Thursday, July 23, 2009

Social Media is Here to Stay - Now What?

In Danah Boyd's article, she goes through a brief history of social media (software, networking sites, etc). She is making the point that even though the tools evolve and who is using them how has changed over time, there are certain universal truths that are now a part of our social reality:

"1. Invisible Audiences. We are used to being able to assess the people around us when we're speaking. We adjust what we're saying to account for the audience. Social media introduces all sorts of invisible audiences. There are lurkers who are present at the moment but whom we cannot see, but there are also visitors who access our content at a later date or in a different environment than where we first produced them. As a result, we are having to present ourselves and communicate without fully understanding the potential or actual audience. The potential invisible audiences can be stifling. Of course, there's plenty of room to put your head in the sand and pretend like those people don't really exist.

2. Collapsed Contexts. Connected to this is the collapsing of contexts. In choosing what to say when, we account for both the audience and the context more generally. Some behaviors are appropriate in one context but not another, in front of one audience but not others. Social media brings all of these contexts crashing into one another and it's often difficult to figure out what's appropriate, let alone what can be understood.

3. Blurring of Public and Private. Finally, there's the blurring of public and private. These distinctions are normally structured around audience and context with certain places or conversations being "public" or "private." These distinctions are much harder to manage when you have to contend with the shifts in how the environment is organized. "

The first thing that occurred to me as I was reading her article which was addressed to business leaders and tech developers was that I was really glad I was a teacher and not trying to make a living developing software. The shift from the fully finished product to consumer model to perpetual beta testing with the world as an audience is a paradigm many businesses are having trouble adjusting to - not to mention figuring out how to make money from.

The next thing I thought about was how different the experience of childhood for our students is from our own. The idea of invisible audiences, collapsing context and the blurring of public and private lives is something I can even see evidence of in the classroom. The article is yet another piece of information which tells me it is important that education not ban/ignore the latest technologies but incorporate them into a safe environment and teach about their responsible use to help better prepare our students to negotiate the waters of the future.

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