DIGITAL AMERICA

Phase 1: Running Through Media

// Posted by on 04/14/2012 (2:47 PM)

See my completed research project at Run. Tweet. Blog. 

Research Problem

Before starting my research I hypothesized that the intermingling between the strong emotional tie that runners have with running and the massive connectivity that new media offers has led to the growth and popularity of running.  After hours of research it appears to me that the online running community is bigger than I would have ever imagined. Fitness and health is continuing to rise as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.  One of the least expensive hobbies and ways to exercise is running. How has new media instigated this culturally change?

Initial Questions: New Media Leads to Rise in Popularity of Running; Digital Road Race

Initially I was particularly focused on how new media stimulated the increase in popularity of running. I was interested in the idea of a Digital Road Race as that seems to me the epitimy of use new media impacting the sport. A person would sign up for the race, receive a T-Shirt in the mail, and on a specific date and specific time runners would go for a run wherever they were located. This concept completely takes away the physical barriers needed to participate in a run.  With this concept it is clear that new media has broken the physical barriers to runner a race. People can run in the same race at the same time all across the globe. Therefore, while new media brings people together in conversation, it appears that it can also break physical contact. So does media bring us together or pull us a part? Ultimately, I think it brings people together. I don’t know many people who participate in digital road races. Most people sign up for races do so for the community experience—to be with people, to test yourself, to bring out your competitive edge.

Roadblocks: How does the online running community connect with American culture?

Professor Rosatelli prompted this question on my proposal and it completely changed the shape of my research. As I read blogs, running boards, various websites dedicated to running, scholarly articles, and even perused Pinterest I realized that there was a call from the American people for discussion about fitness and running.  Currently, more than one third (35.7%) of adults and 12.5 million children and adolescents in the United States are obese. This reality is tragic, yet social media has brought this American struggle to the forefront of many people’s lives.

Several of the blogs that I found are written by people who either currently struggle with weight loss or began writing their blogs as a testimonial to their success in maintaining physical fitness. Some bloggers even blog about their struggles with disordered eating and how running has helped them handle and even over come their negative eating habits. In my research I discovered that food is one of the primary topics in all aspects of runner’s social media. Bloggers and forum users a like suggest the best fueling techniques for optimal performance. No longer do you need to see a certified nutritionist to tell you how to fuel your body, you can simply read people’s blogs to see what has worked for them! Recipes sharing is also a major component of runner’s blogs. In fact, many of them even have a separate tab viewers can click on to just view their recipes.

Perhaps most surprisingly, I discovered that there appears to be a shift in what makes a beautiful body. Typically people think of women as desiring to be super model thin, but with the overwhelming push towards physical fitness in America is seems to me that it is becoming more desirable to be strong and fit.  Pinterest’s Fitness page for instance is littered with images of women with strong bodies and workout regiments with an emphasis on weights lifting.

 

Supporting Media

In my research I have looked at numerous blogs including Twenty Six and Then Some, Run Eat Repeat, Chic Runner, and Runner’s Rambles. Most of these bloggers also use Twitter so I followed them and found that most of the tweet about their workouts and recipes they enjoyed. I think that keeping a public documentation of their work holds them accountable. I have also perused Pinterest (yes—it’s research!) Read the message board at Letsrun.com and perused Flotrack.com and digitalrunner.com. I even came across a great collection of Lululemon motivational youtube videos!

 Theoretical Foundations

I am primarily focusing on Hansen’s theory of interdependence of content and form—essentially how runner’s use the new media and for what purpose.  In his book Hansen discusses McLuhan’s theories about how the adaptation of a particular medium impacts the experience at a greater rate that it used to.  This relates directly to runners because as they use new media to document and communicate their experiences the feedback is instantaneous. A runner can blog about his or race experience, ask a question about fueling or shoes and he or she will get inundated with responses from readers.  As Hansen’s states “By taking full advantage of the many to many connectivity facilitated by the internet, the explosion of user-generated digital “content” had refocused the function of computational media from storage to production, from archiving of individual experience to generations of collective presence of connectivity.”

 What did I ask from my group?

I asked my groups to look at some of the media sources that I have been using my research and give me feedback about how they viewed the information. I wondered if they saw any connections to some one the theory that we have been studying. I asked them to do this because I felt that I had become so immersed in it that perhaps I wasn’t seeing the full picture anymore. Just like when you’ve lost your keys and you search the entire house for them with out any luck, but once you ask a friend to help they are right in front of your eyes!

Molly looked into two well read blogs, Twenty Six and Then Some and Run Eat Repeat. She too noticed that they were both primarily about running and food yet one seems more personable than the other—something I had not realized. However, she does point out that the lack of anonymity makes the blogs much more personable than if you did not have a name or a face to put to the author.  Both of these bloggers provide pictures and some details about their daily lives outside of the running world. In that sense, the reader truly feels like he or she personally knows the blogger.

What will I continue to explore? What questions are left to answer? How has the project changed thus far?

While I was originally interested in how the popularity of running soared because of the internet, I am know more focused on how the American culture and Digital World—Digital America—have come together to shape the existing running culture. I still need to dig more into the theory, especially some of Shirky’s ideas about social media.


Categories: Discussion, Uncategorized

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