The short film “Follow Me on Dead Media - Analog Authenticities in Alternative Skateboarding Scene” by Joonas Rokka, Pekka Rousi and Vessi Hämäläinen presents their research on an alternative skateboarding scene in Helsinki.
It is a so-called videography - academic ethnographic research using video as a method (for an intro on the academic methodology debate, see Hietanen, Rokka & Schouten (2014); paywalled).
Starting with a dive into some of the foundations of skateboarding culture, the study focuses on what may appear to be a nostalgic return to old technology - e.g. creating a zine using typewriters and Letraset lettering or shooting VHS video.
But as the story proceeds, it becomes evident how the scene’s use of old technology is not so much about a longing for nostalgia or the fascination with retro, but possibly a reaction to the current media overloaded with pre-defined meaning while the underused old technology provides ample of empty space to be filled with meaning.
The abundance of publications online, incl. platforms flooded with skateboard videos, let the scene wish for a way to define their own media and assign it relevant meaning in their social context. The blurry aesthetics of VHS video aligns well with the subcultural nature of urban skateboarding. And in the same way as a certain skateboarding scene is not so much focused on perfecting their tricks but about making use of urban architecture in creative ways, layouting a magazine with glue and scissors sits better into the context than high-end graphic design on DTP software.
Since it is safe to assume the individuals in the study make broad use of the internet, the context described in the film is an interesting instance of non-use of new technology not due to exclusion or even disinterest, but a certain disenchantment because the old already provides the desired space for creating meaning (cf. the discussion on “disenchantment” and “disinterest” in Satchell and Dourish, 2009). Rokka et al. summarize:
[…] our study shows that the attraction to the abandoned, outdated and inefficient pre-digital analog objects and media stems from their seemingly empty meanings, free of ready-made brand stories.
Instances like this highlight once more the core factor for people to use or not use something: meaning. What makes this particular study so fascinating is not just that the intrinsic meaning of the old is a better fit for the scene than that of the new, but the observation that “the abandoned” provides more means for the users to (re-)define such meaning in the first place.
Hietanen, J., Rokka, J. & Schouten J.W. (2014). Commentary on Schembri and Boyle (2013): From representation towards expression in videographic consumer research. In Journal of Business Research, Volume 67, Issue 9, September 2014 (pp. 2019-2022). doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2013.10.009
Rokka, J., Rousi, P., & Hämäläinen, V. (2014). Follow Me on Dead Media – Analog Authenticities in Alternative Skateboarding Scene. https://vimeo.com/104001507
Satchell, C., & Dourish, P. (2009). Beyond the user: use and non-use in HCI. In Proceedings of the 21st annual conference of the australian computer-human interaction special interest group: Design: Open 24/7 (pp. 9-16). Melbourne, Australia: ACM. doi:10.1145/1738826.1738829)