Online Seminar 1-12 November: Daniel Miller An Extreme Reading of Facebook

There is no doubt that the last five years have seen a quantum jump in how most people experience the internet. ‘Web 2.0’ features above all the spread of Social Networking Sites (SNS), of which the Open Anthropology Cooperative is one. Chief among them is Facebook. From the OAC’s beginning some of our snootier members complained about the ‘Facebooky feel’ of our Ning platform, the cheesy way of making ‘friends’, the superficial flashiness of it all. And yet it is not outlandish to suppose that we may be witnessing a fundamental change in the way many of us experience living in the world.

Daniel Miller’s paper, ‘An extreme reading of Facebook’ (available here), is not just an opportunity to engage with his ideas, but also to reflect on ourselves and the means we have found for coming together in this place. His is as close to a universal topic as we will come across, since, whatever we may feel about it (and I have had my moments of disenchantment), who does not know Facebook from the inside?

Danny has dedicated his life – and getting on for thirty books – to developing the anthropological study of material culture, the things people have made, and increasingly the virtual society in which they circulate. He has summed up his project in the first of two volumes, Stuff (2010), reviewed at the OAC Press. Join a discussion of the book and review in the Group, OAC Book Reviews.

His method and style are humanist, putting the emphasis on what people think and do as revealed by ethnographic practice and presenting his arguments with as little jargon as possible. He makes three bold propositions about Facebook:

1. It turns upside down the assumptions on which modern social science was founded.
2. It performs a function as an unseen witness similar to that of God.
3. As a cultural system it shares some of the fundamental features of Kula.

Daniel Miller invites the attacks of entrenched academicians; he may or may not be pushing at an open door with us. I want to invite the widest possible participation in our discussions. Please do not assume that there are invisible barriers to joining in, hidden protocols designed to dissuade outsiders. We encourage detailed analysis of Danny’s arguments, but also invite personal testimony, anecdotes and reflections that need not be so closely related to them. The aim is to advance a conversation about what anthropology is and might be, but don’t get twisted in knots over whether your contribution is anthropological or academic enough. We have a large membership from University College London where Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture in the Anthropology Department. I hope this will be a stimulus rather than an obstacle to their online participation.

The seminar will last from 1st to 12th November. This gives everyone a chance to reflect and read, maybe even a chance to do some limited fieldwork on Facebook or here at the OAC! We are developing a new medium of social interaction here. You can help shape what it becomes.

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Thanks Daniel and Keith for these additional points about religion.

Daniel, In Keith’s review of your book Stuff, he notes that your recent work has drawn on data from throughout your career to shed light on new debates. I recall that both the dynamics of Kula and of religion appeared in another context in The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach (with D. Slater) and it seems like a natural progression to take them further now, given the confluence of many new channels available on the web at present, usefully encapsulated in Facebook as archetype.

Religion (like Kula, as Keith also notes) is fairly analogous to many parts of online social behavior that combine elements of the unknown, the transcendental, and a public presentation of the self via Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other avenues for self-flagellation that more and more come to resemble a “confessional”. During my fieldwork, I definitely understood among my informants a sense of needing to constitute oneself “as a moral being” (according to local and cultural norms) on Facebook and the web in general. Although this was unanimously a-religious, it was often imbued with other symbolic forms of worship, like nationalism and sport.

The key features of the web itself – its openness, ease and multiple channels of communication, speed of sharing news and data, and general in-between-ness of place and time – lends itself to being co-opted for religious-like activities. It is therefore no surprise that Facebook does the same. (As an aside, I once wrote a paper as an undergrad comparing the Internet to millenarianism. It was mostly in fun, but all the tell-tale signs were there.)

One area which seems to be getting some attention now is funerary and mourning rituals online, with Facebook and other social media accounts of the deceased converted into sites of prolonged mourning or shrines. In life, SNS users construct elaborate reflections of their corporeal selves in their profiles, and these live on, preserved, as an open channel after death. For many, continuing to post to a Facebook profile of a dead friend or relative is no more or less efficacious than leaving flowers or saying a prayer beside a tombstone. (See here and here for more).

Fame, audience, friendship, mourning – none of these are new on the web any more than they are new to people. What follows may seem to be an extreme assertion in itself, but Facebook doesn’t really do anything especially new or especially better than its earlier and contemporaneous incarnations on the web, it just does it all at once and perhaps faster/with less effort. It’s a combination of email, instant messaging, chat, photo-sharing, status updating, presence-casting, life-streaming, gaming, etc. Once we see Facebook for what it is – mundane rather than special – we can better understand how it morphs into interesting things well beyond its technical parameters.
I am not trying to be a party pooper. I just think that if we do not control our wild imagining of Facebook, we will end up interpreting it as what it is not. I see Facebook as a real space populated by real people belonging to groups, cultures, communities, and societies. It has spatiality and mobility. On Facebook, people come and go. They bond and break their bonds. It can be scaled and mapped.

The narrative inherent in a network site like Facebook is so generic that it can be compared to Noah's Ark or Titanic and to dowry or marriage by capture. It is so because Facebook can be something or anything to someone who is a part of it. If we stick to anthropology as science, we can treat Facebook as a place/space, although virtual, where we can conduct a fieldwork or an ethnography, to be specific.

One of the groups where I am a member is "Kamayo," the name of my language. An anthropological linguist will find the group interesting. All variations/dialects of Kamayo are used by the members of the group in their posts or "shout outs". Imagine if one is interested to study all the variations/dialects of the language offline. He has to cover at least seven provinces. A year of fieldwork will not be enough. Facebook scales down such vast geography and length of time to study Kamayo and its variations/dialects.

If someone is interested about sex and culture, Facebook does not discriminate. People of different sexual orientations become members. There are even fetishists, prostitutes, and asexuals on Facebook. Some members post sexual jokes, erotic videos, and even sexual diseases.

Religion? Facebook has that too. Cults recruit me all the time. Even atheists are confident with their anti-god "shout outs." Catholics profess their beliefs. Their pages say they like Jesus and Virgin Mary. There are nuns and priests on Facebook. Buddhists and Muslims, too, do become members.

An archaeologist can also explore Facebook. Old photographs are posted all the time. Cultural workers fill their pages with local artifacts or cultural materials found in their locations. One does not have to fly to the Philippines to check canoes with prehistoric designs or earthen wares with proto-Filipino symbols. Our town’s Facebook page has a full photograph of our century-old church and its old, cracked bell that has 1886 on it.

Physical anthropologists will not feel lonely and alienated on Facebook. One can easily see photographic portraits that scream genetics and human variation. There are members who post their diets, exercise regimen, and other body-related stuff where anthropometry can be used. If one is involved in human genome, genetic variation is visually presented on Facebook. One can see that there are short, black Filipinos with very kinky hair.

Facebook is also a place for economic, political, and psychological anthropologists. In short, if we treat Facebook as an alternative place/space for virtual fieldwork and cyber ethnography, we do not have to resort to our wild imagination and subjective interpretation just to make stories that are far from the truth.

Daniel’s concept of “witnessing” is interesting, but such concept is not clear on Facebook. A member can hide his list of friends so others cannot see what kind of people he hangs out or associates with. I can pretend I am offline so nobody can bother me. I can intentionally ignore friend requests from my former boyfriends, so they cannot post on my page and be witnesses of my wild and stubborn ways. In a belief system, nobody can hide from gods or spirits. On Facebook, I hide from other members all the time. I do not want them to witness my existence on Facebook in certain moments and on certain occasions.
M, I agree with you on many points here. I would add that Facebook has everything (like the things you list) because it's populated by people, just like any other "place", and that makes it intrinsically human. Where I might diverge slightly is in your use of the term "virtual" to refer to the spaces/places online. As I suggested in my first post, FB can be seen as another (actual) place contiguous with the social spaces in which people live, act and interact all the time. I likewise believe that FB is not only a place for "virtual fieldwork" or "cyber ethnography". Even though its popularity varied from person to person, I couldn't have attempted to (fully) understand the place where I did fieldwork without exploring how everyday life spilled over onto the Internet. I think new media is bound to affect our grasp of "conventional" fieldwork practices as time goes on.

Your personal example of witnessing brings up a very good point: choosing to hide, be ignored or ignore the presence of others. Also, with Facebook's updated privacy settings, I've noticed more people choosing to show only the most minimal information about themselves to the general public, then more to friends and family, etc. The closer the contact is, the more information they are privy to.



M Izabel said:
I am not trying to be a party pooper. I just think that if we do not control our wild imagining of Facebook, we will end up interpreting it as what it is not. I see Facebook as a real space populated by real people belonging to groups, cultures, communities, and societies. It has spatiality and mobility. On Facebook, people come and go. They bond and break their bonds. It can be scaled and mapped.
In a belief system, nobody can hide from gods or spirits.

Again, I'm afraid, you are overgeneralizing from your own experience. Hiding from gods or spirits is a not uncommon motif in Chinese folklore and popular religion. I suspect that, with a little hunting around, we would find that it also pops up in other polytheistic contexts. Without the monotheist's belief that there is one, perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing God, it is not implausible for deities and other spirits to have human flaws and be subject to trickery. Come to think of it, aren't Greek and Roman mythology full of this kind of thing?
It's not a matter of generalizing but of logic. Find a religion or a belief system that believes in a god or a spirit who/that has no divine power. Divine power includes omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Animists pray to the spirits they believe are everywhere. Christians bow down to an all-knowing god in their bathrooms or even inside their cars. Muslims kneel down anywhere in the world to face Mecca. Even buddhists believe in dharma and karma because of someone divine or something powerful who/that can see, sense, and assess their thoughts and deeds. Believers of the divine won't be fearful of being disgraced and disfavored if they can hide from their gods or fool them. If believers could hide from their gods, there would be no rituals, no concept of sin and sinning, and no narrative of salvation. Religion would not have existed. Humans would have survived with the belief that they could fool or make fun of their gods, and that their gods were beneath them. We would not have a religion but a hide-and-seek game with gods we would not have thought as divine.

Check this Taoist dialogue:

Once, a request was put to the Taoist master Chuan Tze by his disciples.

“All-knowing master, please show us God,” said they.

Chuan Tze replied, “God is omnipresent. He is in the table, in you, in me . He is even in excrement.”

“Oh master! How could God be there?”

Chuan Tze replied, “If God were not in our bowel movement, we would all be in big trouble!”
Look how we play with luck or chance because we think of it as something not divine.

And yes, there would have been no concept of judgement in our spiritual practice and vocabulary if we or those who were ahead of us believed gods and spirits to be not all-knowing.
Two more comments - the first brief - I don't myself think that we can work with a clear object called religion and defined by certain characteristics, like most semantics i prefer a looser `Wittgenstein' like sense of a constellation of related qualities, which is why i feel closest to Keith in his sense that we recognise the way human being have certain aspiration in simply living with the world, which includes the desire to constitute themselves as moral beings. This is what i am examining in the paper, and i point i would make to Izabel, is that this is ethnographic, ie an attempt to account for detailed observations of what Trindadian do on line and their specific ideas about the nature of truth and morality and indeed witnessing.

Francine raises a key question of whether we respond to new technology by hyping it as radically new, or dismissing it as stuff we have all seen before in another form. My feeling is that we need to be open to each and every aspect that it might or might not represent significant change Lets just take Francine's example of memorialisation. Here is a case where i would be prepared to say Facebook is radically new, unprecedented and is going to be extremely important. Last week one of my close Trinididian informants died, and i have been participating in the mourning on Facebook. While we had of course vast numbers of ways of expressing grief and mourning, - see Durkheim, most are based around relatively formal modes and rituals and in our society mainly around the time of death. I really dont se anything in the past similar to what i experience with Facebook, it seems to deliver the contemporary sense of authenticity which depends on informality and spontaneity, and egalitarianism, so that anyone can and does post, the style is from poignant to humorous it can happen now but i see from other sites people post months afterwards partly because more distant international friends sometime hear only months afterwards, while on this occasion despite being in London i heard of the death within about an hour and was participating immediately. I find this to be a new kind of mourning, i experience it differently, and i think we can agree in turn on the significance of death. My gut feeling is also to take a stance and say yes I welcome this, i think it is better, i think i felt able to participate last week in the death of my friend in a way i previously could not have done, and this matters a great deal to me. Facebook isn't a brave new world, but in some areas it clearly represents sufficiently significant change that i think it is worth exhorting anthropologist to sit up and take notice. I am just sorry it took the death of a friend to bring this home to me.

I really dont know whether to share the next bit but i will. I said that posting tends to vary from the poignant to the humorous, but i didn't make this clear. Yet its also comment on the relationship between media. My friend who just passed away was a very impressive environmentalist which was one of the main ways I knew her, she posted on environmental issues several times a week on Facebook. The local newspaper noted her death with the headline `Fiery Activist Cremated Today'. obviously this then got taken up on her Facebook site which by definition actually consists of several hundred of her friends and family, we found this appalling, but so appalling as to be also funny. When i heard of the headline, I didnt know how to respond, I too couldn't but find it both appalling but funny. Somehow seeing this discussed on her Facebook site also helped. Its not a big thing, her death was the big thing, but even as a little thing I feel it conveys something again of why I feel positive about Facebook's relationship to the collectivity of mourning at least compared to the bloody newspaper.
Thanks for sharing that, Daniel.

I agree, Facebook can give rise to new social dramas and activities due to its efficacy on a number of levels, which does initially strike us as being brand new. But to me its “newness” is more because of the old things that it combines in new-ish ways.

This is still a fresh and only marginally constructed argument for me. Apologies if it appears disjointed, but I am taking advantage of this forum to float some new ideas. I certainly agree that the degree of change Facebook has fostered is worth sitting up and taking notice of. Yet I believe that there are two points of continuity - rather than disjuncture - worth keeping in mind to make sense of its novelty: first, its relationship to earlier (and lingering) manifestations on the web, and secondly, to offline sociality. I’ll continue with the example of mourning to illustrate.

FB is not the first - and is presently not the only - site on the Internet where memorialization has taken(takes) place. Apparently, this is common now in Second Life and WoW, Myspace, etc, and I have memories of it from Livejournal, IRC and websites in the late 90s/early 2000s. I argued earlier that, overall, the web has characteristics that are ideal for co-optation for religious-like activities, including memorialization. Those features include potential permanence of text and imagery, speed and democratic access, design and aesthetics, ease of construction of memorials and pages that can be dynamic and amended by many. Other characteristics are particularly important for what they share with offline equivalents, like wakes, funerals, newspapers, scrapbooks and posters: co-presence, collaboration and record-keeping.

In the late 1990s, when people still made personal websites by entering basic HTML on Geocities and “guestbooks” were proto-Facebook “walls”, scrawling personal messages, eulogies and obituaries in memoriam was fairly common behavior. “Web rings” linked individual pages to a broader network, where mourners could share their memorials. I remember a pet memorial web ring in particular from the late 1990s. Web rings never had Facebook’s built in connectivity – this was enabled by evolved design infrastructure later on – but it shows that the early web (Web 1.0) was not merely comprised of people shouting into the dark all alone. People specifically sought to link up their individual creations to something bigger (back to Keith’s post above), to give them lasting presence. This was especially the case with memorials.

Creating an interactive “page” (shrine or monument) to memorialize a loved one is therefore not new to the web. I made some when I was in school and, more recently, I saw a standalone page that a web designer had made dedicated to his baby daughter who died a year earlier. He had accumulated many images and messages from friends, family and other inspired international visitors sharing similar stories of loss. At the time, I noted that the timestamps on the messages revealed that once the father (who had designed the page) had added a link to his new Facebook profile, the condolences had mostly been ported to the new platform, but both the standard website and the Facebook page continue to co-exist, with bursts of activity around the anniversaries of the child’s birth and death.

This shift to Facebook – not just for mourning, but for a lot of activities – is where I find a great deal of significance. People have chosen to transport their extant activities to this new, and increasingly ubiquitous, platform. Mourning on Facebook adds one especially noteworthy element akin to, but well beyond web rings: Facebook comes with a built-in, active and captive audience. The barrier between participant and spectator is broken down even further.

Whereas I see the earlier and contemporaneous versions of memorials on single-author websites as personal micro-dramas, perhaps the key is that Facebook more easily turns them into macro-dramas. And, in line with Web 2.0 breaking down barriers to user participation by eliminating the need for specialist coding knowledge, more people can contribute without much effort. Nevertheless, it is still largely close friends and family who participate in the elaborate and ongoing memorialization.

Finally, that Facebook does all these things now doesn’t obviate the need for the “old way” of doing it, even if it can heighten the intensity of the mourning. People regularly turn their homes, walls, bodies, clothes, towns and cities into memorials dotted with shrines, candles, imagery, midnight vigils, notes, messages. I risk repeating myself, but it would seem more unusual to me if humans did not avail themselves of every potential use of Facebook and the Internet to extend their mourning practices in meaningful ways in line with our emotional need to express our remorse and remembrance as we feel that our loved ones deserve. Facebook is not a place apart; it’s a part of where many people live.


Daniel Miller said:

Francine raises a key question of whether we respond to new technology by hyping it as radically new, or dismissing it as stuff we have all seen before in another form. My feeling is that we need to be open to each and every aspect that it might or might not represent significant change Lets just take Francine's example of memorialisation. Here is a case where i would be prepared to say Facebook is radically new, unprecedented and is going to be extremely important.
Point of information: The translations from the Chuang-tze quoted by M Izbel are, on the face of it, lousy translations. There is no word for capital-G "God" in the Chuang-tze. What she has gotten hold of is apparently a Christian missionary misappropriation of the classical Chinese text. If we are to base anthropological theorizing on missionary mistranslations, we are in serious trouble.

I suspect that the reference is to the Dao (道), which is omnipresent in precisely the way that laws of nature are. And the Dao, as Lao-tze reminds us, treats all living things as straw dogs, being indifferent to their fate.
When I wrote my book on money in the digital revolution, one of my main ideas was that the new abundance of cheap information made it possible to make the impersonal relations of long-distance commerce, including money itself, more personal. It did not take me long to realize that this was not a question of personalizing impersonal society, but a historical shift in how the personal and the impersonal are socially constructed together. The "nothing new about Facebook" line obscures the fact that everything is old and new, same and different in varying degree. Both Danny and Fran are staking out their claim for tracing this dialectic in interesting ways.

The issue is reminiscent of the German "Battle over Methods" in the late 19th century. Historical economists claimed that ancient Greece and modern capitalism were fundamentally different types of economy, while marginalist economists said they were subject to the same economizing logic. Max Weber drew a line under what later became known as "the formalist-substantivist debate" by saying that the two cases must be in some degree the same, otherwise our knowledge could not make sense of the Greeks, and they had to be different or we wouldn't be interested in finding out about them.

Danny's line seems to be: he studied FB because it was important for the people he lived with; he found some surprising features of their practices there; and this led him to reflect on his own previous work and on comparative sources like the Old Testament and the Kula ring; whether or not his discoveries lead anywhere depends in part on how they help to explain the behaviour of a large portion of FB users; he does not claim to be an expert on the recent history of digital communications. What I like about his approach is its openness to new possibilities, explicitly provisional character and conformity to an old model of ethnographic enquiry.

Fran brings a different repertoire to the table which I will not attempt to summarize in the same way, partly because I have had longer to think about Danny's approach. What I find refreshing about their exchange and much else in our conversation is the mutual movement, made up of sameness and difference in varying degree. And to turn the lens on myself, I would say that I was never afraid of saying the obvious, just in case some members of the audience hadn't thought of it.

In any case, if modern history has taught us anything it is that revolutions claiming to replace the old with the new turned out to retain a lot more of the old than they bargained for. Marcel Mauss made a virtue of this observation. He rejected the idea of replacing what is with a radical alternative, choosing rather to build on what people do already, maybe giving new combinations of social practice a different direction and emphasis, but definitely extending them in a way continuous with the past.

When you think about it, the digital revolution in communications must involve a similar process of extension. And yet...my eschatological side likes to think that we are living through a moment in human history (of elastic length) as significant as the invention of agriculture. We will be of interest to future generations mainly for that reason.
Daniel, I did not totally reject your idea of witnessing in one of my previous posts. I only said it was not clear to me. Now that you elaborated it to be the participation or performance of Facebook members in moral and memorial narratives, I understand and like your idea. I, indeed, see and observe such moralizing and memorializing by Facebook members in their groups or networks. Members give and receive moral advices. They "Phil out" (from Dr. Phil) each other all the time. They share their griefs, so others can give unsolicited pep talks and encouragements. Others write their sad stories, so others can sympathize and feel the same sadness. The use of sad or happy smileys is common on Facebook. Whether such participation or expression is sincere or just a show is another story. Performativity is also relevant, I think, in studying Facebook since it primarily works with texts that suggest actions. A member typing this " ;-( " as his response to a post that's sad is enough to express and contribute his sadness to the group or network in which he belongs. That misery loves company holds true on Facebook. Again, whether such textual display of sadness is just all talk or show still needs to be checked. Collective hysteria and paranoia is also a good area to study on Facebook. Members do memorials like they do warnings. They express them unabashedly.

Nikos, there are scholars in classical studies who do not consider what the ancient Greeks had as religion because of the absence of dogma and sacred texts. It seems the lyrical poetry of Pindar does not count. I consciously avoid treating mythology as religion to avoid confusing myself and blurring the line between the imagined and the practiced. When it comes to ancient Greek "religions," I’m more interested to learn about ancient cults, oracles, and rituals since they suggest actions and practices to me. Imagine any rich guys in the old times could go to the oracle at Delphi to hear what Zeus or Apollo or a certain god would tell them about themselves, their fortunes, and their future. Those gods must have been believed to be all-knowing. If they were not, there would be no oracles and no temple at Delphi. Why would a rich Athenian waste gold if Greek gods were not all-knowing. In Greek tragedies, the wraths of Greek gods are very common. Why would the common people fear them if they could fool or hide from their gods? There were ancient cults that did their rituals in caves away from temples. Believers of Dionysus, for example, did their drunken and erotic rituals in forests, again according to the work of Euripides. It is very telling that they believed their gods were everywhere. To really know the power of Greek gods, one has to read what are hidden between lines in a text, which, in the case of the Greek gods, is either literary or mythical.

John, I got that Taoist dialogue from this guy who published several Tao-related books. He seemed legitimate. He looked and sounded Chinese to me. He was not a missionary, at least in my reading.

Dr. Stephen T. Chang is an internationally well-known scholar. His grandmother was a master-physician, while her father was both personal physician to Empress Tse Shi (Ci Xi) and the first Chinese ambassador to the United States during the Benjamin Harrison Administration (1889-93). Coincidently, Tsui (or Cui) Guo-Ying’s term in office began and ended exactly as that of President Harrison’s. From the age of six, Dr. Chang has been trained in both Chinese and Western medicine, and in addition to his medical doctor degree, he holds doctor degrees in philosophy and theology. He also holds two law degrees. He lectures worldwide on various aspects of Taoism, and he is the author of the following books:
The Complete Book of Acupuncture (SOLD OUT),
The Great Tao,
The Complete System of Self-Healing:
Internal Exercises,
The Tao of Balanced Diet:
Secrets of a Thin and Healthy Body,
The Tao of Sexology: The Book of Infinite Wisdom,
The Integral Management of Tao:
Complete Achievement,
and prospective titles:
Tao Te Ching: The Complete and Definitive Translation,
Taoist Traditional Herbology
Several books―university and hospital textbooks―have been translated into ten languages. Dr. Chang is now chairman of the Foundation of Tao, Inc.
My "nothing new about Facebook line" is probably better understood as Keith puts it: "everything is old and new, same and different in varying degree". I like that.

Daniel and I share a lot of common ground in both method and interpretation. I would say especially in the use of traditional ethnographic field methods combined with internet research. During my fieldwork, I likewise only looked at Facebook because it was important for the people I lived with. I also found features of their practices with/on Facebook and other SNS intriguing and surprising, which led me to make comparisons with other forms of sociality (including Kula, as a matter of fact) in my PhD. Based on his work that I've read, I almost always end up at the same conclusions as Daniel, but there are plenty of worthwhile contrasts thrown up by my own studies in the same vein.

I offer elements of my personal historiography of the web here to highlight the universality of Daniel's significant discoveries about Facebook - not to downplay them - and to provide a firm foundation for more comparative analysis in future. By highlighting the sameness and mundanity of Facebook, it's truly inventive and innovative facets can really stand out against the backdrop of an Internet that is continually evolving.

So much of the history of digital communications is recent history and we are all a part of it. Take Ning: we've been using it here for almost as long as the platform has existed. As it changes, the OAC changes with it; sometimes in profound ways and sometimes just in the background. And Ning only exists and looks and works like it does because of Facebook. No one would dispute that a comprehensive history of chosen geographic locales is essential for anthropological research, yet when it comes to the Internet, many forgo this very important step, or jump from ARPANET to Facebook in a single sentence. Internet history is more than that. Above all, it can be surprising "local" and is therefore essential for framing ethnographic research of this kind.



Keith Hart said:
When I wrote my book on money in the digital revolution, one of my main ideas was that the new abundance of cheap information made it possible to make the impersonal relations of long-distance commerce, including money itself, more personal. It did not take me long to realize that this was not a question of personalizing impersonal society, but a historical shift in how the personal and the impersonal are socially constructed together. The "nothing new about Facebook" line obscures the fact that everything is old and new, same and different in varying degree. Both Danny and Fran are staking out their claim for tracing this dialectic in interesting ways.

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