Is (insert social website name here) a place? If not, what is it?

It would appear that Kazys and Danah have begun a little Sociology of public space debate over whether MySpace is a “place.” These two bright lights are pulling punches a little bit, while at the same time engaging in the academic art form of argument by citation. Particularly with the name Habermas being thrown around. This little debate brings out one of the unfortunate dimensions of the scholarly enterprise – debating insignificant points.
First, to be clear, MySpace is a message board. While the press and digerati like to hype up the site as if it were some amazing and unique marvel, let the rest of us not lose our wits. These are message boards with a few plug ins, and an “about me” section. So the debate about place isn’t about MySpace, its about any computer-mediated social space. Essentially, its about the continually evolving shared social space that is the Internet.
Second, does it even matter if these “networked publics” are places in our traditional sense of the word? I reckon it doesn’t matter at all. Humans can and will continue to congregate however they see fit, whether or not we have a name for the phenomenon. Fitting the world into our definitions is the wrong thing for academics to be doing. While engaged in our little battle over buzzwords, we should at least aspire to mold our definitions to the world. It really doesn’t matter if MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, Bebo, IRC, the message board on Apple.com or the comments section on this site would be considered places according to a pre-networked definition. To debate such an issue is to remain stuck in the pre-modern debates over what is “real” or “original”, or all that other muck over which philosophers debate.
It really doesn’t matter if some social theorist defined public space one way, while another theorist defined it another. There is no single theory of “place” that binds our ability to study, or even hope to understand whese mediated locations. We post things to shared, digital spaces, leaving in our wake an ever-expanding supply of social grafitti that will continue to pile up without taking hardly any space.
This shared conversation is so compelling that we engage and act upon it. What is “real” about this shared space might in fact be different for each individual. So original, that the debate over what “is” is pointless, and the capacity to map broad generalizations to our behavior is fleeting. Human behavior need not make sense, or even be consistent with some old definition. Human behavior should simply occur. The newness of this behavior gives the social scientist something to do all day long.
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