More is Different

Hey folks. Today Shoshana and I are presenting on Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. As a short preface to our presentation, I just want to share with you guys some questions to think about:

How has social media altered the way in which people organize?

How has the scale of social media structurally altered interpersonal communication?

What sorts of previously unavailable organizing and collaboration has social media enabled?

The book organizes largely around the idea that “More is different,” which is a phrase that recurs several times throughout the first six chapters of the book. Shirky proposes that the mass communication which the internet enables isn’t simply a one-on-one conversation on a much larger scale, but rather a fundamentally different type of communication. Social media has collapsed the way we previously understood organizations to function, both in terms of hierarchy and cost. Shirky is primarily invested in exploring the new types of organizing, communication, and actions which are available when the institutional dilemma (the endless quest to keep your profits higher than your cost) is no longer such a dilemma.

Shirky divides social media-based action into three categories: sharing, collaborative production, and collective action. Sharing is the simplest action, and occurs when people publish material online for others to see (Shirky uses the photo sharing capabilities of Flickr as an example). Collaborative production, not entirely different than a automobile assembly line, happens when people work together on a common product, as in the case of a wikipedia entry. No one person can take credit for the product of the group, but neither is any one person held accountable for its shortcomings. Collective action, the rarest form of social media-based action, occurs when people bind their identities together to work for a common goal. In this case, each individual is bound to the fate of the group and held accountable for its actions, as in the case of unions.

We’re particularly interested in thinking about the (sometimes tenuous) distinction between these three categories, where our own blogging might fit, and what these three categories teach us about blogging. How do we fit blogging and the comparatively small communities of our own blogs into the organizational framework which Shirky provides?

Along these lines, we are also interested in Shirky’s deployment of the word “audience.” He seems to use audience only to refer to a large group of people, and in his fourth chapter, suggests that many smaller blogs don’t have audiences at all, but rather a group of friends that read and discuss them. Is this necessarily a fair assessment of “audience,” and how does such a limited understanding of audience limit Shirky’s argument?

Does Shirky’s argument make any room for accountability on the internet, or does accountability/responsibility dissolve with traditional models of organization?

Finally, we’re interested in several of the dichotomies that Shirky draws (public/private, professional/amateur, audience/writer). Do these distinctions have any use within Shirky’s argument? Does social media dissolve these categories, or does it simply complicate our relationship to them (and also their relationship to each other)?

See you guys in class today!

Will and Shoshana


Edited for a short and deeply embarrassing title mistake.

Tavia Nyong’o’s not-so-queer Style

This new post by Tavia Nyong’o is hot off the blog presses and cross-posted on both Bully Bloggers and Hear is Queer (Nyong’o’s blog). Aside from being thematically related to my own blog, I find this post to be pretty stylistically useful. Don’t worry if you didn’t know what the 10th Annual EMP Pop Conference was; I didn’t either.

First, Nyong’o seems to have a spectacular grasp on the average blog reader’s attention span. His post is both discursive and very lengthy, but because of his willingness to break it down into smaller, manageable paragraphs, the entry doesn’t feel long and is never tedious to get through (as a solid block of text might be). Reading the post is further simplified by the way in which Nyong’o adds semi-clever bullet point section titles: “Queer as Format,” “After the Closet,” “It Gets Worse,” etc. These contribute to the overall readability of the post.

Also, in terms of language, Nyong’o has cultivated a simple-yet-intelligent writing style which I have been trying to discover in my own blog. Through both the research and the observations made, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the blogger has some experience in the field of media/performance studies and that his ideas have some intellectual weight; however, the reader never gets bogged down in his prose. The word “epistemology” never gets thrown around, and he manages to avoid bringing up Derrida. Who knew that was possible in an academic post?

The thing that I love most about this blog post (and makes it a particularly effective one, stylistically) is that, as you read it, you get the sense that you are watching Nyong’o think through the issues about which he writes. The way that the post is structured feels very organic. This is not to say that the post is formally structured, the way a paper might be (i.e. thesis-governed). Rather, it is easy to follow the threads of his discussion. It’s easy to see where the section “Queer as Format” leads into “After the Closet,” which then transitions into “Boys who Do Girls.” I can follow his thought-process and Nyong’o is transparent about the way in which he arrives at his conclusions. Watching other people think is neat.

One minor stylistic criticism: I do think he could use more links in an effort to make his topic even more accessible to those of us who didn’t know what this conference was.

Writing for the Mommy-Blogosphere: What your Mom is Really Doing With her Laptop

As a quick preface, I’ll admit that from a technical standpoint, I’m not totally sure 1) into which category this post is going to go and 2) which category I’m meant to post this in in the first place. For our blog-tracking, Sarah and I are looking into both mommy blogs and their queer counterparts. It turns out there are tons of mommy blogs, queer and otherwise, but the ones we want to focus on specifically are A Queer Family Grows in Redneckville, Ninja Mom, and MotherhoodWTF. As a precursor to our presentation, I just want to point out some specific posts that are similarly themed and particularly funny:

(It seems like I should be able to format this a little more eloquently, but I’m coming up short, at present.)

Some things to keep in mind while thumbing through these blogs and reading these specific posts: Who is the target audience? What sort of folks are commenting on these blogs? Who is represented (or not) in their blogrolls? How does this particular slice of the internet fit with or depart from other blogging communities? How and why are these posts written (for example, what events warrant a post on a mommy-blog)? And finally, why on earth do we find these mommy blogs so compelling? Sarah and I are both pretty hooked. Who’d have thought?

Happy Blog Reading!

Will and Sarah

As a short post-script, here’s another wonderful queer mommy blog called Eat, Poop, Love. We’re not focusing on it in our presentation, but it’s a great read and I cannot, in good conscience, show you fewer queer mommy blogs than regular ones.