Forschungsprojekt: Die virtuelle zweite Generation
by Alexandra Florea, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder
These are subjective impressions of visiting theinder.net. They do not claim to represent the reality.
My last “official” report on theinder.net. Goodbye, dear “subjects”!
Continuing the observation on the “gruesse und co” thread I realized that the problem with the web-pages counting is still present: as I click the thread, it opens with the first contribution and with page1. But clicking on the second page, the actual page which opens is the pre-last one (coming closer with the end of the thread, with the recent posts); clicking for the last page (page 76 in this case), it opens again the page with the first contributions (the start of the thread); going even further and clicking again on the first page (page 1), one has the surprise of finding the actual last page – the one with the most recent contributions. This problem is persisting since August – when I first saw the new version of the forum and I felt so lost and confused.
Yesterday, when I started looking on the off-topics, I found out about the order of the themes in this category: they are ordered according to the order of the most recent posts. So, while reading “gruesse und co”, other themes received contributions and “climbed” on the top of the list. Noticing this, I remembered the feeling of “work in progress”, of never-resting communication that I’ve always had on theinder.net: there is always somebody writing or just lurking, at any hour of the day and night.
Although I was curious about a lot of other threads, something kept me on “gruesse und co”: maybe that feeling of togetherness – which the users seam to exhale, the fun of saying hello to all, on the common playground; jokes and playful irony are also present here. But, from all the threads read till now, this “cross-greeting” (the greeted ones start greeting others, who then greet others, which comes back to the first greeters…) – made me have the strongest feeling of a network. I jumped to the pages with the newest posts (from December) and I saw that the tone didn’t change – it is the same relaxed atmosphere, with both affection and irony remarks.
I remember once saying that the new users post (in some threads) in a very “sweet” language, with many kisses and hugs and loving signs – and this seamed exaggerated, a little bet annoying to me, but also as a sign of the desire to integrate, to quickly create the relationship of belonging. In “gruesse und co” the posts sometimes get “sweet” – kisses, hearts and other comics suggesting affection are used. So maybe these language cues are needed, they have a social function – as users want to feel close to each other, to give warmth to their virtual space of meeting (the social theory – again – tells us that the salute/the greeting is a behavioral code, which states that the social actors getting in contact share the same values and rules of interacting). I saw there is also a “gute nacht thread”.
I passed to another group of favorite threads: the ones using the “brainstorming” technique: “assoziative querverbindungen” and “wenn ich diesen nahmen hoere denke ich an…” The both started after the forum hacking, and they already have an impressive number of posts (about myself: I noticed that I’m attracted by threads with a big number of contributions – these threads have probably a “light” subject, so the posts are short and not very deep, but these threads involve many users; so maybe it’s, again, the sensation of network, of multiple-linked interaction the one that calls for my attention).
The brainstorming is often used as a pretext to refer to other users – to compliment them or to patronize them; for example: one starting “wenn ich diesen nahmen…..” says that when thinking of another, she associates him with a spiritual brother; yet another (being quite active on this thread – and on the whole forum) recently received an ironic “representative-avatar” showing an egg.
I was expecting more posts in the “entertainment” and “events” categories. The fact that “off-topics” have the most activity could be a sign that users feel attraction towards themes in the same way that I do (as I mentioned before – I’m attracted by threads involving many users and with easy, fun topics)?
In “culture and society” I saw that the starters of most of the threads were familiar names for me – I had a good feeling when recognizing them; also, the topics here seamed more “serious” and still received a big number of answers (although not so many as the off-topics).
My conclusion after these two days of observation is that theinder.net – as an always changing space – didn’t change! In other words, its dynamics, its rhythm, its interactive building and its flux of new-old users – they’ve all remained the same as I used to know.
Hello dear inder.net
Long time no see…
Since September I didn’t once click on theinder.net. Now I have the feeling of visiting an old acquaintance. The introductory page is unchanged, the home page has the same design – things which make me feel familiar. I still know how to get around. I notice that the main English page is not very updated; there are a lot of articles about happenings in July or even June. Some of them I already know sine that time
My first curiosity lead me to Usha’s Corner, where I read the article about bureaucracy corruption in India – presenting a situation as outrageous as in Romania; and the article about the “problems” with the long Indian names, hard to pronounce (this article called my attention because I’m just reading “The Midnight Children” and I sometimes skip the complete reading of some “difficult” names). The article has humor, self-irony but it also manages to go beyond the “funny” aspect and to reveal the issue of cultural diversity. I am (pleasantly) surprised to see that Usha’s articles are longer and wider than the ones I used to read in spring. I enjoy reading her articles, because she seams like having a great control on all of the German, British, Indian humor and language (I could say this, comparing to other readings/translations and my own observations on language cues and humor “style tendencies”).
The first article on the main page dates from the beginning of October – it’s not top-news, but I still wanted to read it, because of its title "Fundamental, but proud warriors": an interview with Panjabi MC (who is also well known in the Romanian discos), after his concert in Cologne. I disliked the interview, because it mixed questions from too many private aspects of life, giving me the feeling of an “amusing trial” – after discussing business, the reporter asked about Panjabi’s religion and intentions for marriage. The religion topic showed quite some contradictions between the Sikh religion’s high tolerance for other religions and its fundamentalism (both stated by Panjabi). But anyway, the tone of the conversation was not entirely serious. So why were these questions asked, in the first place?
I noticed the same and new offers for purchasing or viewing Bollywood films and music – a new link to “ebay” for getting them. There are also offers for New Year’s Eve party and links to clubs (also on the German version).
On the German main page, there is more news, mostly about entertainment (films, music, parties, album releases and other events), but also about terrorism, accidents and victims in India. It is the first time that I notice such articles on theinder.net. Maybe there were some before, as well, but I didn’t read them; or maybe the increase of such events made them a front page issue, also for this website.
Something that I notice about myself: I am very slow in observing, I need more time than I used to in July. Although I feel familiar with the page, I’ve lost the ability to organize my observation (the ability I constructed during the period of systematic observing). But some things remain the same – the guestbook is still closed.
The articles in the left-side categories are also old – the newest in the “news and media” dates from the beginning of September. The other categories don’t look better organized – many of the articles are familiar to me since spring/summer. The English and German categories don’t differ in this matter.
So, before going on the forum – the one that concerned me during most of my former research – I was a little bit nervous: will it be as deserted as the non-interactive part of the site? Will it be the only active part left of the site? And what are the reasons for it? Are the webmasters no longer interested/they don’t have time anymore to monitor the informative sector? Did the users/readers change radically? Or is the forum the main request/ role expected for the site to perform, from the users’ point of view? What and who will I find there? Only “small talkers” or more seriousness? Will I feel like a complete stranger, now that I’m out of Germany and out of the “core research” on Second Generation Indians?
The other kind of questions that I have in mind now, before I start, is how would I feel if I were a “regular”, “normal” user (a German on South-Asian origin, lets say), coming back to theinder.net after this amount of time. What would then be my questions and worries?
The highest number of articles is in the off-topic category; the second is in “culture and society” – the difference is huge: off-topic is 2 times richer, but “culture and society” has few thousand more contributions than the rest of the categories. The biggest number of themes to debate is registered in the “entertainment” section. This is similar to the tendency of the distribution of subjects that I was used to. There are 1662 registered members. For the moment, there is nobody on the chat – this is not strange, as I remember that the forum functioned as a chat, so there was less interaction on the initially established “chat”. On the forum there are around 10 users for the time being.
I think there is a new option on the forum: there is a list with the following birthday anniversaries of the users – so that one can greet them; I don’t remember something like this existing in the old version of the forum; but I interpret this option as a facilitator for communication, as a pretext for conversation or as an instrument for bringing users loser to each other.
But the option showing the last contribution is gone (or I cannot find it). It was a useful option, in my opinion – I used to go there, first of all.
I enter the off-topics thread and then, the first thread “Pruefung der Sinne” (I realized that the order of the threads in one category is according to the time of the last contribution – so this is the last thread accessed, from the off-topic category; something was written here only few hours ago). The thread was started in the beginning of may 2004, so I could see some of the familiar names, of the “old users” – as I called them at a certain time –they now have different logos (a little bit less “artistic” than the former ones I remember: for ex. one uses an Audi-logo). This thread was stopped 2 days after its beginning in 2004, but it was restarted 2 days ago: this is an example of the continuity of the site, about which I talked in earlier reports – one of the things I like on the site. I think that “the character” user indented to have such a continuous and “linked” site, when he was asking users (especially the new ones) to search their interest-issues on the forum and only THEN to start posting – so that they could continue one existing thread, containing their concern, instead of starting a new identical one. Well, surprise: he is also on this thread, he is the last contributor, till now. He has the same motto (honor and loyalty) but with a different logo and a modified avatar (a new version of the one I know).
Again I am amazed about the age of some users: one is only 15years old. What is her use of theinder.net? What is that need that theinder.net caters for her? Maybe forums become so common and accessible that I shouldn’t be amazed. Maybe socialization, for all ages, takes now place within internet groups. Some of the new users brought many contributions (1887 contributions, sine June), almost competing with “half-way-old” users (the ones becoming “regulars”, suh as 3619 contributions since April).
I entered the next thread, “gruesse und co der dritte”. I could get a feeling from the first days of the new forum, after the “hacker menace” in July-August. It seams to me that everybody was happy to hear and to talk to everybody – old and new users together. The social theory states that, in some contexts, the social order is not perceived until it is broken by somebody; then, the social order emerges, correcting the situation. This emergence of solidarity and reciprocal concern could be interpreted as a reinforcement of the “local”/inner social order; this is to state not necessarily that the forum is a community, but that it is a social space having its own structure, its own order – that it is a social system.
Insiders and outsiders
This report is dedicated to theinder.net users, especially the ones reading the thread “feldtagebuch” opened by mareile in june, in the category “studium und (aus)bildung”
I’ve been looking at theinder.net for enough time to gather some impressions on it. I think the time has come for me to give these impressions a contour, to try to melt them together in a form. This image could be as fake as the tricky-mirrors reflection, but it still is a way of representing reality. As one user put it, everybody watches the others’ words or attitudes and draws conclusions, the only difference is that some write about it and some don’t, some are given legitimacy to conclude and some are not. I will present my points of interest when drawing (legitimate or not) conclusions.
Till recently, I had no idea about forums and other internet uses but about emailing. I don’t know much about the German social reality and less about German politics. Except for some discovery channel documentaries on “history and civilization”, I don’t know much about India, south-Asia, Indians, south-Asians. I know a little bit more theory on migration, migrants and their inheritors (the next generations).
With this background, I observe theinder.net: I see it as a stage of social interactions and a form of sharing information. I try to look both at the information transmitted and at the interactions going on. Throughout my research, some questions and uncertainties came up.
First of all, I’ve been wondering about the motivations for joining a forum or a declared “virtual community” – why would someone engage into such a virtual network of relationships, how do people arrive to this? And once the first contact established, why do some users become really involved, to the point of being very often online or always asking for advice, opinions, help, support. On the other hand, why do some users leave the space, why do they just stop interacting in this frame – just like disappearing. In other words, who and why would enter/ exit a forum, and more specifically – a forum being part of an Indian self-defined website.
Then, the issue of real and virtual identity. This problem was quite debated in the last weeks, on theinder.net forum, because of the new users, suspected to be in fact older users with new identities and because of users wanting to know the real identity of other users (challenging each other to guess who the other is or just playing the game of clues). For me, this also implies the issue of material space and virtual space – how does one encounter the other, how does their intersection look like, what can a person import/ export from one world to the other.
During my period of familiarizing with the virtual space and the chat/ forum type of communication, I had the impression that on the internet one can be whatever one wants to be; one can claim to be whoever and then play the role; nobody else can control what one pretends and nobody would check if it’s all true or not; one can be absolutely anonymous and invisible if desired.
What I forgot to consider back then is that forms of social control can be different, can be more subtle, in different context; types of control and identities are generated within human interactions – thus they are not fixed or static, but dynamic, continuously negotiated, always depending on the social context. We all play different roles in our social lives, we adopt different identities and we present different images of ourselves, depending on the play we take part in and on the stage. So, an identity in the virtual space would be another social role of the same individual, an identity which cannot exist independently of the other material ones. In other words, no one can be whoever one wants without being what one really is/ what one thinks one really is; no one can play whatever role without bringing something from the other roles/ from the inner self.
Referring back to the issue of control: control is usually about allowing one person to be an insider or an outsider – in a space, in a category, in a social group, in a specific state of normality, in a social exchange (such as a conversation or an event) and the examples could go on. The internet doesn’t lack this separation into insiders and outsiders, thus it implies control; a certain form of control, suitable for each particular internet site.
Theinder.net has its own way of selecting and controlling users and interactions. I believe that ingredients building up this control could also be the language and paralanguage, level of knowledge and types of information, type of humor/ affection.
Coming to this, the first question would be: through which methods, performed by who do these ingredients turn into a system of control and bordering? Secondly, could any user be called a full insider? Are there more levels or more ways to be an insider? Is the forum a coherent space or are there more types of insiders/ outsiders/ forms of control? What are the definitions for an insider (what makes a virtual identity become the identity of an insider)? What are the separation lines, the borders made of?
Another question would be why do users sometimes change their identity – the identities they constructed on their own? Once registered in the forum, a user can develop any posting style or any attitude; this doesn’t necessarily offer popularity, but it offers a “voice” and a space to speak up; a user can write in different styles, different tones according to the thread, but the “voice” is the same, as one remains the same user. So why would someone want to change the voice? Why do some people choose to have multiple voices, thus registering under more user names in the same forum?
One might answer that this is fun; but my question would be why is such a behavior fun? And is this “fun-having” explanation satisfactory enough? If it were only a way of having fun, why do other users seem so keen on finding out who the others are, who hides behind the roles? Is it because they all play the same game? Or is it a deeper issue, involving identity, representation, need of interaction, need of playing a new role (to compensate for the old ones or to complete the old ones)?
I personally take the internet identities (in forums or chats) like self-representation conventions, statements similar to: “this is what I want to show you about myself, this is what I want to share”. But it seems that some internet users would want to go beyond these conventions and get to know “the real person” doing the self-representation. Why does this question arise? Maybe because of this continuous link between all the roles and all self-representations defining one individual; maybe because of the human curiosity, the desire to know more about the others; maybe because of the strong correlation between virtual and material spaces (the internet is an extension of the material world while the material world is an extension of the internet, also through the human relationships developing from one world into the other).
Another category of thoughts that I dedicate to theinder.net is concerned with the main topic of the project which lead to these observations: the concept of “andere Deutsche” – to name the second generation migrants in Germany. As some users argued, in time, the notion “andere” is disturbing; it is received as a term with a negative connotation – one user says in the “feldtagebuch” thread that she would rather adopt the term “neue Deutsche”. Something a little different was said in an older thread (which I mentioned in one of my first reports): that being different is something to enjoy, it is not a sad or confusing or abnormal thing, thus it should be not regarded as such. This is interesting for me, as I would rather challenge the term “Deutsche” – I wouldn’t like to be identified and categorized according to the country I was born in and I come from. I think that the term “andere” offers more freedom than the word “Deutsche”. But indeed, in social sciences as well, terms such as “andere…”, “post-“, “new-“ are intensely debated and controversial.
To this issue of “andere Deutsche” I would add the fact that the site has the title “Indian portal for Germany” and the project of the founders says “we are a young Indian internet community”. This symbolizes a difference, it is a marker for this website and its users. At a first look, this could show the desire to be “anderes” and to outline a difference. So maybe the troubling thing is not “andere” as such, nor “Deutsche” but “andere Deutsche” as an expression. What are the roots, the sources for this trouble?
As I didn’t find any certain answer for these questions and I don’t intend to go so far, till I would reach an answer – I choose to leave this report opened, with no conclusions and no ending.
Today I entered the category “events”, although my first intention was to continue the observing of a thread in the category “women”. But the thread started in September 2004 interested me personally: “trendige locations thread”; out of pure curiosity I started reading it – it felt like doing something else than a field observation. The trendy locations mentioned were from all over the world, starting from USA till Asia, but most of all from Germany; somehow, because of the variety and “internationality” of the locations, I found the atmosphere of this conversation to be trendy itself.
One of the news-themes was about fireworks – if they are worth spending money on and what do they really stand for. topic, on the 23 July: “verwerfliches Feuer ja-nein?” I found the topic curious, as I’ve never thought of something like this, I’ve always taken fireworks as a public highlight of celebration. But she received feed-back quite fast. The debate was around the issues of wasted money and the similarity with war sound/ lights. The opinions presented pros and cons. What I liked in this short debate was that older users and the “not so old” (he is registered since 07.2004) interweaved with the very new ones.
I wonder why one user has the image of Taj-Mahal with 2 veiled women in the front scene as a logo; it is indeed very beautiful but I don’t know if there is any personal identity statement expressed through it. I noticed for the first time a logo in French: a quote from Jacques Vaché, it said “nothing kills a person more than being forced to represent a country”; I find this to be quite a political statement.
The other news-theme was also from the category “culture and society”. The 16 years old new user (registered on the 21st July) asked for the others’ opinion on beards: do the girls find it cool? Does it depend on the guy? Do the boys prefer to shave it or to grow it? What I find interesting is that this question is raised in the category “culture and society” and not in another.
I have the impression that most of the “bran new” registered use theinder.net space to find answers to more intimate, personal problems, their reasons for being in the forum are more individualistic, less related to society or wider issues, comparing to the older ones; thus, theinder.net starts developing in very different directions, the forum asks and answers question, in new ways. And, in my opinion, there are a lot of users registered in June-July, who post in an entirely new style – more of a chat style, less of a “community conversation” style, as I had the feeling in the beginning of my field research.
Could this late users be the “holiday internet surfers”? Who, first of all, have an interest in internet and secondly in negotiating “second generation Indian” identity? I don’t know if I could conclude this, but the truth is that I sense a change of discussion and topic approach. Could it be that in only 1-2 months of observation I got used to a certain style of forum communication?
It could be my fake impression, but there could also be arguments for it. For example, after the new user’s question, the first feed-back was “and what is her name?” – meaning that the other user assumed the reason for the question to be a very intimate, individualistic one (to impress a certain girl). An older user suggested to search through the forum and look for answers in the similar topics opened before. He also gave him a link.
I went on that thread and I found a different approach to the topic of men’s desirable physical aspect: started a thread in May, dedicated to all male users and their interests, in the category “women”. The declared intention was to have a special thread for men, as a respond to an entire category of “women topics”, to cater for the male users’ needs of debating. Although the deeper reason to open the thread could be absolutely selfish, the topic is dedicated and functional for the whole “online community” and could develop into any direction – has more initial openness and adaptability than the new question.
Anyway, the thread ended up with users expressing their personal feelings about the desirable man image. They were less concerned with the others’ feelings (in the sense that they didn’t come to a common ground all together, they didn’t converge in a “close” debate, but they started from a common point and they went on each others’ direction, describing these personal directions) and the general/ societal believes, attitudes or sayings on the topic – as I could notice in “older” (maybe not older than 1 month) threads.
Again in this thread, as in the one I wrote about in my last report, some users use a lot of sweet words, saying they are all perfect, sharing kisses and complimenting each other, in a triangle somehow outside or parallel with the rest of the thread and its topic.
But in both threads concerned with “the beard” topic, the old and the new users participated in posting.
I noticed that an old user advises quite many new users who start threads to use the search option and to check if their subject of interest was already posted or not. I don’t know if his interest is to have only original new topics, or to have continuity with the old ones or to avoid repetitive threads. But the reactions to his advice are polarized: one protests and says that it doesn’t matter if new threads repeat the old topics; she says that old threads can always be erased if necessary – which shows that she is not interested in this virtual space’s continuity, but in satisfying present needs and users. To this, he answers that he is in the forum since the 5th day of its existence – which shows him as a sort of a keeper of the coherence of this space. Another “old” user, since March 2003, agrees with his observations and admits that he is always grounded when he criticizes something in the threads’ organization.
I personally enjoy when users post pictures in order to amplify their words. I also enjoy looking at avatars. For me, it is like reading a magazine with pictures – easier than one without, but also more deceiving: in the beginning I thought that some avatars of theinder.net users were actually pictures of them.
As I was absent for a long time from theinder.net, my curiosity lead me directly to the forum; I give just a fugitive look to the first page of the site, to see that not much has changed: the English page is almost the same as more than 2 weeks ago (except the first article about a jazz event) and the German page there are 3 new articles (maybe they are older, but this is the first time I notice them) on Bollywood productions presented in Germany (in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart and in preparation on cinema) and one article on politics, about an Indian minister’s visit in the USA.
Still, I have to admit that the article in “usha’s corner” called for my attention; first of all because I don’t know if this label – “usha’s corner” – has a special connotation or meaning (it seems very familiar to me, like I’ve heard it before). Secondly, because although it was on the German page, it was written in English. And finally, because it told the story of a first visit to USA – which personally interests me. I wonder why such an article is present on the main page, as it seems to me quite a “stereotypical” first visit to USA, without any special experiences.
In the forum, I entered a category that I kind of ignored till now: “women”. The thread I looked at in the beginning was “arranged marriage vs. love marriage”, started at the end on May, by a user, who, at that time, was a 2 weeks new user. One of the first reactions was from a male user “ups…wo bin ich denn da gelandet?” as if he surprised a “girl talk” that also surprised him but which doesn’t necessarily interest him; this gave me a feeling of the “internet surfing” practice, because I think that “landings” like this one usually happen, although he was just joking.
The topic lead from the beginning in 2 directions: the old users didn’t enter the theme, because it was already many times mentioned on theinder.net. The new and very new ones started a debate, but my personal impression was that the topic turned into a pretext for finding out more about the others, as material persons, than into a base for debating and confronting in the virtual space. The questions and answers concerned more the height and the sexual partner preferences/ standards of the users – of course, in a comical tone.
As the male user foresaw in the beginning, the thread took the aspect of a “girl talk” about who fits who, from the users. But the female users who started the “game” didn’t go with it till the end, but gave up at a certain point, with one user saying “don’t take it serious, I was just kidding, there is no relationship between me and the other guy, I don’t know what he would say when he read(s) this”. In older joke-flirts, such a concern and sudden return to the real situation didn’t happen – not that I noticed. Users would take the joke-flirt as far as possible, all knowing it is a joke, responding to the others’ ironical comments in the same way and worrying less about what others would think of their (real or invented) sympathies and preferences.
I noticed that some of the new users (registered only since June, July) told each other “I missed you” or “you know I like you” (maybe not exactly in these words, but with this kind of meanings). Does it mean that they knew each other before and they decided to communicate through theinder.net? that they decided to bring their relationship here and to use this space for their own? Or is it just a sort of solidarity between new users, who desire to construct a circle of virtual friends Also, there were, to the end of the thread, a lot of “I love you all” posts, “kisses for you all” and feed-back in the same register; these signs of affection are also new for me – the quantity of signs and the fact that no ironical answer disturbs this idyllic manifestation (I remember a lot more irony accompanying affection attempts).
There were a lot of comics used and a lot of capital letters and bigger fonts. As far as I saw, these paralanguage methods were less used by older users. Short names were used; again, this form of addressing was differently used in older debates (more ironically and subtle). Another language issue: there were some phrases posted in English, but with many grammar mistakes; is it because it is “cool” to write in English or is it something else?
I noticed a very new user, registered on the 9th of July, who already has more than 450 posts. Also, he has the first logo in Spanish, which I observed on the forum. I don’t know if it was posted before or if I commented on this before, but the logo “freedom and liberty for all to say what ever we want, be how ever we want!” jumped to me eyes. Is this what she desires in life? Is this the reason why she uses internet/ theinder.net? Why is saying what ever and being what ever so important to her? Does she experience restrictions to this desire?
Another thing that I found interesting is that one hour after her last post, receiving no answer, a user complained, using a lot of “crying comics”: “alle sind jetzt ruhig…ach X, sag du mal etwas…” What I find interesting is exactly this need to communicate and the hope that the user has (knowing X from the “material” world or from internet contacts) that at least X can cater for this need of hers.
I also looked in an older thread, started in early December 2004, about “honor killings/ suicides”. I find the topic interesting, but I didn’t read all the contributions yet. I noticed that users posted a lot, long statements, that the people involved in the topic had a real debate and formed a compact conversation group, which stopped posting in May 2005. There were very few comics and colored fonts, thus I presume that the users took the subject seriously – which can be explained by the theme itself but also by the users’ concern for such issues as murder, honor, revenge.
I will soon go deeper on this thread.
In the forum, a user opened a thread about growing up or not in an Indian lifestyle; he poses the question of “uncultured Indians” – which is quite interesting for me: how can someone with a biological Indian background but without an Indian education start to understand the Indian culture. I wonder why is he interested in learning so much about the Indian culture, if he was raised in a German environment; why is he interested in this culture, which is not his? Could it be that he is perceived as an “andere deutsche” so he needs to find/build a suitable identity in response? Could it be his curiosity? Could it be that he only explores something that is a part of him? The first answer that he received showed exactly the intensity of his need for answers: another user told him that he should have all questions in the same thread, as they go around the same topic and the same issues. Indeed, also my last report included one of his other thread with similar issues involved.
Yet another user answers that if one doesn’t have Indian parents as a guiding through the Indian culture, the internet and theinder.net are the best alternative guides. This transfers the negotiations of identity and culture into the virtual space – a space of sharing information but also building something together (a way of “living” in the virtual space), of redefining culture.
I noticed 2 new users, registered on the 4th of July. One of them already posted 50 times. The other answers that the language is a very important link to the Indian culture and hard to keep, when growing up in Germany. He advises all to speak as much as possible Hindi with their parents.
One user has a new motto: the text is very strange to me (hope I understood it correctly), but I have the feeling it is a strong anti-colonialist remark: it talks about “people like this” who “weren’t born to bring us down from the palm trees, but to amuse themselves and to have pity”. In this thread she answers that a culture cannot be known from outside and that there is a big difference when trying to understand a culture as an outsider and when living in a culture. One of the new users answers that one should not focus on living a culture completely, because there is also the possibility of living more cultures in the same time, partially, as he did/does: he grew up with Indian parents, but he also experienced the German culture, as this was his wider social environment.
He also posted something interesting to me: he wrote that the thread said all that there needed to be said, so why/what to write further? I was always curious to know how a thread ends: does it end if one decides to end it? Is it sure that it ends or other users, in time, will continue it? Till now, there is no other post after this one, but the thread is still new. I got close to this ending-issue before, when reading threads from the category “werbung” or “pinboard”, where some threads have only one or two contributions and don’t raise (don’t require) debates.
I was curious about the new entry of the other new user, so I looked into her profile and I started reading her 50 contributions. To my surprise, at a certain point she was saying that in fact she is an older user, with a new identity, because she wanted to change her profile. I followed the thread in which she was answering to the other curious users about her identity. It was an older thread, started by a user in February 2004, in the category “culture and society”, called “memorable moments” – with the intention to share such experiences with the others. The difference that I noticed between older and new topics in the forum is that: most of the old ones (that I read) were more about sharing experience and debating; most of the new ones are about each user’s questions and personal, particular problems; in the old ones, users spoke with more then one other user, it was more as an conference, while now I observe more parallel dialogues.
The talks in this thread started as descriptions of each one’s memorable moments, combined with the others’ comments, either with admiration or with “sweet irony”; there were a lot of memories from the American continent, which I found quite interesting; then some jokes about mobile phones and electronics; only few moments in India; some romantic love moments, more as jokes. The thread had some pauses, between April and August, between December and February 2005, it didn’t go too fast. I didn’t find out more about her identity, only that the last posts were an argument with two others; but she claims that she started this on purpose, so that they would notice her and answer to her.
I noticed another user’s logo, an excerpt from “lord of the rings” in which Frodo says that he is wounded and he will never cure; I wonder why she chose such a logo.
01.07.05: Subjective, selective, interpretive, outsider
During my absence from the field the first page changed, as there are new articles on both the English and the German version, mostly on the latter. One of them, the story of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Kahn’s visit and performance in Hamburg is quite incredible for me: first of all the story is entitled “SRK infecting Germany once again” and I don’t understand the usage of the word “infecting” here; then, he was supposed to meet his fans on a boat trip and the show was supposed to take place there; he made his entrance surrounded by artificial fog and watched by screaming fans. The article presenting the event is quite critical: the organization lacked timing and order, the star seemed a little tired and performed for only half an hour, the fans were too many and out of control, it rained almost all the time and people had to wait in the rain; but still, the conclusion doesn’t change the good light surrounding the artist: “for the real fans of Shah Rukh Khan this evening might be a memorable moment where the hero presented himself charming and polite as usual. In this case nobody may be disappointed.” From the tone of the article I could say that the present authors and interviewers from theinder.net are “the real fans” and, although the critical presentation of the event seems at a first look to contradict the general inder.net admiration towards Bollywood stars, the actual message of the article is consistent with this admiration attitude.
Most of the front page articles are about the international/transnational success of Indian music, film, sport stars and their realizations; I find this interesting, as I think back to Miller& Slater’s “representing Trini”; I don’t know if this is the case here, because the site is not Indian. My hypothesis: these stars – by coming, performing, winning (fans, admiration or prizes) on a new continent, transgressing borders – become somehow “organic hybrids” (in Werbner’s understanding of the term); thus, their intense presence on the site could be “representing Indian hybrids” in an unconscious, organic way.
On the German version of the first page, there is an article about Volkswagen in India; the image with the W sign and the subject of the article reminded me of the film “Star biz” and of the new ways of enlarging the market, also used by Mercedes.
On the forum, I started with the “sightseeing-tour” thread in “culture and society”, about what should be seen or witnessed in India. I’ve become personally more interested in themes like that after seeing a documentary on temples, pyramids and centuries old ruins in the jungle, in India.
The thread “Bonn” opened on Monday the 20th of June by a new user gave me a lot of material to interpret about. The thread started because of a mistake: he thought that in Bonn, where he lives, there are 700 Desi; thus, he was curious to know where all these people are, what they are doing, if there are any on theinder.net/ and if not, why? He also wanted to find out what Indian-specific events and things are going on in Bonn and he posted the Indian-oriented things (debates) that he knew about.
Around this subject, of specific things going on in Bonn, two users started an argument: one from Köln saying that Bonn is at the edge of the world, that it is small and dull, that nothing happens there and that Köln (his own city) is much more active, alive and worth taken into consideration; for me, his language is quite offending, although he says he doesn’t want to offend anyone; his tone quite superior; the other saying that Bonn has a lot of attractions, night life and some Indian-specific activities, although she admits there are not many; her tone seemed to me somehow defensive and justifying. Another user took her side; he is a user since 09.2002 but he produced only 214 posts in the mean time; he intervenes in this thread maybe because he comes from Bonn, maybe because he knows her, maybe because the subject is in his interest and competence sphere – these possible reasons don’t exclude each other; he admits that Köln has bigger and more parties and that people sometimes go there to have fun. This debate reminds me of the most intense debate that I registered on the Romanians in Vancouver community site: it was about the superiority of the British Columbia over Quebec; the intensity of this kind of debates could mean that the people involved strongly relate to their regional, local belonging; it could be the sign of a locally defined identity; but it could also cover a certain insecurity, a need of proving one’s superior situation to the others in order to convince oneself of it.
The thread didn’t stop when the new user realized his mistake: only 70 Desi in Bonn but he wrote it wrongly. At a certain point, two users got into a discussion about identity: how can he draw conclusions about her “party-behavior” if he doesn’t know her, only from her hitherto postings? A very interesting questions, as I use the same way of drawing conclusions, during my observations. But surprisingly, he answered that he knows her also in the offline reality; the new user joined this conversation about “who is who”, preoccupied about another’s identity and about the other online users coming from Bonn; maybe because he wants to import theinder.net experience into his material life, to match them together. These 3 users bring the issue of uncovering the “real” identity. In the meantime, the one from Köln enjoyed the “identity game, making fun of it – with the classical LOL. This issue of online-offline identities is very interesting for me, as I’ve always wandered what people bring in/ take from these two forms of reality and how online relationship materialize.
Another issue is raised by the new user: he asks for translation of the Hindi words/ replies and says that the lack of it is discriminating towards all the ones who don’t speak the language. It is true that I also don’t understand these words but my sense of exclusion from meaning is not as intense as the new user feels it.
In the same thread there were also discussions about typical Indian looks and whether any genetic clues show it, but the question was not clear enough for me. Then, it came to discussing India and what is there to see, linking back to the first thread that I mentioned and to the issue poverty vs. diversity and beauty in India. Images of India seam to be very different for all the users; some of them have already been there, some of them know it only from stories or through their friends’ experience; some images are idyllic, others are dark.
Another point in this thread is about meeting the others in a physical space: with the occasion of an yearly event in Bonn, some users try to fix a meeting. Some are more willing, others are less enthusiastic; one user says that she wants to have a relaxing weekend without too many Desis; all through the thread she has been allied somehow with another, having like a parallel complicity discussion.
My conclusion after this session is that users involved in a debate/thread resort to very different stiles of communication and are looking for very different kinds of contacts/ relationships – and still they find a common ground of interaction, of expressing themselves.
My logo from now on:
Today, again: subjective, selective, interpretive, outsider
I couldn’t say anything about the discussion on the following topics, I didn’t find anything to comment: “ist mama was besonderes als papa”; “maedchen aus dem levi’s spot” and other debates on how good looking certain characters are, threads in “studium und (aus)-bildung” about finding jobs in Germany or practice contracts in South-Asia.
In the section “culture and society” I noticed the thread “what I always wanted to tell you about”. I found it quite rich, it has less than 2 weeks and already 3 pages; I also find the topic interesting: things users have on their mind and want to share – thus an intimate thing – but also a public representation of themselves – things they want others to know about themselves. Somehow, in my understanding, this is the actual, basic idea of a forum, topics being more of a pretext for this intimate-public communication. One of the things the poster wants to tell the others is the number of shoes and purses that she possesses – something that for me would be very intimate (if I would now the exact number); few users acknowledge this and appreciate the number as impressive – but in the same time making fun, just as she did with this post – I consider that at least half of the posts that I read till now have a humorous or ironic/self ironic feature. Ex: what a user always wanted to share with the users is his real identity: he is Zorro; his declaration started a chain of making fun about identities and famous characters.
I don’t know whether this shows that people are relaxed in this space, that they have fun here; or if they escape a serious, severe material life moment (as for ex. the users who write while being at work or while learning for school/university); or if this is a way of constructing an ambient, a medium where they can bring up important, serious issues and can debate them more easily. I noticed that users address each other ironies (not necessarily with an offending connotation) that I wouldn’t say to just anyone the in material world: as for ex. in this thread, one told another “hier hast du uns nochmal den beweis dafür gegeben, dass du unsere dumpfbacke bist”. Or in the advertising section, in an older thread about the best “abschweifer” of the year 2004, during an argument, somebody else told another “to go feed her cows” (another thing that I found interesting in this thread is that a user proposed everyone to ignore it, but then she herself go into an argument with two others, exactly there, although on a different issue. I would say that the threads opened in this space have a certain attraction of their own, they continue or they stop naturally, with no conscious decision except for the moderators’; users get into discussions, they construct them but they are lead by them in the same time). Coming back to the ironies: this doesn’t automatically mean that they are all good friends and they allow each other any irony, but maybe that they constructed a space that allows such a communication style.
I read more discussions with the same schema: the launcher receives answers from few other users, they start a debate between them (the few of them), at a certain point others come online and they enter the discussion by making fun of the hitherto conversation – they enlarge it by first mocking at it – then alternative topics come out of this “fun making” and after some other posts, the initial topic is forgotten by most of the involved members. The poll on the best “abschweifer” is such an ex.
In the first thread mentioned today, one said she likes Muslims more than Hindus, as they are more hansom; she was told to merry a Muslim, then; but she answered there has nothing to do with marriage (she calls marriage “the guillotine”), but she likes the looks of Muslims. Another posts pictures of adorned busses in Pakistan. This made me think of the clichés/ self-clichés used in the forum, either seriously or to make fun of them, either consciously or unconsciously – I consider these here to be an ex.
I wander what a user means with her logo “I am real” or what another means with his “honour and loyalty”.
I noticed from time to time users complaining of how much work they have to do (learning or job duties, or just a lot of things to do); but still they take a minute to write and “share” their stress. For ex. a user said how tired she was, she wrote as if she was really confused and stressed, in the same time being self-ironic and using the space as if she could say anything running through her head; I don’t know if she was looking for the others’ encouragement (thus needing the others – although she declares that she doesn’t care what other people there think of her), if she just wanted to relax for a while and theinder.net was the available way to do it, if she wanted to have some fun or to communicate with certain users (as she specifically salutes few of them).
I notice that users get quite involved in topics about what is typical in India, traditions, what it’s done in India. Since the 12ve of June, so in 3 days, a user’s question about behavior in India (in the section “culture and society”) received 31 answers – so users crowed to express their knowledge about the “home land” and are keen to offer information. Another thing is that there are users, such as this user, registered since 2002, but who posted less than 100 times: do they post only when the topic is really important to them? Do they usually follow the forum? Do they resort to theinder.net only when they find no other source or only when the subject is so important that they decide to become visible? (so is it a question of weaker general interest in topics or is it a question of decision to be mostly invisible?)
Such a user is also a user in the thread “feldtagebuch” opened by mareile. His questions were quite interesting as they ask for a point of view separation: who calls whom what? Who represents whom and how? What is the internal/ external definition of individuals/ groups and who expresses it publicly dominant? And actually this is the wider context in which this research project takes place.
The same thread contained comments about me, which I enjoy, because thus I become also an “object of knowledge” (as in philosophic language), I am observed and my writing is interpreted: how come that I’m writing in English?? I always thought about “the reversed anthropology”, in which the subjects began researching the researchers. A user also reveals this “knowledge circuit”, as he admits he observes and interprets as well. He doesn’t give too much importance to the research project, he wouldn’t take it seriously – I don’t know if this means indifference, disregard, distance.
The difference between the English main page and the German one is quite big: in the first case there are mostly old articles, coming from all categories, more like a general presentation, like an introduction to the left column categories. The German one seems lately focused on Bollywood films and stars that were or will be presented in Germany or that are now available to buyers. Even this commercial aspect differs on the 2 versions: advertisings come mostly from the events domain in the German version and special offers are up dated.
In the category “stadium und (aus)bildung” I saw a thread launched, asking what are the studies and activity domains of the users; he said that almost all the second generation Indians that he knows have/ will soon have university diplomas; he also said that Indians are known to be very smart and to make the best out of things; even if the statement wouldn’t be serious, it contains self-(positive)stereotypes. He addresses his question to “the community” – this is the way he calls theinder.net.
In the same category, someone asked for help in a homework she must write on “bent it like Beckham”: she had to explain why the image of the central family in the film, praying to a certain god’s/ prophet’s icon was typical for Sikh families. The answers she received proved that the image wasn’t at all typical, as Sikhs are not allowed to have the gods’/ prophet’s icons; but after all, believers nowadays, mostly the immigrants, have icons; if this is true, then o would say that this is an organic hybrid identity experience – believers adopt, involuntarily, religious practices from the host cultures. It is interesting that a film scene considered to show something typical actually represents something un-traditional.
The other answers were not really addressing the question, but generated a dispute between two users about searching info online; I consider this parallel dispute to be somehow…typical for what I noticed so far on the inder.net: users pick words or notions from others’ posts and start writing about their own interests, generate their own subjects of debate. Lately I started looking at theinder.net as to a white map, that users discover, create and widen in the same time; and parallel disputes like that are new paths, shortcuts on the map.
When a user asked for help for her next day homework, looking for a special Indian font (which name she didn’t actually know, she only gave a description), she got an answer in only 2 hours; the speed is impressive for me, I would have said that her probability to receive an answer the same day is quite low; but probably she expected this, otherwise she would have asked some time before, maybe. This could mean that there are users surfing at any time, that they really use this platform as an information exchange space, as a network for sharing knowledge and helping others – as a space of their own.
The petition “gegen studiengebuehren” turned into a pretext for the user and another to have a sympathetic conversation about the former’s absence from the forum, about the other’s family – they didn’t contradict each other at all, which is the opposite of what I got used to from the user – in most of his posts, that I read, he contradicts or speaks ironically.
In the “werbung” category, in the middle of a discussion about a user’s future jeans shop, in reply to a congratulating remark – that Germany needs courageous initiatives – another reminded of the “kinder statt inder” campaign, by reversing it and saying “inder statt kinder”. This is clearly a joke, an irony, but it is also a way of dealing with this official discriminating discourse (by using it in a friendly space, in a funny, positive conversation and by returning the discrimination). Another’s immediate answer was “what about the Indian children?” and, with this post, the message that I get, as an outsider, is also reversed: the user doesn’t only address the last poster, but he addresses the officials who launched the campaign “kinder statt inder”.
The poll launched, about a possible situation of cheating on one’s stabile girlfriend, contains few interesting posts: first of all, because it turned into something else, when someone posts an empty message, as a critic to the silly topic and debate: another said that one cannot not communicate – I interpret this as a general remark on sociability and human interaction, but also locally, as it could mean that on theinder.net even an empty message is understood; a third replied to the poster by saying he always has the possibility not to post (in other words, to become invisible, to shut his voice in this “public space” – which the poster doesn’t do). So, the discussion moved to a debate between two posters, far away from the cheated girlfriend…The initial poster encourages one of the users, in the end, to keep posting, so that the communication wire keeps going (“nicht fragen, sondern klicken!”) – this is, for me, typical for theinder.net: a cursive communication flow. At a certain point, one told another that he actually lives on theinder.net, that he deserves the inhabitation right there; shogun didn’t deny this, he answered is that he doesn’t live only in this forum. This could show the conscious and accepted importance of the forum, in some of the users lives.
On the main page, the only change that I noticed this week is a sports news, about a tennis tournament taking place in Germany and staring 2 Indian players. Other articles are not so recent, already. I checked the category “sports”, because on the rovancouver site this was an important topic (sports stars were representative for the imagine of Romania and Romanians in the world; most of all, football stars; so the portrait and articles about the top Romanian football player had a “national-symbolic” function on the site). But then of course, rovancouver is the site of first generation migrants. Here the number of articles was not large, circa 1-2 articles for each sport. And the worldwide fame of the players is not exaggerated (not that I’ve noticed).
I decided to use the same “random” method of observation as last time, to click wherever I feel like and jot down everything that comes to my attention. I do this, because my observations are subjective and interpretative, anyway.
So I went on the forum, at the topic “sports and leisure” to see how users relate to this. The first thread that I looked at was about NBA. The lancer posted a lot of media comments on NBA games. He seams very keen on the topic and passionate; his desire to express himself makes the thread look more like a monolog; but actually it is a basketball-fans dialogue, as another joined him; first maybe just to make fun (as he used a lot of comics), but I feel that he got into the game, after all.
There is a thread about playing cricket; the lancer wanted to kwon who among the users plays cricket. The discussion turned into Hindi, so I couldn’t follow; but a lot of posts included the word “ice cream” and comics, so I guess the users were joking and making fun. Someone said it more pleasant to play it in India. A guest from Austria, asked if they had a cricket team, answered “we – I mean Austria – has a cricket team”; this emphasis could be to avoid misunderstandings (as for ex. that he personally is in a team) or a personal differentiation. This thread stopped in February and was restarted these days.
In this thread I noticed the logo used by a user: “Indian from origins, Sikh from beliefs, Punjabi from love, Human from heart”. This is the ideal of a peaceful identity, in both internal and external definitions.
I was surprised to find a post about Schumacher’s guru – first of all because I didn’t expect him to have a guru. The users made fun about this, as well, either presuming that the guru was a Sikh, either about Schumacher becoming a looser.
Then, in the thread about the favorite football team, there was just a short conversation, off-topic: one user used the wrong nick for another”; the one addressed wrongly was not disturbed, he just said he is not the other; but a third user also replied, advising the first to be fair, cause not everybody on the site has the same name. This remark seamed quite serious in its message; the thread continued with football debates and the first user answered, at a certain point, in between football-related sentences, that he is being fair.
The thread about “kapeedi spiel” showed me again how many things do some users know about traditions: a 17 years old, gave information about the game, where it is practiced and how. The lancer seams to post in a lot of categories, asking mostly about traditional events, customs, games; she addresses the other users with the appellative “friends”; she refers to some Germans who ask her questions about India or who state their representations about India in terms of “idiot”, “dumköpfe”. About this game, she concludes that it should be internationally marketed, because of its remarkable oldness. The same lancer asked about the stereotype of Indians being less fit for sports; she was very angry and sad about hearing this; the thread led to a debate, combining sports history of successes and defeats, with representations of Indians being fit enough but lazy and corrupted, of Germans always achieving and winning what they plan to, of small people being still winners, and with the question intelligence vs. physical force. By coincidence, in today’s news-post there was a similar debate.
I noticed that at 8 in the morning one user was already posting, asking if other users knew Indian proverbs or sayings. The reply came in one hour. My feeling about theinder.net in present, as far as I observed it, is that it has continuous forum activity, even though not always fast: there are no big gaps between postings, there are postings every day and at every hour, all the questions are answered (not always immediately, sometimes it even takes few days, but the answers come).
The other news-thread on Tuesday the 7th of June, stared by the same user, was asking about those Indian cultural traits that mostly represented the Indian spirit (that the users perceive, define, interiorize): “was ist euch wichtig an unserer Kultur (was nicht)? I found the following conversation to be pretty strange, as I had the feeling that stereotypes are very present, in the sense that some adopted them unquestionably and some tried meticulously to reveal their stereotypical content – although it was so obvious.
I noticed that a new user posted 1339 times since February. The average is 12 postings a day, which is quite impressive for me. I found his answers in a lot of categories I’ve looked at. Most of the new users seam not to have a certain focus, but to be present almost everywhere in the forum.
This time I changed the observing method. Because I realized that I cannot read everything, anyway, and that this space is continuously changing and creating itself, so I cannot cover it completely with my research.
I decided to surf and to read all those threads that come to my attention, no matter from which category or date they come. I put myself in a lurker’s position and to have random reading as the only rule.
In the German version, the top of the first page changed: the only advertising now in the right corner is for an airway company, which offers flights from Germany to Mumbai or Delhi. The first article now on the page is an announcement for a “transnational festival”, with music, dance, film, theatre – starring Bollywood hits and Asian-beats oriented DJs.
The categories in the left side have updated links for news or business, but the articles haven’t changed. I looked more in the “events” and again I was amazed by the number and variety of events, with Asian features, in Germany. Most of them refer to Bollywood – about the films, about film making, about the music, about the actors or about the “Bollywood world” (if I may called it so) in general = the B. feeling. Most of the articles in the “entertainment” category contain information linked to B. films (interviews, TV broadcasting, backstage information). The popularity of the B. films seams quite huge; I know that in Romania the classical B. films have the highest TV audience.
I ask myself how strongly related (and in which ways) are the 3 spaces: the B. world, theinder.net, the “material” Indian community in Germany. Because I guess that each of them inspires and has elements from the other two.
I went again on the “off-topic playground”, in March 2004. The first reaction to this new thread – that offered space for all the posts which don’t fit any other link – was the answer that most of the people enjoy digressing and being outside categories, so they do it everywhere, anyway. But then, the user who gave this answer continued this thread, giving other 6 or 7 answers in the same first day. A similar answer was posted in an entirely different context, when a user criticized the research presented on www.urmila.de ; the user said that the interpretations are wrong, because being different and outside fixed categories is fun and people enjoy being like this.
During this first day some new conversations emerged – as for ex. ironic jokes, which also caught other users in, spreading. And some old conversations seamed to continue, as for ex. a flirt (in Hindi)– I presume it is a flirt, as they ask if they like each other, they use the word flirt, write a lot to each other, and maybe he gives her his phone number (I can’t tell how much of it is a joke and how much is real flirt).
Because of this flirt/ simulated flirt I began thinking about the difference between forums and messenger. The issue also comes in a short replay, in this thread (one tells another that he should get messenger if he wants to find out what’s going on around; and the other answers that messenger is for weak people).
I think the main difference is not that you have more people together in the forum. It is first of all that the messenger is a more personal and closed space, while a forum is opened to the public (sometimes to a more restricted public, indeed), has a certain degree of public openness. Thus, a forum can be a public place in which people represent themselves and speak up, but it can also grant conversations a certain degree of intimacy. On messenger there are more rules for meeting and the encounter is possible only after a contact data exchange. In a forum one can write back to all the people or post for all the people: by being on the (opened) forum, they already allowed this kind of access to them. Secondly, a messenger conversation requires fast, short sentences; for a messenger dialogue or conference, there is not enough time and space for more than fast and short (this doesn’t mean bad in any way). Then, a forum keeps record of all/ most of the posts, thus is has a collective memory (not in Jung’s use of the term) and thread-continuity (it can develop stories), if I can call it so, while a messenger archive is not designed to link sessions together or to maintain the conversation opened in between sing-in-s.
I would say that these are different ways of constructing virtual space and becoming visible/ known to the others. Talking of visibility, I noticed that most of the users have quite big logos, with images or their names; and most of the times the logos are bigger than their posts. Visibility and voice: when a user used caps to highlight her words, she was asked to give them up, as everyone can “hear” her, anyway.
I noticed some ways in which users address each other (seriously or to joke): One user, opening a thread, refers to the users as “friends”, while putting somehow in opposition the “dumkoepfe” who always ask her about the “widow burning” ritual in India; I found words like “friends” or “my friend…” in addressing the other users/ users; one user says, in the first day of “off-topic play ground”, something like look how nice the children play here. Talking about “children” – I noticed how young are many of the users. They were even younger when they signed in: for ex. a new entry on the 24th May, 13 years old; one user was only 14 when she registered, and one of her first discussions was about a traditional Indian fasting period; another was about B. films; she is not the only ex.
I find it interesting that such young people know a lot about traditions (maybe some still kept in their families, like the fasting period case) and are keen on them: the user says, not necessarily seriously, that the ones not knowing about the fasting disappoint her as Indians. Again, in the thread about the “widow burning” and in another one about Islam, opened by user when she was 18, I noticed how “experts” (as she herself says) are some of the users in traditional issues. What I found interesting about the “Islam” thread was that it began with the Hebraic word “shalom” (instead of its Muslim synonym “salaam”), which some of the users noticed and started a debate on: on Palestine, the war, the Jews, differences between religions, historical and religious conflicts. It started as a serious and intense debate, as the posts were longer than the ones I usually see and people really focused on the topic; they proved, in my opinion, wide knowledge.
A title in “culture and society” that seamed funny to me: “wieso sind 95% der indischer ladiezzzz niecht huebsch??” the attitudes towards this subject and the subject “beauty” were very different. Some said that this is not a real discussion, other said it is just not true, others said that Indian men are not so beautiful as well. But what surprised me is how the thread stopped in may 2003, shortly after its creation, but was continued 2 years later (could it be a technical mistake?)! if it is not a technical mistake, than this illustrates what I meant through “collective memory and continuity”.
Coming to study the forum, I found myself in a very strange situation, not knowing where to start.
So I started again with the webmasters’ project: when they build the site, they presented in few words what theinder.net offers. They mentioned the forum as a possibility for “everybody who is interested in a special topic that should be discussed with others may post his comments into our forums”. But the main tool for direct communicating was planed to be the chat, which they advertised as “Our most important facility is our CHAT - here you can communicate in real-time from everywhere in the world. Our chat room is the only active desi chat in Germany so far”.
The general topics in the forum reflect the way information is organized in the articles’ domain: the main topics for articles and forum discussions are the same. So I presume that the forum was supposed to contain comments in the same direction with the articles, or even comments on the articles (or maybe to encourage the reading of/ feedback to the articles).
I didn’t find any post before 2003, I don’t know if the forum began to function up to 2003 or if the archives were erased. If the forum began to function in 2003 this means that it was created 2 years after the website’s launch (probably the webmasters didn’t consider it necessary or they were not ready to moderate one). If the archives were erased, this means that the amount of information was really to much to handle or that the topics needed renewal.
In the beginning I had no idea how to organize my research. I first looked for the most recent contributions and at the threads they were related to (this is what I did in the first day). But then I decided to take one category in a row, to see what kind of discussions are generated in each category, because this might also say something about how that category is understood, used and maybe transformed.
First I looked at the most popular category, “entertainment”, with the most topics and posts. Then today I looked at the categories with no contributions in the last days, maybe to see why there were no posts, what is the difference.
The total number of posts in the forum is huge: 44333 today, the 23rd May 2005. During this weekend the number of users was small, around 4 a day, but today there were 44 in total, with contributions in almost all the categories of the forum, except for the “pin board”, “werbung” and “events”. I thought that a category such as pin board or advertisings could not offer a rich field of discussions, so this is the reason why there were no contributions in the last 3-4 days; and that if there is no event, then there is nothing to talk about in the events section.
So I opened the last thread in advertisings and to my
surprise I found a topic launched, where users were invited to comment about
what they “cool/
nervig/typisch/lustig/widerlich/blöd/klug/weise/oberflächlich/richtig/falsch/schiessmichtot” found in the others’ posts. This thread, opened in February, turned few times into an argument, for ex. in the beginning the thread opener had an argument with a user and I have the impression that the thread opener kept and keeps trying to moderate the thread.
So even in a category such as advertising, which I expected to be mostly descriptive or unidirectional, there is interaction, intense debate, and arguing. A user chose to use exactly this space to open an untypical discussion for the “advertising” field and the webmasters allowed this. And this is actually the most popular thread in the advertising category (the most answers).
“The pin board exists also separately from the forum, and it seam to me to be older, as I found posts from October 2002. But here I didn’t notice any debate till now and looking at the number of answers for most of the pins, I suspect there were few.”
This is what I thought few hours before. Exactly now I discovered an announcement, asking for photos from theinder.net users, to paint them in a poster, for her diploma in art therapy (I didn’t understand exactly how she came to this idea and how will she link the bollywood issue, the poster, theinder.net users with therapy). This project of hers raised a lot of comments and different reactions, from total collaboration to total disapproval, as people took her project in different ways. Some took it as a jock and even sent funny drawings, some took it as an opportunity to help, some took it as a nonsense. But it was a real dialogue between the thread opener and them, with the others’ positive/ negative interventions.
Something said by one user made my stop a little. He answered that he put/ sent a post out of boredom; could his reason for hanging out/ interacting on theinder.net by boredom? Or he is saying this to be cool (he is registered as aged 17)?
I was also curious what do people write in the “computers and technics” category. There I saw that some users were having an argument since April, about learning a certain computer program. The tone was a little harsh, but none of them gave up the conversation; they didn’t ignore what the other was saying.
From all these arguments that I noticed, I could conclude that theinder.net is a public space where the users want to have a voice, for which people fight at the discursive level. A space which people claim and want to be represented in (mostly by themselves). And even more interesting is that this space is a work-in-progress, as users change the meaning of the categories and build new structures where they can interact/ speak up their voice.
I don’t know the social value of “arguing” in the German/ Indian culture, so I don’t want to go too far: but my feeling is that “being Indian” is negotiated in this space with western methods, such as individuality and self-autonomy. This is how I interpret hybridity at this level.
What I enjoyed in the “entertainment” category was the brainstorming “assoziative querverbindungsketten”, and the thread for things that don’t fit any other category, “off-topic playground”. They wan quite a popularity (1513/1315 contribution at this hour, starting April 2005/ March 2004) and there are so many ideas being exchanged and so many users involved together – having fun, sharing, getting angry or offended, flirting, communicating or just saying exactly what they have in mind (this is what brainstorming facilitates).
This is where I had the feeling of community, at a certain level (these “playground topics” are easy, not very deep, important ones). I asked myself about the consistency of such a community when I noticed some posts such as “I’m going to the movies. Who comes?”, which got answers like “I come” but were not answered in return, and no other comment was posted. I don’t know what happened outside the stage, but it might indicate some communication problems.
There are posts containing Hindi words or whole sentences. For me this is not a new border, as some German words are as strange.
I noticed that the users are different in each category that I looked at till now, but some of them appear more often.
I have a strange feeling when writing my report and in the same time noticing that people keep posting, even at 1am. My experience with internet showed me that people chat or surf especially when they are at work and they don’t have much to do; and only the ones who are really keen on internet, on a certain chat or site stay online during the night. I don’t know if this applies in this case, but the fact that till 1.30am there were already 7 posts today could mean that people relate to the site.
I noticed a lot of articles and advertisings related to traditional or typical food, places to find it, companies which trade ingredients. I also found an article called “the great Indian stomach”, under the link “culture and society”, in which the importance of cooking as a sociability manifestation and as a social ability, quality is shown, through the personal experience of the author. Surfing the forum, I accidentally found a post which proposed that anyone, in any city, who knows or finds out about a typical-food shop should announce its location, online. The “culture and society” section presents the result of a poll on Indian cultural items; the respondents were users and readers of the site, so the poll is not really an official one, but still it was made and published : in the top ten Indian cultural objects, more than a half are food products and no.1 are bonbons.
I thought about the fact that usually the names of the traditional/ typical dishes are idioms, sometimes hard to pronounce for non-native speakers, so they could sometimes mark a boundary.
This reminded me that on rovancouver, there was a link for Romanian recipes, quite a rich link for the dimensions of the site; it also reminded me that people always ask about traditional, typical dishes in each others’ countries. So food could be an ethnic marker, when it is established and practiced as a valuable tradition; more than this, cooking habits are often part of one’s personality, so traditional cooking could, in certain conditions, turn into an ethic identity statement.
There are a lot of musical events advertised here, from concerts to new albums’ release. On the main page there are articles about DJ-s or singers who made it or strive on their way to de top, around the world. All of the artists represented here are Asian, most of them Indians and don’t play traditional music, but vary fashionable styles. This made me think about Moti Gokulsing’s and Wimal Dissanayake’s text “Indian pop-cinema – a narrative of cultural change”: they were talking about music as a sort of empowerment for the young Asians in UK, especially new rhythms inspired by traditional music but combined with hip hop or techno beats.
From my personal experience, but also from anthropological research, the music that one listens to and the dance that one practices, are strongly related to one’s identity and to the image that one creates/presents of oneself.
The article “stereo nation. Patriotism rocks”, under the link “society”, argues, in the same direction, about the power of the music to recreate images of a nation state and of a national identity. I couldn’t understand all the arguments, as I am not familiar with the political characters and situations mentioned there, but some of the points were interesting for me: analysis of popular songs’ lyrics – that were also used in political campaigns and other public discourses, highlighting nationalist feelings.
On the main pages, in both English and German, on the 3rd column which seams to me to be the one most important wannabe (it is the first one calling my attention and it is situated in the middle of the page), there are articles about Bollywood films presented in Germany or being a huge success in Germany, already doubled in German or ready to be shown on TV. But these shiny advertisings are contrasted with the article “bollywood bloopers”, in the German link “culture und gesellschaft”, which criticizes and complains about the simplicity and absurdity (contradicting all gravity, medical and logical rules) of such scripts. Nevertheless, in the English version, there is a young woman’s confession about her love for India, her longing for an Indian life and identity; this longing of hers being also linked to her pleasure of watching bollywood stars in action – as she declares herself.
This confession kept me thinking for a while, as I had the impression that the way she (the author) sees India – in a nostalgic, dramatic, exotic, patriarchal, peaceful, musical image – is similar to the bollywood images and, strangely, to the western images of the “Asian other”. Although she desires to be a total Indian and to return to this culture, she has a similar attitude towards India as the historian Asha meets in “bhaji on the beach”.
I noticed a lot of posts written by a certain MMM in the “culture& society” category. He/she also posted a challenging article: “is theinder.net of any use?”/ “was bringt uns theinder.net?”. A lot of questions concerning the internet communication, the possibility of internet communities, the second generation Indian-germans identity, the need for similar others, the possibility/ desire/ need of building an Indian-german “homogenized” online community are raised but not answered (although some answers could be suggested). I think that this could actually be a good starting point for a deeper look in theinder.net
Today I observed theindet.net for the first time more systematic, so I could say this is my first day of research. The name of the site is quite interesting, as it contains the English article “the” and the German name for Indians – could be an ethnic identity translated into a new culture. The entrance page looks inviting, friendly, as it has more language possibilities (the sensation of being more opened). It declares itself to be the “Indian online community” (it is quite an ethnic statement, as, intentionally or not, the first word is “Indian”). The term “community” could have deeper implications, as it shows that the people involved in it share a common ground, common features. And it is, lately, quite a controversial term in public discourses (and in social sciences).
I looked mostly on the English pages. I must say that I am overwhelmed with so much information, with the so many categories and articles.
Maybe this feeling is augmented by the design. I don’t know how relevant it is, but I have the impression of being crowed, of too many things together, too many drawings, titles, links, pictures. The main page offers so many links that I get dizzy. It is also the backgrounds used, which add something as a third dimension to this virtual space (like shadows or foggy doubles of the letters).
A lot of articles are offered in collaborations with the “Times Group” in India, through links to the online newspapers, in English.
There are 4 columns on the main page and also on the secondary ones (a lot), offering further links to complete articles; and the columns are quite long.
The first column, main page on the left, contains a lot of info about Asia, not only India (the category “country and people” is also about Germany and immigration in Germany). As far as I searched, the German and the English pages are the same (contain the same articles and links). Most of the articles are not so new, in categories such as business (last article 09.2004), country and people (last article 2003), education and society (2001). This could mean that these general info are still accurate, they don’t need further explanations, that they are quite complete and up to date. Or it could mean that the users’ interest in them is not so high.
What I find interesting, at a first look, is the presence of the categories “women” and “Asian underground section”; I find this unusual: I wouldn’t expect a separate category outlining the women’s presence and activity. And I wouldn’t separate the underground subculture. Maybe this is from publicity reasons. But it could be that the existence of the underground and the women’s activity have certain importance and must be highlighted.
Also, there is a category called “fun” (humor) with links to entertaining/funny Asian sites (pictures, jokes – also thematic, games). This reminded me of the Romanian sites that I observed last semester, they contained something similar. It is quite a rich category so I guess it has its users.
The events category is well updated, and I could notice a lot of things going on: concert, parties, meetings, seminars. It looks like a lot of work, a lot of interest and quite some money invested. The same goes for this site. I know that everything is done in time, but all this still looks like a full time job, not an afternoon hobby…
On the main page, the last (4th) column contains commercials, logos of the sponsors/clients and articles from the press about theinder.net (media feedback). But the German page has more advertising and also more articles in the 3rd column – the new ones, not yet translated. They are a lot, anyway. This means that a lot of other (invisible in a sense) people are involved; although I don’t want to seem under the influence of the term “community” used in the title, I feel the presence of a network, of a complex field of interactions; this virtual – and not only virtual, but also continuing in the material world – space could be quite consistent. It is like a meeting place of more interests and points of view. It will be interesting, for my next reports, to look for what these interests and points of view have in common. But I will also continue to observe freely.
Another interesting thing that I noticed – actually the first thing that I noticed, is the presence, on the top of the page, of the link to the “Europe-Domains”. It could be only an advertising, or the sign of the openness towards internet domains <globalization> so to say (hybridity).