Digitalization and digital culture are reshaping not only the world we live in, but also the social sciences and the humanities in particular. Diggit Magazine was curious about the impact of digital culture on academia. Now, at the end of the year, we at Diggit Magazine thought that we could use the traditional end-of-year question-format as a pretext to seduce researchers from all over the world and from many different sub-disciplines to reflect on this impact, and to look back and forward.
Instead of the traditional end-of-year questions, we thus asked them about the impact of digital culture on their research practice and their field of research in general. Of course, we also asked them what they expect to happen in 2019. So, we reinvented the traditional end-of-year questions, reframing them within an academic, and more specifically, a digital culture studies perspective.
In this interview, we ask Burcu Korkmazer to reflect on the impact of digital culture. Burcu Korkmazer is a PhD student at the Department of Communication Sciences of Ghent University and a member of CIMS, the Centre for Cinema and Media Studies. She is currently working on a project funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) about sexual morality and ethics in digital youth cultures.
When did you notice that digitalization was substantially reshaping your research field?
As we all know, digitalization has become an important part of today's youth cultures, especially in Western countries. The rapid integration of mobile devices such as smartphones has made it possible for young people to connect with their peers anytime and anywhere, mostly through the extensive use of social media such as Snapchat and Instagram.
The visual performance of the self through images is attractive: it is more interesting to look at what others have to 'say' than to read it
In particular, since 2015, which is the year when Snapchat became very popular and integrated among Belgian teenagers, digital communication has become an important aspect of young people's identity construction. So, youth cultures are transforming into ‘digital’ youth cultures in which young people are presenting their selves and everyday lives in a performative and visual way. This visual performance of the self through images and snaps is not only easier, but also more attractive. It is more interesting to look at what others have to 'say' than to read it.
This is resulting in new understandings of the everyday life of young people online, with social visibility and connection becoming important within digital youth cultures. Especially in relation to more intimate communication, this digital space is giving young people a platform for exploring and developing their sexuality, intimate relationships, and gendered self-identity. This, in turn, can be very empowering but can also have a disciplining effect (forcing young people into ‘normality’). All of this makes digital intimacy an interesting field to study.
Can you give a concrete example of the impact of digital culture on your research domain?
Our research is mainly interested in the meaning-making processes of young people (14-18) concerning digital intimacy and online morality. For example, which moral frames are they using to manage their own reputation and self-representation online, but also to evaluate their peers'?
Youngsters are developing a common sense discourse on how to use social media in a socially appropriate way, e.g. for online intimacy
Although the public discourse on youth and social media is rather negative, in the sense that it is focusing on the potentials risks and young people as victims of it, we see a growing awareness among youngsters. They are active and conscious agents as they are constantly thinking about and deliberating what to share through social media and what not to share. They are developing a sort of common sense discourse on how to use social media in a socially appropriate way, in particular when it comes to experiencing intimate and romantic relationships. This is interesting to see, as these discursive ‘rules’ are mainly targeting online intimacy and not intimate experiences ‘in real life’, as they put it.
What was the most remarkable change in 2018 regarding digital culture and your research?
Well, there is a growing interest in the use of creative methods in the research on youth and digital media. This is leading to studies where young people are approached and involved as active agents. Which is really important, because most of the time we speak ‘about’ young people instead of talking ‘with’ them. It is meaningful to give them the opportunity to speak about their experiences without feeling the pressure of getting interviewed.
We also organized a creativity activity combined with visual research methods in our own research. This means that we prepared workshops where the young participants had to create social media accounts of fictive persons with a good, bad or ideal reputation. The results were not only very visual, but also very interesting as they made it possible to discuss the underlying moral values young people (un)consciously use to evaluate their own self-representation as that of their peers.
On a personal level, the biggest change for me was the opportunity to work on a FWO-funded project together with Sofie Van Bauwel en Sander De Ridder. Their expertise and critical point of view is adding very valuable insights to my own research on digital intimacy and youth.
What do you expect will change in 2019 regarding the impact of digital culture on your research?
I wish I had a crystal ball to give an answer to your questions about changes, but I can’t predict what the future will bring. However, I think it is important to take into account certain concepts when studying digital culture and youth. In particular when it comes to digital intimacy, concepts such as consent, diversity, intersectionality, and being conscious about engaging with social media need to be highlighted.
Instead of contributing to the existing moral panic, we should aim to provide an empowering, critical, and intersectional understanding of youth, sexuality, and social media
When reporting on young people's social media use, researchers most of the time present youths as passive victims without agency or color. But instead of contributing to the existing moral panic, we should aim to provide an empowering understanding of (1) young people as conscious and diverse agents and (2) the opportunities social media can offer. In order to minimize the stigma on digital intimacy, which can go from sexting to the use of dating apps, we should contribute to a more critical and intersectional understanding of youth, sexuality and social media.