The methodology section of Living in Virtual Communities: an ethnography of human relationships in cyberspace by Denise Carter brings up many interesting points that are relevant to the work that we will be doing in class these next few weeks. While Carter spent three and a half years researching relationships in cyberspace, we will only have a couple weeks. One of the points that really stood out is that “ethnography is more than simply participant observation”. We can observe but how can we make meaning of something without understanding the context and actually asking about feelings towards experiences and relationships? We can’t. On our first field trip, my group and I did a lot of observation. We went to the Da Vinci Gardens in Second Life. We observed the castles, cottages, ocean, ships, dragons, and gardens. We can come to the conclusions that it was a beautiful place but how do we know what is important about it and what it can do? So, we began interacting. I (accidentally) hoped onto a helicopter ride that gave me a tour of the entire place, rode the dragon and shot fire, and I even swam under the ocean. Even at that, I was still mostly observing. I was interacting with the world but not the other people experiencing it. I knew to get a perspective it would be important to interact with someone so I attempted to. Unfortunately, the individual was new to the place as well so I only told him what I knew about the gardens. However, I could slightly tell what his personality was like. or what he was trying to portray anyway, which brings me to the authors next point.
How do we measure authenticity? How can we tell if someone is telling the truth? Unfortunately, it is difficult in online and offline. Like we have discussed earlier in the semester, online communities allow you to be whoever you want to be. You can look and act like your real life self, or you can choose to look and act completely different. This makes it very difficult to conclude if someone is being truthful or not. The author took advantage of the three and a half years of research and took the time to get to know individuals. Like we’ve learning in communication theory classes, self-disclosure comes with time. The longer you talk to someone, the better you get to know them, and specific to this discussion, you better learn how to tell if they are being truthful or not. Unfortunately for our class we do not have three and a half years to get to know these things about individuals but it is a good thing to keep in mind when going on our field trips and interacting with others.