(Picture from my Instagram – Nature’s Valley, Western Cape province, South Africa 24.12.2012 – credit Douglas Martin)
The image above was taken the last time I was home. It took me 16 hours in a plane and three hours of driving to get there. I’ve lived more than 400 km from my family since I was twelve.
In the early days we communicated via letters and pay phones. When I was thirteen I set up a hotmail account and received my first mobile – a Nokia 5110. Subsequently, my life has never been the same.
Our involvement with social media isn’t a fad, it’s here to stay and growing. Twitter’s website indicates that in 2014 there were more than 500 million tweets per day. Facebook’s company information indicates that in December 2015 on average there were 1.04 billion daily active users.
The world we grew up in, a world connected by the internet, has produced technological leaps bigger than that of the printing press. And it isn’t standing still. “Once the internet changed the world; now the world is changing the internet.” (Lovink 2012, as cited by Hinton & Hjorth 2013, p. 7).
This blog will examine how mobile devices and locative Social Networking Sites (SNSs) have changed the behaviour of their users, how platform providers have dealt with changing user demands, and the offline and online theme covered in the course.
Before the internet, our social need for instant connection, interaction and engagement was stymied by the tyranny of distance. Growing up I didn’t realise it but I was reaching out to networked publics, technology that facilitated meaningful communication through a space between publics (boyd 2011, p.39). The online platforms I used instantly negated the thousands of kilometres between Sydney and a sleepy rural hamlet on the tip of South Africa.
With the transfusion of internet into mobile phones, we’ve moved from a fixed social media connection, to a portable one. Historically, participation in networked publics generally occurred after the event. You’d return to your PC upload your content and connect with your network. Remember syncing your camera with your computer to upload your holiday photos? Uploading could, literally, take hours and you might not post that killer sunset shot until weeks or months after the sun set, #firstworldproblems. Now in our Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsApp world we can: chat; post that selfie; update our status; and emoji or gif our feelings instantly at anytime almost anywhere (Hinton & Hjorth 2013, p. 123).
With the advent of mobile devices and the popularity of today’s smartphones that are locative, there has been an enormous pendulum shift in the offline versus online framework.
Today, connectivity is almost never out of arm’s reach. Our socially hot-wired lives include a host of social media networks and platforms. Some would argue that with this constant connectivity our physical connection with those around has decreased. Here’s US poet, rapper, and YouTuber, Prince Ea’s take on the state of play.
It is somewhat ironic that a YouTuber takes umbrage with the platform that provides his livelihood, but the sentiment of over-connectivity, or too much online time, is shared by many. Gary Turk’s 2014 “Look Up” video has received over 57, 100,000 YouTube views.
Advocates for greater offline interaction are, unsurprisingly, opposed by individuals who continually find new ideas and ways to harness online platforms. Last year social media users collectively fought the stigma surrounding mental health with the #MedicatedAndMighty campaign and this year The Blurt Foundation has launched the #WhatYouDontSee campaign to highlight the invisible nature of depression (Hinde 2016). These types of campaigns would be impossible without the social networks we’ve come to depend on.
Given the progression of technology, there can’t be a binary position for the online/offline argument. Rather an acknowledgement that there has been a shift towards online and a blurring of the boundaries. It is possible to have co-presence (Hinton & Hjorth 2013, p. 129).
This shift to the online has been compounded with the growth of locative mobile devices. Academic Jason Farman describes how users participated in the new world where it’s possible to record location and geotagging: “I practiced the disclosure of location as a means of communicating the fabric of my everyday life (and as a means to broadcast the unique moments that were-extraordinary) (Farman, 2012, p. 57).”
Rowan Wilken (2014) in his article Places Nearby: Facebook as a location-based social media platform, examines how social media platforms, in particular the giant of the market Facebook, went about changing its platform to accommodate for location-based media by including geolocation and mobile functionality:
“In January 2013, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a revamped search engine, which he referred to as the ‘third pillar’ of Facebook’s business, the other two being its timeline, and its news feed (Facebook: Search me, 2013). Facebook’s steady and persistent development of mobile and location, and the increasing economic importance of geotagged data for its operations, especially its advertising service, suggests mobile and location as a key ‘fourth pillar’ of Facebook’s still-evolving business” (Wilken 2014, p. 1098).
There is obviously a financial incentive for this, Facebook is a business. Our habits and demands as users have resulted in a shift from the platform owners. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “Facebook is working to create a set of services beyond its core social network that helps its users share any kind of content to any audience” (Visard, 2014).
Platforms and SNS have evolved to ensure they keep up with user demands and harness developments in technology. This week Facebook announced its live streaming service Facebook Live. Whilst not breaking new ground, apps like Periscope have previously tested the water, (Bolton, 2016) Facebook’s market share and high audience numbers mean the new service amounts to a significant shift in the way we communicate and another step towards instant interaction and importantly, instant feedback.
I can now seamlessly integrate my running app with Facebook, and other platforms, to connect with runners who have travelled along the same route that morning, perhaps I’ll even broadcast my next run to show all my fans and followers the #gains I’ve been making ;).
Location-aware media has transformed the place and space relationship that previously existed. “Through the convergence of social, locative and mobile media we are seeing the contested notion of place becoming more complicated (Hinton & Hjorth 2013, p. 127).
For example the photo I posted at the top of this blog is an isolated spot in an inaccessible geographic location. It holds a special place in my mind, it occupies a place on my offline timeline and in my networked publics. With the geotagging it becomes part of a greater story, instead of belonging to me and my network, it belongs to everyone who has visited the location and geotagged it. A quick Instagram location search delivers hundreds of similar images through the frame of users who have visited that exact same spot.
Doreen Massey is quoted by Hinton & Hjorth describing the complexities of place and space. Darren describes a place as a spot on a geographical map, in addition, a space is simultaneity of stories-so-far, then places are the collections of those stories (Massey D, as cited by Hinton & Hjorth, 2013, p. 127).
Geotagging has enabled the collection of user stories and experiences in one spot and tools like hashtags make accessing them easy. However, they remain just that – stories on a geographical map. Sometimes they’re not even accurate reflections. I’ve included the image I took on my camera below. It’s the memory I have. It’s what the actual sunset looked like, but the image I presented at the top of this blog is the geotagged image I used.
Whilst both are beautiful, the Instagrammed image isn’t the actual reality because the image has been filtered or digitally enhanced. This adds another layer of complexity to what exists in place and space online versus offline, the reality versus proposed reality.
(Picture from my camera – Nature’s Valley, Western Cape province, South Africa 24.12.2012 – credit Douglas Martin)
The shift from fixed to mobile technology has meant that user engagement with social media is unfettered. Geotagging and geolocation enable users to traverse the world and at the same time converse with the world, in realtime. Participants now have the ability to include another layer, that of shared experience. Through #hashtags, location settings and shared images our scope for connectivity has never been greater.
Hinton & Hjorth view social media, not through the prism of a technology that is changing society, but rather to “examine the ways that social media is both changing society as well as responding to and reflecting changes in society (Hinton & Hjorth, p. 136).
This author’s involvement with social media has evolved over the years. Initially, from a fixed location using SNSs solely for connecting with intimate networks between friends and family, to public broadcasting and engagement across cultural divides and finding common links with strangers due to shared experiences at specific locations.
Reflecting on the offline/online theme, SNSs encourage users to spend more time online – that’s their business model. But users have similarly shown that they are willing to operate in the online space with greater frequency. Prince Ea’s and Gary Turk’s caution about how users are prioritising being online is worth consideration. A binary position for online vs offline isn’t possible but as trends move there has been a blurring of boundaries and it’s possible to have a co-presence.
I think Belinda Carlisle was right “heaven really is a place on earth”. For me this place is on top of a peak called Pig’s Head in Nature’s Valley. The picture in this blog. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to share my experience with others, but it’s bigger than that, bigger than just me, my sunset is now part of the collection of stories that exist in this place and places like it across the globe.
(Bolton, D 2016) Facebook live has arrived – this is how to use it properly, viewed 22 April 2016,
(Carlisle, B 1987) Heaven is a place on earth, viewed on 22 April 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-WP6POdTgY
danah boyd. (2010). “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), pp. 39-58.
Facebook, Company info, viewed 21 April 2016, http://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/
Farman, J. (2012). Locative Interfaces and Social Media Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media (pp. 56-75). New York: Routledge.
(Hinde, N 2016) How Social Media Helps People With Depression, From Giving Them A Voice To Breaking Down Stigma, viewed 21 April 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/social-media-breaking-down-mental-health-stigma_uk_5710f546e4b0dc55ceea742a
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Twitter, blog, viewed 21 April 2016, https://blog.twitter.com/2014/the-2014-yearontwitter
(Turk, G 2014) “Look Up”, viewed on 21 April 2016 views.http://garyturk.com/about/
(Williams, R 2014) Can We Auto-Correct Humanity? viewed on 21 April 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRl8EIhrQjQ
(Williams, R 2014) http://www.princeea.com, viewed on 21 April 2016
Wilken, R. (2014). ‘Places Nearby: Facebook as a location-based social media platform.’ New Media & Society, 16(7), 1087-1103.
Vizard S (2014) Facebook posts first billion-dollar mobile quarter. MarketingWeek, viewed on 21 April 2016. http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/disciplines/social-media/facebook-posts-first-billion-dollar-mobile-quarter/4009323.article
By Douglas Martin