I feel like I am getting a little behind (this always seems to happen in the middle of a course) I get distracted by stuff. Stuff in this case being two rather different things.
Firstly (and this is the good news) my chosen focus for my digital ethnography – role-playing, which means of course I have got back into ROLEPLAYING and filling my lifestream with Dungeons and Dragons related links and quotes, and 20 sided dice references which just makes me want to blow the dust off my tired old Goddess of The Underworld and give her a new look.
Secondly the Fluff Friends Trick-or-Treat 2009 Halloween Hunt, which is addictive cos I have to Trick and Treat on lots of people’s fluff pages to get candy points (and actual virtual candy which I can feed my fluff) and then I can convert my candy points into candles, which also give me golden candle points. And If I get enough golden candle points… I get a scarecrow with which I can scare the crows off my pumpkin patch – and something about a lantern, and a haunted house and a candy bowl. Anyway I am addicted but not sufficiently addicted to make the grade so this is another Fluff contest I failed at. Just like the egg hunt – but at least I don’t have blisters on my clicking finger this time.
This was a week 6 update wasn’t it?
In a sense it is. Fluff friends may look like a bunch of adults, who should know better, petting cartoon animals, but it is a great community. Very warm and supportive, full off the spirit of sharing and gifting; which is rare in large communities like this. I have never seen a flaming or spamming post on a Fluff page – just lots of thanks and praise. It like Little House on the Prairie digitized.
Of course when it comes to digital ethnography we get nervous around words like ‘community‘ how do we define our terms. How do we prove that what we are observing (or participating in – another kettle of fish) a community if the members never meet?
“an online community is a community if participants imagine themselves as a community” (Baym, 1998 via Bell, 2001)
I think self-definition is important, but one thing I have learned this week is we are in a dodgy branch of a dodgy science. Ethnographists get sneered at when they are knee deep in their meatself muddy ethnographic experience and have the mosquito bites to proove it, and even they sneer at virtual ethnographers (in between recurring bouts of malaria probably). The question of community on the internet reminds me of the question of personal authenticity on the internet. I think we are only discussing these issues (and the discussion is important) because we are relative new to this medium of… communication? Communication seems such a small word for what happens when we get online these days, I would prefer to call it medium of being.
I like Hine’s (2000) take on authenticity:
A search for truly authentic knowledge about people or phenomena is doomed to be ultimately irresolvable. The point for the ethnographer is not to bring some exernal criterion for judging whether it is safe to believe what informants say, but rather to come to understand how it is that informants judge authenticity.
You get frauds, liars and false communities in face to face environments and yes the internet makes it easier for them to operate – but you are soon able to sense a genuine community as you can a genuine person, through sustained contact, whether that contact be meeting them over dinner, reading their posts, or petting their unicorn (yes we are back to Fluff Friends again). The question of whether or not an online community is invalid because of their lack of face to face contact will I am sure become invalid soon enough.
In the meantime I imagine Fluff friends is a community because:
- When I am busy my neighbours drop by to feed and pet my wallaby.
- If I give someone’s lecoon a cinnamon roll they leave a thank you note in my letterbox.
- There are rules and if I break them I will be cast out (temporarily or permanently depending on the severity of my crime).
- It has informal standards of acceptable behavior (more subtle than the rules) and if I don’t follow this I will be scorned by my neighbours.
- If I work hard, am generous and mindful of others I am rewarded with success and approval.
- But, most importantly… because a friend gave me a little blue werewolf despite the fact I couldn’t give her my golden candle points, because she knew I loved him and I couldn’t afford him.
Here he is (with my baby wallaby and my regular wolf):