Accepted Paper:

Second Life, second body: a microethnographic analysis of nonverbal communication in the "Second Life" virtual environment  

Author:

Smiljana Antonijevic Ubois (IIT ID)

Paper short abstract:

This research observes computer-mediated nonverbal communication as a boundary area between computer-generated and user-generated embodied knowledge, and it indicates that computational models emerge as interpretative models of reality, leading into re-articulation of cultural concepts and categories.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents results of a six-months long ethnographic research of nonverbal communication (NVC) in the "Second Life" (SL) virtual environment. The research was conducted in 108 SL areas selected in a non-structured manner, and it included a microethnographic analysis of naturally-occurring user interaction. A non-structured selection of observational settings yielded a wide range of communicative contexts (e.g., religious sites, bars, art galleries, etc.).

The results pointed to a significant difference between user-generated and computer-generated NVC. User-generated NVC was observed in the use of proxemic cues, and it had an important role in communicating interactional intent, structuring interaction, and communicating relational messages. User-defined NVC was not significantly correlated with users' physical appearance (human or other) and gender, or with the communicative context. Although often consistent with social norms of the physical world, user-defined NVC showed adaptability to the symbolic system of the analyzed virtual setting. Computer-generated NVC was identified in the use of kinesic cues, provided as predefined nonverbal acts. Predefined NVC often represents stereotypical, gender and culture biased nonverbal acts. By striving to mimic social norms of the physical world, predefined cues convey specific cultural assumptions through representation and modeling of users' nonverbal behavior.

This research indicates that a computer-mediated nonverbal act is an epistemic tool juxtaposed with users' agency. This juxtaposition produces a boundary area between computer-generated and user-generated embodied knowledge, in which computational models emerge as interpretative models of reality, leading into re-articulation of cultural concepts and categories.

Panel W071
Media, technology, and knowledge cultures: anthropological perspectives on issues of diversity, mutuality and exclusion