Booking Social Nostalgia

Thursday’s Daily Orange ran a feature story on the steady decline in
sales of yearbooks to Syracuse seniors. SU students tend to live in campus
dormitories; fraternities and sororities, academic and social clubs, and a
relatively compact campus (among other factors, I suppose) combine to make the
social patterns of each year’s undergraduate cohort more encapsulable, as has
long been the case in the annual memento of the yearbook, which, I’d say, works
well at some colleges and universities and less well at others.  FWIW, I
held off on posting these few notes about the fade of yearbooks and the
coincident emergence of, social software, and other
network-enabling mobile technologies because I thought there was a slim chance
the story, "Shelved books," would pop up on DO’s web site.  So far, it
hasn’t.  But I was impressed to find that the DO offers an
RSS feed.  When I
didn’t find one a few months ago, I sent the editor a quick email.  Never
heard back, but at least the RSS feed is available now, even if many of the
stories are late to filter to the web site or the syndication channel.

The story about waning interest in yearbooks coincided with my (teacherly)
discovery that two distinct facebooks reach out to SU students, storing away
profiles, tagged interests, class schedules and photos.  The university
circulated an email in the fall encouraging students to sign up with
SU Facebook.  I went ahead and
signed up because I’m curious about self-defining tags as network indices, and I
wanted to have a sense of the connective interface agreed upon by the
administrators concerned with student life as well as the various uses to which
such services were being put by SU students.  Then, as I developed WRT205
for this spring, I knew I wanted to talk about the ways in which such networking
interfaces might serve more than social purposes.  What would it mean to
carry social software over to other spheres, such as the semi-social arena of
the writing classroom? When we met on Thursday (two days after I asked, on
Tuesday, for them to log profiles in SU Facebook), we convened a brief
discussion of social software.  After a few minutes, it occurred to
everyone that we were talking about two separate spaces: SU Facebook (the site
sanctioned by the university) and (the
original, more popular site, it turned out).  As it operates beyond the
institution’s domain of authority, as far as I can tell, thefacebook includes
social "poking" and groups such as "I hate WRT105."  Only three or four 205
students (out of 20) didn’t have profiles set up in  One
cause for declining sales in yearbooks? The DO article didn’t mention emerging
technologies or new media, but clearly the new facebooks have redefined
the static, single-class (only senior photos) and annually produced old
facebook.  I now have profiles in both online facebooks, and yes, I enrolled in
the group for 105 haters, though–ho hum–I still don’t have any friends as of
yet.  Even ran across the profile of a student from one of my sections of
105 in the group.  Heh.  Small(er) world.

 From the DO article, this passage reminded me of the relative price tag
of the school’s yearbook against the *free* profile in the facebooks:

Even if the yearbook staff somehow managed to have every SU student get his
or her picture taken and placed in the yearbook, the final product would be
four times its current size and be much more expensive than its current $80
price-tag–and cost is one of many SU students’ complaints about it already.

And this bit, works on the "type of memories" ordinarily made static by the
old print model.  Social software enables lesser networks to form and
flourish in ways chronicles of any school’s central/normative social pulse could
never accommodate. 

But some students may wonder who exactly those buyers are, since they’re
not sure they will want to capture the type of memories found in the yearbook. 
Students who claim they are not actively involved in on-campus school-spirited
life–attending speaker events, Homecoming parades or becoming members of
organizations–find no reason to buy the yearbook because it documents exactly
those things.  It tends to only show images of those students involved in
activities as well, Defilippo [an SU student] said.

Put together the implications of new media on an old media are abundantly
clear, and to elaborate to this length probably seems like overkill,
particularly for folks who are already thinking about networks and social software. 
Thursday’s mix of yearbook/facebook issues got me thinking about the
curricular consequences for yearbook classes (and this probably applies to high
schools more than to colleges and universities).  Following a network
logic, we might begin to think of the charge in a yearbook class in terms of
lesser network documentaries–multi-mediations of the social/intellectual
interplay among active-minded, interested groups.  This way of thinking
about the yearbook as a project would, I suppose, depend on more complex
approaches to layout and design (where the web of relationships dictate form
rather than the confines of the page), and the intervention of
extra-institutional social software apps has, perhaps, already stripped the
practicality from older efforts at nostalgic memorabilia.