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Google+ Anthropology 4

Anthropology of Google+ Part 4 – Hyperknowledge and Construction of the Self

Another interesting aspect of watching the Google+ community form is watching the virtual currency of hyperknowledge that the users have about the platform and tech in general. This hyperknowledge of the minutest details serves the user as a sort of social currency (Jenkins: 1992) which allows for participation at a higher level within the Google+ community.

Users like +Tom Anderson +Robert Scoble and +Kevin Rose have achieved super star status because of their extreme knowledge and existing status within the tech communities. As a result, they are often seen ‘in the stream’ even if a user hasn’t included them in their circles due to reshares.

This brings me to the idea of ‘the self’ or ‘identity’.

Our identities are formed by the people that surround us at any point in our lives. Parents and siblings, teachers and classmates, colleagues and friends; all of these relationships aid in the building of our sense of self. These are the direct human contacts that help us determine our likes and dislikes, our passions and joys, and our endeavors towards future selves that we have, as yet, to become.

In the virtual ‘social’ world of Google+, we are also influenced by those who are ‘reshared’, referred to, or who help to shape the opinions of those around us. Admittedly, my opinions on Google+ (and yours) have been partially shaped by those mentioned above and others. At the moment, Google+ is much more narcicistic than we can (or should) expect it to be in the future. In the future, we will be seeing much more content focused on life, living, beliefs, and things other than Google+.

Michael Foucault addressed this influence in ‘Text, Discourse, and Ideology.’

…in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality. (Foucault, p. 50).

Foucault goes on to talk about how by creating the way we think about things, our society is able to actually limit the things we think about. Foucault refers to this as principles of exclusion within discourse.

Thus we reach one of the many ways that the those outside of our circles are able to shape not only our opinions on Google+ but ultimately our individual identity, through the conditioning of thoughts towards thinking in a certain way.

Any message which is able to achieve this sort of massive reposting is almost certainly controlled and selected by the author and arranged in a way that the author feels it describes their worldview (or more insidiously, arranged how they want others to view the world), and is then distributed within the population that either 1) shares that world view or 2) is likely to share that worldview in the future or is likely to 3) reshare that worldview.

Manuel Castells in The Power of Identity provides specific examples of how the mass media has shaped the individual identity. Castells looked at modern social movements as diverse as militias in the United States, Japanese doomsday cults, Al Qaeda , and WTO protestors and showed how all of these movements were able to spread and attract followers, not because of the inherent message of the groups, but more importantly because of the message which was spread outward from the groups or spread via mass media and how it came to be accepted as a truth in the societies represented and thus aided in the formation of the identity of individuals through mass media outlets such as Rush Limbaugh, al-Jazeera, Indy Media, and even the nightly news.

Castells sums this up neatly:
…the actual conspiracy with no names (or multiple names) and with no organization (or hundreds of them) flows in the information networks, feeding paranoia, connecting anger, and maybe spilling blood. (Castells. p. 95)

Now, let’s see if some jiggling boobs .gif will cause this to get shared more than the previous installments.

There will be more of this sort of thing here at http://gplus.to/vago and you can be sure that I am the one saying it because Google+ has made sure that I am me and for that I feel at ease.