Alisa’s research for the Ego-Media Project focuses on war writing on and off line. She started focusing on war blogs in Iraq and Afghanistan, but more broadly her work looks to historicize digital war writing by placing it in a continuum, and by considering the various tools that have emerged to enable writers to more vividly tell these stories. “How have individuals used the media, or worked within a mediated context to disseminate their work? How are forms including auto-biography, diaries and blogs, non-fiction, fiction, film, radio, poetry, etc. transmitting or moving into a digital context? And how do these new tools allow authors to be more creative? That’s all interesting to consider. There’s a lot to explore and think about…”
As Alisa points out, her research can’t only focus on the individual. The broader context is key. So, she’s also exploring how so-called gatekeeper institutions – for example newspapers and journalists – are using online forums both to reach new audiences and to tell stories in different ways, and is particularly interested in potential tensions between individuals and institutions. “Who”, she asks, “is providing what is taken as the authentic voice? But also, who is then validating these accounts and providing context? It’s not just about the small stories that we see online, because focusing on those can be somewhat problematic in terms of trying to build up a historical narrative that has some sort of balance. But it is also important to recognize the individuals, their perspectives, experiences and voices.”
Alisa also wanted to test some ideas about communication systems, particularly about the role of networks. “How are new war writers discovered, for instance?
Who’s influencing what they’re writing? That was very important to me because I think the idea that someone is just sort of sitting somewhere and everything is coming out of their heads is very interesting to test. What’s the context? What influences can be traced? From where?
I was also interested in the tools writers use, both to make their work and to reach and interact with audiences. What tools do social media provide that, maybe, were unavailable in the past? Do they allow for more dialogue across and between different experiences and boundaries? If so, do people use them in this way? For instance, are soldiers and civilians talking to one another? Are war victims involved in the conversation?”
Alisa was also interested in the issue of filter bubble, where writers address, and are read by ever-smaller, more focused groups. “So this leads to the question: is there a more enriched dialogue about war writing taking place in the digital space – about past wars but also ongoing conflicts? What happens when there’s a continuous audience for this content, it’s all playing out almost in real time, and there’s a kind of feedback loop and commentary from across the world?”
It’s also significant that, over the time the Ego-Media Project has been running, attitudes towards social media have changed. “Pressure that has built up in the public discourse around social media, and has shifted how we all think about it”, she explains. “It’s not only the writers who use these tools whose self-awareness has increased, but also their audiences. The stakes seem to have gone up quite a bit.”
As a result, we are now grappling with some huge ethical questions. “What does it mean when war becomes a kind of continuous theatre – something that is consumed and commented on, sometimes in real time? And you have technologies like drones https://www.ego-media.org/voices-and-ethics-part-three/ that are controlled from thousands and thousands of miles away, providing a kind of one-sided institutional narrative? And – when these institutions allow it – people can actually watch what they are doing?”
Dr Alisa Miller is one of the three Post-Doctoral Research Associates working on the Ego-Media Project. She is the author of Rupert Brooke in the First World War
Listen to Alisa talking in 2010 about her early research into WW1 poetry and the cult of Rupert Brooke and in 2014 about the critical, media and commercial networks that worked to disseminate war poetry.