Pursue chronological and kairotic time's influence
One key factor in how content is displayed and how relationships are portrayed on social media sites is time. (The presence of metaphors gesturing to this connection support this observation: for example, Facebook pages were once described as walls, and are now called "timelines" where posts are arranged by units of time.) Jordyn Jack (2006) invoked Mikhail Bakhtin’s usage of the term "chronotope" to describe the relationship between place and time, arguing that chronotopes can show us "not only how...arguments depend on specific configurations of space and time, but also the implications of those space-time configurations for argument and decision making" (pp. 52–53). By considering the role of time in a social media user’s experience, we can understand how content is generated and curated at the intersections of specific times, places, and cultural moments.
Time plays an especially significant role in the design of anonymous social media applications: without personal profiles to serve as content hubs, posts are aggregated on one main feed, often organized in reverse chronological order (as they were on Yik Yak). As Yik Yak users posted new content, old content got moved further down the feed, until eventually, it dropped off. Many students in this study illustrated an awareness of time as a shaping force in their experiences on the application. Brian McNely (2015) argued for the value of examining the "when" of rhetorical literacies, as this process "may lead us to see how writing shapes and conditions visual displays and identifications." Social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram signal "when" and "where" through geofilters and geotagging, so students are perhaps aware of the more overt influences of time and place on communication through digital platforms; but providing them with opportunities to explore the less obvious influences, on applications like Yik Yak, may further heighten their awareness. The students in this study identified the influence of time on their posting practices (and practices of others) in varied ways, illustrating the shifting connections between a particular moment, a user’s composing process, and the content ultimately shared.
Throughout their reflections, students characterized time in two main ways: as distinct chunks of time (days, weeks, months, semesters), and as current events or situations (for example, holidays). These two representations of time might best be described by chronos, or units of time that can be measured quantitatively, and kairos, meaning the opportune or appropriate moment that "emphasizes the individuality of the situation" (Kinneavy, 2002, p. 66). The responsive interface of Yik Yak, combined with the chronological and kairotic senses of time noted above, illustrate that time is a force that can shift the content and experiences on an application, just as it moves us along in the physical world.
Links Between Time and Content
This assignment explicitly asked students to look for patterns in the posts on the application, and many reflections responded to this charge by identifying linkages between topics and times of the day, week, or semester. Students offered a variety of associations, such as:
- There are more academic-oriented posts earlier in the week;
- Posts about social events started on Thursday and continued through the weekend;
- More users asked for study buddies or homework help as midterms creeped near; and
- Frustrations with living arrangements were commonly seen at night, presumably when roommates were in the same space.
Moving beyond the presence of content, students linked timing explicitly to successful posting practices; for example, Elizabeth wrote that, "Overall I feel as though the best way to post a ‘Yak’ is to post it at night, and on a weekend. This is when most of the students are on Yik-Yak and are not preoccupied by schoolwork or activities." Others, however, felt that responses to posts were more dependent on their connections to current events, whether they were on campus or larger, cultural happenings. Shelly, Mitchell, and Frank all wrote about the prevalence of posts about Thanksgiving and even winter break as we approached the end of the fall semester, while David noted the presence of conversations about local and national politics (following midterm elections in 2014). Also present in these conversations was an awareness of the chronotopic linkages between time and place, especially when students discussed localized topics like weather, or parties at a particular fraternity house. Students easily linked specific types of content to different units of time, as well as overall events, illustrating an awareness of time as shaping factor.
The semester calendar, and its connections to college residential life, proved to be perhaps the most important measurement of time for students in this sample, as many students reflected on the frequency of posts about dorms and dining halls. Even during the fall semester, as students worked out arrangements for the upcoming academic year, the Purdue Yik Yak feed was flooded with posts asking for advice about surrounding dorms and apartment complexes. Rachel and Olivia stated in their reflection that they wanted to create a post that combined the ideas of housing and dining, since those were topics that affected most students on campus, especially during the time that they completed this assignment. Their post (below) that asked, "How many sophomores are psyched to not live in the dorms next year???" received less than 10 upvotes but 24 replies:
Of their 24 replies to this question, some are facetious in nature, and others are genuine responses to their question. As the screenshots above show, a conversation about the positives and negative of dorm and apartment living ensued. Clearly, other users on the feed were interested in their question, and provided a variety of responses. Rachel and Olivia’s post was unique in this sample of student work for two reasons: first, they were able to implement their understanding of the importance of kairotic and chronological time into the creation of one post; and second, their post illustrated a clear attempt to engage others in conversation, not just to achieve a large number of upvotes. Additionally, their original post suggested an awareness of the affordances of the application to allow for back and forth about topics like housing and dining.
Rather than posting a witty one-liner, they posed a question in earnest, identifying a particular audience (sophomores) and infusing feeling into their query (by using "psyched" and multiple question marks). Rachel and Olivia used these markers of emotion presumably in the hopes that other users would feel some sort of connection to this post based on their own experiences. Sara Ahmed (2014) argued that time is linked inherently to emotions, which are "the very ‘flesh’ of time, they show us the time it takes to move, or to move on, is a time that exceeds the time of an individual life" (p. 202). In the exchange above, we can see how feeling surfaces as users relate to one another, offering up advice and opinions. For example, the user represented by the oars icon posted four separate times on the thread and was able to lay out their rationale for why apartments are better than on-campus housing. In their reflection, Rachel and Olivia wrote, "It was really interesting to see how people had conversations with each other and also posted comments that were not a response to what others said. They mentioned things like price of housing, meal plans, space, and eventually drugs and alcohol." While Rachel and Olivia didn’t explicitly ask about related topics, these other users brought them up on their own, signifying their cultural and situational relevance. Rachel and Olivia also used this exchange to point out one of the constraints of Yik Yak as a discussion platform: while the possibilities for conversational topics are nearly endless, individual posts sometimes didn’t respond directly to one another, given the way that reply chains were designed (users can only respond to the original post, rather than other replies, as they can on Facebook, for example). Rachel and Olivia’s attention to timing, in both senses noted above, reveals their awareness of larger conversations on campus and their curiosity as to how these conversations might play out on the Yik Yak network.
Using Features of the Application to Challenge the Influence of Time
Other students showed a pointed interest in the structure of the application, and how that influenced the content on the local feed. Ryan related an experience of trying to purposely control the popularity of one particular post through utilizing the up and down voting function with a group of friends as an experiment focused on the interface, rather than the human users, as other students did. Ryan wrote:
Yik Yak...can be controlled for a little while. I say this because I have some friends who wanted to try to control Yik Yak for as long as they could. Their strategy was as follows, they first gathered a group of about ten friends who all got on Yik Yak. Then they all came up with a great Yak to send to the feed and everyone who was able upvoted the Yak right away. Finally, they constantly refreshed their Yik Yak feed and downvoted any Yak that was not their Yak, causing the new Yak that was not theirs to be sent to the bottom of the feed. Originally they did not think it would work and they just wanted to see if/how long they could control the Yak app. They succeeded and held the original Yak that they posted at the top spot for over an hour until they eventually got bored and quit.
Ryan’s scenario revealed an understanding of not only how the application functioned in relation to time, but of how its features could be utilized by human users. Ryan’s manipulation of Yik Yak’s "qualitative affordances" (Tarsa, 2015), designed to provide engagement and feedback for users, demonstrates an awareness of how platforms can be influenced by human actors. Ryan reflected on the implications of a small group of people exerting a large amount of control over an application that hundreds (or thousands) of people use at one time, writing about this "experiment" that "really intrigued him," because he had previously felt that the time-based organization of the feed was absolute. Perhaps this reflection, in which Ryan challenges that assertion and theorizes a more fluid relationship between the interface and its posts, most clearly illustrates the impact of time and its multiple manifestations in the realm of Yik Yak.
This fluidity can be found in other applications that depend largely on the trending of topics and user interaction with posts (Facebook and Twitter, for example), but in applications without personal profiles, the main feed takes on the primary emphasis and illustrates the influence of time most clearly. In exploring the main feed, students seemed keenly aware of how chronos and kairos interacted with other factors, influencing their experiences. This awareness complements Edbauer’s (2005) argument that "the social field is not comprised of discrete sites but from events that are shifting and moving, grafted onto and connected with other events" (p. 10). For example, Rachel and Olivia’s post and subsequent responses illustrate that the timing of the semester and the concern of future semesters line up to provide a specific communicative opportunity, one that wouldn’t necessarily be available a week or a month later. The importance of the communicative moment illustrated with Yik Yak can also be seen in applications like SnapChat, which are also focused around real-time exchange, as opposed to the careful cultivation of profiles over time. This multifaceted understanding of time as a shaping force of writing is one that would ideally prove useful to students as they continue to navigate such digital interfaces.