Why do we need selfies and memes? What do the Brazilian poor or Indian IT guys use social networks for? And do we need to work out a new way to look at the latter? These and similar questions will be in focus at the lecture by the anthropologist Daniel Miller, which forms part of the Media thematic block.
There is an incredible amount of discussion and speculation over the consequences of social media—for example, every day, journalists and academics suggest that perhaps we no longer understand the meaning of `friendship’, that our cognitive abilities are changing or that children have replaced face-to-face interactions and relationships with technological alternatives? All of these are said to be the result of our use of social media. But when these claims are made, who is it that we are talking about? These views are often very generalised and lack supporting evidence. Is it possible, for example, to claim that social media changes the life of a low income Brazilian builder in the same way that it changes the life of an IT professional in India? In order to thoroughly investigate the uses and consequences of social media, a team of nine anthropologists was formed who each spent fifteen months living in villages or towns in eight different countries. The fieldsites include a town on the Syrian-Turkish border, low income settlements in Brazil and Chile, an IT complex set between villages in South India, small towns in south Italy and Trinidad and a village in England, as well as two fieldsites in China. The Economist described this as the biggest, most ambitious project of its sort. In this talk Miller will describe some of the results of this work. What are the generalisations we can make and what is specific to each place. Miller will explore the transformations in human communication when the visual becomes as important as the oral and textual, and explain the importance of selfies and memes. He will show how the project results in a new definition of social media and a critique of the more conventional ways social media has been studied in the past. Finally Miller will ask whether we need a new definition of humanity in order to understand phenomenon such as social media.