Lots of great ideas here, and as someone working on digital cultures in Anglo-phone (really?) West Africa, I am intrigued what's going on in Guinea. Certainly, Simone's more recent work has been very interesting in this regard. Here are a few of my thoughts re: analysis and research design. I think the notion of an assemblage is very useful when thinking about social forms, especially technologically mediated cultures. I tend to use it in the ephemeral sense that Bruno Latour and others in ANT have deployed: That literature offers conceptually rich ways for understanding and talking about technology and users. But I agree with Henthorn: From which point of the assemblage do you analyze the network? Which artifact/actor is most useful to examine? At what level of abstraction of the entire sociotechnical system/"ecosystem" do you operate from analytically? Maybe it's more about the particular points of observation you are discussing in a certain paper or project. The specific phenomenon may elucidate what's happening in a wider system/network: child users, scammers, network engineers, corporate stakeholders… Certainly they all play a role, but not equally, all of the time. Can I also recommend O.F. Mudhai's more recent work on Civic Engagement, Digital Networks, and Political Reform in Africa.
These are good questions.
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Yes, living room furniture and decoration must to some extent bend to the needs of the infrared grid projected by the Kinect. This became something of a marketing problem for Microsoft when they launched the Kinect in Japan and were trying to sell the device to many gamers with small living spaces. The Kinect shipped with measured paper strips to serve as a guide for measuring the required amount of space for the device to work, which ended up sending a mixed message because the strips were shorter than the original recommended specs. I first became aware of this during a talk delivered by Benjamin Aslinger. It begs the question of whether or not depth sensors will necessarily become more scalable, or if the standardization of depth sensors will hold a bias toward some physical spaces more than others.
At the same time, I'm wondering how blurred the line between avatar representations, fandom, and 'real selves' are; I went by my online identity names for years at conventions, as that was how many people would recognize me instead, by the reputation of the online name - or what associations they had with said name, in any case. In online communities - forums, social media, and all - the practice of pseudonyms and pseudo-anonymity (as opposed to completely anonymous: i.e., using handles or usernames) means that a reputation gets attached to an avatar or username over time. And as reputation is a form of social currency, establishing, keeping, and affirming this reputation is highly important in online spaces as well as offline spaces.
One of the ideas that was swimming in my head while writing this was the extent to which avatars impact the construction of our identities outside of the internet. Or in some cases, how the avatar is viewed as being "more real," and therefore within the construction of a sacred space, like a con- where notions of freedom of identity are usually at the forefront- the idea of the avatar being the primary mode of identification was a powerful representation of digital community influence. From all the conventions I've attended, I see this more and more on the con floors and art spaces. In fact, one of my oldest friends in the fandom has identified herself by her avatar for as long as I've known her, expressing her desire to be her online identity over her real self.
Really interesting piece here, and what had me particularly excited was your discussion of avatars and the blurred boundaries they exist/operate in. I've been currently thinking about avatars and their relationship to persona profiles for a gamified in-class technical communication assignment. Persona profiles are a common genre of workplace writing where designers will analyze their end user. In public relations and marketing, these profiles might explore the end user's/target demographic's media engagement, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Avatar building is a form of identity formation, but I've considered inviting students to analyze their end user in a persona avatar rather than a persona profile. This conversation has me thinking about these avatars in much deeper ways, considering their strong connection to social media sites and the history behind those associations. I have much to ponder, thank you.
Yes, conversations like that - taking place among the supposed "digital native" generations - are why I wrote this particular piece; if we consider Facebook or Twitter or Vine to be "less real", then of course it's no surprise that racism, sexism, doxxing, stalking, death threats, etc don't get as much attention as they would otherwise, even though it affects physical spaces and safety. If we say Facebook is "less real", then why are employers looking at Facebook posts to screen out applicants? If we say online classes or learning are less privileged, what about those who cannot access physical classes for whatever reason - and the structures we create in doing so? Etc.
Fans feel the need to vocalize their recognition of multiple fandoms and practices, rather than build a focused body of knowledge and information, and have created a new elitism that insists it despises the elitism of earlier generations.
I find it also interesting that the "earlier generations" of fandom - for argument's sake, those who focused on trivia or depth of knowledge - also often do not think about meeting in the middle. Or rather, that they shun the practices of the new elitism/new fandoms, and never wonder why those fans are practicing in such a way (affirmation-based, for example, heavy use of Tumblr or Twitter or other networks) in the first place. It's like wondering why someone's story about learning went a certain way, when mentors and teachers or anyone else that could have taught lore and practice are all absent.
You bring up a lot of great points and I am thinking of which ones to respond to. In discussing the Kinect as both a toy and a surveillance device we get at the rather odd world the device attempts to balance. When we bring a device into our homes made for constantly watching us and it does feel a bit odd and sneaky.
One thing that I have always thought about the Kinect is how it favors certain real spaces. For instance, the Kinect can pretty much only be used in a large room. When I first purchased one, I ended up having to completely rearrange my living room to play with it as the space was just too small as it stood. Accommodating the Kinect factors into how we arrange my material space and don't even use it that often.
A similar discussion occurred in my Freshman composition class a few weeks ago. Several of my students, the supposed digital natives, commented that online or Facebook friendships were not "real" friendships. I was surprised by this because many of the students spend much of their time/lives in digital spaces. There lives are played out via Facebook status updates, Instagram pictures, and Vine comments, but they do not want to consider this space a real space. I asked them if they considered the people in the class "real" friends. Many of them remarked that they were classmates or associates, but not "real" friends. Why can't this be the same for online or Facebook friendships? I remember when the word associate was applied to a person with whom you were linked but not personally connected. Why doesn't this same language apply to online friendships. We seem to privilege the physical, ignoring the "real life" implications that online has in our lives. I wasn't aware of this binary. Now, I wonder of its implications. If things that take place online are an illusion, what about teachers who instruct very meaningful courses online? What about students who receive degrees from attending online classes? Thanks for the post. It really has me thinking of the ways I may be reinforcing this dichotomy between physical and online spaces.
I found this work to be so interesting. I really like the narrative analysis in conjunction with digital media and place. I am particularly interested in what the both of you mention as far as "desiring things like cities." I am not as familiar with NYC and SF, but I lived in DC for several years and LGBTQ centers like Dupont Circle have increasingly become too expensive to be the cultural centers they once were. Here porn sits at the intersection of digital and material cultures in such a relevant way. Thanks for sharing this research!