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Brief Social History of Social Media?

Yesterday, Google took a moment to unveil its jump into the social media pool, Buzz. It’s an interesting step, I had long predicted that Facebook was building itself so that it would be purchased by Google, but then it started to become clear the two didn’t need one another. Buzz transforms Gmail accounts into Facebook-like platforms in which users connect with friends and family, share photos and videos, and generally waste time. But Google has carefully studied Facebook’s limitations and hopes that by solving Facebook’s problems, it’ll carve at least a piece of this market out for itself. And users will be able to seamlessly switch from e-mail to Google Buzz with a single click, keeping them snugly within the Google universe.

An article in Slate prompted;  Buzz is “intriguing” but it will “take a lot to lure Facebookers away from their profiles, their friend networks, photo albums, and addicting games. It may be especially difficult to get Facebook users who don’t have Gmail to both switch e-mail services and social networks to Buzz”. That’s true, but if Facebook starts thinking that way they’ll quickly be the next Myspace

A Short Social History of Facebook

My first Facebook encounter happened my sophomore year of college, in a sorority house. My good friend wanted me to check out his girlfriend’s “super hot big sister”. I didn’t entirely get it, but I was into the idea that said “super hot big sister” posteed photos of herself dancing on tables and breaking hearts at Charlie O’s. A few months later my school joined the community, and my nightly homework of economic analysis was happily traded in for searching Facebook for attractive people (that was the point in the first place!). In it’s early stages Facebook was only open to users with an .edu e-mail address. That’s a pretty inclusive crowd, but even people with that requirement felt some dissonance ( i.e. search the “groups” section of any early CCRI adapter and you might find the ” Why is CCRI in This Shit?” group). This created a certain social articulation for Facebook, I can remember my roommate’s critique of Facebook’s one time rival, Myspace, which was  for “bands, art-fags, and sluts” (Myspace is the milieu that produced Tila Tequila, we’ve yet to see a Facebook equivalent). Whether acknowledging it or not, Facebook was shaped around the symbiosis of youthful needs; acceptance, individuality and privacy.

That tacit agreement was broken when people got their first friend requests from Parents, distant family members, bossess etc, etc.  “Why is my mom friending me on Facebook?!?!?!” was the chorus heard on pretty much every campus. Facebook had become a public space, and while adding economic capital  it lost a lot of social capital, people became much more aware of what and who was operating within the space. It was not the door stop that it used to be. Undoubtedly, my assessment comes from being within the generation who fostered in social media, and now I’m growing old with it, I need it to adapt with me.

This hit a zenith other day when I received the request to become a “fan” of John J. Lombardi*. Fair enough, he seems like a good guy with some solid policy solutions, but there was a problem with this

1) I’m not a registered voter in RI. So what is this worth?

2) “Fans” carry no inherit value (this is what most people get wrong with social media), What “fandom” can do is allow you a platform to convert “fans” into teams of marketers, promoters and activists. A group of the right twenty people can be more beneficial than a group of 2,000.

This is why I think Buzz is interesting. For me, Facebook has become a space of casual associations, while my Gmail account has access to more academics, politicians, and business associates. Gmail/Buzz also gives me access to their functional e-mail address. I wouldn’t suggest that e-mail accounts alone can actualize value of networks, but a dialogue can be started without being intruded upon by someone’s Farmville updates.

So for now that might be where Buzz is at, a better version of Linkedin. But that’s only from my vantage point, there are plenty of people who are feed up with  Zuckerburg’s views on personal privacy and Facebook’s addiction to changing the interface on users. oh! and the academics. All of which will bring new evaluations to how people can, and will, work with social media.

Google certainly has it’s ear to the pulse of the clouds

– Yikes, Latour and Lovnik?!?! I’m amazed I have a girlfriend

*This is not a criticism of Mr. Lombardi, from his Facebook he certainly seems to have built a passionate group, it was just an example that got me thinking about similar situations that have occurred in the past


Playground or Prison?

The impetus for this blog was a Facebook conversation, so it seems only fitting that  this space will provide an opportunity for some withdrawal from  Facebook.

I’ve always championed for social media, claiming sites like Facebook allowed me to “have the conversations that I wish I was having with the people I don’t get to see”. I’ve traveled a lot, as have many of my friends, and often our geographic locations don’t line up. Facebook allowed for maintenance of pre-existing interpersonal relationships. It might only be in the format of a brief wall post or tagged photo as simple reminder that they were on my mind, but I think that enriches relationships rather than deteriorates them.

But recently the dark side of social media reared its head (or did social media pull out the dark side of me?). A person whom I see about two-three times a year, usually in a bar, made a comment in what I perceived to be a “private space” ( yes, I realize Facebook is an antonym to “private” , but we all create some set of norms in our heads as to what belongs on there and what doesn’t) what evolved from it was a digital pissing contest.

I’m more than willing to share my life with Facebook, less thrilled about living in Facebook. So I’ve decided to take a vacation with the hopes of converting  the 10-20 minutes a day I spent on Facebook into micro/macro polemicals and other brain plasma , since that’s what I wanted to do with this in the first place.

It certainly will not  be daily but I’m going to try for a Tuesday/Thursday thing.

Things I’m digging right now:

Big Fan (the trailer makes it look more dramatic than it is)

This fall our hearts and minds were captivated by the  hoodwinks and drunken blunders of eight twenty-somethings spending their summer on the Jersey Shore. Over winter break my life was entirely consumed by it’s popularity; on a crowded Metro North train I met one of the shows producers, a friend served Pauly D. at a RI Chelos, which promted me to do some research on Facebook as to how far I was separated from the Johnston native (the answer is one). What’s interesting, and servely overlooked, is that 3/6 of the cast came from New York’s fifth burrough; Staten Island. Living in New York I’m fascinated by Staten Island, but refuse to spend more than an hour there. The fact that Mike “The Situation” emerged from Staten Island isn’t an entire surprise, but he’s not the only product of the milieu. Big Fan’s central figure is Paul, he is an equally  isolated but drastically less ambitious then his fellow islanders.  A New York Giants fan who lives at home,  works in a toll booth, and spends his days composing rebuttals to an on-air advisory;  Philadelphia Phil (played by Michale Rapperport). The self constructed force-field around Paul’s life is destroyed when he ventures into Manhattan to try and meet his favorite Giant’s player. The bulk of the movie Paul tried to forget/wish away the world outside of Staten Island . At times the film feels like it may descend into some dark territory, a Staten Island version of Taxi Driver, but there is a certain logic that governs both worlds of Paul and the Jersey Shore kids . It’s obnoxiously  juvenile, but it is not criminal.

I spent a lazy morning watching Big Fan, and upon finishing it I crossed my fingers that   True Life: I’m a Staten Island Girl rerun would be playing on MTV

Nixonland: by Rick Perlstein– forty-four men have held the title of “President of the United States” for the 226 years the position has existed. Of those men, only one has resigned. If i were to guess the number of psychobiographies on Richard M. Nixon is triple that of any other president. Nixon was an intelligent but troubled man, who fostered a political rhetoric based on (often exaggerated) moralistic outcry. But Nixonland isn’t really about the man as much as it is about “the voter who…pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else…seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason”.

I’m fascinated by Nixon. From a media studies stand point his presidency was created and destroyed using the new medium of TV. “Liberal eggheads” like  Newton Minlow considered TV a “vast wasteland”, but Nixon was using TV to invite a mass audience into his living room of middle-class sensibilities. Reading the constitution to his daughters, introducing America to his dog. If you ever take a Media Theory class undoubtedly someone will discuss how those exposed to Kennedy’s good looks on TV helped win him the elction, but Nixon is who shaped broadcast into the rhetoric spilling, partisan confirming, device that it is still used for today.

When Brute Force Fails: by Mark Kleinman– Interesting fact, on a global scale America has considerable less crime than other “civilized nations”, yet it has a homicide rate three times that of Australia, Canada, and the U.K. What gives?

Kleinman is a professor of Public Policy at UCLA who argues that the “brute force” of our current crime control policy has been a costly social and financial mistake. He argues  “zero tolerance” is non-sense: there is always more offenses then there is punishment capacity, but there is a way to create a “focused” form of zero tolerance. Kelinman’s command of narrative is a little more academic than someone like Malcolm Gladwell, but the architecture of the book is the same; use interesting and personal stories to engage an audience in research and analysis that is usually only interesting to experts and individauls working in the field.

I’ve been told by some friends in the criminal justice profession that this book “offer nothing new” but I know very little about the subject…. so it was new to me

Where’s the Felix Culpa?

The United States of America is a beautifully abstract idea. It’s composed of fifty different democratic experiments, none of which know exactly what they’re doing. Beyond language they share very little in common. It is for this reason I have no inherit distaste for partisan journalism. It can easily spark debate between a multitude of voices competing in the “market place of ideas”. At it’s best it encourages civil engagement. At its worse, civil paralysis; closed worlds composed of different locals, different heroes against different villains, and different newspapers to legitimize all of it. While our beliefs may seriously differ we often fail to recognize the nuances between the officials we tend to elect are about as clear as those between Coke and Pepsi.

I’d be hesitant to suggest we’re in political paralysis, but certainly the moral and political imagination of my generation is starved. Both sides seem more content battling out cultural ideologies inherited from fifty years ago than participating in a contemporary dialectic .  One side of the isle has constructed a sweepingly moronic chimera that effectively blocks any chance of conversation; the agenda of “liberal media .” I must ask, Who  composes this cadre?  When did it start?  How can someone like William F. Buckley emerge from such structure? Are we talking the local news affiliates? Books? Movies? The whole lot working together? The idea that there is a central superstructure shaping the values of  America as a whole not only seems paranoid, but reads like an Marxist evaluation of the media, and this is coming from the Right? Whose the Marxist now? Of course, “the media” do, as a whole, rely on audiences, they need to appeal to a mass. ABC,NBC, and CBS  squirm under this commercial duress, while the likes of Fox and CNN profit exactly because they pander to one side.

This system makes someone like Christpher Hitchins so interesting to me . Hitchins is a tours de force. He has written for  Vanity Fair, Slate and The Atlantic. His articles provide basic information and a range of insights into Bellow, Borges, Byron, Churchill, Darwin,  Thomas Jefferson, James Joyce, Proust and a couple hundred others. His articles and essays have argued that the Cold War was an imperial pissing contest; Vietnam a horrific mistake; The New Deal saved democracy; progressive taxation entirely necessary;  but he’s also supported the war in Iraq (he likened it to having the foresight to stop the Khmer Rouge, an argument that I think works if he was talking Desert Storm ); considers abortion murder and went into the habit of baiting, ridiculing and often slandering  some of the most popular Leftist thinkers (including everyone’s favorite anti-capitalist Naomi Klein) . Many of his victims had at one time considered Hitchins a friend. Christopher Hitchins,  the man that told Bill Maher’s audience they were no smarter than George W. Bush. Christopher Hitchins, the man that pleaded with The Nation‘s readers to abandon the “isolation” of America’s left-wing in exchange for Republican’s “willingness to risk  dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo”.  I can think of  few other individuals who can enrage the Left as much as Hitchins’ can.

So why is it when Hitch shows up on the Rights  central  nervous system is there such animus to his arguments ? There are a wealth of issues going on here (let us not forget that Hitchins is something of show-man. he’s in the business of selling his polemics); but  a very simple answer could be that Hitchins does not easily fit  into the immediate news cycle of  the inherited “Us vs. Them”. To understand how Hitchins can support  the idea of preemptive strikes on Iran but does not believe in Christmas takes time and attention. It also requires people to reassess what exactly they believe in. It seems like neither side really wants him, but neither side can really ignore him. Isn’t that exactly what we should be reaching for in a public figure?

Democracies are  fragile devices that require constant participation and negotiation. After being the second president of the United States, John Adams warned “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”. So much of what of what I read, and hear today is constraining our political ambitions. Public engagement collapsing will bring with it the private and political sectors of this nation. We cannot continue to exist in our isolated worlds, ignoring information because it is part of some “agenda”. Nor can we only show up at the one anthers door  to let them know we don’t agree with what they’re doing.

Our Politics should be based on pursuing realities… not chasing ancient phantoms

– I wrote this article yesterday while the Massachusetts elections were still unraveling. Brown ran a better campaign. I understand why he was elected, but I’m also pretty sure I tasted a little hemlock  in my coffee this morning.

Like Most Things in My Life, it Started with Facebook

I’ve been concerned with my writing for a while now. I always considered myself above average in my ability to articulate abstract thoughts, but I’ve been increasingly concerned I was lacking that step to the “next level”. More alarming was a creeping notion that I had actually lost some of my capacity for the craft. It was a notion that became glaringly obvious yesterday when a close friend of mine simply changed her Facebook status to “Life altering music recommendations, anyone? My pod is beginning to age need some new blood”.

For the past fourteen years I’ve spent the better part of my life thinking about, writing about and playing music. In college these passions lead me to submit music/cultural columns to my schools paper and a few underground zines. At the same time I developed the lucrative business of providing pricey cognitive labor to friends/associates on any unwanted homework assignments. The price was determined by my knowledge of the subject, page requirement, due date, and interest. When she posted her status I knew I had written some  pieces on music I really loved. The problem was that the bulk of that work had been done on a laptop that crashed a year ago. I combed my external hard drive for any relics that may have been salvaged  (Laur, if you reading, this is why your list is restricted to the 2003-2007 spectrum). As I read through the small sample I came to the conclusion that my writing has absolutely dissolved into academic jargon and flashy syntax. A short article I wrote on Arcade Fire’s sophomore album Neon Bible illuminated the conjectural toxic of my writing.

I offered her the following condensed version of the review (this was a Facebook post… which I knew I was going to catch shit for this length, never mind the whole thing)

I know, I know “Funeral” is the one everyone is supposed to like, it was filled with catchy, cathartic, personal anthems. “Neon Bible” is darker. It’s slow, tense, ominous and foreboding. It’s the sound of a one-time theology student struggling with the world’s addiction to religion and consumption. It was an insider’s take on America from the outside (Win grew up in the States but moved to Montreal for college). The album came out at a time when I felt absolutely betrayed by a country that was descending into Neoliberal rhetoric and fanatically paranoid commentary. But that’s not to suggest its all doom and gloom. If you listen closely , all the wrongs illuminated in “Neon Bible” also serve as a reminder of what it is great, what is worth getting out of your bed each morning.

This is not an ego boost. I don’t think this is great writing, but it addresses the culture/politic binary in a language that is accessible, and maybe, just a little enjoyable? I want to get back to that. So I’ve decided to try and make this the space to do so. It is more for me than for any hopes of developing readership (beyond my beautiful and supportive girlfriend or some confused sports fanatics looking for an article by my dad).
I decided my first effort was to write a reaction to the Neon Bible piece. Not about the music (though we are about due), but my social consciousness of then vs. now.
When I think back to those years there is something of a black cloud. Not because I was struggling with any personal demons, on the contrary I was spending my summers on beautifully delicate (and drunken) island, enjoying the latter half of my college career, and in a combination of business and leisure enjoyed the luxury of traveling to four different continents in a sixteen month period. At the same time I was becoming increasingly aware of the world around me, my role in it, and the many horrors humanity hides in its closet(the extensive travel certainly helped). In particular, those years exposed me to foreign appraisals of the United States under the Bush administration. In Australia, a girl on the bus started talking to me. After the regular small-talk you start with a cute stranger she asked me if all American’s were as crazy as the ones she saw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was a joke, but one that commented on the view of America’s sordid methodology.

The Neon Bible article has a certain vernacular to it. It was clearly written by someone coming to believe the system was seriously dysfunctional.  People become more politically aware as they become more invested in a shared society, essentially as we get older we pay more attention to our surroundings. At the time of writing the Neon Bible review I thought I was making the shift from teenager to adult (I’m still reluctant to use that word to describe myself) in interesting but ruinous times, and my writing showed it. Just about every article at that time had a certain “Rome is burning” feel to it. From my current vantage point I know that’s something of a fallacy. Pick any year over the last half of the century and I bet I could find indications that some end was near. The first oil shocks; inconclusive wars; race riots; polluted air and water; the first and only U.S. presidential resignation. Anyone between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five during any of these moments surely thought “Holy Shit…This is horrible! It was so much easier when I was ten”. But on a grand scale it wasn’t.

This is not to discredit the composition that is Neon Bible. Nor a retract of my album critique. I still believe it perfectly diagnosed many of the anxieties and hopes of the time. Kid A prophetically prepped for the beginning of the decade, Arcade Fire perfectly understood the polarizing politics and exaggerated complaints that would lead us out of the 2000’s. In hindsight, I think celebrities like Oprah had little to do with President Obama’s election , indie bands like Arcade Fire  were voicing the public’s grievances and organizing mobilization long before.

I think I’m content with the above as an intro.

My hope is to make daily writing assignments for myself. Since I’m in the process of writing a thesis; looking for jobs once my contracts end in Feb; trying to have a social life, I’ve posted this to the pubic with the idea that others will help generate conversation and ideas for writing.