social networking – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Anti-Social? The Classic Aesthetic of The Social Network Thu, 14 Oct 2010 15:32:40 +0000 The biggest fiction in the popular press about the film dubbed “the Facebook movie” is that it is, in fact, about Facebook. The Social Network, the newest film from Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher, may be one of the few to take social media as its subject, but its success lies in its adherence to traditional film values. It is a very well crafted traditional film drama about an isolated genius’ innovation and his struggle to create a cultural phenomenon while navigating a social and political landscape he doesn’t fully understand and while engaging in some cut-throat tactics in pursuit of his goal. Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg is a tragic hero, a promethean figure who brings fire (or Facebook) to the masses but at great personal cost.

Much of the popular press discourse on the film seems to have taken up the notion of a “real” Facebook origin story or the “real” Mark Zuckerberg as the yardstick with which to measure the film. The Wiklevoss twins have claimed on CNN that the film was accurate; Zuckerberg predictably claimed that it wasn’t. A Washington Post story argued that the film’s greatest liberties were not taken with Zuckerberg’s character, although such changes as making him a loner when he has been with the same girlfriend since 2003 were made, but with the realities of Facebook’s innovation which the article argues was not a work of sole genius but part of the more complex nexus of culture that is really behind any invention. Sorkin himself is at least partially culpable for this narrative of truth or fiction that has surrounded the film since he has stoked it in his own press appearances. On the Colbert Report Sorkin insisted that it was a “non-fiction” film that shows multiple perspectives and possible “truths” of the history of Facebook’s origin and the lawsuits brought against its founder.

However, focusing on whether or not The Social Network has the veracity of a documentary or is as “non-fiction” as an Oliver Stone bio-pic largely encourages a focus on the idea of the movie, rather than on the movie itself and the significant influence that authorial imprint has on the final product. A New York Times article on the film claims that viewer response to the film divides generationally. Older people, it claims, will see “a cautionary tale about a callous young man,” while younger viewers “will applaud someone who saw his chance and seized it.” From the generation that not only brought us Gordon Gecko but seized upon his mantra “greed is good,” such a supposed generation gap is astonishing. Ultimately, it also misses the point.

The Zuckerberg of The Social Network is a callous, or at the very least socially oblivious, young innovator who prioritizes the future he sees for his creation over relationships and fairness. He is also an entrepreneur who takes a kernel of an idea and improves on it to create a website whose cultural significance is undeniable. He is other things too: an acerbic wit whose tongue and mind is just a little bit quicker then everyone else’s, making him appear rude and blunt to the point of cruelty. He also, in the film, appears oddly easily influenced by those he perceives as his equals, making it unclear how much the origins of the film’s most heinous acts can be traced to Sean Parker (played here by Justin Timberlake).

This Zuckerberg is, for all protestations to the contrary, an Aaron Sorkin character: morally complex, subject to idealistic passions and personal failures, sharp-tongued, and ultimately ruled by public triumphs and private indignities. One of the film’s most powerful images is Zuckerberg sitting in an empty conference room sending a friend request to the girl whose rejection started it all and pressing refresh again and again to see if she has accepted. This mournful final image can be traced easily to Charlie Wilson staring into his drink or Leo in The West Wing in the hallway of an empty house after he is left by his wife. So too does a look at the other artist that crafted the film fill in some apparent gaps. Zuckerberg in real life may have a long term girlfriend and not live a socially removed life, but this is a David Fincher film. Fincher, with Fight Club and Zodiac to his name, is a master of conflicted, isolated masculinity, and to see these logics inscribed on The Social Network should come as no surprise. Since the film is in part an adaptation of a book, whose primary source was a former Facebook founder, a large number of authorial hands have taken part in the shaping of the narrative in The Social Network.

Perhaps it is here that we finally come to our link to Facebook itself. As a Facebook profile is a carefully crafted version of identity, The Social Network is an authorially crafted version of reality. However, as much as I might like to leave off on such a neat analogy, it remains beside the point. The Social Network is not a great film about Facebook; it’s a great film. There may have been a way for the film’s structure or visual aesthetic to have been put in conversation with the new media on which it was based. However, Aaron Sorkin neither uses or likes Facebook … and it shows. What also shows is the talent and skill of the creative team behind the film. No matter how much we might like for old media texts about new media to demonstrate formal innovation in response to their sources, $#*! My Dad Says and The Social Network have proven that they will rise and fall according to how well they succeed at being well crafted examples of their own forms, not in their relationship to the new forms they mine for inspiration.


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What Are You Missing? February 14-28 Sun, 28 Feb 2010 06:11:27 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry stories you might have missed recently:

1. I doubt that anyone who wanted to read it missed this, as I saw it linked everywhere, but I wouldn’t want even one person to miss out, so I’ll include it here anyway: a highly affecting profile of film critic Roger Ebert in Esquire. Plus, some of you might have missed Ebert’s response, as well another journalist’s praise for the quality work from Esquire‘s reporter. The Independent also has a fascinating story about Ebert getting his real voice back (sort of), which you can hear Tuesday on Oprah. Finally, if you’re not following Ebert on Twitter, you’re really missing out.

2. The latest social networking platform to freak us out is Chatroulette, invented by a 17-year-old Russian. If you haven’t tried it out yet, first check out this video explanation by Casey Neistat (note: some NSFW language, but no naughty images). Many have tried it out, including The Office writer Mindy Kaling, who tweeted, “Chat Roulette is horrifying. We just used it in our writers room. It was naked guys or guys in Jigsaw masks.” Also, you might unexpectedly come across Ashton. But not everybody is freaked out by it, and some even say if you hate it, you hate the internet. Of course, as a perceptive Slate article notes, we’re always afraid of new media technologies, and besides, without Chatroulette we’d never have gotten this awesome tumblr site: Cat Roulette. Bonus article: a history of social networking.

3. YouTube just celebrated its fifth birthday, and while its co-founder says that from the start they envisioned the site as the people’s voice, NewTeeVee calls BS on that and claims that wasn’t a factor until the people themselves pushed the site that way. One result of such a push: a prestigious George Polk Award for the video of the murder of Iranian demonstrator Neda Agha-Soltan. The NYT’s Brian Stelter has background info on the video, including an interview with the anonymous uploader. But the WSJ’s Evgeny Morozov reminds us that we can’t idealize the power of the internet and social media, and the band OK Go’s frustrating experience is a reminder of who’s most often really in control online. Something very much worth reading in that regard: a simple guide to Net Neutrality.

4. The Oscars are coming up next Sunday. To bolster your Oscar ballot cred, you can read some reviews from people who have actually seen the documentary shorts and the animated and live-action shorts. Also, when the ads come on during the awards broadcast and you have to actually talk to your fellow Oscar partygoers, you can use one of these handy conversation starters: hey, didja see that list of the 50 most deserving Oscar winners of all time; the story about Oscar’s anti-comedy bias; the “preview” of James Cameron’s Oscar speech; what the Academy does with Oscar night revenue; that rude email from the Hurt Locker co-producer and the outcry about it, which is only one part of the backlash against Hurt Locker that’s suddenly cropped up, though it probably won’t hurt its chances anyway; and that Variety apparently takes bribes? If you can’t make a friend with one of those, then there are no friends at that party to be had.

5. Studio news: MGM is dead broke but carries on for now. Warner Bros. is dominant. Disney’s not about the stars anymore, it’s about either the toys or the cheap but also the boys. The Wrap summarizes Hollywood’s for sale signs, while Vanity Fair gives us Hollywood’s top earners.

6.  The kiosk DVD distributor Redbook came to an agreement with Warner Bros. on a 28-day delay window for new releases, and some analysts see dark days ahead for Redbox, while studios are in a tough spot too. Mashable says it’s consumers who will lose. Winners? TechCrunch says piracy. And video rental stores like Blockbuster could benefit, if they live long enough. In a related issue, Disney wants to shorten the Alice in Wonderland DVD release window, which the Guardian sees as nothing less than a future-of-cinema issue. But rather than go read all that, you could instead just watch the very first version of Alice in Wonderland (1903) that the BFI has posted online.

7. The Wrap says the video game industry desperately needs innovation, including the possibility for “video games controlled solely by the mind.” Two other video game stories that caught my eye: the LA Times breaks down where the $60 you  spend for video games goes, and Gamasutra writes about the art of creating video game characters.

8. Some women and the media questions: Can social media bring opportunities for women? Where did all the angry rock grrrls go? And a preview excerpt from Susan Douglas’s new book: where does girl power stand today?

9. Avatar has put “virtual actors” on everyone’s mind: Forbes (with a whole series of features), the LA Times, and film scholar Kristin Thompson chime in. But how about making the animated (Buzz Lightyear) look human?

10. Finally, some of my favorite News for TV Majors links to links from the previous fortnight: pilot previews, the BBC overhaul, the ABC News overhaul, indecency complaints tallied, the lure of reality TV stardom in India, problems at Lifetime, Alec Baldwin = Jack Donaghy, interview with John Wells, and the future of serials.


The Place Race Fri, 26 Feb 2010 19:29:59 +0000 At the end of December 2009, Twitter acquired GeoAPI with their purchase of Mixer Labs, further propelling what MG Siegler at TechCrunch declared “The Great Location Land Rush of 2010”. But what exactly does GeoAPI do? And what could it do for Twitter?

GeoAPI’s website boasts services like reverse geocoding (or translating latitude and longitude coordinates into words, like names of towns and intersections), searching for places of interest, mapping and annotation capabilities, and a “writable private layer” that allows tech developers to perform various “geo queries” (ie “which burger joints in Madison, WI has Germaine checked into?”; or “where do all the bike messengers in San Fransisco hang out?”). In short, the product can help locative media developers, and consequently other locative media users, track your whereabouts more efficiently. These services could also be harnessed for place-based recommendation systems, or identifying patterns of activity.  Judging by reactions from competitors, once Twitter fully integrates GeoAPI the locative media industry, and the mobile tweet: “Eating lunch downtown, then going to the movies”, might never be the same again.

Though Twitter has yet to fully integrate GeoAPI or other geocoding software, it might be useful to take a look at the emerging “place race” now, and what some of the major players have to offer. It’s difficult to say exactly how Twitter will further introduce location into it’s service. But judging by the recent merger of mobile social network services and locative media, we might begin to imagine how the combination of 140 characters and “place” might change the way we tweet.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I think “where” does matter in social media and everyday life. I’m also very interested to see how developers implement something like GeoAPI, and the information produced and gathered through its various services. However, “where” can definitely be overdone, or done. . . creepy. The flak Google has recently received concerning Google Buzz and privacy issues, might have overshadowed the flak Google is concurrently receiving regarding Google Latitude and privacy issues. Additionally, Foursquare founders were recently prompted to give a public statement in reaction to concerns and controversy surrounding Please Rob Me,  a parody site which re-presents tweets and Foursquare check-ins as evidence that a user is not at home.

While privacy and surveillance have definitely been main concerns, there’s still something completely intriguing about displaying and playing with location, especially the location within which you currently reside. Ads and websites for various locative media services like CitySense, EveryBlock, and Foursquare all emphasize discovery of your neighborhood, your city, and connecting with friends within your hometown. These applications seem to render the city as a layered space full of encounters waiting to be had, hidden treasures, secret hot spots, and “you should have been there” gatherings that even the urban resident needs help finding. In a sense, living like a local merges with seeing like a tourist. Yet, these mobile applications invest the user with an augmented visual capital, and the illusion of an omniscient gaze over the city and its exchanges. By alerting you to the location of your “friends” or other people with similar traits, a suggested route of travel or particular image of the city might be offered — one that extends the way a person is “at home” while moving through urban space.

There’s a further tension between exploration and familiarization in some mobile locative media projects as well. The promotional descriptions and gaming aspects of these projects encourage the user to explore the unfamiliar, but simultaneously reward participants for repetition. In Foursquare for example, points are awarded for traveling across distance, but the status of “mayor” for frequenting the same place over and over again. In either case, there seems to be a promise of comfort through connection. The “ambient awareness” of your position, and other peoples’ position within the city, might not only render urban space more manageable, but keep your social network in tow in a very tangible way. The potential for physical accessibility of your social network, coupled with the “social proprioception” that Clive Thompson notes Twitter has capitalized on already, will deem them leaders of the place race. However, the problem might be that sensing where your social limbs are (especially the ones you connect with on Twitter), is only useful when it’s just a sense.


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Watching Twitter on TV Thu, 25 Feb 2010 18:01:06 +0000 Ever since the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) closed its doors in early January the gadget press has been nearly unanimous in identifying 3DTV as television’s “next big thing.” But lost in all the hype surrounding 3D is a potentially far more exciting development: the inclusion of web widgets into television sets’ operating systems. Widgets are the mini-apps that bring weather forecasts to our computer desktops and display real-time news headlines and stock tickers on blogs. With the introduction of web-connected television sets with built-in widgets, the same functionality comes to television, so that instead of changing the channel during an insufferably slow segment of an American Idol elimination show, you’ll instead be able to hit a button on your remote to bring up your Gmail inbox or to play a quick game of Lexulous. In other words, you’ll do what a growing number of viewers already do on laptops, only without having to shift your attention away from your television set to do so.

Compared to 3D, widgets promise to have a much more immediate and meaningful impact on television’s programming, audiences, and economics. For while few current programs would benefit from presentation in 3D – in fact, more than a few would actually suffer, many shows will become vastly more appealing when overlaid with dynamic web content. I first realized this when I started watching television with some of my colleagues at other universities and colleges. Mind you, I wasn’t actually in the same room with them at the time. In fact, technically speaking I’ve never “met” a number of these people. Rather, when I say that I’ve been “watching television with my colleagues,” what I really mean is that I’ve been following – and responding to – their Twitter updates as we watch television on our own.

Each night between 8 and 11 pm EST, Twitter lights up with television-related chatter, making my TweetDeck “All Friends” column look like a meeting of the SCMS TV Studies Special Interest Group. These nightly discussions have brought media studies professors and students into closer contact with some of the nation’s smartest television critics, including The Onion’s Todd VanDerWerff and the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, as well as the thousands of fans who provide running commentary on their own viewing via Twitter. Throughout the night links are exchanged and retweeted, plot twists are dissected, evictions are second guessed, and past and present NBC executives are excoriated, all in 140-character bursts. By the time the 11 pm local news has begun, tomorrow’s columns or blog posts (or next year’s SCMS panels) have already started to take shape.

It makes sense that Twitter widgets, along with other social networking apps, promise to be major selling points for the new web-connected televisions, in so far as television, along with celebrity death rumors, already seems to be Twitter’s main topic of discussion. The launch of these widgets is also in keeping with ongoing efforts by television networks to incorporate real-time text-based viewer feedback into their own programming. The advantage of Twitter widgets over past programming gimmicks is that widgets enable us, the viewers, to select the feeds that will be overlaid on our screens, as opposed to leaving it to the network to make these selections for us. So while we still can’t use digital technologies to customize the television programs we watch, we can at least use them to chose who we watch with. The outcome, I would wager, is no less satisfying.

Having pretty much given up on “live” (that is, not time-shifted) television when I first got a TiVo in 2004, I now find myself motivated to tune in on schedule by the prospect of participating in these nightly Twitter sessions. Even more surprising, on a couple of occasions I’ve actually turned on my set to check out a program that I thought I had absolutely no interest in to see what’s making “Vienna” or “Merle” or some other meaningless-to-me term grow larger in the TwitScoop tag cloud. Mark Andrejevic has argued that within the contemporary media mix television programs are but “the raw material to which value is added” by the individuals who analyze, debate, and ridicule them online. The new web-connected, widget-equipped sets acknowledge as much, affording what are ostensibly secondary forms of televisual discourse a place of prominence on the television screen. By doing so, these new technologies make a compelling case for the old argument that television’s real attraction is not its programs, but the discussions they inspire.


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What Google’s Experimental Fiber Network Means for Broadband Tue, 16 Feb 2010 14:29:23 +0000

There’s been a lot of Buzz about what Google’s been up to in the last week or so.  But as significant as Google’s move into social networking is, a less talked-about announcement the company made last week is the real big deal: Google’s plan to build an experimental 1 Gbps, fiber-to-the-home broadband network is likely to have a big impact on Internet policy in the US, especially net neutrality and broadband stimulus.

The plan is to build an open-access network, with speeds about 100 times faster than those available in most areas of the US, in one city or possibly a few, likely serving between 50,000 and 500,000 homes in total. Spokespeople for the company are quick to say that this shouldn’t be seen as a full-on dive into the Internet service provision market.  Rather, the network is being billed as a test-bed to explore the capabilities that ultra-high-speed networks could afford, encouraging the development of bandwidth intensive services like streaming HD video, real-time multimedia collaboration, and lots of other stuff that we probably can’t even imagine yet.

Google’s plan has been interpreted a number of different ways but it seems pretty clear that this is really about more than just giving developers a nice sandbox to play in and some lucky folks freaking fast Internet access. Google is very active in the goings-on at the FCC right now, including leading the advocacy for putting net neutrality principles into binding regulations for ISPs and pushing for open access standards and faster speeds to be part of the National Broadband Plan.  By building this network, then, Google wants to show off to the FCC and ISPs just what an open, neutral, and really really fast network looks like.  This move is consistent with the company’s propensity toward big symbolic gestures that can be influential whether or not the stated intentions actually get followed through on: its bid on wireless spectrum in 2007 was really a stunt to encourage open access and the threats to pull out of China (detailed here on Antenna by Liz Ellcessor) have not yet been acted on.  This announcement alone has drummed up the kind of excitement that could work to raise the bar for the broadband deployment plan, which is especially crucial for bridging the digital divide with more than just access, but access that is open, neutral, and as fast as anyone in the world.

Clearly, then, Internet users have a lot to gain from what Google is pushing for here.  But Google certainly does, too: we now depend on Google for more and more of what we do in our online lives (not just Googling, but Gmailing, YouTubing, Mapping, Talking, Reading, Book Searching, Doc’ing, Calendaring, Blogging, and now Buzzing…), so faster access means more using Google services and, don’t forget, more of that contextual advertising from which it makes its revenue.  As Siva Vaidhyanathan has put it, what’s good for the Internet is good for Google.  Not a bad deal for us – as long as we’re okay counting on Google to “not be evil” and take good care of all of us Internet users.  Sure, we have a dictator of our online world, but at least right now it’s a benevolent dictator.


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