Six Pixels of Separation

“Now digital marketing expert Mitch Joel presents the first book to integrate digital marketing, social media, personal branding, and entrepreneurship in a clear, entertaining, and instructive way that everyone can understand and apply.”

To be honest, I don’t read books of this nature too often, or at all really. As I comb through the shelves in a book store that I stumble upon, I am more often than not wandering through a Romance, Horror, or Comics section. I pick a book up, look at the cover, read the back, and chances are, I put it right back down. Needless to say, I have a very short attention span. “Six Pixels of Separation” by Mitch Joel was a pleasant surprise in that it was not set in a post-apocalyptic world infested with flesh-eating zombies, nor was it a cheese-fest about an awkward couple’s courtship, but yet I could not seem to put it down.

Pros:

-Voice; It was a focus point for Joel that one should aim to narrate his or her online activity in a manner that reflected well their ‘real world’ personality; no singular trajectory or narrative of the book, but the continuity of the author’s writing style made transition from one topic or personal anecdote to another relatively seemless

-Anecdotes were representative and relevant to his topics; recounting successes of those who started from little and successfully utilized digital media in the ways and using the strategies that he offers was helpful, as he kept his audience in mind (those reading this kind of self-help book are those who seek to utilize digital media in ways that are not already i.e. older, business-minded)

-Makes no promises to the reader; while he provides helpful anecdotes and stories, he makes clear that these are exemplary, and does not mean to assert that achieving such success is a simple task nor one that is achieved regularly

-Does not oversimplify, yet does not inundate the reader with terminology.

-Stresses the importance of working ethically to achieve success, being transparent; Joel constantly reminds the reader to stay true to their identity offline

-Social shaping; does not profess that usage of the technologies or particular networking sites will result in the financial gain that the reader ultimately seeks, but stresses that it is a matter of taking advantage of these technological affordances in a profitable way, our online actions an extension of our ‘real world’ autonomy

Cons: TBC

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Kony2012 and youth “activism” via SNS

I am one who deeply appreciates seasonably appropriate weather, so when fair-weathered, sunny days saturated the months of this past winter, I rebelled against mother nature’s ‘gifts’ and sought comfort in the solitude of my chilly NYU dorm room, doing what we as members of the youth living in a digital age do to remedy our boredom: I Facebooked. Yes I did, indeed, just use the social network(ing) site as a verb, and I further digress, but I find it important to paint a picture of where and when it was that I was suddenly “attacked” by social media. I had spent countless hours on the site one not-so-cold winter night “stalking” and scoping my activity feed for the perfect opportunity to leave some kind of witty comment that would make clear to my own networks, whoever it was that was potentially reading my comments, that my sense of humor was intact. Alas, such opportune posts on which to achieve this were scarcely found, and as I traversed my ‘feed’, my screen was suddenly inundated with the words KONY2012. The variety that was once characteristic of this social space was suddenly replaced with the uniform. This, in combination with the sudden realization that I did not seem to know some of my closest friends as well as I thought I had (seeing as how they turned out to be part-time, under-cover social activists all deciding to “come out” at the same time), married to instill a strange anxiety within me. In hindsight, as a social media student I was both annoyed and, admittedly, impressed at how the “Kony 2012 Movement” was able to exploit the necessary desire that we as social beings using digital media possess to “write ourselves into being” (danah 129). Gone were the days when visual evidence, pictures from our latest “Habitat for Humanity” effort in a far away country, immersed in wildlife or orphanages, were necessary in order to garner the title “humanitarian”.

Truth be told, I am obviously one for the dramatics; I suppose my reaction to the campaign was, in reality, not so heated or emotional. And, contrary to the impression of myself that I have just earned, I shared in the collective sympathy and emotional reactions to the viral video. My Facebook page, however, went unchanged. Why? As a student of social media networking, I understood that doing so would serve as an intentional attempt at painting myself as a social and political activist. Those who had posted in my newsfeed, however, may not have had the same understanding of the ramifications of sharing such a post, while others, conversely, may have understood full well the art of “writing oneself into being”, shared with an acute intentionality of consequently titling oneself a “humanitarian”.

Iman Baghai, a high school Junior of Issaquah, Washington, writes in celebration of the “Movement” in the Teens section of huffingtonpost.com, naming it the “first real social media movement to capture everyone’s attention in the West”, further emphasizing the success as a shift in gears away from our luxurious Apple products. The statistics, she argues, are undeniable; the video was viewed over 67 million times on Youtube within the first five days, and has gained over 15 million more views on the site to date. As a teen, herself, Baghai’s article is in a way a self-reflection on the community to which she participates; teens in the US engaging with each other using digital media, as well as an engagement with the medium itself. She writes, “over the past week, we have witnessed youth utilizing social media to bring forth an issue to the forefront of conversation.” The rest of her piece, however, is dedicated to an opposing side to the debate surrounding the Kony2012 movement. Her delineation of this argument without doubt echoes numerous assertions made by danah boyd in her piece “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites”.

In her work “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites”, danah boyd quotes Jenny Sunden: people must learn to write themselves into being; doing so makes visible how we take the body for granted. Luckily for my activist friends, the genius in Kony2012 was in its ability to mask this ‘visibility’ of which boyd speaks; in other words, echoing my earlier rant, establishing oneself to their Friends as an activist did not require a photo album dedicated to highlighting visibly their tireless labors, but afforded this very title to those who simply ‘copied’ and ‘pasted’ a link to their profiles. According to boyd, building a public profile is an act of socialization into the digital age, a “mechanism by which teens can signal information about their identities and tastes” (128). She argues, “because of [the] direct link between offline and online identities, teens are inclined to present the side of themseves that they believe will be well received by [their] peers” (129). It is my own assumption that many of these Friends in my newsfeed posting about Kony2012 do not themselves have stores of photographs which tell the story of their other humanitarian endeavors; the Movement, as it seems to me, was able to partner with the technology itself, affording Facebook users the ability to share with their networks a facet of their being that they had been previously unable to solidify because of a lack of evidence. In this case, Kony2012 provided evidence in making “sharing” and incredibly touching, well-made video the only necessary labor or barrier of entry into this newly forming group of activists.

It did not take long, however, for the Kony2012 to lose strength in its foundation; the searchability and persistence that boyd also introduces (boyd 126) allowed for researchers to shed light on a few less-than-moral practices made by the Invisible Children foundation, even before the campaign’s video was finished. In November of 2011, Foreign Affairs magazine published an article revealing that several organizations, one of which being Invisible Children, manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of the LRA abductions and murders.” It also lost some support when it was made public that only 30 percent of its contributions were going to the efforts in Uganda. Baghai reflected in her article, be careful and do research before [we] donate to a charity to ensure [our] money is being well-utilized.” She continues her effort at self-reflection: even after a very arousing tale, a video being “liked” by all our Facebook friends, and Oprah tweeting about it, you still must check your facts.

“Beer”-goggles: confused

As I turned the pages of boyd and Ellison’s piece on “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, as a relative new-comer to the subject, I found myself nodding as I came to understand my own engagement with social media through a scholarly lens. I found their definitions particularly helpful in classifying the different social media in which I’ve grown particularly savvy. However, upon reading Beer’s article in response to the previous, I was admittedly perplexed. Let me explain my confusion further.

Beer’s article entitled “Social Network(ing) Sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd and Nicole Ellison” was not, as he makes clear, an effort to “re-write the history that they develop in (their) article” (517), but a reconsideration of their proposed historical, and future, analyis of social media.

In his first section, he allocates his analytic efforts to “revisiting” boyd and Ellison’s proposed definitions and differentiations between social network sites and social networking sites, calling into question boyd and Ellison’s necessitating of the distinction between the two. For boyd and Ellison, networking is suggestive of a certain discourse that exists between strangers, further suggesting that social networking sites seek to initiate conversation and relationships between those who do not know each other, as opposed to network sites, which function to reaffirm, strengthen, or reinforce relationships already established in the physical world, be it the strongest or weakest of latent ties. By using the term social network sites (SNS), and further, rejecting the –ing and thus all that is implied by the word ending, the authors carefully construct the subject of their argument by refusing sites characterized by the formation of new ties between strangers.

Beer takes issue with how they frame their argumentation. He deems SNS too broad a category; boyd and Ellison are, according to Beer’s understanding of their definitions, specific in what kinds of discourse are not included in SNS, but fail to make clear the kinds of discussion that is. For Beer, this limits the definition of SNS to the three points they introduce at the very start of their piece, that which allows users to: 1. construct public/semi-public profiles; 2. articulate networks; 3. view others’ networks and allow others to view theirs’. In using this definition as a rubric by which to classify social media, Beer thinks this particular definition “stands in for too many things” (519). According to his critique, SNS is being used here as an ‘umbrella’ term to encompass all “user-generated content”, which itself fails to recognize the “networking” functions and capabilities that user-generated sites like Youtube, whose technological allowances enable such ties to manifest, maintain, although it would arguably fall under boyd and Ellison’s category of an SNS.

I personally think that over time, SNS developers have become increasingly aware of the attractive nature of interactive features of technology, and so, have responded to demand for these capabilities by introducing these features to their sites, thus affording their users the kinds of ties that boyd and Ellison’s definition of SNS would not permit. Therefore, I think that boyd and Ellison’s refusal of the term networking is no longer applicable, in that these ties are nowadays seemingly inevitable.

Beer also takes issue with the way boyd and Ellison differentiate between online ‘Friends’ and physical world ‘friends’. This is the point of my confusion. As Beer delineates his argument, that “we cannot think of friendship on SNS as entirely different and disconnected from our actual friends and notions of friendship” (520), I felt as though he was echoing arguments that I’d just previously read in the contested authors’ piece. In other words, I don’t think boyd and Ellison made such a black and white distinction between online and offline friendships as Beer suggests. On the contrary, on page 211, the authors state that “what makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks.” They continue, “these meetings are frequently between “latent ties” who share some offline connection. … They are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network.” In Beer’s piece, he understands boyd and Ellison’s “contention here (to be) that ‘ “Friends” on SNSs are not the same as “friends” in the everyday sense” (520). Ultimately, my understanding of this rationalization was not that they were entirely diverging or contrasting arguments, but indeed parallels of one another.

Perhaps I misunderstood Beer’s main argument. I thought his complication, or his suggestion of a further complication of boyd and Ellison’s inquiry to include capitalism and the economic ramifications of the sites was interesting, and indubitably provocative. However, I think that his argument surrounding boyd and Ellison’s differentiation (or lack thereof) between ‘friends’ and ‘Friends’ could have been make more clear. What do you guys think?