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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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.

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18 comments to end of the year top five

  • Ged

    You had to justify the ‘Dead?
    On the junk food front: America has the best junk food and beverages. I miss the Mountain Dew and Barqs root beer I sampled when Yahoo! sent me over to the US to manage a foreign journalist press tour in August 2005.

  • The reaction you’ve elicited from me is, yeah, I’d like to know her better. Sure, we’re all voyeurs. Why else do we like reading? And if we’ve got a blog going, we’re also exhibitionists. Some more than others – naked through the library takes some doing. Although now I could.
    So, why would I think I’d like to know you better? because I think I’d be able to learn something from you. That’s why I make friends nowadays; it’s what draws me to people. I’ve put my finger on it. I’ve also realized that being drawn to others, intellectually or physically, doesn’t mean it’s reciprocal. Oddly enough, I wasn’t convinced of that obvious principle until well into my twenties. So, you’re the sociologist – keep thinking about such things, and sharing your thoughts – they are interesting to people whom you otherwise would not have reached.
    And happy new year. May you party much after the 1st. (I’ll also be staying in, playing board games with the hubby and kids. But we’ll spend the end of the week on a spree in Barcelona if all goes well.)

  • Hey dana,

    Don’t know if I could do the 5 embarrassing things meme; I’m too embarrassed, but I did hear you on NPR yesterday talking about new things on the web in 2007. Enjoyed your comments.

    (I do secretly lust for junk food though.)

  • “every winter in college, i ran naked through the library giving out donuts”

    Hahahahha.

  • Well, I’m glad you’ve succumbed, and I enjoyed reading about your agonizing considerations leading up to the tipping point — which I think are just as revealing as the 5 more explicit revelations.

    To me, the most surprising of your top 5 was entering the beauty contest. Even more surprising, though, was your rejection of ice-breaking props, as you stand out as the queen of such antics, at least in workshops I’ve attended that you’ve helped organize. So I’m wondering why these revelations are distasteful in a blogging or dating context, but OK in a workshop context … or perhaps you find them distasteful there, too, but grin and bear it for the sake of the rest of us.

    Anyhow, thanks for playing, and I wish you a happy, if unresolved, new year!

  • Hey, I cracked a smile! Several in fact.
    – the precision blogger

  • Dana,

    I also hate the current meme (although I don’t have the satisfaction of rejecting it since I have not been invited, save through your broadcast). I find it meaningless. I believe the fault lies on “the A-list” for propagating this thing. To be listed and linked to from one of the prominent bloggers would be considered an honor. So, it becomes an interesting, traceable display of the blogging pecking order.

    However, I did actually read your 5 (I typically skip these posts, but you reeled me in), and I found myself smiling at a few of them. Some because it’s out of the ordinary and humorous. Another because I’ve done the same. And that, I think, is a reason we on the don’t-even-get-a-letter-list like you letter-listers participating in this particular meme.

    We want to connect with you – even if it’s a one way street.

    Thanks for participating, and yet rebelling at the same time. I feel your pain.

  • danah-

    I’ve seen this meme propagating through far more than just the “tech” blogosphere. It’s definitely rampant in the biblioblogsophere, and I’d guess it’s in other spaces as well. 🙂

    Like Joe, I see it more as a conversation starter. This time of year I tend to notice some slowdowns in blogging, as people may be more focused on RL interactions (and resulting stresses). I know that December tends to be a slow month for me. So the meme gives people who haven’t been blogging, and don’t really want to write about what’s on their mind atm, something to focus on.

    This is why the Vox “question of the day” is so successful, too, I think. It takes away the “I _should_ be blogging but I don’t know what to write about” stress and replaces it with something easy to respond to.

    Nate, it’s really not just about “A-listers” or “pecking order.” I think these memes are far more important to people at the edges in cementing edge-to-edge relationships than they are in asserting center-to-edge connections. (Hmmm. There’s a paper in that somewhere, I think. 🙂

  • I also don’t do memes, and I’ve been dodging this one on LiveJournal for years, but your take on it inspired me: http://museumfreak.livejournal.com/375254.html.

    You may want to read the entire post. I know it is a bit longish but the end has important news.

  • musichollie

    well, to add to your 5 top things not known about you (which I was proud to say I knew at least 2 of them) all I can say is: dino pebbles, italian ice, strange drink combinations (I remember you making me one filled with raw egg and pickle juice), and our own version of chex mix made with sugary cerel, any desert toppings we could find, and candy! (Ahh, to be not worried about calories back then!) And I SPECIFICALLY remember listening to a countdown of the top 100 songs of the year on the radio, as I danced to one of them in your kitchen. Good memories of our formative years!!!!!

  • This makes me wish you wrote more personal day to day things in your blog. You seem very interesting, even beyond academia. I especially like that you ran through the library naked! Oddly, I imagined your in libraries quite often!

  • This makes me wish you wrote more personal day to day things in your blog. You seem very interesting, even beyond academia. I especially like that you ran through the library naked! Oddly, I imagined you in libraries quite often!

  • tony

    Interesting but I am a selfish toad-why do I want to pour on the virus of memes onto the world? love the comparsion-junk food to memes:P

  • Hi Danah,
    Happy new year. I’ve been reading you blogs for a short while now and this is the first time I’m leaving a comment, just so that I can claim I’ve been reading your blogs since “2006.”
    Take care, Bijan

  • dav

    Great running into you in NYC! Say hi to M for us.

    I got tagged by the 5 things meme and you inspired me to do the embarrassing style.

  • Hope you’re having a relaxing vacation and good seeing you at Annenberg.

    Your piece triggered my memory of a moving NPR piece about gratitude and communication. Lists serve interesting purposes.

    so does junk food – I share the wonderful vice – red-hot Cheetos and Mountain Dew kept me up for many a road-trip.

    Take care

  • “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?”

    i think that question answers itself.

    blogging in many ways is a daily list-making exercise. where did i go? what did i do? how did i feel about it? those of us who blog daily have an ongoing list, so for many others, the end-of-the year list is the one time they sit down and make a record. i think it’s sweet, and i love reading people’s personal NYE lists/best-of/resolutions, as it shows what we really remember and what’s important to us in the end. the commercial/television/music/media/product-oriented “best-of” lists, though, i could do without.

    re: your list, i was never denied entry to a church for wearing “inappropriate” clothing, but the reason i stopped going to my childhood church was that i when i was about 14 i received a long letter from one of the church members after wearing a sundress she felt was inappropriate, stating that she felt like i was making “bad choices”, so i had a very similar experiece.

  • This makes me wish you wrote more personal day to day things in your blog. You seem very interesting, even beyond academia. I especially like that you ran through the library naked! Oddly, I imagined you in libraries quite often!