I joined Facebook in it’s infancy. I registered the first day Goshen College was finally allowed aboard at the end of the wave of inclusion (I guess we weren’t really a priority on account of Goshen’s size and obscurity). In those first months (and years) I was unaware of the way I was helping to pioneer what would become norms for online interaction through social networking.
The thing was, as is reflective of the unique nature of the Internet, our norms were developing with what would ultimately prove to be a false comprehension of what the site was. We all understood the site to be a network limited to college students. We acted accordingly. And with each growth and change and shift on the site, we shifted the way we treated the site.
But somewhere between those exciting early days and the convoluted days of Now, Facebook and its many networked rivers and streams and creeks and chasms got too complicated to keep up with.
Where I begin to have trouble with comprehension is—I think what I said before is still true. We still operate as though we’ve established norms for something we understand, when the framework for that understanding constantly shifts around us. Everyday this is true. The site keeps changing. It never. stops. changing.
How on EARTH does a society go about building rules for engagement with a thing that has no constant? Or does it have a constant and I just can’t recognize it because I am so practiced in the physical (not virtual) reality.
I think that would be danah boyd’s response.
She’s devoted a lot of her life to studying the unique properties of online public spaces. I’m so glad she has. Because, as she points out, I think this is going to be important for the kids growing up IN these spaces. But I cannot begin to comprehend what it would be like to not know a reality without Facebook. Or even a reality without the Internet as a social tool.
So study these things, ms. boyd. And then teach me how to consider the way I might influence norms thoughtfully and critically. With an informed and critical approach, I like to believe I can still enjoy the benefits of Facebook without being overcome with cynicism for the drawbacks. But my current sense is that the depth of understanding about the Internet as a public space is not yet there for me to accept personal responsibility for consumption—the way I do with television. But my hope is that the depth is in existence and because of people like danah boyd and Eva Galperin, it will be regurgitated at a level I (and the masses) can comprehend and begin to apply.