Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism

Here’s a link to the book of the title of this post – a book about social media, the software that it uses, and the uses of that software.

there’s a free chapter to download at the site, so perhaps worth taking a look.

for purposes of future comprehension re the provision of this link, here is an excerpt from the blurb page:


Gehl adeptly uses a mix of software studies, science and technology studies, and political economy to reveal the histories and contexts of these social media sites. Looking backward at divisions of labor and the process of user labor, he provides case studies that illustrate how binary “Like” consumer choices hide surveillance systems that rely on users to build content for site owners who make money selling user data, and that promote a culture of anxiety and immediacy over depth.

Reverse Engineering Social Media also presents ways out of this paradox, illustrating how activists, academics, and users change social media for the better by building alternatives to the dominant social media sites.



new apps for the new generation

the full implications of this latest app and its claims re anonymity are somewhat lost on me, but the full horrors of the video sales-pitch are not…

blast from the past

here’s an article describing how our electronic discussion list, the original “Netdynam”, looked to one of our members in its first year. the article was published in a newspaper at that time, and has recently resurfaced – and given us all a walk down memory lane… if you weren’t a member of this list, much of the same probably applied to any other mailing list at that time….

Dateline: February 4th, 1997

I decided to take the Great Leap Forward onto the Internet without
having a clue what that meant. A year ago I upgraded my trusty little
home word-processor to one with an internal fax-modem. At first, I was
disturbed by the interactivity of my new machine – it spoke back to me
in all sorts of ways, intruding upon what previously had been my
silent reverie in front of the screen. Yet when I finally managed to
get all the software programs to work and up popped an email from a
friend in Melbourne, I was startled and delighted. My computer was no
longer a static receptacle. Something was happenning in there.

I stumbled across a reference to a cyber-philosophy email list and
sent off a ‘subscribe’ command. The next day there were twenty posts
in my email In Tray, snatches from the middle of a lively, ongoing
conversation. I read them with fascination. The next day, there were
more. My computer seemed to be feeding me with ideas.

After ‘eavesdropping’ for a week, I took the plunge and sent a post to
the list. I was greeted and welcomed by the same cast of characters I
had been listening to. It felt like a soap opera, only I could step
right in and have an impact on the script. I felt ridiculously
excited, intoxicated with the possibilities of communication which
leapt out of my screen.

I quickly discovered there was a name for people like me: ‘newbie’.
And a whole new set of jargon and netiquette to get my head around, as
I browsed across a range of lists. Just like a television soap opera,
there were immediately recognisable characters in every list – the
attention seeker, the melodramatist, the pugilist, the harmoniser, the
challenger. List conversation went through its intrigues, climaxes and
denouements. On the happiest lists, participants were thrilled to have
found each other and often exclaimed at how the list had changed their

It changed mine. Procrastination was never so much fun…”This
assignment’s so dull, I’ll just dial-up and check my email, see if
those two bozos are still arguing….” There were all sorts of new
decisions to make, like should I save every post which mentions me by
name; all sorts of new experiences, like gossiping backchannel about a
‘stranger’ in New York with another ‘stranger’ who lives in Indiana.

It was clear that certain behavioural lessons had already been drawn
in the relatively short history of cyber-relating. Most lists send new
subscribers a Welcome message which sets out the list dos and don’ts:
writing in CAPS, otherwise known as shouting, is considered the height
of rudeness. Quoting the whole of someone else’s message and merely
adding ‘Me too’ at the end is also seen as very bad form. As is having
a wacky signature drawing which takes up half the screen.

Central to nearly every Welcome message is the cardinal list
commandment, ‘You Shall Not Flame’. ‘To flame’ is to attack, to sneer,
heap vitriol, sarcasm and hostility upon another poster. ‘A flame war’
involves multiple participants. Flamers never give the other person
the benefit of the doubt. Many Welcome messages point out that the
absence of non-verbal cues – smiles, raised eyebrows – can easily lead
to crossed wires in a text-only medium. Email is projection hell.

Flaming is mentioned so often in e-world that you’d think you were
travelling over scorched earth. I’ve seen plenty of trenchant
disagreement and good solid volleying. Nothing remotely resembling
the heat of a flame war – whatever I imagined that to be.

Mostly I was impressed by the civility of my fellow posters.
Especially considering they were nearly all Americans. That was an
initial surprise, as I had rather naively fallen for the idea of
Internet as global village. Wrong. Unless you join an email list for
English soccer fans, odds are that nearly everyone else on any list
you join will be American. Internet culture is American: list traffic
comes to a standstill for Thanksgiving. It also slows down in the
Australian afternoon, when those Yanks are tucked up in bed.

This American facade can lull non-Americans into a false sense of
privacy, as though the Internet is a personal playground remote from
everyday reality. For a time I belonged to a women’s computer list,
which seemed to be replete with the usual Californians, Oregonians
etc. So I was mildly surprised when another Sydneysider suddennly
chimed in in reply to a technical question. Even more surprised when
she told me she recognised my name from some local journalism. Not
long afterwards, I saw a post on the same list from a woman whose name
I in turn recognised. Muted alarm bells went off in my head. It’s a
small world after all and you never know who might be reading your
words on a list.

Lurkers are reading them, that’s who. Anyone can subscribe to a list
but that doesn’t mean they have to participate. There can be dozens if
not hundreds of people out there following the conversation but never
revealing their prescence. Fertile grounds for paranoia, or at least
heightened self-consciousness, you’d think. Yet it doesn’t seem to
stop some people from gushing about their rebirthing experience in
their very first post. That’s even when the list is dedicated to the
intricacies of a software application.

Occasionally someone de-lurks. That’s different from simply
introducing yourself. After all, only someone who has been lurking for
an indeterminate amount of time can be said to de-lurk. Sometimes
de-lurkers do a hit and run, lambasting the list for being
irrelevant/boring/aggravating before disappearing back into lurkdom.
My cyber-philosophy list has many more lurkers than active posters. I
know this because I finally worked out the listserver command which
tells me the names and email addresses of every subscriber. Most are
unfamiliar to me, even after a year of active participation.

Yes, I’m no longer a newbie. In fact, a year in email makes me an old
hand, almost a Net Veteran. I’ve met two fellow listmates who were
passing through Sydney – the world really is shrinking. I celebrated
the first anniversary of my favourite list by doing an IRC session
with the group – is this the definition of mixed media? I’ve learnt a
lot. Most of all, I’ve learnt a lot about boundaries – how to reach
out and connect with people without losing yourself in the process.
Now, I just have to check my email…..

long live the web

starting to read latest article at scientific american by tim berners-lee on the “state of the web” and what his future vision is, etc… seems like an easy-read milestone essay (web is 20 years old apparently), plus a few links in there to various other footage.
of course, he doesn;t think the web is dead [oh, how trendy – i tend to dislike much of what goes on in wired for some reason] but perhaps the web as we oldies knew, loved, and hoped to nurture it is dead. taken over by the students in my classes for example, who are interested, but newbie-ish. also, they are pretty insouciant about PR and marketing – they see it as another job prospect. and if the internet and new media provide opportunities for marketing, so be it.
anyway, this may be off the point. or not – still need to read ti all, and linking it here for later catch-up.
[hey, there’s something – am i using ND2.0 as a type of bookmarking folder?]

social networking is not new

over on the list, susoz posted a comment piece on the perceptions we have of social networking sites

some excerpts appear below, and i’ve inserted one or two comments on the piece as well – the highlighting in bold is mine.

When we consider social media and everyday life, then, we need first to understand that technologies are primarily social. Sometimes, successful ones will be pictured in the mind’s eye long before the tool is trialled.

Many of the erroneous assumptions that underpin the polarised claims about social networking – that is, it will either be the cyber-utopian saviour of the world or it will bring about the ruin of all good things – stem from an inability to see how socially and culturally embedded this domain is.

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call for papers only: online social media


Special Issue on “Persistence and Change in Social Media”

“You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.” Heraclitus.

Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society


We seek papers for a special issue of the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society on the twin topics of persistence and change in social media. From ICQ to IM, Six-degrees to Friendster to MySpace to Facebook to Twitter, change seems to be a recurrent theme in social media. Not only are users willing to try out new tools, but they also continue using existing media. In light of the seemingly endless novelty in social media, how can researchers build a theory of social media practice, rather than local theories on a per-site basis? Which insights from one site can we apply to another? Which ones are due to period and cohort effects and which ones relate to the structure of social media generally?

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relative affordances of blog v list: boundaries again

I’m a member of two other mailing lists which both address the same academic topics: SysFunc and SysFling. One is based in Sydney and was conceived of as being a more local venue for announcing Sydney and even Australia-based meetings, conferences, articles and so on, as well as for fielding the usual questions regarding the analysis of curly clauses. The other is based in Europe and is said to be more formal in its approach to similar concerns for systemicists. However, it is probably fair to say that most subscribers belong to both lists, and that most threads if they get going, get CCed to both lists, thus providing for a lot of overlapping.

Occasionally the beginnings of discussions are limited to one list, and then someone posts a CC to the other list as well. Those who are not members of both lists begin to wonder what is going on, but, as I say, these people are in the minority anyway.

After a recent spate of twin list activity, one of the moderators and keepers of one of these two lists, commented that amalgamation might not be a bad idea – especially in view of the fact that he was hoping to retire from list maintenance activities at the end of the year. Thereafter a slew of posts were made approving of the amalgamation – to the extent that a cry went up to the effect that perhaps any further messages on the topic be limited to those who were nay, rather than yea-sayers on the matter. A short period of silence thereafter seemed to suggest that the vote might be carried unanimously until one lone voice spoke up in favour of keeping both lists – aka nay-saying – providing affiliatory and affinity-related reasons for doing so. In other words, he cited boundary issues of the sub-grouping kind, arguing that each list has evolved their own separate identities. Thereafter, another one or two more timid types also ventured to add their nay against the groundswell of yea-sayers – but no doubt to little avail.

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