Kareena Coelho (bio)
This is what it’s like to live in Nunavut:
Blogging Practices of Southerners in the North
Goldsmiths, University of London
Background on Nunavut
Located in the north of Canada and formed in 1999, Nunavut is a vast territory, making up 20 percent of Canada's mass, with a population of 30,000 people. Of those 30,000 people, the population is overwhelmingly Inuit, an indigenous group that has lived in these areas for millennia.
Because of its Arctic climactic conditions and geography, the territory lacks the infrastructure that is in place in most provinces in southern Canada. There are few roads in Nunavut, and to get to Nunavut, one is required to travel by airplane, with the possibility of travelling by ship during the territory's short summer. Taking into account the territory's inability to grow produce locally, as well as the added cost of air fuel that accompanies most purchases, the cost of living in the territory is high, with food prices marked up by from 20 per cent to 287 percent when compared with prices for similar items in other parts of Canada (Peritz 2014).
Broadband internet in Nunavut suffers from a similar mark-up, largely because the lack of terrestrial infrastructure has meant that broadband is only available to Nunavummiut via satellite which has higher costs when compared with other internet provider options, such as fibre optic. As satellite bandwidth is fairly costly, the amount of bandwidth purchased for the territory by Qiniq and NorthwesTel, the territory's two main internet service providers, does not easily accommodate the number of internet users in Nunavut, creating a kind of virtual traffic jam and resulting in service that is often described as "slow, unreliable and expensive” (Alicia, personal communication, September 2, 2013).
The territory was created as part of land claims agreements negotiated between the federal government of Canada and Inuit organizations, to be a space for Inuit, a place for Inuit to have a certain degree of autonomy. However, in part because of low graduation rates (Expert Panel on Equalization 2006), a significant portion of workers in the territory throughout its history have been drawn from southern Canada, particularly civil servants, engineers, nurses and teachers. Statistics from 2007 show that 49 % of government workers in Nunavut were Southerners. (White, 2007, p.72). Though each individual experience is different, Southerners tend to come up to Nunavut on one to two year contracts. They are often provided with housing, and with salaries that are more substantial than what they might have earned in the south to compensate for the high cost of living in the north (White, 2007, p.74). They form a distinct group within Nunavummiut communities, comprising approximately 15 percent of the population, bringing with them cultural and linguistic differences (they are usually Anglophone, while in many parts of Nunavut, the primary language is Inuktitut), and they are on average, wealthier than Inuit in the territory. Statistics from 2013 show that non-Aboriginals living in Nunavut have a median annual income of $86, 600 while the median Aboriginal income is $19,900 per year (Pertiz 2014).
Figure 1. A stop sign in Iqaluit features three of Nunavut's four official languages:
English, French and Inuktitut.
It is this group of Southerners and their blogging practices which I will focus on for the rest of this paper, looking at how they communicate while away from home, while they are foreigners in a place that is often imagined by Westerners as foreign, and how their ways of blogging can shed light on internet usage in Nunavut and the ties between online and offline practices in the territory. But first, some theoretical and methodological considerations.
In the face of grandiose claims about the internet's potential effects, pointing to historical and cultural continuities in technological practices has become an important task in refuting technological determinism (Morley 1986; Lally 2002; Larkin 2008). Don Slater and Daniel Miller, in The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach (2000), illustrate the necessity of investigating the ways in which internet usage can be approached as culture-specific. The Internet is a study of the specific practices of Trinidadian internet use, and it acts as an argument in favour of conducting ethnography for the purposes of demonstrating that technological and media practices, in this case, those having to do with the internet, vary culturally and therefore must be examined and contextualized within wider cultural practice. In service of this argument, Miller and Slater cite as evidence the similarities between chat room practices and norms around socializing in Trinidad (p.57-58), and how particular interests in entrepreneurship in Trinidad play a role in what the internet is used for in that region (p. 121-141).
Slater and Miller's work are useful perspectives to bring to this examination of blogging practices in Nunavut. The blogging practices that will be discussed below can be tied to prior social and cultural forms and ideas; they appear to be drawn, connected to and influenced by the off-line, every day circumstances of living in Nunavut.
On Blogs and Blogging
Jodi Dean, the author of Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive (2010), notes that there is some humour in doing research and theorizing blogs at this moment, seeing that as early as 2007, blogging was declared "dead”, with the large number of ghost blogs (blogs that have been abandoned) cited as evidence for that claim (p. 33). Dean, however, argues that it is not that the blog is dead – it is that the blog has primarily become the domain of the corporate (p. 34), and that the blog has been extended to other formats and platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter (p. 35). As she writes: "Social network sites and Twitter don't replace blogs; they traverse, extend and include them” (p. 36). The practices associated with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, such as sharing, posting and linking all come, claims Dean, directly from the tradition of blogging (p. 41).
Danah boyd has put forward the idea that blogging is best understood not as a specific genre of writing, but as a medium (2006). Dean, who agrees with boyd writes: "Blogging is a medium for and practice of communication…” (2010, p.46). According to Dean and boyd then, what differentiates a blog is that it is a specific form and means of communication, and as a result, needs to be theorized on this basis and not exclusively by its content or text. Dean goes on to point out in Blog Theory specific elements that characterize the blog as a medium: its prioritizing newness, hence the latest post appearing first (p. 44); its openness to being stumbled upon through a web search (p. 46-47); the potential blogs provide for interaction through the comment sections or through emails to the writer (p. 48); and the willing submission to surveillance, to the gaze of the unknown by its public accessibility (p. 55).
Conceiving of the blog as a medium is helpful methodologically; if the blog is a medium, it cannot solely be understood by its content, any more than the television can be solely explained through an analysis of television programmes – the blog, as a medium, must be approached as a social process.
The findings from this paper stem from the use of two main methods: interviews and engagement with blogs produced in Nunavut.
Blogging was selected as the practice to be examined for several reasons. First of all, blogs were an easily locatable form of usage within the mass of online information. Secondly, blogs were a more practical resource than other social media platforms, because of their more public nature. Twelve blogs were selected for examination, primarily on the basis that they were written by Southerners and that they had been updated over a period of time, and were not simply comprised of a few entries. This last condition was in place because in looking at practices, I was at this point, more interested in those who had made blogging part of their routine, and therefore had developed blogging habits.
The decision to focus on Southerner bloggers was made for two main reasons. First of all, expediency played a role: almost all the blogs I found were written by Southerners, a point that was echoed by several interviewees who claim that though there are a couple of Inuit bloggers, most bloggers in Nunavut are from the south (Laura, personal communication, October 3, 2013). Secondly, while a great deal of research in Nunavut is, for good reason, focused on Inuit culture and practices, there is comparatively, scant research on Southerners. However, taking into account their significance to the labour force, their presence in many Nunavummiut communities, and the particular perspectives they might have on living in Nunavut, I felt that there would be value in exploring the online narratives of Southerners.
As with Twitter, the percentage of bloggers tends to be miniscule relative to the population (Couldry,2012, p.122). While I cannot offer an exact statistic, my searches seem to indicate that the number of current bloggers in Nunavut is quite small – less than a hundred. However, this number might be inaccurate because not all bloggers necessarily indicate their location. The choice to focus on blogs then, is not about exploring a practice that is common and prevalent in Nunavut, but is based on the idea that these blogs could be used as a device for probing approaches and perspectives on internet use in Nunavut. That is to say, though blogging might not be a widely employed practice by Southerners in Nunavut, blogs and bloggers still have the potential to be helpful in revealing some of the circumstances, rationales and experiences of how people use the internet in the territory.
I was able to conduct half hour to two hour interviews, via telephone and voice calls on Skype, with eight bloggers based in Nunavut from September through October 2013. I have preserved the anonymity of those who were interviewed; therefore, when respondents are quoted from interviews, pseudonyms are used. However, when quotes are pulled from blogs which are publicly available, a reference to the precise blog is provided.
Southerner Blogs in Nunavut
Though the goal of the work is to unravel some of the blogging practices developed in Nunavut, I thought it might be worthwhile to start by examining some of the common narrative threads found among the 12 blogs investigated .
While content obviously varies from blogger to blogger depending on specific interests and life events, there were common threads that could be isolated, and which will be discussed below. These threads include a focus on journey/adventure, the weather, the north as difference, the struggle/cost of surviving, and technology, particularly internet, in Nunavut.
The Journey/the Adventure
Of the 12 blogs that I focused on, ten had some account of how the blogger had gotten to Nunavut – what some might call an origins story, or the journey. The two that did not were written by bloggers who had been in Nunavut before broadband was introduced into the territory in 2005, and had started blogging after already being settled in the area for several years. Because most of the other bloggers had started blogging partly because they were moving to Nunavut, their journey stories started with the account of why they decided to move to Nunavut, which often had to do with some interest in adventure, and in exploring something new. On the blog, "Jeka of Nunavut,” for example, the blogger states the idea to move to Nunavut came out of a conversation with her grandmother about her life and trying something new after having worked the same job for the previous four years (April 22, 2012).
But it is not just the personal journey that these blogs touch on, but the literal journey to Nunavut from wherever they are coming from, and almost every blog had at least one post dedicated to the adventure of travelling within and from Nunavut. The blog "Chilling in Nunavut” posted an entry on November 26, 2012 entitled "Delayed” which serves as an example of this kind of journey/adventure post:
After a whirlwind weekend, we are currently delayed (again) from getting home (I'll tell you all about it on Wednesday!), so no real post today. good news though, we were just told "the plane isn't as broken as we thought."…So...um...yay??
It should perhaps come as no surprise that each blog makes some note and posts many photographs of the natural landscape and the weather in Nunavut; after all, the cold might be the first thing that many think of when they think of the Arctic. This excerpt from "All of it or Nunavut” from the entry "Colder Weather” (January 20, 2013) shines a bit of light on the weather in Whale Cove, Nunavut in January: "The temperature in Whale Cove has been hovering around -53, -56 degrees. It's the kind of cold that freezes your eyelashes and takes your breath away… it would be very easy to injure yourself from mere exposure”.
Figure 2. A street in Iqaluit, Nunavut during a snow storm in September 2014.
The North as Difference (from the South)
Another common thread when it came to content on blogs written by Southerners based in Nunavut focused on what it was like to live in Nunavut, and particularly how it was different to live in Nunavut. Blogs like "Townie Bastard” habitually update a post answering frequently asked questions about living in the north compared with the south (July 11, 2010), while other blogs such as "Chilling in Nunavut” seem, especially in their early posts, particularly dedicated to isolating and exploring the ways in which northern life is different from life in central and southern Canada.
Common differences about the north that are noted by these bloggers include the more relaxed work place and casual style of dressing, the small town feel of the hamlets where everyone knows everything about each other, and the need to feel connected to other people to combat the feeling of isolation that the cold and darkness can create (Jeka of Nunavut, September 24, 2012).
The Cost of Survival/The Struggle to Survive
Somewhat related to the ways in which Nunavut was different, a common narrative among blogs were posts on the cost of living up north. Issues such as the high cost of food and clothing, and the challenges of finding items up north are often discussed. From "Townie Bastard”:
Things are expensive. A case of a dozen Pepsi is about $15. A large bag of chips is $6. A smallish honeydew is about $10. Gas is about $1.20 a litre. A mechanic will run about $100 an hour…There is that shock the first time you walk into Arctic Ventures or North Mart (July 11, 2010).
Less common, but sometimes discussed are issues of a more political nature, such as food insecurity (residents not being able to afford adequate amounts of food) and the housing crisis in the territory. "Chilling in Nunavut” wrote a post entitled "Feeding the North” to explore the issue of food insecurity and the difficulties of surviving in Nunavut with the high cost of living:
What is most shocking is throwing in cost of living and how many people in Nunavut are considered living in poverty and/or going hungry. The average family in the territory getting social assistance is looking at under $20,000 per year and that is to pay for rent, food, utilities...it's a horrible state of affairs in our very own backyard (June 12, 2012).
Finally, most of the blogs featured at least one post and references to internet use and options – perhaps not surprisingly, since blogging involves being online. Internet was referred to as being a life-saver, an important way in which relations with those far from Nunavut could be maintained, an essential feature in not feeing homesick. However, the Southerner blogs also noted the cost of internet, the limited amount of bandwidth, the unreliability of the services, the slowness of the service, and the limitations that these internet issues impose on the ability to surf, download, and upload. Of course, it falls on a scale; for those who have been in Nunavut for longer periods of time, there was less complaining about internet in their content when compared with those who had more recently come from the south – most likely because for the latter, there is a sharper awareness of what is possible in other parts of the country. "My Nunavut Adventure” recounts an experience of losing internet services and the sense of Nunavut's "remoteness":
I always wonder what would happen if I were in Iqaluit when the world came to an end. Morbid and strange, I know. I imagine we would drown if it were water and ice that would take us down…Today, Northwestel's service went down, I'm not sure why or how but it resulted in an interesting day. Our debit machines went down, our atm's (sic), internet, telephones and cells went down. We have been able to use land lines to call local numbers but we have lost all contact with the outside world (Davis, October 8, 2011).
It is interesting to note here the connection made between being able to communicate, being in contact with the "outside world” and feeling comfortable, and how the precariousness of the communications in the territory can lead to feelings of uncertainty and discomfort.
Some Thoughts on Blog Content and Continuity
What perhaps struck me most when thinking about the narratives produced by these blogs is that the main narrative threads discussed above echo, and have clear counterparts in both popular and academic accounts written in the late 19th and early 20th century by Arctic explorers and adventurers such as Agnes Dean Cameron, Alexander Mackenzie and John Rae. The adventurer accounts also focus on journeys, in some cases almost exclusively – the physical journey for many of them, was the entire point of going north. And yet, the process of getting there is still something that is given attention and in both cases, there is the sense that going north, undertaking the adventure of travelling to the Arctic region, is one worthy of its own framed narrative, a story worth sharing.
These earlier accounts also focus on the weather, the cold, the harsh terrain, the difficulties of surviving, and the differences of living up north (Cameron 1909; Rae 2012; Mackenzie 2012). Many things have, of course, have shifted; instead of being about the need to hunt and conserve food and fuel, blogs discuss the need to conserve water and bandwidth; the older accounts focus on the difficulties of finding places to camp and the advantages that the canoe offers in moving from one community to another, while the newer accounts talk about housing shortages and the value the internet offers for staying connected to communities of family and friends. In noting these similarities, I suggest that the blog content written by Southerners in Nunavut show a continuity of thought with long-standing ideas about the north, particularly in imagining the north as fascinating and as exotic.
Figure 3. Landscape outside of Iqaluit.
Both Edward Said and Stuart Hall have discussed the idea of understanding, conceiving and constructing a place (The Orient, "The Rest”) through the imagination of the West (Said 1978; Hall 1992). In applying this work to the relationship between southern Canada and Nunavut, one can see the north as a kind of Orient, an other that frightens and fascinates, that defines who we are by telling us who we believe we are not. Elana Wilson Rowe points out that the Arctic is often depicted as a site of instability, stating: "In popular media, the Arctic is often portrayed as a zone of potential conflict” (2012, p. 232). In its foreign-ness, in its far-ness, in its unknown-ness, the north is sometimes seen as an Other, and as such is the site of adventure, a space for exploration, a place upon which Western modes of knowing must be imparted so that its danger can be controlled. Perhaps that is why there are still tensions over who has rightful claim to the north and its resources (Steinburg 2010); perhaps that is why there is a growing desire for tourists to explore the far north (Gyimόthy & Myletun, 2004, p. 870); perhaps that is why the blogs I am examining write so much about what it is like to live there. Daniel Francis, in his book National Dreams on Canadian identities writes about the north and the Canadian imagination: "North is an idea, not a location; a myth, a promise, a destiny” (1997, p. 152).
Figure 4. A photograph taken inside Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, Nunavut.
Comparing the works of adventurers and explorers to these blogs may well raise the ire of some readers. There are notable differences, which I recognize. But I would propose that the similarities that can be seen between earlier publications and current blogs are still worthy of being noted, particularly because of these differences. The persistence of certain tropes regarding northern life, and what is seen as being interesting about northern life from the perspective of southern readers and writers, suggest that these tropes, and how the north is seen by Southerners is deeply ideological, politicized – and so even as north and south change, even as the contents of categories (such as the journey) shift in meaning and experience, the categories persist.
If content provided a way to gain some sense of what these blogs contain, we are brought to the questions: how are these blogs produced? And how can these practices articulated by bloggers be seen and understood as specific to Nunavut? In the following pages, I will be exploring four blogging practices that emerged from the interviews conducted with bloggers and engagement with the selected blogs: practices of conservation; practices of planning ahead; practices of community building; and practices of writing the north from the north.
Practices of Conservation
All eight interviewees said that keeping in contact with their families and friends in the south was the primary reason that they had started a blog. But why blogging, and not simply using the telephone or Skype? For Elaine, who has been living in Nunavut for almost two years, blogging was about keeping in contact with the widest circle of people as possible in a manner that conserved the most bandwidth and time:
"When we first moved, I in particular was really homesick, so we were Skyping often with our loved ones at home and that was sucking up a lot of bandwidth. Having the blog and the way to post videos and stuff like that helps because it all kind of does that at once instead of multiply times and that has really curtailed our bandwidth use as well.” (personal communication, September 5, 2013).
Said Adam about the value offered by the blog: "You can share photos and thoughts with family and friends, and it's a minimal cost, in terms of bandwidth. Because of course, if you go over the bandwidth cap here, you either have to deal with having dial-up internet for the rest of the month, which you can do very little with, or you can buy another gig for like $20” (personal communication, October 8, 2013).
Blogging then, was a practice of conservation for the bloggers that I interviewed –a means of conserving their time and energy, in terms of having to only post once for everyone. And perhaps most importantly, blogging was a tool for communicating in a way that conserved bandwidth, a priority that is specific to internet usage in Nunavut, because of the limited amounts of bandwidth available in the territory, its high cost to the end user and the usage caps that the bloggers must be wary of when going online and using the internet in Nunavut.
These practices of conservation are hardly limited to internet; on the contrary, the bloggers I spoke emphasized that moving to Nunavut has entirely changed their approach to a number of resource beyond bandwidth, with fuel and water cited as the areas where they had experienced the most change. Says Mike about how living in the north has made him more cautious when it comes to resources, particularly water:
I can't wait to go home [to southern Ontario] and stand in front of the toilet all day and flush it. One of things that living up here has certainly taught us is that certain things that you wouldn't necessarily consider luxurious, change. So the amount of water you go through…you run into situations where we ask, do we shower or do laundry, but we don't have water for both... (personal communication, September 5, 2013).
Practices of Preparation and Planning
In the interviews I conducted, 7 out of the 8 described internet in Nunavut as being unreliable, using descriptions such as "always dropping off”, "inconsistent” and "not working from time to time.” Marie, who works as a nurse in the territory said that one of the main problems she faces in the using the internet is often losing the connection. As she describes it: "Most times, it's about 50 percent, you want to open something, and you can't. It's very slow. It'll keep hooking off, losing the connection” (personal communication, September 10, 2013).
Living with internet that was unreliable, that could not be counted on to work, and which was slow has led to many of my interviewees coming up with different ways of maintaining their blogs. James, who often travels for work, writes his articles for the week, and then queues up them up if he knows that he is going to be away, in recognition of the fact that he knows that internet availability and reliability can vary from one day to another (personal communication, October 16, 2013). Laura often waits till she is visiting the south before doing any major changes to her blog, saying: "I have a picture heavy blog, and sometimes it'll take me two or three hours to upload six photos into Wordpress, and that's with them shrunk...to actually open up the post and upload the photos it takes so much time, it takes hours instead of minutes down south” (personal communication, October 3, 2013).
These practices of planning and preparing when it comes to blogging are particularly interesting, highlighting a way in which internet in Nunavut has created a type of internet usage that does not fit with the more prevalent academic and public conversations about internet. Whereas internet has often been talked about in terms of spontaneity, in terms of thoughtless posting and immediate gratification (Virilio 2000), the practices of planning and preparing as articulated by bloggers in Nunavut illustrate that internet experience, and blogging experiences are specific to the circumstances of the blogger. In places where the internet is reliable and fast, perhaps blogging and posting become activities associated with speed and spontaneity. But in Nunavut, a degree of planning and preparation is required for the blogger who wants to blog according to a set schedule.
As with conservation, and related to it, being prepared in advance was something that interviewees said had become part of their regular offline practices as well, making sure to have extra food, bottles of water, batteries, and candles in case of power outages, timed blackouts or a blizzard. An entry in "The Blog Bog of the Tundra" describes some of the thoughts that went through the blogger's mind when it was announced that there might be a blackout:
I could lose Internet and possibly phone service this coming week... It also means there could be problems with the debit/credit system at the store…Hmmm. Better stock up on food…(Jennith, October 16, 2010).
Blogging as a Practice of Community Building
After keeping in contact with family and friends in the south, one of the other main reasons cited for blogging was its value as a tool in connecting with other Southerners who were living in Nunavut. Adam stated that other Nunavut bloggers were a major audience of Nunavut blogs, saying: "The way things are connected here, there so few Nunavut blogs, so we actively seek them out, and most blogs have a bit of a blog roll of every Nunavut blog, so a lot of it is, because there are so few bloggers, it connects people dotted across the north, and we follow everybody” (personal communication, October 8, 2013).
Laura spoke at length about how blogging led to her being part of a community of bloggers:
"I went on a trip to the Yukon this summer and it was meeting up of blogging friends, three of them I had never met in person... And that was a way to not feel isolated…because it's kind of an ex-pat experience when you live in Nunavut"(personal communication, October 3, 2013).
In Nunavut, which has 30,0000 people, living in 25 communities spread out over more than 800,000 square kilometres, blogging can act as a conscious practice of trying to let others know of your presence in the territory – an example perhaps of how internet usage, as Slater and Barry suggest, is not only culturally constituted, but can change the social (2005, p. 6) by providing a new means for people across the territory to (virtually and sometimes physically) meet. The idea of blogging as community building is reinforced when one looks at the comment sections of the blogs examined: many of the comments are made by the blogger's family and friends, from fellow Southerners in Nunavut - and many of them are made by other Southerner bloggers in Nunavut. For example, responding to a post of a photograph of the Northern Lights on the blog "All of it or Nunavut,” Sarah from the Southerner blog "Sarah on the Road” writes: "This is such a cool project!!! how did you get involved in it... how exciting!! Looking forward to following along. :) Sarah” (February 21, 2014).
The idea of blogs as a practice of community building has been discussed in the work of Paul Hodkinson in his research on the Goth community (2007). Hodkinson found that while blogs allowed for "individual distinctiveness within everyday communications” (p.645), they also acted as a means for those who felt an affinity with each other, to communicate and strengthen relationships (p.644). As noted by Laura, blogging in Nunavut is often used to locate a specific kind of person – the ex-pat, the other Southerner. This made me wonder about the potential divide that might be present in communities between Inuit and Southerners, and while most of those I interviewed were emphatic in saying that they had good friends from both groups, Marie offered a distinct answer that perhaps betrays some of the enduring racism that some Southerners can have towards Inuit: "It's not like it's divided, but we know that we're so different from each other that we're not going to socialize."(personal communication, September 10, 2013). To be clear, Marie's views were certainly not the expressed norm among those I interviewed.
Blogging as a practice of community building can therefore be understood as embedded within the specificities of Nunavut, emerging from the desire to form friendships to fend off feelings of isolation, to find others within the vastness of the territory, as well as potentially being influenced by some of the social and cultural tensions within communities, with Southerners sometimes looking to build friendships, and seek out those perceived as culturally kindred.
Blogging as a Practice of Writing the North in the North
Though most of the bloggers that I spoke with blogged specifically about what it is like to live in Nunavut, one of the interviewees, James, who though originally from the south has lived in Nunavut for over ten years, got into blogging because of his hobbies. He replied, when asked how he first got interested in blogging:
Well, cooking, I suppose. I initially started, I wanted to do reviews…and it just came to me, I should do a blog, and then it expanded…and somebody suggested that I do something about northern life up here, so I started doing articles about that (personal communication, October 16, 2013).
James's quote is interesting because it highlights something that all the other interviewees mentioned – the intense interest from their audience, particularly their audience based in the south, in knowing what is was like to live in Nunavut, so that even blogs like James', whose original mandate was to focus on a hobby, had woven in elements focusing on life in Nunavut, to satisfy the interest of southern readers. In reading the blogs, the main comments from those who did not appear to be friends or family of the blogger or fellow bloggers, seemed to come from those fascinated by the north. On the blog "Mary of Baffin Island,” in response to a 2013 post on a National Park, a commentator named Nicole wrote: "Hi, I just stumbled across your blog and am mesmerized by the incredible beauty of the area. Spending time in the Arctic is on my wish list…” (November 20, 2013). This interest in the north from the audience can be connected to a practice I have termed "writing the north in the north” – or that is, a practice of using the north as a subject for blogging, and in that way, participating in the imagining and re-imagining of narratives about the region.
Adam, who has lived in Nunavut for the last twenty years, like James, focuses his blog less on how Nunavut is different from living elsewhere and more on his interests, which include bird watching. His original impetus to start a blog was because of an interest he had in woodpeckers, but when he started posting, found that his blog readers had other interests that they articulated to him through emails and comments. Adam said: "I found that there was a huge interest in north, lots of fascination on how we lived here” (personal communication, October 8, 2013).
Adam has lived in Nunavut long enough to witness the phenomena of Southerner blogging, something that he feels is motivated by people coming up, being blown away and excited about the difference between life in the north and life in the south, and wanting to share that with friends and whoever else wants to read, but according to Adam, "the longer they stay, the more likely it is that the blogs will go dead, as they get used to living up here” (personal communication, October 8, 2013). Adam's point seemed to echo what I discovered when searching for blogs written in Nunavut – the ones that had a short life span were those from Southerners who were primarily writing about the Nunavut and northern life; the ones with a longer life span, of five years and longer, seemed less geared towards a southern audience and their interests, and more engaged with a particular interest of the blogger – which is to stay, the longer the blogger was in the place (Nunavut), the less the blog was about the place. Elaine echoed this point, saying: "We blog less now then when we first got here. Some days we just don't have much to say, other than... "it's still really cold. Yup. Still cold." (personal communication, September 5, 2013).
All the bloggers I interviewed had found that their readers came from all over the world – the biggest audiences were in North America, but there was also substantial interest from the United Kingdom, Australia, China and India. Laura said that she is not quite sure why people are interested, and sometimes she forgets the public nature of the blog until she hears from a reader:
People have read and actually emailed me from Israel, Australia, Sweden, England, and a couple of other random countries… I get about 2-3 emails a month from random people asking questions about living in the north, about what life is life…(personal communication, October 3, 2013).
In remarking on the audience interest in living about the north, the bloggers noted that blogging about the north has become a part of how they conceive their blogs – as a space to share experiences, ideas and perspectives of the north while in the north. This is one of the only production practices that is evident to the reader of these blogs, as it affects the onscreen content. But what it suggests, in referencing the earlier discussion of southern constructions and imaginations of the north, is that blogging as a practice is part of the process of constructing in bloggers and their readers the idea that the north is a place of intrinsic fascination, a subject for their gaze and narration.
I began with the question of what continuities with cultural forms might emerge when a media practice is situated within a specific social and cultural context – in this case, blogging in Nunavut. In Nunavut, bandwidth conservation can be seen as part of the greater need in the Arctic to be consistently mindful of resources; online practices of planning ahead can be related to the necessity for those living in the Arctic to be prepared to face the unexpected because of the unpredictability of conditions in the north; community building online can be tied to the wider desire of Southerners to cultivate friendships and relationships to combat the sense of isolation that some feel, particularly when first moving north; and writing the north from the north online can be contextualized within the long-standing offline history of viewing northern life as exotic and intrinsically interesting.
And yet, I want to be cautious in seeing the ways in which the specific practices of blogging in Nunavut have developed in relation to the cultural circumstances ensconcing bloggers. These are somewhat easy ties to make, and yet I run the risk of suggesting that blogging practices had to develop this way because of environmental and cultural factors surrounding the bloggers. I do not think that the blogging practices specific to Nunavut had to develop as they have; though there are certainly some influences from the technological, infrastructural, political, cultural, economic and geographic environments, I would argue that there are likely a multiplicity of factors that have led to the developments of these practices, including the agency of the actors. I have chosen to focus on certain cultural practices and conditions, but am hardly arguing that that is all there is to the story.
Kareena Coelho is a PhD Student in the department of
Media and Communications
at Goldsmiths, University of London
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