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.

Watching You, Watching Me

I can still remember a specific instance, years ago, as I stood on the street outside a house party.  I attempted to produce my camera phone to film as the police employed heavy-handed tactics on a party-goer. The police officer that I was attempting to photograph rushed towards me and demanded I stop at once. I complied and assumed from then on that I don’t own the right to photograph people in public spaces. To learn this is not the case has been both interesting and exciting.

As an ethnographer, it is rather useful to have a camera at one’s disposal. The photographic medium enables us to capture and store moments in time, with a simple click of a button. When practicing, one must ensure they are aware of the law surrounding photographic practice. Australian law states that people, in our society, do not have a right not to resist being photographed. Generally speaking, it is perfectly legal to take photos of people when you are in a public space. This also extends to buildings, sites, and government spaces. There are certain limitations, but in general, a person does not have a right to privacy whilst in a public space. The means a photographer can feel free to capture images at their discretion when in public.

Fast forward to last week and I was sitting in a lecture at Uni tweeting every passing thought that came to my head. I noticed a certain member of the audience had engaged with each tweet that I produced. Armed with my newly acquired knowledge of photographers’ rights  I opened my camera app and snapped a photo of my follower, the Twitter-famous Renee Middlemost. You can see the photo pictured below.

I am within my rights to capture this image. I didn’t even need to ask for permission before doing so.  As stated above, there are no publicity or personal rights in Australia that could prohibit me from taking this photo in a public university lecture theatre. The fact I have then proceeded to publish a person’s image on Twitter, however, can cause the photographer some legal grief. This is because there are areas of law in Australia, which can prohibit the unauthorized use of a person’s image.  These laws include:Defamation;

1. Defamation;

Defamation law deals with injury to people’s reputation. In order to be defamatory, the image must lower the public estimation of the person portrayed, expose the person to hatred or ridicule, and or cause the person to be shunned or avoided

2. The Australian Consumer Law (Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010                 (Cth)) (ACL) and StateFair Trading Acts where applicable;

The Arts Law Centre of Australia states, “Sections 18 and 29 of the ACL and the equivalent sections of the State Fair Trading Acts prohibit misleading or deceiving commercial conduct.” For this law to be enforced it must be shown that the image can mislead or deceive the public.

3. The law of passing off;

The law of passing off is similar to the law of misleading and deceptive conduct. Is acts to protect a business against misappropriation of its reputation. To succeed in an action for passing off, the subject of an image must establish the subsistence of some reputation on their part, and that the person publishing the image is misrepresenting them in a way which may cause damage to their reputation.

As far as I know, none of the above laws apply in this instance, thus resulting in the lawful publication of the image. Publishing this image demonstrates my lawful ability to take images of people in public places so long as no harmful, unethical, or unlawful intent is at play. The rules are not as clear-cut as one might hope, however, resources are available to assist ethnographers and photographers to understand their rights and responsibilities. For instance, I recently stumbled upon  a blog post by Taylor Bruno which provides a succinct and thought-provoking introduction into ethics of street photography.

The value of photographing Renee as she Tweets in a lecture theatre is that I can use the photograph as part of a public space ethnography. This method of ethnography is effective because it can assist me to form an understanding of how different people and social groups participate in public space. The image of Renee provides insights into media consumption habits within the university setting. For instance, the image shows that staff mobile phone use is present within the context of a University of Wollongong media lecture. Taking a photo allows me to efficiently document the practice of mobile phone use within the university setting. I may continue to photograph mobile phone use at the university in order to identify patterns and create an ethnography detailing this behavior.

 

Satellite Internet in Rural Australia

This week I am investigating people’s internet connectivity experiences relating to the rollout of the National Broadband network in Australia. I interviewed my friend Isaac in order to build this brief ethnographic account of how connecting to the NBN has impacted his life in recent times. Isaac lives in a remote area of New South Wales named Captains Flat, located about an hours drive south-east of Canberra. The area has historically experienced poor internet connectivity and I was curious to learn how gaining access to NBN has affected life in his area of rural Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics detailed that in 2015, the number of Australian farms accessing the internet was relatively low- approximately 67%. The total number of Australian households with access to the internet at home was far greater, reaching 7.7 million in 2014–15, representing 86% of all homes (up from 83% in 2012–13). Thirty-six percent of farms in New South Wales still did not have access to the internet at the time these statistics were released; a number that was surpassed only by properties Victoria (38%) and Tasmania (41%). These statistics show that as of late 2015, the rate of Internet connectivity on farms (especially in NSW) is low when compared to the rest Australia.

Isaac’s property has been connected to the internet for some time, yet until recently, he was experiencing poor levels of connectivity due to the remote location of Captains Flat. The NBN Network Rollout Map shows that Captains Flat is not yet connected to the NBN, however, this data is incorrect. Isaac informed me that his farm has recently been connected to the NBN ‘Sky Muster’ satellite network. The  ‘Sky Muster’ satellite service is dedicated to providing broadband connectivity to regional and remote Australia. Isaac stated the satellite went live in April and has since improved the overall Internet connectivity at his home.

 

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Four Dishes: the Imparja NT satellite from the Northern territory, Foxtel, Obsolete IPstar Internet, and The NBN satellite. Image courtesy of Isaac Hurley

 

Isaac also explained that having a reliable internet connection at his property is beneficial for people such as himself who live in remote locations. He stated, “In the case of an emergency, even a heavy storm can stop our landline phone. As the roof mounted satellite (which connects to the NBN) doesn’t require a phone line it can become the only way to contact anyone from the farm. This situation has thankfully never come up but it definitely gives peace of mind that one won’t be completely cut off from the world by a storm.” This shows that NBN internet connectivity provides a reliable means of communication for Australians who could otherwise be cut off from the outside world during an emergency.

 

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Isaac’s computer station in Captains Flat NSW. Image courtesy of Isaac Hurley

 

Emergency communication is not the sole benefit of having reliable internet on the property. The recent upgrade to the NBN satellite has provided the bandwidth necessary for Isaac to watch YouTube and other media rich websites, a luxury he was not previously afforded. The newNBN satellite plans do however only offer comparatively restrictive data limits to those found in urban areas . The NBN satellite coverage offers a maximum of 65gb of downloads per month, where an urban dweller can access unlimited downloads- for a fraction of the cost. This means that services such as YouTube must be used sparingly and rationed between the four residents of the farm. Upon exceeding the limit, the internet slows to 128kbs. Isaac said, “That is a bit more than twice the speed of the internet 18 years ago. It is so slow you may as well not internet (access)”. While this can at times prove an inconvenience, the new NBN service  has proven superior to the previous model of which he had become accustomed.

Overall, the recent upgrade to the NBN network has proven beneficial for Isaac and his family in rural Australia. The network is now faster, and more reliable, providing peace-of-mind and access to content that was not previously available. While the NBN satellite service does not offer the same high download limits afforded to residents in the city, it does potentially save Isaac from a  10-40 minute drive to access mobile data during an emergency.

 

 

Thank you to Isaac Hurley for offering his time and knowledge on this project

Television Audiences and Ethnography

Over the past week, I have read many blog posts that explore people’s personal experiences with television in the home. My motivation for doing so is partially related to the ethnographic research component of my latest university assignment and partially inspired by my curiosities surrounding the history of television. During my research, I was fortunate to discover some interesting posts that detail people’s fondest memories of times spent watching television.

The first post I discovered offers a fascinating insight into early television consumption habits in Australia. The subject, a 91-year-old woman, offers a detailed personal recollection of her experiences as the new medium of television entered her life as a young woman. The woman has been alive to witness all of Australia’s historic television moments, including the launch of public television in 1956, the 1969 moon landing, and the introduction of colour television across across Australia in 1975, yet those iconic TV moments are not recalled, instead the woman shares her memories of watching television with her family . The post offers various quotes and anecdotes that demonstrate the woman’s association with television as an enabler of memorable family interactions and highlight the role that television plays in shaping family interaction patterns.

The second post I read also included an interview where the subject describes her memories of watching television with her family. “She recalled fondly sitting with her siblings some days after school when they weren’t sent outside to play and watching television till their dad got home and then choosing what to watch became his decision from then onwards,” the subject said. As was the case in the first blog post, the subject here describes her most memorable television experiences as being those that are coupled with family interactions. The theme of family being present in both of these blog posts suggests that people possess strong memories of television when the medium is coupled with family interactions.

The use of ethnography to conduct media audience research about people’s television memories in this instance has enabled me to uncover the reoccurring theme of television and family interactions. Employing ethnographic research methods enabled the subjects to open up and expand on their memories to include details about watching television with their families. This opened the topic to areas that may not have been initially considered by the researcher, thus providing a more detailed picture of television consumption habits than if the researchers had used the quantitative research method of recording ranks and counts to analyze feelings and behaviors. The one identified weakness of using ethnography in these instances was that the time-consuming nature of qualitative research restricted the number of people the researcher could study to just one. This weakness was easily overcome because I was able to find numerous examples of ethnographic media research to compare against the first blog post I read. As I study television more I will endeavor to better understand the correlation between television memories and family interactions.