Going online: An ethnographic narrative

Annette Noel Markham, Purdue University


This is a study of how we come to know others through the research process, the study of how contexts of Cyberspace are constructed through discourse, and a study of how eight people who live a portion of or most of their lives online make sense of their experiences. The overall goal of this project was to study how identities, organizations, and communities get constructed through the exchange of text-based electronic messages. Specifically, I set out to understand how people describing themselves as "heavy users" of the Internet made sense of their online experiences. This document tells the story of itself as well as the stories of eight participants: A hacker in training, several scholars, a recovering Internet addict, a young virgin, a Dominatrix, a father, a duck, and me.^ Along with detailing my own experiences of going online and reflecting on my place in the project as researcher, participant, and editor, I present an extensive interpretation of eight "user in the net" interviews. In my analysis, I contend that: (1) These users conceptualize all their online experiences as real; (2) They experience online communication on a continuum from Tool to Place to a Way of Being; and (3) They enjoy the level of control they can exert over the presentation of self, the structure of the immediate context, and the extent to which Other can interact with them.^ I conclude that we both exaggerate and underestimate the extent to which current Internet technologies are changing the nature of humanity. Although we should not ignore the impact of technology, we must also realize that many users are not completely at the mercy of these technologies; rather, these users have found some sense of balance. ^




Major Professor: William K. Rawlins, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural|Speech Communication|Sociology, General|Mass Communications

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