Category Archives: Virtual Space

boyd—None of This Is Real

None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster

by dana boyd

[Boyd, Danah. 2008. “None of This Is Real.” In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis. Social Science Research Council.]

Points

  • Based on fieldwork among users of the social networking site Friendster, specifically during the year 2003
  • Explores how the built in affordances of what was intended to be a dating site both constricted user communication and provided avenues for creative expression

Initial design of Friendster

  • Friendster allows users to see people at up to four degrees distance from themselves, which is much more than is possible in face-to-face social engagement
  • however—”Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds” (134).
  • So—”Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiating texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social networks by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system” (134).
  • This lead to the invention of fakesters—”fake profiles that signaled not the individuals behind the profile but communities, cultural icons, or collective interests” (139).

Participatory Performance

  • “The performance of identity relies on the active interpretation of social contexts. Familiarity with a context increases a person’s ability to navigate it—to understand what is appropriate or advantageous within it—and thereby shapes choices about the persona one tries to present within it (boyd, 2002). Contexts are not static backgrounds, but constantly evolve through this process (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Digitally mediated performance is no different, but the novelty and narrower channel of interaction affect our capacity to interpret context” (141).
  • The user interface started to interfere with users’ performance of impression management (Goffman 1956)
    • “A growing portion of participants found themselves simultaneously negotiating multiple social groups—social and professional circles, side interests, and so on. Because profiles presented a singular identity to the entire network, however, this diversification brought with it the potential for disruption of individuals’ carefully managed everyday personas” (142-43)

Articulated Participation

  • “Although transparency of information poses an interesting challenge, where the information comes from is also a problem. As Jenny Sundén (2003) noted, digital embodiment requires writing yourself into being. On Friendster this means an explicit articulation of who you are and how you relate to others, using the predefined mechanisms for expression. Through a series of forms, profiles must be crafted to express some aspect of identity and relationships must be explicitly acknowledged in order to exist within the system. Unlike everyday embodiment, there is no digital corporeality without articulation. One cannot simply “be” online; one must make one’s presence visible through explicit and structured actions” (bold added 145).
  • Friendships became strategic—”Impression management is encoded into articulated networks. The variable ways in which people interpret the term friend play a critical role, as does the cost of signaling the value of a relationship” (147).

Rise of the Fakesters

  • Many Fakesters began as practical endeavors to connect groups of people; alumni networks were constituted through Fakesters representing universities, and Burning Man was crafted to connect Burners .., Fakesters were a way of “hacking” the system to introduce missing social texture. These purposes were not limited to group networking: The vast majority of Fakesters were exercises in creative and usually playful expression” (148).
  • Friendster began cracking down on the Fakesters, deleting profiles that seemed fake, and the Fakesters became political.
    • “the Fakester Revolution … crafted “The Fakester Manifesto” (Batty, 2003) “in defense of our right to exist in the form we choose or assume” which included three key sections:
      1.  Identity is Provisional
      2. All Character is Archetypal, Thus Public
      3. Copyright is Irrelevant in the Digital Age (151).
    • Fakesters created Fraudsters, who impersonated other people on the service. Fraudsters were meant to confuse both the Friendster service and serious users …
    • Pretendsters combined random photos from the Web and random profile data. They were not fraudulent portrayals of any particular person, but automated Fakesters that mimicked real profiles” (152).
  • “Although Fakesters had taken on a collective impression of resistance, their primary political stance concerned authenticity. In discussing Fakesters, Batty was quick to point out that there’s no such thing as an authentic performance on Friendster—“None of this is real” …
    • “Through the act of articulation and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in performance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions” (153).

BIG POINTS

  • The abolition of distance—the classic Internet virtue—rendered many social distinctions invisible; the impact of Friends’ performances on individual profiles undermined the individual’s control over social performances; and the binary social network structure—Friend/not-Friend—erased a broad field of relationship nuances. Absent these strong orienting features, participants negotiated new norms and reintroduced new forms of social complexity” (154).
  • “digital networks will never merely map the social, but inevitably develop their own dynamics through which they become the social. The interaction of people with information systems is recurrently marked by play and experimentation, as people test the limits of their settings and manage the consequences of unexpected interactions and altered contexts” (155).

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Postill & Pink—Social Media Ethnography

Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web

by John Postill and Sarah Pink

[Postill, John, and Sarah Pink. 2012. “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web.” Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 145 (November).]

Points

  • great model for Internet ethnography
  • based on fieldwork both on and offline among political activists in Barcelona
  • Advances a new approach to Internet ethnography, moving away from a concept of online community, and toward concepts of routine, movement, and sociality.
    • routine (based on Postill’s fieldwork) five overlapping sub-practices
      1. catching-up— withresearch-related developments through Twitter, Facebook and face-to-face encounters and, to a lesser extent, via email, mailing lists, Google alerts, news feeds and mobile phone exchanges” (128).
      2. sharing—”The technical ease with which users habitually share news and other information conceals the fact that digital sharing is a skilled, embodied activity that the researcher must learn to perfect over time” (128).
      3. exploring—”often by following links provided in tweets. These explorations can end in a quick glance at a web page or in longer, more meandering explorations of a potential research site” (129).
      4. interacting—”a range of different forms and intensities, from an occasional ‘Like’ on Facebook to a long series of face-to-face, mobile and online encounters” (129).
      5. archiving— [tagging, bogs, public/private] raises questions about the changing nature of fieldnotes in the digital era. One intriguing question is how extensive tagging may shape the fieldwork process” (129).
    • movement—online social activity is not relegated to a single platform. Groups will interact on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr simultaneously, so following the movement of the group from one platform to the next through hashtags and hyperlinks is an important aspect in studying how social systems really work on the Internet.
    • sociality—Internet activity can not be thought of as occurring within a bounded area. This need for open edges is why Postill and Pink reject the use of “community” as a descriptor: it brings with it implications of spatial boundedness and the creation of a single social unit. Instead, they look at the “sociality” of individual actors aggregated across boundaries (platform to platform; online to IRL) to form a picture of the movement discussed above. Unlike a community, the group has no clear edges and is in constant motion.
  • BIG take away quote: “In existing literatures, a messy web has been ordered through concepts such as community, culture and network. However, in the context of doing social media ethnography, a different approach is needed. A plural concept of sociality that allows us to focus on the qualities of relatedness in online and offline relationships offers a better way of understanding how social media practices are implicated in the constitution of social groups, and the practices in which they engage together. Understanding the work of the social media ethnographer as mobile is important for gaining a sense of the shifting intensities of the social media landscape as it emerges online, but also as it is interwoven with offline activities. It is important to be able to see how the researcher’s online movement is both routine and subject to her or him being ‘carried’ through social media environments (e.g. through Twitter hashtags or Facebook threads), and becoming part of both digital and offline crowds in real, experiential ways” (132).

ethnographic place—”drawing on the work of Massey (2005) and Ingold (2008), are constituted through the emergent relations between things and processes. They are not bounded territories or groups/communities. Rather, they are clusters or intensities of things of which both localities and socialities are elements” (124).

Abstract

Social media practices and technologies are often part of how ethnographic research participants navigate their wider social, material and technological worlds, and are equally part of ethnographic practice. This creates the need to consider how emergent forms of social media-driven ethnographic practice might be understood theoretically and methodologically. In this article, we respond critically to existing literatures concerning the nature of the internet as an ethnographic site by suggesting how concepts of routine, movement and sociality enable us to understand the making of social media ethnography knowledge and places.

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Castells—An Introduction to the Information Age

An Introduction to the Information Age

by Manuel Castells

[Castells, Manuel. 2003. “An Introduction to the Information Age.” In The Information Society Reader, edited by with Raimo Blom, Erkki Karvonen, Harri Melin, Kaarle Nordenstreng, Ensio Puoskari, Frank Webster, and Professor Frank Webster, 1 edition, 138–49. London ; New York: Routledge.]

Points

Nine facets of the Network society

  1. An informational economy—economic competition rests on knowledge and information, the technologies necessary for this knowledge and info, and the management of those technologies; not a service economy.
  2. A global economy—strategically works in real time on a planetary scale; excludes a majority of the population; Castells proposes a “Fourth World” designation (along with the First and Third) to represent not only large areas of the planet that are excluded from this economy, but also excluded communities within powerful nations.
  3. The network enterprise—companies link and form around projects, rather than stand alone in business ventures; the project itself either fails or succeeds, and the linkages dissolve or reform after the task is completed.
  4. The transformation of work and employment: the flexi-workers—due to the network enterprise, jobs are tenuous (downsizing, outsourcing, etc.) and workers must be flexible; now layoff are followed by temporary consulting jobs for the duration of the next project; no more “organization man.”
  5. Social polarization and social exclusion—trends toward increasing inequality within states; increasing accumulation of wealth at the top and poverty at the bottom
  6. The culture of real virtuality—we are and we are not living in virtual reality; we experience our lives outside of the confines of a computer system, but “when our symbolic environment is, by and large, structured in this inclusive, flexible, diversified hypertext, in which we navigate every day, the virtuality of this text is in fact our reality” (144).
  7. Politics—We get our political information through media; media needs to simplify messages; the simplest message is an image, and the simplest image is a person; politics degrade into personality wars and scandal becomes the most effective weapon
  8. Timeless time—through the hypertexting of past, present, and future information, we eschew linear progression, and in doing so, we eliminate the sequencing of time; we no longer need or have a concept of time in society
  9. The space of flows—the space of places can be understood as tradition physical space, wherein your surroundings and situation are dictated by local proximity; the space of flows, however, uses the networks to skip over unwanted geographic areas, reframing space into a logic of power and capital; for example, Manhattan and The White House can exist next to one another as two nodes in a space of flows, skipping over places like Patterson, Baltimore, and most of DC. Castells calls this “intra-metropolitan dualism” the most important form of social/territorial exclusion.

This networking logic effects society:

  • capital flows can bypass controls
  • workers are individualized, outsourced, subcontracted
  • communication becomes at the same time global and customized
  • valuable people and territories are switched on, devalued ones are switched off.

The network depends on cultural codes, so the only way to resist domination in a space of flows is to redefine them in a way that proves you exist and cannot be ‘skipped over’ or ‘switched off.’ Castells sees this possible through networked identity-based social movements

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Boellstorff—Placing the Virtual Body

Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg

by Tom Boellstorff

[Boellstorff, Tom. 2011. “Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees, 504–20. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.]

Points

“to develop a theory of the virtual body that links

  1. ethnographic insights from prior work by myself and other scholars with
  2. a theoretical architecture drawing from a range of philosophical perspectives and
  3. the introduction of three new concepts: virtual chora, being-inworld, and the cypherg” (515).
  • chora—ancient Greek philosophical term; in Plato’s view chora is the basis of being, such that “forms come to be in it without ever being of it” (Sallis 1999: 109)
  • virtual chora—Virtual worlds underscore how chora is not place per se, but place-making or worlding (Zhan 2009), the embodied “dance” of techne making possible “being-in-the-world.” As this last term suggests, this reframing of chora links it to a phenomenology of the virtual body
  • being inworld—Heidegger’s ‘being-in-the-world’ is not sufficient for the virtual, because ‘being’ is defined and experienced differently, depending on which virtual world one is ‘being’ in. So Boellstorff pluralizes and phenomenologizes the concept (through Merleau-Ponty). Being inworld is existenec (dwelling) according to the local virtual definitions.
  • cypherg—a mixture of Karl Jaspers’s cypher (an “objectivity which is permeated by subjectivity and in such a way that Being becomes present in the whole” (Jaspers 1959: 35) and Donna Haraway’s cyborg (part human, part machine, see Cyborg Manifesto). The cyherg itself is “virtual corporeality through which “a participation in Being takes place” (Jaspers 1959: 61), a participation through techne that makes possible the conditions for emplaced being itself. A recursive indexicality, made possible by the pluralization of being-inworld” (515).

“From virtual chora emerges the cypherg, a figure of online corporeality, a figure whose recursively indexical being-inworld stands to fundamentally reconfigure what it means to be human” (517).

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Fernback—Internet Ritual

Internet Ritual: A Case Study of the Construction of Computer-Mediated Neopagan Religious Meaning

by Jan Fernback

[Fernback, Jennifer. 2002. “Internet Ritual: A Case for the Construction of Computer-Mediated Neopagan Religious Meaning.” In Practicing Religion in the Age of Media. New York: Columbia University Publishing.]

Points

(good lit review on ritual)

asserts that “logging on to and participating in neopagan discussion groups is a form of ritual behavior (259)”

  • uses Grimes six modes of ritual action: ritualization, decorum, ceremony, liturgy, magic, & celebration
  • supported by VanGennep (separation, transition, & incorporation)
  • & Turner (liminality, communitas)

Online communication is “betwixt and between” (therefore liminal) the “structure of everyday societas and the antistructure of autocracy, boundless possibility and the communitas of the CMC environmant (260)”

“while cyberspace is a ritual site of religiosity, it can also serve as a site for the reconstruction of embodied rituals in a textual mode (266)”

non-participant observation (“lurking”) and interviews on neopagan online discussion groups

parachurch religiosity—religious experience outside of a church or other communal avenue of worship

Abstract

As computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies attain widespread use throughout the world, media scholars are examining these technologies as new forms of media and as extended cultural environments. Although some scholars criticize the use of CMC as an atomizing force that promotes ersatz social bonding, others hail its use as the progenitor of new sites of community and social action. This chapter follows a tradition of interpretive approaches to communication phenomena by examining the realm of cyberspace as a site for the construction of cultural practice for a religious group. Specifically, I explore the ritual processes and meanings evident in the discursive communities formed around various neopagan-oriented computer bulletin boards. After giving some brief background on neopaganism and ritual theory, I take a case-study approach to investigate ritual within a computer-mediated communicative environment and its significance with regard to the relationship between religion and technology Continue reading Fernback—Internet Ritual

Boellstorff—Coming of Age in Second Life

Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human.

by Tom Boellstorff

[Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.]

Points

  • The virtual is not new—we have always been virtual because we interact through the mediating lens of “culture.” SO being virtual is being human.
  • Virtual /actual binary rather than “real”
  • What makes SL so different (as opposed to social platforms) is the use of techne in a “third place.”
  • We are starting a new Age of Techne. Humans (homo faber) have always used craft to create, but virtual worlds create a new way to do this (homo cyber).
  • Techne – human practice that engages with the world and creates a new world as well as a new person: homo cyber

Great summary written by John Postill: http://johnpostill.com/2009/07/13/summary-of-boellstorff-2008-coming-of-age-in-second-life/ Continue reading Boellstorff—Coming of Age in Second Life