PhD Journal Entry 7: FaceTime Saves the Day

After work today, I had my final video call for the year with my primary supervisor, Kate. (Chris is on leave.) Naturally, we had great fun dealing with various technical difficulties before starting our discussion, as we fought Google Hangouts, Slack and Cisco WebEx, which all failed to create and maintain a proper connection. FaceTime thankfully saved the day.

In the lead-up to this chat, I had been trying to consider the real value of narrative to my project—investigating the media ecology of niche tech podcasting and the stories of fans—so that I can formulate more explicit thesis questions to frame my project. I intend to use narrative enquiry (a qualitative research method) in this project down the track, as I did for my Honours research.

Two passages in Lance Strate’s (2014) article ‘Notes on Narrative as Medium and a Media Ecology Approach to the Study of Storytelling’ were particularly helpful in framing this discussion with my supervisor. Even if you’re not super-plugged into the topics that interest me, what he has to say about storytelling is relevant to every human being on the planet:

‘Storytelling is produced by social interaction, a product of transactions, of relationships between human beings. Narrative represents a relationship between source and receiver… It becomes easy to lose sight of this fact because we tend to focus on texts rather than contexts, to pay attention to the content and ignore the medium, which brings us back to “the medium is the message” as a call to pay attention. For this reason, Postman described the media ecology approach as context analysis (2006)’ (p. 9); and

‘The future of storytelling lies in the continued shift away from narrative as text, and towards the fuller development of narrative as environment. In conjunction with the electronic media and especially the new media, narrative will increasingly involve interaction and collaboration in its creation, and its reception, social narrative as a form, and social storytelling as an activity… These and other mutations are aspects of the continuing evolution of narrative, as it interacts with other media, at each turn releasing bursts of creativity, what McLuhan referred to as hybrid energy (1964)’ (p. 23).

The idea of ‘context over text’ is very relevant to the idea of podcasting, as podcast networks and their shows, hyperlinked show notes and supplementary social channels all contribute to a greater environment and context than a single audio stream of storytelling. Furthermore, to my mind, interaction and collaboration between both producers and listeners are integral to creating the overall narrative. There is no show if either party is missing.

As usual, Kate was exceptionally helpful in her feedback about my reading so far, my understanding of narrative and my preliminary ideas for thesis questions.

Most profoundly, she reminded me to remain personal and reflective in my work, as I tend to get a bit carried away in my reading and research. It is still early days for me and she reminded me that in addition to establishing clear research questions and citing scholarly evidence, I need to remain grounded and aware of why I am doing this in the first place. Before embarking on any extended writing that is teeming with sources, I need to write for myself and elaborate on what I know and love about podcasting… before it’s too late. Too often, apparently, people delve into research, only to become inundated with texts and forget what they loved about the topic years down the track. Right now, I have the opportunity to discuss what interests me before I’m ‘tainted’.

I am grateful to have two great supervisors in Kate and Chris: both bring very different interests to the table, but they both encourage me to question my assumptions and expectations—both about the overall research process and my own capability.

As we approach the summer holidays, it’s reassuring to know that I’m on the right track. Kate has reminded me that I need to enjoy this process and reflect on why chose to undertake it. As long as the reasons are clear in my mind, the next few years should be much easier.