Friday 13 August 2010

MED104 - 3.3 Talk to me! Chatting/texting/twittering at each other

E.J Westlake (2008). Friend me if you Facebook: Generation Y and performative surveillance. The Drama Review 52(4), 21-40. (Electronic databases)
Fun article about Facebook and how people perform themselves through digital media.
TED talk – Evan Williams on Twitter

This week's reading by Westlake argues that "the predominantly Generation Y Facebook community uses Facebook to define the boundaries of normative behavior through unique performances of an online self." Westlake went on further throughout the article to describe various behaviours that he felt were only relevant to Generation Y, such as "The generations of people older than current college students ... do not have the same perspective on the internet as a means for social networking as the generation that is just beginning to graduate from college" and "Unlike older people, Generation Y-ers may not understand the purpose of public protest and are not likely to march in the streets to voice their views." While it may be true that Facebook was originally created for use within schools and universities and in 2008 a majority of those people probably WERE in the Generation Y age-group, according to these statistics, in 2010 Facebook usage looks to be fairly evenly spread across both Generation X and Y, and as a Generation X-er who has been actively using the Internet for over 15 years, I don't necessarily agree that the behaviours described are specific only to Generation Y or that Gen-Y'ers act differently because of their age.

Regardless, the basis of the reading was about the concept of privacy with regard to media producers and consumers, and how this has changed with the advent of new media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools. Westlake says that "The internet has changed the way we read text and the way we read each other’s performances", which I tend to agree with. Today's internet users, whatever their age, have the ability to utilise social media tools to express their sense of self and to communicate via texting, online chat and also via their individual profiles via whichever tool they're using. As a result of this and due to the "open" nature of the internet, these communications are often far more visible to a wide range of individuals than simple communication across the back fence used to be 50 years ago, which raises issues of surveillance and privacy and has resulted in incidences of both creepy stalking by predators, and government intervention (interference?). But Westlake also argues that users respond to the knowledge that anybody can see what they're doing by "performative surveillance" - that is, presenting themselves in ways that will be acceptable to others - and therefore that this is similar to face-to-face interactions where people are careful about what they say in their peer groups in order to gain acceptance.

From a personal perspective, I have been an early-adopter with regard to the Internet for many years but my usage has changed significantly in that time and I've always been very conscious of privacy - it's already been documented in this blog that I didn't join Facebook until I was happy with the way privacy was handled, and I almost left when they were messing around with privacy earlier in the year. I did agree wholeheartedly with a part of the reading which said that people are putting more personal information online now than they ever did. My first personal home page was created sometime around 1995 but it was deliberately vague and while it included some photos and links to other websites that I liked, there was virtually no personally-identifying information on the site - in fact, I spent the best part of 15 years very carefully putting nothing at all about myself online, until fairly recently! Nowadays I am an avid user of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and while I still actively attempt to maintain a positive web presence and I tend to keep private things offline, there is no doubt that there is far more personal information on my profiles on these sites than my 1995 personal home page ever contained. Additionally, I now also use these sites to follow information distributed by others and I post regular updates and re-post news stories that interest me, so people reading this information would gain a fairly clear idea of my views and ideals. Even though I'm no more or less likely to write something on Facebook or Twitter that I wouldn't be prepared to say face-to-face and I don't use either as a way of secretly showing my subversive side or anything like that, I'm also conscious that whatever I write is likely to be there forever so I do try to be careful about the image that I'm presenting and I do make an effort to carefully select what I present and who I present it to, which I suppose means that I am practising performative surveillance! I do know a lot of people of all ages who behave in a similar way to myself online, but it's also fair to say that there are many who don't - and they're all different ages too. :-)



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