Time(s) and materiality of the Internet discussed at IR16 Phoenix / Part 1

aoir-ir16I am attending the sixteenth conference of the Association for Internet Researchers (IR16) In Phoenix, Arizona. My primary objective here is to co-chair and present in a panel which seeks to build bridges between science and technology studies (STS) approaches and Internet governance research; however, I have been delighted to attend at least two panels whose topics closely intertwine with the goals of the Web90 project: “timing” and “material”.

In the first panel, Timing, which took place on Wednesday 22 October, contributors explored how time – its unfolding, “instantness”, subjective understandings – affect our perceptions of digital tools and their objectives. Sarah Munoz-Bates, from Arizona State University, in “Instant Results with Lingering Effects”, examined the ways in which Google can bias searchers into privileging one set of terms over the other when looking for information on undocumented immigration in the United States. Her study showed how Google often directs users toward the word “illegal” over the word “undocumented” and how this biasing can have negative repercussions in immigration discussions; she argued that the simple act of instantaneously and repeatedly displaying specific words or phrases holds the potential to influence long-term how people research, learn, and discuss a specific topic. In a statistics-based paper, “‘iTime’ as a Blessing or a Curse: Imaginaries of Smartphone Use and Personal and Social Time Among Generational Groups in Estonia”, Veronika Kalmus (University of Tartu, Estonia) focused on people’s imaginaries of smartphones, and the relationships between those imaginaries and personal perception and use of time, testing empirically Ben Agger’s thesis that social imaginaries of the normal social life in a smartphone era vary generationally. Taking as a starting point the Internet jargon term ‘TL;DR’, which stands for ‘too long didn’t read.’ — a dismissive response to a text that was too long or not interesting enough to read within the Internet’s ‘quick pace’ – Stacey Koosel (Estonian Academy of Arts) addressed the many levels of temporality factors in digital culture, arguing notably that online time can be more easily manipulated, artificially constructed and fragmented than offline time, and that temporal awareness online is often a by-product of design, by software guiding temporal and spatial constructs that help create meaning. And finally, Alex Leavitt and colleagues, in “Beyond Big Bird”, addressed the question of how emergent discourses impact the interpretation of large social media events, through an analysis of the use of humor (or lack thereof) in tweets posted during each of the three 2012 presidential debates. Their findings invite to consider humor and other contextual aspects of communication in studies of participatory politics on social media, while emphasizing the “live” and real-time aspect of the impact of tweeting activities.

Francesca Musiani (ISCC)