It’s been a real pain getting this presentation – my micro-ethnography of a virtual community – published. I’ve had problems with BT Broadband, my new Mac, YouTube and Vimeo (and, just in case you wondering, no, no it’s not user error;-)!).
I am currently hating technology with a vengeance and wondering where I can get an application form to join the Amish (yes, I’d like to spend my days building barns and milking cows).
Anyway, here it is – click on the screenshot below to access it (WordPress won’t let me embed):
I didn’t upload the most recent version though which omitted image citations so here they are:
I’ve was up at 6am today (Saturday!) recording the audio for the virtual community presentation. The family sleeps and the house enjoys a rare moment of quiet.
However, it made me think how much easier it is to create a textual artefact. The noise of kids, TVs and radios, Xbox 360s etc, can be sort of filtered out as I type but not really as I record. I made a few slides last night but had to bribe my children with lollies for just a couple of minutes of (relative) quiet.
Anyway, all this to say that multimodal artefact creation in an already noisy multimodal world is quite difficult. I may go all Godard on my next multimodal artefact and include some of the above-mentionned background noises – the traces of the material conditions of the text’s production. Or I may just write text … LOL!
A propos of my study of a virtual community, I’ve just made a Keynote (PowerPoint for Macs) presentation which I’m trying to convert into a Quicktime movie. It seems to do this ok although I keep falling down when I try to upload it to YouTube. I suspect it doesn’t like the option I’ve checked for manually advancing each slide. I may have to rethink this as a Slideshare presentation.
Looking forward to reading other’s ethnographic accounts though.
I’m quite drawn to Cassetteboy’s YouTube remix of Nick Griffin. Both Nick Griffin and Cassetteboy were ‘trending topics’ today (23nd October 2009).
I like the speed of production – caught from television, remixed and uploaded to YouTube within hours, entering the twittersphere and going viral, becoming part of watercooler discussions – physical and virtual – all over the control.
I think Cassetteboy’s a bit of a social media John Heartfield – digital video montage instead of paper and scissors. Same take though: exposing the unsaid in the discourse of racist demogoguery.
I love the pulling bit of language out of context to make him speak the ‘truth’ of what he thinks – a nifty revisioning that mocks Griffin’s own revisionist views.
I think this is exemplary digital culture – although I’m not sure where the ‘community’ is. I’m not absolutely sure it’s found in the comments to the YouTube video
This week, I have mainly been reading and thinking about virtual ethnographic field sites and communities. It’s got me trying to define ‘community’.
At the end of this post is an extract from a book by Clay Shirky. I like his robust defence of bloggers against those who denigrate them (yes, I’m talking ’bout you Brabazon!). What’s interesting in the context of this week’s discussions is the distinction he makes between audiences and communities. A community, he argues, is defined by what he calls a ’social density’; an audience, on the other hand, has ‘fewer ties’.
Here’s the Shirky extract in full:
… dozens of weblogs have an audience of a million or more, and millions have an audience of a dozen or less. [...] And it’s easy to deride this sort of thing as self-absorbed publishing – why would anyone put such drivel out in public? It’s simple. They’re not talking to you. [...] We misread these seemingly inane posts because we’re so unused to seeing written material in public that isn’t intended for us. The people posting messages to one another in small groups are doing a different kind of communicating than people posting messages for hundreds or thousands of people to read. More is different, but less is different too. An audience isn’t just a big community; it can be more anonymous, with many fewer ties among users. A community isn’t just a small audience either; it has a social density that audiences lack [emphasis mine]. The bloggers and social network users operating in small groups are part of a community, and they are enjoying something analogous to the privacy of the mall. On any given day you could go to the food court and find a group of teenagers hanging out and talking to one another. They are in public, and you could certainly sit at the next table over and listen in on them if you wanted to. And what would they be saying to one another? They’d be saying, “I can’t believe I missed you last night!!! Trac talked to you and said you were TRASHED off your ASS!” They’d be doing something similar to what they are doing on LiveJournal or Xanga, in other words, but if you were listening in on their conversation at the mall, as opposed to reading their post, it would be clear that you were the weird one. (Shirky 2008: 84-5)
Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press
I’m reading a bit off-piste now as I get interested in trying to define a virtual ethnographic field site. I like this:
I conceived of my field site as a network composed of fixed and moving points including spaces, people, and objects. [...] Another advantage of defining the field site as a network is that it is produced as a continuous space that does not presume proximity or even spatiality in a physical sense. Continuity does not imply homogeneity or unity; it implies connection. The continuity of a network is evident in the way that one point can (through one or more steps) connect to any other point. (Burrell 2009: 189-190)
Burrell, J. (2009) The Field Site as a Network: A Strategy for Locating Ethnographic Research. Field Methods, 21(2): 181–199
It’s early in the first week of Block 2 in which we’re exploring notions of both ‘virtual community’ and ‘virtual ethnography’ as a preliminary to doing a micro-ethnographic study of an online community.
One question I have is why we are using the concept of ‘community’ instead of the concept of the ‘field site’ – the latter, from what I’ve read so far of virtual, digital, cyber- or multi-modal ethnography, looking like the more common term applied to the space – both physical and virtual – in which participants engage in different kinds of activities and transactions.
Let me give you an example. I’m writing an article on Twitter conference backchannels. I take a single academic conference as my case study. I don’t know if I can call the participants who are tweeting during the conference a ‘community’ as it raises some big and possibly distracting issues. They may have never interacted with one another before and they may never interact with one another again. Some may be seasoned Twitter backchannellers, others newbies unfamiliar with Twitter conventions (RTs, @ messages etc.). They have a shared interest – the conference themes – and probably come from the same professional sphere (education, training). However, are the 20 or so individuals tweeting using a shared character string in their posts for the duration of the conference a community? I’m not sure.
On the other hand, I think I can say that there is a ‘field site’ that I can demarcate: a physical one being the conference venue, its main presentation and breakout rooms, display, coffee drinking and socialising areas etc. as well as a virtual one created through the shared use of a conference-specific hashtag. I can mark out the shared space of interaction (with a virtual scene-of-the-crime yellow and black tape?). Having demarcated my field site I can explore the kinds of interactions taking place within it. Only once this is done am I able to decide whether it’s a community or not?