Sunday, December 2, 2007

Networking Boredom, The Community of Procrastination

This past March, the New Yorker ran article called "The New Bathroom Wall," which detailed a trend that began in the Ivy League where anonymous students, supposedly bored at their school's library, were given a forum to write anything they wanted. The idea, according to the article, was hatched by Jonathan Pappas, who created one night while he was himself bored at Columbia University's Butler Library. As the story goes, he put up a printed a few fliers about the site, and put them up all over campus.

The next day, had over two thousand messages.

Since that day, the "bored at" idea for anonymous web forums has spread to 26 separate institutions of higher education, including Brown, where the name of the forum has changed from to The entire community recently acquired a central splash page for these functions that is called, somewhat ironically,

I would like to examine the "bored at" phenomenon within the framework of Barry Wellman's "Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism," Bruce Robbin's introdcution to "Comparative Cosmopolitanisms," and Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities." Each text has something to bare on the conception of networked individualism and the sort of motivating forces that could enable an internet meme like the "bored at" phenomenon.

In particular, I would like to apply Wellman's own opening questions to the concept of the "boredat" internet community. As he asks,
  • Do people communicate more because the Internet offers them the capability to contact people at a distance?
  • How do people use their networks, social communication, and computer access information at home, work and leisure?
  • What sense of belonging to communities do networked people have?"
Each of these questions has particular meaning and insight when considered within the "bored at" phenomenon. Following from the provided logic of the "bored at" sites, the users are supposedly in close physical proximity to one another, sharing the physical space of library in addition to the mentally enclosed community that the library space represents. In a way, the choice to "speak" in online forum rather than talk out in the physical space of the library is a reaction to the taboo of silence in library spaces. But simultaneously, the boredat forum only allows for a single type of conversation- namely the out-loud, anonymous remark, that is read and received by anyone and frequently sparks reaction.

It would seem obvious that the discussion and/or existence of the site's forum creates a sort of community. Nicknames, abbreviations, and inside terms denote the site's users as already partially networked. In this way, the site functions as a manifestation of pre-existing community, but one that mediates itself through online space, and wears the mask of anonymity.

In researching this project, I hope to both note the rise and fall of the trend, as the site has certainly lost steam at Brown, the switch of domain names, from boredattherock to boredatbrown, and finally, to examine the use of the forum at other schools. Additionally, I would like to examine the traffic of these sites, sifting out traffic from within a university network to posts from outside, and to consider Bruce Robbins' "belonging, being situated, being specific" considerations in the world of

No comments: