A piece I just penned, “The Internet of Words,” is now out in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In part, it’s a review of two wonderful new books about social media: Alice E. Marwick’s Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, and danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Both books were published within the last year by Yale University Press.
But the piece is also a meditation on words, taking the occasion of both books to think through the semantics of digital culture. It’s inspired by Raymond Williams‘ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976; 2nd ed., 1983), looking closely at how language shifts accompany, and sometimes precede, technological change. Here’s a snippet:
Changes in the language are as much a part of the story of technology as innovative new products, high-stakes mergers and acquisitions, and charismatic corporate leaders. They bear witness to the emergence of new technological realities, yet they also help facilitate them. Facebook wouldn’t have a billion-plus users absent some compelling features. It also wouldn’t have them without people like me first coming to terms with the new semantics of friendship.
It was great having an opportunity to connect some dots between my scholarly work on algorithmic culture and the keywords approach I’ve been developing via Williams. The piece is also a public-facing statement of how I approach the digital humanities.
Please share—and I hope you like it.