SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University Library.
LEE HUMPHREYS: Good afternoon, welcome, and I just want to say thank you for coming today to join us for a short talk about some of my research. So I am a mobile scholar. So a mobile scholar-- mobile media, mobile phones-- this is what I've been studying for about 15 years. And some of my early work looked at things like this.
So this is a photo, actually, that I took as part of my fieldwork of two guys sitting at an outdoor café, one person on a cell phone. So this was from 2002. And at the time, this was the major concern about mobile phone use-- was that people were rude in public. And this was a very big deal in 2002.
People were talking loudly on their phone, and society was going to hell in a handbasket because of this technology. Today, what people might be concerned with about mobile phones looks a little bit more like this-- the quintessential photo of the selfie, which represents our concerns about our society and this ever-growing perceived narcissism that these kinds of technologies both enable, and potentially exacerbate.
And there's a whole host of concerns about these. They have turned into jokes. So selfies are not just-- they don't just stay on the phone, but they are then shared through various social media platforms. And the concern about social media platforms is that it, again, feeds this kind of narcissism. So Facebook is "like me." Twitter's "listen to me." LinkedIn is "hire me." It's all about "me" promotion, in some kind of way.
So no longer are people falling in love with, like Narcissus, their reflection in the pond. Instead, they are falling in love with their Instagram posts and the number of likes that they get, et cetera. But my goal today is to try to convince you that mobile media and social media are not the roots of this narcissism, but in fact part of a much longer history of people using communication media to document their lives, and to share it with others.
So how did I get here? As I said, I study mobile communication-- things like this. But when I started studying it, it didn't look like this. It looked like that. So at the time, this was the smartest technology available. So that was from, again, 2001, 2002.
That was a crazy expensive phone, and I got to get one as part of my research. And at the time, I was studying a technology called Dodgeball. And what Dodgeball was was a way for people to use their mobile phones to share their locations. So I'm at Mann Library. I'm at the Chat in the stacks book talk.
And my question was, why on Earth would people do this? Why on Earth would anyone want to use a mobile phone to share their location with people? So I did research around questions of motivations, privacy, the various issues that would come up around sharing your location.
And I want to take you through one of the participants that I worked with, and his name is Nick. And actually, before I do that, let me just show you-- so Dodgeball-- which was the name of the company-- they were integrated with Google Maps. So this is a map of Madison, Wisconsin, which is where I was when I was writing my dissertation research.
And the red dot right here is where I checked in. it was a bar in Madison. And the blue pins are where my people in my network checked in-- my friends. And then the red one is where we both checked in. Oh, no, green is where we both checked in.
And so here, one of the things that it turns out participants really liked was to have a map of all of their check-ins over a month, a year, et cetera. And having that kind of visual representation of their social gatherings was of great value to them, and something that this app offered them that they hadn't ever had before.
So Nick-- Nick was a very active user of this technology, and Nick lived in New York. Actually, more precisely, he lived in Brooklyn. However, when I asked him to show me his map, it had a number of check-ins on the Upper West Side. And Nick was very dismayed by this, because he self-identified as a Lower East Side kind of guy.
And for those of you who may or may not know Manhattan, the Upper West Side tends to be a more residential area of this city, whereas the Lower East Side is a very hip, younger, lots of restaurants, lots of bars. So he was very upset that all of his social check-ins were on the Upper West Side, and he went to great lengths to explain to me why he wasn't an Upper West Side kind of guy, and that he really was a Lower East Side kind of guy, despite the fact that he lived in Brooklyn and he worked in Chelsea.
So I was really fascinated at this notion of how this came to be that his map did not represent who he thought he was, and again, the extent to which he had to go to explain to me why there was this discrepancy. So then in 2007, Twitter came along. And Twitter-- at the time, it was South by Southwest, which is a major tech conference in Austin, Texas every year. There was a lot of hubbub about how Twitter had taken over Dodgeball at the time.
And so I started studying Twitter, because again, I thought, who on Earth would ever use this technology? And one of the top things-- that you may or may not remember-- but at the time, Twitter was referred to as a micro blog. And that term does not exist anymore, but at the time it did. And so I started studying blogging. And then before blogging, there was a lot of work comparing blogs to journals.
And if you go back far enough in the history of journaling, and particularly if you look at feminist historians, there are really important parallels between Twitter and historical diaries. First of all, throughout much of the 19th century, in the United States, journals were shared. They were not the private, little books with locks on it into which we pour our innermost thoughts and feelings. No, they were often just chronicling the events of the day.
It rained. We planted corn. The baby was born. We went to church. Next day-- it rained. We planted corn. The baby died. We went to church, right? So the same kinds of everyday experiences were documented in these journals, and they were often shared.
So women, when they got married and moved away from their parents, would keep journals just about the events of the day, and send them home to their parents as a means of maintaining kin connections. When people would come visit, you might get your journal out and go through it with them together. When husbands and wives-- if the husband traveled, they would send their journals back and forth and write in the margins of them.
The other important thing that happened in the mid-19th century were advances in paper production, where the journals themselves changed. They shrunk. They got smaller. And these were called pocket diaries. They still exist.
And so these were maybe 2 to 3 inches in size, and small enough that you could put in your pocket-- or in your waistband of your skirt-- and take them with you. So you could-- we would call it now-- chronicle in real time, as opposed to just chronicling at the end of the day. And this was incredibly important for a couple of different reasons.
So one-- one of the things that it did is by shrinking the page, turned out that journalists-- and by that, I mean anyone who kept a journal-- loved it. Having smaller pages-- people loved. And I often equate it to the difference between sitting down to a blank Word document-- for those of us who do lots of writing as part of our work-- versus sitting down to a Post-it note.
There's no pressure to write at a Post-it note, but when you sit down to that page about of a Word document, you kind of feel like you have to fill that page. And so it turned out that these journalists-- or diarists-- loved having smaller pages, because it meant that they didn't have to write as much. Of course, they could fill the whole book, but they took the constraint of the size as an opportunity to write less.
And you might remember that some of the earliest adopters of Twitter were, in fact, bloggers. So part of what blogging offered was unlimited length. Unlike newspapers or magazines, which were always constrained, blogging on the internet-- you could write as much as you want.
Well, that's really stressful, right? So all of a sudden, you go to Twitter, 140 characters, I can do that! So in fact, that technological limitation was incredibly liberating in the same way that writing dates on pages-- you don't have to write about that date, but people took it as an opportunity to do that.
Same with lines on pages. You don't have to write between the lines. You can write like this. But we don't. We take it as an opportunity to use the technology in a particular way. And this was a very helpful way for me to think about Twitter.
So now I have a quiz for you all. Some of you may have seen this quiz before, but it's this question about can you tell the difference between a tweet and a diary entry. So we're going to do a show of hands. The first entry is, "I must say I find this weather to be very disagreeable." How many of you think it is a tweet? How many of you think it is a diary entry? That's a tweet.
"Cold disagreeable day. Felt very badly all day long and lay on the sofa all day. Nothing took place worth noting." How many of you think it's a tweet? Yeah, you're gun-shy now, right? How many of you think of it as a diary entry? That is a diary entry from 1792.
"Had an early morning today. Went for breakfast at Mr Teh Tarik, passed invitation card to my youngest aunt, and visited my Grandma." How many of you think it's a tweet? How many of you think it's a diary entry? That's a tweet.
"Fidelia Mirick here visiting to-day." How many of you think it's a tweet? How many of you think it's a diary entry? So this is a diary entry, and I'll just give you a clue why. The giveaway is no one would waste a character on a hyphen on Twitter. That's how you know it's a diary entry.
So I had done the Dodgeball and the mobile work, and I had moved to Twitter, and now all of a sudden this diary work, and I tried to put them all together. And taken together, what I want to suggest is this idea of what I call media accounting. And media accounting can be defined as the media practices that allow us to catalog our lives and to share it with others
OK, so what kinds of things are media accounting platforms? Baby books are media accounting platforms. And in fact, baby books are such a great example, because there's a lot of hubbub today about how social media-- other people are posting things about you, and they're going to haunt you forever. Well, I can tell you that baby books are not created by babies.
There's a great archive at UCLA of baby books, and I will tell you two things. One, they are almost always for first children, not second or third, and they are almost always incomplete, because once that child starts moving, you don't have time to document them anymore, right? But here, we see that the baby book-- interestingly, again-- is as much about the baby as it is about the parent who creates that book.
And this is what media accounting is about. It's not just about ourselves. It's about our families, our friends, the world around us that we create and represent through our media traces-- so diaries, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn-- all of these things enable people to document their lives and to share it with others.
Now, there's a lot of other stuff going on on these platforms as well, but a lot of really ordinary and mundane things that people are doing, whether it be tweeting about their breakfast or shooting a photo on Instagram of their walk home, or their adorable dog-- all of that is media accounting. So I want to suggest that media accounting can be understood in three kinds of ways-- an account, accounting as a process, and accountability.
So the important thing about an account is that it's very often tied to an identity. We can think about bank accounts. Bank accounts-- they can be shared. An organization can have a bank account, but it is still tied to some kind of identity. And media accounting are often tied to identities.
The other aspect-- so this is my old profile on Dodgeball-- very old. But the other aspect of an account is that it's subjective. So to give someone's account of something means to give their perspective. It is not the entirety of an event or a situation. It is just one person's take on it-- or maybe a couple people's take on it. It is a subjective account-- as all accounts are.
That said, accounting and accounts are also evidentiary. They become evidence of events, activities, sometimes even characters. So a photo can be evidence of a happy family. Before and after shots can be evidence of change. That is actually incredibly difficult to see in our lived experience.
Again, baby books are evidence that we really were that small at that point in time. Accounts can also be evidence that we really did meet that celebrity, or the pope. And increasingly, social media-- posts, profiles, et cetera-- are used as evidence in court cases as much as they are as evidence of will this person be a good employee? Will this person be a good romantic partner? All of these traces are evidence of a person's character, their behavior, et cetera.
Media accounting also has an aspect of accountability. We are accountable for the traces we create, but we are also accountable to bear witness to the traces of others. So I remember very strongly, when my grandfather came back from China in the '80s, having to sit through a slideshow of his trip to China, which included lots of mountains and buildings, and very few people.
And it was excruciating for an 8-year-old, I will say. But why do we do it? A, I hadn't been to China, so it was a learning experience for me. But more importantly, because of my relationship with my grandfather. That's why we all sat there for an hour and a half and went through the slide show with him-- because we love him, and we respect him, and we care about him.
And now there's an accountability to bear witness to the traces of others on Facebook, right? We have an obligation-- if someone has a baby and you scroll and you don't like that photo, you have an obligation to bear witness. And what does that liking do? It is registering "I saw this," right? Because without that Like button, people don't know whether or not you saw it or not.
That's one of the functions of those. Yes, it's to give emotional support, but it's also to say, I saw this-- which is why my mother always comments on every single post that I make. She's bearing witness to me, because she loves me. It doesn't matter what the post is about. It's about our relationship.
So these together, I think, help us to think about this larger media practice that we engage in, in a very mundane kind of way. First day at school pictures, holiday pictures-- all of these kinds of moments that we engage in and document as a means of reinforcing-- in particular family relationships, and the family unit more broadly.
But one of the things that taking this historical perspective allows us to do is to really identify the differences. What is different that I'm no longer just doing this kind of media accounting in a photo album, for example? What does it mean that I'm doing it on networked technologies?
There are a couple of important differences. One is the potential size of the audience is significantly different. Before, where it was semi-public, you generally knew who had access to your media accounting. But today, you generally have a sense of it, but it could go much broader.
The other important difference is, of course, the degree of interactivity. As much as people would send diaries back and forth, the time lag was significantly longer. Now it's pretty much almost real-time-- as often as you look at your phone, it is, right? And these are important differences.
I want to suggest, however, that historically, one way to think about it is that, oh, it's just commercial now, and it wasn't before. So I would like to just briefly talk about Kodak. So Kodak, you could argue, was the Google of the 20th century. It was the technology brand in everyone's home in the United States.
And one of the early things about these cameras is that you would use the camera and the film, and then you would send the film-- very early on in the 20th century-- back to Kodak. You couldn't just take it to the drugstore. At that time, it had to go back to Kodak-- which meant that Kodak had all the access to all of the photos that were being taken with their products.
They would then develop the film for you and send you the prints, as well as more film back. The biggest difference between Kodak and Facebook is not access to all of our content. It's what they do with that.
Kodak makes its money from its technology and its service. Facebook makes 98% of its revenue from advertising, which means they take the access that they have to all of our content, match it with the metadata, to then better serve us ads on their platform. This is the major difference between contemporary, networked social media platforms and historical, social media accounting technologies.
Another important aspect of understanding contemporary media accounting has to do with this dualistic metaphor of the network and the cloud. So Facebook is the photo sharing platform of today. More photos are shared through Facebook than any other platform. And why? It's because phones have limited memory, so they just upload photos to Facebook, and that becomes the repository of these images.
So we tell our students whatever you post on Facebook is going to haunt you forever. And yet if Facebook goes away, where will all your memories be? So there's this weird dualism between it's going to haunt you forever, but you don't actually own it, and it could disappear as soon as the technology goes away.
So one of the things that we're seeing is what I call a post-digital turn. So there are a number of services available to us-- like Social Print Studio-- where their commitment-- here's what we can promise-- simple ordering process, beautiful prints that will outlast your device, and shipping to wherever you are in the world. We're still working on lassoing the moon. Another one is something called My Social Book. So build the book of your life that will last forever. We automatically capture your life from your Facebook and Instagram accounts and turn them into a keepsake book.
They have one-- this is my favorite. It's called The Lover, where they take two people's profiles individually. And then, as they turned into "in a relationship"-- and then, when they got engaged-- and then the wedding book. And so they seamlessly merge your social media profiles into a beautiful coffee table book.
So what does this point to? This points to that dualism, right? You have them on your phone. Other people have them on your phone. And yeah-- it's of these major life events-- baby books, weddings, et cetera. It is so important to have a book, which holds and captures your memories, in part, because you have so many photos that these books become incredible and important keepsakes.
And because of their analog nature-- their singularity-- there is an important gift value in them. So there's lots of photo books. I have given many photo books as Christmas albums, right? And the two-for-one deal is always such a nice aspect of these. But there's an incredible amount of labor that actually goes into creating these books.
So what are some of the implications? So the implication I want to talk about first is the title of the book, which is The Qualified Self. And the qualified self is meant to capture that sense of self that comes from engaging with the media traces that we create. We are incredibly influenced-- much like Nick, right? Remember Nick and his map? He was represented in that map. And so he got very uncomfortable when he thought the map didn't represent him.
We go to great lengths to have our representations of ourselves-- whether it be our posts or our profiles-- accurately-- "accurately"-- represent us. And we know, overall, that there's a positivity bias in language throughout the world. So it's no surprise that there's a positivity bias in the way that we try to represent ourselves. Just in the same way-- there's a positivity bias in the way that we have created photo albums for a long time. We want the nice photos. We want the ones that make us look good and feel good about ourselves and our families.
So many of you may be familiar with the notion of the quantified self. This is an image of a Fitbit, which becomes the emblematic nature of tracking your steps each day and making sure that you're quantifying and having measurable results around your various behaviors. But what I want to suggest is that the qualified self is actually another form of data, but not a quantified form of data.
But these traces we use to both understand ourselves, our relationships, and the world around us. So we have, for example, Facebook's Year-in-Review. So this is where they take all of your images from the year algorithmically. They make the ones that garnered the most likes or comments feature most prominently in your video.
So this year, my daughter was in a duck costume for Halloween. Halloween is clearly my fourth or fifth ranked holiday that I love. And yet, this image featured so prominently in my video. And so, again, there was this weird juxtaposition where, this is not my year. And yet, because that image featured so prominently algorithmically, it was told to me that this was the most important event of my year.
There are a number of different-- this TimeHop, which is an app, which will use various social media posts to prompt you. Here's what you did today four years ago on social media. And people really actually enjoy these. There's a sense of nostalgia-- assuming that the post was positive. If your ex-husband comes up-- forget about it, right? But generally, people have positive aspects of these.
And what I want to do is contrast that to this. So this is a photo-- it's a frame, which you could buy at Walmart. I think you still can, if you go to Walmart.com. But this, to me, is about the aggregation of information over time. So this is-- oh, it's a little blurry. Sorry about that.
But as you can see, they're wallet-sized photos around the outside of every year from 1st to 12th grade of this woman's life. The discipline that goes into creating this-- to remember to prepare your child for Picture Day every year, to remember to order the pictures every year, and to retain the pictures. This is 12 years of work that goes into this.
And very often, it's the mother's work, right? A lot of this media accounting for children falls on women to do. And it's in this aggregation of data that we can see things about this young woman-- about her smile, about her personality emerging. This is the qualified self. This is not quantified. But we still learn, through the aggregation of these images over time.
And whoops! Sorry. This is a very common thing now on Instagram. Lots of people will track the progress of their child, particularly in the first 12 months where, every month, they take a picture of their child in the same position. And the number represents the month of how old that child is.
We see this with pregnancy. Again, it's a change that happens, actually, over a relatively short amount of time. And yet, it's very difficult to see and understand in one's lived experience. And these photos enable us to see and capture change that we actually can't in our lived experience.
This is another common thing on social media, where adult children will recreate photos from their past. And so what are they doing? They're not only documenting change, they are reinforcing the fact of the family unit. To be able to recreate these photos means they must like each other enough to have that guy's feet right next to their face, right?
They are reinforcing the family as much as documenting change. How much has changed? And yet, how little has changed in the family? So what I want to do-- I just want to share this diary. So I grew up on a dairy farm about two hours from here. And you can tell that this is a farmer's journal, because-- I don't know if you can see at the bottom. It says, hay-- 1 and 1/2 and two loads hay.
This is not big data. 1, 1 and 1/2, 2-- not big data. But what farmers and women have done for a long time is to document everyday events, activities, work, to be able to see trends over a season-- over years-- again, not big data. This is qualified self. This is the amount of work.
And I will say, a load and a 1/2 of hay-- if you bail it and if you ted it and make it bail it and put it in the barn. And that's a lot of work. Little n-- a lot of work. But we tend to romanticize the past. Women, historically, when they wrote in diaries, were not writing about themselves. They were writing about their communities. They were writing about their children. They were writing about very mundane things.
But that's what we do. These are our lives. And it's only the extraordinary that occasionally happens. It's the 1 and 1/2 loads. It's the "who came to dinner." It's the "what did I buy at the store?" Those are, in fact, the ways that we document our lives. And it's of great interest to those who we care about.
When we read our grandfather's journals and we're like-- oh! He had eggs for breakfast. That's awesome! I have eggs for breakfast. We see ourselves in the traces of others. And so I hope that part of what I've done today is to try to expand our understanding of what people are doing on social media, what people have been doing with media-- broadly defined-- historically, to help us understand this larger sense of media in our lives and our ability to use it to connect with others.
So thank you. This is my website. Oh, it crossed off Humphreys. But I have other things about the book up there-- on there-- if you have any questions or want any additional information. But thank you for coming this afternoon.
SPEAKER 2: So we have lots of time for questions. And Jenny's going to come around with the microphone. So if you have a question for Lee, just raise your hand, and Jenny will come.
AUDIENCE: I don't want to be the first one, but-- I know you are not a cybersecurity person. But how credible-- not the accountability only-- how credible are these accounts, knowing that people may not use their real names? So how do we know what's credible, what's not? Thank you.
LEE HUMPHREYS: So this question on social media about credibility and whether or not something is real or not real-- this is a huge issue. And Facebook is trying to deal with it. And Twitter is trying to deal with it. A number of platforms are trying to figure it out. And I don't think I have the answer for you about this.
Because it's one of those things-- as long as there is a platform that enables an audience and enables the ability to persuade and influence, you are going to have people who try to mess with it. This is one of the-- the term of the internet is often described as the generativity of the internet. It's a very open system. And part of this open system allows for people to create wonderful things with it.
But, like any public good or common good, it also can be used for malintention. And so I don't think there's a clear way to say, it's true. It's not. It's verified. It's not. Because a couple of different things happen. So you do have these trolls. You do have Russian bots that are trying to come in and infiltrate.
But one of the really interesting things about Facebook is that they have really tried to tie it to an identity-- more so than Twitter. Twitter is much more open. I think I have, like, four or five Twitter accounts-- for different classes. I'm not trying to do illicit activities. It's all for good reasons. But I can't have that on Facebook.
They're trying to control it. And yet, it is so much bigger. And 80% of its users are outside of this country. And it just is a very complex system that they-- the ideal of how it began as something to connect people-- has just moved well beyond it. And I think that scale is incredibly difficult to manage, when it comes to the verifiability.
AUDIENCE: Hi, professor. I really liked your talk. And my question for you is-- how big of a role do you think media plays in influencing our opinions or raising stereotypes and biases? And what do you think the media should do to alleviate these issues?
LEE HUMPHREYS: In terms of biases among representations-- so there's a couple of interesting things. So in terms of the argument of the book, I think there's a really strong normative function that occurs, particularly on social media platforms today. And part of this has to do with-- the visibility of media accounting today is much bigger than it was, because I'm not just connected to my close friends. I'm connected to a bunch of people that I knew 15, 20 years ago. And then, if it weren't for Facebook, I would have no communication with them.
So I think, as a result, there's kind of a bandwagon effect that occurs around representations, which is incredibly problematic if you do not fit that mold. So an example is Mother's Day. Mother's Day-- everyone goes on Facebook-- love you, Mom! Love you! Happy Mother's Day to the best mom in the world! But everyone posts that on social media.
Why did they post it on social media as opposed to just calling? They do it because they're performing their positive relationship with their mother. And they know, their mother's going to see it and all of this stuff. But what happens if you have an estranged relationship with your mother? What happens if your mother recently passed away?
What happens in all of those aspects when, all of a sudden, you go on Facebook and you see all of these messages, and they just drive in the fact that you don't have that? That can be incredibly problematic. And so I think, that normative function that happens can have important effects on people that is really difficult.
And so, I guess, because it's about self-representation, as opposed to movies or television, where I think those are different media representations-- because they're often self-representations, there is this very tacit norming effect, which can be quite problematic if you don't have a life that fits that.
AUDIENCE: --very close to my question, which is about privacy-- being private versus the public. I maintain that it's very difficult today for any individual to be totally private.
LEE HUMPHREYS: Yes-- so I have a bunch of ideas on this. And in fact, I write about it in the book. So I think this notion of private and public-- to make them dichotomous is probably incorrect. I think that you can think of them more on a continuum between more private and less private or more public and less public. Because what I want to suggest-- I just want to give this example.
So in the end of the 19th century, it was very common for parents to read their children's diaries aloud to the family at night. So as we think about public and private-- so I often talk about how, if my personal phone number were to be projected, where would I rather have it projected-- on Times Square or at Wegmans? I always say, Times Square, because there's so much going on.
It really doesn't matter. And no one in Times Square knows me anyways. But do I want my cell phone projected at Wegmans? No! I don't want students to be able to text me. I only want certain-- you know. So this notion of what is public and what is private-- I think, it's really important to understand the context. And as we think about where privacy violations can occur, it has to do with the moment-- and the notion is contextual integrity.
What is the way in which I originally conceived of this information being shared? You can bet that kids knew-- knowing that their parents were going to be reading their diaries aloud, wrote it in a particular way. This notion of public and private-- when two people own a piece of very private information, it's often-- it's not individual. It's collective. Lots of families have lots of private things, which are known collectively. If it goes outside the family, that can be problematic.
But this notion of a singular person's privacy is, I think, a very blunt way of understanding something that's incredibly complex and often incredibly social. And the context in which information is disclosed and shared can matter much more. For a lot of kids, they don't mind if their friends see what they put on Facebook. They don't want their parents seeing.
So it's privacy from whom-- is an important aspect. There are certain things that I might not want my employer knowing about what I do. There might be some instances where I don't want my students to know or I don't want my mother to know. That audience often matters more than just public or private. And I think, the diaries-- again-- help us to think about this.
AUDIENCE: How do you fence it in?
LEE HUMPHREYS: How do you fence it in? Well, sometimes, you don't fence it in. Sometimes, you put it up on Times Square. Sometimes, you put it out on social media. And depending on how you do it, it can-- there's this notion of publicly private and privately public.
And the notion of privately public is that people share incredibly personal health information online every single day in public forums. And it is incredibly beneficial to them, because they're part of an online community that provides social support to them. Because, for whatever reason, in their social or geographic network, they can't get that support. But it's not always tied to their identity. Maybe it's Lee H. Maybe it's something else. And so it's a way for them to be incredibly public but in a private way.
AUDIENCE: I want to thank you for your comparison of diaries and tweet. But could you take it into courtship and dating? You know-- the old fashioned courtship versus online dating-- and what's similar across the centuries? And what's really changed?
LEE HUMPHREYS: Well--
--it's interesting to think about, again, the role of technology in this. So actually my PhD advisor wrote a book about the history of the introduction of the telephone into people's houses. And this was, in fact, a huge-- talk about privacy infraction. Actually, it was a comparison of the telephone and the electric light bulb. And both had huge privacy implications for the home.
Because all of a sudden, people could call daughters and have conversations with daughters outside of the surveillance of fathers. And because there's only one phone-- so you couldn't necessarily listen in. And this was incredibly problematic and very concerned about the welfare of these young women. There's this quote in it where she picks up the phone. And someone says, why, Miss Dalia, will you marry me? And she goes, oh, yes! Of course, I will. And who's calling?
So this idea about the social vulnerability of women in particular is always a great social concern. But that technology, for a long time, had played with surveillance, access, control. The same thing about the automobile-- all of a sudden, it became a technology for young people to have a private space in which to interact outside of the supervision of parents. And you can imagine what went on in those cars, right? I would hope you could imagine.
Anyways-- so I think technologies have, for a long time, enabled-- and it's often youth-- trying to gain autonomy in a highly surveillance world, where we don't let kids interact outside of adult supervision very often. And so, I think that's part of what's happening.
And there's a lot of interesting research on various dating apps and things like that-- dating services. I think, one of the real values of dating services and online dating services is that people don't necessarily want to date their friends' friends. Because if something goes bad, you never want to have to see that person again. And if you're dating someone within your social network, you will likely run into them again. And that can be awkward.
So there's this paper. It's called "The Strength of No Ties." And it's this idea that there's great value, from a mating or courting perspective, to reach outside of our social networks, when everything else is about gaining resources within our social networks. Dating is one where you want to reach outside. And I think these apps and these services somewhat allow for that. Yep?
AUDIENCE: It's a very fascinating talk. And my personal experience is that-- previously, I also post a lot of things on the social media. But I found that it took me too much time. And I keep on checking what my friends' feedback and response is. So my question is, the social media is a very useful tool to sharing with our friends. But could it also be a kind of cage, which trap ourselves inside? Thank you.
LEE HUMPHREYS: I think that's a really good question-- in part, because there's a lot of talk about people-- as part of the narcissism argument. You're always going back and checking. Did I get a like? Did I get a like? Did I get a like? And part of what I argue is that these platforms are multi-billion dollar industries-- multi-billion dollar. So last year, Facebook made about $27 billion in advertising.
And what are some of their key metrics? Their key metrics are active users and time spent online. What constitutes an active user? Checking-- going back and checking. And there's been some really interesting technological changes that Facebook has-- and Twitter. Their notifications feature used to, in an email, tell you what the content of the notice was.
Jeff tagged you in a photo. Sahara commented on your picture. Now, they do not say that. They just say, you have a notification. And why? Because they want you to go onto the app or onto the website and check, because that is an important metric that they report to their shareholders. The amount of time, the number of times people go to their app-- those are all key indicators of Facebook's success.
So of course, Facebook wants to keep you in that cage. Of course they do. That's how they make their money. And so it's this really interesting spin. But of course, much of the public discourse has been about narcissism. Oh, aren't you terrible that you're going and checking? Well, you're checking, because there's a little red number on your phone that says, you have something to check. And we check, because we're looking for social connection.
So I think it's unfair when we say that people are narcissistic or that they can't control themselves or they're addicted, when they are actively being sucked in to these apps and services by these platforms, because that's how they make money. Thank you. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University Library.
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Sharing our mundane details of daily life did not start with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. For centuries, people have used pocket diaries, photo albums, and baby books to catalog and share their lives with family and friends. Has social media made us more narcissistic, or have these new media technologies allowed us to pursue more meaningful ways to express ourselves?
In a Chats in the Stacks book talk at Mann Library, Lee Humphreys presents her new book, The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life MIT Press. Applying a rich historical perspective on popular culture, Humphreys’ research explores the social uses and perceived effects of communication technology, mobile phone use in public spaces, and emerging norms on mobile social networks.
Lee Humphreys is an Associate Professor in Communication at Cornell University. She studies the social uses and perceived effects of communication technology. Recently her research examines historical media practices, privacy, and mobile media. Professor Humphreys received her Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 and joined the Cornell faculty in 2008, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses that explore the role and impact of communication technology on public life and also trains students in the use of qualitative research methods. Prof. Humphrey’s research has appeared in such journals as Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, and the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. She is an Associate Editor of Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, and serves on the editorial board of several other journals in the communication field.