week 7 summary

I’ve been thinking a lot about transience, as this has arisen as an unexpected theme in my ethnography. Does a community have to be sustained to be a community? For how long?

This is closely related to the question of whether people who come together to do something (exchanging information, getting someone elected, joining a flash mob, etc.) are a community, or just a bunch of people. The quote that Gina picked out of Bell, ‘compatible consumption’, suggests that we can take this view, and so Harlem Shake participants could be a community; people voting for the release of an Audrey Hepburn film could be a community; 1980s banking computer operators could be a community…

And conference attendees can be a community. Which leads to my main issue with transience this week, namely the disappearance of tweets from a hashtag search. This led me to think about other instances of online community artefact transience, and what this means to the community members. I will explore this as far as twitter is concerned in my ethnography, but it’s important to note that it isn’t unique to twitter.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about ways to produce my ethnography, and am quite taken with the idea of ethnography as subjective narrative (particularly as I was a participant, and unaware that I was going to be scrutinising the community later!).

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Amazon rainforest tribe at centre of new cultural storm

Here’s an anthropologist who seems to want to relegate post-modernism to ‘comparative literature, gender studies, philosophy and others’. But don’t worry–proper science will eventually reclaim the field!

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Harlem Shake: Tracking a meme over a month

This is an interesting tracking of an online meme and rather funny for BBC News to be musing over what makes something cool. The article certainly considers this to be a global and cultural phenomenon, and highlights the importance of making your own video (rather than, as in Gangnam style, mainly consuming the video or its spin-offs)…does that mean there is a Harlem Shake community?

It was apparent that this couldn’t have been possible without corporate backing, however obliquely. YouTube is pretty ubiquitous, but it was a combination of the original song’s producer and collegehumor.com that actually got the meme started. And the article argues that mainstream media attention tends to feed rather than kill ‘grassroots’ fads.

Case to consider: the Guardian posts a video of the English National Ballet’s attempt…

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My ethnography has hit a bit of a snag, all apparently down to twitter’s indexing policies. I already knew that mobile apps only showed a selection of tweets versus the ‘All’ option on a browser:

Mobile feeds (iPod and iPad)

Browser feed (‘All’)

…but I wasn’t aware that searches only display ‘All’ tweets from the past week ‘or so’: Twitter Help Center | I’m Missing from Search!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned similar frustrations with Facebook in that (as Mr Darcy might say) a post, once lost, is gone forever. No search mechanism at all–apart from the facility to find new friends whose posts you’re only interested in as far as you can scroll a newsfeed

Personal annoyances aside, I’m wondering what effect this might have on a [potential] community. I did think that, if I ever needed to go back for the link to someone’s presentation, or the timely article they posted during the conference, I’d be able to do so for the magic two-hundred-and-something days (which a quick spelunk around seems to suggest is not the case anymore, if it ever was…?) True, the presentations were made available to conference-goers afterwards, but it’s the more ‘communal’ stuff–the connections between ideas, the pithy summaries, the incidental info–that such a community would seem to feed on, and which seems endangered to me.

And I’m not sure if I buy the argument that it’s the same as f2f conversation, that nobody transcribes the coffee chat so why should they enshrine a few tweets about dogs, cupcakes and castles, because the conference attendees chose to tweet, not say (or to tweet as well as saying), and as we had the choice of both media, our choice of twitter is meaningful. Individual¬†perceptions of twitter, of course, might have been different; but the fact that we chose what we did to text on twitter and what we did to say f2f is not insignificant. So people who knew more about the life of a hashtag than I might have perceived their tweets as more transient; some people might have felt like they were tweeting to the world while some felt that they were tweeting to the room; but they all chose this medium for some reason or other.

So perhaps this is the angle I’ll take with my ethnography then…perception, transience…and the dogs and cupcakes too.

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extreme mash-up

While this is nothing new, it’s interesting in that it’s not just a mash-up of content, it’s a mash-up of a person. It’s not just who owns or creates things, not just a persona or a brand, but an identity and a body. And the uncontainability–the speed at which multiple versions appeared on YouTube–raises further questions of, as the Independent put it in the link above, who owns the dead?

The comments around this are (although predictable in nature) quite illuminating as well, particularly as to whether or not (as Gina has been musing this week) YouTube is really a ‘community’. Certainly the person who posted the video (audreyhepburnarchive) sees their viewers as at least potential members of a kind of community (although the blog and twitter feed are pretty one-directional). This is best seen in the little link that appears at the beginning, encouraging viewers to Like another video in hopes that popular support will get the full version re-released.

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Yankee pot roast

Jumpin Jack Flash is another film related to digital cultures in particular. Here modems are used to transfer money among banks, but as the transfers are done manually, the computer operators can chat with each other (the main character gets told off for giving relationship advice and receiving a recipe for Yankee pot roast).

She is then contacted by a secret agent (natch) and has to work out a password to get onto a special colour chat server. His requests for help lead to all sorts of RL adventures and the film ends with the main character chatting with the dishy (sort of) agent, who then reveals that he’s sitting just a few feet away. (Too bad he turns out to be a baddie who manipulates the media…)

I couldn’t find the Yankee pot roast scene, or the moment she hacks into the chat server, but here’s a trailer (which doesn’t mention modems at all, but has a couple shots of computers)…

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