Archive for June, 2011

“We pass through this world but once…”

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

“Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.”

Stephen Jay Gould | The Mismeasure of Man (1981)

I’m a Mac, I’m a PC

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Coming across George Lange’s photo of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates from 1991, I was struck by how well the postures, the attire and the interesting perspective capture what Apple and Microsoft represented at that time.

How different might a photo taken today look?

George Lange | Fortune Magazine (July 21, 1991) (Getty Images)

The Imagined Audience

Friday, June 10th, 2011

I briefly mentioned the notion of an ‘imagined audience’ in my recent post on PhD blogging for The Thesis Whisperer. In his thesis, David Brake (2009) uses a symbolic interactionist approach to examine imagined audiences in relation to personal blogging in the UK. He suggests blogging practices incorporate a range of ‘envisaged audience relationships’ where a blogger’s “construction of the meaning of their practice can be based as much on an imagined and desired social context as it is on an informed and reflexive understanding of the communicative situation” (p.3). Drawing on Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, Brake explains how the marginal role of blog audiences is partly encoded in the socio-technical characteristics of the blogging platforms themselves.

Interestingly, the notion of ‘audience’ assumes a broadcast metaphor. How does this compare with the idea of a blogging community, and the participative web generally? How do we perceive audiences in the social media we use? How are these perceptions formed? And how do they differ across different platforms? Do we transfer audience identities from one platform to another?

Viewing indicators (visitor statistics etc.) are limited in what they tell us, whilst acts of participation and reciprocity (comments, retweets etc.) are often fewer in number than we’d like. Even when a network is largely identifiable – such as followers on Twitter – we have little or no idea of their actual viewing behaviours. I purposely keep the number of people I follow on Twitter to a manageable figure (I’d like to follow more) to be able to most efficiently view my twitter feed on a regular basis. I assume users who follow several thousands of people don’t do this, but rather engage in more inconsistent viewing habits, do more skimming, or employ some sort of filtering.

A number of participants in my PhD study have expressed concerns over the ambiguity of social media audiences, particularly around blogging. As I have discussed previously, doctoral practices can require negotiating a number of different contexts, which, even within my small cohort of participants, can include conflicting academic, entrepreneurial and activist activities. By choosing to use social media, they are committed to engaging in more public, distributed and persistent dialogues. The way they blog, tweet and create other digital artefacts across interrelated platforms and audiences incurs potential inconsistencies and tensions. When those audiences are ambiguous, practice and identity agendas are further compromised.


Brake, D. R. (2009). As if nobody’s reading’?: the imagined audience and socio-technical biases in personal blogging practice in the UK. PhD thesis, London School of Economics.