Meaghan Morris dissects the Facebook grizzlers

It’s fair to say Meaghan Morris is one of my intellectual heroines. Her rapier wit and nimble intelligence make her something a national treasure in the intellectual life of this country. A stylist without peer, she is an ornament to the study of culture.

You can therefore imagine my delight on encountering her latest essay, “Grizzing about Facebook,” in the Australian Humanities Review. It’s a carefully argued but effortlessly expressed tip-toe through the vacuous grizzling that so often characterises old media’s response to social networks.

Morris begins with a fairly typical article in the Murdoch newspaper, a sententious editorial the South China Morning Post critcising Mark Zuckerberg’s invention for its supposedly insidious grip on our lives (“Facebook no substitute for real world contact”):

While forming a very small part of the on-line discussion of social networking sites, these stories arise from news media efforts not only to catch a wave of popular interest while reporting actual incidents but also to shape collective perceptions of a wider phenomenon. In the process, journalists often draw on their rich professional reserves of reductively metonymic realism (‘setting the scene’, the ‘character sketch’) to cast social network users as types whose ways of acting are symptomatic or productive of diverse social ills: alongside terrorists and sexual predators there are always students uploading their mobile pics of boorishly drunken parties, ‘stupid girls’ sharing every detail of their vapid daily routines, and workers who boast about bludging but forget that they’ve friended their boss. As in folklore, each of these figures is sustained by a dense field of concrete examples both stellar (Hugh Grant and Bono for Facebook party uploads, MySpace’s Paris Hilton or Twitter’s Ashton Kutcher for cosmic triviality) and ‘it-could-be-you’ mundane (Kyle Doyle’s ‘SICKIE WOO’ Facebook status update). Simultaneously grounded in and abstracted from the real history of on-line culture, such figures ‘stick’ in media memory, powerfully eliciting recognition (the party animal, the princess, the slack worker) while drawing attention away from a myriad other practices thriving on the sites. Stereotypes are forms of apprehension rather than bad representations, and their force is to mobilize familiar knowledge to explain and absorb unfamiliar experience (Morris,Identity 143-44). Continue reading

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Fewer people are visiting Melbourne parks

Seeing as its a gorgeous spring afternoon in Melbourne, I thought I’d keep it in theme and add a quick post about a study on Melbourne parks from the journal Managing Leisure.

It’s by Sharyn McDonald and Garry Price from La Trobe University. Their paper “Addressing declining metropolitan park use: A case study of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia” [Volume 14, Issue 1 January 2009 , pages 28 – 37] uses data from the government agency Parks Victoria to discover declining patronage in Melbourne’s municipal parks.

This refreshingly straight-forward paper asks:

“With competition for time and money a major constraint on the activities of many leisure seekers, metropolitan parks offer accessible, low-cost activities that can be scheduled into a small amount of free time. So why is there a decline in the number of visitors to Melbourne’s metropolitan parks?”

The reason? A number of factors including lack of playgrounds, strong competition from other leisure activities like shopping and sport, and, interestingly, a lack of parking are mentioned.

Possible solutions? Better marketing, for instance a public campaign informing local residents of alternative transport and lifestyle options, such maps showing bike paths, public transport routes and parks. MacDonald and Price also suggest that partnerships could be developed and strengthened between local municipalities and local sporting clubs who use co-located facilities in parks.