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Gershon – The Breakup 2.0

The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media

by Ilana Gershon

[Gershon, Ilana. 2010. The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media, Cornell University Press]

Points & Quotes:

Introduction

“Breaking up face-to-face is widely considered the ideal way to end a relationship. Most people told me that breaking up through the wrong medium can signal to others the initiator’s cowardice, lack of respect, callousness, or indifference. People’s ideas about the medium shape the ways that medium will deliver a message. No matter what is actually said, the medium becomes part of what is being communicated. … When you are breaking up, the medium is part of the message.” (3)

Media ideologies are a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media.” (3)

“Sometimes what is important about a medium is how much it resembles another medium—like e-mail and letters for college students. Sometimes what is important is how distinct the medium is from other media—like e-mail and letters for me. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin use the term “remediation” to describe the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (1999, 28).” (5)

“People don’t concoct their media ideologies on their own; they develop their beliefs about media and ways of using media within idioms of practice. By idioms of practice, I mean that people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other…
Idioms of practice emerge out of collective discussions and shared practices. Often the implicit intuitions don’t become apparent until someone violates an expectation—perhaps by breaking up using the wrong medium” (6)

“To sum up, remediation, different media ideologies, different idioms of practice—all these analytical concepts point to how people are experiencing these media as new media.” (9)

“People are still in the process of figuring out the social rules that might govern how to use these technologies. They are also working out how using a particular medium might affect the message sent through that medium. In asking “what makes new media new?” I am making a distinction between the fact of newness and the ways in which people understand and experience the newness of technology.” (10)

“Daniel Miller and Donald Slater are ethnographers of the Internet who warn scholars not to be the ones deciding what counts as virtual. Virtual communication, they argue, is ‘a social accomplishment’ that sometimes accompanies a medium such as the Internet, but does not invariably do so (Miller and Slater 2000, 6). (13)

“I soon realized that for the people I interviewed, Facebook, video chats, or instant messaging may be done through a computer screen, but they are not virtual. That is to say, these media are not cyberrealms distinct from other interactions, but rather Facebook communication is inextricably intertwined with every other way that they communicate. They did not understand information or meaning conveyed through Facebook or instant messaging to be “virtual,” while other forms of communication conveyed “real” information or meaning.
Practically, this means that for those I interviewed, Facebook communication is but one among many ways of communicating with others. Choosing to communicate by Facebook is almost always a choice that is understood not in terms of a choice between real communication and virtual communication but rather as a choice between Facebook, phone, e-mail, instant message, or in-person communication.” (13-14)

Chapter One

“As mentioned in the introduction, people’s media ideologies—their beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication—makes a personal e-mail account different from a work e-mail account, or a text message different from a phone call.” (18)

Second-order information refers to the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.” (18)

“Turning to the media used is just an extension of a U.S. tendency to discuss breakups by describing the way breakups took place.” (23)

“The kind of informality people agree to attribute to a particular medium, such as texting, will shape when it is appropriate to use that medium. While text messages might be too informal for a breakup, they often had the right level of informality for starting to flirt with someone. Women insisted to me that if they met someone who was interested in them, they would exchange phone numbers, but only to text each other. Calling would express too much interest; calling would be too forward a move. But texting was considered to carry low enough stakes that one could begin an exchange with the right level of ambiguity, unclear whether the exchange is about friendship or desire.” (23-24)

I have been describing some of the media ideologies at play when people break up with each other (and there are many more), in part to clarify what it means to analyze new media from an ethnographic or anthropological perspective. I could discuss the ways I think a medium functions—whether texting ensures more of an immediate answer than instant messaging or e-mail, and how that might affect a breakup—but that would be an interpretation based on my own assumptions and experiences with technology. People develop understandings of how media functions based on their own practices and conversations they have with the people they know, as well as the stories they hear and see through the media.” (32)

one should not presume to know the media ideologies that accompany a particular technology in advance without asking a person many questions to determine what his or her media ideologies and practices are.” (32)

“People always mentioned which medium was used whenever they recounted a conversation. As people of all ages told me breakup stories, they tended to tell me not only the sequence of events, who said what and when, but they also always mentioned the media in which each conversation or message took place.” (34)

“once I started paying attention, it became clear that mentioning the medium is a relatively typical feature of contemporary American breakup narratives.” (35)

“I want to suggest that because people don’t share the same media ideologies, especially about new media, part of what someone is doing by marking every medium in their story is tracing the detective work they had to do to determine which genre of story this narrative was going to become as it unfolded.” (38)

Idioms of Practice: “Groups of friends, classes, workers in an office will develop together their own ways of using media to communicate with each other.” (39)

“Two main reasons emerged from the interviews to explain why there are so many idioms of practice with new media right now, why people keep discovering that there isn’t a general consensus…

  • First, because these are new media, people haven’t had time to develop a widespread consensus about how to use a medium, especially for relatively rare communicative tasks such as breaking up
  • Second, communicating with these new media can present social dilemmas that people have to solve—and will often try to figure out with their friends.” (39-40 bullets added)

How people understand the media they use shapes the ways they will use it. As a result, determining people’s media ideologies is crucial when you are trying to figure out the ways that people communicate through different technologies. Often, people take for granted their own assumptions about how a medium shapes the information transmitted. They don’t always realize that their way of using communicative technology is but one of many ways, that what they focus on as important features of a medium may not be generally held to be the important features.” (48)

[Looking forward to chapter 2] …”To understand other people’s media ideologies, one has to figure out two primary aspects. First, what structures of that particular medium matter for people, and when do those structures matter? …
Second, people understand a particular medium only in the con- text of other media.” (49)

Terms:

Media Ideologies—a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media
[For a parallel definition of language ideologies, see Silverstein 1979, 193]

Idioms of Practice—people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other

remediation—the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (from Bolter & Grusin 1999, 28)

Second-order information—the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.
This is part, but only part, of what linguistic anthropologists have called metapragmatics (see Silverstein 2001).

Selected Sources:

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Miller, Daniel, and Don Slater. 2000. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg.

Silverstein, Michael. 1979. “Language Structure and Linguistic Ideology.” In The Elements: A Parasession on Linguistic Units and Levels, edited by Paul Clyne, William Hanks, and Carol Hofbauer, 193–247. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Silverstein, Michael. 2001. “The Limits of Awareness.” In Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, edited by Alessandro Duranti, 382–401. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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Escobar – Welcome to Cyberia

Welcome to Cyberia: Notes on the Anthropology of Cyberculture

by Arturo Escobar

[Escobar, Arturo. 1994. “Welcome to Cyberia: Notes on the Anthropology of Cyberculture.” Current Anthropology 35 (3):211–31.]

Points

  • “The point of departure of this inquiry is the belief that any technology represents a cultural invention, in the sense that it brings forth a world; it emerges out of particular cultural conditions and in turn helps to create new ones” (211).
  • “the priority accorded science and theory over technical creativity has led moderns to believe that they can describe nature and society according to laws. Rather than as the effect of practice nature and society appear as objects with mechanisms and are therefore treated instrumentally” (213).
  • cyberculture” refers specifically to new technologies in two areas: artificial intelligence (particularly computer and information technologies) and biotechnology [… to] the realization that we increasingly live and make ourselves in techno-biocultural environments structured by novel forms of science and technology” (214).
  • Anthropological research into cybercultures should be guided by four inquiries:
    1. What are the discourses and practices that are generated around/by computers and biotechnology?
    2. How can these practices and domains be studied ethnographically in various social, regional, and ethnic settings?
    3. What is the background of understanding from which the new technologies emerge?
    4. What is the political economy of cyberculture? (215)
  • “The anthropology of cyberculture holds that we can assume a priori neither the existence of a era nor the need for a new branch of anthropology” (216).
  • “technoscience is motivating a blurring and implosion of categories at various levels, particularly the modern categories that defined the natural, the organic, the technical, and the textual”
    • “Bodies,” “organisms,” and “communities” thus have to be retheorized as composed of elements that originate in three different domains with permeable boundaries” (217).
  • Possible ethnographic domains and research strategies:
    1. The production and use of new technologies
    2. The appearance of Computer-mediated communities
    3. Studies of the popular culture of science and technology, including the effect of science and technology on the popular imaginary
    4. The growth and qualitative development of human computer-mediated communication, particularly from the perspective of the relationship between language communication, social structures, and cultural identity
    5. The political economy of cyberculture (217-219).
  • Then a bunch about complexity, including:
    • “The discovery that “inert” matter has properties that are remarkably close to those of life-forms led to the postulate that life is a property not of organic
      matter per se but of the organization of matter and hence to the concept of nonorganic life (de Landa 1992)” (221).

Terms

  • interface anthropology—put forth by Laurel (1990, 91-93), it is a “focus on user/context intersections, finding “informants” to guide the critical (not merely utilitarian) exploration of diverse users and contexts” (218).
    • appended to that definition is this cool footnote: “Walker (1990) distinguishes five phases in the history of user interfaces (1) knobs and dials, (2) batch (a specialist computer operator running a stack of jobs on punched cards), (3) timesharing (,4) menus, (5) graphics windows. The next phase will take the user directly ‘inside’ the computer, through the screen to cyberspace, so to say. This will be a three-dimensional space such as the one achieved by virtual reality today. The hope of designers is that it will replace more passive viewing with active participation” (218)
  • Poeisis—Heidegger’s term for the essence of Being. It’s present in the arts and certain Eastern philosophies. See The Question Concerning Technology
  • Social constructivism—a methodology and theoretical stance based on the idea “that, contrary to the technological determinism of past times, contingency and flexibility are the essence of technological change; by showing that social processes are inherent to technological innovations, they deal a fatal blow to the alleged separation of technology from society and of both of these from nature” (212).
  • interpretive flexibility—”the fact—long known to anthropologists—that different actors (“relevant social groups,” in the constructivists’ parlance) interpret technological artifacts in different ways” (212).

Abstract

Significant changes in the nature of social life are being brought about by computer information and biological technologies to the extent that—some argue—a new cultural order, “cyberculture,” is coming into being. This paper presents an overview of the types of anthropological analyses that are being conducted in the area of new technologies and suggests additional steps for the articulation of an anthropology of cyberculture. It builds upon science, technology, and society studies in various fields and on critical studies of modernity. The implications of technoscience for both anthropological theory and ethnographic research are explored.

 

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