An Anthropological Study on Social Media
Artist, San Francisco Bay Area
AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL STUDY ON SOCIAL MEDIA
For a time I used Twitter a lot. As I made connections and experienced the platform as a new kind of social space, I couldn’t help but simultaneously think of the interactions as a virtual microcosm of real-life communities–– the angling, positioning, wanting, and hoping made visible tweet by tweet, recorded and kept in the stream. This is that experience, captured and presented here. A quick scroll through these images will give a sense of the various forms this project took: the tweets, the sculptural collage, the written script (read script here) and the performance. I’ve also outlined in detail below the three components of my twitter experience that led to this project: Immersed, Documented, and Replicated.
Part 1: Immersed
Researched the Field
• Started on Twitter, advocacy work for pediatric cancer, for the young daughter of one of my best friends.
• Reached out online to people I didn’t know in real life. Disorienting. Exhausting.
• Then: exhilarating! amazing! Instant nationwide connections made with advocates & cancer organizations!
• Finished the project, logged off Twitter.
• Needed art community. Homebound. Unable to connect with local artists.
• Logged back onto Twitter.
• Found one artist, which led to many artists.
• Twitter feed became two communities (pediatric cancer & New York art world), side by side.
• Unconnected but intertwined on my screen.
• What made community? What was important?
Observed and Analyzed
• Used Twitter feed of accounts followed as community sample.
• Unfollowed the least personal of the person accounts (I unfollowed no more than 5).
• Received angry message from anonymous person about unfollowing them.
• Read completely through every twitter stream of every person I was following (not organizations).
• Gathered sense of individuals through bursts of words.
Experienced and Realized
• Saw sense of felt privacy in the public online crowd.
• Voyeur or eyewitness? I read through people’s public conversations.
• Saw the elevation and preservation of fleeting thoughts.
• Saw how interactions worked (and didn’t work).
• Observed: who communicated with whom, what was said.
• Who was ignored, what was ignored.
• When I was ignored, who ignored me.
• Who followed whom, who wasn’t followed.
• How people organized each other.
• How I organized others.
• We resent the restrictions of social (interpersonal) hierarchies, but accept the benefits and perpetuate them anyway.
• We prioritize attention on our own discomfort despite evidence of our privileges.
Part 2: Documented
Crafted a Story
• Looked for personal information pieces.
• Didn’t excuse any account.
• Included 2-3 tweets from every person account.
• Printed them.
• Cut them out individually.
• Studied them.
• Thought about a universal story.
• Saw people’s needs, wants, hopes.
• Saw people experiencing each other’s words, sorting each other.
• Experienced people’s words, then I actively sorted them.
Connected Hypothesis to Story
• Decided how to tell the story.
• Decided what observations to highlight.
• Chose information to support subjective observations.
• Arranged information into piles.
• Found words/tweets/connections that proved my subjective points.
• Curated people’s words to tell the story I wanted to tell.
Set Out to Prove Hypothesis
• Categorized people’s words with made-up systems.
• Culled the ones that were irrelevant to the story as I saw it.
• Hid them, but didn’t trash them.
• Buried them by gluing them down first.
• Disappeared them under the other tweets.
• Built the story I had intended to tell in the first place.
Part 3: Replicated
The Hypothesis Came To Life
• Continued to select, sort, and arrange tweets according to the story I wanted.
• Noted people frustrated by the restrictions of social hierarchy.
• Saw people prioritizing attention on their own experiences over others’.
• Narrative developed that mirrored the data I was sorting.
• Had this as a conversation with myself.
• Wanted to have the conversation with other artists.
• Didn’t find anyone interested in this project.
• Got frustrated by the restrictions of social hierarchy that kept my work hidden.
• Prioritized attention on my own experience over others’.
• Lived my hypothesis.
• Wrote that experience into a script.