Reflections on New Media (7)

The Vancouver International Digital Festival brought practitioners/creators, programmers, engineers, artitsts, designers, and many other categories of people together around a common interest in New Media. Actually, the common interest and excitement is around creating content for new audiences. These are audiences for whom the Web, cell phones, networking, chats and so on are an integral part of their daily lives, as integral as all forms of communications have become in the early 21st century.

STOP! What does it mean to make this kind of claim?

How do we know what people know? How do we gain access to the acitivities of individuals and to their understanding of their own experiences? Even the use of "we" in these questions is presumptuous, since I am claiming to stand in for the reader. The problem here is that a particular ideology based on what appears to be "use" has overwhelmed any thinking about quality. The number of people who play videogames explains very little about the experience of playing. It would take a holistic approach involving among other things, experience, background, location, context and so on, to extrapolate anything interesting from figures like, two million people are playing a particular game online. In fact, it would take a "new" approach to ethnography to really open up some substantive discussion about the experiences individuals and communities are having with new technologies.

For example, when hundreds of thousands of people play a game together across a network, pay money, experience pain, loss and gain, how can this phenomena be investigated and thought about?

An example of why this question is so important comes out in Steven Johnson's new book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter where so many claims for audience and youth experience are made, that the book loses its shine because so little of the information comes from any serious ethnographic research and investigation. Not that I disagree with the fundamental premise of the book (which should be clear from its title), but that such an important point needs genuine field work which takes time and effort.

Part Eight…