Ethnographic Approach to My Study

Phone usage at the beach – theft, misplacement, water damage, and sand weaving its’ way into the many nooks and crannies of your cellular device. Why do we continually decide to risk this? Why do we feel it is necessary to invite technology into spaces reflecting adventure, intimacy, relaxation and escape? To delve a little further into this topic, I have decided to conduct an ethnographic study exploring the reasons why such an unsuitable environment has become a space for cellular use. Is it to capture those much sought after Summer bikini photos we see engulfing our Instagram feed? Is there a sense of detachment or deprivation associated with leaving our phones at home? In order to find out, I plan to utilise a combination of short, semi-structured interviews to gather an insight into if and why people take their phones to beach. This will be complimented with video observation and note taking with the intention of revealing further intentions and motivations perhaps not mentioned in the interviews. As the beach is a public space, I have had to consider the Street Photographer’s Rights released by the Arts Law Centre of Australia, which details that “in public places such as roads, parks and beaches… organisations are unable to prevent photography by members of the public”. Due to the idea that photographs/videos taken of people at the beach can sometimes be used for ‘provocative’ reasons due to the nature of dress, this topic is a tricky one. Although I would usually ask permission before filming people, I feel as though in this instance, making the subjects aware would change their behaviour and thus, the validity of the results.

Fieldwork and observation, I think, will be the most appropriate ethnographic approach for this study, as it can capture unconscious actions and experiences that cannot be provided in face to face interviews. This is critical to a study of ethnography, as physically observing how people use spaces allows us to elaborate on the myriad activities that they claim to be immersed in. An article by Michael Foucault in 1984 entitled ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopia’s and Heterotopias’, suggests that the beach can be defined as a space of temporary relaxation, and that it possesses “the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralise, or invent the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect”. This statement is a mouthful, but it particularly captured my attention as I thought to myself, what if that curious property was in fact the mobile phone itself? A device that links itself to a variety of sites and in fact, holds the power to alter or invent the very activities that define such spaces? A recent blog post that I wrote entitled ‘My Networked Home’, explores this idea in depth; providing details revolving my personal experience with the infiltration of information and activities enabled by technological devices into the private home. It is for this personal interest that I have decided to conduct an ethnographic study on phone usage at the beach, and I trust that it will yield some interesting results.

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