Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Question(able) Mashup

I started this as a response to Kim’s great post about LinkedIn and it began getting away from her original point. So with credit to Kim for starting this…it’s ended up as a mashup response to questions 1, 2, 3 and 5.

I use LinkedIn as a website for my consulting business. It has everything that I would put on a website and I don't have to host it. To date, I don't know if I have received work from it, but I have reconnected with people from previous work settings and that's been useful. It’s also provided people who have me foisted on them with, “We’ve retained Judith to help us out, so work with her,” with a quick and easy way to find out a bit about me. 

So it has created a way for people to connect with my presentation of myself on the Internet – my mediated self – as well as allowed people to interact with me.  This allows us to share information with each other and by doing so – through the act of communication – we create a new narrative about ourselves and our ‘life’ together. In doing so, we make up the text and to it we add a richness of other media – photos, links to videos we or others have created, podcasts – in my case, reports I’ve written which clients have posted – etc. My ‘audience’ co-creates this narrative with me: When they link with me, the act of connecting adds information about me to members of my audience, which in turn tells members of their audience something more about them. This is one of the less obvious strengths of LinkedIn and what makes it much more than an online resume service.

Then, if and when we add further connections through Facebook and Twitter, we extend ‘our’ new media narrative arc further and build thicker connections. Facebook is episodic and can be trivial, but over time, it allows people who otherwise would never share a photo or be able to quickly post a link to an article they found meaningful to do so. One photo or article doesn’t tell us much about anyone and is not a narrative in and of itself for the most part, but a year of postings begin to form a powerful story about the individual (or corporation or organization on sponsored pages) and their connections, their personality, their family and friends, etc. Facebook also gives people an opportunity to actively participate in other people’s narratives in almost real time. When we cleaned up my mother in law’s home after she could no longer live independently, we found folders of clippings from newspapers, some with her children’s names on top, some with a note to herself about what she found meaningful. It was lovely and very sweet, but tinged with the yellowing of old newsprint and almost as out of context as the grade six essays she had also secreted away. We had not been able to participate with her in the story she was creating with the artifacts she kept and that was sad, especially as the onset of Alzheimer’s meant that we were never likely to know what she was thinking about some of the mementoes she had kept. Facebook or something like it would have put that narrative into the daily lives of her family and deepened their interactions.  

Twitter feeds add another dimension to the new media narrative. With their 140 character restriction, by necessity they become the callout box or headline within the larger narrative, often linking the reader to another part of the story that they might otherwise miss. 

So think of LinkedIn as the beginning of the narrative of my professional life. It starts with my resume/biography. Others add to my story through their attachment to me and extend my story into theirs. Facebook adds an additional dimension to my narrative; for me, the addition of a friends and family layer. In turn, I visibly add to their narrative. My Twitter feed adds headlines to what I may be posting on Facebook or adding to LinkedIn. So this has become a much richer narrative than anything I could have created on my own.

Bruner tells us that “An individual’s working intelligence is never solo. It cannot be understood without taking into account his or her reference books, data bases and network of friends, colleagues or mentors on whom one leans for help and advice” (1991, p.3). The new media narrative makes our ‘working intelligence’ very visible and accessible. This full-on look inside us is further enhanced by the visual nature of the new mediums – we know each other not just by our words but by the photo we post of ourselves and the video links, etc. For example, if you go to this link, you can see what I look like with short hair

Bruner (1991) also points out that narrative requires a negotiated role between the storyteller and the reader. This remains true in the new media narrative, but because of the additional opportunities for the storyteller and reader to connect, the negotiations become more frequent and complex. “Will I connect with you on LinkedIn? I might connect with you there, but I won’t become your Friend on Facebook. Sure, you can see what I post on Twitter; I reveal very little of my ‘self’ in that medium, so the privacy issue barrier is lower.” This dialogue occurs daily as we all construct a new, mediated narrative.

The question was what happens to text, product and authorship in a Web 2.0 world? Clearly the definitions are shifting and the lines become blurred between the three. The point I would make in relation to that blurring and narrative is that the stories that define our societies and shape our reality don’t really have authors either. Who really ‘authored’ the story about star-crossed lovers by which we learn that love conquers all? We no longer know because it began so long ago. The same thing occurs in a hyperlinked fashion over a much shorter time span in a Web 2.0 world.

The new media narrative is thick and authentic. Our preexisting relations are enriched by the additional contact we can easily have with friends and family (Benckler, 2006, p. 357). This contact is composed of a richer mix of data than it would have been if we were communicating by letter or telephone because we can so easily add photos, audio and video clips and links to others. This lends it what Shaffer refers to as thick authenticity, which he says ‘computational media’ is particularly adept at enabling.   

New media technologies power and enrich our narratives. They expose our working intelligence and enrich our existing relationships, lending them authenticity along the way. Through our linkages, our following and friending, we author and edit and define each other’s identity and working intelligence. Others on this blog have called for more education in media literacy. This new reality demands it. While it is arguable whether our personal narrative is less our own than it ever was, it isn’t arguable that it is more widely shared and nuanced. 

Benckler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. Pp. 356-377. New Haven, CT, London UK: Yale University Press.
Bruner, J. (1991). The narrative construction of reality. Critical Inquiry 18 (Autumn 1991).
Shaffer, D. (1999). “Thick” authenticity: New media and authentic learning. Jl. Of Interactive Learning Research (1999) 10(2), 192 – 215.

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