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thoughts on ‘lifecasting’ and sociability on the web

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Webcam still of a police officer checking over Abraham Briggs, a 19 year old college student who lifecasted his death through Justin.tv in November.

Webcam still of a police officer checking over Abraham Briggs, a 19 year old college student who lifecasted his death through Justin.tv in November.

Over at GOOD, there was an interesting article by David Pescovitz on the problems that have been associated with the rise of ‘lifecasting,’ what is defined (by Wikipedia) as a continual broadcast of events in a person’s life through digital media. Lifecasting has caught on as a natural facet of the increasingly social ‘web.’ People are now in the habit of regularly posting videos on sites such as  youtube, dailymotion, and justin.tv that are operate as confessionals, full of personal insights, opinions, and self-reflexive insights on what it means to be “___.”

A lot of this has been cited as evidence of an increased form of narcissism that is symptomatic of what is wrong with some facets of social networking. This year, a University of Oregon study proposed the thesis that social networking sites such as Facebook can reveal whether one is inclined to be a narcissist, or engage in narcissistic behavior. And just last month, a 19 year old man in Florida suffering from a combination of physiological problems, Abraham Briggs, broadcast his suicide on justin.tv.

Pescovitz’s article raises a provocative question on the potentially toxic elements of engaging in too much ‘lifecasting’ behavior (“could the negative side effects of lifecasting, microblogging, and oversharing online be worse than just an increase in narcissistic behavior?”). For now, it is too early to say if the negative side effects of online interactions could lead to streaming web ‘deaths’ like the Briggs case.

But I am concerned at how these discussions could be used a means to generalize the behavior of people who have adapted, incorporated, and supplemented their daily lives with social networking. I can already read a consensus formed by certain entities claiming that young people (who are often cited as primary ‘lifecasters’) are spending too much time blogging, vlogging, and posting videos on their lives to a degree that its making them less social, less human, evidence of a growing apathy and antisocial behavior. To a degree, those concerns do carry some weight. It is a bit worrisome to see people devote extraordinary time to broadcasting their personal lives on such a regular basis. Glancing through any page on Facebook, Twitter, etc. is a revelatory experience on lifecasting.  What we glimpse are samples of a growing visual archive of instantaneous human feelings and ideas. One minute, user X is declaring his love for a television show (“Last night’s Gossip Girl was really good”), while at the same instance, user Y has announced their social status (‘single’ to ‘being in a relationship’ being a common example) to every one of their friends, and friends of those friends.

On the flipside, there are some encouraging signs that lifecasting is simply another element of the increasingly sociability of the internet. Researchers such as UC Berkeley’s Danah Boyd have published work that demonstrate how social networking, particularly with teenagers,  is being used for a positive means. Young people are not so disaffected by their use of new media. On the contrary, they are (arguably) being more active with vibrant ‘networked publics’ of contact and psycho-social engagement.

The web, however, is very porous. Is it a matrix that simutaneously streams life, death, hate, love, desire, consumption, production, whether we like it or not. A search engine will easily pull up a multitude of digital copies of Briggs’ digital death, just as much a human birth. This contradictory, bipolar nature of the world wide web will only raise more questions about lifecasting than answers.

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Written by elcuzcatleco

12/15/2008 at 11:33 pm

Posted in lifecasting, new media