People used to read newspapers in coffee shops and comment with friends about the daily stories. Now newspapers are becoming fewer and fewer and online forums are expanding at a rapid pass with comments regarding the daily news. The Post-Standard is a Syracuse-based newspaper that is no exception to this rule. Syracuse.com offers readers the daily articles with the option to comment by creating a username that can be anything (related or not related to one’s own name). According to Gee, Syracuse.com is an affinity space for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, there are multiple generators, both those who write the articles and those who write the comments. One can choose to examine the actual content of the article or the comments that interact with the article. Finally, there are various portals to become involved with this space. Some may choose to go to Syracuse.com and search for a particular article this way, others can “share” articles and one can get to an article through Facebook, lastly, one can pick up a hardcopy of the paper and read through the articles that way (Gee, p.80-81).
Gee defines affinity spaces in his piece titled Situated Language and Learning. According to Gee, affinity spaces are defined by their generators, the content supplied by the generator, the interaction with the content, and the portals used to access the space. These criteria consistently pertain to the articles found on Syracuse.com.
An interesting aspect of Syracuse.com is the anonymity of the readers and the comment writers. I found a particular article where one of the commenters claimed to be one of the people arrested in the actual story. This particular article was titled, “Six accused of throwing trash, corn cobs, cans at Onondaga County sheriff’s patrol car.” The individual who had been arrested got on Syracuse.com as a means to defend himself and offer his side of the story. He clearly felt mis-represented in the story and concluded that the only way his voice would be heard would be by commenting on the story himself. The accused took to the site to offer his perspective on the same set of affairs that the journalist had already put into words. Gee would refer to this technique as “perspective-taking” (p. 53). The journalist provided one view (most likely supplied to her by the law enforcement involved in the particular case). This particular article brought about many comments in the couple days after it was published. Many other individuals (not involved in the case) announced their opinion and perspective on the situation.
Opinions and Points of view run rampant on Syracuse.com. Gee discusses the significance of decoding and one’s identity when it comes to words. “Neither sounds nor letters themselves have any meaning” (p. 46). A certain article about Black Friday was posted and a commenter was a retail employee who had just found out that they had to work on Thanksgiving. This individual was clearly disgruntled and had an obvious attitude in their post. The words in the comment immediately gained meaning based on the purpose of the comment in connection with our own past experiences. Many individuals who read the comment would equate Thanksgiving with their own personal memories and most likely empathized with the commenter, considering how they would feel if they had to work on Thanksgiving. Another commenter responded to this initial comment and basically alluded to the initial commenter as being weak and needing to do something about their current situation rather than just complaining. Due to the anonymity of the site, it is important to remember that we don’t know almost anything about the commenters. Without this knowledge and the ability to understand where the particular commenter is coming from (their background and prior experiences), we do not and cannot completely comprehend the full meaning behind each comment.
In regards to grammar and spelling on Syracuse.com, watch your back! The “language cops” are on patrol and will strike at any moment! I found various instances where people misspelled words or used incorrect grammar, and then were chastised for it by fellow commenters. Andrews touches on the importance of spelling in a sociological perspective stating that, “spelling certainly does count” (p. 155). He goes on to mention how we are judged by our writing and that it is seen as the highest value of language in America.
In my blog I also touched on the ways that becauseisaidiwould.com relates to Gee and Andrews and the important role language plays on that media forum. I found it very interesting that people would take the time to make a promise and then post it on a site. Why was this necessary and how did the presentation and language of their promise play a role?
First and foremost, there was a girl who promised not to text or Facebook while driving. This was ironic because she posted her promise on the “becauseisaidiwould” Facebook page. Gee said, ““…language is tied to people’s experiences of situated action in the material and social world” (p. 49). To this girl, her promise had to be made public. This was of course based on her prior experiences and familiarity with the social media outlet “Facebook,” but also a means of making a promise and having others hold her accountable for it. Or was she posting it on this site to get feedback? The role language plays can bring her together with others who are on her side and want to help her fulfill her promise. It can also break apart relationships or set her up for harsh criticism based on her promise. Had she not been so familiar with Facebook, she would have never made this promise to begin with!
“Meaning is not about definitions, it is about simulations of experience” (Gee, p. 51). What is a promise? How is the word “promise” defined? Must it be spoken aloud to make it a legitimate promise? Why do some feel that it’s necessary to post their promises to the world? I believe they post their promises to give them meaning. The promise is no longer just theirs. Others can now view, comment, and support the promise, if they so choose. Other individuals can now hold the promise maker to some accountability. Giving a whole new meaning to promises and what they mean.
Language is a powerful tool and the ability to combine it with social media and networking, as well as news outlets, can connect individuals worldwide. It may not always promote the most positive interaction, but it is interaction nevertheless and one’s opinions are expressed solely through the language they choose. Commenters are unable to show their facial expressions. They can’t use hand gestures. They have words. They have language. If they are capable of using it well enough, we already can see the “hand gestures” and the “facial expressions” that would be occurring while the comments were being made. I sometimes wonder why news outlets allow comments? Commenting gives people a voice. People want to be heard.
Andrews, L. Language exploration and awareness. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006.
Gee, J. P. Situated language and learning. New York: Routledge, 2007.
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