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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spatial nature of MySpace

Over on Networked Publics, Kazys Vernelis asked Is MySpace a Place? I wrote a comment in response that others might find interesting. (And perhaps prompt folks like Anne to put me in my place.)

I would argue that MySpace is a ‘place’ in that it’s a locatable site that people “go to” and it has structural walls regulated through being logged in, being inside the domain, etc. But i would argue that this is not that important. Instead, i would focus on how MySpace is an ‘imagined space’ (stretching Anderson’s ‘imagined communities’) where the space is framed by the perceived rituals, norms and acts that constitute MySpace participation. [I would also argue that MySpace is a ‘medium’ in a McLuhan sense because of its role in ‘extending man’ into the virtual for social engagement. In this way, participation might destroy the platial nature of MySpace by letting people participate in imagined communities where MySpace is simply a channel through which communication and performance occur. But it does not destroy the spatiality invoked.]

I think things get confused by bringing Habermas into the fold because his definition of spatiality is rooted in the public sphere which is entirely framed by discursive engagement. He sees identity as constructed in private such that the public sphere is the gathering of private individuals for the purpose of verbalized communication. Nancy Fraser is useful in this way because she argues that a core component of publics is the way they allow individuals to negotiate identity. Pulling in Goffman in response to Fraser, spatiality is constructed by shared situationalism through which impression management can take place.

This is where i end up talking about ‘digital publics’ because the nature of public life in a new networked age relies on architectural properties not normally present in (unmediated) social life – persistence, searchability, replicability, invisible audiences. While we can turn to celebrity culture and mass media’s role in collapsing contexts (Meyrowitz) to get a grasp on what’s going on, negotiating these types of publics is new for most people. Digital publics are tricky because they rely on a networked structure, not a group structure dictated by audience or location. The same turn that complicates digital publics complicates issues of spatiality. In short, what are the boundaries? This is why i’d argue that it’s an ‘imagined space’ instead of a space as we normally conceptualize it.

[How terribly am i misreading theoretical ideas of space and place?]

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6 comments to spatial nature of MySpace

  • You might find Eric McLuhan’s discussion of “electric crowds” useful. It’s in McLuhan, E. (1998). Electric Language: Understanding the present. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited. It links up many of the loose, seemingly problematic, ends that you’re describing in your last paragraph, and may provide you a discursive framework within which to make sense of it all.

    (I might also suggest doing a Laws of Media tetrad analysis when you bring up McLuhan in explaining MySpace as a medium, as using UM as your exclusive McLuhan ground is generally less useful. But that’s just me…)

  • Well you are certainly looking at the issue from a number of perspectives. I would also ask (if I may) your ideas on virtual communitites such as Second Life and WOW – are they places? Do these interactive real-time communities go beyond Myspace in terms of space and place construct or is this all a collection of digital bits and bytes?

  • Yes, it’s a space, just like any other. The rules mediating people’s interaction with it are just a little different than a standard geographic space, but that’s academic.

    Isn’t saying that MySpace is an imagined space a bit redundant? It seems to be suggesting that every other place ISN’T imagined – or in what sense does being “imagined” reflect something other than the subjective mental interpretations of the experience called “MySpace”, and its attendant thoughts, feelings, context, etc.?

    Unmediated social life? I didn’t think it existed. There’s always a medium of interaction, and I don’t think it’s fair to act as if one is any different from the others in essence rather than in the particulars.

    And I’m not sure how anything here is “new” for most people – all it seems to be doing is naturalizing telepresent communications to make them better reflect the normal everyday (i.e. face to face) situations in which we find ourselves.

  • WDE

    Dear Apop,

    You are obviously a more highly trained sociologist than I. Your theoretical discussion however intrigues me for a very personal reason. (I do have undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Marketing – and a Masters in Criminology) I agree with you almost point for point about what MySpace “is” and I agree that because is it new “negotiating these types of publics is new to most people.” My question for you is what do you think the effect of such a space will be on youth who are in the midst of developing a personality – yet are given the opportunity to create and maintain one or more on MySpace (or similar sites) none of which is completely real.

    This is my concern: My son created a completely fictional identity for himself. Lived it for two years in IM and MySpace. While there he became successful in his job (RickRokr, lead guitarist for Audio Mayhem, a entirely fictional band – if you don’t count he and his three buddies who owned guitars, but could not play one entire song. But they had a website and a playlist – all plagarized) He presented a girl he met online – but never in real life – with a ring, “married her on MySpace” and received the congratulations of all their mutual friends for being a happy couple that would “last forever.” Weeks later while living high in this fictional world – my son was hit with the entirely real feelings of rejection, depression and grief when his “wife” told him she wanted to date other boys. My son promptly committed suicide while talking to her on the telephone – begging her to reconsider. He did pause long enough to post a goodby to his friends on MySpace. His real parents, sister and grandmother were 20 feet away in another room and he said nothing.

    Have we created another danger for children beyond the child predators and the overt merchandising? Has our society created a new cultural phenomenon that is so new we not only don’t quite know what to call it – but we don’t know what to expect from those to participate too deeply? Perhaps that is apophenia – but it’s how it looks to me.

    Please respond.

  • isabel

    Hi Danah,

    My name is Isabel Löfgren and I enthusiastically read your piece on the Social Network Fragments. I found it via google.
    I am a digital artist currently writing my MFA master’s thesis on Collage and Fragments and all my artwork is based on image-searchng mechanisms on the web and images that circulate in what you are calling social networks. My chief interest is on the internet as a space of flows (political, aesthetic, identity flows), and the digital image and digital narrative as an expression of that – a society built of fragments tenuously connected to one another. You can see some of my work at http://www.wooloo.org/isabello. I an Brazilian and live in Rio de Janeiro, but i am travelling on an artist’s residency in Singapore in september where i intend to develop my next project.

    For Singapore, I am currently planning a large-scale interactive piece that will move beyond gallery walls and into a public urban garden – the garden as a metaphor for narrative space, especially as a space of love, much like Boccacio’s Decameron setting and narrative. The ‘digital’ in the project will be that i want to create a ‘social network’ where people will send the garden love messages via sms or email, and the flow of these messages will ultimately trigger a flow of water within the garden and keep it ‘alive’. Another part of the project, within the site-specific installation will be to project an image of the flow in some way as a visual aspect of the project. This is where i need an application that provides me with an intelligent visualization of the flow, of the incoming messages and of the names of emitter/receivers…As I am doing research on this matter, I became interested in your application in terms of info visualization and I was wondering whether you have your app available for download/purchase or if the app is still sitting in your beta server…wanna collaborate?

    I am still in the early stages of the project as I am working out all the programming requirements, but i am not a programmer so I need lots of help on that end.

    Thanks for your attention! Keep up the awesome work

    Cheers

    Isabel

  • isabel

    Hi Danah,

    My name is Isabel Lofgren and I enthusiastically read your piece on the Social Network Fragments. I found it via google.
    I am a digital artist currently writing my MFA master’s thesis on Collage and Fragments and all my artwork is based on image-searchng mechanisms on the web and images that circulate in what you are calling social networks. My chief interest is on the internet as a space of flows (political, aesthetic, identity flows), and the digital image and digital narrative as an expression of that:a society built of fragments tenuously connected to one another. You can see some of my work at http://www.wooloo.org/isabello. I an Brazilian and live in Rio de Janeiro, but i am travelling on an artist’s residency in Singapore in september where i intend to develop my next project.

    For Singapore, I am currently planning a large-scale interactive piece that will move beyond gallery walls and into a public urban garden; the garden as a metaphor for narrative space, especially as a space of love, much like Boccacio’s Decameron setting and narrative. The “digital” in the project will be that i want to create a ‘social network’ where people will send the garden love messages via sms or email, and the flow of these messages will ultimately trigger a flow of water within the garden and keep it ‘alive’. Another part of the project, within the site-specific installation will be to project an image of the flow in some way as a visual aspect of the project. This is where i need an application that provides me with an intelligent visualization of the flow, of the incoming messages and of the names of emitter/receivers…As I am doing research on this matter, I became interested in your application in terms of info visualization and I was wondering whether you have your app available for download/purchase or if the app is still sitting in your beta server…wanna collaborate?

    I am still in the early stages of the project as I am working out all the programming requirements, but i am not a programmer so I need lots of help on that end.

    Thanks for your attention! Keep up the awesome work

    Cheers

    Isabel