a penny for your brain fodder

My blog is boring these days. Most of my writing energy is being spent on my dissertation. And I promise, none of you want to hear details of how I fine-tune my methodology chapter. I can’t even keep you entertained with outrageous tales of sordid trysts because, well, there aren’t any. Hell, I barely leave the house. The most exciting moments in my life occur when my cat snarls at the neighbor cat who tries to steal her food. And, well, that minutia is better left for Twitter. I could blog the dreams I’ve been having that involve Marx and Engels yelling at each other, but those make me look psychotic. So I’d rather not. That pretty much leaves grocery lists, health rants, and detailed discussions of the variability in Los Angeles weather.

Part of the problem is that I’ve been pretty disengaged with everything but my dissertation. I don’t keep up with blogs or gossip and I have been dreadful at making it to events that would normally stimulate me to comment on events out in the world. Most likely, you’re more engaged with social media these days than I am. Or you’re here accidentally. And really bored. Presumably, if you keep coming back, you’re waiting for me to say something interesting. Or maybe you’re just sick and twisted.

So how about we make a deal… Why don’t you help me find fodder to ramble and I’ll try to be provocative in return? (Or at least more entertaining than I am now.)

If you’ve got something you want me to comment on, leave a comment. Write questions, share links, whatever. I can’t promise that I’ll get to everything nor can I promise that I’ll want to comment on everything, but at least that’ll give me a sense of what you might find interesting and it’ll give me something other than my dissertation to think about. Being a hermit makes it hard to determine what is interesting. Anyhow, let’s just give this a try… Perhaps it’ll be an abysmal failure but perhaps it’ll be an interesting experiment.

So what’s on YOUR mind these days?

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50 thoughts on “a penny for your brain fodder

  1. Justin

    I could blog the dreams I’ve been having that involve Marx and Engels yelling at each other, but those make me look psychotic. So I’d rather not.

    At one point during my undergraduate dissertation blitz, I had a dream that Foucault was attempting to inject heroin into my feet.

    Just thought I’d mention it as a reasurrance of sorts. Of course, now I look psychotic. πŸ˜›

  2. Sherman Dorn

    Don’t tempt us! Okay, some provocations:

    1) How did Games Learning Society become such the “cool kids” conference this summer, and should I suck up the expense and go next year?

    2) Alison Bechdel or Jorge Cham?

    5–No! 3) Hobbes or Mr. Peabody?

    And keep chugging away at the dissertation.

  3. mike lewis

    i have a few things on my mind.

    First, Batman (The Dark Knight) but i’ll spare you my thoughts on it. I personally liked Batman Begins better and am wondering if we’ll ever get out of non-stop superhero or those type of movies (Hulk, Hellboy, Batman, Bond, Mummy, Transformers, etc.)

    Second, data portability. If every social net is an island and data portability is a bridge between each one, then what are you thoughts on Google’s FriendConnect and (announced today) Facebook’s FacebookConnect? Are these actually bridges? I don’t think so. Can trust them or are they just ways for Google and FB to capture more users? Be curious what you think

  4. Nav


    1) Every (literary) academic I speak to eventually argues that the ‘text’ of the internet doesn’t ultimately differ from other texts as, in classic post-blah style, everything – identity, public space, memory etc. – is always-already a text. I don’t agree but haven’t been able to formulate a coherent response, especially for people who think that Derrida pre-figured the Web.
    2) Sorta’ similar, but does identity online differ from the texts of identity ‘IRL’ or those contained in books i.e. the identity of an author?
    3) Why is my belly-button lint always blue? Seriously. If I could get that figured out, I’m positive work on the diss would proceed much more smoothly… πŸ™‚

    Love the blog!

  5. Mike Arauz

    (we can be patient. you’ve earned it.)

    so, Google launched Knol today.

    i know we’re supposed to believe that Google can do no wrong, but it seems to me that the idea of a collection of “authority” authored articles flies in the face of the kind of learning and collective knowledge that the internet has enabled. While more and more we are moving towards the realization of a functional collective conscious that embraces and harnesses the wisdom of crowds, Google is taking a step in the opposite direction.

    What do you think?

  6. AJ Cann

    I was going to suggest the motivation behind Google knol too – there, I have. So that makes two of us. Google says that knol is an alternative to blogging (and theses? and Twitter?): http://buzz.blogger.com/2008/07/introducing-knol.html

    Blogs are great for quickly and easily getting your latest writing out to your readers, while knols are better for when you want to write an authoritative article on a single topic. The tone is more formal, and, while it’s easy to update the content and keep it fresh, knols aren’t designed for continuously posting new content or threading

    What do you think?

  7. Dan

    Believe it or not, I’m jealous. I’m still working on my comps. I also wouldn’t worry about the dreams. Real psychosis is wondering about an online social ecology model for online support groups while teaching my 6 and 8 year olds how to throw a football.

    Here’s something I’ve been wondering about you since subscribing to your blog (or transferring to you while wondering this about myself). What’s next for you? Are you heading to academia or the private sector? Will Dr. boyd work in a think tank, start her own company or follow the digital lives of the this generation as they raise real babies with digital identities formed before they can read or write?

    As for your writing, do as Dory would, “Just keep swimming.” I read (most of) your thesis, and am looking forward to your next work. I know I’m not alone.

  8. Pamela Poole

    Hi Danah.

    I’m launching a startup that involves social networking. Because of that, I’ve done some superficial research on online social behavior and thought it would be interesting just for kicks to reread Toffler’s Future Shock and see which of the social behaviors he predicted could be applied to the Internet age and social media.

    Sure enough, I was struck by one thing he said about the increasing mobility of society and the concept of “placelessness”: “Mobility has stirred the pot so thoroughly that the important differences between people are no longer strongly place related. …[I]t might be said that commitments are shifting from place-related structures (city, state, nation or neighborhood) to those (corporation, profession, friendship network) that are themselves mobile, fluid, and, for all practical purposes, placeless.”

    No place is more placeless than the Web.

    I also have personal reasons for wanting to understand why some people are more comfortable having online identities and creating relationships via the Internet. I’m one of those people who moved every two years of my life and, therefore 1) was never limited by an attachment to a place and, 2) learned very young to assert my identity in new situations and create new relationships. I wonder if a study were done of the people who have rich online lives we would find that a large percentage of them have a background like mine.

    (I’m a friend of Claire U’s in Paris and she introduced me to your work through her article in Le Monde 2 last year.)

  9. Pamela Poole

    I should add that my curiosity about people with online lives applies not to younger Internet users–we know they are comfortable online because they grew up with the Internet–but to older users of pre-Internet generations (I was born in 1961). I think most of your work has been done on the younger crowd…

  10. Mike Plugh

    Hey danah.

    I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the paradigm shift in communication environments from literacy to secondary orality and how we’re becoming a cybernetic tribe of post-literate beings.


    Sweet or Salty? Your choice in snack food.

  11. Davy

    I was wondering (though I am still young and healthy) what will happen with my online life, once I leave this earth for what it is. What can people find behind all those passwords of SNS, email accounts, blogs … What’s in it for my heirs? Could there be something like an online cemetary? Will people make a testament about this?
    Maybe I should write a blog about it myself πŸ™‚
    What do you want to happen with all your interesting (and at this moment perhaps less mind-blowing) digital footprint?

    Greetings from Belgium, wishing you all the best!

  12. Shalmanese

    The new facebook redesign, does it feed or abate narcissism? How will it change the way teens choose to express themselves and construct their identity?

  13. clayburell

    Okay, this k-12 educator who drank the “global collaboration” edu-koolaid a couple years ago will bite:

    I saw your preso on YouTube (where, Berkman? Berkeley? I forget), and your summary of your research on teen practice online supported a creeping suspicion from my own experience that teens just aren’t yet psychologically developed enough to “get” the power of global networking. Their maturity levels – and thus their online practices – are still local and somewhat narcissistic. So while their teachers expect all sorts of vistas to expand in their students’ understandings, the students are pretty uninterested in the fact that they’re doing project work with other students a pole away, and far more interested in working online with their schoolmates in a classroom down the hall.

    So: a) Do you think “flat classroom” projects (global collaborations) in high school assume a psycho-social developmental level that teens largely lack, and thus might be a largely wasted effort on the part of their teachers (who do grasp the significance of the shifts)?

    b) At what age do you think such experiences will enhance education?

    Sheesh, this feels as woolly as my grey matter right now. Hope it makes sense.

  14. SteveO

    I’m curious why you feel compelled to produce entries for your blog at all if the dissertation is not complete and nothing is springing to mind.

    You feel the need to be productive obviously, but you are producing. Where does the need to produce–*here*–come from? What internal forces are at work there?

  15. George

    This comment is for clayburell:

    I don’t think that teens lack the psychocosial foundations of connecting with the world. For the past 4 years, we have held global projects connecting 3 million students from across the world with each other and with experts investigating environmental change and life in the Arctic regions of the world. Their experiences caused change rarely seen in the regular old classroom. In other words, they initiated action within their own community, holding fundraisers, carving dogsleds (the projects have to do with dogsleding across the arctic), and striving to teach others (adults and teens alike) that local actions have global implications… My perspective is that teens are ready. We just need to figure out the best way to get them excited about such projects. If you just tell them “hey look, here’s a kid in Greece, talk to her” I don’t think you’ll be seeing much “change.”

    I hope this makes sense πŸ™‚ I haven’t had coffee yet!

  16. Tex

    I’ve been having the same issue on my blog lately, and it occurred to me (and was reinforced by your post), to wonder why we consider ourselves boring if we don’t have juicy tidbits to impress other people with. Personally, I’ve been caught up in trying to find another job and balance a burgeoning relationship with a lovely lady. Quite frankly, I don’t think this makes me boring at all. I think it makes me a normal human being who is currently involved in living life.

    So I suppose a little fodder for thought would be: what is it about our class and status that makes us consider the day to day business of living “boring?” In other words, why are we more concerned with impressing outsiders with the appearance of coolness than in simply going about our own needs quietly?

  17. clayburell

    @George: More than clear, bloody inspirational. Please do me a favor and copy and paste your comment on my latest post, an “Open Thread” extending the question I posted in this comment (I thought danah’s spam filter ate it, and figured my readers had plenty good insight to add as well).

    I’d love to hear more, maybe do a podcast interview?

  18. Larry

    You recently posted a video of one of your former professors dancing. How about a video of you dancing? Although traditionally, performed by (Hungarian) men, I think it would be nice to see you doing something like this dance.

  19. Brendan

    Hey Danah,

    Having been fascinated by your studies of youth behaviour and social media, my interest is in the impact these youth might (likely will) make as they enter the workforce (not so much the part-time jobs, more the corporate offices, government offices etc.) and the impact that this will have on those organizations that seek to recruit them, enable them, but also those that still elect to ban access to the Facebooks and the Youtubes, and your thoughts on what behavioural changes might take place as a result.

    Never boring. Please keep writing.

  20. zipthwung

    1) ADD and internet addiction. Is it real or am I ok?

    2) Job boards. WTF!

    3) Revisit net art 1.0 – sites like the digital landfill. Remember that?

    4) Linguistic drift and the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis. Are we what we eat? I’ve been reading McDonalds wrappers.

    5) Net psychosis, apophenia and schitzophrenia. What do the Eskimos know about surviving sensory deprivation that may save my life?

  21. paul moody

    Ok, Danah, on my mind lately is the rise of the avatar as an expressive outlet for cultural identity. I know its an old topic – but as people now increasingly expand their social network globally, avatars provide a nice option as a carrier of cultural identity vs. stock profiles and myspace pages. So what do you think about avatars and how they might evolve as identity signals? Oh, and it sounds like you’ve recovered from Beijing – good to hear. Cheers, paul

  22. Joe Drumgoole

    What happens when todays gen-Y becomes tomorrows gen-X?

    Where will today’s Club-penguin users end up?

    Who owns the social network accounts of dead people?

    Who owns the history about what I’ve looked at on the web?

    How do I delete myself from Google?

  23. greg rebel

    The difficulties of diluting mass communications into useful constructs within a self-centered social universe really digs under my skin.

    Trying really hard to get to an “oh!” and instead finding an “ahhh”.

  24. zipthwung

    Reaching individuals in a broadcast medium (multivalent or polysemic messages).

    Why is the president talking to me personally? It’s unseemly!

    Marketing as a social storm.

  25. zipthwung

    1) Multivalent or polysemic messages – Reaching individuals (the ultimate niche market) in a broadcast medium.

    2) Why is the president talking to me personally on TV? WHy can;t he just email me?

    3) Marketing as a broadcast (social) storm.

    4) Weather and thermodynamics as a metaphor for marketing and propagation of ideas instead of epidemiology and diseases.

  26. Larry

    Since Batman and the Joker have been in the news lately, maybe you have some thoughts on the potential for nefarious deeds when super-villains discover Social Networking.

  27. Safoora

    I stalked you on facebook to ask you this:

    where did “zephoria” come from? Are you jewish? or you just picked it
    up from burning man or something?

  28. Steve

    Wow. Some of these comments are way radical, intellectual, and over my head.

    I saw David W. on YouTube yesterday. Here’s the link – http://youtube.com/watch?v=3svVKMwZ2xk. He’s talking about how you can’t predict the culture that will form in and around new public spaces. And he uses elevators – connective spaces – to make his point. Also Amazon, Flickr, etcetera.

    And I’m wondering who’s actually treating social media sites as public spaces, and doing the ethnographies of their emergent culture. Besides you?

    Anyone looking at yelp.com, for example?

  29. Steve

    I think you might find this article interesting too… https://www.technologyreview.com/Biztech/20922/

    The basic gripe being that emergent social media is not actually able to carry its own economic weight 99% of the time. Does that mean that our online culture is basically doomed? Will the new frontier get shut down by the railroad robber barons? (That last bit is just incendiary. But I do think there’s something to be concerned about here…)

  30. Salman FF

    What a great thread of comments…
    Danah – Couple of things I would love to get your thoughts on:
    1. I remember some of your earlier papers talked about kids’ multiple identities and the fluidity (or was it temporariness) of some of these identities. Facebook seems to require much more “solid” digital identities, by closely tying them to usrs’ real world identity. How does that change your thoughts and early observations on friendster and myspace? Are kids changing? Or are they just using facebook differently, or ignoring it or.. or…
    2. I’d love to hear your take on the “Social Graph” portability issue. a) What do YOU think about the debates and actions taken by various players in the space (goog, myspace, facebook…)? b) Does any one care? (I heard a third hand quote – via the Gillmore-gang – from someone at one of the large social networking sites, that most of their users don’t care.

    Good luck on your dissertation.

  31. Stephane

    It’s a blog.
    Don’t feel pressured into writing for it. The RSS feed is there when you do.

    Or you can write about the pressure to write for one’s blog πŸ˜‰

    Also, I’m never bored here.

  32. Tim McCormack

    As I prepare to leave for Northeastern University, I’ve had non-negotiated surprise contracts on my mind. When choosing a school, there is no way to find out ahead of time all the agreements to which you will have to sign your name. For example, NEU’s acceptable use policy has some pretty horrendous components: No expectation of privacy, and no publishing of information that could compromise NEU network security (obviously including general network security papers, possibly even written for a class).

  33. Steve


    One of my long standing interests (since I discovered usenet in the early nineties) is how cyber spaces impact structures of social attention. The aphorism “everybody is famous to 15 people” although provocative, and pointing to an important insight, is almost certainly wrong. Some are famous to thousands or more, some are famous to few or none. Even should some measure of central tendency actually compute to 15, that tells us very little. What is interesting is the shape of the curve.

    It strikes me that there are figures potentially available which could help answer this question. It would be so awesome if somebody could obtain the actual statistics of MySpace friend counts. Then we could actually see the curve of number of friends versus number of users with that friend count. Then, given that as an empirical starting point, theorize about why the curve looks like it does. For bonus points – do other SNS services have similar or different shaped curves? Why or why not?

    And a few random responses to others’ comments

    Nav said,

    “Sorta’ similar, but does identity online differ from the texts of identity ‘IRL’ or those contained in books i.e. the identity of an author?”

    To me this is an easy one. When a presented text can be responded to with immediacy in public view, with the response juxtaposed to the original, this changes the whole notion of what it means to be text – hence it must change text-mediated conceptions of identity. If identity is socially constructed, changing the tools by which that construction occurs will certainly change the “finished product”.

    Mike said,

    “… it seems to me that the idea of a collection of “authority” authored articles flies in the face of the kind of learning and collective knowledge that the internet has enabled.”

    To me the issue is not one of whether there will be authority, but what the process looks like by which authority emerges, and how the process of being/following authority is structured in time and space. I’m not familiar with the Google effort, but it sounds like simply a move in the dance.

    Joe said

    “How do I delete myself from Google?”

    It never fails to amaze me that privacy issues are raised by those who choose to present themselves in a venue accessible to 2 billion or so strangers.

    Just some thoughts,

    (Not the Steve who posted above)

  34. Steve

    And then I thought – maybe what danah was really asking for was something provocative from the world of events – rather than just the minds of us readers.

    Well, that shouldn’t be hard. I googled the phrase “the teen market” feeling sure something provocative would emerge.

    Here’s a blurb from the site of Alloy Media & Marketing


    High-impact, clutter-free teen advertising combining school colors and mascot, coach’s message board and two panels for ads and editorials. Located in over 8,000 high school and middle school locker rooms, GymBoards features GymShorts, our monthly wall poster magazine. Best option for targeting a specific gender.

    And that’s just a quick selection from my first click. Surely I could have found much better if I’d had more time to look.

    Have fun, and best of luck with your dissertation,

  35. Scott Crawford

    The incredible and mysterious power of toes to draw your attention away from everything else in life, especially at times like

  36. Scott Thorpe

    I had a great conversation with my fiance about what knowledge is.

    We came up with this.

    We learn by communicating with each other because each one of us is different but not so different we can’t learn from one another. When we communicate we store a little bit of that person in ourselves which we call memory. The smartest people on our planet are the ones who can see every persons point of view and knows how to apply it. Spark your interest?

    I blogged about it to.


  37. Eric Dewhirst

    I think perhaps what is needed is mental release which will revitalize you. So this is my suggestion in a step by step form.

    1) Shut down your laptop
    2) Turn off your phone
    3) Release yourself of any electronic distraction
    4) Go get your CD’s out – and pull out “Not a Pretty Girl”
    5) Play it in order on a stereo with speakers and not on your headphones
    6) Think of the things you thought of when you first really fell in love with that album
    7) Then go out for a walk

    That is what I think you should do because I know the idea is to bring in new ideas when really there are already a lot of new ideas buzzing around in your head – however it is your thoughts of the past that brought you to this place and perhaps that kind of reflection will help.

    Cheers – Eric
    P.S. This is what I do – however I put on “Growing Up in Public”

  38. Eric

    I know I’m a bit of a latecomer to this conversation, but I wanted to push on something that came up in a number of previous comments.

    Nav had asked, “does identity online differ from the texts of identity ‘IRL’ or those contained in books i.e. the identity of an author?” Pamela Poole, Davy, and clayburell ask similar, provocative questions about the relationship between online identity and offline identity. In response to Nav, Steve argues that the nature of online tools and interaction “changes the whole notion of what it means to be text – hence it must change text-mediated conceptions of identity.”

    the question that I’d like to ask is about this very notion of online/offline. does it make sense, or is it beneficial (conceptually, analytically, practically), to make a distinction between online and offline? yes, lots of people, especially teens, are incredibly socially (inter)active online, but those people with whom they interact are often people they know offline, as well. clearly, the two are not mutually exclusive.

    however, I don’t think online and offline identities are completely coincident, either. in a talk about MMOGs, Celia Pearce quoted someone (I don’t recall whom), saying that, when we play, we play someone who is not us but who is not not us, either. I suspect something similar happens when people go online; their online identity is not who they are, but it is not someone else entirely, either.

    these and other factors combine to make me wonder, is the distinction between online and offline an important, useful, or interesting one? or is it perhaps instead detrimental, causing us to miss important aspects of the fluid nature of identity construction across these various media? I’m inclined to agree with the later assertion. rather than looking at the internet as an object that determines whether a given identity is an online identity or an offline identity, perhaps we might look at the net as one medium among many through which identity is constructed.

    I’m not saying that we always believe there is a clear split between online and offline, but in order conceptually to grapple with these complexities, I think we need new ways of talking about, and thinking about, how technologically-mediated identity construction relates to other kinds of identity construction.

  39. Eric

    btw, I loved the first comment from Justin about Foucault injecting heroin into his feet. priceless.

    I totally feel your pain about being totally immersed in your research and finding it difficult to comment intelligently on anything else. try to relax every now and again, and let us know who wins the Marx vs. Engles steel cage death match.

  40. Steve

    I’m going to have to stop checking this blog during my work hours – because I want to post comments instead of working. But Eric’s comments about the online/offilne identity issue heve provoked me to think broadly about what is this “identity” thing and how does it work.

    My exposure to notions of identity in socisl theory is limited to freshman sociology, in which I was taught (if I remember after all these years) that there is a theory of the social construction of identity due, I believe, to George Herbert Mead who is supposed to have believed that our notion of self is forged by our relationships – starting from earliest infancy and childhood. Makes a lot of sense to me – though I don’t think it’s the whole story. But it makes a convenient jumping off point.

    Let’s take a crack at defining “identity”. My attempt would be as follows. When one acting as subject contemplates one’s “self” as object, ones description, evaluation and emotional response to that object are what we usually call “identity”.

    Now people vary in the degree to which they engagwe in contemplating themself as object. Us introspective types probably do it a lot. I would expect extroverts to do it less. And I would suggest that for those who contemplate themself less, “identity” is less well articulated, but also less fluid. Kind of “just there” – taken for granted.

    Now for those of us who think a lot about “who am I”, one thing we notice is that the answer to that question changes substantially in the varying circumstances of one’s life. Let’s consider (as a for instance) bilingualism. Will one’s sense of identity differ among ones’s (say) Spanish speaking peers compared to those with whom one speaks English? I say in general – yes but. One’s behavior, “personality”, and one’s impression of “who I am” may change slightly or markedly. But, unless one has MPD there is something that does not change. The “Operating System Kernel” monitors all the changes and notices them. But that monitoring itself represents a continuity of “something”.

    Now let’s throw out a few more potential identity benders. Will your identity differ among different peer groups? How about in different roles? Is the football hero a different guy on the field, in the locker room with his buddies, parked in the back seat with the head cheerleader, at home enjoying Mom’s chicken soup, at the meeting with the college athletic recruiter? (Some of these examples are perhaps specific to my generation – feel free to substitute your own).

    Now perhaps we can ask “are you somebody different online?”. I would say “Yes – many different somebodys – just as you are offline”.

    So, I’m saying that I think important elements of identity, though not its entirety, is context dependent and the most important element of those contexts is the social dimension. So then, does online/offline cancel out, as Eric seems to suggest? I think not. Because social processes online are different from those offline. And, as well, are differnet in different online venues.

    Just as a few quick examples, social processes differ among large forums (eg usenet), chat rooms (eg IRC), online role playing/gaming environments, SNS, IM, cell-phone “texting”, small blogs, medium blogs, mega-blog sites (eg Daily Kos). In each of these venues technical constraints and opportunities shape the prefferred pattern of social relationships, sometimes by design, and hence must help shape identity.

    Now the impact of online venues on identity may not be different in a fundamental sense from the impact of factors such as literacy, mobility, urbanization, language, and others. But it has its own unique character for all that. The online environment is genuinely new in human experience. And we are alive at the very beginning. So, in a practical sense, even if not in a philosophical one, it really is a big deal.

    And, kind of an afterthought, which doesn’t fit neatly into where I thought I was going with all this. It strikes me as very interesting for this question that the online environment has an unprecedented collection of formal tools designed explicitly to facilitate the construction of one’s presented identity. And, we see an explosive proliferation of constructed identities as a consequence. Offline, false identities are rare enough to be remarkable – as in the Movie “The Great Imposter” based on the book “The Great Pretender” – the story of Fred Demara who pretended quite effectively to be many different people – none of whom were authentically him. Online, a milder version of this syndrome is perhaps as common as not. Does anybody here really atempt to maintain a unified identity across your various online venues? I think not.

    Provocative as always,

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