Feel For the Game


I tried it, but I just don’t get it.

I got an account last year, but I’ve never used it – seemed like a waste of time.

Why would anyone be interested in whether I chose a tall decaf caramel macchiato or a skinny hazelnut latte?  I don’t see the point in telling the world what I’m doing every minute of the day.

These responses may seem familiar to you.  You may have uttered a variation yourself, or it may be the response you often get while trying to explain social media to friends, family and colleagues.  The reason for these type of responses can indicate a) resistance, b) confusion, c) frustration d) fear.  However, the source of all these emotions is a lack of understanding.  They reveal that those who exhibit them are yet to develop a feel for the game.

One way of exploring this contrast between those who ‘get’ social media and those who don’t is by turning to the theories of French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu.  He posited that society consists of a multiplicity of fields with each field operating according to intrinsic logics pertaining to hierarchical strata, and the practice of position-taking in relation to those hierarchies.

One example that we can look at in order to illustrate this is the field of literary production; in this field there are a variety of agents such as publishers, authors, readers, booksellers etc. and they are all invested in the practice of producing literary texts.  Their success is then measured in two ways: economically and symbolically (cultural kudos).  In order to participate within this field, Bourdieu argues that we need to gain, through knowledge and experience, a set of dispositions which affect our practices, perceptions and prejudices.  Our habitus needs to develop in order for us to interact with others in the field – we need to gain that feel for the game.

If we then transpose this example from literary production to social media, it begins to explain why social media is intrinsic to the daily lives of some and a total enigma to others.  Those who understand social media to the degree that they can function quite happily within its structures have developed the habitus necessary to that field.  Those who don’t ‘get’ it, have yet to acquire that knowledge and experience which would facilitate their participation.

So how does one develop habitus to enable participation in the field of social media?

I would like to suggest that one of the best ways is through immersion.  It’s all very well reading blogs about social media, talking to social media ‘experts’ or enrolling in a social media degree, but it’s only when you give yourself the freedom to sit down, start an account, and begin to play with your medium of choice (FaceBook, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn) that you begin to understand.

After all, it’s all very well learning the rules of the game, but it’s only through playing the game that we develop a feel for it.

– This is the first time I’ve tried to articulate these ideas, and where I’ve tried to simplify it, I can already see gaping holes in it.  However, let’s think of it as a jumping off point.  I’ll be exploring this theory further over the coming months and those explorations may ultimately render previous musings obsolete.  But, I’m looking forward to see how it evolves though!

If you have any questions or theories of your own – please do leave a comment.  I may not be able to answer your questions, but then maybe we can look for answers together.

18 responses to “Feel For the Game

  1. I completely agree. The comments you list at the top of this piece are exactly what I used to say.

    What got me to really try Twitter was an enthusiastic presentation from @mikecoulter Even then I didn’t really grok it. I had to force myself to develop that habitus. After about a week of this I suddenly “got it” and have never looked back.

    Of course some might liken such a conversion after intensive immersion to cult brainwashing techniques 🙂

  2. Some days ago I had a conversation about Twitter with one of my friends. She’s a web designer and quite at home in the Internet. However she asked me “what’s the use of Twitter, why should I need it?” I told her about the way I am using Twitter, and after that she said she would think about it.
    So I think for many people it the first question they are asking in relation to social media: “What does it give me, in return for the time I’m investing in it?” They don’t want to go for social media because “it’s hype”, which I can understand very well. And often, they simply lack information.

  3. Janette Currie

    Hi Amy

    I was disdainful of the whole social media arena until recently. Now, 4 days into Twittering and making a Blog I can see the professional and personal benefits. Professionally, I’ve made contact with people I wold never have met up with – personally, my confidence in technology is growing and also my confidence in writing what I think, rather than what I think people think I ought to write. For me, Twitter is like being at a very noisy party with lots of conversations buzzing around. You can choose which ones to join and which ones to avoid.
    Re the link between cultural production and social media – what about those who break the rules of the game, who create unique, ground-breaking texts and new genres?

  4. I love your connection to Bourdieu. Thank you for pointing that out! A brilliant thinker is never limited to his/her own time/media!

  5. Those of us who are “into” social media in some form or other have all been through that stage. But ultimately, it boils down to a value proposition: What is the value – to me, to others, to the universe, etc. (Well, maybe the universe might be stretching it a bit – but then again, maybe not.)

    It goes back to that (seemingly) innate sense of connection many of us are just now learning about.

    Or, I might have just made that all up.

  6. Amy, I couldn’t agree more about immersion. There’s no better teacher than experience when it comes to social media. Plus, a lot of the “small talk” on Twitter and elsewhere consists of user tips. Get involved! It’s the easiest, fastest, and most entertaining way to learn.

  7. Amy, I love the parallels you draw in this piece. The literary comparison is apt as social media truly is a communication methodology. If we look at it from a macro sociological level we will see that it parallels to human behavior across the spectrum of interaction. The person who is not comfortable in large face to face group settings will likely find some social networking platforms distasteful. There are those who do well with one-on-one and so perhaps the intimacy of IM is more suitable. The challenge is understanding our own behaviors and deciding when adaptation moves us forward. I look forward to follow-on discussions on this topic.

  8. Lots of food for thought in this nice post, Amy. Immersion is vital, I think in large part because of the need to pay attention to and learn from the community. As children, we all struggled to learn to have adult conversations, but only did so by being allowed to become immersed, and to make mistakes.

  9. A nice post, Amy. (Again!) And I would say I certainly was one of those people who you quoted at the top of this post when the whole social networking thing became popular.

    I would certainly agree that immersion is the best way to get a feel for the game. I’ve been Tweeting (I think?) for a couple of weeks now, and it’s quickly become a part of my daily routine online. Prior to that I only used Facebook and didn’t much see the point of Twitter: It was less in-depth, limited and “What’s the point when I have Facebook?”

    However, deciding to simply jump in to ‘give it a go’ I’ve realised that it allows for a faster pace, a different demographic of connections and as someone who sometimes ‘waffles on’ it has taught me to write more succinctly.

  10. Amy,
    Very thought provoking view point. Thanks for putting them to “pen”. I absolutely agree about immersion. There is an acute difference between observation from without and knowledge as a participant. From doing rather than theorizing.

    I love so many parts of this post that I think I’ll let it sift around a bit. Habitus…love the sound it makes and the layers it conveys… lovely post.

  11. I would play on Karen’s comment a little. I have always been the social introvert. I am not and never have been outgoing with regards to meeting new people. I was hoping that Twitter would be easier, because of the anonymity of it all.

    I actually find it to be hard, because it takes my comments and places them out there for the world to enjoy or criticize. Almost every tweet — or blog reply — is a forced, conscience effort. I am hoping it becomes easier over time.

    Your tweets, blogs, and kind nature makes it a little easier.

    I too am looking forward to your follow ups to this topic. Thanks.

  12. Amy,
    A most thought provoking idea. I think the concept is sound and the holes will fill easily. I think that learning to “exist” in Twitter is like visiting another country. You can be the loud, boorish tourist who comes and leaves and doesn’t understand what the big deal is or you can be the person who “goes native” and learns the language and customs of the country and therefore sees the uniqueness of the place. As with any subculture such as publishing or social media I think a key element is learning the specific language unique to the medium. This enables you to develop the habitus needed to follow and interact with the more genuine members of the society.
    Needless to say I am very interested in following this discussion and hope I can be a part of it.

  13. Hi Amy

    Interesting conversation you’ve got going here.

    I agree you can’t judge social media without taking part in it, and it’s diappointing that so many journalists and pundits do.

    The only way I could really explain Twitter to someone would be to try and tempt them to try it… for a few weeks

    I’m not sure about facebook though – I still don’t really get it (nor do I wish to be any more immersed in it, thanks)

    When I think back to my old life when I was busy working, behind a firewall… I’d probably still never have heard of most of this social media stuff, so wouldn’t be disdaindful or otherwise. I just wouldn’t know it existed.

    Maybe everyone has some entry point though. Mine was travelling, and starting to write a blog to capture it. After that… a slippery slope 🙂

  14. I’m not familiar with Bourdieu (yet!) but your post put me in mind of Owen Flanagan’s key concept in his “The Really Hard Problem”, that of “meaning spaces” (http://heroesnotzombies.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/making-sense-of-life-spaces-of-meaning/)
    I suspect some of this “not getting it” is a lack of inhabiting a shared space of meaning…..

  15. Hi Amy- I get all of the above comments and then some when I mention that I use Twitter. But…it seems like I have spoken ( another communication medium not to be underestimated!) about it often enough to be trusted by some to make a suggestion about where to start. So I will link anyone who asks to this post. And suggest the immerse themselves in something without prescribing what – and see what happens.

  16. I think Robert touched on it with the “value proposition” part – except I think it’s probably more selfish for most people!

    Until someone understands Twitter/FB etc. well enough to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” they’re unlikely to “get it”. At least that’s often the most pressing question on the tips of our clients’ tongues.

    But as you suggest, they’re only ever likely to understand what’s in it for them (and others) with total immersion.

    What we’ve seen with clients/friends/family is that they’ll try dipping their feet in a bit and if they instantly get some sort of success – whatever that may be for them – they’re sold. If not, they lose interest and say they don’t “get it”.

  17. Pingback: What Has Grass Got To Do With The Web? « AmyPalko

  18. Sharon Hurley Hall

    Food for thought, Amy, and totally right, I think. Funnily enough, when I first tried Twitter I didn’t get it either. But when more people I knew started hanging out there and I got into some interesting conversations, it became essential. It’s probably a question of trying different sites till you get that aha moment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s