Tales from Facebook Paperback – Apr 11 2011
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"It is Miller's focus on Trinidad and his beguilingly intimate style of writing that makes this work special. Prepare to have your expectations confounded."
"A very welcome and distinctive contribution to what is currently a small body of work on emerging online social networks."
LSE Politics Blog
"With social media playing an increasingly dominant role in our lives, it was about time somebody undertook a serious academic study of the way the Facebook phenomenon is changing and shaping behaviour...Whatever your feelings about the ever-present Facebook, Twitter etc, they are here to stay, so this book is an intriguing guide to as-yet uncharted territory."
The Style King
"Miller has written an insightful and engaging look at what Facebook has done to Trinidad and, more intriguingly, what Trinidad is doing to Facebook. For anyone keen to understand what human culture is becoming as the internet becomes its nearly universal vehicle, Tales from Facebook is obligatory reading."
Julian Dibbell, contributing editor for Wired magazine and author of My Tiny Life and Play Money"
Tales from Facebook is a genre-busting tour de force. Miller moves between fascinating stories of the often unexpected ways Trinidadians (for whom the verb 'to friend' is over a century old) use Facebook to thought-provoking discussions of the broad implications of social networking sites. Readers from a wide range of backgrounds will find this book an insightful treasure.
"Tom Boellstorff, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine, and author of Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human
From the Back Cover
Facebook is now used by nearly 500 million people throughout the world, many of whom spend several hours a day on this site. Once the preserve of youth, the largest increase in usage today is amongst the older sections of the population. Yet until now there has been no major study of the impact of these social networking sites upon the lives of their users. This book demonstrates that it can be profound. The tales in this book reveal how Facebook can become the means by which people find and cultivate relationships, but can also be instrumental in breaking up marriage. They reveal how Facebook can bring back the lives of people isolated in their homes by illness or age, by shyness or failure, but equally Facebook can devastate privacy and create scandal. We discover why some people believe that the truth of another person lies more in what you see online than face-to-face. We also see how Facebook has become a vehicle for business, the church, sex and memorialisation.
After a century in which we have assumed social networking and community to be in decline, Facebook has suddenly hugely expanded our social relationships, challenging the central assumptions of social science. It demonstrates one of the main tenets of anthropology - that individuals have always been social networking sites. This book examines in detail how Facebook transforms the lives of particular individuals, but it also presents a general theory of Facebook as culture and considers the likely consequences of social networking in the future.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
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The actual "anthropological" portion of the book at the very end contains some good discussions about Facebook/social media, but it is maybe only the last third of the book and does not really do a great job of connecting to the research in the first part of the book.
Ultimately, I think this book is too polarized between the world of pop-non-fiction and anthropology to really sit comfortably in either realm. It was an interesting read for me to think about how I would NOT go about writing an anthropological text, but again I would strongly suggest those thinking about using this in a class setting to reconsider....possibly good for an 101-level media or anthro class but otherwise, I would avoid this text.
That said, his writing is not terrible and for those not too academically oriented this is probably a pretty interesting read.
These days, it is increasingly hard to escape Facebook, whether or not one is actually signed up to it or not. Even the main news stories carry occasional stories about Facebook, most of them negative. Yet Facebook can also be a force for good, although the good stories don't generally make the headlines. This book is the first serious study that I've read about Facebook. It illustrates the impact through twelve short stories, averaging about twelve pages each, each focusing on an individual, their use of Facebook and how it affected their lives. A thirteenth short story focuses on a food that has its own Facebook fan page.
The thirteen stories are all from Trinidad, a former British colony in the Caribbean whose inhabitants have (it seems) taken Facebook to their hearts. While one may argue about the choice of Trinidad as a research base, it does allow the author to add interest to the book by telling us about various aspects of Trinidad, its people, their life and culture. That said, if you really want to learn about Trinidad, there are plenty of other books devoted to the subject. While Trinidad is very different in many ways from any major industrialized country you care to name, there are enough similarities to make it a viable research base. People still have the same basic needs even though they may express them in different ways.
The first story here focuses on a marriage that might have been in trouble anyway, but Facebook usage destroyed it. Some of the detail may be Trinidadian, but the basic story could easily be British or American. On a more positive note, a man who becomes wheelchair-bound discovers Facebook and finds that he can still communicate with the outside world. I was already aware of the contributions that disabled people make to the internet via blogs; the story here merely confirms that the internet is a godsend to such people.
Another of the stories focuses on one man's devotion to Farmville, one of those addictive games that Facebook is noted for. I didn't get into Farmville, but I spent a lot of time on Zoo World (not mentioned in this book) and eventually suspended my Facebook account to get away from it for a while. That was in January 2011, and I am in no hurry to return. Among other things, I didn't like the way the rules were continually changed, so what had once been fun gradually became irritating. I get the impression that Farmville is a bit like that too, but perhaps not as bad.
Perhaps the scariest story among the twelve is the one about the church that embraced first the internet and later Facebook. They decided that God created the internet, so it was up to the church to use it to spread the word. More interesting to me is the story about the businessman who is worried about the breaking down of the boundaries between business and pleasure. Although it doesn't say so in the book, Facebook doesn't allow us to have more than one account each. There is clearly a need to be able to have separate accounts for different purposes. There are ways round this, either by using privacy setting or by setting up accounts with fake names and addresses, but it would be better to allow openly separate accounts. It's not like Amazon where there are good reasons to disallow multiple accounts.
Following the thirteen short stories, there is an analysis. All of it is opinion and some of it a bit heavy going at times, but this is a serious academic study so is to be expected. I don't agree with it all but in any case, Facebook is still less than a decade old.
One problem I have is that the research looks at Facebook and at real life, but almost completely ignores other internet activity. It is as if the researcher selected people who use the internet only (or mostly) to access Facebook. Some people who use Facebook not only use it as an extension of their real life, but also use it as an extension of their other internet activities.. We can expect better research when Facebook has further matured, but this book offers a good starting point.
It is easy to find fault with this book, but it is also easy to see why some people love it. I am therefore not surprised that it has attracted very divergent opinions regarding its worthiness. I hope that this review tells you enough to help you decide whether this book is for you or not. I loved some of the stories and liked the others, but the analysis was less appealing while the avoidance of the other internet activities was also a negative for me. So it's something of a mixed bag that ends up with three stars, but looked as if it might be better than that based on the early chapters.
That said, this book seems to have its share of contradictions and missteps. The most glaring is that the author makes the bold and absurd argument that Facebook is "reversing two centuries of flight from community." Really? Hmmm. At the same time, he resists such oversized claims from people who claim that Facebook has the potential to foment democratic revolutions. Why is his own claim any more plausible?
Also, Miller, in favoring the user side of things, is perhaps too quick to dismiss the context that Facebook is: a commercial site that profits from collecting user-generated data (otherwise known as private information). He doesn't want to talk about "corporate" anything, but his perspective seems to me arbitrarily incomplete, especially when he claims to be thinking seriously about privacy.
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