Social Media Voyeur

6 Feb

This week’s Hump Day Hmm is: The ethics of social media. You can read responses from the other participants vis Julie Pippert’s Using My Words.

The other day I was listening to an episode of the Jumping Monkeys podcast (an informational and funny podcast about parenting in the digital age). The episode discussed some of the legal and privacy issues that affect parents and children; in particular a lawsuit involving the commercial use of photos from a Flickr account that I was already familiar with. While discussing the legal and ethical standards involved in this case, they had a side conversation about it not being ethical (and possibly illegal) to post pictures of say you child’s kindergarten graduation if the pictures contained the faces of other children. Realizing that he had recently committed this egregious act, one of the hosts said he was immediately removing some photos he’d recently posted of his daughter’s school play.

For a moment this seemed reasonable to me. Then I thought about the 100 other parents in the line who have access to digital cameras, online uploading sites, and surely had taken pictures of their child’s achievement that day. The show host is a geek who thinks about the wider implications of digital media, and can approach it objectively, as one application amongst a slew of others that form similar functions. To those other parents, the digital camera and the photo sharing sites are simply the tools for how those activities are done in this age.

  1. Use digital camera to take pictures.
  2. Use Flickr to share with aunts and uncles.
  3. Contemplate no more than that.

This is precisely the way that most people view social networking tools like Twitter, Digg, and Facebook. This is particularly true if you are younger than I am (32).

Another story…

My eleven-year-old niece has owned some version of a computer gaming system for at least half of her life. She has a cell phone, uses the computer to surf the internet, and can easily program a DVR to record her favorite shows. The people who do that at my age are geeks, or at least the early adopters are. We remember a time before this technology existed. We’ve watched phones move from the two-pound, grey behemoths of 1996, to the sleek, multi-colored mini-laptops that exist today. We can name the first movie we saw on VHS (Raiders of the Lost Ark), the year we bought our first DVD player (1998); and we laugh at the minuscule hard drives or tiny amount of RAM that came with our previous computers.

This memory means that every new piece of technology we encounter is either framed by or disrupts the paradigm of that which has come before it:

  • Do we need to Twitter when we have IM?
  • Do we need to IM when we have e-mail?
  • Do we need e-mail when we have the telephone?
  • and so on…

What that means is its harder for those of us who weren’t born digital (which is roughly everyone born after 1980, a few years after my birth; and though I used my first computer at age 6, my family wouldn’t own one until I was 15) to continually align new technologies with our expectations. The same is not true for my niece. Gameboys and Wii’s are not fringe toys that gaming geeks to play with, text messaging and photo taking are not neat add ons for a cell phone, it’s what cell phones do.

So what does all this back story have to do with social media?

It’s simple. In my comment on Julie’s post I described myself as a “social media voyeur.” I consume the output of social media natives. I watch them embarrass themselves on YouTube, I see what they find interesting on Digg, I subscribe to their Tweets because it provides more “story” than their blog posts might. I see which of my old co-workers are in touch with my other old co-workers on LinkedIn.

I consume because I can’t for the life of me understand what makes people comfortable with being so “exposed.” It’s not that I’m a particularly private person. I’ll happily tell you how birth transformed my sex life if you ask me and you’re interested. But that’s just it. I don’t think anyone is interested. And for me that’s critical. It is counter-intuitive to me to broadcast first and assume that there is someone eager to grab the signal. Let alone to believe anyone who latches on to my signal, anyone who is part of network, is in fact a friend.

(Aside: do you notice the similarity in these terms: social media, broadcast, network? How have these terms come to define the way people interact with each other?)

But I suggest that the reason I don’t view burgeoning Flickr friends lists, and Digg fans, and whatever your friends are called on Facebook to be a critical means to communication with people whom I feel connected to, is because it falls outside definitions of “communication” and “intimacy.” And I don’t even have a term for broadcasting without an intended or receptive audience.

But these things fall outside my understanding simply because my paradigms are different than those who were born digital or whom have adapted better to communicating in this way. Connection. Friend. Intimacy. Public. Private. These all mean different things to me than what is implied by the Tweets, pokes, and endless friends lists. Not better, not inadequate, just different.

Like my niece, to those who have adapted, the tools of social media are not objects in and of themselves, but are merely tools to do stuff. College stdents are not waxing philosophic about what it means to befriend a movie character on MySpace, because their paradigm of friendship and virtual connections are different than mine. even when I am in the virtual world of Second Life I still ask people if they would mind if I befriend them, rather than simply sending the request, presuming the response, and collecting them like so much ephemra…

This post is becoming unwieldy (I have probably two more essays worth of stuff to say about this, but I ‘m going to wrap it up here). So let’s return full circle to the podcast and the ethics of posting pictures of other people, especially children, and the concerned podcast host who felt he’d made a faux pas by doing just that. The few who understand such nuances are the only ones who would avoid posting the pictures, or even taking them in the first place. They are the only ones who would know how to select the correct privacy settings and licenses to prevent the wrong people from seeing the photographs. For everyone else–those who don’t view the technology objectively, but merely as a the means to an end; or those operating under different definitions of public and private space, as well as casual and intimate acquaintances–the pictures are taken, they are uploaded, distributed, and used however anyone who encounters them sees fit. It doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to everyone. All imaginary friends are real friends. The paradigm has shifted…

So, for now, I prefer to consume more than I produce. I’ll spend more time in the audience than I spend on stage. Some day I won’t feel anxiety before I make a phone call, or angry that I have to many groceries to use self-checkout (and thus have to speak to a person). Someday I might be happy to have 1000 virtual friends, instead of my few real ones. Some day all of this socializing may be ubiquitous, and I’ll wonder what took me so long to buy into it.Until then, I’ll be consuming the feed from the sideline.

Advertisements

6 Responses to “Social Media Voyeur”

  1. melissa February 6, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    I’m with you…I just don’t understand why “random” people would be interested. Which is why I look to join communities to share and “meet” people. And I’m way more into quality than quantity.

    And I heart the self checkout lines, too. Have a whole post dedicated to them. :)

  2. Julie Pippert February 7, 2008 at 5:13 am #

    I am so careful when posting photos, especially if they contain people. I won’t post them if they contain other people’s children UNLESS I’ve specifically asked first.

    I hesitated with the “in the tube” photo I posted but decided since the tube obscured facial details and the other children had their backs to the camera it was okay.

    But you’re right: I paused and thought.

    I sincerely hope others are as mindful, but you’re probably right. In that case, how can we get people to BE more mindful? There is so much publicity about the problems and downside—this is what triggered much of my own mindfulness.

    How can we get parents to be more mindful of their own use and that of their children?

    So far I keep hearing the same problems crop up over and over.

    I think it’s because the social media isn’t the problem; the lifestyle is the problem.

    I’m even older than you (HA! LOL) and find this a bit perplexing. I’ve signed up to these services because the more I talk to people “in the biz” it’s how people are networking and they are the ones getting the work.

    So here is my dilemma: I am signed up and use it in a personal way (which is how I think people predominantly use it, but I could be wrong—can’t seem to get a straight answer and again, for me, this means there is obscuring, dishonesty and lack of full disclosure too often), but see the need for me to begin using it in a business/professional way.

    That’s a hump for me.

    Also, like you, I don’t like collecting friends. My friends and followers groups are small and consist only of people with whom I *already have* a relationship. I have received requests, but do not consider myself an item for a “collection” so I deny the requests.

    Initially this was hard for me. Oh poor hurt feelings, rejected friendship. But with time and talking, I realized nobody really cares, in that sort of case.

    So here we are again at the generation gap and perception gap.

    I don’t see why I’d post a personal video on YouTube or operate within the social media as people do. I don’t see it as an end in and of itself.

    But I do think people are interested. I don’t understand why 99% of the time, but they are. It’s like a train wreck. And why crappy reality TV is so popular, such as that Tell the Truth show (UGH! BLECH! WHY WHY WHY would people DO that?)

    So now my comment is as long as your post, which has been the case for me here often LOL (this topic causes me to wax long I guess, still processing I guess).

    Great post…glad you joined the party!

  3. Suz February 7, 2008 at 5:36 am #

    As someone who’s first computer cost over 2K and had.no.hard.drive, I’m pretty comfortable in saying that I’m certainly older than you are. And today’s tech, which I have to know for my job gives me the feeling of constantly running to keep up. I think that what we’re dealing with here is the concept of private and public space. The 18 yo’s who put up pictures of themselves drinking, and then are shocked, appalled and angry at the parents who find them feel this way because they see facebook and flickr as somehow private spaces, just for them and their friends. They are young; this is their space, and they somehow can’t fathom adults being interested in it.

  4. Garrett February 7, 2008 at 7:52 am #

    I think much of this change in society isn’t going to reach a resolution until a generation has grown up with it and has to deal with the consequences of it. Kids, Teenagers and young adults are horrible and long term consequences. Not only that this stuff is all new, so none of us older types have any personal experience in this area to offer true guidance on it. We can’t make educated guesses but we don’t really “know” the long term effects.

    My take…. Some people are going to regret a great many things. There were things I did in the 3rd grade that followed me to high school. Sooo… you put that kinda stuff in the context of permanent photos and video’s available on the net… There are gonna be “some” seriously miserable teenagers in high school. When that one kid who loves to torment you sticks a video of you in 4th grade doing something stupid on his phone and anytime he feels like it whips it out and humiliates you all over again.

  5. Yolanda February 7, 2008 at 9:46 am #

    Thank you melissa, Suz, Julie and Garrett for some intriguing and insightful comments. I have some general feedback spurred by your thoughts…

    I talked a lot about a paradigm shift that one must make or have been born into in order to really “get” this social media. But part of the buy in that one must do, which Julie discusses both here and in her post, is to corporate idea of human connection: that everyone you meet is part of your network. everyone is potential buyer, or in this media’s case (blogging) a subscriber. All of those eyeballs (theoretically) translate to more traffic to your site (if you can build enough following and sell your followers on following you somewhere else). Then end result being more clicks, or at least eyeballs on your advertising, more income for you, and more revenue for the comapny that fuels the ads. This is friendship as multi-level marketing.

    On the other, more human side, is this gmes of six-degrees-of-separation. I’m friends with Jane, Jane is friends of a friend of Famous Jack, which means I know Famous Jack. Kinda. I think the younger you are, the more apt you are to be attracted to this idea, because superficial friendships are important to the adolescent and young adult. “I am somebody because I have friends.”

    But the problem is that there is nothing to separate one from being a collected follower (or friend) for the sake of driving advertising or the sake of fueling someone else’s sense of self. That means when one person posts a picture of you, or your child, simply because they are signaling to thee world “I exist. I have friends. People hang out with me. See?” there is no line between that and someone using that image to sell something. It’s all part of The Network.

    Which brings me to Garrett’s point. A the end of the day, the kind of abuse you are suggesting (and it’s real, so many stories have been covering this kind of harassment and how quickly it spreads in school), it’s our fault. As adults. We make the technology, spread it without fully analyzing the consequences, and then shrug our shoulders and say, “It was never intended to be used in that way.”
    Certainly there is much value in being able to reach a lot of people instantly. To call people to action. To distribute clips from political debates that mysteriously disappear from the air. To connect victims of natural disasters to help. There are so many good things that can be done with a network of people being moved for a common cause…

    I’m just not sure that is how the technology is used most of the time.

  6. Robert February 7, 2008 at 9:15 pm #

    My first computer had no hard drive. Nor did my second. My first PC had a hard drive smaller than my cell phone’s memory now, and much smaller than my second MP3 player I got because I didn’t want to crowd the memory of my color movie mp3 player which has more memory than my computer did just six years ago. Times are going by blindingly fast.

    MTV (and other media) play a big part in starting the idea of doing the insane to get attention on TV when they started doing Spring Break at some beach location. I watched a documentary on it later that reminded me of just how crazy some of those programs were because people stripped naked in public, you name it, all in the name of “getting on TV”. Now with the internet and cell phones, being famous is as a few clicks away.

    There are definitely disgusting uses of technology. There are also wonderful uses of it. There is a duality, or at least good and bad, in almost anything new. I like to use the Internet version of my scriptures to more rapidly answer questions people ask me about where certain things were said in them, and to help me get answers to some of my own questions.

    I wrote a paper in undergrad, at the advice of my professor, that stipulated that all writing is hypertext, but some has just not been linked to the Internet yet. We’re not very far from having it all linked in now, just over a decade later. (That sure was a fun paper to write)

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: