This paper was presented in the 8th Annual Conference ANPOR-APCA 2020 on the second of December 2020. The Webinar is organized by the Asian Network for Public Opinion Research (ANPOR) and the Asia-Pacific Communication Alliance (APCA) in Thailand.
Good afternoon fellow lecturers and participants,
My name is Hadi Saba Ayon, and I am a researcher in information and communication sciences from the University of Le Havre Normandie in France. My work focuses on interpersonal communication, digital culture, disability and mental health.
I am delighted to be with you today. I wish to thank Professor Jantima Kheokao, The Asian Network for Public Opinion Research and The Asia-Pacific Communication Alliance for inviting me to this event.
We question in our presentation today the meaning of participation during the Covid-19 pandemic, in a highly digitalised society, advancing with incredible speed towards a digital transformation. We also question the role that digital memories can play in making the participatory process efficient by analysing the notion of participation from different perspectives and fields.
Our world changed significantly in a matter of months. Our body language and facial expressions are harder to read and comprehend. Just as health, our interpersonal communication is another victim of this pandemic. So, what happens to participatory culture now?
Human beings cannot be defined outside of their interaction with each other and the outside world. As put by the Palo Alto school in the ’50s, one cannot NOT communicate, because our bodies send and receive information every second. George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman who studied social interaction for the Chicago School showed that meanings derive from social interaction and are modified through definition and interpretation.
If the pandemic shows us anything new today, it is how we leave traces in every move we make.
Dominique Cardon defines the digital culture as the sum of the consequences of computing techniques on our societies, reconstituted and redesigned by traces. This said, a stand-alone trace does not have a meaning. Only when gathered with other traces and combined in a context, it can be calculated, analysed and becomes significant.
Béatrice Galinon-Mélénec, the founder of the “Human Trace” concept, sees the human being as “a producer of traces and a product of traces operating in a constant feedback loop that becomes a system”, all at once.
Put together; these theories gain tremendous importance during the current pandemic: we are surrounded today with digital inscriptions, traces of our activities on the Internet, and on related software and services. We form today an incredible collection of traces: we use the Internet to work from home. We buy online and call online transportation services. We do it all to avoid physical interaction. Our society moved from a “conversation of gestures”, to “online social scores”.
Participation as an accomplishment of life habits
In 2011, we started studying social participation in disabled persons in Le Havre – France, focusing on people with schizophrenia. This work led us to the “Human Development Model – Disability Creation Process” (HDM-DCP), a conceptual model developed by Quebec researchers in 1998, and later in 2010 and 2018. The model aims at documenting the causes and consequences of the disease, trauma, and other effects on integrity and the development of the person. According to the Quebecker model, a social participation situation refers to: “The total accomplishment of life habits, resulting from the interaction between personal (impairments, disabilities and other personal characteristics) and environmental factors (facilitators and obstacles)”.
Today, the acceleration of digital transformation caused by pandemic brings us back to the concept of calculated identity, first introduced by researchers Fanny Georges and Louise Merzeau. However, it is not easy to measure the accomplishment of daily tasks and subsequently, the level of social participation, unless we see digital as several tools where traces are left. In that sense, our activities in the digital ecosystem are not just a social score. They are a part of a digital habitat-a milieu- that we construct permanently to live in.
Milad Doueihi adds that the digital is also a humanism, in the sense that it modifies our relationship to texts, to the institutional supports built in the 19th century (university disciplines, copyright, intellectual property) and to politics in its democratic dimension because it is collaborative. His view on participatory culture is shared by Henry Jenkins (2015).
Participation as a part of shared practice and culture
According to Jenkins, a participatory culture describes “what are sometimes very ordinary aspects of our lives in the digital age. A participatory culture is one which embraces the values of diversity and democracy through every aspect of our interactions with each other – one which assumes that we are capable of making decisions, collectively and individually, and that we should have the capacity to express ourselves through a broad range of different forms and practices”.
Jenkins discusses the evaluation of our understanding of participation with the impact of digital technologies – and today, with the pandemic that affects our lives. The digital is most significant revelation of this: culture is, above all about sharing. Without sharing there can be no culture. To share is to have in common, to divide and distribute, to post, to tell, to participate.
Participation as transliteracy?
Digital gathers all types of media and allows the dynamics of back and forth between them. This is why it is considered a transmedia. Switching from one reading and writing system to another requires new skills beyond managing IT programs. They include operating forms and content of digital production and evaluation of information.
Sue Thomas defines transliteracy as “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks”. Transliteracy cannot be limited to computer-based materials and skills. It encompasses communication types across time and culture. Therefore, participation transcends the handling of technology or software and echoes the notion of “knowledge organisation” (Zacklad, 2013).
Participation for building digital memories
This dynamic between connection and sharing, participation and knowledge does not designate anything other than the very mechanism of the memory process. Memorising is always reorganising content. If memory occupies a prominent place in debates on the societal, cultural or cognitive effects of digital technology, it was only recently that the problem entered the field of information and communication sciences.
In her memory works, Louise Merzeau opposes “reinvested memory”-by individuals, social groups and communities- to a “metallic memory” described by Eni Orlandi as the memory of the machine.
Therefore, users are encouraged to build a “digital presence” by appropriating their traces, “so that the field of accessible knowledge remains an open, plural and uncertain public space”.
While exchanging information on online collaborative social networks like Twitter; on a collaborative text editor like Framapad or Framemo; users can communicate, not only on their own experience but also on the history of an event/organisation/problematic, its organisational model, the behaviours and actions of the participants, its management, its methods of communication and archiving. This work shows that public space is a space of memory, and that memory belongs to everyone.
This approach of re-appropriation has three levels:
The first concerns the digital competences of individuals.
The second is re-documentarization, which brings all the metadata needed to rebuild document sets and the traceability of its cycle. The re-appropriation of traces allows the extraction of pieces and its register in new series, making it possible to fit them into a diversity of communities, in memories built as commons.
The third is related to an explicit patrimonialization, in the shape of an institutional archiving of digital traces.
By focusing on what “We can do” and not just what “I can do”, participation can transit from the ability of reading and writing in the digital to the one of knowing how to program our traceability. We, therefore, must consider governance when building a digital memory.
Moving from a logic of indexing pages (Google PageRank) to a logic of indexing individuals (Facebook’s EdgeRank) and places and objects, the taxonomy of traces threatens all possibility of developing common spaces for memory and knowledge. Recreating documentary corpus open to collective contribution and memorisation, may be one of the most viable solutions to this phenomenon.