Load ‘Em Up

The biggest lesson of graduate school for me? You gotta come to terms with how much you don’t know.

You gotta get to a Zen sorta place where that knowledge is a given: there’s way more in the world, in your field, than you even know to ask about. So have another beer and relax, ok?

Or, uh. Try to.

To that end:

I spent this past Thursday at a day-long symposium at Drexel University called Life Online: The Ethics and Methods of Conducting Research in a Digital Age.

Yeah, it was spring break this week. And yeah, I spent it learnin.’ Though I look at it as gathering arrows for my dissertation quiver. Because sooner rather than later, I’m gonna have to start doing research rather than just talking about it [ahem], so I say: load ‘em up.

A few arrows I came away with:

Of immediate interest for wee young researchers like me is this chart from the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). Said chart sketches the different types of data that a researcher might collect online, the venues in which that data might be collected, and the concomitant ethical questions that a researcher might then consider. Interested parties may also find AoIR’s comprehensive Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research (2012) useful in generating a set of vocabulary for talking about and planning online research projects.

For me, the most useful part of the day was Mary L Gray‘s presentation on IRBs and the difficulty some have in dealing with what she calls “ethnographically-engaged” digital media research.

Dude, Dr. Gray was nine kinds of awesome: amazing research, super-smart as hell, and a great speaker. She was talking about Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), for gods’ sake–snore–but she had the whole room with her from go.

You better believe it.

Somehow, Dr. Gray was cut off for time when other speakers were not and we lost a good 20 minutes of her talk. That was—unfortunate. Especially since some later speakers had time left over. Ah well.

For me, here were the key takeaways from her presentation.

General concepts/questions re: digital research:

  • Websites are both texts AND sites; digital media are both a tool AND a location.
  • Online research regenerates the question: what constitutes a public space?
  • There are no unembodied moments online; the body is always present.
  • “The notion of privacy is a privilege,” which—

—holy crap!! One of those things that sounds so obvious and yet, damn.

Central questions re: ethics of online research:

1.  Ethical dilemmas are an index of methodological flux/growth in fields of inquiry. Such dilemmas can be generative and productive and we shouldn’t shy away from engaging with them directly.

2.  Ethics in online research are ad hoc and (re)constructed: they evolve over time, over the life of a project, and researchers must attend to this evolution.

3.  Online researchers should talk through the ethics of a particular project with a trusted colleague, peer, or professor.

AMEN! Especially when your advisor’s own research is generating simliar questions.

4.  Gaining IRB approval doesn’t signal the resolution of ethical issues around a project. Indeed, Gray argued that the setup of many IRB forms and procedures can obscure, rather than shed light on, ethical questions that can spring up around digital research.

5.  Those who study worlds online should not let the computer screen become the sole terministic screen through which they study a given population or community. Gray emphasized the importance of talking to the people whose activities you see online; there’s much that’s lost without pushing into the broader context within which the user’s digital engagement sits.

This last one really got to me, especially because Gray was pretty damn convincing on this point. But such in-world examinations work directly against both my own instincts (eek! people!) and my sense of the “norm” in rhetorically-inclined digital research. Goddamn it. Because of course, the resistant aura that in-world engagement holds in this context is like catnip to me, man.

fire

Or batnip.

All in all, I came out with more questions and angst than answers, and that, for me? Is the sign of a day well spent.


Let Me Guess: You’ve Got a Masters in Fanwank

One of our assignments in the Digital Self course I’m taking is to analyze our own online identity. You know, the professional one.

And though I made a big deal yesterday of just how cool I am with being read in different ways–in opening myself up to online interpretation–it was a wee bit scary, trolling through my profiles on various sites, kinda like–

Exactly.

And the whole time, I’m thinking: Hmmm–how might someone interpret what they see here, out of context and with no other knowledge of me?

Ha! Right.

The whole exercise reminded me of this askbox meme on tumblr:

50  Likes   Tumblr

It’s one of those memes I like to ask but to which I never have a good answer when someone else does the same.

I’d like to think I have no shame. Once you’ve said the phrase “riding the gay incest train” in an academic presentation, there aren’t many places left to hide. But I’m curious as to what a Potential Hiring Person would say if all they knew of me was what they read here or saw over on tumblr.

Ain’t gonna stop me from reblogging pictures of the Overlord’s belt buckles, you know. But it’s hard now–er, um–thanks in part to this class, not to wonder.


Welcome to Zur-En-Arrh

There’s something about the idea of performativity, about the capacity to reenact different versions of one’s self depending upon the demands (and opportunities) presented by a given situation, that freaks people out sometimes, because–

–they’ll say.

That is, I think many people believe that they possess a “true” self, an inner rock of being that is distinctly, unequivocally their own.

But to me, the notion of a One True Anything–much less a One True Self–is frankly terrifying.

Maybe it’s the Gorgias lover in me [yes], or the postmodernist [yup], or the wanderlust, but for me, everything is situational.

It’s like Zora Neale Hurston says in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road: “Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person.  That is natural.  There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, see it from its own angle” (45).

The cynical version of this would be it’s all relative, but that’s not quite what I mean.

I’d say: it’s all kairotic.

Toss these questions online, these musings over identity and performance, and whoa.

Who am I online? Given that there are different versions of me running around on tumblr, on twitter, on AO3, here on this blog: what control do I have over the answer to that question?

Well, as Corrine Weisgerber notes, the answer may be not a damn lot:

Interpersonal communication research tells us that on social networking sites the people in our network actually co-construct our identities.

Weisgerber uses the metaphor of the multiverse to illustrate this effect: in essence, we’re read repeatedly and from an enormous variety of perspectives by those whom we encounter online. Each of these readers constructs a slightly different version of our “online self” based both on information about us they’ve collected [and we've shared] and on the particular screen through which we’re read.

Thus, who we are online is not one being, rather a constantly evolving set of selves whose outlines we may sketch through the information that we provide but whose features and characteristics are ultimately created by each of our readers.

It’s like online: I’m Batman.

Batman-batman-4488825-1280-800

And I’m Batman from Earth 2 (who gets to marry Selina):

Batman-Catwoman-Wedding-Earth-2
And I’m Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

batmite

The Batman of Zur-En-Ahh, as re-conceived by Grant Morrison, is a man for whom all of Batman’s other selves are real. He’s the crazed, embodied Bat whose head is drowning meta and experiences and identities that his body, his brain, can’t hope to contain.

So I am all of these selves, all at once. Along with many more versions of myself that live in the minds of my readers, as it were, that I’ll never meet, much less name.

I find this vaguely comforting, this kind of being and not-being.

As a writer, I’m always quick to dismiss the notion of authorial intent: to my mind, once I write something and put it into the world, it’s the reader’s to play with, not mine to control. I can give it all my attention in the crafting, the furious typing, the inevitable swearing. But once it’s published, out there in the ether for anyone to see, it’s not mine anymore.

Certainly, the stakes are higher in academia than in fan fiction: interpretations of my Professional Online Selves may help or hinder my ability to feed myself, for example. But the multiverse metaphor is freeing for me because it underscores the limits of control I have over this particular form of text, of Online Me(s). It doesn’t give me a free pass to openly not give a shit about what I post or who I speak to or what I choose to say–though that’s tempting, believe me–but it does take the pressure off a bit.

Because let’s face it: I think of myself of the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh, but most folks have no idea who he is. And I’m ok with that.


My Rhetorical Voltron

All right, Digital Self fans: here’s the deal–

This blog? It’s my rhetorical Voltron.

It’s a space where all the disperate parts of my self combine, where my “complex identities”–as Rainie and Wellman put it in Networked–build themselves into a sword-wielding whole:

Ok, the sword’s sold separately. But you dig what I mean.

This is a space, an electronic place, where I write through all the different kinds of shit that makes its way through my head without bothering to gloss over the borders, to make myself into a coherent, heterogeneous entity.

Oh no: you can still see the seams. Each of the robot tigers, yeah, they’re distinct–and yet connected–here.

To wit:

Look: this is a space where I write, period. For good or ill, nsfw or not, this is where I invoke the Goddess Rhetorica and use her for my own devices.

I’ve thought long and hard about what it means for this blog to be public, to be linked in any way to my official identity as a scholar, natch. And to date, my response has basically been: fuck it.

But I suspect this course will make me [has made me] have that conversation with myself once again: what does it mean to be Catchclaw and KT, all at once?

For now, though, don’t be afraid: sometimes a sword is just a sword.

Sometimes.