Why We Post Week 2: Constructed Imagery

Week Two of my latest Future Learn course (details here) began with:

In this week we will concentrate upon social media as a significant change in human communication that makes images equal to text

– something that I looked at a lot back at university.

I’ve written before about how images (and increasingly, video) allow for a more universal form of communication, as well as conveying emotions that are absent or hard to interpret in plain text, especially with the character constraints of platforms like Twitter. Plus, I know from social media marketing that images = better engagement, and that applies to casual/personal posting as well as companies.

However this course takes things a little deeper by looking at how that changes in different communities around the world. For example, they looked at two places, Trinidad and Italy, where the culture expects people’s appearance to equal their social status, and social media posting reflects that, especially in selfies and photos with friends/family. But there were differences, as the course noted:

[In Italy] people expect social media to be consistent with their offline social status, while in Trinidad people may use social media to claim a higher social status online.

Also a thought from the course discussion of selfies and how many people view them as narcissistic – ‘selfies’ are more often thought of that way because the word sounds like ‘selfish’. 😲

It was also interesting to learn that this idea that placing a high worth on your outer image make you shallow doesn’t apply on certain parts of the world.

[People in Trinidad] consider that what lies deep inside a person to be more likely to be untrue because it is hidden.

This cultural difference is down to history – Trinidad, for example, is a place shaped by colonialism and slavery. In modern society, people there often don’t get their identity from class or upbringing, so how they present themselves in public is based on self-worth and aspiration. Therefore, how they show themselves on social media is cultivated to reflect how they think other should see them.

Interestingly, I think this is something that is starting to happen on social networks elsewhere in the world. As much as there is distain for the ‘selfie generation’, there is also a movement of encouraging that outer self-worth in carefully curated and created pictures.

Why We Post Week One: Social Media Anthropology

The next part of week one of this Future Learn course (my notes on the first part can be found here) focuses on how social media can be researched from an anthropological perspective – meaning that social media is placed within the context of the culture and society of the people using it. 

The course material asked:

Why might anthropology be particularly suited to the study of social media?

And my answering comment was:

The anthropological aspect means we understand that a person is more than what they post on social media, and there are decisions made and influences which we don’t see that influence how they use social networks.

At this point, we were asked to put a geographical marker on a map to show where everyone on the course is from – I love this!


The researchers who created this course described some of the changes that they had seen in social media between different locations and different areas. For example, email became the main method of communication for both work and personal time in older generations, but in younger people it is almost solely used for work and education – other ways are used for personal communication. 

They also noted that in some countries, social media has been massively beneficial in holding social structure together where mass migration for work is happening, for example in China and India. Parents, especially fathers, are often separated from their families for long periods of time while they work in other parts of the country. Social media is an easy to maintain familial bonds. Also, from a work perspective it is seen as an easy way for co-workers to get to know each other’s lives and socially integrate more quickly. 

The research in different parts of the world was carried out through interviews and questionnaires over a long period, giving large amounts of qualitative data which gave the researchers a detailed insight into the lives of the people they were studying and how social media usage both changed and changed them over time.

Why We Post (FutureLearn Social Media Course) Starting on Week 1 

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at social media from anything other than a marketing/advertising perspective, since that’s mostly what I’ve been working at for the past few years. So it was pretty exciting to be scrolling through FutureLearn courses and find this course, ‘Why we Post’ which focuses on the social media from an anthropological aspect. 

Social media has changed beyond reckoning on the few years since I left my University course. It is much more segmented, with more platforms (Snapchat and WhatsApp were still very much emerging at that point, the now defunct Vine was a major force, and livestreaming apps such as Periscope were some years off.) The demographics of users are becoming much clearer – increasingly the younger generations have rejected Facebook, for example, and there are geographical differences in who uses what. The course material acknowledges this – that many studies have focussed solely on social media on a Western setting, ignoring networks like QQ in East Aisa which is second only to Facebook in size. It also acknowledges that prior courses have tended to look at heavily open platforms such as Twitter. There’s a good reason for this – both quantitative and qualitative data are easily accessible and retrievable, but it ignores how much online communication and connecting goes on through increasingly private channels, or public/private situations such as Snapchat.

Global Inequality in Tech: Part Two

Earlier this year, I wrote what turned out to be a fairly depressing post on how jobs around the world and across many industries are slowly becoming automated, resulting in massive job losses and a resultant ever-increasing gaps in equality.

Much of the focus so far has tended to be on manual jobs, being replaced by robots, and causing a gap between those with digital skills and those without. Yet, while that’s absolutely true, a lot of digital and office jobs are slowly being replaced too. Front-line customer service is being replaced by chatbots. Last time, I mentioned an insurance firm using computers to automate customer quotes. There have been a lot of other examples in the past few months – it feels like we’re finally starting to reach that long-predicted AI point.

There are advantages to the rise of the computer.

This was my first reaction to the Venturebeat article linked above – that systems that can do calculations for me, sort emails, take notes etc. could potentially massive increase my productivity. In fact, in my current job much of the technology to do that certainly already exists, though not necessarily widely or cheaply (so we know that it soon will be.) This article from Digital Trends predicts that:

AI alone could double annual economic growth rates for some countries by 2035

However, the new technology simply doesn’t translate into new jobs. So not only will there be massive job loss, I wonder what will happen to the entry-level and graduate jobs of many positions. If there is no more need for the Marketing Assistant level-type roles, where is the traditional stepping stones, in my career area, at least, and many others? If people can’t gain  work experience in those low level roles, they may have to spend a lot longer in higher education to gain the skills necessary to actually advance, and even in the most developed nations that is a path increasingly only open to those with money and supportive families.