This post serves as a reflection on the major digital project that I recently undertook as part of the Media, Audience, Place course in The University of Wollongong’s Digital Media degree. The key aim of the digital project was to create a digital story circle that persuades an audience to think about how media practices are spatial in nature. I endeavored to display a digital story circle by creating a customised Google Map that shows photographs and captions which depict the current television consumption habits of my childhood friendship group.
A ‘digital story circle’ is, in essence, a digitised embodiment of the common ‘story circle’, in which a group of story makers sit face-to-face and engage in a narrative exchange in order to co-produce a story. The key difference here is of course, that the collaboration takes place in the digital realm, rather than face-to-face. In this instance, the digital story circle may be seen as an example of the process of collaborative ethnography. My friends act as informants and are actively contributing to the process of creating an ethnographic account of television consumption behaviors in Australia. Rather than taking information the informants have given and synthesizing it, instead, I have created a digital story circle that allows each participant’s contribution to be fully and mutually recognised in the form of an icon on a map. The concept of collaborative ethnography in this story circle was informed by Luke Eric Lassiter’s (2005) book: The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography. In particular, I have attempted to adhere to Lassiter’s notes on the importance of paying close attention to what informants are actually saying, in order to build maps of vocabulary, knowledge, and experience. Lassiter suggests that the ethnographer may benefit from involving their interlocutors in the process of writing (or in this case mapping) an ethnography. Each collaborator contribution to the study is mutual recognised in the form of an icon on the map, and the nonlinear nature of Google Maps excludes the possibility of favoritism from any particular party, including myself. This idea of mutual recognition in collaborative ethnography was also inspired by Honneth’s (2007) suggestion that digital storytelling is a tool for facilitating and deepening mutual recognition amongst participants.
Collaborators were added into a private group conversation on Facebook and invited to contribute their experiences to the project (see image below). I received responses from eighteen participants, each of whom contributed a photo and caption relating to their television consumption habits. I then added the responses to a map, in the hope that we can view the map in order to see correlations and patterns in television consumption amongst a group of 20 to 30-year-old Australian friends. In particular, I hoped to see the spaces in which television is being consumed in the 21st century, and what platforms consumers are using to access content.
My inspiration for creating a story circle map was taken from the Nick Couldry et. al. (2012) project titled Constructing a digital story circle: digital infrastructure and mutual recognition.
This paper details Couldry’s creation of a multi-faceted story circle that employs digital media platforms to facilitate the process of narrative exchange. I was particularly attracted to Couldry’s use of Historypin to empower contributors to share stories of their local community in a nonlinear fashion. Couldry employed the Historypin platform in order to create an inter-generational map-based interface that pins user’s photographs and narrative text to the geographical location that the photo was taken. Couldry’s application of Storypin in his project resulted in the creation a narrative exchange that can be viewed from multiple perspectives, rather than being viewed from a singular perspective, or space.
I initially planned to replicate Couldry’s History methodology and apply it to my story circle. I explored the Historypin platform, however, after some initial tinkering I found the platform was rather clumsy and offered limited affordances. I was however impressed by Historypin’s use of custom markers. I decided to employ a similar marker system in my project. I trawled the web for platforms that could allow use of employ the marker system in a custom Google Map interface, but to no avail. Finally, I settled on using Google Maps API to code a custom map to aggregate and display the individual stories of my collaborators. Using Google Maps API was an ideal choice because it afforded me full customisation of the map in a way that Historypin would not. For instance, Google Maps API allows customisation of the map colour, map positioning, map size, and adding custom markers, such as the television icons displayed on my map.
Given that the sample size of this study was 18 people the results are somewhat inconclusive. Patterns did, however emerge that provide information about television consumption behaviour of young people in 2016. Fifteen of 18 contributor’s television sets were located in the living/ lounge room of their home, showing the majority of my friends prefer to watch television in the living room. Eight of the respondents indicated that they access Netflix to consume television content. This correlates with a recent Roy Morgan poll which indicated that over 5 million Australians are now subscribing to Netflix. Five instances of ‘Dual Screening’ was noted in the study. Surprisingly, the number of respondents who reported not owning a television was only 2. I assumed a higher level of non-participation in the television medium given the recent Roy Morgan statistics which indicate a large drop-off in participation rates, especially among young Australians.
Overall, this project showed that collaborative ethnography can be successfully facilitated by using digital media methods. The choice to use a map to display responses was, in my view, an effective way to publish qualitative research responses. Using Google Maps API was particularly effective because it enabled me to aggregate the respondent’s views in their entirety. Future endeavors of this nature would benefit from more precise questioning and should request more in-depth responses from participants. The ambiguity of my initial questioning appeared to prompt respondents to give somewhat vague answers, although this was overcome to an extent by the insights displayed in participant’s photographs. In conclusion, Google Maps API appears to be a somewhat effective platform for displaying content gathered for a digital story circle or collaborative ethnography project.
Couldry, N., MacDonald, R., Stephansen, H., Clark, W., Dickens, L. and Fotopoulou, A., 2014. Constructing a digital story circle: Digital infrastructure and mutual recognition. International Journal of Cultural Studies, pp. 1-26
Honneth, A 2007, ‘Disrespect’, Cambridge: Polity.
Lassiter, L.E 2005, The Chicago guide to collaborative ethnography. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, p 22