Monthly Archives: November 2007

vacation was glorious

I’m baaaaack. OMG, it was sooo lovely to relax on the beach with friends. Fiction was read (i *really* loved The Glass Castle), Mayan ruins were visited, fishies were viewed through snorkel gear, food was eaten, and there was a lot of hammocking. Glorious glorious be vacation. And now I’m 30 (and 😛 to all of you who pointed out that this means I entered my 31st year).

More photos can be found here and here.

We ended up staying at a little house north of Tulum called Casa Rosa. Aside from the decorator’s obsession with Pier 1, it was the most glorious place ever. If anyone wants a getaway with a group of friends, I strongly strongly recommend staying at Casa Rosa. I’m sooo going back. Yay for perfect affordable getaway house on the beach.

I strongly recommend against AeroMexico. One of my friends who was supposed to go on the adventure showed up at the airport to find that they had oversold her flight and they didn’t promise they’d get her there for the holiday weekend. They wouldn’t even check her in. No voluntary giving up of seats – they simply denied her access. Bad AeroMexico – that’s totally unacceptable. I will never fly with them as a result. It was complete bullshit and she ended up not being able to get to the vacation at all. Bleh.

The Tulum ruins were pretty, but I really got a kick out of the Chichen Itza ballcourt, although I still don’t understand the game that the Mayans were playing. And was it the winners who were sacrificed or the losers?

a burfday on da beach

The time has come where I must say goodbye to my 20s. To celebrate the beginning of my 30th year on this earth, I’ve decided to run away with a few friends and ponder the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I’m headed to Tulum to play on the beach and wander through the ruins of ancient Mayan civilizations. More importantly, I’m about to embark on 10 days without Internet or email or phone contact. See you in December!

(Pic by zanzibar)

gluttonous texting

For peculiar business reasons, Americans and Canadians have historically paid to receive text messages (although much of Canada has shifted away from this). This creates a stilted social dynamic whereby a friend forces you to pay $.10 (or use up a precious token msg in your plan) simply by deciding to send you something. You have no choice. There’s no blocking, no opt-out. Direct to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Needless to say, this alters the culture of texting. From the getgo, Americans have been very cautious about texting. To be on the safe side, many Americans did not add texting to their plan so sending a text message was often futile because it was never clear if a text message would be received by the phone in question or just disappear into the ether. Slowly, mobile users figured out who had SMS and who didn’t, but they were still super cautious about sending messages. It just felt rude, or wrong, or risky.

Teens, of course, never had this filter. They were perfectly happy to text. So much so that their parents refused to get them plans that supported it because, not surprisingly, there were all sorts of horror stories about teens who had texted up $700 phone bills. Sure enough, every family that I spoke with told me their version of the horror story and. In the U.S., we don’t have pay-as-you-go so going over minutes or texts just gets added to your monthly bill. If you’re not careful, that bill can get mighty costly. Unable to declare a max cost upfront, parents have been tremendously wary of teen texting simply for economic costs (although the occasional predator or cheating-in-school scare story does surface). Slowly, things have turned around, primarily with the introduction of cheap all-you-can-eat text messaging plans (and those that are so ridiculously high that it’s hard to go over). Once the barrier to participation is dropped, sending and receiving text messages switches from being potentially traumatic to outright fun. What a difference those plans make in user practice. The brick leash suddenly turns into an extension of the thumb for negotiating full-time intimate communities.

I’m fascinated by how U.S. teens build intricate models of which friends are available via mobile and which aren’t. Teens know who is on what plan, who can be called after 7PM, who can be called after 9PM, who can receive texts, who is over their texting for the month, etc. It’s part of their mental model of their social network and knowing this is a core exchange of friendship.

Psychologically, all-you-can-eat plans change everything. Rather than having to mentally calculate the number of texts sent and received (because the phones rarely do it for you and the carriers like to make that info obscure), a floodgate of opportunities is suddenly opened. The weights are lifted and freedom reigns. The result? Zero to a thousand text messages in under a month! Those on all-you-can-eat plans go hog wild. Every mundane thought is transmitted and the phones go buzz buzz buzz. Those with restrictive plans are treated with caution, left out of the fluid communication flow and brought in for more practical or content-filled purposes (or by sig others who ignore these norms and face the ire of parents).

All-you-can-eat plans are still relatively rare in Europe. For that matter, plans are relatively rare (while pay-as-you-go options were introduced in the U.S. relatively late and are not nearly as common as monthly plans). When a European youth runs out of texts and can’t afford to top up, they simply don’t text. But they can still receive texts without cost so they aren’t actually kept out of the loop; they just have to call to respond if they still have minutes or borrow a friend’s phone. What you see in Europe is a muffled fluidity of communication, comfortable but not excessive. As the U.S. goes from 0 to all-you-can-eat in one foul swoop, American texting culture is beginning to look quite different than what exists in Europe. Whenever I walk into a T-Mobile and ask who goes over their $10/1000 text message plan, the answer is uniform: “every teenager.” Rather than averaging a relatively conservative number of texts per month (like 200), gluttonous teen America is already on route to thousands of texts per month. They text like they IM, a practice mastered in middle school. Rather than sending a few messages a day, I’m seeing 20-50+. College students appear to text just as much as teens. Older users are less inclined to be so prolific, but maybe this is because they are far more accustomed to the onerous plans and never really developed a fluid texting practice while younger.

Whatever the case, it’s clear by comparing European and American practices that the economics of texting play a significant role in how this practice is adopted. It’s more than one’s individual plan too because there’s no point in texting if your friends can’t receive them. As we watch this play out, I can’t help but wonder about the stupidity of data plan implementation. Just last week, I went with my partner to AT&T to activate his Nokia N95. He was primed to add data to his plan because of the potential for the phone, but we both nearly had a heart attack when we learned that 4MB of data would cost $10 and unlimited would cost $70. We walked away without a data plan. More and more phones are data-enabled, but only the techno-elite are going to add such ridiculously costly plans. (And what on earth can you do with only 4MB?) It’s pretty clear that the carriers do not actually want you to use data. The story is even scarier in Europe with no unlimited options. Who actually wants to calculate how many MB a site might be and surf accordingly? And forget about social apps with uncontrollable data counts. There’s a lot to be said about paying to not having to actually worry about it.

who has a cute new car? me!!!

::giggle:: Guess who came home from the car dealer with a new gadget? A big one with monthly installments and lots of legal paperwork? ::bounce:: Isn’t he cute??

Thanks to everyone for your input! You really helped me with my research process and I super appreciate it. I decided to go with a Scion xD because it was the right combination of small, cheap, quirky, practical, and dependable. I feel a little guilty because it’s painfully clear that Scion is targeted directly at people like me and I hate ending up fitting into a stereotype, but, well… it is nice to have an iPod jack built in standard and have a design aesthetic meant for hipster 20-30somethings. Plus, I have to admit that I loved the non-sleazyness of the Santa Monica Scion/Toyota people who knew how to handle young people who didn’t want to be dicked around. I really am a sucker for non-corporate corporateness.

Now, it’s just time to name him. (Somehow, in my world, cars always get boy pronouns… kinda like dogs=male and cats=female.) My first car was an old Saab 900 named Cody after the Kerouac character who was always going somewhere but no one could ever figure out where. My second car, a Hyundai Elantra, was originally Cody Jr. but then got nicknamed Pierre on a roadtrip after it was clear that his horn was awfully nasal-y and French. We also decided that Pierre was gay because he was always getting attacked by mean people who didn’t seem to understand him (for example, thieves broke into his trunk one night and took a Cribbage game that was housed in a CD-like case). OK… I’m going to stop there because it’s probably clear that I’m feeling a little loopy and some might find my personification of my cars a little strange…

algorithms for dumb security questions

I share David Weinberger’s irritation with dumb security questions, albeit for slightly different reasons. My irritation stems from the fact that they are often culturally insensitive, require brilliant memories, and assume that favorites don’t change. Maybe I’m not normal, but I have no foggy clue who my 1st grade teacher is, I couldn’t name a single sports team, and my favorite movie changes depending on who I’m talking to let alone how I’m feeling that day. (Today, I think that The Matrix will do.) David gripes about the fact that people’s favorite tastes are quite common; my problem is that we know damn well that people are dreadful at this, but that it works quite nicely as a way of marking identity on online dating sites. Which reminds me. Why are security questions the same as the information that you put on your public MySpace page? Dumb dumb dumb.

So you know that people write down their dumb answers and then lose them and then they’re screwed. I’ve decided to approach this from a different angle. I’ve instituted a consistent tactic for answering stupid security questions. It’s an algorithmic approach. The basic structure is:

[Snarky Bad Attitude Phrase] + [Core Noun Phrase] + [Unique Word]

Although these are not my actual phrases, let’s map them for example:

  • Snarky Bad Attitude Phrase = StupidQuestion
  • Unique Word = Booyah

Thus, when I’m asked the following question: What is your favorite sports team?

My answer would be: StupidQuestion SportsTeam Booyah

And when they ask: What was the first car you owned?

I’d respond: StupidQuestion Car Booyah

It’s easy to remember a snarky bad attitude phrase and a unique word that you use consistently. And then to make sure you’re answering the right question (cuz they do have scripts that check that you’re not answering all questions the same way), you just have to be able to pick out the noun phrase each time.

Of course, the fact that I have to do this just pisses me off to no end. And I still can’t figure out why they can’t ask me to write my own question, store that in cleartext, encrypt my answer, and then offer me back my cleartext question rather than a stupid list of 8 questions that boggle my mind and remind me of how heterogeneous the world is. I realize that it’s the difference between a byte and a string, but when we’re talking about security, is that really a big deal? Grumble grumble grumble. (an “open brand” lab project of Blyk)

Most people know that I study social network sites. Most people do not know that I’ve been tracking emergent mobile social practices. Or rather, waiting and watching. We all know about talking and texting, but to take the mobile to the next level, we need to develop applications that allow for social interaction at a mobile level. The problem is that there are huge barriers that make this darn near impossible. It’s not all about the carriers, but well, they do deserve a lot of the blame. More on that topic shortly…

As with my other research endeavors, I like to blog my observations and thoughts (otherwise known as blowing off steam). Luckily, as I was starting to put together some of my notes about what I wanted to say about mobile social youth practices, along came an opportunity. Blyk – a U.K.-based mobile network for the 16-24 market – has asked me and other researchers to blog about the intersection between mobile, youth, and consumer practices at a site called is an “open brand” lab project by the creators of Blyk. Just as “shift 6” equals “insert here” on your keyboard, is meant to pool ideas about what’s going on in a collaborative and productive way that is transparent and available to anyone who is interested in these issues. I am honored to get to blog alongside Alison Black (psychologist extrodinaire) and Inma Martinez (humanizer of technology), two researchers who are dedicated to understanding what it is that people actually do, as well as Marko Ahtisaari, one of the troublemakers behind Blyk who used to head design strategy at Nokia. I think that having this group blog will allow me to articulate what I’m observing in the mobile space in a collaborative and productive manner. And maybe make it useful to others.

I will cross-post many of my posts, but not all. So… if you are interested in mobile + youth + consumer practices, I recommend you add the feed to your reader. Besides, you wouldn’t want to miss any posts from the other esteemed bloggers. We’re just getting this project rolling, but expect to see a post per day or so on In the meantime, if you want to know more about why I’m invested in this project, I recommend checking out my first post: Changing the Rules for Mobile.

(PS: This also means that I will not stop blogging during my dissertation; blogging about mobile-social-youth will be a nice break for me as I write about American teens and publics.)

my long lost handwriting

I tried to write a letter this week. As in I tried to pick up a pen and form letters through odd wrist motions rather than click-clicking my expression. I wasn’t even going for cursive, but I was going for legibility so I tried to form the letters carefully. My first attempt failed so I grabbed a new piece of paper and tried again. After the second sentence, my wrists hurt and my garbled sentence was barely readable and I wanted to go back and delete one of the words. I gave up. I wrote an email.

At breakfast this morning, I was reading about the costs of teachers’ failure to teach penmanship to children. Failure to write often results in reduced math and literacy skills, yet teachers are spending fewer and fewer hours per week teaching penmanship.

I can’t help but wonder about this. I did learn how to write and, given the number of diaries I found last week, I wrote plenty… until college. I learned to type in high school and by college, I went completely digital for everything except problem sets. My college diaries were digital and my assignments were typed and printed out. I can’t remember the last time that I wrote a letter by hand. The only thing that I know how to do with a pen these days is underline sentences in books, add 20% tips to credit card receipts, and scrawl my illegible signature. Once in a while, I write a few words on a stick-it and post it to my fridge as a reminder of something. But seriously, I don’t write.

My handwriting skills have decayed. My ability to communicate without editing has decayed. My patience for creating text at a rate slower than I think has decayed. Typing is fast, handwriting is slow. So is handwriting all that important? Maybe the key is to learn to write while learning to read and then happily forget how to write? Or maybe my brain has turned to all sorts of mush without me even knowing it…

(On a related note, I wonder if Brown still makes students handwrite their college applications? Boy was that a bitch. Then again, I always wondered how many students had their parents do it…)

It’s Live! New JCMC on Social Network Sites

It gives me unquantifiable amounts of joy to announce that the JCMC special theme issue on “Social Network Sites” is now completely birthed. It was a long and intense labor, but all eight newborn articles are doing just fine and the new mommies are as proud as could be. So please, join us in our celebration by heading on over to the Journal for Computer-Mediated Communication and snuggling up to an article or two. The more you love them, the more they’ll prosper!

JCMC Special Theme Issue on “Social Network Sites”
Guest Editors: danah boyd and Nicole Ellison

Please feel free to pass this announcement on to anyone you think might find value from this special issue.

Race/ethnicity and parent education differences in usage of Facebook and MySpace

In June, I wrote a controversial blog essay about how U.S. teens appeared to be self-dividing by class on MySpace and Facebook during the 2006-2007 school year. This piece got me into loads of trouble for all sorts of reasons, forcing me to respond to some of the most intense critiques.

While what I was observing went beyond what could be quantitatively measured, certain aspects of it could be measured. To my absolute delight, Eszter Hargittai (professor at Northwestern) had collected data to measure certain aspects of the divide that I was trying to articulate. Not surprising (to me at least), what she was seeing lined up completely with what I was seeing on the ground.

Her latest article “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites” (published as a part of Nicole Ellison and my JCMC special issue on social network sites) suggests that Facebook and MySpace usage are divided by race/ethnicity and parent education (two common measures of “class” in the U.S.). Her findings are based on a survey of 1060 first year students at the diverse University of Illinois-Chicago campus during February and March of 2007. For more details on her methodology, see her methods section.

While over 99% of the students had heard of both Facebook and MySpace, 79% use Facebook and 55% use MySpace. The story looks a bit different when you break it down by race/ethnicity and parent education:

While Eszter is not able to measure the other aspects of lifestyle that I was trying to describe that differentiate usage, she is able to show that Facebook and MySpace usage differs by race/ethnicity and parent education. These substitutes for “class” can be contested, but what is important here is that there is genuinely differences in usage patterns, even with consistent familiarity. People are segmenting themselves in networked publics and this links to the ways in which they are segmented in everyday life. Hopefully Eszter’s article helps those who can’t read qualitative data understand that what I was observing is real and measurable.

(We are still waiting for all of the JCMC articles from our special issue to be live on the site. Fore more information on this special issue, please see the Introduction that Nicole and I wrote: Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.)

Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship

For over a year now, Nicole Ellison and I have been working on putting together a special issue of JCMC on “Social Network Sites.” Not all of the pieces are live yet, so I’m going to wait until they are before highlighting them and encouraging you to go there. (But! If you want to get a taste, their abstracts are all up on the site as temporary holders.)

In the meantime, I wanted to announce that our introduction is live. So, go check out: Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison. Many of you helped us put together the history section (thank you!) so now you can see the completed version. This piece contains four key sections:

  • a usable definition of “social network sites”
  • a history of some of the major shifts in the development of SNSs
  • a literature review of work done in this space
  • a description of the articles included in the special issue

Given all of the emergent work in this space, we hope that this article will help scholars, businessfolk, and curious individuals get a coherent picture of what’s happening in the space. Of course, as with all definitions, histories, and literature reviews, much is open to debate. We of course welcome your critique and look forward to the conversations that this piece might spark.

More soon on the rest of the special issue. Much appreciation goes out to JCMC and Susan Herring for letting us do this and helping us along the way. Likewise, I can’t say enough nice things about the AMAZING Nicole Ellison. She was the most rocking co-editor/co-author ever and I can’t believe how fortunate I was to get to work with her.