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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a friendship across the ages

I vividly remember my dance teacher, Miss T, telling our class not to worry about going to high school. Not because it would be okay, or anything that was actually comforting. But because we wouldn’t have to be concerned about staying in touch with our primary school friends. She told us that we would find better friends. That that the friendships we had in that moment were irrelevant.

She was not my favourite teacher.

When I first began high school, I lost touch with most people from primary—I didn’t much like them anyway. There were, however, a few select friends who I was sad to let go.

Opportunity came knocking with the launch of the social messaging app Kik. Introduced to me by the one primary school friend with whom I had maintained contact through dancing; I decided it was the perfect opportunity to re-establish contact with the few people I missed.

From there it became a regular after school activity to sit on the couch and message back and forth with this group of five (including that friend from dance). Our friendship was reaffirmed when a few of us started attending the same youth group for a couple years—all organised over Kik; a semi-long-distance friendship.

These girls became my closest friends.

We lost a few along the way. Falling outs, differing interests. Until there were just three of us left—Steph, Tara and myself.

Around year 10 we made the switch to Facebook and Facebook Messenger. We were able to share more of our lives and communicate more authentically. It was easier to organise ourselves and we were motivated to do more together.

It was great to have people who were always there to talk to—they wouldn’t get annoyed with the all-hours messaging. We stuck by each other and pushed each other to be better people as we dealt with the troubles of growing up.

They were my closest friends, even more so than the ones I had at school.

Year 12 was the most stressful time of our lives. We moved from messaging each other to Skyping each other so we could study ‘together’. It was far more motivating to sit down and do work if you were amongst friends, even if it was only digital.

We’re still friends now. It feels like all those years of partially separated friendship prepared us for the long-distance kind.

Our lives now are crazy and time-consuming. It’s impossible to maintain the high constancy of social media contact that we once did. Though there may now be gaps between when we talk, our bond is still just as strong.

Looking back it’s amazing to see how social media has been the glue that has held us together. How it has impacted everything from our nicknames—Stephy, Taz, Chrissy—to what we wore when we went out.

Take that, Miss T.

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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

Photo by Ramon Kagie on Unsplash

i’m good, thanks for asking

I’ve been replaced.

By, of all things, the not-so-humble smartphone.

Maybe not in the literal sense. Nonetheless, it is hard to grasp the fact that as a sales assistant I was once trusted with dishing out sage fashion advice. Now, I am merely the grunt that greets customers and scans shoes with a sweet-as-candy smile.

It is a replacement so seamless that nobody notices it has happened. After all, I am still *technically* here.

Let me explain in Marsha Berry‘s (2015) ethnographic vignette style:

Jess and Stacy are on the hunt for a pair of shoes for their Year 12 formal. Once they’re shown to the size 8 section, they wave away any offers of help from the store person. Jess intently scrolls through her dedicated Pinterest board, trying to see if any of her saved looks match what she sees on the shelves. Stacy wades her way through the store’s website, attempting to locate the shoes that she fell in love with a few days earlier.

Indecision sets in as they try on their choices. Jess takes some photos of herself wearing different heels and posts them on her Snapchat story. Within minutes her friends reply, all touting advice and admiration. Meanwhile, Stacy FaceTimes her dad—a fruitless effort as Stacy finds his opinions to be stylistically misguided. She then holds her phone up, squinting. She displays a picture of herself wearing her formal dress in her bedroom, envisioning what the shoes would look like as part of the ensemble. Do they match?

The answer—it seems—is yes. The girls pay, one with their Apple Wallet and the other with Afterpay. In politeness, they thank the lady behind the counter and move on to the next store, phones still clutched tightly in hand.

Marsha Berry’s article ‘Out in the open: Locating new camera practices with smartphone cameras’ (2015) highlights the interrelationship between an individual’s daily routine and technology—particularly social media. She describes how these connections between the human and the network are “complex and messy” and enmeshed in our everyday comings and goings.

She observes how our digital interactions “evoke [in others] a sense of what it is like to be here and now in the physical world in a visceral multi-sensory way.” The contemporary experience of space is atomised as places become unbounded and transitional—able to be shared with anyone.

The individuals who engage in this ecology are labelled ‘digital wayfarers’. They share their explorations of the real world on social media with people in their network. Almost everyone now participates in this ‘virtual co-presence’ as it has become a “key factor in our daily encounters with physical places.”

As Jess and Stacy demonstrate, the digital world is now spliced to our lived experience.

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Berry, M 2015, ‘Out in the Open: Locating new vernacular practices with smartphone cameras’, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 53-64

Photo by Ramon Kagie on Unsplash