Archive for the 'UCL' Category

Losing weight without a diet: manipulating a type of brain cell gets results in mice

By Alison Major, on 2 August 2017

Today’s guest post is by Nicholas Lesica, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at UCL and author of A Conversation about Healthy Eating. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

File 20170727 27682 1wo3mnt
Evidence for a link between obesity and brain inflammation is getting stronger.
Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Nicholas A Lesica, UCL

A new study has found something remarkable: the activation of a particular type of immune cell in the brain can, on its own, lead to obesity in mice. This striking result provides the strongest demonstration yet that brain inflammation may be a cause, rather than a consequence, of obesity. It also provides promising leads for new anti-obesity therapies.

The evidence linking brain inflammation to obesity has been building for some time. Consistent overeating causes stress and damage to cells in the body and brain. This damage results in a response from the immune system that has a wide range of effects.

Some of these effects help to reduce the problems caused by overeating, but others seem to make things worse. For example, in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls, among other things, eating and activity – inflammation causes problems such as leptin resistance that interfere with the regulation of body weight.

Computer Hope
The hypothalamus controls eating and physical activity.
stefan3andrei/Shutterstock

Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat cells and provides the brain with information about the amount of energy stored as body fat. Normally, neurons in the hypothalamus that are sensitive to leptin will use this information to regulate eating and activity as needed to maintain body fat within some desired range.

In obesity, however, these neurons become insensitive to leptin. As a result, they no longer trigger the decrease in hunger and increase in energy expenditure that are necessary to lose excess weight. This is why the vast majority of attempts by obese people to lose weight fail– inflammation causes the brain to fight against it every step of the way.

So brain inflammation clearly plays an important role in sustaining obesity. But could it also be one of the primary causes of obesity in the first place? The onset of brain inflammation coincides with the other changes that take place in the body and brain as a result of overeating and weight gain. But whether brain inflammation actually causes the development of obesity is not yet clear. The results of the new study, however, demonstrate that the activation of a particular type of brain immune cell, microglia, initiates a cascade of events that do indeed lead directly to obesity.

Manipulating microglia in mice

In the study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Washington performed experiments on mice. They found that altering the activity of microglia in the hypothalamus allowed them to control the body weight of the mice independent of diet.

The researchers began by testing the effects of reducing either the number of microglia or their level of activity. They found that both manipulations cut the weight gain that resulted from putting the mice on high-fat diet in half.

They then tested the effects of increasing the activity of microglia. They found that this manipulation caused obesity even in mice that were on a normal diet. This latter result is particularly surprising. The fact that obesity can be induced through microglia – rather than directly through neurons themselves – is an indication of how strongly the brain’s supporting cells can exert control over its primary functions.

Computer Hope
Obesity can be induced by manipulating microglia.
Janson George/Shutterstock

So artificial brain inflammation can cause obesity in mice. Of course, that doesn’t mean that natural, diet-induced brain inflammation does cause obesity in humans. But these new results suggest that this idea is worth taking seriously, particularly given that fact that potential solutions to the obesity crisis are in short supply.

The ConversationThis new study alone has already identified several possible targets for anti-obesity drugs. Intriguingly, one of the same drugs that was used in the study to decrease activity in microglia is also being tested in human cancer trials, so initial indications of its effects on body weight should be available soon. But either way, a deeper understanding of the role of brain inflammation will help to clarify the causes of obesity. And hopefully prompt ideas about how it can be avoided in the first place.

Nicholas A Lesica, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Win a copy of Fabricate 2017 with Dezeen!

By Alison Major, on 21 July 2017

Leading architecture and design magazine Dezeen is giving away five hardcover copies of Fabricate 2017: Rethinking Design and Construction, which brings together the best in projects involving digital fabrication. Bringing together pioneers in design and making within architecture, construction, engineering, manufacturing, materials technology and computation, Fabricate 2017 details the best of the triennial international conference of the same name. Each conference leads to a supporting publication, to date the only one of its kind specialising in Digital Fabrication.

The 2017 edition features 32 illustrated articles on built projects and works in progress from academia and practice, including contributions from leading practices such as Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, Arup, and Ron Arad, and from world-renowned institutions including ICD Stuttgart, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton University, The Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) and the Architectural Association. To enter visit Dezeen.com, or, if you’re feeling impatient, download the free PDF here.

Where does the born- and reborn-digital material take the Digital Humanities?

By Chris J Penfold, on 22 May 2017

w-a-hOn 18 May 2017, Niels Brügger, Professor of Internet Studies and Digital Humanities at Aarhus University in Denmark, and co-editor of The Web as History, delivered the third lecture in the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities annual Susan Hockey lecture series. With a focus on archiving, the lecture investigated the different types of digital media and explored how each type can be used for scholarly purposes.

Understanding the web’s function as an archive requires a grasp of its scale, yet the amount of data added to the web on any given day is difficult to fathom. Google processes over 20 petabytes of digitised data, born-digital data and reborn-digital data every 24 hours – that’s over 20 million gigabytes. But how do we archive this volume of information? How can we preserve the contents of news websites that have a shelf life of a day, or even an hour?

The web is where, and how, future researchers will learn about the 21st century, and so the importance of archiving – deciding which parts of the web should be preserved, how often, and by whom – increases with every petabyte of new data. As with any collection of documents, the ways in which they are collected and curated determines how they can be used by future researchers, across the Digital Humanities and beyond. The web is the equivalent of the letters, novels and artworks of the past, yet it offers a place in history for not only the artists and writers of our time but for everyone who uses it.

Anyone interested in the topic should read The Web as History, available to download for free here.

Launch event: Europe and the World: A Law Review

By Ian Caswell, on 19 May 2017

Join UCL Press and UCL Laws for the launch of a brand new journal: Europe and the World: A Law Review

Date/ Time: Monday 19 June 2017, 18:00 – 19:00

Location: UCL Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Entry is free, but pre-booking is required, as this will be a popular event!

Keynote speech from
Prof. Miguel Poiares Maduro (European University Institute)

Chair
Caroline Wilson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

About the journal

Europe and the World – A Law Review aims to contribute to legal scholarship on the place of Europe in the world, with a particular but by no means exclusive focus on the EU’s external relations law.

 The journal serves as a forum where the national, international and EU perspectives meet and engage. The journal is therefore irreverent of traditional distinctions between EU, international, and national law. While primarily offering legal doctrinal and theoretical analyses, the journal also publishes multi-disciplinary work and political science and international relations contributions with an external perspective on the law of EU’s external relations.

Journal includes 4 articles  and 1 editorial:

  • ‘Making Transnational Markets: The institutional politics behind the TTIP’, Marija Bartl.
  • ‘The EU and International Dispute Settlement’, Allan Rosas.
  • ‘Of Presidents, High Representatives and European Commissioners: The external representation of the European Union seven years after Lisbon’, Frank Hoffmeister.
  • ‘(Not) Losing Out from Brexit’, Annette Schrauwen.
  • Editorial

JISC Institution as e-textbook publisher project workshop

By Jaimee Biggins, on 17 May 2017

UCL Press is delighted to be taking part in JISC’s Institution as e-textbook publisher project workshop on Friday  four-year institution as e-textbook publisher project which investigates the viability of higher education institutions publishing their own e-textbooks.  Book now to reserve your place.

Projects have been undertaken by UCL Press,  University of LiverpoolUniversity of Nottingham and University of the Highlands and Islands with Edinburgh Napier University. The overall objective is to assess whether the textbooks that have been created provide:

  • A more affordable higher education for students
  • Better value for money than commercial alternatives
  • An improved, more sustainable information environment for all

During the project, participating institutions are creating eight textbooks covering a range of subjects, applying business, licensing and distribution models and reporting back on the impact, value and viability of the models they choose.

Workshop overview

The four project teams will reflect back on the last three years of the project under a number of broad themes:

  • Costs: how long did the books take to write, what were the hidden costs?
  • Benchmarking: cost benefit analysis and evidence to invest in more e-textbooks
  • Technology: the technology used including lessons learned and issues faced
  • Licensing: issues encountered including CC licenses, 3rd party copyright issues
  • Dissemination, distributions and discovery: concepts and process behind the dissemination, uptake, and wider adoption of the e-textbooks
  • Uptake: evidence of usage by students and courses
  • Feedback: Would the authors do it again, would they act as champions?
  • Implications of implementation: What are the implications for the wider adoption of the e-textbooks at other institutions?

Delegates will be encouraged to make notes on these areas and to contribute thoughts and ideas in relation to their own institutions in the afternoon workshop. This will allow participants to discuss the themes and look at the notes made by others. These ideas will help shape a proposed toolkit for institutions, which will be a major outcome of the project.

The workshop will appeal to potential authors, librarians, learning technologists and senior university staff who may wish to consider publishing their own e-textbooks. Find out more here.

Review of Sustainable Food Systems: The Role of the City in Journal of Political Ecology

By Alison Major, on 2 May 2017

We are delighted to note that Sustainable Food Systems: The Role of the City has been reviewed in the Journal of Political Ecology. The reviewer notes that this fascinating book is:

“…a breath of fresh air, taking, as it does, a strong and convincing political ecology argument into conversation with more scientific debates around food security in a way which manages to be both critical and constructive at the same time. The subtitle is perhaps slightly misleading given that urban agriculture specifically doesn’t become a significant focus for the book until the penultimate chapter. Nonetheless, the book’s main contribution – to argue for a closer connection between Marxist thought and the principles behind what we might term ‘alternative’ approaches to food growing (for example, the organics movement, permaculture, agroecology) – is both important and timely..”

Read more of this fascinating review here, and download the book here.

UCL Press Meets Chinese Publishing Delegates from China Publishing Group

By Lara Speicher, on 6 April 2017

On 22nd March I had the great pleasure of meeting a delegation of 15 Chinese publishers from the largest publisher in China, the China Publishing Group, and presented a two-hour session to them on academic publishing in the UK and, more specifically, the university-based open access publishing model forged by UCL Press.

CPG, which was ranked no.14 in the 2014 Top 50 Global Publishing Groups, has been in the Top 30 of Chinese Cultural Enterprises for six consecutive years, and owns 40 individual publishing companies and imprints which produce over 10,000 titles per year. Importantly, it concludes licensing agreements with overseas publishers for over 1,000 books and journals per year, and comprises China’s biggest publications import and export enterprise, importing and exporting over 200,000 titles every year. CPG also owns 28 overseas publishing houses and bookshops.

The publishers I met reflected the wide range of publishing that takes place in the CPG family – scholarly, children’s, poetry, encyclopedias, and art and architecture to name just a few. The delegates were in England as part of a three-week training programme during which they met publishers, wholesalers, PR agencies and others in the publishing industry, to gain greater insights into the possibilities for doing business with publishers in the UK, and their trip also included attendance at the London Book Fair, who had organized their training programme.

I was joined during the session by one of UCL Press’s authors, Dr Gabriel Moshenska, Senior Lecturer in the UCL Institute of Archaeology, whose textbook, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, has just been published by UCL Press. Gabe explained from an author’s point of view why open access publishing is so important i.e. the ability to communicate his ideas to a wide global readership, and why open access textbooks in particular are increasingly important for supporting the student experience and for making UCL teaching resources available globally, thereby raising the profile of UCL teaching and research. We demonstrated UCL Press’s online publishing platform, which features scholarly functionalities such as highlighting, making notes, saving personalised copies of books, sharing and citation. The CPG publisher for fine art books was particularly interested in the subject of public archaeology, a field that was pioneered at UCL and has been taught here for twenty years. There is growing international interest in public archaeology in countries such as the US, Australia, Italy, Sweden and China. We were able to tell the delegates about UCL’s global standing, particularly in subjects such as archaeology, architecture and education.

The publishers asked a range of perceptive questions about the Press’s model, for example, could a particularly successful OA book raise an author’s profile to the extent that they decide to publish elsewhere with a commercial publisher, and how the endeavour is financed.

In China, open access does exist for journals but not yet for books. Print books are in any case sold at a very low price, between £2.50 and £3.50 typically, and, according to one of the publishers who works for CPG’s academic imprint, scholarly monographs can sell in relatively large numbers ie 4000-5000 copies, so the scholarly publishing model in China does not suffer from the same degree of problems as the Western one. One particular barrier in China to open access for monographs is a culture in which free things are not trusted to be of good quality. And as in the UK and US, publisher brand prestige is hugely important.

In order for UCL Press to make its books available in China in Chinese, it will need to arrange licensing deals between a Chinese publisher and the author, for the Chinese publisher to translate and sell the work in China, which is the usual way books are licensed to foreign-language publishers. UCL Press has had expressions of interest in some of its books from Chinese publishers and as our publishing programme continues to expand, this interest is likely to grow. While we would ideally like our books to be published open access around the world, we recognize that the OA model for books is not yet widely enough developed and therefore we accept that a commercial model for making the books available in other languages can be the only available route. This is with the notable exception of books in our social media series, Why We Post, which the WWP project has undertaken to translate into all eight languages of the project. These will be published by UCL Press as open access, with the exception perhaps of the two Chinese titles, Social Media in Industrial China and Social Media in Rural China, for which there is strong interest from Chinese publishers who are unlikely to agree to publication of a simultaneous OA Chinese version.

UCL Press will of course always make the English language version of our books available as open access to a global audience, something the publishers from CPG did not think would be a barrier to Chinese publication. All in all, it was a fascinating couple of hours exchanging ideas and information about different publishing models. The Beijing Book Fair beckons!

London Book Fair 2017

By Lara Speicher, on 31 March 2017

The London Book Fair is one of the highlights of the year for many publishers from all over the world, and is one of two key annual publisher trade fairs, along with the Frankfurt Book Fair held in October every year. This year, there were 1,577 exhibitors from 57 countries, showing their books and services and meeting with their business partners. For many publishers at the Fair, selling rights to publishers in other countries is the main purpose. UCL lbfPress had a stand this year on the IPG (Independent Publishers’ Guild) collective stand, and all UCL Press staff spent two or three days at the Fair, having meetings and attending seminars.

Altogether we had over 40 meetings over the three days, Lara took part in two panel sessions in The Faculty area (one on the Academic Book of the Future project, and one with Ingenta and Wiley on how to reach readers in a world of overwhelming content), and Press staff attended several seminars relevant to their roles. Our meetings were with existing partners and suppliers, freelance editors and designers, our counterparts at other university presses, as well as potential new suppliers and partners. We also had chance meetings with many others who saw our stand and came to talk to us – booksellers, sales representatives, editors etc. Even before the Fair, a number of meetings had already taken place with people who were in town for the Falbfir – Jaimee (UCL Press Managing Editor) met up with the Managing Editors and Production Managers of other university presses, a regular twice-yearly meet up for sharing knowledge, and Lara met up with the Association of American University Presses Director who are helping the Press with a number of interesting projects.

At such a critical point in UCL Press’s development, when we are in the process of appointing a North American distributor, developing a new website, expanding to 50 books a year, planning a major conference for university presses in 2018 (University Press Redux 2018), participating in a European OA infrastructure project (OPERAS), developing publishing services for other institutions and reviewing journal publishing models, the Fair was the perfect opportunity to advance all these projects with key people and potential new partners in one intensive block. It also enhances visibility for the Press via the stand, appearances on discussion panels, and articles and interviews by staff links.

We were also very proud to see the UCL Publishing Studies MA students launching the magazine element of their new student journal, Interscript, which is hosted on UCL Press’s OA student journal platform. With plenty of social media promotion, publicity at the Fair and a launch at the Association of Publishing Educators’ stand, it has got off to a very promising start. It’s inspiring to see the publishers of the future in action.

Altogether, the Fair provides a very exciting and collegial environment. As ever after the Fair, I have come away feeling that I have learnt a great deal, forged new relationships and been inspired by the sheer creativity and commitment of my fellow publishers.

Related Articles

LBF Ahead: University Presses Rally for Trade Shows

Reaching Readers and keeping their engagement – not currently available online

Open Access Monographs: Current UK University Press Landscape by Lara Speicher

International Women’s Day Excerpt: Women on excavation

By Alison Major, on 8 March 2017

Today’s excerpt, to celebrate International Women’s Day, is from The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology: Characters and Collections, edited by Alice Stevenson.

On 10 March 1923, the London Illustrated News ran a double-page spread with the headline ‘Men who perform the “spade work” of history: British names famous in the field of archaeology’. Many familiar faces from Egyptology were featured, including Flinders Petrie, Howard Carter, and F. L. Griffith. What this feature completely overlooked, as many histories of ‘Great Discoveries’ have, is the important contribution made by female archaeologists. Indeed, many excavations in Egypt and Sudan were dependent upon them.

During field seasons Hilda Petrie engaged in one of the most important activities on excavation: the recording of finds and the inking onto objects of the record of their findspot. Many objects in the Petrie Museum bear her handwriting and these form indispensable keys that allow us to associate those things with the records, plans and photographs that document the circumstances of their discovery. Throughout her career Hilda additionally undertook the surveying and planning of sites, inked drawings for publication and edited her husband’s text. Hilda was also instrumental in raising funds for expeditions. For these reasons, Petrie dedicated his final memoirs of a life in archaeology ‘to my wife, on whose toil most of my work has depended’.

Many other female pioneers in archaeology also acquired their first experiences of fieldwork on Petrie digs. This included Gertrude Caton-Thompson, who not only made ground-breaking discoveries in Egyptian prehistory, but additionally went on to demonstrate definitively the indigenous African origins of Great Zimbabwe in the face of hostile criticism from the largely male academy. Other regular field collaborators included artists such as Winifred Brunton and Annie Quibell, whose toil on site is often little recognized, but was crucial to the success of field seasons.

An Excerpt for Valentines Day: Romantic relationships on social media

By Alison Major, on 14 February 2017

Today’s excerpt is from Social Media in Industrial China by Xinyuan Wang, UCL Deprtment of Anthropology.

Every day after work, a group of young female factory workers leaves the factory plant together, hand in hand. All of them are unmarried young women, and gossip about relationships is always the most popular topic. Girls chatter avidly on the 10-minute walk from factory to dormitories; everybody is trying to contribute something to the daily ‘gossip time’:

‘Hey, did you hear that he just asked for her QQ number? I was surprised that he wanted to add her on QQ!’

‘Really? I didn’t know he was keen on her. Oh no – it is really bad news for his ex-girlfriend. A few days ago I just saw her new QQ status … sounds like she really regrets the break-up. Look, look … ’

The girl then took out her smartphone, showing her friends the evidence she had spotted on QQ.

The very action of men and women adding each other on QQ can easily be interpreted as romance, since, in the words of one girl, ‘QQ is not used for talking business or other things; QQ is for you to fall in love (tan lian ai)’. It has become almost a consensus among young people that one of the major functions of social media is to develop and maintain romantic relationships. Xiao Lin, a 20-year-old factory worker, sent me QQ messages explaining how QQ helped him to become a better lover:

I am much more bold and romantic on QQ … you just wouldn’t say those sweet words face to face … And I used lots of cute stickers when we were chatting on QQ, which made her find me really funny.

Many young migrant workers, like Xiao Lin, think they can be a better lover on social media. Vivid stickers and emojis enrich people’s expression; an element of time delay allows more scope for strategic communication. Behind the screens of their smartphones, people feel more empowered and confident. Rather than a diminished form of intimate interaction, romantic relationships on social media have become an efficient modality combining elements of voice, image and text, as well as emoji and stickers. There is another reason why social media is regarded a place for romantic love: a public display of love offline is usually frowned upon in GoodPath. Walking hand in hand was the most intimate interaction that one could spot on the street. When Xiao Yu, a 21-year-old hairdresser’s apprentice, posted photos of herself kissing her boyfriend on QQ, she perceived QQ to be a romantic and liberating place where one can feel free to display intimacy as the ‘public’ was different:

In big cities people won’t make a fuss [about kissing in public]. But here some traditional people would dislike it … but the good thing is they are not on my QQ!

Xiao Yu’s kiss photographs elicited many comments. Rather than feeling embarrassed, she felt that was exactly what she was looking for: ‘… When you posted something like that, you just knew what people would comment. If I am not sure, then I won’t post it,’ Xiao Yu explained. To the question ‘do you think about what kind of reaction you will receive when you post something on social media?’, the majority of participants, both in GoodPath and in Shanghai, said yes. Moreover in many cases the imagined audience and presupposed reaction justify the posting. A few days later, Xiao Yu finally uttered the real reason why she posted the kiss photos – to warn another girl to stay away from her boyfriend as she assumed the girl had been stalking her.11 ‘It’s so annoying, she is still flirting with him (Xiao Yu’s boyfriend) on his Qzone. Is she blind? I am pretty sure she saw the kiss photo on my Qzone.’

In romantic relationships, surveillance on social media can lead to jealousy in various ways. For instance, a delayed reply to a WeChat message can make the romantic partner feel unimportant, especially when he or she can see on other social media platforms that their partner is online. Situations such as that described by Cai, a 22-year-old waitress in a restaurant, are very common: ‘I sent him a message half hour ago; he didn’t reply, but ten minutes ago, he updated his QQ status … that made me feel upset.’ She was always online throughout the day when working at the restaurant; the multiple social media platforms her boyfriend used allowed her to connect with him constantly, but such an environment also made it more difficult for her boyfriend to hide anything from her. Many young people share similar insecurities about their romantic relationships, As Zhu, a factory worker aged 20, complained: ‘She [his girlfriend] never mentioned our relationship on her QQ. My gut feeling is she is not that committed, or maybe she is hiding something from me?’

Because social media profiles are continuously subjected to scrutiny to a greater extent than most offline spaces, for many young people such as Zhu a romantic relationship gained its ‘legitimacy’ by a public announcement on social media. However, in practice, the attempt to make a public announcement may backfire. Lujia, a factory worker, set up a QQ group of 78 contacts in order to win the trust of his new girlfriend. He explained:

My girlfriend said she was not sure about my love, unless I showed it in public (gong kai); Once I set up the QQ group and show my love for her she will believe me.

On this QQ group, every few hours Lujia wrote something along the lines of ‘ … darling you are the most beautiful woman in my life and I love you so much’. Clearly not everybody thought Lujia’s declaration of love quite as sweet as his partner did, and most people soon quit the group. As one former member complained, he thought QQ was his own place to do whatever he wanted … But why should I read screenfuls of such goosebump-arousing nonsense?’ What was evident in Lujia’s case was that ‘audiences’ felt extremely disturbed and offended. Unlike posting something on one’s own social media profile, Lujia’s QQ group messaging, which constantly tried to grab people’s attention to witness something of little relevance for them, was way too aggressive and inappropriate.

However, in most cases some subtle strategies regarding the public display of love on QQ had been applied. It was very common to see a couple talk to each other in a way that others would not be able to understand without knowing the context of the dialogue. For example, a conversation between a young couple on Qzone that could be seen by all the online contacts was:

‘Don’t forget you promised me that you wouldn’t tell her about that.’

‘Yes I promised, and I didn’t tell her about that at all, quite the opposite, I told her that you said those three words on my birthday, and she was so delightfully surprised. I told you she liked you.’

Even though substantial information from the above correspondence was very limited, everyone who read the dialogue got the message that these two people were close to each other and that their relationship was exclusive. That is exactly the reason why, rather than this taking place on the seemingly more convenient and private basis of one-to-one chatting, the couple chose to talk secretly ‘in public’. Such ‘coded’ intimate talk on QQ between lovers skilfully displayed love in public without disturbing others too much.

The self-exposure of personal relationships on social media is not always about positive emotions. Having arguments on social media, for example, is regarded as a fatal hit to a romantic relationship. Huang Ling, a 19-year-old factory worker, explained the problem:

Each time, when we had some friction, he would update his QQ status immediately with things like ‘please introduce girls to me, I need a girlfriend, blah blah … I really hated him for that!

Two weeks after their break-up, Huang Ling was still complaining about her ex’s outrageous QQ usage, and every female friend of hers expressed the same resentment. As one of her close female friends remarked, ‘How could he say so regardless of the place and the situation (chang he)?! He just wanted her to lose face’. Ling applied some ‘media sanctions’ to cope with the break-up’s aftermath. First of all she locked her Qzone, which means nobody could view it except herself.

I need some space you know. I don’t want people to gossip about my break-up. Even though they do it out of kindness, I still find it so annoying.

Huang Ling’s elder cousin even called her very late at night to ask her what had happened when he saw her ‘unusual’ QQ status update. She felt embarrassed to explain the reason to her friends and relatives, and therefore locked the only channel (Qzone) from which most of her friends got news about her. After four days Huang Ling reopened her Qzone, having already deleted all her previous QQ status updates. Meanwhile Huang Ling’s updates on WeChat were very remarkable, even dramatic. During the four ‘non-QQ’ days she uploaded a large number of emotional remarks on WeChat. One day she even uploaded a photo of her arm, carved by herself with a steel ruler (Fig. 4.3). The two ‘bloody’ Chinese characters she carved on her skin were hate (hen) and love (ai). It seems that only carving her own skin would fully express her strong feelings about the frustrating break-up. She told me:

Because some of my family members are on Qzone, I don’t want to scare my relatives and other friends. Whereas the circle of friends on WeChat is much smaller; most of them are just colleagues at the factory, so it won’t cause me too much trouble. And he [the ex-boyfriend] will see the photo either way as he is also my WeChat friend.

If we view Huang Ling’s story together with the accounts of Xiao Yu’s careless display of a kiss photo on Qzone and Lujia’s less successful public display of love on QQ group, a more comprehensible picture emerges. First of all, we need to recognise that social media provides many possibilities; it enables people to practise romantic relationships online with much greater freedom than in offline situations. Social media has also become an essential arena in which romantic relationships take place in daily life. However, a more liberating place online does not equal fewer social norms. New norms about what is appropriate or inappropriate on social media dealing with romantic relationships emerged almost immediately. For instance, the release of private problems between couples on social media usually brought immense embarrassment, serving to trigger even worse consequences than in an offline situation. Sociologist Erving Goffman12 used the word ‘frame’ to explain how people’s behaviour is cued by elements that constitute the context of action. In the frame of social media, people were not only aware of the private/public nature of social media, but also intentionally played around with it to express the exclusiveness and intimacy of relationships – even though not everyone was successful at first.

Also, from the frequently applied and highly valued public displays of love on social media, we see how on social media the perceived public gaze is just as strong as in the offline situation. Online, young rural migrants may be free from the disapproval and judgement of senior relatives and fellow villagers, yet their peers’ opinions or those of even strangers were highly valued, and can also cause concern. Regardless of what kind of social rules one follows, as long as there are ‘others’ the risk of ‘losing face’ always exists, and sometimes the uncertainty of who is watching online exacerbates the anxiety.

Another point that emerged from the varied use of social media in romantic relationships is that, in order to make sense of sociality on social media, a whole range of available communication tools must be taken into account. As suggested by the concept of ‘polymedia’,13 it makes no sense to study only one particular media platform in isolation – the meaning and use of any one of them is relative to the others. As is clearly shown in Huang Ling’s situation, her choice of WeChat only made sense in comparison with the role that QQ and mobile phones played in her social life. Furthermore, in a polymedia environment, once one has either the smartphone or a personal computer, the decision which media to use is no longer much affected by either access or cost; instead it becomes a social and moral choices. For instance, in Lujia’s case, his choice of using QQ group messaging to declare his love for his girlfriend had been regarded as very inappropriate. The approach of polymedia, as well as the arguments put forward about new social norms on social media, are not confined to the analysis of romantic relationships on social media.