Monday, February 28, 2011

Second Life: Conclusions to the study

Now as my thesis draws to a close I wanted to post some important conclusions to the thesis. This is partially because in academic life our ideas are likely to be snapped up by others and are at risk of losing their origins. So here they are:

· Idealized concepts of ‘community’ and the ‘virtual’ construct an idea of interaction that does not fully accommodate the reality of order in that setting. This opens up a point of departure where interaction can be studied as a unique order that is not governed by virtual rules.

· The difference between rules and order is one that takes into account the strong and weak classifications systems of social life (Bernstein 1996). In making this distinction, the study poses a method that separates ‘following rules’ of online settings from more pragmatic forms of interaction which are found to be common sense. This is an important point that shows rules do not determine ‘how’ or ‘what’ something is used for; rather, it illustrates a case for pointing out participants’ roles in making things real through systems of interaction, in spite of their presence in a digital form.

· Following from the previous point, membership roles in Second Life illustrated complexities about performing ‘real’ systems in digital settings. The ways in which the social space was organized to accommodate fluid and logical interaction was constructed differently. In this regard, participants had to work at overcoming aspects of the technology that impeded interaction systems. To maintain logic in conversations, participants needed to metaphorically build boundaries around conversations in public space (see Goffman’s party wall in Chapter Five). These boundaries were implicitly built into conversation to demonstrate to others the public or private nature of any given interaction. This performance was important as it showed how participants were active in the maintenance of logic; this also implied their knowledge of the interaction system at hand.

·Lastly, despite an implied knowledge of the interaction order, the constancy of such systems seems to vary in degrees over time. This was demonstrated by the indexicality involved in conversations that involved implied meanings. Such meanings are carried between participants as knowledge of the social environment. This problem made it difficult for membership of Second Life to be periodic, and required a commitment to regularity. The use of indexicality ensured participants held implied knowledge about each other that could be used in future interactions. Periodic investment into Second Life jeopardizes this knowledge as it limits the potential for building knowledge from previous interaction between participants. For this reason, it is in their best interest for a participant to maintain a regular level of involvement in Second Life that includes social and interactional contact with others.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Interactive Potential of Web 2.0

The following is the abstract for the paper to be presented at the EASST Conference 2010:

'Practicing Science and Technology, Performing the Social,'

University of Trento, Italy, 2-4 September 2010 see:

The point here is that in light of Web 2.0 it is necessary to reconsider how we conceptualise what is happening. The first step may well be to construct more complete and differentiated descriptions of what is happening in Web 2.0, who is involved, and the practices entailed, in order to inform and enrich new concepts or reworkings of our theoretical staples. It is here that a movement toward a more descriptive sociology may fit. (Beer and Burrows 2007)

Following the position of Beer and Burrows (2007) this study poses a re-conceptualization of Web 2.0 interaction in order to understand the properties of action possibilities in and of Web 2.0. The paper discusses the positioning of Web 2.0 social interaction in light of current descriptions, which point toward the capacities of technology in the production of social affordances within that domain (Bruns 2007; Jenkins 2006; O’Reilly 2005). While this diminishes the agency and reflexivity for users of Web 2.0 it also inadvertently positions tools as the central driver for the interactive potential available (Everitt and Mills 2009; van Dicjk 2009). In doing so it neglects the possibility that participants may be more involved in the production of Web 2.0 than the technology that underwrites it. It is this aspect of Web 2.0 that is questioned in the study with particular interest on how an analytical option may be made available to broaden the scope of investigations into Web 2.0 to include a study of the capacity for an interactive potential in light of how action possibilities are presented to users through communication with others (Bonderup Dohn 2009).

To depart from the perception of technologically determined production orders the paper poses the “cultural doping” of interaction in Web 2.0 following Harold Garfinkel’s (1984) analysis of normative social science. This position illustrates how pre-existing social orders have been assumed into Web 2.0 technology affording it the role of producing social context. The study poses that in unraveling such ideas the function of affordances in producing social meaning can influence a better understanding of the interactive potential involved as a human production rather than a technological rule (Gibson 1979; Norman 1988; Hutchby 2001; Best 2009). In doing so ‘the user’ and the context of use rather than tools become the central means for explaining what is happening in Web 2.0. For this reason the study poses that Web 2.0 is better understood as a container technology (Sofia 2000) The positioning of container technologies is pertinent to explaining how a re-conceptualization of Web 2.0 participation can occur by prioritizing the user and the context of participation with objects in contrast to the object itself. In this way objects are exploited because they afford the user of the object with an interactive or action potential, which is only understood in context to the user’s local rationale. In considering the role of container technologies, Web 2.0 requires an examination from a local point of view or “eye of the participant” and calls for a methodology that provides this level of insight.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why old rules don't count in a new (networked) world: Pirate Bay re-opens for business despite loss in court.

While I can't profess to know the in’s and out’s of "The Pirate Bay" case it really doesn't surprise me. The reason I say this is that all my research on user participation within the world "Second Life" over the last four years has illustrated intense cases of collaboration, which resists all forms of authority. It is the community that is the authority:

"Interaction in a ‘virtual’ sense has been uniquely smuggled into the design of technology. The implicit relationships between technology and participation have dealt with interaction as part of the technological experience of devices or alternately a by-product of the spatial field that technology itself has produced (Dourish 2006). The technological device is more often than not the dominant discourse within production fields and this dominance inadvertently neglects the users’ local level of participation (McCarthy and Wright 2004: 10-11 see Technology as experience). The user plays a unique role in co-producing the device or artifact and their interaction with it aligns context and meaning which is not present when the device is dormant. Therefore it is the ‘in situ’ use of the digital artifact, which potentially provides it with more meaning and illustrates the contextual grounding it needs to be significant. Importantly why the device exists is not necessarily the most significant context but instead what ‘uses’ or actions the device makes possible." (excerpt from Eryn Grant’s PhD Thesis)

To put this into perspective for this case, I believe the institutions of law need to look carefully at the community of users and what community interactions are making torrents possible. If they truly want to disable torrents they first must disable community collaboration. It is the human social technology, which is the driving force behind the tech conduit.

In the case of "The Pirate Bay" the community of users is tech savvy and has already shown an extreme resistance to the ideas of copy-write law by sharing music, books, movies, games and software. The design of mass international sharing of illegally distributed content means the end users are protected from enforcement from law agencies. There are just too many people to catch. The site itself has closed yet has re-opened on another url with all content available.

These old ways of copyright protection just aren't suited to the new network of collaborative sharing. The system needs to be changed to account for user behaviours, which consistently defies current rules and systems. Media industries need to be at the forefront of this change so they don't miss out on cashing in. If you can't beat 'em join 'em...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The "artful practices" of interaction: Garfinkel, Goffman and Sacks

The indexical system of interaction plays a central role in ethnomethodology and is a systematic method for illustrating, through conversation, the co-operative and contextual methods participants use to create meaning and organise experience. For Garfinkel (1984), indexical expressions are accomplishments that illustrate the complex organisation of everyday life what he would call ‘artful practices’. In many ways this system when interrogated systematically highlights the complexities in context and meaning that are underneath the majority of conversational sequences. The indexical scheme is one of organisation, centrally located in specific language systems that are culturally specific. On one level indexicality illustrates the management of local context and on another is demonstrates the maintenance of localised order. It is the turn by turn accounts in communication that illustrate the tacit knowledge’s that are at play in everyday experience.
Sacks (1995:163,333) shows the use of indexical expressions in everyday language through words such as ‘you’, ‘we’,’ they’ and ‘us’. Particularly these terms for Sacks are devices that illustrate the production of membership categories through language and are evidence of the machinery of social organisation (1995:40). These categories are produced with the implicit understanding that other members or non-members will know a lot about any given category; they are inference rich:

By that I mean a great deal of knowledge that members of a society have about the society is stored in terms of these categories. And by ‘stored in terms of’ I mean that much of the knowledge has some category term from this class as its subject. And the inference rich character of these categories constitutes another warrant for their occurrence in early parts of first conversations: When you get some category as an answer to a ‘which’- type, you can feel that you know a great deal about the person (Sacks 1995:40-1).

The inference rich character of indexical expressions illustrates a conditional application of context and knowledge to the maintenance of local order through conversational sequence. Sacks uses the term ‘you” to illustrate the complex nature of identifying the different meanings attributed to ‘you’ depending on the context in which it is used(1995: 348). ‘You’ can mean the person speaking, the person hearing (or everyone present) and such understandings are implied through the utterances relationship to the speaker and the hearer. Such that the speaker will not explain what ‘you’ means and the hearer will not tell how they come to understand who ‘you’ is, but the collaboration between the speaker and the hearer brings both parties to the same conclusions. Thus indexical expressions rely on the construction of categories and activities for that category to apply specific meaning. These expressions derive their context from the order, sequence and time in which they were given – meanings as such are never context free but context specific; the example of laughter as an indexical expression illustrates such properties (Garfinkel and Sacks 1986:160-1).

Not only is laughter produced in an orderly fashion, but it appears that an occasion of laughing together is an activity in its own right, an achievement of various methodic procedures (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987:158)

Laughter has to be placed sequentially within a conversation in order to understand the meaning with which it is given as a turn to an utterance (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987). It is a strategic method for affiliating or disaffiliating with a topic or person in a conversation and is a tool for aligning conversation, topics and people in particular ways without using explicit language. Laughing is never context free, but must be understood in terms of the sequence in which it is heard, that is what came before and after the opportunity to laugh.

Inference mechanisms and indexical systems are important to the systematic ordering of conversation and progress toward social order that is driven though language systems; the devices of control are locally represented through conversation in the ways participants construct their own categories and reference points for others to agree or disagree.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revisiting Goffman's Interaction Order (Just For Fun!)

Goffman’s (1982) Interaction Order is a probing but thoughtful paper and probably the most complete reference to his conceptual model of the interaction order, as it explicitly takes into account his motivations and impetus for practice – something he regularly hides in the majority of his academic writing. Perhaps this is because, at the time, there was contention over his initiative that this piece is so explanatory.

My concern over the years has been to promote acceptance of this face to face domain as an analytically viable one – a domain which may be titled, for want of a better name, the interaction order – a domain whose preferred method is microanalysis. My colleagues have not been overwhelmed by the case. (Goffman 1982: 2)

The Interaction order is a name given to a body of theory that was developed over a substantial period of time in Goffman’s career, but in itself it raises many questions about the design of face to face interaction and the order in which that interaction is achieved.

Face to face interaction is an inclusive reference point for Goffman who believed that spatial and temporal zones of interaction had to be taken into account to make analytical sense. The contextual implications of activities occurring ‘secondary’ to conversational interaction are central to Goffman’s argument; surrounding actions may impact on how interaction takes place. He did not presume context but forced the issue of context to interactional discourses (1981:188-91). In addition, the interaction order was a world beyond speakers and participation was not the sole requirement for membership in conversation. His position called for a greater understanding of the socially situated experiences of daily life, of cognitive states and bodily orientations(Goffman 1966).

The interaction order for Goffman is not at the will of dominant social structures, in fact he took great care to describe many processes where the social structures were dependant on face to face encounters (1982: 8-9). He felt that sociological discourse was confusing ritualised interactions with structures of power and authority in western culture. Those sociological inquiries of race, gender and hierarchy in conversation were negating the experience of face to face conversations. While he noted the importance of such fields of study he suggested that the local order of face to face interaction must be the primary goal before other issues (such as authority or power structures). His main concern was that the micro interaction would become lost in the macro discourse and local regularities of face to face communication would inadvertently be interpreted as part of macro discourse. His suggestion was to seek the micro study first, then progress to the macro discourse and marry the two concepts later.

Perhaps for Goffman it is the order, not the interaction itself that analytically means more. The presence of the interaction order is to illuminate the ‘what’ in interaction; what does a particular gathering, a particular conversation, a particular celebration allow for? What does the structure of interaction, as a collaborative activity, permit its participants to do? The interaction order provides a multitude of resources to ask questions of and provide answers to the above.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Positioning Ludic Experience in Web 2.0

The correlation between digital interactions and ludic experiences is important to a broader concept of play in urban settings (Stevens 2007). Games and play are designed into everyday life often through the structure of public space where ludic interactions are formalised through cultural spaces. For this to work an assumption must be present; public space, playing games and interactions with others (through games) is a requisite to life. This inevitably transforms social interaction, particularly less formal interactions that connect people with a mutual anticipation of ‘everyday’ ludic pleasure, where even the simplest interactions form the basis of joy, play and connection between people. Fun and play are contained within the idea of ludic activity which is described below:

Fundamental to the notion of ludic activities is an attitude of engagement in the exploration and production of meaning. Thus systems that promote ludic pursuits should provide resources for people to appropriate, rather than content for consumption or tools that structure the performance of defined tasks
(Gaver, Bowers et al. 2004 )

If we are to give this expectation a name it may be “ludicity”– the expectation of play and fun in everyday life. Such ludic expectations are not fully understood by social theory as the pace of technology and digitised connections is much faster than the theorists behind it. Beyond ludicity, the ludic is a reference that explains the transformation of cultural needs and practices of daily life that are centered around play behaviors (Cardena and Littlewood 2006: 287). It is important as a grounding theory as it rationalises two important concepts making them invisible and seemingly less noteworthy; firstly it develops play as an ordinary and expected interaction criteria and secondly it re-classifies verbal communication as a domain of play. “In play…verbal messages become typically re-classified by simultaneous non verbal messages that involve a different logical typing – a higher degree of abstraction” (2006; 207). When such ludic practices are investigated in the light of new digital technologies (here games like Second Life are intended to be brought to mind), what degree of abstraction is occurring? The focus toward fun and pleasure is demonstrated in the discrete ways such behavior collapses what it is to be a producer and consumer confusing all popular understandings of authenticity. The boundaries of both are blurred until there is no true distinction between either, this has in recent times been named Web ‘2.0’, where the cultural influence is one that makes production and consumption fluid and rather sticky (Wesch 2007). Ultimately how does theory accommodate for such blurring points of culture, the negotiation of legitimacy and the rate that culture and values change. The ludic is an influence which describes this interactivity and collaboration but is not understood with a depth and clarity which would allow researchers to make any claims with certainty.

To be more specific how is the genre of ludic re-classifying communication systems in digital play environments and to what extent can they be explained as characteristic of such environments. It is fair to suggest that for the digital sphere, ludic - with its emphasis on play behaviour - has allowed the rise in “new abstractions” that make it popular as a medium of self amusement. That is, it provides a type of passport which enables play behaviours into domains like technology that traditionally are associated with scientific disciplines (Pinch 2006). The ludic has become an expectation of everyday in a cultural world that is determined by the connections between people. The six degrees of separation is not a tangible string of relations but a fluid line of social interactivity which allows participants to express the degree to which they are connected to one another and the novelty of those connections as they fit into the everyday life of participating individuals. More significantly the intensity of those ties and connections are determined by those who contribute in a mutually understood yet rarely vocalised agreement made tangible through informal participation patterns. It is these informal patterns that are the central question of this study – and it is the intention to formalise a basis of such interaction which conceptually and empirically addresses the nature of interaction in the digital as a contingent local production.