the end of audience segregation?

(This is an excerpt from my dissertation.)

Unlike their predecessors, which were segregated and centered by a topic social networks center on the individual.  With discussion forums everyone who joined was part of the community and had access to read, comment, and create new content visible to everyone. So, while being a closed community centered around a single topic, once inside the individual had open access to all content.

Social networks function the opposite way. In social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter each individual serves as the center of his/her network. To be precise, the individual in the center of all his/her networks covering multiple topics.  It is common in these sites for an individual to be the center of networks related to hobbies or interests, family and friends, as well as work and other responsibilities. “Rather than relating to one group, people live and work in multiple sets of overlapping relationships, cycling among different networks. (Wellman, Boase, & Chen, 2008) The individual chooses the people in their network and these people by default are not segregated by categories of interest or roles.

What does this shift from context specific situations to a scenario of overlapping social networks mean for how we present ourselves to others? The philosopher William James noted that we have as many different social selves as there are different groups whose opinion matters to us. And we tend to show a different facet of ourselves to each of these different groups, what Erving Goffman referred to as “audience segregation.” (1959) where we express different aspects of ourselves to different audiences depending upon the context. However, with the advent of social networking technologies the luxury of being who or what the situation in front of us requires is compromised.  Our co-workers and bosses see a more personal side of us and our friends and family see us interacting in a more professional sphere. Because of the social web “Our private and corporate lives have become information processes just because we have put our central nervous system outside us in electric technology.” (McLuhan, 1964). What is more, these lives have become inextricably intertwined. For instance, when I return from a run I immediately sync my nano with iTunes, which sends my data to Nike, which I forward to my dailymile workout logging application, which in turn auto posts my numbers to Twitter & Facebook for the world to see. Someone may comment on my results and I’ll reply, perhaps from my Droid, iPad, or MacBook depending on where I am in relation to them at the moment, what I happen to be doing, and what type of response is called for. That’s a personal description however, how I do things professionally is not much different. In fact, I use the same devices and many of the same applications to communicate with my peers. In fact in fact many of my professional peers are also part of my running network. And so on.

These external systems are places where we commonly share and articulate different characteristics of our selves with our various communities and we shift the prism of our identity to fit the context of the situation. However, that distinction is largely made in the mind and the reality in which we share our self may be much larger.

  1. Very nicely written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on about the world of social web. Keep it up.

  2. Hi Brad,

    Thanks for the nice words. I’ll do my best

  1. March 14th, 2011

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