Sunday, November 16, 2008

Online communities

This past spring, I took a linguistics class and became interested in online communities. Why do people present themselves a certain way and, when they communicate in a virtual environment, what drives word and phrase choice? So, I wrote a paper about an online community for kids that have gone through major surgery or cancer called the Experience Journal. Kids that have already gone through a medical procedure or a traumatic experience because of their condition share their experiences through narrative.  The hope is that kids just beginning the process - who are often physically isolated in a hospital or at home - may not feel quite so alone after reading about other kids going through the same thing. A good bit of research has shown that kids with a more optimistic outlook have better outcomes and shorter recovery time. Children's Hospital of Boston bought into that philosophy and created In my paper, I compared narratives written by transplant patients and ADHD kids and concluded that transplant patients form more of a survivor identity in this virtual community to make sense of what is happening to them. 

Along a less serious vein, I am also fascinated by online communities that share and communicate visually, such as Flickr. I have a Flickr account and, in case you're not familiar with the site, you can post and share your photos. There is an endless variety of interest groups on Flickr, and the following are examples to which I belong: Flowers on Black, Rhodes College, Key West, Urban Fragments, Memphis Zoo and, last but not least, the One Object 365 Days Project. 

The last one mentioned has been taking up a bit of time lately. The goal is to take a picture of the same object every day for a year. The scenery can change but the object must remain the same. You cannot say the object is a tree and take a picture of a different tree every day...gotta be the same tree. Most people pick something small so that it is easily carried around. 

In my case, I chose a small heart on a silk string made out of clay polymer beads.  It was made by Billie Beads, a funky, hippie husband and wife duo out of New York City. They make other objects out of the same beads like skulls, masks, and piggy banks. It's kind of interesting seeing the same bright, swirly colors on a sweet little heart next to a huge, scary skull.

Anyway, I am on day 11 of my 365 journey, and the farther along I get the more worried I get about my sanity. There are only so many things I can do to make a little clay heart interesting, so it is easy to begin building little stories around the pictures I take.  

Here is one that is OK:

Today I spent most of the day in the basement of the art building at my school. The unnatural lighting is about to suck the life out of me! I snuck into the print shop across the way and snapped a quick shot of my heart amongst the gritty print equipment.

Fine, OK, typical day in the life of me. Here's when I start to worry:

Mom casts a baleful eye upon Tiffany, upset that she stayed out so late last night.

...followed by...

Mom forgives with a hug.

Again, there are only so many things you can do with a clay heart, but what?? I am presenting some short yet peculiar narratives online, and I have no idea what that says about me. At the time, I simply thought it was funny. What do you think?


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