the second pitch

I have previously established that I am to conduct an ethnographic case study of the Sydney restaurant, the Grounds of Alexandria.

I will be looking at the symbiotic relationship between tangible, constructed spaces and the intangible mediascapes which they shape.

The ethnography

I am to be a participant-observer and experiencer both in the physical restaurant and in the online spaces where this phenomenon has etched its culture. These online spaces include but are not limited to: the official Grounds of Alexandria social media pages and website; the Grounds of Alexandria Instagram hashtag; third party content such as articles on Timeout; and customer reviews on websites such as Trip Advisor.

This project will involve a high degree of collaboration from a number of different sources; my approach will align with Erik Lassiter’s (2005) ideas about collaboration that avoids ‘othering’. To effectively be a participant experiencer I will need to be accompanied by at least one friend or family member when I visit the restaurant. Whilst here we will need to engage with the space as other patrons are, this may include: ordering and photographing food and drink as well as photographing each other in various places around the restaurant.

I will also need to record my observations of the other restaurant patrons, effectively turning them into my collaborators as well. Additionally, I plan on conducting unstructured interviews of some of the employees present at the restaurant, such as my waiter. Their comparatively high level of contact with the space may provide other insights that can not be not gained from participants alone.

Regarding the study of the online mediascape, I will again need to be a participant experiencer by sharing my own content in the same way that others have when engaging with this phenomenon online. I also will need to observe the media I find online and plumb it for information regarding the influence of the physical restaurant and how they work together.

Key details

Stakeholders for the project include the Grounds of Alexandria themselves, but also other restaurants and marketers. These groups would be looking to leverage their brand’s physical spaces to create publicity in paid, earned, shared and owned media forms.

It is important that I conduct myself in accordance with the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics. This highlights the importance of ‘honesty’, ‘fairness’, ‘independence’, and ‘respect for the rights of others’. I will commit myself to these values throughout my research to ensure I do not cause distress or harm to others. I will avoid naming specific participants, especially if they are employed by the restaurant; and I will ensure I have consent to take photographs and publish interviews.

I will communicate my final project on a dedicated website, likely produced through Wix. The primary inspiration for this comes from Sarah Pink’s study of Energy and Digital Living (2014) where her research was laid out in a digestible format across a single website. Additionally, I may take inspiration from Marsha Berry’s thick description conveyed through her use of vignettes. These were constructed based upon her participant’s interview responses and observations about their media use. 

From preliminary research, it is my understanding that the online mediascape surrounding the Grounds of Alexandria phenomenon is highly visual. I will therefore also need to include pictorial elements across the presentation of my findings.

Dear readers,

If you have not been to the Grounds of Alexandria, what have you heard about it? What have you seen about it online?

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References

Lassiter, E 2005, ‘Defining a Collaborative Ethnography’, in Lassiter, E (eds.), The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 15-24.

LEEDR 2014, Energy & Digital Living, viewed 27 September 2019, <http://energyanddigitalliving.com>.

Media Entertainment & Arts n.d., MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics, viewed 27 September 2019, <https://www.meaa.org/meaa-media/code-of-ethics/>.

the first pitch

The Grounds of Alexandria is popularly known for its design not as a restaurant, but as a social media backdrop. Word of mouth suggests that its atmosphere is abuzz with the chattering of lens shutters more so than the clanking of cutlery. 

As a food-lover, I find this situation to be highly intriguing.

My purpose

To perform an ethnographic case study on this phenomenon by examining the symbiotic relationship between the tangible, designed space and the intangible mediascape which has subsequently, and quite intentionally, arisen. 

Background research

A forerunner to my research is the work of Marsha Berry (2015). She explores Hjorth and Pink’s (2014) notion of the ‘digital wayfarer’ as an individual who engages with media perpetually as they move through their lives. This lifestyle gives rise to the entanglement of contemporary life with media production and digital spaces. As such, the conceptualisation of space is re-examined to encompass the notion of place and non-place in synonymous existence.

Ingold (2008) also provides valuable insight regarding emplaced visuality and sociality. He highlights that mobile technologies allow users to contribute to a ‘bigger picture’; that is, the user is pivotal in contributing to the foundations or sustention of a digital culture through their media production. Hjorth and Gu (2012) expand on the idea of emplaced visuality by noting the overlay between place, ambient images, and geographic locations.

The ideas explored in these texts provide an invaluable springboard from which I may begin to traverse my research. Berry’s (2015) study is particularly useful because it takes an ethnographic approach. 

Ethnography in action

Berry (2015) states that interviews were a significant part of her research process. She invited individuals who were heavily involved in her area of study, via social media, so that she could then probe them for their knowledge. She then went deeper by observing their public interactions with others on social media.

My personal experience as a researcher has not been so complete. I have been a participant observer and experiencer when inquiring into the cinema experience, media use on trains and the use of technology in a shoe store. I have also conducted a reflective form of auto-ethnography when looking at a critical TV memory from my life. However, I have not yet taken the opportunity to conduct collaborative ethnography through memory conversations and interviews.

I will conduct my case study on the Grounds of Alexandria by drawing on my own experiences whilst also considering Marsha Berry’s approaches to research. Participant observation and experience will be pivotal in learning about the tacit details of the relationship between the engineered place and non-place. Additionally, interviews will also enrich the findings by providing unstructured and spontaneous information that may be unattainable from overt and covert observation and participation.

Dear readers,

Have you been to the Grounds of Alexandria? If yes, what stood out to you most about media production whilst you were there?

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FIND THE SECOND PITCH HERE.

References

Berry, M 2015, ‘Out in the open: locating new vernacular practices with smartphone cameras’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 53-64.

Hjorth, L & Gu, K 2012, ‘The place of emplaced visualities: A case study of smartphone visuality and location-based social media in Shanghai, China’, Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 699-713.

Hjorth, L & Pink, S 2014, ‘New visualities and the digital wayfarer: Reconceptualizing camera phone photography and locative media’, Mobile Media & Communication, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 40-57.

Ingold, T 2008, ‘Bindings against Boundaries: Entanglements of Life in an Open World’, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, vol. 40, no. 8, pp. 1796-1810.

immersed in understanding

BCM241 class of 2019, we are an odd bunch.

We all, it seems, are very particular about our cinema tastes. We have a favourite seat. A favourite snack. And a devotion to whatever it is we’re watching.

We hate talkers. We’re afraid to crunch on food out loud. And we have no qualms with getting up and leaving mid-movie should the situation call for it.

After a closer ethnographic examination of our cinema rituals through participant observation, we now also are more aware of how Torsten Hagerstrand’s (1969) constraints of coupling, capability, and authority unconsciously impact our cinematic experiences.

When Mikayla Stott of Generally Unimpressed tried to see ‘The Lion King’, her experience was ruined by unexpected capability problems, culminating in her taking early leave of the movie.

It took Taylah Ide-Miller of TayTay’s Blog three attempts to have an ideal experience when she tried to see the much-anticipated ‘Avengers Endgame’ movie. Mostly thanks to a series of authority and capability issues.

Such deep understandings would not be possible had these researchers not observed these experiences from the inside-out through participation. 

This immersive approach distinguishes itself from anthropology in accordance with Erik Lassiter’s reflections in his article ‘A Brief Guide to Collaborative Ethnography’ (2005).

He notes that ethnography avoids the harmful phenomenon of ‘othering’; of portraying the observed culture as separate, merely a shallow curiosity. When applied to the ethnography of the cinema, this form of research places ourselves in the context of viewer/experiencer-culture and our understandings are enriched.

I hope to use these insights about the power of participant observation in my capstone research project. 

One of my ideas revolves around the retail space; how different the discourse surrounding retail employment is between ‘real-life’ and online spheres, such as the subreddit titled ‘Retail Hell’.

Another concept I believe will be interesting is the interaction between the built environment and the digital world; how one prompts action in another and vice versa.

Whatever I choose to explore, I know that I must dive deep into the experience because adventure awaits.

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alone, together

The term ‘networked home’ elicits two-dimensional images of an entranced someone, their face always awash in cold light generated by 0s and 1s. We imagine a person whose first hello every morning is their lock screen, and last goodnight is their social-media-night-cap of choice. This person ignores the “real world”, and is always grafted in some way to a digital device no matter where in the home they are.

Such surface-level evocations may unwittingly lead us down a dystopic garden path.

As someone who frequents the digital spaces of social media as much as I do my own bedroom, I find it difficult to reconcile this chilling image with the dynamic reality of the networked home.

Sherry Turkle argues that social media and the networked home makes us distant from people in the “real world”. It is her belief that we are prevented from developing the social skills necessary for navigating relationships. Thus, we miss out on the human connection we inherently crave.

I disagree.

Since moving out of home, my life has been enriched by the capabilities of the networked home, because social media is really the ‘heart of contemporary culture’ (boyd 2014).

An ethnographic snapshot of my networked home:

socials ethno

  • Me, tagging my roommate (who is sitting in the next room) in Facebook memes, to prompt various outbursts of reaction, that to the outside onlooker would appear unprovoked.
  • Conversations over Snapchat about random and entirely hilarious subject matter—these visuals add nonverbal cues that are often feared to be lost in digital communication.
  • Finding and RSVPing to nearby events that my friends and I can attend together, e.g. concerts, trips and uni nights.
  • Video-chatting and texting my friends and family in Sydney whom I miss and wish I could see more often.
  • Scrolling through the #SurvivorAU and #BachelorAU feeds to feel gratified in stranger’s reactions.
  • Using Pinterest to inspire my real life and to find content to entertain when I am at my most bored.

For me, an enhanced life from the use of social media in the networked home comes down to its ability to foster real-world interaction/strengthening of relationships, and its ability to connect us when we feel lonely or are isolated.

Turkle makes an additional point of reclaiming ‘sacred’ spaces for “real world” conversations. Spaces like the kitchen or the dining table.

Her pleas in this fashion are a reflection of her time. In 2019 we are increasingly aware of the impact that technology use has on physical interactions in the home.

We sometimes have these purist sacred spaces or moments where technology use is banned in lieu of physical conversation. However, more often (and most true in my home) we multitask between the two spaces. Using one to reinforce the other rather than to escape it.

The still-image of my networked home is an injustice to its complexity. It doesn’t demonstrate the strength of relationships it has allowed me to build, nor the sense of belonging it has fostered. It doesn’t acknowledge that we are all bettered by it.

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boyd, d. 2014, Its complicated, Yale University, e-book, accessed 26 August 2019, <https://seeingcollaborations.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/itscomplicated.pdf>

Turkle, S. 2012, Connected, but alone?, online video, TED, viewed 29 August 2019, <https://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together/transcript>

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

in times of broken-hearted trouble,​ the television comes to me

As a child, TV was more than just convenient leisure. I felt like more than just a consumer. I find it strange that Nick Couldry in his ethnographic article ‘Theorising media as practice’ (2004) identifies these as some of the key qualities of a child’s television watching.

As a more-lonely-than-not child, I survived on a steady diet of other worlds fed to me directly from the ‘hands’ of the TV. To me it was an escape; an adventure all laid out for me.

And it always had a happy ending.

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I do however find that Couldry’s remarks upon the diminishing parental mediation of their children’s television viewing are relatable. I am thankful that my parents were relaxed in this sense as it allowed me the space to experiment with my watching habits and find content that I enjoyed.

Couldry observes that parents would decreasingly regulate the length of their child’s TV screen-time. True for me.

He also points out that parents would not evaluate what their child was watching with so much stringency. Again, true for me—I was watching Lord of the Rings before I was watching Disney (and I still love it).

Lastly, he also notes that co-use of the television with children declined, meaning there was less discussion about the programs. Also true.

Of the few fragmented memories of my childhood TV watching, these are clearest:

After school. Come home, find a snack. Sit in front of the TV, channel on ABC Kids/ABC3; don’t move until Rollercoaster ends at 6pm and the news starts.

School holidays. I stayed in and watched all ten seasons of Stargate SG1. Then all five seasons of Stargate Atlantis. It was addictive; I did this way too much. I still do this sometimes (don’t judge me).

As I grew older my relationship with TV changed. In high school I would only switch on for reality TV.

The other memory I have is unique against the rest.

I had just come home from school, probably my last day for the year. I got a strange text from my dad, something along the lines of ‘Don’t go into Sydney’. It confused me. Some instinct that told me to turn the TV on like I used to all those years before.

What I saw filled me with dread. A terror attack. Martin Place, Sydney. Hostages, snipers, telephone demands–a siege. Endless loops of news reporters saying the same things. Waiting for new information and hoping something would change. Praying.

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Picture: Channel 7 Source:Channel 7

It was in that moment I wished that my parents would come home from work and sit with me. Turn the TV off, change the channel, talk to me about it, mediate what I was doing somehow. But they wouldn’t.

What had once been a security blanket had become a window into the darkest parts of the world. And I didn’t like what I saw.

Without at first realising it, from then on, I chose for my media consumption to come from a controllable place on my computer. From streaming services and social media.

But I’ll never forget what it was like that day. The sun blaring through the window; my legs sticking to the leather couch. My eyes burning into the screen, and my fear ice-cold.

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Couldry, N 2004, ‘Theorising Media as practice’, Social Semiotics, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 115-130

Photo by 阿江 on Unsplash

You Wouldn’t Steal a Hedwig

Copyright aims to control the spread of memes because the industry wants to control content and ideas. My remediation this week is an example of how this model of highly restrictive copyright is incompatible with the internet.

The internet is open source, no matter how much big businesses try to create control and scarcity. Produsers, such as myself, will always find a way to take someone else’s content and remix it into their own new creation. The internet is optimised for this. There are thousands of online tools available which facilitate the ripping, mixing and mashing of online content. In the battle between prosumers and industry, participatory culture and monopolised material, open and closed formats, the algorithmic measures taken by sites such as YouTube and Soundcloud are insufficient. This week I was told that copyright aims to protect creators but the internet undermines this. Anyone can take an iconic theme song and use an online mashup tool to mix it with a warning video about piracy to create the world’s most ironic banger.

The Digital Public Sphere

The digital age has given Habermas’ classic idea of the ‘public sphere’ a face lift. No longer do we learn about and discuss the news, current events, and social/cultural/political issues of the moment solely from physical sources (legacy media) and face-to-face interactions. Digital and social media have heralded a new age of discourse, allowing us as audience members to actively engage (debate, deliberate and support) with these issues as we discover them in real-time.¹

Twitter is the most prolific micro-blogging platform around: a melting-pot of global, digital conversation and opinion. The public sphere of choice for instant connection with a diverse, mass audience. It has the ability to expose one to an array of thoughts and facts beyond an individual’s personal realm of understandings. A multiplicity arising from following and viewing any member’s tweets, and the ability to view tweets from people one has not subscribed to, through another’s use of the ‘retweet’ button.

Within the sphere of Twitter, exist sphericules of limited subject matter.

The bcm110 hashtag has created a sphericule in the form of a forum (which I am part of) facilitating the UOW Communications and Media student’s learning of their chosen craft, operating through a ‘thrown in the deep end’ approach. We learn about media through using it, and by making our own mistakes with it. We learn from the relevant articles we share with each other, and through the opportunity it affords us to share our own external media creations with a willing and understanding audience.

Our sphericule is not saturated with hot debate of current issues (such as the Twitter-popular gun control debate), but, these current issues may sometimes arise when related to an area of media study. This is because the #bcm110 forum is made up of a cozy family of students and ex-students who have taken the ‘Introduction to Communications and Media’ class, and the wonderful professors who make this class possible. Twitter users not a part of this like-minded collective aren’t strictly excluded from this sphericule, however when they do come across it, a lack of understanding of the subject matter may hinder their own involvement.

The media’s role in our little sphericule is quite different to its typical role within the broader sphere of Twitter. Usually the media would try to generate discussion and convert opinion by disseminating and selling their own ideologies. In the #bcm110 forum however, as a result of our use and applications of the ‘space’ as a learning tool, we turn the media to our own advantage, picking it apart and examining it in detail so we can understand its inner workings, allowing us to become better media creators.

If you have any more thoughts about the digital public sphere then join the ‘Young Dreamer’ sphericule by commenting down below.


¹ Thirroul, S 2018, The Media Theory Toolbox’, lecture, University of Wollongong, delivered 27 March

The Internet: Connective, Collective

Crisis Averted

In 2018, the internet dominates over legacy media. Its network configuration affords dialogic conversation from many people to many other people. Media can now be consumed, produced and remixed by anyone, due to its inherent ubiquitous connectivity (i.e. it is cheap, participatory and immediate). Social networks allow for a new mode of participation where we can coordinate and mobilise in response to real world issues and events.

This idea of ubiquitous connectivity has implications which are evident in real life circumstances. Clay Shirky discusses how the internet enabled citizen journalism in China’s 2009 earthquakes, which prompted me to make this gif as a summation of the general process of empowered network participation. In short, people were reporting on what was happening as it happened by posting videos and images of the devastation in China. Not long after, it was discovered that the reason why so many schools collapsed was because of shady government dealings. Through the internet, citizens were able to coordinate and mobilise protests both online and in real life; they were able to share their personal stories and collaborate on solutions to their problems. All this was done instantly and free of charge, having massive and severe consequences across the nation.

Shirky’s TED Talk examines these implications in much more depth and is a really interesting watch. Leave a comment on what you found most interesting about his talk.