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A chatroom ethnography: Evolution of community, norms, nonverbal communication
Unformatted Document Text:  A Chatroom Ethnography 2 Translating Personal Experience to Ethnographic Inquiry In 1996, I had asked for and received a modem for Christmas. It took about a month after getting back on campus to have a friend, a Computer Information Systems major, install the modem into my computer for me. In midst of advertising for online computer services, the consumer in me came out and I decided that I would sign up for American Online (AOL). Before getting a modem in my computer, I had a university email account and had surfed the web, but AOL opened up a wide and wacky world of late night internet surfing and chatroom conversations. Crawford (1996) advocates the use of personal ethnography as a primary research tool for ethnographers. He emphasizes a single experience with the target group and cites three primary advantages. First, it allows the ethnographer to be mindful of relationships they might build in the course of the study. This means that the ethnographer does not have to artificially separate himself or herself as “researcher” to suspend interpersonal relationships because we might be back, as a researcher, later. Second, he suggests this also decreases the intrusiveness of the inquiry. Third, he argues that we cannot “know” everything about any group, but the single interaction emphasizes this point. This is beneficial to outside readers of ethnographic work so that they are less likely to believe that the snapshot reflects all that is any group. I have noticed that as I interact with people online—whether I am engaging in conversations in chat rooms or talking to friends of mine who also have instant messenger capabilities—that I have incorporated elements of accent, “facial” expression, and emphasis on words in my own typing as mechanisms to make the conversation flow more like it was a face- to-face conversation. As a routine part of my interaction, I find myself using - or lol (laughing out loud). I also find that I type the words as I would speak them in informal verbal

Authors: Diers, Audra.
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A Chatroom Ethnography
2
Translating Personal Experience to Ethnographic Inquiry
In 1996, I had asked for and received a modem for Christmas. It took about a month after
getting back on campus to have a friend, a Computer Information Systems major, install the
modem into my computer for me. In midst of advertising for online computer services, the
consumer in me came out and I decided that I would sign up for American Online (AOL). Before
getting a modem in my computer, I had a university email account and had surfed the web, but
AOL opened up a wide and wacky world of late night internet surfing and chatroom
conversations.
Crawford (1996) advocates the use of personal ethnography as a primary research tool for
ethnographers. He emphasizes a single experience with the target group and cites three primary
advantages. First, it allows the ethnographer to be mindful of relationships they might build in
the course of the study. This means that the ethnographer does not have to artificially separate
himself or herself as “researcher” to suspend interpersonal relationships because we might be
back, as a researcher, later. Second, he suggests this also decreases the intrusiveness of the
inquiry. Third, he argues that we cannot “know” everything about any group, but the single
interaction emphasizes this point. This is beneficial to outside readers of ethnographic work so
that they are less likely to believe that the snapshot reflects all that is any group.
I have noticed that as I interact with people online—whether I am engaging in
conversations in chat rooms or talking to friends of mine who also have instant messenger
capabilities—that I have incorporated elements of accent, “facial” expression, and emphasis on
words in my own typing as mechanisms to make the conversation flow more like it was a face-
to-face conversation. As a routine part of my interaction, I find myself using - or lol (laughing
out loud). I also find that I type the words as I would speak them in informal verbal


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