Reflections on my Method

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.

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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.

Reflections on my Data

In the previous post I showed a visualisation of my data which included the places I travelled to, how much time I spent using the Internet that day and what type of connectivity I encountered. Some questions that arise here are, how do I define travel recording? And, how did I measure the activities which constitute it?

I see travel recording as being composed of three different types of activities:

1) Social Media: This is time spent using social media productively to record my travel experience. This includes composing my own material on platforms like Facebook, Tumblr or Line and also browsing the posts of others in my newsfeed. It does not, however, include purely consumptive behaviour such as watching a video on YouTube for entertainment purposes (read more here).

2) Email: Again, this includes time spent both reading and composing emails in my three personal email accounts.

3) Offline: This is activities related to travel recording which don’t require an Internet connection. This includes practices like photography, photo editing, drawing (one of my blogs features my sketches of travel events) and even things like time spent driving to reach an area with Internet connection in order to upload posts.

I recorded the amount of time that I spent recording travel by keeping a daily log of the above three activities. To do which I used my wristwatch and the clock on my computer to help me keep a running tally of the time I spent engaged in travel recording activities throughout the day. At night time I entered the total hours for each respective category into my log. The times recorded in the log are informed estimates rather than exact figures. While an exact figure would, perhaps, be preferable, many of the practices involved in recording travel are fluid, meaning that they would be challenging to record precisely using the auto-ethnographic method. An example of this can be seen in the way a web browser (or, smartphone) allows the user to constantly switch between different tabs, and different processes, creating a usage pattern which is dynamic and intuitive. This same fluid usage behaviour, does, however, makes it extremely difficult for the user to give an accurate estimate of the time spent on one particular task as they are constantly flicking between different tabs. When I was recording my travel experiences to social media or email I frequently used other tabs such as Google search (to obtain information), Google translate, or Wiktionary (to check spelling). Additionally, given that travel recording is a leisure activity for me, I also commonly had tabs with content sent to me by my social media contacts or with completely unrelated material. I would drift into this material for a break from recording, or while waiting for a reply, and later, drift back to my emails or social media. In short, my practice of recording travel online was a dynamic process which did not occur in a homogenous, linear way but rather as a stop/start, multisited process. In light of my dynamic digital routine, keeping a completely accurate log of time spent recording travel seems a difficult process and I preferred instead to use an informed estimate of how much time I spent each day. If the researcher was interested in gaining more exact timings of use they could try a timing application (perhaps with multiple timers) which could be present on the desktop or a window on the user’s smartphone or browser.

A similar challenge can be seen in the ‘offline’ travel recording practices, while some activities like drawing or editing photos are relatively straight forward and easy to time, the practice of travel photography throws a considerable curveball at the researcher. How does one estimate time spent engaged in travel photography? As a very broad description, is it time spent with a camera or smartphone at hand in the foreign landscape? Or, on the other extreme, is it only the time which leads up to the shutter being pressed (i.e. the physical framing and clicking)? While this second option might seem to do a good job of encompassing the practice of travel photography, it neglects the travellers’ mental framing process in which particular sites are assessed for their suitability as photos – an essential part of the photography process. In order to make my estimates for my log, I logged travel photography as time spent ‘hunting’ pictures, that is, time spent in the landscape with the main purpose of taking photos. While this would not encompass many instances when photos were taken as a spur of the moment decision (usually with my smartphone as my camera is heavier and I only take it out when I’m sure I will be taking photos), it also included time when no photos were taken but my mental image framing process was in operation and thus, to me, struck a happy midpoint.

See anything amiss here? I’d be happy to hear about it!

A Google Map of My Trip

I’m back home and beginning to look at the data from my travel. Using Google Maps I’ve been able to make a map of my trip which shows not only my itinerary, i.e. where I was on any given day, but also the hours spent recording travel and the main type of connectivity encountered that day.

Being able to combine my different data streams (i.e. itinerary, recording log) into a holistic pictorial representation is very useful in allowing me to spot different trends in my practice recording travel and also in calculating overall statistics. This includes things like how much time I spent recording travel each day on average, and how different zones of connectivity affect how much time I spend recording travel.

It looks like this:
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The different icons indicate different zones of connectivity (a star is ‘residential’, a circle is ‘transit’, and an inverted teardrop is ‘remote’). Cooler colours indicate less time recording to travel to social media while hotter colours indicate more. The icons have been placed in a way which is not geographically accurate but which rather allows for the best visualisation of the data. Similarly, the use of one single point for each day of the trip is problematic as it reduces the amount of movement that actually took place within the trip (for example, many day trips are omitted form the map), however, this was the best way to match my itinerary with my recording log.

Some interesting insights:

Average time recording travel per day= 2 hrs 52 mins

Approximately 50% of the time spent recording travel was on social media , 30% on offline activities like taking photographs, editing or drafting and  20% on email.  Thus, social media travel recording was about ¾ online activties, ¼ offline activities.

Approximately half of my time was spent in transit connectivity, with the remaining half split fairly equally between residential and remote spaces.

On moving days, I spent on average thirty minutes less recording travel than on stationary days indicating a weak correlation between situatedness and travel recording.

At first glance, it seems like there isn’t a strong correlation between time spent recording travel and connectivity type. This is because, for a short time at least, a spotty Internet connection can be supplemented by offline preparation.

Is Social Media Ruining Travel: What I Think

Has social media ruined travel? Take a look at the results on Google and you can see that this is something of a hot button issue. All that aside, however, this question does inevitably lead to the thought that, now that we travel with myriad information and social relationships in our pockets, how can we be expected to really sink into and interact with the landscapes that we visit while travelling?  I have looked at some insightful perspectives on this question in a post here.

Now, I’d like to take the opportunity to put down what I think about social media and travel, looking particularly at how connectivity changes how travel is told. My first overseas travel adventure occurred in the era of unconnected travel, and I thought that by comparing this and my current trip, I might gain an image of how travel is different today owing to connectivity.

with and without 2

Devices:
I carry a lot more devices now. Each device has accessories and cumulatively these are weighty. While devices are multi-functional and have the potential to replace other items in one’s backpack (books are a great example here. Wang & Fesenmaier 2013, p.6), many electronic devices are expensive, fragile and needy (i.e. electricity), and thus potentially limit movement (remote areas where one is exposed to the elements and electricity is not constant, for example, become less appealing). While I have more information and entertainment than previously, devices add weight to my backpack and restrict my movement.

Where I use: With the spread of wireless networks Internet usage is much more convenient. With my own device I can use the Internet at my leisure, and, I tend to record travel in a private space such as a hotel room. This suggests more time outside the travelled-to landscape.

How often I use: Much more often. Experiences are shared closer to the event, giving the audience the ability to respond to my narrative closer to the time of experience.

What platforms: I have more platforms where I record travel now and there is a shift from private to more public sharing. The way I record travel is more dynamic with images a principal part of travel sharing.
Finally, the million dollar question: is social media ruining travel? A lot of the arguments seem to position social media at odds with the ‘spirit’ of travel (the experience of going to foreign lands, broadening one’s horizons and growing as a person) based on the reasoning that, with connection, we don’t necessarily move beyond our home space even after a physical journey. Looking at the way I used social media on my recent trip, I can see that the practice of travel recording is much more front and centre compared to ten years ago. Travel recording takes more of my time and bag space and I am more likely to remain in zones of connectivity as I travel. I spend more time online and thanks to the spread of wireless networks, I update and monitor my narrative on a daily basis as I move about. My travel stories are now more public and audience feedback received closer to the event. This wider audience provides a new source of inspiration to go out and have experiences, however, the process of sharing (i.e things like preparing my devices or using the Internet in my hotel room) does also limit the amount of time I can spend in the landscape.

Many of my travel experiences have been shared online and are remembered more fondly as I relive this experience in conversations with friends, family or strangers. When travelling, I also need to be aware, however, of how much time I spend on social media and when to limit this in order to allow space for me to appreciate the places I am visiting. While I am undoubtedly more connected, and, many times, take a ‘home’ state of mind into the landscape (thinking about a recent conversation or upcoming post), it is worth remembering that, in the face of the varied physical landscapes and aleatory sensory encounters of travel, connection is not everpresent, or all-powerful: signals wane, batteries die, devices go walkabout, conversations and news feeds get boring. I still travel to experience new things and though I may share experiences with others more often, this doesn’t necessarily negate the personal significance of these events. Social media use hasn’t ruined my experience of travel. It has, however, greatly increased the records of the places I go to and the time I spend making these. This means more memories for when I’m old but perhaps a slower pace of travel as I spend more time recording and sharing.

What do you think?

Getting (and Paying for) Sports Photos

I like surfing. During one surf session on my trip I was lucky enough to share the waves with a couple of professional surfers and their photographers whose job it is to take photos of the pros while they are surfing. As sometimes happens, one of photographers approached me after the session to let me know that he had captured a couple of photos of me surfing and that he would be happy to forward them through. I wrote to him on Facebook asking for the photos and his price for which and he replied that he’d be happy to send them through after he had posted his other photos from that day on a surfing website. A few days later he sent me a link to the online feature and 3 photos of myself surfing, and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing the online feature in my social networks. Interestingly enough, this sharing, I took it, was my way of paying for the images which the photographer had sent me.

I have purchased surfing photographs from a semi-professional photographer in the past and they were relatively expensive (10 or so photographs for $20 US as I remember) so it is interesting to see my method of paying this time. Rather than exchanging money with the photog, this time I provided access to my online social network along with my personal statement of credibility – like a small scale product spokesperson as it were. Exposure and personalised recommendations on online social networks are a valuable commodity and increasingly we might see the value held by online metrics such as likes, follows and shares as a kind of virtual currency. Some exchange hard cash for followers in a bid to increase their online presence, while retailers at times offer a cash discount for recommending a product on social media. In my case, I had leveraged the weight of my online presence in exchange for some photos I would have otherwise paid for. This illustrates that the traveller may use their online narrative as a site through which to gain benefits and that their strategic performance can be shaped by the promise of rewards.

It might be interesting to see how this online economy works (in regards to travel): what is it worth to mention a fellow traveller’s narrative in one’s own and what are the benefits/drawbacks of working cooperatively with others one meets on the road, or commercial entities. One drawback for me is that my social network may consider my narrative less authentic. I have rarely ‘shouted out’ for third parties on my Facebook wall and I did little to explain the connection between myself and the content shared. Without which, the post can be seen as an obvious pitch, in contrast to the significant personal events which usually occupy my wall space. This indeed might be the reason why  the post received few likes. To savvy readers (i.e. those who know me well) it also begs the question, what did I get in return?

The pitch:

share

The payoff:

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