ADVERTISEMENT
Talking back

Talking back

A science blog, sans blague

On "Media Refusal and Conspicuous Non-Consumption: The Performative and Political Dimensions of Facebook Abstention"

|

I just did something that I'm sure is not on any "helpful tips" list for aspiring science bloggers.

Some users have "unliked" Facebook

To write this post, I just copied a title from an academic journal and hit <CTRL> V in the headline field of WordPress.

I wouldn't usually do a cut and paste, but this title brought a big smile and, after all, isn't consummate fascination the sine qua non of search engine optimization?

The headline above also happened to top an article by Laura Portwood-Stacer, a visiting professor at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, an article published online in the journal New Media and Society.

The study kept me amused throughout because of my familiarity with the "WooHoo!!!" "Awesome!!!" vernacular of Facebook and the contrast of OMG speak with the dense lexicon of media studies. The research by Portwood-Stacer focuses on those who make a conscious choice to avoid the social media site.

These are "Facebook abstainers," people who engage in a "performative mode of resistance, which must be understood within the context of a neoliberal consumer culture, in which subjects are empowered to act through consumption choices—or in this case non-consumption choices—and through the public display of those choices." In other words, is dropping your Facebook account an act of political defiance?

According to Portwood-Stacer, those who commit "Facebook suicide" or frequent the @NotOnFacebook Twitter account, or post to the hashtag #facebooksucks (Facebook no, Twitter si?) or flee to the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine may be embracing a form of reverse snobbery: "taste and distinction are invoked by refusers through their conspicuous display of non-consumption." Call it reverse Veblenism or maybe just imagine retro hipsters from Williamsburg casting off the psychological bondage of keeping up with social media commitments.

For the study, Portwood-Stacer went to anti-Facebook websites, read 100 popular press articles on the topic, along with reader comments, and contacted 20 Facebook conscientious objectors.

One refuser named Bruce and his male family members "felt that masculine norms of rugged independence and seriousness—in contrast to the implicit femininity of playfulness and dependence—were bound up in the men's vocal disidentification with social networking activities."

Other rejectionists distanced themselves from the "artificiality" and "narcissism" of it all. "Again, the parallel to other discourses of media rejection is clear—mediums such as the telephone and the television have been accused of similar deficiencies, often with gendered and other connotations inflected by structural social hierarchies. The discourse of authenticity is invoked to distinguish 'real life," which is worthwhile, from media consumption, which is not."

Facebook refusal can also be interpreted in a Marxist-Marcusian framework. "As a media platform, Facebook may be the epitomic site for the creation and discipline of the neoliberal consumer-producer-citzen: through participation in Facebook's network, individuals are addressed as consumers of commodities; enlisted as panoptic surveillers of their friends, family and even distant acquaintances."

Facebook refusal quickly bumps up against "the hegemony of the status quo, which by nature works to delegitmate ideological critique and quash burgeoning counter-hegemonic movements." Portwood-Stacer gives the example of Billy, a Facebook Luddite who listens to vinyl records and perceives himself to be an "old man" for reading a print newspaper.

In the end, Portwood-Stacer comes to the conclusion that Facebook refusal is a "limited tactic of political engagement where media platforms are concerned."

"...as this study demonstrates, the discursive context within which personal refusal is situated matters greatly for how the practice of refusal is interpreted, whether it is awarded legitimacy and whether it will win the support of observers. The discursive context will necessarily be constrained by the ideological forces that shape mainstream conversations about consumption."

The discursive context may be constrained as well by the $25 that it costs to buy a PDF of the full text of the article in New Media and Society.

Image Source: Enoc vt

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

Email this Article

X