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