Thursday, December 31, 2009

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus . . . And That Diaper Pail Manufacturer

In a piece called "Parental Guidance" writer Sarah Wildman exposes how mommy blogs and daddy blogs, once thought to represent an antidote to advertising-driven consumerism and a reaffirmation of the values of domesticity outside of market interests, actually have become lucrative sites for promoting particular corporate brands. She describes how "reviews" of baby products are sometimes used as a way to collect free merchandise by cash-strapped parents and how events supposedly about parenting can become crass promotional events.

I'm not surprised by what Wildman says. When I mentioned a "sippy cup" and "stroller" in a posting about a famous TSA online video that showed a mother seemingly harrassed while going through airline security, I was quickly contacted by those pushing particular baby items, who were hoping for "advertorial" space on this blog, despite the ludicrousness of using a blog about digital rhetoric in very academic contexts as a vehicle to do so.

However, I'm not sure that she is right that the "blog with integrity" pledge would be the honor code that would really fix the problem.

I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.

I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.

I'm not sure that corrupt practices deserve respect and that satire isn't a legitimate tool. Nor am I sure that the present intellectual property regime should be upheld if it quashes creative production and political speech.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Barack to the Drawing Board


Many at the MLA discussed how the editor of College English, John Schilb, was bemoaning the lack of interest in presidential rhetoric in the academy and the absence of scholarship specifically on the rhetoric of Barack Obama. Given today's panel on "The Impact of Obama’s Rhetorical Strategies," I was sorry not to see Schilb in the audience commenting during the question and answer session. The panel was organized by Linda Adler-Kassner, who known for her work on "The Activist WPA." Her write-up of our session is here.

After Adler-Kassner's introduction, graduate student Sean Casey talked about the importance of thinking about civic education in the broadest possible terms and described a particular case study involving an assignment on the inauguration of Barack Obama. (You can see my take on the inauguration here.) He explained how the assignment allowed students to see how certain aspects of Obama's rhetoric were coercive as well as persuasive and to integrate the student newspaper into classroom activities about digital ephemera for a larger vision of what Barbara Warnick has called "the electronic public sphere." Casey discussed how one student responded with an analysis of the cutting and pasting of Aretha Franklin's hat as a trope of mobility and ornamentation in online social networks. Casey drew on several theoretical sources to argue that the definition of participation devoid of engagement with deliberation or policy formation and the staging of dialogism without interactivity should be troubling to teachers of civic education and rhetoric and composition. Among them was Danielle DeVoss's and Dickie Selfe's Technological Ecologies and Sustainability, which also discussed non-human actants like machines and spaces, in keeping with the current trend toward thinking with an "object-oriented ontology." Casey also drew on Burke to understand the ways that the inauguration assignment wanted to avoid the pitfalls experienced also by service learning assignments that generated only superficial civic engagement.

Graduate student Jeff Swift was next in looking at how Obama "blew past Howard Dean" in a "push toward social media" that also embraced Twitter, which was the focus of his Prezi talk. Although he acknowledged that Twitter makes a "terrible first impression," as TIME's Steve Johnson says, he argued that it provides what Clive Thompson has called "social proprioception" in orienting the social self with a "sixth sense." He also used many of the traditional lessons of the rhetoric and composition classroom, such as the value of ethos, and a line from Andrea Lunsford about the value of audience as well as instantaneous communication in such new online channels. In addition to discussing the value of what Malinowski (and Paul Kockelman) has called "phatic communion," Swift also talked about what Fred Wilson has called "the power of the passed link."

I gave the next presentation, which I describe in the italicized section below. Slides are here, and the Obama YouTube montage I showed by way of introduction is here.

Throughout the world, government agencies have adopted YouTube as a mode for broadcasting state-sanctioned video messages. Now many heads of state are looking to the United States and to the Obama administration to imitate the specific rhetorical techniques of the current American president. In retasking a YouTube platform generally associated with a fragmented politics of personal liberty and rhizomatic modes of resistance, Obama both borrows from the conventions of vernacular video and also adapts those conventions to established methods of standard official persuasion. In particular, Obama is situated in the domestic spaces of the White House in ways that might be familiar to YouTube viewers who are accustomed to a webcam cinema oriented around private homes.

Obama’s direct address to the YouTube viewer references the rhetorics of many other U.S. presidents. A chronological montage of clips from the White House official YouTube channel shows several allusions to his historical predecessors. Like Franklin Roosevelt Obama uses the pedagogical pose of the “fireside chat,” like Kennedy he attempts to conduct public diplomacy efforts and speak to citizens abroad in their own languages, and like Reagan he consoles the nation in times of tragedy.

However, his YouTube performances as the nation’s patriarch also draw attention to what could be called “mediated transparency.” Unlike his Republican opponent who was mocked for his use of green screen technologies that digitally effaced the physical background of a shot in favor of a virtual backdrop, the images of Obama chosen as the icons of many of his YouTube Weekly Addresses display lights, camera viewers, and computer monitors prominently.

YouTube also gives the viewer lessons about how to be an ideal computer user, but the official message coming from the White House’s visual rhetoric seems to be that to be wired is to be unpresidential. The Obama official Flickr photo stream never shows him on his famous Commander-in-Chief Blackberry. Like the cigarettes he smokes, the ubiquitous computing devices that he uses must be indulged in only secretly. A phone with a traditional cord that tethers him to his desk is clearly deemed much more presidential. On the rare occasions when he is posed in front of someone else’s computer screen for the launch of a new government website, Obama appears uncomfortable in front of the monitor, usually at a woman’s desk. Thus, a president may create content for YouTube, but – of course – he would never actually watch it. Since the White House allows text comments on its official channel, but response videos are prohibited, the inconvenient possibility that citizens might be viewed as well as view is eliminated.

These limitations on Obama’s engagement with the political feedback loop has often been highlighted in his so-called “Town Hall” performances with YouTube, which began before he took office with the CNN-YouTube Democratic Party debates in July of 2007, where Obama famously answered a question from a YouTube viewer by promising to talk directly to “foreign leaders” of countries with which the United States had no diplomatic relations. Although Obama publicized the use of “Open for Questions” derived from the Internet in one of his YouTube messages, he often avoided answering the most popular questions and instead focused on responding to specifically selected questions from webcam viewers who presented a YouTube political spectacle that was deemed more appropriate.

Often the constraints placed by networks that censor content from YouTube are assumed to exist only in totalitarian regimes that might want to block the U.S. message of democratic neoliberalism. Yet there was some irony this September when Obama created a YouTube back-to-school message intended for children in public school classrooms to inspire them to work hard and show respect for the institutions of learning, because most schools in the United States block YouTube, and even teachers cannot access such video-sharing sites on school networks when needed for obvious pedagogical uses.

As privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian points out, what is most disturbing about the official sanctioning of YouTube by the White House is that it subjects citizens who visit the website of a public institution to YouTube’s surveillance, tracking, and data mining without their knowledge or explicit consent. Although the White House has experimented with other players that do not have the proprietary software or policies on copyright that advocates for public property might find repugnant, YouTube continues to be the chosen third-party video player. As the language of different privacy policies is finessed, the company itself is never named. Furthermore, the close personal and financial relationship between the interests of Obama and the CEO of YouTube’s parent company, Google’s Eric Schmidt, is also certainly a cause for concern, given that American presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have been expected to break up corporate monopolies not legitimate them.

The use of YouTube by official agencies that are pursuing e-government agendas for the United States demonstrates the distinctive way that state authority is represented in distributed digital video in modes that mimic one-to-one communication and yet reinforce the one-to-many structure by which liberal representative democracies have traditionally functioned in the mass media era. With the expanding use of commercial Web 2.0 technologies by government agencies, critics and activists are finally expressing concern that in the name of “participatory culture” the government may risk compelling its citizens to participate in particular copyright regimes that constrain speech, to submit to corporate user agreements that rewrite the social contract, and to divulge private information to commercial vendors without their consent.


The session closed with a joint talk by Writing Program Administrator Dominic Delli Carpini and his brother Annenberg School dean and well-known writer on political communication Michael Delli Carpini. On the general principle that writing programs have an obligation to teach both new media and civic engagement and that this is an interdisciplinary venture, the two Carpinis argued that a compelling series of writing assignments could be constructed around the Barack Obama Organizing for America website to encourage critical thinking about its monologism and tendancy to rely on the rhetoric of a mandate.

Like others on the panel, they felt that their optimism about the civic engagement promised by the new administration had become tempered by the realities of the fact that no technology is neutral. They also argued that it was important to encourage critical thinking about a democratic plebicite that may be constituted numerically rather than cognitively and to consider the issues raised by Simone Chambers about "Rhetoric and the Public Sphere" about how dialectical democracy may not be promoted by certain forms of mass culture. In other words, if deliberation does similar work to the work of the writing classroom with exposing weak arguments, unacceptable premises, etc., then would assignments asking students to do extended rhetorical analysis of such websites or to study of shifts in the geography of URLs get students outside existing double binds. They urged adoption of a pedagogy about building new pathways through such websites and exploring "expropriations and workarounds" as well.

Update: For more on the panel, check out this story about the session from Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Ministry of Silly Walks

In an MLA session on "Links and Kinks in the Chain," the idea of the digital humanities as a kind of "Ministry of Silly Walks" was raised to illustrate the absurdity of attempting to group the idiosyncratic scholarly interests of a range of individuals into a single bureaucratic organization. In the discussion, Bethany Nowviskie also made a spirited defense of the importance of recognizing the labor of "hybrid scholars" who make important contributions to the digital humanities and embracing the spirit of "intellectual egalitarianism" in an honest conversation about status in the digital humanities. The line-up also included Laura C. Mandell, who is known for the range of her work from text-encoding initiatives to data visualizations, and Timothy B. Powell, whose work on Ojibwe culture I had seen earlier at the American Studies Association annual meeting. Much as Kim Christen has worked to keep cultural artifacts of her subjects in Aboriginal Australia off the public Internet, Powell has found himself questioning ideologies of openness promulgated by the digital humanities.

Last up was Jason C. Rhody of the NEH Office of Digital Humanities, who discussed the challenges of overcoming the fiction of the solitary scholar and using both carrots and sticks to encourage people to collaborate on important initiatives like the Shakespeare folio project being undertaken by the Folger Library and a number of other institutional stakeholders. Rhody also discussed the importance of understanding that "infrastructure can be people" and not taking the contributions of librarians and computer scientists for granted. He cautioned that when it came to collaboration "2+2+2' might only add up to "3."

In the question and answer session Jason B. Jones discussed how his own campus had experimented with giving all students an iPod touch as a vehicle for course content, but the problems that arose when students were separated from institutional infrastructures in their non-wireless homes.

This was not the only session talking about the limitations and challenges of the digital humanities at the MLA. Earlier in the day in a session on "Making Research: Limits and Barriers in the Age of Digital Reproduction," other obstacles to utopian outcomes were also detailed. William Baker
discussed "The History and Limitations of Digitalization" and grad student Elizabeth Vincelette pointed out how the hypertext party has been declared over by Alan Liu in a talk called "Moving Past the Hype of Hypertext: Limits of Scholarly Digital Ventures." Vincelette discussed how such projects might exploit the labor of graduate students, adjuncts, and OCR monitors and document scanners in developing nations. She singled out Google Book Search as a flawed privatized program that has been justifiably criticized by Geoffrey Nunberg and the issue of the theology surrounding Google that were first made explicit by Thomas Friedman. Graduate student and Tennyson scholar Jan Pridmore did not completely clarify the procedures in "A Proposed Model for Peer Review of Online Publications," but she did explain how her low budget, high quality site literaryhistory.com managed to produce so many pages and still avoid copyright battles with her large bibliographies of linked literary criticism. Pridmore singled out scholars like Marjorie Perloff for praise by putting so many of her scholarly essays online. On this morning panel only Kerry Kilner of AustLit played cheerleader.

As the Twitter archive of tweets from the MLA indicates, there was a lively backchannel. One of the "rockstars" of the twitterati was the man who was called "missing in action" by the Chronicle of Higher Education: Brian Croxall. Croxall's name appears prominently in the Twitter wordcloud above and his blog entry explaining his absence for reasons of poverty became a must-read.

Meanwhile, Twitter has also been a vehicle for the Twitter feed that complements the yearly MLAde send-up of Aaron Winter.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick's round-up of all the digital humanities playfulness and caution at the MLA is here.

Thanks to Mark Sample for the word cloud!

Update: More great data visualizations about the MLA for Mark Sample here. I'm only a small piece of the pie!

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs


This evening, merely an hour after I landed at the annual MLA convention, where jobseekers with Ph.D.s in literature or foreign languages congregate and which was probably best immortalized by the poet John Berryman, I went in search of digital humanities sessions at what is supposed to be the "worst MLA ever." After all, the Chronicle of Higher Education has apparently identified the field that I actually belong to as one of the few sites of hope at the convention.

Amid all the doom and gloom of the 2009 MLA Convention, one field seems to be alive and well: the digital humanities. More than that: Among all the contending subfields, the digital humanities seem like the first "next big thing" in a long time, because the implications of digital technology affect every field.

Unfortunately, because of family obligations, I already knew that I had missed the session jam-packed with Virtualpolitik friends and fellow bloggers: Kathleen Fitzpatrick (chair), Dave Parry, Chuck Tryon, and Jeremy Douglass. (Luckily, some of their material is posted here.)

Luckily there were still some night owls at the evening session about Looking for Whitman, an ambitious NEH-funded multi-campus pedagogical/archival experiment involving the three cities in which the famed poet lived and worked: New York City, Washington D.C., and Camden, New Jersey. As Matthew Gold explained in his introduction, this project brought together a range of students -- from undergraduate nonmajors in a technical education program to literature graduate students who planned to be professionals in the academy -- at several institutions: Rutgers, CUNY, and University of Mary Washington. Thanks to NYU professor Karen Karbiener, it even ultimately included students across the Atlantic in Novi Sad, who translated Whitman into Serbian.

Gold described a project with many parts. Like Alan Liu, he realized that having students create profile pages would be an important part, which they did under the rubric of "Frotispieces." They also responded to assignments structured around the concept of the "image gloss," the "cinepoem," and the "vault." In keeping with the curatorial metaphor that has become an important part of the digital humanities, students also created text for a "material culture museum" and a physical museum where they created a script for a visitor's center. Using free and open source technologies and a WordPress platform, he described an initiative intended to be "porous," "feed-conscious," "decentered," "networked," "flexible," "mashed," and "open." Fundamental pedagogical principles included connecting "poetry to place," working with existing institutions, encouraging serendipitous exchanges between students, increasing the visibility of local archives, and urging students to write for more public audiences.

During the question and answer period, there were hard questions about copyright, plagiarism, assessment, and the evaluation of student work. In response, some defended Cathy Davidson's controversial call for the "crowd sourcing" of grades.

Update: There's another great piece on MLA gloom from the Chronicle here.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

FAQ You

In response to the Christmas day attempt to blow up a Northwest jetliner traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit, the Transportation Security Administration has published an FAQ for holiday travelers. Of course, the genre of the FAQ has become an important part of the digital rhetoric of many government websites. Some are relatively straightforward: taxes, copyright, trademark, and visa FAQs address the needs of conventional Weberian bureaucracies. There are also FAQs on new Obama-era government websites that aren't tied to traditional federal agencies, such as Recovery.gov or Cars.gov. There are also FAQs about natural disasters and other scientific phenomena that require the explanatory powers of the government, such as the FAQ sites about earthquakes or hurricanes or tornadoes.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Out of the Fingers of Babes

"Google Seeks to Help Children Search Better" gets at a fundamental issue in digital parenting, now that so many children go to the Internet for schoolwork rather than for fun. It explains how search engines like Ask.com have some market advantages for a digital generation that is not actually so digital when it comes to Boolean searches with keywords. It also discusses how Google is developing the Google Wonder Wheel for simplifying and arranging results in formats other than the traditional results list, which has been the standard approach in digital libraries for decades.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

You Better Not Pout

This Christmas, like many consumers running around, I used my mobile phone to locate gifts in what has been called "the Internet of things" in databases of competing inventories to find cheaper, closer, and more easily accessible presents. Bar-code scanners on devices like the iPhone were likely annoying to store clerks this holiday season, but as this story, "Mobile Phones Become Essential Tool to Shopping," indicates, it is likely that the mobile phones under the tree this year will help choose the packages for next year.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twas the Night Before Christmas

On Christmas Eve it is interesting to see how Christmas magic, superstition, and faith are both supported and debunked on the Internet. I often wonder if a child's faith in Santa gets tested as rigorously by a Google search as a similar set of queries about the existence of the stork that brings babies without sexual reproduction. Many online sources reinforce the Santa myth, although this Wikipedia entry encourages doubt.

There has long been some opposition to teaching children to believe in Santa Claus. Some Christians say the Santa tradition detracts from the religious origins and purpose of Christmas. Other critics feel that Santa Claus is an elaborate lie, and that it is unethical for parents to teach their children to believe in his existence.[8] Still others oppose Santa Claus as a symbol of the commercialization of the Christmas holiday, or as an intrusion upon their own national traditions.[9] Others point out that the Claus tradition is a good example of how children can learn that they may be deliberately misled by their elders; this will help teach them to be cautious about accepting any other superstition or unsubstantiated belief.[citation needed]

NorthPole.com is one of the most popular results among the Santa-is-real websites; it offers interactive stories with sound effects to Santa Claus enthusiasts. Oddly no one seems to be doing anything with the Christmas.com domain, despite its obvious lucrative potential.

My former UCI colleague historian Jennifer Luff has argued that the "Night Before Christmas" poem and the domesticity that it represents was partly exploited by those who wanted to end the public carousing and collective drinking and carnivalesque behavior in favor of a more sanitized at-home alternative. The piety and patriotism of Santaland.com, with its "God Bless America" banner and "Yes, Virginia" story plays to this normative Santa narrative.

From a digital rhetoric standpoint, it's also interesting to see so many web design failures. At the critical juncture, Claus.com was down for maintenance, and EmailSanta.com with its Comic Sans and its loud sound effects and jarring color scheme is a classic website of the "World's Worst" variety. Santa-Claus.com offers more ugliness with its clip art, and the over-animated and over-hyphenated the-north-pole.com may be even worse from an aesthetic perspective.

For those who worry about the "Googlization of government," like Siva Vaidhyanathan, the use of Google products by NORAD in its elaborate "Santa Tracker" may be a sobering reminder of the global reach of the Mountain View, CA company.

Of course, people can still use the Internet to congregate with others as they simultaneously stay at home in virtual places like America's Army, Second Life, and World of Warcraft.

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Avatarded

Last weekend I went to see the new James Cameron film Avatar and was disappointed to see how little of the humor and sociality of virtual worlds was actually represented on the big screen. Because of a central conceit in the plot that the the main character was coincidentally the identical twin brother of a scientist who had already mind-melded with the avatar in a naturalized bio-futuristic way, the writers could claim to have a staff of scientific consultants and yet ignore the fact that our brains are largely wired by experience and that biological twinship would be more helpful in organ donation than being able to drive a robotic arm.

And don't even let me get started on the science of networks that is presented in the film with its magical Internet of communicating and communing vegetation around one of two giant trees that somehow only has all the good features of networks (sustainability, redundancy, adaptability) and none of the bad features (cascading failures, lack of hierarchies, routing through vulnerable large hubs).

I also don't want to start in on these magical eco-friendly natives who somehow don't have technology or culture distinct from nature in a narrative that is more Lion King meets The Little Mermaid than a serious discussion of augmentation and prosthetic experiences.

Unlike this video about Second Life, Avatar gives us no sense that virtual worlds are cultural entities that require interpretation, workarounds, and trial and error efforts. To dramatize the organic ease of adapting to a virtual world, at one point the protagonist is running at high speed seconds after inhabiting his remote body.

The one thing that Avatar seems to appropriate accurately, quite regrettably, from onlne environments like World of Warcraft or Second Life is the voyeuristic rhetoric around a scantily clad and exaggerated hyperfeminine form.

Of course, the other potentially interesting aspect of the Avatar story is the idea that playing a role of one's combatant on the other side of a conflict can change attitudes about political opponents. As I finish an essay for Error: Information, Control, and the Culture of Noise for Continuum about the SonicJihad debacle in Congress, this issue about being able to play a simulation from more than one side seems a valuable thing to bring to the theatre. Unfortunately, the hero merely switches sides completely and abandons his human allegiances, so the potential loss of multiple perspectives is lost.

Update: For more on academia's reflections on Avatar, see Nancy Lutkehaus on being a Hollywood advisor and the thread about the film on Savage Minds.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Czar is Born

When watching the struggles of the Obama White House to implement policy, most eyes have turned to the health care debate or to the efforts to fight emissions linked to global warming, but there has been another negotiated milestone that has been months in the making: appointment of a cybersecurity "czar." Perhaps it is this week's scandal about how insurgents have managed to hack into video feeds of unmanned aircraft over Iraq that has brought the issue to the forefront, but this morning I received the following e-mail from John O. Brennan, announcing the appointment of Howard A. Schmidt for the position:

Dear Friend,

Cybersecurity matters to all of us. Protecting the internet is critical to our national security, public safety and our personal privacy and civil liberties. It’s also vital to President Obama’s efforts to strengthen our country, from the modernization of our health care system to the high-tech job creation central to our economic recovery.

The very email you are reading underscores our dependence on information technologies in this digital age, which is why it seemed like a fitting way to announce that the President has chosen Howard Schmidt to be the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Howard will have the important responsibility of orchestrating the many important cybersecurity activities across the government.

Howard is one of the world’s leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement. Learn more about Howard's background and approach to cybersecurity:

Howard will have regular access to the President and serve as a key member of his National Security Staff. He will also work closely with his economic team to ensure that our cybersecurity efforts keep the Nation secure and prosperous.

Moving forward we will use WhiteHouse.gov, this email program and our other communications tools to keep you posted about our progress in this important area.

Sincerely,

John O. Brennan
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

P.S. You can play an important role in cybersecurity as well. Learn more about the issue and steps you can take to ensure your own security.


There is a link that introduces the white-haired corporate veteran with a background in the military and law enforcement, but I still have many question about Schmidt's appointment, his lack of a computer science background, and the possibility that he might offer only lukewarm support for cybersecurity research at universities, which often requires finding the vulnerabilities in proprietary software in ways that corporate shareholders don't like. I visited the website of the Information Security Forum that Schmidt has headed and saw a lot of material about licenses that support the current intellectual property regime and little about open source alternatives. (The phrase "open source" generated no results from their search engine, while "Microsoft" brought up eight links.)

As this story in the Washington Post indicates, the road to the appointment has been a bumpy one, with many first draft nominees who have turned the post down and key cybersecurity personnel who felt disadvantaged by their association with the Bush administration resigning in frustration as the search dragged on. That's certainly not an auspicious beginning.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Links to the Outside



When the White House blog was launched, I complained about the conspicuous lack of HTML links in the text, a mistake that I often chide in my students' blogging efforts. Luckily, they soon got the hang of basic citation of sources.

Now the White House blog seems to have a much stronger sense of its own position in relation to the blogosphere. Not only are they linking to outside sources like Roll Call, but also they are appealing directly to female bloggers, as the video above indicates.

Next question: When will the White House YouTube channel allow response videos or indicate its connection to the YouTube ecology?

At least it is great to no longer see the White House relying on a default YouTube player.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Enduring Endship

The New York Times describes how "To Deal With Obsession, Some Defriend Facebook" to explain the reluctance of some young people to devote their time to the popular social network site. But Internet researchers are also describing another pattern that might be of more concern to this large player in the Web 2.0 marketplace, which now seems to be changing privacy defaults and promoting the Bing search engine during normal navigational behavior in ways that are annoying longterm users. More than simple time-management and attention discipline may be involved when a young person lets an account go inactive. Some kids have opened other accounts under coded names to avoid parental friendships that come with surveillance. Still others are migrating to other venues now that Facebook is being seen as going mainstream.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Give the People What They Want

The Obama administration has been talking a lot about potential mash-ups made possible by their commitment to transparency and how iPhone customers can see where economic stimulus money is being spent or how airport flight times are being calculated. But they fail to mention that the most popular application that takes government data and combines it with locational mobile phone technology is the application for locating sex offenders in a given neighborhood. See this ABC News story for more.

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Leap Year

Today I almost threw out the box with the disk with EndNote and its license. It takes up space in my office area, it is for a version that is no longer supported, and it reminds me that I paid a huge amount of money as a freshly minted Ph.D. for software that I truly hated trying to use.

Now I use Zotero much more happily for writing books and articles and for generating bibliographies for students and colleagues. It's not always true that the free, open-source product is the easier alternative, but it is in the case of this wonderful bibliographical organization software from the Center for History and New Media, which supports many different formats, media types, and works with Amazon, WorldCat, Google Books, and most library catalogs.

Apparently I was a sucker not to chuck it out, since I received this message from the company that produces EndNote the very same day:

Please read this alert about an import issue with EndNote versions X through 8 beginning in 2010.

In many cases, bibliographic records with a publication date of 2010 or later will not import the year data into EndNote. When this occurs, the year must be added manually—see FAQ for more details. All other data for the reference imports correctly.

We know this importing issue is an important one to you, and apologize for the inconvenience. As our records indicate you are using a version that is no longer supported, we would like to extend a special upgrade offer to EndNote X3 of $59.95 (expires 12/31/2009).


I write about new media! I cite new books! This little glitch about books produced in the rapidly approaching coming year would make the software laughably unhelpful to me. I read the FAQ that they recommended, and then attempted to view the link to the video, which showed this black load screen for a hilariously long time and then refused to play beyond the first frame.

I will definitely go back and throw out that EndNote now.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Rambo is on Facebook

Given that just last year, under the Bush administration, many online social network sites were forbidden to be used by members of the military, because policy makers were worried that more incriminating or operationally confidential information from the theater of war could be too easily leaked to the public or terrorist sympathizers, it is extraordinary to see the DoD Social Media Hub now prominently on display. Entries like "Social Networking and Foreign Policy" quotes officials saying things like "The very existence of social networks is a net good" and "The freedom of communication and the nature of it is a huge strategic asset for the United States." The screen shot above shows a poll being taken among service members about their preferred portals of choice, and a register of official sites includes popular Web 2.0 companies like Facebook and Flickr. There are, however, some seeming inconsistencies. Once banned MySpace continues not to have an official presence and still may be considered an "OPSEC Nightmare," although YouTube is back in the military's good graces and can be used to send a Holiday Video Message to the Troops.

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The Tragedy of the Commons


Looking at the website for the Copenhagen climate summit, I am struck by the fact that the online institutional rhetoric reflects the incoherence of objectives and agendas that may have ultimately doomed the efforts to gain serious limits on the production of greenhouse gasses. The United Nations Climate Change Conference website contains many of the aspects one would normally expect of a conference, such as information about the venue, meeting times, registration, accommodations, and conference logistics. But it also incorporated blogs and newsfeeds that indicated the dissatisfaction of protesters and participants with the proceedings.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Droning On

Stories from CNET and the Christian Science Monitor about the recent hacking of U.S. Predator drones over Iraq to acquire images from their video feeds explain how jihadists were able to use low-cost SkyGrabber software to gain access to unencrypted data.

Of course, the fact that the main audience for this software is composed of those who want free and uncensored television broadcasts without paying or having permission may just feed into the conflation of piracy with terrorism that I have already argued in the Virtualpolitik book is part of a general rhetoric of criminality around the Internet. More information about the technical specifics is in this YouTube video below.


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Splitting the Indifference

Today Mic Bowman of Intel gave a talk at the Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds at UC Irvine in which insights about how social experiences are constructed were applied to the technical problems created by the fact that at "the core of most virtual world applications is a quadratic computation of the set of interactions among avatars (users) and a shared scene," which creates a "fundamental barrier to scaling experiences in these applications." Much of the talk was devoted to specifics of previous techniques for limiting the interaction among avatars through spatial subdivision or sharding. However, Bowman argued that these algorithmic approaches consequently caused "the content and shape of the interaction" to be "driven by the limits of the simulation." Although I might argue that all kinds of real-world social interactions are constrained by certain architectures of control, Bowman claimed that Intel's use of "distributed systems technologies to balance the simulation load dynamically and to optimize network communication" in OpenSim could create more compelling and naturalistic virtual worlds.

One of the examples that Bowman kept coming back to is the challenge of creating an experience like "watching a baseball game with your buddy" rather than just "watching a baseball game." As he pointed out, a simple mouse swipe across the screen that changes the view of the player's avatar can create many technical problems, because the associated shift in head position has be be updated from the perspective of all the other avatars in a given scene. Fortunately, he noted, there can be a lot of redundancy for purposes of rendering scenes, as in the case of an event taking place on the other side of the stadium, which probably looks very similar to the avatar sitting next to you. In a talk that detailed the challenges of partitioning for scenes and operators, accounting for a user's cone of sight, and accommodating collision detection and physics, Bowman noted that there were lessons to be learned from real-time media streaming, as well as thinking about scene management from the perspective of the client. He also observed that granularity of attention matters, since those doing protein folding on ScienceSim might have very different expectations from those planning a workshop or a business meeting.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Glossed in Translation


The magazine for one of Italy's largest newspapers has done a two-page story on my work. Check it out at "Lezione minima di virtualpolitik." It includes some of my favorite minor meditations about how powerful women are treated by the web, oddball government sites around the world, a mention of Virtualpolitik friend Geert Lovink, and my thesis about pseudo-participation.

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Putting DAC to Bed Until 2011

The international Digital Arts and Culture conference, DAC 2009, has wrapped up after a very full three days. As the program coordinator for the event, I ended up expanding my repertoire in digital rhetoric to include a number of productivity tools for scheduling, and speakers, talks, questions, slides, demos, performances, and audiences generally occurred where and when they were supposed to. At the postmortem closing plenary for the conference, attendees suggested that more could be done to improve diversity, encourage independent artists and scholars, and to lower costs by considering a THATCAMP model.

You can search this archive of tweets about the conference or check out the DAC blog, and we hope to be able to add more documentation soon. Thanks again to DAC Director Simon Penny for all his efforts and collaborative energy.

Those interested in hosting a future DAC can contact me, Simon, or members of the DAC executive committee.

(Thanks to Dana Solomon for the image!)

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Contrails to You

Yesterday morning I was up at 3:30 AM to be a guest at the WISE launch by NASA. An impressive Delta II rocket, shown in video below, sent the unmanned satellite carrying an infrared-sensitive telescope that will image the entire sky into orbit. In the days leading up to the event, the launch had been scrubbed several times, so I frequently found myself checking the NASA launch app for the iPhone to see when the next launch window was scheduled. As an application for the iPhone, it actually doesn't do much with the iPhone's capability, and the content on the app is largely pulled from the web. An app that might tell astronomy enthusiasts when objects might be hurtling in the sky overhead and perhaps viewable might have much more functionality.

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Regional Advantage

In my talk in the DAC plenary session today I tried to recast my paper in the "interdisciplinary pedagogy" theme as a call to action and also explore possible vulnerabilities in its argument. Rather than merely read the text of "Hybridizing Learning, Performing Interdisciplinarity: Teaching Digitally in a Posthuman Age" at the podium, I tried to connect the ideas in the paper to the people and ideas of the conference, and even went so far as to show a slide of conference participants who also happened to be part of the university case studies that I had extrapolated from to underline the point.

I began with Mark C. Taylor's controversial "End the University as We Know It" to make three points, the first two of which were relatively obvious. First, Taylor exploits the familiar topoi of "excellence" or "crisis" around education to draw attention to his manifesto. Second, the interdisciplinarity that he promotes with his list of sample programs to be initiated after departments are abolished wouldn't do much for anyone choosing to attend Digital Arts and Culture in the first place. For example, I don't know if my own work belongs in "media," "networks," or "information." Third, in looking at the comments on Taylor's piece, I was struck by the number of people who mentioned two industries that they considered comparable: the newspaper business and the healthcare industry. One metaphor drew attention to the rapidity with which a crisis, like the one facing the university, might demolish existing structures of authority and public oversight, and the other highlighted the need for general democratic deliberation since the maintenance of the mind was as vital to the public good as care for the body might be. I also think those metaphors are interesting to think about in connection with technology. In the newspaper business, technology is supposed to lower the costs of distribution and lower the bar to access, while in healthcare technology raises costs and leads to more gatekeeping. Much as distance learning promises cheap delivery and broad reach and smart classrooms showcase the latest and greatest gizmos to a few elite learning sites, these metaphors can be helpful in letting us unpack how the very debate about technology and interdisciplinarity is structured.

Instead I drew attention to ten trends that I thought represented truly transformative approaches that used instructional technology to reimagine what learning does and how it does it: 1) object-oriented ontologies (which can too easily devolve into treasure hunts), 2) playable simulations (the best of which can be overlooked in the current mania for serious games), 3) procedural literacy events (which can be trumped by a romance for bad AI), 4) database mash-ups (which can be poisoned by bad data), 5) network epistemologies (which can crash when accounting for all the different kinds of linkages between actacts or agents in a given system), 6) information aesthetics (which can be abstracted out to a reductio ad absurdum of unfeeling minimalism), 7) tactical media (which can backfire when students want to do projects promoting less progressive agendas), 8) software studies (which won't play with audiences who don't care about past systems, programming constraints, or opening up black boxes), 9) critical information studies (which assumes that everyone agrees about what information is), and 10) digital rhetorics (which will take up much of my next book).

Slides with lots of examples are here.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Taking Home the Chihuahua


That's right, with this image of an iPhone, I'm promoting Ellen Lupton's Stock-a-Rama, where one of America's best-known design mavens is urging online users to "feel free to use any of these random images in your blog or other non-commercial project" under a Creative Commons license.

I suppose I am also admitting that I've bought the actual item represented, even though I used Blackberry devices perfectly happily and certainly read Ian Bogost's warning that it was a "geek's chihuahua" with attention.

Nonetheless, in worrying that universities and government agencies are committing to a model of rapidly outmoded web experience when the mobile web may better serve the Internet user of the future, it seems important to have the device with the greatest number of applications designed by universities and government agencies. I've already installed my NASA launch app on my iPhone, which I must say has come in handy, since the launch for the WISE project has already been scrubbed for weather reasons several times. (When it does happen, I promise to report from Vandenberg, where I've been invited to see it first-hand.)

Still, as someone who really hates difficult-to-use keyboards, no matter how noble the cause, I certainly won't be blogging from my iPhone.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Foot-in-Mouth Facebook

The headline "Tennessee mayor calls Obama a Muslim for pre-empting A Charlie Brown Christmas" certainly doesn't sound good for an elected official, but now the creator of the Facebook message that has created a furor insists that his tongue-in-cheek humor on the popular social network site was merely misunderstood. Now the town of Arlington has disavowed his comments in a posted announcement and the mayor has deleted his Facebook account according to the Associated Press.

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Waiting for Elijah

In many traditions there is a some version of maintaining "a seat for Elijah" in which an absent person is included in activities of social communion even if not physically present. Internet rituals involving missing people often have this element of anticipation of the person rejoining the others at the table. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education has reported on how "friends and colleagues search for missing scholar Philip Agre." Internet policy research is a relatively small world, and -- although I don't know him personally -- he has often had a place nearby my name, whether on book catalogs or course syllabi. Colleagues are also sending plaintive messages to Friends of Phil Agre hoping that it is merely his concern for his own privacy that has caused him to go missing.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Think Inside the Box

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Shot in the Dark

"Facing up to the darker side of Facebook" in the Los Angeles Times makes a moronic argument that what we have to fear is the fear of being asinine, when it comes to networked communication.

Today my friends trumpet the more unpleasant aspects of their personalities via Facebook status updates. No longer hidden or disavowed, they're thrown in my face like infomercials on late-night TV -- unavoidable and endless advertisements for the worst aspects of their personalities.

If the writer honestly thinks this is the biggest risk of a social network site that capitalizes on information gathering about human connection and private wish fulfillment is seeing his friends warts and all, that doesn't say much for the level of cultural analysis that the newspaper is capable of. And the writer's notion that people give up image management when they go online is patently absurd.

In real life, I don't see these sides of people. Face to face, my friends edit themselves, showing me their best. They're nice, smart people, and there's a give-and-take to normal conversations. They don't talk incessantly about their work. They don't point fingers with Glenn Beck bluster or sound like crazy callers on talk radio. But face to Facebook, my friends are like a blind date gone horribly wrong, one in which you sit there listening while the person on the other side of the table blathers on, pretty much forgetting you exist and not always making the best impression.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Taking on Tim

Andrea DiMaio's posting on "Why Citizen Participation May be an Illusion" is stirring up interest in the O'Reilly e-government blogosphere.

There are great expectations about how governments will be able to leverage technology in the near future that will finally allow them to re-engage with citizens. We use different names for this: government 2.0, open government, e-democracy, e-participation. The basic assumption is that as citizen use technologies like social software to connect with each other and gather around issues and topics they care about, they’ll be able to make their voices heard more clearly and more timely by politicians and government officials.

When we look at barriers for this to happen, we usually focus on governments as the culprits. “They don’t get it”, we say, “They are risk-averse”, “They are afraid of innovation”, and so it goes.

But are we sure that citizen engagement would really work even if governments “got it” and went to great lengths to embrace social networks?

Let me share a little personal story that, although rooted in the somewhat peculiar and overcomplicated reality of my own country (Italy), may be exemplary of how the concept of engagement may remain for long more an abstraction than a reality.

Having recently been asked by an Italian journalist to comment about trends in digital rhetoric among political parties in Italy, after reviewing a list of URLs that she suggested, I think that DiMaio's arguments could apply in both contexts. After telling the story of DiMaio's own local government at the level of a city league and the right-wing coalition that handled organizational tasks, the argument shifted to e-government.

Now, what has this to do with government 2.0 and e-participation? I would argue that forums, blogs, virtual communities can go a long way to engage people in policy issues, pretty much like the city league did However, in order to turn all these voices and interest into something that politics and governments can seriously take into account there is a need – or, better, a requirement – for some legal status, some form of organization that, for its very nature, runs contrary to the spontaneity of self-organized communities.

It is all fair and good to say that politicians and government officials will carefully listen to what virtual communities say, but until when those communities can sit at a table and have a voting right, they won’t be able to make much difference. On the other hand, in order to do so they have to morph into something more formal, more physical, more “institutional”.

Contrary to Tim O'Reilly, DiMaio argues that "Government is Not a Platform." Since I'm interested in including platform studies in my own analysis of how governments function in relationship to technology, my thinking seems to occupy yet another possible position.

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DAC Launch



I began this blog shortly before DAC 2005 in Copenhagen, where I met many colleagues and collaborators that I still work with today. Now, it's the final week before DAC 2009, which will bring an international line-up of scholars, artists, researchers, designers, and critics to UC Irvine. As one of the organizers of the event, I am hosting a welcome brunch. (See video above.)

The event is being promoted by HASTAC, UCHRI, and CALIT2. It is also getting notices in the local press and the front page for the campus website.

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With a Finger on the Button

When I think of "the button" singular, I tend to think of a launch device for a nuclear missile, but game designers are undertaking the one-button challenge this year for the upcoming GDC, as the Kokoromi Collective explains.

Gestural controls, multi-touch surfaces, musical instruments, voice recognition—even brain control. Games are moving beyond the iconic hand-held controller, and into the future. But is the secret to good games found in high-tech interfaces? Kokoromi proposes that game developers can still find beauty in absolute simplicity. On March 10th, Gamma 4 will unveil brand-new games that use JUST ONE BUTTON.

Gamma 4 invites software developers to push the limits of gameplay with a single input. Game developers, media, and industry luminaries from around the world, will join the general public to view and play the Gamma 4 games at at a party that bridges the end of the Independent Games Summit and the start of the main GDC. Following the event, all the games will be playable in a dedicated booth on the GDC Expo floor. Game creators whose games are selected for presentation at Gamma 4 will also be awarded free GDC All-Access passes.

THE RULES

* Use a single button as your player input, in a unique or experimental way. Be creative.
* The game must be pick up and play.
* The gameplay cannot rely on audio information, since there will not be audio output provided during the event. Non-essential audio is permitted.
* Your game can support any number of players up to 4.
* The game cannot rely on an internet or LAN connection (there will not be connectivity provided during the event).
* The total gameplay session must be no longer than 5 minutes, including any intros, instructions, or credits.
* The official controller is the Xbox360 controller. Player input must be assigned identically to the A,B,X, and Y buttons, and can use only the standard functionality (press, tap, hold, etc) of that button type (no triggers, bumpers, directional sticks, etc).
* Games running either on Windows or MacOSX are accepted.
* The maximum game resolution is 1024×768.
* The submission deadline is Jan 31, 11:59pm pacific time. Submission instructions to follow in mid January.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Stubbed Out

Most public health games have a moralistic goody-two-shoes message, but not Smoking Kills, which encourages the player to join M.A.B.A.S. or the Mysterious Association of BadAsses Against Smokers and promptly begin directing to the player to aim his or her sniper fire against smoking stick-figure people. Killing smokers in dark alleys and movie theaters was relatively simple, but soon the game requires stratagems involving coconuts on tropical beaches and misdirecting traffic.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Passing Similarity

As someone with a Ph.D. in English literature, of course, I love the idea of the Doppelgänger, the concept that there is a double of one's self out there somewhere, which gets retold in the narratives of stories as diverse as The Secret Sharer, Despair, and Frankenstein. And I've blogged about my own online doubles found through social network sites.

And yet experience has taught me to be skeptical about the efficacy of algorithms of both voice detection software and facial recognition software, particularly now that the government is deploying such matching systems for everything from simulating interactions with Iraqi civilians to spotting would-be terrorists at airports. After all, in the Blue and Brown Books , Wittgenstein argued that seeing family resemblance in human faces raises a number of hard philosophical questions about knowledge and relateness as an epistemological category.

So it wasn't with too much surprise that I discovered that the "Another You" out there being promoted by the Coca-Cola Zero Facebook application in my case turned out to look more like the Numa Numa guy than yours truly.

My second try was even less successful, since apparently the system looks for easy Crayola coloring things like skin color or the presence of glasses, and my new pseudo-invisible stylish eyeglasses frames render me invisible to the software.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Crash and Burn



I've written before about video re-enactments that use 3D animation software in news broadcasts and retask technologies often used in courtrooms to attempt to represent what happened in automobile accidents and other catalysts for litigation.

News broadcasters now use these simulations for recreating accidents and violent events like school shootings or military mistakes when footage illustrating the actual encounter is unobtainable. Now Chinese news footage that uses an animation engine to restage the middle-of-the-night car crash/infidelity argument involving pro-golfer Tiger Woods and his wife. See below for Keith Olberman's prediction that this will be a genre increasingly likely to appear in news broadcasts.




Update
:For more on this story, check out "In Animated Videos, News and Guesswork Mix" in the New York Times.

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Lincoln Logs

The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported on a new initiative to make history more accessible in a granular form by using the microblogging site Twitter in "What Lincoln Would Have Tweeted." Of course, the idea of Lincoln as a user of digital media has been explored before, most humorously -- perhaps -- in Peter Norvig's "The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation."

The Abraham Lincoln Twitter feed on Twhistory reminds visitors that the Civil War president was an avid consumer of telegraph messages and other forms of abbreviated communication. A few sample messages can give one a sense of Lincoln's presumed style if his multitasking was tranlated into the present day.

@ Gen_Couch: I see that the enemy is not pressing up to the Susquehanna. Please tell me what you know of his movements.

@ Gen_Hunter: The recent change of commanders was made for no reasons which convey any imputation upon you.

I have replaced Gen_Hooker with Gen_Meade.

@ Gen_Burnside: There is nothing going on in Kentucky on the subject of which you telegraph, except an enrollment.


@ Gen_Slocum: Was William Gruvier, Forty-sixth, Pennsylvania, one of the men executed as a deserter last Friday?


Of course, the team who has created this contemporary Lincoln do rely on links to maps to tell much of the story of Gettysburg. They also sometimes fail to meet the 140 character constraint of Twitter itself.

As this slideshow indicates, the Cuban Missile Crisis has received similar treatment.

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Search and De-Story

One of Google's new advertising techniques is to plug their so called "search stories," which are now featured on their own YouTube channel. This strategy could represent a kind of electronic literature approach in which the world's largest search engine is used as the platform for unfolding the narrative. The Wall Street Journal's Kara Fisher argues that they might be "Anti-Bing Commercials in Disguise," because Google so rarely expends resources on advertising its own products despite their dizzying range. The videos use the automated phrase completion feature of Google's search box to create opportunities for both humor and suspense.

As a digital rhetoric person, what I find interesting is the fact that the work of social network sites is shown done by a solo computer user interacting with a search engine and how the montage of supposedly chronologically distinct searches is presented. For example, in "Parisian Love," below, the tool that supposedly brings the couple together is not an online dating site but an animated Google search box.



As Swisher notes of "Newbie," the ads even take a direct dig at MySpace and Facebook, in depicting a grandparent's initial attempts to connect with their much younger descendants that evolve into much more ambitious attempts at vlogging and viral video creation. (Wikipedia, in contrast, is depicted as a trustworthy site in these videos.)



The pathos of "High School" is perhaps the most striking in the group, since it shows the normal social processes that Mimi Ito's team describes in Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out as solo ventures.



I would say that the logic of the participatory culture argument of "Potholes" seems to be the most mysterious, since it shows community organizing and leadership as merely a process of dogged research. The model of civic engagement in many-to-many modes of online sociality seems to be fundamentally lost.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I of the Tiger

The official website of sports figure Tiger Woods, who is caught up in an adultery scandal, has tried to adapt its message to changing news conditions. First there was a "Statement on Tiger Woods" about his car accident, and then the prepositions changed with a "Statement by Tiger Woods" about the event. Now the millionaire golf hero with the clean-cut image has issued a message called "Tiger comments on current events," in which he admits to "transgressions," "personal failings," and "not being true" to his values, as news stories emerge about marital infidelity that may have been involved in a fracas prior to the accident. However, as the passage below indicates, much of his disclosure and confession is constituted by a refusal to disclose and confess.

But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions

Update: This Tiger Woods phone message remix is worth playing.

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There Goes the Neighborhood

In "'Virtual human' Army contractor will move to Playa Vista," the Los Angeles Times reports that the Institute for Creative Technology will be relocating to new facilities. I interviewed several members of the game development teams that combine techinques and research methods from the military, the university, and the entertainment industry to create simulations to prepare soldiers for the theater of war in teh Middle East in an essay included in the Joysticks Soldiers collection. Although the article describes the group moving to a larger space, the rent charged may be less than that of their Marina Del Rey location, which has ocean views from many of its offices.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Why Everyone Can Use a Digital Rhetoric Class

This week I have been looking at the results of an IRB-approved study of how students use social media after graduation from college and if explicit instruction in composing for the web or with a sensitivity to the expectations of online audiences encourages them to maintain academic literacy practices developed by blogging or creating video essays in a digital rhetoric class.

As I peruse responses, I am struck by how emphatic students are about having the university provide this kind of training and socialization as a key career skill that could translate into better e-mail and PowerPoint presentations for corporate settings that are valued in a variety of their chosen fields, which include teaching, nursing, legal services, scientific research, and even game design.

So it is unfortunate to see the Open letter from the Academic Council to the University of California community, which addresses recent protests on campus about budget cuts, fee hikes, and benefits to administrators. I know that a number of smart people worked on this document, some of whom are experts on social media, but I still feel that it makes a number of rhetorical errors.

Obviously it incensed those who felt that they were treated unfairly in the incidents, in which police were extremely aggressive with students. Since the letter was distributed, blogs and chain e-mail messages have been encouraging sympathizers to sign the following statement of support for campus that has already been signed by prominent faculty at a number of campuses.

We the undersigned declare our solidarity with University of California students, workers and staff as they defend, in the face of powerful and aggressive intimidation, the fundamental principles upon which a truly inclusive and egalitarian public-sector education system depends. We affirm their determination to confront university administrators who seem willing to exploit the current financial crisis to introduce disastrous and reactionary 'reforms' (fee-increases, lay-offs, salary cuts) to the UC system. We support their readiness to take direct action in order to block these changes. We recognise that in times of crisis, only assertive collective action – walkouts, boycotts, strikes, occupations... – offers any meaningful prospect of democratic participation. We deplore the recent militarization of the UC campuses, and call on the UC administration to acknowledge rather than discourage the resolution of their students to struggle, against the imperatives of privatization, to protect the future of their university.

State-wide calls to "Occupy California" have been featured on one blog, and my local UC Irvine campus is using the blog Defend UCI to rally the faithful. As I've said before, I'm dubious about the efficacy of on-campus protests, and I know from my own depressing experiences as an activist that what makes the televised news is often small protests with lots of footage of conflict between opposing sides rather than large peaceful protests that don't engage the viewer with what's onscreen. But this plea to recognize the "limits of protest" doesn't deal with allegations being spread on e-mail and other electronic channels that feature stirring testimony from witnesses about how quite traditional student organizations assembled to see their members tased and beaten.

In other words, the audience that needs to be convinced isn't the protestors; it the readers and spectators on the Internet who have seen the famous UCLA tasered student video of two years ago and now worry that on-campus police brutality may be being replayed on a much larger scale.

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