¿Dónde está el autor?

Según Barthes, el autor está muerte. But according to me, I’m alive and well and in Guatemala.
So what’s up? Well, I’m taking the opportunity to travel. I’ve already finished two weeks in Nicaragua and am now in Antigua, about to hike up an active volcano in two hours.
Nicaragua was interesting because it felt more like the Philippines than Costa Rica. It was definitely just as hot, I saw grass burned yellow by the sun. It was also poorer than Costa Rica, I saw trash on the side of the highway, and until that point I hadn’t realized that Costa Rica’s roads were missing that particular detail. Nicaragua also apparently receives more international development assistance, since I saw lots of signs about stuff being donated by Japan or Germany or some other country.
Anyway, I can’t seem to put myself into the right mindset for anthropological thinking, so I’ll just leave you all with this update on my whereabouts and bid you adieu for now.

Again on social networking sites

I’ve just realized that I might be behind the curve now.  I admit, I’m not keeping a constant watch on news about the Internet, but in my subjective experience, the amount of English-language media coverage given to blogs has decreased whereas it seems to me that the current information technology zeitgeist has been taken over by social networking sites.  You know, stuff like Facebook, MySpace, etc.  My guess is that blogs and bloggers are starting to find their niche in the Anglosphere, thus becoming more mundane with every passing day.  One certainly can’t disregard the high visibility of political blogs in the US and the constant commentary on them provided by the traditional news media.

So: blogs are mainstream now.  What else is next?  Social networking sites, apparently (a.k.a. SNS).  I mean, Foreign Policy did an article on them and The freaking Economist has a Facebook group.  Yeah, I know, it’s a bit bizarre.  I wonder who’s responsible for maintaing that group?

Okay, so perhaps when such staid auld institutions like The Economist have joined Facebook then it’s more a sign of being mainstream than cutting edge (and apropos of nothing, but apparently The Economist’s website has been redesigned).  However, being so new, in real time as opposed to Internet time, SNSes have barely been studied by academics so far.  Scholars are still grasping at the answers to such basic questions as who uses Social Networking Sites.  Via the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website (see what I mean about blogs becoming mainstream?), however, I found these two links to various stuff around the Internet related to SNSes:

The first is an article from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Eszter Hargittai, a sociologist from Northwestern University and contributor to the Crooked Timber group blog entitled “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites” (2007).

Hargittai mentions that “students who have at least one parent with a graduate degree are more represented on Facebook, Xanga, and Friendster than they are in the aggregate sample, while students whose parents have less than a high school education are disproportionately users of MySpace”, which is to say that North American socioeconomic divisions are reflected online by which SNS you join: MySpace for the working class, Facebook for the middle class.  This accords with what danah boyd observed in the blogpost that stirred up quite a lot of online reaction, partly because I think Americans don’t like to be reminded that class exists in their country (and as another tangent, I’d actually made the exact same observation as her that Facebook and MySpace users were clearly being segregated according to class and had even been half-assedly formulating a blogpost on the subject, though it’s just as well that she broached the subject first since she reaches more people and she actually used more than 50% of her ass when writing the post).

Basically, the point of the article is that who joins and stays with SNSes can be somewhat predicted by various demographic factors, and that we might be seeing the rise of a new social divide, this time between those who use SNSes and those who don’t.

The second link is a story about how people inadvertently flock and follow leaders when they are in crowds, such that 5% of crowdgoers can nonverbally direct the movements of the other 95%.  Qué interesante, you say.  Nunca he pensado sobre esta tema.  That’s not what I really wanted to point out, though.  Instead, look at the bottom of the press release and see that there are buttons for you to share the story on both Facebook and Digg.  I’m somewhat impressed that the University of Leeds’ publicity department is on top of this Web 2.0 thing, since university websites are usually not that up with the haps online.  Perhaps even SNSes are approaching mainstream-ness (mainstreamity? I think I like this one more).

Still, nothing can top my last item, this time coming from the antropologi.info blog: it seems that Owen Wiltshire, a grad student at Concordia University in Montreal, is planning on studying how anthropologists who study online social phenomena form online communities themselves.  Yes, you read that right, an online anthropologist is studying how online anthropologists work with each other online.  It’s so deliciously reflexive.  He’s also got his own blog, so I might just pop over sometime and say whattup.

Capitalism: “It might start sucking less”

From The International Herald Tribune:

On the cusp of economic history

Is economic history about to change course? Among the chieftains of politics and industry gathering in Davos for the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, a consensus appears to be building that the capitalist system is in for one of those rare and tempestuous mutations that give rise to a new set of economic policies . . .

“The pendulum between market and state is swinging back,” Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, said by telephone before traveling to Davos. “The year 2008 is a crucial year that could end up setting the tone for some time to come. What we need is an ideological mutation without falling into the trap of protectionism.”

One such mutation in mainstream economic policy took place after the Depression of 1929, which led to a protectionist interlude and then gave rise to Keynesian demand-side policies and eventually the welfare state. Another took place following the oil price shocks in the 1970s, which refocused policy makers’ attention to supply-side measures and strengthened those pushing for privatization and free markets as the best way to stimulate growth.

When students of economics open their history books in 2030, they might read about 2008 as the year when the groundwork was laid for a re-regulation of certain markets, a more redistributive tax system and new forms of international policy coordination, economists say.

I don’t know, isn’t this just more of the classic cycles we’re supposed to expect from capitalism?  But having said that, it would be unfair to claim that nothing has changed and that we’re stuck in a perpetual circle of death and reincarnation.  Perhaps the roller coaster is a more apt metaphor – things go up and down, but they never go backwards.  After all, the environment is in a more precarious position today and the emerging economies of China and India are far stronger than they have been in the recent past.

So, while no one can expect the abolition or even the gradual phasing-out of the capitalist nation-state system, perhaps we will see some encouraging moves towards allowing more people around the world the chance not to get gang-raped out of nowhere by economic policies they never agreed to.  And perhaps some of these people might be more open-minded to an alternative to the current political-economic system?  Hope springs eternal.

By the way, that picture of Davos just makes me even happier that I’m in Costa Rica right now.  Man, it looks cold up there (although it’s snowing so it must be relatively warm, like only -5 Celsius).

“Canadians” becoming code word for “niggers” in US

Via Language Log: No Dogs or Canadians? 

This is rather bizarre, but apparently in the US, the term “Canadian” is apparently increasingly being used as a replacement derogatory term for “black people”.  It’s ideal for cryptoracists because it doesn’t sound racist.  “Damn Canadians” doesn’t sound like a racial slur, after all.

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The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

From Foreign Policy:

The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have made the world seem like a small place after all. But even on the Internet, persistent language barriers and cultural differences mean that the planet may not be quite as interconnected as you think.

Coming to Costa Rica, I found out first-hand how parochial the Anglosphere really is.  It’s easy to over-estimate the global reach of English when you’re immersed in it, but one must remember that the majority of the world doesn’t speak the language of Shakespeare.  The Anglosphere might seem all-encompassing in its totality, but all you have to do is change your linguistic environment and suddenly people are talking about celebrities you’ve never heard of and singing along to classic songs you never knew existed.

As offline, so also online.  I’m only now dipping my toe into the Spanish Internet and it’s rather fascinating to discover the differences Spanish Internet talk has from standard written Spanish (for instance, hardly anyone uses the upside-down symbol things like ¿).

This article from Foreign Policy is a nice round-up of the state of social networking sites in different language zones of the world.  I hadn’t known that Orkut was big in India or that its membership had plateaud, and neither did I know that Facebook was also big in the Arab countries, nor that Skyrock even existed.  And finally I found out who’s been using Hi5.  Anyway, do read the article, it’s only 2 pages long and is a good corrective to English-language ghettoism online.