January 2012 Archives

opting out of social media

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Lately I've been thinking--and reading--a lot about people who choose to out of online social networking tools. The question of who chooses not to engage on sites like Facebook--and why they choose that--was posed to me by a close friend who has mostly lived his life on the opposite side of the social media spectrum from me. Where I have created an account on every system I've encountered, and very much lived my life in public through these tools over the past ten years, he has made only occasional and somewhat reluctant forays into online social spaces...and he was curious about what the causes (and consequences) of those different choices were.

I've been mulling that question over since he posed it back in the spring, and I keep seeing things pop up in blogs and news stories that relate to it. There was Alice Marwick's excellent essay ('If you don't like it, don't use it. It's that simple.' ORLY?) on the impact of opting out of Facebook when your social network is based there. And Jenna Wortham's NYTimes article on 'The Facebook Resisters' last month.

Alice talked in her article about the concept of "technology refusal," but I've found that there seems to be precious little out there in the way of research on this topic. The term itself is used in the context of other educational technologies in an essay by Steve Hodas called "Technology refusal and the organizational culture of schools" from Rob Kling's 1996 collection Computerization and Controversy, but I can't find much that links that essay with anything related to current social networking sites.

It seems to me there are a lot of interesting research questions in this. What are the reasons that people choose to opt out? Does the opting out tend to be global, or specific to individual systems? (For instance, do people who opt out of Facebook also opt out of Twitter? LinkedIn? Tumblr?) Is this more about personality or cognitive type, or about context and experience? Are these fairly static stances, or changeable? And if the latter, what precipitates the change? What's the impact on an individual who opts out when their social and/or professional network opts in?

In fact, there's so much that's interesting, and so little that seems to be out there, that it's all a little overwhelming. I've started a Zotero collection on the topic of "technology refusal," and would welcome any suggestions for things to add to it. (If there's interest, I'm willing to convert it to a group library that others could add to...)

Anyone know of work currently ongoing in this space? I'd love to talk with others who are exploring it!

thinking out loud

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Years ago, when this blog was very young, I wrote a post entitled "an extrovert speaks (quelle surprise!)" The things I wrote then still ring true, and I've found myself having the same conversation recently with a host of other people, primarily in the context of understanding use of social media.

These conversations tend to start not with the question "why do people feel the need to talk incessantly," but rather with the question "why do people feel the need to share every detail of their lives on Facebook?" And as someone who does indeed share a lot on Facebook...from Foursquare checkins at the gym to photos of my dog to commentary on social and political issues...I find myself trying to explain it.

A friend asked me recently, in jest, "if a tree falls on a house and no one posts it to facebook,did it happen?" In return, I posted a photo to Facebook of a house crushed by a tree, which kicked off an interesting discussion in the comments, including this from me:

This isn't really about social media, it's about extroverted vs introverted methods of sense-making. I once told my off-the-charts introvert friend Elouise that I often didn't know what I was thinking until I heard myself saying it, which she found truly baffling. For someone like me, Facebook and Twitter and email provide an outlet for that "thinking out loud" that I need to do in order to process ideas. Conversation with real live people is far better, of course, but the nature of my life is such that I'm not able to always have the people I want to talk to physically present. It takes a village to support an extrovert, I suppose, and my village is by necessity virtual rather than physical.

As usual, the process of crafting the words helped me to understand what I was thinking. But I also realized, with some dismay, that I'm now doing most of that thinking out loud on Facebook instead of on this blog. Facebook is quasi-public space for me, but it's not truly public. And more important, it's not truly mine. I don't own my data there, and while "timeline" has made it easier for me to find past posts, nobody's likely to stumble on my discussion of trees and houses through a serendipitous search or link.

I'm not one for new year's resolutions overall, but I do want to start shifting my "thinking out loud" back here to a more public space, rather than sequestering in Facebook's walled garden. I can always share the blog posts to my Facebook feed, but I'll retain ownership of them here, where there's more of a chance for them to reach a more diverse audience, and I know I'll always have access to the archive of my thoughts. And where Facebook's interface encourages short-form sharing, blogging has always been more of a long-form medium for me. I've missed that.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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