Saturday, September 29, 2007

Video: 2005 Miami U. Cheezies a cappella: Facebook Song

This video is hilarious, but beyond that, it makes an interesting commentary about social interaction and the Web by its subtext of applying a '50s love song to a new social networking technology, positing through exaggerated means that it's not the people we meet on Facebook that's as important as the social gratification we gain through it.

I can see their point, and yet the implications of the interaction and communication within Facebook are much more complex than that, depending on how various people use the tool.

And then, the "stalking" ethos mentioned in the song alone is a fascinating concept--it's amazing how many people I've heard talk about how they feel they're "stalking" their friends on Facebook, when it's their friends who choose to publish their information for their friends to see. One wonders if the same person who feels they "stalk" their friends on Facebook feel that they're "stalking" a public figure/celebrity by reading their published memoirs...

(And it is a written/multimedia publication, after all, even if the Facebooker in question keeps it to a circulation of the few "friends" of the Facebooker--the same Facebooker who, after all, has a choice about whether their friends list is kept to close family and/or friends or to stretch it to a broad range of acquaintances, and whether to keep the acquaintances from a chunk of their published information.)

It would be interesting to apply some of the media systems theory I was just reading about to people's uses of Facebook, and to see whether younger people used it differently than older people. Ah, the potential research questions so easily multiply...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Language, Contextualization, and the Web

So the other night, to relax after my evening communication theory class, I picked up C. S. Lewis's Studies in Words. Especially since we'd just been talking about contextualization of meaning, I was fascinated when he drew attention to the power of context to help us understand a word's meaning (p. 19-21).

The idea was that if you said "her philosophy is poor," and had no context, you might think it meant that she had a bad philosophy of life, but if it was admittance counselors for grad school looking at a transcript, they might be speaking of her grades in a philosophy class.

I've always loved this sort of thing--it's these delightful ambiguities in language that make it so delightful (while at times frustrating) to write using it.

Thinking of it in the context of the Web, though, I was fascinated by the potential ramifications of this medium for language. Specifically, it brought home to me why writing up navigation bar wording was always so frustrating for me--if you're forced to state a big concept for your web visitors into a single word or two, you're not trying to be poetic with multiple meanings, so you have to think of all the ways that word can be read and misread, because the person could have found the page from anywhere or could have been searching using an entirely different mindset.

Linguistic contexts, in other words, are to a certain extent challenged by the Web. Sure, if there's a navigation item, there's a certain amount of context from the other items and from the page, and if you're unsure of it, you always can click to find out more of the context through the destination page, but no one's going to click on everything to find out what's behind it, and without doing that, navigating the Web can be like overhearing a bunch of snippets of conversations without knowing what the speakers are talking about. That's not entirely a bad thing or an entirely new thing, but it's fascinating to think about what this new widespread application of it might be doing to language and the way we read, write, and understand it.

Except, wait--if actually relevant, links can not only add that context back in, they can add richness to the context. That richness was there in reference and academic books in the form of footnotes, citations, and bibliographies, but it's fascinating that it's been brought to another genre.

Both aspects are true, actually: words on the Web are both contextualized less and contextualized more than they are, say in an academic article. Wonder what Lewis would have thought of it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Life, Time, and Communication Media

So I've been moving this summer and then starting my new PhD program, which is primarily the reason I haven't been posting much to the "im here" blog. The other reason, I must admit, is having joined Facebook, where I've been keeping up with friends (without sacrificing seeing the friends I can see in person).

In other words, I've been spending more time on other pursuits--the ones I've mentioned and many others. Thinking about this displacement of time makes me realize a truth I somewhat grudge the existence of at times: that, in short, there's only so much time in a day.

For me, this is in part a difficult truth because I hate moving (particularly across the country) and how much time it's taken this summer from my reading and writing tasks.

But that's not the only reason. It's also a difficult truth to acknowledge because I'm loathe to admit, when it comes to media studies, that things change in our focus and attention when we start spending time on certain media. I'm one of those people that wants to have it all and make that okay.

Part of this difficulty in making an academic admission is personal. I don't want to admit that if I were to spend a lot of time watching TV, for instance, might mean that I might read or write less for awhile. Or that if I spend a lot of time communicating on the phone or hanging out with friends in person or spend my time on academic work, it keeps me from doing some of my creative writing.

These sorts of choices are especially apparent when one starts a new pattern of life in a new place. But of course, I also realize that they aren't just choices about which media to use. In part, they're also choices about who and how to spend my time communicating with, not just particular people but also among audiences: for instance, my friends and family, both far away and new ones in town; other academics through their writings and in class; or other creative people through their various creations on various media and by dialoguing with them by working my own stuff.

These decisions are of course choosing some media over others, but at their base they are primarily choices about how to balance the many activities and relationships of one's life--in this case, within a new environment while starting a new school season. The fact that we have so many media giving us so many communication options simply makes the decisions harder.

In some ways that's a bad thing, in that it threatens to overwhelm us at times. Also, choices of media aren't simply neutral choices--different media do carry with them certain biases we should keep in mind. On the other hand, it feels like a privilege to live in a world with so many options, and to be a thinking human being who is able to make choices among them.

Of course, I'm also thankful that now that I'm more settled into my new town and my new apartment, I can focus less attention on those overwhelming tasks involved in moving and settling in, which means I'll have more time again to spend on other things I'd prefer to be doing but haven't found enough time for in awhile (blogging and creative writing among them).