Emerging Media Episode 1: The Moving Target

A few years ago, a clever Harvard researcher put together this engaging video and slider, titled: "Evolution of the Desk" - an initiative borne out of the Harvard Innovation Lab with the goal to "illustrate the impact that technology has had on our lives over the last 35 years." You can view the video/slider here:
I'll come back to this is a second, but for now it's frightening and fun to consider the implications of how the analog environment morphed into a series of digital applications.

While reading this weeks essays, I was struck with a thought that wouldn't leave my mind: where and when does our actual identity become our avatar, and when do we become our avatar as part of our actual identity? On what arc of the social media plane to we stop being ourselves and become our greatest impression, our platform? At what actual point on the XYZ axis does content collapse? As danah boyd references in "Making Sense of Teen Life", the content is absent from understanding the motivations of how an individual might "perform" a detail of affiliation online. This can be, and often is, taken out of context to an individuals benefit or disapproval. Either way, there are lots of judgements happening with or without our ever knowing. So the question begs: how much of YOU do YOU really want out there?

Next this got me thinking about feminist philosopher and cultural theorist Judith Butler, and how she emphaises gender "perfomativity" - this had me considering how her theories might be used to decipher certain aspects of how individuals perform their identity online. (Here is a simple slide show I made outline Judith Butler's life and theories). Is our character / personality / gender performed in similar ways on-line, or is our on-line performance more relegated within the constructs of the platform? (these rhetorical thoughts that will solidify with more reflection).

Also, because boyd references the idea of "affiliation", this also reminded me of Jib Fowles legendary essay from 1982 (dated but still incredibly useful in deciphering human motivation via ANY media) "Advertising's Fifteen Basic Appeals" which really gets behind the theory of how advertisers appeal our basic emotions via clevewry coded messages, imbedded within imagery and text (I could also go down a rabbit hole here, enacting richer theories RE: Roland Barthes on Semiotics, but later). The Fowles piece is a crucial baseline for me in understanding our social media landscape because it really distills motivations back to somewhat simple human pathos, our real emotions that are certainly well at play in the SNS landscape of image and word.

Moving forward and back to boyd's essay, I found it stunning how she created a safe space for the teen she was observing at her own peril, meaning: she, in the moment, allowed for the teen she was observing to let loose and become comfortable with her, observing the intensity of the teens' social story became a physically embodying experience for boyd as a researcher, as someone who exhibits great concern in her research subjects. This was an incredible example that illustrates the researchers need to engage in her research on multiple levels, or through multiple channels, to understand a bigger picture of what she is seeking to observe: the individual's personal identity AND their surrogate identity online.

In "Sociality Through SNS" boyd introduces us to SNS as a phenomenon, where profiles allow us to create agency, connect to an intricate network, and then explore within that platform. What struck me most, and what I neglected to see for my own self, was the idea that my profile isn't just my own, yet the profile is constructed not only by a user but also everyone else in their chosen network. This is where we have to admit that what we're looking at is a moving target, a media that asks for us to study is while it is also actually changing, in real time. It is multifaceted and asks to be attended to by researchers who seek to observe "both the technical and social components of these socio-technical systems". The desktop video above helps me situate these readings and study of SNS within that broader landscape of Web 2.0, somewhere between CMC scholarship and the entrepreneur tech scene, where it appears to be thriving.

Notes: Jib Fowles, ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp. 273-290, Published by: Institute of General Semantics https://www.jstor.org/stable/42575622

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