Mazali, Tatiana. “Cultivating Trust and Harvesting Value in Virtual Communities.” Leonardo Journal 44.3 (2011) 290-291. JStor. Web. 23 Jan 2013.
In the article, “Social Media as a New Public Sphere” (2011), Tatiana Mazali argues that online social networks are not merely representations of life, but they are places where people “perform,” actively participating and contributing to a larger group or cause, often through the creation of multimedia content. Mazali supports this argument by describing how social network spaces have evolved from interactivity to participation, defining this culture of participation, then examining the goals and impacts of the successful megafone.net project. Her purpose is to make readers aware of how social media and technology has created a public sphere and its value, both to the societies they can impact and to the individual that participate. Mazali clearly writes for the academic audience of the Leonardo Journal, using complex words and sentence structures, but still achieving a digestible language appropriate for the discussion of social media.
Mazali did an great job of helping the reader understand the different types of participants, their mindsets with which they engage in these social networks, and the behavior that results in community involvement. Evidenced by the citation of several publications and studies, she makes it clear that she has conducted thorough research, first listening to the academic conversation before getting involved. By dissecting the megafone.net project, she brings her theories, along with the theories from her research, full circle. She gave a concrete example of how through online social networking, with the use of mobile phones, people we often ignore were able to engage in a larger community, changing the conversation and creating clear impacts in the targeted communities.
In the midst of her rather academic lingo, the simplicity of this statement was refreshing, “A performance is, in fact, a thought in action. It is idea and action simultaneously.” (290) This reinforced the idea that these new public spheres are performance based in that people act on what they think, whether it is posting a status update or sharing a form of media. As evidenced in one’s own social media interactions, or that of their “friends” or “followers,” people’s thoughts are constantly being turned into action, sometimes to a fault, because the need to perform in these public spheres can be all-consuming. However, without this need, would the public spheres exist?
In addition to the megafone.net project, the Sketchbook Project (www.sketchbookproject.com) is a really interesting project that brings art and communities together through technology, but resulting in analog methods. Participants can request a sketchbook online, which is shipped to them. They then fill the sketchbook with their art and send it back, which then goes on display in a mobile gallery, allowing people all over the world to experience their sketches. However, one of the projects they have is called “The Meal,” which asks people around the globe to have a meal on February 22 at 12pm EST, photograph yourself with the meal, and post it online. According to their website, their “aim is to inspire a feeling of community across geographic and cultural boundaries,” while also raising awareness about hunger.
Another online project that focused on a single day was the Greater Washington Give to the Max Day. People all over the Greater Washington Area were called to donate money to their nonprofit of choice through a single website, or to raise money on behalf of their nonprofit of choice. People actively participated in raising awareness, inspiring others to “perform” to benefit a variety of organizations. This resulted in over $2 million dollars being raised within 24 hours, from 17,838 donors.
In light of Mazali’s argument that social media has created a new public sphere, the following questions could be posed:
- When do we start living in reality? Have we, as a human culture, given up on making real and personal connections?
- Has online communities broken down real communities, where instead of coming to the dinner table and having meaningful conversation with people we love, we opt to stare at our phones, forging superficial relationships with people we don’t really care about?
- How can we be inspired by sites like The Sketchbook Project to create tangible work that creates opportunities for people to interact and perform in person?
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