Thinking Critically about the Nature of Spreadability

For those looking to think critically about the social, cultural, political, and economic environment shaping the ways in which people are sharing media texts, here are a few pieces we highly recommend you check out and which have engaged with ides from our book:

  • In his 2014 piece for Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies entitled “Frictionless Sharing and Digital Promiscuity,” American University of Paris Global Communications Profesor Robert Payne looks at the rise of “frictionless sharing” as a concept and the monetization efforts focused on normalizing and making as easy as possible the circulation of media texts. Payne asks, “If the new rhetoric of ‘sharing’ erases the riskiness of circulation previously encoded in dominant images of vitality, notably behaviors associated with HIV, then what is the relationship of the projected potential of ‘frictionless sharing’ to existing normative frames of ethics and morality?” In the process, Payne refers to Spreadable Media and looks to complicate binaries in understanding user agency and in moving beyond the language of vitality.
  • This piece draws from Robert Payne’s 2013 piece for Cultural Studies, entitled “Virality 2.0: Networked Promiscuity and the Sharing Subject,” which reacts to material related to the Spreadable Media project by stating that “as transmission has been rebranded as ‘sharing,’ questions of personal and moral responsibility attendant to transmission and infection have been erased in favor of a bland ideology of interactivity.” The piece posits that such language “stabilize(s) and fetishise(s) the active ‘sharing subject’ in neoliberal and heteronormative terms.”
  • In her 2014 New Media & Society piece, “The Interface as Discourse: The Production of Norms through Web Design,” Mel Stanfill draws on Spreadable Media’s designation between stickiness and spreadability in examining the various technological functions in place on media producers’ official sites that limit the portability of content, makes audiences more “measurable,” and eliminates the opportunity to remix media texts in ways that she argues “ignores fair use.”
  • Andrew Hoskins’ provocative 2013 piece for Memory Studies, “The End of Decay Time,” draws on Spreadable Media in its consideration of how “permanently” archived material might easily spread in an environment where the physical decay of most archived media is no longer an issue. In particular, Hoskins explores the potential for “instant decay: corruption, disconnection and deletion” and a “ressentiment of the post-scarcity age: a loss of the confidence of steady decay time exposes memory to less certain prospects for erasure and for forgetting.”
  • Jason Pridmore and Daniel Trottier’s essay “Extending the Audience: Social Media Marketing, Technologies and the Construction of Markets,” for Lee McGuigan and Vincent Manzerolle’s The Audience Commodity in a Digital Age: Revisiting a Critical Theory of Commercial Media, draws on Spreadable Media’s consideration of Dallas Smythe’s work on audience activity as labor as it explores social media users’ ambivalence to how their participation is shaped and commoditized via social network sites.
  • In her work on describing the “infosaturation” involved in giving people recommended content based on their profiles and previous behavior, Patrícia Dias of the Research Center on Communication and Culture at the Catholic University of Portugal draws on Spreadable Media’s argument for the more active agency of people in engaging and circulating content. Her research, which looks at “the cognitive and relational effects of digital immersion” as new personalization technologies arise, is published at “From ‘Infoxication’ to ‘Infosaturation’: A Theoretical Overview of the Cognitive and Social Effects of Digital Immersion” in Ámbitos: Revista Internacional de Comunicación.
  • In their 2013 Swedish media and communication studies thesis for Uppsala University’s Department of Informatics and Media, “Google ser Dig: En Kvalitativ Studie av Internetanvändares Medvetenhet och Åsikter om Filterbubblor” (which translates to “Google Is Watching You: A Qualitative Study of Internet Users’ Awareness and Opinions on Filter Bubbles”), Carl Hallvarsson & Jessica Norén draw on Spreadable Media to demonstrate a greater expectation of trust from audiences/users. Based on focus group group research, Hallvarsson and Norén argue that the “empowered audiences” Spreadable Media advocates for are often not possible when it comes to digital companies like Google, where audiences are grossly unaware of the design of the platform and how the data they create is being used.
  • The University of Michigan’s Lisa Nakamura spoke to content/“memes” that we want to die and some of the negative cultural attributes that make things spreadable—including racism, hate, and other issues, challenging any unabashed celebration of spreadability on its own right. Her comments were part of a panel on “Identity Work and Identity Play Online” at the American Studies Association in Washington DC in December 2013 alongside NYU’s Laura Portwood-Stacer, UCLA’s Anne Cong-Huyen, and USC’s Tara McPherson. See Dan Greene’s write-up here.