Friday, June 29, 2007

Social Networking and Class Divisions

Via lots of places, an essay that came out recently on the class nature of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

I should preface this by saying I've never really even seen Facebook, and I don't have a MySpace account, though many of my friends do. I do spend a lot of time online, but from what I've seen, both sites tend to encourage people to act stupid, for whatever reason. Not that they are useless, but that they have been mostly useless thus far (the exception seems to be keeping track of what folks are up to these days).

I'm also thinking that Boyd's essay provides a great window into the way in which cultural values are replicated and transmitted, from who is on each site and why to the differing visual aesthetics of the two sites. Oh, and why do you think folks using MySpace think cluttered backgrounds and crappy designs are appealing? Hegemony, folks. MySpace is set apart - and sets itself apart - from Facebook by adopting a different set of design ideas, one that are then labeled "immature" and the like by - surprise, surprise - Facebook users and their parents. It's a vicious circle, and the worst part is that some of the more bizarre and outlandish designs on MySpace are probably pretty good.

The author, Danah Boyd, tells me that there's some serious shit going down on the aforementioned sites:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

Damn. That's fucked up. What we're seeing is the golf course of the future. Instead of networking at the right clubs, or parties, or at the 19th hole, folks are going to network - and get their (online) friends jobs - through MySpace, Facebook, and the like. What seems to be happening is the perpetuation of a closed system: it's still who you know, not what you know. (Disclosure: This totally applies to me.) So yeah - for anyone who thinks this stuff is either a waste of time to participate in (and that includes me) or a waste of time to study, um, no. It's got consequences, people. That 17-year-old jackass with his shirt off and the spilled PBR in his right hand? He's going to be your boss because he friended someone's rich kid. Welcome to America, land of opportunity.


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