Daniel Miller on Facebook in Trinidad
Over at Material World Daniel Miller has just posted an interesting riff on his current (somewhat unintentional) research on Facebook in Trinidad. In explaining the attraction of Facebook, he writes:
What makes Facebook a natural topic of enquiry is its ubiquity in the country resonating with the anthropological sensibility towards the holistic. It has been important in galvanising the response to the recent catastrophe of fellow Caribbeans in Haiti, as well as in more local politics. It is at the heart of our intended topic of transnational relationships but equally in the reinvigorisation of specifically Trinidadian identity. It provides considerable insights into traditional topics such as the nature of community and family, with a marked effect on both. It may be used for religious expression, and is a common way to conduct business and economic transactions.
Miller gives a sense of how the use of Facebook in Trinidad challenges assumptions about its primary uses and users, and how the technology intersects with local cultural idioms and understandings of national identity, and national anxiety. For example, “fas” means to be something like a busybody, deemed to be a national characteristic and source of national disorder. Therefore, writes Miller,”there is a general feeling that Facebook was invented to exacerbate the very nature of being Trinidadian”. The uneasy localisation of Facebook can be seen in the different levels of visibility of relationships produced, which some users as having a direct impact on their ability to maintain a stable relationship.
It sounds like interesting research. I particularly like thinking about national identity through the lens of attitudes towards public/private distinctions and the anxieties associated with overflowing these distinctions. I think the post is also a good example of anthropology blogging, which can highlight a fascinating cultural situation in a couple of hundred words without succumbing to oversimplification. It does the work of making us think twice about the familiar, while giving a foretaste of richness and complexity to come.