Ethnography and the Internet: Taking Account of Emerging Technological Landscapes
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This article explores the strengths of ethnography as a methodology for exploring the complex social landscape of the contemporary Internet. The article outlines the historical development of the Internet, from Web 1.0 to a participatory Web 2.0 embedded within everyday life and ultimately to the prospect of an autonomous Internet of Things. The benefits of an ethnographic approach for understanding such developments in depth and examining taken-for-granted assumptions are outlined alongside an account of some of the challenges that digital technologies pose for an ethnographic methodology. Amongst these challenges are the difficulties inherent in mapping out a field site that effectively captures the complexity of online/offline connections and of developing a sufficient degree of immersion and co-presence for a rich understanding to be attained. Finally, the challenges offered by the emergence of mobile Internet, algorithmic filtering of information and unpredictable flows of data are explored. It is suggested that the ethnographer of the Internet can usefully position their task as being to explore a socially constructed yet technologically mediated landscape, immersing themselves in it, interrogating how others experience it and mapping the ways in which it becomes meaningful to those who navigate its complexities.
KeywordsInternet Ethnography Social media Participant observation Methodology Community Internet of Things Field site Landscape Algorithm
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