Monthly Archives: March 2006

conference whirlwind

So, i completely loved having Etech and SXSW back-to-back. I found that this was super conducive to really getting to know some people, have a wonderful blend of serious discussion and complete goofiness. I’m a strong believer that you need play time in order to really bond with people. Folks need a chance to relax, be werewolves, drink a little/lot. Doing so with colleagues supports the working relationship.

It used to be super cool to go to conferences when i was at Brown and at MIT because there were always so many other Brown/MIT people out. Since i started working, i found that it is rare to have my work community all on the same page and attend a conference with the same mindset. Sure, my group would often go but not a sizable contingent of the company. It was really really cool to have Yahoo! there is large numbers and really behind the innovation that is going on. We were able to throw parties, gather interesting humans and really celebrate the people and ideas that are emerging. Plus, it was awesome to see people recognize that this old skool company is really embracing social software and that is why so many folks are going to Yahoo!

Anyhow, it’s impossible to recap all of the great conversations and products i learned about… but it really was a joyous 10 days of information overload. And hangovers. Thanks to all of you who were there with me!

glocalization talk at Etech

Last week, i gave a talk at O’Reilly’s Etech on how large-scale digital communities can handle the tensions between global information networks and local interaction and culture. I’ve uploaded the crib for those who are interested in reading the talk: “G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide”.

This talk was written for designers and business folks working in social tech. I talk about the significance of culture and its role in online communities. I go through some of the successful qualities of Craiglist, Flickr and MySpace to lay out a critical practice: design through embedded observation. I then discuss a few issues that are playing out on tech and social levels.

Anyhow, enjoy! And let me know what you think!

can i have an -ist please?

At the end of any press interview, i’m inevitably asked to label myself. What they really want is an easy -ist word. Y’know – computer scientIST, anthropologIST, biologIST, psychologIST, artIST… This part of the interview always makes me squirm more the most. I don’t have an ist and usually, i don’t want one but it’s really becoming a pain in the ass. I usually try to squeeze out of it by saying that i’m a PhD student in the School of Information at the University of California, but sometimes, that’s not enough.

I often sheepishly call myself an anthropologist which, when concerning MySpace would be mostly accurate given that i’m doing a full-on ethnography of it situated in anthropological theories but i’m also not really accepted by the anthropologists as one of them. Sometimes, i think that i should call myself a cultural theorist since that’s sorta right, but at the same time, i’m more of a cultural observer and documenter than a theorist. At least so far. And the observer part sounds so not professional. I’ve tried accepting informationist but that just sounds so wrong. While i love what information schools are trying to do, i don’t think of them as creating -ists. Of course, that’s true for most “schools” like law, education, business. Could you imagine being a businessist? Ugg.

So i want an -ist. Who wants to bestow me an -ist?

zipping around

Just to let everyone know, i’m off to Tahoe for the weekend (Squaw Fest) and then Etech and then SXSW. I have no idea how much i’ll be online, but hopefully i’ll see a lot of you in San Diego or Austin. Also, i *think* that i’m going to be on Your Call on Monday (KALW 91.7) in case you wanna listen.

the disappearance of two girls

It’s been a weird week in the world of MySpace fear and i actually had the opportunity to watch a full cycle. On February 15, Alexis Beyer and Alexandra Dimarco disappeared and their parents went to the media to find them. They were completely and utterly convinced that they were abducted because of their use of MySpace. Beyer’s mother went so far as to say, “if I’m wrong about this whole thing, I’m willing to become the laughingstock of the city.” When folks at MySpace got wind of what was going on, they contacted the police to help in any way possible. Through IP logs, they found that the girls had not logged in for many days before their disappearance. Their profiles were filled with information about how they loved each other; they marked themselves as bisexual. The police were convinced that they simply ran away, angering their mothers. The mothers were scheduled to appear on numerous national TV shows when the two girls were found. They had run away. One came back voluntarily but the other was brought back forcibly.

Nothing has been written in the media exclaiming that the teens are safe.

Nothing has been written in the media to correct the link to MySpace.



I’m curious by what i don’t know. Did the mothers truly believe that it was MySpace or did they believe that screaming foul play due to MySpace would make the media broadcast their teens’ faces? If the teens didn’t log in for a week before their disappearance, can we assume that they were blocked from accessing the site by their parents? Dimarco’s mom indicated that she kept her daughter off her blog because older men would contact her, noting that her daughter would log in whenever possible on other computers. Reading between the lines of what i know, things don’t add up.

This makes me sad on many levels. My sad suspicion is that those kids are hurting and if one of them had to be brought home forcibly, i’m guessing she’s hurting pretty badly. I’m sad because i think that the mothers are either clueless of or the cause of the hurt; i’m hoping the former, but in either case, they probably don’t have a close relationship. And i’m sad by the media and the ongoing demonization of youth public places, particularly MySpace.

Many teens are frustrated by the press’ account of their behavior, but they have no voice. They are frustrated by their parents’ fear, but they have no power. Parents are scared, and their fear is misguided. There are more actions against minors in San Francisco on a daily basis than there have ever been in the 3-year history of MySpace. More and more cases are failing to pan out. Yet, there are more kids on MySpace than in any single state. I wish i knew how to reach out to parents and say, “It’s OK… your kids will be OK… just teach them trust and love.” In statistical terms, MySpace is safer than going to school. It is safer than being in a car with your parents. It is safer than going to the mall. And yet, we are more scared because we don’t understand it and we’re afraid. This makes me so sad because this kind of fear is anxiety producing and culturally dangerous. 🙁

the value of high school

Compulsory high school education began in the Interim period in the US. There were high schools before that, paid for by public funds, but they were mostly only used by the wealthy and those who valued education. Only a small fraction of the population could afford to have their teenagers spend their days learning rather than trying to help support the family. In this way, they ended up in two different tracks in society. Of course, there were many who never went to high school but did some amazing things in their lifetimes and there were plenty who went to high school who didn’t do very much. But the class system was there.

Today, every child has access to high school paid for by public funds. Of course, the irony is that there is still a complete class system. Those who have money and those who are willing to go into debt because they believe in education send their kids to private schools. I’ve been looking at high schools that cost $28K+. ::gasp:: In places like Santa Monica, there are 22 private schools and 1 (yes one) public one. Needless to say, Samo services a very different segment of the population than the private schools.

Have we equalized the system? Not even close. Then you have No Child Left Behind which regulates the public schools (but not the private ones). Interestingly, most elected officials send their kids to private schools so they don’t even feel the effects of this. Accidentally, as a part of my research, i’ve been watching what all of these standards do to our kids. They are not learning to write because standards only test things that can be measured in checkboxes. A lot of what they learn assumes they are middle class and heading to college and most of it is set up by college professors who have an unrealistic understanding of what non-college-bound youth need. Teachers have no time to actually dive deeply and help kids learn to think – they have to force data down their throats. It’s so depressing and we’re going to be worse off in the long run because of it.

Of course, we all like to kid ourselves into thinking that high school is about education. For the non-college bound, it doesn’t prepare them at all for the service jobs that most of them are going to be stuck doing. What it does measure is that they are able to show up on a schedule and follow rules. A diploma is a stamp of obedience to authority.

Of course, every teacher hopes to help their kids get into college. What about the kids who could never afford it? And frankly, not all students are meant to go to college… or at least, there are not enough jobs that are supposedly gained post-college. And unfortunately, working class notions of success are gone.

Gah, it’s a depressing picture to spend too much time in schools. I’m in awe of the teachers in this country who can maintain hope and dedication in the face of grim realities.