STREAMING: Volume 1; #Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles, written by Marcia Forbes, artfully combines relevant and often humorous short stories to explain and support her research findings about what youths do online. Here, online refers to the Internet and cell phones. In this excerpt, derived from her digital ethnography, Forbes talks about her experience of life on Twitter.
Choosing a Partner to Live With
With dwindling audiences/readers and revenues, Jamaican and other Anglophone Caribbean newspapers, radio and TV stations had also taken to Twitter. There was @TriniGuardian, @barbadosnation and @stabroeknews (the latter out of Guyana), among others.
Some were more effective and committed than others. Daily newspapers @JamaicaGleaner and @JamaicaObserver led the pack, with great rivalry between them to build a solid follower base. They tapped into the culture and lifestyle of Jamaicans and live-tweeted events such as music concerts and sports in a bid to pull Twitter youths and guide them to their online/offline offing. Remembering their paltry few thousand followers early in 2010, by August 2011 each had grown to 19,000 and continued neck and neck in the race.
Watching these two media entities “go at it” for the youth vote was intriguing. The younger entity, the Jamaica Observer, at under 20 years of age, was more aggressive and agile than its close to 180-year-old counterpart, The Gleaner.
But the Old Man of North Street (as The Gleaner is called, based on its address) did not flinch from the blows and gave as good as he got, maintaining a miniscule lead at that time. This is the stuff of media history. I was riveted. Loving the virtual boxing match, I even threw in a couple punches for the little guy by retweeting its tweets which came with entreaties for RT. When the big guy seemed in need of help, I obliged as well. After all, online Klout or not (Klout.com is an entity that measures online influence), I did need to maintain good relations with both newspapers. Jamaica is a small island and they have both been kind to me. DWL as I unashamedly engage in “suck-up 101.”
Apart from finding Twitter manageable, in that I was quickly able to grasp how it worked, the decision to choose it as my virtual/digital ethnography site was driven by the fact that it hosted an engaging and very engaged set of Jamaican youths, at home and in the Diaspora. They read, they blogged, they discussed local, regional and international affairs and had an opinion on everything, especially social media. The fact that some such as @bigblackbarry, @rtrowe and @marlonmusique were highly entertaining was added bonus. The last named consistently retweeted sex tweets from his over 1,000 followers at the time, frequently adding hilarious responses. I had read enough to know that globally youths on Twitter were atypical. Those in Jamaica seemed more similar to their international cohorts than to what one could describe as the “average”a Jamaican youth. I realized this even before my September 2010 Twitter survey of 145 persons which facilitated greater insights into their profile.
These youths, many of whom I later met in real life, allowed me first-hand knowledge of the ways in which mainly middle-class Jamaicans of working age, some at university, were interfacing with and using the Internet and enhanced mobile phones like the Blackberry. In 2010 and throughout 2011, the iPhone was a rarity in the island. Twitter gave me access to Jamaicans with access. They were young, largely urban and educated. Coming out of the tradition of British cultural studies and the Chicago School, ethnographers often exclusively spotlight the poor, disenfranchised and deviant and in doing so focus on one side of what is frequently a many-sided phenomenon. Twitter helped to balance my perspective of the digital divide and possibly saved me from a skewed perspective.