I’m continuing my series of reviews of the plenaries at Georgetown University’s Round Table with Crispin Thurlow’s plenary. In my own academic experience, I have only recently read Dr. Thurlow’s work, and wish I had come across it much earlier. He co-authored a textbook on Computer-Mediated Communication in 2004 which is still very useful to the field today.
In his plenary, he started off by asking “Why would I want to follow my milk on Twitter?” It’s a good question — why is everything on Twitter or Facebook these days? When you buy milk at a grocery store, you want to consume the product, not be its friend. From here, Dr. Thurlow discussed the ways that social media set us up by promising interaction, but really have underlying agendas.
It was useful to me to start thinking of interaction this way. He used the example of FourSquare — I’m sure you’ve seen it on your Facebook pages if you don’t use it yourself. This app on a mobile phone allows users to “check in” at different places and posts the results to Facebook or Twitter. The idea, theoretically, is that your friends will know where you are and follow you there for meet-ups. Really, though, behind FourSquare is a commercial aspect — you check in at a certain place and get a deal! Groupon and LivingSocial, the coupon websites, do the same things while advertising themselves as lists of fun things to do and ways to get involved with your friends.
I found Dr. Thurlow’s discussion on celebrity rhetoric to be interesting too. He asked us — why do we care what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast? It’s another commerce trick — if Ashton Kutcher likes it, then you must like it; if Ashton Kutcher buys it, then you buy it. Institutions and commercial entities are desperately trying to figure out how to harness this marketing power present on social networking sites.
Dr. Thurlow used the term “pseudo-sociality” to refer to these kinds of phenomenon — they seem to be social behaviors, but they really have some other underlying aim to them, whether it’s selling something or promoting a celebrity self online. We tend to get caught up in the newness of media, interested in the shiny things — what we really need to do, Dr. Thurlow said in an echo of Susan Herring’s plenary, is root our analyses and observations in the ancient histories and connect behaviors back to our past instead of assuming everything is “brand new”.
His talk inspired a lot of thought, for me, especially along the lines of critically thinking about how to classify and analyze linguistic behaviors online.