I find Danah Boyd‘s work absolutely fascinating. Her application of ethnographic research methods to the technology sphere, and in particular social networking, contributes immensely to my understanding of these technologies and how they’re being used. I just read a transcript of a talk that she gave at the Personal Democracy Forum last month (The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online) and it’s really gotten me thinking. Here, she’s looking at another side of the digital divide which I think gets lost in the conversation:
Social media does not magically eradicate inequality.
When we talk about the digital divide, we’re usually focused on access. Who has access to the web? What kind of access? Is it access they can afford? Is it access that is convenient? Are the speeds at which they can connect fast enough to actually engage with what’s going on? But in my experience, that conversation rarely gets to a point where you’re talking about what they’re doing when they’re online and who they are. Have you ever thought about the fact that there are class and race differences between who is using MySpace and who is using Facebook? As she points out, on the web we (as a society) are essentially replicating all the different social stratifications that exist out on the sidewalk. It makes sense if you think about it — with social networking sites many of us are essentially just recreating our offline social networks. That means you go where your friends are. But how many of us are aware of this, and to what extent?
Anyway, I highly recommend reading through this transcript if you have an interest in social media, social networks, and how people use them. This kind of broader thinking can really help to provide a better context for what’s happening in the different areas in which we’re all focused (for example, I pay attention to reports and information about what undergrads are up to, and give maybe a cursory glance to the stuff on other age groups).