I spent a very interesting 45 minutes on the radio today with MPR Midmorning host Kerri Miller and Boston Globe reporter Hiawatha Bray, talking about Facebook, privacy, society, and our changing ethics and expectations about what it means to "participate" in an always-on culture. I love being on Kerri's show, because she gives her guests lots of opportunities to ramble, argue, and otherwise break away from the standard talking points.
My friend danah boyd, who recently received her doctorate from Berkeley's Information School, just made her dissertation available online. I haven't read it yet, but I've spent a lot of time reading her past work, and sharing panels with her at conferences, so I'm confident it's a doozy. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that this will very likely emerge as the definitive academic work on social networks from the Web 2.0 era. I can't think of anyone else (except maybe her mentor, Mimi Ito) who's done so much solid ethnographic work on teens and online community.
I have a feeling I'll be assigning sections of this in many classes to come...
Here's the details:
"Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics"
Abstract: As social network sites like MySpace and Facebook emerged, American teenagers began adopting them as spaces to mark identity and socialize with peers. Teens leveraged these sites for a wide array of everyday social practices - gossiping, flirting, joking around, sharing information, and simply hanging out. While social network sites were predominantly used by teens as a peer-based social outlet, the unchartered nature of these sites generated fear among adults. This dissertation documents my 2.5-year ethnographic study of American teens' engagement with social network sites and the ways in which their participation supported and complicated three practices - self-presentation, peer sociality, and negotiating adult society.
My analysis centers on how social network sites can be understood as networked publics which are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice. Networked publics support many of the same practices as unmediated publics, but their structural differences often inflect practices in unique ways. Four properties - persistence, searchability, replicability, and scalability - and three dynamics - invisible audiences, collapsed contexts, and the blurring of public and private - are examined and woven throughout the discussion.
While teenagers primarily leverage social network sites to engage in common practices, the properties of these sites configured their practices and teens were forced to contend with the resultant dynamics. Often, in doing so, they reworked the technology for their purposes. As teenagers learned to navigate social network sites, they developed potent strategies for managing the complexities of and social awkwardness incurred by these sites. Their strategies reveal how new forms of social media are incorporated into everyday life, complicating some practices and reinforcing others. New technologies reshape public life, but teens' engagement also reconfigures the technology itself.
All behavior is embedded in networks of interpersonal
-necessary to avoid under- and oversocialized views of human
claims the prerogative to discuss market relations (usually
sociologists cede this to economists)
criticizes ‘psychological revisionism’ – abandonment of
rational choice models. While the assumption is problematic, it is still a good
working hypothesis and should not be dismissed lightly.
-goals such as sociability, approval, status and power can be
understood rationally as well.
Existence of small firms in a consolidated, vertically
integrated market dominated by oligarchs is usually seen as a result of large
corporations’ need to shift risk and R&D onto smaller parties. However, MG
argues that it could be a school-of-fish situation, where the firms don’t need
to integrate because they have dense social networks. Very relevant to record label market
“all market processes are amenable to sociological analysis
and . . . such analysis reveals central, not peripheral features of these
“What looks to the analyst like nonrational behavior may be
quite sensible when situational constraints, especially those of embeddedness,
are fully appreciated.” (506)
“I suggest here that small firms in a market setting may
persist . . . because a dense network of social relations is overlaid on the
business relations connecting such firms and reduces pressures for
Full-length theorization of small-world networks (SW)
SW is counterintuitive and remarkable, because the world is
vast, clustered and decentralized, and we have few contacts relative to the
size of the total network.
L = avg. diameter between all pairs in network
C = clustering coefficient, average fraction of the
maximum possible local connectivity across the network (local measure). In
other words, the probability that u and v will be connected,
given a mutual connection, w.
r = range (2nd shortest path between two
Definition: a “shortcut” is any edge with a range r
Definition: Phi [Greek symbol] is the % of all edges in
graph that are shortcuts
RQ’s revolve around relationship of L to C.
“connected caveman graph” = a large, low density, clustered graph – separate
cliques, connected in a loop. High L, high C.
Random graph = lowest theoretical L for a connected
network. In sparse random graphs, C is also very small.
Intuition would thus suggest that L and C vary
together – when one is high, the other is too. Not so, says DW. SW graphs
interpolate between these two extremes. (High C, low L). what about the inverse interpolation – graphs with low C and high L? I guess dense random graphs might
fit this bill.
SW definition (high C, low L) exists regardless
of construction mechanism interesting
SW happens principally for small Phi (in other words,
a small number of shortcuts). This is because of Phi’s disproportionate impact
on L compared to C.
“significant changes in global structure can result from changes
in local structure that are so minute as to be effectively undetectable at the
local level.” (498)
“There exists a class of graphs . . . for which
characteristic path length is small but clustering is high. Thus the
small-world phenomenon can be cast in graph-theoretic terms as the coexistence
of high clustering and small characteristic path length.” (508) thesis statement. his demonstration of this is brilliant but
too complex to describe in these notes
“small-world architectures . . . by virtue of their short
characteristic path length and high clustering coefficient, can support the
rapid dissemination of information without necessarily compromising behavior
that is individually costly but beneficial when reciprocated” (523-4)
“it is highly likely that the phenomenon exists in the real
social world” (524)
Networks approach to human history. General argument is
evolutionary – societies (like organisms) became increasingly complex and adept
at transferring latent resources into usable energy, and squeezed out simpler
webs combined cooperation and competition.
with more efficient internal communication thrived, leading to a natural
selection process creating a more organized, and ever larger, society not sure I buy this
webs became denser, information flowed more efficiently and faster, thus
exerting an increasing influence on the development of society
webs affect the environment as well as society (they call this the anthropocene
era, for obvious reasons)
language (40k years ago?) was likely the key to humanity’s
success in proliferating, because it allowed us to organize, etc. probably, it
was also behind the rapid rise of tool use, because language allowed us to
posit problems with existing systems.
Agriculture changed everything by drastically increasing the
amount of energy humans (and domesticated animals) could recognize from the
“old world web” – thick interspersion of civilizations
throughout Eurasia and much of Africa by 200 C.E.
-communities remained vital, but became less autonomous.
-Development of subservient peasantry and webs of elites.
-Growing tension between village traditions and metropolitan
-“portable religions” compensated for the psychological damage
inflicted by the loss of agrarian life
oNile-indus corridor (3,000 BCE)
oEast asia (3-2k BCE)
oMeso-America (1300-400 BCE)
-India and SE asia increase in wealth and power. First priestly
class, then warriors prevail.
-OWW extends to new areas of Asia, Africa and Europe
-Growth of universal religious throughout these regions
-Meanwhile, increasing web between peru and mexico.
-consolidation of the old world web (and of the American web)
-growth and consolidation of capital, death of agrarian
-genghis khan, bubonic plague
-rise of Aztecs and Incas
1450-1800 CE “worldwide web”
-increasing globalization and growth of world culture
-increasing growth and consolidation of capital (rise of
-religious reformation and rise of science
-fewer, more powerful states
-printing press (Europe and korea only for a few centuries) –
lowered information costs, democratized debate, accelerated distribution of
-nonetheless, by the end of this period, 85% of the worlds
population were still illiterate farmers
-industrial revolution (use of fossil fuels, globalized trade
of food and fuel)
-telecommunications and railroads
-political reorganization (republicanism, communism,
nationalism, imperialism, abolition of slavery)
-changing nature of labor, and lower quality of life for
workers, change in family structures
-major ecological change
1890-PRESENT (the cosmopolitan web)
-expansion of globalization (except between world wars)
-modern telecommunications and mass media
-modern transport (cars and planes)
-scale free distribution of cultural memes this is my short-hand for their longer description of
language, dress, custom, etc.
-marriage of science and technology
-massive extension of life expectancy and thus global
-shift of population majority from rural to urban
-ecological change at crisis levels
The development of “song and dance” were essential to human
social development because “its great advantage was that larger bands could
hold together, resolve quarrels, and defend territory more effectively” (13) this would be nice to drop into my argument re: the
centrality of music to human experience
“in effect, sedentary villages replaced roving bands of
hunters and gatherers as the basic cells of human society. Within each village
the web of face-to-face communication was intense” (39)
“what Muhammad did was to inject a powerfully attractive new
message into the web, one that resonated far and wide.” (89)
“the dense webs of interaction that few up in favored
locations produced the same kinds of pressures to regulate and defend
agricultural societies, producing broadly similar outcomes [in eurasia and
america 200-1000 CE]” (115)
“the Old World Web was poised by 1500 to ensnare the rest of
the world with catastrophic force and suddenness.” (119)
“more and more human beings were affected by intensified
long-distance exchanges in great or small degree, since the circulation of
ideas and skills inevitably accompanied the circulation of people and goods”
“in the three and a half centuries after 1450, the peoples
of the earth increasingly formed a single community.” (155)
“with the creation of a single web, it is as if history
speeded up. Innovations and inventions, booms and depressions, pests and
plagues rippled through a unified system, spreading wherever local conditions
allowed . . . as human history grew more unified, it grew more unstable and
chaotic than ever” (178)
“the transition to fossil fuel-powered industry – rather
suddenly – locked us into a high-energy society, in which we must continue to
mobilize, transport, and use vast quantities of basic items” (214) while probably true, this perspective seems a bit
“the rise of the United States to economic and military
preeminence after 1945 made globalization often appear as Americanization”
“through the international success of (mainly) American and
British popular music, West African-derived rhythms percolated into music in
Japan, Algeria, and indeed almost everywhere.” (271)
“the ever-tightening web helped concentrate wealth and power
and highlight the differences between those who had it and those who did not.”
“human history, like the history of the universe and the
history of life, shows an evolution towards complex structures, created and
maintained by energy flows [shades of castells
here], the sizes of which correspond to the degree of complexity
and structure in question.” (320) The
postmodernist in me can’t help but see the ideological biases inherent in this
“the selective pressure for complexity has been stronger [in
human society] than in biological or cosmic evolution, because the complex
societies left little room for the simple.” (321)
“cultural evolution is Lamarckian” (321)
“human history is an evolution from simple sameness to
diversity toward complex sameness . . . at present, human society is one huge
web of cooperation and competition, sustained by massive flows of information
and energy” (322) this is an interesting take.
“perhaps the most critical question for the human future is
how cell-like primary communities can survive and flourish within the global
cosmopolitan flows that sustain our present numbers, wealth and power” (326)