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Virtual Ethnography

How should we understand the meaning of public and private spaces in virtual ethnography?

 This essay will reveal the meaning of space in the study of virtual ethnography. I hope we will better understand digital life in cyberspace by explaining these concepts. Indeed, there are two types of space in human life: private and public.

There are other meanings for the concept of space. It is just that in cyberspace, the meaning of space becomes such news. Does the idea of private space still apply in nature or vice versa?

The house is a private space for humans and all that they own, from the entrance to the bedroom. Then there is the remote area, where only a person or group owns a site to inhabit, either on land or an island. People are not allowed to enter the room or private area.

The public space is where humans carry out their social activities outside the private space, where everyone can do things together. Markets, houses of worship, beaches, entertainment venues, shopping areas, and other spaces where many people are there for specific purposes are called public spaces.

Public space is decreasing day by day. The beach, which used to be public property, already has a manager, making it a private area. Soccer fields or public sports venues, where the number is decreasing, so people have to pay to use one place to play football, tennis, futsal, and other general activities.

There was a particular field in the village where all community activities were carried out together in the past. There is a village sports competition. Religious study activities. Community art venue. Exhibition place for local people.

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Therefore, the concept of space in the virtual world has changed its pattern and function.

More than that, a public space appears, used as a private space. Supermall is a public space that is controlled by someone privately. Places of entertainment use a ticket or ticket price system, which a particular group owns. Nowadays, more and more public spaces are being privatized. So that, in urban areas, public space owned by the public is decreasing.

There has been a shift from private and public spaces in daily human life to virtual spaces or digital spaces in the last two decades. Here the meaning of space becomes blurred because it is not the same as the concept of space in real life. This condition will undoubtedly have a huge impact when someone conducts virtual ethnographic research, where the setting of the research place is not the same as when they conduct research in the village, where the space is well organized.

 The people’s market, which turned into a mall, has changed to a cyberspace marketplace. People don’t need to go to the mall anymore because various platforms or online shopping applications are available. The goods arrive at their homes when they have made payment or COD.

The playing area on the field has been converted into an online game room. Because of that, he could be in his private room, but he was in a crowd when playing online games.

When social media applications appeared (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Tik Tok) as platforms in cyberspace, people began to feel that they could be in a public space online, even though they were actually in a private space. One can even do a live broadcast in the room, where thousands or tens of thousands watch the show.

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No wonder now many people are shouting, laughing, and feeling sad in the room, like a sane person, but he is showing the virtual world because there is a crowd. When you see someone doing a live singing, even if they are doing it in a room alone, they are actually in a group because they are digitally connected to other people.

This extraordinary phenomenon became a new habit for the digital community. People talking to themselves were initially considered insane, then it was considered something natural, where the term vlog began to appear in cyberspace.

Therefore, the concept of space has changed. Here I would like to propose some concepts for this change.

The Mind Connected Crowd


The boundaries of space are no longer understood in real life through the concept of digital society. This change presupposes that a digital social network that connects the human mind is known as a hyper-connected society which is the beginning of a change in the meaning of space in social life.

Mind-connected society causes people to no longer consider bedrooms, bathrooms, guest rooms, and family rooms private spaces to be considered public spaces. People are free to virtually access someone’s home when they are recording vlogs or content for social media platforms.

Silence in Crowd Vs. Crowded in Silence


In Japan, there is a new culture known as Hikikomori. This concept is that teenagers isolate themselves in a life of silence for months to years because they never leave the house. They are connected with people in cyberspace. However, they were actually in the crowd.

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So this is a new problem in the community. Nevertheless, this phenomenon no longer belongs to the Japanese people. Almost all netizens around the world have practiced Hikikomori culture. They are only in the room and rarely leave the house, where various online applications provide all their needs.

Furthermore, we find many people in public spaces in real life, they are in a crowd, but they are in silence. There is no more communication between human beings because they are busy with all their activities in cyberspace which is a situation known as the state of people feeling solitude in a crowd.

Finally, this is an initial study of how space moves in cyberspace. This transfer process, of course, impacts changes in human behavior, both as part of the natural world and the virtual world. Virtual ethnography researchers should take this as an initial note to understand their research setting in cyberspace.

Kamaruzzaman Bustamam Ahmad

Kamaruzzaman Bustamam-Ahmad (KBA) has followed his curiosity throughout life, which has carried him into the fields of Sociology of Anthropology of Religion in Southeast Asia, Islamic Studies, Sufism, Cosmology, and Security, Geostrategy, Terrorism, and Geopolitics. KBA is the author of over 30 books and 50 academic and professional journal articles and book chapters. His academic training is in social anthropology at La Trobe University, Islamic Political Science at the University of Malaya, and Islamic Legal Studies at UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta. He received many fellowships: Asian Public Intellectual (The Nippon Foundation), IVLP (American Government), Young Muslim Intellectual (Japan Foundation), and Islamic Studies from Within (Rockefeller Foundation). He is based in Banda Aceh and can be reached at ceninnets@yahoo.com.au

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