Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Livin in the Ghetto Ivory Tower

By now, you know that danah boyd has written a long, heartfelt essay about the "class divide" between Myspace and Facebook. ie,

Is this really insightful? It shouldn't be - not even a little bit.

Networks are nothing if not dependent on history, and Facebook started out not just at colleges, but at Harvard.

One might reasonably expect it to be just a wee bit more heavily weighted towards the relatively affluent and educated.

Danah goes on then to bemoan the fact that real-world social structures are being "reproduced" in the online world.

Are they really? Or is it just a function of the fact that networks generate enormous positive feedback, which, of course, is also what being a teenager is really about?

Look, I like a lot of danah's work. But this is really, really off. It's shallow, simplistic, and almost insulting stuff.

She almost sounds as if she pities Myspace kids. Why the whiff of elitism?

Perhaps it's a giveaway as to her unstated, but omnipresent, assumption - that social nets are there to educate and enlighten the poor, pitiable drooling proletarian masses.

What you should note - rather than hazy conclusions built on obsolete neo Marxist arguments - is that Myspace and Facebook are very different kinds of networks, with vastly different value propositions, and which have had very different histories.

-- umair // 3:09 AM // 6 comments


Thought you had fallen off the face of the earth :)
// Blogger Simon Cast // 9:44 AM

I don't know that you really hit Danah's concerns on the head. She talks for a long time about what she sees as the "culture of fear" being reproduced by marking some social networks as desirable and others as undesirable. I don't think that for a minute she pities MySpace kids - in fact if anything I think she identifies with what she calls the non-hegemonic "sub-altern" teens and how their space has been marked (she argues) as a 'bad place' by parents, peers, society, whatever.

And if the internet is making being a non-hegemonic (gay, uncool, foreign, whatever) teeneager even worse than it used to be, then I agree with her - it is something to be regretted.

I also think your characterisation of her as caring about the poor proles is also off. She's concerned with the oppressed but not (just) the economicially oppressed: latinos, immigrants, art fags, goths, etc. You brought the class warfare to the argument, not her.

Having said that, I don't think this essay should've got anywhere near the attention it did. I'm really skeptical about the empirical work she did (but then again she's in cultural studies while I had positivism rammed down my throat), but most importantly I think her analysis is quite sloppy and underthought. She says as much, again and again throughout the piece, saying she's reporting impressions, but as an academic I think she has the responsibility to work these ideas through more thoroughly. I want to read about reality, not her impressions.
// Anonymous Andrew // 7:58 PM

hey simon,

i almost did :)

hey andrew,

i think there is a Marxist/class warfare assumption implicit in "hegemonic", no?

like danah, you're assuming that facebook is making kids better off, and myspace is making them worse off.

this - the proles assumption - is a huge assumption to make.

and it's an unfounded one.

from an economic pov, in fact, myspace has made ppl far better off - especially if they were "oppressed" to begin with.

thx for the comments.
// Blogger umair // 8:10 PM

I agree 100%, I had the same reaction when I read of the essay on Mashable, I mean a "social scientist" that defines a crowd as smarter than other is just plain superficial.
// Blogger La Tela // 3:14 PM

I think another issue is even if it was accepted that Facebook is for college kids and MySpace is the ghetto....what then? Busing? A Brown vs the Board of Education for Social Networks Ruling?

These are social networks that are open to everyone, not private clubs where the rules can be forced to be changed to make them more heterogeneous.

They evolved, they were not created by some evil elist social network god who said "haves" go to Facebook and "have nots" got to MySpace.
// Blogger Marianne // 5:43 AM

The Grime / UK Garage scene basically lives on myspace. They are openly dissing facebook in lyrics: "dun know the facebook"

"If u Wanna Know Anything about me Holla!! Please Note: I DO NOT OWN A BEBO, HI5, FACEBOOK, FACE-PIC, FACEHOOD OR FACE-ANYTHING! SO IF YOU SPEAK TO Kams ON ANY OF THESE SITES TELL Him Kams from myspace SAID "WHA GWARN?" ....."


Every time professional web people hate on Myspace I try to teach them that it is precisely the messy, throbbing, swirling experience that makes it so funny and makes it work. It gives it texture, it makes it into a verb : "myspace me". Your arms get physically tense after a few hours of churning through pages. You can't even load Terror Danjah's page because of all the videos. That's totally humour and deliberate on his part. Fix it and you break it.

As a web programmer I laugh at it (10 year old fusebox model), but as a musician I enjoy it.

Its NOISY, and that's where new codes are developed.

Facebook is like: "Look here teenagers, a nice clean place for you all to hang out in ! Its quiet and nice and doesn't stink of cigarettes and old laundry like that horrible hole you've been hanging out in." Yeah right.

Large amounts of normal people will jump ship though, since Facebook actually works and has much nicer messaging. And myspace has started to feel old for the last year or so.

Look at It looks like a glossy magazine. yuck.

I don't know about class warfare (that's such a British obsession IMO). I do know about cultural noise, and there is often a correlation with class.
// Blogger felix // 11:26 PM
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