Sunday, 31 January 2016

Module 5: Facebook & Narratives of Memory

Module 5: Facebook and Narratives of Memory
Monday, Feb.1, 2016 - Sunday, Feb.7, 2016
  • Feb. 2: Tweet two reflections on a reading from this Module’s list
  • Feb. 5: Conduct an experiment! Read your Facebook feed and analyse how your “friends” employ their timelines? Can you find narratives? What is the role of “public” in these narratives (are they clearly written for an audience? A specific audience?) How does the format/character constraint affect the narrative?


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    3. Hi Raquel. Thanks for your question. As you note, I don't say whether, in this instance, I would like a blog post or a comment. The syllabus implies that Module Posts by the instructor are where we usually respond but the important element is to respond and engage, as you have so eloquently done. I am reading all the questions, comments and interactions in whichever form they appear.

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    5. Thanks so much for your comments Racquel. There are definitely elements I can include in future instantiations of this course.

      I'm very glad that you are enjoying the writing online; I can see also almost 2000 people are enjoying reading our thoughts too.

      The best syllabus (where I have fixed the odd typo) is the online google doc version here

  2. A surprise for me coming from this Facebook experiment was noticing how quiet my timeline has actually become in intentional activity and how that space was being filled by corporate elements (adverting, suggested posts) and algorithmic activity (showing a friend’s likes or comment activity; things they had no intent to share directly). Like me, my friends seem to be posting less and ratcheting up privacy more. I guess that’s a narrative in itself. The meta-analysis suggests this particular group (my pool of friends) is trending more to the consumer side than producer portion of the prosumer category in the Zimmerman sense. These people (and I include myself) are producing less direct content but still provide plenty of activity.

    That said, there are micro narratives that are totally self contained within a post and macro narratives that take shape as an aggregate of posts over time. Some are truly public in the I-don’t-have-any-privacy-settings-turned-on while, for others, ‘public’ is the subset of their friends only (or a portion thereof). Some seem to be writing solely for themselves.

    Some content seems genuine and authentic: sharing out of joy, urgency, interest. Other posts seem to be driven by generating comments and likes or as a vehicle for relentless self-promotion. But who is to say what post falls in what category? I may share something out of genuine interest and others might see that as calculated image creation or attention seeking. The reader's connection and feelings toward the author will colour perception of intent. Fragments appear on a timeline and we fill in the blanks given what we know of the source.

  3. I have a wrought relationship with my facebook newsfeed. But, largely my newsfeed is annoying to me for formal reasons and not substantive ones. I found that the following formal characteristics of the Newsfeed, for me, affect the narratives, the audience/public/privateness of the content, and the presentation-ness of posts. It would be difficult to develop a methodologically rigorous way to test all of these reactions; but as I try to unpack the Newsfeed and narrative, I end up returning to these core ideas.

    Like most users, I typically encounter my feed on a mobile device. The basic layout is simple: 1st is always among the most liked or commented on posts since I visited. This is followed by a horizontally-scrollable feed of sponsored posts. I am then able to read one more heavily engaged-with posts, before facebook finally throws me something posted very recently. Eventually, Facebook will serve me a post that is at least marginally connected to a trending topic that they have tracked network-wide. Given this essential choreography, the narratives that can possibly emerge in these conditions are often simple vignettes of milestones in the lives of others.

    I have not heavily curated my list of friends, and so I tend to see the collective narrative provided by the newsfeed as a window into my former live(s). The successes, adversity, and opportunities my friends describe are sometimes political, lifecycle, or quotidien; but they are all reflective of conversations I have actually had with these "characters." And so my meaning-context is much more profound, and it reshapes how I interpret the stories.

    This nostalgia-narrative is purposeful; indeed, my newsfeed settings are nearly "factory defaults," and I never de-friend (not to say I have not been de-friended, which would then change the substantive content of my newsfeed). Even as I have "identified" family members using Facebook's functions, I actually feel I have to specifically engage with my loved ones' posts in order to see them in a future newsfeed scroll.

    Visual Focus
    An additional, crucial formal factor is the heavy emphasis on photographs and images. These multi-modal posts, become much more than vignettes; but sometimes grow into their own potent stories, disrupting the newsfeed's humble unity in the scrolling habit. It wasn't until the 7th post I scrolled to where the content was entirely text. I did not see another until post 42. I repeated this several times this week, and found similar results. Though, it is no surprise that the text-only post is disfavored in the Newsfeed. That said, I enjoy the visual emphasis typically. But, it does guide me away from some of the more thoughtful or verbose posts that I can find if I search or follow links.

    The posts that persuade you to click into another narrative sequence--say, a comment thread or an image--present the most transformative of the formal factors. These posts are sometimes controversial, comedic, or touching. They can be text, with or without images, or video accompanying. Take, for example, the comments streams that tell parallel narratives--new relationships, new characters, different intersections of ideas and people. It changes how we distinguish between the the deliberate presentation of 'public' story in a post and the event-specific moment of experiencing and engaging with a ad hoc community formed around it. How we encode a post as a discursive happening, as story and as experience, blends the fictionality of presentation and authenticity of experience--and its privateness-uniqueness depends on how it is encountered as well as by meaning-context. Fun!

    In the end, I think the novelty of Facebook's narrative impact on authentic experience is increasingly diluted as (trans)literacy improves through exposure and familiarity. Nonetheless, the formal characteristics of the Newsfeed will continue to evolve, adapting and experimenting with shifting the tools of narrative.