The Internet Sandwiches Cosmos and Hearth

Orality and visuality converge and merge into the online medium, reaching simultaneously for both the hearth and the cosmos. This hearth is the realm of the domestic, where we feed our desire for the security of our intimate relationships and the capacity to be our “true self.” At the same time, there is the desire for belonging to the cosmos, the sprawling landscape wherein we accumulate status and perform our identities, which are the products of the various cultural and institutional systems within which we are embedded.
What makes the online medium unique, then, is its capacity to bridge the gap between the realm of the hearth and the realm of the cosmos, reversing what has been called “the disintegation of the public sphere.” However, the transparency and permeability of the online medium renders the private sphere susceptible to public visibility. With the popularization of online communication came an inevitable “moral panic,” inciting both a discourse of fear regarding the transgressive nature of virtual intimacy as well as corporate interest in exploiting the Web for its economic potential. Nevertheless, for the most part the intangible dangers of being held accountable to largely invisible audiences are considered secondary to the convenience of instantaneous access to this public “global village” from the comfort of the home

This post inspired by Paul Levinson’s Digital McLuhan and Cosmos and Hearth (Tuam).

The Cyberanthropologist’s Toolkit

Over the past two years of conducting online ethnography, I’ve collected quite the bevy of resources I’ve come to think of as the cyberanthropologist’s toolkit. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly:

Alexa Web Information Inc; is the definitive source for website traffic data. Besides providing more general statistics such as world traffic ranking and total hit count, the site also breaks down the percentage of visitors by country, changes in ranking over the past three months, and average number of page views per visitor. Great tidbit for a footnote when introducing a website in your research.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has been conducting surveys and analyzing online trends since 2000. Their extensive reports are archived on the site, and encompass the following categories: online activities & pursuits; demographics; Internet evolution; technology & media use; health; family, friends, & community; major news events; public policy; e-gov & e-policy; education; and work. I would recommend this site for anyone interested in changing attitudes over time, or merely as a source of inspiration for those searching for a controversial issue to explore.

Providing an historical overview is critical to any in-depth research. Nicole Ellison and danah boyd have put together a fantastic history of social network sites, which details the evolution of Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook, among others. Additionally, Facebook provides an official, month-to-month timeline of important events in the site’s history. Though I can’t vouch for its credibility, I was able to locate a blog post that details the evolution of MySpace.

Finally, my blog WebnographY contains a plethora of literature reviews on the topic of online ethnography, as well as links to my past research projects and assorted random  musings. Find links to a variety of pertinent articles on my Resources page. Cheers!