Marwick’s ethnography of the tech scene in San Francisco is as addictive as the very media she is discussing. Her findings confront the ideas surrounding “authenticity” as defined by this population that puts value on number of followers, retweets, traffic, etc., while actively denying that those things really matter. There are many keen observations about micro-celebrities, anti-consumerist consumerism and, most importantly, the inequalities within the scene. The later chapters circle in on sexism within the scene, how it is maintained and has become a part of the institutions in tech.
The study takes place between 2006-2010 when Twitter was booming, which accounts for why there is such a focus on that particular sharing mechanism. I was particularly amused because I work around the corner from Twitter’s offices at Civic Center. I passed by the hordes of Twitter employees going to lunch, sporting their Twitter gear and probably discussing the very things Marwick noticed in her book (the latest technology, last night’s invite-only party, next week’s conference).
I thought her keen observations of the nuanced meanings of “authenticity” converged well with her early assessments about neoliberalism becoming an aspect of how we present ourselves online. The self-governance that we partake in can help us build the status that is so essential to what we now deem important in forming our identity. What’s so interesting is what is seen as “acceptable” behavior and what is not, and who tries to dictate and maintain these standards. For instance, those just starting out on Twitter will retweet other users with more followers in order to increase their own numbers, a practice that is frowned upon by those who already have a booming following.
Marwick’s strength is her holistic approach to presenting her findings (she gets that not everyone is going to know the insider lingo or history, so she explains it). Her overview of the history of Web 2.0 was a fantastic briefing and actually featured one of the professors I became close to at USC. The background information really helps build a reference point when she starts to flesh out the communities and individuals that take center stage in her research.
Really fascinating read for any anthropologists, journalists, tech fiends, or even just tech users. In fact, I would love to see this replace some of the older ethnographies in curriculum (the subject-matter would actually appeal to modern students anyway). I could see the Web 2.0 overview being really useful in web-based courses that just want a basic briefing. Though I would have loved to see more on racial inequalities, which she hints at, I understand that that was not the focus of her study. Hopefully she will continue her study one day and give us more fabulous observations and insights.