“Ethnography for the Internet” – Hine … #2

flickr photo by ianguest http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/22458582142 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The E3 Internet

Hine sees the Internet manifest in three ways which are likely to challenge the ethnographer’s talents:

Embedded: rather than the separate domain associated with views of ‘cyberspace’ as a place where people ‘went’ and became part of a separate culture, another view is of the Internet embedded in and a natural part of people’s lives. The Internet can now travel with you, forming part of whatever experience you are enjoying. Here it is no longer a single cultural artefact, but different and multiple depending on the people using it. This shifts the focus for the ethnographer onto the people using it, the context within which that use is made and the practices that develop. The Internet both complements and is embedded in analogue media, whether being integrated in newsprint, referenced in urls on products bought in the supermarket or extending the lexicon of our dictionaries.

Embodied: The Internet is a place where we, as embodied social beings, can express ourselves in different ways. Early studies explored how people entered this new, virtual world, becoming disembodied and adopting dislocated alternative identities. Whilst this may still be true for some, we can now conceive of the Internet as sitting alongside, contributing to and enriching our embodied experience, rather than replacing it. Our Internet experiences run both in parallel to our offline experiences, but are consecutively interwoven with it and manifest in multiple ways. Social media provide us with the opportunity to present our embodied selves in different ways, rather than leaving the body behind to assume an alternative online identity (though some people in some circumstances still of course do that).

Everyday: Here the Internet is viewed as unremarkable, mundane and is no longer a distinct aspect of our lives. It challenges the ethnographer to tease out what has become hidden by being amalgamated into our daily existence and no longer on the surface. To find out what is some actually doing when they say they ‘Facebooked him’ requires us to reopen the black box. The ethnographer will need to coax from the participant how they achieved a remarkable act, whilst being unaware of the unremarkable means used to achieve it.

The consequence of these views is that our approach must leave behind the notion of online and offline, since the themes we explore will either traverse that boundary, or not even perceive its existence.


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