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A chatroom ethnography: Evolution of community, norms, nonverbal communication
Unformatted Document Text:  A Chatroom Ethnography 15 While analyzing the interactions in each observation, criteria emerged as giving evidence of prior relationships among the community members that allowed me to distinguish between the two levels of relationships. Evidence of prior interpersonal relationships included both online and offline expressions of relationship statuses and included: using ‘first names’ rather than screen names to address particular members; discussions of offline meetings; plans discussed to meet offline; description of prior interactions either on or offline; use of specific knowledge about individuals in the chatroom in the course of the conversations; perceived need to introduce themselves to others in the chatroom; and frequency and variation of nonverbal cues used. Each of the four observations rested at a different location on this continuum; however, a general distinction was logical placing two of the observations in the few interpersonal relationship category and two in the numerous interpersonal relationship category. Few interpersonal relationships. The observation that demonstrated evidence of the fewest numbers of previous interpersonal relationships was characterized by a dance of introductions and follow up questions to those introductions. These ritual introductions consisted of requests for information such as, “age/sex check” meaning that everyone is supposed to respond with that information. Ritual introductions also include participants’ volunteering that information when they enter the room or decide they want to participate in the conversation. These typically consist of age and gender indicators, but can also include location, whether they have photographs online, or particular requests 2 . It generally seemed that people were actively trying to engage each other on an individual basis. Topics of conversation were typically restricted to the introduction process, seeking follow-up information, and sex. The conversations here were, essentially, chaotic interactions with few definable boundaries on particular veins of 2 Examples from the chatrooms: “whats up people?m/22”; “24.m.austin, im me to talk me.”; “any male between the ages of 17-19 im me to chat”; 17/F/BELTON TEXAS/MEXICAN/SINGLE; Any ladies out there in Killeen/Ft Hood who need some lovin tonight?

Authors: Diers, Audra.
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A Chatroom Ethnography
15
While analyzing the interactions in each observation, criteria emerged as giving evidence
of prior relationships among the community members that allowed me to distinguish between the
two levels of relationships. Evidence of prior interpersonal relationships included both online
and offline expressions of relationship statuses and included: using ‘first names’ rather than
screen names to address particular members; discussions of offline meetings; plans discussed to
meet offline; description of prior interactions either on or offline; use of specific knowledge
about individuals in the chatroom in the course of the conversations; perceived need to introduce
themselves to others in the chatroom; and frequency and variation of nonverbal cues used. Each
of the four observations rested at a different location on this continuum; however, a general
distinction was logical placing two of the observations in the few interpersonal relationship
category and two in the numerous interpersonal relationship category.
Few interpersonal relationships. The observation that demonstrated evidence of the
fewest numbers of previous interpersonal relationships was characterized by a dance of
introductions and follow up questions to those introductions. These ritual introductions consisted
of requests for information such as, “age/sex check” meaning that everyone is supposed to
respond with that information. Ritual introductions also include participants’ volunteering that
information when they enter the room or decide they want to participate in the conversation.
These typically consist of age and gender indicators, but can also include location, whether they
have photographs online, or particular requests
2
. It generally seemed that people were actively
trying to engage each other on an individual basis. Topics of conversation were typically
restricted to the introduction process, seeking follow-up information, and sex. The conversations
here were, essentially, chaotic interactions with few definable boundaries on particular veins of
2
Examples from the chatrooms: “whats up people?m/22”; “24.m.austin, im me to talk me.”; “any male between the
ages of 17-19 im me to chat”; 17/F/BELTON TEXAS/MEXICAN/SINGLE; Any ladies out there in Killeen/Ft Hood
who need some lovin tonight?


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