For Computers and Writing my classmates and I each selected a word and were asked to define, and blog about our chosen words. My classmates had words like “interface,” “multimodality,” and “media” (among others); all of which are complex and multi-faceted. I drew “participation;” a word that, seems largely uncomplicated and commonplace. However, as I started delving into the implications and nuances of this word, especially in relation to “the digital,” I found myself floating in uncertainty.
What does it mean to participate in digital spaces? As students, professionals, and members in an increasingly digital community we all, to some degree, interact with technology and digitally connected spaces. But what level of interaction counts as participation? Does logging on, plugging in, navigating to a site make one a participant? Does reading, viewing, clicking? Or, does the audience have to interact with the content in a more meaningful manner? Comments? Forwarding? Embedding? Sharing? Remixing?
In an era where the participation with text, or media has shifted from the individual to the mass market, and largely from the author to the audience – what is the bottom line for participation? Does the passive reception of material as a reader still hold value in this hyper-mediated age?
Hypertext provides an interesting and complicated connection between reader and author. By including links to further material, the creator of a web text helps guide the audience to what they have determined as relevant or interesting material. The author is, in some ways, taking control of the associations made by the audience. However, the audience is ultimately in control of whether or not they follow those links, select their own links, or open a new tab completely and create their own associations. By leading the reader away from their material, authors run the risk that the audience may never return to the original site.
The possibilities are seemingly endless.
I tend towards the reluctant when it comes to online participation. As someone who likes to be purposeful in the words that I write, and the comments I broadcast, I hesitate to post reactionary comments, or status updates of a trivial nature. I participate online as a lurker… someone who reads in the traditional sense and rarely adds to the conversation. This participatory behavior doesn’t seem to be unique. While I am often tempted to engage, a nagging sense of permanence and immediacy often cause me to navigate away; I move on to other, sites links and communities where I continue to lurk behind the scenes — a digital voyeur.