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!