"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Friday, March 29, 2013

People Watching

People watching is one of my favorite pastimes.   Sipping coffee in a Starbucks in Tokyo afforded me some of the best people watching opportunities in the world.  People fascinate me; I love to observe their behavior.  I'm drawn to the study of literacy because I have learned to view it as a situated practice.  To me,  literacy is  observable behavior and human interaction in an ever-changing context.

These days, I do my people watching on Facebook.  I sip my Starbucks coffee and observe literacy practices through the window of my lap top.  Although I will always miss the sounds and smells of Tokyo, I have become rather addicted to reading Facebook text in all its forms.  People watching has taken on a whole new meaning to me.  If I had to describe what I do now, I would borrow danah boyd's (2010) words and say I have traded atom (physical people) watching for bit (virtual people) watching. 

There's another word for this behavior, it's called lurking.  I'm a lurker.  I recently blogged on another site that lurking is legitimate peripheral participation.  Though lurkers are positioned on the periphery of online action, they are part of the discourse.   On Facebook, lurkers can click the Like button to let Friends know they are "watching" (reading).  I always check to see who Liked my Facebook posts.  I have come to assume lurkers are part of the online audience.  Indeed, lurkers are part of this blog.  

After reading danah boyd's Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications (2010), I went lurkng around her blog and even became her 84,074th Twitter follower.  Maybe that makes us friends in my configured world.  Well, we're not really friends, but I learned a few things about her, and I've become a fan.  If you're interested, this YouTube clip is more of the information in her article.  Dr. Boyd begins speaking around minute 13. Sorry, it's a bit long.

Dr. Boyd discusses her decade+ of ethnographic work studying social media practices of adolescents and adults, how they create their online identities with pictures and posts, and how they configure their audiences through the Friending system.   She likens the trivial, online exchanges about what a person had for breakfast (for example), and the Likes and one word responses it elicits, as a form of social grooming (2010, Youtube).  How very primal that online behavior sounds.   These seemingly shallow conversations confirm for us that our Friends are involved and participating.  They are there with us.  Lack of participation reveals a conspicuous absence, especially with adolescents.  I was curious to find some statistics on how many people use Facebook.  I found this quick YouTube video that provides some amazing data!

I wonder what the future of ethnography will become if we sit at a computer, sipping Starbucks,  to study literacy practices.   Dr. Boyd (2010) reminds us about authenticity,  how easily another person can copy and manipulate information we post, how our public profiles and Facebook walls are also created by Friends who post on it.  I say, at some point, we will need bit-interpreters to help us discern what is authentic and what is re-created.  I'm thinking of authenticity in another sense, too.  To what extent is the bit persona the more authentic version of the person?  How do social media sites empower those who are otherwise overlooked in the atom-ic world?

So much lurking, so little time.  If you're on Facebook, please find and Friend me if I don't find you first.  Thanks for taking the time to read my post.  Susan    


  1. Susan, thank you for posting the danah boyd video. I persisted to the end :-) and I am glad I did. While I will probably reference more of the lecture in a later blog, for now I wanted to comment on the Q&A at the end as her comments underscored our classroom discussions of what is happening in K-12 in terms of NCLB and the "uses" of media (loosely phrased) and how that is going to impact higher education in the near future. Basically, we maybe losing a generation in terms of developing the ability to think critically.... that is scary! To be clear, danah did not see this as a technology problem but as pedagogical problem.

  2. Thank you to both Susans! I enjoyed the blog, the Facebook facts, and went back to view the entire video to hear those last few minutes about schools these days. I wanted Dr. Boyd to keep talking. I needed more about the pedagogical problem. In the high school classrooms we use media quite often, whether it is being used wisely is something to debate. Although I'm not on Facebook and have no presence (outside of this blog), for now I am invisible and comfortable there. Yet in reading and listening to this blog I did learn more about the presences that people are choosing for themselves.

  3. Wonderful post, Susan, as always. Thank you for making me feel a little less paranoid about lurkers! Also, your astute observations about "social grooming" and shallow conversations perfectly parallel Belenky et al.'s notion about gossip: That it is a legitimate form of connected knowing. They distinguish "gossiping with" (connected) from "discoursing to" (separate). Gossip "starts with trust by telling how I responded to the news rather than the news itself." It assumes the "other has something good to say." It is non judgmental...Sounds a lot like social grooming!

  4. I'm always fascinated (maybe not fascinated, but interested to the point of telling my son or daughter about it) at how words are hijacked to have other definitions. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not. Lurking used to have negative connotations, and still does in most usage. I have a tendency to hijack words myself, and people I talk to have to 'learn' them. There's a criminal case going on right now, and I just refer to the defendant as the 'whack job'. My family and friends now know who I'm talking about, although my husband doesn't want to hear anything else about it. Gossip as discourse is an interesting concept, Dr. Muth. The other having something good to say wasn't something I considered when using the word. To quote Olympia Dukakis in Steel Magnolias, "If you don't have anything good to say about anyone, come sit next to me." Just kidding, though. Positive gossip is talking in my world - gossip is negative. I am SO out of touch with word usage.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.