The Birth of An Ethnography: #TOEthno

Some of you may know that I am a Toronto-based sociologist who frequently works in applied settings with designers and technologists. I’m intrigued with what appears to be happening in the Toronto scene where design and technology intersect. In particular, I’m fascinated with the role Twitter plays in organizing work. So I’m starting an ethnography of this scene, known through its Twitter hash tag of #TOEthno.

This is the very beginning. I’m still working out the details around my research question, the specific research target, and the difficulties with on and off-line mixed observation.

A few thought starters I have found so far:

  • Computer-mediated social networks (CMSNs) play a significant, but changing role, in organizing work for these “creative class” of workers. Where once email reigned, then came Friendster, Facebook, and FriendFeed. Now Twitter is exploding as a form of one-to-one and many-to-many communication. What role does it play in organizing work?
  • Geographic location is reinforced by virtual communication. People can create intimate relationships with people they’ve never met, true, but the real impact appears to be when CMSNs reinforce face-to-face meetings. The phrase “meat space” has emerged as a foil to “cyberspace.”
  • CMSNs allow for the digitally enhanced experience of making both strong and weak ties. The digital experience, as Negroponte would tell us, are “co-mingling bits.” Now imagine friends’ conversations being “co-mingling bits” and mashed up to create new friendships, but also intensely knowable friendships. You can search and pinpoint exact moments in time when friendships change. You can search and know when new friendships start, when old ones die, when become something else (e.g., partnerships).
  • Enforced sociality is emerging as a norm within this community. One must reach out, broadcast, make connections, meet people and be “out there” to be a hub in the community. The Twitter experience of the “@username” phenomenon is an intersting public showing of one’s sociality. One can immediately know the precise number of  @ replies one receives. Indeed, these @ replies also are broadcasted to your mutual friends, making it publicly knowable how many times others reply to you. The number of one’s “followers” is also immediately known, as is the number of people one follows. The ratio of followers to followees suggests how desirable one is as a friend.

These are emerging ideas. I invite conversation about this. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/sladner

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5 responses to “The Birth of An Ethnography: #TOEthno

  1. Looking forward to following along as you further research this area.

  2. Very exciting! I’m trying to get a half-decent grasp of what is happening and I very much look forward to reading your findings as they appear.

  3. A few random thougts:
    – Someone sent me an email telling me he was following me on Twitter, and insisting that I should follow him. Enforced sociality? To not follow would be ‘rude’.
    – I see a strong connection between this and your ‘impression management’ post. If a person sends an @tweet, his/her followers are alerted to the fact, as you say. This can be seen as an assertion of a strong tie to the @ recipient (whether or not that recipient responds, notices or even follows the sender).
    – I’d hazard that there are age-specific patterns at work. Related hypothesis: is there a day care effect? The social space makes me think of a day care where friendship and allegiances are observed as they played out.
    -. I tweeted:a query re-follower/following ratio (http://twitter.com/asoudack/statuses/989892450). And got only one reply: a direct message. Not enough followers, I guess.

  4. Very interested in how this ethnography of Twitter might play in K-12 setting.

  5. Pingback: Networked Schools 3: Permission Structures - A Stick in the Sand

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