It was wonderful to meet with both established and emerging scholars doing youth research in the UK. I’ve storified a few tweets from the backchannel after the break.
My good colleague Sian Lincoln and I are happy to announce that articles from our special issue of New Media & Society on ‘ten years of Facebook’ are now appearing in the ‘online first' section of the journal's website. The issue itself is not out formally yet, and it will of course be great to see it come together in its official form hopefully later in the year, but for now we want to let folks know that these great articles are online.
Sian and I are really happy with how the issue has turned out. We would’ve liked to have included more - we certainly had a brilliant crop of over 150 initial abstract submissions to choose from, and a handful of excellent pieces that sadly didn’t make it through the review process - but we think these articles cover a good deal of terrain, both reflecting back on 10 years of Facebook while also looking forward to the future.
We’ll hold off on the more formal acknowledgments and editorial until the issue is actually released properly, but we do very quickly want to thank all the contributors, our small legion of reviewers, the SAGE editors, and Steve Jones as editor-in-chief of NM&S.
Taken together, I think these articles paint a complex and compelling picture about the conventions of Facebook use, the trajectory of the corporation itself, the value of the site, its problems, and how we can manage these complexities into the future. Amidst various discourses of decline, Facebook isn’t going anywhere yet, and into the future - if it does go the way of MySpace - it will leave a very powerful legacy that has shaped not only the social web but also the practice of everyday life for many. We are glad to have captured some of that legacy at the 10 year post in this forthcoming issue.
Ah, the internet. Facebook turned 10 last week, and took the opportunity to draw everyone’s attention to just how much of its user’s social lives are mediated on the site. Each user could access (and, of course, share) one minute videos of key moments in the user’s life as mediated on Facebook. The whirring algorithms behind the scene would pluck out photos shared early on (seven years ago for me), inducing all the nostalgia, and then proceeded to highlight popular (most liked) status updates.
Of course, within a few days, people in my feed started complaining about their news feeds being swamped by the look back videos, and then the parodies came. My favourite is the look back video for Walter White, fictional drug lord from Breaking Bad.
The surface level reading of the look back videos might be a cutesy ‘aw good times, good memories’ reflection, but the deeper implication here is ‘hey look back at how much of your life you’ve shared on Facebook - we’re part of your life now, you can’t leave us’. It makes sense for Facebook to draw our attention to this, at a time where lots of people are talking about Facebook fatigue. The depth and persistence of disclosures won’t, I think, concern too many people (‘OMG I need to go and delete some of this!’). Although, I did really like another recent ‘look back’ - Michael Zimmer’s useful review of Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘theory of privacy’. Here, Zimmer asserts that Zuck’s privacy philosophy is that a) information wants to be shared, b) privacy must be overcome, and c) control is the new privacy.
Whether or not these kind of critiques come to mind when people view these look back videos, it is clear that disclosing information on Facebook (to Facebook, to others through Facebook) has become firmly entrenched in everyday life, and these videos work to both remind us of this and to further that normalisation process.
I’m about a month late to the party on this, but I wanted to put down some thoughts on Apple’s 2013 Christmas ad for the iPhone, titled 'Misunderstood'. The ad is embedded below. It focuses on a shy teenager who is spending time with his family for Christmas, but appears always at a distance from the things going on around him, constantly glued to his phone. The big (emotional?) reveal at the end is that in fact he has been recording everything, and his gift to his family is a movie that stitches together their time, telling the story of their Christmas. We get to see the family’s response to this unexpected culmination of the teen’s labour - the laughing, the tears, the warm embrace from his father who had, in Apple’s narrative, ‘misunderstood’ his son. He wasn’t disengaged after all.
The ad has been described as endearing (even if it does valorise ‘iPhone addiction’?!) and as 'the best iPhone commercial ever'. I particularly enjoyed Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s reading of the ad over on Huff Post, which is sympathetic but also informed by Pang’s own experience as a ‘record keeper’. Of course it has attracted criticism too. On Forbes.com, Jennifer Rooney called the ad a ‘sad commentary on culture’. Gizmodo writer Brian Barrett even gives us a series of screen-caps pointing out how sad the teen is, framing him as ‘Sullen Male Youth’. Here’s a bit from Barrett’s piece that I found particularly eye-roll worthy:
The reason they are surprised and relieved, of course, is that most young men and young women—and tweens and olds and anyone, really, with access to a smartphone—act exactly like Sullen Male Youth. All the time. We Instagram meals before we eat them, tweet jokes about news stories we haven’t yet read. If anything, the unfortunate default mode for many of us is hiding behind phones, inside apps. Any other use case sends us into paroxysms of joy and relief.
I won’t bother railing too heavily against the hyperbole here because I guess it has its place, but I do want to pick up on Barrett’s reading that the family in the ad is connecting not with the teen’s movie, but instead with the revelation that the teen hasn’t been totally disengaged the whole time. I actually think it’s a bit of both, and even if it is more of the latter, how is that bad?
I think that advancing a discourse that doesn’t frame young introverts as disengaged, apathetic hermits is entirely positive. Apple is inverting the spectre of the screen-addicted, apathetic teen here, suggesting in its place the figure of the sentimental, observant record-keeper.
I’ll end this post with another story about a shy young man finding his voice. I think it serves as a useful lens through which to read Apple’s narrative. Enjoy!
"This is Harry. As a boy, Harry was very, very shy. Some people might have even said that he was painfully shy, as if his shyness caused them pain and not the other way around…"
[This entry has been cross-posted on the blog for the Australian Sociological Association’s Youth thematic group.]