I’m coming to New York next week to give a talk at the New School with Ethan Zuckerman and Trebor Scholz. If you’re in the area, come! It’s a public talk and it should be mighty fun.
Democratization and the Networked Public Sphere
* Panel Discussion with danah boyd, Trebor Scholz, and Ethan Zuckerman
Friday, April 13, 2007, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
The New School, Theresa Lang Community and Student Center
55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor
New York City
Admission: $8, free for all students, New School faculty, staff, and alumni with valid ID
This evening at the Vera List Center for Art & Politics will discuss the potential of sociable media such as weblogs and social networking sites to democratize society through emerging cultures of broad participation.
danah boyd will argue four points. 1) Networked publics are changing the way public life is organized. 2) Our understandings of public/private are being radically altered 3) Participation in public life is critical to the functioning of democracy. 4) We have destroyed youths’ access to unmediated public life. Why are we now destroying their access to mediated public life? What consequences does this have for democracy?
Trebor Scholz will present the paradox of affective immaterial labor. Content generated by networked publics was the main reason for the fact that the top ten sites on the World Wide Web accounted for most Internet traffic last year. Community is the commodity, worth billions. The very few get even richer building on the backs of the immaterial labor of very very many. Net publics comment, tag, rank, forward, read, subscribe, re-post, link, moderate, remix, share, collaborate, favorite, write. They flirt, work, play, chat, gossip, discuss, learn and by doing so they gain much: the pleasure of creation, knowledge, micro-fame, a “home,” friendships, and dates. They share their life experiences and archive their memories while context-providing businesses get value from their attention, time, and uploaded content. Scholz will argue against this naturalized “factory without walls” and will demand for net publics to control their own contributions.
Ethan Zuckerman will present his work on issues of media and the developing world, especially citizen media, and the technical, legal, speech, and digital divide issues that go alongside it. Starting out with a critique of cyberutopianism, Zuckerman will address citizen media and activism in developing nations, their potential for democratic change, the ways that governments (and sometimes corporations) are pushing back on their ability to democratize.
Looking forward to seeing you…
Gaahhhh! I’ll be in Orlando lecturing at Digital Now. Please give Ethan and his wife a huge hug from me!
Fair warning. There is criticism here that at points becomes harsh in tone. Rather than drop in a bunch of smileys every time I say something mean, I’ll just give my disclaimer up front. The criticism I’m going to make here is on an issue that pushes my buttons emotionally. And I jumped kind of hard on you about it. Quite possibly more than you deserve. Please believe that in spite of what I might say below, I have the highest regard for you, your work, and your insights. Reading and commenting on your blog has been a real privelege for me. You are a person I respect, and nothing I say in this rant should be taken contrary to that.
My original intention in this comment was to pick a somewhat interesting nit, based on the summary you gave of the topic of your talk. You said “…We have destroyed youths’ access to unmediated public life…”. I was getting all set to argue that this is a sweeping overgeneralization, and that in fact this varies according to factors such as class and geography.
But a funny thing happened on my way to the keyboard. I realized that I didn’t have a precise sense of exactly what you meant by “unmediated public”. I googled the term, and saw that it appears to be very much your own, and in an attempt to understand how you were using it I was drawn to read closely your article “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites”. And what I saw there changed the intended thrust of my comment.
But that’s okay, because where I was led to was something I’ve been waiting for an excuse to bring up anyway.
I first became uneasy when you said “While public transit exists in some urban regions, most of the United States lacks adequate transportation options for those who are unable to drive; given the suburbanization of the United States, teens are more likely to live in a region without public transit than one with public transit.” My first thought was, OMG, is she really about to write off the entire teen populations of places like New York City, Chicago, Lansing (where I live) and a host of other urban areas that *do* have mass transit, and which teems use? What’s up with that!!!
(And this was of particular interest in light of the comment I originally planned to write, as I was going to use the kids I see hanging out at the downtown bus terminal here in Lansing when school gets out as one of my counterexamples).
But the plot sickens.
On page 20 we see the following:
“This dynamic, while overly simplified for brevity sake, does not properly convey the
differences across different social groups within American society. It is primarily the
story of white, middle class, suburban teens.”
Well, yeah, I think that was going to be my point.
But it seems you knew it already.
So know I have to decide exactly what the thrust of my griping is going to be. I’m not going to try to tell you who’s worth studying. You’re grown, And I’m neither your dad, your pastor, nor your thesis advisor. So I have no moral authority to pick your subject matter.
I guess my issue with your approach centers around what might broadly be caled “truth in advertising”. I mean – if you want to write abuut a particular subculture of teens, go for it. That is important and useful work. A couple years ago I read a fascinating book on emo music called “Nothing Matters”. And much of the material was drawn from a the subculture of DIY garage bands on Long Island during a particular brief historical period.
But the author said that up front. He didn’t present himself as telling the story of teen musicians and then put qualifying statements in an obscure corner of his work.
And, even that wouldn’t bother me as much except for a couple of other things.
The very thing I’m griping at you about is a pervasive trend in teen-culture observant journalism. I recall a particularly blatant example, which unfortunately I didn’t save the link to. But it was one of the flood of cookie-cutter pieces claiming to analyze the relationship of “teens” to their media blah-blah-blah. The writer got all their interview respondents from the frickin’ *mall*, for crying’ out loud. What’s wrong with this picture!
Now, it’s not hard to understand why this kind of thing happens. Interest in “teen” culture is driven largely by marketing concerns. And any good marketer will go where the bucks are. And the bucks are in the ‘burbs. So, I guess there are really no surprises there. Those guys are doing what they do. It’s entirely unfair to fault a pig for oinking.
But you are not a pig.
You are a highly intelligent, decent, sensitive and honorable woman. And I’m not saying that just to kiss your butt before I “ream you a new one”. I’m saying it because it is obviously true, and shines through the entirety of your self-presentation here.
I would have expected you to be better than these guys. (And, in fairness, you *are* better than them. They would not and did not put in even a small qualification on page 20.)
But I’m disappointed that you would have jumped on that particular bandwagon even to the limited extent you did.
And, I have to admit that the whole issue pushes my buttons. I am somewhat of a culturallly predjudiced person. And the folks you study happen to be from the culture I’m predjudiced against. Which brings up an interesting point. I’ve called for “truth in advertising”. I criticize you for claiming to study “teens” when you are admittedly studying *some* teens. So how might I advise you to characterize your subjects? Well, as it happens, there is a word for these people.
A cultural epithet. IMO, an appropriately ugly term for an ugly culture. Your mileage may vary. Now, I’m not saying I’m predjudiced against individuals from that culture. There are many intelligent and caring people who through no choice of their own were born into that culture and do their best to struggle every day against the cultural assumptions of the ‘burbs. But the culture as such, IMO, is a sick one.
So, how would one characterize them in a value-neutral fashion. “Suburban teens”, I guess. (But I’d like to be a fly on the wall if a teen-observant social researcher ever openly declared that they were studying “preps”. I would predict a somewhat amusing and probably useful firestorm).
I suppose, at the end of the day, you’re doing the best you can to write about an important subject as you see it. But, I just wish there was more recognition in teen-observant journalism and research of the true diversity of the teen aged generation.
I’ll close with something I told myself I’d refrain from doing here. I had not intended to inflict my poetry on your blog. But this comment has come to the point where a couple of my poems are not only relevant to my point – but are more persuasive than either formal argument or even polemical rhetoric.
The overall theme of these two poems is what might be titled “Dandelion Lawn”. Those readers who have participated in or observed ‘burb culture will probably get what I mean by that. If not, you are probably blessed not to know.
There’s a world of smiling faces
Friendly words and social graces
Living lives in lovely houses
Cheerful children, pleasant spouses
Neighbors there to lend a hand
Life is good in Neverland
Door left open, unlocked cage
Sneak a look around backstage
See just how the show’s produced
Count the ways that you’ve been used
Maybe life ain’t all that grand
Living here in Neverland
Look behind the empty shell
Now you see the shapes of hell
Empty masks and silent screams
Images of dying dreams
Now you start to understand
The nightmare world of Neverland
Stare into the emptiness
See the truth you must confess
That’s not just any old black hole
That’s the mirror of your soul
Welcome to the merry band
You’ve got a home in Neverland
Look into the darkness longer
Make your eyes a little stronger
Can that be a human face
Peering from that tortured place?
Hold the image – don’t let go!
Can it be someone you know?
Once you figure out who’s there
Maybe you’ll know how to care
Find the courage to take your stand
And walk away from Neverland
Note – the title of this poem has nothing to do with Michael Jackson’s estate of the same name.
THE SAFETY ZONE
Living in a world of dreams
Nothing’s ever what it seems
Living in a world of lies
Empty words and alibis
Wonder why you’re so alone
Living in the Safety Zone
This should be the perfect place
Fresh mowed lawns of style and grace
Keep ugliness and danger out
(Don’t know what I’m talking about?)
So choose a life to be your own
Living in the Safety Zone
Children murdered in the street
By people that you’ll never meet
Distance wise it’s not that far
Half hour drive in your fancy car
But it’s a world that can’t be known
Living in the Safety Zone
Guess you’ll want to shut this out
(Don’t know what I’m talking about?)
Girl friend left you – sing a song of pain
Hurry past the body lying dead in the rain
You’ve got troubles of your own
Living in the Safety Zone
So will you sit and wonder why your world seems so unkind?
Will you put your eyes out and wonder why you’re blind?
Or will you figure out that we’re all the same inside
Brothers and sisters you’ve never met need you by their side
Maybe now you’ll figure it out
You know what I’m talking about!
You know you’re needed to lend a hand
You’ll find the courage to take your stand
‘Cause until we can all call this world our home
There’s never gonna be no safety zone
Thanks for listening,
Awesome event, and great presentation, Danah! I wrote up a few notes and comments on the panel discussion. I totally agree with your sad assessment of the state of political dialogue in online spaces.
I have some grounds for optimism based on cool projects that people I know are working on: YearlyKos in Second Life and Steven Clift’s e-democracy work. notably. But yeah, it’s going to be a wacky election cycle for sure.
Give me an email, if you get a chance Danah.
I might have some important data for you on this, if you need some.
Steve – i study urban, suburban, and small town teens. I do not study rural teens. That “clarification” that you pulled out of context from my paper is not a clarification of my research agenda, but of the dynamic described in the previous two paragraphs concerning compulsory high school, malls, and curfew laws. You’ve taken it out of context.
As for mass transit access, it’s far more complicated than you’ve depicted it but very few teens have access to it outside of the largest of cities. There’s another structural dynamic to it in the cities – if the parents don’t take it, it’s not even visible to the teens. It’s amazing to me how few teens in LA realize that there’s a public bus system. In most cities, buses are only available if you live in certain regions, but many people don’t live in those. Anyhow, it’s far too complicated to go into in a comment but what you’ve pulled from my paper is completely out of context and i still stand by my statement that most teens in the US have no access to public transit (some by architecture, some by social norms).
Thanks for responding. Sorry if I used your clarification out of context. I didn’t do it on purpose. My line of thought was as follows:
You summarize one of the arguments of your presentation by saying “We have destroyed youths’ access to unmediated public life.” That is sweeping. And, although I couldn’t cite specifics, it seems that I have seen statements similar to that as a persistent theme of your work. My original motivation was to criticize that and similar statements as being overly broad. And, when I realized that you were aware of class differences but did not choose to emphasize them, it was disturbing to me. Sorry if I went overboard.
Now, as to the issue itself.
I would suggest that there are many options for teens to gather in unmediated publics. Places that I see this occur in my own daily experience include video arcades, mall food courts, McDonald’s and the downtown city bus terminal. (This is in Lansing Michigan, a mid-sized city. I’m not claiming that the bus terminal would be an option in a large city like Detroit or Chicago.) Seeing teens gather in such locations is most noticible during the period immediately after school.
And what about “all ages” live music shows. These occur sporadically, but chronically, though never as much as their proponents would like, because the economics of running an all-ages venue is marginal. But they exist and persist. They would count, no?
And, what of school itself? You might argue that this is strictly regimented adult-controlled space. And there is certainly that aspect. But it is also arguable that adult control of that space is far from absolute, and that a great deal of unsanctioned action occurs in halls, lunchrooms, schoolyard, etc. (For a parallel, look at official versus actual power structures in prison environments)
Certainly, there is a perception, quite possibly exaggerated, that youth congregate in public spaces. Just look at the list of places where actual or proposed legislation seeks to exclude convicted sex offenders. Not that this proves anything. But it is interesting.
I would suggest that one might expect a different dynamic with urban versus suburban teens based in part on differing parental circumstances and expectations. My stereotype of suburban parents is that they are extremely protective of their children, compared to urban parents. The reasons for this, if it is in fact true, would be a complex mix of economic and cultural factors – too complex to go into here and now.
I would expect suburban parents to be more restrictive on where their kids might go after school, in the evening, etc. Urban kids are more likely to be seen as capable of looking after their own safety. Thus, I think that if you were to go to the cities, you would find teens in public space alive and well, though not necessarily to the extent of a generation or two ago, and probably not in the same sorts of spaces that once characterized suburbia.
This fits in with what I see with (urban) teens of my acquaintance in terms of their use of myspace.It does not appear to me that they use it as a substitute public, but more as a supplemental public, if that. Most of what I see in these myspaces is commentary on action occuring in meatspace. Not an arena of action in its own right.
(I had wanted to post a response to your post on the online dynamics of breakups, but that probably won’t happen due to time constraints. Watching Casey’s breakups with her 3 most recent ex-boyfriends, most of the action occurred in meatspace. It was alluded to, and there was communication addressed to the ex, on myspace. The tone was civil, though emotional and intense.)
I’m sorry. I could certainly be wrong about this, and as a lone unprofessional observer I obviously can’t call on any statistics to prove my point. But I do fear that you are letting a cultural bias affect your work. Not that I don’t think what you see and point to is real. I just think that there are a lot of other things also going on that probably deserve equal billing. Teens are diverse. The online experience of teens is similarly diverse.
Yours in good will,
And, a P.S. Some random notes on mass transit.
Agreed, it’s a complex issue. Lansing tends to be relatively well-served.
(Interestingly, a friend of Casey, named Ellen, used her myspace for some time to post a very well written and witty series called “tales from the bus” which chronicled her adventures on our local mass transit.)
And my other experience with a well-designed city-wide mass transit system is Chicago. And the CTA gets used. A lot. By all ages. Chicago, of course, is a very large city which confirms your point on that score. (But a lot of teens live in very large cities, if only because they *are* very large cities. They certainly form a significant part of the teen population.)
I’m not surprised that you found mass transit invisible LA. My last experience being in LA and trying to depend on mass transit was in the late sixties. It was virtually unusable at that point, and I doubt it’s gotten much better. I have always assumed that this was because most of LA’s growth occurred after the automobile had become established as the dominant mode of transpo. Contrast this with New York, Boston, and Philly, all of which have mass transit that is actually usable. (Detroit, unfortunately, is almost as bad as LA. Well, “motor city”, Whad’ya expect.)
You live in Berkley. I haven’t been back there since BART has been built, and I’ve always been curious how it transformed the mass transit picture in the Bay area. What is your observation. Is it usable? Used by teens?