“Social class and the Internet” usually implies issues of access to high-speed Internet and newer computers. But recent online discussions have me reflecting on how my Facebook friends are divided clearly along class lines, in how we interact online. Class differences in dealing – or not dealing – with conflict show up starkly in my online conversations.
Well-educated middle- and owning-class people surround me today, but my upbringing was in a working class neighborhood where Mr. Shoemaker fixed televisions, Mr. Overstreet delivered Pepsi, and Mr. Church delivered Wonder Bread. (No, I didn’t make up the names OR the jobs). My mom worked and wore steel-toed boots every weekday.
I also have working-class friends from Metropolitan State University, where I got my BA in 2007 – a good college choice for Twin Cities poor and working class adults because class schedules are work-friendly, the school is the most diverse of all the schools in Minnesota, and it’s the best bargain in town at less than a third of what the University of Minnesota charges per credit. A course I’m taking right now includes a man who is living on the streets, and not by choice. Every course I’ve taken at Metro has had a firefighter, a baker or postal carrier.
My long-time friend from second grade Raeann, whose father fixed trucks for a living, found me on Facebook first. She connected me with other childhood friends, many living the way their parents lived, only they work at debt collection agencies, auto parts stores and call centers, instead of at factories. Soon we were poking each other, posting funny links and arguing about politics.
So my Facebook friends come from all classes. Facebook seems like a place where all my friends can hang out with me without regard to social class — only it’s not.
With most of my working-class Facebook friends, I can have lively, conflict-filled discussions about politics, theology and pop culture. We talk online about our contentious views on immigration, health care reform and racism. We argue, laugh, and share tender moments with each other.
But when politics come up among my middle- and owning-class friends, there isn’t open and honest and direct conflict. When disagreements do arise, middle- and owning-class people throw up their virtual hands and say things like “this medium isn’t good for conflict.”
For example, a highly-educated friend recently posted a link to a magazine for mothers called “Brain Child.” The title made me think this was a magazine by and for middle- and owning-class people. The articles affirmed my suspicions: inaccessible and written toward middle- and owning-class people. One even says “Today’s parents-specifically, college-educated, professional-class parents-are deeply worried about their children’s future…” (Why not just say “Today’s college-educated, professional-class parents…”???)
So I commented on my friend’s link. “Yes, this [magazine] might be of interest to middle- and owning-class moms. But maybe not so much poor and working-class mothers.”
What came next is typical of what I get from my middle- and owning-class friends: a mini-lecture on how to “appropriately” invite dialog. I wrote back:
“It [my way of expressing concerns] could be [done the way you’d want me to do it]. But that’s not how I do it, and some of that is based in social class. You insist that your way is best and it is not best for everyone. Plain old information in MY culture doesn’t have judgment or value or confrontation. It IS the invitation to open and honest conversation.”
After this conversation, I organized my 250 or so Facebook friends into two lists: people who are okay with open and direct conflict; and people who don’t engage in fights, who lecture me on how to invite dialog, or who always take a difference private in order to end it.
And wouldn’t you know, I can predict who will engage in direct disputes and who won’t based on their class background and current educational attainment, with just a few exceptions (the closer they are to me, the more likely they are to break away from my expectations). I can almost always count on my childhood friends and my friends from Metro State not to lecture me about “best practices” before engaging in a fight.
Here on Classism Exposed!, I will never mince words. Get used to it. However, I do have a query for you, because I’m curious and because you care about social class and classism: What are you noticing about your own classed online presence, and your relationships in online social networks in terms of social class? (And don’t be afraid to be blunt yourself. I can take it.)
N. Jeanne Burns lives in south Minneapolis with her partner Liz. She writes where she can find juice for her laptop, iPod and cell phone. Her muse, on the other hand, prefers to inspire her in places not mentionable in middle and owning class company. Jeanne has been published in Haute Dish, Spout, Northography, NYYM Spark, and the anthology Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader. She maintains a blog on Quakers & social class at http://quakerclass.blogspot.com.