The Virtual Campfire

“To define is to kill. To suggest is to create.”
-Stéphane Mallarmé


Everything we know is co-constructed. This thesis is the result of innumerable interactions with people online and offline, and as such is dedicated to all who took the time to share their thoughts, stories, excitement and fears about online social networking. Special thanks to those who challenged my assumptions and posed questions, the likes of which I would come to grapple with throughout what has been the most intellectually intense year of my life.

I would like to thank the following individuals, without whom all of this would not exist:

Elizabeth Traube, my advisor, for inspiring me to pursue my passion two years ago in Youth Culture, and for teaching me the ways of the anthropologist ever since.

Mike Roy, who helped me figure out where to begin, for many an engaging conversation and guidance way back in the beginning of this thesis.

Phil Wagoner, my art history professor, whose intellectually invigorating class on monument, site, and historical memory inspired what has become the final chapter, “The Digital Graveyard: Frozen Performances, Remembrance, and Commemoration.”

Joseph Rouse, my philosophy professor, for making articulate some of the deep ideas about human nature and communication that undergird this whole thesis: you are the reason my Introduction is over 40 pages long.

Jason and Kelly Ryan, my darling siblings, for showing me the often strange and bizarre ways high school kids act online.

Dad, from whom I inherited a deep love of people, for always keeping the woodstove burning in our home.

Mom, who has always known I was born to be a writer, for believing that I can change the world. Thanks for all the Hope.

Joe Mariglio, whose passion and brilliance never ceases to inspire me, for unwavering love and support and continual online companionship throughout countless sleepless nights.

“I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance”
(e.e. cummings)

Table of Contents

¬ Description of the Fieldsites
¬ Being, Knowing, and Being Known in Online Social Networks
¬ Previous Scholarship
¬ Value of Study
¬ Becoming a Cyber-Anthropologist
¬ Structure of Thesis

Chapter 1: A History of Mediated Technologies
¬ The Development of Modern Communications Technologies
¬ Computer-Mediated Communication in Historical Context
¬ Conclusions

Chapter 2: A Brief History of Social Networking Sites
¬ Origins
¬ The Early Years (2003-2004)
¬ Gaining Momentum (2005-2006)
¬ Critical Mass (2007-2008)
¬ Conclusions

Chapter 3: An Autoethnographic Exploration of Life Online
¬ First Forays Into the Cybernetic Jungle (1996-1999)
¬ High School: Self and Others (1999-2003)
¬ Transitional Periods: Juggling Networks and Finding My Place (2003-2005)
¬ Convergence of Spheres (2005-Present)
¬ Conclusions

Chapter 4: Anxieties and Dystopias
¬ Big Brother is Watching
¬ Blurred Boundaries
¬ Authenticity
¬ The Shame! From Surveillance to Snooping to Stalking
¬ The Seductive Power of the Internet
¬ Conclusions

Chapter 5: Pleasures and Utopias
¬ Safe Spaces
¬ The Strength of Weak Ties
¬ The Information Revolution
¬ Promoting Individual Endeavors
¬ Technoshamanism and Neotribalism
¬ Conclusions

Chapter 6: The Digital Graveyard: Frozen Performances, Remembrance, and Commemoration
¬ Background
¬ My(Death)Space
¬ Tribe
¬ Facebook
¬ Conclusions

¬ “Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories”

¬ Appendix A – Glossary of Internet Terms and Jargon
¬ Appendix B – My Online Profiles
¬ Appendix C – Web Resources

Works Cited

>> Introduction

© Jenny Ryan 2008