Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trivia and Tellability: Status updates again

One element of my Facebook Status Update analysis is to chart the kinds of topics that individuals self disclose about. I’ve compiled the data, but not quantified it in detail yet. One thing is clear, though. Most of the time, the status updates in the data sample I'm looking at are about pretty much every day events. They are a far cry from the landmark, traumatic events narrated in ‘danger of death’ personal narratives (Labov 1972). That’s not to say that the status update material is not selective – it clearly is, otherwise the individuals would be filling their updates with material constantly (and they don’t – even the most prolific updaters don’t update more than a few times a day). However, the updates are often related to trivial, ephemeral issues: ‘Ruth is eating banana on toast’ (or I was this morning, and contemplated putting it in my status update).

The questions I now find myself asking are:
Why are status updates usually about trivial topics?
What does this tell us about narrative?

My thoughts so far in response are:

People don’t necessarily choose to update about everyday, ‘lightweight’ topics because their ‘actual’ lives are necessarily like that. Could it be that the status updates are working as a form of phatic communication (Malinowski 1922)? Are they a kind of ‘online grooming’ or small talk functioning as a gesture towards a social tie? After all, Fred Wilson just lately described status as the ‘ultimate social gesture

But perhaps it is also possible that the impact of networked publics (boyd 2008) means that self disclosure of a profoundly emotive or personal kind can be risky in a context where the divisions between separate offline subgroups of your network are collapsed into one? So, on a personal note, I try not to disclose anything in my status updates that I wouldn’t be prepared to say in front of a class of my students. That means that sometimes I really have to hold back on what I want to say (maybe that is a good thing). So taking this further, is the lightweight nature of the status update an attempt to reduce the level of self disclosure to as low risk a common denominator as possible?

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t devalue what is happening with the status updates – after all, Georgakopoulou’s (2007) discussion of Small Stories stresses that these fragmentary, ephemeral snatches of narrative are crucial for recognising the generic variability of stories that fall outside the narrative canon. So in answer to my question (2), one of the things that Status stories makes us take account of is the range of storytelling possibilities that have yet to be systematically accounted for, and just how very selected and crafted conversational narratives (let alone literary stories) are.



Blogger mint said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



6:50 AM  
Blogger JoseAngel said...

Interesting reflections on Facebook narrativity. I wish you won't discontinue this blog!

8:46 AM  

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