As seen on Howard Rheingold’s vlog:
Whenever people refer me to pseudo-critics of social media (i.e. Andrew Keen), I refer them to Fred Turner or to Trebor Scholz, who actually know something about what they are criticizing. I recommend Scholz’ paper, What The MySpace Generation Need To Know About Working For Free for those who want to learn more.
It’s nice to see a familiar face on an Internet celebrity’s blog. If you recall, I participated in Trebor’s graduate seminars last year and took in various readings on how electronic networks change the way we live. I saw an iterative pattern, from the telegraph to the social web, towards how we coordinate ourselves throughout history. The only real change to me though, is complexity.
I believe that as networks get more complex, motivations and agendas become more implicit. With that, I picked up Trebor’s perspectives on the dark side of the social web, especially since most of what we hear online seemed one-sided towards the excitement of online social networking (is the proper term “in-selling“?).
It’s easy to get lost in the crowd when the mob is blindsided by the various pleasures of socializing, from the simple action of adding friends on Facebook, to more deliberate action of joining in a video lipdub. Thing is, do we question the larger agenda? Who gains the most out of this implicit labor? Does it matter if users know? Are we becoming intellectual lemmings?
One of Trebor’s key arguments (which I share) is the idea of social networks being locked-in (what I call a walled garden), where users might not realize how time and labor invested on such platforms might not be exportable. As such, greater use would mean less likelihood of one leaving the network, essentially being trapped. Our collective action in such networks turns into free creative labor for the site owners, from which is used to attract even more users (i.e. network effect).
There has been effort on the opposing end to liberate our personal identity (including our media) across networks, such as the Data Portability initiative, which a few major companies have agreed to partake in. It remains to be seen how generous social networks like Facebook and MySpace will be, in risking their already enormous population of captive users.