What is the meaning of this?

So, you know what I hate? When bloggers stop updating their blogs. Actually, I don’t hate it, I just get mildly disappointed. I have a massive post in the works, but it’s so massive that it scares me. So that will be next week. For now, I thought I’d explain what the cryptic titles of my posts mean. They’re mostly just allusions to various works of media.

1. Hello world

This is a standard thing run by programmers. It’s probably the simplest test of a program: make it display the words “Hello world”.

2. I am the Gatekeeper

This is me quoting from the movie Ghostbusters. It’s set in New York, which is why I thought it was appropriate, given that the post was about me getting rejected for a travel grant to the city.

3. Hoy pare, pakinggan niyo ko (also, my hands are deadly weapons)

The first part is Tagalog, it means “Hey man, listen to me.” It’s from the Black Eyed Peas song Bebot, sung by the Filipino American Apl. The next line is “Ito na ang tunay na Filipino” (Here is the real Filipino). I was presenting myself and my daily routine in that post, which is why I thought the line was appropriate. The second part — about my hands being deadly weapons — is actually from an old cartoon show I used to watch, Karate Kat. That may not be the ultimate origin of the quote, but it’s where it came from in this particular case. I said that because I mentioned going to a karate class in the post.

4. Nationalism and its discontents

This title originally comes from Sigmund Freud’s book, Civilization and its Discontents. I’ve never read it. The book that I was actually alluding to was Sasskia Sassen’s Globalization and its Discontents, which I actually have read. But I think she got her title from Freud’s book.

5. In which I prove that I actually work

I originally thought this “In which . . .” construction was from Alice in Wonderland. I really did. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve never fully read anything by Lewis Carroll. I tried to read Alice in Wonderland when I was little and it made no sense, so I stopped. I’ve never seen any of the movies, either. I think it’s also in the movie Benny & Joon, another work of fiction that I’m only vaguely familiar with. I think I actually did see it, but I don’t remember anything from it except Johnny Depp dressed up as Charlie Chaplin in The Little Tramp (I think that was what the movie was called). I like to pretend he was actually dressed up as Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

6. I’ll go a little later

This is from the Simpsons. It’s a line from the episode where Homer becomes an astronaut. He’s describing to Marge the time he missed the chance to meet Mr. T at an appearance in a shopping mall: “I said, I’ll go a little later, I’ll go a little later. But when I went later, Mr. T was already gone. And when I asked the man at the stall if Mr. T was coming back, he said he didn’t know.” Since the post was about me briefly overcoming my own laziness, I hope you can see why I quoted this line.

7. On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog

This is from a cartoon in the New Yorker which shows a dog using a computer and saying that line to another dog looking on. I got it from Lisa Nakamura’s book Cybertypes, which I mentioned before. She discusses the cartoon according to the idea that bodies don’t matter online, and so being a dog doesn’t matter when you’re on the Internet. She disagrees with this idea and goes on at length about how and why bodies matter online.

8. Adventures in babysitting

I believe this is or was a book series for girls. Or was that The Babysitters’ Club? The closest I ever got to girls’ literature was when I read a crossover book between Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. It was kind of disappointing because Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys already knew each other at the beginning of the story. Wait, it was actually a bunch of stories. Anyway, the teen detectives were supposedly already friends with each other. I think it would have been more interesting if Nancy Drew and Joe and Frank stumbled upon each other while investigating the same case. Maybe they think the other party is working with the bad guys at first. Then you get the scene where everyone figures out they’re on the same side, and then the cool part comes when they’re working together. Maybe put some sexual tension in there. Sure, Joe and Frank had girlfriends, but we’ll pretend they were on a break or something. I think Nancy Drew also had a man friend, but I can’t be sure. Maybe she was tired of him and was looking for an intellectual equal (or two). Oh hang on, Google reveals that Adventures in Babysitting was apparently a movie from 1987. I was only six years old when it came out, so don’t blame me for not knowing about it. I apparently came across the title at some point in my life, though.

Oh, and speaking of teen detectives, weekend fun from the satirical website McSweeney’s (I actually got the link from the blog of danah boyd, who is a fairly prominent blog researcher): Publisher’s response to a Hardy Boys manuscript submission

First and foremost, we are unpersuaded that the subject matter of The Case of the Secret Meth Lab is appropriate for our readers. We understand that the manufacturing of narcotics in otherwise bucolic towns has indeed become a problem. That said, we ask you whether Joe Hardy would realistically go undercover and turn into what his brother repeatedly refers to as a “crankhead.”

. . .

Page 60: We encourage including Nancy Drew in the adventure as it represents great cross-marketing with our other adventure series. We would think it goes without saying, however, that she would not have, nor even contemplate, surgical enhancement. Please delete all references to her “killer rack.”

Adventures in babysitting

Actually, this post is about my adventures online but the original title is catchier.

1. First weird thing: I was downloading something the other night and some guy started hitting on me. This is how our exchange went

Interlocutor: are you really in ns [Nova Scotia]?
Me: why do you ask?
I: i’m in truro [a town in Nova Scotia]
Me: yes i’m in halifax
I: i’m m/40
Me: sorry you’re barking up the wrong tree
I: no i just wanted to talk
Me: sorry anyway, i only use this [program] to dl [download] and don’t like to chat on it

And that was that. Yeah, so maybe he genuinely wanted to talk. What can I say, I was multitasking, I had multiple article PDFs and websites open. I didn’t want to add chatting to my activites otherwise I’d have opened up MSN Messenger. He must have found out where I was by my IP address. I think he thought I was female because my handle had “pink” in it. But I was going by “pinky” after Pinky & the Brain, a cartoon show I used to watch when I was younger. Or he may have thought I was male and wanted to flirt anyway.

On the one hand, this incident shows how being online changes the way people relate to identity. The guy was asking for my gender and my age, something he probably wouldn’t have done if we’d met in person (I look like a twentysomething guy in my picture, right?). Because all he had to go on was my name, the guy (possibly) assumed I was female and started doing the mating dance. I would have had to explicitly tell him my gender for him to get it.

But on the other hand, the incident above also reveals how being online changes nothing at all. The guy immediately declared his age and gender and implicitly asked for mine as well. If he was genuinely interested in just chatting, how relevant would that information have been in reality? Doesn’t the Internet make it so that age and gender don’t matter? Don’t we get to transcend our bodies by being online? Evidently not, since the status of my body (namely, my age and gender) obviously mattered to this guy. A/S/L (age/sex/location) is a common query in chatrooms, so it’s not limited to this one person. Bodies matter, even on the bodiless Internet (though the other person may not have been m/40 anyway, or even just a single person).

This perspective, where the body is seen as the source of identity, mostly comes from feminist theory. In this specific case, I’m drawing upon the work of Lisa Nakamura, whose book Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet I’m using quite extensively in my research.

2. Later that night, I went to the University of California at Berkeley’s website to find out more about Ethel Regis, whose work on the Filipino diaspora I read about here. I go over to the page of the Department of Ethnic Studies and find this instead:

Hacked by Byond

Yes, I admit I was reading The Onion while I was working. This was on July 25 at 11:51 PM ADT. It’s puzzling why this crew hacked this particular website. Berkeley is a rather liberal campus, and if anyone is likely to support the Lebanese it’s people from Berkeley. Second, why hack the website of the Ethnic Studies department? A lot of the people there are postcolonial and anti-imperialist thinkers, and they’re even more likely to oppose Israel’s actions in Lebanon. Don’t worry, the website was fine the next day.

Take a look at the countries that the hackers* claimed to be from: Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Chile. They’re all over the place, aren’t they? The Internet is certainly quite good at severing people from the bonds of geography. However, look closer and you’ll realize that all of the countries mentioned are in Latin America, except for Germany. Why are these crews so concentrated in one particular area?

One answer may be language. While the Internet allows users to potentially communicate with anyone else connected to the Internet, the truth is that Internet users are segregated in several different linguistic communities. I’m guessing that these hackers operate mostly in Spanish and they probably met through some kind of Spanish-language space online: a message board, an IRC channel, whatever. Yet another example of how geography is reproduced online.

Notice also that the hackers specifically stated what countries they were from. Why did they do this? What does it matter what country they were from? Does that change their message in any way? It may be that the hackers felt proud to be non-Americans bringing down an American website (though being based in Mexico doesn’t mean you can’t be American too). You see? Nationalist pride exists online, and therefore geography does as well.

3. Someone found my blog by Googling “nova scotia rifle ass”. They ended up on my post about Canada Day, where I mentioned a rifle exactly once. Sorry, I’ve got no analytical insight into this. I’d just like to know what exactly they were looking for.

Anyway, I still haven’t done the post on nationalism and diaspora that I said I’d put up weeks ago, so that is definitely the next thing that’s appearing.

*I know that coders actually prefer these types of programmers to be called crackers, while hackers should be reserved just for really good programmers. But as far as the vast majority of the world is concerned, a hacker is an online vandal and burglar. I defer to the dictatorship of the majority.

Internet dogs continued

I just did another phone interview this morning (actually it was over Skype). I think I see another way that IM interviews are different from voice: the way previous utterances are saved. IM is different from voice communication because speech is ephemeral. Once you say something, it’s gone. Even if you’re recording the exchange, you can’t review the recording during the conversation itself. But with IM, you can always scroll back and see that there was a point you wanted to come back to. So time is handled differently with regards to IM. This isn’t a novel observation, but it was just something that struck me after this morning’s regular old voice communication.

On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog

Well, I just conducted my first interview through instant messaging (IM) over the weekend (if you’re reading this thanks again CK!). I was going to blog about how different it was from traditional interviews when I realized that I actually have little experience with doing traditional interviews. Not the Platonic ideal of traditional interviews, anyway. The first set of interviews I ever conducted were in Spanish, a language I’m not that great in. I got the meanings of the words but I didn’t have the level of fluency necessary for the true back and forth rapport that the best interviewers are supposed to get. I only interviewed two people for my second set of interviews, one of them over the phone (I was doing their life histories). And now for my third research project and third set of interviews, I’m interviewing people for this blogging thing. I was going to do some face to face interviews, but now that’s gone and it’s all phone interviews and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol, also known as Internet phone). Anyway, I thought I’d compare the different kinds of interviews I’ve done.

Face to face interviews. With this one you get the most and the richest information. When you’re interviewing someone, you’re supposed to take notes not just on their answers but on the interview itself: your impressions of the other person, awkward pauses in the conversation, the tone in which things were said, and so on. You get the most of this kind of nonverbal information from face to face interviews. A lot of times you feel like you’re being deluged with a constant flow of information that you have to get down. And with face to face interviews, you can keep the whole thing going for a relatively long time (I think the longest I ever did was two hours).

Phone and VOIP interviews. Obviously, with this you don’t get as much nonverbal information. You can still tell a lot from voice, though. How is the participant feeling? Are they sick? How strongly do they feel about what they’re talking about? The thing is, you can’t keep this kind of interview going for very long. As a general rule, most people start getting restless if they talk on the phone longer than 30 minutes, unless it’s about a subject they’re interested in or they have a personal connection to the person they’re speaking to. So you have to keep phone interviews short and sweet. But they’re a lot more convenient for both the researcher and the participant.

Instant Messaging and Chat. Ok, so I’ve only done one so far. Still, here are my impressions:

  1. First, there’s a lot less information you can get that isn’t explicitly told to you by your participant. You can guess at how they’re feeling by their responses but it’s not a foolproof method (though it’s not foolproof in person anyway).
  2. It’s also hard to tell when someone is actually paying attention to you. The other person could be watching tv and you wouldn’t know it. It’s not so bad when they answer immediately, but when there’s a longer than normal pause, it’s impossible to tell if the participant is considering their response or have shifted their attention somewhere else. This is particularly bad because interviewers aren’t supposed to pester their participants and pressure them for answers, otherwise the person may just whip out a half-formed thought solely to satisfy the researcher.
  3. The nature of IM makes it easy for numerous conversational threads to form. The participant can type something interesting, then you think, “Aha! Better follow that up,” but then they go on to say something else entirely that’s also as interesting. Interviewers are supposed to give their participants enough leeway to explore interesting tangents, but then you have to keep in mind the interesting thing that was said several dozen lines back. And it’s even harder when there are multiple items of interest that come up.
  4. Connected to the previous point, it’s very easy to interrupt the other person when they’re in the middle of typing. When I’m using IM normally, I often interject when the other person is in the middle of typing, which adds to the number of conversational threads that come up. Often, it’ll be like two conversations are going on as I ask a question, then I ask another, and then the other person answers the first question and I respond to that while they answer the second question. It gets confusing until one thread ends. That is a definite no-no in interviewing, since you’re supposed to give your participants time to respond, and the constant appearance of more questions will make participants feel like they have to type faster to keep up. So what happened during the interview was that I kept starting to type and then deleting what I had when I saw that my participant still had something to say. I just had to keep watching out not to fall into my normal IM habits.
  5. Finally, you can keep IM and chat interviews going for a relatively long time, longer than phone interviews. This probably has to do with the fact that most people spend more time sitting around typing on computers than they do talking on the phone. And being on the computer means you can multitask, so you can keep an eye on the kettle you set to boil or play solitaire or something.

Anyway, that’s what my experience has been with interviews. Your mileage may vary.

I’ll go a little later

Wow, getting up early really does change your view of the world. It’s only 2:40 PM and yet it feels like I’ve already had a full and productive day of work. I’ve been running interviews all week and will continue to do them next week. I know that I said I haven’t been blogging much about my research itself. This is partly because I don’t want to influence any of the people I’m going to interview. When I recruit participants, I invite them to check out Sarapen for themselves as part of the proof that I’m a legitimate researcher and in hopes of starting a dialogue. But I can’t discuss my findings just yet or else my participants might start answering differently according to how other people have responded.

Also, thanks to the fact that interviews have become my top priority, I’ve been reading the books that I really should have finished reading by now but kept setting aside. So the reading I procrastinated on before I’m doing now because I want to procrastinate on something else. I’m reading lots of good stuff that I really could have used earlier. But remember, the early bird may get the worm, but the lazy worm will live another day. Of course, in my case it’s the lazy worm that gets eaten. Maybe the bird is also lazy?

In which I prove that I actually work

It strikes me that for a blog claiming to be about my research on Filipino bloggers, I haven’t actually discussed blogging yet.

Partly it’s because I’ve been setting the ground for discussing Filipino bloggers. Filipinos don’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s hard to talk about them without talking about the Philippines. This is especially true when you want to discuss nationalism and national identity.

But how do I define Filipinos and how do I define blogs? And how do I define Filipino bloggers?

Well, I define blogs using the most inclusive definition: a website that displays dated entries in reverse chronological order. I’m not interested in hairsplitting between online journals and blogs. When people make this distinction between online journals and blogs, they usually define online journals as being about personal issues in the author’s life while blogs are about larger issues (i.e., politics or information technology) which are covered in more of an essay format. I don’t agree with this distinction, which I think is partly an attempt to exclude female and youthful bloggers from the blogging world. Online journals are dominated by females and youths, and the attempt to define them as merely journalers creates a scheme where females and youths talk about who’s dating whom on journals whereas older and more masculine bloggers talk about big stuff like the war in Iraq. In other words, the mushy emotional stuff is for online journals, but the serious stuff is for blogs. And it’s no coincidence that the mushy emotional stuff is mostly covered by women and youths: it’s girly and childish, but the serious stuff is grownup and mature (i.e., masculine). This follows larger patterns in popular media, where the contributions of women and youths are devalued and where the emotional and personal are seen as superficial and shallow.

Since I don’t follow this distinction, then it should be obvious that a lot of the bloggers I examine are women and younger people. Quite a few are on Xanga and Myspace, too.

Now then, how do I define Filipino? It’s not really so important how I define Filipino, though, the relevant question is how I define Filipino bloggers. The definition I use is also very simple. Filipino bloggers are those bloggers that identify themselves as Filipino.

Actually, I don’t really mean that. What I mean is that for the purposes of my research, I am only studying those bloggers that identify themselves as Filipino. This means that I don’t cover those bloggers who consider themselves Filipino but don’t identify themselves as such in their blogs. Partly it’s for reasons of pragmatism. How would I be able to tell a blogger was Filipino if they didn’t tell me they were? It’s not like I could tell just by sight, since someone who calls themself Filipino could very well be mistaken for Chinese, Indonesian, or another ethnic group. And not all bloggers put up pictures of themselves in the first place. Sure, I know some bloggers that don’t mention being Filipino, but not enough to be able to base a research project on them. At least, not according to how I’ve designed the project; I can think of several ways you can conduct a project by just studying a couple of people or even just one person, but I’m not interested in the questions that only that type of research can answer.

I’m also relying on self-identification because I don’t want to impose my own definition of “Filipino” on the people I’m studying. Identity isn’t something that’s already there, but instead something that people actively create. No one is born Filipino, they’re raised that way. “Filipino” is a label that a bunch of people have decided to share, but it’s not some eternal and unchanging category like solid, liquid, and gas. It’s a label that has had different meanings at different times. Not even Filipinos have always been Filipinos — “Filipino” used to only refer to Spanish people born in the Philippines, or what are known as criollos or creoles in other parts of the colonized world. If I try and impose my definition of Filipino on the world, then I’ll be trying to set in stone what has always been in motion, rather like trying to put the wind in a box. It’s not the wind if it’s no longer moving, it’s just empty air. Would I then be studying Filipino bloggers, or would I be studying my definition of Filipino bloggers?

You see? It’s tough work having to think about this all the time.