Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Wrong Side of the Tracks in Cyberspace

Of course, the big news in social networking research this month is danah boyd's study on class divisions and how the Facebook/MySpace split is manifested in a number of social phenomena. In "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace," boyd argues that the "predator panic" pushed by the mainstream media also brought the message about class aspirations and digital community home. These divisions even persist into adulthood and professions like the military, in which enlisted men are in MySpace, while officers are on Facebook.

In boyd's schema, the two subcultures divide as follows:

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.

In order to demarcate these two groups, let's call the first group of teens "hegemonic teens" and the second group "subaltern teens."

The research seems valid to me intuitively, based on what I've seen on both sites poking around with loaded terms like "Support Our Troops."

Nonetheless, I'm the college-educated parent of a popular football-playing fourteen-year-old on an honors preparatory track. And my kid is on MySpace. Still, I can't blame him for having no interest at all in what he sees as my boorish cocktail party of oldsters on Facebook.

Then again, I've also never been terribly concerned about people misrepresenting themselves in online social networking sites. I've included my own deceptive Harvard Facebook picture from the days of print at the top of this posting and my college yearbook entry chocked full of fictitious information at the bottom. "Ad Hoc Society"? "Justice League"? In addition to using kitschy retro imagery, the class identity and cultural membership that I was representing back then -- so desirable to many present-day Facebook members -- was largely a private joke with those who personally knew me.

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