'Oral histories that are completely fabricated have value.'

April 16th, 2014

Talking to The Verge in the wake of the publication of her book It's Complicated, danah boyd talks a lot of sense about how people interact online:

People seem very afraid of their kids creating different identities on different social networks. Why are teens doing this, and should their parents be concerned?

No, in fact, this is one of the weird oddities about Facebook. Let's go back to Usenet. People had multiple nicks, they had a field day with this. They would use these multiple "identities" to put forward different facets of who they were. It wasn't to say that they were trying to be separate individuals. Who you are sitting with me today in this professional role with a shared understanding of social media is different than how you talk to your mom. She may not understand the same things you and I are talking about. At the same time, if you were talking about your past, I'd have none of it and your mother would have a lot of it. This is this moment where you think about how you present yourself differently in these different contexts, not because you're hiding, but because you're putting forward what's relevant there.

The idea of real names being the thing that leads you – that's not actually what leads us in the physical space. We lead with our bodies. We adjust how we present our bodies by situation. We dress differently, we sit differently, we emote differently. […]

Call me nostalgic, but I'm always pleased to see references to Usenet. We might not have called it 'social media',1 but there's a lot to be learned from the experience of all those people back before the web was even a thing, having thousands of shared social spaces to navigate. Of course Usenet also blessed us with Canter and Siegel, but that was part of the learning curve too.

  1. And in fairness it wasn't quite the same beast as MySpace or Twitter or Facebook – but mostly in respects that were for the better. A choice of flexible, powerful third party client software running on a variety of platforms. No single centralised authority policing the discussions – especially outside the Big 8 hierarchy. The best online discussions I ever had or saw happened on Usenet. Also some of the biggest flamewars, but that's what killfiles and scorefiles were for.

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