Public Display of
Values - "Cyber Shadows"
22 October 2010
Networked Public Cultures as a “Cyber Values System” “Detrimental Agents of Change”
However fantastic young people argue this new media is, the internet is also causing kids and parent’s some anxiety. Buckingham argues childhood is now permeated and in some respect defined by modern media and our consumer culture. While there is no indication that social media are changing the fundamental nature of youth friendship practices, Ito, et al, argue that there are differences in the intensity of engagement among peers, and conversely, in the relative alienation of parents and teachers from these social worlds. They argue that learning occurs in networked public cultures where the agenda is not defined by parents and teachers. The growing influence of peers from a similar age cohort in determining social values and cultural style has grown in tandem with these broader cultural shifts in defining a distinct youth culture. Some researchers are arguing that networked public cultures are not always providing young people with positive influences or experiences . Consequently, one can ask whether the quality of interactions in new media is having a positive or detrimental formative influence on the lives of teenagers.
Public Display of Values – “Cyber Shadow”
Unlike unmediated publics (shopping centres), networked publics are characterized by their persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences. In networked public cultures the lives of young people are posted and uploaded every second of the day. Ito et al., argue that in this media driven identity formation environment the cultural artifacts associated with ‘personal’ culture (movies, pictures and diaries) have now entered the arena of ‘public’ culture. I argue that one of the outcome the public display of ‘personal’ culture is the expansion of all types of values in the public sphere; truthful and dishonest, altruistic and selfish, beautiful and ugly. This public display of “individualism” and “choices” does come with some risks. Livingstone argues that individualisation is constructed in the context of the loss of certainties, growing insecurities and a tendency on the part of society to blame the individual when things go wrong. Livingstone also argues that, ‘Choices involve weighing risks, and more choices means more risks.’ Therefore, it can be argued that when people take media into their own hands, the result can be wonderfully creative but they can also be bad news for all involved. Henry Jenkins, et al. argue that it matters what tools are available to a culture, but it matters more what that culture chooses to do with those tools. Livingstone proposes that the formation of identity in late modernity is increasingly defined by through transient markers of lifestyle and media practices. Ito, et al, argue that these public displays can make the failures and successes of peoples’ social lives more consequential and persistent. They argue that this phenomena raises some concerns because when young people publish their friendships and lives online they become subject to public scrutiny and as a result there is also greater potential scale and efficiency for the “negative” aspects of peoples’ lives to spread much farther, faster and to be more visible, persistent , accessible. These risks are expanding in range, intensity and scope as online content and services themselves expand . The online publicly displayed “detrimental” aspects of peoples’ lives are what I call their “cyber shadow”.
Identity Formation and our “Cyber Shadow”
Witte posits that status as defined by Max Weber rests on social acceptance and group closure. That is, others in a status group must acknowledge the individual as being part the collective which results in a recognised sense of belonging. Our access to “privileged groups” affords us with social prestige which determines status. An important component in peer interaction is the child’s social power. Social power is defined as ‘the possibility of inducing force on someone else’. One type of power is referent power, which is related to status. High-power children have a high sociometric status (popularity) in the group and low-power individuals are particularly motivated to get along with others. Self-esteem is a self-reinforcing characteristic that is supported by the attitude and actions of the individual as well as the significant others that are around that person . I argue that our desire to be accepted, “to get along with others”, to be popular is a powerful driving value in the lives of people, particularly young people. I also argue that this desire may lead to unethical behaviours that affect our “public reputation” or hurt others. During my discussions with high school student about the issue of popularity online, they told stories of groups of teenagers ganging up to putt other student down who was considered “not cool” or a “nerd” (lower social status). These students argued that in some instances students who would not have normally bully others took part of these pack behaviours because of their need to belong to the “cool group” and be popular. I was also told of year 8 students posting pictures of themselves drinking at a parties to make themselves more acceptable to “older” students.
The articulation of connections (Friends) in social media can be used to make social statements by excluding others, or to make a public display of connections that represents an individual’s social identity and status. On social network sites, “Friends” end up serving as a part of a person’s self-representation (image) and teens use “Friends” to enact their identity. I argue that accepting or rejecting someone has a friend may be simple for most adults because in the most part adults have a well defined value system (frame of reference) to make those judgements. For young people who have developing or no value system these judgements may be difficult. I would argue that identity formation and the selection of friends are deeply related to the “value system” that young people are developing. Witte argues that Internet-based interactions is sometimes conditional upon individuals being “in the know” or the recognition by others that we “belong” to a virtual reality or a particular social group. I argue that being recognised as a “friend” by others on social networking sites may mean a great deal to a young person and in most instances this public display of friendship is a good thing. But for others it may lead them to do things that are a detriment to others and to themselves. In an age of networked public cultures, young people lives and friendships become public displays of “values”. As I have argued that for the most part these displays of values are positive. However, in some instances these displays become ‘cyber shadows’ which may have implications for the personal development of young people. I also propose that the formation of young people’s ‘cyber shadow’ is part of a value system that needs to be taken into account if society is to come up with policies to deal with such issues.