Major Digital Project 2016: Reflection

Link to Digital Artifact Map.

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.

 

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Asking potential participants to contribute to my project via Facebook.

 

 

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.

References

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

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How Do My Friends Watch TV These Days?

Over the coming weeks I aim to facilitate a digital storycircle that illustrates the television and media consumption habits of my friendship group. The theoretical framework for this project is inspired by an article by Nick Couldry et.al. that I recently read, titled ‘Constructing a digital storycircle: Digital infrastructure and mutual recognition’. Couldry’s work investigates whether “the narrative exchange within the storycircles of story makers created in face-to-face workshops can be replicated by drawing on digital infrastructure in specific ways.” Couldry identifies a “storycircle” as a setting where participants sit facing each other, focusing and listening to what each other has to say in order to co-produce stories. He and a team of researchers then set about creating a multi-stream story circle where rather than sitting face-to-face, participants contribute to a collective, narrative research project using digital media platforms. The project resulted in the creation of a multi-faceted storycircle where information is collected, curated and distributed via digital media platforms including Twitter and Historypin.

Couldry’s research evaluates the successes and limitations of digital storycircle by identifying and exploring three main characteristics: multiplications, spatializations, and habits of mutual recognition. Multiplication refers to the relationship between storytelling and development of digital platforms that allow stories to be shared and multiplied. These platforms are enabled by modern technological advancements that allow separate media sources to converge in the digital sphere. Spatialization refers to the of building of a narrative around sets of individual narratives. Individual actors contribute fragments of information to a larger, complete, narrative experience that can be shared on various sites, and exchanged between various audiences and institutions. The geographic location of individual contributors may be decentralised due to the affordances of digital media technologies. Finally, habits of mutual recognition refer to the storyteller’s ability to construct a narrative exchange that supports knowledge production and mutual recognition of contributions among participants toward matters of common concern. By engaging with Couldry’s three dimensions mentioned above, I will endeavor to produce, and later analyse, an effective digital storycircle project.

I aim to tell the story of my friendship group and the spaces in which we consume television and other forms of screen-based media for entertainment purposes. My reason for doing so is partly inspired by Couldry’s suggestion that it is ideal to choose a story that includes elements of space and time, both of which are evident in this concept. The vast majority of my friendship group was raised in Canberra, however, as time goes on, various circumstances have caused us to move apart geographically. Members now span ACT, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, and some living overseas. The diverse geographic locations of group members’ will allow me to create a timeline that pulls stories about habits separated in time and space into a common space. The widespread consumption of television in Australia, coupled with my recent interest in people’s television experiences led me to settle on television as the theme for this narrative. The 2015 Australian Multi Screen Report suggests that television remains the dominant viewing medium, with over 88% of Australians still choosing to consume television over any other form of screen-based media. I would like to know if this trend extends to my friendship group, and whether we have embraced other screen-based media technologies. My second area of interest for this project is television spaces. As I have discussed previously on this blog, I am keen to investigate the role of television in creating spaces in the home.

Collaborators for this project will consist of a large cross-section of my friendship group. Each group member will be requested to capture a photo of the television space within their home and then upload the photo to a Facebook group chat. The image should include the space in which their television/ media device is located and the television should include an example of something they enjoy watching. The image will be accompanied by a small caption that provides the location of their media space geographically, and a couple of sentences about their television viewing habits, should they wish to disclose such information. Couldry suggests that Illustrating the storyteller voice is important to the story, as is capturing the essence of the narrator and each unique character and their connections to lived experiences. I anticipate that encouraging my collaborators to illustrate their story by showing photographs will enable the narrative to capture the essence of each contributors lived television experiences.

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My Television Space: This is the reference image for my project. Collaborators photographs may vary, but will follow a similar format.

Having already employed Facebook Group Chat to collect collaborators individual stories I will then be tasked with choosing appropriate spatial arrangements in order to showcase the data as a complete narrative. Couldry states “The medium in which you choose to show your digital storytelling is not crucial, the storytelling elements can be images, film, blogs, tweets, web pages and web links”.  The story will include contributors images and text, as already stated, which will then be aggregated on a digital mapping platform that brings the whole story together. The geographic position of collaborators media spaces and additional data will be interlinked in order to facilitate the practice of working together to show each other how we live. The narrative will then be displayed on this blog where the information and data collected can be easily accessed by the participants and the general public. I hope this project will eventuate into an interesting and thought-provoking storycircle that details the television consumption habits of a unique group of young Australians. Any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below.