Conferencing

The last few weeks and the following ones will be intense. So I guess now it’s the best time to pause and write down some of the thoughts that are spinning through my head. 

Two weeks ago I was in beautiful Antwerp (see foto) for the Youth 2.0 workshop. I experienced an amazingly well organized, likeable and charming conference. Some observations:

  • The field of social media research is veeeeeeeeeery diverse and vivid. During the conference we have only seen a small part of it. Several presenters chose an ethnographic research design and showed that to understand young people’s social media practices and habits it’s essential to consider the broader context. What does that mean? Well, social media are embedded into broader lifeworlds, (sub)cultures, routines and habitus (pl.). Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and co. are not the end but a means. Adolescents use them in creative and unpredictible ways to enrich their lives. Growing up and developing with social network sites has made youth more vulnerable but also empowered them to experiment with their identities and participate in new initiatives. In Finnish Lapland for example, a very sparsely populated area of Europe, social media serve young people to meet online – something not always possible in real life given that many adolescent live dozens of miles apart. Thus Facebook has a very direct connecting function for these teenagers. The title of Jenny Siivola’s and  Päivi Hakkarainen’s presentation captured this fact very nicely: “I would probably be very lonely without Facebook.” 
  • Despite media coverage and conventional wisdom youngsters are very concerned about their privacy, online risks and constant bombardment with marketing and ads. Both the opportunities and risks of social media abound as Sonia Livingstone, Jochen Peter and other prominent researchers impressively showed. 
  • Young and enthusiastic researchers populate the field, which makes it very satisfying to be part of such a “movement”.
  • Despite promising results and highly insightful empirical studies social media research lacks a theoretical backbone. This comes as no surprise as the field is still young. However, several established social theories (Bourdieu’s theory of practice, Goffman, Foucault’s theory of power, Alfred Schütz’ phenomenology or social psychological theories) could be fruitfully used to have stronger theoretical grounding.
  • One hypothesis (by Jochen Peter) was that young people are so attached to social media and social network sites because of the controllability they allow…. Young people like to have the control of their identities and appearance and social media are the optimal “device” to achieve it, as the hypothesis goes… not sure whether this is really the main reason for their popularity. (But have to think about it more and maybe post again on the topic) Image 
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