Writing about writing

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What am I afraid of? I can’t put my finger on it… I sit poised at the computer, fingers at the ready atop of the keys, waiting for the tappity tap tap that alerts me to my flow. But all I get is staccato sounds; infrequent, small bursts of activity amidst long silences…. Ideas? Where’d they go? What was I just thinking? I have a thesis to work on – I talk incessantly and passionately about my research, but as soon as I sit in front of a screen with a keyboard, everything disappears from my head – a miraculous vanishing act.maitriser-le-web-reseaux-sociaux

I sit, like a frustrated musician at a grand piano with the finest instruments, waiting for a concerto or symphony to flow out of me. But all I get is a crappy jingle that has probably been unintentionally plagiarised from something I’ve heard before. Ugh… I know the tools of the trade, the tricks to tickle the habit, and yet I resist using them. Write everyday. Be disciplined in your approach. Set daily goals/tasks/topics. Make them public so you are accountable (does humiliation for not doing what you publicly claimed really work as a motivating force?)

I struggle.
I procrastinate.waiting_to_write
I do everything to not write.
I’m afraid.
I’m a fraud.
I’m a fool.
I’m frustrated.

I find myself waiting for inspiration, knowing full well that this is not the way to get ideas (or writing) out of me. I have experienced profound flashes of writing elation, where I get lost in the moment and write with fervour in a feverish fit of flow. And then it stops. Dead. Where did it go? How do I get it back? What if I have nothing of value to say? WTF?

mjz4DV3x10DNRJoFvT0zufgI do not believe in my own ideas and musings. I am afraid of being publicly consumed and criticised. It seems that I am a coward. And what is life if I stay in the safe confines of my own head? I am passionate about sharing discourses and delving into dialogues about the human condition. I can discuss such things with strangers on a bus, travellers on a train and customers waiting at the supermarket checkout… and yet, I struggle enormously to articulate my thinking via the written word. Can I find the right word(s)? Can I get my meaning across? Am I using too many adjectives? Am I over complicating what is an essentially simple premise: my struggle to contemplate and capture ‘stuff.’ Stuff is slippery. I forget stuff. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I know that I know the underlying theoretical issues that help explain some stuff, but I labour with accessing this knowledge. My memory is not sharp. Maybe if I wrote more, I would be more successful accessing what I know, or maintain the knowledge better? But these are the ‘what ifs’ that I am riddled with. What if my mind was sharper? What if I was a different version of myself that overcame these insecurities? What if, in a parallel universe, another me was successfully forging ahead?

dd7ebaf7f329992e21302762b28a3ff0None of these questions help me get on with the job of writing now! Even while writing this piece on the challenge of writing, I have followed the white rabbit down the hole and been distracted by new thoughts and ideas, losing my grip on the theme I was expanding (or lamenting) upon. The Mad Hatter teases me; the Cheshire Cat grins tauntingly at me. My brain pings. I want to follow every new trajectory in a way that is akin to experiencing ADHD symptoms. I start many projects and very rarely complete them all. Poor form. Poor discipline. I lose interest. I can rationalise that I have learned what I wanted and thus moved on. But this is self-deception of the highest order.Cheshire-cat-8

So, here I am, an aspiring author struggling to ‘phinish’ my doctorate. Colleagues, friends and mentors have more belief in me than I do. What do I need to spur me over the phinishing line? How do I access the internal dialogue and transform it into an academic thesis?

I will share my odyssey over the next few weeks and months. It doesn’t matter if you, dear reader, are not actually interested (though I do hope that you are). I need to forget that you might critique my process, or nod knowingly at my dilemma, offering no words of encouragement or enlightenment – because you know that while these are great to hear, they do not generate the writing. I know you will judge me, and I have to be comfortable with that. There will be flaws. I will mix tenses; use too many adjectives, analogies and metaphors. My narrative will lack cohesion; I will neglect to fully expound an idea due to being distracted, or simply losing my thread. I will feel vulnerable. I do feel vulnerable exposing myself to potential judgement. But I remind myself of the spirit of generosity that many readers display because the ‘stuff’ resonates. Because of empathy and shared experience. So, I give myself permission to write badly. It is a self-full journey. I have to find my own way….

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Family 2.0 – Communication via technology

Prompts via text message, instant message, or an actual mobile call are considered more expedient than face-to-face communication within the household – mobile technology functions as a domestic intercom unit.

Mobile phones function as a family intercom

My daughter was at a birthday party recently, where she regaled me with a tale of how the family logistically came together for the ritual of lighting the candles on the birthday cake. The 14-year-old birthday girl was having a slumber party with 3 of her girlfriends. Her 12-year-old sister also had a friend stay overnight. As the small party of girls gathered around the birthday cake (a beautifully decorated sponge filled with cream), the younger sister was upstairs in her bedroom with her friend. To alert her youngest daughter of the impending candle lighting, the mother picked up her mobile phone and proceeded to call her youngest daughter to tell her to come downstairs.

There was no attempt to call up to her, nor was anyone ordered to go and tell the younger sister to come down. No raised voices, or potential resentment for having to go and collect the missing party members – just a quick call to be told to come downstairs. The mobile telephone offers convenience – never having to yell upstairs, or across rooms! Of course, had the younger sister not answered her mobile phone, then the (old-fashioned) alternatives would undoubtedly be pursued.

Mobiles keeping us together separately?

My teenage stepdaughters, and many friends (parents included) also admit to using their mobiles, or Facebook to alert each other when dinner is ready, or if they have something to tell each other, but cannot be bothered physically moving into the space where the other sister is.  Prompts via text message, instant message, or an actual mobile call are considered more expedient than face-to-face communication within the household – mobile technology functions as a domestic intercom unit. Is there a reliance on mobiles to keep family members connected within their homes?

There has been some research investigating communication behaviour patterns between parents and their teenage children – with a focus on text messaging as the key method of communication. In 2008, a survey conducted by AT&T and Synovate found that 73% of parents think teens are more responsive to text messages than to other forms of communication, and 56% say it makes their children easier to reach. The mobile phone provides an unobtrusive way for families to stay connected throughout the day for purposes of logistical coordination, sending reminders for activities, or letting family members know they are being thought of. I can only assume that the majority of communication examined here was while family members were dispersed between home and other destinations.

More contact equals less togetherness (and more co-dependence)?

This leads me to ponder about the way family members maintain connectedness, and how connected is connected enough? Susan Maushart asked the same question and wrote a book about her journey. In her family, she observed that “the more we seemed to communicate as individuals, the less we seemed to cohere as a family” (p. 6). With the convenience of SMS, IM, email and social networking, we can remain connected with our family members without being with them. On the one hand, this is great – to be able to let family members know what is happening, when you will be home, what’s for dinner or that you are thinking of them. On the other hand, at what point do these messages (examples include: whassup? BBIAB = be back in a bit, E2EG = ear-to-ear grin, where’s the vegemite?) become inane, trivial and irritating? Do these digital exchanges promote loving relationships and enhance family satisfaction? Or do they encourage co-dependence among family members? Also, is the digital contact different for different family structures or contexts? I have noticed (anecdotally) that single parents may inculcate greater dependence via mobile devices as a means for perpetuating contact with their children. The family dynamic (patterns of relating to each other) is different, and as such the technology may be used differently when compared to two-parent households. How does your family maintain  connectedness?

To Blog or Not to Blog

Today I attended the inaugural (for 2011) Collaborative Research Online Psychology Team (CROPT) meeting – given I was co-facilitating this event, it was imperative that I attend! Our first meeting looked at the benefits of blogging for thesis writing (a topic close to my heart).

 Thesis writing and research can be a very isolating experience. As a PhD student I have found that once you take the dive into the rabbit hole, it is an exclusive journey that is conducted in a vacuum. No one can truly share in your experiences. Your topic is unique and ideally, no one else is doing the same research (but serendipitously there is always someone doing something similar somewhere else in the world – many ideas/discoveries are worked on simultaneously without knowledge of the other). The criterion on whether a doctoral thesis proposal is approved is that it is original work that makes a significant contribution to knowledge. By it’s very nature it is a solitary process. In fact, the only people you really get to share part of your journey with is your supervisor(s), who help guide you through the morass, and are there to support, critique, encourage, chide, question and praise you (if you are lucky)!

 My supervisors (wonderful, inspiring women that they are) will be the only people (apart from the examiners) to read my work. All those words (90,000 of them) will only be read by 4 people (and 2 of them – the examiners – are judging me by my work). I am already putting myself off! Although I can hear my optimistic self tell me: it’s the journey, not the destination! The process is likened to being a sorcerer’s apprentice in research. I have digressed….

 Blogging to share the experience

The point of my diatribe is this: blogging is a way of sharing the words, the inklings, the epiphanies and sorrows. It is a way of finding an audience that is interested in my ideas and creating a dialogue so that I am not always operating in an isolated space. It is a means to encourage interaction with my audience. It is also a method for developing routine in the practice of writing.

 

Today I have ‘outed’ myself as someone who desires to be disciplined in the practice of writing (but thwarted by continuously finding (valid?) reasons not to)! This Blog is dedicated to my fellow CROPT colleagues who will be watching for my commitment to write 250 words per day via this blog. THERE! I have committed! Let the writing begin!

(This post was 419 words – can there be too many words???)

How the research journey is analogous to going down the rabbit hole!

“…burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled `ORANGE MARMALADE’, but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

`Well!’ thought Alice to herself, `after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!’ (Which was very likely true.)

Down, down, down. Would the fall NEVER come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth’…”

from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Chapter 1

 I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a child, never once considering that it would become a significant metaphor in my research career many years later. Now the question: “why is a raven like a writing desk?’ is meaningful to me; especially within the context of developing a research question. The Mad Hatter may not have known the answer to the question posed, but the question itself raises more potential issues to ponder and investigate (which makes it a highly valid and industrious puzzle to solve). For instance: what are the qualities of a raven? What are the qualities of a writing desk? What properties do they share, and what are their differences? How are they represented? How are they perceived? By whom? And so on….curiouser and curiouser.

Welcome to the research process, where questions abound, and a state of confusion is the only constant! You start with a nebulous thought that needs form and substance. This progresses in fits and starts to become a conceptual idea. You notice the white rabbit (the idea) and pursue it peripherally at first, taking tenuous steps towards it on the surface (the rabbit hole). Before you know it, the idea takes hold and down you plunge, into the research abyss (the deep well). This is the beginning of a long, arduous, challenging, inspiring, prosperous, at times lonely and futile, and other time’s joyful and productive journey. Like Alice scanning her environment, there are many distractions and disappointments among the breakthroughs and discoveries experienced. Dichotomous encounters and paradoxical principles become part of the flotsam and jetsam of the research voyage. Conundrums proliferate, periodically perplexing and sometimes beguiling. You lose your sense of time and place as you linger over the enticing tidbits that draw you in, and then take a tangential exploration that may come to nought, but the diversion was captivating nonetheless (this can also be called procrastination – but the process still can be of productive value). There may be many moments where you find the research equivalent of the ‘ORANGE MARMALADE’ jar, only to be disheartened at the emptiness and irrelevance of the contents, but file it for future reference (if it becomes pertinent).

The tunnel that you have entered at first is wide, fanning out in all directions, and then it can dip suddenly, taking numerous twists and turns (with the occasional dead-end). As the research journey progresses, the tunnel narrows as you remain focussed on the subject matter. Your analytical skills improve, and you are better able to scrutinise and dissect significant information and discard extraneous material. You feel a greater sense of purpose as the terrain becomes familiar and your expertise in the field increases, providing greater illumination. At this point you wonder why you felt so vulnerable at the beginning, full of self-doubt (because you did not have the knowledge required to get you as far as you needed to go). And like Alice, you should think nothing of tumbling down stairs! You are now defending your position (and thesis) with poise and courage, and totally transformed by the process!

The challenge of recruiting families for research

Recruiting families for research:

It’s not easy finding families that are willing to participate in my research project. Only a very small percentage put their hand up to take part – and not all of those that want to be involved fit my selection criteria (with kids 12-17 years). One family that identified themselves as a step-family with an 18-year-old step-daughter was keen on sharing their experience. Another two-parent family with 14, 18 and 19-year-old kids all living at home, with their kids allegedly surgically attached to their laptops, have also responded to my recruiting call – but they are just outside of my desired parameters!

 It would be nice if I could recruit families within my wish list, but I think I will need to be flexible and extend my criteria upwards to accept the older teens (as it will be more difficult to get ethics approval to accept kids at the lower end – below 12 years of age). Then there is the problem of geographical distance. I have 2 other willing families that live 50 kms away from where I live – which takes the study out of the inner-Melbourne region (in terms of keeping the sample contained) and the logistics of getting to and from the household with ease is problematic. Perhaps it might be worth staying at these families’ houses for a week as a way of fully immersing myself in their everyday lives (this would need to be approved by them, of course).

How to recruit?

In the first instance I have contacted friends via email with information about my research, so that they can send it to the friends that they think might be interested in participating. So far I have received three responses from my friends alerting me to their actions (that they passed on the details)! Of those leads I have had two families offer their potential participation. So it seems my own friends have not provided the deluge of family participants I was hoping for!

 Then I decided to access some of the networks I belong to at RMIT University. A lot of my colleagues do not necessarily have children in the age range that I require, or friends with children 12 to 17 years! Of those that do, one actually offered me up names of people to follow-up without first introducing these families to me or my research project. This was akin to cold calling, and the referral process is an important aspect that helps the family be more open to the idea of at least listening to the research proposal. The connecting referral is critical in making the link between me and the research family. In another university network, a colleague put out an email to some of their friends, to which one responded immediately! I made contact with the mother of the family, spoke about the nature of the project, and she has agreed (on behalf of her family) to participate.

I have also tried to use Facebook to recruit some families – accessing some of the friends of friends’ networks. A few weeks ago I instant messaged a friend of a friend via Facebook. She is a sole parent with two teenage children. When I asked if she might be interested in participating in my research with a very brief outline, she said she would be happy to participate. After a little bit of ‘telephone tag’ I noticed that she was online on Facebook, and I took the opportunity to ‘instant message’ her to make contact. I was able to call her (on a landline telephone) to discuss her family’s potential participation. It turned out that she was fine with me interviewing her, but was uncomfortable about me participant-observing her family. After explaining that the observations were not clinical in nature, although they might feel intrusive, but would be negotiated and controlled by her, she declined. I was welcome to speak with her, and her kids (if they were willing) about their technology use, but she did not want her family to be part of my research. Which of course is absolutely fine. All families have the option of declining, or, if they do agree to be part of the research, they can quit at any time.

 Would I participate if I was asked?

This got me thinking: how willing would I be to have my family investigated by a relatively unknown researcher? If I knew the person that was referring the researcher, then I would certainly be more receptive to the idea. But that in itself would not be enough to for me to agree. I would need to be interested in the actual research topic. In this case though, it is not just me – I would also need to engage my family members, and given we are all intensely private individuals, this could be the biggest hurdle – gaining family members’ acquiescence! I would have to ‘pitch’ the project to my family members. I might be successful in gaining consent, but I would have to present some convincing arguments about why it would be good to participate. There is no financial or any other type of reward being offered – I would have to appeal to their own needs for improved insight into their own behaviours regarding technology and communication. Here are some other reasons that might help convince my family members to commit:

  • It might be fun.
  • We will be contributing to the completion of someone’s research.
  • We would be helping the researcher and/or university to improve knowledge in the field.
  • We might learn something! (About ourselves, about research processes, or about technology)
  • It would be a creative family project.
  • We will get to express what we think and feel about media and technologies and be listened to!
  • One day we might need to conduct research and recruit participants – there is research karma involved!
  • Because while we are being observed as a family, we can observe the researcher!
  • We’re doing it because I said so!

 These are just a few of the possibilities – perhaps you can come up with some more!

 I’d like to believe that I would be able to convince my own family to participate in a research project like my own. And these days I do find myself agreeing to partake in focus groups or online surveys, because I know the difficulties in getting people to engage in research!

It’s a slow process, and so far I am still completing my pilot study with the pilot family, and have three other families that have agreed to participate. Only eight more to go! So, if you are willing to participate, or know of families that might be interested, please feel free to pass on this information and get in touch with me.

About my PhD

Welcome to my blog that explores the world of families and their use of media technologies! I am curious about how, and in what way technologies (such as Internet, mobile phones and even the television) shape our activities, and in turn, how those activities shape the use of technologies. Sounds complicated, but really I am identifying the fact that when we introduce a new media device into our home, it is novel and exciting. While we become familiar with the functionality and exotic applications of some devices, it can feel like the technology takes over our lives. In time though, we take control of the device and sometimes find completely new ways of using it (we take control over it)!

PhD Project

What am I doing?

I am currently working on a PhD research project that looks at how Australian (Melbourne) families interact with each other using the Internet, mobile phones and television. My purpose is to gain understanding of how these technologies are used in the home, and to gain insight into the dynamic interplay between families and technology use in their everyday activities. The focus is on how technologies facilitate the ways in which family members communicate and spend time with each other. At the moment, there is little consensus about how technologies affect family life and relationships – my aim is to cast some light on the area. This project is supported by the Smart Services Co-operative Research Centre, and is being conducted through RMIT University’s Graduate School of Business and Law.

Who can participate?

During 2010 and 2011 I will be recruiting families that wish to be involved in my research project. I am seeking families with children between the ages of 12 to 18 years. I am looking for a range of family situations such as intact families, single parent families, blended or step-families that live in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

What’s in it for me?

Ultimately you will be helping me gain a better understanding of the way Australian families interact with technology in the current environment and its consequences in shaping family activities. You will assist me in developing an updated snapshot of how communication technologies are used in the home and how these technologies affect, and are affected by, family members in their everyday activities. The research will offer information regarding the use of current technology, and identify potential needs that will benefit future technology development. Your input will also help Smart Services CRC who work with a range of government and industry partners to develop potential innovations and improvements. You will be contributing to important research, and there will be reports and papers generated from this research that you can obtain copies of, should you desire.

What’s in it for you?

Your family will get the opportunity to examine and reflect on your own technology use. You may find your research involvement thought-provoking, stimulating and fun, and that doing the research activities becomes an engaging shared family experience. It might generate a lot of thought about issues that come up, with the possibility of reflecting on identified issues as an individual, and within the family context. Most importantly you will be contributing to research that provides significant and valuable insights into how Australian families are using communication technologies, and the way technologies shape family activities.

I have a family with teens – what would I need to do?

If your family agrees to participate, you will be visited by me on a number of agreed occasions for interviews with all family members (together and separately). Some of these visits will be for formal in-depth interviews, and some will be more casual and relaxed. I will begin with a general discussion with the family, in which you will be asked some basic facts about yourself, and about your use of technologies.

Your family will be asked to monitor their use of technologies over a period of 4 weeks. You will be given a Research Kit that will provide some fun and interactive ways to do this. For example, you may take digital snapshots of family moments with technology! During the research period, I will be observing your family (at agreed times) whilst engaged in activities using technologies. Your family will also be asked to complete a questionnaire about family closeness that will take up to 15 minutes for each family member to complete.

How do I get involved?

If you would like to become involved in the project, you can contact me via email at yvonne.gora@rmit.edu.au or call me at RMIT University on 9925-1600. I will send you a project information pack and set up a time where I can meet with you and your family to discuss your participation, or answer any questions you might have.

You can also download a copy of the flyer for the project.