Understanding Socio-Technical Phenomena in a Web2.0 Era

"Understanding Socio-Technical Phenomena in a Web2.0 Era" by Danah Boyd, Fellow, Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society

The study of socio-technical phenomena is about understanding the intersections between technologies and social practices. Researching socio-technical phenomena prompts questions like:

  • How does technology inflect old practices in new ways?
  • How do people adopt and adapt to the emergence of technologies?
  • How do technologies configure people and how do people reconfigure technologies to meet their needs?
  • How do these dynamics play out on individual, group, and societal levels?

[ looks familiar? check: How technology’s accelerating power will transform us ]

Networked publics connect people through networked technology and create public spaces through networked technology in which people can come together. User-generated content is a core part of networked publics. People don’t just consume together – they produce together. And, ideally, they consume and produce as part of everyday participation. Four unique properties of networked publics lead to three important shifts in dynamics.

  • Persistence: What you say sticks around. This is great for asynchronous interactions, but not so great when your boss gets to read what you wrote in Usenet back in the 80s.
  • Replicability: You can copy/paste from one place to another, taking a conversation from IM and making it available via social network sites. This is also the crux of bullying and how politicians take everything out of context.
  • Scalability: The average blog has six readers. Just because things might be public doesn’t mean that they automatically will be read by all people across all space and all time. What scales is variable and, often, it’s often what you least want that is most visible.
  • Searchability: My mother would’ve loved to scream grep into the air and suss out where I had run off to. She couldn’t; I’m thankful. Today, through social media, people are tremendously searchable.

These four properties fundamentally shape three different dynamics that alters how people interact in social media environments.

  • Invisible Audiences: I can look around here and see who is in the room, but I have no idea who is on the other side of that camera. While I’m at M.I.T. and can make Unix jokes because y’all know what I’m talking about, I have no guarantee that the invisible audience is coming from the same perspective. Online, people have to always negotiate these invisible audiences and that can often be tricky.
  • Context Collisions: Part of what makes invisible audiences tricky is that they often represent different social contexts. The properties of networked publics collapse contexts and force people to address social situations with different – and often conflicting – social contexts. This is very tricky.
  • Public and Private Convergence: Public and private are usually framed through spatial metaphors with the home being private and everything else being public. Social media confounds this and public and private turn out to be more about control than anything else. Still, it’s a matter of collectives and the properties discussed earlier complicate people’s ability to control the publicity of any given situation when others around them have a different perspective.

These dynamics have significant social and cultural implications. They radically alter how people work out identity in relation to those around them. They introduce new structures for social interactions.

videoView the electronic version of Video Presentation.

pdf_icon Download the electronic version of Significance of Social Software.


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