Sunday, May 28, 2006

growing into web 2.0

My response to web 2.0 discussions on the Institute for Distributed Creativity (IDC) listserve, an ethnography and critical commentary about my web usage:

Hi, my name is Matt Waxman. I am a fifth year senior at UC Santa Cruz and will be 23 years old this Summer. I'd like to take a stab at this whole web 2.0 thing, participation in it, and maybe ground the newness and it's ideas in personal experience and the world around me.

From my experience, it seems my generation of youth grew up during the internet's grand explosion into cultural consciousness and any transition from an "old" to "new" kind of web-usage. By tracing my own history of using the internet and social networking sites, and observing internet use by people in similar ages to me, I believe the idea and relevance of a web "2.0" can be observed.

I started using the internet in Middle School. At that time, many people were already using the internet, but for many of my peers and I, we only used the internet from school computers. My family got the internet for the first time on a 56k modem (my parents were waiting for that technology to be more economical with monthly rates) during my sophomore year in High School (1998-1999), and it was a very big deal to have access from home (and the phone line being occupied was always a constant issue). I should add, from Middle School on, I grew up in the town of Moraga, middle class suburbia in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For my peers and I, at 15 years old at the end of the 1990s, the internet was very new. Personally I loved to explore the internet and became very fascinated by online design communities coming from forum/portal sites like I also became very fascinated with web design and web programming and taught myself mostly by looking at other people's source code (plus Wired tutorials and code archives always helped). Other things people the same age used the internet for: other forms of creative expression, research, porn, and communicating with other people (this includes email, early social networking forums, and building personal homepages).

The internet and my fascination for web design ate up a lot of my time during high school. When I wasn't using the computer--which I'll stress again, because of the internet was less than healthy in retrospect--I would sometimes be outside, go over to a friend's house, go skateboarding, or go back to doing some of the activities I would do a lot before the internet, such as Legos and drawing.

It wasn't until freshman year in college (2001-2002) that I first learned about AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), and it was from a girl on my dorm hall (who I'd later talk to on AIM even though she lived three doors down). Now, I think I knew a lot about the "cutting edge" in online design, but social communication came a little slow to me. Nonetheless, I think this in itself is quite relevant, as most people don't participate in these communication infrastructures right off the bat, it takes time to catch on. I should add that I quit using AIM at the end of my sophomore year in college because it had become an addiction and it was eating up time which I could use for extra-curriculars and studying. I have only met a few other people in college who have also quit AIM, most students still use it, and it still remains a very large part of their social and personal lives.

I should also add that at this time (in fact I think it was all the way through my junior year in college) there was no massive, campus-wide (and national) addiction to sites like Facebook and MySpace on any scale like we have now. I did have a few friends who used Friendster; but in contrast to the permeating, everyday social-consciousness and colloquial referencing emanating from Facebook and MySpace, Friendster cannot compete. I don't think Facebook and MySpace even existed as they do now either--and if they did, most people didn't know about them yet.

In June of 2004 I first received an email from the website (which seems to be the less-popular and parallel version of the popular, and assumed it was spam. It took a couple of months and talk with friends and my brother to learn that it wasn't spam, and was actually worth joining. At first I was skeptical and found the idea of adding "friends" bizarre, but loved the idea of connecting with friends and loved even more the ability to read profiles and look at pictures of people (the voyeuristic and self-showcasing is great). A few months later, at the end of 2004, I added myself to (which is now just because "everybody" was on that network.

I've remained on Facebook ever since; I can't say I'm addicted but I do have my binge runs now and then. In the single year of 2005, Facebook really exploded with intense campus-wide and nation-wide networking. One of the most interesting experiences I remember with Facebook occurred at the beginning of Summer 2005 when I received a facebook message from a girl who was going to attend UC Santa Cruz in the Fall. I just so happened to be the first person listed in her "social network" (a list of people connected to people you're connected to), and she had decided to message me asking about college. I responded with a lot of tips and info. Amazingly, for that girl, college has had and will always have Facebook as an important part of the college experience. For her, college does not exist without Facebook and online social networking. A few weeks ago I was speaking with a different freshman who had been using Facebook all year and uses the site constantly. She was very surprised to learn that when I began college, Facebook didn't exist... she said she hadn't really thought about it, and assumed it had always been here.

I believe it was in 2005 fellow students really started to join MySpace en-mass. I have a MySpace account but only use it to view people's photos on MySpace when necessary (you can view MySpace profile pages without login). In contrast to Facebook, I believe MySpace has attracted many more people because anyone can join (not just college kids like Facebook), you can really modify (sort-of) the look of your page, and there are many special features. I have to admit, as I don't use MySpace, I can't really speak from "personal experience" but only from observation. Students use MySpace everywhere and all the time. I've seen students using it while sitting in class, doing nothing but looking at the messages people have left for them and looking at photos of their friends and themselves. (...might this be a downside of having wireless internet in classrooms?) References to both Facebook and MySpace also seem to frequently pop-up in dining-hall, party, and meeting conversations.

A few weeks ago I entered upon a group of students discussing the injustice of University officials using photographs and text on Facebook as proof that some students had consumed alcohol and drugs when cited. Most of the students at that meeting seemed visibly upset, and they spoke of drafting a petition on Facebook to try and ban authorities from entering Facebook. To be honest, I find this ridiculous, and it seems to me these students are still learning the consequences of engaging in new social spaces: if you don't want to get in trouble when a photo gets posted, it is really your responsibility to not be in those photos. Facebook also has a "Flyer" function where you can pay to advertise with "flyers" (small banner-ad sized announcements) across a school's network. The "flyering" and the events announcements on Facebook work well, and in some cases, seem to be more effective than physical flyering when people spend an increasing amount time in front of the computer.

It's almost halfway through the year 2006 and these websites continue to thrive with activity. We now also have sites like Flickr, YouTube, GoogleMaps, etc., which are quite different but very much related and in the same vein of internet experience. Facebook continues to grow as well. Fall 2005 they added the ability for students to add unlimited photos, and last week they added connectability to Facebook via cellphone text messages (just type "FBOOK"!) and the ability for users to post "status" messages saying what one is doing at the very moment (in response, I've heard students ask each other why Facebook is trying to be like AIM). Also (I think it was Summer or Fall 2005) Facebook extended their networks into High Schools, and very recently into some USA business and regional network categories (I'm part of the UCSC network and the San Francisco network... and can thus surf profiles of people from different Universities also connected to the San Francisco network, and also find people on the San Francisco network who are connected because their office network is, such as Google.) I think Facebook should add more international networks, they now only have London, Paris, and a few locations in Canada.

What is going on? Due to the internet and online social networking, High School and college experiences--and I'll add, Youth experiences in general--of youth today (right now!) are very different from my High School and part of my college experiences... and I graduated from High School only five years ago! It is important to note that the internet existed while I was in High School and was a younger youth, but that internet experience greatly contrasts the internet experience of current younger youth.

It is the very fast, visible shift in the consciousness of what-is-the-internet, and hence what-is-the-world, among young internet users that tells this tale. In many ways this story can be compared to the story of television's evolution: the television I grew up with (and felt like always existed because it always existed in my world) was very different from the television my parents grew up with. Web "2.0", I'll gather, is one way of expressing a recognition of this new kind of world people inhabit, a physical world constructed by a new version of mediated experience.

And calling it a "2.0" is in some ways relevant, as well. As experienced by the college freshman at UC Santa Cruz, the new version of living with the internet is assumed to be the only way of living with the internet; a consciousness of only a web "1.0" no longer exists.

(Read Trebor Scholz' post which my post was initially written in response to.)