Saturday 21 April 2018
Why would I spend so much time trawling the “Australian Spoodles” Facebook group when I already have two beautiful spoodles myself? Couldn’t I just spend my time playing with my own spoodles?
Playing with my spoodles does not fill my need for social contact with human beings. I want to be in touch with other people who share my love for spoodles and who can support me when spoodle life gets tough.
My love for dogs is central to my identity. I brought myself out of serious depression caring for dogs. Being the ‘weird dog lady’ in town is still one of the ways I preserve my mental health and am recognised and rewarded in my community for being who I am.
Kennedy (2013, p26) argues “…that online identities are often continuous with offline selves.” I agree. My love for spoodles is part of my identity but it is not all of me. It is one of the parts I choose to share online. Yet, how much free choice do I really have?
“You are being programmed”
Social media is designed to recognise and reward people in the same ways as other social systems. The array of likes, emojis, stickers, shares and comments work in a similar way to smiles, hugs, laughs and other reactions in “real” life: they are designed to prompt an emotional reaction to keep you coming back.
The dystopian view, as expounded by Chamath Palihapitiya, former Founder and CEO Social Capital for Facebook, is that “…[We] are being programmed”. (Stanford School of Business, 2017), that our behaviour on social media is being shaped by business interests who manipulate our online interactions simply to make money.
My view is that all human behaviour is programmed. In studying alcohol use in college students, Perkins and Berkowitz (1986, p164) developed a theory of ‘social norms’, that people shape their behaviour in order to fit the accepted social patterns of those around them.
I would not get any ‘likes’ on my spoodle page if I showed my dogs starving and lonely. The social standard for “Australian Spoodles” is soppy pictures and videos of gorgeous dogs being showered with love. I post similar content and get my own ‘likes’ to keep me feeling welcome in the group.
‘Tweet’ by A. Larkin, 19 April 2018
Keep those ‘Digital Drugs’ Coming (Brown, 2017)
Pavlov (1927, p.7), in his study of anticipation of food rewards, describes how dogs secrete positive hormones when a sound is paired with a food reward. The dogs soon begin to salivate at the sound only: they have been “classically conditioned” to associate the sound with receiving food. Skinner (1938, Chapter Three) took this further and described “operant conditioning” where rewards could be used to modify behaviour by rewarding desired actions and ignoring unwanted responses.
I post on the Facebook page “Australian Spoodles” in anticipation of getting ‘likes’. This shapes my online identity. If no-one acknowledged my posts, if no-one ‘rewarded’ me for posting, I would gradually post less.
I am also rewarded by seeing other spoodle owners doing the same soppy things I do with my dogs– sleeping with them, wearing them as head-dresses, playing with them instead of studying and filling the house with annoying squeaky toys.
My addiction to “Australian Spoodles” does program me but it also gives me pleasure and a sense of belonging to the ‘spoodle lovers’ tribe. It reinforces and supports the ‘spoodle lover’ aspect of my identity.
No Shame in being Programmed
Social programming is part of the way we learn to be civilised and contributing members of society.
Poor behaviour – that outside the ‘social norm’ – is punished or ignored. Desired behaviour – such as smiling instead of snarling – is rewarded and reinforced so that the majority of people grow up to be reasonably pleasant human beings.
As Palihapitiya believes, (Stanford School of Business, 2017), human programming in the digital world can be used for evil where the engagement of many pays off big-time in the pockets of a few. But it can also be used for good, where like-minded people from all over the world can interact to share ideas, interests, stories and spoodles.
The Answer Revealed
What, then, is the social significance of spoodles? Why DO I spend so much time trawling the “Australian Spoodles” Facebook page and how does this shape my online identity?
- I think spoodles are cute and fun
- Interacting with other people who think spoodles are cute and fun is a social norm that reinforces my love of spoodles
- Posting on the page and getting ‘likes’ rewards me because I want the group to think MY spoodles are cute and fun too
- I visit the page often in anticipation of the reward – more photos of cute puppies, more reinforcement of my love for spoodles and more ‘likes’ for what I post, supporting and developing the ‘spoodle lover’ aspect of my identity
- Facebook moves quickly so, if I don’t visit often, I could miss something
- Result? I check the “Australian Spoodles” page every day
I love playing with my spoodles in ‘real’ life but I have also been ‘programmed’ to be an online spoodle lover who checks into “Australian Spoodles” often to see if a reward is coming. This has expanded and enriched my life and contributes significantly to my online identity.
Brown, A Blog ‘Teaching with Drugs: Learning to Twitter’ February 2018 Retrieved 4 April 2018
Kennedy, H ‘Beyond Anonymity, or Future Directions for Internet Identity Research’ in Poletti, A, & Rak, J (eds) 2013, Identity Technologies : Constructing the Self Online, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin. Available from Sage Journals Retrieved 4 April 2018
Larkin, A – ‘A short message from my spoodles’ created in VoiceByte, 21 April 2018
Larkin, A – Facebook photo ‘Flying the Spoodle Colours’ 25 February 2016
Larkin, A – Twitter video ‘A good long run in the bush’ 19 April 2018
Larkin, A – ‘Evil Programming or Simple Learning?’ created using Canva 21 April 2018
Larkin, A – ‘My Emerging Online Identity’ created using Canva 21 April 2018
Larkin, A – Facebook photo ‘Spoodle Head-dress’ Briagolong Australia, April 2016
Larkin, A – Twitter self-portrait ‘Student with Spoodle Attached’ Briagolong Australia, April 2018
Palihapitiya, C ‘Money as an Instrument of Change’ Stanford School of Business YouTube Channel 2017 – Retrieved 4 April 2017 November ‘Money as an Instrument of Change’
Pavlov, I.P. Conditioned reflexes, Dover, New York, 1927 ‘Chapter Three: Conditioning and Reflex” Retrieved 21 April 2018
Perkins, H.W. and Berkowitz, A.D. ‘Perceiving the community norms of alcohol use among students: Some research implications for campus alcohol education programming’. Int J Addict. 1986. Retrieved 4 April 2018…available from ResearchGate
Skinner, B.F. The Behavior of Organisms. Minnesota, 1938. Retrieved 21 April 2018 No page numbers in e-book