In the past 7 years I have gotten onto Facebook (in2008), gotten off (also in 2008), gotten on again (in2010, on orders from my publisher to promote my book), gotten off for short intervals, and now left again (this time for good, I swear) in late 2013.
The things that I miss most about Facebook are its usefulness as a means of passive communication/networking with friends and family far afield, but MOSTLY its function as a microblogging site with a friendly audience.
As a mom to three children, I realized that scrapbooking and babybooking as my mother and her mother did it, recording children’s heights and weights alongside photos and filling in the blanks of Baby’s first bath _____ and Baby’s first words _____ were not for me. Too hard to keep up, too time consuming. When my kids (now 9, 7, and 3.5) say something funny, I am just as likely to forget it as I am to remember it to write down in some pastel colored baby book gathering dust in the guest bedroom.
Facebook provided an accessible and easy to update forum or platform for me in which to record and instantly share my progeny’s funny, witty, poignant, or curious statements and questions.
One thing I didn’t like about Facebook’s pervasive reach into my life is that I started hearing snippets and planning to put them on Facebook, rather than sitting in the moment and hearing / responding to my child’s words and thoughts. This, in part, is why I am finished with Facebook.
As technology becomes more widely accessible, the aesthetic of the web changes. When the web was young, websites included flashy banners, beeping icons and dancing babies, simply because they could. People were showing off the ways that they could use the technology available to them, and this was considered aesthetically pleasing. Once everyone was able to use these objects of flare, however, their aesthetic value dropped significantly. Now coming across a website that does something as simple as play music (without permission) is considered accosting.
Somewhat paradoxically, the web has adopted a simpler, cleaner aesthetic now that everyone has the ability to make things as garishly flamboyant as they desire. In 2007, myspace pages frequently featured custom themes and backgrounds that people used to express both their individuality and their many interests. But now, most twitter and facebook pages opt for uniform designs that only distinguish themselves from one another with one self picture.
As I’ve become more acquainted with the web since I first started “blogging” on LiveJournal and obsessively updating my Myspace and Facebook pages as a high school student, I realize that, besides the fact that I haven’t gotten much better with using technology, I’ve changed the way I view myself and the way I want to present myself to the people who “follow” my online life. I went from solely complaining about what it was like to be an angsty teenager in his first “real” relationship in high school to trying to establish what Lena Dunham would call a “quirky web presence” for myself: one that combines the necessary personal flairs to keep people interested and to allow them to get to know me but also aspects that reach beyond just me and into the culture in which I am immersed. As my few Facebook friends would tell you, “culture” for me usually ends up being something along the lines of sharing my thoughts on Britney Spears’ newest train wreck of an album or praising Lorde for being the fresh, weird New Zealand goddess that she is. But my trends in posting over the last seven years have shown a dramatic shift in who I am as an individual, and maybe even as a writer. I like to fancy myself a bit more “evolved” these days, especially when I can make a wisecrack about literary theory and popular culture at the same time. That’s all well and good, and I like the way I am on the web; I just wish there was more of me to go around.
But in addition, the way in which all these social media tools, both new and old, create a digital archive of past posts also has some important implication for how we can view ourselves are writers, readers, and individuals in a digital age. Even though I can’t bear to read my old LiveJournal posts (anywhere from when I first started it in 2005 until around 2008), who I am now is drastically different from who I was back then. And I can see the transformation even in terms of how I presented my narrative on the strictest textual level: the younger I was, the more inclined I was to experiment with fonts, size, bolding, italics, underlining, strikethroughs, and whatever other “flairs” LJ offered. Although I’d like to hope that I’ve retained some sense of being that kooky kid in personality, my prose itself, in terms of how it appears on the screen, has become much more streamlined – perhaps out of maturity, or perhaps out of embarrassment for my old ways.
It seems to me that identity before writing online used to be found in a physical manifestation of an individual: what one wore, what they carried with them to class, who they associated with every day during school (school being the place where writing happened). For example, I used to be the girl who carried the notebook around and drew pictures on other students’ hands (the thing to do—not in a creepy way), but didn’t dress well and was obviously shy.
Now it seems that identity is still somewhat found in these things (these physical demonstrations), but more so identity is found in what our writing/web-public space looks like. People are judged based on their Facebook tags and posts, what blogs they read and share, and how they distribute information online. Identity also seems wrapped up with whom one is connected, as well as how connected they are and what their web skills are (at least in finding and distributing information). My identity in real life may be somewhat staid or boring, but I may have a lot of twitter posts because I can write clever lines.
The topic that came most readily to mind for me is how authorship has changed in the digital age. It’s pretty incredible that there are sites out there that are so intensely collaborative that they do not bother to distinguish between the texts that users produce—and it would be impossible to do so in any case. I’m thinking of Wikis, produced, revised, and edited constantly by a practically anonymous group of strangers. What’s particularly astounding is that this “crowdsourcing” can produce excellent and accurate texts—I’m thinking of Wikipedia, which has a comparable number of errors per entry to Encyclopedia Britannica.
There is also a strange, schismatic relationship that we have developed to the texts we produce and distribute via the web. On the one hand they have come to seem rather ephemeral—especially with digital “streams” and “feeds” taking over a lot of the web content that is accessed daily, things seem to come and go at lightning speed. But on the other hand, there’s this idea that whatever we put out on the web is destined to be there forever, that once it’s put out there, it’s permanent—there’s no way to fetch it back, that it no longer belongs to you.
Between most Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll ask you to read the responses posted to this website by the other members of this seminar and to comment on at least three of them that particularly draw your attention or interest.
Your comments do not need to be long—50 words or so will usually do fine. What I ask, though, is that you try to make your comments more than simply evaluative—to move beyond I agree . . . or I think you’re wrong . . . Instead, see if you can direct us to a different point in the text, or to make a connection to another post, or perhaps even to bring a new example into the mix. Your goal should be to move the conversation forward.
And you should of course also feel free to respond to the responses to your text. Indeed that’s often where things really start to get fun.
I’d also like us to experiment with Twitter as a way of extending our conversation. Please follow me at @joeharris_ud and use #685dw as the hashtag for this course. I’m open to pretty much any use of Twitter, in large part because I’m not sure I really have a feel for the medium. I would say, though, that I tend to be most drawn to tweets that point that readers outwards—that offer links to readings or images that somehow seem to relate to our work together.
In any case, what I’d like to ask you to do, at least for the first few weeks of this course, is to check in every other day or so on our Twitter feed, and to try to add one or two tweets of your own to it each week. We’ll look briefly at the feed at each of our class meetings, to see what seems to be working and what we might change.