Academic Uses of Social Media

The GSLIS Tech Lab streamed the Berkman Center for Internet & Society webinar “Academic Uses of Social Media: Exploring 21st Century Communications” this afternoon. John Palfrey, faculty co-director of the Berkman Center (and author of Born Digital ), gave an introduction and noted that, when looking at the growth of social technologies, it is important to keep in mind the digital divide (which so often corresponds to the socioeconomic divide).

The keynote speaker, Danah Boyd, sought to provide “a higher-order conceptual understanding” of the “cultural logic” behind social media and networking sites. She examined the components of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; what do these services do? She spoke of the user profile as “writing the self into being” and the friend structure as “writing the audience into being.”

Boyd also talked about the creation of a new kind of public space; its persistence over time, its replicability, searchablity, and scalability. She also spoke of the invisible/imagined audience, the collapsing of contexts, and the blurring between public and private, and how “young people” are participating in a public environment but still want privacy.

One of the most interesting points she made was that face-to-face interactions are private by default and public by effort, whereas interactions through social media are public by default, private by effort. She, too, emphasized that not all young people are “digital natives,” and that even because they use certain technology doesn’t mean they understand it: for example, one can use a search engine every day without really knowing how to structure a query properly.

Near the end of her lecture, Boyd showed a slide with this image: “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.” The source appears to be a blog concerned with celebrity news and fashion, but it’s an excellent position to take, all the same.

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