danah boyd on handheld social networking
"New technology is the devil incarnate. We should go back to the good old days"
"New technology is the panacea we've been looking for."
The reality is much more nuanced than that. It's not about the good or the bad (it's not about pedagogy vs technology, the unfortunately entitled panel session I'll be on later).
danah boyd is talking about teaching young people to think, by taking a look through the viewfinder of social networks and the mobile devices we are already and will increasingly use to access, connect and share on.
It's about teaching young people to think. The reason we taught literature, film, mathematics in the past was to provide a reason for people to think. The introduction of technology alone will not necessarily help young people think. Worse still, technology is seen as a means of unleashing new cash, in a cynical way ("we have all Macs")
We don't just teach algebra to teach algebra. We teach it to help understand the world around us. When we think about teaching (with) technology we have to think about how it fits into this world around us.
Technology is fundamentally taking apart the world around us. Technology opens up the potential to access much stuff around the world, with the teacher and their rear view mirror allowing the context and meaning of that to be brought to light.
The contexts of social networks
Social networking sites have three core structures that make them work:
When we enter a room we tend to take some thought about decorating ourselves: what we wear, do we put on that tie...? Online we are an IP address, a rather undecoratable unappealing code. Therefore, where we create a SNS profile we're taking some care to create a presentation of ourselves within a space. Bedroom culture is the same, but on social networks it's amplified.
There are three clusters of behaviour: 30-40 friends, worried about their nearest and dearest. 300 friends are all the people they met at school, at church at the youth group. Very few teenagers collect Friends (politicians, music), reaching into the hundreds of thousands of friends. Mostly they're boys, collecting "hot girls". They're creating that list that, apparently, lots of boys used to make on paper.
But whether someone is your friend or just your Friend becomes socially awkward. In girl culture girls grew out of the habit of exchanging friendship bracelets to work the equivalent online.
3. The Wall
Comments, testimonials, the wall... in the early days of SNSes, people spoke in the third person about their friends (and still do on LinkedIn, inhabited by older professionals). Later, it began to be used as a space for conversation that complimented other places where conversation was going on (IM, chat).
Looking at it as a stream of text one could be mistaken as meaningless "how are you", "fine", "you?", "OK"...
What's going on is "public social grooming": it's a way to upkeep your social status as friend which, after all, is only a check box at the beginning of the online Friendship.
Why are young people spending so much time on MySpace?
We used to have permission from our parents to roam really far. Nowadays, the circle of navigation has been greatly reduced to the garden, out of public view. We've also tended to programme the lives of our young people more than we ever did, meaning we leave less time than ever for them to socialise.
Other characteristics of online interaction
- Unexpected scalability and visibility
- Invisible audiences
- Searchability. collapsed contexts (type of audience, rules of engagement, social scripts)
- Convergence of public and private
danah reckons than social network structures will go mobile soon, within two years. I would bank on them coming a lot sooner than that, given that many of those with the better phones can already and do already interact on their various SNSes through mobile. In the UK, 3G is cheaper and more ubiquitous than most places on the planet, so we can expect it sooner here.
Location-awareness is increasing, making the network part of social networking even stronger.
Knowledge is online, and when we don't know it first time around we access just in time when we're mobile.
Notes of her talk, as usual, riddled with errors and unreliability.