level, it’s hugely problematic.

DRM.  DRM is about control of information.  For libraries, the painful locking down of journals and other text is a key DRM problem.  How do we balance the original efforts of copyright with the world at large?  “One of the best things about libraries is that we figured out Fair Use, but we need to figure out Fair Use in the online environment.”

Web 2.0 is about to go mobile.  So far, mobile technology has been static for a while, but that’s about to change.  There’s a possibility of all the web 2.0 stuff coming into the mobile, as evidenced by the emergence of the iPhone.  We have to get past limitations of what the user can do, and what they can do with their friends — cluster effects are key.

4 Responses

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  1. Laura Norvig said, on October 24, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Great summary. I took very similar notes – I think because danah organized and presented her thoughts so well. When she talked about the awkwardness of displaying “friends” I couldn’t help but think of this hilarious video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs

  2. CW said, on October 26, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Thanks for this great summary!

  3. Persistence. Yes, people are watching. « said, on December 25, 2008 at 12:43 am

    […] but are watching and interacting with others. This whole idea of persistence, explained so well by danah boyd  (this link is to a participant’s well written notes from IL2008), as the idea that what you […]

  4. […] similar presentation to the one we saw was blogged here.**For excellent notes on this talk, see Jenica’s blog. This entry was posted in conferences. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a […]

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