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Chapter 1 - Mediated Me


Image credit: checoo (CC BY license)

Summary and Main Points

This chapter introduces some of the main concepts that will be used in the book, including mediation and digital literacies. It explains how technologies have the capacity to change what we can do, what we can communicate, how we can relate to other people, what we can think and who we can be. 


  • All social actions are mediated through cultural tools.
  • Some of those tools are technological (e.g. computers, telephones, wristwatches) and some are psychological (e.g. languages, counting systems).
  • All tools have affordances and constraints (i.e. they make some things easier and other things more difficult).

Affordances and Constraints

  • Tools have the capacity to change
    • the way we do things;
    • the kind of meanings we can make;
    • the way we relate to other people;
    • the way we think;
    • the kind of people we can be (our ‘social identities’).


  • The affordances and constraints of tools influence what we can do but do not determine what we can do.
  • Human beings use tools in creative ways to adapt them to new situations or new goals.
  • Sometimes tools are used together so that the affordances of one tool make up for the constraints of another.

Mediation and moral panics

  • The development of new technologies often result in anxieties because old ways of doing things, of making meaning, of relating, of thinking and of being are replaced by new ways.
  • Such concerns arose in the past with the development of writing, the invention of the printing press, and the appearance of communication technologies like television.
  • The point of view that says that technology is changing the world for the worse is called technological dystopianism. The point of view that says that technologies are only making the world better is called technological utopianism. Both of these are extreme views.
  • All technologies have both positive and negative consequences.

Digital literacies

  • ‘Literacy’ is not just the ability to encode and decode meaning. It is the ability to do certain things, to show that you are a certain kind of person and to relate to other people in a certain way.
  • Literacies are always situated and context-specific.
  • ‘Literacies’ involve understanding the affordances and constraints of different tools and being able to exploit them in creative ways.
  • ‘Digital literacies’ are different from ‘analogue literacies’ because digital  tools break down traditional barriers of time and space and allow us to mix tools together with greater flexibility.


Image credit: dougbelshaw (CC BY license)

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: The most useful gadget


Photo credit NateOne (CC BY license)

Go to the website Coolest Gadget.com and choose one of the gadgets listed there. Here are some examples you might pick:

  1. Do you think this gadget is useful or not? Would you like to have it?
  2. What are the affordances and constraints  of this gadget?
  3. How might the gadget change
    1. how people do things?
    2. how people communicate?
    3. how people relate to one another?
    4. how people think?
    5. the kinds of social identities people can assume?
  4. Think of something you would like to do and imagine a gadget that would help you do it. How might your gadget also make it more difficult to do certain things?

Exercise 2: Utopia vs. dystopia

Use Google or another search engine to find examples of ways digital technologies are making things better and how they are making things worse. Write the examples in a table like the one below along with the URL of the websites where you found the examples.

How digital technologies are making things better How digital technologies are making things worse
Digital technologies make it easy for anyone to be an artist (http://technology.ezinemark.com/digital-art-and-the-miracles-of-high-end-technology-7d2df3d7e034.html) People are forgetting how to spell (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/education/when-did-people-forget-how-to-spell-or-complete-sentences-or-form-thoughts/1689)

Exercise 3: Media evolution?

Look at the picture below. Think of examples of different technologies or ‘digital literacies’ (e.g. blogging, playing online roleplaying games) you would associate with each ‘stage’ of media evolution.

What particular kinds of skills or knowledge are required for users at different stages?


Image credit: Cea (CC BY license )

Additional Resources


Vygotsky: The Mozart of Psychology

Media: McLuhan’s Message

Marshall McLuhan: Digital visionary

Technological dystopianism and technological utopianism

D. Fisher and L. Wright, ‘On Utopias and Dystopias: Toward an Understanding of the Discourse Surrounding the Internet’

Yahoo News, ‘”Tree Octopus” is Latest Evidence the Internet is Making Kids Dumb, says Group’

Wired, ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’

New literacy studies and ‘new literacies’

James Gee, ‘New Literacy Studies and the Social Turn’

D. Belshaw, ‘New Literacy Studies’

Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan, ‘Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century’

Chapter 2 - Information Everywhere


Image credit: Jose Franginillo (CC BY license)

Summary and Main Points

This chapter discusses how digital tools help us to filter and make use of the large amount of data that is available to us. The problem of ‘information overload’, it argues, comes from not understanding the difference between ‘data’ and ‘information’, and the solution to this problem is learning how to create meaningful relationships among different pieces of data in order to make them more useful to us.

Information and relationships

  • It is important to make a distinction among data, information and knowledge.
    • ‘Data’ consists of facts and perceptible phenomena in the external world.
    • ‘Information’ is created when we form relationships between pieces of data.
    • ‘Knowledge’ is the product of applying information to solve problems.
  • The problem of information overload is not one of ‘too much information’, but rather one of working out how to filter the data available to us and relate it to other data in a meaningful way.
  • While digital media may add to our confusion by making more data available, they also provide solutions by giving us new ways to filter data and form relationships among data.

Organizing data

  • The most widely used organization systems are hierarchical taxonomies like library catalogue systems and the classification system for plants and animals developed by Linnaeus.
  • Classification systems change what we can do with data, the kinds of meanings that we can make with data, the way we think about data as well as human relationships and identities.
  • The disadvantages of the hierarchical taxonomy include the fact that categories are sometimes arbitrary, that the same piece of data cannot usually reside in different categories at the same time, and that it does not reflect the associative nature of our thought processes.  

Networks and organization

  • Digital media make it easier to organize data based on networked associations through linking and tagging.
    • ‘Linking’ involves creating hyperlinks between pieces of data.
    • ‘Tagging’ involves attaching labels (or metadata) to data.
  • Tagging allows us to organize data based on associations rather than hierarchical categories.
  • Some websites allow social tagging where users can attach metadata to the content they find there or upload, and share this metadata with others.
  • Classification systems derived from social tagging are called folksonomies.

Finding and filtering

  • Algorithms are sets of procedures for completing tasks; they are the basis of all computer programs. Algorithms help us to find and filter data.
  • Algorithms executed automatically by computer programs are called technological algorithms.
  • Social algorithms or social filters filter data based on the recommendations of people in our online social networks.
  • Personalized filters filter data based on our personal decisions or past behaviour.

Recovery or discovery?

  • When searching for data it is important to determine whether our main goal is to recover the answer to a question we already have or to discover what kind of data is available about a particular topic independent of any specific question.
  • Choosing useful search terms requires attention to both meaning (the semantic relationship of the search term to the topic we are interested in) and syntax (the way we combine different search terms). Often the results of searches can be used to refine our search terms.

The pragmatics of search

  • Approaching search pragmatically means focusing on what we want to do with the data that we find.
  • Another aspect of the pragmatics of search is regarding search as a kind of dialogue in which the results of a search suggests new strategies or new things to search for.

Evaluating data

  • Usually the best way to evaluate data is to examine the relationships they have with people, institutions and other pieces of data.
  • It is important to remember that all data has ‘an agenda’ (that it was produced for a particular purpose or presupposes a certain view of the world). Even data that seems ‘objective’ (like statistics or sensory perceptions) are biased in that they include some aspects of reality and exclude others.

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: Search

Visit the following search engines and use them to try to find:

  • a photo of Sergey Brin;
  • the definition of ‘algorithm’;
  • Lady Gaga’s real name;
  • a friend’s Facebook profile;
  • a pizzeria near your home;
  • a blog for cat lovers;
  • a website where you can buy Washington apples online.

Altavista - Exalead - Google -Icerocket - Bing - Teoma - Wisenut - Yahoo!

Compare and contrast the search engines in terms of their ease of use and the relevance of results that they returned. What are the different features these search engines offer and how do these features help you find what you are looking for?

Exercise 2: Metaphors

Look at the following images and explain the comparisons. Do you think the comparisons are appropriate? Why or why not?


Image credit: Spark CBC (CC BY license )


Photo credit FindYourSearch  (CC BY license)

Come up with comparisons for each of the following:

Checking my email is like ___________________.
Using a search engine is like _________________.
An algorithm is like a/n _____________________.

Discuss and compare your metaphors with those of your classmates.

Find pictures using an image search engine (like Google Images or Flickr to accompany your metaphors.

Exercise 3: Searching through history

Look at the infographic below and choose three events in the history of search that you think were the most significant to the way you search for information. Explain your choices.

History of Search Engines.

Infographic by PPC Blog

Exercise 4:  Popularity contest

Google Trends is a site that helps you to search for information about the most popular search terms and to compare the popularity of different search terms.  

For an example see a comparison between Lady Gaga and President Obama


This game can be played between individuals or teams

  1. Player/team A chooses a search term he or she believes is currently popular.
  2. Player/team B chooses a search term he or she believes is more popular.
  3. The two search terms are typed into Google trends (separated by a comma) to determine the most popular term. The player/team who has chosen the more popular term is awarded a point.
  4. The next round begins with player/team B choosing a term.


Players/teams can also compete in guessing what year/month a particular term was the most popular and/or in which country it was the most popular.

Additional Resources

Information overload

Xerox Information Overload Hub

IBM, Information Overload

The Economist, Data, Data everywhere

Social tagging and folksonomies

Flickr, Tagography case studies

Social bookmarking in plain English


Internet Tutorials: Basic search techniques

Google Blog, personalized search

SEOMOZ, Tools to hack Google’s personalized search

Search engine land

Chapter 3 - Hyperreading and Hyperwriting


Image credit: kevin dooley (CC BY license)

Summary and main points

This chapter describes affordances of digital media that readers and writers now have at their disposal, especially ‘hypertext’ and ‘interactivity’. It explains the effect of these affordances on the way that people can make meaning, relate to one another as readers and writers, and think about the reading and writing process.

Hypertext and linking

  • Hypertext is electronic text that is ‘hyperlinked’ to other electronic text, and allows readers to choose their own, non-linear reading paths
  • Hyperlinks can be used to link internally to different parts of the same hypertext, following a hierarchical, hypertextual or linear logic
  • Hyperlinks can be used to link externally, creating associations with other documents on the internet

Reading critically in hypertext

  • When two documents are hyperlinked, an association is created and a relation between the documents is implied, e.g. cause and effect
  • This relation is not usually made explicit and so we have to read hypertexts carefully and critically
  • To read critically, we should ask: What associations does the writer make? What associations does the writer not make? What assumptions do these (non)associations reveal?

Is hypertext making you stupid?

  • There is some research that suggests that reading hypertext might be resulting in cognitive changes
  • Reading hypertext may develop people’s parallel processing skills, their ability to switch efficiently from one document to another
  • However, some researchers worry that this comes at the cost of people’s sequential processing ability, to follow the logical progression of longer works.

Interactivity, commenting and participating

  • The development of ‘web 2.0’ or the ‘read-write web’ has made it easier for readers to interact and ‘write back’ to writers
  • Writing has become a more collaborative, social act, with readers playing a more active role in the construction of text.

Mashups and remixing

  • Developments in digital media have led to the development of a ‘remix culture’, that encourages people to produce creative works that build on or remix the creative works of others
  • Many amateur content creators are happy for their creative work to be remixed in this way, but others view remixing as a form of stealing
  • The system of Creative Commons licensing makes it easier for people to create and remix cultural texts, by providing a legal framework that makes it clear how the content creator wants their creative work to be used by others.


Image credit: Danard Vincente (CC BY license)

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: Print media and hypertext

For this activity, you will need a magazine or newspaper with long feature articles (in print format), a large sheet of blank paper, a pair of scissors and some glue, blu-tack or other adhesive. Select one of the articles and re-organize the information as a non-sequential hypertext (like a website) by cutting different parts of the article out, re-arranging them in front of you and pasting them to a large sheet of paper. Indicate hypertextual links by drawing arrows between the different parts of the article, and add any necessary headings, menus or other navigational links using a pen.

When you have finished, consider your new hypertext and discuss:

  • What kind of hypertextual organization did you use? Why?

Hierarchical? Sequential? Hypertextual?

  • What are the advantages or disadvantages of organizing the text this way?
  • How do you think a reader might navigate your hypertext?
  • Did you add any interactive features to the text? How do you think these might work?
  • Did you create any external links? Why? What kind of associations would these links create?

Exercise 2: Organizing information and creating associations


Image credit: Elsie esq. (CC BY license)

Visit the Wikipedia entry for Osama bin Laden (English version) and analyze the way that hypertext is used in order to both organize information and create associations. Consider the following questions:

Organizing information

  • Considering the different links on the page, what percentage (roughly) are internal links and what percentage are external links?
  • How does the page use hypertext to organize the information internally? What is the purpose of these internal links?
  • How does the page use hypertext to organize the information externally? What is the purpose of these external links?
  • What organizational structure(s) can you identify? Linear? Hierarchical? Hypertextual?

Creating associations

Read the section about bin Laden’s death , and pay special attention to the external links in the article.

  • What kind of sources are linked to? What associations are made?
  • What kind of sources are not linked to? What associations are not made?
  • Is any bias introduced through the choice of links and the associations or non-associations that this choice creates?
  • Would you expect the same sources to be linked in other language versions of this same event? Why? Why not? Search some of the other language versions to test your hypothesis.

Exercise 3: Re-mix culture

Watch the video Read my lips by Atmo and answer the questions:

  • To what extent does the video draw on the prior work of others?
  • To what extent is the video original and creative?

Watch the video Remix culture by the Center for Social Media and answer the questions:

  • Which of the following remix practices do you consider acceptable? Why?
    • Using a song as a soundtrack for your own performance
    • Mashing up video from different sources to create your own video
    • Using footage from news sources to create a social commentary
    • Using TV footage to compile bloopers
    • Creating a parody using the characters from a famous TV series or movie
    • Using images, footage and soundtrack to create a fan tribute to a well-known artist

Additional resources


History of hypertext systems

Ted Nelson discovers hypertext

Hypertext and the role of the reader and writer

Nicolas Carr, Is Google making us stupid?

Web 2.0 and participatory culture

What is web 2.0

We the media: The read-write web

Confronting the challenges of participatory culture

Remix culture

Everything is a remix

Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity

Chapter 4 - Multimodality


Image credit: Robert S. Donovan (CC BY license)

Summary and main points

This chapter describes the increasing use of multimedia and how this affects the way that people are able to express themselves. It is argued that, with the shift from the printed page to the digital screen, people can now draw on a range of ‘semiotic modes’ to make meaning. Digital media make it easy for people to combine the mode of writing with visual, verbal and aural modes including the use of images, moving images, graphics and sound effects. This use of multiple modes is referred to as ‘multimodality’ and texts that are made up of a combination of modes in this way are referred to as ‘multimodal’ texts.

From page to screen

  • The medium of the printed page is dominated by the linear/sequential logic of writing
  • The medium of the screen is dominated by the spatial/simultaneous logic of the image
  • Compared to writing, images are:
    • More immediate
    • More polysemous
    • More topological, less categorical; and
    • Appeal more to emotions
  • When we read a digital text like a web page, we have to scan it and identify the dominant mode in order to determine whether to ‘read’ it spatially as an image, or sequentially as writing.

Visual design: laying out the screen

  • The composition of the screen can have an effect on how you ‘read’ it. Three main relationships have been identified:
    • Left/right corresponds to given/new information
    • Top/bottom corresponds to the ideal/the real
    • Centre/margin corresponds to dominant/subordinate elements
  • Eye-tracking research shows that when people read web pages they follow an F-shaped pattern: scanning across the top, across the middle and down the side of the screen.

The world in pictures: designing multimodal texts

  • The images and text in a multimodal document can interact to ‘frame’, i.e. provide the context for, each other
  • Images and text can interact, ‘framing’ each other in three different ways:
    • Concurrence: the messages are the same and reinforce each other
    • Complementarity: the messages present slightly different information, filling in the details of the other mode
    • Divergence: the messages are different or contradictory
  • Image producers draw on a range of techniques to interact with their audience
    • For involvement: Gaze, distance of shot, camera angle (frontal/oblique)
    • For power relations: Camera angle (low/eye-level/high)
    • For modality: colour saturation, colour differentiation, colour modulation, contextualization, representation, depth, illumination, brightness
  • Video producers create a sequence of visual images: not only must they create a visual design, but also a sequential script and associated sound effects


Image credit: Felipe Skroski (CC BY license)

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: Screen layout on the internet

Search the web and find examples of web pages that use a layout with clear divisions, i.e. left-right, top-bottom, centre-margin.

  • In the web pages you have identified how well do these divisions in layout correspond to the textual patterns of given-new information, ideal-real and dominant-subordinate elements discussed?
  • Do these web pages mix these textual patterns? How?
  • Do these web ever reverse the textual patterns discussed? How does this affect the way that you read the page?
  • Which textual patterns are most common? Which are least common? Why do you think this is? 

Exercise 2: Visual search


Image credit: starmist1 (CC BY license )

Visit the visual search engine oSkope and do some trial searches, for example to retrieve videos, photos or products related to a famous person, place or event.

Pay careful attention to the kind of visual displays that the search engine allows (e.g. grid, stack, pile, list, graph) and discuss the questions below:

  • Which visual display do you like the best? Why?
  • How does this visual search engine make use of the spatial/simultaneous logic of the image/screen in order to display information?
  • How does this visual search engine:
    • Indicate the content and source of results?
    • Indicate the relevance or importance of results?
    • Indicate related searches?
  • How do their search results compare to those provided by a text-based search engine (e.g. Google, Yahoo) which draws on the linear/sequential logic of writing?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a visual display for search results?

Exercise 3: Image text interaction

Consider the infographic below (view in Flickr ) and discuss the following questions:

  • When you read the infographic, which parts of the infographic did you focus on and why?
  • What is more important in your view: the visual aspects like font, colour, layout, images and graphics, or the writing?
  • What kind of information is presented by the visuals and what kind of information is presented by the writing?
  • How would you describe the image text interaction:
    • Concurrence?
    • Complementarity?
    • Divergence?


Click on the image for a larger version.

Photo Credit: GDS Infographics (CC BY license)

Additional resources

Advances in multimedia

Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos Photosynth

Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos augmented-reality maps

The future is here and it doesn’t recognize your dog

Reading and writing multimodal texts

Gunther Kress, Reading images: Multimodality, representation and new media

Maureen Walsh, Reading visual and multimodal texts

Jeff Bezemer and Gunther Kress, Writing in multimodal texts

Visual composition design principles

A graphic design primer, Part 3: Basics of composition

R. Berdan, Composition and the elements of visual design

Marietta Kesting, Digital storytelling: Basic thoughts about visual composition

Visual rhetoric

Reading visual arguments

Visual rhetoric and strategies of persuasion

Juan C. Dürsteler, Visual rhetoric


Chapter 5 - Online Language and Social Interaction


Image credit: me and the sysop (CC BY ND 2.0 license )

Summary and Main Points

This chapter discusses the impact of digital media on the way people use language. The linguistic features of language used on the internet and mobile phones are described, and the reasons for these features are discussed in reference to the effects of different kinds of media and the characteristics of different populations of users. The main point of the chapter is that the changes in the way people use language in digitally mediated interactions has to do with the new kinds of interactions that digital tools make available and the new things people are able to do with their language.


  • The language people use when communicating with digital media often contains certain ‘non-standard’ features. These include:
    • Frequent use of acronyms (e.g., ‘btw’, ‘lol’)
    • Shortened forms (e.g., ‘k’ for ‘okay’)
    • Less attention to standard spelling, capitalization and punctuation
    • Letter homophones (e.g., ‘u’ for ‘you’, ‘oic’ for ‘oh, I see’)
    • Creative use of punctuation (e.g., multiple punctuation such as ‘!!!!’ or ellipsis marks ‘. . . . . .’)
    • Spelling based on sound, sometimes to mark a regional accent or special style of speech (e.g., ‘kewl’ or ‘cooooool’)
    • Lexicalization of vocal sounds (like ‘umm’, ‘uh huh’, ‘haha’)
    • Emoticons and other keyboard generated graphics (e.g., ‘=.=’)
    • Creative use of typographical space and layout
    • Formulaic openings and closings (e.g., ‘sup’; ‘bb’)
  • Some linguists believe that digital media has given rise to new linguistic varieties, which they call ‘netspeak’.
  • Some people think that this language threatens people’s ability to communicate clearly and to master standard language forms, but there is no evidence of this. In fact, many studies show that people who spend a great deal of time ‘texting’ and ‘instant messaging’ are also skilful at using standard forms of language in more formal situations.

Media effects and user effects

  • Some people account for the features of ‘online language’ by focusing on how different media constrain users, making it more difficult to produce ‘normal’ language.
    • Time constraints make it necessary for users of instant messaging programs to type their ‘utterances’ quickly, and delays in the transmission of messages can interfere with turn taking structures.
    • Space constraints in mobile texting and micro-blogging require users to be as economical as possible in their language use.
    • The lack of cues like facial expression, tone of voice and gestures make it necessary for users to compensate by using typography and emoticons to express their attitudes and emotions.
  • Other people explain the features of online language by focusing on the language habits of particular kinds of users.
    • People from different groups use features like non-standard spelling and emoticons differently.
    • Variations in the way people use language are often due to who they are (their backgrounds and social identities), whom they are communicating with and what they are communicating about.
    • Different styles of online language can be regarded as ‘social languages’, used to signal users’ membership in particular social groups.

What are we doing when we interact online?

  • A better way to understand online language use is to start with the questions:
    • What are people doing with text-based digital communication that they cannot do with other forms of communication?
    • How do they use the kinds of linguistic features discussed above as resources to perform these actions?
  • Just because a medium is ‘richer’ does not mean it is more useful. ‘Impoverished’ modes like plain text allow people to do things they cannot do with richer media.
    • Text involves less effort (has lower ‘transaction costs’).
    • Because of the low transaction costs of text-based communication, people can communicate in circumstances and about topics which are not seen to merit the effort of a ‘full-blown’ conversation.
    • Text-based communication facilitates ‘phatic communion’ (communication whose purpose is to maintain connections and strengthen relationships). ‘Sharing’ thoughts and experiences through text-based communication can help people feel closer to each other.
    • Text-based communication also facilitates more instrumental communication like asking people to perform minor tasks or confirming appointments.

Meaning and creativity

  • Sometimes the constraints of text-based communication can encourage people to be more creative in their use of language.
  • One creative aspect of online language is that it is often multi-scriptural, allowing people to mix together the typographic features of different languages (e.g. using the Roman alphabet to spell out the sounds of Chinese words or adding Chinese ‘final particles’ to English sentences).


Image credit: kerryvaughan (CC BY license)


Image credit: fotologic (CC BY license)

Textual selves

  • Text-based communication also allows people to be more creative about fashioning their identities in interactions.
  • Although online ‘identity play’ can be abused, it has a number of positive aspects, allowing people to ‘try on’ different identities and explore different parts of their personalities.
  • Text-based identity play allows people to cultivate different kinds of writing styles and invent things like screen names and message signatures that show something about their personalities or the social groups they belong to.

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: Acronyms

How many of the acronyms pictured below do you know the meaning of?


Photo credit tuchodi  (CC BY SA 2.0 license)

What kinds of people would use these different acronyms? Is there something about the form of the acronym or its meaning that gives you a clue about the social identity of the user?

If there are acronyms you cannot decode, you can use the ‘Teen chat decoder’

Exercise 2:

Look at the following tweets and explain why you think people sent them and if and how they would have expressed the same information before Twitter was available.


Image credit: Dplanet (CC BY license)

Exercise 3: Faksters

Look at the Twitter streams of the following ‘faksters’:

Darth Vader @darthvader
The Queen of England @Queen_UK
Jesus Christ @Jesus_M_Christ
Your Friend from High School @FriendFromHS

Rate them based on how convincing/humorous you think the writers are in their impersonations.

Consider the following questions:

  1. How do the people use a particular ‘social language’ to impersonate a certain kind of person? What kinds of vocabulary, grammar or other linguistic features are associated with this social language?
  2. What is the purpose of this impersonation? What kind of ‘statement’ is the impersonator trying to make? What is the difference between this kind of identity play and identity play in which people are trying to deceive others?

Additional Resources

Texting and instant messaging language

Netlingo, List of chat acronyms and text shorthand

David Crystal, 2b or not 2b

David Crystal, Internet language

Twitter and micro-blogging


Chalene Johnson, Learning the language of Twitter

Twitter Mashups

Tweet Grader (How influential are you on Twitter?)

Textual selves

S, Siyahhan,
Youth and the ethics of identity play in virtual spaces

Judith Donath,
Identity and deception in the pnline community

Kurt Reymers, Internet and identity


Text-based emoticons

John Walther,
The impacts of emoticons on message interpretation in computer-mediated communication


Image credit:  Anyaka (CC BY license)

Chapter 6 - Attention Structures


Image credit: Juliana Coutinho (CC BY license)

Summary and main points

This chapter discusses the role of attention in digital media, looking at the issue from two different points of view. First, it considers the way that digital media texts and tools have made it possible for people to adopt polyfocal ‘attention structures’ distributing their attention across time and space and engaging in new kinds of ‘multitasking’ practices. Second, it introduces the concept of the ‘attention economy’, describing the digital literacy practices that people engage in as they compete to attract each others’ attention in a digital world that is characterized by an overabundance of information.

Digital media and polyfocality

  • The texts and practices in digital media are polyfocal, that is, they require people to distribute their attention among multiple foci.
  • Attention shifts between at least three different kinds of space:
    • Physical spaces where participants are located
    • Virtual spaces like chat rooms, web pages and virtual worlds
    • Screen space, including the windows, toolbars and writing spaces on the screen.
  • Although this kind of polyfocality is not a new thing, digital media have made it more efficient by providing people with tools that allow them to monitor numerous different attentional tracks, as when multiple different but simultaneous text chat interactions appear in separate windows.

Attention structures

  • The term ‘attention structure’ refers to the patterns of orientation to time and space which individuals use to attend to elements of an interaction.
  • Drawing on the work of Ron Scollon, distributing attention can be seen as a kind of social action, which involves three main factors:
    • A person with all of his or her memories and experiences (what Scollon calls the ‘historical body’)
    • The social relationships we have with other people (what Scollon calls the ‘interaction order’)
    • The kinds of communication tools that we have to help us organize our attention (what Scollon calls the ‘discourses in place’)
  • The attention structures adopted by different people, in different kinds of interactions, with different kinds of communication tools, are different.
  • Cognitive and social problems related to attention can arise when those attention structures made available by digital tools, those preferred by different individuals, and those expected in particular activities or interactions are ‘out of sync’.

The attention economy and digital literacies


Image credit: 85mm.ch  (CC BY license)

  • Some economists suggest that we now live in an ‘attention economy’. The basis for this new economy is not information, as is often thought, but rather that which information consumes, namely attention.
  • Some of the principles of this attention economy include that:
    • To get attention, you have to give attention
    • Some people are able to give ‘illusory attention’, the illusion of individual attention to people in a crowd
    • Attention can be passed from one person to another.
  • The attention economy is based on ceaseless efforts at originality. Some of the literacy practices that can be associated with the attempt to get attention are:
    • ‘contact displaying’ (wearing eye-catching messages)
    •  ‘memeing’ (spreading ideas)
    • ‘scenariating’ (describing possible futures)
    •  ‘attention transacting’ (sharing information)
    • ‘culture jamming’ (spoofing)
    • ‘transferring’ (linking to popular personalities)
    • ‘framing and encapsulating’ (developing attractive conceptual ‘angles’).
  • Digital media facilitate the getting and giving of attention, by making it easy for users to publish and share online, posting the content they like to social filtering sites, blogs and other social media.
  • Participating in an attention economy means rethinking some of our values, for example those that relate to privacy and intellectual property.

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: How well can you multitask?


Image credit: apdk (CC BY license)

Listed below are two online games that you can use to test your ability to manage and distribute your attention:

  • Escapa – You control the red square in the centre (by clicking on it and dragging). You have to avoid the blue rectangles and the black frame.
  • Multitask – You begin by playing one mini game (balancing a ball on a pivot) and successive minigames are added until you make a mistake in one of them and your game is over.

Play each of the games and then discuss the following questions:

  • How easy or difficult did you find the different games? What was it that made them easy or difficult?
  • How do the two games require you to manage and distribute your attention?
  • Is this easier or harder than the kind of ‘multitasking’ that you do when you are using digital media? Why?

Exercise 2: Giving and getting attention in social media

Visit CelebrityTweet or a similar site that lists the usernames of celebrities on Twitter, choose some celebrities and visit their Twitter page to analyze the way that they give and get attention. Consider the questions below:

  • How many followers do the celebrities have?
  • How many people are they following?
  • Do they use twitter to broadcast one to many and promote themselves?
  • Do they use any @replies (one to one replies to particular Twitter users)?
  • If they do, who are the people they are giving attention to and what are their conversations about?
  • Do they use hyperlinks to refer to other web sources?
  • If they do, what are the web sources that they are drawing attention to and why?
  • What does all of this tell us about these celebrities participate in the attention economy? How much attention do they give? How much attention do they get? Do they use their tweets to give ‘illusory attention’? Do they use their tweets to share attention with others?
  • How similar or different is their use of social media to your own (consider other social networking sites as well, if you need to)?

Exercise 3: Getting attention in ‘viral marketing’


Image credit: martinhoward (CC BY license)

In 2008, Nintendo created a viral marketing campaign for their new game Wario Land – Shake It. Watch the video that they created as part of the campaign and discuss the questions below:

  • How did the advertisers try to catch the attention of their audience?
  • Do you think they succeeded in creating a video that went viral?

Search the internet and try to find examples of other content that mentions and links to this video. Consider the questions below:

  • What kind of content can you find? User-generated? Mainstream?
  • Who are the writers? Who is the intended audience?
  • What do they say about the video? What caught their attention?

Do you know of any other videos that are going viral right now? How did you find out about them? What about these videos caught your attention?

Additional resources


Image credit: Patrick Hoesly (CC BY license)

Multitasking and polyfocality

Nicolas Carr (Interview), Is Google making us stupid?

Christine Rosen, The myth of multitasking

Scientific American, Motivated multitasking: How the brain keeps tabs on two tasks at once

Daily Mail, Is multi-tasking bad for your brain: Experts reveal the hidden perils of juggling too many jobs

PsychCentral, Video games can improve visual attention

MedicalXpress, Missing the gorilla: Why we don’t see what’s right in front of our eyes

The attention economy

Michael Goldhaber, Attention shoppers!

Alex Iskold, The attention economy: An overview

Giving and getting attention online

Seth Godin, What is viral marketing?

Dan Ackerman Greenberg, The secret strategies behind many ‘viral’ videos

Designdamage, Why attention is the new currency online

Infotention filters

Chapter 7 - Critical Literacies


Image credit: Patrick Hoesly (CC BY license)

Summary and main points

Technology and ideology

  • Ideologies are systems of ideas, practices and social relationships that govern what is considered right or wrong, good or bad, and normal or abnormal.
  • One area where ideology functions strongly is in the way people think and talk about digital media.
    • The problem with digital utopianism and digital dystopianism is that they are both forms of technological determinism, the belief that technology controls people’s thoughts and behavior.
    • The opposite view, that people have complete control of technology is equally problematic.


  • We cannot interact with the world without doing so though some kind of medium, and the media that we use play an important role in determining the actions we can take.
  • There are at least four different ways media exert control over our thoughts and actions:
    • All media have affordances and constraints: they make some actions easier and other actions more difficult.
    • Over time certain conventional practices become associated with technologies in ways that make it harder for people to use them in different ways.
    • Different people have different access to technologies, and often the design of technologies reflects or supports the agendas of the powerful people in a society.
    • Technologies can exert influences over us based on how easy or difficult they are to use. Tools that are easy to use encourage us to regard them as ‘natural’, and tools that are difficult to use encourage us to value them based on the commitment we must make to master them.
  • The longer we use a particular tool, and the more people who use it, the more difficult it becomes to change tools. This phenomenon is known as technological ‘lock-in’.
  • While media can exert control over how we use them, we also have ways of adapting media to our own goals and the particular circumstances in which we use them.
    • We can appropriate media selectively.
    • We can adapt media to fit our own purposes.
    • We modify media by changing its configuration (or code).
    • We can mix media together to create new affordances.
  • Media exert ideological power over us the more ‘transparent’ and ‘opaque’ they become.
    • Media transparency occurs when media become so easy to use that we forget that our actions are mediated.
    • Media opacity occurs when it becomes harder to understand how media work and ‘reprogram’ them.


Image credit: Don Lockton (CC BY-ND license)

Ideology and the technology of language

  • Like other mediational means, language can also exhibit the characteristics of transparency and opacity.
  • Whenever anyone uses language, they always have an ‘agenda’.
  • Speakers and writers use words to construct certain versions of reality. This is called the ideational function of language.
    • Presupposition (treating certain propositions as ‘given’) is a way speakers and writers can make it more difficult for their audiences to question their versions of reality. 
  • Speakers and writers also use language to construct certain relationships with their audience. This is called the interpersonal function of language.
    • One way they do this is through the opportunities they provide for readers or listeners to respond.
    • Another way they do this is through the style in which they write or speak.
    • A third way they do this is by adopting certain kinds of identities or assuming certain kinds of identities for readers or listeners.

Ideology and digital technologies

  • Like texts, technologies also promote ideologies through the versions of reality and the relationships they construct.
  • Technologies construct versions of reality through the choices they allow and/or require users to make.
    • Sometimes these choices are presented as ‘givens’ (presuppositions) about how people should go about certain tasks.
  • Other ways technologies promote ideological agendas is through technological ‘lock-in’ and by filtering the data they make available to us.
  • Finally, technologies create particular relationships between users and manufacturers and among users.  


Photo credit Ultra-lab (CC BY SA 2.0 license)

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: The Great Open Source vs. Closed Source Debate

a. Go to the following sites and read the arguments on both sides of the debate between those who support open systems and those who promote closed systems. Write down what you think are the best arguments from each side.


Image credit: mtcarlson (CC BY license)

b. Take note of the sources of these different sites and discuss how the companies of organizations sponsoring the sites might affect the points of view professed on the sites.

c. Search the internet for other sites that talk about this debate.

b. Work in pairs or teams to have a debate about which is better – closed systems or open systems.

Exercise 2: Lock-in

List the different ways the following software vendors or website operators lock people in to their products.

Consider questions like:

a. How easy is it for users to ‘cross platforms’ (exchange data with different software platforms or websites)?
b. How easy is it for users to reprogram these systems?
c. How easy is it for people to participate in their social circles, schoolwork or jobs if they opt out of these systems?

Facebook - Twitter- Google- Windows - Xbox - Apple - MSN Messenger - Android

Exercise 3: Is Google Making Us Stupid?

  1. Read the article by Nicolas Carr called ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ and discuss how he uses different strategies to try to convince you of his point of view. Try to find extracts where he:
    1. appeals to your emotions with personal stories or anecdotes
    2. cites academic or scientific studies
    3. uses presupposition
    4. fails to consider opposing arguments
    5. Uses logical fallacies (see: www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies).
  2. What points could you make to dispute Carr’s argument? Use Google or another search engine to find counter-evidence.

Additional resources

Critical language awareness

Sue McGregor, Critical discourse analysis: A primer

Ruth Wodak, What is critical discourse analysis?

Tuen van Dijk, Critical discourse analysis

Dan Kurland, Criticalreading.com

Technology and ideology

Robert V. Kozinets,
From green luddite To techspressive: The ideology Of consumer technology

James Carey, Technology and ideology: The case of the telegraph


Photo credit rubberpaw (CC BY SA 2.0 license)


Fred Turner,
How digital technology found utopian ideology: Lessons from the first hackers’ conference

How to become a hacker

‘Lock-in’/ Closed vs. Open Systems

Siliconindia, Technology lock-in helps Facebook dominate the web

Jaron Lanier’s Blog

Loet Leyesdorff, Technology and complexity

Mathew Ingram, Open vs. closed

Chapter 8 - Online Cultures and Intercultural Communication


Image credit: jorge diaz1 (CC BY license)

Summary and main points

This chapter considers issues related to the concept of ‘culture’ in digital media. The chapter describes how distinct ‘online cultures’ can develop for particular online groups, and how digital media and the global internet have made it easier for people from diverse cultural backgrounds to come into contact and interact.

Online cultures as discourse systems

  • In order to describe ‘online cultures’ it is helpful to take a broad view of culture, which considers not just national groups (e.g. Americans, French, Chinese) but other kinds of groups as well: e.g. gender groups, generational groups, professional groups.
  • ‘Online cultures’ can be seen as the ‘discourse systems’ that operate with respect to particular ‘online affinity groups’.
  • ‘Discourse systems’ can be broken down into four interrelated and interdependent components, namely:
    • Ideology: what people think, what is valued, what is devalued
    • Face systems: how people get along with one another, whether or not relationships tend to be egalitarian or hierarchical
    • Forms of discourse: how people communicate, what they think the underlying purpose of communication is, and the different kinds of tools, languages, genres and styles they use for communication
    • Socialization: how people learn to participate, how much of this learning is formal and how much is informal, what the consequences are for those who fail to participate in a manner deemed appropriate by the community.

Cultures-of-use and media ideologies

  • The forms of discourse that are adopted in an ‘online culture’ are influenced by two main factors:
    • The affordances and constraints of digital media, which may allow for the adoption of new forms of discourse (e.g. Facebook pokes)
    • The ‘cutures-of-use’ or ‘media ideologies’ that grow up around particular digital media.
  • ‘Cultures-of-use’ refers to the conventions, norms and values for using a particular tool that grow up among particular groups of users.
  • Similarly, ‘media ideologies’ refers to the set of beliefs which users of a particular tool use to explain how the tool ‘should’ be used.
  • The ‘cultures-of-use’ for a particular tools may be different for different groups of users, and different users may have different ‘media ideologies’.


Image credit: Cazimiro (CC BY license)

Intercultural communication online and the global village

  • Online affinity spaces are often multilingual and multicultural spaces, with individuals from a range of different linguistic backgrounds and from a range of different discourse systems.
  • When participants communicate with one another, they accommodate to one another’s communicative assumptions and expectations.
  • The ability for people from geographically and culturally diverse backgrounds to interact with one another in this way provides opportunities for participants to develop their awareness of and affinity for others from different cultural groups.
  • However, the extent to which people are taking up these opportunities for intercultural communication is in doubt: some suggest that the internet is becoming increasingly ghetto-ized, with people only seeking out others who share their existing biases and prejudices.

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: ‘Online culture’ in YouTube


Image credit: dgbury (CC BY license)

Watch Michael Wesch’s presentation An anthropological introduction to YouYube (see especially: 12:56–19:15, 21:18–23:00, 27:58–29:53). Based on the presentation and based on your own experience as a YouTube user, how would you characterize the ‘culture’ of YouTube? Consider especially:


  • What worldview is promoted by the ‘YouTube community’? What is valued? What is devalued?

Face systems

  • Do relationships between members of the ‘YouTube community’ tend to be egalitarian or hierarchical?

Forms of discourse

  • What different kinds of tools, languages, genres and styles do members of the YouTube community use for communication? What do they think the underlying purpose of communication is, e.g. primarily informational, primarily relational?


  • How do people learn to participate in the ‘YouTube community’? How much of this learning is formal and how much is informal? What are the consequences for those who fail to participate in a manner deemed appropriate by the community?

Exercise 2: Facebook etiquette: contrasting media ideologies


Image credit: jerryonlife (CC BY license)

a. Your Facebook etiquette

Consider the way that you use Facebook (or another social networking site that you use) in particular with respect to:

  • Choosing your profile picture: What kind of picture do you select? How formal or casual is it? Why?
  • Filling out your biography: What kind of information do you include in your profile? What kind of information do you not include? Why?
  • Posting content, links and news: What kind of content and status updates do you post? What kind of content do you link to? Why?
  • Talking to one v. many: What kind of messages do you post one to one, using the direct message or chat function? What kind of messages do you post one to many, using status updates or the wall? Why?
  • Watching your tone: What kind of tone do you adopt on Facebook? How formal or casual is it? How does it compare to the way you speak in ‘real’ life? Why?

b. Facebook etiquette: Five dos and don’ts

Read the article by PCWorld Business Center, Facebook Etiquette: Five Dos and Don’ts. Discuss the following questions:

  • How does the advice given here compare with your actual practices?
  • What ideological beliefs inform your own practices?
    • Who do you feel the main users of Facebook should be?
    • What do you think the main purpose of Facebook should be?
    • Who do you think people should connect with on Facebook and what kind of things do you think they should share?
    • Do you think Facebook should be a mostly ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ communication platform?
  • What ideological beliefs inform the advice given by PCWorld? What values and assumptions about Facebook underlie this advice? How similar or different is this media ideology to your own?

Exercise 3: Specialized language in online affinity spaces

a. Online gaming

Visit Talk Like a Gamer by Greg Costikyan and skim through the different gaming terms that he introduces. How well do you think non-gamers would understand this specialized vocabulary? Which of these terms are related to:

  • Actions that players take in the game
  • Strategies that players use in the game
  • Objects that players interact with in the game
  • Non-player characters or ‘monsters’ that players encounter in the game
  • Player-player interaction
  • Different kinds of players/characters
  • Technical issues

b. Other online affinity spaces

Consider other online affinity spaces that you know well (e.g. a particular forum that you regularly use, a fan fiction site, an online shopping site) and think about the specialized terms that participants in these spaces use. Would these terms be difficult for non-participants to understand? How do these terms relate to the social norms and practices of the space?


Image credit: dictay2000 (CC BY license)

Additional resources

The global village

Living internet, Marshall McCluhan foresees the global village

Benjamin Symes, Marshall McCluhan’s global village

Marshall McCluhan about global village

Online affinity spaces and online cultures

James Paul Gee, Affinity spaces: From age of mythology to today’s schools

CitizenTube, YouTube culture and the politics of authenticity

Eva Wan Shui Lam, Literacy and learning across transnational online spaces

BBC, Gaming and raiding in World of Warcraft

Media ideologies and cultures-of-use

Digital writing, Media ideologies

Steven L. Thorne, Artifacts and cultures-of-use in intercultural communication

Chapter 9 - Games, Learning and Literacy


Image credit: The World According To Marty (CC BY ND license)

Summary and main points

This chapter explores new literacy practices related to ‘complex video games’. The chapter argues that, although video games have attracted considerable criticism from the mainstream media, they nevertheless provide opportunities to engage in new forms of ‘reading’ and ‘writing’, new identities and new learning experiences.

Reading and writing in games

  • Video games can be seen as a kind of complex text, which involves new forms of ‘reading’ and ‘writing’: not only in the world of the game itself, but also outside of games, in dedicated online affinity spaces.
  • Video games are ‘embodied stories’ in which the player plays a central and active role, and the actions taken by the player can have an important effect on the direction that the story takes.
  • Meanings in video games are highly multimodal and rely on visual, verbal, aural and textual modes. When players ‘read’ the game they combine the visual representation of the game world with written texts and subtle meanings created by colour and sound (e.g. music, sound effects).
  • Many of the literacy practices associated with games actually take place outside of games, in online affinity spaces where gamers share texts associated with the game. Examples include walkthroughs, fan modifications and fan machinima.

Games and identity

  • Playing a video game involves three different identities:
    • The real identity of the player in the real world
    • The virtual identity of the character in the virtual world
    • The ‘projective identity’, where players project their own values, hopes and aspirations onto the virtual character.
  • Playing a video game can help players to understand different cultural models, by immersing players in a particular cultural worldview. Because of this it is important to critically evaluate the experiences one has when playing video games, and the taken-for-granted assumptions that frame those experiences.
  • Playing a video game, especially an online multi-player game, can allow individuals to adopt identities and interact in ways that they would be unlikely to in ‘real life’.


Image credit: redesigns (CC BY license)

Games and learning

  • Some people argue that video games provide powerful learning experiences. On the surface, players learn to fly aeroplanes or manage theme-parks; more importantly, however, they also practice complex problem-solving skills and important social skills of collaboration.
  • Compared to formal school contexts, the way that people learn when playing video games has much to recommend it: players are always operating at the edge of their competence, they learn by experience and information is presented ‘just-in-time’ when they need it (compared to school, where information is learned ‘just-in-case’ it is needed).
  • Some people now believe that games that have a positive social impact should be designed, allowing players to ‘fix reality’. Examples of such games include ‘serious games’ and ‘alternate reality games’ which simulate possible problems in the ‘real world’ and challenge players to solve them creatively.

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: The representation of meaning in video games


Image credit: Patrick Hoesly (CC BY license)

Watch the following video game walkthroughs and pay attention to the way that the games draw on multimodal resources to express meaning:

Compare the two games and discuss the following questions:

  • How is the visual interface designed? How is the game world represented? What icons appear on the screen and what are they used for?
  • How important is text in the game? What kind of written texts does the player encounter? What kind of meanings do these written texts express?
  • How important are music and sound effects in the game? What kinds of meanings are expressed through sound?
  • How important is colour in the game? What kinds of meanings are expressed by colour?
  • What kind of problem-solving do these games involve the player in?

Exercise 2: Cultural values in video games

Read the blog post from No More Lost, ‘Straight Male Gamer’ told to ‘get over it’ by BioWare, which reports correspondence between a fan of the game and the game’s creators (Bioware), about the possibility of gay romance in the game.

  • Why did the fan complain about gay romance?
  • Was the complaint accepted by the game designers? Why/why not?
  • Do you agree with the idea that the game designers should have avoided the subject of a gay romance, to make sure that ‘straight, male gamers’ would be happy?
  • In your opinion, how important is it for video games to conform to the values of the majority in this way? How important is it for them to challenge these values and push players to experience alternative worldviews?
  • Can you think of other examples of video games that have caused controversy because of the subject matter that they have attempted, or the roles that they have placed players in?

Exercise 3: Video games and learning with James Paul Gee

Watch the video interview with James Paul Gee about video games and learning, and discuss the following questions. According to Gee:

  • How do video games engage players to learn?
  • How are the information and skills to be learned presented?
  • How simple or complex is the material that players learn?
  • How valuable is this learning? Why?
  • How does this learning compare to learning in schools?

Exercise 4: Learning in alternate reality games

In 2010, the World Bank Institute (with Jane McGonigal as creative director) created an alternate reality game called Evoke. Watch the videos linked below and discuss the questions:

  1. How does the game employ principles from video games in order to motivate people to engage with problems, be proactive and learn?
  2. What kinds of texts would you encounter in the game?
  3. What kind of texts would players create?
  4. What kind of skills might players learn?
  5. How does all of this compare with formal education (at school or university)? Is it better or worse, or just different?

Additional resources

Video game design

Video game design between 1990–2008

TED, David Perry, Are games better than life?

American Library Association, Gaming and literacy

Video game fan creations

Complex, Reanimated, The 15 best machinima videos of all time

The creator’s project, The top 10 game mods of all time

Bits n bites gaming, 10 best video game live action fan films

Games for learning

TED, Jane McGonigal, Gaming can make a better world

Edutopia, Schools use games for learning and assessment

Edutopia, Top issue-oriented computer simulations

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Games, learning and society

Gamestar Mechanic

Chapter 10 - Social Networking

Summary and main points

In this chapter we explore the literacy practices that have grown up around social networking sites like Facebook. We discuss the differences between social networking cites and older forms of online communities. In particular we consider how online social networks encourage the formation of ‘strong-weak ties’ which facilitate communication across social groups. We also discuss the various ways people construct online identities and present themselves in online social networks.

We are not files

  • A social networking site is defined as ‘a web based service that allows individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system’ (boyd and Elison 2008: 211).
  • In the early days of the internet people formed online communities with people with similar interests. But participation in these communities was usually anonymous, and there was usually little interaction between communities.
  • Online social networks changed the nature of online communities in a number of ways:
    • people’s online interactions began to include people from their offline social networks
    • people began to organize interactions that spanned across different social groups
    • people began using their ‘real’ identities in online communication.
  • In older forms of online social interaction, people were confined to separate groups based on interests like pieces of data placed in separate files. With online social networks people are organized based on their relationships like nodes in a complex network.

 Who are these people on my Facebook?

  • We are connected to the people in online social networks in many different ways, and it is the variety of relationships they promote that make these networks so useful.
  • These relationships can be roughly divided into three kinds:
    • Strong ties (people you know very well)
    • Weak ties (people you do not know well)
    • Strong-weak ties (people you do not well who become useful because of their relationships with people you do know well).
  • Online social networks help to facilitate the formation of strong weak ties.
  • Some people in social networks act as ‘mavens’ (they possess things other people want), and other people act as ‘connectors’ (they connect people together to facilitate the flow of goods and services).


Photo credit Noah Sussman (CC BY license)

Privacy and profit

  • Social networking sites represent a dramatic change in the way people manage their online identities. While in the past, most online communication was anonymous, today most people reveal as least something about their actual identities.
  • Social networking sites promote an ethos of ‘radical self-disclosure’.
  • Some are concerned about the impact of this radical self-disclosure on privacy, especially given that most social networking sites make their money by selling users’ information to advertisers.

The presentation of self on social networking sites

  • Among the most important digital literacy for online social networking is impression management  –  effectively controlling the information you make available to different people.
  • Online social networks make available different kinds of ‘equipment’ for displaying information and for concealing information.
    • Different social networking sites provide different kinds of tools for people to manage their personal information.
    • The interactive and cooperative nature of interactions in social network sites makes it more difficult for people to retain complete control of information about themselves.
    • Some sites allow people to share different information with different users, facilitating audience segregation.


Image credit: Todd Barnard (CC BY SA 2.0 license)

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: Analyzing your social media behaviour

Make a list of all of the information you have posted to your favourite social media site in the last week including photos, links and comments and consider the following questions:

  1. Which of these items received the most attention from the other people in your network (e.g. ‘likes’ or comments)? Why do you think this is?
  2. What motivated you to share these items?
  3. Did you have particular people or groups of people in mind when you posted these items? How was your intended audience reflected in your choice of what to share?
  4. Did you make any of these items visible to just some of the people in your social network? Why?

Exercise 2: Worst Facebook Friends

Watch the slideshow 18 People You’re Scared of on Facebook from GQ.

  1. Why do you think the author considers these people ‘scary’?
  2. Go though the posts on your social network and see if you can identify any that resemble the posts in the slideshow.
  3. Invent posts of three ‘Worst Facebook Friends’. Write the text and try to find a suitable profile picture from Google images or Flickr.

Exercise 3: Change the World

Read the website: How To – Facebook Activism

  1. Choose a cause that you care about (e.g. climate change, animal rights)
  2. Come up with a detailed plan on how you might use Facebook or some other social networking site to promote your cause.
  3. Come up with a name and an introductory paragraph for your social networking site page.

Additional resources

Social networking and social relationships

Mark Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties

5 Ways the Internet Makes Weak Ties Strong

Social networks and politics

Mashable, 9 social media uprisings that sought to change the world

Planet Friendly, How to be an activist

Mathew Ingram, Social media helps activists: Here’s how

Psychology Today, 4 ways social media is redefining activism


Image credit: mbaudier (CC BY-ND license)

Social networks, privacy and impression management

Scientific American, Do Social Networks Bring the End of Privacy?

The Economist, Privacy 2.0

New York Times, Putting Your Best Cyberface Forward

Chapter 11 - Collaboration and Peer Production


Image credit: James Cridland (CC BY license)

Summary and main points

This chapter first describes how digital media and networked communications have made it easier for teams of people to collaborate. It then goes on to examine new forms of mass collaboration and the economic model of ‘commons-based peer production’ associated with them.

Collaboration in writing

  • Collaboration in writing involves two sets of issues related to:
    • The group, i.e. group formation, organization and maintenance, and communication in the group
    • The strategies people use to accomplish the task and co-ordinate their work.
  • Strategies for collaborative writing include:
    • Sequential writing
    • Parallel writing
    • Reciprocal writing
  • Although digital communication tools can be used to address many group issues, they can also contribute to a sense of anonymity and social distance between group members. This problem is referred to as ‘de-individuation’ or ‘virtual distance’.
  • Digital writing tools like word processors and online office suites facilitate collaborative writing, by providing users with detailed annotation tools, version controls and communication tools.


Image credit: woodleywonderworks (CC BY license)

Wikinomics and peer production

  • Commons-based peer production (peer production for short) is a new economic model of information production.
  • Peer production is collaboration between very large, diverse, loosely organized collections of individuals, who are distributed throughout the world, connected by a digital network and work together voluntarily to promote projects that they are interested in.
  • The peer production model works best if the project can be broken down into small chunks that only take a small amount of effort to individually process. In addition, there must also be an efficient way for these individual chunks to be re-integrated into a meaningful whole.

The wisdom of crowds

  • Peer production projects benefit from the ‘collective intelligence’ of massive numbers of collaborators. The idea of collective intelligence is that the solution of the group is often better than the best solution of any one individual.
  • Peer production tends to foster the formation of ‘smart groups’, that is, groups that are characterized by
    • Diversity
    • Independence
    • Decentralization
    • Aggregation.
  • However, a collective decision is not always better than an individual one, and works best for problems that can be reduced to discrete, measurable components.

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: Online collaborative writing tools


Image credit: Anonymous Account (CC BY license)

Watch the videos about sharing and collaboration on the online collaborative writing platform, Google Docs, and discuss the questions below.

  1. What mechanisms do the tools provide with respect to:
    1. The formation of the group? The organization of the group? The roles of different group members?
    2. Brainstorming? Drafting? Revising/reviewing? Versioning?
    3. Communication between members of the group? Means to express and resolve conflict in a productive manner?
  2. How well would the tools be suited to sequential, parallel or reciprocal writing strategies?
  3. Would you consider using these tools in your own writing? Why?

Exercise 2: Collaboration and peer production in YouTube

In 2006, MadV posted a video called ‘One World’, which called on others to respond by writing a message on their hands. The over 2,000 responses were edited into a compilation. Watch the two videos and discuss the questions below:

In what way is the collaborative video, ‘The Message’, an example of peer production? Consider especially:

  • What motivated people to contribute (money, security, fun)?
  • How well do you think the participants knew each other? How closely did they work together?
  • How were participants connected? How did they communicate with one another?
  • How easy or difficult was it for people to participate?
  • How easy or difficult was it to integrate people’s contributions into a final product?

Exercise 3: Peer production for all


Image credit: ralphbijker (CC BY license)

Visit the following peer production websites: Distributed proofreaders, SETI@home, NASA Be a Martian

  • What is the aim of each of these peer production projects?
  • Who is it organized by and who do they expect to participate?
  • How do the organizers attempt to motivate people to participate?
  • In your view, is it easy to participate?
  • What rewards are there for participating?
  • Would you consider participating? Why?
  • How much time would you be prepared to put into such a project?
  • What other kind of projects do you think would be suited to this kind of peer production approach?

Additional resources


Image credit: Alan Vernon (CC BY license)

Online collaboration in writing

Michael Spring, Collaborative writing

Instructional Design and Development Blog, Collaboratively writing about collaborative writing tools

Strategy-business.com, When teams fail: The virtual distance challenge

Peer production economic model

TED, Yochai Benkler, Open source economics

Yochai Benkler, Coase’s penguin, or Linux and the nature of the firm

O’Reilly.com, Open sources: Voices from the open source revolution

Don Tapscott, Presentation at talk the future

Collective intelligence

MIT, Handbook of collective intelligence

TED, James Surowiecki, When social media became news


Forbes.com, Dan Woods, The myth of crowdsourcing

The Guardian, Jaron Lanier on the stupidity of the hive mind

Chapter 12 - Digital Literacies at Work


Image credit: Sean MacEntee (CC BY license)

Summary and main points

This chapter discusses the ways digital media have transformed the world of work. It explores how digital tools are used in workplaces to facilitate teamwork and increase the sense of community among members of large organizations. It also addresses some of the ideological and moral issues surrounding the digital workplace and the ‘new work order’.

Literacies for the ‘new work order’

  • There are five fundamental ways that work is changing, partly as a result of digital media:
    • There has been a dramatic shift from market-based economies to knowledge-based economies in which workers are involved in creating information and knowledge.
    • Work is increasingly distributed over large geographical spaces. Workers must be able to efficiently coordinate tasks with colleagues in other countries and other time zones.
    • More and more people are working from home.
    • Traditional hierarchical management structures are being replaced with self-managing teams to come together temporarily to work on particular projects. This requires workers to be more flexible and self-motivated.
    • People change jobs more than in the past and many more people work on a freelance or project basis. This means that workers need to develop skills in self-promotion and self-reinvention.

The promises and pitfalls of the ‘wiki-workplace’

  • Wikis and other digital collaboration tools facilitate teamwork in geographically distributed teams. While many companies have been successful in using such tools, other have run into problems.
  • Barriers to implementing digital tools in workplaces include:
    • Skills based approaches to training do not prepare workers for the social and interactional requirements of virtual teamwork.
    • Propriety groupware sometimes creates a ‘walled garden’ making it more difficult for people to communicate outside of the team.
    • Virtual tools make it more difficult for team members to develop rapport and trust.

Digital media and social context

  • Companies that have more success using collaborative tools often pay more attention to the social functions of these tools. One example is the increasing used of workplace social media sites.
  • Social media helps to create social contexts in which collaborative tasks can be performed more successfully.
    • Social media can act as a kind of ‘digital water cooler’, helping people to share information on an informal basis.
    • It can also facilitate connections within organizations between people in different departments.
    • Social media also help people to develop a sense of common purpose and mutual trust.

Social media and career advancement

  • Because relationships between employers and employees are increasingly tenuous, the maintenance of strong weak ties fostered by social media has become even more important.
  • Public profiles on social media sites can help people to build their ‘personal brand’.
  • Many people already participate in social networking sites before entering the workplace, but often the profiles they have created and the trail of activities they have left are inappropriate for workplace purposes. The public identity one wishes to portray often changes when one transitions to the world of work, in which case successful impression management might involve ‘cleaning’ potentially incriminating material from ones profile and other public areas.

Critical perspectives on the ‘new work order’

  • The impact of digital technologies on workplaces raises a number of questions about issues like privacy and worker’s rights.
  • Among the effects of the ‘new work order’ on workers are:
    • Less job security
    • Payment based on work accomplished rather than time worked
    • Increased surveillance from managers using digital tools
    • Increased deterioration of employee privacy
    • Increased reliance on quantitative measures of work performance.
  • Workers with high levels of education often find opportunities for creative work, but for those with less education, work in the new work order is as tedious as factory work in the old manufacturing economy.


Photo Credit: sridgway (CC BY license)

Additional Exercises

Exercise 1: The digital workplace

Read Paul Miller’s 10 Digital Workplace Predictions.

  1. Which of these predictions do you think will come true and which do you think will not?
  2. Make 10 predictions of your own and share them with your friends on your blog or favourite social networking site.
  3. Use Google or another search engine to find more predictions about the workplace of the future.

Exercise 2: The new work order

Look at the jobs pages of the following companies and try to imagine what it would be like to work in them.

Google - McDonald’s - Apple - Amazon Mechanical Turk

Which of the five characteristics of the ‘new work order’ do you think these companies display?

  1. Increased focus on knowledge work.
  2. Work distributed over large geographical spaces.
  3. People working from home.
  4. Work in self-managing teams.
  5. Temporary work.

Exercise 3: Social networking and work

Read Dumb Little Man’s article ‘Making Sure Your Facebook Profile Doesn’t Lose You a Job’.

  1. Choose the advice you think is worth taking and the advice you think can be disregarded. Give reasons for your choices.
  2. Using the advice you think is worthwhile, prepare a PowerPoint presentation for job seekers on how to adapt their Facebook profiles for the world of work.

4. Working from home

Use this search engine to find jobs that you can do from home.

  1. Try to find at least three jobs that you think you would like to do.
  2. Find three jobs that you think you would hate. Explain why.


Photo Credit: thrig (CC BY license)

Additional Resources

The ‘new work order’

Infed, Globalization

The Daily Beast, Future of work

Rand Corporation, The future of work

Rachel Levy, How to use social media in your job search

Digital workplaces

PC Magazine, Choosing a digital workplace

Caslon Analytics, Digital environments http://www.caslon.com.au/digitalguide18.htm

Marc Prensky, Digital immigrants, digital natives

‘Branding’ yourself online

CNN, Me 2.0: Branding yourself online

Rachel Levy, How to use social media in your job search

Robert Gehl, Ladders, samurai and blue collars: Personal branding in Web 2.0