Thursday, February 26, 2009

I've been battling with trying to get a handle on the temporality of status updates in Facebook. My ideas are still pretty rough around the edges, but I'm posting them here in the hope that some of the narrative / new media scholars and philosophers will give me some feedback and help me hone the ideas. Special thanks to Amy Elias for making me go and read some phenomenology and Joe Baker for pointing me to Ricouer's work on cosmic time. Anyway, here goes...

The temporality of the status updates operates on a number of levels. Against the backdrop of a-personal cosmic time, the writer’s status updates can be seen in Ricouer’s terms as an attempt to ‘make time human’ (1984:52) by selecting particular events as worthy of narration while other material is not. However, the human time depicted in the updates themselves is far from a linear string of dates. Rather, as Ochs and Capps put it, human time is ‘sensed holistically’ (2001:157) where the past and future are brought to bear on the present moment.

We might interpret the significance of the ‘pull of the present’ in terms of the particular context created by the social network. At one level, the significant of the present moment in status updates might be interpreted simply as a result of the immediate discourse situation. The prompt for the status update after all, asks the writer what they are doing ‘right now’, not what they were doing at some point earlier in their life. As such, the stories in the status updates are a far cry from the canonical examples so influential in work on life story (Linde 1993) or narratives of personal experience (Labov 1972) where the speaker is narrating past events that have since been completed, and are usually retrospectively distant from the present moment. The significance of what is happening ‘right now’ to a writer is clearly appropriate to the technology of Facebook, which is driven by the RSS feeds that promote recency as a driving organizational force.

Returning to the Chronotope of the status update, we are reminded that FB is not a collection of updates that exist in isolation to each other. Instead, there are two parameters (the time of the individual's narrative and the space of the social network) where updates are distributed across and form intersections in the social network of Friends. Within the framework of Newtonian time imprinted by the Facebook timestamp, a framework which is linear and unidirectional, the present moments narrated in the status update construct an elastic temporality that generates a sense of ongoing-ness that transcends objective measurement. Hermeneutic approaches to time are useful here. Drawing on Heidegger’s (1962) concept of Dasein, time is not defined in individual terms, but profoundly contextualised by living with others. Status updates are an apt vehicle for realising this idea, for they project an illusion of a present moment that carries beyond its point of articulation (it remains in the archive for longer than the moment it is written) and which is instantaneously shared with all others in the Friendship network. The effect of this ongoing present is one of intimacy, “through mutual embracing of the temporal context (Dasein) we come to understand one another and our own being as well” (Bennett 2000:13). The present tense quality of the status updates’ narrative is not just one that humanizes time (Ricouer) but also is inextricably linked to the social dimension of human reality.



Blogger JoseAngel said...

Yeah... although one could argue that the temporal experience which is articulated in Facebook, given the ambigous status of who is and out, is a "social life out of joint", full of interferences and unexpected ripples and superpositions of contexts. As to time, it's mainly focused on the immediate or recent present, which is good enough not to add to the social confusion by adding temporal confusion as well. Facebook is expendable, even though it does last online... However, in blogs, because the updates have a longer "life", there is all right a "time out of joint" in which there may be multiple presents for each post open for interaction — resurrection of old posts which were "present" and perhaps become so again.... anyway, a complex and fascinating experience for students of narrative time.

btw, I just came back to your blog because I read a paper you kindly sent me, on "Blogging the body", on cancer blogs and on the communicative styles of men and women. Thanks for that, I found it very interesting. And this matter of the communicative styles of men and women made me think of a poem by Kingsley Amis, on male and female poets:

A Bookshop Idyll

Between the gardening and the cookery

Comes the brief poetry shelf;

By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology

Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,

I scan the Contents page,

Relieved to find the names are mostly new;

No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:

Landscape near Parma

Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,

So does Rilke and Buddha.

'I travel, you see', 'I think' and 'I can read'

These titles seem to say;

But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,

Poem for J.,

The ladies' choice, discountenance my patter

For several seconds;

From somewhere in this (as in any) matter

A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart

Or squash it flat?

Man's love is of man's life a thing apart;

Girls aren't like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff

Can get by without it.

Women don't seem to think that's good enough;

They write about it,

And the awful way their poems lay open

Just doesn't strike them.

Women are really much nicer than men:

No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times

We sat up half the night

Chockfull of love, crammed with bright thoughts,

names, rhymes,

And couln't write.

4:17 AM  
Blogger ufo said...

Hi Ruth, I'm studying at the University of Brighton and I'm preparing my essay about how social networking sites have changed the way we communicate. I'm so glad I've found your blog while I was investigating the narrative within these sites.
Just wanted to say that is great and look forward to read future posts as I find it highly interesting :)

8:02 AM  

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