[iDC] How does social media educate?

Grayson Cooke g.cooke at cqu.edu.au
Sat Feb 10 18:27:32 EST 2007

Hi all,

I'd like to pick up on Dinah's PS, in which she outs herself as a
lurker, in the context of a discussion of 'social media' and Trebor's
call for an ethics of _participation_. Obviously, there is an aporetic
overtone to outing oneself as a lurker; how can you speak out and lurk
at the same time? There are no doubt degrees of lurking, and there are
no doubt psychologists and others who have studied these degrees in
order to better harness the power and potential of the lurker (insert
link to rather dry social science article here:
CFTOKEN=6184618). Despite these degrees, and the potential to quibble
over classifications of active and passive lurkers, participatory and
parasitic lurkers, the lurker remains an anomaly or (im)possibility that
must, by its very nature, sit somewhere near the heart of participatory
media and culture. 

Given this anomaly, then, I'd like to see what happens when we turn
Trebor's call around - what of an ethics of non-participation? What are
the politics of lurking?

There are a number of potential models here, which have to do with
various forms of skepticism. We could speak about 'refusal' in the sense
of a Luddite or knee-jerk refusal to be involved in the new or the
faddish, or what is perceived as faddish. Given that so much of what is
understood as technological progress can also be understood as
meaningless market-driven product differentiation (did you really need
to build a drink holder and a GPS system and a USB port into that
car/laptop/lounge-chair?), skepticism regarding participation in the
latest social-networking web 2.0 application/service is justified. It is
justified, also, on the level of Trebor's critique of the role of big
capital in social media sites - myspace and youtube and the massive
'value' that accrues from harnessing millions of hours of freely given

We can also speak of skepticism regarding the rhetoric of
'democratization' Trebor mentions. This apparently democratizing
potential of new media is employed across a wide variety of media and
platforms - Big Brother SMS voting, Digg voting, etc etc. All these
exercises of freedom start to look rather empty in the face of the
widespread manipulation of the concept of democracy by governments
throughout the West. Freedom, as Dinah suggests, to talk shit.

And then there's good old anti-sociality and misanthropism.

But of course, we can also speak about the un-ethics of
non-participation; silence is easily read as consent and as un-interest.
The game won't change if no one plays; silence can be unethical, or
rather, can lack an ethics.

So it's a bit of a Hamlet-style dilemma - to speak or not to speak, to
participate or not to participate, or more deconstructively, somewhere
in the middle, to speak by not speaking, to participate by not
participating. I can't help but feel that it is in these latter options
that a more nuanced, and educationally valuable, approach to social
media lies. What would it mean to advocate for different models of
lurking, as opposed to participation?

- Grayson

More information about the iDC mailing list