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My dissertation looks at how people use social media to boost their social status.
When social media technologies, or "Web 2.0," emerged, scholars and technologists hailed them as a new era of participatory, egalitarian culture. This dissertation examines three status-seeking techniques enabled by social media-micro-celebrity, self-branding, and life-streaming-to provide an alternate view. I argue that Web 2.0 originated in the Northern California technology community, influenced both by counter-cultural movements which positioned new media as a solution to structural deficits of government, business, and mass culture, and the Silicon Valley tradition of entrepreneurial capitalism used as a model for neoliberal development world-wide. These status-seeking techniques constitute technologies of subjectivity which encourage people to apply free-market principles to the organization of social life. Drawing from discourses of celebrity, branding, and public relations, I describe three self-presentation strategies people adopt within social media applications to gain status, attention and visibility.
Based on fieldwork in the San Francisco technology scene from 2006-2009, I identify and describe these status-seeking techniques, how they are experienced, and their implications. Micro-celebrity involves creating a persona, performing intimate connections to create the illusion of closeness, acknowledging an audience and viewing them as fans, and using strategic reveal of information to maintain interest. Lifestreaming is the process of tracking and digitizing personal information and broadcasting it to a networked audience, creating a digital portrait of one's actions and thoughts. In a group of lifestreamers, the digital instantiation of personal information through social media creates a rich backdrop of social information to be scrutinized. Self-branding is the strategic creation of identity to be promoted and sold for enterprise purposes, promoted by self-help gurus and career strategists. These self-presentation strategies involve the creation of an edited self that can be safely viewed by a networked audience consisting of friends, family members, and co-workers. This self requires constant self-surveillance and monitoring and has real emotional affects, which constitute immaterial emotional labor.
Social media is thus undergirded by the neoliberal values of the Northern San Francisco tech scene. I argue that the prevalent myths of entrepreneurship and meritocracy are deeply gendered and contribute to a systematic devaluation of women's experiences, further undermining claims of egalitarianism and democracy.
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