Tag Archives: social media

Cyber- digital- virtual- … space?

Following on from my post earlier, I’ve been thinking about another issue that I discuss in my thesis. It’s related to the notion that there’s really no use for digital dualisms (real/virtual, offline/online, etc) that are often deployed when talking about the Internet.

Something I didn’t get around to mentioning but intended to was the fact that I still find the concept of cyberspace useful, but I am struggling with the terminology.

Due to the fact that my research investigates geography and place identity (i.e. our relationship and identification with the environments we inhabit – taking ‘place’ as different to ‘space’ in that place is “location (space) made meaningful” [see Tuan, Cresswell]) and social networks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about what cyberspace means in the early twenty first century.

cyberspace

cyberspace: not quite this hectic, as far as i know. is that a body? do we even need bodies in cyberspace?? (hint: yes) //source//

I’m sure it has different meaning today than it did in the early 1990s, when cyberspace was posited as a futuristic, disembodied, dislocated Other world. It was firmly situated within the realm of the online/virtual, and in cyberculture studies the tension between our physical reality (perceived as flawed, restrictive; at a time when the (western) world was experiencing the first true dissolution of geographical boundaries, the body was an encumbrance to freedom) and the desire to exist purely as data inside the network.

Have you seen The Matrix? That, really. Jacking in, logging on, and dropping out: it was all about information, where to find it, and how to absorb as much as possible.

The only real problem with this was that it wasn’t entirely feasible. As far as I know, in 2013 science has still not found a way to separate mind and body, allowing the psyche to be uploaded to the network in order that one may live as a series of ones and zeroes, free from the constraints of ill-health, age, race, gender, death, and the need to pee. And that’s not to mention the ethical issues. I receive emails from my department reminding me to review ethics clearance for my research, which involves trawling blogs and social media and waxing lyrical about them. I can’t even imagine trying to get ethics clearance for a project that would essentially kill the physical body whilst preserving the human mind inside a machine.

Tres complique!

So it’s fair to say that cyberspace, as the ultimate pre-dot-com-bubble-burst buzzword, is probably no longer useful in the 1990s sense. However – and this is where it might get a bit mind-blowy (or maybe not) – I firmly believe that we now live in cyberspace.

This is where I come back to Nathan Jurgenson’s post that I commented on previously. He argues that there’s no need for digital dualisms, and I agree. When was the last time you used Google Maps your mobile phone to find your way to a friends’ house? Have you ever used Urbanspoon to find a restaurant recommendation when you’ve been out in town and want something good that’s within walking distance? Have you checked in on Foursquare or Facebook Places, or uploaded a photo to Instagram (they’re geotagged, you know), or tweeted from a festival? Have you asked for recommendations, or visited your national news website and automatically been directed toward the local news?

This is cyberspace, friends.

In many ways, ‘cyberspace’ forms a useful portmanteau – cyber referring to information (rather than virtual or fake), and ‘space’ to, well, geographical space – for labeling the relationship between data and materiality. When we participate and contribute content (status updates, photographs, videos, music downloads, check ins, reviews, ratings), we’re telling the network something about us, and about the places we inhabit. Our interaction with our physical surroundings is richer and more complex because “it” (the Internet – or more accurately, the algorithms and programming that allow information to be fed back to us as users) knows so much about us, our world, and what we want. Isn’t that a grand thing?

Like I said at the beginning though, I do struggle with the term ‘cyberspace’, probably because it is difficult to shake off the 90s connotations. The second you say ‘cyberspace’, it conjures up images of ones and zeroes and terrible (but awesome) movies like Hackers.

It’s also a term that I can’t help but want to use ironically, because it’s just really naff. But what should we say? Is there a good way to describe this network of information that coexists with our physical world?

Does the world need the new Myspace?

Imagine this: The Internet holds a party. All the usual suspects come: Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Soundcloud, Pinterest, Instagram, and a bunch of others, plus some quality A-list celebrities for good measure. It’s fun, but eventually things get a bit too rowdy and, like any good party*, debauchery occurs and everyone wanders home in the morning missing items of clothing and feeling a little bit sorry for themselves.

Then, down the track, out pops a baby. That baby is the new Myspace.

newmyspace

‘your stream is empty’: the nice way of saying ‘you have no friends and no interests, you boring shit’

Not to be confused with the hectic, migraine-inducing disaster of the old Myspace, the new Myspace is slick, algorithmic (it knows exactly what I want! Or does it?), and full of Justin Timberlake.

But is it really necessary?

I mean sure, it looks good, and chances are that there will be a whole new user base that never used the shitty old Myspace platform. Combined with a bunch of people who liked it enough to sign up again, the new Myspace might have potential. On the other hand, it might prove to be just another social media platform. And don’t get me started on the fact that it’s being called “the new Myspace” in the media. It feels like “The New iPad”. Wank less, please.

It’s more than a social network, more than a photo sharing site, more than a place for musicians and artists to be discovered. It’s kind of all of these things at once, but the way I see it, I already have so many other platforms that are allowing me to share, connect, and discover. I have more than enough ways of connecting with the people I already know, to the extent that I have little interest in searching for my Twitter or Facebook friends on Myspace (although this is possible. It’s also possible to sign in with Twitter or Facebook – a feature that increasingly makes me roll my eyes. Sometimes I just don’t want all my online activity to be strung together and interlinked). I connect with friends, acquaintances  and people of interest all over the web and on mobile-native platforms, so do I really need Myspace?

I feel like Google+ was the great white hope for a viable alternative to Facebook, but it hasn’t really picked up steam on a broad scale… even though people continue to whinge about Facebook and its various displeasing terms and conditions. Perhaps the new Myspace will do what G+ hasn’t yet been able to do, and succeed in drawing people across from Facebook. Is there a need for another major social platform to coexist with Facebook, though? Or are we finally growing tired of Facebook’s dominance?

Admittedly, I probably won’t use the new Myspace, so my questioning of its value may be biased. I didn’t use the old Myspace because it was an eyesore and a shining example of Why People Shouldn’t Be Allowed The Internet (i.e. too much teen angst + too much attitude + too much sex + too many colours and fonts and flashing things makes Erin something something). I probably won’t use the new Myspace because I already feel like my web presence is spread fairly thin, and at this point in time I’m looking for something to make managing my distributed self a little easier, rather than something that’s just going to add to my presence without really bringing anything new to the table.

Maybe, though, it will be a massive success. It’s prettier than Facebook, that’s for sure, although it’s not terribly intuitive (I saw the link to add my Facebook friends when I first signed up, but now I can’t find it. That’s annoying.), but I do like the ability to search for people by location (both users and artists). I also find it kind of creepy. Immediately I see some of my former students in the list of other users from Perth who are, incidentally, disproportionately male. I didn’t specify my gender when I signed up, but it’s almost if it somehow knows I am female, and then assumes that because I am female, I will be looking for men in my area. Is this a dating service, or a social networking site?

That’s another thing. It’s definitely more of a social networking site rather than a social network site, given the emphasis on discovery and being able to locate potential ‘friends’ by location. In that way, it’s almost as though Myspace have acknowledged that you might be kinda bored by connecting with people you already know by this stage – or, maybe, they’re just covering all their bases. The new Myspace: a place for people to find potential lovers and articulate once more how many friends they have (and then show all those friends how eclectic and obscure one’s taste in music is).

I don’t know. I’m skeptical. Maybe I’ll keep an eye on this development and check back in six months time to see whether the new Myspace has changed the world… or whether it’s just old hat.

Mapping Perth’s tweets

Following on from my previous post, another fun tool to have a play with is One Million Tweets. Whilst the apps I demonstrated in the previous post mapped Instagram images, this web-based tool plots – you guessed it – Twitter posts in real time:

onemilliontweetworldview

For me, it raises a whole lot of questions about privacy and how much information users really want to be sharing when they’re online – and whether users know how much information they actually are sharing when they post content. I monitor the location data I share with the network; sometimes I’ll turn it on (for example, if I’m at a restaurant and have eaten something fantastic, I might post a photo to Instagram that is geotagged so that anyone searching that restaurant can see it; another way that I use geotags is when uploading holiday photos to Flickr, so that I can keep track of where a particular image was captured), but most of the time it’s off. I’m not even particularly concerned about privacy or security – I just believe that part of being an engaged digital citizen is being aware of the contributions you are actually making.

You can sit there and watch located tweets populated the map on a global scale, or you can manually drill-down to get a closer look:

onemilliontweetperth

 

Or even a bit closer:

onemilliontweetinnercity

Or right down to street level:

onemillionstreetview

The nosey creature in me finds this kind of thing absolutely fascinating, but the sensible human being in me is very cautious of information being geolocated right down to the street number. As I mentioned, it all comes back to what you’re willing to share – keeping in mind that, due to networked identities (i.e. distributing your online practices across a number of platforms and services), you’re often going to post content to one platform, but syndicate it to others.

This certainly isn’t an exercise in fear mongering but it’s worth thinking about.

On the other hand, I really love having the ability to see what people are tweeting about, and where they’re tweeting from. It adds to a rich digital landscape that ultimately makes the city more useful to me. The information we share contributes to a virtual network of information that could be said to lay over the top of our real world; that is, there’s much more to the places we occupy than buildings and services. At our fingertips, we have access to a world of information, from restaurant menus to user reviews and recommendations. This all adds to the effectiveness of the social map of our city that we perpetually refine.

Flickr – the web’s most successful SNS?

As the picture above suggests, I’ve been an Flickr user for 8 years, and Instagram (though I do use it) does not even compare. One of my main reasons, other than research purposes, for using Instagram was the fact that my social network on Flickr was limited. There was nothing wrong with the site – it’s just that the kids (i.e. my friends) hadn’t caught on.

Flickr has recently launched a new smartphone app (as far as I know it’s on Android & iPhone – I’ve got an Android and it’s definitely available there) that makes navigating, sharing, and socialising easier than ever, whilst the web-based site remains as good as ever.

I’m going to comment more on the whole Instagram-photo-ownership-shebang when I’ve had my morning coffee and sorted out what this day has in store for me, but in the mean time you can read what Tama Leaver had to say about the service’s updated terms of use.

I don’t know if I’ll jump ship on Instagram entirely, but I’m going to preference Flickr once more – just like I did for 7.5 of the past 8 years.

8,993 photos in to a flickr love affair

 

Social media demographics: Not just loudmouth ignorant kids, after all.

Pingdom released data a month ago charting the demographics of various social media platforms, and it’s an interesting read.

There is a very real negativity when it comes to social media, with many people assuming that it’s destroying our youth and creating a generation of ignorant, anti-social zombies who have no ability to communicate face-to-face and little interest in anything other than posting endless selfies on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Not so, critics.

One of the most interesting things from my perspective is that this study is that more than 50% of social media users are aged between 25-44. At 28 years of age I slot in at the lower end of this age group, and I must stick up for my demographic category when I say that I’m certainly not part of a disconnection generation.

Then again, I grew up offline.

The age groups younger than mine – 0-17 and 18-24 – possibly didn’t have that luxury. Many of them don’t remember a world without the Internet, and more significantly, a world without broadband, which has allowed instant and persistent connectivity. However, I refuse to believe that lifelong Internet use has has a negative impact upon these people. In fact, I firmly believe that growing up in this era of digital ubiquity has created a generation of people who intrinsically understand technology and how to process information. They’re a generation that know more about the world than we, and those who came before us, ever did.

Sure, they sometimes post stupid things online and forget that the written word is markedly different to spoken ephemera, but I’d like to speak to the person who didn’t do something silly in their youth and have to learn a harsh lesson from their actions.

The widespread cynicism over social development amongst smartphoned young people is another thing that bothers me. Critics seem to forget something fairly major about the perma-connected youth of today: they still do things like attend school and hold down casual jobs. They still have families and friends. This means that they’re still interacting with people on a daily basis. The fact that they might seem endlessly engaged in a Facebook conversation doesn’t mean that they’re not learning to engage with others. It might just be that they’re engaging in a different way.

I refuse to believe in the myth of the selfish, distracted youth of today. Sure, sometimes you get shitty service in stores or some snot-nosed kid pushes in front of you in line, but guess what? That’s pretty much every group of teenagers, ever, since the invention of teenagers themselves. The only different is that we’re getting older and more critical, just like every other generation has done before us.

Back to the study, though. There are more people using social media between the ages of 45-54 than there are between the ages of 18-24. Think about that. Yes, it’s a bigger age group (10 versus 7 years), but it suggests that social media is far more embedded into our parents’ daily Internet use than they’d like to believe. Even sites like Facebook – long considered the bastion of youthful irresponsibility online – has far more ages in the 45-54 age bracket than it does in the 18-24.

Perhaps, just maybe, the youth of today aren’t as stupid and shallow as we like to think they are.