Monday, June 30, 2008

Copycat and Mouse Games

Software designed to detect or deter inappropriate acquisition of electronic files has often focused on the products of the lucrative entertainment industry and thus has generally targeted music or video files stored on computer hard drives without the copyright holder's permission. A number of recent high-profile programs, however, are focusing on allegedly pirated text that is oriented toward public rather than private consumption.

For example, a recent article in the Wired Blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Scholarly Publishers Sign On to Plagiarism-Detection Service," describes how the seemingly publicity-ravenous parent company of turnitin.com, iParadisms, is soliciting content from large publishers of multiple scholarly journals, such as Elsevier, Sage, and Wiley Blackwell, in order to prevent authors from submitting content that has previously appeared as the research of others. As this press item from Reuters indicates, the company is still using the fingerprint metaphor to describe their services, which has been a consistent feature of their corporate rhetoric. Of course, the idea of having automated software take the place of the peer-review process that should be spotting familiar scholarship and prose seems to indicate that something has certainly gone awry somewhere in the world of scholarly publishing.

(The iParadigms company is also proud to announce that they can screen admissions essays for universities that don't have other means to gauge authenticity.)

Scholarly journals aren't alone in trying to protect the originality of their content. Popular niche bloggers like The Apostate, the ex-Muslim feminist gadfly, put Copyscape warnings in their blogrolls to notify potential copycats in the blogosphere that their work should not be appropriated by others. After all, Virtualpolitik friend Scott Eric Kaufman of Acephanlous discovered that one of his humorous postings had been plagiarized.

News organizations have also been threatening to police matching text and to follow the lead of the Associated Press in asking bloggers to pay for content that they reproduce. Fellow Sivacracy blogger Ann Bartow doubts that the AP will be able to catch those who appropriate whole paragraphs and argues that it will conversely provide a significant disincentive for bloggers to link back to the original source, so that the news service is even less likely to get credit for their work. (She Bartow's posts on the subject here, and how Siva Vaidhyanathan explains what he sees as a fundamental paradox in the AP's course of action here.) Unfortunately for advocates for fair use, partisan bloggers may choose to out competitors and ideological nemeses. The AP already provides an online form to encourage writers to pay up for reposting; perhaps they will soon post a fink form to maximize this revenue stream.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

When Your Number's Up

This NPR story tells how some psychiatrists and psychologists are arguing that "Internet addiction" should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to categorize mental illnesses in their profession. One of the chief advocates for this change in policy is interviewed in the piece, Dr. Jerald Block. Although Block obviously takes pride in his knowledge of the practices of digital culture, his rhetoric indicates that he may not actually understand the norms of participants as well as he claims. For example, by choosing to EVE Online as an exemplary case of the heartbreak of betrayal, Block shows himself to be a much less knowledgeable gamer than he presents himself to be, since cheating and deception are key parts of the collectively understood rules of a game and much less likely to cause trauma than say, Julian Dibbell's example of a rape in a part of cyberspace that is understood to be nonviolent. "entertainment purposes" and "significant other" To his credit, at least he emphasizes reduction rather than elimination of use.

His argument for the category focuses on institutional discourses about pathological computer use that are taking place in South Korea and China. On his web page, however, his five indicators of compulsive behavior in relation to computer-mediated communication could just as easily be applied to voracious reading, something that literacy advocates would champion rather than condemn:

• Sleep-pattern disturbance (delay of onset)
• Irritability before and after computer use
• Guilt and attempts to hide/purge computer use
• Nightmares and dreams about computer use
• Social avoidance

After all, on this YouTube video I made you can listen to these two children talking about their "addiction" to books.

Digression about my previous life as a state-sponsored creative writer:

As this excerpt shows, I actually wrote about DSM categories in a story called "Mother's Milk" that was published many years ago.

Jeremy covered his eyes. He knew that Esther's sister was a mental case. In and out of hospitals. On and off medication. Very smart, went to the best schools, and good looking enough, but nervous and impulsive and subject to strange maladies. She carried a hardcover DSM IV, the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, with her everywhere she went and could point to a dozen different diagnoses that had been given her. When she talked about how sick she was, she could be almost charming.

The diagnostic numbers were laid out like numbers on a radio dial, as though illnesses were a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The particular part of the illness spectrum that interested her was the numbers between 290 and 319, all the numbers for mental illness. On the imaginary radio dial one of these numbers should have belonged to a classical music station or an all news station. But these were the pirate stations: dangerous, unregulated, inflammatory wavelengths. Nobody knew where the signal was coming from. The doctors said that her number was 300.81. Somatization Disorder. It's the frequency they thought she was tuned to.

A few decades earlier the number would have been 300.1, "hysteria," from the Greek word for womb. The ancients apparently thought that the uterus was a separate organism that could cause mischief when it moved around in the body. Early medical authorities thought that an errant womb could be coaxed higher by foul smelling ingredients in the vagina or lower by foul tasting potions in the mouth. Now, in the days of the DSM-IV, what had once been the whole freak show of female mental illness was reclassified under the less-gendered heading of "somatization disorder.” You could assemble the illness like a recipe from individual symptoms: four pain symptoms, two gastrointestinal symptoms, one sexual symptom, and one pseudoneurological symptom.

If hysteria is now recognized to be a product of the cultural attitudes of a particular period, could Internet addiction, wherever it goes on this spectrum, be equally subject to historical revisionism?

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Kids Say the Darndest Things

I consider my offspring to be basically good kids: they get good grades, they can pay attention for hours at a time at operas and movies with subtitles, and they know not to show disrespect for the profession of teaching.

But they also love having fun with computers. And kids who like to have fun with computers spend a lot of time in school tech labs turning ingeniousness that sadly could have been spent learning programming skills toward how to get around institutional screening software. The main reason is that these programs block access to online games, supposedly in the interest of emphasizing the educational aspects of computer-mediated experiences.

As Mimi Ito has pointed out in her essay on "Education vs. Entertainment: A Cultural History of Children's Software" in the "Hidden Agendas" section of Katie Salen's recent collection, The Ecology of Games, "the politics of enrichment, indulgence, and empowerment" in kids' computer labs often expresses a particular ideology about the "structural opposition" of "education" and "entertainment" as cultural categories. Ian Bogost has argued that the denigration of games also has a lot to do with a particular rhetoric around cultural politics that closely identifies gaming with childish activities and immature time-wasting and refuses to accept games as legitimate cultural products.

Last night the two brothers were reminiscing with each other about their elementary school computer lab exploits and comparing notes on technique. What's interesting is that both of them worked in duos to accomplish their subversive ends, much I suppose as pickpockets work in pairs, in order to have one partner working on distraction while the other executes the exploit. My older son's accomplice was a chess-playing Russian-speaking boy who collected Warhammer figurines. My younger son paired up with a vidogame-playing young Sikh who was the son of an transnational IT professional. In the spirit of collective intelligence, this younger pair also sometimes teamed up with a brace of geek girls pursuing similar undermining of the software.

Older brother described realizing that both the "secret" user name and the password for superceding the system were the same as the name of the elementary school. Younger brother told about how the kids figured out that the post-it note with a three digit code stuck to the tech person's computer contained the key to the lock that they were seeking. They also talked about using "ghost" technologies to mask domain names and compared notes on the tools and techniques from sites like StupidCensorship.com. I also learned about how they accessed "cheat codes" for the timed typing games that are the pedagogical centerpiece of many keyboarding classes for grade-schoolers.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wake Me Up When Dot Virtualpolitik is Available

Perhaps some of the biggest digital rhetoric news this month came in the form of this announcement from ICANN that a number of new URL extensions would be allowed by the Internet's regulatory agency, including heavily lobbied for addresses for European cities, such as .berlin and .paris. Since university librarians often spend time teaching students how to think critically about a website's provenance by using the .org, .com, or .edu extensions as guideposts, the new regulations may make online literacy efforts somewhat more complex. Me, I'm going to start agitating for .supercalifragilisticexpealidocious and .antidisestablishmentarianism, since brevity is apparently no longer important to ICANN planners.

Although the agency has been housed in my local Southern California area for many years, as this photo of their Marina Del Rey facility shows, recent meetings have been taking place in locations abroad, and representatives have taken pains to acknowledge concerns about technical support for languages other than English. To encourage subtitling of their official videos, they even use the dotSUB distributed translation service to solicit user-generated content in other tongues.

On the pages about public participation on ICANN site, you can learn about "domain tasting" (which is okay) and "domain squatting" (which is bad). Unfortunately, readers can also see that the site will no longer publish complaints about the .pk registry of Pakistan, in a move that some may see as a quashing of protest or normative claims.

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Extra! Extra! State of California Tells Teens to Dispense with Heavy and Boring Books

Librarians! Look away!



Or listen in horror as the teen burdened with a lot of embarrassing and socially awkward books makes the following exclamation about a video displayed on a handheld device: "Oh man, that's cool! Looks like a videogame!" His blond female friend who thinks that he has been wasting his time at the library also persuades him not to worry about books written by "experts" and discounts his skepticism about how things online could not be "real."

This video, designed to promote the California Department of Motor Vehicle's YouTube channel, has a number of lessons that I suspect the state's Department of Education would rather not have young people learn.

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Mail Order Pride

Perhaps even more so than other sectors of the economy, traditional department store and catalogue businesses have been transformed by the Internet. In their search for viral marketing to youth audiences, some chains have allowed for the dissemination of titillating digital materials to niche markets on the assumption that it will not disrupt their traditional core businesses. This NPR Marketplace story describes the potential costs and benefits to JC Penney of this YouTube video that seems to indicate approval for underage sexual activity in the spot before their corporate logo appears. What's interesting to me rhetorically is how the print materials associated with the Penney's brand have also managed to become Internet memes, as in the case of this regrettable seventies catalogue.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Twitty Comeback

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm no fan of Twitter, the manic microblogging application that has become popular among the digerati, which I think ranks up there with live blogging as a rhetorically bad cyber-habit that is symptomatic of what Ian Bogost has called "the membership economy." I'll admit to being a pretty regular updater of my Facebook status and have even used my cell phone in the line for the ladies room for that purpose. (One of my favorite status lines was "Elizabeth would rather read newspapers and feel bad about the world than read magazines and feel bad about herself.") But the whole Twitter thing about following and being followed I just don't get.

However, that doesn't mean that I'm immune to the idiocy in the stream of mainstream media clichés in a recent article about Twitter in the San Jose Mercury News, "We're connecting -- and wasting time -- on Twitter." It's remarkable to see so many Web 2.0 stereotypes trotted out in such a formulaic fashion. So, in response, I've created the following Madlib-style template to help other reporters generate stories. Excerpts from the article are below, so that prospective technology writers can see a model of how to apply the boilerplate.

[Anything but the first-person or third person singular] are crazy about [technology x]

In recent years, there has been a lot of "you" and "we" and "us" on magazine covers about Web 2.0. The reporter's "we" title makes us feel like we're all in the know.

[Technology x] is [word meaning "banal"].

Some have called Twitter "the 'Seinfeld' of the Internet - a Web site about nothing." And at first glance, this micro-blogging tool that connects users around the world through short bursts of real-time text messages can seem mindlessly superficial.

"just ate a great burrito," types one Twitterer.

"time for a nap," says another.

[Technology x] is [word meaning "addictive"]

Critics say Twitter, which can be accessed by computer, instant messaging, PDAs and cell phones, is prone to system crashes, has yet to show how it will turn a profit, and seduces its addicted users into unproductive dead zones - "a time-suck" says one critic, "for those not able to stay away."

But don't tell that to the users - 1.2 million unique visitors in May, by one account - who have embraced the 2-year-old tool and use it to trade sports scores, organize protests and even hire new employees. Many who try Twitter are smitten.

'I was hooked'

"Once I figured out how to filter through all the content, I was hooked," said Christine Perkett, a mother of two using Twitter to trade parenting tips on everything from Montessori schools to the most absorbent diapers. "As your Twitter network expands, you really start to learn from these other parents."

[Technogy x] is transforming the way we communicate

"It's nowhere near mainstream," says Rodney Rumford, whose "Definitive Guide to Twitter" is about to be published. "But it represents a fundamental shift in the way people communicate. Just like blogging changed the way people share information, Twitter does that, too."

[Technogy x] is [words to express in the vaguest possible terms that something is potentially economically promising]

Founder Dorsey won't say how many users Twitter has or how it plans to make money. Revenue could come from ads, which Twitter is now testing on its popular Japanese site. While assessments differ widely, Nielsen/NetRatings estimated there were more than a million unique visitors to Twitter.com in May. And while that's a drop in the bucket compared with the 26 million visitors to Facebook in the same month, Twitter's traffic has more than doubled since March.

[and yet capable of destroying the social fabric with narcissism]

Yet the same qualities that draw some people to become obsessive Twitterers can drive others crazy. Scott Karp, a well-known media-tech blogger, describes Twitter as a "massive waste of time" and "the temptation to Tweet for the sake of Tweeting is way too high."

Others point out that the tool, along with lesser-known competitors like Pownce and Jaiku, can be easily abused by self-promoters, aggressive marketers and online ego-trippers trying to build a bigger network than the next guy.

"Some users are actually competing for followers," says Rod Bauer, 53, a marketing consultant who works out of his sailboat in Sausalito. "They're either celebrities or they're promoting their own businesses. It can get a bit tiresome, but it's part of the culture.

[Technogy x] was started by two (or three) young guys in their garage

That culture was born in early 2006 at podcasting service Odeo, where Dorsey worked with blogging pioneer Biz Stone, now 34 and Twitter's co-founder and creative director. Brainstorming new ideas, Stone said he and Dorsey, "let our minds drift a bit. What if we could reduce some of the functions of the social-network sites, like journaling, but make it less verbose and more lightweight?"

Simplify, they thought. Write code that would allow users to post "status messages" online or with their phones "and you could access them anytime and anywhere and find out what your friends were up to," Stone says. They ran the idea by Nebraska native Evan Williams, now Twitter's chief product officer, who had worked with Stone at Google before starting up Odeo. Williams gave the green light, says Stone, so "we built a prototype in two weeks and let our friends try it. Everyone liked it. The immediacy of it really clicked with people."

In early 2007, they formed Twitter with the help of venture-capital and other investors.

(Thanks to Jenny Cool for the link and the observation about its by-the-numbers composition.)

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Best Web Generator Ever


Okay, Tell Zell: Go Down in Flames, Hack!* may be the most wonderful online form that I have ever encountered, since it combines two of my favorite obsessions: 1) web generators and 2) the stupidity of the managers of The Los Angeles Times. From, "Ink-Stained [W]Retch," it provides an electronic form letter for writers wishing to resign from the Times in rhetorical style. (Click to enlarge.) I particularly like that the subject line reads "You Mean Twisted Leprechaun" in the resulting e-mail document that is addressed to the current head of the newspaper, who is known for his four-letter vocabulary and contempt for public service journalism.

Thanks to the little bird who sent out the link, who may -- or may not -- still be working for The Los Angeles Times.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

View Changes

As an example of sustained close reading that would make any rhetorical scholar proud, check out Steven Poole's "Virtually on parity," which methodically tracks changes made to a corporate PR document that was intended to dispel myths and make comprehensible "Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista." Given the joking equivalence of "bug" and "feature" in geek culture, as this cartoon shows, even the present title may still be unfortunate.

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Call Center

Looking at the website of the Republican National Committee, it is striking to see the position that talk radio takes, where Democratic sites might be linking to online networking resources. True believers are encouraged to "Get the word out by calling local radio shows & promote the GOP."

Of course, the GOP also has its own YouTube channel. Today's the deadline to enter their big video contest, where viewers are encouraged to submit a video profiling "an American neighbor" who "epitomizes selflessness in service to a cause greater than self." Members of the military, emergency first responders, religious leaders, and teachers are all suggested possible categories.

The RNC site links to MeetBarackObama.com, which includes references to "Dr. NOBama" and plugs for a widget that counts up for the "Days Since Barack Obama Visited Iraq."

Unlike the candidate's actual campaign site, the RNC seems to provide no online games to appeal to younger voters. (For those who haven't seen McCain's "Pork Invaders" game on Facebook, reviews are here, here and here. It's a pretty boring app; I deleted it almost as soon as I added it.)

From looking at source code of both the RNC and the DNC sites, it's interesting to note that both parties use Urchin software from Google Analytics.

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A Page Turner



When I first heard about the e-book reader prototype developed by the University of Maryland at College Park and the University of California at Berkeley, descriptions of how it could "simulate turning the pages of a book" or "mimic turning book pages" in The Chronicle of Higher Education made me concerned that this would be little more than a variant of the ridiculous Turning the Pages software in use at many museums and libraries. What turns out to be more promising about this project, however, is the fact that they seem to have actually thought about interface design. (For a humorous take on the assumed user-friendliness of print culture, see this YouTube video "Introducing the Book.")

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

One Stop Photoshopping



These quick cuts about short cuts with the keyboard interface to Photoshop are interesting in that mastery of typing takes precedence over virtuosity with the mouse. Of course, I'm spending a lot of my summer with Deke McClelland anyway, thanks to an online course, so I personally might rather take it slow.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fan Male

Images on the World Wide Web such as the one above seem to indicate that Alice Robison isn't alone when she posts blog entries like "I Heart Paul Dourish" about UC Irvine Informatics professor Paul Dourish.

I've served on committees with Dourish and think Where the Action Is is a good read, but I probably couldn't tell you his height, weight, or eye color. Have I missed something about my supposed heartthrob colleague?

So, the follow-up question might be: what is a rhetorician supposed to make of this kind of online profession of fandom among self-described academics? Is it a violation of scholarly decorum and gravitas or is it a kind of new celebratory genre that's completely appropriate to the prosumer ethos being manifested in the broader culture?

After all, Henry Jenkins says unapologetically that he is an "aca-fan," and academics who use Facebook show their fandom for famous dead philosophers, theoretical schools, university presses, bands, or sports teams all the time.

On the other hand, traditionalists might argue that these kinds of emotional display show that the idea of the academic "star" is being taken too literally or that this digital commodification of a personality by faculty and graduate students is not becoming that different from the trivialization of academic work that comes into play when undergraduates give chili peppers for "hotness" on a ratemyprofessors profile.

For the meantime, my impulse would be not to judge and simply to observe how these discourse practices are taken (0r not taken) as conventions among those who take themselves to be part of the scholarly tribe. And I say this as someone who has never, ever been given a chili pepper on my ratemyprofessors page.

Update: This item was picked up here in the Wired Campus blog from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Ironically, the writer excerpts my comments so that it is not clear that I am making an argument for critical distance about academic fandom.

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Surviving Bard Times

Some of you may have been following the Arden virtual Shakespeare initiative at Indiana University through some of its struggles, which I also talked about in a recent conference paper, in which I looked closely at questions of literary adaptation as a kind of explanatory device.

This May, project lead Edward Castronova released the following announcement, which seemed to herald good news about a project that many in the serious games community had dismissed as doomed after Castronova publicly admitted to making some "awful mistakes as a manager" on the project.

I'm pleased to announce that the project has come to fruition. With generous support from the MacArthur Foundation, we have created a fun game environment and used it to conduct a month-long experiment. Our experimental question (kept secret up to now) was: Are fantasy game players economically "normal"? Or on the contrary, when they make themselves into elves and dwarves and hobbits, do they stop taking economic decisions seriously? We created two virtual worlds, one an exact copy of the other, except that in the experimental world the price of a simple healing potion was twice as high as in the control. If people are taking prices seriously in this fantasy environment, they should buy fewer of the potions when potions are more expensive. At stake here is the entire idea of using virtual worlds as a Petri dish. If fantasy gamers behave in ways that violate our most basic assumptions of economic normalcy, then it makes no sense to use virtual worlds to study large-scale economic behavior. If, conversely, fantasy gamers seem to be normal economic agents, then perhaps some of the behavior in virtual worlds does indeed generalize to the real world. If so, then we can consider using virtual worlds to conduct controlled experiments at the macro scale of society, where our most pressing problems seem to live (natural resource management, intercultural mistrust, information security, disease). The initial findings of the Arden experiment will be released during the International Communications Association meetings in Montreal next weekend.

It's a fascinating document rhetorically, which is very different from his public mea culpa earlier in the year. The idea that a central research question would be "kept secret up to now" probably sounds strange to most faculty members familiar with the norms of granting agencies, but there is a triumphalism in tone that commonly comes with such press releases (or in this case an announcement on a mailing list), so in many ways it represents a much more conventional form of university rhetoric than some of Castronova's earlier electronic communications.

(Thanks to Peter Krapp for the text. Now that Peter isn't blogging, it's all to easy to cannibalize the material that he disseminates through other channels without giving him proper credit.)

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Hug How-Tos



Having recently attended my nephew's high school graduation, I was struck by the degree to which hugging has become a social norm in Southern California. As graduates lined up for their diploma, they were ceremoniously hugged by an effusive female faculty member, who also adjusted their tassels and handled their timing on the stairs.

On the Internet, there is a lot of advice about the conventions for properly executing various forms of social interaction that may -- or may not -- involve bodily contact, such as these wiki entries on "How to hug" and "How to air kiss." I've written about the rhetoric of online video on the subject of PDA here before, and have even suggested that more digital tutorials on proper cheek kissing might be in order. Note that everything has context, since this Ecuador variant of the infamous "Free Hugs YouTube video comes from a fan of Krav Maga and belly dancing as well.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jane Jacobs Goes to Second Life

Architect David Denton has an interesting answer to a question that has been frequently asked during the past year about the viability of virtual worlds: "Is Second Life empty?" Unlike Virtualpolitik pals Mark Bell and Sarah Robbins who aren't willing to concede the point, based on what they see as the vibrant underground economies and socialities far from high-profile corporate and educational islands, Denton admits that many of the installations that should have more foot traffic are too often deserted. As someone who has actually dealt with zoning issues professionally, Denton takes a Jane Jacobs-y approach to the problem and suggests that there should be more "mixed use development" in Second Life to deal with the problem of vacant monument-scapes.

(If you don't know the work of the person Peter Lunenfeld has described as "an urban saint," check out Jacobs' philosophy of city planning in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which I personally love for its defense of bars, its loathing of child-rearing in the suburbs, and its generous use of information theory.)

In Denton's virtual studio (accessible via this SLURL), he has created a number of original and evocative spaces built with Photoshop's suite of tools, although sometimes he used 3ds Max for his shadow effects. Denton has become an expert in using the affordances (and bugs) of the software running Second Life to create distinctive effects. For example, by placing two different digital planes of visual material in the same virtual space, the data battles for control in ways that form interesting patterns. Although -- as a real-life architect -- Denton often has to be engaged with practical considerations, he described himself as one who builds virtually "without handrails" and sometimes without actual floors.

Right now, you can see a gallery of photographs from New Guinea for which he has mounted a show and another gallery that he created for the paintings of his ninety-six-year-old mother. She's decided that she has no interest in being the "Grandma Moses of Second Life," and instead spends her time in-world as a sixteen-year-old avatar, although she has been known to call for rescue from her son if she finds herself in spaces that are too exotic. Denton's fantastic visuals for an installation of the Purgatorio was closing today, where murderers could be heard justifying themselves in the soundscape of Hell and couples could be seen choosing the top of the stairs where one can wait for God as an opportune site for sexual trysts.

Denton also took me around to a number of interesting builds that he found intriguing as an architect and artist. They included the psychic plumbing of Hangars Liquides, the display of verisimilitude at the Italia Vera reconstruction of the old city center of Turin (but watch out for griefers), the extravagant shopping mall at The Best of SL Boulevard, and the Alice-in-Wonderland scale shifting of The Greenies.

Corporate clients can buy virtual conference centers designed by Denton for global time-shifting employees or clients. Those who think about Second Life as vacation property can also buy one of his gorgeous lofts to erect on their lots, much like the Sears house kits of old.

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Barack Obama Bake-A-Rama

This weekened Moveon.org sponsored Hungry for Change, a series of local bake sales to promote fundraising for presidential candidate Barack Obama that combined traditional home economics with digital grassroots politics. Those interested in attending a bake sale in their neighborhood could use a geographic finder on the website, much as one might search for a local screening of a film.

My colleague Julia Lupton -- who frequently talks about connections between DIY content-creation and computer-mediated knowledge-sharing and product-distribution -- hosted an Obama Bake Sale of her own. Her reflections on the event are here. It's interesting to see how Lupton's daughter appropriated and remixed this Shepard Fairey print, which was available as a digital file online, and created a painting, which was then imprinted on cakes and t-shirts through new forms of distributed printing technologies.

I went to a more local Obama bake sale hosted by friends Susan Gautsch and Ava Arndt. (Ava writes about travel and urbanism in the Eighteenth Century context but is also interested in how her research on trust and credibility in that time period may relate to "Democracy 2.0" movements of the contemporary era. ) This Venice group created a wiki to coordinate donations of baked goods and volunteer labor and shared branding techniques with the Irvine contingent.

What's interesting to me is how both groups chose to eschew the cookie-cutter templates for invitations and plans for staging the event. Moveon.org provided online kits to hosts and encouraged them to use their institutionally sanctioned strategies and markers of authority. I'm sure that the Obama team in turn was also anxious about the efforts of this technically independent PAC, since who knows if cannabis activists might decide to sell some extra special brownies to their customers.

These regulations reminded me of how we once hosted a Democratic party event in our home for the Clinton campaign, the point of which -- as we understood it initially -- was supposed to be having neighbors and friends in to watch the debate. In the pre-World Wide Web era that sounded like a good idea, but we were appalled when the official kit arrived in the mail with suggestions for ridiculous menus (a champagne and lobster brunch) and exorbitant fees to be charged to attendees that violated our sense of hospitality. (And, okay, we were also miffed that the Party wouldn't supply Robert Clinton as our official representative, so we didn't have a humorous celebrity draw.)

We ended up ignoring all the guidelines and hosting a pizza party with no suggested donations or requirement of party affiliation, since we didn't want to snub Republicans who might want to come and watch the TV that we had borrowed for the event. For branding, Mel digitally printed giant Photoshopped images of Clinton and Dole with cauliflower ears and black eyes as if the two candidates had been duking it out more than verbally. Of course, we ended up being one of the top fund-raisers, even for the affluent Westside.

Update: Ava and Julia have written an essay about their experiences here.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Patience Zero

Patient Zero is a new Facebook application from VisualDXHealth that promises the following fun-filled social networking experience to those who add the application:

Patient zero is the epidemiological term for the person linked to the start of an outbreak of a disease.

In Patient Zero, you are this person! You can create a new virus, power it up by answering health questions, and then infect your friends. Patient Zero lets you watch as the outbreak evolves and spreads.

- Create a virus and power it up by answering a series of questions related to infectious diseases. The more questions answered correctly, the harder it will be for those infected to cure themselves.
- Infect your friends but watch out because they can do the same!
- Vaccinate yourself against viruses in the clinic by answering a series of questions.
- Using our map, you can see how your virus has spread and can compare the evolution of your creation with your friends’.

In Patient Zero, you gain points by creating, transmitting, and vaccinating viruses.


After all, nothing says "fun" more to young people than answering questions about infectious diseases! I want to ask all of my friends to join! For more digital jollies, the company makes various cancer widgets for your desktop.

This press release tries to explain the game's rationale: "Competition and creativity are key elements of Patient Zero, but knowledge and curiosity to learn are what power it." Yes. Competition, creativity, knowledge, and curiosity would all be best exercised by such an amusement.

Frankly, making your friends answer questions in an online quiz is just not such a cool thing to do for laughs (or revenge cackles) in an online game. It's not like towing their virtual car or biting their virtual zombie or anything else really very transgressive. If you could go in and crash their computer systems (with the understanding that they could go crash yours back), then they might have something.

I'm sort of fascinated with the idea of the worst Facebook app ever, especially since there are so many bad apps already, but I wonder what the creators were thinking. Would I think that senior citizens would want to play a form of bridge designed to teach them about elder abuse? Should I recommend to my seventy-five-year-old father that he might dig a special variant of poker from which he can learn about heart disease?

Of course not. We know that no one would want to play those games; we recognize traditional card games as part of a social activity involving interaction with one's peers; and we realize that the games would be made worse by adding a layer of preachiness. So why assume that young people would be any more willing to give their time to such a "game"? Even if it was a self-paced game like retirement-planning solitaire, no sensible oldster would give it the time of day.

Update: Ian Bogost has more about the game here.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Suspended Animation

The death of a political website is always a strange spectacle, although Hillary Clinton will obviously preserve her domain name, since she likely continues to have ambitions for higher office that will last until long after the 2008 campaign season. Right now her website is in a strange state of suspended animation, despite Barack Obama's clinching of the nomination. The masthead still reads "Hillary for President," although the splash page says to "Support Senator Obama Today."

In viral political video, we see the Zeitgeist of feminist supporters supposedly moving from anger to irony.

Before:



After:




Note how the first video switches from the genre of the news montage to the genre of the Ken Burns effect music video, while the second uses the popular "fake news" format.

As a rhetorician, I am often interested in who makes a given online video and why. Videos circulate and appear in new contexts; links are e-mailed; content is embedded. Those who made the video may have agendas about self-promotion as well as protest. See the origins of the "Mad as Hell/Bitch" video here. More about Sarah Haskins of the Target Women videos is here.

Links to videos from supercool feminist law professor Ann Bartow.

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Viralling Out of Control



This parodic video, which is also available at the I'm Voting Republican website, has garnered over two million views. I found myself more interested in the behind-the-scenes story of the people at Synthetic Human Pictures who produced it. Unlike traditional media production companies that general avoid a partisan profile that might cut into their client base, a number of digital video start-ups are achieving name recognition by doing political viral videos. Although they lack a demo reel or samples from commercial clients, Synthetic Human is using the election as a way to "make rain" for their small company.

Thanks to Ted Striphas for the link.

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Campaign Rhythms and Algorithms

I haven't plugged techPresident for a while, although a lot has changed in the possible line-up for November, since I said that I wanted a digital rights candidate two years ago. Of course, techPresident is really about elections, while Virtualpolitik is also about governance, as well as what Foucault called "governmentality," but I've added them to my blogroll, since they have presented a great run of stories about how the candidates are using Web 2.0 in recent months.

For example, they noted that Barack Obama notified campaign supporters about his controversial decision not to take public financing by directing them in a mass e-mail to the following YouTube clip. The rhetoric of this footage is interesting, particularly for a candidate mostly known for being captured in signature moments set at noisy rallies. In contrast, this online video uses many of the intimate characteristics of the more confessional vlog genre: the second-person address, the unartful cut to a closer-up close-up, and the bad atmospheric sound. Nonetheless, the flag and blue velvet drapes in the background signal the message's official character.



Those at techPresident have also reported on how Open Left is engaged with a project called Searching for John McCain that is designed to move negative results about the Republican nominee farther up Google's ranking of search results with somewhat more sophistication and less juvenile humor than the Google bomb that linked the phrase "Miserable Failure" to the sitting Republican George W. Bush.

They've also been active in promoting the Personal Democracy Forum taking place in New York City, which may be one "PDF" worth opening. This year's theme is "Rebooting the System," and many of the speakers are challenging the conventional suspicion of government that has been a characteristic of many aspects of Internet culture for years. (In Geert Lovink's "Twilight of the Digirati" in Dark Fiber, he also attacks this "cyber-libertarian ideology" that has asserted that "the state is the main enemy of the Internet and that only market forces can create a decentralized communication system.") For example Matthew Burton holds forth in "Why I Help 'The Man'" about the virtues of government service.

PDF is even hosting a McCain-Obama debate on Twitter (via proxies from each campaign). After all, Twitter itself has parodied Obama and McCain as if they were using the service for a while.

Thanks to Cécile Grégoriadès, who is reporting on the conference, for the link.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Army of Documentarians

Today's online New York Times features a video called "A Day of Weddings in California" by Virtualpolitik pal documentary filmmaker Gina Levy. Too often the model for digital video to be incorporated into an online newspaper is "news at eleven" style television, which takes Fox-style coverage of car chases and safety scares and grafts it onto journalism oriented around print. It's interesting to think that the Times may have realized that there is an army of trained documentary filmmakers who could be put into service, who might bring a profoundly different look, feel, and viewpoint to online news.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Know about the Internet. Does This Mean I Can Be President?

There's an interesting competition going on between the candidates about who is more computer savvy, which some have charged is actually a form of covert ageism on the part of the Obama campaign.

McCain's difficulty with using the neologism "Google" properly in a sentence recently made him seem out of touch with the search habits of his constituency. A Huffington Post item quoted McCain as follows: "We're going through a process where you get a whole bunch of names, and ya ... Well, basically, it's a Google," McCain said. "You just, you know, what you can find out now on the Internet. It's remarkable, you know." In many ways, McCain's misuse of the article sounds worse than Bush's comments on "the Google," and McCain's admission that he is "illiterate" in computer matters and must depend on his wife for technological assistance doesn't make his case much better.

Obama peppered a recent speech with Google references and referred to his visit to the Mountain View company during a candidates@Google session. Yet the McCain campaign is apparently using "Internet chat" to appeal to female voters, so the Republican contender may not be a total n00b after all.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How Many Majors Are There in the Department of Irony?

As I'm working on the new book about educational institutions as digital media-makers, where I look at scandal, mistakes, and miscommunication at universities that involve computer-mediated communication, I'm drafting a chapter about distance learning snafus, which starts with the story of the "Baked Professor" as follows:

On September 6, 2006, Howard John Hall began what was supposed to be a typical lecture for his class at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. To students who were taking his course for credit via the school’s distance learning program, the graying professor with wire-frame eyeglasses at first appeared as he normally would on camera, in a sport shirt against the blue draperies of the stage. Yet instead of providing a more conventional presentation about the history of management, the supposed subject of the day, Hall began by looking at his audience conspiratorially and reciting the lines “Listen my children, and you shall hear / of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” Then he continued seemingly to free associate for the next thirty-five minutes during which time he recited the classic Boston rhyme about the Cabots and the Lodges, discussed the etymology of the word “khaki,” argued with a female student about her travel plans, and talked about the origins of various profane words and obscene gestures. Even Hall’s body language showed the degree to which he had abandoned all academic decorum as the cameras rolled and his performance was streamed on digital video onto the Internet. At one point he rolled on his back, laughing uproariously with his midsection exposed; at another he displayed his middle finger to the camera. About halfway through the first segment, Hall announced, “Life is not about business. Life is not about management.”

After the link to the digital file of Hall’s disastrous online lecture was featured with derision on several popular blogs, and the video was reposted with titles such as “The Stoned Professor” or “The Baked Professor,” the university moved into damage control to protect the reputation of its business program. On the technology blog for The Chronicle of Higher Education, administrators explained what seemed to be their only course of action.

McCullough, senior associate dean at the college, said Mr. Hall had been relieved of his teaching duties, pending a review of his employment status. Mr. McCullough said he had received a half-dozen calls so far from “the curious public,” adding that there are some “unfortunate things” going on with Mr. Hall. “This is a human problem, not an institutional problem,” said Mr. McCullough. “This man has problems.”

The original video was soon pulled from the university’s website, and the copies on online video file-sharing sites were removed by the hosting service on the grounds of copyright violations. As university spokesman Steve Orlando
explained , “It wasn't really serving the primary purpose, which was an educational purpose.”

The video continued to resurface, however, as a notable Internet meme throughout the year. It was re-cut as an abbreviated summary, remixed as a psychedelic version with digital effects, and parodied in other online videos on YouTube.

Yet, even as he was achieving his ten minutes of solo fame, Hall wasn’t entirely without minders in the room. Given the technical demands of this kind of multimedia distance learning course, a lecturing professor on stage may not be the only one managing the pedagogical show. Like many who teach in programs with online video, Hall was clearly accustomed to collaborating with his instructional technology personnel, who were apparently just off camera during his bizarre lecture. For example, in explaining what was supposedly a response to the threatened mutilation of English longbow soldiers, Hall appeals to his tech person “Anthony” not to film the visual part of his explanation, since “I’m going to shoot them a finger.” At another point, he asks “Belinda” to “zoom in on this.”


What's interesting to me about the story is the second hour of the lecture, after Hall resumes the class after the break. He's considerably more lucid -- although he also relies heavily on PowerPoint slides, in-class video, and other prepared materials during this segment. During the section that few watched on the Internet, Hall delivers an extended critique of Taylorization, which he applies very specifically to the distance learning situation and its principles of "scientific management. "

At first, he's merely pointing out the university's obvious role as a Weberian-style bureaucracy. For example, when talking about the growing size of organizations, he says, “think about the University of Florida." Later, he expands upon this example.

University of Florida is a bureaucracy. I don’t need to tell you this. How many levels do we have? We go from faculty to department chairs to associate deans to deans to the provost to the president. I don’t know. I’ve lost fingers here. Six. Yeah. A bunch.

Sometimes Hall's criticism of the educational system sounds more like David Noble's blistering attack on digital delivery systems for higher education, which Noble calls "Digital Diploma Mills", rather than the kind of personal moment of failure or breakdown that is so often popularized on YouTube. Listen to this part of Hall holding forth before the class:

I’m going to pick on myself . . . what about schools? What about schools? You know we had the model of the little red schoolhouse. How did we develop this. Hello, can you say scientific management. Straight rows. Everyone has their own book. Everyone has their own text. What’s the nature of work? We don’t work like that anymore. But that’s the way we work and the way we teach and isn’t that baloney. We’ve had enough of this nonsense haven’t we?


(For more about Hall's life before his Internet celebrity, here is his official c.v.)

So, it is rather ironic that -- as I'm writing about distance learning -- I find myself enrolled in an online course. I had wanted to take a digital compositing class at my local Academy of Entertainment Technology from a live teacher and to do so required a semester of Photoshop training for design professionals, so I find myself not entirely willingly engaged this summer in learning within a computer mediated setting.

One of the funny things about the "orientation" program to the college's suite of distance learning courses is how much instructional time is spent on praising online learning. For those of us who still teach the old-fashioned way, we don't spent our first class talking about how great traditional classroom pedagogy is. Students also learn that the ideal online learner is full of positive personal characteristics that they should want to emulate. It's an interesting psychological tactic that makes problems communicating seem a function of the student's personality rather than of possible systemic flaws.

So far, I've certainly watched the videos of my instructor Jack Duganne, but it is interesting to see how much of the course relies on content from sub-contractors in the online courseware world. For example, some of the class material comes from one of the stars of the design software training industry, Deke McClelland, at lynda.com, in a course that emphasizes "one-on-one" learning, although it is clearly one-way communication that only purports to offer intimate communication. From being a student in previous courses, I knew about the existence of some of these gurus, but this is the first time that these cults of personality are a key aspect of the curriculum.

I've been particularly amused to be told about the "ExamGuard" features from Questionmark, which boasts of its abilities to foil online cheating by forbidding students to resize browsers or surf the web during exam periods. Of course, many students -- particularly design professionals -- are likely to have more than one computer. (In our household we have eight working systems.) I was amazed to see the online course offerings even cite Calibrated Peer Review as being among their course resources. Those who might be wondering why I express distaste for this robotic form of distance writing instruction, can read what I've written about CPR before in this paper.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Did the Passenger Cross the Airport?

The official blog from the TSA, Evolution of Security, has a singularly bizarre recent posting on "Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?", which is full of terrible poultry-related puns.

Although this entry is light-hearted fluff, in the posting just before TSA bloggers took on a significant group of political protesters who cherish the right to fly domestically in the United States without ID. There are already over a hundred comments in response to their FAQ on "Why is ID Important for Security?"

Although surveill@nce st@te blogger, good-humored TSA thorn, and Virtualpolitik friend Chris Soghoian had vowed to take the summer off from blogging, he did have to weigh in with "Your papers please: TSA bans ID-less flight" this month. (Check out the chapter about Soghoian in the Virtualpolitik book for more about this controversy.)

To try to improve its otherwise dismal image, the TSA also has its own official YouTube channel. When they x-ray a MacBook Air in one video, we are told that they can't show us the image because of "sensitive security information." Strangely, we also get an eyewitness view of the security checkpoint at BWI from the channel, which seems of more value to potential terrorists than a view of the innards of Apple's latest gadget.

(Thanks to Nedra Weinreich of Spare Change for the link.)

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

PoW WoW

The Onion recently parodied the MMORPG World of Warcraft in 'Warcraft' Sequel Lets Gamers Play A Character Playing 'Warcraft'. Given the fact that Julian Dibbell reports that low-wage Chinese gold farmers who play the game for work often treat it as a pastime during their off hours as well, this vision of infinitely recursive play is not as crazy as it may sound.

There's also a parody of WoW at WTF!?, which was created by my UC Irvine colleague Robert Nideffer. Although I played a bit of it successfully when it first appeared, this Flash game is now offline as a result of a series of server nightmares for the designers.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Virtual Training Ground

Today I visited the amazingly detailed installation of an Iraqi village built by Jacquelyn Ford Morie in Second Life. Video of the original project as it was designed for training purposes for the U.S. armed forces is here. The space includes a checkpoint, a market, a mosque, and a variety of other public and private spaces. Coming into the area there is a "healing wall" where Iraq war veterans can post images that they associate with the conflict, its physical and psychic aftermath, and their fraternity with their fellow soldiers. A careful observer can see that there is apparently even a "trophy photo" in the group of images.

The village had an extremely articulated soundscape as well. Details included a radio in a market that could play stations with Arabic songs and the burbling cadences of a fountain. Without live participants, there was an eerie sense of vacancy to the exploration, however, although there were computer-generated dummies of a beggar and a pair of veiled women in the square.
Morie is proposing several interesting uses for the virtual environment that include 1) a "social space" for veterans, 2) an area for "cathartic art", 3) a gallery for her own work, which is known for its ghostly aesthetic and its engagement with themes of memory and transience. Morie showed me some of her piece "Remains" in the virtual schoolyard of the area, which shows haunting groups of children.

Morie herself guided me through the installation dressed as Commander ChingALing Bling in a male avatar, and I became a Sergeant for the morning. Morie also showed me a backlot area with rigs and pipes, which she may use as a production area for her game design students.

(For more about computer-generated versions of the Iraqi landscape, built environment, and inhabitants, see the third chapter in the forthcoming Virtualpolitik book.)

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Sticks and Stones

Speaking of the Obama campaign, my colleague Vivian Folkenflik points out that ReputationDefender service has used the candidates' online image management for their own promotion purposes. I've talked about Reputation Defender before here on Virtualpolitik. Since I last checked in on their offerings, they seem to have expanded their "my child" service, where anxious parents can look out for inappropriate expressions on the Internet by errant offspring. Virtualpolitik pal David Folkenflik has reported on NPR in "Obama Campaign Opens Anti-Smear Web Site" about how FightTheSmears.com is designed to contain rumors by controlling critical search engine results.

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I Have Seen the Best Minds of My Generator . . .

I'm fascinated with generators and what they say about the promises and limitations of participatory culture. I write about them in the Virtualpolitik book, for which I interviewed Christopher Soghoian, "The Northwest Boarding Pass Generator Guy," and have a paper in the ACM library on them as well, "Assembly Lines: Web Generators as Hypertexts."
So, of course I have to point out the existence of the Obama Quote Generator, which asks the user for vague concepts and plural nouns and for him or her to push "Make Plattitude!" to produce a paragraph of generalizations that can then be repurposed into three different versions of the excerpt from a stump speech with the click of some more buttons below. (Click screenshots to enlarge.)

Right now there's no comparable McCain quote generator, but since a Republican is still in office, you can check out the Bush Quote Generator in the interest of equal time. Refresh this page for a new Bushism.



Speaking as a would-be grammarian, I just wish that their online script fun would at least properly use "quotation" as a noun and "quote" as the verb.

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The Tattle Tale Killer

Today's story in The Los Angeles Times draws a number of morals about Internet culture from an Akibahara mass murder on a crowded street. Apparently the killer was live blogging events in his day and sent a number of anonymous text messages warning of his murderous intentions. In "Tokyo rampage suspect's warning unheard" the reporter also brings in a number of supposed experts to put forward a number of dystopic generalizations about how Japanese citizens participate in virtual worlds.

The Internet can link people from around the block and around the world, but it can also, as Kato's experience seems to show, be a lonely place, a black hole for data. Kato is reportedly telling police that his repeated Internet threats to kill people were a cry for help. If so, they had about the same effect as a man standing in a closet and screaming with a bucket over his head.

"Despite his appeal, nobody responded to him," said Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara in an interview.

The head of Japan's massive metropolis has been a prominent critic of what he sees as the loss of old social ties and the increasingly self-contained lives of younger generations. No amount of online living could compensate for Kato's loneliness, he argued.

"He was in a virtual world," Ishihara said. "He was not connected to anyone."

Police believe that Kato blogged about his progress as he traveled from his home 60 miles southwest of Tokyo to Akihabara, the capital's sacred turf for digital youth culture.

The location is laden with significance.

Akihabara is Tokyo's subversive neon playground for young males, the place they come for the pleasures of the maid cafes where young women dressed in tunics and lace cater to their nonsexual fetishes, or to browse for animated films and manga comics that drip with themes of sex and sexual violence.

It is also the cradle of Kato's own kind: awkward loners devoted to cartoon worlds populated by animated characters and robots.

Later in the article, the reporter quotes a U.S. critic of cross-cultural Niponophilia:

"Japan is the petri dish for how far you can go replacing your real life with a virtual one," said Roland Kelts, author of "Japanamerica," a study of the global appeal of Japanese pop culture. "But there's also a dark side to that. Is a virtual life really satisfying? Is it an adequate substitute for a wife and kids, or friends? And if you look at Kato's postings, you see the outer limits of virtual life."

If Kato is confirmed as the blogger who dropped a trail of digital bread crumbs leading to his crime, he would be just one of millions of young Japanese who have come to keep detailed diaries of their lives online. Tokyo is awash in young people offering a real-time description of where they are, what they are doing and how they feel.

Now, as a champion of the "slow words movement," which is sort of like the "slow food movement" in its emphasis on better community and communication, I'm certainly not into things like Twitter. In fact, I'd generally agree with Ian Bogost's negative assessment of the service:

For me, Twitter represents the worst trends in the new internet culture. It purports to allow people to "communicate" in new ways, a promise that mostly creates new obligation and infatuation to stay "up to date" and "connected." In the world of Twitter, you (and me, and everyone) pay constant, tiny homage to a new gimmickry. This is a gimmickry that doesn't even rise to the level of the gadget, with its industrialist promise of technological progress. It is a kind of softer soft-pornography determined to make identity-assertion the new masturbation.

Bogost's argument is one that should also be familiar as well to readers of Geert Lovink's Zero Comments, which lambastes the self-absorbed nihilism of Web 2.0. The fact that Twitter has been put to some interesting uses (British diplomats updating activists on climate change negotiations, composition instructors asking students to use it for their thesis statements, and Bogost's own project, Twittering Rocks, which you should check out when Bloomsday comes around again next week) doesn't really do much to change my mind.

But the LA Times seems to also be oversimplifying the ways that computer-mediated communication changes the social landscape. For a much better read on Japanese digital culture, check out the work of Mimi Ito, particularly Personal, Portable, Pedestrian, in which Ito shows the social dynamics at work in the behavior of seemingly isolated and tuned-out urban youths.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Porno Copia

Renaissance art theorist Leone Battista Alberti was well known for his theories of "the copia" in painting. In his great oeuvre on technique, De Pictura, he argued that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing, if the rhetorical occasion doesn't warrant the visual displays of excess and virtuosity that may otherwise be filling the frame.

Earlier in the week Judge Alex Kozinski was in the news here on Virtualpolitik for his public statements against screening software and his fascination with online cultural traffic in general. Now it appears that the judge will be required to remove himself from a high-profile federal pornography case because his use of web technologies apparently violated judicial decorum, since he published a number of questionable files that showed bizarre sexual curiosities. A reporter from The Los Angeles Times has revealed that the judge posted a number of graphic and sexually explicit images to his personal website in "Alex Kozinski suspends L.A. obscenity trial after conceding his website had sexual images." Only those who knew the names of folders in his directory could easily access this material, but the posted images were nonetheless publicly available, and Kozinski's trove included mp3 files of copyrighted songs as well.

The judge has since told some contradictory stories about these images, many of which he acknowledged to be ones he was familiar with and even thought of as humorous items to share with friends who were online. Now he is blaming some of the content on the handiwork of his son. He has also asked an ethics panel to look into his own case.

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Command Line Performance

Steve Jobs' address to WWTC yesterday was apparently a big event in San Francisco geekdom, from which many in attendance worried that Twitter would be brought down by the heavy traffic. Now that it is archived in online video, complete with stern copyright statement, it is interesting to examine as a rhetorical performance. The Colbert Report has already mocked the giant iPhone that often served as the backdrop to the speakers.

Unlike many of Jobs' appearances, his own part of the program relies heavily on a slickly produced video rather than a "live" demo that he personally orchestrates. The video Jobs showed emphasized the company's cooperation with Microsoft rather than its rivalry with it. Much of the iPhone 2.0 introductory video featured happy clients from Fortune 500 companies that included executives from the Disney corporation and the Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal law firm (who are apparently the people to know if you are undergoing a congressional investigation), along with Lt. Col. C.J. Wallington of the U.S. Army.

Software developers who praised the fluidity of the toolkit from the stage with Jobs and his Apple colleagues of course omitted the monopoly of AT&T, which was constantly apparent in the upper left hand corner. With location-based applications that integrate with social networking sites, the company also hopes to appeal to those who use informal venues for contact as well as professional corporate ones. For example, Loopt plans to turn your mobile phone into a "social compass" that makes "serendipity happen." A project with The Associated Press promises to use the location-based features of the iPhone to help users find news stories that are relevant to the immediate physical environment of a mobile urbanite; AP is also soliciting content from citizen-journalists who can serve as eyewitnesses in the field.

The choice of disciplines represented as prototypical iPhone users seemed significant, because the session's rhetorical appeals were targeted specifically to the era of big data. For example, developers showed iPhone applications intended for medical students studying anatomy and practicing doctors examining digital imagery from their patients.

At the end of the nearly two-hour presentation, Jobs returned to the stage to show an electronic slideshow that emphasized the speed, performance, and affordability of the newest iPhone model. In conclusion he showed the phone's ad twice.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Amateur Hour

As a rhetorician, I know that I'm never supposed to say in public that anything I do is bad, but this is an exception.

This may be the worst computer game that I've ever talked about on Virtualpolitik, and the embarrassing thing is that I'm the one who made it, as my very first attempt at amateur game-creation. It grew out of an April Fool's joke about a videogame about being Attorney General of the United States.

If you have a PC, you can try opening it here. It's a large .exe file. I promise that I will not do anything nefarious to your computer.

In the Supreme Court Chambers you must battle statues that threaten your dignity and protect those that affirm the Judeo-Christian character of this nation. Using your spacebar, shoot the scantily clad statues of Justice personified, but be sure to miss the 10 Commandments statues that should grace every public place and seat of government in the country. You can dodge statuary by moving up and down with the arrow keys.

The Democrat-controlled Capitol building keeps sending naked statues your way, but the eagle which shoots from your finger allows you to tastefully cover up their offensively exposed forms. In the first room, a hot pink bra and suspendered girdle does the trick.

In the second, a frilly nightie takes care of the job, as other naked statues from the monuments in Washington D.C. throw themselves at you like brazen hussies.

For more on stories about statues in the news during the Ashcroft era go here and here. And, yes, that is John Ashcroft himself singing "Let the Eagle Soar."

(And, yes, if you reach Alberto Gonzales, you already know that the game is unfinished.)

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lights! Camera! Actionscript!

Today, online content took center stage as the Screen Actors Guild held a rally to protest the labor agreement negotiated by rival thespian union AFTRA. Although AFTRA assures their membership that their electronic media agreements "have you covered," SAG argues that AFTRA is too willing to tapdance to the tune of producers when it comes to Internet-based entertainment. From the perspective of media theory, it is interesting also to note that SAG's page on New Media Contracts reminds their constituency that they are "screen" actors, no matter how the technologies of that "screen" evolve.

Unlike the Writers Guild, SAG's legislative agenda with the FCC doesn't explicitly include the issue of network neutrality, although -- like the WGA -- they do take stands against monopolistic practices in media consolidation and product integration. In contrast, WGA President and Virtualpolitik pal Patric Verrone has been busy championing the principle that networks should continue to be free of onerous restrictions that might inhibit access to websites or platforms that refuse to pay for inclusion in ISP "tiered services." In other words, without network neutrality, broadband companies and their corporate partners could effectively create toll roads on the information superhighway.

In this interview with C-SPAN Verrone points to the irony of having Hollywood's content-creators play an active role in congressional hearings a half-century after their disastrous experience in the HUAC witchhunts. Since having attended to more obvious forms of fairness to content-creators with monetary compensation, Verrone argues that the "logical next step" for the WGA involves scrutiny of how control by content-distributors may be capable of "limiting that distribution" or "discriminating in terms of the speed or the bandwidth." Verrone also appears in this long Filmnut episode that discusses network neutrality, where he also uses the "pipe" metaphor that was taken literally by Senator Ted Stevens.

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