My project experiments with self-ethnographic approach. I draw upon the concept of remote/distant learning. More specifically, I highlight the fact that remote learning leads to an unusual fragmentation of several aspects that constitute communication itself: the voice/ sound, the image and physical presence. The main idea of the project is that these three elements of communication are interdependent and their correlation is apparent when one of them is absent or distorted. I am trying to understand more about that carrying out sensory ethnography with myself. I focus on the digital forms of communication, the online encounters which had been thriven during this period with lockdowns and physical distancing due to the pandemic.
A. THE BEGINNING
In my recent experience with remote learning, issues began to arise that, while affecting all participants in the educational process, were not stated and consciously perceived. In this new condition, students’ participation in the class was only oral, due to the cameras usually being off.
The students’ active participation (which I consider very important and useful both for the students and the teachers) was most of the time significantly absent and very often arose as an issue. The fact that remote learning began in the middle of the semester allowed me to point out the differences and compare it to in person learning.
Particularly, in these new conditions, I was so concerned about this issue that it was deeply affecting me especially when the participation was explicitly requested by the teacher. In some cases, students remained silent throughout the whole lesson and only spoke when the teachers -tired of their monologue and full of doubts about whether someone really was on the other side of the screen- asked anxiously: “Are you there?”. You could detect their insecurity and anxiety in the question. I was feeling uncomfortable considering that this was making the process difficult and psychologically exhausting for them but also because I was suspecting that the students had a lot of things to say but for some reason remained silent.
Through observation and discussions I tried to find the reasons behind all the above. I started thinking about the Voice. In these lessons the voice had acquired a new role that was never mentioned, perhaps because it was never perceived while everyone was influenced by it. And day after day students start paying more attention to others and their own voice. Maybe in the same way that we focus on the voice when we hear a theatrical play on the radio. By that a feeling of embarrassment appeared. I started feeling that the voice has gained a new role and importance.
This new role emerged because in this special context, a division of students’ presence/substance into three parts started to become visible: first, their voice, second, their image and third,- Something which the new conditions of online meetings made me realize did not coincide with the second one (the image) -, the live presence. Students, being left with their -distorted- voice as their sole tool, started feeling oddly more exposed. Instead of being a simple part of one’s self, the voice was now meant to fully represent the individual and, therefore, it was playing a central role in the perception of one’s presence.
B. THE THEORY
Based on this case I started trealizing that The three “parts” are also the three “tools” that someone posses to express himself/herself. Voice, Image and Live Presence are our three means.
In the context of remote learning there were only two of the three tools since the the physical presence was missing but the combinations between voice and image were many and that’s why the educational experience was really fragmented. Picture a lecture where:
-The teacher is speaking and listening to the student’s voices but not seeing them. or in another case he/she is not even listening to them (this happened a lot of times)
-The students are seeing and hearing but not speaking. Or in some cases speaking.
-Students with bad signal are seeing but not hearing very good or the other way around and -students like me -that wanted to do a lot of thing during the class- are listening but not seeing. Sometimes they are speaking, sometimes they don’t.
C. THE QUESTION
Based on this idea I am trying to analyze the correlation between the three parts, when one of them is absent or distorted.
The main intention is to understand how these three elements/tools of communication interact with each other. What happens when not all of them can be present simultaneously in order to act together for the best encounter possible ? How do their relationships and interdependencies evolve into a dynamic connection? Carrying out some sort of sensory ethnography with myself I seek to be more conscious of the processes of hearing-speaking, seeing- showing and feeling during the conversations.
Through these observations one can approach the ways in which we use our senses to achieve the best possible(;;;) communication especially during the fragmented encounters of calls and video calls. There is a shift in the meaning, the importance, the ranking of the senses when a threefold individual loses one or several of his/her communication tools. I observe myself: in which cases do I feel uncomfortable, when do I feel easier understood, which element of my communication would I prefer to be distorted?
I tried to understand more in regard to the following ideas:
-The correlation between the voice, image and the live presence when one of them is absent or distorted.
-How communication between two people through digital media is constructed and what does it depend on.
-How is this momentary encounter shaped in terms of the relationship between hearing, image and feeling.
D. THE METHOD
I tried to analyze this correlation through some other fragmented experiences.
Calls, video calls and in-person discussions constitute a promising field to answer these questions. [One of the methods I put in practice ]
In order to do that, I began to experiment by recording my own image and voice, while using some very simple means found at my disposal, since I’ve never done anything like this before. As a first step, I tried to reproduce a specific message, based on the three elements that I mentioned. Starting with the form that has none of the three, up to the stage that has it all. By setting up all possible combinations, I’m trying to understand the dynamics of their relationships and interdependencies. I observe myself during these different types of encounters. In which cases do I feel uncomfortable? When do I feel easier understood? or more exposed? Which element of my communication would I prefer to be distorted or missing? It can be more complicated if I think about a conversation between deaf or blind people.
It’s a self-ethnography with a sensory approach
Through my auto-ethnography I have tried to understand how my three communication tools work together differently depending on the occasion and the communication needs. I focused on the observation of myself rather than other people. As a result of this process, I start to detect the techniques I use to communicate with others and how they are adjusted every time. becoming aware of the processes of speaking, showing and feeling, the communication was breaking apart in the parts it is consisted of.
The live presence is so important to me that can only divide the cases into in person and not in person.
I tried to understand what is happening on my body and face when it is or it is not seen. In both cases there are signs that reveal my mental situation but depending on the visibility of my body the body language is formed in a different way every time. The body signs are filtered and I start making choices on what I will reveal.
When my camera is on, the gestures and grimaces are working towards making me more understood. In other words, they function in addition to my voice, as an additional channel of communication. These are mostly facial expressions that show how I feel or even the subtle nuances of the emotion I am trying to describe. And various gestures with different purposes eg gestures that represent what I am talking about. I feel that my hands talking to the interlocutor at the same time as me.
During formal situations such as classes, discussions with teachers and presentations and generally when I am anxious but I am not seen, I express my stress physically in a way that I would avoid if I was exposed while if the camera is on, the movements of stress are limited to the part of the body that is not visible on camera. This hidden part also covers the movements and activities that would make interlocutor awkward, would show that I am not focused enough on what I hear, things that are not appropriate for the occasion and that for various reasons I want to hide.
In addition, I noticed that even though during in person communication I have very little awareness of how I look, when I speak using camera I spend most of my time looking at myself, that is, my own icon rather than the other person. It is very common to touch my hair and especially to observe my expressions. I find it interesting that I can see how I look when I speak and it is something that in other cases I can’t do unless there is a mirror across. When this happened in the past, the mirror did catch my eye.
I realized that there are many different and creative ways in which I use my voice. In video calls I speak more slow and clear than I would speak up close and personal. This is probably because I have in mind the bad signal or the poor sound quality that can make communication difficult. I feel that because I am very expressive with my grimaces and hands, when people do not see me I have to replace them with the voice that has been left alone. I speak more intensely and I am forced to describe things that I would show with my hands or with objects and feelings / thoughts that I believe my face would explain. I am more descriptive and emotional.
Earlier I mentioned that during video calls I can control what will be seen from my body and what will not be. The same can happen to some extend with my voice and the sounds I make in general. I can turn off the microphone if I want to do something very noisy or something I do not want to be heard or talk to someone else who is currently in the same room with me.
When I have an in person discussion I feel much more confident and I believe that I will be understood. Having at my disposal all my tools working at the same time for the best possible encounter I feel that I can express whatever I have in mind. The three fields complement each other, the mistakes of one are corrected by the other and the interlocutor is distracted by my overall presence rather than focusing on one of its aspects.
Physical and vocal expressions are effortless, more authentic and spontaneous and the fear of misunderstanding is not so intense. At the same time I feel that the interlocutor is more transparent. I can easily detect if he/she is bored, if he/she understands, if he/she is pretending. All this is based on what I call physical presence and includes something more than what one would read in the dictionary looking for the term. It contains emotions that float in the air, it contains the possibility of creating atmospheres, it contains the aura Something is created when two bodies are close together. Something that could not be replaced even by a digital encounter that would include perfect microphones, the best image quality and signal, cameras that would cover the whole body and space, technologies that convey everything, even the smell. It would not be the same because something is breaching from our bodies and maybe this is soul.
The paradox that arises is that the most uncomfortable moments are not those with the greatest exposure (that is, those in person) but those in which one or two of my means/tools are missing. Then I feel weak and vulnerable. I feel that the interlocutor’s attention is focused on the stimuli I give him which are less than he would have if we were talking up close. In video calls I feel that he/she is looking at me more closely. In the calls he/she notices my voice with greater concentration. I believe that during a call one can detect emotions and thoughts in the subtle nuances of my voice and in the micro-expressions on my face in a way that I would not be able to do in any other case. Exposure increases as I hide and not as I reveal myself.
I start thinking that through digital media someone can detect a lot of information, maybe not less than during a physical encounter. The problem is that are not always the ones I want to give, they are not so much under my control.
A constant attempt is made in order to choose what to express and externalize. The choices are depending on the occasion, the exposure and the tools that I have in hand. An endeavor that I know is always successful.
My three tools work together and complement each other for a successful encounter, to be as understandable as possible.
Having all three I feel comfortable, understandable and confident while the more I lose, the more exposed and vulnerable I feel.
I have developed specific techniques in order to ensure communication and to cover communication gaps and control the information I send through my channels
I realized things that, while perhaps expected, belong to those that while affecting us, are difficult to be detected, and even more difficult to be expressed with words.
The photos are stills from the recordings I took of myself. Based on these recordings I also created two videos which help me understand the complexity, the fragmentation, the awkwardness, the thinking and the sensory aspects of my speaking. Both of the videos are based on the same idea which I have also put in a text form. For the first video I put together sections from different recordings where I talk about the same idea. As the narration jumps from one scene to another, I sometimes repeat myself or complete my previous sentence. (the watermark is annoying but I couldn’t remove it without a subscription to the application) In the second video you can hear me speaking about the same idea in one single recording. Maybe I will add subtitles. This is the text:
“The experience of hearing is not the same for everyone. It’s something that each one experiences with another way, it’s a personal issue. And as such any other personal issue, it’s so much more: social, cultural, gendered etc
The experience of hearing doesn’t have a specific content. In theory, even the smallest different in our position means a different hearing. But even when the sounds around us are the same, we never hear the same things. The difference is not only existing in the meaning that we give to these sounds but to the awareness of the sounds themselves.
For example, when I hear someone singing I can understand if he/she is out of tune but my mother can’t. Although, she can hear my father’s motorcycle when he is coming home. I can’t do that and I always find it surprising. When I speak in the class and I am anxious my sister can hear my trembling voice with a way that no one in the class can. When I visit Stella, she stands when her coffee is ready because she can hear it and she know when someone enters the yard by the slightest door’s squeak. And me, not hearing any of these, I feel that she has magic skills. But then again, when I am in my home, in the second floor, I can hear the keys entering the lock of the building door.
The truth is that my mother can hear the mistakes, I can hear the motorcycle, the class can hear my trembling, I can hear Stella’s coffee and she can hear the keys in my building. Its just that we have not named them, we have not given them a special meaning and that’s why we don’t hear them.
The hearing does not come before the hearing. It’s the other way around.”
Please feel free to give me your feedback at any point. I think that the overlap with Amsterdam team is has become clear, but anyone’s comments and suggestions are more than welcome.