A Tale of Two FAMST248 Articles

It was the best of times and the worst of times for data academia this week, at least in my take on the articles. On the one hand, I found in the Robertson & Travaglia piece a really informative and concise overview of links between our ‘Big Data’ issues today and historical precedent in the 19th Century I hadn’t considered. The ‘Avalanche of Numbers’ fascinates me, and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard it specifically referred to before this point. I also appreciated the straightforward discussion on the perils of ‘deviant’ social categories in objective data, though of course that’s a topic that has haunted us since Week 1.

But what I enjoyed less, and therefore what will subsequently take up more of my attention, was “Understanding Social Media Logic.” Though I’m likely being a bit too hard on the article (polemics make better blog posts), I felt that while the four “grounding principles” might encompass a helpful tautology to serve as a starting point for a social media research project, overall they presented as curious choices to frame a discussion of social media ‘logic’ in relation to mass media logic.

Most simply put, I thought that both ‘programmability’ and ‘popularity’ both boiled down to human agency in a manner non-unique to social media. I don’t even think this was something obscured or manipulated for an unfair point—the article is straightforward that human agency is half of programming, and in the other half (technology) invokes Gillespie’s contention that in technical social media programming practice, human choices “have not vanished…[they] are processed imperceptibly and automatically” (6). Popularity, too, seems an almost-synonym for what’s already being discussed here, and I think the argument that the difference between social/mass media logic is that social media can measure popularity while also trying to influence it falls flat based on the direction of influence. The example here is that large groups of users can band together to influence popularity, but how is that any different from viewers of television programs or non-digital political activists (besides the higher efficiency of the social media platform)? There is a mention of platform owners using popularity to promote causes, but the given citation seems far more a textbook example of programming that could have existed on any broadcast news report from the last fifty years.

The final pillars (‘connectivity’ and ‘datafication’) seemed far more useful to me, but at this point I’m not sure about their framing and it seems the concepts might be mobilized more usefully in a different discussion. Especially considering the opening case study of the ridiculous behavior surrounding a teenager’s birthday party, the unpacking of these concepts as social media fallout could be handled far more specifically in relation to existing mass media logic.


How I’ll be dressed on Monday? 


A Tale of Two FAMST248 Articles

2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two FAMST248 Articles

  1. lisayhan says:

    Hi Jeremy,

    I think what you and I are both contending with is this question of to what extent framing ideas as discrete can be useful or reductive in scholarship itself. I agree with you, in that the idea of popularity and programming seem to be basically pointing to the same idea (algorithms and human actors act on each other to create social trends) and that connectivity and datafication are slightly more useful, but they still should be interrogated as a way to structure a discussion between mass media and social media. In the past, I used to feel a lot of pressure to come up with discrete structuring in my writing like this—the point a, point b, point c adding up to some X term that I made up to describe a wide swath of ideas. But the longer I’m in graduate school, the more I’m starting to realize that while on occasion, new terms are needed to describe gaps in scholarship, a lot of the time people toss out these framings in unnecessary ways to the detriment of the actual ideas they are trying to express. I think the mass media/ social media distinction is useful to an extent, but I also feel that this insistence on emphasizing specific terms “logics” is a distraction from what would otherwise be a more organic line of thought.


  2. Nicole says:

    Hi Jeremy,

    While I enjoyed the piece overall in what it did as far as putting different types of scholarship in conversation with each other, I also was very wary of this pillarized framework as you discuss here. As I’ve been talking more and more with undergraduate students about finding a way into their hopefully promising research projects, I find myself boiling my questions down to a few: What central research question are you trying to answer? Why and how? Different projects assume different approaches into research and writing. I think that I eased into the authors’ periodized framing once I started to think about why they would approach writing in this way. I feel like so many times we get caught up in trying to find the holes in scholarly work – room for improvement, problematic wording – which is important, but we forget to think from a production standpoint sometimes. Who is this writing for? Why is it being produced? What is the central question that is trying to be answered here? I think our discussions of Sounds of Belonging last week point towards the actual constraints on writing that give shape to a piece before the writer even begins, and then the constraints of communication place by continually having a particular audience in mind. I’m in no way saying that we should quit the project of interrogating what we read, see, hear, etc., but backing out to the contextual level, at least for me, pushes me to think across disciplines, possibly pointing towards disciplinary gaps in understanding and wording that provoke deeper thought, particularly towards the conversations of epistemology.


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