Tag Archives: social networking

Twitter, et. al.

I had lunch with a friend today who was is one of those people whose brain you want to pick: she’s brilliant, especially about the internet. She’s been on Twitter for almost as long as it’s been around, and our conversation at lunch got me thinking about my own history with the medium.

When it was initiated, I remember thinking Twitter was just another Facebook update, and that I certainly didn’t need another place to say more (I say plenty already). I remember wondering if there would ever be an end to updating. Clearly, no! Some networks will endure and others won’t, but for now, ‘updating’ those around you with your most recent thoughts, discoveries, questions, requests, etc., seems here to stay.

My relationship to Twitter today is not a consistent one. I tend to use it for knitting more than anything else, and I have two separate accounts to help me keep track of who I’m saying what to. My personal account is mostly used for questions and statements about education, and I used it a lot at demonstrations earlier this school year; I often look at it for updates and information, but tweet sporadically. I have a hard enough time keeping up with just email that there’s no chance of me becoming a regular on Twitter in the near future, but I’m fascinated by how it’s shifted the way we communicate and seek new knowledge.

I remember doing a mental list of all the social networking sites I was a part of a few years ago, and it wasn’t many: Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and I think that might have been it. Then, before too long, sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Google became networked for ‘updating’ via ratings, messages, likes, and comments, and I was suddenly a part of far more virtual networks than I ever thought possible. And then there’s Academia.edu, Reddit, Instagram, the CUNY Academic Commons, and so on. News is all interactive now — you can comment endlessly on just about any post or article. Even if we don’t participate in conversations online, people around us do, and we are a part of that dialogue whether we participate actively or not. It’s so different from how it used to be(!). I remember my mom would come home every day after school and read the newspaper. That’s never been part of my daily ritual (or at least not for a really long time). Is it awful that I get most of my news from links on Facebook and Twitter?

I think about the impact this has on education, considering that the internet promotes (both in concept and reality) collectivity, democracy, and symbiosis. Doesn’t that seem to go against the grain of the practice of striving to ‘be the best’ that so many of our classrooms foster? Hasn’t the internet taught us that we rely on each other, and therefore have to work together? There’s something about the idea of networking and how it’s transformed our society that’s got me thinking today, and wondering about what comes next.

Metamediated

Why meta? I am currently blogging about talking about blogging.

I was in Montreal for a few days and had the opportunity to speak in my colleague’s Qualitative Methods and Educational Psychology class at McGill University. I presented something similar to what I shared at the CUNY IT Conference this past fall, but I really tried to connect my thoughts on why I’ve developed this blog to my research via my methodology. The class has been discussing various qualitative research methods, such as photo voice and ethnography, and one of the readings they did for class focused on blogs as both a field for and method of data collection.

It’s so exciting to see more and more researchers take on the genre, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to chat with students in Montreal doing important research around education, counseling, health and sports psychology, medicine, etc.–some with big questions about digital data collection. Their feedback was insightful and thought-provoking, and I’m already thinking about how to further address some of what came up for discussion:

  • What about access to blogging? This question keeps coming up as I talk to people about my research, and understandably so. What am I saying (and not) by giving weight to what’s written in blogs, despite the fact that not everyone has regular access to the internet?
  • How do I negotiate being a part of the community I am researching? Where does autoethnography begin and end? Can you be too me-search-y?
  • How do I plan to code my data (both logistically [i.e., in hard-copy or digital] and methodologically)?

Here is a slightly edited version of the slides I used for my presentation. Some of it’s unclear without context, but:

Timeline / Handmade Books

Facebook continues to fascinate me as a researcher. I know I need to stay the course, and I will (in other words, I won’t be adding another arm to my dissertation project that involves researching Facebook in addition to blogs — I love grad school, but I do want to finish), but I can’t stop thinking about what it’ll be like to look back on our timelines twenty years from now. Of course that depends on whether or not Facebook endures, but everyone who participates on the site is currently building some version of a digital scrapbook of their life.

Speaking of books, I’ve been making them for as long as I can remember — scrapbooks, photo books, address books, journals — you name it, I’ve made it. I’ve even got an awl, boning tool, and screw posts, and cut my own binder’s board for hardcover albums. But as digital communication has accelerated, I’ve found myself sending iPhoto books off to be printed by Apple instead. I still occasionally make little notebooks like this one, out of old academic journal covers and the remains of old articles I’ve read or manuscripts I’ve written and discarded. I like carrying them around with me to jot my thoughts when something with a screen isn’t available. I recently ran out of paper to use though — all the printing at the Graduate Center is double-sided now (which is a good thing), but! A few weekends ago, I acquired a huge stack of beautiful waste paper from the Bushwick Print Lab (thanks Ray!). I’ll be making small books again soon.

But I digress. I wonder how our digital memories will make our interactions as we grow older different than generations that have come before us. We’ll have the ability to remember things in far more detail than ever before. Even if people documented their lives extremely well with photographs before the internet existed, the captions and comments and interactive content on Facebook creates a living, breathing narrative in a way that pictures alone cannot.

So what does/could this mean for research? How does the capacity to know and understand each other grow as our digital footprints expand, and how does that capacity impact the process of collecting data?

Inboxes and Hashtags

Up early(ish) on the first day since August that I’ve had to really breathe for a minute, and I can’t stop thinking about finding a better way to categorize my email. Gmail makes it relatively easy to organize messages like you might papers in a file cabinet, but I’m suddenly 200 unread messages in, and find myself unable to keep up. I realize everyone will meet (or already has met) their email saturation point differently, but I will always remember the Fall 2011 semester as the time when two things happened when it comes to digital communication: 1) I couldn’t keep up with my email for the first time, and 2) hashtags became commonspeak.

INBOXES: When it comes to email, I’ve always been an immediate responder. This habit has its plusses and minuses, but it’s just the way I operate: someone asks something of me, and I respond. In contrast, I never could understand, until very recently, how people could leave correspondences unanswered. I finally get it, and find myself missing emails from friends and colleagues. I fear the problem is only going to get worse if I don’t find a better way of getting to every correspondence that needs getting to.

I don’t think I’m an expert organizer in any way shape or form, but I am pretty anal retentive and love organizing and reorganizing things — if I’m at a loss for what to do to combat this problem, what are other people doing? Is it one of those things that’s happening to everyone but no one really talks about? Am I just relegated to a future of not being able to fully read every email that comes through my inbox? I don’t like that.

I’ll report back if I figure something out, but for now I want to talk about hashtags for a second.

HASHTAGS: There was a point roughly a year ago when the word hashtag wasn’t yet part of my vocabulary. I haven’t done any extensive reading or empirical data gathering about how my experience measures up to that of the general population, but until I joined Twitter (a little less than a year ago), the # symbol was something I used when proofreading to note that a space needed to be inserted, or while navigating an automated phone messaging system. It was not on my radar as a categorizer, and I hadn’t yet seen it used in titles, subject lines, or emails. In an attempt to further understand what was then an elusive phenomenon, I asked the Twitter community for help in my third-ever tweet on February 20, 2011:

Needless to say, I got no response about my confusion, and quickly realized that the hashtag is one of those neat reference tools that has a limited shelf life. It’s not something that you send out to the universe and get an answer from immediately; rather, it can be used in a fleeting moment to connect people around a specific subject/idea/question/concept, but it might not always work as you intend it.

As I see it, the # sign has become something that’s going to continue to evolve as more people become fluent in how to use it. We’re getting closer to that tipping point, but it seems that many individuals still see Twitter as a revolving door of narcissistic Facebook updates, and thus the new(ish) usage of the # as an extension of that. I couldn’t disagree more. While I don’t tweet on a daily basis, Twitter has been a useful tool for me when trying to stay up-to-date on events, protests, gatherings, teaching techniques, etc., in real time. And speaking of protests, the Occupy movement is part of what normalized hashtags for me.

While I was pulling my hair out over my overflowing inbox this semester, my colleagues and I started using #OWS and other hashtags as normally as we might other words in emails. Slowly but surely, the # symbol is making its way into our daily language.

So while I’m considering how to categorize and code my growing pile of data for my dissertation, and simultaneously trying to get a handle on my inbox, I can’t help but wonder about where digital communication will take us. What symbol will enter our language next? Will we eventually have an alphabet comprised of letters, numbers, and symbols? I’m curious….

Facebook

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I woke up wanting to change my Facebook profile picture (which is a little ridiculous to admit, but we all do it from time to time, right?), which led me to think about how we manipulate our digital footprints as we make actual footprints.  I’m a little tired of my photos on Facebook (and honestly, am waiting for the next social network to take over — I have a feeling Google+ might be it, but we’ll see) so chose something innocuous: a photo of me at the beach in the late fall, looking off to the ocean during sunset.  I’ll never forget the trip.  We laughed for forty-eight straight hours.  It was a very happy time, and I like being reminded of that laughter and the openness of the beach, a place I lived, breathed, and ate in my childhood.

So I’m fascinated by what we’re doing as we walk around making dual footprints: actual ones as we literally make our way around in the world, and digital ones as we virtually make our way around the internet.

As much as I loved computers as a kid, I was a late joiner in the social networking world.  By the time I got around to joining Friendster, everyone had moved onto MySpace; by the time I joined MySpace, Facebook had taken over.  It took a year or two, but I eventually grew an affinity for posting photos and keeping people up-to-date on my whereabouts as I attempted to balance my existence in both worlds.  I jotted Facebook updates on napkins and bits of paper while doing anything that seemed update-worthy, and waited till I was in front of a computer to announce to my networks what I was doing.

I spent hours (as did many of my teaching colleagues) trying to figure out the security/privacy settings so that I could let all my “friends” see content, but my students wouldn’t be privy to the intimate details of my everyday life.  It dawned on me this morning as I was thinking about my profile photo that I’m not that concerned about filtering anymore. Besides, I have a dissertation to write, and an actual life to live — my virtual one is only a reflection of my reality.

It’s funny being an educator at a time when the growth of digital communication is so fast-paced.  I had dinner with an old friend the other day who works in technology in the corporate sector, and she was telling me some numbers about user growth that boggled my mind.  Currently, one blogging platform she mentioned has something like 45,000 new bloggers each day.  Seriously?  That’s huge.  And yet not surprising.  It’s becoming quite odd to lack a digital footprint (with few exceptions), and I’m curious about the ways in which manipulation of said footprint is going to further affect the way we communicate as a society.