Distinct cultures can develop at all levels of society across a spectrum of macro to micro scale groups of people. I’m sure that when reflecting on your own circle of friends you’d likely notice unique traditions and behaviours between each other. Perhaps you have a weekly movie night, or maybe a shared, almost ‘secret code’-like vocabulary. What about your family? Or your co-workers? Could you find common experiences with the general population of your city?
Ethnography is a research discipline that aims to “provide rich, holistic insights into people’s views and actions” through the study of said cultural groups, communities, and organisations. One way to do some ethnographic research is through participant observation. In other words, immersing yourself in the culture while watching, listening, and reflecting on social interactions and behaviours (be sure to consider ethical research practices when doing so!). The desired outcome is a thick, qualitative data set that can be analysed and transformed into detailed descriptions of the studied group’s culture.
In my own circle of friends, I noticed an interesting correlation between our common interests, and the shared media space that is the “net cafe”, as we call it. At least once every couple of months, we all get together on a northbound train to Sydney and spend the day gaming side-by-side at an Internet Cafe. It’s worth noting that we all game regularly at home; we each own super PCs, our internet connections are (mostly) stable and satisfying, we can communicate over voice platforms like Discord. But, we still willingly pay the hefty hourly fees to use the Cafe computers in a place that is over an hour commute from home. Why?
In reflecting upon this group tradition, I realised how environment and physical places can affect an overall cultural experience. The consensus among myself and my friends was that the general appeal of the net cafe was the “vibe”. It’s the fellow gamers passionately yelling as they play (usually in Mandarin), or the satisfying sense of comradery when you can win an exhilarating game together and turn away from your screens for a high-five, removing your headsets to debrief. Although the internet provides us the platforms for socialising and discussing common interests without limitations of location and distance, there’s something incredible about watching your passion come to life in a shared, physical space.