Contexts, Technologies, and World Cups

[ NB :: this post is a bit more personal than the usual fare; feel free to take it or leave it... ]

In a certain sense, I neurotically measure phases of my life through the cycles of the World Cup. I vividly remember watching Maradona in 1986, at 12 years old. And I'll never forget watching Roberto Baggio, after a stellar tournament, sky the ball over the crossbar in the penalty shootout of the 1994 final, gifting the cup to Brazil.

The shifts in contexts and technologies between the 2006 tournament and the current 2010 edition are particularly striking for me, mainly because I research such things and am passionate about world football. If I say that the technologies are strikingly different, the statement will resonate with most, and I'll discuss that in more detail below. But reflecting on shifting contexts is a much more personal and situated matter, simply because, as I said above, I tend to measure important phases of my life by the cycles of World Cup qualifying and the tournament itself...


I want to start, then, by exploring the contexts a bit. In the summer of 2006, I was living in El Paso, Texas, running a regional office of a Fortune 100 financial services firm. I was also about to make the transition from working in finance, an industry where I had spent the previous 8 years, to full time doctoral studies in Rhetoric and Writing. It was an exciting and anxiety-filled time simultaneously.

In June of 2006, my financial advisor colleagues and I moved the lone, ancient TV/VCR combo we had used very sparingly for training purposes into the conference room of our downtown office in order to watch nearly every moment of the group stage matches that took place during business hours. With no cable or satellite connection, we used the TV's built-in rabbit ears to fine tune reception of spanish language broadcasts of every match available.

There were several occasions when everything stopped. 6 or 7 of us, wearing expensive suits and silk ties, huddled around a 13" screen watching Sweden play Paraguay or France v. Switzerland.

During the knockout stage, my context shifted again, as my family and I made a trip to Las Vegas for the 4th of July holiday. In the MGM sportsbook, among hundreds of others (some passionate, some merely interested, some merely gawking at the spectacle), I watched France beat Brazil, and Portugal move past England. I was passionately pulling for France in 2006, mainly because of my love for Zidane, one of the most brilliant players the world has seen.

On July 5th, I stood in the sportsbook—for it was standing room only—and watched France defeat Portugal for a spot in the final. I ultimately watched Italy v. France from the comfort of home on July 9th.

This is just as well. When Zidane was sent off, I was crestfallen. By the time France lost on penalties, I was too numb for the defeat to register.

A few days after the end of the 2006 World Cup—a few days after Italy uglied their way to the world championship—I tendered my resignation (though I retained my advisor's contract for a few more months). The two events are in no manner related, of course, but the timing of the two events helps to sharpen my memory of both.

And here we are in 2010, and my contexts are staggeringly different, though my passion for the World Cup is as fiery as it was in 1986, or 1994, or 2006.

I left finance for good in February of 2007. I went on the academic job market in the fall of 2008—one of the worst years to do so in the last 20. I applied to 42 schools, and saw no less than 7 of them retract positions due to financial unrest.

In 2009 I defended my dissertation, and accepted a wonderful position at Ball State University.

During this 2010 World Cup, my contexts are dramatically different, as I attempt to measure my life via the blurry interstices and intersections of the everyday events that take place between World Cups.


In addition to the stunning differences in my own contexts between 2006 and 2010, I can't help but marvel at the sociotechnical differences as well. During the 2006 World Cup, Facebook still wasn't open to the general public, there were no "apps" for anything (iPhone apps, that is), and Twitter was a sketch on a yellow pad.

In 2006, I watched most of the matches on either a grainy 13" TV with coworkers or multiple outsized Vegas screens with perfect strangers. In neither scenario did I obsessively check my phone (as I do today), and the iPad I now carry, with my 2010 FIFA World Cup app, was something I had not even imagined was possible.

The technical infrastructure of my viewing and monitoring practices are tremendously different (what an understatement). Where 2006 involved repeated, intentional forays in search of matches and in search of communal interest, my 2010 experience is ambient and ubiquitous. ESPN has gone all in with its coverage, attempting to capitalize on growing interest in soccer in the United States.

But the biggest difference technologically (for me, but for a great many others like me) is the mobile device, and the mobility of social ties: as I said above, it's the socio + technical differences between 2006 and 2010 that are particularly striking.


Anonymous said...

The Germans cannot be stopped.

Brian J. McNely said...


In group play, perhaps. They look, as always, extremely impressive. But I don't see them winning it all...

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