Collapsing Contexts

It's Complicated for ENGL108D

According to danah boyd in It’s Complicated, teenagers have been doing with social media what the rest of society has done off of it: building context specific social personas. Compared to their older relatives, the users of social media are more exposed to the social complications of “context collapse” (when multiple contexts are reduced into single one). This exposure comes from the persistent nature of of social media (yes, even SnapChat) and the ease of copying the bytes that make up it’s parts.

danah brings up many excellent examples of context collapse, ranging from differing views on the use of particular social media, to inadequate privacy settings (or changing defaults). By collapsing contexts, a different party has decided how to present the author/subject in a context that they never consented to being presented in. This raises questions about exactly what sort of control people are allowed to exert on their social personas; should they have some sort of recourse to remove pictures of themselves from social media? For older generations, this action might be quickly detected by concerned friends who would approach you to explain the situation and confront the gossiper.

According to social psychology phenomena known as the Actor-Observer Asymmetry, people are more likely to attribute others actions to their character, while attributing their own actions to the situation. In an age where it is difficult to discover all of the places where one of our personas may have been mis-represented, it is imperative to understand this asymmetry when viewing someones social media persona, or when crafting your own.

Just because younger generations have a harder job of managing their personas doesn’t mean that the endeavour is doomed. danah points out that teens are frequently adopting social norms where they expect adults to stay away from their profiles (much like adults would avoid each others eyes while riding the subway or bus), and like wise stay away from the profiles of adults they know.

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