Is MySpace a Place?
Networked Performance pointed me toward an interview (download in PDF)with Networked Publics speaker Henry Jenkins and Networked Publics friend danah boyd about Myspace. The site, popular with teenagers, has become increasingly controversial as parents and the press raise concerns about the openness of information on the site and the vulnerability this supposedly poses to predators (Henry points out that only .1% of abductions are by strangers) and the behavior of teens towards each other (certainly nothing new, only now in persistent form). In another essay on Identity Production in Networked Culture, danah suggests that Myspace is popular not only because the technology makes new forms of interaction possible, but because older hang-outs such as the mall and the convenience store are prohibiting teens from congregating and roller rinks and burger joints are disappearing.
This begs the question, is Myspace media or is it space? Architecture theorists have long had this thorn in their side. "This will kill that," wrote Victor Hugo with respect to the book and the building. In the early 1990s, concern about a dwindling public culture and the character of late twentieth century urban space led us to investigate J?É¬ºrgen Habermas's idea of the public sphere. But the public sphere, for Habermas is a forum, something that, for the most part, emerges in media and in the institutions of the state:
The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves, to engage them in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor. The medium of this political confrontation was peculiar and without historical precedent: people's public use of their reason (?É¬?ffentliches R?É¬§sonnement). In our [German] usage this term (i.e., R?É¬§sonnement unmistakable preserves the polemical nuances of both sides: simultaneously the invocation of reason and its disdainful disparagement as merely malcontent griping. (Habermas, 27)
Nevertheless, the salon, the café, and the parliament were key places that instituted this kind of discourse, and they succeeded the court, which was explicitly spatial.
But myspace and the new sites of network culture are different from the media of old. If they are””?in general””?not places of rational discourse, they are venues in which publics gather. Is myspace media? Yes. Is it a place, maybe? In my book, MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft definitely are. So do we exclude myspace just because it is not rendered in three dimensions? Are spaces media themselves? Are media spaces? Could be (think of the Seattle Public Library). I don't have any easy answers on this, even as Anne Friedberg and I work on our essay for the upcoming Networked Publics book.