Theories of Social Media

Network Media: Exploring the sociotechnical relations between mobile networks and media publics by Rachel O'Dwyer/ Beyond Paradigmatic Shift: Mapping Culture and Society of Digital Age by Mikhail Pushkin/ Autumated self-portraits: How Social Media Craft the Narratives of our Lives by Jill Walker Rettberg/ The Aesthetics of Cool by Vito Campanelli/ Things to do in digital Afterlife when you're dead by Daniel Buzzo
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:25
Chair Person: 
Therese Tierney
Rachel O'Dwyer
Mikhail Pushkin
Jill Walker Rettberg
Vito Campanelli
Dan Buzzo

Network Media: Exploring the sociotechnical relations between mobile networks and media publics

by Rachel O'Dwyer

This paper concerns the sociotechnical relations between mobile ICT networks and ‘media publics’, using a term to describe collaborative practices emerging around the production, consumption, and distribution of digitally networked media. It advocates a ‘network media theory’ that explores how emergent media practices are alternatively constrained or enabled by telecommunications design.      

Where the network as a cultural trope is prevalent in critical theory, the technical design characteristics of network media (architecture, topology, protocols and standards) are frequently ‘black-boxed’ in favour of overarching discussions of an immaterial ‘network culture’ as it relates to issues of governance, subjectivity and political economy. By eliding a deep consideration of the material substrate of the network and subsequently the many ways in which media publics are generated in diverse relations between human and non-human actors, contemporary theory has failed to explore the complex ecologies of sociotechnical networks. Instead, in the literature of ‘media 2.0’ we continually encounter causal models of analysis that all too easily equate centralised systems with broadcast cultures and decentralised networks with democratic media practices, failing to attend to the many nuanced ways in which network media constrains and enables the formation of media publics.

This argument is illustrated with a discussion of recent prototypes for episodic networks*. Superficially these networks represent an ideal platform for the kinds of user-generated practices associated with optimistic accounts of new media. However, through an analysis of the network protocol, this paper will explore how social aggregation techniques immanent to the network leverage normative models of media consumption and distribution whilst discouraging others.

This study demonstrates the need for appropriate frameworks and methods for research into network media. While a number of theoretical approaches from technology studies are useful for the formation of a network media theory, this paper will in conclusion consider ‘tactical media’ as one suitable method. Continuing the study of episodic networks, it will outline two recent tactical media art projects Undersound and UmbrellaNet that utilise an episodic network structure, and explore their role as critical tools for engaging with network media.

*episodic networks are a form of mobile ad hoc network which, rather than using a stable form of infrastructure, routes data packets through pair-wise connectivity between mobile devices.  Data is transferred opportunistically by everyday proximity between humans carrying mobile devices i.e. commuters on public transport, without the aid of a centralised relay structure.

Beyond Paradigmatic Shift: Mapping Culture and Society of Digital Age

by Mikhail Pushkin

The concept of digimodernism as the latest paradigmatic shift fundamentally altering our societies and cultures has emerged only very recently and there is but a handful of publications on its lasting effect on the new “everyman” formation. Alvin Toffler’s “The Third Wave” and Alan Kirby’s “Digimodernism” are used for initial definition of digimodernism and probing into its various effects and aspects.

Once a certain outline of digimodernism is established, further analysis is carried out within different academic traditions. Firstly, by applying McLuhan’s concept of tetrad of media effects to blogging, forums and user comments, as innate textual formative properties of this paradigm, the attempt is made at describing the possibilities and limitations of the new information exchange structure. Secondly, comparative analysis of this transition from neomarxist perspective(s), selected for their most uncompromising and in that straightforward angle, is carried out. Works by Chomsky, Schiller, Bourdieu and Gramsci are applied to this task. Thirdly, inferences are made regarding the social formative function of this new paradigm, once again returning us to Kirby and Toffler, yet reshaping, debating and extending their hypotheses.

In sequitur the structure and some traits of culture of digital society is deduced from the above factors of this new environment and contrasted with that of late modern/postmodern type. The logical limitation of current paper is that its scope of analysis excludes developing countries with severely limited or even absent access to online digital networks, so much of it should be understood as forecasting.

Current paper aims to contribute to both new media analysis and a more general trend of fusing and implementing theoretical frameworks of different time periods to contemporary digital art, media and literature.

Autumated self-portraits: How Social Media Craft the Narratives of our Lives

by Jill Walker Rettberg

This paper discusses the ways in which social media help us craft the narratives of our lives. Many discussions of social media look at self-presentation and the construction of identity on social network sites in particular and the Internet in general. This article switches the focus from the moment of self-construction and instead looks at ways in which social media represent our lives by filtering the data we feed into them through templates and displaying simplified patterns, visualisations and narratives back to us. The paper argues that social media helps users to see themselves by taking their raw data and re-presenting it in structured form, and gives examples of different ways in which this data is presented.

I will discuss the different kinds of patterns social media uses when re-presenting our data: geographic (geosocial services such as Gowalla and Foursquare, but also trip organisers like Dopplr and Tripit, workout trackers like Endomundo, and GPS-based photo organisation), temporal (Facebook or Twitter statuses, time-lapse videos compressing photos taken daily over years such as from Dailybooth, habit trackers such as Trixietracker, Moodlog, Bedposted), social (Facebook Friend Visualiser, blog mappers) or semantic (word clouds, Ravelry).

The Aesthetics of Cool

by Vito Campanelli

The proliferation of tools for self-production of media content gives rise to the question: What to fill digital memories with?

Most studies of self-production are characterized by a certain degree of pessimism: the most probable result is products that have no meaning outside the individual sphere and the individual archive. After all, since the mass distribution of cameras, have they not been used mainly for the petty, shallow projects of tourists?

From this point of view, digital media can contribute nothing new or meaningful, just as photography and cinema, as mass technologies, failed to subvert the dominant reality. The exponential multiplication of sources of digital production has not enriched the world with meaning, it has only made it more complex and perhaps more multilateral. Nevertheless, it is commonly believed that blogs, pirate or street televisions, independent magazines and streaming radio broadcasts are more convincing to report upon contemporary events than official media.

In the paper I'm proposing, I tried to analyse the repetitiveness of ‘amatorial productions’, emphasizing two tendencies that characterize society as a whole: the preference for speed over depth (which contributes to a state of  ‘diffuse aesthetics’); and a devaluation of aesthetic concepts such as ‘beauty’ (and the form of experience occasioned by it), in favour of a new aesthetic category, that of ‘cool’.

‘Coolness’ is an aesthetic attitude that is perfectly confluent with the proliferation of tools for the creation of self-produced media and the lecture will try to address questions such as: What ideal of beauty is expressed within the ideal of cool? Is there any way out from insignificance?

The paper is a reworked text from my recent book: Web Aesthetics. How Digital Media Affect Culture and Society (2010, NAi Publishers - Rotterdam and Institute of Network Cultures - Amsterdam).

Things to do in digital Afterlife when you're dead

by Daniel Buzzo

There are currently few procedures, guidelines, public awareness or general debate about what happens to our online digital identities after death. This paper outlines what happens with personal electronic information after death and will endeavor to propose possible new solutions to the problems associated with disparate, legacy personal data.

As more people live increasing amounts of their lives online the issue of physical death in the digital realm is becoming pressingly visible.  Despite growing amounts of such legacy data there is little legal or cultural precedent as to how to treat the personal data of dead users.

The paper discusses current ideas, technologies, and debates around this difficult area and outlines the current state of affairs and presents possible avenues for future development.

There are currently several projects looking at aspects related to this area including, OpenID, oAuth, OpenSocial, VRM, vendor relationship management, PDS personal data spaces, the Mine! Project, Identity Commons et Al. the Paper looks into these in detail and identifies what common approaches may be gleaned from them and what traction their ideas may have in the real world.

The rapidly approaching digital Afterlife offers a challenge of almost unimaginable scope to the creative vision of Artists, Philosophers, Technologists and Cultural thinkers. This paper outlines some of the challenges and opportunities that are on the horizon in a current, near and far future context.