Re: [iDC] danah boyd on “MyFriends, MySpace”

Alex Halavais alex at
Wed Jun 20 12:30:41 EDT 2007


Thanks for posting this, and thanks to danah for the talk. I do want
to bring up a word that came up several times in her presentation, but
doesn't appear in your discussion: class. On the IRC channel, some of
the listeners (several of whom were in the room) were at first unsure
whether she just meant Facebook was "classier" than MySpace, but it
seemed pretty clear she was using "class" in a specific way, though
not one specified clearly in her talk, I think.

The problem here is that social class, either as a purely sociological
conception of shared demographic characteristics (SES), or in a more
historical-economic sense, or in a more material cultural sense, is
affected by participation in social networking systems, and not just
the other way around.

As she notes, correctly IMHO, social networking sites are not social
networks. Clearly the kinds of homophilic clustering, as well as
clustering "terminus a quo"  (to use Simmel's term), remain primary.
But I think this is one of the many cases in which the exception is
far more interesting than the rule. Social networks in the mall or the
locker room force a sort of flattening of social choices. You can
stand next to your friend the jock in the jock group, or next to your
friend the drama geek among the drama geeks, but the nature of the
space makes it difficult to stand next to both. Of course, to a
certain degree, that sort of "friendship dimensionality," for want of
a better phrase, is largely reinscribed in social networking sites.
Nonetheless, I think it is at least somewhat more flexible.

I am reminded of a conversation with a group of students a couple of
years ago. It was a large course, with nearly 400 students in the same
hall, and after one of the lectures a group of students had come down
to show me a map of the classroom they had devised over the last hour.
Of course, I was thrilled that they had put my lecture time to better
use :). They explained that the fraternity brothers were in the back
corner on the right, the stoners in the back corner on the left, the
student-athletes had clustered in center-right, the self-identified
queer group was mostly at the front-left, with the livejournalers just
behind them to the right (and largely overlapping), the older
("nontraditional") students tended to sit on the center-left, and so
on. It was funny, in part because it was true.

Many (but not all) in the class were blogging, and it would be great
if I could say that this physical mapping was demolished in
cyberspace. Of course, that was not the case. Indeed, in the case of
the livejournal group, there was a clear ousting of an member whose
cultural expectations didn't coincide with the majority. But there
were a lot of really interesting conversations that clearly cut across
these lines. This represented a minority of the blogged conversations,
but I would not go so far as to say they were anomalous.

It is tempting to read too much into the "weak links" and the
multi-dimensional affordances of networked social technologies.
Clearly, the changes are against a backdrop of plus c'est la meme
chose. But just as it is a mistake to take on the Wired cloak of new
millennial revolution, I suspect it is wrong to ignore the stirrings
of something new, something unique, and potentially something

- Alex

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// Alexander C. Halavais
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