The methodologies employed to carry out this project have been split into two sections, audience research and approach to narrative design.
- Audience Research
The topic of research has been user engagement with social media and how online life meets offline reality. This whole graduate project has grown from audience research, meaning that a human behaviour focused perspective, or “phenomenological” research approach has been employed as opposed to a scientific approach. Having said this, some elements of the research has taken on a “positivistic” approach whereby surveys have been used in order to further audience understanding.
“Human motivation is shaped by factors that are not always observable, e.g. inner thought processes, so that it can become hard to generalise on, for example, motivation from observation of behaviour alone. Furthermore, people place their own meanings on events; meanings that do not always coincide with the way others have interpreted them.” (University of Bradford School of Management)
In terms of social media, it is driven by people, and people have generated a way of life online that has grown from the functionality of the social media outlets that they have chosen to engage with. People can influence events, and construct or deconstruct the relevant “rules” and social “norms” surrounding social media. For example, photo sharing social media page Instagram made is socially acceptable to take photo’s of yourself and upload them online, “I use Instagram because it means I can take selfies and not get ‘bullied’ for them” Hannah Beard, 22, Bournemouth University Student (see Interviews). Previously, the social protocol surrounding alternative social media networks meant that uploading said “selfie”, had negative connotations such as that person was “vain” or “big headed” but because it was “the done thing” on this form of social media then it made it okay. This example is representative of how people have acted unpredictably and shaped new “identifiable norms” (University of Bradford School of Management). A phenomenological approach understands behaviour from the participants own “subjective frame of reference” (University of Bradford School of Management). Therefore this has allowed for the description, translation explanation and interpretation of social media from the perspective of people who use it the most. I would class the research project that I have carried out to be inductive whereby I took a specific starting point which is Social media blurring online and offline, and this in turn generated broader generalisations which fell under the same umbrella term that is social media usage and determined the best way to demonstrate these ideas through creative practice.
- Narrative Structure
The # Life has taken on many different forms since beginning at the start of the academic year, and problems with narrative structure have been the reason. Idea 1, the transmedia narrative distributed via social media character pages required a narrative so detailed and engaging that I feel I would never have been able to have pulled it off. The changeability of social media audiences mentioned above was a huge factor which made the direction of The #Life move away from idea 1 because the life span of the latest interest or craze does not last very long online. I did not which to start a project that fizzled out and lost all meaning. My initial methods I wished to employ whereby the user themselves could direct the story by interacting with the characters social media pages was quickly put aside. Crawford (2013) summarises my issues faced as “plot versus interactivity” and “control versus interactivity” (p.68) which describes the problem faced excellently;
“If the story is to be truly interactive, then the player must be able to change the story. But, if the player changes the story then the artist cannot control its development and the player will likely ruin the story” (Crawford, 2013, p.68)
My method of narrative structure was to display common social media stereotypes through the pages of characters within the story. However, the narrative design was too complex to display them clearly enough without spelling them out which would have made it look amateur and tacky. Instead of trying to force the story and then engage users, I overcame this problem by making the users the story because after all the story of social media itself is created by people. The whole concept of social media interaction became the thing itself this project in itself was trying to display. So, to summarise, in the words of Crawford (2013, p.68) “the solution to the problem, in a word, is abstraction” and this is what method I have employed for the final version of The #Life graduate project. By combining my audience research with my narrative design theory, then a strong project which allows the viewer to take from it what they wish will develop organically.