Six Pixels of Separation Book Review Draft

Do you still use AOL? When someone mentions a “tweet” does your mind immediately think of that little yellow bird and the rest of the Looney Toons? Have you ever found yourself lost in a conversation full of “likes” and “tags”? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation might just be the book for you!  In it, he takes his audience of entrepreneurs who have little to no experience in the social media world through a journey of its importance to help them make the jump and better their businesses.
If you’re still operating your business in 2012 without the help of any social network sites because you don’t see the point in them and you need several hundred pages of convincing, this book is definitely for you.  Unfortunately, if you don’t fall within that realm, you might want to pick another title.  In his book, Joel is certainly effective in explaining conceptually why social media is an useful and necessary marketing tool, but he fails to explain enough of the how.  

  • Baym’s social shaping approach – how technology and society interact w/ one another; how to bridge on & offline realities
  • audience = affects his ideas because he is teaching them conceptually how to use SM & why (explains sites somewhat but not specific how tos)
    • remember digital divide
  • ethical: addresses the importance of community w/ social media → trust, honesty, realness, valuable content
    • emphasizes that credibility is everything [build everything by being credible] – have open forum with clients – no false claims
      • digital darwinism favors community, not creator/enabler of content → traffic does not equal community, attention does not equal trust – be helpful, be sincere
    • ethics of linkbaiting → don’t create content just to create it b/c of credibility
    • build a strong community – faith based initiatives, viral expansion loops
    • connecting does not equal engaging – be responsive and fast
    • give consumers tools to improve brand; adapt w/ consumer
  • what is book missing?
    • false hope? not as easy as it seems to be successful with it and build a following → he tells them ~digital marketing is about being slow – real results take time~ but creates an incredible idealized view as you can’t be sure that it will ever happen – not that simple to get people on board (but he is just trying to get them involved…)
      • suggests as long as you’re committed, you’ll get some return → investment [emphasizes value over #
  • good/important points
    • personal brands nowadays have size, power, aud, influence to rival corp brands – everything to do w/ business
      • you are media; your personal brand = most important ally – can’t fake passion/sincerity  [false…. online…]
      • find your voice, don’t let it fade
    • your community def exists → become a part of it – find your niche
    • “your brand is not what you say it is…it’s what google says it is” → search defines you!!!
    • online channels  = free publishing = build own channels
    • need a website, NOT a luxury anymore
    • everything is online forever – watch what you say and do

Our Parents & the Internet: a Union that We Must Accept

As I sat down at my computer to pump this blog post out, my roommates sat in my living room watching last week’s Modern Family episode, Send Out the Clowns. When I heard one of the characters, Claire, ask her teenage daughters “hey, how come you guys haven’t accepted my friend request?” I immediately realized how important this entertainment content obviously was to my college career and hopped on the couch with them to watch what America’s favorite lovable family had to say about the contextual collapse that so many teenagers and young adults find themselves experiencing nowadays.

Claire’s daughters explain that to them, its an issue of privacy as well as identity:

“We got her request the first time but ignored it. I can’t have her on there snooping around seeing what I’m doing at parties.”
“…or posting pictures of us on family vacations wearing old dorky clothes.”

Not only are they hesitant of her catching them doing something wrong (she is what many youth would consider their nightmare audience,) but also, they are concerned with what her entrance into their online world could bring to their social lives.  In their minds, along with those of many youth nowadays, the world they’ve crafted on the Internet is simply somewhere their mother does not belong.  The pictures, discussions, events, etc that occur on their Facebook page form a network that a large number of youth want separate from certain people in their lives, often their parents or other family members.  As danah boyd and Alice Marwick explain in “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics, “teens are trying to vocalize that social network sites should have understood boundaries, driven by a collective understanding of social contexts…attempting to clearly mark Facebook as a space for friends” (17).  They also make note in their article that since social network sites first emerged, they have become a place where teenagers can finally feel that they have a “place” in society, as well as somewhere they can express themselves freely: “as physical spaces for peer sociability have disappeared or been restricted, and as teens have found their access structurally or socially curtailed, the value of mediated spaces where teens can gather has increased” (8).

As teenagers spend their days crafting their own personal identity through their interactions with the world and others, many stray from the grasp of their parents who have raised them thus far.  They are yearning for a sphere to call their own, but more importantly a place that they can experiment and grow in without having to censor themselves.  Facebook provides what boyd and Marwick refer to as an “illusion of control,” where youth feel in control of the content they publish as far as who will see it.  One of Claire’s daughters explains this very thought to her mother, “you know they have a lot of blocks on there to protect kids from weirdos.”

Aside from showing us why many teenagers don’t want their parents in their online social spheres, Modern Family does something much more important: it shows teens that although they may think otherwise, their parents could have reasons for wanting to join their online social circles other than to “spy” on them.  Claire explains, “I figured if you can’t fight it…there’s nothing wrong with catching up with a few old friends or doing a little social networking with my BFFs (referring to her daughters).”  With social networks expanding every day and becoming such an important part of so many aspects of our lives, it is possible that many adults simply have the urge to be more involved with their children’s lives as well as the online world in general.

While teenagers and young adults today seem to have placed an ownership stamp on social networks, it’s important to realize that the Internet is becoming a more welcoming environment to every age group by the minute. Its expansion is not something that can be fought, and thus simply must be accepted. Technology is advancing and users of all age groups are grasping onto it. However, what may be good news for many youth is that as their types of users grow, these sites continually take shape to balance this. For example, Facebook (with its own astounding 845 million monthly active users,) has done so by implementing many ways to customize the privacy of every bit of content published.  Although it may soon become very common place for parents and their children to become “friends” online, it is becoming easier every day to create separate networks within social network sites, allowing youth to maintain the privacy that they may feel is being torn away from them.

Has online dating lost the “weird” stigma?

Living in a big city, we are privileged to often be the first to watch social change happen.  Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this being true when it comes to online dating, especially for young adults such as we in college or freshly starting our careers.  The understanding of what “online dating” entails is changing as the social media arena opens up in this sector as well, as discussed by Kelly House in an article written out of another big city, Portland.  She discusses how sites like still cater to older generations who are established in their lives and looking for a serious, stable relationships, however, it is becoming more and more popular amongst younger generations to utilize sites like OkCupid and Plenty of Fish for more casual networking.  This is because more serious sites, many of which charge membership fees, match their users based on very specified reasons that they would make a good couple.  As the Internet is becoming ingrained to our lives more every single day and social media networks are becoming solidified as our own personal networks in “real” life too, House notes that “savvy web entrepreneurs are betting that young singles represent an untapped revenue source.” Thus, these smaller, more casual sites have sprung up to cater towards them.  She explains that “they tend to be more tech-savvy, carefree and interactive” and focus more on location and shared interests to create potential matches.

The story is presented in a manner that shows examples of different sites and explains the basics as to how online dating has been changing, but it doesn’t dive enough into the reasons why.  Although she explains that the stigmas of online dating have changed somewhat  because “today’s 20-something grew up online. Using the Internet as a dating tool seems natural,” House fails to express enough how online dating can lead to and potentially create meaningful relationships via the ways we are now able to contact each other online and share ourselves as well. It is indeed correct that these sites and the way views have changed about them have allowed for more casual connections to occur offline like meeting for a concert you both enjoy, however I think it is more important to note how the Internet has allowed for connections to deepen in the online realm as well.  For example, an online dating site is very much its own community as its users share something in common: no matter how casual or serious of an interaction they are looking for, they are trying to make social ties in some way.  Nancy Baym explains that “online, we bump into the people who share our interests rather than those who happen to be in the same physical location. This leads to connections that might not otherwise form.” It is important to look at this alongside how our social cues have changed as well.  In 2012 as opposed to 1980, it isn’t as common to spot someone at your favorite coffee joint and ask them on a date because we seem to have become much more avoiding of strangers than in the past (a blog post could be written on this topic alone.) If you spark up a conversation on the Internet, however, about the latest YouTube video that had you in tears laughing or the awesome new band you found on Spotify, you might be more apt to meet them later in the week and see how you hit it off in person.

What House fails to discuss is how important it is to think about online dating in juxtaposition with the self we are creating online. With our own networks, it is very easy for Internet savvy individuals (ones who would be more inclined to use dating sites) to show exactly who they are in “real life” on the Internet via the unlimited content available to be shared as well as the networks that can be used to display who we are (such as our Twitter feeds.)  It is possible that Internet dating is becoming more generally “accepted” in society because of how “normal” other Internet communities like Twitter and Reddit have become and how the social interactions we have on them can so often make us feel close to strangers in a way very different than ever before.  “Strangers” in 2012 can become “friends” in the matter of seconds and with new features like Facebook Timeline, we have the ability of finding out almost anything about someone in a matter of minutes (*cough “Facebook stalking” cough*.)  In my eyes, the stigma once associated with Internet dating is breaking down so quickly in front of us because the Internet has become a means of documenting every part of oneself, and thus it is easy to get to know someone without physically having the chance to do so.

Social Network Sites and their Ability to Rewire Our Existence

In Dr. David Beer’s “Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison­”­­­­,­ he critiques boyd & Ellison’s “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.”  He argues that although the differentiate social networking sites from social network sites, the term “social network sites” is still too broad as it encompasses too “vast (of a) range of often quite different applications” that each of these is meant for (519).  He believes that all though they do in fact do a lot of the same things, we are at a point where we need more classifications for them as opposed to less.  Beer believes that although dated, the term “Web 2.0” is much better overall at describing many subsets of user-generated content, social network sites being one of them.

Additionally, he discusses how instead of boyd & Ellison’s idea of differentiating ‘friends’ online from ‘friends’ offline, we need to realize that we are living in a time when the two work together to build relationships: “we might need to engage with sociological studies of friendship (Pahl, 2000) to understand how friendship changes as it inter- faces with such technologies” (520). At the base of this argument is the notion that technologies like social network sites and what comes with them should be examined not as their own entity but in the context that they have become integral parts of our everyday life.
Beer continues by explaining that it is important to do research on SNS reasons other than simply user information, specifically noting that knowing capitalism is displayed by the usage of SNS, “with the information being used to predict things about us, to find us out with recommendations, or even to discriminate between us as customers” (525).  He points out the important fact that with SNS, information that was never before so readily available about people and their habits is easy to find in a variety of ways.  To conclude, he continues with this thought to point out that there is a vast amount of knowledge to be gained and researched and that it is incredibly important that we study specifically the consumption information and knowledge of people themselves that is now available through SNS.

Overall, I agree with Beer’s criticisms of boyd and Ellison’s work, especially his point that “social network site” is too narrow of a term to describe the vast variety of social sites and uses of them.  While facebook certainly fits into this category, I believe sites like youtube do not; that is, while it does depend on user-generated content and at times smaller social networks may build and grow within it, the basis of the site of my opinion is still for entertainment.  To be fair, of course, we must note that that much of the arguments on what sites are and are not are just that: opinions. Everyone uses sites in different ways and thus is likely to categorize them more for how they use them and perhaps not what they were intended for.

The hardest part about the study of social media is how rapidly changing it is.  In the past four years alone since Beer’s article was published, a countless new number of social sites have flourished and new ones are being introduced every day.  Even more importantly, something that Beer touches upon to an extent, is just how ingrained social media has become in our lives.  With the rapidly spreading use of Internet-on-the-go (in the US alone, studies show that around “44 percent of Americans now own smartphones” – this does not include phones and other wireless devices that are capable of Internet access,) there are few moments nowadays when people, most importantly and specifically active Internet users are not connected to online content.  Thus, I think an important scholarly approach on the study of social media in 2012 and beyond is how it is changing what we do and how we do it.  For example, as a college student, SNS (I will continue to use this term in the broad sense that boyd and Ellison use it in) such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are ingrained in my brain as part of my existence.  Although it may sometimes not be what we I want to admit, not only do I turn to these sites when I stumble across an interesting article, funny video or good music, but (and I believe this to be much more of an interesting subject) also, the moment good news arises, something funny happens in my life or I come up with an interesting or note-worthy idea, I turn to my online network to share it.  As Beer discusses in his piece, our online and offline selves (especially in younger generations) are rapidly becoming intertwined.  This can affect us in a countless number of ways, perhaps not always positively as Brianne Garcia discusses in “How Facebook Has Changed The Way Young Girls View Themselves.”  Thus, I would be interested in studying how the deep integration of SNS in our lives may affect not only how we live, but also our mental and emotional states in general, and how this can be both positive and negative.