Hi everyone, I’m your new guest-blogger, filling in for piny sporadically over the summer, probably depending on whether piny has net access in Europe and lines up more guest bloggers, and how much I have to say. A little more about me: I’m the queer, multi-racial trans woman of Asian descent from around these parts who’s NOT the totally amazing little light. Astonishing, I know: there are more than one of us, despite all those intersections. I haven’t had a blog in some time, and don’t have a public one at the moment, so please pardon any signs of rust.
Like piny, I’ll probably be posting a fair amount about trans issues, but hope to write about other stuff as well, starting with a very interesting paper I found (via Machinist) about social networking sites. danah boyd, the author, has been doing ethnographic research in high schools across the country about how teenagers are interacting with networked public spaces–also known as Web 2.0 sites, but I can’t stand that buzzword–such as Myspace and Facebook and LiveJournal. Here’s the crux:
The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.
MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.
In order to demarcate these two groups, let’s call the first group of teens “hegemonic teens” and the second group “subaltern teens.” (Yes, I know that these words have academic and political valence. I couldn’t find a good set of terms so feel free to suggest alternate labels.) These terms are sloppy at best because the division isn’t clear, but it should at least give us terms with which to talk about the two groups.
I have to admit, the first thing I think of when it comes to high-school divisions like this is the cliques from teen movies from The Breakfast Club to Heathers to Mean Girls. (Not to mention videogames like Bully, pictured above.) The high school I went to had its own stark issues of segregation but didn’t exactly look like this. Still, I think danah boyd is right… at its heart, this is a matter of class, and she goes on to point out that this is true elsewhere, too. “Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook,” she says — and points out that the military has banned use of MySpace, but not Facebook. I also have to wonder, on the other hand, what happened to discussion of the biggest digital divide barrier: what about all the teens out there who don’t have access to the internet at all?
I’m curious as to what the impressions and experiences the readers of this blog have had with the various social networking sites, especially the ones that in my mind are very similar except for style: Friendster, MySpace, Orkut, Facebook, etc. Based on conversations that I’ve had in the last five years, as well boyd’s recounting of the history of MySpace and Facebook, it does seem like these sites are shaped by who happens to show up… and that’s often due a series of intersecting coincidences and historical contingencies. Apart from pointing out that yes, class does exist, even in corners of the internet where people often assume it doesn’t, it’s also an interesting opportunity to think about how each of us fit into this puzzle. Here’s my personal take on each site:
Friendster: A whole ton of people I know joined this back when it started in 2002. Everyone was talking about it for a while, and it eclipsed dating sites like the Spring Street Network as a way for people to flirt and hit on people via the Internet. It still seems to be really popular amongst the 20 and 30-something urban queers that I know; the typical unsolicited message I get on Friendster is something like “hey I saw you at that party the other night.” For a while it was so popular that some people would groan whenever it was mentioned in real life. Not a lot of new people seem to join it, and very few teenagers.
Myspace: When this appeared it seemed like a nice alternative to Friendster, which at the time was doing annoying things like banning people who were gaming the system and trying to rack up lots of friends, or making fun fake accounts for states and singers and abstract concepts. (I still remember the “Lesbian Feminism” Friendster account fondly, before it was deleted by The Man.) My more network-savvy friends jumped on board, but it didn’t get really big (as boyd notes) until all sorts of bands started putting pages up, with music. At this point, Myspace pages also got insane looking, which some people liked. All of my friends who are more into hipster culture or music scenes (specifically goth & industrial music, in my case) hang out much more on Myspace and have abandoned Friendster. The typical unsolicited message I get on Myspace is from some random band or person I’ve never heard of, or someone asking me if I’m some girl they went to high school with (I’m not, ever). I used to get hit on by random jerks, but managed to stifle that by changing my age to 68, my main picture to an illustration of a roaring vagina-dentata-looking sandworm, and my music to Throbbing Gristle.
Facebook: By the time this site came around, I was totally burnt out on social-networking sites, and I joined it when someone invited me but never filled out a profile or went back on the site again. Practically every other mention of Facebook I’ve heard recently either has to do with suspicions about its privacy policies or else have been posts by Rachel S. from Alas, a Blog about white college kids getting minimally busted for yet another disgusting racial-stereotype-themed party after they put pictures up on Facebook. So I’m not real inclined to go on there.
I think that basically points out that in the age of social networking sites, I’ve been one of those annoying, net-savvy hipsters, hanging out mostly in networks where urban queers hit on each other. How about you?