In the podcast, Danah Boyd is being interviewed by Krista Tippett, its lasts about 1 hour and 25 minutes, and it consists mostly of Danah reminiscing about her past.
What I got out of it is more reactions to her comments and remarks about her own digital youth, and a few remarks towards her answers (or lack of) to the questions she is presented with.
This will be a very lengthy post, so I will in no way be offended if you choose to just skim through it. At least you have been warned.
Danah starts with telling about her own meeting with digital technologies, and the internet especially. Her opinion was that at the time, it was uncool to be a nerd, and that the networked social life that we today see as completely normal, and by all means needed to be cool, is completely different to what it used to be.
This is not my experience though, when I grew up, being a part of a social network online was very cool indeed, because it ment you where a part of the select few that had access to a computer and the internet. Now I grew up in the same time as Danah, though she is a few years older than me, but when we started to use the internet was most likely only distanced by a few years. I started using the internet when I was around 8 years old, that would be in 1993, so very early on, and my family got our first computer and internet connection when I was 10.
In Danah`s part of growing up, social networks were as she says uncool, and yes, she probably started using the net a short time before me, but I think its more cultural than actual fact. As I grew up, anyone who had internet was the coolest kid in school, and the social network surrounding those kids where much more vibrant than those without.
In this section of the interview, Danah mentions her experience with chatting with a transgendered person online, and because of the anonymity provided with “hiding behind a screen” she dared to ask very personal questions. My first thought here were immediately STRANGER DANGER! This is most likely due to my sceptical nature, and my knowledge of how predators online work.
The scenario I saw when she was talking about this was along the lines of: “sexual predator pretends to be a trans, in order to gain the confidence of underage lesbian teens. Jerking off as they exchange deeply personal information”.
Online predation, stranger danger and the online hunting grounds were at that time totally unheard of. And since Danah mentions that she never actually met the person, who knows, most likely its was a sincere exchange, but chances are also there that it was someone exploiting a naive teen.
This leads to the next section of the interview, where Danah and Krista talks and discuss how online life is becoming more and more an amplification of everyday life. It is as if anything that you partake in, in your life, that you also bring online will be amplified in some form or fashion.
What is dangerous here is when the negative sides of everyday life permeates online and becomes amplified. Your fears especially, and the lack of understanding. Fear spreads from platform to platform, and takes on different meanings as the platform evolves. The example Danah use in the interview is the parent who were contacted by child services because her child was playing outside alone without supervision, even though the parent could see her from the window. This is though something that would never happen in Norway, as a child here, even today in 2017, you are encouraged to go outside and play, alone or with friends.
I don’t want to sound like I’m acting all high and mighty, but American culture has for a very long time now, been driven my fear mongering, so much so that its come to the scenario Danah mentions. Were kids no longer can play outside without a parent being present.
This fear of strangers, kidnappers and pedophiles apparently is so strong, that you risk losing custody of your child if you let them play outside alone.
So the critical issue here is: Why do we not have the same fear for children roaming the internet alone?
You can of course not sit behind them, watching their every move, what you can do, is teach them. The need for understanding and critical thinking when it comes to our and our children’s online presence is paramount. The internet is just like the park, potential predators lurks in corners, the difference is that in a park you can have physical supervision, online, not so much.
This is where we use our experience and teach our children to be aware of who and how they talk to others online. That anything they share, especially in the form of images and videos, can be used for other purposes then what they are intended for. I’m not saying that we should teach children to fear anyone who they meet online, but that they need to have a healthy dose of skepticism.
This also goes into the theme of online conduct, visibility and transparency, and in the end accountability.
Now we are more in the realm of online bullying and harassment, and the fact that unless something have a direct negative consequence, the anonymity provided by the “screen barrier” can as mentioned amplify everyday life. Inconsequential bullying in the school yard can become a much more amplified and targeted activity online.
Accountability does not solely mean that blame can be put on individuals, it also means that we can hold digital medias accountable.
Danah`s example here is the #IwasShoot campaign that went on after the Ferguson incident.
The media was accused of vilifying and criminalizing teens by using the most incriminating pictures they could find. Instead of picking portraits or pictures where the victim seems happy and likable, they chose to use pictures that portrayed the victim in a negative light.
The people using the #IwasShoot uploaded two pictures of themselves, one normal where they where in a normal situation, and the other where they posed angrily, or wore clothing that made them look more or less like a criminal.
The media at that time was held accountable for their choise of the pictures they used, and that they should change their habit of using the most incriminating pictures they could find. This also reflects back to the previously mentioned fear mongering.
Further Krista and Danah talk about participatory culture, and how there is an identity shift going on in convergence with technology. In the early days of the internet, most people used pseudonyms when creating profiles and accounts on forums and other communication platforms. And in so doing, creating an online and offline identity. In today’s world of mass media, and our incessant need to share both public and private events, on platforms that require your full name, those two identities are becoming more and more converged into one. The notion of a digital identity today is closely linked to your offline identity, in the way that they intersect on so many levels.
One issue they talk about concerning this, is the possibility of negative consequences or ramifications later in life, due to your activities online.
Now that we have social media, where you basically present yourself with full name and identity, its is easy to dig up information about you.
Say a future employer looks you up on social media, what will they find, and can it be used against you in a negative way. Can they choose not to hire you because several year ago, you made racist or sexist comments?
This again stresses the importance of teaching both parents and children of the fact that EVERYTHING YOU DO has consequences. Something people seem to forget once they get behind the screen and start typing. Even if something does not have an immediate effect, it is fully plausible that it can later down the line.
I fully advocate the need for reflection and critical thinking, especially before posting something that can be linked to you online. I’m not saying that if your anonymous, you can and should post anything you like, I’m trying to communicate, that the consequence of such actions can inevitably come back and haunt you.
Danah also mentions that she sees the need for critical thinking, and I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment.
In the final part of the interview, Krista and Danah talk about how they see the internet as in its infancy, and that from a cultural and technological stand, we are in the very beginning of the online life. It is also why its our job and duty to shape it. We need to be an active part in how we want our life online to evolve and grow, and how we would like society as a whole to be a part of this. And even though we are in its infancy, there are examples they talk about where this “Over socialization” that’s going on today has some rather unique consequences.
Danah mentions that there are more people chosing to live alone then at any other point in history, and that it is a result of the constant social interactions that go on in everyday life. The need to be alone for a time is making people chose to live alone, so that they can have a personal space, that is theirs and theirs alone.
I think its funny to think about this in context. That our creation of tools to help you be social and connected, is also creating a need to be alone. The more social and connected our society is becoming, the more the need to disconnect from it all appears. I think its ironic that the more connected we try to become, the more the need for anti-social spaces arise.
Those were my thoughts and reactions to the podcast, now over to the second part of this blog. My masters thesis.
I have finally decided what I want to write my thesis on and around! Go me!.
The topic I have chosen is The silent majority.
A short explanation of what the silent majority is, would be to say that it is everyone that use the internet to some extent, but chose not to participate on any meaningful level. An example with numbers provided from http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/ would be, that out of those 3,7 billion individual users, only 10-20% actually participate on a meaningful level. Contributing to the greater good in one way or another.
That would mean that the silent majority consists of close to 3 billion users.
Now when I say silent, I do NOT mean that they never participate. You can be on Facebook, have a twitter and instagram account, and be a member on several forums, and STILL be a part of the silent majority.
I will use myself as an example here, because until recently I have considered myself as a part of the silent majority.
I have a Facebook, I have a twitter account, and recently made a instagram account, do I use these actively? Yes I do, do I post anything contributing to the digital society in any way? Until last month, no, not all, as in I have not contributed to anything. Daily updates of your Facebook status, or a daily tweet about your coffee, or a instagram picture of said coffee does NOT count as contributing. Yes you are posting something, but you are still a part of the silent masses.
I am a Imgur and Reddit user aswell, I subscribe to a dozen or so sub-reddits, and I browse imgur several times a day. I have a total of 5 posts and 57 comments made on imgur over the span of almost 3 years.
I have a total of 0 posts on Reddit, and I`ve used that site for close to a decade, and been a member for close to 3.
I have no way of counting sadly, but I`d wager that over the last 10 years, I have fewer then 100 comments online, that are NOT a part of social media.
To be a part of the vocal minority, you need to actively contribute. As in you need to be active on open forums or/and you need to participate in the creation and spreading of intellectual property, as in creating art, fan fiction or similar created products.
You need to use social media as platform for more than just connecting with friends. Using Twitter as a platform to share political or similar agendas. Using the # functionality to reach a broader target group then just your friends. Partaking in online events that is a part of something bigger, examples like #ferguson #IfIwasShoot comes to mind.
Using instagram as a platform for selling your life, as in photographers trying to become known, same for artists, or to use it as a tool for promoting your blog and such.
The vocal minority are those who are the most active in participatory culture, those that helped shape web sites like Reddit and Wikipedia or people who answers questionnaires on Amazon Turk. To be a part of the vocal minority, you need to participate and contribute ” to the greater good” so to speak. The greater good here, being the online community we all use and enjoy.
Now, do NOT mistake the silent majority as a group that does leave anything behind, or that they do not partake in the global online domain.
They are the absolute biggest contributor to making things to viral, they are the biggest contributor to data miners and they are the biggest contributor to information about digital medias. Videos that have gone viral and that are being shared beyond belief are the exception to the rule here, every once in a while, you can or will participate in one way or another. This would be the equivalent to someone speaking up in class, even though they usually never talk. minuscule participation, sharing a video or picture or post, once or maybe twice year, does not make you a part of the vocal majority
EVERYTHING you do online leaves behind information. Even if you hide behind a VPN and use every imaginable tool to hide your presence online, you leave behind information. Though it can never be traced back to you, information about the web sites you visit is available. How long much time spent there, what links did you click, how many articles did you read, how many videos did you stream, what content you streamed, pictures opened…. The list is endless. You do not need to participate to leave behind information that can be used by someone. Everyone does this, the second they go online.
My focus in writing about the silent majority, will be to look at how we can turn them from silent to vocal, how we can turn your average user of the internet into a player in participatory culture. I would love to find ways to increase participation on all levels, and to debate whether of not this is a good thing. This is where biases comes into view. Cultural, environmental, racial etc, how would the internet change if we managed to increase participation on a global scale tenfold? If we could go from say 15 to 50% participation online, that would amount to more than a billion users, a utopian idea it seems, but even so, what would the results be?
I like to compare the internet to the sea, where the silent majority are the fish, the vocal minority are the sharks, the instances of things going viral are the whales and those who gather up all our information are the fishing boats. I think this comparison works well in how it categorizes us. Fish are abundant, they help shape the oceans, but they are anonymous and silent in their masses. The sharks are the apex predators, they shape everything around them, and they move and control the masses of fish. The whales are so large that they are almost impossible to miss, just like anything that go viral, while the fishing boats cast their large nets to gather up as much information as possible, not caring if they catch fish, shark or whale.
Now that I`ve given you an idea of what I’m gonna write about, do you agree with what I say? Do you think my estimation of vocal/silent si way of? What way should it shift if that is the case? Or do you disagree completely with the notion of being silent while being online, seeing how it’s quite contradictory to be online and active on social media while being seen as a silent agent?
Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic, as I would love to know what people think of this.