Alice Marwick: [Full interview transcript]

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Alice is a researcher for Microsoft, looking at social media, online identity and consumption. Her dissertation is entitled “Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Self-Branding in Web 2.0” Read Alice’s full bio here…

Click here to watch Alice’s full interview, “Status Update.”

Alice: My name is Alice Marwick, I’m a researcher. I study peoples’ interactions with technology, specifically social media. I came to this space because I worked in the tech industry for the long time, and I was interested in interrogating some of the assumptions that businesses make about users, and studying them from a perspective that wasn’t just about marketing or sales, and really trying to understand what people do and how their interactions with technology affect their everyday lives.

Being a young adult…online

Alice: Young people have grown up with social media technologies. They’re integrated into teenage life in a way that, you know, some adults use them, but certainly not all of them. The expectations for young people that they should be on social media, that they need to be on social media to participate in their peer group, is really wide-spread.

So to be a young person online today means that you have a place online that’s networked but allows you to chat with all your friends and participate in public life. Friends from school, camp, church, whatever. But it also means that all those actions are recorded and are searchable and persistent. So there’s a lot of visibility to teenager interaction now than there would have been twenty years ago. Kids still interacted in the same way, but they did it in the parking lot or in the school hall. Now there’s these online persistent spaces where parents, teachers and government people and law enforcement can see what’s going on, and I think sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, to see the raw realities of young people’s digital life.

Status as currency

Alice: Social status is something that exists, unfortunately, in every community that’s ever been studied since anthropologists and sociologists started studying communities. In every community, you have people who are trying to improve their status or their standing in the eyes of other people. How they do that depends on the community. In some communities, you’ll have intelligence as an extremely highly-valued quality. So in that community you’ll have people studying very hard, or reading a lot of great books or philosophizing out loud. In another community, it might be athletic prowess that’s really valued, so you’ll have people working on that to improve social status. In 20th-century U.S., for the most part, wealth correlated with social status. Especially in the United States, you have a really big drive towards consumer success or capitalist success within that framework, as a way to achieve the top of the heap. Keeping up with the Joneses, post-war consumer economy, all that type of thing.

When you get into the virtual world, what ends up becoming the status is really about attention and visibility. It’s about how much attention you can command and how many people are listening to you. It’s about for you to broadcast your messages out to an interested audience and have those people respond back to you. To sort of become this micro-celebrity model, to become somebody who is looked up to by other people. And that doesn’t necessarily correlate at all with wealth.

It’s not that social currency is new, it’s that it’s expressed differently online because it’s possible, for the first time ever, for ordinary people to have potential audiences of millions. That has never been possible in mass culture, at all. The only people who had access to those types of audiences were celebrities or politicians or people who had access to broadcast media. But now that social media allows for anybody to broadcast their message – I mean, most people, what they put online nobody pays attention to, the average blog has something like six readers or two readers and it’s usually the person’s best friend and their mom. But there’s this ideal, this potentiality of having your YouTube video get 3 million hits, or have something that you wrote online become a viral sensation. I think that things like the Twitter follower count, where you have this metric, this quantification of attention, I think that’s why they appeal so much to people, because it allows them to compare themselves with their friends and see who is able to command the most visibility online.

Summary:

  • Aims to understand interactions with technology beyond marketing potential
  • Social media has made young peoples’ interactions public, which makes people uncomfortable
  • Social status, once linked primarily to wealth, is now about influence and audience
  • Metrics like Twitter followers allow users to evaluate and compare their social status

Read more about Alice on her blog.

 

 

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