Monthly Archives: March 2007

safe havens for hate speech are irresponsible

I love Kathy Sierra. I think that her work is fantastic and well-needed throughout the tech community. So when i heard that she’s getting death threats, i wanted to vomit.

The brief story is that three prominent bloggers got annoyed at another female blogger for not permitting mean-spirited comments in her blog. They created a site called as well as a spin-off. These blogs encouraged people to say terrible things about others and it spun out of control. The content by the sites’ creators (again, prominent bloggers) was completely unacceptable – misogynistic, racist, and horrid speech. Their words were bordering on hate speech so it’s not that surprising that anonymous commenters took it one step forward.

There’s nothing illegal about what the prominent bloggers did, but i think it is unethical at every level. This is not an issue of censorship, but an issue of social responsibility. What does it mean when the most prominent bloggers are encouraging speech that divides, particularly that which divides along the lines of race and gender? What kind of standard does that set? How can anyone support their practices, even as a “joke”? I believe in moral responsibility and key to that is a level of social respect, even for those with whom you disagree. Without social solidarity, the moral fabric of society erodes. When you allow room for intolerance, you breed hate.

This is not just an abstraction for me. When i was in college, i was the recipient of unbearable hate-motivated speech, forcing me to leave Brown for a period of time. In the computer science department, there was an anonymous forum called “rumor.” It was the space for everything from critiques of professors to offending links to descriptions of how some women should be raped. It was disgusting. The speech from rumor spread beyond the anonymous forum; i received blackmail phone calls. My students received notices that they were not wanted (these were minority students and it was clearly racially targeted). Then, one day, i came in to find that my private emails about a lawsuit were posted to the forum. I was accused of having left them around but after a series of investigations, we learned that /dev/kmem was world writable on a machine in one of the labs and that root su-ed to my account on that machine. We learned who was logged into the machine before root, but there was no way to guarantee that this was the person who took my files.

The police (and various members of my department) asked me to pursue legal action. I declined because i realized that the cost for each email stolen was 30 years and i did not feel confident that i would ever know for sure who really was behind that machine. The person logged in was a friend of my boyfriend’s and i just didn’t want to go down that path. It didn’t matter. Everyone in the department blamed me, telling me that i deserved it. People speaking with me in mind (during the time in which i had left) asked for the destruction of rumor; i was accused of censorship. Truth was i never thought that rumor should be destroyed technically. I believed that it showed a failure in the department, proof of the destruction of social solidarity, proof of the intolerance that was bred. I believed that it was a failure on the part of all who participated and allowed that forum to breed. In other words, i didn’t want a technical solution – i wanted social responsibility. I never got it.

That incident had long-lasting effects. There were classes that i could not take because of it. I was not allowed to hold positions in the department because of it. Many people did not respect me. I remember sitting outside a TA room listening to two of the friends of who i suspected discuss my exam. They were shocked that i had aced it; they assumed that i had some guy do my homework for me. I remember going home and crying for hours.

I will never forget the descriptions of how me and my friends were to be raped. And Kathy will never forget the descriptions of how she was to be harmed. That’s what it means to be terrorized. How can we live in a community that permits that? How can we allow spaces like that to foster under the guise of “free speech”? We have a responsibility, a moral responsibility, to help generate spaces that breed tolerance, to speak out in support of those around us, and to bite our tongues rather than spit hatred when we’re frustrated. The web is persistent. We bitch about what young people write on the web but how dare we promote it.

My hope is that this incident, as it spreads its way across the web, will make people think twice about the racist, sexist, homophobic, hate-filled, mocking, and otherwise cruel speech that they make space for. I’m all for deleting mean-spirited commentary; i’ve done it time and time again on my blog. I think that we have a responsibility to do our best to make the web a safe space so that we can make society a better place.

to remember or to forget? on babies and beer goggles

to remember or to forget? on babies to beer goggles

At a dinner party long ago, a debate emerged about the importance of forgetting versus the techno-utopian desire to remember *everything*. As the animation level of the debate approached unmanageable, a woman at the table confronted the most vocal of the anti-forgetting people, asking him if he was the first child. He looked at her oddly and said no, the second. She smirked and told him that he should be thankful for the power of forgetting because no woman in her right mind would ever go through childbirth a second time if she could clearly recall the pain involved. Needless to say, her point resulted in many muted giggles.

Lately, i’ve been reading too much about the history of courtship in the United States. “From Front Porch to Back Seat” offers great insight into just how brand new the 1950s image of “dating” is. Go back 100 years and no proper girl would ever be caught dead out in public with a suitor. Girls chose which boys could call on them (boys had no choice) and these calls were taken at the girl’s home, initially with a chaperone present. Working class girls had no parlors and thus couldn’t take calls; they met boys in public spaces. Rich girls, irritated by the limits of traditional courtship, began rebelling by taking to the streets with their beaus. Slowly, from there, public dating became the common practice for courtship. Ironically, what is now perceived as solidly middle class in terms of practice originated from working class and was solidified by the rebellious upper class.

Public dating began a radical re-gendering of courtship. The move out of the home (viewed as a woman’s sphere) into the public (viewed as a man’s sphere) shifted everything. This was further magnified by the fact that the move to public required money and money was boy’s money. While calling-driven courtship was controlled by women, men began calling the shots when it moved out of the home. They chose who they wished to date, they controlled where the date was to take place, etc. The norms also shifted as girls became popular by dating as many good-looking men as possible (and vice versa). Dating was not about love or companionship, but solely about status. The iconic image seems to forget that.

Part of how this image of dating was solidified in mainstream culture as normative has to do with mainstream media’s perpetuation of the cultural norms. Magazines, TV, and movies all perpetuated this image of dating, providing structure to the ritual. Today, as we are caught in our own confusions about courtship, we long for the idyllic image of dating that never really existed, the image that the media “forgot” to convey. We no longer have social scripts for how to go about mating. I love asking teens and college students about dating… The term seems so antiquated, so wrong. Sure, teens have boyfriends and girlfriends, but ask them how they met or how they knew they were dating and all lines get blurry real fast. Hell, ask most 20-somethings about how they went from a hookup to being partners – they have no idea either.

While we continue to perpetuate an image of dating as an institution, the realities of courtship are quite fuzzy. A few too many drinks and Mr. Playboy takes home the hottie in the corner; the hottie thinks a relationship’s brewing while Mr. Playboy blames beer goggles. Close friends begin adding benefits to their friendship – is a Relationship emerging or is it solely Friends with Benefits? Ideally, we’d all be good at communicating the state of our relationships with others, but the truth is that we suck at reflexivity.

Then again, do we really want precise communicative efficacy? Sometimes, the fuzzy line is more desirable. What if you don’t know what you want? Land-o-gray is a hell of a lot more simpler than full commitment or complete anti-commitment. Besides, plausible deniability is a girl’s best friend. But there’s a difference between the blurred space and the incomplete crystalized image from the silver screen. The further we move from the space in which that was created, the more we “remember” something that never existed.

Now, imagine that you had to face every uncomfortable dating situation ever for the rest of your life, every awkward disconnect, every terrible blind date, every painfully unpleasant interaction. Would you ever date again? All around me, my friends are becoming dating-phobic because they’re terrified of messing up one more time. I watch as they swing to extremes, overcompensating for the last relationship disaster. And they don’t even remember the details of what went wrong! (Which reminds me… you out there… you really hated him when you broke up the first time, the second time AND the third time… don’t get back together just because he’s being nice now!)

While i’m all down for remembering everything i ever read, just imagine the havoc wreaked on courtship by remembering today. First off, you “remember” interactions that never took place because you read the details of her blog before you even met. Next, all of those blog entries you wrote reminds you of your own emotional naiveté because you were in lurve. And now you have the snarky emails and IMs and texts that show that you’re a complete dickwad and are the root cause of all relationship woes. You have the video of your breakup that you watch over and over again to see what you could’ve done better so that you don’t feel like such shit. Oh, and you have shelves of DVDs that prove that your relationship looks nothing like what “normal” relationships should look like (proof through Molly Ringwald). Somehow, just as you’re starting to feel better, you think that it couldn’t _really_ hurt to look at her MySpace. Only you found that she erased your very existence in an effort to delete the relationship out of memory. And you wonder why you’ve stolen every emo MP3 out there.

I don’t think it’s just babymaking that we want to forget. There are good reasons for the tried-and-true attitude that you can’t immediately just be friends post-breakup. The reason you take time away is to forget. The reason you want to forget is because it’s how you make sure your ego doesn’t go suicidal on you. The natural decay of negative memories is quite useful. The re-organizing of your past allows you to be confident in who you are today. (We all remember middle school sucking, but do you really remember the details of it or just an abstraction? Statistics suggest that the #1 feeling you felt was boredom, but i suspect that’s not the first emotion that comes to mind when you think of le sucktitude of middle school.)

Media has made it difficult for cultural memories to fade. We don’t remember the days of house calls for courtship because society moved away from that rather quickly (and few read beyond the Crib Notes of 11th grade English texts). But thanks to TV and movies, we “remember” past practices and norms. Does this mean that culture will have a much harder time evolving with the times? Or perhaps it means that there will be an ever-increasing disconnect between the generations because even though your mom didn’t fall in love like Ingrid Bergman, she’s still gonna imagine that this is how it’s supposed to be. How does the non-forgetfulness of archival media influence our culture’s ability to shift over time?

We are building technology with the implicit desire to remember everything. Every interaction, every feeling, every idea. Why? Perhaps this isn’t such a good thing. I for one would like to see my digital memories fade into hearts and flowers. Of course, being the ever-benevolent giver, technology has decided to invent a different solution: “the memory pill” (guaranteed to obliterate negative memories so that you can overcome the memory of murdering your wife… err… i mean, PTSD…). Better living through chemistry and technology, right? Right??? Bueller?

Tweet Tweet (some thoughts on Twitter)

SXSW has come and gone and my phone might never recover. Y’see, last year i received over 500 Dodgeballs. To the best that i can tell, i received something like 3000 Tweets during the few days i was in Austin. My phone was constantly hitting its 100 message cap and i spent more time trying to delete messages than reading them. Still, i think that Twitter and Dodgeball are interesting and i want to take a moment to consider their strengths and weaknesses as applications.

While you can use Dodgeball for a variety of things, it’s primarily a way of announcing presence in a social venue where you’d be willing to interact with other people. Given that i’m a hermit, i primarily use Dodgeball to announce my presence at conference outtings and to sigh in jealousy as people romp around Los Angeles. Dodgeball is culturally linked to place. I’m still pretty peeved with Google over the lack of development of Dodgeball because i still think it would be a brilliant campus-based application where people actually do party-hop on every weekend and want to know if their friends are at the neighboring frat party instead of this one. When it comes to usage at SXSW, Dodgeball is great. I know when 7 of my friends are in one venue and 11 are in another; it helps me decide where to go.

Twitter has taken a different path. It is primarily micro-blogging or group IMing or push away messaging. You write whatever you damn well please and it spams all of the people who agreed to be your friends. The biggest strength AND weakness of Twitter is that it works through your IM client (or Twitterrific) as well as your phone. This means that all of the tech people who spend far too much time bored on their laptops are spamming people at a constant rate. Ah, procrastination devices. If you follow all of your friends on your mobile, you’re in for a hellish (and every expensive) experience. Folks quickly learn to stop following people on their mobile (or, if they don’t, they turn Twitter off altogether). This, unfortunately, kills the mobile value of it, making it far more of a web tool than a mobile tool. Considering how much of a bitch it is to follow/unfollow people, users quickly choose and rarely turn back. Thus, once they stop following someone on their phone, they don’t return just because they are going out with that person that night (unless they run into them and choose to switch it on).

At SXSW, Twitter is fantastic for mobile. Everyone is running around the same town commenting on talks, remarking on venues, bitching about the rain. But dear god did i feel bad for the people who weren’t at SXSW who were getting spammed with that crap. One value of Twitter is that it’s really lightweight and easy. One problem is that this is terrible if your social world is not one giant cluster. While my tech friends who normally attend SXSW moped about how jealous they were upon receiving all of the SXSW messages, my non-tech friends were more of the WTF camp. Without segmentation, i had to choose one audience over the other because there was no way to move seamlessly between the audiences. Of course, groups are much heavier to manage. Still, i think it’s possible and i gave Ev some notes.

I think it’s funny to watch my tech geek friends adopt a social tech. They can’t imagine life without their fingers attached to a keyboard or where they didn’t have all-you-can-eat phone plans. More importantly, the vast majority of their friends are tech geeks too. And their social world is relatively structurally continuous. For most 20/30-somethings, this isn’t so. Work and social are generally separated and there are different friend groups that must be balanced in different ways.

Of course, the population whose social world is most like the tech geeks is the teens. This is why they have no problems with MySpace bulletins (which are quite similar to Twitter in many ways). The biggest challenge with teens is that they do not have all-you-can-eat phone plans. Over and over, the topic of number of text messages in one’s plan comes up. And my favorite pissed off bullying act that teens do involves ganging up to collectively spam someone so that they’ll go over their limit and get into trouble with their parents (phone companies don’t seem to let you block texts from particular numbers and of course you have to pay 10c per text you receive). This is particularly common when a nasty breakup occurs and i was surprised when i found out that switching phone numbers is the only real solution to this. Because most teens are not permanently attached to a computer and because they typically share their computers with other members of the family, Twitterific-like apps wouldn’t really work so well. And Twitter is not a strong enough app to replace IM time.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all teens would actually like Twitter. There are numerous complaints about the lameness of bulletins. People forward surveys just as something to do and others complain that this is a waste of their time. (Of course, then they go on to do it themselves.) Still, bulletin space is like Twitter space. You need to keep posting so that your friends don’t forget you. Or you don’t post at all. Such is the way of Twitter. Certain people i see flowing 5-15 times a day. Others i never hear from (or like once a week).

There’s another issue at play… Like with bulletins, it’s pretty ostentatious to think that your notes are worth pushing to others en masse. It takes a certain kind of personality to think that this kind of spamming is socially appropriate and desirable. Sure, we all love to have a sense of what’s going on, but this is push technology at its most extreme. You’re pushing your views into the attention of others (until they turn it or you off).

The techno-geek users keep telling me that it’s a conversation. Of course, this is also said of blogging. But i don’t think that either are typically conversations. More often, they are individuals standing on their soap boxes who enjoy people responding to them and may wander around to others soap boxes looking for interesting bits of data. By and large, people Twitter to share their experience; only rarely do they expect to receive anything in return. What is returned is typically a kudos or a personal thought or an organizing question. I’d be curious what percentage of Tweets start a genuine back-and-forth dialogue where the parties are on equal ground. It still amazes me that when i respond to someone’s Tweet personally, they often ignore me or respond curtly with an answer to my question. It’s as though the Tweeter wants to be recognized en masse, but doesn’t want to actually start a dialogue with their pronouncements. Of course, this is just my own observation. Maybe there are genuine conversations happening beyond my purview.

Unfortunately, i don’t know how sustainable Twitter is for most people. It’s very easy to burn out on it and once someone does, will they return? It’s also really hard for friend-management. If you add someone, even if you “leave” them, you’ll get Twitteriffic posts from them. This creates a huge disincentive for adding people, even if you welcome them to read your Tweets. Post-SXSW, i’ve seen two things: the most active in Austin are still ridiculously active. The rest have turned it off for all intents and purposes. Personally, i’m trying to see how long i’ll last before i can’t stand the invasion any longer. Given that my non-tech friends can’t really join effectively (for the same reasons as teens – text messaging plan and lack of always-on computerness and hatred of IM interruptions), i don’t think that i can get a good sense of how this would play out beyond the geek crowd. But it sure is entertaining to watch.

PS: I should note that my *favorite* part of Twitter is that when i wander to a non-functioning page, i get this image:

How can that not make you happy?

fame, narcissism and MySpace

When adults aren’t dismissing MySpace as the land-o-predators, they’re often accusing it of producing narcissistic children. I find it hard to bite my tongue in these situations, but i know that few adults are willing to take the blame for producing narcissistic children. The issue of narcissism and fame is back in public circulation with a vengeance (thanks in part to Britney Spears for having a public meltdown). While the mainstream press is having a field day with blaming celebrities and teens for being narcissistic, more solid research on narcissism is emerging.

For those who are into pop science coverage of academic work, i’d encourage you to start with Jake Halpern’s “Fame Junkies” (tx Anastasia). For simplicity sake, let’s list a few of the key findings that have emerged over the years concerning narcissism.

  • While many personality traits stay stable across time, it appears as though levels of narcissism (as tested by the NPI) decrease as people grow older. In other words, while adolescents are more narcissistic than adults, you were also more narcissistic when you were younger than you are now.
  • The scores of adolescents on the NPI continue to rise. In other words, it appears as though young people today are more narcissistic than older people were when they were younger.
  • There appears to be a correlation between narcissism and self-esteem based education. In other words, all of that school crap about how everyone is good and likable has produced a generation of narcissists.
  • Celebrity does not make people narcissists but narcissistic people seek fame.
  • Reality TV stars score higher on the NPI than other celebrities.

OK… given these different findings (some of which are still up for debate in academic circles), what should we make of teens’ participation on social network sites in relation to narcissism?

My view is that we have trained our children to be narcissistic and that this is having all sorts of terrifying repercussions; to deal with this, we’re blaming the manifestations instead of addressing the root causes and the mythmaking that we do to maintain social hierarchies. Let’s unpack that for a moment.

American individualism (and self-esteem education) have allowed us to uphold a myth of meritocracy. We sell young people the idea that anyone can succeed, anyone can be president. We ignore the fact that working class kids get working class jobs. This, of course, has been exacerbated in recent years. There used to be meaningful working class labor that young people were excited to be a part of. It was primarily masculine labor and it was rewarded through set hierarchies and unions helped maintain that structure. The unions crumpled in the 1980s and by the time the 1987 recession hit, there was a teenage wasteland No longer were young people being socialized into meaningful working class labor; the only path out was the “lottery” (aka becoming a famous rock star, athlete, etc.).

Since the late 80s, the lottery system has become more magnificent and corporatized. While there’s nothing meritocratic about reality TV or the Spice Girls, the myth of meritocracy remains. Over and over, working class kids tell me that they’re a better singer than anyone on American Idol and that this is why they’re going to get to be on the show. This makes me sigh. Do i burst their bubble by explaining that American Idol is another version of Jerry Springer where hegemonic society can mock wannabes? Or does their dream have value?

So, we have a generation growing up being told that they can be anyone, magnifying the level of narcissism. Narcissists seek fame and Hollywood dangles fame like a carrot on a stick. Meanwhile, technology emerges that challenges broadcast’s control over distribution. It just takes a few Internet success stories for fame-seeking narcissists to begin projecting themselves into the web in the hopes of being seen and being validated. While the important baseline of peer-validation still dominates, the hopes of becoming famous are still part of the narrative. Unfortunately, it’s kinda like watching wannabe actors work as waiters in Hollywood. They think that they’ll be found there because one day long ago someone was and so they go to work everyday in a menial service job with a dream.

Perhaps i should rally behind people’s dreams, but i tend to find them quite disturbing. It is these kinds of dreams that uphold the American myths that get us into such trouble. They also uphold hegemony and the powerful feed on their dreams, offering nothing in return. We can talk about reality TV as an amazing opportunity for anyone to act, but realistically, it’s nothing more than Hollywood’s effort to bust the actors’ guild and related unions. Feed on people’s desire for fame, pay them next to nothing and voila profit margin!

Unfortunately, union busting is the least of my worries when it comes to dream parasites. When i was trying to unpack the role of crystal meth in domestic violence, i started realizing that the meth offered a panacea when the fantasy bubble burst. Needless to say, this resulted in a spiral into hell for many once-dreamers. The next step was even more nauseating. When i started seeing how people in rural America recovered from meth, i found one common solution: born-again Christianity. The fervor for fame which was suppressed by meth re-emerged in zealous religiosity. Christianity promised an even less visible salvation: God’s grace. While blind faith is at the root of both fame-seeking and Christianity, Christianity offers a much more viable explanation for failures: God is teaching you a lesson… be patient, worship God, repent, and when you reach heaven you will understand.

While i have little issue with the core tenants of Christianity or religion in general, i am disgusted by the Christian Industrial Complex. In short, i believe that there is nothing Christian about the major institutions behind modern day organized American Christianity. Decades ago, the Salvation Army actively engaged in union-busting in order to maintain the status-quo. Today, the Christian Industrial Complex has risen into power in both politics and corporate life, but their underlying mission is the same: justify poor people’s industrial slavery so that the rich and powerful can become more rich and powerful. Ah, the modernization of the Protestant Ethic.

Let’s pop the stack and return to fame-seeking and massively networked society. Often, you hear Internet people modify Andy Warhol’s famous quote to note that on the Internet, everyone will be famous amongst 15. I find this very curious, because aren’t both time and audience needed to be famous? Is one really famous for 15 minutes? Or amongst 15? Or is it just about the perceived rewards around fame?

Why is it that people want to be famous? When i ask teens about their desire to be famous, it all boils down to one thing: freedom. If you’re famous, you don’t have to work. If you’re famous, you can buy anything you want. If you’re famous, your parents can’t tell you what to do. If you’re famous, you can have interesting friends and go to interesting parties. If you’re famous, you’re free! This is another bubble that i wonder whether or not i should burst. Anyone who has worked with celebrities knows that fame comes with a price and that price is unimaginable to those who don’t have to pay it.

How does this view of fame play into narcissism? If you think you’re all that, you don’t want to be told what to do or how to do it… You think you’re above all of that. When you’re parents are telling you that you have to clean your room and that you’re not allowed out, they’re cramping your style. How can you be anyone you want to be if you can’t even leave the house? Fame appears to be a freedom from all of that.

The question remains… does micro-fame (such as the attention one gets from being very cool on MySpace) feed into the desires of narcissists to get attention? On a certain level, yes. The attention feels good, it feeds the ego. But the thing about micro-celebrities is that they’re not free from attack. One of the reasons that celebrities go batty is that fame feeds into their narcissism, further heightening their sense of self-worth as more and more people tell them that they’re all that. They never see criticism, their narcissism is never called into check. This isn’t true with micro-fame and this is especially not true online when celebrities face their fans (and haters) directly. Net celebrities feel the exhaustion of attention and nagging much quicker than Hollywood celebrities. It’s a lot easier to burn out quicker and before reaching that mass scale of fame. Perhaps this keeps some of the desire for fame in check? Perhaps not. I honestly don’t know.

What i do know is that MySpace provides a platform for people to seek attention. It does not inherently provide attention and this is why even if people wanted 90M viewers to their blog, they’re likely to only get 6. MySpace may help some people feel the rush of attention, but it does not create the desire for attention. The desire for attention runs much deeper and has more to do with how we as a society value people than with what technology we provide them.

I am most certainly worried about the level of narcissism that exists today. I am worried by how we feed our children meritocratic myths and dreams of being anyone just so that current powers can maintain their supremacy at a direct cost to those who are supplying the dreams. I am worried that our “solutions” to the burst bubble are physically, psychologically, and culturally devastating, filled with hate and toxic waste. I am worried that Paris Hilton is a more meaningful role model to most American girls than Mother Theresa ever was. But i am not inherently worried about social network technology or video cameras or magazines. I’m worried by how society leverages different media to perpetuate disturbing ideals and pray on people’s desire for freedom and attention. Eliminating MySpace will not stop the narcissistic crisis that we’re facing; it will simply allow us to play ostrich as we continue to damage our children with unrealistic views of the world.

web 1-2-3

I’m often asked what “Web 3.0” will be about. Lately, i have found myself talking about two critical stages of web sociality in order to explain where we’re going. I realized that i never succinctly described this here so i thought i should.

In early networked publics, there were two primary organizing principles for group sociability: interests and activities. People came together on rec.motorcylcles because they shared an interest in motorcycles. People also came together in work groups to discuss activities. Usenet, mailing lists, chatrooms, etc. were organized around these principles.

By and large, these were strangers meeting. Early net adopters were often engaging with people like them who were not geographically proximate. Then the boom hit and everyone got online, often to email with their friends (and consume). With everyone online, the organizing principles of sociality shifted.

As blogging began to take hold, people started arranging themselves around pre-existing friend groups. In this way, the organizing principle was about ego-centric networks. People’s “communities” began being defined by their friends. This model is quite different than group-driven structures where there are defined network boundaries. Ego-centric system are a (mostly) continuous graph. There are certainly clusters, but rarely bounded groups. This is precisely how we get the notion of “6 degrees of separation.” While blogging (and to a lesser degree homepages) were key to this shift, it was really social network sites that took the ball to the endzone. They made the networks visible, allowing people to put themselves at the center of their world. We finally have a world wide WEB of people, not just documents.

When i think about what’s next, i don’t think it’s going more virtual, more removed from everyday life. Actually, i think it’s even more connected to everyday life. We moved from ideas to people. What’s next? Place.

I believe that geographic-dependent context will be the next key shift. GPS, mesh networks, articulated presence, etc. People want to go mobile and they want to use technology to help them engage in the mobile world. Unfortunately, i think we have huge structural barriers in front of us. It’s not that we *can’t* do this on a technological level, it’s that there are old-skool institutions that want to get in the way. And they want to do it by plugging the market and shaping the law to their advantage. Primarily, i’m talking about carriers. And the handset makers who help keep the carriers alive. Let me explain.

The internet was not *made* for social communities. It was not *made* for social network sites. This grew because some creative folks decided to build on the open platform that was made available. Until recently, network neutrality was never a debate in the internet world because it was assumed. Given a connection (and time and literacy), anyone could contribute. Gotta love libertarian idealism.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for the mobile network. There’s never been neutrality and it’s the last thing that the carriers want. They want to control every byte and every application that can be put on the handsets that they adopt (and control through locking). In short, they want to control *everything*. It’s near impossible to develop networked social applications for mobiles. If it works on one carrier, it’s bound to be ignored by others. Even worse, the carriers have a disincentive to allow you to spread bytes over the network. (I can’t imagine how much those with all-you-can-eat plans detest Twittr.) Culturally, this is the step that’s next. Too bad i think that inane corporate bullshit is going to get in the way.

Of course, while i think that people want to move in this direction, i also think that privacy confusion has only just begun.

where are the people?

Following SXSW-Interactive, i rented a car and headed to suburbs outside of Austin to interview teens. Between my interviews, i drove around the different suburbs to check out what i could see. It was completely eerie. While the streets of Austin are overflowing with SXSW attendees, the suburbs are startlingly silent. During the 3+ hours of touring various neighborhoods, i saw a total of two kids outside (on their driveway). While this may make sense for a typical weekday, it’s spring break in Austin. It might also have made sense if the weather was dreadful, but both days were in the mid-70s. I saw numerous sprinklers watering grass, but there were no kids playing on the grass.

The explanations that i heard outside of Austin were like the ones i’ve heard so many times before:

  • “There’s nothing to do outside.”
  • “My parents won’t let me.” (Typically followed with a remark of what the parents are afraid of.)
  • “None of my friends live nearby.” (Typically followed by a comment on needing parents to drive them anywhere)

Sometimes, i hear comments about the fast-moving cars and the lack of sidewalks. In the cities, i hear about gang turf wars. In newer suburban neighborhoods, i hear about not knowing/trusting the neighbors. Whatever the excuse, i rarely hear teens talk about things that they do outside in open space. (Sports typically happen outside in closed space.)

My mother remembers getting lost on July 4th in the suburbs of New Jersey a few years back. She felt like she ran into the twilight zone. There were no BBQs, no picnics, no pickup football games, no family gatherings, no chalk on the streets, no nothing. Everyone was indoors.

This makes me sad, very very sad.

conference circuit

I’m about to begin my crazy spring conference circuit. First up is SXSW where i’m speaking about teens at 11.30 on Saturday and interviewing Henry Jenkins at 11.30 on Monday. For those attending the conference, do *not* miss the latter. Henry’s ideas are of utmost importance to those involved in social media and i’m excited to help him share with a new audience. Following SXSW, i will be interviewing teens in Texas before heading to ICWSM to talk about social media. Immediately following that is Etech where i will be giving a fun talk entitled “Incantations for Muggles.” Humor me. I think it’s a hysterical title and it makes me giggle every time. Each of these conferences will provide a different slant on social media and i’d encourage you to attend the ones most relevant to you (aka: all).

After the tech circuit, i will be off to New York, Kansas, and Iowa for a combination of speaking gigs and interviewing teens. And then back to LA for 10 days. It’s gonna be brutal but i’m looking forward to it.

Anyhow, i’m letting you know this because my response time is probably going to go below its normal terrible time. I’m really stoked for the conferences though so i hope you’ll join me and come out and play. I apologize that i won’t schedule meetings during these events – i treat them as a mini-vacation where i release myself from schedules. Join me on that level and i promise they will be fun and goofy!

CFP: Public Practices, Social Software: Examining social practices in networked publics

Nicole Ellison, Scott Golder, and i are putting together a workshop for the 3rd Annual Communities and Technologies Conference on Public Practices, Social Software: Examining social practices in networked publics. Below is the basic description:

This full-day workshop proposes to bring together researchers interested in studying social software. We use this term loosely to include social network sites (e.g., Cyworld, MySpace, orkut, and Facebook), contemporary online dating services (e.g., Friendster, Spring Street Personals,, blogging services (e.g., LiveJournal, Xanga, Blogger), tagging tools (e.g., Digg) and media sharing sites (e.g., YouTube, Flickr). Although the functionality of these sites differs greatly, there are some common features: a user-generated profile, visible linkages between users, public communication forums (such as message boards or comments), and persistent traces of user behavior.

Although we intend to appeal to broad range of researchers, we expect that we will primarily draw the attention of those studying social network sites. At the same time, we recognize that there is a lot of crossover between social network sites and the broader realm of social software. We are hoping that cross-pollination would be helpful to both. While we are aware of and have access to dozens of researchers interested in social network sites, we are not certain of the number of researchers looking at other forms of social software.

If you are interested, please see the workshop homepage for more information on how to apply. Note: the deadline for workshop proposals is April 23, 2007. The workshop will take place at the C&T conference on June 28, 2007.

government demands UGC surveillance

The Bush administration has accelerated its Internet surveillance push by proposing that Web sites must keep records of who uploads photographs or videos in case police determine the content is illegal and choose to investigate. — Declan McCullagh, CNET News.

::jaw on ground:: I really hope Declan is wrong on this report because if he’s not, we’re in deep shit. Can you even imagine what this would mean for civil liberties and freedom of speech? This data retention idea is on par with the China policy. ::eyes wide open::

My favorite part of the article is:

Only universities and libraries would be excluded, one participant said. “There’s a PR concern with including the libraries, so we’re not going to include them,” the participant quoted the Justice Department as saying. “We know we’re going to get a pushback, so we’re not going to do that.”

No shit you’d get a pushback. And yet this is the same government that wants to require that all schools and libraries block all content-sharing sites for minors. Put together, there’d be very little in the way of sharing.

Does anyone know if this is real? Links for more information?

(Tx Xeni)