Shopping for traces in social software (under construction)
A while ago I read a short post by Martin Kloos, an acknowledged social media professional. In this post Martin struck a tone that displayed critical thoughts against the prophecies of social software. Instead of lip synching the self-proclaimed SlideShare evangelists that vigorously advocate the social super powers of Web2.0, Martin calls for a relativistic attitude towards social software, especially with regard to commercial environments, by directing attention to the actual added value of social software. This added value of social software is that of actually being a mediator to get into conversation with (prospective) clients, and it has no use to attribute omniscient qualities to the use and ends of social software.
However, what is lacking in his – and other – discussions is a critical view on the human behaviour that is displayed daily on these social mediums. The majority of social software praises dogmatically emphasises on the outcomes if the intended functionalities are used as designed, or paraphrasing Jones (1992) the design-by-drawing qualities, which is obviously not common practice. Examining social software, by adopting a realistic evaluation perspective (Pawson and Tilley, 1997) and thus refraining from its prophetical non-witnessed abilities, can teach us a lot of its actual use, and the underlying mechanisms that explain that use. Along with its use, also its accompanying unintended consequences are food for thought, which Jones (1992) denoted as the design-without-a-product qualities. If you ask me, I do believe in the fantastic connective and stumble upon abilities of social software, unprecedentedly witnessed on the Internet regarding its ease and scope. Yet, it remains rather an electronic replicator for those things that already signify (fluid) modernity.
The fundaments of early beginnings of modernity relied on the quintessential virtue of rationality, which could be influenced by the elements of order and routine. The virtue of rationality was that it allowed for imageries of social engineering (Bauman, 1989). Order, the first element, was necessary to structure and simplify practice, while the second element of routine riveted the continuity and durability of these practices. Routines and order solidified social structures, and especially cemented individuals into communal sharing relationships. Communal sharing is a kind of sociality in which people treat some dyad or group as equivalent and undifferentiated with respect to the social domain in question. Central to the communitarian relation is the use of shared resources, shared socials, shared sufferings and well-beings and collective responsibility (Fiske, 1992) or as Bauman (2000) calls it, the ‘public sphere’. The solid public sphere led to an risk-minimal infrastructural, that was capable of providing the needs for large quantities of people, ranging from the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, varying from shelter at the minimal extreme up to self-actualization at the opposite side (Maslow, 1943). Notwithstanding, the rise on the ladder was governed by a solid public sphere, where intentions could be shared and where we could learn from each other. The ultimate rise on the ladder was liberation of doing and being.
Contradictory, liberation can never be a collective affair, but an individual affair. Someone’s fighting for freedom, is another one’s terrorism. While solidified structures, like routines, are repressive in the sense that they (un)consciously constrain value-free decision making, they also reduce complexity enabling individuals to deal with the weight of information processing and decision making. Thus absence of structure, might be ultimate liberation, and thus individualization, yet is lies the burden of complexity reduction at the individual. At the same time, structuration plants the seed for individualization. In these ‘modern’ times, individuality prospers, with its Enronian excrescences running rampant, at the expense of deteriorating public, community spaces. And although the era individuality is acknowledged generally, its alleged inherent liberation is a deceit. Liberation can never be attained, but ever be aspired. This freedom is both a utopian and dystopian outlook, e.g. how to decide if the whole world is still blank. Self-actualization then is gradually morphing from being a finite objective in itself to becoming a volatile road.
Shopping metaphor: Unattainable longings
Nowadays individuals in capitalist societies are not overly concerned with securing their propagation, or shelter, but moreover with decisions regarding who we are and want to become, which becomes an increasingly solitary expedition. In this section I will introduce the shopping behavior as a way how individuals construct their identity.
“It has been said that the spiritus movens of consumer activity is no longer the measurable set of articulated needs, but desire – a much more volatile and ephemeral, evasive and capricious, and essentially non-referential entity than ‘needs’, a self-begotten and self-propelled motivate that needs no other justification or ‘cause’” (Bauman, 2000, p.74). Desires have noting to do with current needs, but rather with future identifications. And with the proliferation of the global infrastructure, desires can be attained to almost instantaneously, thus future becomes near-today.
Identity becomes a consumable image that can be shaped (for the individual and for his or her environment) at will, by expressing oneself via objects (Woodward, 2007). One’s identity can now be ‘shopped’ together via the signifiers contained in objects; by wearing an woolen Italian style suit, two tone leather shoes with long nose, with a crisp silk tie, knotted Firenze style, with a slim fit shirt tone-sûr-tone, one indisputable actively shapes ‘or shops’ his or her identity, yet he will never become his or her identity. So, in these modern liquid times, we need to have the ‘competences of a skilful and indefatigable shopper, in this world of ostensibly infinite ends’ (Bauman, 2000, p.76). With regard to creating an inexhaustible road that triggers a plenitude of ‘unattainable longings’ to precipitate consumption, desires are ideal mediators, because desires liberates consumerism from achievable objectives like needs or pleasures that are called desires (Bauman even introduces wishes as an even more unattainable and utopian concept).
I believe that the shopping metaphor not only demonstrates the everlasting longing for more (as Bauman’s book on Liquid Modernity beautifully illustrates), but it also contains the natural forage-ability. Forage-ability is deduced from the verb ‘foraging’, or the idea of leading the cattle out to pasture at fresh meadows. Yet, mammals are attracted to certain meadows within eye sight or miles away because of availability and familiarity, regardless of the presence of other environments that might contain more nutritious or delicious grass. With the departure of solid collectivity and the emergence of fluid individuality, also forage-ability becomes an individual ability. In this section I will illustrate how foraging behavior is present in social software.
Looking at today’s society of abundance, everybody skims magazines, or more traditional news papers, to deicide what information is read worthy and what is not, while accepting the obvious fact that what is not read today will be batch processed in the near future (in which the batch processing varies from postponing, forgetting or discarding etc.). Because of the profusion of information generation Y is burdened under constant pressure to balance which information to process, while dealing with augmenting information spaces at a logarithmical speed. The massively popular site Youtube grows at a rate of 20 hours of video upload per minute (Hodgin, 2009). Thus every minute we watch we consciously discard alternatives, for which the leeway cannot be made up for. Every minute we watch on Youtube, we discard 1200 alternatives, the exponential formula would look like Σ γ = (1200 – η) ×1200 (η-1) (in which η is the amount of minutes you watched video on Youtube, and γ the amount of minutes need to watch all alternatives). Thus after 15 minutes of Youtube video you would need to borrow 2,8 years to catch up (with regard to the formula the upload speed and quantity are not a ceteris paribus, so it would cost you even more years to remain op top of it). Thus rational decision making becomes an ever more difficult quest, because the two omissions; information is insufficiently codified and excessively diffused, requiring a peak load of entropy (the required human energy to make a well informed decision) within a maximum of chaos (the required complexity that needs to be reduced to make a well informed decision).
In other words we need to forage to deal with social media, and as with foraging we do this at known spots. If we return to our metaphor of foraging by mammals, we observe that they come in flocks and consume the grass of these stretches, without giving anything in return. Within human practices denote this behavior as lurking. Lurking often has a negative connotation (Millen, Feinberg and Kerr, 2006; Klamma, Chatti, Duval, Hummel, Hvannberg, Kravcik, Law, Naeve and Scott, 2007), but perfectly augments the ‘shopping’ metaphor. In social software lurking is also a common practice; discovering new artists on Last.FM, without voting on lists; reading others profiles on LinkedIn, without giving recommendations; checking out old classmates on Facebook, without commenting on their photos; and moreover citing articles on Wikipedia, without contributing to articles. Just like on Amazon, when you ‘lurk’ abstracts of books and recommendations.
Experts often acclaim that social software (re)introduced the public sphere in a digital form. Millions of people come together on electronic squares like Facebook, Hyves, MySpace etc. And although we attach almost mythical powers to these new forms of sociality, social software does not shape social relations. Actually, these so called public sphere are in reality are individual traces, that do not bind in any form or have durable qualities. Just like the mammals, having share no social bond, except an opportunistic one of lurking.
Also the act of contributing is not of an equal social relation, it is often about logic of the gift (Mauss, 1972). By detaching us from the illusionary prospect of rational decision making, we find us selves more often making decisions based on traces (Huizing, 2002). Or to find our nutritious fields we act upon traces. Traces are reifications of streams of activities, or ‘activities and behaviors that people leave when they interact in [digital] environments’ (Wikipedia, 2010). Powerful applications of these traces are recommendation or ratings by others, yet research focus solely on buying decisions (Senecal and Nantel, 2004; Smith, Menon, Sivakumar, 2005), while I believe it determines all our behavior. In order to cope with this abundance, dealing with information-intensive practices is commonly a practice of discovering a pattern to inform follow up decisions. The use of patterns is based on our ‘human’ forage-ability.
An important part of social software for me, is knowing what others bought.
Not contribution is the power of social software sites, but lurking.
Being able to attract meadows for foraging is
Bauman coins contemporary modernity with
supplements that ‘liquid modernity’ is a more adequate term for this ‘shopping’ mechanisms governing modern social behaviour online and offline.
I found this ‘shopping’ mechanism, which I will explain hereafter, an especially strong metaphor for the case against the alleged utopian powers of social software. Social software actually perfectly illustrates the fast paced shopping for the unattainable. Nowadays individuals in capitalist societies are not overly concerned with securing their propagation, but rather with decision dilemmas within omnipresent time, space and information restrictions.
Logic of the gift
Acting on these traces is then rather phenomenon guided by social criteria, rather then economic criteria. In real life this can also be observed in shopping practices.
So how does this translates to actual behavior on social software sites.
Immers, rationaliteit impliceert dat voorafgaand aan besluitvorming een optimale afweging wordt gemaakt tussen de alternatieven, en het ‘bounded’ geeft aan dat het optimum verstoord raakt door biologische en sociale eigenschappen
are not afraid ofThe core issues of an individuals shift from gaining the necessary needs for survival to consuming everything.
surviving the fittest to consuming . shifts from safeguarding essential needs to realizing desires. The fundaments of modernity rested on the quintessential elements of order and routine. The element of order was necessary to structure and simplify practice, while the element of order struck the continuity and durability of these practices. This led to an risk-minimal infrastructural, that was capable of providing the needs for large quantities of people, ranging from the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, stating shelter, to the top, stating self-actualization. Yet, climbing the ladders of the hierarchy, self-actualization is emerging from being a finite objective in itself to becoming a road on the way through. And this quest for self-actualization is filled with uncountable, and for that reason also untamable, desires.
Mechanisms of recognition. No ventures to initiate new connections, only dewellings to understand ‘wat mensen doen’ of known connections (Lampe, Ellison and Steinfield, 2006).
Utopia Thomas More
Theory of emptiness, waiting for a pulse, the refresh is more important than the message.
Lurking is about the touching products, really love to touch products in a store, read their inscriptions and then put them back in a rack.
et’s look first at the online shopping metaphor:
- You go into a store and pick up a basket.
- You walk round the store and put whatever you need into the basket.
- You take the basket to the checkout and pay for your purchases.
There’s nothing difficult about that.
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- Tuesday, 18 May 2010 at 03:39
- Tim Hoogenboom