söndag 14 augusti 2016

Books I've read (mid-nov - mid-Dec)

Both books below are about social media and I read them not because I chose to but because I had to. They constituted the course literature in a course about social media that I unwillingly had to teach due to an acute "crisis" (something unexpected happened and we are understaffed... permanently, it seems). Here's the previous blog post about books I have read. The asterisks represent the number of quotes from the each book (see further below).

**** "Networked: The new social operating system" (2012) is written by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman but despite being only three years old (when I read it last year) it already feels aged and past its peak (the students in question agreed). Also, I have for the longest of time had huge problems with sociologist Wellman's ideas about community (or "community") in the age of suburbs and community in the age of the Internet (in fact ever since I wrote my ph.d. thesis two decades ago). His ideas about community seem to be that community is whatever way we meet with relatives, friends and neighbours. If we meet seldom and most often by phone or the Internet, well then that is what community is like in the 21st century and it doesn't matter that that is a total reversal of what community has always been before modernity, urbanisation and other developments during the 20th century reshaped how we live, work, pray, socialise (etc.).

The book has some not-too-exciting statistics (from 2011 and earlier) and two "big ideas" (≠ praise); "networked individualism" and "the triple revolution". It also has an underlying rah-rah (unproblematic and unproblematizing) attitude about the benefits of the Internet. I could write (much) more about the book and almost all of it would be critical (did I mention that it was boring?) and therefore I won't. To sum it up, I didn't feel the book had a lot of depth or that it contained any particularly exciting (new) ideas. If it was up to me, this book would definitely not be used as course literature in our course any longer. From the back cover:

"Our perpetual connectedness gives us endless opportunities to be part of the give-and-take of networking. Some worry that this new environment makes us isolated and lonely. But in "Networked", Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman show how the large, loosely knit social circles of networked individuals expand opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making, and personal interaction. The new social operating system of "networked individualism" liberates us from the restrictions of tightly knit groups; it also requires us to develop networking skills and strategies, work on maintaining ties, and balance multiple overlapping networks. Rainie and Wellman outline the "triple revolution" that has brought on this transformation: the rise of social networking, the capacity of the Internet to empower individuals, and the always-on connectivity of mobile devices."

********* I habitually think of "Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture" (2013, http://spreadablemedia.org) as being written by (only) Henry Jenkins (Wikipediapersonal blog) while he in fact also has two co-authors, Sam Ford and Joshua Green. This book about social media is definitely more interesting than Rainie and Wellman's (above) and I kind of think of it as the next instalment after Jenkins previous book "Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide" (2006). The previous book is naturally somehow aged by now (but we used in our education for several years). I still think "Convergence culture" was a better book (when it came) than "Spreadable media" is, since it felt more focused and "tight" than the latter. Still, it's not bad. I especially like the ear-to-the-ground analysis of concrete events that many of us are familiar with but haven't thought as deeply about as Jenkins et. al. have. One example is the thoughtful analysis of the ugly duckling story of Susan Boyle and her unexpected breakthrough on "Britain's Got Talent". You have all probably seen the audition (currently 196+ million views) where her incredible voice trumps her decidedly humdrum frumpy-housewife look.

Where Rainie & Wellman talk about "networked individualism", Jenkins et. al. instead talk about "networked culture". Even though Rainie and Wellman's individualism is "networked", the perspective is still decidedly individualistic and focuses on how the Internet ("the triple revolution", "the new social operating system" etc.) empowers the individual. The perspective of Jenkins et. al. instead focuses on groups, on cultures, on information and on emerging phenomena which just happens to be the more fruitful and interesting perspective. From the back cover of the book:

"Spreadable media maps fundamental changes taking place in our contemporary media environment, a space where corporations no longer tightly control media distribution and many of us are directly involved in the circulation of content. It contrasts "stickiness" - aggregating attention in centralized places - with "spreadability" - dispersing content widely through both formal and informal networks, some approved, many unauthorized. ... Spreadable media argues that if it doesn't spread, it's dead. Challenging the prevailing frameworks used to describe contemporary media, from biological metaphors like "memes" and "viral" to the concept of "Web 2.0" ... the book examines the nature of audience engagement, the way appraisal creates value, and the transnational flows at the heart of these phenomena."


 ----- On the Internet (and social media) as a liberating force in society ----- 
"we wonder about the folks who keep moaning that the internet is killing society. They sound just like those who worried generations ago that TV or automobiles would kill sociability, or sixteenth-century fears that the printing press would lead to information overload. While oy vey-ism - crying "the sky is falling," makes for good headlines - it isn't true. The evidence in our work is that none of these technologies are isolated - or isolating - systems. ... People are not hooked on gadgets - they are hooked on each other. ... In the world of networked individuals, it is the person who is the focus: not the family, not the work unit, not the neighbourhood, and not the social group."
Rainie, H., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked, p.6

 ----- We have absolutely nothing to fear from "the Internet" ----- 
"some analysts fear that people's lesser involvement in local community organizations - such as church groups and bowling leagues - means that we live in a socially diminished world where trust is lower, societal cohesion is reduced, loneliness is widespread, and people's collective capacity to help one another is at risk. While such fears go back at least one hundred fifty years, the coming of the internet has increased them and added new issues: Are people huddling alone in front of their screens? If they are connecting with someone online, is it a vague simulacrum of real community with people they could have seen, smelled, heard, and touched in the "good old days"? The evidence suggests that those with such fears have been looking at the new world through ta cloudy lens."
Rainie, H., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked, p.8

 ----- On the Social Network, Internet, and Mobile Revolutions ----- 
"the Social Network, Internet, and Mobile Revolutions are coming together to shift people's social lives away from densely knit family, neighborhood, and group relationships toward more far-flung, less tight, more diverse personal networks. ... First, the Social Network Revolution has provided the opportunities - and stresses - for people to reach beyond the world of tight groups. ... Second, the Internet Revolution has given people communications power and information-gathering capacities that dwarf those of the past. ... Third, the Mobile Revolution has allowed ICTs to become body appendages allowing people to access friends and information at will, wherever they go."
Rainie, H., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked, p.11-12

 ----- On physically being there but mentally being elsewhere ----- 
"One caution is that intensive ICT use means that people can be physically in one place while their social attention and communication focus is elsewhere - a state that social psychologist Kenneth Gergen calls "absent presence." This can create awkward, annoying social discontinuities as people "leave" the group they are physically a part of to take a call or respond to a text message from someone afar. "Distracted driving" has become a policy concern, with states and provinces are outlawing holding a mobile phone while driving."
Rainie, H., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked, p.102

 ----- On media piracy ----- 
"we are reserving the term "pirate" in this book for people who profit economically from the authorized sale of content produced by others. ... piracy is as much a consequence of the market failure of media companies to make content available in a timely and desirable manner as it is a consequence of the moral failure of audience members seeking meaningful content by hook or by crook if it is not legally available. ... the appropriation and recirculation of even entire works may sometimes work in the best interest of not only the culture at large but also of the rights holders."
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.16

 ----- On the tension between YouTube (or Facebook) as a sharing platform and as a business model ----- 
"many corporate practice effectively erode the line between "collective (non-market, public) and commercial (market, private) modes of production." Such efforts "cleverly combine capital-intensive, profit-oriented industrial production with labor-intensive, non-profit-oriented peer production" ... various struggles to negotiate between YouTube as a platform for sharing and YouTube as a business model - which have taken place since the plattform's genesis - encapsulate the tension that run throughout the Web 2.0 model."
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.51-52

 ----- On commodity vs gift cultures ----- 
"A "barn raising" might be considered a classic example of the social exchange of labor. In this nineteenth-century social ritual, established members of a community gathered to welcome newcomers and help them establish a homestead. ... Insert commercial logic into any aspect of a barn raising, and we alter the meaning ... creating discomfort for participants. Suppose the newcomers refused to join in on the work, seeing their neighbors' labor as an entitlement for purchasing land in the area. ... Suppose they sold outside economic interest the rights to sell snacks and drinks to those who were laboring or sold information about their neighbors which would give these outside interests advantages in future economic exchanges. Or suppose they were to seek to use their neighbors' labor to complete other tasks around their property... As absurd as such exploitative arrangements seem in the context of a barn raising, they are taken for granted in the Web 2.0 model, as companies generate revenue through monetizing the attention created by user-generated content."
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.63-64

 ----- On fractured organisations behind the unified corporate brand ----- 
"Often, the marketing functions of a company have little, if any, connections to IT, legal, or customer service. Each of these divisisions reports to a different part of corporate leadership and resides on a different campus; their leaders may only be vague acquaintances. To the customer, all these touchpoints constitute "one brand." Yet, internally, this fractured communications represents contradictory logics and competing measures of success with little internal alignment or collaboration. For instance, while marketing departments are charged and measured by how many ways the can "engage" the customer ... customer service departments are often measured by how quickly they can disengage with the customer, by metrics of efficiency (how many calls can be answered in an hour, for example).
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.179

 ----- On appropriate technologies ----- 
"Hybrid systems of communications, especially those between higher- and lower-tech media, bridge literacy gaps i immigrant communities. To cite a historical example, Jewish immigrants working in sweatshops in New York at the turn of the twentieth century would hire someone to read books, newspapers, and magazines aloud to them while they worked. ... There is a strong tradition in policy literature about the developing world of talking about "appropriate technologies" - that is, technologies which accommodate the skills and needs of local populations, are sustainable, respect their environments, and take full advantage of the affordances of often limited technical infrastructures and resources."
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.191

 ----- On particaptory culture as consumption vs cultural production/circulation ----- 
"Facebook and other social network sites often operate as the digital equivalent of gated communities, protecting participants from online contact with people outside their social circle as much as enabling easier and quicker communications with their friends and families. ... If, like som skeptics, we see participatory culture as "consumptive behavior by a different name," then we should ... see the digital divide as no more consequential than the gap in who owns fancy cars. If we see participatory culture, though, as a vital step toward the realization of a century-long struggle for grassroots communities to gain greater control over the means of cultural production and circulation - if we see participation as the work of publics and not simply of markets and audiences - then opportunities to expand participation are struggle we must actively embrace through our work, whether through efforts to lover economic and technical obstacles or to expand access to media literacies."
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.192-193

 ----- On particaptory culture as consumption vs cultural production/circulation ----- 
"Traditional branding theory has valued controlling meaning rather than inspiring circulation. Some longtime Madison Avenue types are likely to sputter in rage at the idea that audiences might appropriate and rework their messages ... They worry about losing control when, in fact, they never had it. As this book has detailed, today's spreading behaviors reflect much older patterns in how people have received and discussed media texts. Only now, people's exchanges are much more visible, occurring at a greater scale and frequency as a greater portion of society taps into the online world. ... Perhaps the only way to retain complete control over the meaning of a text is never to share it with anyone. 
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.201-202

 ----- On the pros and cons of media/online piracy ----- 
"Pirates' ruthless mercantilism, include a willingness to sell anything to anyone whether or not they have the legal right to do so, makes them as much advocates of capitalism as resisters of its regulatory regimes. As the Nollywood [Nigerian film industry] example suggests, pirate culture may ultimately be the founation on which legal industries and institutions are formed, allowing poorer countries a chance to gain ground without having to bear the full costs of investment in production."
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.268-269

 ----- On the Internet creating connections *and* disconnections ----- 
"In some ways, it may [be] easier for the digital elites in, say, India, Japan, Nigeria, Brazil, Iran, and the United States to communicate with each other than it is for them to communicate with lower-income, rural, or less-educated residents of their own countries - in part because access to networked computers carries with it so many other implications about economic level, educational background, cultural cosmopolitanism, travel, and trade which separate "the digerati" from their fellow countryfolk."
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media, p.287

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