Thursday, August 2, 2007

Cultural groups and academics take over social networking sites

OK, not really, but has a Facebook account now, MySpace has a group called "multimedia electronic literature and art: the subversive and avant-garde" and a number of the edgier arts and academic groups have MySpaces, such as Worm, in R'dam, and the C'Lick Me festival has a MySpace. And of course many people are on Linkdn--me, Henry Jenkins, several folks from De Waag Society. Of course some people have the "excuse" that they are researching social networking sites, so they have to register, but I do find it creepily addictive, or would if it were my only way of connecting to people.

Yes, the debate has run for years and years about whether socializing online isolates you or the reverse, and I'm not going to get into it here (which means I'm going to get into it some, but not a lot). I think that most of the time, the extent to which people socialize online reflects the the extent to which they socialize generally, with some specific exceptions, such as GLBT people who have no local community, or members of an ethnic diaspora, or something like that. (and in fact, a Pew study on internet use finds this as well). Ok, I have to find the link to that study...meanwhile, according to the latest Pew quiz, I am an "omnivore" when it comes to ICT. That means that along with 8% of Americans (who unlike me are in their 20s!) I use ICT "voraciously" for all kinds of things, including socializing.

And I do fit the pattern they report; I am usually very sociable in person as well--as any of my colleagues will attest having wasted enjoyed chatting with me at length while I (at least) am escaping some actual work. On the other hand, I'm not so fond of mobile devices, or rather, of what some people assume my having them means--that I will always be available. But some people even assume that about email. --Just say "no" to instant responses.

Anyway, what I've noticed is that when I have many avenues available for socializing, I don't care so much about doing it a lot on line--face to face is always nicer, when possible. During those times I just email or chat with people I just can't see because they are too far off--and even then we send pictures back and for or maybe skype also.

But, when I get so busy that I can't actually meet up with people, or when everyone is away, or whatever, then I find I am far more focused on email and other online contact, and even get quite agitated if I try contacting a bunch of people and no one answers. And then of course I feel like an idiot, because what am I, 12? Do I seriously think someone is shunning me? No, so why worry? Which leads to the next question; after how many days is it reasonable to worry that a) someone is ignoring you on purpose, or b) he or she has met with some misfortune? And is it different between friends as compared to professional connections? --Of course these questions are hardly unique to the ICT age; "waiting for a call" is a widely recognized scenario; Neil Gaiman recently published a really funny poem about it, and it could just as easily be about waiting for email, or IM, or text-messaging.

So I was originally talking about academics and social networking, and my point is, that while some might say they just do it for research, I think most of us end up rather enamoured of the whole business. It's rather flattering to see that some people link to my page--it affirms that my sifting through the sea of information is yielding at list some value. And knowing that people are linking to that actually makes me feel a certain sense of responsibility; I know how disappointed I've been when I find that a really useful site is no longer being updated. Maybe it's not creepy (maybe that's only me ;-) but it's certainly interesting. Or maybe that's also only me...

And does this mean teens all over the US (at least) are going to become all saavy about critical theory and computers too? You are now entering the twilight zone...

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