Navigating life through screens

Little Sister One came to see me last month, and as she instructed, we did some serious touristy stuff.

Seeing the change of the Royal Guards at the Buckingham Palace turned out to be a particular challenge for us as we were not tall enough to stay afloat in the crowd. A group of middle-aged French women were also struggling like us, but then one shouted with joy to the others (if I may roughly translate): β€œOh, I can – I can see them through the screen of that young man!”

I found that moment amusing and also encapsulating. That is, it aptly encapsulated how everyday life is now experienced through multiple screens, regardless of whether one’s own or someone else’s, or whether switching between or using many simultaneously.

Speaking of screens, next month I will participate in the event Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multimodal Working Practices at the University of Surrey. The work I will be presenting is titled The penumbra of academic work: A case study of #AcWriMo and scholarly writing as a second-screen experience. This is what I actually meant to share today, but I somehow side-tracked myself (again).

A provisional programme is telling me that I will be in great company. If anyone is interested, the registration page is here.

“Tweets in the limelight”

Routledge’s Asian Perspectives on Digital Culture, to which I have contributed a chapter, will be released next week. I noticed a few tweets yesterday welcoming the book, so I thought I’d chime in shyly. This post is not necessarily intended to be a self-promotional plug; I just love remembering how each of my projects first came into being. A little bit of marginalia, if you like. And yes, I can pinpoint the exact moments.

In this case, the whole thing was sparked by the tweet below by Simon Pegg in August 2010.


This was not the first time when I saw an individual tweet picked up by the news media. However, what followed the media reporting at that time, including the reaction of the author of the tweet himself, was quite different from what I observed previously in the Korean cultural context.

So, I started to wonder what kinds of tweets were selected by the Korean media as newsworthy and how those tweets were represented and discussed in the news. I shared preliminary findings at the MiT8 conference in Boston in 2013. The project has been further developed since, and this book chapter is the final product of it.

Titled ‘Tweets in the limelight’, it opens like this:

It is not uncommon around the world nowadays for individual tweets (messages of 140 characters or less posted on the social networking site Twitter) to become news items. In 2009, for example, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wrote an article about a “row” English actor and presenter Stephen Fry had on Twitter with a fellow user (BBC, 2009). In the Entertainment section of the online news outlet Huffington Post in 2012, there was an article attempting to interpret American pop singer Katy Perry’s every activity on Twitter a month after her then husband, comedian Russell Brand, had filed for divorce (Huffington Post, 2012). The British Prime Minister David Cameron’s tweet “I understand and support Barack Obama’s position on Syria” was read by many journalists as an important move in international relations surrounding military intervention in Syria in 2013 (e.g., McGregor, Blitz, & Aglionby, 2013).

I think this paragraph inadvertently but unmistakably shows how much time I spend on the Internet – all in the name of research, of course.

Archive fever [2]

The 8th issue of Korea at SOAS has come out, and you can download a pdf copy from here. It is the annual review of the School’s Centre of Korean Studies. I joined the centre over the summer.

Yours truly on p.8.

… So, another vanity post after all. πŸ˜›

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

Last Friday I was asked to give a short presentation at the induction event for the new intake of research students. As usual, I started with a self-deprecating joke about a PhD. That’s when it struck me that I do have quite a collection of such jokes.


  • “I would like to thank my family and friends outside academia for continually resisting the urge to tell me to “get a proper job”.” (Andrew Chadwick, Internet Politics, 2006: xiii, Acknowledgements)
  • A professorial room (photographed in 2007)


  • “Not the kind with access to drugs” (The Big Bang Theory S04E19)


  • RT @aimsinpeng At a tech startup talk. This is what they say about working w academics […] (25 March 2015)


  • RT @ianvisits The British Library, full of wise clever people who read a lot — but need to be warned about steps. A lot. (21 February 2014)


  • “The only people who will ever read your thesis (besides you) will be your supervisor, the examiners and your mum. And she will just say she read it.” (Australian Open Access Support Group, 10 April 2013) * Compiler’s note: The version that we shared had a one additional detail – that the examiners will read it on the train to Egham!
  • “It’s amazing how many super villains have advanced degrees.” (The Big Bang Theory S02E02)
  • “Dr. Acula” (Scrubs S05E06)


Fit to work

20150927_fit_to_work(Click through the image to go to the original post @ 101words.)

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw their advert. Free organ transplants during a mortgage with us. I know it’s relatively easy to secure a synthetic organ compared to, say, 2015, but still not everybody can afford one. “Too good to be true, isn’t it?” I murmured audibly.

I was due for retirement 40 years ago, but instead I’m due for my third liver replacement in two weeks’ time. Fit to work, the doctor will once again declare. Until I am done with the repayment, they will make sure I am fit to work. They won’t let me die.

The interplay between mortgage and death is one of our staple jokes, and the microfiction above is yet another variation from it. Thanks also go to the DWP for part of the inspiration.

My wishlist of research methods curriculum?

A few weeks ago I was asked to contribute to a discussion on starting to teach social research methods as an important part of A-level content. While reflecting on the request, I made a list (listicle?) of what I would personally focus on if I spoke to 16- to 18-year-old students about research methods.

  • Understanding of how to formulate a research question that is ‘specific’, ‘answerable’ and ‘relevant’.
  • Familiarity with a range of common methods to collect social data such as interviews, surveys, observations, and document reviews, but understanding at the same time that there can be many other approaches as long as those approaches are systematic and reasoned.
  • Ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of two or more possible methods and determine which is the most suitable course of action for their research questions and aims.
  • Understanding the importance of ethical considerations in social research.
  • Understanding that the researcher needs to make a series of choices throughout the research in the face of theoretical and practical constraints, and ability to explain their choices to the audience.
  • Understanding the importance of ‘knowing the audience’ in communicating research processes and outcomes.
  • Information search and evaluation skills, especially with regard to digital sources.

Nope, nothing beats the joy of list-making.

Things we like

A small pocket of positivity I have recently discovered through a tweet. Very addictive too – so much so that unlike my usual self I have gone ahead and sent in a list myself. πŸ™‚

  1. A pile of ironed hankies
  2. Collecting loyalty points/stamps
  3. Sipping chai latte when under the weather and making old-person noises
  4. Kind strangers in online user forums
  5. Listening to researchers passionately explain their obscurely specific topics
  6. Brownies that serve purposes (e.g. post-class brownie, mid-week brownie)
  7. My seven-year-old niece’s digital proficiency
  8. Making up a word in the middle of a conversation and the fact that S always gets it
  9. Claiming (unfoundedly) a connection to Bruce Lee when I have to spell my name
  10. Finishing a tube of moisturiser so clean that I have no doubt about throwing the container away

Archive fever

Can’t believe I haven’t got to boast here about our MOOC having been shortlisted for the Guardian University Awards 2015. The award ceremony (How Oscars!) was last Wednesday, and Manchester won our category. After we were informed of the nomination last month, I did joke to colleagues about practising a ‘gracious loser face‘, but at the event, I felt that no such practice would have been necessary. I really enjoyed the celebratory ambience – so much so that at one point, a gentleman sitting across the table told me that I must be the most generous applauder in the room. πŸ˜€

And here is our little ‘proof shot (인증샷)’ of that evening.


+ Oh, look! Now even in the form of video!

* Random addendum

I have long been pondering about the ontological meaning of proof shots, particularly selfies and pre-meal pictures. These days we rather regularly see instances of misjudged selfie moments in the news (e.g. here, here, and here + also here and here). I may be as appalled as the next person when reading about them, but my intellectual belief is that the desire to record (selected) pieces of our existence – our ‘archive fever’, if you like, to borrow Derrida’s words (1995) – predates mobile phones and social media. It has just always been in us.

Some words are just more aspirational.

Enough with the Word ‘Netizen’ (Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic, 25 September 2013)

I was led to this article a couple of months ago via @netizenrights and have been meaning to make an annotated bookmark of it.

I do get the author’s point about the blurred/permeable/porous/sliding boundaries between the online and offline worlds. I also agree that social media activity is becoming more and more depoliticised and that is observed similarly across the world. However, I wouldn’t dismiss the word just yet; sometimes connotations of a word are more telling than the word itself.

For my own record, below is a blurb that I wrote in 2012 for Ronda for the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the publication of the printed edition of the book Netizens.

I do appreciate the significant contribution that the book has made to the discussion of democracy and the Internet. Although there might have been a shift towards a more value-neutral term ‘users’ in the field, the term ‘Netizens’ continues to prevail in democratically-still-developing countries such as China, Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand. I believe this tells us something.

On e-moderation

One thing that only a few people know about me is that I am a professionally trained E-Democracy Coordinator (Ahem!), through a programme developped by the Hansard Society in 2005. It’s not a secret or anything, but I haven’t had a much chance to put the skills that I developed to use since. Also, I was a big believer in the political potential of informal and spontaneous discussions happening online, and therefore was a little sceptical about the need for the presence of a moderator, at that time I was completing the programme.

Recently, I am participating in another e-moderator training course, designed for those who would be working as Associate Tutors on our MOOC this summer. Online environments have changed considerably since 2005, so have some of my ideas about them. So, I thought I would have a reflective look at what we covered at that time – and even compare it with how it’s approached to now. I am afraid I can’t find any records of that programme on the Web, including the group blog that our cohort set up on the side, I thought I’d do my own documenting here, which would fit the category, based on my notes, memories, and more importantly the help of the Wayback Machine.

Course Curriculum
Week 1 — Access and motivation

  • Recruiting and motivating people to participate
  • Sending a message to a forum
  • Sending a message to an individual
  • Getting & using help
  • Navigation in the online world
  • Expressing expectations and needs
  • Accommodating late arrivals and rolling starts
  • Personal and group reflection

Week 2 — Socialisation

  • Equality and diversity
  • Exploring asynchronous online working in the service of democracy
  • Establishing online identities and perspectives
  • Principles of online communication
  • Personal and group reflection

Week 3 — Exchanging information

  • Invitations
  • Weaving
  • Interventions
  • Exchanging information
  • Using electronic information
  • Validity of information
  • Understanding the process of democratic deliberation
  • Archiving
  • Feedback
  • Closing
  • Personal and group reflection

Week 4 — Constructing knowledge

  • Promoting participation
  • Designing for participation
  • Dealing with emotions
  • Managing time
  • Dealing with volume
  • Personal and group reflection

Week 5 — Development

  • Being heard
  • Understanding the impact of contributions
  • Synthesising & conveying
  • Giving feedback
  • Personal development plans
  • Footprints
  • Overview and reflection
  • Course evaluation