Social class on social networks: and style?

by Yule Heibel on June 27, 2007

danah boyd has a new article out called Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace, which everybody seems to be reading (and, looking at her blog, commenting on — two hundred comments and counting…) Basic thesis: facebook attracts more upwardly mobile college-bound types, while MySpace attracts non-college-bound, possibly declasse or lower-class or outcast-type kids.

I’m curious to know whether the design was the egg or the chicken here: I confess that MySpace pages look cluttered and messy to me, and I get weirded out by the fact that all sorts of applications (sound, video, music, whatever) start up when I click through to some pages. In other words, I have to let MySpace roll all over me, and that pisses me off (well, not really, but I’m like, Hey, can you let me decide when I want to hear your stupid music or see your movie?). I want my eyes to control everything first, and then I push the buttons (mouse & click the links), not lie there and think of England while some MySpaceling has its way with me.

So, does the style attract people who violate “nice” rules about tidy spaces and imaginary “protocol,” or is the style a result of people using MySpace in a really trashy way? Can the technology even have that sort of malleability? That sort of ability to respond? I don’t think so, which means that from where I’m sitting, MySpace design or style is “trashy” and non-eye-centered (non-controlling) first, and that therefore it attracts the more anarchic among us.

(I am exaggerating slightly when I describe myself as such a control freak in the above paragraph. Slightly. A bit.)

Tolerance for overflowing sensation, an ability to “live” with many people, in a tribe, vs in a more distilled fashion: I think that factors into things, too. Is it a class issue? Possibly, but there’re always exceptions to the rule. From boyd’s essay:

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.

Right here there’s a snag: this passage describes me pretty much to a “t” (except for the Latina/Hispanic part, although I was an immigrant). My parents didn’t go to college, thought it would be a waste of time for me to go, were surprised I bothered finishing high school — which I barely did, a year and a bit “early,” too often too stoned to know what was going on, but desperate to get out so I could get a job — waitressing, incidentally — and make enough money to move away from home. I purposely skipped my high school graduation, because you wouldn’t have caught me dead trying to be pretty and stupid in a prom dress or sucking up to some old fart handing out diplomas. (I even skipped my B.A. graduation at UBC, and the M.A., and when I finally did go to one of my graduations — the Ph.D. ceremony at Harvard — I grinned at the Dean handing me my sheepskin, but I had the worst migraine in the world: I was smiling through pain, lots of it… Analyze that!)

Would I have gravitated to MySpace then, had it been around?

I don’t think so. I think one of my problems was stimuli overload (which explains the self-medication with drugs), and it was important for me to get enough control over my environment so that I could shut things out because it was difficult for me to handle the intensity of sensation I experienced. Experience. To this day, I find it crushing to be with people all day long: it’s too much. I vant to be alone is the rallying cry not just of Swedish actresses. Too much to observe, to pay attention to, to modulate, choreograph, perform, and respond to: after a day with lots of people, I’m exhausted. MySpace is an onslaught of entire rooms-full of people talking all at once, like a bad high school day times 10. In comparison, I guess Facebook is like meeting over coffee. Mocha vanilla latte, frapped. Maybe that’s our class structure today.


melanie June 28, 2007 at 5:39 am

You traitor! You went to a graduation ceremony!

it was important for me to get enough control over my environment so that I could shut things out because it was difficult for me to handle the intensity of sensation I experienced. Experience. To this day, I find it crushing to be with people all day long: itโ€™s too much. I vant to be alone is the rallying cry not just of Swedish actresses.

This is me to a T.

melanie June 28, 2007 at 5:48 am

Also, why is my RSS feed arriving so late? Like weeks late?

yulelog June 28, 2007 at 7:56 am

Hmm, the late RSS could have something to do with the switch-over at Harvard Weblogs to a new Berkman server…? Plus, I fiddled with all the options, adding feedburner (which I subsequently deactivated). When it was activated, my feed couldn’t be read by Sage Reader.

Ah, the people thing. I actually really like people, living things, all that, and I’m endlessly fascinated by them (obviously). But I do find it impossible to be around people all day long, unless I can get away to a library or a desk (or a computer terminal?) and shut out the need to perform “live” for them (unless it’s a routine, an act — like waiting tables; but that’s what’s so problematic about doing routine: you end up truncating yourself, too). New or live interaction is almost like a dance, and physically tiring: the intricacies of paying attention to all the signals sent out by others. The technology (online, eg.) is great insofar as it filters out so much of that, and you (as user) have control over when, where, how you respond.

That said, I’m not a “social retard” either. (How very un-PC of me to use that expression!) But I prefer it in measured doses, not floods, even in my media (books, online, whatever).

maria June 28, 2007 at 9:27 am

I am with you on the stimulation overload issue. I don’t know what role class plays in the choices we can make to cope with the stimulation issue, but I do know that without an inkling of these class differences between MySpace and Facebook identified by danah boyd, I went for Facebook because given its clean interface, it let me get past the technology — or rather, made me feel as if I had some control over it. Now danah boyd also has a very interesting link to a video that charts the “long tail” of facebook in terms of its potential for gathering all sorts of information about you and me — but that’s another argument to be had.

As for attending graduations … well, I skipped my last two years of high school in Hungary, then didn’t attend either my graduation for my BA from UBC or MA from SFU, but managed to be present for the MFA graduation, where, along with the diploma, I was given a walking stick….

And, to make matters worse, having had my kids in california, I never took them to Disneyland — ever!

yulelog June 28, 2007 at 10:12 am

Heh, I took the first-born in utero to the Epcot Center (Florida) when he was a 5-month old fetus. Does that count? ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ll have to take a closer look, and check out the video boyd links to (missed it on the first go-’round). Somewhere someplace I read that facebook could be the next google, so info-gathering seems a logical focal point.

I like using it can also engage my “local” community — it actually also allows for an intersection between the digital/ online/ virtual (including people you’ll never meet “face to face”) and the real world where you live: that’s intriguing. Neighbourhoods, events — over time, too. Memories, like reconnecting with people you went to school with in the past.

You might have seen that I posted a link from IF! on Seth Godin at TED on my facebook “notes.” It’s a really fascinating video. So I checked, and Henry Lambert, who writes for IF!, is on facebook, and I sent him a message (not a friend request, maybe I should have?, then I’d have a London connection, yay!) to say that I really enjoy IF! (crazy, cutting edge trends & marketing). Then I looked up Seth Godin, and sure enough, he’s on facebook, too. So I sent him a message:

I’m not sure exactly what to make of ‘remarkable,’ but maybe it articulates what Robert Restak said in his latest book, _Neurosociety_: ‘We advance civilization — or at least our own best interests — by extending the number of operations that we can perform without thinking about them.’ (p.22)

Who cares if he reads my comment, but the fact that I could casually toss it out there is interesting (from my p.o.v., not his probably!), not least because I do that sort of thing all the time with people I actually physically know & interact with here, locally. Or rather: vice versa. I learned how to do this sort of thing via email (and before that, letter-writing, which has, however, such a long time lag), then via blogs and other online communication. Now I’m taking that m.o., that methodology, back again (full circle) to my local community, training them (and myself) to apply the always-on environment of online activity to streets and pavements and real coffee shops. In effect, online media like this are training us all to become trainers in turn: the machine is using us, eh?

maria June 28, 2007 at 10:52 pm

All right, this maybe a bit off topic, but it is still about Facebook and class, int eh sense of the “gated community” style…. I was looking for the guy I saw on TV talk about the 4-hour workweek and squaring off with Donny Deutsch (sp? — the advertising guy), a round the 4-hour workweek guy was easily winning form where I sat … and when I did find his site, I clicked on a link that had some interesting observations about the “problem” with Facebook vis a vis other social networking sites. you might take a look at it here:

At any rate, the conclusion he draws, in case you want to skip the exposition, is this:

“Can walled gardens continue thrive in an era of openness? Can a social network be social even though so little of the community’s value is visible to the outside world? Facebook is writing this book as we speak.”

yulelog July 4, 2007 at 8:49 pm

For some inexplicable reason, Maria, your comment was forwarded to my sp^m folder and I didn’t see it till a day or so ago — haven’t had time to click through on that link, either, my bad! Sorry about that — I think I’ll change the filter settings for comments, so that if someone already has had a comment approved, they can post w/out having to go through my manual weeding. I was just getting killed by sp^m trackbacks/ pings for a while, though, which is why I set the filter so stringently…

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