Category Archives for Theory
April 27, 2011
In response to the Wall Street Journal reporting on the results of some preliminary clinical research done by Patients Like Me refuting the effectiveness of lithium to treat ALS, e-Patient Dave tweeted:
— Dave deBronkart (@ePatientDave) April 26, 2011
@seattlemamadoc replied quickly:
@epatientdave I think of patientslikeme as a network. A social network. Don’t you?
— WendySueSwanson MD (@SeattleMamaDoc) April 26, 2011
I replied as well, with my initial thoughts:
@epatientdave interesting thought. Would you say it isn’t? I feel Pts like Me has many similar functions and affordances as other soc media
— Daniel Hooker (@danhooker) April 26, 2011
But by then it was too late. The premise had struck me: what if patient communities like Patients Like Me are somehow inherently different from other social media?
Social media is defined on Wikipedia as: “media for social interaction… the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue… a blending of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of value.”
Though I haven’t left behind the idea that the basic functions (profile, public/private messaging etc.) and affordances (seeking/finding people, networking, friendship, community) are similar between the two, what are some areas of difference between Patients Like Me and Facebook?
- User Intent. Does the reason why someone joins a network matter?** Is it acceptable to examine a network through qualities about which we may have no direct knowledge? In this context, is it different to be a patient than a tennis enthusiast or a knitter? Don’t we call those networks social media? Does the nature of the community’s users change its definition?
- Data usage (i.e. a network’s reason for being). My second thought about the separation of Facebook from Patients Like Me is the usage of the demographic information collected. As evidenced by the clinical trial, Patients Like Me is somewhat of a clinical experiment. They are using the voluntarily provided patient information to be able to create a data set used to support (or challenge) other medical evidence. Do the scientific goals of Patients Like Me have an impact on its definition? But in that light, Facebook’s sale of demographic data to their marketing partners may seem an even more sinister experiment. At least Patients Like Me is generally open about it.
I am still working through the areas of difference between the two networks and their significance. And though these distinctions may seem pedantic at this point, I have a sense that seeking deeper definitions of these platforms may increase in value as the critical discourse around social media advances. As more people become aware of these tools for use in a health care context, we will require ever more robust ways of describing what, exactly, they do and why, exactly, they are having such a profound impact on so many people’s lives.
**Not to go all English-major on you here, but in a similar way that reader-response critics responded to formalism by allowing room for the “user” experience in the interpretation of a work, so formally examining a social (net)work solely as a functional piece of software may be seen as insufficient in describing its true value or experience.
March 26, 2011
As we move forward as a collective community of health professionals on social media, I have been thinking a lot of what a major role Twitter plays in the connection and collaboration of such an incredibly large amount of people.
Communities of Practice are defined by Wenger as
groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
And even though now that Twitter (and many communities of practice within it, including #hcsm/ca/eu) has matured and is being used effectively by so many people, I am growing concerned about its future and about the deep reliance that we have on it for much of our day to day practice. The paradox of social media is that we are currently slave to the tools at our disposal. The more we espouse Twitter’s revolution on communciation practice, the more deeply we become inextricably tied to its specific solution for our broader desire: simple connectivity to a broad community of people “who share a passion.”
In a 2002 book, Wenger, McDermott & Snyder describe the 5 stages of the Community of Practice lifecycle . Consider for a moment where you consider Twitter to be in the stages below:
- Potential (informal network of people with a commmon interest)
- Coalescence (Value seen from connection)
- Maturity (Focus and roles are clarified, active and dynamic enagagement)
- Stewardship (Organically evoloving and growing, CoP maintains relevance)
- Transformation (Radical transformation, dispersal, or death)
Here is how I think Twitter fits into this model:
- Potential. 2006-2007: Twittr launches as primarily SMS-based status tool, tech geeks at SXSW sign up.
- Coalescence. 2008: Membership moves beyond tech community as users begin to see promise in sharing more than just a status, and on more devices than simple cell phone. TinyURL, bit.ly, is.gd and other link shorteners bloom.
- Maturity. 2009-2010: Active communities form as membership mushrooms and communication and collaboration protocols are ironed out. First hashtags, then lists, continue to foster collaborative growth. Recognizing the ability to connect directly with their customers, businesses and celebrities invest heavily in their Twitter presence.
- Stewardship. 2010-2011: Twitter’s value beyond “what you had for breakfast” is no longer up for debate. It is finally OK to ignore the naysayers, and get to the meat of demonstrating and advocating for Twitter’s presence in a professional and collaborative context. Promoted Tweets appear. Increased pressure for Twitter’s monetization looms large as critical mass has been acheived in nearly every aspect of professionals, consumers, news outlets and advertisers.
- Transformation. 2011-?: The pressure for Twitter to become a business and not a collaborative tool grows too great. Maturing CoPs within Twitter (eg #hcsm/ca/eu) begin to look for other ways to collaborate and grow their practices beyond one platform. Businesses, advertisers, mass media outlets, and celebrities finally consolodate their hold over Twitter’s userbase.**
The importance of this model lies in the ability for us to evaluate our evolving use of Twitter as it fits into our work lives. Many of the people who read this blog I anticipate as being involved in health care, which is a field that is, in many ways, only beginning to incorporate social media into its professional practices and communications efforts.
Strategy is everything these days. Of course the broader concepts of information access and changing paradigms of online collaboration take precedent over any specific technological or software solution like Facebook or Twitter. But the extent to which the strategic conception of social media is incorporated into our on-the-ground work is still unstable. By that I mean, it is not unheard of to recommend Twitter to literally every organization that declares an interest in social media without a second thought. Today this is a safe bet. Next year or three years from now, we may be thinking twice.
But framing Twitter as a transforming Community of Practice may help to contextualize the position that we are all in as we build and invest our communications strategies on top of tools that are often less interested in freedom of information and communication than we may care to think. Because I believe in the collaborative power of social media, however, I look forward to seeing Twitter and the communities within it transform. And I also look forward to whatever it is that comes next.
**Excuse me while I digress as I truly don’t want to speculate as to the “future of social media” beyond this, but I feel the need to say: I have a feeling that blogging may see a resurgance as people grow weary of “promoted tweets” and ad-spam (I am already there and it has barely begun), and as they begin to seek ways to exert more control over their social media presence. Those who were on the social web before Twitter may return to their roots; Twitter natives will explore both the newest and oldest forms of online identity. And as for Facebook… well, who knows.
One of my final projects in library school is almost complete. The term paper I have written for a course entitled “New Media for Children and Young Adults” is just about finished and we have to give an informal presentation on our papers Thursday morning.
My paper is on the topic of that popular Facebook meme where kids were tagging their friends as various cartoon characters or celebrities (“The ugly one,” “The pretty one,” etc.). If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I included several examples.
Anyway, I thought I would share my slides in case anyone out there is interested in semiotics, social networking and youth. Or maybe you’re just bored. Either way, enjoy.
September 29, 2009
I would like to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to indulge in theoretical discourse and mention the course reading for LIBR 559M: Online social networking as participatory surveillance, by Andreas Albrechtslund.
Albrechtslund’s article is broad and encompasses many important aspects of online participation with social media, and he spends a good amount of time conceptualizing and contextualizing social networking practice within a scholarly discourse and also a framework of surveillance. His final section is the one that I would like to discuss briefly, as it brought me back to my carefree days as a humanities undergraduate student, drinking coffee and eating ramen noodles before going to discuss Foucault and the Panopticon while looking at slides of Pictures art. But I digress.
Albrechtslund starts by briefly discussing the hierarchical structure that we normally take “surveillance” to mean, that is, someone, without power, is being watched by someone else with power. This places the watcher, theoretically and often literally, “above” the watched. He says:
The moral panics, conspiracy theories, and the difficulties in understanding why people actually would want to engage in online social networking all reflect this dystopian view on surveillance. It is the basis for the discourses of protection and education as well as for the idea that users… simply do not know enough about the lurking dangers of surveillance. In other words, it is difficult to understand the phenomenon of online social networking and related Web 2.0 services and applications when we apply this notion of surveillance.
Indeed, there has been much panic recently about the persistence and gravity of your online presence. The things you do and say on facebook will be around forever, inevitably there to keep you from your dream job and probably also give you (or your mother) night sweats. I tend to think, it might not be all that bad if you’re smart about it, but you certainly do have to be aware that you are being watched. Or, in Panoptic terms, you could be being watched, so you better not do anything untoward. Albrechtslund continues, however, to expand the notion of surveillance for the 21st century:
The visual metaphor implies a spatial hierarchy where the watcher is positioned over the watched. Yet, this does not mean surveillance is necessarily a hierarchical power relation in which the watcher controls the watched. Similar to the broadening of the concept to include all senses, data collection and technological mediation, surveillance can be seen as a “flat” relationship or even in favor of the person under surveillance, either negatively as actively resisting the gaze (Ball and Wilson, 2000; McGrath, 2004) or positively as exhibitionistic empowerment (Koskela, 2004).
Here, the broadening of the definition of surveillance allows for the social networking user to push back against the “gaze” of the watcher, and even provide a sense of power to those who chose either to lock their profiles, exercising their opt-out rights against online surveillance, or perhaps even doing outwardly rude things online thereby attempting to send a message of rejecting the standards of decorum (think of it as a sort of digital face tattoo). What I took away as most important, however, was this:
The practice of online social networking can be seen as empowering, as it is a way to voluntarily engage with other people and construct identities, and it can thus be described as participatory… to participate in online social networking is also about the act of sharing yourself – or your constructed identity – with others. (emphasis mine)
I will leave it up to my informed audience to decide exactly how you will construct your own identity online–it is indeed a struggle to craft and maintain an appropriate level of honesty and authenticity without completely baring your soul to the world at large. But the sharing of personality and identity online can be positive in many ways, and can make you available to a network of peers, friends and colleagues that you may not have other reason to connect with. Constructing and sharing a digital identity can build confidence; and done responsibly, it can extend into the outside world.