Context collapse is the process of disparate audiences being conjoined into one. It was coined by Dana Boyd in her book “It’s Complicated”, which detailed the lives of social media with teens. It’s an excellent book.

I was reminded of this again recently, and dug into it’s origins. I came across Dana Boyd’s dissertation “Taken Out of Context” on the topic. From the abstract:

My analysis centers on how social network sites can be understood as networked publics which are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice. Networked publics support many of the same practices as unmediated publics, but their structural differences often inflect practices in unique ways. Four properties—persistence, searchability, replicability, and scalability—and three dynamics—invisible audiences, collapsed contexts, and the blurring of public and private—are examined and woven throughout the discussion.

While teenagers primarily leverage social network sites to engage in common practices, the properties of these sites configured their practices and teens were forced to contend with the resultant dynamics. Often, in doing so, they reworked the technology for their purposes. As teenagers learned to navigate social network sites, they developed potent strategies for managing the complexities of and social awkwardness incurred by these sites. Their strategies reveal how new forms of social media are incorporated into everyday life, complicating some practices and reinforcing others. New technologies reshape public life, but teens’ engagement also reconfigures the technology itself.