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Showing posts from 2011

Minecraft as a Modern fantasy - great fun and deeply problematic?

A specter is haunting the internets - the specter of Minecraft. If you have not yet encountered it, chances are it will be near you soon. Minecraft is a so-called indie game that has made it big, with 4 million purchases so far (and counting), even though the game is still in beta. On YouTube, fan-made Minecraft videos such as this one easily attract hundreds of thousands of viewers.

How come this success? Minecraft certainly does not impress with spectacular graphics nor sophisticated narratives. Basically, Minecraft is about mining. After a tiny Java-program is installed on your desktop, it generates a vast 3D world, complete with oceans, continents, weather above and caves below. As a player you are then free to explore and exploit this world after your liking - typically through mining of various ores and crafting of items (hence the name of the game). The only stress factor is that during nighttime, monsters spawn out of dark spots on the map, which in effect is anywhere that you…

STS Walk-Talks

In order to go full social media circle, here is a brief post on what has already been mentioned through other outlets: I'm guest-blogging on the STS at Oxford blog about yesterday's Talk-Walk on the theme of 'Visualising - what is it to visualise?'. Sub-themes include the plural meanings and widespread metaphorical use of terms that relate to the visual, the slippy concept of affordances, and the scientific and narrative powers of visualisations. This is a nice follow-up to my earlier post on the animating of lectures.

But what on earth is an STS Talk-Walk in the first place? I first encountered the concept here in Oxford where it has been initiated and described by Malte Ziewitz. As mentioned by Malte, the idea first came about in Amsterdam where Annemarie Mol took her PhD students out walking. Rumour has it that the Dutch walk considerably longer than we do here in Oxford. On the other hand, we have been able to accommodate an interesting mix of people from differen…

Official statistics: 51% of 16-74 year old Danes use Facebook

In making a case for why my MSc dissertation here at the Oxford Internet Institute should be concerned with something as hyped and mundane as Facebook, I've been looking for numbers on the Danish social media landscape.

On the English-language web, the commercial SocialBakers Facebook statistics suggest that 49% of the Danish population are on Facebook.

This rather non-transparent number can now be compared with a recent report by Statistics Denmark, suggesting that 51% of 16-74 year old Danes have a Facebook account. The second-largest online social network service in Denmark, LinkedIn, is trailing far behind at 8%. Most surprisingly perhaps, a mere 3% of the surveyed age cohort use Twitter.

As such, there are compelling quantitative reasons for choosing Facebook over e.g. Twitter for a case study of how social media reflect life in Denmark. Another recent survey produced for a Danish daily confirms this: A tiny elite of the 319 most active Twitter users in Denmark write half of …

Mapping the Mapping

As a follow-up to the Mapping Controversies project on the Danish 'Tax Wars' described last year on this blog, one group member - Emil Urhammer - has taken a more reflexive stance on a new website entitled Mapping the Mapping.

The two main contributions are a philosophical essay on what it might mean to do (meta) mapping of controversies and a short inquiry, using qualitative survey and interview methods, into the reception and future potential of the original Tax Wars project. I found both reads highly stimulating. For example, Emil suggests that a 'Chamber of Closure' is added to mappings of controversies in order to facilitate not only the opening of the field of actors and arguments, but also the speed of opinion construction that is so crucial under the current circumstances, according to Latour.

The apt name notwithstanding, I also find the chamber of closure idea very useful for making explicit to the reader that a visit to a mapping controversies is never innoc…

Online interviews 4: Temporality and turn taking

In this final installation of the mini series of blog posts on performing qualitative research interviews online, the issue of temporality is emphasized.

A basic distinction can be made between synchronous and asynchronous interviews. Synchronous interviews, typically in variations of an online chat format, seem to have advantages over asynchronous email interviews. First, chat allows for more spontaneity, minimizing socially desirable answers. Second, the interviewer can show attention more easily by sending encouraging comments. Thirdly, chat makes it easier to guide or adapt to respondent behaviour by rephrasing questions along the way.

These advantages all highlight potential threats to the validity of asynchronous email interviews. This  format makes it very hard to simulate face-to-face interaction and the trusting relationship that is needed in a qualitative interview. Furthermore, Walther (1996:33) makes it easier for the interviewee to present herself from carefully …

Visualisation and Computerisation: Putting RSAnimate into perspective

How does visualisation enact a message or a lecture?

This question was posed by sociologist and ethnographer Steve Woolgar in his introductory keynote at the ongoing Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation Conference in Oxford. He provided one very entertaining example that deserves a replay. Contradicting the much-celebrated RSAnimate's visualisation of a Slavoj Zizek lecture (on 'cultural capitalism') with the more mundane video of Zizek delivering the lecture in person, Woolgar invited us to think about what it means to visualise.

While Woolgar would normally argue that maintaining an ethnographic distance to the phenomenon under study is key to making a valuable contribution, in this morning's keynote, he played with the thought that it might be possible to allow oneself be dragged in by the lure and coolness of the visuals if at the same time maintaining a reflexive irony.

In this spirit I would recommend the reader to expose herself to Woolgar's example. …

Online interviews 3: Being there through text

This third instalment in my mini series on performing research interviews online deals with the issue of communicating via text such as emails and chat, rather than speech.

Communicating through text is not trivial since it leaves out the use of facial expressions and intonations that support offline interaction. In general, online communication implies a loss of social cues. For example, the lack of body language means that the interviewer cannot take signs of discomfort or confusion into account as easily. In terms of reactions, the 'interviewer’s repertoire' of tools with which to encourage the respondent includes nonverbal responses. Limiting this repertoire might make it difficult to build rapport effectively.

Seen from the perspective of face-to-face standards of qualitative data validity, there is a risk that the interviewee will find it offensive or unserious that the interviewer is not physically present and listening actively. For the same reasons, one might fe…

Online interviews 2: Purposive sampling and digital divides

Ten years ago, the “predicted trajectory of future penetration” of the Internet generated optimism on behalf of online research (Couper 2000). The rise of the Internet as a pervasive communication technology heralded unprecedented reach and ever lower costs of social science.

This second post on conducting qualitative interviews online is concerned with exactly this reach - the recruitment of respondents. Borrowing from quantitative lingo, one might call it sampling. But it should be made clear that theoretical purpose rather than probability must guide the choice of who to interview. Thus, I suggest the term 'purposive sampling'.

A major obstacle to purposive sampling of interviewees for online questioning is the so-called digital divide. The divide exists both between Internet users and non-users, and within the flock of Internet users.

According to Couper’s early meta-study, between 27-53% of adult Americans used the Internet in 1998-99. A recent US survey said the figur…

Online interviews 1: Introduction

The qualitative interview is perhaps the most popular method in social science. But online interviews are still relatively marginal, especially ‘real time’ ones. In a short series of posts to be published within the next week, I will suggests ways in which the Internet both challenges and furthers the interview method.

Discussing the validity of online research raises basic questions: Are online methods merely extending offline methods, or should they be seen as departing from them? This is related to the fundamental challenge in social science of inquiring a constantly changing world. Are the offline methods that have been cultivated over decades still adequate in a complex information society?

Depending on what one believes to be the answer, different threats to validity are brought to the forefront. For example, if online interviews are seen as merely an extension in which rapport still needs to be built in the conventional way, media richness is a key factor. If, on the other hand…

Net delusions: Are Morozov and Watson's dystopias any good?

First a disclaimer: I have not read the two new books I mention here, and it is unlikely that I ever will. You may see this as ridiculous or as an interesting experiment. The thing is, judging on the media coverage the books have attracted so far, many people have already read them and many more will. I'm talking about two recent examples of what I'm inclined to call the dystopian trend in popular writing about the Internet: Evgeny Morozov's The Net Delusion and Richard Watson'sFuture Minds: How The Digital Age Is Changing Our Minds, Why This Mattersand What We Can Do About It. But before I discuss to them in turn, a short note on the (far too) bright side of things: Utopias.

Historians of the Internet have already started to look back at the 1990s as the decade where cyber utopianism ruled. John Perry Barlow's A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, for example, is mentioned time and again as the epitome of the many Internet-fuelled hopes of refinding communi…