Tag Archives: #Twitter

Who Owns Our Social Capital?

Shortly after Apple debuted its version of “the cloud” four years ago, I wrote a short post contemplating the future of ownership. More recently, I’ve been thinking about the shifting meaning of ownership in the context of the social networks within which we conduct no small part of our daily lives. Namely, Facebook and Twitter.

In this intriguing piece from Pacific Standard, the author suggests we all start charging companies for our online data, conveniently eliding the fact that there are deeply entrenched power structures that would need to do an altruistic 180 for that to even enter the realm of possibility. Short of opting out of, oh, all services, how can consumers leverage any semblance of power to make such a demand?

Not easily.

To his credit, the author admits he hasn’t considered the economic implications of his idealistic suggestion, and indeed, he doesn’t seem to see the landscape of the current information/data market for his money-tree of an idea. Alas, capital is highly concentrated among the very companies he wants consumers to charge for the privilege of collecting, storing, and mining their data. How can those of us without that volume of capital, social or material, possibly set our price? We are at their mercy.

I’m of the cynical view that consumers, even as a united front, have little actual power to effect change. The means of production are too tightly wound around the hands of those at the top. They even control the means of communication and socialization. Besides, consumers would probably need social media to mount an economic revolution. It’s one of the most viable mobilization tools we have at our disposal. What happens when the services don’t like what their users are saying and doing with it and turn it off?

Conversely, what happens if (when?) ostensibly “free” services start becoming less so. As many have pointed out, corporations pay for the right to advertise their products to people using these social media services. But profit margins for Facebook & Twitter are slim to nonexistent. So at what point do these services re-evaluate and start making their monetizing more visible and felt by the user?

At what point in the process of monetization do people start migrating to new, “free” services? When Twitter figures out how to monetize itself effectively, how will that affect user experience? Will users rebel by leaving? Or will the service’s gamble pay off, with users having become so entrenched and loyal that it’s easier to stay & pay than flee for free?

It’s tough to predict, but one thing I’m pretty sure won’t happen (at least not successfully) is users demanding to be paid for their participation in these social networks.
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Your bumper-sticker is yelling at my bumper sticker

After stumbling across what is I’m sure a small fraction of the vile, often shockingly incoherent trollspeak on twitter, I began to wonder if twitter itself as a platform was partially to blame.

Actually, what made me think of this was a bumper sticker on an SUV that had small words I couldn’t read fast enough framing a middle line of bold, larger font that screamed “CHILD DEATH” at me before it drove off. And that is what made me think of twitter and its trolls. Of all discourse that is a series of “blah blah blah INCENDIARY REMARK blah blah blah.” I still have no idea what that particular bumper sticker was trying to get at, expect my attention and possibly my (out)rage.

I see fewer and fewer bumper stickers. Maybe they don’t stick on the new-fangled metal they’re using to build cars these days. Maybe aesthetic tastes have shifted where I live where car adornment & self-expression is concerned. Or perhaps we have moved this type of discourse to other media…like twitter. It’s a leap, but I’m willing to go there, tenuous lines drawn taut across the metaphoric platforms, keeping me suspended between—never mind. [insert segue here]

Does twitter, by virtue of its strict limits on the space allowed to express oneself, somehow encourage this? At the very least, it facilitates sound-bytes of thoughts, conversation, and argumentation (if it can be called that). At least twitter, unlike bumper stickers, allows for immediate rebuttal. Although so do bumper stickers if you park your car long enough and the person you’ve pissed off has paper and pen handy. Or a bat.

My point is that twitter trollspeak, like some terse bumper stickers, is shaped by a medium that places a premium on efficiency of message. Logic is nice and all, but if you can make it fit, by all means dispense with it. And if you have strong feelings about something, perhaps you’re more likely to boil down those strong feelings into what is most likely to elicit a reaction: incendiary remarks.

When I was younger and coming into my own (extreme) opinions, before the tempering influence of college and then the real world, I proudly displayed a bumper sticker that read “If you’re against abortion, get a vasectomy.”

The fact that I put that out to the world makes me cringe now. Happily, it wasn’t there long. I removed it along with the bumper that bore it after a minor fender-bender, having come to my senses about such irksome, trite forms of “discourse.” An inflammatory bumper sticker was no way to get my message across, much less change anyone’s mind or influence public policy. Even more happily, by that time I had matured slightly in my politics and realized this phrase mis-represented my views, and moreover, assumed only people with penises were anti-choice. How’s that for gender and sex bias? (I hadn’t yet learned that the ERA was defeated largely due to a woman’s efforts.) Ah, ignorant youth…so loud and unproductive.

And that is how twitter trollspeak feels to me much of the time. Illogical, loud, unwilling to listen, and narrow-minded. Not to mention cruel and dangerous. Twitter as a genre and technological medium facilitates this type of “argumentation,” this type of expression. It allows for snippets of anonymous drivel and immediate responses and carpet bombings of bumper-sticker-level rhetoric. All without any windows to smash in retaliation. All we can throw at each other are words–and the threats they often carry.

I choose to believe we are smarter and more mature than this, or at least are capable of becoming so. It’s curious, this posited transference from bumper stickers to virtual reality. Media are not to blame–people and culture are. Bumper stickers and twitter and the rest are simply conduits, influencing the form messages may take, but not the messages themselves.

We make the messages. We can do better. Many people ARE doing better, but the trolls and their bumper sticker trollspeak remains an incessant cancer within public discourse.

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It was a Privilege Being your Cash Cow: Reflections on Academia

More often than not, I forget to confront my own privilege. Even when I remember to confront it, I often fail to do the important work of interrogating it, pushing back, making space for underprivileged people, making right.

This post began as a cynical, navel-gazing look at how annoyed I get when I think about how my MA program failed to prepare me for the real world. (The underbelly of this is annoyance with myself for doing so little to prepare, to investigate the actual options I would be able to seek out upon graduating.)

In the context of my personal experience, this annoyance with the program is valid. But there are always multiple, layered contexts. In the broader context of American society, with its nearly impenetrable stratification of resources and opportunity, the original idea for this post is disturbingly privileged.

The catalyst of this realization was a twitter conversation initiated by Tina Vasquez (@TheTinaVasquez), a writer based in Los Angeles. Ms. Vasquez’s thoughts on the now-standard trope of white academics bemoaning their “disenfranchised” lot in life inspired me to rethink this post and take it into what I hope is a more constructive direction.

Instead of whining about my terrible experience in an MA program and how little it did to prepare me for a job, I intend to explore the origin of that type of privileged perspective, and do my best to see past it. So thanks to Ms. Vasquez for cutting me off at my very white and very middle-class knees. She is doing great work. You should read it.*

Onto the post!

I’m in the process of reading Magaret Atwood’s newest collection of short stories (she calls them “tales”). Atwood delves into the lives of older adults who seem to spend a lot of time with their pasts. These tales are wonderful, absorbing, and hit upon some truths that strike even the younger readers among her fanbase. To wit, I was in the middle of “Revenant,” and a character had the following thought about MA students:

“Superheated in the academic cooker. The hot air expands. Poof! An M.A,” Not bad, he thinks. Also true. The universities want the cash, so they lure these kids in. Then they turn them into puffballs of inflated starch, with no jobs to match. (p.44)**

In my MA program, we knew at the time that we were the department’s cash cows. Even with 1/3-off “merit” scholarships flung at us like they were going out of style, the department was making bank off our aspirations and idealism. This was a conduit to a PhD, we were told, if we worked hard enough, if we cultivated relationships with the right people. Academia was the be all end all, held up like fodder for the cash cow hive mind.

Afterwards, those of us who didn’t pursue a career in academia were left casting about blindly for an alternative. Some of my colleagues were far more proactive and had opportunities lined up & waiting upon graduation. I gave myself over entirely to the sense of being adrift. You could also call it depression. It took me a year of volunteering to crawl out, another year to find a volunteer opportunity I was passionate about, and a year after that to match a passion with a career.

That’s a lot of uphill struggle for a post-graduate degree, but having the opportunity to even contemplate a post-graduate degree (especially what turned out to be a time-sink one) requires being in a privileged position in society. It didn’t feel that way at the time, but I was lucky. I am privileged. To have been a cash cow in the first place is not something everyone has access to.

And still my feelings about the whole experience are fraught, bitter. to a large extent, I’m upset with my own naivete and lack of ambition. That didn’t mean this cow didn’t turn around and try to cash in.

Although a career in academia was most likely out of the question, still I clung to the MA program. For a while, I could make my academic lineage sound impressive. This was because I believed in its power and cache’. I believed my degrees had clout for every possible employment and volunteer opportunity that came my way. Which is ridiculous. You don’t need a degree to excel at administration, at event planning. Not my degree, anyway.

Some people are still impressed, when I remember to tell them that I graduated from X institution, but as I wandered further away from academia and deeper into a semblance of a career, that particular “credential” gave way to the priority of promoting whatever organization I was shilling for at the time. It didn’t matter to me anymore. The degree is in the past–a symbol of my wandering 20s and my privileged ability to wander into academia and flounder there for an extra year, all for nothing.

We graduated into a crap economy, we were told. Our generation is SOL, went the refrain. But “our generation” refers to the privileged few who didn’t come from hardship to begin with. Besides, how is it hardship to be able to mooch off your parents when our contemporaries were working their asses off at one, two, three crap part-time jobs AND raising families? The difference in lived experience in this country is stark.

Last night, in a series of thoughtful tweets, Tina Vasquez took aim at this sense of entitlement by deconstructing and recontextualizing an article about what it’s like to be an adjunct professor. Vasquez–and several of her astute followers who joined in the conversation–pointed out that the idea that the system “owes” you something–that you are deserving of success–is a very privileged viewpoint to occupy.

And boy, was I guilty of it. I hammered that note for years, using it to explain my lot in life–or, more frequently, allowing others to use it to explain my lot. Honestly, it wasn’t the circumstances I was in so much, it was my attitude that underlay the depression. I wasn’t working hard enough, putting myself out there, making enough effort. I didn’t believe I could.

As life proved later, this was bullshit. Once I started trying, it was pretty easy to get in the game and secure some good jobs. And I know that is largely due to my advantages within our society: white, middle-class, & educated.

Being able to have a sense of shock that the system isn’t working for you is itself a product of the system and your advantaged place within it. As @blackgirlinmain pointed out last night, it’s a very white phenomenon.***

We all know (I hope) how our society privileges whiteness. I’ve worked hard; society owes me a good job is a thought easy for those who of us who come from privilege, and difficult, if not unthinkable, for those who don’t. (Unless, of course, someone has bought into the whole American Dream fantasy, but as some in last night’s twitter conversation pointed out, the American Dream is a lot easier for poor whites to buy into than poor people of color.) Working hard and getting screwed have historically been part of the deal for a lot of people in America. Thinking that society owes you something is an attitude reserved for the already-enfranchised.

It’s when the system stops working for those who historically benefit from it that these phenomena become newsworthy, that dominant voices begin their hand-wringing over a socioeconomic crisis. And that’s what happened to me and my MA program cohort. We graduated, expected the moon, and quite a few found dirt that didn’t even pay. For us, this was revolutionary. For most, it’s just life.

Clearly, we have a LOT of things to tackle as a society if we’re even going to pay lip service to a level playing field. Thank you to everyone who is keeping this at the forefront of the conversation. Please keep writing, keep talking, keep thinking, keep working. Maybe a change will come.

—–

*Visit http://inthefray.org/author/tina/ for a sample of her work. 

**Quoted from Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, feminist, environmentalist, and so much more: http://margaretatwood.ca/

***@blackgirlinmain’s full tweet: “The concept that we are ‘supposed’ to have financially abundant lives feels like a very white thing to me.”

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Tone Deaf in the Twitterverse

Greetings from the quasi-technophobe who recently jumped back into the Twitterverse with both feet. Mostly, it’s been great. Great to be on Twitter as myself rather than a representative for an organization. Great to be finding links to articles I would have otherwise never come across. Great to be at least cogniscent of the many conversations surrounding recent (and ongoing) police brutality and the protests that have resulted.

There are many issues and realities and social movements to care about and engage with, and Twitter has been a useful tool to keep abreast on what’s out there, right here right now. But it is not the best for providing context to the 140 character conversations.

Not only context, but tone. Tone is difficult to read in a #hashtag, never mind 140 characters, unless you take the time to read all that has come before.

Sifting and scrolling through the history to find the beginning of a #hashtag is time-consuming work…work that often leads me to give it up in favor of other, more productive work [read: day job. or doing the dishes].

Showing solidarity when relatively tone-deaf and unable to unlock the mysterious secrets to tuning in is difficult. Google helps, but Twitter is immediate–in the time it takes to Google, the surge of collective mediated action might have passed, and the window of opportunity to participate is closed.

That’s not to say that #hashtags don’t resurface. Of course they do. It’s simply a momentary frustration, not knowing how to interact with the conversation, which faction you’re really a part of…it’s a problem of interpellation. When you can’t read the signs, how can you be interpellated, even if you’re looking for them?

An example – the Gamer Gate controversy. Today I came across two different #hashtags: #GamerGate and #StopGamerGate2014. After reading a few threads and questioning whether the people I follow were mistakes or right on, I found myself unable to figure out where either #hashtag positioned itself within the controversy.

Full disclosure: I am emphatically on the side of women, minorities, and others who are routinely marginalized & excluded by the dominant Gaming community. 

My problem is I’m not sure which #hashtag to use on Twitter to symbolize this particular brand of solidarity. I certainly don’t want to accidentally support the misogynists by using the “wrong” #hashtag.

Now, #GamerGate seems to be a neutral shorthand referring to the controversy as a whole, but the addition of #StopGamerGate2014 seems to position itself against #GamerGate, indicating that there are two sides here and that #GamerGate is on one of them. BUT WHICH ONE AARRRHHGGGH???

I was at a loss trying to figure it out within the Twitterverse. I had to get all space-time parallel internet and reach into the Googleverse to grasp a modicum of understanding on the distinction. Smart this did not make me feel. Naive and unequal to the technology at hand, yes, but smart? Nope.

I’m adrift & tonedeaf in the Twitterverse at times, and desperate for the Rosetta Stone that will make sense of the noise, cacophony of irony, and unlock the contextual secrets of all these important conversations.

But hey, it’s only been a few days. Check back in a week or so and I may have become acclimated to the language, solved this little conundrum, and finally started tweeting with confident abandon on the side of What I Believe In.

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