Monthly Archives: December 2006

end of the year top five

After six weeks of sleeping in hotel rooms and beds/couches of friends/family/kind strangers, i can’t tell you how good it feels to be home. I crawled into my bed last night with utter joy, ecstatic to see my kitten cat and to sleep below familiar sheets. I awoke to a perfectly normal Los Angeles morning: sunny. I did yoga, played Scrabble over brunch, and sat in traffic. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home and to know that i’ll be on the ground for at least a week if not more. Of course, sadly, this means catch-up. Whenever i come home, i hibernate because i have so much to do that didn’t get done while traveling. Like bills. And doctor’s appointments. And way overdue deadlines. Still, what makes me most excited is that i’m going to be home for New Year’s Eve. I get giddy thinking about “ringing in the new year” in my pajamas in my own apartment (note: i hate partying on the nights that everyone else in the world parties).

What fascinates me most about New Year’s Eve is the rituals that surround it. For as far as i can remember, there have always been New Year’s Resolutions (and they usually amount to: eat less, exercise more). A little bit of surfing tells me that such ritualized resolution making is rather ancient.. or at least as old as the Roman god Janus (the god of beginnings and endings). While resolutions are purportedly individualistic in nature, the collective construction of such a ritual makes it a fundamentally social process. Often spoke aloud, resolutions become performative acts – articulated views of a better self that we promise to ourselves in the witness of others in the hopes that we can actually stick to our resolution this year. (Of course, no one actually remembers what anyone else committed to and few fulfill their promises, but still..)

While such a resolution ritual makes sense to me as a sort of annual cleansing for self improvement, what boggles my mind is another set of end-of-year practices: the lists. There are best-ofs and top 10s and [blank] of-the-year lists everywhere. What is it about humans that makes us want to end the year by making lists that demarcate time in a meaningful memory-making way? And what is it about me that loathes these lists with a passion?

Of course, lists are not just an end-of-the-year thing. Every day i login to MySpace and read Top 10 posts on bulletin boards and comments brought to you by teenagers wanting to engage their friends and entertain themselves. These memes aren’t that different than the chain letters we all used to get via email before the September that never ended. (Y’know – list ten embarassing moments and pass it on to 5 friends within the hour or your mom will die.) The weird thing is that something collided this December. All over the “adult” “tech” (or whatever bullshit label for supposedly mature techno-savvy) blogosphere, people are listing five things that others don’t know about them and “tagging” five other bloggers to do the same. So far, i’ve seen myself tagged at least six times.

How on earth did this meme propogate amongst this audience? Is it because bloggers are feeling the need to signal their blogger-ness since YOU are Time’s “person of the year”? In other words, are bloggers feeling as though their individuality has gotten lost in the mass adoption of the practice and feeling the need to make sure people see them at their most unique? Is it because of the natural tendency to make lists as the New Year approaches? Or, god forbid, are bloggers facing the same posting burn-out/feeling of loneliness/attention seeking desires that motivate teens to regularly post such things? I don’t know what has made this meme stick but i have to admit that i’m completely boggled. And feeling guilty. Because i hate these things. I hate them as ice breakers, i hate them as props for first dates, i hate them as faux attempts to signal intimacy to a bunch of strangers. Sam i am.

Here’s another issue…. Who are YOU? If i’m supposed to list five things that you don’t know about me and i don’t know who you are, then how do i know that you don’t know it? I mean, some of you probably don’t even know the most basic facts about me. For example, i’m female. This might seem obvious to most of you but i still get regular messages from people that say, “Mr. Boyd – I’ve read your blog and….” Over the holidays, i learned that my mom reads this blog; i bet she could say many embarassing things about me that you don’t know (and that i have conveniently forgotten) but there’s not a lot that i could say that she wouldn’t know. Or at least not a lot that i would say in polite company. Doo dee doo.

But maybe i should stop being such a philosophical grinch and give you five funny things about me. Cuz we all know that’s why people read these lists anyhow. So here’s my attempt at weird danah-isms that might bring a smile to list-loving folks out there, even if they aren’t all that secretive:

  • I won $1500 in a beauty contest in high school. I entered on a dare (thanks Cole). My talent was an acted out rendition of “Who’s On First” and i sewed together half of a baseball uniform and half of a suit so that i could move between the two different characters visually. It was the first (and only) time i ever wore heals in public and i fell off the stage. When the judges asked what music was in my car and what that signaled about who i am, i offered a poetic justification of Grateful Dead and Ani DiFranco (while others tried to bullshit their way through a love of Vivaldi). My friends gave me black roses.
  • I got reprimanded by librarians in elementary school for reading “inappropriate” material (“Flowers in the Attic” by VC Andrews). That night, i sped read through the rest of the book to find out what was inappropriate. The next day in school, i read aloud the section about the brother and sister having sex with one another; i was kicked out of the library. Much to the dismay of nearly everyone, i still have an allergic reaction to libraries and have worked actively to avoid them whenever possible even though i have utmost respect for librarians. There has been one exception: every winter in college, i ran naked through the library giving out donuts.
  • I worked as a “bodyguard” for Jane Fonda and Sally Field in Juarez, Mexico when V-Day was protesting the disappearance (and brutal rape/murder) of hundreds of young female factory workers. As cute young girls, we were to surround the stars in case anyone attacked them; the big “real” bodyguards were on the edges and we were to alert them of any trouble. (They were not nearby because that would ruin appearances.) We got attacked by a masked man and i had to throw my body on Sally Field.
  • I am a junkfoodaholic – the more fake, the better (much to the horror of all of my “cultured” friends). Easy Cheese, Ho-Hos, Snickers, Fruit Roll-ups, Double Stuff Oreos, Pop Tarts, mmm…..
  • I got rejected from entering a church as a youngster for wearing inappropriate clothing (notice misbehavior theme…). I was feeling feisty so i got into a debate with the pastor. He told me that i was not respecting God or his place of worship. I explained that God made me naked and i would happily strip and greet him in the flesh. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well and i was not welcomed inside.

While i’m willing to be guilted into saying things about myself, i’m not going to pass on the guilt – pyramid schemes (“memes”) make me squirm. That said, i welcome anyone reading this who managed to crack a smile to self-expose and add a link to your blog in the comments. This meme is undoubtedly entertaining for the social voyeur in all of us.

conference t-shirts

::laugh:: I just opened Kathy Sierra’s blog where she talks about what conference t-shirts say about how the organization feels about its users. It’s a funny post but what’s funnier is that i happen to be wearing my Webstock t-shirt today. And at Le Web, i rejected multiple vendors’ offers of free t-shirts because of size; each told me that i could sleep in it. (Like Kathy, i don’t wear anything to sleep and an oversized t-shirt is the last thing i want to wear.) There are a handful of tech t-shirts i wear all the time because they are comfy, stylish, and they fit: Blogger, Odeo, Webstock, Chumby (oh do i love the Chumby ones – i even asked for extras). The sad part is that i think that’s it… Anyhow, Kathy’s point rocks and should be emphasized so here’s my blog post emphasizing it. If you want me to celebrate your brand, make a t-shirt that i want to wear. Cool and stylish is one part; a shirt that fits and is comfortable is also key.

the edublog awards

Henry Jenkins and i are honored to have been nominated for the EduBlog awards under the category “Most Influential Post, Resource or Presentation” for our Discussion: MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). If you would like to support us, feel free to vote for us by midnight GMT tonite (December 16) from the EduBlog finalists list. Regardless, i encourage you to check out all of the great finalists in all of the categories over at the EduBlog awards. This is a community of bloggers that is often unknown in other crowds which is unfortunate.

on being virtual

Lately, i’ve become very irritated by the immersive virtual questions i’ve been getting. In particular, “will Web3.0 be all about immersive virtual worlds?” Clay’s post on Second Life reminded me of how irritated i am by this. I have to admit that i get really annoyed when techno-futurists fetishize Stephenson-esque visions of virtuality. Why is it that every 5 years or so we re-instate this fantasy as the utopian end-all be-all of technology? (Remember VRML? That was fun.)

Maybe i’m wrong, maybe i’ll look back twenty years ago and be embarrassed by my lack of foresight. But honestly, i don’t think we’re going virtual.

There is no doubt that immersive games are on the rise and i don’t think that trend is going to stop. I think that WoW is a strong indicator of one kind of play that will become part of the cultural landscape. But there’s a huge difference between enjoying WoW and wanting to live virtually. There ARE people who want to go virtual and i wouldn’t be surprised if there are many opportunities for sustainable virtual environments. People who feel socially ostracized in meatspace are good candidates for wanting to go virtual. But again, that’s not everyone.

If you look at the rise of social tech amongst young people, it’s not about divorcing the physical to live digitally. MySpace has more to do with offline structures of sociality than it has to do with virtuality. People are modeling their offline social network; the digital is complementing (and complicating) the physical. In an environment where anyone _could_ socialize with anyone, they don’t. They socialize with the people who validate them in meatspace. The mobile is another example of this. People don’t call up anyone in the world (like is fantasized by some wrt Skype); they call up the people that they are closest with. The mobile supports pre-existing social networks, not purely virtual ones.

That’s the big joke about the social media explosion. 1980s and 1990s researchers argued that the Internet would make race, class, gender, etc. extinct. There was a huge assumption that geography and language would no longer matter, that social organization would be based on some higher function. Guess what? When the masses adopted social media, they replicated the same social structures present in the offline world. Hell, take a look at how people from India are organizing themselves by caste on Orkut. Nothing gets erased because it’s all connected to the offline bodies that are heavily regulated on a daily basis.

While social network sites and mobile phones are technology to adults, they are just part of the social infrastructure for teens. Remember what Alan Kay said? “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” These technologies haven’t been adopted as an alternative to meatspace; they’ve been adopted to complement it.

Virtual systems will be part of our lives, but i don’t think immersion is where it’s at. Most people are deeply invested in the physicality of life; this is not going away.

paris and Le Web 3

First off, Paris rox! I was not expecting to love it as much as i did. I mean, i *hate* cold weather and it’s always a bit disconcerting to be in a city where it’s impossible to understand 99% of what’s going on. What surprised me is that my 2 years of high school French meant that i could follow basic things. Knowing simple words like “gauche” and “droit” were unbelievably useful (given how frequently i get lost). Plus, i could make enough sense of the menu to find duck (mmm… duck). Of course, my pronunciation of said words is ATROCIOUS. Anyhow, i could totally live in Paris (with some French lessons)… that was surprising to me.

Now, onto the controversial Le Web 3 conference… For those who don’t follow tech gossip, it seems as though many people were outraged at how the conference was handled (and it seems to have provoked amazing amounts of juicy web drama of the teenage boy type). The dominant complaint concerned the fact that three politicians showed up, took the stage, and gave stump speeches. Others were upset because the tech talks were pretty generic.

Personally, i found the whole political thing utterly entertaining. I came to France expecting generic talks. We’re talking a tech conference of 1000 people. Since most of these people haven’t heard any of the presenters before, most of the presenters went with one of their solid talks instead of something more risque; plus, a lot of the program was panels and Loic reached out to us based on what we’re known for. So, while i was stoked to see some of my favorite people speak, i didn’t really expect to learn a lot from the talks themselves. (That said, i LOVED the talks by Marko Ahtisaari and David Weinberger; both gave me lots of ideas to chew on.)

I realize that folks didn’t like the politicians because they felt as though they didn’t pay to hear propaganda. I had a totally different take. For me, they were the best part. Why? Precisely because they didn’t say anything. Everyone’s always telling me that politicians now understand the web, want to be a part of it, want to listen to their constituents. I found the French politician’s attitude proof that they were just as clueless as American politicians. They know that this tech thing is important but they don’t actually understand it, and still they want to find a way to manipulate it to make them look good. I was particularly humored by the old media person who got up to be a complete contrarian, arguing that new media has no value. To solidify this point, he wouldn’t let Loic actually translate what he was saying – he wanted to dominate the airwaves his way. Of course, this was all complicated by the fact that there were press – old and new – EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t walk ten feet without getting interviewed by someone for a podcast, a newspaper, a live TV show, a blog, etc. It was obscene to see how many people wanted to “cover” the event… in fact, it seemed like there were more there to cover it than to listen to it. In that way, it felt like a political convention… Only the primary actor (“technology”) was a concept instead of a person. Since we were talking about tech, talking about the agency tech had, i thought that the fact that the politicians were there making a mess of things was FANTASTIC.

All of that chaos meant that i got more out of Le Web 3 than i’ve gotten out of a conference program in years. Of course, there were downsides to this… I had to figure out how to cut my 30 minute talk to 15 on the fly on stage and i feel like i wasn’t as clear as i wanted to be. That’s unfortunate because i wanted to give a solid talk. Le sigh. Another thing that was uber depressing was that i knew 2/3 of the women in the room. People may bitch about there being no women speakers but at Le Web 3, there were no female attendees (other than femalepress). It was a sea of middle-aged white men dressed in business casual. After 4 days in Paris (a surprisingly diverse city), this was a complete shock. And i thought that American conferences were homogeneous!

The ever-present press also meant that it was really hard to just hang out and catch up with people that i knew. I find hallway conversations to be the highlight of a conference… and they were key to Le Web 3 too, but it was hard to get some privacy to talk to people. At the same time, it was super nice that there was only one stage, one main chitter chat room, and one place where everyone ate lunch. I really really liked the total immersion.

At the same time, i was sick as a dog so i only got to attend part of each day. I spent most of the first day trying not to faint and putting on the best ::blink::smile:: face that i could possibly muster. I couldn’t attend the party, couldn’t eat any food (or drink any wine), or even be a werewolf in Paris. Much to my chagrin, i spent a lot of time in the bathroom trying to stop the dizzy feeling. I had to spend the majority of the first day in bed; the second day was spent trying to ward off the terrible nausea. All of this made it really hard to really engage with folks and i probably came across as a total bitch when i’d fade out and then go run off to the bathroom. (Cuz “excuse me, i have to go to the bathroom” is a pretty known excuse to get out of a conversation… And i was forced to say that to probably 20 people rather than puke on their shoes.) Majorly unfortunate.

Yet, even sick as a dog, i really enjoyed the conference; i would totally go back. And hundreds of people bitching means that people got really worked up. While this is seen as a “bad” thing, i actually think it’s pretty awesome. Then again, i believe in living life by doing things that will be memorable. Le Web 3 will DEFINITELY be memorable. As for Paris, i’d be happy to go back anytime.

offline Dec 7-10

I’m going offline for a few days. I will be on vacation (or what normal people might call taking a long weekend) before appearing at Le Web 3 in Paris. I’ll be back online (but conferencing) starting Monday. See you on the other side!

PS: I’ll bring werewolf cards to Europe. If anyone calls a game, i’ll happily moderate.

Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites

My new paper on friending practices in social network sites is officially live at First Monday. Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites

“Are you my friend? Yes or no?” This question, while fundamentally odd, is a key component of social network sites. Participants must select who on the system they deem to be ‘Friends.’ Their choice is publicly displayed for all to see and becomes the backbone for networked participation. By examining what different participants groups do on social network sites, this paper investigates what Friendship means and how Friendship affects the culture of the sites. I will argue that Friendship helps people write community into being in social network sites. Through these imagined egocentric communities, participants are able to express who they are and locate themselves culturally. In turn, this provides individuals with a contextual frame through which they can properly socialize with other participants. Friending is deeply affected by both social processes and technological affordances. I will argue that the established Friending norms evolved out of a need to resolve the social tensions that emerged due to technological limitations. At the same time, I will argue that Friending supports pre-existing social norms yet because the architecture of social network sites is fundamentally different than the architecture of unmediated social spaces, these sites introduce an environment that is quite unlike that with which we are accustomed.

I very much enjoyed writing this paper and i hope you enjoy reading it! Please feel free to share your thoughts here.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Last night, i went to see This Film Is Not Yet Rated (and the director Kirby Dick) over at USC. I had wanted to see the movie since Cory reviewed it on BoingBoing. Wow.

While most people i’ve talked to are fascinated with the legal (copyright, first amendment, etc.) issues involved, what i really enjoyed was the portrayal of how we leverage protectionist rhetoric and “child safety” to uphold hegemonic moral values that will aid industry. This isn’t actually about the children; it’s about maintenance of power. One of the sections that really highlights this is a discussion on how the MPAA handles violence. Glorified violence (a.k.a. no blood) is PG-13 while imagery that shows the consequences of violence (a.k.a. blood) is R. In a country that is at war and with a generation of soldiers who think that war is like a video game, this bugs the shit out of me. God do i worry about those kids coming back – they’re not doing so well.

Mechanical sex is R while sex that shows female pleasure is NC-17. Heterosexual interactions are PG-13 while homosexual interactions are R. What values are we upholding here? For me, it was particularly compelling to hear the director of Boys Don’t Cry speak. I saw a pre-release viewing of that film with an audience of queer and transgendered folks. I started crying during the opening credits. In depicting the brutality that queer and trans folks experience, that movie broke my heart. And for that reason, i wish that i could get every teen on the planet who’s screaming faggot this and faggot that to watch it. I was ecstatic when Swank won the Oscar. I was horrified to learn that it was rated NC-17 for sexual pleasure and the rape scene (but not for the brutal violence). While i find rape scenes horrifying, most movies fail to show just how devastating being raped is; it’s simplified, pretty-ified. There’s nothing pretty about it in “Boys Don’t Cry.” It’s realistic and heartbreaking, the kind of thing that should be shown precisely because it is anti-glorifying.

Anyhow, go watch the film. It’s worth it.