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Soft media, hard work

May 31, 2009

Note to self:

Been thinking about a passage in Mark A. Peterson’s (2003: 6) reference book Anthropology & Mass Communication in which he describes certain media texts as being ‘extraordinarily malleable’, e.g. Web pages. This got me thinking about the idea of what we may call ‘soft media’ in connection with practice theory – especially with Alan Warde’s (2005) discussion of the rewards of practice. Warde suggests that some low-status practices may be rewarding in their own right which is why enthusiasts devote time, effort and money pursuing them, regardless of what the rest of the world may think.  What about the rewards of soft media practices? What are the costs and benefits of spending time pursuing a digital line of work or play? Who decides what counts as a worthwhile practice and what is just a waste of time? (I know people who think Twitter is a waste of time, for example).

I’m interested in the recent explosion in social media, mobile phones, online games, etc., and in how although it seems easier than ever to produce and share media contents, and that virtually everybody around you is now at it (I’m talking about the UK and Europe here) you still need to put in a lot of of time and effort to sustain a digital practice, say the practice of blogging, or digital photography, or facebooking, etc.. With ever more media platforms to work and play with, the old economic question of opportunity costs (what you’re missing out on when you do something instead of something else) becomes even more pressing: “This regular time I’m putting into my blog; what am I missing out on?”.

One thing seems clear: sustaining digital practices, like anything else in life that you take seriously, requires will, ability and dedication. From the sexpic traders studied by Don Slater, to the e-democracy advocacy of Steve Clift or Jeff Ooi, to the collaborative digital film-makers studied by Toni Roig Telo, to the digital integration ‘champions’ researched by Olli Hinkelbein in Germany, to many of the Second Life residents that Boellstorff writes about in his monograph – they all expend inordinate amounts of time and effort sustaining their digitally-mediated practical engagements.

Soft media are hard work.


see this blog’s search engine for refs (go on, make the effort)

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