Bulletin board on Hennepin Avenue. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1937. Photographer: Russell Lee. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
Media research has increasingly highlighted the fluidity of boundaries between the physical and virtual, digital and analog, online and offline spheres. As Anna McCarthy and Nick Couldry argue in MediaSpace (Routledge, 2004), there is a need to move beyond the idea that virtuality is immaterial or unmoored from the spatial realities of everyday life, and to recognize “the artefactual existence of media forms within social space” as well as “the ways that media forms shape and are shaped by the experience of social space” (2). This emphasis on the spatiality of media culture is complemented by a historical turn in media studies that calls for situating “new media” in pre-digital histories of mediated, material, and technological experience. With these perspectives in mind, my aim in revisiting the bulletin board is to suggest that at the same time that we pursue this week’s prompt on MediaCommons―How does digital culture enter physical spaces and situations?―we should also be asking the inverse: How does physical culture enter digital spaces and situations?
It is worth considering, for example, how material structures like bulletin boards and their associated social practices have informed the architectures and cultures of digital space, from the bulletin board systems (BBSes) of the early internet to the “walls” of Facebook, the “posts” of blogs and microblogs, and the “boards” of Pinterest. How has the ubiquitous presence of these physical spaces in everyday life configured the habits and hierarchies of information seekers and sharers online? And given what we know, conversely, about social media and other virtual spaces as sites of cultural negotiation, self-presentation, and politics, how might they, in turn, lead us to reconsider the neglected material spaces, surfaces, and grassroots practices of communication that existed before the internet?