Examining "Expansive Potential"
Miller & Slater have elaborated four cross-cutting, non-exhaustive "dimensions" or "dynamics" that mark the Trinidadian Internet, and perhaps the Internet everywhere. Choose one of the four dynamics introduced in chapter 1 (Objectification, Mediation, Normative Freedom, Positioning) or a sub-concept within one of the dynamics (expansive realization, expansive potential). Analyze how the dynamic manifests in the ethnographic material presented in chapter 3 (Relationships) or chapter 4 (Being Trini). You might consider: What does the dynamic mean? How is the dynamic analytically useful? How is it applied? How is its use related to the method employed here, or the assumptions?
In Chapter 1 of Miller & Slater’s book I was captured by the principle of “expansive realization.” The idea being that the internet is best understood as “helping people to deliver on pledges that they have already made to themselves about themselves” (11). The most straightforward example which is mentioned both in Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 is the way in which Trini’s use the internet to maintain familial contact. There seems to be the sense that previous options for communicating with overseas family were unable to capture the essential family conversation which is “mundane, everyday, intimate in a household way, in both style and content” (57). This statement makes a number of major assumptions. First, that there is a normative type of family conversation that is in some way central to maintaining a true connection with family members. Also, that this type of conversation is more desirable than other kinds of conversations. As a more empirical quantitative person my initial urge when hearing this claim is to want to get to the bottom of things. Are these logical assumptions? But instead Miller and Slater ask us to consider the way in which Trini’s perceive and understand how the internet influences their lives. In some ways the idea of “expansive realization” is a very relative and personal concept. It requires an individual or group to have a sense of what should be and examine technologies as a way of helping make this come about. What I find particularly interesting is that this lens tends to overlook the technologies or constraints that bring about this disjuncture in the first place. The focus is on overcoming obstacles rather than eliminating them. In some senses this pairs a very utopian view of technology with a more cynical view of an individual or groups present circumstances.