Tuesday, September 13

Internship Documentation

Below is the report recently produced for a small scale study I did working alongside the Horizon research institute in Nottingham, if you have any questions about the report - feel free to drop me an email. It is published here mainly for assessment purposes.

Monday, May 20

20-05-2013 - The Dilemma of Being a Researcher on Twitter

Along with all the other difficulties which come with researching a subject such as hacktivism (by which I mean a subject with heavily loaded interests and extremely digitally capable people on both sides of the arguement) is one which I had not quite anticipated.

Of course, managing an online persona is all about performance - what I choose to tweet, retweet and favourite builds a perception of me to all those who choose to view it. But when researching hacktivism I've got to be truly careful about how I build my online presence: as much as I might want to support or decry actions by certain individuals or organisations, for the most part I've got to hold off clicking that button in order to maintain a neutral stance in the argument. As a prolific tweeter, this is difficult for me - I'm not known for holding my tongue.

In times such as these  I believe that maintaining a credible research stance is becoming all the more difficult. If I can't be seen to uphold the objective stance, then I can't see how any participants (hacktivist or otherwise) should choose to trust in me.

Friday, February 8

08/02/2013 - Elevator Pitch

As a record of my time at the DTC, I think this blog is a good reflection of how the first few months have gone. All excitement and enthusiasm for the first few months, with a tonne of "holy crap I have free time" followed by mountains of coursework, revision, research proposals, presentation, studies and paperwork.

Thankfully, I believe I am SOMEWHAT on the other side of that mountain for now. Having just been informed (after 24hours of almost constant F5ing on the site) that I've passed all my courses from last semester, all I have now are my new courses, my practice led project and my PhD proposal. No mean feats, for sure, but perhaps more manageable than 6 pieces of coursework, tonnes of revision and a 5 thousand word essay.

Anyway, we had our "Elevator Pitch" yesterday afternoon. This was to take our basic level "area" ideas and transform them into something resembling a research project. Well, I think that's what it meant - it could have meant "if you were stuck in an elevator with someone for 90 seconds, how would you tell them what your research was?".

In our previous meeting I had whittled my interests down from the large and unwieldy topic of "digital identity" to "anonymity" (with a view to counterpoint identity by examining it's antonym) and finally settled on a case study of anonymity with "hacktivism".
My presentation went well, I presented the following slide:

In the end I was confident that when I stood up I could at least describe what I wanted to achieve and how I felt I might achieve it.
As it turns out the questions which the academics in the room threw at me almost played into my hands. "I see you've mentioned Goffman, he talks about Backstage and Frontstage behaviour - where do you think hacktivism lies?" - Frontstage! Hurrah, I learned things at undergrad! "How is the anonymity of Hacktivism any different to the anonymity afforded by working for a big corporation?" Because somewhere there will exist a list of amazon employees, but you won't find an Anonymous Membership List - at least not an "official" one. "Is hacktivism a political issue as well as a social one?" Yep! Hacktivism is where modern communication technology meets political and social action, it is certainly a response to certain levels of distrust and alienation - these are themes I want to touch on - but motivation is a different issue from composition, if it emerges that their identity is constructed around the causes they choose to follow, then my project will certainly have to address the political issues surrounding the movement, but that's something I will address when the time comes - and other such stuff.

I think it was good that the project at least encouraged a bit of discussion - I've always known I'll have to fight for my project. In a department (claiming to be multidisciplinary, though most of those disciplines are a variation on computer science) where the pervading message appears to be "if your PhD isn't BUILDING something, then it isn't worth the paper it is typed on", my basic research (basic research in terms of research for the advancement of understanding and knowledge, rather than practical problem solving) is always going to have to fight for existence.

Anyway, I'm confident about the next few months. I need to focus on my practical led project, which I'm hoping to have up and running by next week, and then move onto my PhD proposal in time for the "Writing Retreat" in April/May.

Thursday, November 1

01/11/2012 - Identities as Performance

Here in the limbo time between 8am and when everyone arrives (extended, no doubt, due to the Halloween party last night), I've got time to consider my options when it comes to my PhD. One of the things about being here in limbo is that sometimes the disparate second year PhD students who have been carted off to their respective departments will wander down to ultilise the coffee machine or leftover cake - and I can usually bounce ideas off them or at least take a bit of comfort from their seeming lack of direction which mirrors my own.

Recently I've been toying with the idea of Performance. As I keep explaining to other people when I mention that word - I don't mean performance as in art or dance. Nor do I mean performance in terms of a measurement of success of an action. I mean performance as in playing a role, in any context.
I'm still playing with Identity as my main topic. Throw Performance into their and you've got "Identity as Performance".

This has some interesting implications (which I'll display as dichotomies):

  • Identities as primarily transient, brief and temporal - rather than structured, tangible or permanent.
  • Identities as performed, rather than built.
Social media, then, is a series of performances to an audience - as opposed to a lasting record of your life.

This is really building on E.Goffman's work on identity and interaction. Goffman argued that we are always performing, even when alone - we all have roles to play; each different for person and situation. There is Will at the office, Will on the sofa at home, Will at a family meal and Will in an important meeting. Each of these is a performance.

I think it would be interesting to see if there is a Will on facebook, and a Will on Twitter, and a Will on his blog, in a game, on a forum, on Skype, on Talk Tyria, on YouTube... etc.

Tuesday, October 9

09/10/12 - Discarding Titles

I've been dancing around a few research ideas since I first planned to apply for a PhD. I started off with a continuation of my post-grad masters dissertation title: "Exploring the Validity and Accuracy of Digital Identities in Blogging Communities" - I eventually put this idea to rest, I wasn't happy with my first piece of work on the subject and wanted to draw a line under the whole affair.

Over the past few weeks I dallied in ""Exploring the efficacy of Gamification for encouraging positive online behaviour" as mentioned in one of my previous posts. I was very enthusiastic about this idea for a while, now I think I have cold feet about how applied the whole idea is - it would certainly involve the process of setting up the "game" to examine how effective it might be - and I'm generally uncomfortable with conclusions drawn from experiments in lab settings.

So, I've been thinking over the past few days and have come up with a list of a few topics which I'm interested in and would like to explore, and then some titles and subjects which knit them together:

  • Future/near future technologies
  • Digital Identity
  • Gamification
  • Social Media
  • Video Games
  • Labelling
  • Representation
  • Mass Media
  • Moral Panic
Gamification, social media and identity obviously go nicely together in the title I named above. Future/Near Future technologies, video games and representation also go quite well together - something along the lined of "Examining the representation of near future technologies in Video Games" would be a great topic to explore - I just don't think I could justify the time spent on it. Perhaps when I'm a bought and paid for researcher I might be able to run with it, but not right now. 
So, I've been thinking of going with Digital Identity, Mass Media and Moral Panic. I've got a good basis in digital identity, and have a decent reading list already drawn up (which needs significant expansion, true, but it's a good place to start). I think I'm leaning more and more towards something along the lines of:

"Examining the Representation of Digital Identities in the Mass Media"
It's a start, I suppose.