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Social Networking: Class lines and burnout

Danah Boyd has a really good look at the social divisions that are emerging in the use of Facebook and MySpace: The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what […]

Danah Boyd has a really good look at the social divisions that are emerging in the use of Facebook and MySpace:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

She also discusses the role that aesthetics play in this breakdown:

This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics. I’m sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but it is pretty clear to me that aesthetics are more than simply the “eye of the beholder” – they are culturally narrated and replicated. That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook.

I should note here that aesthetics do divide MySpace users. The look and feel that is acceptable amongst average Latino users is quite different from what you see the subculturally-identified outcasts using. Amongst the emo teens, there’s a push for simple black/white/grey backgrounds and simplistic layouts. While I’m using the term “subaltern teens” to lump together non-hegemonic teens, the lifestyle divisions amongst the subalterns are quite visible on MySpace through the aesthetic choices of the backgrounds.

This lines right up with what I found when I talked to some of the WACTAC teens a few months ago. I’m still contemplating what this means for a museum, or any institution that wants to reach audiences. We need to be all-access and blind to class lines. Yet, at the same time, there is also a drive to maintain the and re-enforce the image (brand) of the institution itself.

It may all be moot, though, because some people tend to think that there is a saturation point for all this social networking / web 2.0 activity, and it is quickly being approached.

Roger Dooley at Futurelab:

…the rising tide of total time spent online (number of users and hours per users) has lifted a lot of boats, but inevitably online activity will become a zero sum game. People who spend more time on one activity will cut back other online participation by the same amount.

and Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion:

However, there is definitely a bubble and therefore a crash coming. It’s not financial. It’s not related to the level of noise or startups. This crash is personal. We are reaching a point where the number of inputs we have as individuals is beginning to exceed what we are capable as humans of managing. The demands for our attention are becoming so great, and the problem so widespread, that it will cause people to crash and curtail these drains. Human attention does not obey Moore’s Law.

I think the lessons are clear, extend beyond social networking, and can be easy to implement. Don’t try to grow a community where one doesn’t exist. Go to where the community already is. Make the information that users want free of any sort of restrictions. Don’t make me sign up for an account, everyone I already have too many. Don’t make me give you my email, I already get enough junk. Let me as the user choose how much I want to interact, and reduce all possible barriers to interaction.

  • seb chan says:

    Hi Justin

    I read danah’s draft essay too and I think what we are seeing is a shake out of all these services. It is impossible to be ‘blind to class lines’ and ‘all-access’ in practice – inevitably things get complicated by cultural capital (cf Pierre Bourdieu) and taste as a marker of class. I think it is better to be aware of the different audiences that services attract and different behaviours – a quick look at the stats in Quantcast of various services reveals quite different demographics across many sites. I’ve been using the example of Photobucket vs Flickr but you could also compare institutions.

    Seb

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