A blog about digital rhetoric that asks the burning questions about electronic bureaucracy and institutional subversion on the Internet.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
This isn't quite vernacular dancing; its potential YouTube appeal owes more to a "Thriller"-style mass dance event aesthetic than to cutting a rug in domestic settings. Like Gmail's "Hot Potato" video or "Where the Hell is Matt?," which involved an elaborate hoax that claimed it was all a hoax, this video cuts together scenes from a variety of global stages. But it also represents a kind of epideictic rhetoric that commemorates a special occasion, the ninety-fifth birthday of the recently deceased Frankie Manning. The footage is directly addressed to those who lead and participate in the swing community worldwide and serves as both a memorial and a choreographed text for imitation.
Speaking of attempts to privatize the public record, I heard about a fascinating controversy from my UCI colleague, historian Jennifer Luff, who had a concerning exchange with the National Archives about their online collection of digitized records and their use of a third party commercial provider, Footnote. Luff was at the NYU at the time, and so she no longer has the e-mails that she exchanged with NARA representatives, but some of her concerns were documented in a comment on this entry on the Footnote blog.
Searching functions are the least of Footnote’s problems. The site’s structure makes it very difficult to read and download sizeable files. Keyword searching in the voluminous BI files yields hits on single pages, yet for larger files, the filmstrip function on the viewer doesn’t display the file pages in order. Thus you can’t just click on the previous or following document pages and download chunks of files. Moreover in the browse function, BI files are not listed in numerical order. With hundreds of thousands of files, users can’t just page through and find files by number. I strongly urge you to improve the functions of Footnote. Otherwise NARA should not contract with this unknown provider with inadequate technology.
Not allowing easy downloads of files the size that historians typically work with seems to force many scholars into the company's pay-to-play structure to access documents from the National Archive on Footnote. Although Footnote promotes its business model with free trials and promotional giveaways, the profit model, which may not be appropriate for public archives, is central.
Although the NARA/Footnote partnership was lauded with a press release and the agreement is available on the web supposedly to promote transparency, Luff hasn't been the only one to raise questions. Dan Cohen of the Center for History and New Media points out some of these issues in a blog posting called "A Closer Look the National Archives-Footnote Agreement" Cohen is no stranger to the challenges of large-scale digitization efforts and the problems of copyright overreaching in the historical community, so his analysis of the fine print deserves attention. When I first went to the Footnote site, I was unpleasantly surprised that it required registration even to look at “milestone” documents like Lincoln’s draft of the Gettysburg Address. (Unfortunately, Footnote doesn’t have a list of all of its free content yet, so it’s hard to find such documents.) Justin and Peter responded that when they launched the site there was an error in the document viewer, so they had to add authentication to all document views. A fix was rolled out on January 23, and it’s now possible to view these important documents without registering.
You do need to register, however, to print or download any document, whether it’s considered “free” or “premium.” Why? Justin and Peter candidly noted that although they have done digitization projects before, the National Archives project, which contains millions of critical—and public domain—documents, is a first for them. They are understandably worried about the “leakage” of documents from their site, and want to take it one step at a time. So to start they will track all downloads to see how much escapes, especially in large batches. I noted that downloading and even reusing these documents (even en masse) very well might be legal, despite Footnote’s terms of service, because the scans are “slavish” copies of the originals, which are not protected by copyright. Footnote lawyers are looking at copyright law and what other primary-source sites are doing, and they say that they view these initial months as a learning experience to see if the terms of service can or should change. Footnote’s stance on copyright law and terms of usage will clearly be worth watching.
Speaking of terms of usage, I voiced a similar concern about Footnote’s policies toward minors. As you’ll recall, Footnote’s terms of service say the site is intended for those 18 and older, thus seeming to turn away the many K-12 classes that could take advantage of it. Justin and Peter were most passionate on this point. They told me that Footnote would like to give free access to the site for the K-12 market, but pointed to the restrictiveness of U.S. child protection laws. Because the Footnote site allows users to upload documents as well as view them, they worry about what youngsters might find there in addition to the NARA docs. These laws also mandate the “over 18″ clause because the site captures personal information. It seems to me that there’s probably a technical solution that could be found here, similar to the one PBS.org uses to provide K-12 teaching materials without capturing information from the students.
Footnote pays some lip service to Cohen's concerns in "Finding the Right Balance," but fundamental changes in the user agreement are clearly not a priority for the company.
Footnote also has partnered with CNN and the Washington Times Footnote hosts the Interactive Vietnam Veterans Memorial, although those who contribute their photos and memorabilia from deceased loved ones who died in the sixties and seventies, may want to read the company's terms and conditions carefully.
Contemporary institutional rhetoric is a fascinating field, but all too few academics consider it to be a worthwhile object of study. Fortunately, one academic couple presents a significant exception to this scholarly rule: historian Zachary M. Schrag and law professor Rebecca Tushnet.
As I face my annual duty as a table leader at the University of California system's Analytical Writing Placement Examination and the prospect of the grading of seventeen thousand examinations by two hundred of my closest friends, I always wonder when the day will come when I will be reading digital text rather than pen and paper lined manuscripts. One of the readers at my table put away her Kindle before we began, but should she be able to read AWPE examinations in the future on her device, it is likely that she will miss out on the collegiality and conviviality that goes along with the shared experience of reading writing from the UC system's incoming freshmen.
Those interested in the rhetorics of the late age of print that focus on particular technologies and platforms are likely following some of the heated discussions about the Kindle, Amazon's e-reading device. Of course, it's been the target of satire, as in the case of the video above that lampoons the possibility of a post-literate age, but it's also been an object of scholarly reflection about material culture by Ted Striphas and Alan Liu.
In Texting May Be Taking a Toll on Teens, the New York Times argues that there may be unintended consequences of the lifestyle marketing pitches of cell phone carriers, now that teens are often opting for text over the voice channel.
Spurred by the unlimited texting plans offered by carriers like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.
The phenomenon is beginning to worry physicians and psychologists, who say it is leading to anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation.
More profound questions about what it means to be in two places at one time for all of us, which are raised by Kazys Varnelis and Anne Friedberg in their essay about "Place" and "Networked Public Space" in Networked Publics, are not addressed in this kind of coverage, even when headlines are filled with stories about accidents involving texting pilots and texting train engineers. Of course, the role of texting in relationship to a larger ecology of literacy practices is complicated, and SMS Research is a relatively new field.
Like many news items about teens and the potential evils of digital communication, the reporter also chooses a surprisingly narrow range of "experts" to talk about teens, mobile phones, and digital parenting. For example, MIT's Sherry Turkle is consulted to provide some attempt at "balance" but not Eszter Hargittai or Mimi Ito.
"Teens feel they are being punished for behavior in which their parents indulge," she said. And in what she calls a poignant twist, teenagers still need their parents’ undivided attention.
"Even though they text 3,500 messages a week, when they walk out of their ballet lesson, they’re upset to see their dad in the car on the BlackBerry,” she said. “The fantasy of every adolescent is that the parent is there, waiting, expectant, completely there for them."
Turkle raises the thornier issue about what this story says about adult practices and implicitly points out how newspaper stores often make the focus the digital "other," whether it is teens or terrorists.
ACE has become the leading academic forum for dissemination of novel research results in the area of entertainment computing. This year for the first time it incorporates DIMEA which has established itself over the last three years as a strong conference on interactive entertainment arts. Together the conference forms an exciting new step blending deeply the latest research in art and technology.
The focus of ACE 2009 is to gather researchers from academia and industry -researchers who are working in multi-disciplinary areas within the arts, psychology, computer science, and design- to discuss, present, and demonstrate their new contributions. The goal of ACE is to stimulate discussion in the development and advancement of interactive art and entertainment applications. It, thus, strides to balance several interdisciplinary areas and seeks representation in all these areas, including, but not limited to:
Accessibility, Aesthetics, Affective Computing, Ambient Intelligence, Animation Techniques, Attention, Augmented / Mixed Reality, Avatars and Virtual Community, Community, Cultural Computing, Digital Entertainment and Sports, Digital Broadcasting/Podcasting, Digital Cinema, Elderly Entertainment, Empathy, Entertainment Design Theory, Human-Robots Interaction, Robotic Love and Affection, Experience Design, Funology, Graphics Techniques, Interaction Design, Interactive Computer Graphics, Internet Networking Media, Learning and Children, Location-Based Entertainment, Metaverse, Mixed Media, Mobile Entertainment, Multimodal Interaction, Narratives / Digital Storytelling, New Gaming Audiences, Novel interfaces, Pervasive and Online Games, Physical Computing, Simplicity, Situativity, Smart Gadgets and Toys, Social Impact, Social Networking, Sound and Music, Synesthetic Entertainment, Tangible Interfaces, User Interfaces, Visual Effects, Virtual Reality
To encourage presentation of such multi-disciplinary work, we invite submissions that fall into the following tracks:
[Papers Track] - Full Papers: Original unpublished technical, design, and theory/social impact. Submissions to this track should not exceed 8 pages in ACM format. - Short Papers: Original unpublished technical, design, and theory/social impact. Submissions to this track should not exceed 4 pages in ACM format. The program committee may also suggest submitted long papers be resubmitted as short papers. - Posters: Breakthroughs in technical research, content design, industry applications, and entertainment theories/social impact researches are invited. Submissions to this track should not exceed 2 pages in ACM format. Format instructions are posted on the website.
All accepted submissions will be published in conference proceedings.
[Creative Showcases] (show cased within three types of spaces: exhibition space, art gallery and gaming exhibit) - Technical demos: prototype demos of advanced entertainment technology - Games, including, but not limited to, experimental games, independent games, games for change, video games, commercial games, casual games, mobile games - Interactive narrative, interactive drama, alternate reality games, and interactive fiction - interactive art installations - web-based computer entertainment - digital audio, visual and other sensory art - Design showcase
One page abstracts of all accepted submissions will be published in conference proceedings.
Important Dates: Deadline for Full and Short Papers: June 19, 2009 Deadline for Posters and Creative Showcases: June 19, 2009 Notifications of Acceptance: August 21, 2009 Camera Ready Copy: September 18, 2009
Submissions of papers will be online on our conference website using Easy Chair, and should follow the ACM Submission Format.
Selected papers will be asked to extend their papers for a Journal Publication: Special Issue of ACM Computers in Entertainment and International Journal on Arts and Technology (IJART)
Awards: Best papers and creative showcases will be selected based on a jury of well respected pioneers in the field attending the conference. We honor the authors of these publications by presenting awards including: Paper award categories: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Creative showcase award categories: Gold, Silver, and Bronze.
I've been cataloging other examples that seem to show what I call online "theatres of cruelty" in interactive computational media. "Animator vs. Animation," which I write about in the book, seems to be another satirical case in which the violence of writing described by Derrida and the violence of the computer interface that collapses vision and touch, which is described by Lev Manovich, are conflated and depicted on the Internet.
Iranian president Ahmadinejad denies calling for Facebook ban and claims that the blocking of the popular social network site that is being used heavily by his opponents to reach younger voters is merely coincidentally happening just before nationwide elections. Recently, the London Telegraph argued that "Facebook is the best hope for democracy in Iran," a claim that might sound strange to users of the site who have expressed dissatisfaction with the state of their digital rights as content-creators and private communicators.
Iran seems to also have its own designated Facebook page, where government supporters can post YouTube information graphics videos that paint a positive picture of the Iranian economy or stories about sexual liberation enabled by the rise of the imams. Note that their blog does allow comments, where one reader pointed out that the number of deaths of children in the crackdowns prior to the Iranian revolution was dwarfed by the deaths of parents and grandparents in the cultural revolution of the fundamentalist aftermath.
"Taciturn Armstrong sparks Twitter media boycott" reports that the cycling star refuses to answer questions from reporters and merely refers media queries to his Twitter posts. In response, some sports journalists have refused to cover the scripted statements delivered on his microblogging stream. Apparently this is not the only difficulty that the Tour de France superstar has had with Twitter. In "Lance Armstrong's Twitter Misadventure," the Village Voice reports that in an attempt to post a video to the site, he accidentally released his personal e-mail to seventy thousand followers.
Now even NASA commander Mark Polansky is using Twitter so his followers can keep track of the space shuttle's most recent mission, it would seem that the relationship between real-time government accountability and the popular microblogging site has become naturalized.
Yet the fact that Polansky has over fourteen thousand followers, but only follows one other person on Twitter, shows that he hardly uses his stream for sustainable interactivity. What the video describes is a publicity stunt in which most viewers will have their questions unanswered, a phenomenon in e-government that I call "pseudointeractivity" in the book.
See TwitTruth to learn why NASA generally is a "promoter" rather than an "engager."
I had hoped that this argument had died a merciful death, but it appears that equating terrorism with social network sites continues to be popular with pundits and policy makers, just as it was in the Bush administration. It's an argument that I discuss in some detail in the Virtualpolitik book.
However, Solomon notes in "Loose lips on Facebook" that both sides in the conflict are using the popular social network site to recruit potential sympathizers.
This week, Israel's General Security Service took the unusual step of issuing a warning urging Israelis to be alert to terrorist activity on the Internet. Specifically, people were warned against unsolicited approaches on social networks by strangers offering meetings abroad or easy money and seeking information. Seemingly innocent contacts might be terrorist efforts to recruit or kidnap. (Presumably this works both ways: A few months ago a Syrian paper had warned of Mossad and CIA recruiting efforts on Facebook as well.)
Solomon also claims that the Israeli army is limiting soldiers' use of the site because Facebook members may unwittingly divulge sensitive information about porous checkpoints, lax monitoring, classified military procedures, and vulnerable concentrations of troop deployments. Concerned Israeli civilians now run a Facebook group that intervenes if Israeli Defense Forces soldiers make cyber-slips that seem to risk the secrecy that is essential for their military units.
Tartakovski opened his own Facebook group to form a neighborhood watch called "Protecting our IDF." It serves as a war room of sorts, a headquarters. Anyone identifying compromising information in the open is invited to contact the group; members approach the individual and point out the problem. Most people cooperate and remove carelessly revealed sensitive information. Those who don't are reported. In one case, Tartakovski wrote an uncooperative soldier with everything he knew about him. It was a lot. Stupefied that a perfect stranger could learn so much about him from his profile, the soldier got the picture.
Now, I am not sure which element of the story I find more disturbing: the panopticum-like transparency of online activities of Israeli soldiers or the heavy reliance on crowdsourcing by Tartakovski et al (I bet he would never succeed in policing every uploaded photo if he was doing it by himself).
Are we witnessing the birth of Facebook vigilantism? After all, this could be the logical counterpart to the citizen journalism practiced by those naive Israelis who upload their photos to social networking sites...
In "An Interview With Queen Rania of Jordan On How Twitter Can Help Change The World," reporter Roi Carthy introduces the article's royal subject matter with a distinction between the "pages" of the past and the "streams" of the present that facilitate new kinds of online encounters. Looking at Queen Rania's Twitter stream, we see the Middle Eastern monarch boasting of her country's literacy rate and exchanging in lively discussions with Davos to claim a voice in the World Economic Forum. Although most of her traffic tilts asymmetrically toward being followed rather than following, the queen also follows pop culture streams from Oprah and The Onion. Queen Rania explains how she joined Twitter and became a participant as a fusing of her public and private personae.
I guess I first heard about it following the US election campaigns; there was quite a buzz around the creative use of social media in mobilizing people behind a common cause.
Since then, I’ve seen Twitter evolve into a dynamic and diverse medium for action as well as communication. Whether it’s raising money for malaria nets or promoting your company brand, Twitter answers much more than just “what are you doing?” It’s expanded to “what is the world doing, and what can the world do?”
Of course, I tweet. Tweeting is a very personal form of expression. Who else could talk about my son refusing to wear a suit to meet the Pope, my husband flying a helicopter, or take a twitpic from our home?
Tweetdeck was recommended by a friend, and that’s what I’m used to. And the same with Twibble; it works for when I’m on the go.
Of course, not everyone is pleased with celebrity students involving malaria nets, but Queen Rania's claim that these forms of engagement personalize philanthropy so that more people participate has been very persuasive to others.
In the interview, the queen says that her husband King Abdullah II is also supportive of her YouTube channel.
In the NPR story on how Women Take Their Place In Kuwait's Parliament, newly elected Kuwaiti legislator Aseel al-Awadhi complains that her political opponents used ubiquitous recording devices to capture some of her lectures and then post them on YouTube to discredit her as a representative who would be overly Western or opposed to Sharia law. Since in the United States college professors have expressed similar fears about vengeful students or conservative plants eager to catch faculty supposedly expressing outrageously biased liberal opinions in their classrooms and lecture halls, I thought it would be interesting to attempt to investigate the YouTube offerings about al-Awadhi, despite being obviously hampered by the language barrier.
On this blog I almost never make recommendations for products or consumer services. Too many business interests disingenuously pay bloggers to post complimentary coverage, so I avoid anything that smacks of Web 2.0 advertising.
But in this case I think my recommendation of the iPod Repair Clinic also carries with it a message about entrepreneurship and consumerism that may be of interest to those outside of Los Angeles who may not be likely to take advantage of this local trade, particularly since the owner of the clinic acknowledges the labor and identity-formation involved in creating user-generated content on an iPod.
I also like the fact that the iPod Repair Clinic looks like a real repair store, not a "genius bar." In his little garage in a residential neighborhood, Joe Kempe's "iPod surgeon" doctor's coat hangs in its dry cleaning bag, and on the other side of the room the iPod graveyard from which he harvests parts from old devices fills up a table with the remains of the electronic dead.
Like many consumers, I don't need to pay for the privilege of waiting in line for a hip twenty-something in a slick branded store to act condescendingly to me and tell me I'm probably having trouble with my device because I'm pirating music. Kempe is older than me, wears a yarmulke, and did the work right before my eyes for exactly the fair price he promised. Mazel tov!
Macon Phillips may be proudly heading up the new media efforts at whitehouse.gov in good faith, but I would still like to see more mastery of institutional rhetoric from the online incarnations of the Obama administration that often gyrate between slick public relations copy and inane first-person folksiness, as in the case of a recent blog posting by Bev Godwin.
Did you know your government may be cooler and more approachable than you think? It really is. I know. I work here.
Answering President Obama’s call for engagement with the public, federal agencies continue to expand their online presence. As Macon Phillips, Director of New Media @ The White House says in this video "Your government is delivering online content in new ways and new venues as technology impacts how and where people consume content."
In the video below Godwin presents a catalog of new media venues, some of which -- like the blogs of the TSA and the State Department, TroopTube, and the Flickr photostream at the Library of Congress -- actually date back to the Bush administration. In the video the fact that so much of this content from the public record is being housed on a single commercial site, YouTube, seems to merit no comment, despite the concerns raised by Siva Vaidhyanathan about what he calls the "Googlization of government" or those aired by Christopher Soghoian about privacy. Because of its constraining architecture and interface, the choice of YouTube can also stifle public participation, as Alexandra Juhasz and I have noted in our work with the Video Vortex project.
Thankfully, the information in the video is largely replicated in text form as a bulleted list of links.
Here’s a sampling from the video of what’s been happening. Keep your eye – and mouses -- out for lots more.
My concern is that the Obama administration guidelines for transparency and open government, which emphasize the idea that government should be "transparent," "participatory," and "collaborative" are very different from the corporate speak about "consuming content" and "delivering content" that the new media arm has embraced.
In the video below Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra explains the function of data.gov at the Open Government Innovations Gallery, which promises to provide even more traffic and advertising to YouTube. I also fear that data.gov and transparency.gov continue a pattern in domain naming about which I expressed concern in a VP posting on information overload when websites are not tied to abstract concepts rather than specific government agencies.
Today's the National Archives Experience was closed for a "special event," a speech by President Obama about national security, closing the Guantanamo detention facility, and the release of documents from the previous administration about "enhanced interrogation techniques." The location was not without significance, given the often testy relationship between archivists of government documents and the previous presidential administration and the actual thank you note that archivists sent Obama shortly after taking office, because he revoked Executive Orders that interfered with the maintenance of the public record. In televised coverage, Obama's speech was followed by former vice president Dick Cheney's oratory of rebuttal, and those watching on the CNN/Facebook page could add live chatter to the implied debate about security.
I wasn't on campus for today's campus shooter scare that was captured in exchanges on Twitter that included UC Irvine's own Twitter stream and publicized quite efficiently to those with mobile devices via the campus's ZotAlert system, which sends notices to its 20,000 subscribers about potential on-campus threats. You can see some of the Twitter messages here.
As the Orange County Register reports in "Weapon report at UCI turns out to be a false alarm" the university sent a "text message to students warning of man dressed in camouflage, possibly carrying rifle" who turned out to be a recreational player of mock combat games, much like laser tag or paintball gun enthusiasts. The newspaper also reported about how Twitter caused the news to spread more rapidly. The campus also issued a situation update, although many complained that the main university website went down during the crisis.
Update: A message from the Chancellor points out that the incident led to a thousand new subscribers signing up for the ZotAlert system.
See this blog posting from pilgrimsteps for more about the "twexperiment."
Over the course of a decade, distinguished Humantech speakers have addressed major issues about the future of the humanities in the digital age: the late age of print, blogging as critical discourse, the rhetoric of computer games and virtual worlds, open access publishing, the future of writing, and the role of design as a discipline. Rockers David Byrne and Thomas Dolby have also been honored guests.
This timeline shows some of the program's notable scholarly events, which have also been documented through a series of podcasts. Humanitech has also been on the forefront of digital activism by balancing the need for copyright guidelines in a litigious era with the need for fair use of digital materials in academic contexts.
CNN reports in "Army hopes interactive videos make smarter soldiers" that military planners continue to invest in serious games designed to teach cultural sensitivity to U.S. soldiers, such as Army 360: Immersive Cultural Simulation from InVisM, based on the expectation that games and simulations designed for the theater of war in Iraq and Afghanistan could minimize the number of offensive acts by soldiers who offend Muslim sensibilities and compound the problems of occupation. A company web page touts the benefits of their product:
Fusing together a combination of 360º video with HD live-action supported by eight channels of dimensional binaural audio, users are placed inside the scene. When supported by a Head Mounted Display (HMD) and motion tracker, users maintain intuitive control of the environmental perspective as they turn their head providing various points of view of their surroundings. Additionally, the scenarios use character actors and is based on documented real-world scenarios. At the end of each scenario learning point, the video pauses and the user must make limited time-allotted decisions. Depending on their answers, ICS branches to a consequence-based outcome related to the decision made and maintains a score of the player's performance. Additionally, the culmination of decisions made throughout the training results in multiple endings
The company also takes a dig at those who use videogame engines on their website: "Unlike conventional serious game technology, the training methodology effectively reveals the micro expressions and subtle body language of the scenario's characters." CNN also helps the company make their argument against the competition as a government contractor in the actual article:
Robinson believes the simulator program is more effective then a traditional video game because soldiers relate more to human characters than virtual avatars.
"Nobody cares about an avatar that gets killed. You just get another avatar," he said.
Although the use of computational media may be different from the military videogames that I describe in the Virtualpolitik book, CNN indulges in the same uncritical reporting that I describe coming from other news outlets when it comes to stories about the military's use of proprietary technologies.
It is also worth noting that the CNN story opens with a "staff sergeant in Iraq" who "decided to practice his shooting skills" by taking aim at "the Quran, Islam's holiest book."
In the 21st century, the Army was sending younger soldiers into an arena they had little cultural experience in, and at the same time, new social networking sites were poised to broadcast their mistakes to the world.
One wonders about the efficacy of a few sessions with a computer game, given the hardened ideological stances and groupthink described in "Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for a Christian Military" by Jeff Sharlet in a recent issue of Harper's. In other words, what if cultural insensitivity is intentional and part of a larger geopolitical theological strategy?
One of the epistolary genres that e-mail can mimic and parody is the classic "Dear John" letter, although most agree that a text message breakup is still unacceptable from a netiquette standpoint.
Now, a widely circulated e-mail called "Dear Red States" is humorously proposing a breakup between the liberal and the conservative parts of the country by making a number of statistical arguments about the greater economic and cultural value of more progressive political territory.
Of course, given the reach of the e-mail, there had to be a "Dear Blue States" response.
Thanks to Samuel Losh, who keeps me current on Republican digital ephemera, for the e-mail!
Okay, who can resist a game about clinical virology and killer flu? As Ian Bogost explains at Water Cooler Games, the game presents two related arguments: 1) "pandemic flus are rare and unusual strains that are far harder to spread than popular discourse might make it seem" and 2) ordinary seasonal flu kills hundreds of thousands worldwide every year. Like many serious games, such as Operation Pedopriest or the ReDistricting Game, players play from the position of the bad actor by trying to infect likely carriers with mobility and connections to concentrated populations who work, live, or study together best suited to spread the disease. By making the game particularly hard to play in H1N1 mode, because infection is dependent on genetic compatibility, the game design itself reinforces the pedagogical message. Unlike public health games like Outbreak at Watersedge that rely on the online tutorial format, game play exploits the excitement of racing the clock.
In posting a link to Intersections: The South Los Angeles Reporting Project, Mark Marino characterizes it as a real example of "multimedia literacy" being practiced at Crenshaw High School. I'd have to agree with him and wonder why issue-free PowerPoint presentations are so often the designated "multimedia literacy" assignment in public schools.
Of course, given recent budget cuts and sparring over teacher layoffs, one might worry about how supposedly student-generated content might be used to promote the agendas of the labor force of pedagogues who wield power over the young filmmakers. Would it be okay to post critiques of teachers and teaching as well?
The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex unions, is hardly a liberal cause, but they have taken up the flag of digital rights advocacy of late in their current social advertising campaign in which a would-be Miss America makes the argument for free speech against legitimizing the relationship of gay couples. (For more about the campaign, see my posting "Queen for a Day" at Osocio.)
Like the ACLU backing the marches of the Klu Klux Klan, First Amendment claims made in the name of fair use may bring unlikely political parties together. However, it may be just as significant to note who is not there. For example, note the absence of Virtualpolitik pals Feminist Law Professors and Madisonian.net. Perhaps they find the claim in the ad that legal scholars believe such equal protection will generate "widespread legal conflict" with "devastating" effects ridiculous.
My friend and colleague Peter Krapp often complains -- justifiably -- about the proliferation of "top ten" lists in the blogosphere. He's right, of course, but graduate students often don't get recognized as important contributors to new media studies or to the academy in general
So, with cap and gown season arriving, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge some of the interesting things being done by a diverse group of graduate students whose work I have encountered during the course of blogging here at Virtualpolitik. They are not in any particular order, but I do alternate between male and female future academics in the interest of gender equity. After all, danah boyd and Jane McGonigal wrapped up their dissertations and so aren't blogging about it any more, but there are still many women doing graduate work about social media, distributed networks, or ubiquitous computing in the academy.
1. Not many media theorists know about both the care and feeding of a Madagascar hissing cockroaches and how to wield a soldiering iron effectively to serve their mechanical needs, but -- as this video shows -- Garnet Hertz can do both. In his day job at the University of California, Irvine, Hertz is engaged with the theory and practice of network art, digital imaging, computer based installations, electronics, robotics, visual studies, and the history and theory of new media. He's also the graduate student who has been assigned to sections of University Studies 13: Videogames as Art, Culture, and Technology for the past three years. Recently he created Debt Hole to commemorate the current credit crisis with what Ian Bogost has called "a lovely little hack" of spacer.asm. I like the fact that community service is a key part of his academic philosophy and the fact that he runs the Dorkbot SoCal events at Machine Project in Los Angeles in which "no résumé requirements to present work," and "often well-known and established individuals are billed alongside over-ambitious (and sometimes misguided) amateurs."
2. Nonny de la Peña pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker for many years, before becoming involved with new media projects and machinima filmmaking as a graduate student at USC. With interactive media artist Peggy Weil she has created Gone Gitmo, a digital replica of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Second Life, and a project about walls and borders called Mauerkrankheit/Wallsickness, which is also SL based. 3. I write about Harvard's Chris Soghoian, a fellow at the Berkman Center, in the seventh chapter of the Virtualpolitik book. Soghoian first achieved fame for creating Chris's Boarding Pass Generator, which made realistic looking Northwest airlines boarding passes in order to publicize a security flaw. (I'm fascinated with the political and rhetorical uses of web generators, as this paper indicates.) Soghoian has received considerable prominence among e-government experts since then for his blogging at CNET's Surveillance State where he has publicized problems with the privacy of citizen users who wish to access the parts of the public record housed on YouTube, such as presidential oratory put there by Whitehouse.gov.
4. I met Lindsay Kelley of UC Santa Cruz when she organized a panel about responses by digital artists to the Iraq War for the New Media Caucus at the College Art Association that featured presentations by Wafaa Bilal, Joseph DeLappe, Krista Genevieve Lynes, and myself. Kelley also curates her work at Performative where she does new things with the figure of the hunger artist, which continues to be powerful in the era of the Monkey Chow Diaries. For example, Kelley makes disquieting videos on how to prepare liquid food for feeding tubes, which are done in classic Internet video how-to banal style. Her DIY projects around her work starvation seeds also include advice about making mud cookies and information about the creepy commercially trademarked product Plumpy'nut®, which is designed to treat malnutrition. Check out her starvation seeds blog for latest work.
5. Tad Hirsch is a PhD candidate in the Smart Cities group at MIT who does great work on ubiquitous computing and human rights. I first met Hirsch when he gave a very smart talk at the UCSB Social Computing Workshop. In addition to having experience with a number of corporate groups, including Intel's People and Practices Group, which is funding some of my research this summer, Hirsch is also a frequent contributor to the Applied Autonomy Group, which has produced works like Terminal Air, which provides data visualizations of the "extraordinary rendition" flights that transported suspected terrorist sympathizers using third party countries that often practiced torture and other human rights violations. Hirsch's own work has used cell phone technologies as a way to distribute news and information to potential activists in Africa without compromising their identities and exposing them to the wrath of security forces in dictatorial regimes.
6. Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins, who is writing a rhetoric dissertation at Ball State, has been at the forefront of virtual worlds research for several years, along with her partner Mark Bell of Indiana University, with whom she wrote Second Life for Dummies. She has co-authored several scholarly articles with Edward Castronova and serves as Director of Emerging Technologies at Kelley Executive Partners at Indiana University. She blogs about technology trends at UberNoggin. Best of all, she really does have pink hair; it's not just a feature of her avatar.
7. I write about Virgil Griffith in the Virtualpolitik book as well in the chapter on hacktivism. This Caltech graduate student, who does research about computation and neural networks, achieved notoriety as an undergraduate at Indiana University for creating the WikiScanner, which allows computer users to locate the source of anonymous Wikipedia edits that often turned out to be self-interested PR efforts by corporations, government entitites, or public figures, although Virgil also discovered that the unmotivated edits were the CIA was editing pages about light saber fighting styles. Griffith is an advocate of what he calls "amateur data mining" or "data mining for the masses" with open source tools that are "typically reserved for major corporations" He has also launched whimsical projects like Books that Make you Dumb, which is based on data from college students on Facebook, and online automated guides to finding free food on college campuses. Griffith is also affiliated with the Sante Fe Institute.
8. Lilly Irani looks at the intersections between "everyday ubiquitous computing and interactive and collaborative technologies" as an Informatics student at UC Irvine who studies with Paul Dourish. Although she has a corporate background as a Google experience designer, she describes her research areas as being "everyday privacy strategies in collaboration, postcolonial computing, and feminist research practice." Her work on situated practices of looking in online environments demonstrates the sophistication of her analytical perspective. Irani is a regular participant in events at the UCI Design Alliance as well. (Check out the cool stuff being done about deliberation and information representation in the space program by another of Dourish's students, Janet Vertesi, who did her PhD at Cornell before coming to UCI for a postdoc.)
9. Georgia Tech 6th year PhD student Nick Diakopoulos has capitalized on his interest in salsa dancing to create the Salsa Beat Trainer, but he also works on a number of serious issues about how journalism is (or is not) using computational media in a course he teaches and a symposium that he co-chaired. On this blog I've written about some of the tools for mark-up and remixing of online video such as Videotater and for credibility assessment, such as Videolyzer, which he argues could even be used for things like pharmaceutical product videos. He's also developed a fun casual game called Audio Puzzler.
11. Dan Lockton writes the blog Design with Intent, which was once called "Architectures of Control," although Lockton rebranded it to emphasize the importance of what he calls "design for sustainable behavior." Anyone interested in information design and what Ian Bogost has called "procedural rhetoric" is likely to find themselves drawn in to blog entries about "you are here" maps, salt and pepper shaker tops, and light bulb hacking. Topics include mundane topics like queuing, hand washing in restrooms, and piped-in music in retail stores, but Lockton always draws attention to how subtle systems of societal restraint may be in play in almost invisible ways in our daily lives. Lockton has developed the Design with Intent Toolkit as part of an attempt to create more dialogue between those specializing in persuasive technologies and the larger community of design professionals.
12. Mirjam Eladhari of Gotland University in Sweden and University of Teesside in England does work about AI and games with Michael Mateas. Although her research is grounded in playtesting, Eladhari explores the more ineffable aspects of players' emotional responses as they become engrossed with stories and situations. I like the graphics for her Pataphysic Institute project that calls up associations with other pataphysics related organizations.
14. Pauline Chan was actually a student of mine in my digital rhetoric class, when she was still balancing her interests in English and Informatics in separate schools. She is now a graduate student at Georgia Tech, where she worked with Celia Pearce on a game about Ellis Island, Passage.
15. French graduate student Jean-Baptise LaBrun studies a minor subject: creativity. Like Hertz, he's been part of the Dorkbot scene and has created a number of inventions, such as the Tangicam video recorder for children. He's also presented work to the Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT, where he's now set to be a postdoc in the Media Lab. Check out his work at in|situ| Lab as well.
17. Mark Danger Chen of the University of Washington places his guild offices in World of Warcraft on his c.v. Look for him on the conference circuit where he presents his research on player ethnography but he's also a keen observer of interdisciplinary exchanges and an avid collector of digital ephemera.
18. Berkeley graduate student Colleen Morgan studies the "intersections between archaeology, new media, open source, and geospatial technology" and blogs at Middle Savagery. Her reflections about geekdom, photography, archeology, and visual representations of data are well worth reading, whether she is meditating upon the "superstandard English" of "nerd cadence" described by Mary Bucholtz or a "photoshop deathmatch" involving a shot from an archeological dig.
19. Fred Stutzman of the University of North Carolina is the co-founder of ClaimID.com, a "project that empowers individuals to manage their online identity through open, decentralized identity tools." Prior to graduate school, Stutzman worked as technical director of Ibiblio.org, the large digital repository of open-source, open-access content. While at Ibiblio, he proposed and managed the development of Lyceum, the open-source blogging platform. Stutzman has also provided consulting and advisory services to a number of projects and organizations, including media and software companies, non-profits and political campaigns. At one time, his clients have included the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, Wesley Clark and John Edwards. Fred maintains the blog Unit Structures and during the 2008 election cycle he was a contributing author to techPresident, a favorite blog of this blog.
I'm very pleased to be included in the MIT Press Podcast Series with an amazing group of academic authors who connect their scholarly research to everyday practices like parenting, recycling, shopping, and wearing eyeglasses. The press well understands that work done in the university has to be relevant to daily life, unlike some presses that are in a much worse market position. You can listen to my podcast with host Chris Gondek, who also creates MP3 content for the Yale, Harvard, Princeton, California and Chicago Presses, and with "emotional intelligence" expert Richard D. Roberts here.
(Apologies to Skip Rizzo of Virtual Iraq and Lewis Johnson of Tactical Iraqi for the accidental reversal of their project names.)
I was particularly pleased to introduce longtime Virtualpolitik pal Miles Coolidge who offered his reflections "on design as a force" not "design as a métier." In his own case he dates his own consciousness of the "entropic roots of design" or what could be called "Design Degree Zero" back to a set of photographs that he took as a member of the Junior Firefighters, which eventually became Fire Hazards (1977/2005). Ironically, as he pointed out, many of the same trends in contemporary photography of the nineteen sixties and seventies that were present in the aesthetics of more august artists like Ed Ruscha, who produced Various Small Fires, were also manifested in the work of his twelve-year-old self.
He also showed work from his series Garage Pictures (1992), which was originally titled "In its Place," since Coolidge sees in such spaces "not mess" but an "aggregate of decisions." He noted that in person the garages seemed messy, but the camera performs a task of organizing, so that he described one subjst looking at the final print and exclaiming, "There’s that wrench! I’ve been looking for it for months!" In displaying the garages of a retired engineer, a Chrystler salesman,, and an auto mechanic, Coolidge said that he was skeptical about "reading character from image," because these spaces are flexible and less coded than living rooms, while also being more private and less public. Like Foucault’s heterotopias or JB Jackson's understanding of the vernacular in opposition the institutional, Coolidge argued that they merited the photographer's attention.
In contrast, he showed photographs from his series Elevator Pictures (1993-4) that featured built environments that are emblematic of institutionality that can be read intuitively. He claimed that the elevator serves as a metonym for spaces that are institutions. However, the elevator is also like a camera, from same industrial era, with an analogous aperture, and in answer to similar set of needs. As someone who studies institutional rhetoric, I enjoyed the fact that elevators in the series included those from Cal Arts, the Institute of Cultural affairs, the Daily News, the UCLA Graduate Research Library, the Museum of Natural History, and a City of Santa Monica parking structure.
Finally, he showed pictures from Safetyville (1994-1996), a bizarre 1/3 scale set of buildings in a mock city maintained by minimum security prisoners and visited by school children. Having been mentored by German photographer Bernd Becher, he described himself as deeply influenced by the "typological method of photography," so he appreciated the "broad array of building types" in Safetyville, which included branded structures from Chevron and McDonalds, 70s wood exterior design, underdeveloped buildings with "for lease" signs, telephone switching facilities, skyscrapers, and police stations. However, he also explained how the micropolis was also strangely skewed both by the fact that it was a set piece for a lobbying group for the insurance company and because of the dissonance between the scale of buildings and the scale of texture, such as grass or concrete. In explaining the absence of people in the frame, During the question-and-answer session, Coolidge said that human beings in photographs often distract attention from the remaining ninety percent of the image. He also cited Vilém Flusser in The Shape of Things to argue that design is much like Flusser's "good" knife: if its goodness is defined by its effectiveness, it can be difficult to hold simple moral propositions about it.
Coolidge was followed by Sean Donahue of Research Centered Design who showed a number of images about surfaces of the earth and surfaces of bodies to suggest possible social consequences and opportunities for interventions by designers. In emphasizing the ways that design can make political interventions, he showed an installation by a student called Flipping for a Living in which the Taylorist logic involved in repetitive tasks for low wages could be expressed as a problem of information representation, as visitors to the gallery can see how many burger flips are needed for health insurance or other basic necessities. For example, it takes 916 flips to earn a tank of gas, and even the number of flips to be able to purchase a burger itself can be calculated. He also showed material from those at swingtherapy.org or the "guerilla swing project," who install swings with instructions to improvise unsanctioned play in pocket green spaces.
There were also digital tie-ins to some of the installations the Donahue included. The Pink Project from Make It Right placed pink roofs on the vacant lots of the Ninth Ward, which had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, which kept the issue visible on Google maps, and in the U.K. protestors in front of Parliament marched carrying blank signs in bright digital green to allow activists to add messages later digitally to people who would otherwise be restricted to a petition zone.
Donahue insisted, however, that having community participation was critical. In his own project L.A. Has Faults in MacArthur Park, he tied earthquake education to community empowerment rather than to designed objects that may never become integrated into local urban practices. As other examples he showed the storefront of Brooklyn Superhero Supplies and the mobile trailers for Story Corps.
The second half of the day was introduced by Peter Krapp's talk, "Push Button from Power to Placebo," in which he explained that "new controls" may not be as visible as the simple eye-catching mechanisms from the industrial age that still persist as the "buttons" on web pages, since access is rapidly disappearing into black box routines, and users can expect to learn less about how machines operate. To explain this interest in efficient motion, Krapp showed the research films from Frank Gilbreth's work on motion study, many of which are in the Internet Archive. (For more on Gilbreth, see this retrospective film.)
Krapp asserted that the rhetoric of the button, so important in both Coolidge's elevators and nuclear control systems, could be traced back to the "we do the rest" advertising appeals of the Kodak company in 1888 and the surveillance culture launched by fingerprinting in 1892. Even a critique of industrialization such as the film Modern Times could be placed in the role of corporate advertising, as IBM did with its Charlie Chaplin character. Krapp argued that such systems encouraged people to be more machine-like and read from J.C.R. Licklider's complaint that machines would often fail to meet human beings love of contingent programming, redundant languages, unitary objects, and coherent actions that are alien to the computer, although "men will fill in the gaps." To show how human beings could be imaged as being resized, rescaled, and cut and pasted in relationship to digital interfaces, he showed a number of comic strips from Brewster Rockit, including one in which a character exclaimed, "Great galaxies I’m being cut from my reality!"
For Krapp, "the language of the interface is the language of probability." To provide more mediation for contemporary subjects, Krapp pointed out the existence of computer interfaces that prevent use, such as Steve Lambert's SelfControl, an open source program that prevents the user from accessing the internet for a set period of time. He also projected scenes from Thescene.com, a series of online videos involving characters at NYU engaged in interpersonal dynamics and DVD hacking that is largely told through pop-up windows and on-screen text messages and button clicking. Rather than only liberate, Krapp observed that games punish or reward humans trained to be more machine-like. Yet like the door close button in James Gleick's Faster and the mechanism for political participation symbolized in the button of Slavoj Žižek, Krapp argues that we should get beyond accepting the button's instrumentality.
For those who can't get enough button-pressing, check out "the big red button that does nothing" that generated so much user feedback and narrative, since it was experienced as broken since it failed to deliver on the promise of the hyperlink. I also recommend giving the full time to this big red button page.
Next up was Antoinette LaFarge, who pointed out that the surface may be given a spatial dimension in certain sciences. She also drew up a schema in which "Interior of object/surface/human being" parallels "Interior of machine / interface / human being." For LaFarge, "Surface becomes a screen, a space of signification." To illustrate her ideas she showed video and screen shots from Playing the Rapture (2008) in which gamers in either Christian or environmental apocalypse, in which keystoning was a set element. She also highlighted her work in the cybernetic system of rumor information represented by Demotic (2006). In closing, she asserted that those in front of a contemporary computer screen were no longer users but beta-testers, which present fundamentally "different models" of user experience. In keeping with the apocalyptic theme, during the Q&A, LaFarge pointed out the existence of variations of what is called "the last page on the Internet," which can be seen here, here, here, and here.
The last speaker was Robert Nideffer, who like LaFarge will be part of an international group of artists participating in an upcoming Blizzard World of Warcraft themed art show at the Laguna Art Museum. He explained his 2003-2005 work in crafting unexceptional.net with component interfaces and a blog to tell the story of a central character, Guy, by taking users through different kinds of quests that include location aware phones and technologies that use text to speech and speech to text to give players in particular hotspots descriptions of other players and those players' inventories. To project the physical body of Guy and astral body of Guy, Nideffer relieved on several representational strategies, including the comic books that the central character and forlorn lover produces.
He also showed his game parody or game essay WTF? which plays around with the cultural conventions surrounding the 11 gigabytes of data installed on one's computer and 11 million fellow players engaged in playing World of Warcraft. In thinking about these "little bits of text going back," Nideffer hoped to combine game theory and game critique, just as the media analysis of the Gulf War that he did as his dissertation was produced as a CD-Rom. In WTF? we see Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and feminist theorist Mary Daley appearing as characters, as some of the issues of race, class, and gender that were also raised in the recent anthology Digital Culture, Play, and Identity. He described his game-making philosophy as being shaped by the early game about Central American politics Hidden Agenda.
In closing out the session, Nideffer previewed his contributions to the Laguna Art Museum show which shows Hieronymus Bosch style adaptations of The Temptation of St. Anthony and The Garden of Earthly Delights with representations of the avatars of the world's best players.