UNI SP4 Study Period 4 2014

NET102 Module 1 Study Guide

Internet Studies 102 : The Internet and Everyday Life

Study Guide for Module 1 (by Elaine Tay)

These notes form part of your content for module 1 and explain the connections between the Internet, the study of everyday life, and what we are trying to do in this unit. I discuss the reason we draw on different perspectives in our readings and activities, and also address the main approaches to employ as you study the topics that comprise module 1: community, power, economy and identity. Please return to these notes when you start preparing your first two assignments.

Introduction: Ubiquity, or, The Internet is Everywhere

The Internet has, through time, become so much a part of everyday life that the border between offline and online experience has disintegrated gradually. In developed countries, the Internet is part of the everyday for many people. The technology is interwoven into different aspects of life, and different technologies (work, shops, games, phones, fridges!). The Internet has penetrated our work, schools, homes, commuting, banks, government agencies, and shops. We have been witnessing the connecting up of various devices, the television, gaming consoles, mobile phones, PDAs, and so forth, to the Internet. Media and organizations we see as “traditional”, such as music and radio stations, news organizations, television stations, are not unaffected and, indeed, a symbiotic relationship exists between these forms of media and the Internet. The ubiquitous (“everywhere”) nature of the Internet is the result of the incorporation of the ‘online’ world with the ‘offline,’ so much so that the distinctions start becoming superfluous. In this section, through the readings and discussions, we explore how much the Internet is part of our everyday.

The Internet and Everyday Life

Our study of the Internet occurs within a larger field of enquiry, that is, the study of the human condition within the humanities. Ours is a project within this larger one, that is, the appreciation of different cultural values and aesthetics, a critical evaluation of our past in order to appreciate what has been achieved and retain what is valuable, and avoid what we do not want to happen again, as well as the development of tools to predict what is to come. Through this study, we may come to understand ourselves and the world a little better and perhaps there is also the possibility of positive change.

Why, then, should “everyday life” be a topic for study? The answer lies in what everyday life represents and what is hidden within the everyday. Everyday life includes the daily, mundane, commonplace experiences, objects, habits and routines. The everyday is what is usually seen as not notable, the part of humanity’s experience that is not seen as “news” or unfamiliar enough to comment upon. The everyday that most people are talking about is usually not the everyday of the rich and famous, but of “normal people,” as Bennett and Watson put it: “When we speak of everyday life, it is usually the daily lives of “ordinary people” - members of the working and middle classes - that are at issue rather than exclusively the daily lives of the members of powerful social elites or classes” (1992, p.x). Thus, cooking at home, walking in the city (de Certeau), the pub, and shopping become possible objects of study.

In 1968, Marshall McLuhan, a well-known philosopher in communication studies, once remarked, “One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.” When something becomes so commonplace that people do not normally think about it very much, that is when it is most powerful, because the power that operates through it is invisible and unexamined. People often do not question or think about something that has become normal. Each of the technologies of communication have, at their introduction and infusion into the everyday, been the subject of much anxiety and scrutiny. The Internet, at the point that this unit was created in 2009, was still very much something that people worried about and got excited over in terms of its possibilities. It was, and has been, the topic of many a media panic, and also celebrated for the convenience it brings, and for offering potential solutions to problems of the past. With mobile technologies and the ubiquity of computing at work, schools and other aspects of everyday life in contemporary developed countries, the Internet has become more and more normal. Thus, it has become more and more pressing to keep a critical lens trained on it, to consider the place of the Internet in terms of not just ourselves and our families, but in the big picture, in contemporary society today.

These are the reasons for studying the Internet and everyday life:

1.To understand ourselves and our society better By studying our own culture and institutions the way an entomologist may study bees, we begin to discern the patterns and undercurrents that structure our lives and the rules that people do not question or talk about. In their attribute of being taken-for-granted and constant, these everyday rules and patterns are ingrained into our psyches, so entrenched as to be very powerful forces for social control. The everyday routines and rituals structure and give consistency to our lives and the world around us, they are powerful sources of information about a certain society and culture. At work, our colleagues, superiors and the people who work for us share common practices and norms about when we’re supposed to be at work, where we’re supposed to work, how we are to work, how we are to talk to different people, what we need to use, and what we should provide and what should be provided for us by our workplace. And we all know what happens when we break with some of these expectations too much! Studying these rules tells us much about the way power is distributed at work, how it is structured and who stands at the bottom and top of the hierarchy, and also one aspect of how we identify ourselves.

2.To identify and understand effective progressive/conservational tactics One reason for trying to understand the nuts and bolts of how power and control operates in our society is so as to be able to recognise ways of improving it - and avoid the abuses and oppressive aspects that we may observe. Thus, this kind of study of the everyday helps us see and raise awareness of the operation of power in its most entrenched form - at the level of the unremarkable. Yet, it is also misleading to suggest that the everyday is only conservative, a way of controlling and preventing social change. Appreciation of the everyday transforms and unleashes the skills and creativity that is hidden in it, while our actions and thoughts may operate within certain socially-prescribed limits, there is some likelihood that there is also scope for unconscious expressions of resistance towards this control. Thus, the study of the everyday includes examining ways in which people may subvert, in a small-scale way, the limitations of their world. The ‘sickie’ and ‘smoko,’ for instance, can be seen as examples of this at work. By looking at these tactics in depth, we may see more clearly the scope and limits of our actions in different contexts within our society.

3.To recognise and understand change And here we come to this unit. One central idea in this unit is that it is through examining the everyday that we can see how the Internet has made an impact on us. The reverse is true too, as indicated in the previous week, the accumulated effect of the decisions of many can also affect the development of the Internet. Through studying everyday life and the Internet, it is possible to see the role the Internet may play in people’s sense of identity, how groups are formed and sustained, in the economy, and how power is distributed in our society.

Multiple Perspectives

There are some issues to think about in the course of your work within this unit that we’ll flag early, that is: •One person’s everyday is not the other person’s everyday. The proposition made here is that our own personal experiences of the Internet cannot be said to be everyone else’s. We are therefore asking you to do a balancing act: while we want you to draw from your personal experience to understand and develop some of the ideas in this unit, we also would like you to take into account that one’s experience, including what can be gleaned from anecdotes and observations of friends and family, does not necessarily mirror that of everyone else in wider society. We can make hypotheses that we subsequently test with our own research and reading. To make the great leap extending something that applies to one’s personal, and that of our social network’s, experience to broader society (in other words, to generalise), we’d need to see if it also applies to other people. In this unit, this will be done primarily through finding and reading research done by others, but, as you progress through your studies, you’d might also want to conduct some direct research of your own.

This is particularly so if we think that people’s experience, rather than being independent of it, is shaped by the way they are positioned within the society they live in, and, indeed, which society they live in. While it is possible to disagree on their extent and rigidity, there are constraints placed upon us based on our age, ethnicity, gender, and the roles we play. The Internet needs and encounters of a middle-aged, middle-management woman working in a large private corporation may differ from that of a 20-something male student, and again, from that of a father in his 30s working part-time in a public hospital. Thus, one of things you’d need to bear in mind is this question of difference in the way the Internet is experienced by people placed in different ways in society, how to account for it, how to analyse it? •The everyday is historically specific and located. The everyday shifts. Another thing that complicates how much we can generalise in this unit is the everyday we each have in mind is specific to a certain time, place and social context. The way the Internet is stitched into the fabric of our everyday now, here in Australia would be very different from, say, the way it was typically used in the mid-1990s. The everyday Internet in America would be a bit different from Australia, and, likewise, from the way it is in Korea, China, Thailand or Indonesia. Two thirds of the world do not have access to these technologies of the Internet, although this is changing quickly, yet people living in developed countries and locations where they are commonplace often think and write as if the whole world has this access, and as if the experiences, the impact of these technologies, are universal. It is important to be aware that the Internet that we think about is the one closest to our own immediate environment, we need also to be aware that it would be inaccurate to represent this version of the Internet as one shared across time, space and social strata. Indeed, it is important in Internet Studies to unearth and study these differences rather than assume that the Internet is the same everywhere.

•Perspective matters Because people’s experiences differ, both in terms of their Internet and their life in general, we will spend much of this unit looking at different perspectives about particular topics. You will be reading blog posts by people working within an Internet-related industry and/or using the Internet in some way, academics who are researching and analysing the Internet, and contributing your own perspective as well. As you read and engage in the activities, be aware of the different contexts of the writing and thinking going on, the different interests and motivations, and particularly, what each perspective has to offer.

Aspects of the Everyday

To allow us to explore the Internet and its role in everyday life in detail, we are looking at selected aspects of the everyday. Firstly, we have split them into different topics: music, dating and intimacy, health, games, faith and politics. These are selected case studies that we will explore in detail in order to arrive at some general understanding of the relationship between different spheres of our lives and the Internet. Secondly, we are also narrowing down our analysis to the following categories: power, economy, community and identity.

These categories overlap in varying degrees, people, for instance, may form intimate relationships with others on a music or games website, and our sense of who we are, our identity, is often intimately woven in with the way we are placed in relation to other people and social groups, the social understanding of belonging (and not belonging), that is, community - but it’s simpler to analyse them independently first. You might, during the course of your study, recognise similar themes and patterns that run across the different categories and topics - take note of them! These will prove useful later on when you reflect upon and work on your assignments.

NEXT: Topic 1.1: Music: I want my MP3»