This piece, “Say Everything,” from last week’s New York magazine has gotten a bit of play in library blogs, with some of the usual “look at what web 2.0 means for young people” talk. To be fair, New York‘s readership isn’t Middle-America’s librarians, and nor should it be. I read Emily Nussbaum’s stuff from time to time, and she usually handles gender with about as much tact and class as journalists can. But what I found missing from this article was just that- any mention of what Web 2.0, and “young people revealing their lives on the internet” means in terms of gender and power.
As libraries ape the commercial web, we talk about how we might adapt Web 2.0 tools in a way that empowers our users. It’s an odd choice of rhetoric, because in my mind, we want to promote social justice, not just give more consumer options. As the Web looks and works now, as Nussbaum portrays it, I want nothing to do with a library organization or a professional community that buys in without critique.
I’m someone who has grown up with the web, opted into the prevalent social web, scanned Cobrasnake for friends’ pictures, and has, as all these articles say, come to see the internet as integral to social life. So I feel like I’m not a naysaying adult when I say, some aspects of the social web are downright pernicious, and that aspects of the commercial web are really dis-empowering to young women. I think I can also speak from experience (because I have absolutely no data to support this) to say that women and girls are documenting their lives in fuller, more particular detail on the social web than men, and that this is the driving force behind many, if not all of the major Web 2.0 trends. Lastly, the internet is becoming some large exercise in the male gaze- whether it’s corporate behemoths owning Myspace thus owning a generation’s self representation, or party scene sites giving opportunistic ogling dudes unprecedented social power.
Nussbaum does a decent job of showing , rather than telling this, with her subjects being largely female, and her narrative of how the social web came to be starting with viral sex videos. With suprisingly little horror, she tells how the dudes who started CollegeHumor (basically low scale Girls Gone Wild) are now running Vimeo (a “hipster You Tube”, she says).
As a librarian, I do relish the occasion to seem priggish. But I also wonder what we can do to navigate, and maybe, preserve, the document of global society that is the social web. Can we, a profession that is largely female, and ambigiously dedicated to promoting social justice, conscionably adapt without question trends that are rooted in exploitation and greed? There has never been a more complete snapshot of female life than there is now on Myspace, Facebook, and livejournal. But who owns them, and who will own them in the future?