How I’m using Social Media to Make Trouble, part 3: TUMBLR

After several weeks break, I’m finally returning to my four part series about how I’m using social media to make trouble. Today, I’m focusing on Tumblr. While I have been busy with other projects (personal and professional), that’s not the only reason why it’s taken me this long to write about how I’m using Tumblr. It took this long because I didn’t really know how I was using it to make trouble. When I first started posting on Tumblr, I had a general, very vague, sense that I wanted to use it to post my examples of making and staying in trouble, but I didn’t have a more specific sense of how I would track/post these examples.

In the brief time I’ve been on Tumblr (since Jan, 2012), I’ve come to realize that it works best, at least for me, when you have a fairly focused and consistent approach to posting. One thing I’ve always liked about my trouble blog is how I can take a very broad and open-ended topic like trouble/making and open it up even further by experimenting with a diversity of ways that it can be understood; the format of the blog encourages this expanding and complicating. In contrast, there’s something about the format of Tumblr that encourages me to focus my ideas and narrow/streamline my vision of how to track and post trouble inspirations. What is it about the format? Even as I love broadening visions and being open to increasingly wider ways of being, I like how tumblr is encouraging me to focus.

Some have argued that Tumblr’s lasting contribution to social media is the single-serving site (although others, like STA, disagree with naming this as “single-serving” because a single-serving site is technically a site with a single post, not a site with a series of posts on a single theme). I’m not sure that I agree, but I do like how some people are creatively experimenting with single-serving (or single-purpose?) tumblrs. A few of my favorite include:

A Very Brady Blog
Fuck Yeah Lisa Simpson
Feminist Care Packages
Hipster Animals 

Hmm…as I look over this brief list, I’m not sure that some of these count as single-purpose/single-serving tumblrs? Maybe single-serving sites are even more focused and short-lived (like feminist harry potter or animals disappointed)?

Anyway, I like how Tumblr is encouraging me to experiment with focusing my efforts and with developing projects and products that are consistent and brief. Now, after using Tumblr for almost 5 months (and posting 80 examples), I finally have a more focused plan for how to use it in my own efforts to, as I express it in my tumblr description, “track examples of trouble for inspiration and for training to be a virtuous troublemaker.” Instead of posting tons of examples of troublemaking or troublestaying (I’m using Pinterest for that), I’m using Tumblr to post my experiments with inspiring/provocative “posters.” These posters are intended to model yet trouble self-helpy type posters and are a first attempt at playing with (troubling, challenging, disrupting) self-help methods, approaches and attitudes. Here’s a gallery of my posts far:

Each tumblr poster combines a question or a quotation that has shaped my work with a picture that I’ve recently taken with my iPhone camera while on a walk/hike/run/bike ride. Clicking on the image links to a previously written post on my trouble blog about the question or quotation. I plan to post these daily (as part of my larger goals of understanding troublemaking/staying as a virtue that needs to be cultivated repeatedly through daily practices). I’m not sure if these will be interesting for anyone else, but I think they might help me to make my feminist/queer academic ideas more succinct and accessible. Plus, it will allow me to experiment with being more creative and encourage me to get outside more and enjoy the summer in Minneapolis.

some experimentin’ with TUMBLR

I hope to continue my series on How I’m using Social Media to Make Trouble with an entry on TUMBLR soon. For now, here’s what I posted there just today:

The image above is my first experiment in a new series of troublemaking/troublestaying-inspired quotation posts. I’ve written about this quote before; it’s one of my favorites and part of my inspiration for linking care with curiosity and troublemaking.

The trouble with pop accounts of scientific studies

A few nights ago, while reading through my Flipboard on the iPad, I came across this article: Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are brain candy, study says. I was immediately suspicious. So I decided to find the actual study to which they were referring. This, of course, made my brain hurt; as a humanities person, I am still struggling to make sense of scientific methodology and approaches. But, I read through it anyway.

In the study, Disclosing Information about the self is intrinsically rewarding, researchers out of Harvard (Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell) completed a series of 5 experiments involving self-disclosure. While I could try to summarize their introductory description and hypothesis, I think it might be safer to just let them explain:

Studies of human conversation have documented that 30–40% of everyday speech is used to relay information to others about one’s private experiences or personal relationships (1–4), and recent surveys of Internet use indicate that upwards of 80% of posts to social media sites (such as Twitter) consist simply of announcements about one’s own immediate experiences (5). Although other primates do not generally attempt to communicate to others what they know—for example, by pointing out interesting things or modeling behaviors for others to imitate— by 9 mo of age, human children begin trying to draw others’ attention to aspects of the environment that they find important (6), and adults in all societies make consistent attempts to impart their knowledge to others (7). Recently, a number of commentators have argued that such unusually high rates of disclosure derive from a species-specific motivation to share one’s beliefs and knowledge about the world (6, 7), suggesting that our species may have an intrinsic drive to disclose thoughts to others.

Here’s their hypothesis:

This account suggests the following hypothesis: To the extent that humans are motivated to propagate the products of their minds, opportunities to disclose one’s thoughts should be experienced as a powerful form of subjective reward. Here, across five studies, we used a combination of neuroimaging and cognitive methods to demonstrate empirical support for this possibility.

Well, maybe I should try to put this into my own words. After completing five different experiments, all of which involved analyzing the “neural regions in the brain associated with reward,” when subjects were disclosing information to self and to others, the scientists concluded that, just like wanting food or sex, people intrinsically want to share. And they share because it stimulates the reward center of the brain (as opposed to sharing for advantage or to be liked or for well-being). The scientists conclude their short paper by suggesting that this desire to share speaks to the “extreme sociality of our species” (5).

As I think more about this study, I am (at least a little) intrigued. It’s interesting to think through the neurological reasons why we might have a desire to share ideas, experiences, knowledge with others. I’m glad that I read the actual study instead of just the pop piece in the LA Times. While this study uses their conclusions to point to our desire to share and our fundamental sociality, the LA Times piece (mis)uses the study in order to explain why people might perpetually (and counfoundingly) overshare online. They write:

So perhaps all this explains the confounding behavior of people who over-share on the Internet, even to their detriment. (Think criminals who get arrested after bragging about their crimes on Facebook, the teenage girl whose online venting about her chores led to her dad shooting her laptop, the guy who almost went to jail for complaining about his wife.)

Really? What are they suggesting with this flippant statement? Don’t blame these idiots who share too much online; it’s their brains fault?! What a waste of an article and a study….

The more I think about, the more curious (or the curiouser?) I get about this study and its implications. In one of the experiments, they tested what difference it made in the reward center of the brain between subjects who revealed information about themselves privately, with the guarantee that no one else would ever see it, and subjects who revealed information about themselves publicly, sometimes with someone else in the room. Researchers determined that sharing publicly stimulated the reward center more. I wonder, does it make any difference whether or not they get a reaction (an affirmation? some feedback? a question?) from others? Is the reward center stimulated even more when there’s engagement? Is it the act of public self-disclosure alone that is intrinsic? Or could it be the social exchange, the process of sharing and engaging, that is intrinsic? I might be reaching too far with my questions. However, as I think through my own use of social media and the real and imagined audiences that I have when I share, I wonder what motivates my interest in expressing and engaging publicly?

Twitter, Care and Mother’s Day

Ever since my mom died–well, actually, ever since she got really sick–mother’s day has been hard. And, surprisingly, I never expect it to be. I’ve spent a lot of time developing ways to live beside my grief for my mom. And, as I’ve suggested on this blog and in my latest digital video about this blog, I’ve shifted a lot of my recent focus away from grieving over her loss and towards celebrating (her) life. Yet, even though I feel like I’ve come to some sort of peace with her death, I still woke up yesterday with that unsettled, irritable feeling that made me just want to be alone. When I feel this way, I don’t always immediately read it as grief. Grief is supposed to be waves of sadness and feelings of loss, right? Maybe not; my grief rarely comes in those forms.

According to J Butler (whom I’ve written about a lot on this blog), grief is about coming undone:

I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, aproject, a plan, and one finds oneself foiled. …Something takes hold, but is this something coming from the self, from the outside, or from some region where the difference between the two is indeterminable? What is it that claims us at such moments, such that we are not the masters of ourselves? In what are we tied? And by what are we seized (Undoing Gender, 18)?

In my case, what took hold yesterday morning were waves of irritation, anger, intolerance and a strong sense of coming undone as a mother, especially a mother without a mother. Luckily the feeling didn’t last that long, and much of the rest of the day–a beautiful one at a baseball game–was good. But, it always helps me to remember that Mother’s Day, much like my mom’s birthday or the day that she died, will probably always be difficult. And in ways that I might never be able to anticipate.

As I was reading through my twitter feed right before bed last night, I came across lots of RTs (retweets) by Xeni Jardin from people who were grieving because of cancer on mother’s day (kids who had lost their moms to cancer, or moms who had lost their kids to cancer, or moms who were living with cancer, etc). Jardin started the series with this tweet:

You can check out many of the tweets on this storify by Josh Sterns. What a powerful series of tweets! As I read through them, I was reminded of how I’m not alone and that plenty of people were having the same trouble I was with mother’s day.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog post about Xeni Jardin and her use of twitter to practice an ethics of care. Since that post, Jardin’s use of twitter in relation to (her) cancer has continued to involve multiple caring practices. Her tweets on mother’s day are just one more example.

Tweetbombs, Community Guidelines, and Slacktivism, oh my!

Periodically I like to clean out my safari reader and my email and archive some of the more useful links that I’ve marked or emailed to myself. Today, I found some links about tweetbombs and the ethics of attention, The Nation and their new community guidelines policy and the subjectivity of slacktivism. These links are all from the month of April and all concern ethics and social media, two big interests for me in my own engagement with troublemaking.

The Tweetbomb and the Ethics of Attention

A blog post by Ethan Zuckerman.
In this article, Zuckerman reflects on the ethics of using twitter, specifically tweetbombing, to get the attention of key celebrities/personalities. He recounts how World of Warcraft gamer “Athene” and his targeted Xeni Jardin by sending her tons of tweets about “starving children in the horn of Africa.” When she tweeted back that the tweets “were not cool,” especially because they clogged up her feed and prevented her from engaging in her ongoing conversations with other twitter users about chemotherapy and living with breast cancer, the tweetbombs became increasingly abusive. Zuckerman wonders about the ethics of attention and how twitter users and Twitter (as a company and administrator of the platform) should/can address the issue of tweetbombing and the problems with demanding, not just requesting, the attention of others on twitter. This article is useful for learning more about the history of tweetbombing. And, as an added bonus, Zuckerman repeatedly describes the unethical actions of Athene and the twitterbombers he enlisted as those of “assholes.” Nice. Might be helpful with my own project of the troublemaking ethical imperative: Don’t be an asshole.

Community Guidelines: The Nation

A page on The Nation’s website.
I follow The Nation on twitter and couldn’t resist checking out the tweet they posted yesterday on their new community guidelines. While I haven’t done that much research on community guidelines/comment policies around the interwebs, I have been interested for some time in how various organizations/sites grapple with ethical issues concerning the management of online communities and conversations. (For example, yesterday, I mentioned Pinterest’s “be nice” rule in my blog post.)

Some interesting points that I found on their description:
1. They call people out for the classic, “I’m not racist, but…”

We do not welcome homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, anti-Semitism or other intolerance. Keep in mind that this does not always take the form of racial slurs. If you find yourself typing “I’m not racist but…” or “I’m not sexist but…” you should probably think twice.

2. They caution agains derailing a conversation. I like this idea, and think it’s important to keep comments focused, but this seems like it could be hard to manage…and very time consuming:

De-railing. Posts unrelated to the article at hand will be deleted. We define this loosely so as to encourage the free flow of conversation. However, if it’s obvious you didn’t read the post, and don’t care to, your comment will be deleted.

3. They encourage users to help out with the labor of managing the community by providing various ways for readers to guide/develop the community, like flagging inappropriate/abusive comments and liking particularly good comments. I suppose this partly answers my question in #2. 

Thinking more about these community guidelines has made me curious: Does The Nation hire someone full time to manage this community? How is the difficult labor of this job compensated? Thanks to a quick search on google, I have one answer to these questions. Check out this job posting for a comment moderator at the Huffington Post:

This is an entry level position and we will train you. If you can read quickly, make quick, impartial, decisions and want a foot in the door in community management or online media then this is a perfect job.
Preferred skills:
– Focused speed reading – our moderators read the equivalent of Moby Dick 18 times a month.
– Experience moderating blog or forum based communities a plus.
– Availability during weekends and evenings a big plus.

The Subjectivity of Slacktivism

An online article by Sarah Kendzior at ALJAZEERA
In this online article, Kendzior briefly summarizes the critiques leveled at slacktivists, especially those involved in the Kony2012 campaign, and then argues that what is missing in these discussion is the voice/voices of the slacktivist:

What the conversation on slacktivism is missing is the voice of the slacktivist. Their self-defence is often dismissed as irrelevant – who would confess to lazily clicking “like”? But slacktivism is not a “useless and harmful” way of describing online behaviour, as Tufekci has argued. Slacktivism is a real thing – it is one of the varied and often contradictory ways we engage with political material online. The same people who are slacktivists toward one cause can also be staunch and sincere advocates of others. The same people who engage in low-stakes, pointless actions – changing their profile picture to a cartoon to protect child abuse, turning their Twitter green to save Iran – could have a passionate commitment to the cause in question, but no knowledge of how else to participate.

She continues by comparing the Kony2012 and Trayvon Martin hoodie campaigns and then wonders, “whether it is the choice of cause, and not the method of media engagement, that gives slacktivism its ugly connotation?” I like her conclusion. She argues that we can’t just dismiss slacktivism without first closely looking at our motivations for slacktively (did I just make up that word?) supporting a cause, motivations like curiosity or sympathy and empathy.