Social objects again
The ideas of object centered sociality formed a big stimulus when Jyri Engestrm visited London in June . This post is just to note a report of Hugh MacLeod speaking at connectSF.
Social networking sites are all about “social objects.” The objects themselves — pictures people upload to Flickr, say — are unimportant. It’s the conversation that takes place around them. Social objects always consist of a noun, such as the photo, and a verb — the action they create, such as the urge to share. MacLeod didn’t dream all this stuff himself, he said. It goes back to research anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski did while living among Pacific Islanders nearly 100 years ago.
Whether these ideas which can be applied to online networks and social websites have their origins in ethnographic anthropology or in soviet psychology (Activity Theory), probably both, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the recognition that theory has an important and very practical role to play.
That conversations take place around objects rather than around nothing is an important principle. The objects themselves may indeed be unimportant compared to the conversation, but that doesn’t mean you can do away with objects. In the absence of any object, I would venture that a surrogate object tends to be contructed, often out of elements from the conversation itself. Then people start talking about the conversation, about the meaning of words and other such distractions. If you’ve ever taken part in threaded online discussions where there is no clear topic or purpose then you know what I’m talking about. It may well be that it’s the absence of social objects which causes people-to-people-only networks to fixate upon the meta-levels of conversation about the tools or about the processes.
So get yourself some objects, preferably made out of concrete