Scholarly article on topic 'Mixing in Social Media'

Mixing in Social Media Academic research paper on "Media and communications"

Share paper
Academic journal
Social Media + Society
OECD Field of science

Academic research paper on topic "Mixing in Social Media"


SI: Manifesto social media society

Social Media + Society

• • ^ • I ^.M I* April-lune 2015: 1-2

Mixing in Social Media © The Author(s) 2015

° DOI: 10.1177/2056305115580482

Bernie Hogan


This essay draws upon the social life of vinyl records as a means to consider social media as a set of many-to-many affordances rather than a suite of technologies. It defines affordances and draws upon their earlier history from cognitive science.


social affordances, medium theory, technological determinism, phenomenology

Definitions of social media frustrate at every turn. For example, considered as a technology, vinyl records are anachronistic, outdated, and pre-date "social media" by a century. Yet the distribution model of vinyl in contemporary club culture is something quite akin to social media. Much like posts, certain "white label" vinyl albums are pressed in limited qualities and often first announced to friends, fellow DJs, and connected insiders. The albums are then played by fellow DJs who themselves release further white label remixes, feeding back into a sort of many-to-many network mediated by the constraints of material distribution rather than algorithms.

The purpose here is not to squeeze vinyl into a box that was not designed for vinyl or unnecessarily water down definitions. It is to ask, what do we use to make that box in the first place? Is it always digital? Does it always involve third-party storage? Does it need a blue logo? What about distributed systems? Is it only for teens? Reading social media through a technology as old as vinyl, we can see that it is as much a practice as it is a suite of technologies. However, this is not a full-throated endorsement of a purely social construc-tivist approach where anything can be social media if we consider it as such. In many respects, vinyl still operates in different ways than silicon. It scratches and deteriorates; it requires a specific physical plant for the creation of the technology; it is expensive. But these are not always the ways that matter. What matters is how the context (playing vinyl, using Facebook, posting on a town bulletin board) enables certain perceptions of social world to be acted upon. More than anything, social media mediates sociality. Facebook mediates "friends," Reddit mediates links, vinyl mediates DJs.

As we build an understanding of the relative differences between media and identify the interesting emergent phenomena on the Internet, we need a language to clarify which differences make a difference. One germane approach is to consider the specific features of the media themselves. To

some, this approach is problematic as it implies a form of technological determinism—that a media must function a certain way because it has certain features. Fortunately, past work has given us a convenient if poorly understood way out of this quandary: the logic of social affordances.

Briefly stated, affordances are perceptual cues that make a functional difference. Thus, streaming video would be an affordance as it enables new forms of perception over audio—we position ourselves differently because of the camera: we react to emotions, gestures, and the setting. On the other hand, greater bandwidth is not an affordance. It is not a directly perceived cue so much as a condition of possibility for a host of other cues. Affordances build a conceptual bridge between the objective things-in-the-world and the minds that subjectively perceive these things and act on their perceptions. We need not pay attention to a tweet stream, to the number of comments on a wall post, or to one's friend count. Affordances do not determine the action we take, or even necessitate perceiving the world in a certain way. But these cues are still available and signify something. Returning to vinyl, we might note that label, the sleeve, and the music all suggest certain actors and contexts. Objectively, the label tells important social facts for a DJ, but to a random club-goer, even one staring at the rotating turntable, these details are likely to be missed or ignored.

Traditional affordances, like those initially described by James Gibson, are cues about the objective world (Heft, 2001). A flat knee-high surface may afford sitting, but it does not compel us to sit. Because it is perceived, one does not

University of Oxford, UK Corresponding Author:

Bernie Hogan, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, 1 St Giles,

Oxford OXI 3JS, UK.


ice) CD® Creative Commons CC-BY-NC: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License ^^^■sSMD^B ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

Social Media + Society

need to actually sit in order to know (typically) whether a surface can be sat upon. Social affordances, by extension, are perceptual cues to the social world—that complex web of personal associations and living institutions. Social affor-dances are the handshakes and buildings we perceive rather than the networks and institutions that we infer.

If social media affords a perception of an unaddressed many-to-many audience, we must also consider that these affordances are designed, intentional, representational practices. First, Facebook created a consolidated news feed, then one that was tuned algorithmically. Now not all views are created equal. Some friends are never seen, and some are never far from the top.

We might say social media are media that have social affordances that are many-to-many, typically asynchronous, and typically digital. By reframing social media as an assemblage of social affordances, we can now ask, what might I perceive (or miss) about my social world when consuming social media? This allows us to ask refined questions beyond simple categorical comparisons such as Facebook versus Twitter, men versus women, and old versus young users. We might compare those users who employ groups and lists to those who use only the top news feed, those who use TweetDeck and pop-ups to those who do not. We can look at the effects of photos in instilling trust. We can question the designs and what they exclude or hide from the user.

In short, we can compare users as selectively perceiving agents of a multitude of designed, often functional, cues and not bundles of categories that somehow collide with our technology du jour. And if we lift the necessary requirement that social media is digital, we might start to see such media all around us, even in a medium as old as vinyl. This does not undermine our analytic capacities, but adds new lines of inquiry to the mix.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


Heft, H. (2001). Ecological psychology in context. Malwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Author Biography

Bernie Hogan (PhD, University of Toronto) is a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. His research interests are social network analysis, interactive methodologies, and theories of identity.