“Six Pixels of Separation” by Mitch Joel Rough Draft

  • Audience:  “Six Pixels” is targeted to businesspeople and entrepreneurs who have little to no experience with social networks. It often stresses, “building your brand,” “connecting to customers,” and “creating an efficient business,” nonetheless focusing on the marketing aspects of a company.  I’m talking about old dudes in suits who genuinely are unaware that most people use the internet and social media to craft their opinions on a company (yes – evidently they are still out there). 
  • I feel that for this book in particular, audience and intent are critical in understanding what exactly the book aims to do.  Joel emphasizes that most businesspeople of the digitally divided generation don’t take social media seriously, and that his book is meant to “break the fishbowl.” 
  • His main point is to convince these individuals that social media is important.  This is why he covers the surface level of topics and doesn’t necessarily explain how to do things fully.  I don’t think understanding how to operate social platforms is the point, rather, how and why they are important to your business is.
  • At the end of the day, Joel just wants companies to see the value in social media.  He doesn’t care if your online operation is big or small – what does matter is that your company is out there and has a presence.
  • Social shaping:  Joel is constantly reminding the reader of the integration of technology and social interaction.  Separating the online and offline is not plausible for reaching your business’ full potential.
  • The book was published in 2009 and is clearly outdated in some respects.   Given the rapid pace at which social media is changing and the inherent nature of the publishing industry, books of this nature are nearly impossible to keep up with the technology.  (Joel still suggests reading blogs to be as in the know as possible.)  However, most of the overarching concepts of the book still hold true today.
  • One of my biggest qualms with the book was that it often had these little anecdotes with how people used certain platforms that really helped grow their business.  However, he gives little direction as to which platforms are better for which company – and we all know that not every business needs a YouTube channel and podcast.
  • As a media student, the book was difficult to read as I found it to be extremely repetitive. At first I thought it was absolutely obnoxious how some points (importance of community, content, and credibility) were brought up in different ways in every chapter.  But then I realized that if I had no background in social media I would find this repetition useful in drilling these concepts into the back of my head. 
  • Le blogging.  Ugh.  I was so irritated at “Six Pixels” push towards companies starting a blog.  Blogs are not well suited for every company nor are they the be-all and end-all of a business.  Again I think that the time it was published comes into play as other prominent business sites, such as Yelp, were not in effect for word of mouth community.
  • In class, we discussed the significance of audience and intent.  If the goal of the book were to bring awareness of social media’s importance to these businesspeople that previously believed otherwise, then I found it to be successful in doing so.   I would definitely never read this book in my spare time (sorry) mostly because it is unexciting and common sense to me at this point.  Yet, I would recommend it to someone like my mother who has relatively no idea what she’s doing on social network sites and could use them to create a professional presence online.



Sext Ed

Underage drinking. Driving. Sexting. All parents have to give “the talk” at some point – which has now come to include something that we didn’t necessarily have to deal with growing up.  In a web series appropriately titled Text Ed, electronics company LG brings problems of today’s tech-savvy youth to the attention of their potentially out of the loop parents:  cyber bullying, ethical mobile usage, self-esteem in the digital world, text etiquette, and of course, sexting. In the video “Class 1:  Sexting,” Glee’s Jane Lynch plays a teacher explaining to a room full of uninformed parents the harms of sexting, or the distribution of images or texts via a mobile device. Lynch warns that with today’s technology, kids are able to send or receive inappropriate content, and in many states it’s a serious crime.  If in the wrong hands, sexted messages can lead to another type of STD – a sexual texting disaster.  Your honor student may sext her way right out of that scholarship.  Immediately all of the parents appear to be concerned and uncomfortable.  “Look I get it,” she says, “Talking to your kids isn’t easy.  That’s why LG put together all the tools to get the conversation started.”  Below the video a link to LG’s online Text Ed appears for Dr. Charles Sophy’s article:  The Download on Sexting. 

In Social Steganography:  Privacy in Networked Publics, danah boyd and Alice Marwick assert that teens and their parents operate on two different levels of privacy.  On one level, parents are seeking protection and try to keep their kids’s information away from harm.  On the other, teens are trying to keep their information away from their parents entirely.  While most news stories fit into the parents’ definition of privacy, LG is attempting to blur the lines between the two.  Today’s youth is used to exploiting their parents’ ignorance when it comes to technology – boyd and Marwick go so far as to cite kids creating fake profiles or using the affordances of the technology itself to block their parents from accessing content.  LG stresses educating the parent in order to catch them up with what their kids may already be taking part in and to discern them of the consequences.  Given the replicability of text messages, images that were once thought to be private have the capability to go viral within minutes.  Once widespread or in the hands of the wrong person, these images create their own inherent dangers –a damaged reputation in addition to serious legal implications. In a way, LG’s video displaces responsibility for sexting from the child to the parent. But sexting brings up a completely new conversation of how technological affordances are positioned within society.

Amy Hasinoff addresses these issues in  Sexting as a media production:  Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality onlineHasinoff highlights that sexting can be empowering for young girls, giving them the self-confidence they need. But parents can’t help but to, well, be parents. Hasinoff acknowledges that teen use of sexting is very different from adult use – and so does the law.  If “kids” are above 18, sexting can be healthy and even beneficial to their relationships.  If under 18, however, sexting can be a problem because it can be dangerous.  Similar to smoking and drinking, sexting innately becomes another cite in our culture between adults and children and what is deemed “appropriate.”

It’s difficult to ignore the messages that media and pop culture are sending to today’s youth.  Supposedly squeaky-clean Disney popstars and teen idols leak nude photos just to have their name in the press, a desperate yet affective call for attention.  How are parents supposed to take this lightly? When I was growing up, I never dared walking out of the house in a short skirt or revealing top in fear of my mom telling me to turn around, go back up the stairs and change.  That type of attention was something I never wanted to have.

Regardless of how you teach your kids about the facts of life, they’re going to learn about them some way or another.  The principles of parenting have existed before your parents and will remain after your kids have kids, and what morals you try to instill in your children will have to evolve with time. Hey, I applaud LG for attempting to educate parents on sexting.  News stories can scare the living daylights out of ignorant parents who think that Facebook is the be-all end-all of our generation. By sensationalizing fear that surrounds sexting, we’re simply ignoring the larger issues.  We’re displacing the fear of child abuse and exploitation to the technology. 

Instead of a technologically determinist perspective, LG encourages parents to understand technology’s capabilities and consequences, and communicate with kids. Sophy suggests that parents create a safe sexting environment and “communicate about the issue openly, truly engage their ideas, and at the same time express your concern, your child may develop a more evolved understanding of just how serious and important this issue is.” Hmm…sounds to me like what parenting should be like in the first place.  Hasinoff believes that by telling the youth “don’t sext,” we’re telling them not to have a voice. Obviously no parent wants this for their child.  However, there are certain “private” issues that should be addressed in terms of ethicality and legality when indeed in the public sphere, and sexting has unequivocally become one of them.

Love and Lies 2.0

Everyone gets either super anti-love or super into love around this time of year – and leave it to social media to take complete advantage of it.  Whether you were tweeting about your distaste for the consumer-driven holiday or actively participating in it, there was no way to avoid the bouquet muploads or love-inspired hashtags this past Tuesday.

Ever so fittingly, RuetersAndrew Stern published “Plenty find love online, where lies abound” on Valentine’s Day eve.  The article illustrates a recent study by Euro RSCG, profiling the emerging patterns of online dating. The piece is broken down into three parts:  how the Internet helps with making relationships, how the Internet plays a role in breaking relationships, and lastly how deception plays a huge role in it all. It concludes with the theoretical proposition that we may have a device for screening lies online in the future, yet the author states, “that may take a while.” Overall I felt there to be very negative and disapproving undertones throughout the story, as if the web remained a gateway for the unfaithful and promiscuous.

The Euro RSCG study has been showing up a lot on the blogsphere lately. However, I chose this news source in particular for its choice to leave out what everyone else seems to be talking about:  the sexiness of social media.  True to its news-driven nature, Reuters isn’t interested in whether or not Twitter users refer to themselves as “sexy.”  Consequently, its way of representing the data ends up being a process of calculated selection.

After doing some research, I found the Euro RSCG’s own take of the study on their social blogWhat was most striking was that this representation of data projected a light-hearted perspective of social media’s influence on interpersonal relationships.  It emphasizes the study’s quirky highlights concerning the sexual and political preferences of different platform users. In the Reuter’s article, on the other hand, even direct quotes that were originally used to support social media relationships were ultimately edited to make them appear pessimistic and technologically deterministic. To be perfectly honest when I first started reading the Reuters article I had no idea it was even talking about the same study. For me, the differences in reporting between the two stories study could not go unnoticed.

In my opinion, I felt both of these representations to be skewed:  one too distrustful of the role of social media in our relationships and one too optimistic of what our social media habits say about our interpersonal lives.  boyd only further encourages the need for balance when she says, “social network sites are not digital spaces disconnected from other social venues – it is a modeling of one aspect of participants’ social worlds and that model is evaluated in other social contexts.”  Thus we must realize that our actions online have repercussions offline as well.  This influence isn’t one way or another, rather, our online relationships have just as much weight as those we have offline.  For crying out loud we live in the generation of “it’s not official until it’s on Facebook.”  Additionally, Donath and boyd’s arguments that “relationships are contextual” and “identity is faceted” could also come into play here.  How much of those “Facebook official” relationships are really just jokes?  How much of our own profiles are carefully manipulated?  As individuals we take on multiple roles on a given day and it is virtually impossible to be able to represent all of them, nevertheless create an “ideal self” for that matter, via social media platforms.  For that reasoning alone we should take the presentation and interpretation of online identities and relationships with a grain of salt.

I think the Reuters article resonated a lot more with me after having seen Life 2.0.  The piece warns, “What people did online stayed online… Now our two worlds are blended, and the people we meet online and how we behave on social networks is affecting us at home and at work.”  Such was the case with the affair we were shown in the film.  Leaving class on Monday I couldn’t stop thinking how ridiculous it was that one woman was having a separate relationship in Second Life and actually ended up seeing him in person as well.  The fact that her husband knew about the affair – and her hidden “second life” for that matter – was completely outlandish. But I can’t help myself from wondering just because these interactions occur online; does it make them any less real?  The Reuters article had a very similar, skeptical affect on me.  Given that these platforms can open the door for new relationships, how willing should we be (and are we) to accept them?  Statistics provided suggest that 80% of people stray from the truth in some way online, and this is definitely not limited to unfaithful marriages.  I think that both the film and the article convey the idea that it is just as important to be open to new social platforms as it is to be mindful of them. Despite that they provide the opportunity to enhance our relationships, they can just as easily damage them.

Re-revisiting the Story So Far

In “Social networking(ing sites…revisiting the story so far:  A response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison,” Dr David Beer offers a different approach to the ways in which we analyze social media today, nearly five years after the boyd and Ellison’s work has been published. In their article, boyd and Ellison provide an in-depth historical account of social network sites from Six Degrees in 1997 to Facebook in 2006. The authors define social network sites as online sites that allow the user to: (1) create a profile, (2) articulate a network, and (3) view your and other individual’s networks.  They clearly differentiate this term from social networking site, which is solely to be used to cultivate new relationships.  One of Beer’s biggest criticisms pertains to boyd and Ellison’s terminology and the way in which they frame their approach.  Beer’s reproach is that such classifications prove to be too broad – and ultimately problematic.

Beer also dislikes the distinction boyd and Ellison create between online and offline relationships.  Whereas boyd and Ellison differentiate online “Friends” and fleshy “friends,” Beer is adamant that the two are equivalent. He asks, “how can it be profitable to separate our offline and online relations and spaces or online and offline forms of living?” (Beer 520).  Given my experience with social network sites, I was at first torn between boyd and Ellison’s distinction of Friends/friends and Beer’s recursive interpretation of the phrase. Would I refer to all of my Friends on Facebook to be my “friends” offline?  Absolutely not.  I have dozens of Friends that I’ve met simply on one occasion. However, the mere fact that I have access to the most intimately personal information of these so-called Friends – photos, status updates, life events – makes me feel innately closer to them. I also agree with boyd and Ellison in the sense that my online relationships primarily solidify my already existing ones.  My personal Facebook timeline and Twitter feed highlight interaction with my friends that I spend the most time with.

In some respects, I do believe that there still is a divide between our online and offline friends – just because I liked someone’s status doesn’t mean that I would say hi to him or her on the street. More or less, I find myself siding with Beer in the sense that with the increasingly interchanged nature of relationships, we may have to redefine friendship altogether.  Beer is more in touch with what social network sites are used for today – a voice.  Today, many SNS like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. are used as platforms for sharing multimedia content. In these online communities, personal identities are often ambiguous. Idealized profile pictures and absence of social cues make us wonder:  is there such thing as true presentation of self?  Thanks to pseudonymous communication, we are able to thrive within these social network sites while maintaining a constantly cultivated identity.  The older social network sites boyd and Ellison referenced (like MySpace, Facebook, Cyworld and Bebo) were intended for bilateral communication and expanding preexisting networks.  Today’s social media lean more towards social networking sites, as clever Twitter handles and YouTube subscriptions allow us to create and maintain online relationships with people we wouldn’t necessarily communicate with offline.

Beer further disagrees with boyd and Ellison’s distinction between mediated and unmediated communication.  Given the “switched on” nature of today’s world, we are constantly filtering our own ideologies.  Consequently, even if we’re not using a social network our messages are still being sent or received by a medium in some way.  Social media is an increasingly defining and integral part of how people live, even more so than when Beer’s article was published (Beer 523).  Nevertheless, to separate our online lives from our so-called offline lives is completely out of the question.  In 2007, the year boyd and Ellison’s work was published, 48% of adults in the U.S. used the Internet every day while only 5% of adults used a social networking site daily.  When Beer’s article appeared just a year later, the percentage of U.S. adults using the Internet jumped to 54% and those using social media increased to 13%.  Nevertheless, I could see how boyd and Ellison were able to make the online/offline distinction, which is virtually unthinkable today.  And as of May 2011, an estimated 78% of American adults use the Internet daily and a whopping 65% use SNS!  Given the rapidly growing nature of SNS, it would be wrong to deny them of their role within our lives.

Ultimately, Beer believes that boyd and Ellison are asking the wrong questions altogether.  Despite that boyd and Ellison’s studies of social media target individual users, Beer wants to know more about the other players and their role within the system.  Who’s running these sites? How are they making money?  He suggests that questions pertaining to the role of SNS in capitalism are “more difficult and overlooked” (Beer 523).  By not asking these questions, I agree that we risk not questioning or challenging the way our SNS operate. Social media provides us with an opportunity to evaluate how our social system is being perpetuated online. Despite that Beer describes the collaborative and collective nature of this capitalist system, he never clearly defines the role of the individual.  Given that we can make a case that boyd and Ellison’s work is outdated, the same argument can be made for Beer’s.  Since 2008, a plethora of relevant SNS have emerged and it would be interesting to hear what boyd or Beer has to say about these sites.  Social network sites such as Yelp and Urban Spoon mean businesses are now dependent on user reviews.  While all of the authors are concerned with how third parties attain and distribute information, it appears that neither boyd, Ellison nor Beer have given their thoughts on how individuals play a role on shaping the companies around them.   As new technology emerges, it is critical to understand the relationships and implications  of all aspects of social networking sites.