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Being online – Dinosaur poo? June 20, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Twitter.
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I’ve begun preparing for starting my PhD in October later this year. Whilst scouring the Web for articles, papers and other resources I’m keen to explore, a video on virtual ethnography bubbled to the surface. (Writing the research proposal and application, preparing for interview, then the initial forays into the field following confirmation that I had been successful have all contributed to me being less prolific on here than I might have preferred. Apologies.)

During the presentation, a suggestion by Jen Ross, brought me up short; that nowadays, it’s unlikely that we can ever truly be considered to be offline. After my initial reaction of what a ridiculous notion, I began to wonder if that could possibly be true, yet swiftly acknowledged that of course it was.

From the moment we first interact with the Web, as opposed to simply browsing it, we commit ourselves to a perpetual online presence. That might be making our first online purchase, opening a bank account, creating a social media profile or beginning communicating using email. We then become one tiny node in this vast network of people, devices and interconnections. But are we present? One might argue that unless you are at your keyboard or holding your smartphone/tablet and actively engaged in online activity, then how can you possibly be online? I’m not online whilst having a shower, enjoying a meal with friends or out on the bike, and yet … I could be streaming audio from Spotify whilst shampooing my grey hairs, snapping and posting to Tumbler a shot of our group at the table or sending my current performance directly to Strava. But since my smartphone is rarely even turned on, I don’t actually do those things.

The more I pondered, the more it became apparent that whilst at any particular instant, I might not be consciously engaged in online activity, I am still nevertheless online. As a blogger, podcaster, tweeter etc, my digital tracks mean that others have continual access to my thoughts and jottings. They can comment on that alluvium, provide feedback or enter into dialogue, if not in real time, then asynchronously. When I come across the online trails of other people, I feel I am offered a window into their thinking and a glimpse of who they are … or at least, who they portray.

‘Being online’ then perhaps brings into question the notion of presence; if we set to one side our analogue thinking and issues of temporality, it’s more about visibility, connectedness and what we leave for others to find. Whilst temporal displacement means no scientist has observed a dinosaur, we can still hypothesise about their diet by examining their fossilised droppings. Our online ‘droppings’ (an apt term if you’re a regular reader of In the pICTure!) mean we are indeed continually online and because of temporal proximity, available to exchange ideas and information and discuss issues.

These ideas were cemented home for me when I came across this post by Terry Heick, celebrating the life and work of Grant Wiggins who passed recently. Terry noted:

His work remains. His writing is always available–here, in his books, on his own blog, his twitter account, and more. When your work is thought and you leave a record of that thought, then your work never stops. Even when you ultimately have to.

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1. ianinsheffield - June 20, 2015

Reblogged this on Marginal Notes and commented:

The video which seeded this post provides a rich source of points for consideration, both theoretical and methodological. In addition to presence, there are the notions of place and space and where ‘online’ actually is. A useful introduction to the principles of virtual ethnography and some of the ethical issues to take into account.


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