MySpace gets the Danah Boyd treatment

I don’t use MySpace myself, and having only looked at it quickly had always wondered what the buzz was about.

A couple months back, I did have something of an ‘a-ha’ moment when I followed this link to the MySpace entry for a fictional private eye who occasionally phones in to a funny WFMU show I quite enjoy (performed by this guy, or should I say this guy). The first comment on Scag’s space was by this other guy, who is something of an underground Republic of East Van cut-up of renown — perhaps best known as half of Canned Hamm (who must be seen live to be believed). To see two such relatively obscure and seemingly unconnected personas (linked only by comic sensibilities) connect so directly, and then following the other network paths and finding many more similar linkages convinced me that there was indeed some there there, even if I couldn’t articulate it.

Josie pointed out Danah Boyd’s research on MySpace, which was posted today as Identity Production in a Networked Culture:

Adults often worry about the amount of time that youth spend online, arguing that the digital does not replace the physical. Most teens would agree. It is not the technology that encourages youth to spend time online – it’s the lack of mobility and access to youth space where they can hang out uninterrupted.

In this context, there are three important classes of space: public, private and controlled. For adults, the home is the private sphere where they relax amidst family and close friends. The public sphere is the world amongst strangers and people of all statuses where one must put forward one’s best face. For most adults, work is a controlled space where bosses dictate the norms and acceptable behavior.

Teenager’s space segmentation is slightly different. Most of their space is controlled space. Adults with authority control the home, the school, and most activity spaces. Teens are told where to be, what to do and how to do it. Because teens feel a lack of control at home, many don’t see it as their private space.

To them, private space is youth space and it is primarily found in the interstices of controlled space. These are the places where youth gather to hang out amongst friends and make public or controlled spaces their own. Bedrooms with closed doors, for example.

Adult public spaces are typically controlled spaces for teens. Their public space is where peers gather en masse; this is where presentation of self really matters. It may be viewable to adults, but it is really peers that matter.

Teens have increasingly less access to public space. Classic 1950s hang out locations like the roller rink and burger joint are disappearing while malls and 7/11s are banning teens unaccompanied by parents. Hanging out around the neighborhood or in the woods has been deemed unsafe for fear of predators, drug dealers and abductors. Teens who go home after school while their parents are still working are expected to stay home and teens are mostly allowed to only gather at friends’ homes when their parents are present.

The whole paper is worth a look.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
This entry was posted in Emergence. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to MySpace gets the Danah Boyd treatment

  1. Josie Fraser says:

    If only MySpace wasn’t so ugly… it’s got to be the most badly designed, in terms of look and navigation, social network ever. And while ‘the teens’ (most of the people I know over there are in their 20s) may have control over their content to an extent, they sure don’t have much autonomy when it comes to the look of their sites.

    So while it’s a radical space in terms of a shift to online and the opening up of previously unavailable networks (not to mention new heights of masquerade), it’s still same ol same ol in terms of who sets the rules and profits from providing a half-assed service.

  2. Brian says:

    Maybe it’s the lousy aesthetics that put me off. I know it was general ugliness that kept me from seeing the value of wikis for a couple years.

    As ever, I enjoy the way you phrase your critique.

  3. zephoria says:

    Josie/Brian – if the aesthetics turn you off, you’re too old… They have a lot of autonomy and they’ve used it to create digital bedrooms – an explosion of sound, color and all sorts of visual material that makes adults have epileptic seizures.

  4. Brian says:

    Yowsah! A star cameo appearance in my cozy nest of ed tech subversion. Welcome, Danah.

    Just for the record, I am too old. And it is too loud.

    I’ll just sit here and wallow in my dwindling stock of never-abundant hipness.

  5. zephoria says:

    Don’t worry – i’m ancient too. I thought the blink tag was over by now…. I didn’t expect my research would send me back to tripod days.

  6. Josie Fraser says:

    I think the bedroom metaphor is a great one – and brings out the limitations of user autonomy, and the subversive fun to be had annoying the adults/neighbours. I still think it’s clunky though, in comparison to say Xanga. I agree with your paper entirely but I guess I’m longing for web 3.0: the web as an application building platform.
    BTW –was it really you being interviewed on BBC World Service or was I just up too late and in the grip of a particularly geekish hallucination?

Comments are closed.