Getting danah All Wrong

I’ve finally figured out why the mainstream media struggles to stay relevant—they’ve forgotten how to read. The response to danah boyd’s recent post on Facebook and MySpace class differences has been interesting to watch. Beyond the issue of having any discussion about class in America (that’s for another post), danah’s post and essay roughly outline her findings—a fact some reports failed to recognize. She in no way tries to position either her post or the essay as “academic” in nature. It’s still a work in progress, and danah very clearly states this distinction:

For the academics reading this, I want to highlight that this is not an academic article. It is not trying to be. It is based on my observations in the field, but I’m not trying to situate or theorize what is going on. I’ve chosen terms meant to convey impressions, but I know that they are not precise uses of these terms. Hopefully, one day, I can get the words together to actually write an academic article about this topic, but I felt as though this is too important of an issue to sit on while I find the words. So I wrote it knowing that it would piss many off. The academic side of me feels extremely guilty about this; the activist side of me finds it too critical to go unacknowledged. (link)

The BBC, however, seems to have skipped this part, and jumped straight to its own conclusion:

A six-month research project has revealed a sharp division along class lines among the American teenagers flocking to the social network sites. (link)

danah’s work isn’t at a point where she provides numbers, and yet the BBC feels comfortable describing the situation as a “sharp division.” However, traditional news sources weren’t the only ones who misinterpreted the post and essay. Mashable initially titled its post on the topic as “Case Study Report Indicates Class Division Between MySpace and Facebook.” (link to Google cached page) Mashable editors have since revised the headline to read “Essay Theorizes Class Division Between MySpace & Facebook.” (link)

We live in a fast-paced society where an almost constant barrage of information can leave us a bit numb. So we give in to the temptation to read the headline and maybe the first paragraph. Then, we move on to the next. It’s easy to do. I’m guilty of it on occasion myself. But personally, whether you agree with her or not (and those who do not have been particularly vitriolic and stooped to personal attacks), danah’s writing deserves a full read before commenting. This courtesy applies to anyone who takes the time to publish their ideas—especially if you feel moved to add your two cents.

Creating conversations is my favorite part of this new world. But how long can the conversation continue if we fail to actually “hear” what is being said? How valid is your position, either positive or negative, if you haven’t made the effort to fully understand how your ideas relate to the original argument? I think we’ve forgotten that it’s a responsibility to participate in the community. Going forward, if we have any hope of maintaining our integrity and improving on the status quo we can’t be lazy.

We have to read more than just the headlines. We have to go to the source. And we have to ask the hard questions, and challenge the results, but not at the cost of making the challenge personal rather than topical. So, for those who’s comments are aimed at danah as a person, may I politely suggest a closer reading of her work. You might actually find add something to add to the conversation other than attacks on how she spells her name and accusations of racism.



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June 2007
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