Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Read wear

I have been thinking about the internet lately (fancy telling you that here, right?).

This weekend I read Ilana Gershon's The Breakup 2.0. Gershon looks at how users convey information about breakups through various media, especially Facebook. She then uses this research to raise larger questions about how people use different media, and what their choices mean. It won't be too much of a spoiler if I tell you that different people use different media for different things, and that these preferences vary from person to person. This variance can be problematic if you're trying to figure out what other people's motives are in a conversation. Maybe I think text messages are for logistics and you want to write me a novel 160 characters at a time. Maybe you think emails are very formal and are confused when I send you one that's all "heyyy what's up." Or maybe I instant message you and you reply via text. Wait, what? And so we confuse one another.

Another confusion, or maybe more like a problem, can arise if you aren't aware of your audience: in a sinister turn of events, emails can be forwarded to recipients other than your intended; in a more mundane one, you can forget that you are posting, say, a blog and that the whole damn world can read it. Gershon spoke to a student who had a public blog with his full name attached to it, then was dismayed his parents read it. I know a whole wide world can read this blog, even though they may not so choose, and that does somewhat influence what I say here... (PS: Hi, mom!)

To be sure, the book does not offer much in the way of concrete conclusions, but it provides a good reminder to think about what you communicate and where you do it.

I have also been considering the internet anew as I find myself lurking on Metafilter and reading the questions users pose for one another. Some of the queries result in elegant solutions ("I heard this song which mentions a girl—can you tell me what it is?"; "Please suggest some interesting things to do in San Francisco"); others provide telanovela drama for the rubbernecker. I have never yet weighed in on these problems. And so it's with interest that I caught wind of this hypothesis, which I will not summarize here right now except to say that, unsurprisingly, it's a small group that generates most of the content on any given web forum; 90% or more of the community is composed of lurkers like me. And it's hard to know what the lurkers are thinking.

In summary:
-The internet is full of unsurprising conclusions.
-If you post something in public, people could read it.
-If you have a question, ask the internet.
-I hope you are enjoying my posts, lurkers, whoever you may be.

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