My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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social and connected individuals

Anne Galloway: In my dissertation, I discuss the prevailing tendency of “social software” to define “social” in terms of connected individuals. This privileging of individualism, I argue, not only demonstrates cultural and class biases, but also points at some of the limitations of network models of interaction. To focus on connecting individuals along the lines of shared interests and practices is indeed a type of social interaction, but it shouldn’t be confused with public value. Even when artists and designers choose to focus on the “public” dimensions of “social” software, they often resurrect the sense of public implied in the “collective,” a form of anti-structure if you will, and sometimes a remarkably insular and homogenous one at that. In many cases, “social” software involves technology “for” the people or technology “by” the people, but only rarely do the two come together. Network models are uniquely amenable to connecting and maintaining such discrete pieces in part because they manage or control the types of connections that can be made, and so public wifi networks and other open or hackable architectures are never public in the sense of being “for” and/or “by” everyone.

::bounce::cheer:: Yay!

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4 comments to social and connected individuals

  • Wow, this is fantastic. So many levels and dimensions here… so maybe individual control, seeking absolute control of one’s personal sphere, is to some degree reflective of a fear of the synergy that comes out of true collaboration. When true collaboration happens, the individual contributions are obscured or even obliterated (wikipedia, e.g.) — and our egos fear this. So we build our tools very carefully to preserve, contain and interlink circumscribed individuals — instead of providing the means for true intermeshing, true remixing, true collaboration to occur. We want to maintain discreteness and order because we fear the dissolution of ego that occurs when we truly give ourselves to the greater good. And our “social” software tools reflect this.

  • Mel

    Nice distinction. And I appreciate Ms Galloway drawing attention to the fetish of individualism/subjectivity. Drawing attention to this might illuminate how the more problematic notions of social are reinforcing of materialist/consumer ideology – not connection/connectivity/collectivity between people.

  • mir

    hey two of my favorite commentors….

    hey one of my favorite blogs

    hey I want in on the conversation..

    I immediately sent this article to a friend who is doing her Phd in coms and specifically looking at issues of public access and what that means.

    She told me, and I sure hope it wasn’t in confidence, that in taking a gander at login files for a wifi community network, she realized that the 6 most mobile users were also key members of the organizational infrastructure.

    which as she said; “begs the question who builds these networks, and for who…”

    Or to be less academic, why are the big wigs still doing installs? (ha ha)

  • Mel

    hear hear. I second you Mir on the favourite commentors (you and Barb). We’re clearly orbiting around the same points of inspiration! 🙂