Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thoughts on Readings - Week 2

Yes, I know I just posted Week 1 earlier today, but I'm a little bit behind and trying to catch up...

Here are the readings for today:

1. Thompson, Clive. "I’m so Totally Digitally Close to You". Also called "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy".
An interesting review of how Facebook, Twitter and more came to be and the social connectedness that the drive. I found it interesting that Facebook Newsfeed was added after the fact, and that so many students were concerned about privacy when it was introduced. Having to wait to join until after it was open to the public (not being a student at that time), I've always had the Newsfeed component active. It is afterall what makes Facebook so social. Thompson describes the Newsfeed as a sort of "ambient awareness" like sensing someone's mood just by being next to them. What's most relevant about this article, and I think will become more relevant as this post continues, is that Facebook can be seen as a "reaction of social isolation". It makes people feel closer to each other even though they may be quite far away. Similarly, Twitter streams allow you to have ongoing conversations with people who have similar interests and get to know each other on personal and/or subject-oriented levels. Thompson observes that these tools are less cognitively demanding than email because email invariably requires all of your attention and these "ambient updates" just pass by you. You are not expected to respond. That's true - I often miss days of tweets going by but am able to pick up right where I left off. Thompson also notes that it's hard to make plans and have a busy social life (because of all life's other committments) but it's "easy to tweet all the time, to post pictures of what I'm doing, to keep social relations up". Is it? I still find it hard to keep up on all my blog postings, tweet about everything I'd like to and update Facebook statuses often. It's still a time drain. It's just a different drain. In my mind, it's still worth it, it still enhances my social capital, but it's still a balance. Just for fun: Here's my overall Dunbar number: Facebook (182+60) + Twitter (95+11) = 348. What's yours? Count up all your friends on all your Facebook profiles and all the people you are following on Twitter.

2. Putnam, Robert. "An Interview with Robert Putnam". Also called "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital"
I'm not sure where to get started on this one. While he redeems himself somewhat later on, I found myself doubting the accuracy of his figures way before I got to that point. Putnam's claim is that America's social capital has been on the decline for several decades and it needs to be fixed. First of all I want to mention that this was written in 1995, over 10 year ago. Next, I want to refute several points that he uses as proof.
a. Voter turnout is down - Remember this is 1995, before the fantastical election of 2000, before 9/11, before a presidential campaign brought out the youth vote on Facebook. He also mentions that young people don't care about voting, like generations before. I alway have and I think this has been forever changed because of social networking. He also mentions that political involvement is more common with middle-class parents, but in actuality I was more active when I when I was single (because I had more time) than now being married.
b. Citizens are not engaged - While I can't speak to all of the types of engagements he mentions, I'll comment on a few. PTA participation is down from 12M in 1964 to 5M in 1982. He doesn't address whether or not the amount of children in school has also gone down proportionally (think Baby Boomers now grown up) or about the fact that many students now have 2 working parents. The same applies for lower membership in Women's groups. Working women have less time for engagement with these organizations. He mentions this briefly later on, but it's too late.
c. Loosening of bonds within the family and neighbors - Again, this is not my experience. I'm extremely close to my family both nuclear and extended. And, the answer to "How often do you spend a social evening with a neighbor?" is actually quite often. Especially when I lived in city - I had neighbor friends in my building. And even now in the suburbs I've become friends with a group of neighbors who get together every few months. This point is an overgeneralization which affects his credibility.
The real kicker is this. He speaks about how technology disrupts many "opportunities for social-capital formation". He clearly did not have the forethought to envision the impact of the Social Network then. He alludes to the fact that "horizontal ties" can be more productive as far as social capital but can't see that technology will enable that rather than hinder it. Ok, maybe I'm being a bit hard on the guy given that that Web 1.0 was barely a blimp on the radar screen in 1995 but it calls into question the relevancy of this article in todays times. You might want to take a read at Howard Reingold's posting on Participative Pedagogy for an alternative outlook on this topic. I should probably stop but I feel the necessity to share with you that I can't help but laugh reading Putnam's statement on the "new 'virtual reality' helmets that we will soon don to be entertained in total isolation". I wonder how he feels about Imaginary Worlds like SecondLife or the numerous MMORPGs that exist today?

3. Perez, Sarah. "How to Reach Baby Boomers with Social Media
A quick little article that highlights how Social Media is growing and reaching all populations. The article itself is quite derogatory in tone and I'm not even a baby boomer. The comments make up for the simplistic thinking of the author. Comments that stood out include "People forget that it was boomers who invented the whole PC/Internet thing...", "It's not a matter of making the process simple. It's about making it civilized and informative", and "I am one of what you classify as 'older boomers', and I socialize on facebook, use twiter, am on friendfeed, have several squidoo lenses and websites on different subjects; have created my own videos; buy AND sell my goods on the net..." You go, Marilyn, you go girl!

And that concludes my thoughts on Week 2 readings...

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