My methodology can be considered successful as I was able to gather data about my practice of travel recording through social media. It must, however, be considered an experimental method owing to the fact that there has been relatively limited application of autoethnography within the fields of social media and tourism. My study was also (as far as I am aware) one of the first with the explicit intention of closely investigating the personal processes through which tourists plan, capture, edit and post their experiences online (here is another). As such, besides proposing a workable method through which tourist experience recording can be studied, my study will also be able to recommend a number of possible modifications which may benefit future studies.
Here’s a visualisation of my method, showing it’s three key activities: observe, log, reflect; and some thoughts on my methodological now that I have finished my trip.
How to log travel recording
My research explored how travel experiences are recorded to social media, however, while travelling, not all of my social media use necessarily related to the practice of travel recording. While I frequently used platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress and Line to share my travel happenings and communicate with family and friends, other times I used social media platforms like YouTube in a way that was related purely to my entertainment. Thus, in order to accurately record how much time I spent recording my travel on social media, I would need some kind of metric which would allow me to differentiate between different kinds of social media use.
In order to measure my time spent recording travel online, I made the basic assumption that all of my productive social media use could be considered travel recording. To explain more, any usage when content was created such as writing messages or blog posts was considered as time spent travel recording. Moreover, my definition of productive activities did also include the peripheral activities which are part of this process including things like time spent browsing the posts of other users in one’s news feed before writing, or between replies. The reason for including the, seemingly passive, activity of browsing others’ posts into my definition of travel recording is that this activity informs the users’ productive actions in terms of tone, content ,and, perhaps even wider effects such as frequency of posting. Thus, my metric for identifying travel recording was “productive use on platforms where I have an account”.
In contrast to “productive” social media use during travel recording, social media usage for entertainment purposes (such as watching a clip on YouTube that was not recommended by a contact), or, browsing social media platforms where I am not a member and as such cannot easily contribute, were not considered as productive social media usage. While this distinction between separate productive and consumptive behaviours within social media is somewhat problematic owing to the participatory, ‘produsage’ inherent to social media in which users are invited to blend viewing/creating behaviours (see the work of Axel Bruns and Henry Jenkins), this metric avoids the need to isolate, and log, each travel recording incident separately – a seemingly tedious task which would require it’s own metrics for determining exactly when travel recording stopped and started.
The logic at play here is that social media relates to one’s current circumstances and as such I felt that all my usage within my personal profiles while travelling would inevitably comment in some way upon my trip. While not perhaps strictly true (I could, particularly in the case of professional email, compose messages which didn’t touch upon my journey at all), this logic formed a pragmatic structure that allowed me to successfully estimate how much time I spent recording travel and what activities this was composed of. This broad spectrum approach did also have the advantage of encompassing the time that I spent purely browsing the posts of my contacts, an activity which I think had significant impact upon how I would record an event, seeing as these contacts are my social peers (indeed, it is this same idea of produsage mentioned above which made me sensitive to the significance of this consumptive behaviour to my own production). Thus, I felt that “all productive social media use on member platforms” was a good metric for my purpose.
Back home….the narrative stops here?
The data I collected about my online travel narrative pertains only to the period when I was out of my home. Travel recording may, however, continue after the traveller returns home especially if their narrative lags behind their itinerary as mine does. While I do keep a log of my post trip travel recording, it has proved much harder for me to apply the same metric (i.e. all productive social media use on member platforms) and keep accurate records here. The problem is that once the user returns home their communication inevitably begins to turn toward ‘home’ events and thus instances of travel recording share time with more quotidian communication and the metric of ‘all productive social media use’ can no longer be reliably applied to travel recording.
My study focused specifically on travel recording as this occurred outside the traveller’s home space. While this focus was useful for exploring the intersections between my online travel narrative and my experience of the foreign landscape, this focus on the travel experience (potentially, at the expense of pre and post trip periods) was something of an oversight on my part. Indeed, some studies show that significant amounts of the travel narrative are posted from the travellers’ home country pre, or post, trip (I’m searching for my reference for this…). Now that I am back home, I do, indeed, require a different metric in order to determine what social media usage is travel related, and what isn’t. So far, what has been of most use is the question, ‘does this pertain to my trip?’ While simple, this question leaves the researcher responsible for determining what constitutes travel recording and what doesn’t and may as such limit the spectrum of activities which are at play. It also requires the researcher to continually interrupt the natural flow of their social media use in order to ask this question. Additionally, the logging process is also made more difficult as social media usage is cut into, ‘home’ and ‘trip’ segments’.
While each of the metrics discussed above has their individual merits, it appears that neither is ideal for isolating travel recording activities on social media across the entire lifespan of the travel recording process. In hindsight, a study of travel recording which encompasses the entire travel recording process (including pre, and post trip periods) should prove the most insightful for understanding the personal processes through which travel experience becomes online content. Because my study focused on the relationship between the online travel narrative and the travel experience, the metric employed in my study was designed to suit recording in the foreign landscape. For future studies, it may prove a good idea for a researcher to look for a single metric (such as: does this pertain to my trip?) which can be used across the lifespan of a trip, from planning to post trip in the home country in order to provide a more holistic picture of the processes through which the online travel narrative is composed.