From context collapse to content collapse | Rough Type

So that previously mentioned discussion around the problems of having a "single identity online" led me to this brilliant dissection of the impact social media had on social identity. From the initial barrier-breaking (aka "context collapse") that occurred when you suddenly had your colleagues, friends, family, school mates etc. all on one platform, all able to see you interacting with each other in real-time (and could go back and browse those interactions in the future 😬), to the subsequent rebellion back to ephemeral platforms like Snapchat and private conversations over WhatsApp etc.

On a social network, the theory went, all those different contexts collapsed into a single context. Whenever you posted a message or a photograph or a video, it could be seen by your friends, your parents, your coworkers, your bosses, and your teachers, not to mention the amorphous mass known as the general public.
The problem is not a lack of context. It is context collapse: an infinite number of contexts collapsing upon one another into that single moment of recording.
Young people led the way, moving much of their online conversation from the public platform of Facebook, where parents and teachers lurked, to the more intimate platform of Snapchat, where they could restrict their audience and where messages disappeared quickly.

Nicholas than moves on to pondering about whether the next stage will be content collapse, a state where the internet (and particularly social media) begins obfuscating the contexts and structures of content (even further), with negative impacts. Most obviously, that content delivered as a stream loses weighting and suddenly breaking international news is just as important as some stranger's opinion on onion slicing.

Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance.
It wasn’t just that the headlines, free-floating, decontextualized motes of journalism ginned up to trigger reflexive mouse clicks, had displaced the stories. It was that the whole organizing structure of the newspaper, its epistemological architecture, had been junked. The news section (with its local, national, and international
subsections), the sports section, the arts section, the living section, the opinion pages: they’d all been fed through a shredder, then thrown into a wind tunnel. What appeared on the screen was a jumble, high mixed with low, silly with smart, tragic with trivial. The cacophony of the RSS feed, it’s now clear, heralded a sea change in the distribution and consumption of information. The new order would be disorder.
Many of the qualities of social media that make people uneasy stem from content collapse. First, by leveling everything, social media also trivializes everything — freed of barriers, information, like water, pools at the lowest possible level
Finally, content collapse consolidates power over information, and conversation, into the hands of the small number of companies that own the platforms and write the algorithms. The much maligned gatekeepers of the past could exert editorial control only over a particular type of content that flowed through a particular medium — a magazine, a radio station, a TV network. Our new gatekeepers control information of all kinds. When content collapses, there’s only one gate.

Well damn... 😶

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  • So that previously mentioned discussion around the problems of having a "single identity online" led me to this brilliant dissection of the impact social media had on social identity. From the […]
  • Murray Adcock.
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