Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From the Blog to the Book to the Box

Last year I moderated one of the panels for the UC Irvine Design Alliance about "The Book, the Brand, and the Box," which dealt with how books are designed as physical objects that are part of both material and digital cultural ecosystems. It featured talks by Peter Lunenfeld and Lorraine Wild and considerable discussion about how MIT Press has been adapting to changes in print culture by offering books that do more to foster print sociality and brand appeal.

The big news for the week is that the Virtualpolitik book now exists as a tangible entity, one that arrived in three boxes at my front door this morning. The book represents ten years of research and encapsulates topics that I have been exploring during four years of blogging. Of course, readers of this blog are thanked in the first paragraph of the acknowledgments, as the excerpts in the online copy shows.

There's also a pretty cool little widget on the official catalog page from MIT Press that lets readers search through the entire book with keywords for relevant snippets.


The Cato Institute has published a full page ad with what looks like an impressive roster of "undersigned scientists" who dispute President Obama's claim that when it comes to climate change, as he says, "The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear."

It's interesting how the institute uses the authoritative frame of the newspaper, where readers may be far from their Google search boxes, to make their assertion that there has been "no net global warming for over a decade." Some of these characters, like petroleum advocate Brian Valentine or Gerd-Rainer Weber, who is described in the ad as "Reviewer, International Panel on Climate Change" but is also a representative from the Association of German Coal Producers have already been outed by SourceWatch, "Your Guide to the Names behind the News." Many already have sizable web presences, such as Joseph D'Aleo at ICECAP.

Others, like Edward T. Wimberly of Florida Gulf Coast University require a little more sleuthing to reveal a c.v. that shows he may not belong on a list of climate "scientists," since his advanced degrees are in public administration, mental health, and theology. Even among the scientists, one of the things I marveled at, while looking at their curriculum vitae documents posted on the web, is how obviously out of touch they are with the norms of academia, even if they were one of the few currently working at a university. Specifically, I couldn't help but notice how many of them, like Wimberly and MIT's Richard Lindzen, actually list the fact that they are married and post their children's names on their professional c.v.s, a mark of an old-school, pre-discrimination-conscious faculty member broadcasting his heteronormative sexuality.

Antonio Zichichi, an emeritus professor of nuclear physics rather than climatology, is listed as president of the impressive-sounding World Federation of Scientists, but the group's website reveals itself to be a group devoted to fighting "planetary emergencies" rather than advocating scientific research. He's not the only one with a background in nuclear physics, Stanford's Howard Maccabee worked with Edward Teller and went on to be a radiological oncologist.

Given that many scientists who had attended during the Bush administration stayed home during this year's conference for climate change skeptics, it is understandable that Cato wants to try to contradict the appearance of dwindling numbers within an already fractional minority. I expect that they will try a web-based persuasive campaign as well, given the diminishing number of newspaper readers, even among policy makers and regular voters.

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A Concerta Effort

An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times called "ADHD's Facebook 'friends'" draws attention to how the pharmacological industry is using social network sites to promote products by focusing on the Facebook page sponsored by the ADHD drug Concerta. What's particularly interesting to me about the company's strategy is how they recruited content-creators to the site who were already writers at parenting websites and blogs eager to make the jump from volunteer to paid labor:

Willingham, in a telephone interview from her Texas home, described herself to me as an "average-Joe mom," but also acknowledged she'd been recruited to the Facebook page by McNeil's Chicago public relations firm, drawn by her musings on Cafe Mom, a social networking site. McNeil also paid Willingham a fee and expenses to attend a New York conference on adult ADHD.

According to the author of the essay, the mother of disgraced Olympian Michael Phelps was also affiliated with the site until the photograph appeared that documented her son toking up at a party. This awareness of rhetorical strategies that could be persuasive in new Internet genres that depend on trust in one's social network by corporate interests is striking, as the traditional product spokesperson from the early days of broadcast television takes a new many-to-many form.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Downloading Academia

Kudos to Virtualpolitik pal Matt Barton for being part of the 2009 Top 10 Research Findings wrap up at this year's Game Developers Conference. Barton is a regular on the Computers and Writing circuit, and we've been on panels together making connections between rhetorical discourse and computational media.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ubiquitously Yours

Two videos about the humorous hyperbolic possibilities of ubiquitous computing technologies are getting attention this week.

Bonnie Lenore Kyburz observed that this "Twouble with Twitters" video had an overly predictably punchline, but it does have some fun with generational generalizations about demographics and technology and the genre of the banal Twitter post.

I already gave an "up" vote on "Funny or Die" to Facebook friend Ron Corcillo's offering about dashboard automotive service systems that run off computer networks, "Daryl from OnCar." This episode about OnStar running amok originates from Strike TV, an online venture started during the Writers Guild 2007 labor dispute, so that writers unhappy with studio deals on webisodes could share content and attempt to monetize short films, as the site's about page explains.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Prim and Proper

This wrap up of educational ventures in Second Life was spotted by Patrick Coppock. It has some interesting rhetorical features in that it uses the trope of the "digital generation," which many now question, to make its argument for distance learning.

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Numbers Game

An e-mail with the subject line "Just the Facts, Ma'am" has been circulating among Republican loyalists that purports to show statistics about military deaths that make mortality appear higher under Democratic presidential administrations than under Republican ones.

However, as Snopes.com reports, the data, supposedly drawn from Table 4 on page 10 of this Congressional Research Service report on military deaths, tells a different story.

When I received the e-mail that follows, I was struck by the a number of features of its rhetorical strategy: 1) this logical appeal to the validity of a numerical argument didn't use any data visualization techniques, 2) the collection of congressional reports about national security that the e-mail references comes from the Federation of American Scientists, a group often associated with the political left, and 3) the version I received avoids the sarcasm of the "Surprise, Surprise (not really)" opening line of the Snopes version and instead addresses its audience in a bipartisan fashion.


Whatever your politics, however you lean and however you feel about the Bush administration, this report is interesting.

As tragic as the loss of any member of the US Armed Forces is, consider the following statistics:

The annual fatalities, by any cause, of military members while actively serving
in the armed forces from 1980 through 2006:

1980 -- 2,392 (Carter)
1981 -- 2,380 (Reagan)
1984 -- 1,999 (Reagan)
1988 -- 1,819 (Reagan)
1989 -- 1,636 (George H W)
1990 -- 1,508 (George H W)
1991 -- 1,787 (George H W)
1992 -- 1,293 (George H W)
1993 -- 1,213 ( Clinton )
1994 -- 1,075 ( Clinton )
1995 -- 2,465 (Clinton)
1996 -- 2,318 (Clinton)
1997 -- 817 (Clinton)
1998 -- 2,252 (Clinton)
1999 -- 1,984 (Clinton)
2000 -- 1,983 (Clinton)
2001 -- 890 (George W)
2002 -- 1,007 (George W)
2003 -- 1,410 (George W)
2004 -- 1,887 (George W)
2005 -- 919 (George W)
2006 -- 920 (George W)
2007 -- 899 (George W)

Clinton years (1993-2000): 14,107 deaths
George W years (2001-2007): 7,932 deaths

Are you surprised when you look at these figures? They indicate the loss from the two latest Middle East conflicts are less than the loss of military personnel during Clinton 's presidency when America wasn't even involved in a war -- unless you include Bosnia and Mogadishu, Somalia . (Remember "Blackhawk Down"?) Even more surprising is that in 1980, during Carter presidency, there were 2,392 US military fatalities!

These figures appear to indicate many members of our media and politicians pick and choose the information on which they report -- that they present only those "facts" that support their agenda.

The Snopes entry does not address the second part of the e-mail I received, which addresses the racial politics of military fatalities. This section reads as follows:

Consider the latest census of Americans. It shows the following distribution of
American citizens by race:

European descent 69.12 percent
Hispanic 12.50 percent
Black 12.30 percent
Asian 3.70 percent
Native American 1.00 percent
Other 2.60 percent 0D

Many members of the media lead us to believe the military death ratio is off-balance compared to the distribution by race in America. Here are the fatalities by race over the past three years in Iraqi Freedom.

European descent 74.31 percent
Hispanic 10.74 percent
Black 9.67 percent
Asian 1.81 percent
Native American 1.09 percent
Other 0.33 percent

Surprised again? Hopefully, intelligent Americans can decipher -- the facts from the spin, the spinners from the leaders, those who seek even more power from those that seek justice, the dividers from the uniters.

These statistics are published by the Congressional Research Service and may be<>

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Thin Mints with a Side of Spam

Ren Reynolds points out that there are a number of interesting implications about digital culture that are actually developed in "The Cookie Crumbles: By banning online sales, are the Girl Scouts failing our daughters?" The Newsweek reporter, Kurt Soller, questions why 8-year-old Wild Freeborn should be chastened by the Girl Scout organization for creating a YouTube video and web portal for her cookie-selling efforts. Although the Girl Scouts have an online service for finding young coookie vendors in your community at GirlScoutCookies.org, they apparently frown on web-based cookie peddling for individual sash-wearers.

"If you have an individual girl that creates a Web presence, she can suck the opportunity from other girls," says Matthew Markie, a parent who remains involved in Girl Scouts even though his three daughters are well into their 20s. Markie, and other disapproving parents, brought the Freeborn's site to the attention of local Girl Scout officials who told the Freeborns to take down their YouTube video and reminded the family of the organization's longstanding prohibition of online sales. According to the FAQ on the national organization’s Web site, "The safety of our girls is always our chief concern. Girl Scout Cookie activities are designed to be face-to-face learning experiences for the girls."

The relative safety of using the Internet versus knocking on strangers' doors is debatable. "First of all, selling things online is no less safe," says Peter Fader, a director of the Interactive Media Initiative at Wharton, the business school at the University of Pennsylvania. "And if we want to teach our kids to be able to operate in society as responsible adults, online savviness is going to be part of the overall portfolio."

In videos like "Girl Scout Cookie Bitch Girl," members of the YouTube community had previously lampooned the organization's reluctance to use retail store shelf space to market their product more conveniently to customers, because such easy consumer access would be contrary to the group's aim to foster the values of entrepreneurial free enterprise.

As a former Girl Scout myself, who went door to door and got to see my elderly neighbors drunk, undressed, and sometimes hostile to my presence during the process, I would tend to agree that this equation of Internet presence and risk seems illogical in light of real-world interactions.

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Town Crier

Yesterday President Obama held a live "Town Hall" style meeting in which the nation's Chief Executive answered questions submitted by supposedly typical Americans on the Internet. 103,512 people submitted 76,031 questions and cast 4,713,083 votes on which issues should be highlighted. The event was streamed live on the web, where over sixty-four thousand people watched it, and also broadcast on television. Although the event opened with a traditional introduction and presidential speech, attention then shifted to interaction with the content on two large flat-screen computer monitors, which included both text and webcam queries.

In response to a question about outsourcing jobs, which came from the disembodied and distorted head of one webcam citizen, Obama referenced the importance of ubiquitous computing, which he described as represented by "all the gizmos that you guys are carrying . . . all the phones, the Blackberries, the this and the that, plugging in all kinds of stuff in your house." He argued that a future "smart grid" to monitor and optimize energy consumption would be analogous to the construction of the Continental Railroad in its scope, although it would also function at the level of domestic economies that are visible on "smart meters" in the home. Around minute sixty-six, Obama also described a conversation from "yesterday" with "Bill Gates" about educational uses for technology in which he they discussed how good teachers could be videorecorded while interacting with their students and how those digital files could be used in mentoring other teachers "like a coach might be talking to his players" with play-by-play footage.

In this rare case, coverage of the town hall in the usually media illiterate Los Angeles Times was actually better than that of its New York counterpart, particularly when it came to providing Internet journalism with historical context and a critical lens. In "Obama connects from on high, online," the Los Angeles Times compared the event to an "infomercial" and pointed out that this kind of event actually had a history that went back to Carter fielding a hundred phone calls or Clinton answering sixteen questions online. Most significantly perhaps, this article also noted that the Open for Questions site at Whitehouse.gov used Google Moderator to tally votes about which questions Obama should answer. Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything, might argue that this is yet another example of what he calls "The Googlization of Government," even if Whitehouse.gov is now using platforms other than YouTube in response to complaints from privacy advocates and public sphere critics about the company's more questionable policies.

In contrast, the New York Times reported in "Obama Makes History in Live Internet Video Chat" the more obvious fact that groups dedicated to legalizing marijuana nudged pot-related questions to the top of the queue. Although the White House was careful to repeat during the webcast that questions online were not "pre-screened" and were ranked based on up and down Digg or Reddit style voting, around minute 33 Obama did "interrupt" the proceedings to acknowledge that such questions were popular and that one that "ranked fairly high" was about "whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation." To this, he got a laugh with following punchline answer: "I don’t know what this says about the online audience." He continued to say, "The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy," although the Times actually misquotes his line.

Note also that around minute forty-four, Barack Obama almost finishes naming a well-known fast food chain before realizing that their brand name might be sullied by being associated with low-wage labor and subversion of young people's goals for higher education.

Update: BagNewsNotes provided some analysis of the visual rhetoric of the coverage of this event.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comment Boxes

These student-centered videos about instructor and peer comments on assigned essays, titled "'Shit-plus,' 'AWK,' 'Frag,' and 'Huh?': An Empirical Look at a Writing Program's Commenting Practices" were presented at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication in San Francisco. Although Nancy Sommers produced a similar video about student reactions to written comments years ago that presented similar findings of miscommunication, the vernacular quality of this online video production produces a decidedly different rhetorical effect.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Moon in a Shoebox

A story in the Los Angeles Times on "NASA's early lunar images, in a new light" celebrates an unsung archivist heroine who managed to save 2,000 images from five missions to the moon that were in danger of being destroyed, since the technology that could read them had become obsolete. It also details the role that the NASA Watch blog played in publicizing the saga and how fan culture and amateur astronomy provided attention to preservation of the images, which were ultimately processed by tinkerers working with salvaged FR-900s in an abandoned McDonald's in the unlikely scene shown above. Video of the "McMoon" facility was apparently pulled from YouTube on the grounds of a "copyright claim by a third party."

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Talk to Me Baby

NPR's story, "Obama Teams Spread Out To Tout Plans," discusses how the Obama campaign's hybrid of web-based and door-to-door persuasion is being retasked for defending the President's economic agenda. However, critics are questioning how well BarackObama.com's "Organizing for America" initiative is functioning now that the focus is petition-signing and constituent-calling. Station reporters discovered that many were "rusty" or having difficulty sticking to their talking points in getting Obama voters to go back online. Obama's website is also being used for other volunteer efforts, such as getting aid to flood victims in the northern midwest via links to a Red Cross website.

Not all candidate-named websites are maintained, of course, even if the site contributed to an election win and a stint in the presidency. It is worthy of note that GeorgeWBush.com now simply forwards to the Republican National Committee. And the awkwardly named cg96.org, which was the hub of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign now goes nowhere at all. (Screen shots still visible here.)

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Do You Want the Good Nowruz First or the Bad Nowruz?

There's been a lot of talk about President Obama's direct appeal to the people and government of Iran as part of his online video Nowruz greeting, which combines public and traditional diplomacy in new ways.

Perhaps equally noteworthy is the fact that the White House website seems to be sticking with displaying its messages without relying on solely on YouTube diplomacy and continuing to raise issues with digital rights advocates about the conflicts created by the company's compromising of consumer privacy and use of proprietary software.

Of course, the President of Iran has also sent out his own online New Year's greetings to heads of state who mark it on January 1st in their countries.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Troop Tube

As Wired initially reported, there are ironies with having military personnel banned from YouTube and other popular social media sites, merely because they enable broadcasting soldiers' gaffes like the ones I describe in an article in the Video Vortex Reader. Apparently some soldiers are now also banned from TroopTube the sanitized substitute for disseminating online video that the military itself had created.

TroopTube describes itself as "designed to help military families connect and keep in touch while miles apart" and suggests wholesome uses to its members such as creating online video birthday cards.

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Air Guitar

As a rhetorician, this YouTube video about the fair use of intellectual property from the Media Education Lab at Temple University is appealing on two grounds. First, I like how it uses YouTube to present relatively complicated legal issues in ways that include the general public in the conversation by using compositing techniques and making analogies to accepted practices from print culture, such as quotation. Second, I appreciate it's emphasis on rhetorical keywords, such as "context" and "situation." Unfortunately, there is also a certain amount of repetition that goes along with imitating the genre of a popular song, since the chorus reiterates the point of the creators.

I've already added it to my collection of copyright videos that I use for teaching my digital rhetoric course.

Thanks to Siva Vaidhyanathan for the link!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dial M for Mistrial

The New York Times ran a headline announcing the not-so-surprising news that "As Jurors Turn to Web, Mistrials Are Popping Up." iPhones and Blackberry devices have apparently made personal sleuthing irresistible, as the norms of participatory culture collide with the rules of legal evidence. Blocking access to information has been traditionally considered a critical part of ensuring a fair trial, but such regulations might be so at odds with the open access sensibilities of the general public that the flouting of restrictionsis almost unavoidable, when jurors used to looking up big words or checking out the online profile of the person who is talking can't possibly be excluded from juries.

Jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. But now, using their cellphones, they can look up the name of a defendant on the Web or examine an intersection using Google Maps, violating the legal system’s complex rules of evidence. They can also tell their friends what is happening in the jury room, though they are supposed to keep their opinions and deliberations secret.

A juror on a lunch or bathroom break can find out many details about a case. Wikipedia can help explain the technology underlying a patent claim or medical condition, Google Maps can show how long it might take to drive from Point A to Point B, and news sites can write about a criminal defendant, his lawyers or expert witnesses.

“It’s really impossible to control it,” said Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

Judges have long amended their habitual warning about seeking outside information during trials to include Internet searches. But with the Internet now as close as a juror’s pocket, the risk has grown more immediate — and instinctual. Attorneys have begun to check the blogs and Web sites of prospective jurors.

Concealed computing is something that the legal system has not yet addressed, even though it might have almost as many ramifications as concealed weapons have had for case law. As the article explains, stock prices can be manipulated by a juror's Twitter post if a big-bucks judgment is on the way.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Caution from the Continent

Europeans have expressed some notable criticism recently in both scientific and governmental discourse that is aimed at dissuading young users from common digital practices involving videogame play and the use of social network sites. One would have hoped that other countries would have learned from the moral panics that swept through Congress during the Clinton and Bush administrations, but our NATO allies also seem to bring their own national characters to the debate about media influence.

Raph Koster passed on news from Olivier Mauco from the city of light that the French central government was contemplating more regulation of videogames. As he explains in his blog in French and English, the legislation is tied to a bill for hospital reform. As Mauco points out, authorities in Paris are comparing videogame play to several other dubiously analogous products and practices, such as candy cigarettes and gambling. Mauco notes that the law's wording actually mispells the name of PEGI, the European equivalent of the ESRB U.S. ratings board.

With a similar rhetoric of addiction, Lower Saxony has introduced age limits for playing online games like World of Warcraft. Such uninforceable age barriers were already in existance for store-bought games. As my UC Irvine colleague Gail Hart explains, "they seem to fear a real addiction on the part of the nation's youth (see their figures) and are engaging young players to test these games and advise them on the
introduction of obstacles to playing. "

Across the Channel, British readers of the Daily Mail were told to beware of sites like Facebook and MySpace in an article on how "Social websites harm children's brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist." However, not only does the article not cite a full range of scientific opinion that shows that there might be some debate about the thesis that young brains could be "rewired" by this technology in necessarily damaging ways, but also the paper doesn't acknowledge that their main expert in the news item, Baroness Susan Greenfield, was snubbed by the Royal Society because of her reputation for shoddy science and aggressive self-promotion.

Greenfield's analogies in the article itself should be enough to give one pause:

I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,' she said.

Summary: videogames . . . bad; hunting and butchering . . . good.

For more adult objections to the membership economy of Facebook, check out "Down with Facebook!" from the Weekly Standard.

Update: For more on scientific objections to rapid-fire messaging here at home, see "Scientists warn of rapid -fire media dangers."

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stimulating Conversation

Stimulus Watch allows constituents who might be critical of President Barack Obama's package of massive government spending to view funded projects right in their own proverbial backyards with a database that facilitates taxpayer access to a state-by-state list of initiatives. As this tutorial video explains, the site also supports Internet voting, editing of a wiki with NPOV policies, reposting of content to Digg and Facebook, and commenting.

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Marc My Words

In this conversation on the Charlie Rose show with software engineer and founder of multiple companies in Silicon Valley, Marc Andressen argued that Internet enterprises could often be monetized with the right business plan and that consumers should be more critical about the future of traditional media outlets such as newspapers. As one of the first to invest in cloud computing with LoudCloud a decade ago, Andreesen remains an enthusiast for distributed technologies. However, as the pundit who launched the New York Times Deathwatch, Andreassen has probably made few friends among newspaper publishers.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Positively Negative

"False Positives on Plagiarism" in Inside Higher Ed looked at how the company behind a top-selling plagiarism-detection algorithm marketed to high schools and universities, Turnitin.com, attempted to influence opinion in the field of composition by subsidizing speakers to appear at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication in San Francisco, despite the fact that composition instructors from Texas Tech also were presenting data that showed that the service often misidentified papers as plagiarized.

But some of those in the program giving papers that suggest a more positive view of Turnitin confirmed that they have been promised money by the company. The board of the composition association has adopted new rules, prompted by Turnitin's grants to selected speakers, to encourage speakers to disclose their financial support, but some speakers said they didn't know about the rule.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Desktop DJs

Spencer Schaffner of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign presented at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication by screening a short film about "desktop MCing" that argued that the compositional practices of DJs could be understood as analogous to the fact that writing invariable involves multiple windows being open on a desktop where "no fewer than three applications" are required for generating prose. He even argued that corporate-style PowerPoint presentations could be seen as mixmaster extravaganzas. Although he acknowledged that there was a "difference between hiding and revealing" when it came to how sources were presented, he described himself as loath to adopt a Tufte-style "PowerPoint is evil" argument.

As an exemplar of the desktop MCing style, Schaffner pointed to Scientific American's presentations on BlipTV on subjects such as brain mapping or asteroids for "foregrounding desktop as site of convergence." He also argued that Michael Wesch's "The Machine is Us/ing Us" and "Desktop Wars" (or more accurately "Animator vs. Animation II") also manifest aspects of this style. I write about the latter in the forthcoming Virtualpolitik book and the former in my current book project, so I certainly was sorry to see such a relatively small crowd for Schaffner's elaborate presentation.

Schaffner argued that such digital composites created by video screen recorders often emphasize a "do it yourself style" that may be further marked up with sticky notes. But he argued that there were some ironies to this DIY sensibility since the video screen recorder itself cannot be seen, nor can the editing software interface that creates the final product.

What Schaffner called the "informatics of electronic communication" could be traced to linking and HTML editors, according to his presentation, although I found myself having quibbles about the connections of his assertions about rollovers and mouseovers in which the "user’s presence is recognized" and reading is staged as playing, given how different his examples from howtoons.com, Surlyville, and bikeworks.org were from his earlier examples.

It's interesting to think, however, about how playing videos live in lieu of more traditional conference presentations is being also done by scholars like Alexandra Juhasz. Particularly the practice of reading a paper that attendees could read for themselves has certainly been an issue at interdisciplinary new media conferences, where computer scientists express exasperation with their humanist colleagues. But, as Cathy Davidson explains in "Why Humanists Read Their Papers," there are justifications for this practice, which might be different from those that rationalize using video technologies as a stand-in for the speaker.

"Unsituating the Subject: ‘Locating’ Composition and Ethnography in Mobile Worlds," which is featured in the recent volume of Ethnography Unbound was frequently cited in the presentation that followed by Gail Hawisher about her ten-year study of "how students take up digital media." Hawisher showed samples from the videos of two students who came to campus with backgrounds that included home languages other than English. The assignment for which students created videos was very different from the one that created these YouTube essays by graduating seniors in my digital rhetoric class. The instructions for Hawisher's prompt read as follows:

You should attempt to capture a representation of your writing processes on camera. You do not have to video yourself.

In Hawisher's videos, we see students who did decide to record themselves, however, including "Ismael" cooking breakfast and pulling a pillow from his desk as he goes through his day's routine with his paper in the background. We also see Peruvian subject "Vanessa" going through cycles of eating reading thinking revising in a domestic landscape marked by post-it notes.

Unfortunately Hawisher's frequent collaborator Cynthia Selfe was hampered in her showing videos from Bosnian students about their use of social computing technologies, who participated in ethnographic reflections. Selfe was beset by technical difficulties involving the compatibility of dissimilar PowerPoint versions. Despite her self-confessed problems with her own "desktop MCing," she argued that the videorecording method not only includes the subject in the ethnography but also allows a scholarly audience to view the richness of the data for themselves and contribute to interpretive activities around the discourse.

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Alphabet Soup

There were a number of acronyms bandied about at "New Media and Writing Program Administration: Reconfiguring Administrative Discourses and Practices around New Media," where participants discussed how programs in rhetoric and composition with names like "PWR" (for Program in Writing and Rhetoric) and "WRD" (for Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse) face challenges when objectives for teaching new literacies face threats from back-to-basics backlashes or blunt trauma budget axes, as the following panel abstract explains:

Although many of our esteemed colleagues have discussed new media integration from the perspective of teachers and scholars (Ball 2004, 2006; Wysocki, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Selfe and Sirc 2004; Sorapure 2003, 2006; Wysocki 2001, 2002), little scholarship exists on new media from the Writing Program Administrator (WPA) perspective. As writing programs become new media composition programs, such change inevitably leads WPAs to investigate new media from the administrative perspective, challenging our long-held assumptions about writing, teacher development, disciplinary boundaries, and even resource management (DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill 2005). In our panel, we four teachers and WPAs (representing geographically diverse and CM-classified institutions) will present and engage attendees in a discussion of issues encountered at our institutions with the move to new media. Our four presentations raise WPA concerns about what constitutes new media, new media and the integration of curricular reform, where new media reside institutionally, and the technological possibilities and constraints of integrating new media.

This session at the Conference on College Composition and Communication began with Melinda Turnley from DePaul University and a talk on "Who Owns 'Media'?: Institutional Positioning and New Media Initiatives." At her campus, a number of players were claiming rights to the subject of digital and interactive media, including art history, history of art and architecture, cinema, and computer science. Her policy to "educate when possible and argue when necessary." Her own Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse program actually broke off from an English department, leaving the Creative Writing program behind, which facilitated new connections with new media.

Many, such as Amy Kimme Hea of the University of Arizona praised the panel's chair, Anne Frances Wysocki, for her work with titles such as Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Hea's talk about "Integrating Technologies in New
Media Composition Courses: A Programmatic View" noted that Wysocki's repurposing of the work of Lev Manovich could be instructive for others in the field who might want to make claims for embodiment and rhetorical frames in composition. She also noted that hierarchical top-down laptop initiatives were also less effective than multimodal events that showcased student work. Her colleague Anne-Marie Hall's presentation about "Translating Research into "Mediated" Forms" complemented Hea's overview with a consideration of the balance between "criticism" and "engagement" that new media writing problematizes.

The last speaker, Stanford's Marvin Diogenes went beyond his planned spiel on "Old Wine in New Bottles? Translating Research into 'Mediated' Forms" to discuss the Realpolitik of university initiatives to explain what "may seem like a case of backing away" from teaching with new media actually involves more complicated dynamics involving institutional politics and what he called "issues of translation" at work in computational venues. Because of campus interest in providing training to undergraduate students for critical spoken presentations, Diogenes explained how the "course we have now is rooted in traditional academic approaches with students encouraged to support their oral presentations with appropriate media."

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Class and Detention

Yesterday my class visited the Virtual Guantanamo installation in the online virtual world Second Life, and those who created Gone Gitmo gave them a tour and discussed how they designed the space to encourage interactivity and activism. Of course, some of my students were flying around the area, something that the U.S. held detainees can not do, rather than pose for the photograph above. Orange jump-suited Nonny de la Peña and Peggy Weil were their guides. Now that closing the facility has become an Obama administration priority, it is interesting to think about possible ways that the site could serve as historical commemoration rather than reminder of present policy.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Just Put Your Lips Together and Blow

Whistle blowers who expose government corruption produce a number of digital genres in the Web 2.0 era. In the forthcoming Virtualpolitik book I write about how waste, abuse, corruption, and incompetence are exposed in YouTube videos, digital maps, and widely circulated e-mails.

As a case in point, the blog Ms Sparky's Mishaps & Misadventures is devoted to publicizing the incompetence of mega-contractor KBR in doing electrical work for the military in mobile encampments set up inside the Iraq warzone. Here she appears in the Rachel Maddow show in conjunction with her domain name.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

They Never Knew What Hit Them

Today's session on teaching with technology



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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

From the White House to the Wood Shed

In "White House Denies Shunning YouTube," the Bits blog from the New York Times attempts to explain apparent fluctuations in the web design philosophy of the Obama administration, as it grapples with whether or not to use third-party commercial providers for online video content when presenting what is ostensibly a digital form of the public record.

Now the White House is denying that it has changed its policy on videos from YouTube, which is owned by Google, or other third parties. While it chose to host President Barack Obama’s weekly radio and video address on WhiteHouse.gov, rather than embed a video from YouTube on its site, the change was simply an experiment, said Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman.

“As the president continues his goal of making government more accessible and transparent, this week we tested a new way of presenting the president’s weekly address by using a player developed in-house,” Mr. Shapiro said in a statement. “This decision is more about better understanding our internal capabilities than it is a position on third-party solutions or a policy. The weekly address was also published in third-party video hosting communities and we will likely continue to embed videos from these services on WhiteHouse.gov in the future.”

The story also links to a blog posting by VP friend Christopher Soghoian, "Is the White House changing its YouTube tune?," which explains how privacy advocates have attempted to influence the White House webmasters to consider the problems with relying on sites that rely on collecting data for marketers and directing targeted advertising to consumers in order to generate a profitable -- and perhaps monopolistic -- income stream.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Some Say the World Will End in Fire and Some in Ice

Perhaps the funniest part of the Onion's fake news roundtable about "Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children For The Apocalypse?" is the degree to which the actors capture the tone of real debates among educators about the transferability of skills gained by children from educational technologies to real-world situations.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009


The Digital Humanities Mellon Seminar at UCLA has been asking a number of interesting questions about the Digital Humanities, including "What is (n't) the Digital Humanities." Now the group has issued a "Digital Humanities Manifesto" that lays claim to some important rhetorical ground.

It's a fabulously polemical document that has already inspired over a hundred online comments on the text. For example, the text includes this free culture call to arms to faculty members to champion digital rights:

Copyright and IP standards must, accordingly, be freed from the stranglehold of Capital. Pirate and pervert Disney materials on such a massive scale that Disney will have to sue… your entire neighborhood, school, or country. Practice digital anarchy by creatively undermining copyright and mashing up media.

To make this seemingly subversive argument for creative nonviolent protest, the document looks to etymology to rethink the academy's traditional respect for the aura of the original in the era of so-called "big data":

This is an abundance based economy, not one based upon scarcity. It values the COPY more highly than ORIGINALS and restores to the word COPY its original meaning of abundance: COPIA = COPIOUSNESS = THE OVERFLOWING BOUNTY OF THE INFORMATION AGE.

The manifesto also attempts to do some basic definitional work, although the rhetoric tends to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

Digital humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated.

Nonetheless, like other famous manifestos, such as the classic text by Marx and Engels, it does attempt to energize its audience by imagining and demonizing potential opponents.

The digital is the realm of the open: open source, open resources, open doors. Anything that attempts to close this space should be recognized for what it is: the enemy.

It also attempts to narrativize a history of the digital humanities, in which there are first-wave practices that are distinct from current practices in the field.

Like all media revolutions, the first wave of the digital revolution looked backwards as it moved forward. It replicated a world where print was primary and visuality was secondary, while vastly accelerating search and retrieval. Now it must look forwards into an immediate future in which the medium specific features of the digital become its core.

The first wave was quantitative, mobilizing the vertiginous search and retrieval powers of the database. The second wave is qualitative, interpretive, experiential, even emotive. It immerses the digital toolkit within what represents the very core strength of the Humanities: complexity.

Of course, as a specialist in what I call "Virtualpolitik" or the Realpolitik of digital institutions, I might wonder about how well this manifesto balances an engagement with the practical challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration at the material level (by advocating for "changes in language, practice, method, and output") with its self-confessed "utopian" idealism that embraces "the open, the unfixed, the contingent, the infinite, the expansive, the no place." But manifestos are never procedural manuals, even if an understanding of what Ian Bogost calls "procedural rhetoric" might be at the heart of the digital humanities.

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State of the Art State Department

The State Department has now launched an Interactive Travel Map, where visitors to the site can play "Where in the World is Hillary Clinton?" and keep track of her miles logged in the name of improved international relations for the Obama administration. For example, this image catches her en route during a trip to the Middle East and Europe with a number of stops linked to video and other hyperlinked content if the viewer zooms in.

Of course, this is also yet another example of the "Googlization of government" that Siva Vaidhyanathan has noted, since the map is generated by the software giant, although Mountain View, California doesn't appear on its visualization of landmarks.

The month of February also ended with the agency's previous social media czar, Sean McCormack, signing off on Dipnote, the official blog for the diplomatic corps. Virtualpolitik readers may recall his Briefing 2.0 debacle during the Bush administration, which earned him a Foley award for bad e-government in 2008. In his official online farewell, McCormack also takes credit for a number of Internet innovations in public diplomacy.

I wrote the first post for DipNote, but I am pleased that the one today will not be the last to appear on this blog. You have let us into your lives, as we sought to let you into our lives at the State Department. Together we have created a space where our government and publics around the globe can have a conversation, a condition made inevitable by technology but also desirable because of the way we have chosen to be governed.

There is a lot the digital media team accomplished in the years I headed the Bureau of Public Affairs, and there was more that we had planned but just could not get to either because of time or resource realities. The good news is that as I leave the State Department a great team of career professionals will be able to complete projects on the drawing board and will work on others none of us have yet imagined. That is as it should be and in keeping with the spirit of innovation and creativity by so many digital media efforts.

Now he says he is ready to "transition from helping guide DipNote and our other digital media efforts (as well as on occasion providing content) to being a reader, user, and commenter." To be fair to McCormack, during his reign the blog seemed to allow for more critical comments about U.S. policy in keeping with their stated procedures for soliciting public input. Although a recent visit to the Middle East has fostered over a hundred comments, many of them critical, during Clinton's visit to China a disproportionate number of laudatory comments seemed to be posted about what a "treat" it was to be informed about the behind-the-scenes activities of the "lucky" Secretary in exotic places or "bravo" messages about how "fabulous" and "cool" their work was in the region.

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