WEEK 4 – SOCIAL MEDIA
Hinton, S & Hjorth L 2013, Understanding Social Media. Sage Publications, London 2013. (Section: pp. 1-31).
Chun, W.H.K 2016, Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media, MIT Press, Massachusetts, United States (Sections: ‘Introduction: Habitual New Media, or Updating to Remain (Close to) the Same’, pp. 1-20.)
This week we began to take a deeper look into Social Media.
Taking a look at the first reading of the week, Understanding Social Media, authors Hinton and Hjorth begin to unpack the history of the internet, social media and online media practice. Opening with – The fleeting moments of connection (on social media) take place through flashes of light, across deep-sea cables and microwave pulses that bounce invisibly between orbiting satellites. If we could see these connections plotted around the globe, the world would be illuminated like an exquisite decoration, shimmering with the mediated social interactions of many of its nearly seven billion inhabitants. Today, social media in its many forms account for a great deal of this mediated activity – with it bleeding across platforms (desktop, mobile phones, tablets and or modern network-capable televisions), across social and media contexts, creating various forms of presence. As smartphones continue to movie into mainstream everyday life in many urban settings globally, the demographics of social media are also changing (etc. old people/young people), and as Social Networking Service’s (SNSs) evolve, the term ‘social media’ is also developing to encompass the growing and often unwieldy sphere of contemporary online media practice. Hinton and Hjorth make a reference to Melissa Greg, who says that social media accompanies a movement towards ‘presence bleed’, where boundaries between personal and professional identities no longer apply; Making note that with the ‘context collapse’ of social media it is not uncommon to see users having more than one Twitter and Facebook account for different ‘public’ and ‘private’ contexts – friendship and intimacy can be both amplified and commodified through social media. Hinton and Hjorth explain that underlying this concept is an array of questions about the changing nature of what is public and what is private, and where work ends and life begins, as social media infiltrates every facet of everyday life.
Hinton and Hjorth cover many major themes, that help us understand social media and the fabric of social media today, through the rest of the text and summarise these themes nicely in chapter one, in order to simplify the text enough to find exactly what you are looking for:
- Chapter Two explores the rise of the Web2.0 as a way of contextualising the ideological environment in which social media operates. Rather than presenting Web2.0 as a revolution in the way the web ‘works’, as some have, we take a more critical stance, examining the way the web2.0 functions as an ideology that declares the corporate worlds growing understanding that the internet is not only mass, but also social media. We also look at the both empowering and controlling elements that go hand in hand with the web2.0.
- Chapter Three emerges with the undisputed icons of social media, social network sites or SNSs. Here we contextualise SNSs within a tradition of internet studies which has been conducting research and enquiry into the nature of online communities for more than two decades. Without attempting to deny their novelty, we emphasise that SNSs represent a continuity with earlier ways of thinking about the social aspects of the internet. In this chapter, we look at how in the field of internet studies, early notions of the internet as a series of virtual communities have yielded to more recent ideas of SNS practices and discourses as involving ‘networked publics’ and ‘intimate publics’. We also engage with a number of other research approaches to SNSs in order to define the field.
- Chapter Four returns to the themes of control and empowerment we introduced in Chapter 2, and applies them to practical example of social media in action. In this chapter we look at how internet participation can yield user created content (UCC) and how it has allowed the figure of the ‘producer’ to emerge. We describe this as being a potentially empowering outcome of social media, and examine how produce-age is present in online activism and citizen journalism. We then consider how the ultimate turn has challenged traditional models for journalism and how participative media is destabilising the established power structure of governments and what Dan Gillmor refers to as ‘Big Media’.
- Chapter Five we examine cultural production and focus on how social media is precipitating and reflecting changes in the arts as a specific site of cultural production. We look at how cultural institutions such as galleries and museums are responding to new challenged and embracing web2.0 inspired notions of social media and how this is displacing their traditional roles as arbiters of taste. We examine how artists are responding to social media, and how the emergence of art-themed SNSs like DeviantArt are challenging conceptions of art production and consumption as well as distinctions between the amateur and the professional artist. Finally, we examine the cultural complication of what Jean Burgess has termed ‘Vernacular Creativity’.
- Chapter Six we look at games, a realm which has always been associated with the social. Here we look at how social media and games intersect in the form of SNS games – games that are played within SNSs and take advantage of features such as friends’ lists to add a social dimension to their practise. While social games offer new types of places to play and socialise, they also involve two forms of labour. First, time spent playing online games raises money for the SNSs and game companies through advertising and in -game purchases. Second, since social games are a way to socialise, playing games is also a way to maintain contacts and thus provide the means to maintain social capital. In this chapter, we explore the role intergenerational ties in China as a case study. Specifically, we examine how social games act as a way for youth who have moved away from home for work or study to maintain relationships with their families.
- Chapter Seven we reflect upon the convergence between social, locative and mobile media, and upon the uneven journey of the mobile phones role in this. In particular we look at how location-based services (LBS), such as Google Maps and Facebook Places, have converged with mobile and social media through the smartphone. We look at how mobility has become about more than the ability to take your social media with you as the popularity of such device has grown, specifically there are two results: the expansion of cartographies enabled by LBS devices and mobile apps; and the development of location – based social apps that blend social relationships with geography. These changes reflect broader shifts in the relationships between identity, place and community and raise important issues about privacy, but also how we narrate and attach meaning to place. This chapter also considers the changing role camera phones play in our understandings and visualisations of place, especially as they become entangled in locative media practices.
Hinton and Hjorth state that the major themes they cover in the book – empowerment and control, online and offline, Anglophonic contexts and intimacy – are woven into and across the chapters. They take us through a background of the web throughout the rest of this section and some worthy highlights/important points include:
- While the internet was developed from the late 1960s it wasn’t til early 1990s that the web evolved into what it is today and what we understand as “online”
- TCP/IP – Basic Data Transfer Protocol
- HTTP – Hypertext Transfer Protocol
- Web Browsers (the interface), that constitutes our experience of the web
- The Websener – a computer program that is constantly running on a computer that is always connected to the internet
- Commercialising the web, in reference to Jenkins 2006 reading, and how an initial understanding of the web as a kind of TV station with many channels has given way to a more nuanced definition
- Web 1.0 and and 2.0 – History
- Web 2.0 and Business – Web2.0 and business – Web2.0 is a platform in which customers play an active role in building ones business
- Web 2.0 and creative production – Web2.0 encapsulates the idea of making it easy for anyone to publish information on the internet: This is clearly linked to the new ways web2.0 was to work as a business
- Using or being used? – The term ‘user’ has two connotations: controller and controlled. In computer parlance, the user is in charge of the machine – The user is in control (apparently) of the computer operations. On the other hand, within software developments circles the user is often derided. When we think about users in the context of social media, particularly within the construct of web2.0, which of these categories is most applicable?
Moving to reading two of this week, Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media, author Chun takes us through (what I’d personally say, despite making reference to other scholars and texts, and not being first person, is definitely very much his view on) new media.
Chun begins stating that new media exist at the bleeding edge of obsolesce. They are exciting when they are demonstrated, boring by the time they arrive. Even if a product does what it promises, it disappoints. (see what I mean? That a very broad statement to make – I digress…) If an analysis is interesting and definitive, it is too late: by the time we understand something, it has already disappeared or changed. We are forever trying to catch up, updating to remain (close to) the same; bored, overwhelmed and anxious all at once. Chun continues, in response to this rapidly cycling and possibly manic depressive time scale, much analytic creative, and commercial effort has concentrates on anticipating or creating the future, the next big thing: from algorithms that shift through vast amounts of data in order to suggest or predict future purchases to scholarly analyses that assess the impact of technologies that do not yet exist. What really matters is figuring out what will spread, and who will spread it fastest. “Is this really the best approach?” Chun asks – what does this constant move to the future, which dismisses the present as already past, era? What do we miss if we assume new media are simply viral or disruptive?
Chun states, Habitua New Media counters this trend to analyse the present through soothsaying by revealing that our media matter most when they seem to not matter at all, that is, when they have moved from the new to the habitual. Search engines are hardly new or exciting, but they have become the default mode of knowledge acquisition. Smart phones no longer amaze, but they increasingly structure and monitor the lives of their so-called owners. Chun continues and explains that through habits users become their machines: they stream, update, capture, upload, share, grind, link, verify, map, save, trash and troll. Repetition breeds expertise, even as it breeds boredom. Habituation dulls us to the new; because of the shelter – the habits – offered by habituation, the new is barely noticed. Habituation and the new are the dreams and nightmares of the new media companies.
Chun says that new media live and die by the update. The end of the update, the end of the object. Things no longer updated are things no longer used, useable, or cared for, even through updates often ‘save’ things by literally destroying – that is, writing over – the things they resuscitate. In order to remain, Chun argues, nothing remains, so now nothing remains even as everything does (…excuse me?). Things and people not updating are things and people lost or in distress, for users have become creatures of the update. To be is to be updated: To update and to be subjected to the update. The update is control to distrupting and establishing context and habituation, to creating new habits of dependency. To put it in a formula: Habit + Crisis = Update.
Chun says that if “networks” have become the dominant concept, deployed to explain everything new about this current era from social to military formations, from global capitol to local resistance, it is because of what they are imaged and imagined to do. As he explains in further detail in Chapter 1, “networks” render the seemingly complex and unmapable world of globalisation trackable and comprehensible by transforming time-based interactions and intervals into spatial representations: they spatialise temporal durations and repetitions networks embody “glocal” combinations by condensing complex clouds of interactions into definite, traceable lines of connection (or connections imagined to be so) between individual nodes across disparate locales. Network maps mediate between the local and the global, the detail and the overview. Chun continues with, imaged and imagined connections, this book reveals, are most often habits: things potentially or frequently repeated. Habit is formation: it forms and connects. Habits are creative anticipations based on past repetitions. that make network maps the historical future. Through habits, networks are scaled, for individual tics become indications of collective inclinations. Through the analytic of habits, individual actions coalesce bodies into a monstrously connected chimera. Habitual repetition, however, as Chun explains in chapter two, is also constantly undone by the other temporality of the networks: crisis. As many others have argued, neoliberalism thrives on crisis: it makes crisis ordinary. It creates super-empowered subjects called on to make decisive decisions, to intervene, to turn things around. Crisis are central to habit change (interesting in the times we are in, huh). Chun references Lauren Berlant, who said on impasse, an affectively intense cul-de-sac. Crisis make the present a series of updates in which we race to stay close to the same and in which information spreads not like a powerful, overwhelming virus, but rather like a long undead thin chain (SPOOKIER).
Chun then proceeds to explain his concept, New Media are N(YOU) Media; new media are a function of you. New media relentlessly emphasise you: Youtube.com; What’s on your mind? Chun states that habits are strange, contradictory things: they are human-made nature, or more broadly, culture become (second) nature. To outline some of the contradiction habits embody (and habits are all about embodiment) they are mechanical and creative; individual and collective; human and nonhuman; inside and outside; irrational and necessary. Habits are both inflexible and creative, Chun continues, are habits what endure as society within collectives – in which there is no society? Chun proceeds to make reference to Charles Duhigg, who has most famously argued that habit is a loop, initially provoked by a cue and a reward. However, once a body is habituated, the person anticipates the reward, so that craving drives the loop. This explanation of habit, Chun says, reveals that something very strange is happening cloaked within this apparent renewal of habit. Habit is becoming addiction: to have is to lose. Habits are central to understanding neoliberalism in particular to comprehending its simultaneous dissemination and contraction of privacy.
This is where Chun begins a rant about Neoliberalism, saying, neoliberalism, to repeat a cliche, destroys the public by fostering the private. It leads to the rampant privatisation of all public services, and, at least in the United States, gives private corporations the rights of citizens. He makes reference to David Harvey, who said neoliberalism is a “theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade”. In a neoliberal society, Chun proceeds, the logic of the market has become its ethics; all interactions from love to education, become economic transactions to be analysed in terms of cost and benefits. Neoliberalism’s emphasises individual empowerment and volunteerism. Neoliberalism’s emphasis on individual interest and market transactions spread the private (as market) and by doing so apparently destroy the private (as the intimate, darkened space necessary for growth and freedom); Yet privacy traditionally was considered a state of deprivation: in monarchial systems, ‘Private’ subjects, unlike public ones, could hold no power. Chun then makes reference to John Stuart Mill, who most famously maintained that liberty depends on the separation of public and private spheres, effectively transforming privacy from something privative to something sacred. To all the thinkers, Chun says in reference to people like Mill himself, that the domestic was key to defining the boundaries between public and private, for the walls of the home sealed the private from the public. Chun continues, privatisation is destroying the private, while also fostering state surveillance and security as house arrest. New media call into question the separation between publicity and privacy at various levels: from technical protocols to the internets emergence as a privately owned public medium, from Google.com‘s privatisation of surveillance to social networkings redefinition of “friends”.Social media are driven by a profound confusion of the private and public. Internet users are curiously inside out – they are framed as private subjects exposed in public. New media erode the distinction between the revolutionary and the conventional, public and private, work and leisure, fascinating and boring, hype and reality, amateur and professional, democracy and trolling. The combination of gossip with politics is not on unfortunate aspect of new media and digital culture, but the point. New media blur these distinctions because they are part of the postindustrial/neoliberal economy.
Chun states that the second half of the book elaborates, this logic thrives via an epistemology of outing, which constantly exposes open secrets. To break from this logic of leaking and outing, Chun proceeds, this book contends that we need to embrace the fundamentally non-personal nature of our networked communications. Habit, with all its contradictions, is central to grasping the paradoxes of new media: it’s enduring ephemerality, it’s visible invisibility, it’s exposing empowerment, it’s networked individuation, and its obsolete ubiquity. Chun explains that the book is divided into two parts – “Imagined Networks, Global Connections” and “Privately Public: The Internets Perverse Subjects”; The first part unpacks how and why ‘the network’ has become the defining concept of our era, revealing that networks have become key because they are imagined as ending postmodern confusion, these chapters trace how networks make possible groupings based on individual and connectable YOUs – They also elaborate on crisis as structuring the temporality of networks; The second part of the book develops more fully the inversion of privacy and publicity that drives neoliberalism and networks – highlighting how networks capture subjects through users like YOU, that is, users who like YOU (‘friends’) and those determined to be like YOU (‘neighbours’).
These chapters, Chun further explains, both document the epistemology of outing that drives this logic and outline ways of inhabiting this outing. Further, each chapter of this books is framed around one of the following aphorisms of habitual new media:
- Always Searching, Never Finding
- Habit + Crisis = Update
- The Friend of My Friend Is My Enemy (and thus my friend) – Investigates the odd transformation of the default internet user from the lurker to the friend as an indicative of a larger encroachment and recession of the private.
- I Never Remember; YOUs Never Forget
These aphorisms highlight both the dilemmas and opportunities YOU face as a small sovereign, but also the dilemmas of and opportunities for shifting the YOU, for keeping this shifter, shifty. Each chapter revisits the question of habits through critical revisiting of habit. Rather than return to the alleged primary source, each chapter seeks to understand the current resurgence of habit by exploring how habits resuscitate certain critical thinkers. In other words, each chapter investigates how both new media and critical theory remain. How has “it’s a network’ become a valid answer, the end, rather than the beginning, of an explanation”. Chun closes, this chapter argues that networks have been central to the emergence, management and imaginary of neoliberalism – in particular to its conception of individuals as collectively dissolving society. Although they enable a form of cognitive mapping that links the local to the global, networks produce new dilemmas: neoliberal subjects are now forever mapping, but more precarious than ever; they are forever searching, but never finding. Further, networks are belatedly too early – they are both projections and histories; they are both theory and empirically existing entities.