Saturday, April 28, 2007

Crackberries, Facebook, and Interpretive Flexibility

Come on, the title of the entry had to make you giggle... just a bit. Ok, it made me giggle and I'm blogging instead of working on my paper. Maybe it's the caffeine from the Vietnamese coffee rushing through my veins...

My Senior Supervisor, Richard Smith, was interviewed on Global TV about the 'addictive nature' of Blackberries in light of the recent outage of said devices... playfully referred to as "Crack berries." But while me sighs about that deterministic view of a technology framed in the news story, Keith Hampton, at UPenn's Annenberg School for Communication, who was interviewed by ABC also tempered the discussion quite well by helping to forward the view that people were really very much intertwined with the communication and social interaction afforded by these technologies (as opposed to just the technologies themselves).

And then there's Facebook. Florence Chee's Facebook profile
Usually, new users are regaled with a message along the lines of "Welcome friend... glad to see you on here, but beware... it's addictive!"
From my own observations, I've had 'discussions' with colleagues of an ideological nature, and those exchanges happen by writing remarks on one another's walls. Everyone joins and quits various 'group' affiliations... for what ever reason. My blog entries are imported, as well as photos of my choosing. I get 'poked.' Repeatedly... by some yahoos I knew in high school, and some I don't even know. Many of these activities, I can choose/not to get email notifications of, and everyone else can do the same. Customization.
There's also what one of my friends calls the 'stalker-ability.' Before anyone panics about this terminology, it's only used lightly in this way to mean that once you have authorized friends to be your 'friend'.... you get almost EVERYTHING they did/changed about their profile, notes, events, etc... all in a neat little digest when you log on. might be inclined to 'keep up' on the latest, because there are admittedly a lot of things going on here. One needs only to hit 'refresh.' Why is this compelling? I saw the same things happening in Korean online communites, where a lack of quick reply was perceived as disappointing, if not rude.

One of the terms one might invoke here is interpretive flexibility. Another one of my supervisors, Andrew Feenberg, has written about this as well. The concept talks about how technological artifacts are culturally constructed and interpreted, and that there is flexibility in how people think of or interpret artifacts and there is flexibility in how artifacts are designed.
I see this concept applying in an iterative way for the aforementioned technological systems as well as others like games.

Related to a book chapter I'm doing for the Applied Communication Lab, here's a brief summary of how I see it working:

  1. Vision: There is a vision of a technological system and its usage in a given social context (country, nation, community... ). This vision is often informed by government, industry, or even academia through various initiatives, policies, etc. The case studies I'm taking up in this way are the French Videotex and Korean online games uses.
  2. Implementation: The movement of resources to construct technological artifacts and systems according to the specifications of stakeholders (of which there are many, and political economy perspectives are useful for taking these into account).
  3. Innovation: Once the technology has been introduced, the affected communities must then deal with it, and often, have used the technologies in creative, unanticipated ways. Interpretive flexibility is a useful concept in this stage, and indeed people vividly illustrate the interpretive flexibility of a technology.
  4. Institutionalization: As stakeholders watch the vision and implementation of technology take its twists and turns, the positive/negative consequences then get appropriated and incorporated into everyday institutional structures responsible for education, governance... (read ISA's to some). Perhaps rationalization then takes place. It depends at this point.

I use ethnographic methods to look at various case studies in this way. But the tie-in here between crackberries, facebook, online games, and associated 'sticky' technologies is likely the presence of interpretive flexibility--the allowance of people to determine what a technology means for them, and where it becomes compelling is when they transform it into a way to communicate. If it then becomes a big part of a person's way of communicating with those around them, of course they'll be inclined to spend a lot of time on it.

Ok, back to this paper.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Writing blitz, and conferences

For the next few weeks, I'll be constructing paragraphs, rather than amusement (though, they might be amusing in the end).

My stint on Terra Nova (especially the last entry) has been vastly educational. Watching the comments take on their own life, independent of my post was a social study in itself. Reminds me of the 'telephone' game I used to play where one kid would whisper something, and to the next kid, next, and so on.... and by the time it reached the end everyone laughed as the last kid said something completely unrelated. Well... as anyone who has lived on listservs knows, when anything reaches 50+ comments, it's usually a flame war. :P The choice was ultimately mine to 'moderate' (read: delete offensive comments), but really... if it wasn't spam I didn't feel right in deleting because I felt it was important to see where people were headed with it sans my interference (censorship). And, because the discussion was taking on its own life, I wasn't really sure where I -could- interject in any case. Kind of like going to a conference to present your work, and then being asked 'questions' where the person asking just talks about themselves anyway and then maybe ends with "I guess that was more of a comment than a question." (me thud on ground).

The important thing arising from all of that was the dialogue I suppose. I suppose that even though TN didn't have a thread directly addressing the Virginia Tech massacre (and what we now know as a BUNK link to video games), people needed a venue to discuss it. I got that. My entry just happened to be there and conveniently used as a point of entry. For the record, I'm ok with that, even if the link at that time was in poor taste. Such is the state of the internetz, and I think there was an adequate balance in realism versus "ok, where the heck are you going with this?"

In any case, I was glad to have the opportunity to contribute. Very glad. Most of the feedback actually pertinent to my entry was very positive, and some dare I say it found it helpful. I'm an ethnographer because I write ethnographies, I'm an anthropologist because I look at the world through those eyes with the training I have received and continue to pursue (and the resultant products from that worldview don't necessarily imply an ethnography as my last entry illustrates but it does permeate everything I do, say, make, write... etc). Through training in both anthropology and communication (both as my professor once said are "dog's breakfast disciplines anyway") I inform design, I employ a multitude of methods, I help people question their epistemologies and see technology as inextricably linked to culture. Eh, you do what you can.

I just finished digesting Silverstone's "Television and Everyday Life." He cites an interesting study from Winnicott's psychoanalysis of a child who used string (yes, string) in a pathological manner. With the string, the boy was tying everything including the legs of tables and chairs together. Winnicott interpreted this as the child's need to feel secure, and when he counseled the mother to have a talk with the boy and ease his anxieties the string, after a while, was let go. Silverstone goes on to compare the use of a relatively innocuous medium like string, to television as something people use to feel secure. The boy later on in life went to drugs and other forms of unsavoury behaviour. An interesting read. What I got from this, having read on, is that people can use anything in a pathological way.

Well, life doesn't stop for the blogging, and I must continue to work through my repetitive mouseing injury (totally pathetic) and crank out those paragraphs.
On a happy note, I've been invited to attend the Online Game Development Conference in Seattle, May 10-11th.
The Online Game Development Conference is the first conference with a razor-sharp focus on the technology, art, design, production, and business of games delivered over the internet....
OGDC offers over 50 unique sessions during two information-packed days given by some of the most influential speakers in the industry.
They've got academic game researchers speaking in sessions as well, which is really cool. At the last DiGRA 2005, I remember lack of cross-pollination between academia and industry being brought up as something to improve. I look forward to contributing to exactly that improvement. Well, I'll be buzzing down there in May so ping me if you'll be around.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Terra Nova post: Coming of Age in World of WarCraft

You know, I wouldn'€™t call myself one of those evil academics^TM who €˜studies€™ World of WarCraft (WoW). Far from it, I play WoW, and the anthropologist in me can't help but analyze what makes that play culture tick. And that would include a little more than a passing academic interest in WoW. So, maybe I am evil after all and I suppose that's why I typically play Horde. kek.

Read the rest at Terra Nova>>

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Seoul: Totally wired

Being completely wired in Seoul has always had a different meaning for me, but this little piece of news turns that on its head. According to the Korean government, Seoul (population 10 million++ in South Korea's total of ~48 million) is now completely wired with a 100% broadband penetration rate.

From Anthony Townsend at IFTF's Future Now>>

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Terra Nova post: Local contexts of addiction to online games

I’ve been a reader and friend of those on TerraNova since its beginning in 2003. Being a person who loves games, gaming, and games research, it is an absolute pleasure to be an invited guest blogger for TN this month.

I thought this would be a great time to share my plans for (dramatic epic music //) the dissertation (// dramatic epic music) so that TN readers may get a cursory idea of what I'm 'about.' My research involves taking a critical look at dominant discourses surrounding the phenomenon of “online games addiction” as it is understood in a colloquial sense, primarily the concept is presented in the mass media. More specifically, I’m questioning the meanings of definition, regulation, and cultural value of excessive game playing in the context of Korean online game culture. My goal is to build an increased understanding of cultural factors in the evaluation and implementation of technology and the social fallouts that may coincide with that.

The widespread international concern of addiction to online games in particular, with which many TN blog readers are familiar, provides an excellent context in which to situate an examination of the interaction between Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and users in their lived realities. I'm especially interested in how games are a part of that inquiry, increasingly acting as a medium by which users communicate and often facilitate meaningful relationships. By thinking of games as a form of meaningful communication, it problematizes how concepts like 'addiction' to such activities are operationalized and measured (such as 'time spent online' or 'anxiety level when not logged on'). Should we think about games in their myriad forms differently?

>>Continue reading post at TN

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