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This chapter on Web social spaces deals with the development of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube, Flickr, etc., that involve audiences and students in the production and sharing of their own material, as well as ways of using these sites in teaching and issues with safety on these sites.



The Positives of Social Web Spaces

Jennifer Sellers


As the Internet has grown in popularity and ease of use, social web spaces have remained a primary focus and interest among users. At the beginning of Internet development, chat rooms and email quickly gained popularity. Later AOL came out with the AIM software that allowed people to connect with other Internetusers and chat immediately. This became a hit, especially among teens and pre-teens. As the Internet developed, special sites known as social web spaces became a popular and convenient way for friends to stay in contact and as a way for people to meets others who shared interests. Some of these are forums that are devoted to a particular theme, ethnic group or activity while others are sites that host a series of personal web pages that can be connect together through the use of links, often within “friend” networks. Recently social web sites have gained in popularity due to their ease of use and the relative anonymity they offer individuals. Of these sites Myspace and Facebook are some of the most famous and most popular due to their widespread use. They have received a great deal of media coverage due to lawsuits brought against them, school library and other bans, and incidents that have occurred through their use. Despite the negative press, each receives a high level of new additions to their networks each day and often rank within the top accessed sites each day. Businessweek


Connection with people

There are many positive aspects of social web spaces. Due to their ease of use and the freedom allowed, many people have profiles on one or many of these sites, making them an interesting place to connect with old and new friends and acquaintances. This ability to connect or simply keep communication lines open is a highly prized ability in this age of little face-to-face contact. It allows people to find out what their old friends from high school are doing without really having to communicate with them, while leaving open the option to actually contact them at whim. Many people choose to use the site to keep their friends updated on every one of their latest events and details of their lives, while maintaining that same connection to their friends. This access is akin to the access many feel they have with cell phones; all friends are merely a phone call or few clicks away.


Expression of self-identity

These sites also offer a great deal of customizable freedom for each user. Myspace and some other sites allow users to “pimp out” their space using software provided by other sites. Many other social webspace sites enable a user to customize their page within the choices offered by that site. This gives them unique backgrounds, colors and themes that can be changed at will and further their online identity and self-expression. Facebook does not seem to have this option currently, which may contribute to Myspace’s current lead over Facebook. All of the sites allow users to post pictures, furthering the users’ expressions of themselves as they create their online identities. Many people use these pictures to show their friends what is happening in their lives or to entice other people to view their site. There are also several spaces where users can tell information about themselves and list quotes, favorite sayings, invitations to events and other announcements or messages. All profiles link to the user’s friends’ profiles, which can be viewed by clicking on their friends’ pictures. Many of these spots also allow a “blog” which allows the user to write about their thoughts and experiences for everyone to read, thus further keeping all up-to-the-minute on their thoughts and reflections. Users can send messages to one another through the site’s email-like systems or write notes to each other on a “wall” or space on the profile that all can read. Myspace also allows users to embed a slideshow, song or video into their site that begins playing when visitors enter the site. All of these customizable features help each user feel that their site is a unique expression of themselves, which is very important to this nation of individuals. Myspace Facebook



Facebook, another social web space directed at high school and college students, has grown in popularity over the past few years. It is unique in that it originally only allowed students to be members. It also originally only allowed students in college, and later high school, to access members of their own school. This access has slowly been relaxed in an effort to gain a larger market share. It was the seventh most trafficked website in February 2006 Businessweek and continues to increase as they gain new users. “Social-networking sites are a primary form of communication for millions of younger people in the U.S, and increasingly, around the world. It's not unusual for young people to spend an hour or more a day at such sites, posting photos, messages, and blog entries, and building up huge lists of online "friends." While advertising rates on such sites are low, marketers of music and consumer goods have flocked to MySpace and its rivals.” This popularity has increasingly become the primary tool that young people use to stay in touch with one another and to keep each other up to date about their lives. The huge lists of “friends” that can be added to a profile can be used as a measure of popularity for many students, a common activity of high school and other students.


Social Webspaces as Career Launchers

Myspace: the Movie

Several users of social networkings spaces created videos or other content that has launched their careers. David Lehre created a short parody of Myspaced entitled “Myspace: The Movie” and rocketed to fame quickly when it was posted to YouTube. It quickly shot up to being one of the most viewed videos when it was first posted. MTV has now picked him up, asking him to create movies that they will show while they help him further his filmmaking career. USAToday


Numa Numa

Gary Brolsma, a young man who enjoyed making silly videos to amuse his friends, made a webcam video to the song “Dragostea Din Tel” by the now separated band O-Zone from Romania. He posted it on [www.Newgrounds.com], a video posting site, and it immediately shot to the top of the “Views” list and was reposted to many other video sharing sites, such as YouTube. He gained so much popularity that he was interviewed for several media news shows and had a story written about the phenomenon in the New York Times. wikipedia Gary Brolsma has since created a website Numa2 where he posts new videos that he makes. He also maintains two Myspace profiles: one for the Numa phenomenon and one for his new band where he is the keyboardist and singer. MyspaceNuma and MyspaceNowadays



Another outgrowth of these “friend sites” has been that many musical groups and other celebrities have created sites for group or themselves that enables them to connect with fans and get the word out about their music, albums, concerts or new movies. Many fan-created pages have also been created, and some of these fans pose as the one they admire. This can cause problems for these celebrities as they fight to be in charge of their representation. Many musical artists and groups love having these sites as they can let all their fans know when and where they will be playing. This also enables small musical groups to build a fan base from which they can support themselves and gain popularity. Eventually they may be able to get a contract if they build a wide enough base and are signed to a music production company.


Works Cited


Associated Press. USA Today. Posted 2/27/06 Viewed 12/3/06. <<http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-02-27-myspace-movie_x.htm>>


Broslma, Gary. “New Numa.” Posted 2004. Viewed 12/13/06. <http://www.newnuma.com/|Numa2>


BusinessWeek online. Steve Rosenbush. “Facebook’s on the Block.” Posted 3/28/06. Viewed 12/7/06. <<http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/mar2006/tc20060327_215976.htm>>


Newgrounds. Viewed 12/13/06.


Nowadays Myspace. Gary Brolsma. “Nowadays.” Viewed 12/13/06. <http://www.myspace.com/thenowadaysnj|MyspaceNowadays>


Numa Myspace. Gary Brolsma. “New Numa.” Viewed 12/13/06. <http://www.myspace.com/newnuma|MyspaceNuma>


Numa Numa Wikipedia. Viewed 12/13/06. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numa_Numa|wikipedia>


Teaching Unit “Representation on Social Sites”


As students use the internet and create profiles for themselves and view others, they need to be aware of the ways that people may represent themselves and how to critically analyze these online media “texts” to discover who the people are and how much they can trust a person.


1st day:

Anticipatory Set: As a class, play “I never” for a few minutes. To protect privacy, the teacher may just want to give a couple examples of how the game might be played and not actually allow the students to play it.

Classwork: Using some of the statements used by students or those made up by the teacher, analyze what these statements reveal about or give an impression about the person who says them. (Ex: “I never went skydiving.” The person may be afraid of heights or is not adventurous.) After a few tries, give pairs paragraphs (samples of descriptions people might write on a profile) and have the students figure out what the intention of the person is. What kind of person are they and what impression do they want to give? Have the students analyze these together and then compare and contrast a few of these descriptions. Look at language use, spelling, grammar, slang use, etc.


2nd day.

Anticipatory Set: Students are presented with a series of colors. The students are write down what mood each color evokes for them and what they might think about a person for whom this was a favorite color. What kind of person would they be?

Classwork: Share impressions in a class discussion. What mood, emotion, etc is a person trying to evoke with these colors and what does it tell us about them? How about combinations of colors? What about patterns, drawings, etc? Remind students that colors are also often used in movies and stories to set a tone or mood.


3rd day.

Anticipatory Set: Look at pictures as a class and their angles. What impression, mood, emotion, etc is evoked with these angles? (upward shot = person is higher morally, contorted angle = person doesn’t want to be seen, etc)

Classwork: Small groups look at photos and decide what the intention of each photographer is for each picture. Look at photos from a variety of sources such as fashion magazines, webcams, family photos, the inserts found in photo frames, etc)


4th day.

Anticipatory Set: Quickly review a few of the concepts learned.

Classwork: Discuss what people who are lying might put up. What kind of things might they say, post, and design their site to look like? If their audience was young children, what might it look like to appeal to them? How about teenagers? Identify groups and list how a profile might appeal to them. Then look for subtle inconsistencies like language use and consistency, etc.


5th day.

Anticipatory Set: review concepts learned.

Classwork: In lab, allow students to create profiles on Moodle or a school site. These will be shared and presented the following week.



Negative Implications of Social Networking Sites:

By Theresa Haider



Social networking sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com have become incredibly popular over the past two years, especially with students at the high school and college levels. Along with the positive aspects of these networks, like the ability to express one’s personality through writing and pictures, come negative aspects as well, especially for the more vulnerable.


One way in which teenagers have become targets for predators is through the perceived trust they put in MySpace.com and its users. Many teens assume that users are being honest both with their profiles and with any other information they may offer during online interactions. Not surprisingly, teens have been taken advantage of by predators who use the site. One recent case involves a 14 year old girl who was sexually assaulted by a 19 year old man she met on MySpace. Although she did willingly give out her cell phone number to the predator, she claims MySpace, which she is suing for $30M, failed to protect her from predators. Her claim states that there is no way to verify the authenticity of its users' profile information, and she was left vulnerable to the predator.


Another lawsuit, this time by a teacher suing a student, claims that MySpace allowed the student to post demeaning sexual comments with her picture on his blog. The school suspended the student, but the teacher does not think the punishment is harsh enough. Schools have worked to prevent and punish those who participate in cyber bullying, and this is another example of such bullying. In fact, “school administrators argue they have the right to take disciplinary action when blogs spillover onto school grounds.” Bottom line: students are not only vulnerable to predators, they may be participating in harassment because of the freedoms allowed by the ambiguity of the internet.


Numerous similar lawsuits (Wikipedia: Facebook, Wikipedia: MySpace) have sprung up across the country. For parents of teens, the internet’s ambiguity, and the nature of social networking sites, present safety issues never seen before. Parents must teach their children about safe internet use and about what to do if they feel uncomfortable with something or someone they come across online. Similarly, schools are responsible for continuing to educate students about safe internet use, but their challenge is in juggling the ability to teach students about new online technology, yet not to put them in dangerous situations by promoting dangerous online areas.


Recently, MySpace initiated a program that will scan all its users profiles and pictures and compare them to a database of all registered sex offenders. According to an AP article, the program will not prevent adults from posing as children or teens, nor will it be able to verify a users age if they are not an adult. Those under the age of 18 don't have public records. According to Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org, "People who are registered sexual offenders will just not be themselves now (and) the people who they really need to protect kids from in most cases are not (convicted) sexual offenders," she said. "They are people who haven't been caught yet. It's a great PR (public relations) move but frankly I don't think it's going to make anyone safer." Nonetheless, this is a small step to improving the safety of social networking. MySpace did say they would make their program available to their competitors.


According to Business Week Online, “computer use for activities such as social networking. . . has soared nearly threefold since 2000, to 1 hour and 22 minutes a day on average” (Hempel and Lehman, 2005). It’s obvious that students enjoy using the internet and social networking sites, but is all that networking a good thing? Just like watching too much television or too much video game playing can be harmful to a student’s health, social networking can be too. From the time spent making or keeping in touch with “friends,” to writing entries that are harmful, and posting images of illegal or inappropriate activity, social networking sites can be hazardous to one’s health, especially for teens. The idea that teachers, especially high school teachers, should tap into this new technology is absurd. In fact, many schools, like the one I work at, make social networking sites inaccessible on campus. However, there are safe, appropriate ways teachers can utilize social networking sites in their classes.


Many colleges and universities use sites/services like WebCT and Blackboard for their online courses or course websites. The expense of these sites may not be appropriate for high schools given the more limited funds. However, there is one VLE (virtual learning environment) called Moodle, which is open source, that can be particularly useful to high school teachers. Moodle is a safe secure way to utilize the internet’s most unique offerings, including wikis and web page creation. Moodle requires students to logon and enroll in a teacher’s course, only if the teacher has given that student an enrollment key. Also, the teacher has the ability to see who is enrolled in his or her course and to delete those who may have accidentally joined the course. The teacher can set up groups that allow students to do either synchronous or asynchronous discussions, journals, or even to upload assignments. Teachers can add documents, web pages, videos, audio files, make automatically scored quizzes, and much more. Teachers can also set up activities that allow students to create wikis and web pages either as individuals or groups. The teacher has the ultimate control over numerous settings, including the ability to prohibit students from deleting other users’ information on wikis.


I have used Moodle since the beginning of this school year and have found it to be invaluable in my class. I am currently working with students on an assignment that gives them the chance to create a wiki about a book they’re reading.


Alternative Social Networking Sites Information


Moodle vs. Blackboard Comparison Project



Moodle Information



Cautionary Information for Social Networking


MySpace and Social Networking Safety Recommendations for Parents and Children



NACAC MySpace in College Admission



Electronic Frontier Foundation: Student Blogging



How University Administrators Should Approach the Facebook

Works Cited


Business Week Online. "The MySpace Generation." Posted 12/12/05. Viewed on 12/8/06.



First Coast News. "MySpace Lawsuits on the Rise." Posted 4/24/06. Viewed on 12/8/06. http://www.firstcoastnews.com/tech/news/news-article.aspx?storyid=56283.


Kare 11 News. "MySpace Takes Steps to Block Sexual Predators." Posted 12/6/06. Viewed on 12/6/06. http://www.kare11.com/news/national/national_article.aspx?storyid=141645.


My Crime Space. "30M MySpace Lawsuit." Posted 6/19/06. Viewed on 12/8/06.



Wikipedia. "Facebook." Viewed on 12/1/06.



Wikipedia. "MySpace." Viewed on 12/1/06.


Traditional TV Networks Face Lure Of User-Generated Content

A media critique by Wayne Friedman, Monday, December 11, 2006


THE LOTTERY OVER BIG USER-GENERATED Web sites now has a simple mathematical formula that will stick in people's minds like Michael Richards' rant: A business that has only existed for a year and a half has come away with a $1.65 billion prize.


This is the price Google paid for YouTube--a tough number to put out of your mind even if you're an executive at a $22 billion, $44 billion, or $54 billion dollar traditional media company.Scratching their collective heads as to why anyone would pay $1.65 billion for a company that is not even two years old, execs at old media titans such as Viacom, CBS Corp. Walt Disney, General Electric, and even News Corp. must be angry as hell.


And, faced with this anger and confusion over UGC, many digital marketing executives had their jobs on the firing line. Just look at all the reshuffling at News Corp., CBS, and MTV Networks. The biggest casualty, of course, has been the firing of Viacom's Tom Freston.


Now comes a report via The Wall Street Journal that media companies are looking to pool their resources under one roof for a YouTube-like service. This means one thing: companies haven't got a clue where all this is headed, but they don't want to leave any stone unturned.


YouTube takes these companies' content--often illegally--and spins it for its own members. These videos can get heckled at, or have eggs thrown at them. Savvy veteran network marketers know that kind of distraction builds buzz, both good and bad.


But how can companies approve such freeform consumer interaction? The answer is, they can't. Developing a joint, self-operating, YouTube-type of site of their own would perhaps help them distance themselves from all copyright concerns.Still, they would need to deal with the other part of the business: trying to monetize those short video clips of people accidentally jumping off backyard trampolines onto their pet dogs.


No matter. Media companies seemingly want context--and that comes in social networking sites such as News Corp.'s My Space, which also can be places for user-generated content. While some networks and movie companies have hooked up to MySpace already, using it as a marketing vehicle to help launch shows and films, they don't want to depend totally on News Corp.


As in any TV business, they want viable marketing alternatives. The problem is, the freeform, sometimes illegal nature of YouTube is exactly what attracts viewers.


What makes the big traditional networks think they can recreate this? It's kind of like what BMG went through when it bought something called Napster a few years ago. And you know how that ended up.





Study: Viewers Dropping TV for Internet

A new concludes that the rise of high-speed internet and the explosion in online video content is fueling a worldwide decline in the number of people watching television.

According to a new international study by Ofcom, which sampled a thousand people in each country polled, around one-third of consumers with broadband access watch less television since going online, reports Reuters.

Alongside tech-savvy younger generations watching traditional TV channels on their PC or laptop, more and more people are using instant messaging, blogging, social networking sites such as MySpace and user-generated content sites like YouTube, allowing those users to tailor media consumption to their personal tastes and ditch sit-and-watch viewing habits.


Video: Games in Education


Survey: Social Networking Confounds Schools


Myths about Putting Information Online, Educause


Research on social networking


The Online Auteurs: NYTimes Magazine article about producers of YouTube videos who create video viewed by thousands.



MySpace Is So Last Year

In Teens' Web World, MySpace Is So Last Year. Washington Post

by Yuki Noguchi

Teen Web sensation MySpace became so big so fast, News Corp. spent $580 million last year to buy it. Then Google Inc. struck a $900 million deal, primarily to advertise with it. But now Jackie Birnbaum and her fellow English classmates at Falls Church High School say they're over MySpace.


St. Paul Pioneer Press

Article about mydeathspace

(available for a limited time)


PBS Newshour: Social Networking



Mike Forsberg and Sue Hein's classroom blog at Maple Grove High School



Richard Siklos, The New York Times, January 21, 2007

Media Frenzy: Big Media’s Crush on Social Networking


Social networking, on the other hand, is something potentially deeper — it represents a way to live one’s life online. In many ways, it is the two-dimensional version of what sites like Second Life aspire to be in 3-D: the digital you. And that ties to another earnestly overused term of art at the moment: engagement.


Engagement basically refers to the amount of time people spend doing one thing — reading a magazine, watching a TV show — but also to the depth of their participation. Do they vote on “American Idol”? Flock to Disneyland? Go to the NBC Web site after “The Office” to watch deleted scenes? Or, now, do they integrate their favorite media into their digital personas?


Sony, for instance, paid $65 million for a video-sharing site called Grouper.com and started a nifty service through which you can load your favorite clip from one of its movies — say, Jack Nicholson barking, “You can’t handle the truth” at Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men” — onto your MySpace or Facebook page.


Over the last few weeks, other media companies have accelerated their efforts in social networking. For example, the Hearst Corporation on Jan. 8 bought a small company called eCrush.com. And the Walt Disney Company, the CBS Corporation, Viacom and NBC have all been busy planning new social networking features for their various Web sites.


Many of the ventures sound like logical extensions of existing media brands because, hey, media companies are all about attracting and keeping audiences and then figuring out ways to bring them closer to marketers.


Hearst’s acquisition of eCrush and related Web sites fits nicely with a coming revamp of Cosmogirl.com, Teenmag.com and other online publications for teenagers. One of the sites it acquired, espinthebottle.com, is basically a flirting site for teenagers that vets its participants’ information before matching kids up, to keep the fun clean and safe. So far, the site has attracted more than 3.8 million “hotties” (its term).


Chuck L. Cordray, the vice president for Hearst Magazines Digital, noted that part of the appeal of eCrush is that it is a stand-alone business that can also become a feature of other Hearst online ventures.


“It’s a new way of fulfilling a mission magazines have fulfilled for some time, which is creating communities of interest,” Mr. Cordray said.


What is striking about many of these mainstream media ventures into social networking is that they mirror the big debate over whether Internet surfers will continue to migrate to big portal sites like AOL and Yahoo or will use widely available tools to fashion their own customized Web lives.


According to the online ratings firm ComScore Media Metrix, most of the Top 10 social networking sites as of December 2006 were still big portals like MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo Geocities, Lycos Tripod and AOL. Of course, if social networking soon becomes a popular feature of existing media brands’ Web efforts, its success will be measured by how much it drives traffic and revenue to existing brands, not just by whether it creates winning new ones. For now, NBC, like Disney, is placing most of its bets on integrating features like personalized pages into its existing Web sites rather than trying to build new destinations.


IT can be a tricky business when audiences evolve from being consumers to members. For instance, the need to keep out the wrong element adds a new layer of complexity to the media mix.


MySpace, which according to ComScore Media Metrix attracts more than one-third of the entire social networking audience in the United States, was sued last week by several families who accused it of negligence and recklessness; they said predators were introduced to their underage daughters on the site. MySpace denied any wrongdoing but has been working on ways to make the site safer.


Know this: if you are part of the social networking wave, you will have all the “friends” you can handle. The invite is the new handshake. Get ready for a lot of opportunities to join all kinds of networks — and, one hopes, some appropriately Webby new way to politely say, “No, thank you.”





Techlearning blog

September 14, 2006

Students as Creators and Contributors


Today’s generation has an opportunity like none before it. The opportunity to freely create and contribute to society and a global audience from the confines of their own home, school, library or any other place they can connect into the network of information. It’s this power of creating and contributing that draws our students to the rapidly growing sites of Myspace, Facebook, Xanga, and YouTube.


The Wall Street Journal reported some interesting data on the popular video uploading site YouTube. (Via Micro Persuasion)


  • In a single month the number of videos on the site grew 20% to 6.1 million
  • YouTube has some 45 terabytes of videos
  • Video views reached 1.73 billion
  • 70% of YouTube's registered users are American, roughly 50% are under 20
  • The total time people spent watching YouTube since it started last year is 9,305 years


Students today do not want to receive information, they want to create it. They want to be a part of a social-network not just read about it. This is why sites like Youtube and Myspace are so popular. These spaces were designed for the purpose of allowing people to create information, not just receive it. Brian Crosby had a posting earlier this week on the Learning is Messy blog in which he states:


One of the issues I believe is that kids are perceived by society as only having the potential to contribute to society sometime in the future. If kids were appreciated for what they can contribute now, and that “contribution” was valued by society, perhaps society would be more willing to “invest” more substantially in them at an earlier age. One of the transformative aspects of technology is that it allows students to produce finished products that others have access to and can use: Other students, other members of the local community and members of the global community.


We are in a place and time when creating and contributing to a worldly audience is easier than ever; whether through the written media (blogs and wikis), spoken media (podcasting), or the visual media (videos). It reminds me of the educational idea:


Tell me and I forget

Teach me and I remember

Involve me and I understand


Creating is doing and doing with a purpose is contributing to society. So as educators how do we harness this power in positive, educational ways? We listen to our students.


Morning after morning my middle school students come in and head to one web site…YouTube. YouTube is the new entertainment center for teens, and I don’t blame them. Spend some time there and you soon find the minutes flying by as you get deeper into viewing what people have created and contributed to this social-network. Where was this when I was in school? I remember having to run to the computer lab to make sure I got one of the copies of Oregon Trail…the original Oregon Trail!


Watching this day after day, I decided to harness this power of creativity and have my students create digital stories. Using the free Microsoft application Photo Story 3 and the tutorials created by David Jakes, my students taught themselves how to use the program to create their stories for class. Then using the K12 group within YouTube that Miguel Guhlin created, the students uploaded the videos to share with a worldly audience. Students as creators contributing their new knowledge to the world.


Listen to your students; find what new web tool, web site, or social-network excites them. Find a way to harness their excitement of being creators and contributors and bring that excitement into the classroom and allow your students to create something that teaches or tells a story to a global audience.


Posted by Jeff Utecht at 02:24 AM



Lakshmi Chaudhry, Mirror, Mirror On the Web, The Nation, 284(4), January 29, 2007



"Everyone, in the back of his mind, wants to be a star," says YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, explaining the dizzying success of the online mecca of amateur video in Wired magazine. And thanks to MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, LiveJournal and other bastions of the retooled Web 2.0, every Jane, Joe or Jamila can indeed be a star, be it as wannabe comics, citizen journalists, lip-syncing geeks, military bloggers, aspiring porn stars or even rodent-eating freaks.


We now live in the era of micro-celebrity, which offers endless opportunities to celebrate that most special person in your life, i.e., you--who not coincidentally is also Time magazine's widely derided Person of the Year for 2006. An honor once reserved for world leaders, pop icons and high-profile CEOs now belongs to "you," the ordinary netizen with the time, energy and passion to "make a movie starring my pet iguana...mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals...blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street."


The editors at Time tout this "revolution" in the headiest prose: "It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes."


This is the stuff of progressive fantasy: change, community, collaboration. And it echoes our cherished hope that a medium by, of and for the people will create a more democratic world. So it's easy to miss the editorial sleight of hand that slips from the "I" to the "we," substitutes individual self-expression for collective action and conflates popular attention with social consciousness.


For all the talk about coming together, Web 2.0's greatest successes have capitalized on our need to feel significant and admired and, above all, to be seen. The latest iteration of digital democracy has indeed brought with it a new democracy of fame, but in doing so it has left us ever more in the thrall of celebrity, except now we have a better shot at being worshiped ourselves. As MySpace luminary Christine Dolce told the New York Post, "My favorite comment is when people say that I'm their idol. That girls look up to me."


So we upload our wackiest videos to YouTube, blog every sordid detail of our personal lives so as to insure at least fifty inbound links, add 200 new "friends" a day to our MySpace page with the help of friendflood.com, all the time hoping that one day all our efforts at self-promotion will merit--at the very least--our very own Wikipedia entry.


In The Frenzy of Renown, written in 1986, Leo Braudy documented the long and intimate relationship between mass media and fame. The more plentiful, accessible and immediate the ways of gathering and distributing information have become, he wrote, the more ways there are to be known: "In the past that medium was usually literature, theater, or public monuments. With the Renaissance came painting and engraved portraits, and the modern age has added photography, radio, movies, and television. As each new medium of fame appears, the human image it conveys is intensified and the number of individuals celebrated expands." It's no surprise then that the Internet, which offers vastly greater immediacy and accessibility than its top-down predecessors, should further flatten the landscape of celebrity.


The democratization of fame, however, comes at a significant price. "Through the technology of image reproduction and information reproduction, our relation to the increasing number of faces we see every day becomes more and more transitory, and 'famous' seems as devalued a term as 'tragic,'" Braudy wrote. And the easier it is to become known, the less we have to do to earn that honor. In ancient Greece, when fame was inextricably linked to posterity, an Alexander had to make his mark on history to insure that his praises would be sung by generations to come. The invention of the camera in the nineteenth century introduced the modern notion of fame linked inextricably to a new type of professional: the journalist. Aspiring celebrities turned increasingly to achievements that would bring them immediate acclaim, preferably in the next day's newspaper, and with the rise of television, on the evening news.


The broadcast media's voracious appetite for spectacle insured that notoriety and fame soon became subsumed by an all-encompassing notion of celebrity, where simply being on TV became the ultimate stamp of recognition. At the same time, advertisers sought to redefine fame in terms of buying rather than doing, fusing the American Dream of material success with the public's hunger for stars in programs such as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.


But the advent of cyber-fame is remarkable in that it is divorced from any significant achievement--farting to the tune of "Jingle Bells," for example, can get you on VH1. While a number of online celebrities are rightly known for doing something (a blogger like Markos Moulitsas, say), and still others have leveraged their virtual success to build lucrative careers (as with the punk-rock group Fall Out Boy), it is no longer necessary to do either in order to be "famous."


Fame is now reduced to its most basic ingredient: public attention. And the attention doesn't have to be positive either, as in the case of the man in Belfast who bit the head off a mouse for a YouTube video. "In our own time merely being looked at carries all the necessary ennoblement," Braudy wrote twenty years ago, words that ring truer than ever today.


Celebrity has become a commodity in itself, detached from and more valuable than wealth or achievement. Even rich New York socialites feel the need for their own blog, socialiterank.com, to get in on the action. The advice for aspiring celebutantes may be tongue-in-cheek--"To become a relevant socialite, you are virtually required to have your name in the press"--but no less true in this age of Paris Hilton wannabes.


Fame is no longer a perk of success but a necessary ingredient, whether as a socialite, chef, scholar or skateboarder. "For a great many people it is no longer enough to be very good at what you do. One also has to be a public figure, noticed and celebrated, and preferably televised," writes Hal Niedzviecki in his book Hello, I'm Special. When it is more important to be seen than to be talented, it is hardly surprising that the less gifted among us are willing to fart our way into the spotlight.


The fantasy of fame is not new, but what is unprecedented is the primacy of the desire, especially among young people. "I wanna be famous because I would love it more than anything.... Sometimes I'll cry at night wishing and praying for a better life to be famous... To be like the others someday too! Because i know that I can do it!" declares Britney Jo, writing on iWannaBeFamous.com.


She is hardly unusual. A 2000 Interprise poll revealed that 50 percent of kids under 12 believe that becoming famous is part of the American Dream. It's a dream increasingly shared by the rest of the world, as revealed in a recent survey of British children between 5 and 10, who most frequently picked being famous as the "very best thing in the world." The views of these young children are no different from American college freshmen, who, according to a 2004 survey, most want to be an "actor or entertainer."


Our preoccupation with fame is at least partly explained by our immersion in a media-saturated world that constantly tells us, as Braudy described it, "we should be famous if we possibly can, because it is the best, perhaps the only, way to be." Less obvious, however, is how our celebrity culture has fueled, and been fueled by, a significant generational shift in levels of narcissism in the United States.


In the 1950s, only 12 percent of teenagers between 12 and 14 agreed with the statement, "I am an important person." By the late 1980s, the number had reached an astounding 80 percent, an upward trajectory that shows no sign of reversing. Preliminary findings from a joint study conducted by Jean Twenge, Keith Campbell and three other researchers revealed that an average college student in 2006 scored higher than 65 percent of the students in 1987 on the standard Narcissism Personality Inventory test, which includes statements such as "I am a special person," "I find it easy to manipulate people" and "If I were on the Titanic, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat." In her recent book Generation Me, Twenge applies that overarching label to everyone born between 1970 and 2000.


According to Twenge and her colleagues, the spike in narcissism is linked to an overall increase in individualism, which has been fostered by a number of factors, including greater geographical mobility, breakdown of traditional communities and, more important, "the self-focus that blossomed in the 1970s and became mundane and commonplace over the next two decades." In schools, at home and in popular culture, children over the past thirty-odd years have been inculcated with the same set of messages: You're special; love yourself; follow your dreams; you can be anything you want to be.


These mantras, in turn, have been woven into an all-pervasive commercial narrative used to hawk everything from movie tickets to sneakers. Just do it, baby, but make sure you buy that pair of Nikes first. The idea that every self is important has been redefined to suit the needs of a cultural marketplace that devalues genuine community and selfhood in favor of "success." In this context, "feeling good about myself" becomes the best possible reason to staple one's stomach, buy that shiny new car, or strip for a Girls Gone Wild video. The corollary of individualism becomes narcissism, an inflated evaluation of self-worth devoid of any real sense of "self" or "worth."


Since a key component of narcissism is the need to be admired and to be the center of attention, Generation Me's attraction to fame is inevitable. "You teach kids they're special. And then they watch TV, the impression they get is that everyone should be rich and famous. Then they hear, 'You can be anything you want.' So they're like, 'Well, I want to be rich and famous,'" says Twenge. Or if not rich and famous, at least to be "seen"--something the rest of us plebeians can now aspire to in the brave new media world. "To be noticed, to be wanted, to be loved, to walk into a place and have others care about what you're doing, even what you had for lunch that day: that's what people want, in my opinion,'' Big Brother contestant Kaysar Ridha told the New York Times, thus affirming a recent finding by Drew Pinsky and Mark Young that reality TV stars are far more narcissistic than actors, comedians or musicians--perhaps because they reflect more closely the reason the rest of us are obsessed more than ever with "making it."


Not only do Americans increasingly want to be famous, but they also believe they will be famous, more so than any previous generation. A Harris poll conducted in 2000 found that 44 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 believed it was at least somewhat likely that they would be famous for a short period. Those in their late twenties were even more optimistic: Six in ten expected that they would be well-known, if only briefly, sometime in their lives. The rosy predictions of our destiny, however, contain within them the darker conviction that a life led outside the spotlight would be without value. "People want the kind of attention that celebrities receive more than anything else," says Niedzviecki. "People want the recognition, the validation, the sense of having a place in the culture because we no longer know where we belong, what we're about or what we should be about."


Without any meaningful standard by which to measure our worth, we turn to the public eye for affirmation. "It's really the sense that Hey, I exist in this world, and that is important. That I matter," Niedzviecki says. Our "normal" lives therefore seem impoverished and less significant compared with the media world, which increasingly represents all that is grand and worthwhile, and therefore more "real."


No wonder then that 16-year-old Rachel, Britney Jo's fellow aspirant to fame on iWannaBeFamous.com, rambles in desperation, "I figured out that I am tired of just dreaming about doing something, I am sick of looking for a "regular" job... I feel life slipping by, and that 'something is missing' feeling begins to dominate me all day and night, I can't even watch the Academy Awards ceremony without crying...that is how I know...that is me.... I have to be...in the movies!!!"


The evolution of the Internet has both mirrored and shaped the intense focus on self that is the hallmark of the post-boomer generation. "If you aren't posting, you don't exist. People say, 'I post, therefore I am,'" Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, a new media consultancy, told Wired, inadvertently capturing the essence of Web 2.0, which is driven by our hunger for self-expression. Blogs, amateur videos, personal profiles, even interactive features such as Amazon.com's reviews offer ways to satisfy our need to be in the public eye.


But the virtual persona we project online is a carefully edited version of ourselves, as "authentic" as a character on reality TV. People on reality TV "are ultra-self-aware versions of the ordinary, über-facsimiles of themselves in the same way that online personals are recreations of self constantly tweaked for maximum response and effect," writes Niedzviecki in his book.


Self-expression glides effortlessly into self-promotion as we shape our online selves--be it on a MySpace profile, LiveJournal blog or a YouTube video--to insure the greatest attention. Nothing beats good old-fashioned publicity even in the brave new world of digital media. So it should come as no shock that the oh-so-authentic LonelyGirl15 should turn out to be a PR stunt or that the most popular person on MySpace is the mostly naked Tila Tequila, the proud purveyor of "skank-pop" who can boast of 1,626,097 friends, a clothing line, a record deal and making the cover of Maxim UK and Stuff magazines. YouTube has become the virtual equivalent of Los Angeles, the destination de rigueur for millions of celebrity aspirants, all hoping they will be the next Amanda Congdon, the videoblogger now with a gig on ABCNews.com, or the Spiridellis brothers, who landed venture capital funding because of their wildly popular video "This Land."


Beginning with the dot-com boom in the 1990s through to its present iteration as Web 2.0, the cultural power of the Internet has been fueled by the modern-day Cinderella fantasy of "making it." With their obsessive focus on A-list bloggers, upstart twentysomething CEOs and an assortment of weirdos and creeps, the media continually reframe the Internet as yet another shot at the glittering prize of celebrity. "We see the same slow channeling of the idea that your main goal in life is to reach as many people as possible all over the world with your product. And your product is you," says Niedzviecki. "As long as that's true, it's very hard to see how the Internet is going to change that." As long as more democratic media merely signify a greater democracy of fame--e.g., look how that indie musician landed a contract with that major label--we will remain enslaved by the same narrative of success that sustains corporate America.


In our eagerness to embrace the web as a panacea for various political ills, progressives often forget that the Internet is merely a medium like any other, and the social impact of its various features--interactivity, real-time publishing, easy access, cheap mass distribution--will be determined by the people who use them. There is no doubt that these technologies have facilitated greater activism, and new forms of it, both on- and offline. But we confuse the web's promise of increased visibility with real change. Political actions often enter the ether of the media world only to be incorporated into narratives of individual achievement. And the more successful among us end up as bold-faced names, leached dry of the ideas and values they represent--yet another face in the cluttered landscape of celebrity, with fortunes that follow the usual trajectory of media attention: First you're hot, and then you're not.


"It's all about you. Me. And all the various forms of the First Person Singular," writes cranky media veteran Brian Williams in his contribution to Time's year-end package. "Americans have decided the most important person in their lives is...them, and our culture is now built upon that idea." So, have we turned into a nation of egoists, uninterested in anything that falls outside our narrow frame of self-reference?


As Jean Twenge points out, individualism doesn't necessarily preclude a social conscience or desire to do good. "But Generation Me articulates it as 'I want to make a difference,'" she says. "The outcome is still good, but it does put the self in the center." Stephen Duncombe, on the other hand, author of the new book Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, argues that rather than dismiss our yearning for individual recognition, progressives need to create real-world alternatives that offer such validation. For example, in place of vast anonymous rallies that aim to declare strength in numbers, he suggests that liberal activism should be built around small groups. "The size of these groups is critical. They are intimate affairs, small enough for each participant to have an active role in shaping the group's direction and voice," he writes. "In these 'affinity groups,' as they are called, every person is recognized: in short, they exist."


Such efforts, however, would have to contend with GenMe's aversion to collective action. "The baby boomers were self-focused in a different way. Whether it was self-examination like EST or social protest, they did everything in groups. This new generation is allergic to groups," Twenge says. And as Duncombe admits, activism is a tough sell for a nation weaned on the I-driven fantasy of celebrity that serves as "an escape from democracy with its attendant demands for responsibility and participation."


There is a happier alternative. If these corporate technologies of self-promotion work as well as promised, they may finally render fame meaningless. If everyone is onstage, there will be no one left in the audience. And maybe then we rock stars can finally turn our attention to life down here on earth. Or it may be life on earth that finally jolts us out of our admiring reverie in the mirrored hall of fame. We forget that this growing self-involvement is a luxury afforded to a generation that has not experienced a wide-scale war or economic depression. If and when the good times come to an end, so may our obsession with fame. "There are a lot of things on the horizon that could shake us out of the way we are now. And some of them are pretty ugly," Niedzviecki says. "You won't be able to say that my MySpace page is more important than my real life.... When you're a corpse, it doesn't matter how many virtual friends you have." Think global war, widespread unemployment, climate change. But then again, how cool would it be to vlog your life in the new Ice Age--kind of like starring in your very own Day After Tomorrow. LOL.

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