Instagram is changing the way I see

I recently joined Instagram (I’m late, I know).

I joined because my daughter wanted to, because her friends had, to see what it was all about. She is artistic, and we like to talk about things like color combinations and camera angles, so Instagram is a good fit for us. But it’s quickly changing the way I understand photography. I’ve always been able to set up a good shot, and I’ve always had an eye for color. But I’ve never seriously followed up on any of it. It didn’t take long on Instagram to learn that an eye for framing and color is not enough to make for anything more than accidental great shots. The great shots that I see are the ones that pick deeper patterns or unexpected contrasts out of seemingly ordinary surroundings. They don’t simply capture beauty, they capture an unexpected natural order or a surprising contrast, or they tell a story. They make you gasp or they make you wonder. They share a vision, a moment, an insight. They’re like the beginning paragraph of a novel or the sketch outline of a poem. Realizing that, I have learned that capturing the obvious beauty around me is not enough. To find the good shots, I’ll need to leave my comfort zone, to feel or notice differently, to wonder what or who belongs in a space and what or who doesn’t, and why any of it would capture anyone’s interest. It’s not enough to see a door. I have to wonder what’s behind it. To my surprise, Instagram has taught me how to think like a writer again, how to find hidden narratives, how to feel contrast again.

Sure this makes for a pretty picture. But what is unexpected about it? Who belongs in this space? Who doesn't? What would catch your eye?

Sure this makes for a pretty picture. But what is unexpected about it? Who belongs in this space? Who doesn’t? What would catch your eye?

This kind of change has a great value, of course, for a social media researcher. The kinds of connections that people forge on social media, the different ways in which people use platforms and the ways in which platforms shape the way we interact with the world around us, both virtual and real, are vitally important elements in the research process. In order to create valid, useful research in social media, the methods and thinking of the researcher have to follow closely with the methods and thinking of the users. If your sensemaking process imitates the sensemaking process of the users, you know that you’re working in the right direction, but if you ignore the behaviors and goals of the users, you have likely missed the point altogether. (For example, if you think of Twitter hashtags simply as an organizational scheme, you’ve missed the strategic, ironic, insightful and often humorous ways in which people use hashtags. Or if you think that hashtags naturally fall into specific patterns, you’re missing their dialogic nature.)

My current research involves the cycle between social media and journalism, and it runs across platforms. I am asking questions like ‘what gets picked up by reporters and why?’ and ‘what is designed for reporters to pick up?’ And some of these questions lead me to examine the differences between funny memes that circulate like wildfire through Twitter leading to trends and a wider stage and the more indepth conversation on public facebook pages, which cannot trend as easily and is far less punchy and digestible. What role does each play in the political process and in constituting news?

Of course, my current research asks more questions than these, but it’s currently under construction. I’d rather not invite you into the workzone until some of the pulp and debris have been swept aside…

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Encouraging things I tell myself

Long time, no blog…

Life is currently kicked into overdrive, and I’m switching between coasting and gunning. I know that many of you are also working particularly hard, between the end of the school year, upcoming conferences, taxes, … I’ve thought about using this blog to vent or to catalog my stress (this works better as a to-do list than engaging narrative), to pay tribute to my mom (who passed away May 5, 2012, after spending April living it up on a cruise with her sister), or to wax poetic about my current research project (I will share about the research soon, because I’m really excited about the work I will soon be able to do. But I’m not ready yet.). Instead, I’ve decided to share the encouraging things I tell myself…

Microfocus. This is the true key to a busy lifestyle. Focus on as few things as possible and work to make them happen. Then keep it moving. Thinking big=stress. Thinking small=achievable goals.

Let go of what you can. Put the things that can wait aside. Doing everything all the time is foolish and unnecessary.

Look beyond yourself. Putting all of the burdens on your own shoulders helps no one. It’s not about you. Think to the bigger goal and share your burden.

Know stillness. All of this activity requires some inactivity. Somethings are better for this than others. Throwing caution to the wind and going to sleep when you’re tired is far more effective than reaching for a drink. For me, sleep, nature, exercise and art are the biggest sources of peace. I’ve even started going to church!

Stop fighting. This one really hit me over the head this week. Momentum can lead you to crazy places, where you’re working too hard on too many fronts. But if you take a minute to look around, you may see that all of that frenzy is unnecessary. You’ve been working hard. You’ve put your projects in motion. They have momentum, and they don’t need so much pushing. Getting a degree takes years. You’ve already put in a few. The wheels are already in motion. Don’t push, just follow.

Learning is not supposed to be a done deal. I am about to finish my graduate program next month, and I feel anxious about it. I’m aware of so much that I still don’t know. I catch myself reading Blommaert and worrying that as much as I dig it, I wouldn’t read it on my own. But learning is and has always been a process and a passion. Curiosity drives you to learn. Let that curiosity and passion continue to drive you to grow. The world is bigger than you. You will learn what you need to when you need to, and you will ask for help from the right places when you need to do that.

Be a little emotional. It’s ok to feel happy when things are finished, proud of the hard work you’ve put in, and sad that your mom’s not here to see things come together. And it’s not helpful to worry about feeling anxious!

In a little over a month, many of the pieces I am juggling will come together, and I will have less hanging over me than I’ve had in years. But that point is quite a few deadlines away. For now, I am at bat, focusing on the ball, connecting, and! Next. For those of you who are stressed, I wish you pockets of peace. For those of you who are graduating, “job well done! way to go!” (<– and put a congratulations in your pocket, for when you’re ready to hear it). For those of you who are grieving, I wish you all the ups and downs that go along with it. And for those of you dealing with all of the administrative headaches that accompany loss, I wish you a pat on the back, a quiet beach, a gentle breeze, a margarita, a memory that makes you smile, and some space to cry and scream a little! As they say “this too shall pass.”

Time moves through the jungle, and we swing between vines, focusing on the flowers. I wish you all flowers.

Flower market in Amsterdam

Flower market in Amsterdam