Most graduate programs in anthropology require us to take a course in methods to prepare us to “do anthropology” on our own. In class, we discuss what makes a good research question, the trade-offs between qualitative and quantitative data, and the importance of taking good field notes. Sometimes we even get to conduct research and experience firsthand how to enter a community, recruit informants, transcribe interviews, and code data. This practical training allows us to try out the methods we are learning in class and troubleshoot any problems we have along the way with our professors and peers. In this post, I want to talk about the benefits of this model for cultivating a related, necessary, but often neglected skill-set in graduate school – digital literacy.
Digital literacy is loosely defined as the ability to understand and use a range of digital technologies. For an anthropologist, these are specific tools such as social media, digital repositories, or web design that can significantly augment our success as scholars. Most of us have heard about the benefits of using Twitter or have figured out how to post lecture slides onto our online course management systems. However, I have found from personal experience that it is not enough to know that these tools exist – we also need to understand and navigate the complex digital cultures which they (and we) are bound up in.
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger TAZ KARIM
In the past five years, Twitter has become a mecca for social science researchers: the number of topics, informants, and networks waiting to be analyzed are limitless (here are some examples). With the help of a nifty program like Tweet Archivist, you could literally collect thousands of micro-narratives about people’s ideologies, behaviors, and relationships around a search query – all from the comfort of your office. This was the utopian vision I had of Twitter research when I started designing my final project for the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fellowship at Michigan State University (link has been fixed!).
Over the last year, I have become interested in how Americans are sharing experiences with prescription drugs through social media. My dissertation look at one drug in particular, Adderall, a treatment for ADHD which is being illegally bought and sold by college students for academic and recreational purposes. At first, I was completely shocked by the sheer number of individuals who are openly admitting their illicit drug use online – after all, many twitter names are publically attached to an individual’s real name. More amazing was how many are intentionally categorizing their tweets using hashtags like # adderall or #adderallproblems, so that people interested in the topic (like myself) could easily find and share their tweets. There are even entire accounts dedicated to the “adderall lifestyle” like @adderallavenger @adderallnation @adderalltalking @addiestories… and the list goes on. I felt like I had hit a goldmine of data – now all I had to do was figure out how to harvest it.