danah boyd at U of M

I’m at danah boyd’s talk at the John Seely Brown Symposium at the University of Michigan this afternoon.  There was a pretty productive and interesting twitter feed on all this:  see http://wthashtag.com/Danahjsb A few thoughts as it went on and now slightly edited over coffee at the Food Whole (which explains some of the mixing of tenses and other mixes between notes at the moment and something slightly more thought out):

  • This is in the Ross School of Business.  Whoa, you talk about seeing how the other half lives.  I came from cramped and smelly Pray-Harrold where I was showing a movie to my 121 students with a laptop and a projector with crappy sound.  And then I walk into this place.  This auditorium (I’m sitting in the balcony) had freakin’ leather seats.  They probably spent more money on this room than EMU is going to spend on the interior fixtures in the Pray-Harrold remodeling.  I think they spent more money on the lobby of this building than they are going to spend on the entire project.  There was some group talking with students in the lobby about tailored suits.  The ten miles between EMU’s campus and U of M’s campus is long indeed.
  • I showed up kind of late, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed much.  A lot of stuff I’ve heard before– I like the idea of “collapsed contexts” (which is also what Wesch talks about with YouTube)  as being like a wedding:  a bunch of people come together who normally wouldn’t and the situation is more or less mediated by alcohol.  The problem is there is no alcohol like that online (says her…).
  • Now she’s talking about her argument/blog argument about her MySpace being “ghetto,” which was indeed problematic, as I recall.  Here she seems to be talking about the experience of writing in public a bit, but I think she is going back to defend her claim.  I think my problem is that all of her evidence seems to be based on the sort of unsubstantiated claims of her teens, and I don’t think cherry picking the gut feelings of teenagers really represents “evidence.”  In other words, I suppose it’s fine to say that teens perceive this to be the case, but it’d be a lot more interesting to me if she tried to peel away at that to figure out why they think this.
  • Or thought this– the split between Facebook and Myspace in terms of class I think used to be true, but probably not anymore.  As someone said in the twitter discussion, MySpace has kind of become the defacto place for indie bands.  Or I guess to the extent that this split is still true, it is perhaps less so than it used to be.   Or maybe just another way of putting it:  online spaces tend to replicate face to face world interactions, which is certainly something people have talked about for a long time.
  • How do we teach this stuff?  How does this work for learning?  boyd argues that one of the best uses of this media is for various “flex time” to help students learn about learning– I guess to make those connections beyond the classroom experience?  She sorta skips that there has always been lots of technology, but she’s right that a lot of students don’t know about technologies like delicious and a lot of students don’t seem to think about a lot about wikipedia.  They aren’t critical users.  Of course, most of what she seems to mean by students/young people is high school kids.
  • She makes also a reference to mashup culture and how a lot of students don’t seem to know much about that either– also true, I think.  I just came from teaching my 121 class (why I was late), where I am showing them the first part of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, and while it’s difficult for me to get a clear sense about what they thought about it today (didn’t have time to talk about it yet), I could tell that it was something different to them.  This “youth culture” of raves, remixes, mashups, internet culture, copyleft, etc. is probably a lot more tied to class and race than the proponents would like to admit and/or recognize.
  • “Is it the technology you’re against, or is it the things you are seeing that you are against?”  I agree with that too….
  • She told a story at the end that I thought was kind of interesting about how one group of Christian students she interviewed who thought that MySpace was a Christian web site.  boyd, obviously confused, asked why they thought that, and the students showed her that everyone they know had Christian stuff on their web site. That seems to me to undercut part of her argument a bit in that what it suggests it that users can take this giant world like MySpace and completely misinterpret it to match up with their own world views.
  • Cliff Lampe offered a pretty good response to a lot of boyd’s points; I’ll need to look him up on this.  Lampe suggests that students are using Facebook to collaborate a lot, while professors are not a part of that.  I think it’s not so much that professors are not involved in student collaboration as much as they are left out.  Or maybe a better way of putting it is students and professors both kind of need their own space, so if my students are using Facebook to collaborate with each other and are leaving me out of it, I think that’s awesome.
  • Libby Hemphill talked mostly about the problems of getting data on this, which I think is very true….
  • Ed  Vielmenti Vielmetti talked a bit about the way that the migration from one service to another is often a lot more about particular histories (a server broke, etc.) personalities (people have fights and split up groups), a whole group just moves from a mailing list, etc.  I don’t disagree with this, but that doesn’t discount completely boyd’s argument either.
  • To be honest, I got sort of distracted during John Seely Brown’s remarks by a really useful twitter post with this:  “@misterkrot: Interesting that the panel on youth use of social media has nobody under 30 on it.”

And then they kinda chatted.  One thing that I thought was interesting at the end:  boyd talked about how she started blogging because she wanted to take an independent study from a Religion professor who moved away and she wanted to post those texts online.

All in all, a pretty good talk and event.  I do think though that it is weird to have a talk about youth, class and social networks in this very fancy palace of an ivory tower and with (mostly) kind of old, rich, white people.

4 thoughts on “danah boyd at U of M”

  1. Nice synopsis of reflection on the symposium. I came over from Wayne State, and I’ve never been in the Business School of UM. Did you see that someone seemed to be selling suits and doing other business-career activities outside? As far as Myspace, I was one of those who moved, or duplicated my identity, to FB, but I’ve been using Myspace again for music-related stuff. I agree with you that the term “ghetto” is problematic and needs to be investigated more fully. Anyway, thanks for this. I am going to try to post my own reflections later and I’ll point over here.

  2. Nice writeup (with a small spell check on my name).

    I think I was trying to make the point that the teen migration from Myspace to Facebook had to be seen as part of a larger and more typical history of the net where new systems appear and create changes in online structures. You saw it when AOL users invaded Usenet, you saw it as Facebook scooped up some traffic that would have been on mailing lists, and I’m coping with it at work where AnnArbor.com has inherited some (but not all) of the old Ann Arbor News’s MLive.com commenters.

    I don’t think I disagree with danah, more that I wanted to give some perspective that it’s very typical for people to migrate between systems and sometimes to take their friends with them, and that you can explain it as part of the natural flux.

  3. It seems pretty clear to me that boyd’s argument about why there has been this migration from MySpace to Facebook is very problematic. When you combine what Lampe was saying and what you were getting at, Ed, I think this “kids left MySpace because it was ghetto” argument begins to sound more like some particular individual answers rather than patterns.

    Maybe I’m just bothered most by the use of the word “ghetto” as a sweeping generalization. I’ve heard EMU (where I teach) called a “ghetto” school, mostly by teenagers or young people, but I’ve never quite figured out what that means. Obviously, it is meant as a slur (though oddly, I don’t think it is always consciously meant as a slur having to do with race), but it also comes from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, both in terms of the word “ghetto” and the nature of EMU. For all of its diversity, EMU is still about 75% working/middle-class white kids (that is a “gut feeling” guestimate percentage– not a real number, but I bet pretty close).

    Now, can you imagine what would happen if someone considered relevant in higher ed circles tried to seriously apply this ghetto term to try to hypothesize why things are the way they are at EMU? I mean, what would happen if someone posted on a blog or wrote an article or whatever that basically said “I’ve talked with some potential students who were thinking about EMU and I’ve concluded that the problem with the school is it’s perceived as too ghetto?” I think that “someone considered relevant” would be taken to task. (And btw, while she was a PhD student when she wrote this much criticized post, she was also someone even then who was routinely quoted in the national press as an expert in social media. So I quite frankly don’t take this “I didn’t know my blog/writing was read by that many people” comment too seriously.)

    When she brought this all up during her talk, I thought she was going to do a little self-reflection and meta-analysis of the reaction, and what all this said about writing in public, about the experience of being taken to task, etc. And/or I thought she might use the talk as an opportunity to explain herself a bit more, about what she originally meant, about how her position has changed and become more nuanced, or whatever. Instead, I think what she did was basically say that she was still right, that her interview data about MySpace being “ghetto” was a) reasonable at all and b) still relevant. So I found that both surprising and problematic.

    Having said all that, I do think I agreed with her more than I disagreed. The exchange was great (thus the point of a symposium). And the chairs were sweet.

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