Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Force More Powerful


In the wake of the powerful earthquake that has rocked Chile, a nation known for Internet savvy government policies and a population fond of social network sites, it may not be surprising to the development of the simple Google-powered "Person Finder" widget, which can be easily embedded in the sites of others. Unlike similar websites developed after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, this site uses a minimalist aesthetic of a largely white-space frame. Google admits, however, that the site could also be used by commercial spammers and other bad actors: "All data entered will be available to the public and viewable and usable by anyone. Google does not review or verify the accuracy of this data."

In the wake of the disaster many turned to the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which is laden with graphic content and maps, tabs, and risk diagrams.

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Ciao Google

The New York Times has published an interesting opinion piece about how "In Italian Google Case, American and European Ideas of Privacy Collide." Writer Adam Liptak argues that cultural differences between the U.S. and the Continent exacerbate conflicts between privacy and free expression that are critical in evaluating the impact of technologies such as those produced by Google. Our countryman perceive privacy as a matter of "consumer protection" rather than "human dignity," according to one Google lawyer, and the transnational company devoted to personalization is trying to respond. News accounts explain that Google executives were actually convicted for failing to block dissemination of a video that shows an autistic minor being beaten and bullied on YouTube. Of course simulated bullying and testimonials from autistic victims, like the events shown on this official PSA, wouldn't be subject to the privacy regulations.

However, the historical arguments about the differences in Internet policies don't quite make sense. European sensibilities are attributed to sensitivity about Nazi and Iron Curtain forms of surveillance, but the even earlier Brandeis case in the United States are seemingly too late to be a significant causal factor.

Readers who read through to the end will be rewarded with a snippet from Virtualpolitik friend Siva Vaidhyanathan, who raises more interesting questions about how privacy is constituted both at home and on the street.

In some ways the Italian video represents the easy case. Google was merely a conduit for other people’s information, and that may well be enough to protect it in most of Europe.

The harder cases arise when Google is more active in gathering and disseminating information, as in its StreetView service, which provides ground-level panoramas gathered by cars with cameras on them. The program has generated legal challenges in Switzerland and Germany.

“Google is digitizing the world and expecting the world to conform to Google’s norms and conduct,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, who teaches media studies and law at the University of Virginia. “That’s a terribly naïve view of privacy and responsibility.”

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Ministry of Distraction


Watching ads on television, at first I thought that I must have somehow misheard the pitch for the government website Distraction.gov. Although the Obama administration has been associated with a plethora of new domain names not related to government agencies, they have mostly had positive connotations that support the image of the authority of the state like AStrongMiddleClass.gov or MakingHomeAffordable.gov.

Now Distraction.gov offers official warnings against vehicular multitasking with ubiquitous communication technologies complete with a PSA against talking and texting while driving.

Update: Ironically, the New York Times points out in this article that government employees like paramedics or police officers are some of the worst offenders when it comes to using high-tech gadgets as they drive.

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A Whale of a Tale

The violent antics of the homicidal killer whale Tillikum that have cost the life of a female trainer who was killed before a horrified crowd have caused Sea World Parks & Entertainment to rethink their use of social media. According to one story, first the park shut down the Twitter feed of its killer whale mascot Shamu who announced the end of his tweeting in a message that acknowledged its inappropriateness at a "difficult time." Although killer whale shows have resumed, one wouldn't know it from the park's blog, which emphasizes sea lions, water slides, and wildlife rescue operations, as though killer whales were never part of how the park draws crowds to its site.

At least those morbidly searching for video on YouTube of the deadly event are likely to be Rick Roll'd as comeuppance.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Twitter Titters

"U.K. Pol Zinged in Smutty Twitter Scam" explains how British MP Edward Milliband fell victim to a porn-based Twitter phishing scam by his own admission. Milliband's followers received a direct message seemingly from Milliband with an advertisement for a sexual aid.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Temple of Books


Click image to enlarge for information about my upcoming reading at UC Irvine.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The YouTubing of ABC

Virtualpolitik friend David Folkenflik has recently reported on how layoffs at ABC indicate that news programmers there might follow the lead of other networks and news broadcasters and adopt the techniques of so-called "citizen journalism" in which participants record events without management by media professionals.

You know, one of the things that ABC has been experimenting with is being much more nimble. Think of some of the footage we saw from Haiti in recent weeks. Anderson Cooper of CNN among many others, holding his own camera getting exceptionally good digital footage out there. There have been number of anchors and correspondents at ABC, you think of people like Dan Harris and Bill Weir, have been experimenting with that over the last year.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Black Eye for Open Access

Note how coverage of the murderous University of Alabama biologist Amy Bishop at the New York Times in "A Case for Tenure That Some See as Falling Short" implies that online journals would not be likely to be peer-reviewed and would be unlikely to strengthen a tenure case.

The publications include a recent paper in The International Journal of General Medicine, published electronically by Dovepress, essentially a scientific vanity press. Dr. Bishop’s paper in that journal, on nerve cells grown in the laboratory and exposed to drugs used to treat depression, lists her school-age children as the first three authors. The fourth author is herself, and the fifth is her husband, who is identified as being at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, although he does not have a position there.

Differentiating legitimate online journals from vanity press publications would seem to be important, given the unsustainability of current print models for academic publishing.

On its home page, the journal claims to be indexed in the large legitimate medical database PubMed, which many biological sciences students use, and posts a link that seems to affiliate itself with the open content initiative OCLC. It also includes the following description of its rigor:

An international, peer-reviewed, Open Access journal that focuses on general and internal medicine, pathogenesis, epidemiology, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment protocols. The journal is characterized by the rapid reporting of reviews, original research and clinical studies across all disease areas.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Phone Blue

In an article about how "Apple Bans Some Apps for Sex-Tinged Content," there is an interesting portrait of the entrepreneurs who depend on micropayments and an implied commentary about how Google's Android smartphone has taken a much less censoring stand. It is also worth noting that the article doesn't cover cruising phone applications that take advantage of the phone's geolocation to find willing sexual partners.

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All Things to All People



This send-up of the latest Windows 7 advertisements takes the logic of user-generated content to its even goofier logical conclusion.

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The Game of Avoiding Contagion

I've written before about computer games about HIV/AIDS and other forms of disease and perceived contamination, so I was interested to hear that Yale University had received a grant for a game about HIV avoidance.

A press release explains the project as follows:

Fiellin’s study is designed to develop and test an interactive virtual reality-based video game called “Retro-Warriors” that will teach ethnically diverse adolescents how to make healthier choices. The research goes beyond the use of a game for education and proposes to create a world in which the game players can engage in role-playing to learn to avoid risky behaviors that could lead to HIV infection.

The study has far-reaching implications including the potential for this technology to become portable and global.

“The game could travel with the player—it could be used at home, on a console, a cell phone or a personal digital assistant,” said Fiellin, who also points to international implications. “Access to the Internet is growing in developing countries and these technologies could be transferred to adolescents in countries experiencing a growing HIV epidemic but which have limited access to targeted risk-reduction strategies.”



Again, the question might be why would anyone want not only to play this game but to play it in semi-public ways that use mobile technologies.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Backchannel conference


Yesterday's session about "Investigating Multiple Channels For Participation in Online Gaming Communities" at the Digital Media and Learning Conference included Virtualpolitik friend Alice Robison, who discussed some of her work on the function of the backchannel in digital communication and how exclusion and inclusion were still intertwined in the Internet era. She mentioned the game Chatroulette! (now made infamous in this story in the New York Times) along with other more obviously backchannel-themed games.

Of course, the DML had at least one official backchannel site, in addition to Twitter and a number of other channels, but perhaps the most interesting backchannel was the one run by DML-nonparticipant, digital humanist, and Virtualpolitik conference co-lurker Mark Sample.

The Twitter stream on Mark's Digital Humanities 2010 fake conference contained some obvious parodies of goings-on at the DML, which included a closing keynote by "Henri Jenquin," and a few other conferences that I have attended in the past year that have been recorded here at Virtualpolitik. But this hoax humanities conference was also a lovely improvisational narrative based on the idea of having Halliburton serve as the corporate sponsor and a series of increasingly nonsensical paper titles. As the virtual chaos escalated, Lev Manovich, who was also at DML posted entries like "digital natives surround the embassy and demand exit visas" and "we love digital humanities - especially if you take humanities word out." Another talk was given by famed chatbot ELIZA.

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The Island of Broken Toys

As it finished, it is worth reiterating the fact that the DML Conference invited a number of critics of techno-utopianism. Among them was my UCI colleague Mark Warschauer, who gave some of the most damning testimony about the Nicholas Negroponte's XO One Laptop Per Child program that I have every heard.

His first-hand report led off with his main assertion: "Laptops make a good school better, but they don't make a bad school good."

In his DML talk, Warschauer revisited the hyperbole from disgraced former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford, who had once waxed poetic about the promise of the XO, and had begun plans to acquire 15,000 of the devices for local students. Like others, Warschauer has interrogated the missionary zeal of XO enthusiasts and the way that that the technology made children feel disempowered rather than empowered by the devices, particularly since so many appeared to be nonfunctional within a very short time. At one point a dispirited boy, who supposedly didn't need oldsters, like others of the "digital generation," asked Warschauer miserably if he knew how to fix an XO laptop.

Warschauer also described poorly thought out skill-and-drill pedagogies that used the machines as virtual flashcards, and their compatibility limitations that force instructors wishing to project student work to use document cameras.

See my take on the OLPC at "A Story about Bicycles" for more sad stories of how the best of intentions might go awry.

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Dance with Coltan

Throughout the DML conference, there were interludes staged by my UCI colleague, dance professor and performance artist Sheron Wray. Wray's project Texterritory uses audience responses keyed in by text messages on mobile telephones and smart phone apps that replicate musical instruments to widen the circle of performance to include those who would otherwise be bystanders. In her latest work, an anxious character "Grace," comes to Los Angeles seeking an odyssey of star-studded wonder and instead is redirected by her friend to pursue didactic dance classes and surreal gang tours. Her latest piece turns out to have a strong didactic component that is intended to get spectators more aware of how Coltan and other materials from Africa that go into mobile phones have costs to the political life, economic sustainability, and human rights landscape of mining countries. The last question viewers are left with is the number of phones that they have owned during an era of disposable consumer electronics in which devices are tied to plans, status, upgrades, and planned obsolescence.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

From the Ivory Tower to the Control Tower

There is a word-for-word transcription of Sonia Livingstone's comments here, as she delivered the closing keynote for the Digital Media and Learning Conference, so perhaps it isn't necessary to do a long blog entry, although the talk was provocative and aimed at dispelling myths about "digital natives" in ways that often spoke to my own research about the rhetoric of the "digital generation" for my next book, Early Adopters. Livingstone may not be a familiar name in the United States, but she has an international reputation as "neither a celebrator not a fearmonger," who is also known for "immersion in policy discussions, American cultural studies

As a rhetorician, I must admit that there was one aspect of her talk, "Youthful Participation: What have we learned, what shall we ask next?," which hit a wrong note with me: her use of the "R-word," so that "rhetoric" always indicated deception, emptiness, or manipulation and never had any positive value for pedagogical or civic development.

In trying to understand "different constituencies" and "how the young sustain" certain media practices, Livingstone is known for "interviewing youth in their bedrooms while they are online." She acknowledged that "media are more privatized" but they intersect "with social activities and spheres of life." She explained the large themes in her research by pointing to the work of Friedrich Krotz: 1) globalization 2) individualization 3) commodification, and 4) medialization. The last term she described as the "logic of media systems and media forms (as combination and dependence)," and her work was clearly also influenced by lifeworld theory, since she discussed "instrumental and market values," as well as "surveillance in the lifeworld." She noted also that her talk would have three parts: 1) empirical: what's going on?, 2) explanatory: how shall we explain it?, and 3) ideological: how should we react to it?

She opened by asking "What claims are being made about digital media? Does the evidence support the claims being made, and are we examining evidence that doesn’t fit?" She wondered aloud also about if there were "sufficient independent evaluations of new initiatives," such as the ones that the hosting body, the MacArthur Foundation, was known for funding.

She described a thirteen-year-old trying to find German website on food and drink in vain. "It can involve the family, and it can fail," she lamented. She also depicted the parents of an eight-year-old "information junkie" who marveled at her fast clicking that doesn’t reveal struggle. As Livingstone summed it up, "she is not the digital native" that her parents assume her to be. "If we overestimate younger people’s skills, we can underestimate their need for support," since "children are struggling and have doubts."

She shared her observations about social networking attitudes when she asked teens a simple question about "how to change their privacy settings" and recorded their befuddled answers. She insisted that "hyperbole brings questions the wrong way round," particularly when young people using technology are talked about as a "new species." For her, central to inquiry should be "not what can the digital offer to learning and participation" but rather among all the factors shaping young people's experiences, what does the digital contribute, particularly when "not all the factors are within our expertise" and it is difficult to "escape the charge of technological determinism."

She told the story of how Megan, who was eight when her observations began but is now twelve, demonstrated her facility with the story-writing option on AOL. But Livingstone discovered that a far more mundane program, Microsoft Works, was allowing this student to produce a story she was in the middle of writing that was "creative," "dramatic," and had a "fantastic vocabulary." She also reminded the digerati present that the girl also lived in a "bedroom full of books." She also described eighteen-year-old marry who found "school council more meaningful than use of Internet" to explain how "school, information, and civic" spheres" might be "three things that don’t come together."

She also spoke about the "constraining of children’s lives" that took place now that "children were getting older younger and yet staying younger" and thus "held longer in a state between dependence and autonomy," much like the one described in the book Hackers and Painters. By seeing "childhood as last place for enchantment," she warned that adult society perpetuated a "construction of childhood" as endangered and fragile in which "we may inadvertently fuel surveillance" with "digital native rhetoric." She told about Anisah, 15, who lived in a housing estate that was troubled with parents with high expectations. Although she was never to download music, she did enjoy chatting with friends late. As computational media offered a route for temporary escape, the girl still had to face a mother who wanted "to empower and yet to control" by shutting off "opportunities and escape from offline constraints." In this situation "risks lurked and yet were not spoken about." For Livingstone, they were too "tied together" to be verbalized.

As she moved out of her summary of fiedwork experiences, Livingstone offered a few generalizations:

1) Children don’t draw the line where adults do. What they call meeting up with friends, we call meeting up with strangers. They might remix forms; we worry about copyright. There are fused activities.

2) Design of digital resources confuses and brings risks and opportunities into collision. For example searching for "teens" without the safe search filter on Google is quite something. We cannot draw these neat lines in online digital worlds.

3) Learning involves risk-taking as young people try "to expand experience and expertise." Children have to push against adult-imposed boundaries.

4) With participatory genres there will always be some "playing with fire" as young people "explore what adults have forbidden" and "take calculated risks to show off to others" in "trying to work out for themselves what adults consider strange and dangerous." In Livingstone's opinion, "this is not so very new." It may "look like young people are creating, participating, but it may be playing with fire." Those adult goals are being attained, but let's examine closely the adult structures next to or imposed upon young people.

Then she displayed a diagram with "State," "School," "Parents," and "Commerce" mapped out that she described as "not an elegant piece of art." At this point, she quipped that she might "need a younger person" to create a more dazzling computer graphic. Such diagrams could reinforce the "need to focus on structure as well as agency," as she reviewed a number of dyads and connections: "create" (state and school), "subvert" (state and parents), "network" (school and commerce), and "explore" (parent/com). She made the analogy to earlier sites of illicit discovery like a "bike shed" or "World War II bomb sites." She talked further about the relationship between "political economy and popular opinion" and the disengagement (or collaboration) of critical theorists and semioticians.

She then reiterated a number of points that she described as "repeated findings": children engaged in online participation are generally the already engaged; they are not the newly motivated. Backgrounds of the children shape their digital use more than the digital technology affordance itself. The design of digital resources confuses and brings fused behaviors. Learning involves risk-taking, and children must push against boundaries, which involves intimacy, privacy, vulnerability. These were capped off with the inevitability of "playing with fire" when it could be "fun teasing the suspicious man in the chatroom" or trying out chat roulette where "you might be able to go and meet a rapist," much as earlier generation might have dared themselves to sleep in a park or street. She described how some of her informants even disrupted an adult Yahoo chat room for police and fire officers by pretending to be blind orphans in a home with abusive caregivers.

As she closed, she warned against the "unholy alliance" between "network society optimists and popular opinions" in which fan activities, profits, autonomous learners, and state interests might be served by "digital native rhetoric."

Of course, as some one who hands out awards for bad official websites, I was most charmed by her mockery of a government website supposedly designed for children: Epal.tv. Producers claimed it is "about participation in the broadest sense," because services for young people "need to engage with young people in a participatory way." However, Livingstone derided the site by complaining that "such vague expectations regarding engagement contrast with the considerable planning of project funding and design." "When pressed, they could not state what kind of participation they aimed for," she chuckled. Teenagers, not surprisingly, resisted this approach and found the site "boring." Despite well-meaning statements, young people "need to know about a lot more these days to make the right choices" rathen than be talked down to by adults or appealed to as if "youth" could be treated "as single thing." (This has also been called the "creepy treehouse" problem.)

She also encouraged critical thinking about publicly funded use of technology in education. She described observing an after-school computer club in which there was a math game and how she couldn't help intervening by reading the instructions, because "neither the game nor the teacher gave instructions." In this numerical simulation "one mistake, and the boat crashes." She said that there were many instances of "the supposed fun of digital media," although she did tell about a stopped school in Denmark where all participants devoted themselves to a digital animation project successfully. But she asked that if "radical transformation" is desired, are teachers, parents, and governments ready?

She cited the excellent work of my UC Irvine colleague Mark Warschauer at this point to ask "in whose interest" such projects are undertaken, when there are "unequal power relationships that exist in society." Technology may actually "reinforce existing interests of power" in such situations, rather than overturn them.

She said that host Henry Jenkins understood that there was also a sense that our use of digital media might only foster consumerism, edutainment, standardization, and individualization, so that collective interests might be overlooked in the promotion of self more than community. We must "counter that rhetoric," she said, as the "R-word" appeared yet again. Among "transnational elites," there were "new forms of illiteracy as well as literacy," she claimed.

In particular, she attacked how the once critical field of media literacy, personified by Patricia Aufderheide and legitimated by a national report on media literacy that emphasized critical thinking:

Media literacy may be defined as the ability to access, experience, evaluate, and produce media products. Media are seen to represent actual events, but those representations are subjective and incomplete. Journalists and news producers select which stories to publish, what aspects to emphasize, and what language to use. Media literacy is necessary for media consumers to sift through the variety of presentations, including films, newspapers, Web sites, and video screens to arrive at meaning.

Eventually these kinds of statements were watered down by those with more socially conservative agendas. Ofcom (2004) reduced it to "the ability to operate the technology to find what you are looking for, to understand that material, to have definition of media literacy" when "put simply." AVMS (2007) paternalistically announced that "media literacy refers to skills, knowledge and understanding that allow consumers to use media effectively and safely." (Note the language of use and consumption not production and creation.) The Minister of State for Culture, Media, and Sport (2004) reminded one of Foucault's concept of "governmentality" with its summary definition emphasizing "personal responsibility for what they watch and listen to." By emphasizing what Ulrich Beck has called "the individualization of risk," the possibilities of citizen collective action in the digital realm are delineated extremely narrowly, according to Livingstone.

In cataloging "financial literacy, health literacy" and other literacies in which "media literacy has parallels with other skills," she reminded the audience of how Robert McChesney’s critique of "literacy" emphasizes how it "distracts from questions of power."

Livingstone expressed her concern about how "critical and state priorities are aligned for now" and the need for an "explanatory form of critique" with a "wider gaze that encompasses the structures" be they "political or ideological," as academic discourses move "from the ivory tower to the control tower."

Her call to action urged that participants "must be tougher on ourselves" and must "stop being so nice to each other." "Are we cheerleaders for change?" she asked plaintively.

Jenkins served as her respondent and repeated his self-characterization as a "critical utopianist" engaged with the question of "what kind of world do we want to live in" and "blockages and obstacles" that represent "what do we have to overcome." As remedy he emphasized that the event had brought "theorists and practitioners into the same space," even if it was impossible to represent "all voices in US much less the world" or to analyze "deeply cultural problems."

Like Livingstone, there was a lot of the R-word with Jenkins, who talked about "dismissing that rhetoric" and the "digital revolution rhetoric" in his closing remarks. As he closed the conference, he again referenced his mentor John Fiske, author of Media Matters, by quoting his line that "in early modern Europe everyone had a larynx, but not everyone could speak."

One of the most retweeted lines from the session actually came from danah boyd who said that the group needed to add "playing w/ fire" to the standard trio of "hanging out, messing around, and geeking out" as core youth practices.

Here is the formal copy of her paper.

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Exploding the University

The session on "Digital Media and Learning as a Post-Academic Field" at the Digital Media and Learning Conference encouraged participants to keep and edit notes on the session, which were displayed as the panelists were speaking, along with the backchannel thread from participants in the audience. Despite the publicity given to recent incidents of "Tweckling" on the backchannel in conferences, in this intimate gathering all who were present behaved themselves. And although not everyone on the bill made it in to the conference, since computer scientist Alex Pang and academic blogger and instructional technologist David Parry couldn't be there, it was still a lively exchange of ideas in the third panel of the conference on higher education.

(Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the higher education panel after my own at the conference, which featured Tracy Fullerton, who discussed her creation of Pathfinder U. The game is described below.)



Kathleen Fitzpatrick talked about "getting our students to do things openly" and in public, collaborative ways that foster the "use of digital rhetorics." However, she expressed concern that "we don't seem to use them to the same degree as we teach them," because "we get credit for the formal stuff." As Fitzpatrick asked, "What if that wasn't the case?" She inquired further: "How can we model the critical/analytical skills we want our students to have--particularly in our writing & audiences." She acknowledged, however, that "making this sort of change, particularly institutionally, is hard work," although she pointed out that the collective work being done at Media Commons "may represent a model of cross-institutional work." As for her own work at Planned Obsolescence, she characterized it as part of a "strategy for making such changes," because she emphasizes "changes in peer review, and what that means to the ideas surrounding authorship/readership." She asserted that "universities need to rethink what publishing is and why they engage in it." When considering if publishing should function as a revenue-center, she insisted that "the mission of the university is diffusion of knowledge, and university publishing should reflect this." For her, institutional collaboration (university presses, libraries, IT, academic units) should be an important part of serving that value.

Jeremy Hunsinger then described himself as someone with "an aversion to walls, classrooms, and pedagogy" as too divorced from the "essential question of episteme and practice" that are central to his STS outlook and his personal philosophy that "we learn (in school and out) informally," and "pedogogy treats learners as kids." Hunsinger argued that "Digital Media and Learning isn't new; it's existed as an approach for about forty-five years." He also claimed that digital media served "as an escape from the strictures (economic & control) of the university." He pointed to "hack-labs, as collective good" as an exemplary case of "post or extra-academic education" and "spaces that encourage learning not teaching." (p2pu was also cited as another model that complicated the Chicago School model of education from Dewey et al.)

Panel chair Alexander Halavais introduced himself with a "provocation" with a reference to the panel on higher education that I chaired, where Diane Harley, author of a recent Mellon Report on Higher Ed, had cautioned that those devoted to "blowing up the university" with digital media tools may be misguided. Halavais explained that "reexploding" the university might not be such a bad idea to recognize that "learning happens in a network or web of activities (often self-directed)" rather than in institutions.

Lately Halavais has been occupied with the "question about mobile media" and his role in the "Collaboratory" that served as the "inner space for which DML served as the "public space." He said that the challenges in expanding the K-12 digital learning model to higher education even included questions like "What kind of software do we want to use?" Basecamp might be better for the adult group, while Remix World might be better for digital youth. Yet, as Halavais asked, "Why is our collaborative software different from what we want students to use?" He pointed out that "maybe students should be asked to think about 'grown up' project planning skills" that include budgets and schedules to be in keeping with the outlook of the Obama administration and its priorities for education. As he noted, most of life is about "learning informally" and the "sea of blue" that illustrated one DML conference talk. However, even though informal learning over a lifetime is undoubtedly important, the MacArthur Foundation saw the value of "building a bridge back to the institutions" and chose to praise a "mix of researchers and practitioners."

Should online collaborative tools and spaces be different for kids and for grown-ups? Is autonomy in terms of interest-driven learning as applicable to adults as it is to kids? Is the importance of sharing ideas openly as important for adults as it is for kids? How can institutions support more informal kinds of research, and how can that research build a bridge back to institutions?

These questions took up much of the question-and-answer part of the panel in which participants admitted that "all of our work as academics becomes formalized." They also pointed to the irony of asking these questions in the context of a formal academic conference, since a THATcamp would seem preferable "if we really value informal learning."

When talking about to what degree should kids and adults be shielded from economic concerns," Halavais pointed to the example of Japanese kids asked to clean their own schools before turning to the question of how research agendas should be handled.

Can we create a research community in which research is:
- Based on our interests
- Openly documented, with opportunities for peer mentoring
- Published, then filtered
- Without destructive competition

Does open source present a peer-to-peer model that we can follow?
- Peer reviewed scholarship pre completion
- Peer reviewed scholarship after "completion"
- Peer reviewed scholars

At one point Halavais quipped "tenure should only be granted to people who don't want tenure." His last question to the audience was "Why I am still a professor?"

Although, the MacArthur Foundation might "provide scaffolding for the new discipline of DML to form," some asked if there should "be more friction, more argument, more . . ." If the theme was really about "diverse participation," they questioned why should participants be agreeing with it so directly and warned against the dangers of the "tendency to genuflect in this environment." Furthermore, despite the fact that "fields are built by shared interests," Renee Hobbs emphasized the importance of "calling out the economic powerhouse that takes away our ability to determine what counts as knowledge." -

These questions followed: What happens when the funding dies? Are we critical enough of the infrastructure that supports the nascent field? What's with all the talk about public/private? Who do we invite to these things who will challenge us more directly?

Hunsinger reminded those in the room about the difference between "interdisciplinary" and "transdisciplinary" enterprises that "mean different things." In response Hobbs talked about the "problem of training people for both media studies and education" when there were "obligations to PhD students facing a world where silos don't talk to each other." Hunsinger agreed that such students faced the "exclusion of both silos." Others piped up that the "disappearance of humanities disciplines" that were de-funded at universities from the digital media and learning field only made things worse. To this Halavais suggested that "collaborations with museums and libraries, not just universities" might provide some solutions.

After the group admitted that they lacked "shared axioms," they suggested some other possible terms, such as "shared axiologies, "shared epistemologies," or "shared ontologies." Then they turned to the bullet points for "who do we need next year":

* Deans and presidents, who can make the field happen on their campuses

* More "cranks" and people who are highly critical of edtech, but ones that are more Maxine Greene than Andrew Keen.

As the session ended there was energetic discussion of the problem of travel funding, of boycotting journals that were not open access, and of the virtues and vices of electronic resources such as IJLM and the eScholarship repository that were "technically open but badly designed for public access." Of course, they also noted the ironic lack of live streaming or videorecording of most of the panels at the conference.

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Appropriating Attire

In the first part of two panels on "How Race, Ethnicity and Class Shape Digital Media Practices and Activism" at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, session chair danah boyd encouraged a range of scholars to speak about research about Internet practices that constitute a form of racial profiling online.

The session began with Alexandrina Agloro's analysis of how the website Stardoll was used by working class girls of color in a youth center with a computer lab. Agloro argued that white defaults and racial coding of attractiveness shape behavior in ways that might be familiar to those who have seen Kiri Davis's A Girl Like Me in which the young filmmaker restages the famous pre-Brown v. Board of Education white doll/black doll study and gets similar results decades later.

Since I've had a lively exchange with Henry Jenkins about "Multiculturalism, Appropriation, and the New Media Literacies" and what I call the "Vanilla Ice Problem," I was particularly interested to hear Heather Horst's presentation about YouTube responses to Jamaican dance hall music by white participants. Horst focused her analysis on ways that the "Dutty Wine" dance had been redone by non-Jamaicans in videos like this and this and how Jamaicans viewing these videos might react very negatively to forms of appropriation that might be celebrated by others. Her reading of "culture, class, and race" in terms of "phenotype" and "inscriptions on the body" suggested a number of interesting avenues for YouTube research.

Next Katynka Martinez looked at how "home in where the humor is" when it comes to a young boy creating a game called "El Imigrante" that satirizes the realities of Latin American life in Southern California. (As a college student, he later went on to suggest a PacMan game in which the UC Regents serve as ghosts.)

Lisa Nakamura closed the session with a great presentation about racialized trash talking among professional videogame players, whether they be elite competitors with corporate sponsorships or Chinese gold farmers toiling in industrialized gaming.

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Queer You(th)Tube

Alexandra Juhasz and I have often questioned the participatory culture hypothesis that was once championed by many at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, so it was nice to be presenting with her again, albeit virtually, because Juhasz was in Berlin for the debut of THE OWLS. Fortunately for those who couldn't be at our session, which looked at sexual education, identity politics, and coming out narratives on YouTube, Juhasz's talk is available entirely on YouTube.

My colleague and co-author Jonathan Alexander opened the panel by reading from parts of our forthcoming article in the forthcoming LGBT Online collection coming from Routledge, which argues that coming out videos have become a recognizable YouTube genre that has even been parodied and remixed. I followed with a talk that showed our analysis of specific case studies to support our reading of the complex and rhizomatic practices of queer youth online. Juhasz then followed with a critique of our article, which included examples of fake documentary and homophobic homage on YouTube, to argue that supposedly subversive forms that undermine the supposed integrity and wholeness of more traditional coming out narratives have become so part of the mainstream that they can no longer be called "queer."

There was a lively discussion afterwards about what it means to be "queer online" and whether "queer" itself might have two sometimes conflicting definitions in these videos. One meaning of queer would be to identify with a specific community, while the other might be to undermine mainstream discourses and systems of signification.

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Charting the Course

Yesterday's plenary session "Digital Media and Learning: The State of the Field" featured a number of researchers whose reports have offered findings that contradict depictions of new media practices by the mainstream media and indicate a more complicated story to tell about the so-called "digital generation." In their rapid-fire presentations, speakers were limited to ten minutes to summarize what was often years of work.

Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart discussed the recent report on "Social Media and Young Adults," which indicated that commenting on blogs by young people was down as well as blogging itself, and that remix activities were less of a focus of digital activity than a simple sharing of content. She also noted that game consoles, as well as cell phones, were important portals for Internet access.

Stanford's Brigid Barron of the Youth Lab project looked at a spectrum of interactions with technology from more common publication activities to less common membership in robotics clubs. Researchers created a "technobiography" that examined how social networks played a key role and that not all young people were in the "hothouse environments" that seemed most revolutionary. Barron advocated more attention to "process not outcomes" and critical thinking about "what do we care about assessing."

Eszter Hargittai began her remarks by noting a conversation that she had had with Harvard's John Palfrey in which he reminded her that the fact that "there is a field" was itself a significant finding. Hargittiai, known for her focus on the "question of skill and digital literacy," announced to the audience that there were "no numbers in this presentation." In thinking about "learning about the average user," Hargittai unpacked the notion of "skill" to connect it to its "uses" and "dimensions," which may include activities such as "evaluating credibility" and "managing material at the end." She also defended her seemingly instrumental interest in "what explains variations in skills and uses" by arguing that "skill can be intervened in more easily than other issues." For her references, she directed her listeners to the publications in the Web Use Project and encouraged them to continue to look at "risks and problems."

In his plenary session, Joseph Kahne described his study of 430 youths that looked at "interest-driven" and "politically-driven" forms of digital participation to note that there was "political but not civic participation" and that this political participation may still be at a lower level than cyber-utopians might hope. He depicted a more complicated spectrum of "skills" and "agency" among digital young people and summarized his findings as showing "no relationship to voting from politically-driven participation and interest-driven participation," but "some friend-driven participation" that correlated to voting. (I had already interviewed for this DML blog posting.)

Kevin Leander
of Vanderbilt University explained how his own research was "not site-based" but oriented in "flows and networks" that might include "imagery" and "spatial analysis" to characterize "hotspots for learning" such as instant messaging or networks in a town. He showed a diagram of visual markers of the hybridized digital life of a young immigrant to the Netherlands with family back in Morocco, which included a headscarf nexus, one for Moroccan "male hotties," as Leander put it, fashion outlets like H and M, and "I love Holland" branding. I liked the fact that Leander argued that their goal in digital media and learning should not be "to recreate institutional sciences" and that he noted the presence of "scholars in the room trained in the humanities. At the same time, he said that although "bodies aren’t stable," "they aren’t moved by critical theory." In another case study he showed an image of someone decked out in Naruto costume accessories for whom "swordplay is not just about texts and tools." Although he cited Deleuze and Guattari and Massumi, he also cited the more prosaic work of CNN's infographics-map maestro John King as an example of "learning to see" in a new way that included "spatial analysis" and "new ways to understand" that expand learning and offer an alternative to "memorizing state capitals," which certainly wouldn't help contemporary students who "need GIS and spatial–navigational work." (He closed by noting that his Space, Learning, and Mobility Group were looking for a postdoc who could speak Dutch.)

Lynn Schofield Clark introduced herself as someone studying "parenting in the digital age" from the dual perspective of "Mom/social scientist" in project in which her own pre-teens were "collaborators" as well as subjects, as she explained her Guitar Hero mom persona.

In closing Mimi Ito described the Digital Media and Learning community as "at a place where the field is coalescing, diversity of sites both on the level of research and on the level of intervention" for which "multiple approaches" were needed. Of course, Lev Manovich, who was sitting next to me, couldn't help but point out how much he was reminded of the dawn of sexology as a similarly interdisciplinary scholarly enterprise.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Last Bastions

At the Digital Media and Learning Conference, I was pleased to have assembled the cast of "Last Bastions: The Promise and Problems of Digital Learning in Higher Education" which showcased the work being done in California in connection with a nascent Digital Higher Ed initiative to bring new pedagogical philosophies along with new instructional technologies to college campuses in the region.

We opened our potentially controversial session with Diane Harley, who leads the Center for Studies in Higher Education and who has recently authored an exhaustive report on "Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication," which I have summarized here. Harley's Mellon-funded report paints a very different picture from the more optimistic MacArthur vision of young scholars transforming institutions as they take up digital tools by cataloging all the ways that universities continue to value professional privacy, print publication, intellectual property, and traditional methods.

Harley argued that it was important to remember that there were "many kinds of students" involved in higher education and many degree and certificate granting sites of learning. Even in the context of the kind of research university where the DML conference was being held, the "big, competitive world of science" dictated cultural conservatism when it came to digital media and learning. She also thought that it was important for DML attendees to acknowledge that digital media and learning too often was translated into distance education. With discussion taking place about the possibility of the University of California system offering an entirely online BA degree, the debate about "what parts can be done online" might lead to what could be "a second class degree."

Holly Willis of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy at the University of Southern California talked about how Harley's findings presented a "grave disappointment" to her group, but she argued that there were promising trends in the field that merited attention from institutional stakeholders. In particular, Willis's emphasis was on pedagogical theory rather than on new gadgets, which included work done by the New London Group that focused on "rhetoric, design, and ethics" in its work on "multiliteracies." For inspiration, Willis pointed audience members to the October 2009 AIGA conference Make/Think for a way to think about the "new liberal arts" curriculum. (I have to add that our current theme in the Humanities Core Course, which was launched in 2007, is "Thinking Making Doing.)

In the age of pervasive computing, information visualization, and somatic literacies, Willis argued that it was important not to merely generate a "longer and longer list of literacies. Instead, she suggested that Alex Galloway's metaphor of the algorithm or Noah Wardrip-Fruin's conception of expression that linked authoring to analyzing advanced the scholarly conversation much more than naive assertions about the "power of gaming" had a few years ago. She also pointed to the work of Jeff Watson with ARGs or alternate reality games as being about pedagogy not gadgetry or faddism. Although time was short, Willis also squeezed in time to show a few student projects, which included R-Shief by Leila Sakr and Jen Stein's Million Story Building. She also discussed how students at the IML were also developing promising iPhone apps to support sophisticated forms of digital media and learning. She also argued that in helping students develop their "readily and rich virtual lives" in "new writing spaces," she argued that a number of the most interesting initiatives were writing oriented and that groups like the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Computers and Writing, and the American Library Association had often led the way.

Todd Presner then explained how what had started as a "flash-based textbook to understand the city of Berlin," Hypermedia Berlin, evolved into the multi-campus interdisciplinary Hypercities project. According to Presner, Hypercities connects "cultural history with cultural georgraphy" by animating, modeling, and mapping historical layers of the record of urban environments. This has involved intensive collaboration with architects and urban historians and the incorporation of GIS technologies that have fostered further collaborations all over the world. Presner is also expanding some of the conventions of academic by thinking about possibilities for publishing peer-reviewed KML files keyed to Google mapping software, which have been submitted to UC Press. As Presner explained, these are much more than "Wikipedia pages," because they are "sophisticated geo-temporal arguments."

Presner also showed projects from the group's featured collections, including a mobile project involving Historic Filipinotown, which was installed on Nokia tablets and deployed in an actual jeepney that was designed to raise "consciousness of a landscape that had been erased." Presner described the "hypercity" as being like Ted Nelson’s hypertext, so that many connections could be made between dates, places, and cultural objects. As an example he pointed out how the 11th of February in Iran, which was also the date of the 1979 protests against the Ayatollah, had particular kinds of cultural resonance. He noted how one of the featured collections, Election Protests in Iran, created by Xarene Eskandar now included 1100 objects. Such projects expand the notion of what digital curation is and invite cross-disciplinary analysis in a symbology not bound by polygons, because these geotemporal creations are more than research papers, because they can actually be exported in fully developed digital environments. Presner claimed that this project offers new ways for "thinking about the staging of an argument" and the criteria for judging it. As an exemplary case, he showcased the work of Phil Ethington and his 13,000 year history of Los Angeles that included many regional regimes and an 18 ft map in his "Ghost Metropolis."

Lev Manovich finished out the session by explaining the importance of teaching students "to read and write in the medium," as new interfaces are created post-Alan Kay. We live, Manovich asserted, in "a data society," not just an "information society," in which scholars must ask "what does it mean to be literate?" Especially when "teaching, researching, and writing about visual culture" in is important to go beyond existing tools for visualization, such as Many Eyes, which in many ways date to the late 18th century as "vector primitives." He explained how tools now available for medical imaging and brain imagery could be turned on cultural texts like the film Man with a Movie Camera. In his example of TIME magazine covers he showed how oppositions between photograph/drawing, person/idea, whites/people of color, and men/women could be depicted in a system in which 400,000 pixels proved to be not enough, so the classes were able to use the largest visualization system of 315,000,000 mega-pixels, 80 monitors, and 20 PCs to explore relationships very quickly. He closed with a video of Ph.D. candidate William Huber demonstrating how 100 hours of game play could be visualized. You can check out information about Cultural Analytics, see some of their visualizations, watch a demo, or browse their papers and presentations.

Slides from my talk, in which I explain what I see as ten trends in digital learning in higher education are here, and I have listed the trends as follows:

Playable Simulations
Procedural Literacy
Object-Oriented Ontology
Database Mash-Ups
Network Epistemologies
Information Aesthetics
Tactical Media
Software Studies
Critical Information Studies
Digital Rhetorics

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Taking Down the Takedown

In the panel on "Fair Use: Perspectives on Copyright and Fair Use for Digital Learning" at the Digital Media and Learning conference, lawyer Jason Schultz, tactical media expert Patricia Aufderheide, media literacy educator Renee Hobbs, and Virtualpolitik friend Steve Anderson made the argument for a vigorous defense of fair use.

Certainly, as an educator, it sticks in my craw that this video about Stephen Colbert and his mobilization of web fandom by a student in my digital rhetoric course has had its soundtrack blanked by YouTube. Anyone who watches the video's visuals or looks at the other content on this singer-songwriter's channel would see that this is a person interested in creative uses and original commentary rather than mere piracy and that his brief use of Colbert footage clearly exceeds any threshold for transformation and uses the clips in the context of criticism.

Schultz argued that more educators like me should be fighting back and should take advantage of the services of a pro bono lawyer from his own Berkeley clinic or from Stanford or the ACLU or the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Since after a takedown, parties have a10-14 day window to challenge and that sometimes it is possible to countersue over a malicious takedown thanks to the 512(f) provision in copyright law.

Although he admitted that the Shepard Fairey case might not be working out as he had hoped, that there was still the possibility to make good law, as in the so-called "dancing baby case" or Lenz v. Universal in which Prince's policing of the uses of the song "Let’s Go Crazy" was called into question, because he was supposed to consider fair use before sending out a takedown notice. Sometimes these cases involve what might be seen as obviously political forms of speech, as in the case of Online Policy Group v. Diebold, where the rights of Swarthmore students to publish incriminating documents from the voting machine company were defended in the name of the citizen's right to know and the judge's interpretation of how "reasonableness" is constituted, but Schultz argued that many forms of everyday activities and what I call "digital rhetoric" in the Virtualpolitik book should be protected.

For example, many wedding videos show a dance known as the "electric slide," which choreographer Ric Silver has energetically pursued copyright control over, which has led to many takedown notice sent to happy amateurs celebrating a new couple's nuptial bliss. Schultz describes how Silver was eventually persuaded to be less litigious and accept a Creative Commons license as an alternative that would assure him credit without inducing misery. Sometimes those who use takedown notices for purposes of harassment are even forced to apologize, as in the case of Michael Crook.

In the case involving MoveOn.org and Brave New Films that took advantage of the recognizability of Colbert's famed "truthiness" to promulgate alternative media about "falsiness," even Colbert mocked his parent company Viacom's copyright zealousness and how they were going after Robert Greenwald for nothing more than stealing a rhetorical device. Much like dolphins caught in tuna nets, after this case Viacom promised to operate a dolphin-style fair use hotline that promised to get back to content posters in three business days, which was tested by the creators of "Ten Things I Hate about Commandments."

As panelists pointed out it is corporations who are some of the most active content-appropriators, so there is considerable irony in seeing enforcement largely play out on the consumer level. Some fair use attorneys, such as Michael Donaldson, have developed a viable business model working with and for studios and using fair use in cases. For many times of "nonparticipatory digital media" there is no clearing of clips, and the Colbert Report and the Daily Show take their fair use privileges for granted. Many also talked about how the film Copyright Criminals would be used as a fair use test case.

Hobbs noted that there was a common misunderstanding among educators that students had no fair use rights. She asserted that fair use was for all citizens and did not just cover noncommercial uses. Apparently the group did not want to put the famed fair use "four factors" in copyright up on the board in order not to propagate the "priesthood" attitude currently dominant. During the question and answer session, an educator from MIT bemoaned the fact that "kids share interactive media," and he was forced to deal with the takedowns that resulted.

There was also a lot of discussion about Anderson's Critical Commons, which offers an open architecture system and no moderating. Despite the "close and cathected relationship to the film industry" at his own institution, where many students "imagine themselves to be future copyright owners," the database has grown. The terms of service for the project were written by a legal team at American University and then rewritten to be as comprehensible and direct as possible. Unfortunately, as Aufderheid pointed out, people in higher education concerned most directly with classroom use were not gatekeepers and that librarians, instructional teachnologists, lawyers and others making day-to-day policy in the university weren't necessarily serving the agendas of empowerment. As Aufderheide also noted, fair use is not media specific.

Virtualpolitik friend Nonny de la Peña had her own story to tell about getting licenses for airing content that involved a charge of $7500 for a New York Times article only shown for a moment on the screen.

Hobbs argued that far too often the role of "adding value and repurposing" was underestimated, although -- as with any form of expression -- educators might need to give instruction about "using just the amount you need to accomplish your purpose" in respecting both the rights of
the owner and the rights of the user. Starting at perhaps nine years old, many young filmmakers were "learning from grappling with experience." However, Hobbs observed that now that few classrooms were equipped with VHS, teachers had to cope with less pedagogical flexibility in the era of CSS encryption, According to panelists, teachers said "over and over" that "we want to be lawful."

Aufderheide said that more needed to be done with the "incredibly broad middle" between civil disobedience and compliance. The group agreed that the precedents set by music sampling with some of the "stupidest judges and worst decisions" had made examples of clearing into the norm. Thus the music recording industry had become "not a field where they use fair use" and not a good model for how today's digital users might use pieces from multimedia digital files to "comment" or "illustrate" or serve "incidental" or "archival" purposes. The Center for Social media has archived a number of "best practices" documents here. Hobbs has also had a role as a media literacy educator in developing best practices for her own field, which may include use in teaching a lesson, developing curriculum materials, sharing curriculum materials, creating student work, and sharing creative work among students. Hobbs describes this as work that "meets the transformative standard."

With cloud computing, many of the group's members worried that this "shackling of public and private" may make the copyright situation even worse and that students eager to participate in electronic portfolio programs might experience unintended consequences if their creative works were taken to be infringing.

Nonetheless, in the elevators afterward, there was some hopeful talk about the forthcoming decision to be made about extending fair use replication rights to educators more generally rather than just limit it to the current protected classes of film and media professors who had thought to lobby Congress in response to their work with the DMCA. In connection with the efforts of my colleague Karen Lunsford, I wrote a letter in support of the case for educational file-ripping, since discussion leaders showed a DVD movie of the opera Porgy and Bess in connection with instruction in the Humanities Core Course and using the MPAA suggested method of VHS recording in a dark room to capture key clips without taking up class with time-wasting copyright and credit front matter wouldn't make the critical subtitles adequately legible to students.

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Bedtime Story


In its design, the first Digital Media and Learning Conference was intended to integrate participatory behavior and challenge the normal one-to-many model of passive spectatorship at conferences, whether it was Kylie Peppler's workshop on wearable computing that encouraged attendees to take part in "hands-on crafts, physical construction and design, and material play" or eminent digital humanist Anne Balsamo treasure hunt that asks audience members to navigate through websites in small teams in "Inspiring Uses of Digital Media in Museums and Libraries: A Creative Inventory and Collaborative Analysis."

Nothing may have shown this principle more dramatically than "Storytellers, Storymakers and Learning by ARG" with Stephen Petrina, Mela Kocher, Ken Eklund, and PJ Rusnak. I had noticed the fliers about "stress-induced narcolepsy" taped up around the conference site, so I got suspicious when World Without Oil's Eklund complained that the absence of late co-presenter Kocher of pixelidentities was causing him to feel sleepy. Soon Eklund was curled up and dozing while attendees were sending Kocher text messages and friending her on Facebook, although spoiler Alex Halavais did note that one picture of a door was thirteen hours old, so Kocher was "likely to be dead." My second favorite moment may have been when Mark Marino who left the room under the pretense of helping her started sending Kocher maps from his own alternate reality alter-ego, the mischievous work-study student "Seth," who was known for disrupting Marino's social network life last year with humorously inappropriate messages that his friends were expected to interact with.

Before the formal presentations started with their PowerPoint slides, players of the mini-ARG were asked to rate how well it managed expectations and the need for regular feedback in response to individual maneuvers.

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A Throwaway Piece of Code

Mark Marino launched the first full day of the Digital Media and Learning Conference with a "Symposium on Virtual Worlds at the Intersection of Race, Class and Possibility." As chair, Marino explained some of the possible connections between more established fields like Cultural Studies and Critical Race Studies to newer work on Critical Code Studies. Marino's own dissertation on chatbots and other AI systems explored how race, class, and gender might be represented in the unit operations of online texts.

Fox Harrell opened his discussion about "representing ourselves computationally" with an overview of his interests in computer games, social networking, and other "educational and cultural systems" and encouraged the audience to think about "affordances that stigmatize." Harrel framed his argument with Erving Goffman’s Stigma: notes on the management of spoiled identity to draw attention to Goffman's ideas about "tribal stigma" of race, nation, and religion." Harrell's Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project in the ICE Lab at Georgia Tech, which is also part of the Identity Share Project, emphasizes the importance of "impromptu not formed communities" in an initiative shaped by an interest in "projected identity" and what George Lakoff has characterized as the imaginative extensions of "prototype effects" in which representatives, stereotypes, ideals, and salient examples play out in interactive media, including popular games. Harrell described how games like The Elder Scrolls assign numerical values to particular racially based characteristics, which in the game's algorithms translate into point categories for intelligence or running and jumping abilities. He marveled at how in Neverwinter Nights "bloodcolor" was "built into infrastructure of the game," much as the "one drop rule" shaped American racial public. He also argued that whether a computer user was "playing in the suburbs" or "rocking out" in urban spaces, racial categories appear in everything from commerce to aesthetic performance. As he closed he cited the work of W.E.B. Du Bois about "double consciousness" and the ideological consequences of "identity and its shadow," as computer users of color are aware both of their self-identities and how they are perceived in a world coded as white.

Sneha Harrell followed by presenting some of her extensive research about how young at-risk students in her program are engaging with Teen Second Life to learn mathematical and computational skills that might be valuable to them academically. Unfortunately, the default bodies of these programs discourage non-white students from participating, because they may feel characters are overly feminized or may not represent the qualities of being "solid" that they desire. She showed information from journal entires, video discussions, interviews, and many other sources to argue that the problem with how the code of these systems are configured is "not just about skin tone and hair."

Next up was Lisa Nakamura, one of my major influences in thinking about "cybertypes," which in my own research for the Virtualpolitik book involved digital representations of Iraqi citizens in government funded military videogames, virtual reality simulations, and official public diplomacy websites. Nakamura started her talk by praising "Henry Jenkins for being a mensch" by including viewpoints that were critical of his participatory culture thesis. As she put it "race, class, gender" are often in the position of "coming late" to discussions about technology so that forms of racial classification and "identity tourism" in many-to-many digital experiences might be likely to be overlooked. seizing the opportunity for struggle. In her thesis about "unfree labor" and "working at playing with race in digital games," she argued that race is often treated as a "throwaway piece of code" that is "like a texture for a wall" rather than a subject for inquiry about interfaces, affordances, and constraints. She noted that Asians are frequently overcounted as digital model minorities and enter into interactions online in the position of those who are "poor but not excluded." She showed a striking set of images of "gold farmer body spam" in an ad aimed at Horde World of Warcraft players for MMOP.com that is actually made of the bodies of spent avatars who represent Chinese worker/players who are excluded from the social space. For Nakamura it is important to analyze how virtual worlds function "as states that exclude certain bodies." (For more on race in World of Warcraft, check out my essay on just war theory in the game in Pacific Coast Philology from my PAMLA address last year.)

Finally, Beth Coleman appeared via Skype with a reminder that this kind of racial role-playing has a long history in popular culture that includes the book Black Like Me and the recent movie Avatar. In understanding how "we are using avatars of color," Coleman foregrounded two principles: 1) Virtual experiences are real and 2) Players bring different relationships of race to online interactions. She took issue with what she called the "Protean argument" that a computer user could walk in another person's shoes and understand the way that race is coded, although she did argue that it could work in certain situations for eliciting humor, as it did for Eddie Murphy in the classic Saturday Night Live sketch in which he rides a bus in the guise of a white person on bus and is told that it is free to get on before being handed a pot of gold.

During discussion, several of the panelists said that they didn't want to simply come off as prohibiting the "vision or desire for the Protean," but they did want to encourage attention to "transitions, comings, and categories" that might go uninterrogated in the process. Since many on the panel had also presented at the DAC conference, there were also references to the work troubling the notions of species and gender with relation to structures of exclusion by Micha Cárdenas.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Black to the Future

S. Craig Watkins was the opening keynote speaker at the first Digital Media and Learning Conference sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation this evening, where he presented research about working class black and Latino youth and their use of media and technology that might have seemed counterintuitive just a few years ago, when a prominent study in 1998 was showing them on the disadvantaged side of a growing "digital divide."

In a talk titled "Living on the Digital Margins: How Black and Latino Youth are Remaking the Participation Gap," Watkins argued that these youth populations have become not only "early adopters" of computational media but also "resilient adopters" who must adapt to situations in which equipment is broken, access is blocked, and public spaces are surveiled.

Watkins was introduced by conference organizer Henry Jenkins who argued that the tone of the conference should be one appropriate for "new opportunities to struggle" rather than one of techno-utopian celebration in a conference that was to be characterized by "provocations" that opened with Jenkins calling up the spirit of John Fiske, who had shown how the same Rodney King tape that exposed police brutality could also be used to protect the abusers in court. He also argued that it was important to understand digital access in something other than binary terms, because young people didn't exist solely "in" or "out" of the digital. For those who had not heard him speak in recent years, he also reiterated his assertion that "participatory culture" should be distinguished from the business model "Web 2.0." Citing the work of Paula Petrick, he looked back to "Web -10" during the 1850s and 1860s, when young people created amateur presses contributed much to American civic life, along with the phrase "L.O.L." He also noted, as Cass Sunstein has argued, that digital architectures create "enclaves" that may exclude others.

In other words, the tenor of the conference was to reflect the attitude of many recently published academic titles about digital participation. In a Chronicle review of some of them by Siva Vaidhyanathan, he praised "a number of smart recent books that gently and eruditely warn us of the rising costs and risks of mindlessly diving into new digital environments—without, however, raising apocalyptic fears of the entire project."

They constitute an important "third wave" of work about the digital environment. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we saw books like Nicholas Negroponte's Being Digital (Knopf, 1995) and Howard Rhein-gold's The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Addison-Wesley, 1993) and Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (Perseus, 2002), which idealistically described the transformative powers of digital networks. Then we saw shallow blowback, exemplified by Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason (Pantheon, 2008).

In Watkins' work on "the young and the digital," he extends his analysis of hip hop culture to look at the "flexible, open, and imaginative" use of mobile phones for games, music, and communication in which the Twitter feeds of members of these communities may reflect the activities of a "new town square" that invites "commentary and critique," as well as DIY activities, personal expression, peer-based learning, and taking pleasure in the spaces of leisure. To flesh out his own observations of informal interactions involving cellular devices, which were illustrated with beautiful phones and personalized display screens, he pointed to the Kaiser multi-year study of young people's screen time throughout the day in 1999, 2004, and 2009, which culminated in the report on Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, which showed people of color as heavier media consumers and more active users of social networks than their white counterparts, which only accelerated after their mass migration from MySpace to Facebook.

Watkins highlighted a number of specific points in his talk:

1) The role of cultural capital in the life of black youth cannot be underestimated, given the importance of "taste cultures" and attention to "one's self-presentation" in which one is expected to be devoted to "keepin' it real in the digital age" as minority populations work through their online "fantasies and identities."

2) Abilities to master valued "soft skills" and handle "code-switching" also matters to employers and admissions officers who may not be making judgments based on "hard skills" like traditional literacy or numeracy.

3) The politics of race and space still matters, and young people's engagement in creating and critiquing with digital media deserves attention. (He cited how victims of Hurricane Katrina used social network sites to reconnect and maintain relationships after the disaster.)

4) Public memorials and grieving may also be part of how digital engagement is measured. (He illustrated this point with the story of the death of Justin Mendez and his subsequent memorialization.)

However, Watkins also argued that is was important to pay attention to "digital gating and sorting." For example, even as Facebook becomes more diverse, according to the company's own metrics, it is still associated with the aspirations of white college students and the metaphors of respective virtual spaces may still be racially coded as young people leave "trashy" or "crowded" MySpace. As he explained the "mobile paradox" in which young people of color are online but not via desktop or laptop, he worried about the absence of intergenerational participation and adult supervision in many young people's Internet experiences and the effects of a rise of "sexting" in the population he was studying. Although he understood this as a logical response to the restrictions on use posed by libraries and community centers and a way to "remake geometries of power" in "home, school, and public spaces," he was concerned that they might be "hanging out" and "messing around" but not be "geeking out," in the words of a recent MacArthur report on "Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media" and not always successfully navigating between "friendship genres" and "interest genres" to be guided to civic participation.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Would Hitler Say?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

FD I See



Bloggers at the New York Times explain how the "F.D.I.C. Pushes Back at Charges in YouTube Video." The video from Think Big Work Small argues that the government has given One West Bank an overly cushy deal. What the NYT calls an "unusual rebuttal" from the FDIC can be viewed here.

The FDIC is also promoting new government websites for EconomicInclusion.gov and MyFDICInsurance.gov.

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