Strange things happen, when you do research online. In this particular case, when you do fieldwork online. I just found out this morning that my main fieldwork site in Second Life virtual world has been deleted due to financial difficulties of the owners. I wanted to log in and check a few details and maybe update my screenshots of new memorials, but no, the teleporting feature kept “dropping” me into an adult fun area (I have no idea why!), until I finally Googled the Remembering Our Friends memorial and found out it was closed 1st of March.
I felt terrible. I felt like someone slapped my face or burnt down the village where I did my fieldwork. The place is gone, the familiar place, where I have walked the past four years, reading the memorials, listening the birds sing and wind in the trees. Reading and watching and reading all the stories in the hundreds of the memorials in the three chapels of the area. Now all I have is the videos, screenshots and notes. And memories.
I was partly expecting this to happen, since, of course, everything that is online is subjected to the vulnerable fact that it is just pixels. Ones and zeros and entirely reliable on the fact that there is a computer and an internet connection for “traveling” that place. I have even written about this vulnerability in my articles and master’s thesis. I have described online material as a vanishing cultural heritage, since all it needs is a one mouse click to delete an entire site. “404 webpage not found” is the most horrifying thing that an online researcher can encounter.
This proves my point how very important it is to do a proper documentation of your online field. It can and will vanish any day and as a researcher my responsibility is to document what I see and hear in order to preserve even the description, the ethnography, of the world for others to remember.
Remembering Our Friends was provided by private funding by great people willing to create a safe place to mourn and honor the meaningful relationships we lose during our online and offline lives. I can only offer my deep condolences of this sad situation and wish I could have done something. Thank you Carlo Dufvaux and Mike Burleigh for this opportunity to be a part of what you created, even just for a small moment. I wish you all the best in life – in 1st and 2nd.
Fieldwork screenshot, 4.1.2011.