- Physicality: Sections illustrative of the impact of distributedness and/or co-location on interactions, including the simulation of physical presence in order to compensate for its absence.
- Parallels: Originally a subset of Physicality called (the equally non-descriptive) “links and attention,” this code refers to the multithreaded nature of attention that online interaction affords, and appears largely in the use of hyperlinks throughout the various documents.
- Nowness: This code refers to a sense of immediacy and a high consciousness of temporality, likely caused by the knowledge that, with unplanned online interactions, being with someone else is an opportunity to be seized. The prevalence of improvisation falls partly under this code, but is also related to the co-creation code.
The uniting theme is improvised multitasked physicality. I must thank Joi-Lynn Mondisa here for convincing me of the importance of explaining this theme, since it's something I take for granted after spending so much time online myself. To paraphrase Sumana at 17:32 in our "interview" transcript: "I was thinking that I needed something INNOVATIVE AND NEW AND EXCITING to say, but that is not what a research writeup is for; the subject should be nearly boring to the writer and new to the audience."
I shall describe a few examples from "the data" that fall under this theme, and let you decide for yourself how you'd have coded them. (Note how I'm using quotes around "the data" after our discussion about boundary work? I want to keep pointing out that we're choosing to call it "data," that the notion of what's "data" and what isn't is also a social construct.)
- The heavy use of emoticons for social lubrication during points of clarification that could potentially lead to tiny bits of tension, even if we know each other well. Example: 17:04 in the transcript.
- Simultaneous conversation threads during the conversation in IRC, sometimes delineated by naming your conversation's recipient before saying a phrase during times the intended destination of the phrase can be ambiguous (see the bottom of page 14 of the first journal entry for a brief discussion).
- Simultaneous "conversation threads" during in-person data analysis amongst my research group in class. In the "buddy boundary work" post, I discussed how "while Patricia and I were engrossed in face-to-face conversation, Joi dove into the etherpad and started making notes... we periodically jumped back and forth between in-person dialogue and taking notes in the etherpad as our own fancy struck us."
- The generation of the document (a photo of Sumana's usual workspace, which is also her living room), which is done "in the background" during the end of our IRC conversation, around 17:38 on page 13 of the first journal.)
- The interweaving of multiple attention-threads that show up in the "observation," which is Sumana's etherpad writing while she's sitting in Berlin. She's writing a document, but she's also pausing to talk with people who walk by her in the hotel lobby... but she's also poking back into the chatroom of the document and noting, to anyone who may be watching online, that she is having (or has just had) waved to someone walking by in-person. (Biella Coleman's paper, "Hacking In-Person: The Ritual Character of Conferences and the Distillation of a Life-World," has a great and far more thorough depiction of this sort of virtual/physical duality during a hacker event similar to the one Sumana was at during the time of the "observation.")
Now to a discussion of the theme. First, working online, we don't have physical cues to communicate with, so we devise virtual cues that serve many of the same functions. For instance, Joi asked about the purpose of writing in parentheses (which you can see here, as well as in 16:49 on page 5 of the first journal.) In this context, parentheses serve as "asides" -- the same function that cupping one's hand to one's mouth, leaning over, and saying something sotto voce would serve in an in-person conversation. She also noted the "representation of physical movement through writing" (such as “mchua nods”) and wondered whether it was "important to portray a visual representation even in online communication."
I don't think so, or at least I wouldn't phrase it that way. The intent is not to replace or duplicate physical cues, but to create a shared sense of presence. Physical presence is something we all have experience with, and we are sitting in a physical location even when we "are" online, so physicality is something we'll frequently analogize or refer to or seemingly simulate because it builds a common understanding amongst us of what's going on. This is the "physicality" part of "improvising multitasked physicality."
Now the "multitasking" part. The absence of physicality leads to different options for multitasking than are present in the physical world. Text chat is often simultaneous broadcast, which is very much like playing in a jazz ensemble. You're playing, but you're also simultaneously listening to and reacting to others. You seldom wait in a strict turn-taking procedure; you're frequently queuing up a response, typing what you want to say, while the other person spews their own text onto the screen. We almost need to do this, or it would take forever to communicate; most people talk far faster than they type, so online text conversations have adapted to become even more synchronous than realtime audio speech. In the digital world that FOSS culture often inhabits, politeness is not exhibited by waiting for your turn to speak or act; your waiting is invisible. Instead, politeness is not letting somebody else block on a response they need from you. They don't care what else you're doing so long as they get what they need at the time they need it.
Finally, the "improvising" part: in order to be polite according to this definition of "not blocking others," madcap improvisation often takes place. I mentioned in the code description that "with unplanned online interactions, being with someone else is an opportunity to be seized." Once you slip into the online world of FOSS, no matter where you "are" at any given moment, you're always looking for ways to get what you need right that moment, and ways to give others what they need right that moment.
Let's bring this all together with an example that might seem counterintuitive at first, and we'll start it with a question: if politeness in the FOSS world is about not blocking others in the immediate present, why is there such an emphasis on leaving traces behind? For this, I'd like to go back to the interview data at 17:10 on page 8 of the first journal. You don't have to go back and look there directly, though -- the basic thing we are are seeing is a use of links as optional side-routes to follow either in parallel (during the conversation itself) or at some later point in time. Here is my blow-by-blow:
- Sumana mentions <item> briefly (Wikimedia's Indian Education Program).
- I mention I haven't heard of <item> before.
- Sumana throws in a link with more detail on <item> into the channel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:India_Education_Program/Analysis/WMF_interviews).
- I thank her and ask her to keep going, and she proceeds (though she would likely have proceeded even if I hadn't specifically asked her to go on).