This has already been everywhere, but oh well. There are just so many interesting things about danah boyd’s social-neworking/class analysis I don’t know where to start. A few weeks ago I mused that “Myspace will remain as the go-to site for musicians, aspiring porn stars and people looking to hook-up with strangers; Facebook for college kids, hipsters, tech geeks, activists and academics.”
Turns out I’m mostly right, according to danah. She has been interviewing young people across the nation about their relationship with social networking and other technological phenomenon, and writes a series of academic and non-acedmic articles about her observations. One of her latest discussions is on class divisions evident in the Facebook/MySpace divide.
Until recently, American teenagers were flocking to MySpace. The picture is now being blurred. Some teens are flocking to MySpace. And some teens are flocking to Facebook. Who goes where gets kinda sticky… probably because it seems to primarily have to do with socio-economic class.
After hashing out the obvious origins of this divide (facebook’s original .edu account only membership policy), danah attempts to briefly deal with just what “class” actually means in U.S. society, which I thought was one of the most interesting parts of the essay. She cites sociologist Nalini Kotamraju, who argued that lifestyle and “social stratification” are more indicative of class in the U.S. than income.
“In other words,” danah writes, “all of my anti-capitalist college friends who work in cafes and read Engels are not working class just because they make $14K a year and have no benefits. Class divisions in the United States have more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income.”
Ezra picks up this thread and adds
I’m not making very much right now, but … there’s an issue of potential here. I’m choosing a low-income field, but it would be easy enough for me to take the LSAT, dart off to law school, and quintuple my salary. Not choosing that option doesn’t mean it’s not there. Should class actually be tired to the most-renumerative reality you could feasibly inhabit?
Similarly, I’ve been in grad school this year, and making practically nothing, like most of my fellow students. But no one would look at us, our lives, our possessions, and call us “working class.” We have ikea furniture and laptops and iPods and embarrassingly high weekly bar tabs, though combinations of previous incarnations in the working world, help from parents, student loans, meager part-time incomes, school stipends, etc. (for the record, my parents are not paying for anything for me, lest you think I’m one of those subsidized academic brats). And we have post-grad prospects that, while dismally not as bright-and-shiny as we’d like, at least mean that we’ll be able to make our way in the world and keep drinking expensive beer and maybe even open a savings account some day soon. Commenters at Ezra’s point out that, really, education is what we’re talking about here. And upward mobility. But education is the clearest predictor of upward mobility, so … class can be boiled down to education.
This is gonna get me off on a tangent here, but … I never realized how much the type of education you had predicts your future success until I moved to DC. I went to a state school in Ohio and entered the job market in Ohio and pretty much everybody else I was competing with went to school in Ohio and nobody much cared if you went to a private school or a state school or a community college. But in DC, which can afford to be much more picky, I’ve noticed that certain internships, certain types of jobs, certain networks, are nearly exclusively brimming with Ivy-leaguers or people with equally impressive academic credentials. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like because you didn’t do the right internships at 20, you’re never gonna get where you want to be. But this is neither here nor there. Back to the class thing … I think it’s about education, but also about mindset. Which is what danah was originally saying, I think. So back to danah’s essay. Danah posits that:
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.
She points out that this is visually represented by the difference in Myspace and Facebook aesthetics. Personally I am horrified when someone (usually not a current friend but someone I went to high school with or something) posts a glittery blinking loony toon flash graphic on my MySpace comments section. Similarly by people whose pages have, like, sixteen slide shows of their friends or their kids, graphic memes, and blinking backgrounds. But danah points out that in certain cultures, “showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued” (that explains all those moving-waterfall-florescent-wall-hangings that are so popular in my home town).
The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics. I’m sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the “eye of the beholder” – they are culturally narrated and replicated. That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook.
This is getting really long, but the last thing I want to share from danah’s essay is her analysis of class divisions in military use of social networking sites.
A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. This was a very interesting move because the division in the military reflects the division in high schools. Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook. MySpace is the primary way that young soldiers communicate with their peers. When I first started tracking soldiers’ MySpace profiles, I had to take a long deep breath. Many of them were extremely pro-war, pro-guns, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, pro-killing, and xenophobic as hell. Over the last year, I’ve watched more and more profiles emerge from soldiers who aren’t quite sure what they are doing in Iraq.
I can’t help but wonder if part of the goal is to cut off communication between current soldiers and the group that the military hopes to recruit. Many young soldiers’ profiles aren’t public so it’s not about making a bad public impression. That said, young soldiers tend to have reasonably large networks because they tend to accept friend requests of anyone that they knew back home which means that they’re connecting to almost everyone from their high school. Many of these familiar strangers write comments supporting them. But what happens if the soldiers start to question why they’re in Iraq? And if this is witnessed by high school students from working class communities who the Army intends to recruit?”