Wednesday, 28 April 2010

we're living in the good old days

This article, '5 reasons the internet could die at any moment' got me thinking. The research I'm doing now is so anchored to a particular context and a particular period of time in 'internet history' (the social network site boom) that I often feel like I've got the blinkers on. I'm sure this is symptomatic of PhD projects in general, of course - the whole thing is often about narrowing down and maintaining a focus. Despite all this, one of the things I get asked about most often is 'where to next' for social network sites and the internet in general. It's such a good question (once you get beyond the crystal ball jokes) and my answers are always so vague!

I think it's important not to get too bogged down in the pessimism. Yes, Facebook is surely trawling our data for little (read: vast sets of) gems to sell to marketing agencies, and sure, concerns over privacy are going to continue to be central in our discussions of these spaces. At the same time though, let's not lose sight of the great potential we're in the process of realising here: our ability to (re)connect, to share, to laugh at each other and to make our weird, fascinating little lives quite visible. This has always been the gift of the internet, but only in the last five years or so have so many people had the access. While discourses about an obligation to remain connected and always online will certainly persist, my hope is that with time people will be able to fine-tune their management of social media. I have a friend at the moment, for instance, that is on a 'media diet'. This entails only checking Facebook once a week, and trying to limit checking her email to twice a day - at 9AM and 4PM. I think strategies like this are neat, but I'm also conscious of the fact that for some its an unrealistic exercise. I for one lack that kind of discipline. There's a more organic and gradual alternative, I think, that most people I speak to seem to be finding. I'm also optimistic that new forms of online sociality will continue to appear and disappear, and make a come-back and then be shut down.. and then made into a movie. Remember MySpace? Ah, those were the days. Some of my recent interviewees are still on MySpace, by the way! It's very hip with the younger kids: 15 and 16 year-olds, especially. I'm writing a paper about this at the moment, actually: something along the lines of 'MySpace is for kids and Facebook is for adults: rites of passage in digital participation'. Tentative title!

Anyway, I was talking about this stuff with my first-years last week and I thought it was great when someone said something along the lines of 'I remember the days when I used to get texts from people, now I have to use Facebook! What ever happened to the old days of texting?!' Ah, those were the days. I can't wait to get to the point where we look back on Facebook as that tranquil, golden period in our lives where the pace was slower and the world seemed like a less threatening place.

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