‘New media’ is now old hat

I remember when I was still in university there was a lot of talk about ‘new media’ as some emerging thing, or even of web 2.0 discussed with some sense of open hope and anticipation towards pastures new. I thought about this when I was at a planning meeting for the community garden that I’m involved with, when we were talking about outreach.

 

Somebody said that twitter and facebook are a bit old hat in terms of social media (the preferred term of today). We all understood what was meant, in the sense that we would hit at an audience who already know about the garden and using such media mostly retains our base of interested persons and who are already informed of most of the community garden’s activities.

 

Getting involved with a community garden is as grassroots as things can get. I mostly got involved because somebody said they didn’t like lifting things. Now we are talking about having a co-ordinated strategy for tweetdeck posts, preparing copy for upcoming mail-outs (we use mailchimp). One of the great liberating features of the social media is that it has enabled such a broad form of expression. Taking the perspective of the community garden, I can live-tweet about garden events or things going on; garner attention and new interest from tweeting about and being seen tweeting and take part in a wider discussion. The community garden twitter account has a follow from our local MP, various councillors in local government, and even a transition town group in Latin America. The fact that others in the garden share the tweeting means I can get on with what I particularly enjoy at the garden: lifting stuff and playing my clarinet in an open space.

 

Although perhaps not part of the ‘new media’ but more of the late 1990s and early 2000s zeitgeist, I’ve found blogging (both writing and reading) and podcasts as a big staple of my life these days. I have come from seeing podcasts as an obscure infant medium to an established form. I recently listened to a radio programme on the podcast recently, which made me reflect on how the evolution of the medium has aged as I have aged. I suspect however that the podcast will outlive me and morph into more fandangled and interesting things than I ever can.

 

Podcasts used to be something really scarce. Back in 2005 I would re-listen to episodes of Philosophy Talk and go through the whole archive of ‘In Our Time’. I would eagerly follow Marc Maron’s WTF in mid-late 2009 as Maron’s life was in dire straits and wondered what the next episode would tell. Nearly 5 years on, Maron’s podcast has a TV series based on it and he’s gone from strength to strength, even to the point of broadcasting an episode with Josh Radnor on the day that How I Met Your Mother had its finale. I would dare say that after WTF, Maron’s podcast format has had many imitators.

 

I wonder if the ‘wild west’ or Californian gold rush of podcasting is over at least in terms of the solidification and establishment as podcasting as a medium. But with it another gold rush might emerge, perhaps a less figurative commercialisation and profit-making set of models. I love the podcast for the same reasons as the radio. I can feel connected to the world despite distantly listening in without taking part in the things that are discussed. I am also starting to find there are a few too many podcasts to listen to in the world! I can’t listen to them all as attentively as I used to listen to every episode of Melvyn Bragg and I can’t give all the philosophy podcasts as much attention as they deserve or that would require a good amount of learning from.

 

And here comes the other ‘old hat’ of blogging. I have said to myself that when I get a smartphone I will be able to read blogs quicker with the (now defunct) Google Reader App. Then I said to myself that I could get a lot of reading done on Feedly with my new Tablet, although both of these are true, it is also the case that these new devices allow me to reach a much much wider pool of information so plentiful that I end up not reading the stuff that I planned to.

 

Blog reading is a big part of my life, it’s become both a leisurely pursuit and in some cases for friends, necessary for their work. Because of the ubiquity of ways we can access the internet the stream of blogs and RSS feeds is soaking human experience, perhaps for some, too much so. Lately I’ve set time limits for myself for blog reading and catching up on articles. I’ve found that I use my time more efficiently that way.

 

Perhaps its time to be more deliberate about blog reading and podcast listening. Time to be more mature about facebook profiles and twitter accounts. As the medium has grown up so have I and I see so many pitfalls with these media (or rather put – more ways people can be silly with them). Perhaps like the 19th century after the wild rush comes an age of more deliberate and considered usage and perhaps regulation. It almost looks like an historical narrative repeating all over again.

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Some musings on Social Media

Editorial: In place of an extended discussion this week I am going to summarise some responses which formed a group discussion between us at Noumenal Realm. This discussion was on the topic of Social Media.

Destre on Social Media

Perhaps I might speak of some of the goods of social media. I have been able to network with people professionally and carry on conversations that would otherwise have taken the spaces of seminars, lecture halls or other such private forms of correspondence. I love the capacity to debate issues abstractly through the medium of facebook messaging (although not by wall post discussions). I find a certain democratising element to the medium. Of course like any medium, it is up to people using it to practice it well.

Sinistre on practical applications

I can distinguish my level of contacts by what social networks I am on. Facebook friends are personal people I know or used to know, and a few online friends; Twitter followers are a mix of robots, people I’ve admired in journalism or entertainment or maybe even some people I’ve personally met, but for whom it might be awkward to add on a personal Facebook. For example, I have a great motivational gym class instructor who has quite funny and pithy things to say. It merits a Twitter follow but not a Facebook friendship. For me strict demarcation is neat. I also find it practical to have twitter blasting away and seeing odd little Guardian/Huffpo news/’news’ articles. I also find twitter useful to remind me when my favourite TV is on.

Antisophie on self presentation

If I wanted to greet someone affectionately in person, I would. Social media seems to emphasise the ‘being seen’ aspect of social interaction, without the actual interaction. In that sense it is artifice. We have written on this blog about Goffman and the moral nature of self-presentation, giving a very poor vision of the social-moral animal defined by constructions such as the definition of the situation. To me, media such as Facebook, local forums or even professional/specialist networks are simply about being seen or being heard, and less about things happening, actions being performed. It emphasises the worst of human nature and the populist herd mentality. The emperor has no clothes in the world of social media, and artifice is queen.

Michael on potential utilities

I have been using blogging platforms, tweeting, Facebook and specialised networks, for example: Streetlife and Project Dirt, as ways of connecting with groups and individuals of similar interest. I have found social media and the various showy things about them to promote the community garden project I have been involved with. I have unexpectedly found an odd merging of people I have personally met (through networking or personal friends) following me on the @noumenalrealm account.

I am a sucker for keeping records. I love reading reviews on Foursquare of restaurants. One particularly nice bit of advice was that the tap water costs an extortionate amount in Mr. Wu’s in London’s Chinatown. I have made a few friends of mutual interest when it comes to fitness, from the social network Fitocracy. I think that Fitocracy has had a large part in my interest in keeping active. I am as awkward with social media as I am in real life about sharing anything.

I am painfully self conscious that what one might say reflects some sociogenic aspect of them. Everything is politicised, mediated through social categories like say class. This includes one’s vernacular, the kinds of interests they have, or the things they may consider  to be apt to talk about.

I think perhaps the most disjunctive thing is that the things I tweet are violently different from the things I might talk about in everyday life. Despite having a blog where I like tweeting about music and blogging about books and intellectuals, my actual life surrounded by everything except black metal, or Modern Philosophy texts. The fact is, I hardly read that much, and my music listening is exceptionally varied beyond the things I say that I ‘like’. My last.fm (again, another interest-oriented network) shows my true guilty pleasures, the fact that I listen to a lot of non-music audio like audiobooks or podcasts, and that I like listening to music I am unfamiliar with. Social media may be a deceitful way of playing up one’s interests against how one is in the face to face social domain. When most people ask, I really actually hate talking about Kant or Adorno. Perhaps my face to face self betrays my bad faith in a manner that tweeting or Facebook updates cannot

What I’ve learned through blogging (and why this would make a blogger useful to an organisation)

Firstly I just want to thank everyone who is a robot or who is not a robot who has ever visited my blog. The hits have passed 70k which is a pretty modest hit count in all honesty, if I were aiming to get more hits, I’d probably do more reviews, do more face-to-face and talk about my blog, or talk about issues which are relevant to many people, however I don’t do that and I realise that anyone who reads this fits into a certain kind of niche, or what I could call, potential employers and search engine results.

When I started the blog the parlance was much different. What we now call social media was once called ‘New Media’ and many blogs emerged towards codifying a form of epistle-like artform. Then you have other kinds of blogs, which serve as a diary; tittilating biography which highlights the fun stuff and less so the mundane stuff for example, talking about the amazing gig that @genericindieband did at #camden, rather than the 3 minutes of standing and staring into Nietzsche’s abyss as one waits for the kettle to boil at work. Other blogs work as part and parcel of modern organisational strategies to promote products. Copywriters, marketing and even fundraising types may include blogging in their arsenal of skills.

In an age where every aspect of a person is commodified, I have been forced to think about how my non-professional, extracurricular activity of blogging could possibly be useful to potential employers or other projects that I’m involved with. Here’s a list:

Learning from what works and what doesn’t

I use the analytics of WordPress to discover what pages are most read, and seeing what kinds of terms and search patterns most of my visitors had. If I were a company, say, a startup selling novelty t-shirts based on memes (just an example off the top of my head). I might find that more people are searching for ‘trollface t-shirt’ than say ‘forever alone t-shirt’, and I might use this information towards developing more products for people who like trollface t-shirts, perhaps I might make a trollface coffee mug, or a heat-sensitive trollface mug that turns into okayguy when it gets cold!

I’ve learned from my blog about the kinds of visitors who come to the blog. I’ve learned for instance that many readers are probably reading as non-British English readers and speakers. This means that if I were so inclined, I would adapt my standard of written English to fit an audience who may not be fluent, or may not understand little quirks of British English expressions such as ‘topped up’ or ‘BOGOF’ (Buy One Get One Free). I have learned these lessons but for the intention of my blog I rarely observe it in the sense that I am not presently writing to attract views. As it happens one of my most famous posts concerns Sexual Surrogacy, which was largely written as an afterthought without real distinctive conclusions but open questions. I daren’t imagine how many people have read it and considered it as a serious piece of writing. Another popular post involves a very antiquated swear word in the title, which was the swear word used in the film ‘Avengers Assemble’ (or The Avengers if you are out of the UK), I suppose that this post recieved a great amount of views firstly because it was written within close proximity of the premiere of the film, as well as the large amount of popularity associated with the Marvel franchise of comics, films and other such products. Of course, we still choose to write about topics like Goffman’s interactionism, which hardly attracts too much attention. We blog for love, but there are fruitful lessons from purposely being unpopular in terms of the hits!

Understanding how blogging fits into wider SEO phenomena

I’ve learned a little bit about Search Engine Optimisation from my experience blogging. There are certain kinds of techniques which can improve a blog’s listing on a Google result, such as the nature of how you link to other URLs, Some techniques, such as linking to the same page or gratuitous references to other pages in your website are considered unfair and more advanced search engine algorithms penalise such websites, but there are other methods that can improve a search engine’s ranking, sometimes its nice to link to other websites, if you are kind enough to refer to some websites they might notice and share their traffic with yours. Also using certain kinds of buzzwords that attract your audience would be important.

Over the past year for example I have been developing ways to raise awareness of a project that I’ve been involved with. At a meeting last year one of the points made from looking at the analytics of the wider Transition Town group was that many of the people who came to the blog shared interests which formed part of the overall aegis of the group: this included things such as the local community, environment related terminology (peak oil, sustainability, transition) or other kinds of words which have attracted positive attention (such as wellbeing). I’ve not had much success with the blog as I would have liked, mostly my fault, but I have had a good amount of attention from dealing with the twitter account for the project, and that largely came from the effective use of hashtagging and the keywords one uses.

Developing brand presence

Nowadays successful blogs, or products have facebook ‘like’ pages, or an associated youtube page for extra content (or even in some cases the other way around, successful youtube channels have blogs to celebrate the channel! These days its important to recognise that a multi channel approach can be helpful in promoting a product, or yourself! However I’ve learned that depending on your audience some channels are better than others, and this is largely an issue of demography: namely, are you addressing an audience who is concerned with an issue, or perhaps are you targeting an audience who is particularly tech familiar or not?

If you are running a community project for example, even a website is a difficult for some people to access, where their familiarity with the world wide web is limited. In that case a mailing list might be more helpful. Or if you are marketing to a particularly tech-savvy audience, you could advertise space on Reddit, perhaps even making a meme-friendly reference or joke paired with your advertising. Brand presence in terms of individuals can work well through speaking out on Twitter. This may involve re-tweeting (RT) other people’s tweets, making your own hashtag campaign to follow on a larger event or some group related phenomenon. One of my favourite hashtags is from the Comedian Carly Smallman of #reasonsimsingle, which fits into promoting herself as a comedian, also its very funny and relatable. My personal hashtag slogan is #whynotschoenberg, which points out how a certain co-blogger notes that I over-mention a certain composer, also its a riff on an established meme: why not zoidberg?

Taking iniative/being a trendsetter

Blogging, and to a much greater extent, microblogging services such as Tumblr and Twitter, are very much a game of trend-setting and trend following. The Philosopher Voltaire once said: ‘a witty saying proves nothing’ in the 18th Century. However the rules of the game in the 21st century involve re-tweeting, re-tumbling, repinning, stumbleuponing, facebook ‘sharing’ and stumbleupon-liking anything from a picture of Batman on a treadmill to a cute cat, an inspirational quote or raising awareness of a staged political protest. As much as I dislike tweeting, I find its important a tool to keep on the button about certain issues and finding out about breaking news stories before they are confirmed by official news sources.

Developing a literary art form

Blogs, or other content can be part of a corporate viral campaign. There have been many interesting attempts at viral campaigns to promote a product which is not immediately recognisable as a form of advertisement. The ‘I love Bees’ website was an advertising campaign for the game Halo 2, or the TED talk pastiche set in the future set up the promotions for the Ridley Scott film Prometheus. You might see the promotion of fake content as a form of trolling, but in good hands, it can not only create good advertising, it can also create a hyper-reality.

Blogs are also a stylstic form of expression. How many times have books been made from blog posts. In a sense, the blog is the most obvious manuscript for a monograph: using systematic topics and approaching issues through a post-by-post breakdown that addresses subtopics, fits well into the monograph form of the chapter. Blogs allow for creativity. Whether a dialogue, a monologue, an epistle, a Spinoza style geometric proof or pseudo/hyper reality. So long as the genre of blogging stays written, it is literary. Although tumblr pictures would seemingly fail in that regard.

More technical things

There are more technical things that I’ve become interested in and am beginning to pursue. I’m learning to write more in HTML, the language underlying websites. This has led me to think more about SEO and linking with other platforms. I use Evernote for example in part of my blogging as a way of gathering intelligence and monitoring. Blogging can be simple, just by using a smartphone and a blogger app, for instance, you can make a post quite easily, By contrast, one can scrap the templates and write a blog from your bare hands and make something beautiful.

I’d like to think as a hobby, blogging would make me more attractive in terms of my corporate skills. However failing that, here’s a picture of Batman:

Michael

On Social Media (or The panopticlon of judgmental peers)

I’ve noticed lately how Facebook is telling me about the behaviours of friends, whether they are in a certain restaurant (via Foursquare); whether Michael is playing too much Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and lately there is a ‘Guardian’ and ‘Telegraph’ application which tells me (as if I want to know) what articles they are reading from these UK newspapers. At this point I felt something was deeply wrong. The Guardian is putatively seen as a centre-left, liberal publication (or at least, their readers are described as such), and maybe 5 years ago people would have complained about the way in which technologies are are means of constant surveillance, leaving a trail of one’s activities. There was something menacing about being observed or having our data kept by unknown forces: who, for instance, really looks at our Nectar card points balance when I shop at Amazon or Homebase?

From Socimages post on social media

In a way this Foucauldian worry about the surveillance society and a menacing panopticlon is a lost concern. To some extent most citizens of the city-state accept surveillance in tacit ways to many degrees. During the UK riots this year, many surveillance technologies successfully worked to catch many of those involved, the public would surely approve of such an application, and we can at least see a non-menacing rationale of such surveillance in that extent. What I really find worrying, however, is the constant ‘performance’ of social life. This has been emphasised and turned up to such a level which I find insufferable. Twitter friends think that it’s somehow amusing to tell me about a late train in Croydon, or the “woes of waiting for a bus, and then two come at the same time #buskake”; Charlie Brooker, a great cynic of our time, has turned his writing which has insightful pieces on television and his Guardian column, has turned his talent from gold into bowel movements.

I think the thing that is worrying me is that social media can be seen as a means to changing perceptions and challenging orthodoxies to give people a voice. But when individuals are aware of others, they become self conscious and attempt to project some idealised conception of themselves, projecting themselves as they think others expect or wish to see of them. I’m guilty of this myself, Michael and Destre have told me in previous discussions that they are slowly self conscious about this issue and find that social media management is similar to personality management in social interractions. In this way, social media has a fundamentally conservative force, instead of changing perceptions, it enforces the notion of ‘business as usual’, or that the status quo (or some hyperbolised version,  where all some individuals do are say proverbs and upload pictures of babies/cats/their six pack/drunken partying). The govenance of social media is under more nefarious hands than governments and shifty mega corporations, its governed by the expectations others have of us. It is true that social media can be used to subvert traditional forms of authority, and unify forms of resistance and can signify ideological and symbolic forms of difference. Social media however can be a conservative force that expresses in a most naked form, our need for approval from others, by emphasising what we think others will like or expect of us as social persons.This mindset preserves the status quo, and also our ways of perceiving change, both within ourselves and without.

It’s also inescapable. I could cynically add: ‘Like us on facebook’ and ‘join us on Twitter’. Words are cheap, if all we have to say are things people expect of us, that’s not freedom, it’s self enforced slavery.

Antisophie

Blog name change, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook

I have updated and tweaked a few features on this blog, and I have realised that I have not properly addressed much of the blog for a long time (tagging and categories for instance). Since Destre, Antisophie and Sinistre hardly post as often as they did, I am making this my (Michael’s) primary blog, and I’m changing the website’s title to make it less verbose. I may change the URL at some point as well, so this may mean that RSS feeds need to be changed.

Also note on the site that I have integrated Twitter functionality with a dedicated Twitter page, and I have also linked the blog to a facebook fan page so you can ‘Like’ us as well. The real reason I’m trying to spruce up the site is as a sandbox in social networking and creating an online ‘brand’ presence. I’ve also created a shared Noumenal Realm email account so you can contact us, or myself specifically with any questions, requests, or follow up issues you have about particular topics and we’ll venture to reply to you. Our email account is noumenalrealm@gmail.com (consistent, aren’t we).

I want to thank you readers for following the blog for this long as we continue to create more posts.
Michael