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To know the network, you have to be a node...


Like Danah Boyd I also "groan whenever the buzzword 'digital native' is jockeyed about". Usually because it's a way of excusing ignorance about the way that the online world is changing and changing our lives, and trying to push the idea that you have to be young to understand the web, have to be a "Gen Y-er" to know what it all means.

Danah's published a great paper called Choose Your Own Ethnography: In Search of an Unmediated Life that's worth a reasd for lots of reasons, not least because it says things like:  

...a "digital native" understands that there is no such thing as "going online" but rather, what is important is the way in which people move between geographically-organized interactions and network-organized interactions. To them, it's all about the networks, even if those networks have coherent geographical boundaries.

And the reason you have to be in the networks if you're serious about understanding them and even engaging with people there:

Doing participant/observation in a networked culture requires the ethnographer to be a node, a position that may fundamentally alters the culture being studied. Without this engagement, it does not seem possible to really be present in the networked environment.

I'm with her on that. You can look and understand only so much about a network; to know it, you need to be a part of it.

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I'm with you on being part of the network to understand it but I'm still working with Establishment figures who see this as being a sackable offence (in education). They're not so much digital immigrants as alien to me and the children in their charge.

However, I've never bought this immigrant/native thing. I've been working on the thesis of the "Digital Holidaymaker":

Thanks, Ewan. I like your holidaymaker idea - nicely sidesteps the negative connotations of tourist too...

I appreciate and admire the fact that you are working in a highly regulated, as they'd say in finance or pharma industries. Your patience, insight and vision are reasons to be optimistic about the way that education can develop positively to embrace all the potent possibilities of life in the networks.

I'm pleased that I can now tell people that I'm a "node", not a "nerd"!

Ewan - you have my sympathy - I work in a government department that has decided to block all staff access to social networks for the time being. This is only partly due to the fear that everyone logging into Facebook every 5 mins will put too much pressure on the already "delicate" IT network!

The greater anxiety for the senior bods (and the press office) by far was when it was discovered that staff had set up their own network on Facebook. This was UNREGULATED and UNCONTROLLED. They might be saying anything about the department without getting it signed off first! There was absolutely no understanding or awareness that perhaps the fact that staff felt so positive about working for the department that they wanted to label and identify themselves in a social network in this way was a good thing. Depressing - but that's the reality in many organisations whose agendas are largely shaped by their utter terror of what "scandal" the media will uncover next.

What us "nodes" need to be doing is helping those who aren't yet participating in this massive conversation to let go of their fear. But it's going to take a while in Whitehall, I can tell you.

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