Sunday, January 23, 2005

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.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at January 23, 2005 6:30 PM to Orange