Section 19: Context Collapse

Skills Focus: Purpose Writing a question-driven essay

HW, part 1 Read Clive Thompson’s 2008 New York Times article “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” (the article handed out in class). As I mentioned, Thompson introduces some potentially useful concepts, but we’re reading the piece not for its insights into identity and technology, but for its usefulness as an example of an exploratory essay.

Today’s topic is context collapse, a concept writer Nicholas Carr neatly sums up as follows on his blog Rough Type:
Context collapse is a sociological term of art that describes the way social media tend to erase the boundaries that once defined people’s social lives. Before social media came along, your social life played out in different and largely separate spheres. You had your friends in one sphere, your family members in another sphere, your coworkers in still another sphere, and so on. The spheres overlapped, but they remained distinct. The self you presented to your family was not the same self you presented to your friends, and the self you presented to your friends was not the one you presented to the people you worked with or went to school with. With a social network like Facebook, all these spheres merge into a single sphere. Everybody sees what you’re doing. Context collapses.

When Mark Zuckerberg infamously said, “You have one identity; the days of you having a different image for your work friends or your co-workers and for the people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” he was celebrating context collapse. Context collapse is a wonderful thing for a company like Facebook because a uniform self, a self without context, is easy to package as a commodity. The protean self is a fly in the Facebook ointment.
HW, part 2 Read Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd’s essay “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience” — focus on pp. 4-6 & 9-15