Sunday, March 24, 2013

The value of earlier social media: Notes on Afrofuturism's yahoo group

Here's something to consider when it comes to study groups: the development of the "Afrofuturism listserv" (the list) and by extension the development  of projects and ways of thinking among list participants there were linked to the use of a large, wide-ranging, yet virtually situated group. I enjoy facebook and twitter today, but it's my contention, at the moment at least, that an older model social media group like the AF list on yahoo was better suited for the development of a structured sense of community than some of these formations with popular social media.

Alondra Nelson created the list in the fall of 1998. She re-defined afrofuturism as "African American voices with other stories to tell about culture, technology, and things to come." The "other stories" reflected, in part, Nelson's and the group members' beliefs that black folks were not merely those have-nots on the wrong side of the so-called "digital divide." [More on afrofuturism here, here, and here.]      

Nelson once explained that the listserv was responsible for forming and sustaining a "community of thinkers, artists, and writers." And, she went on to note, "perhaps [the listserv's] most meaningful function has been as an incubator of ideas." There are many options and possibilities that our current, more popular social media platforms offer us, but I'm not convinced, not yet, that the more popular modes and formats can provide that "incubator" function to the degree that yahoo group did for AF.

There are many other things, though, that social media like facebook and twitter can achieve that's not possible with a yahoo group. I was a grad student when I was most involved with the AF list. The community and incubator functions of that space stand out to me as I consider where my own graduate students might go to witness and participate in vibrant, up-to-date conversations on topics in their areas.

I also wonder about such communities and incubators as I consider more sustained and fixed virtual spaces for conversations on broad topics like black studies, digital humanities/afrofuturism, poetry, and African American literature. 

Digital Humanities at CLA 2013  
Digital Humanities

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