Danah Boyd’s insights on how Social Networks are changing social life and information flow.

An excerpt from a posting March 22nd, 2006:

“Digital life has really screwed with the notion of public, removing traditional situationism (Goffman) that connects strangers. If the Kenyan farmer is connected to the Internet and reads English, he can be a part of Bloomberg’s public via the New York Times. Yet, this does not mean that the New York Times would conceptualize him in their public, nor does it mean that his public acts would be equally visible by other constituents of the Times.

Digital architectures alter the structure of social life and information flow. Persistence, searchability, the collapse of distance and time, copyability… These are not factors that most everyday people consider when living unmediated lives. Yet, they are increasingly becoming normative in society. Throughout the 20th century, mass media forced journalists and “public” figures to come to terms with this, but digital structures force everyone to do so. People’s notion of public radically changes when they have to account for the Kenyan farmer, their lurking boss, and the person who will access their speech months from now. People’s idea of a public is traditionally bounded by space, time and audience – the park is a public that people understand. And, yet, this is all being disrupted.

In talking about “super publics,” I want to get at the altered state of publics – what publics look like when they are infused with the features of digital architectures. What does it mean to speak across time and space to an unknown audience? What happens when you cannot predict who will witness your act because they are not visible now, even though they may be tomorrow? How do people learn to deal with a public larger and more diverse than the one they learned to make sense of as teenagers? How are teenagers affected by growing up in an environment where they can assume super publics? I want to talk about what it means to speak for all time and space, to audiences you cannot conceptualize.

A reporter recently asked me why kids today have no shame. I told her it was her fault. Media is obsessed with revealing the backstage of people in the public eye – celebrities, politicians, etc. More recently, they’ve created a public eye to put people into – Survivor, Real World, etc. Open digital expression systems coupled with global networks took it one step farther by saying that anyone could operate as media and expose anyone else. What’s juicy is what people want to hide and thus, the media (all media) goes after this like hawks. Add the post-9/11 attitude that if you hide something, you are clearly a terrorist. Should it surprise anyone that teenagers have responded by exposing everything with pride? What better way to react to a super public where everyone is working as paparazzi? There’s nothing juicy about exposing what’s already exposed. Do it yourself and you have nothing to worry about. These are the kinds of things that are emerging as people face life in super publics.

I want to demarcate super publics as distinct from publics because i think that they need some theorizing. In other words, i think that we need to understand the dynamics of super publics, the architectures that enable them, and the behaviors and cultures that emerge because of them.”
Full entry is here: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2006/03/22/super_publics.html#trackbacks 

Danah has written on the subject of social networks prior in her piece on Myspace/Friendster. It can be viewed here: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2006/03/21/friendster_lost.html#trackbacks
Her bio can be found here: http://www.danah.org/ 

Heres what she says about herself:

“My name is danah boyd and i am a PhD student at the School of Information (SIMS) at the University of California, Berkeley. My research focuses on how people negotiate a presentation of self to unknown audiences in mediated contexts. In particular, my dissertation is looking at how youth develop a sense of individual and cultural identity in “public” online environments like LiveJournal, Xanga and MySpace. Additionally, i am concerned with how digital publics do not look like the physical publics that we traditionally consider.”

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