Saturday, November 24, 2007

help, not waving, drowning: Discourse analysis of SMS

I am not strong on discourse analysis.
I spent one summer trying to read Foucault and this convinced me two summers doing this would be unwise.
Please help. seriously.
This is not my intended methodology, but it may prove useful. If you are experienced in discourse or even curious regarding the application to an intriguing application, please play with me here. Beginning with a toe in the water rather than full immersion because i don't like drowning, here is my tentative discourse analysis of a series of txt messages in counselling. (Feel free to push me in deeper if needed, or tell me to get out of the water....)
This series of interactions are from one side of a txting counselling scenario.
(The stream of txt was never seen, it is based in reality rather than actual reflection of reality. To do any type of data collection wherein one does not have the consent of the authors of the text is not ethically defensible. To do discourse analysis on a reported composite of a text is also methodologically dubious. This is a work of fiction).

1. "I just want to disappear"
2. "I cant talk"
3. "what diff email"
4. "r you a counsellor"

Discourse analysis
line 1, an opening, a cry for help, a reaching out.
Txted to a 'netherworld" an unknown entity. The txter doesnt know the person who will receive it, Maybe the anonymity helps. A confirmation of no one responding might confirm the sense of disappearing. There seems an ambivalence, will i disappear, am i disappearing, do people notice me. There is also an 'i want to' do i hurt so much i just want to vanish, i just want it to end?
(Did you notice that, I switched from 3rd person to first, not only do i project in, i begin to imagine myself in...)

line 2, a response to an invitation to talk further. The counsellor has responded (affirming the person for making contact, acknowledging their distress or difficulty, and inviting the person to use a ph line to talk about it). Line 2 rejects using a phone. "I cant" without punctuation. Punctuation is extra difficult on a cell. Plus it may or may not be known by the sender. Or may not be important to the sender, it takes extra time and it doesn't significantly alter the message. But the message in its brevity remains ambiguous. I cant talk because its too distressing (I cant talk because I have no money on my phone? I cant talk because others will hear? ...)
The use of capitals for I, is probably auto generated on the cell phone.

line 3, responding to the counsellor suggesting other options, seeking clarification on those options. The txt is truncated, a word is shortened and syntax condensed presenting an incomplete sentence. The meaning is sufficiently clear regarding a clarification request. There is another quality though, the person sending the message is engaged in concrete specific concerns. The concern though becomes about the equipment, how do i , rather than this is what i am distressed about. My sense is not that there is no difference in that 'i' cant talk regardless of the medium. But a seeking of clarification, i may not want to verbalise it because its distressing. 'i' might be able to enter into an email dialogue if 'i' can see a reason.

line 4, in the invisible space of txting whose on the other end seems to need checking, asking. Just as with internet cartoon where noone knows your a dog, in txting too no one knows whose there. sex is indeterminate, age is indeterminate, role is indeterminate. If I can enter into conversation via txt with you, is it because you are a counsellor and this seems ok so far and i might generalise from this counsellors therefore seem safe. Or is it a question of if i take the next step will i see you. Interesting some words truncate some dont. The use of the cell phone and the ease of some words versus others?

Please, I am really happy to receive input on this naive analysis and will now go (internet) surfing to reduce my naivity.

Other theory relevant:
Sproull and Kiesler (1991) regarding emails say "people talk with other people but they do so alone". This too explains the need for checking out who is the person at the end of the txt receiving "my' message. In addition,they write of the conventions for communicating being weak - This may be reflected in the question of are you a counsellor- who are you, what are you, as well as other conventions of social practices such as grammar being weaker.
Constance, Sproull and Kiesler (1996) Reflect on the kindness of strangers and the strength of weak ties.
Turkle (I think, but i cant find this so maybe it is more Sproull and Kiesler) talk of the projection onto messages. In the absence of more cues- tone, body language and the amount of information exchanged, there is a tendency to read more into a message- project more onto the message- than is actually there.
Bloch (2002) said email is used for creating and sustaining relationships. and also
showed email not just about language but is also about negotiating identity in a way not done in a classroom. Suggests in a counseling scenario there is also the use for negotiating identity, who am I, who are you, can we work together.
Rich Ling, Telenor R&D (2005) on discourse analysis of sms in Norway: note that its cheap, relatively unobtrusive (can be done silently), they describe sms as an "odd duck": the size of the screen limits readability, the 160 character limitation of screen, the lack of traditional of keyboard. They also discuss the differences Male to Female with female being more attentive to emotion, to flourishes of writing (punctuation), longer messages male average 5.54 vs female average 6.94, females also use more salutations. I wonder if use by women is greater as women, at least stereotypically maintain connection, relationships. Its also cheaper to sms than a ph call, and maybe women have less discretionary income. These writers also identify the liklihood of first letter capitalisation because of a default mechanism.

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