Sunday, January 31, 2010

Do You Want the Bad News First? Or the Really Bad News?

A massive, multi-year, Mellon Foundation-funded study of e-scholarship has just been released by Virtualpolitik friend Diane Harley. I consider it a must read among promoters of the digital humanities who want to promulgate Web 2.0 technologies. Seeing parts of the project in draft form has informed a lot of my thinking in the new Early Adopters book.

Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication contains some grim assessments about the institutional barriers to the production and evaluation of digital scholarship, online outreach, or networked knowledge in the academy.

Age and Institutional Factors

We found no evidence to suggest that “tech-savvy” young graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, or assistant professors are bypassing traditional publishing practices. In fact, as arguably the most vulnerable populations in the scholarly community, one would expect them to hew to the norms of their chosen discipline, and they do. Established scholars seem to exercise significantly more freedom in the choice of publication outlet than their untenured colleagues, although, in the sciences, high-impact publications remain important for garnering research grants throughout a career. There is some indication that faculty in newer and less established departments in the humanities and social sciences may be more amenable to risk-taking in publication practices since their particular institutions support such efforts to carve out the identity of niche departments.

New Publication Genres

As noted above, institutions already have experience in judging non-text productivity in the arts and some professional schools. Some individuals and departments in humanistic disciplines are discussing or implementing amendments to tenure and promotion criteria in order to draw analogies between existing forms of scholarly publication (e.g., books and articles) and new, multimedia, dynamic forms of publication. A number of interviewees identified the need to have a more nuanced tenure and promotion system that could judge “intermediate” forms of scholarship, such as archival websites, perhaps as something in between “service to the field” and a more formal peer-reviewed publication that advances a well-developed scholarly argument.

The fact remains, however, that: (1) new forms of scholarship must be perceived as having undergone rigorous peer review, (2) few untenured scholars are presenting such publications as part of their tenure packages, and (3) the mechanisms for evaluating new genres (e.g., nonlinear narratives and multimedia publications) may be prohibitive for reviewers in terms of time and inclination. Associate professors may well be the class that will exercise more freedom in the type of publication submitted for promotion to full professor (e.g., an encyclopedia or electronic resource instead of the second book).

Advice to Young Scholars

The advice given to pre-tenure scholars was quite consistent across all fields: focus on publishing in the right venues and avoid spending too much time on public engagement, committee work, writing op-ed pieces, developing websites, blogging, and other nontraditional forms of electronic dissemination (including courseware)


Among most of our interviewees, blogs were simply off the radar as a source of scholarship and are generally viewed as a waste of time because they are not peer reviewed. “You have to have some standards! How in the hell are you going to judge the quality of what’s on a blog?” “...who has the time! There have to be some filters!” There was, however, limited
mention of “good” blogs in economics, astrophysics, political science, archaeology, and history (that often serve simply as more sophisticated versions of the subject listserv and are used in much the same way: for finding out about new developments or events in a field and for making general announcements). But again, the particular scholars we interviewed generally said they do not spend time following them (even those who maintain their own blogs). A number of faculty mentioned reading blogs related to a topic of their research (e.g., a historian consulting a blog about a particular branch of science or a political scientist consulting a well-known economics blog in preparation for an interview with a media outlet).

Conservatism of Young Scholars

There may be a trend among young scholars in all fields, and particularly graduate students, to be especially leery of putting ideas and data out too soon for fear of theft and/or misinterpretation. Given these findings, we caution against assumptions that “millennials” will change the landscape of scholarship by virtue of their facility with technology. There is ample evidence that, once initiated into the profession, newer scholars, be they graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, or assistant professors, adopt the behaviors and norms of their mentors to advance their careers. Of course, teenagers eventually develop into adults. Moreover, given the complex motivations around sharing scholarly work and the importance of peer review as a quality and noise filter, we think it premature to assume that Web 2.0 platforms geared toward early public exposure of ideas or data, or open peer review, are going to spread among scholars at the most competitive institutions. These platforms may, however, become populated with materials—such as protocols or primary data—that established scholars simply want to disseminate in some formal way without undergoing unnecessary and lengthy peer review. It is also possible, based on our scan of a variety of “open peer-review” websites, that scholars in less competitive institutions (including internationally), who may experience more difficulty finding a high stature publisher for their work, will embrace these publication outlets. Time will tell.

Social networking/Web 2.0

Although graduate students and younger scholars are much more “net savvy” than their established counterparts, and engage with YouTube, have personal websites, and social networking tools, this tends to be largely (if not exclusively) for personal and leisure use, not scholarly practice. Publishers experimenting with social networking reader tools (commenting, etc.) are not seeing them taken up in large part by the readership. Some attribute this lack of uptake to conservatism, time, interest, and fear of having ideas stolen. Young scholars tend to adopt the conventional practices of their subfields and mentors, despite the perception that they will change the world.

I would consider my own path to scholarly publication with a peer-reviewed book that started as a blog as a narrative that is likely to continue to be highly anomalous. MIT Press has obviously published a number of works by well-known academic bloggers and is invested in new media disciplines that test boundaries, but I also benefited from testing out ideas at conferences, as the report recommends on page eight, and cultivating face-to-face networks of like-minded academics. And I still write far more material for established journals and edited collections from other prestige publishing houses like Routledge or Continuum than I do for peer-reviewed electronic journals or online presses.

The particularly dispiriting section on "Public Engagement" that starts on page twenty-three is also worth reading. Harley's subjects bring out important aspects of the multiple publics that constitute the frameworks for public exchanges, and it is true that members of the media or gatherings of life-long learners often don't want to hear complex arguments or nuanced interpretations.

Harley will be presenting her findings at the Digital Media and Learning conference in San Diego in February, so I would encourage all Southern Californians interested in the digital humanities to attend her session.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Coach Potatoes

There has been a certain amount of juvenile joking about the feminizing of a corporation that decides to develop a product called the "iPad," but many have also been struck by another aspect of its marketing strategy, the appeal to white men with the exclusion of almost any other demographic. After all, the official iPad video with the pitch from designers and prototypical users features an all-Caucasian all-male cast, as the folks at tech-rhet have already observed. And just look at their puzzlement when they must acknowledge that this feminine thing is "so thin" and "so light" and yet also "so capable."

Part of this advertising approach seems to have to do with Apple's embrace of a minimalist macho/anti-macho aesthetic that features a lone pomo male reflecting on his own disempowerment and alienation, sort of like the figures from Dwell magazine parodied on the blog Unhappy Hipsters.

For example, listen as the lead man on the promotional video talks about "when something exceeds your ability to understand how it works" or Steve Jobs speaking about how "intimate" the experience of interaction is to see how it problematizes the traditional rhetoric of the tool, even as its "large" and "powerful" qualities are repeated several times, along with references to the heroic efforts of the designers as those who rebuild from the ground up and make "revolutionary" discoveries. Yes, there are also appeals to active domination with the instrumentality of the gadget at his service, but there is certainly a mixed message that includes passive reception when our protagonist says, "I don't have to change myself to fit the product; it fits me."

Indeed, it is the fact that the iPad is a menu of consumer choices to be passively apprehended that places the men of Apple in an odd position, as even the main demo of Steve Jobs demonstrates. Jobs, of course, has been sick of late, so his handlers may have preferred to have him take it easy in his annual demo performance, but having so much of his rhetoric about a new product be delivered from a couch definitely sends a different message from some of his more energetic demos with tool authoring of old.

For those feeling nostalgic for the demos of the younger jobs, here is a blooper reel that includes some of his more regrettable moments of improvisation.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Who Is Watching the Store?

Yesterday's State of the Union Address was also measured by viewers online in a second-by-second response poll. The seismic patterns of the rating ups and down can be seen on the group's website here.

There was certainly a sense of temporality in the President's address, which mentioned "by the time I finish speaking more Americans will lose their health insurance." There were also a number of references to new forms of federal recordkeeping and accountability testing available online, as this section of the speech shows:

That's what I came to Washington to do. That's why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that's why we've excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can't stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I'm also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there's a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

The Republican rebuttal from Bob McDonnell included a plug for the Internet as well, since "many of our proposals are available online at, and we welcome your ideas on Facebook and Twitter." This year the "You lie!" shouter from last year, Joe Wilson. actually decided to respond to the President on Facebook.

To commemorate the events of yesterday, Obama's Wordle is here and McDonnell's is here.

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You Know Where They Sit in the Lunchroom

Yesterday I was one of the respondents to John Palfrey's talk as part of the "Youth & Digital Culture: A Workshop & Discussion" sponsored by the Center in Law, Society, and Culture. Palfrey is the co-author of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives and the Co-Director of Harvard's Berkman Center, where I had the privilege to speak last May. Palfrey's work is well known for its collaborative spirit and appeal to public audiences, and this international project looking at the intersection between social science and policy with digital youth around the world was first developed at a collaborative website. Palfrey's own blog is here.

With his collaborator Urs Gasser, Palfrey describes himself as part of a group of "academics who want to speak to the policy debate" about young people online. He has often been at the center of some of the most heated debates about cyber-predators and legislation targeted against them, as the chair of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. These can be difficult debates to be involved in, because -- as I write in the opening chapter of the Virtualpolitik book -- members of both political parties are eager to score points by seeming tough about Internet crime and are willing to overlook both civil liberties and the reality that most sexual abuse is committed by parents and other loved ones who exploit their power in face-to-face situations. Too often, Palfrey said, Internet policy is shaped by "response to fears," and even lawyers like himself should acknowledge the limits of the law in governing social conduct, especially when conduct like downloading music illegally has become a cultural norm.

He apologized for being only able to give an overview of his "deep dives" that involve fieldwork in Bahrain, Shanghai, and South Korea, but he did announce his intention to use his brief talk to "bust a bunch of myths" that are popular in the mainstream media about kids born after 1980, whom he judges to be the "most empowered" by the digital revolution.

He opened his talk with an image of a pair of hands recognizable to almost all in the audience that show a close up of Barack Obama with his Blackberry, as an emblem of how interaction with computational media now had certain iconic representations associated with political authority, so complete has the transformation of society become. (It's an image that I would argue is suppressed in the current visual rhetoric of the White House, where Blackberries are to be checked at the door and instead Obama is shown repeatedly on a traditional corded phone.)

In a section called "I Blog Therefore I Am: Digital Identity," Palfrey noted the convergence of online and offline life for many young people, and -- as he showed images from Global Kids -- he observed how the avatar experience could be one of seeming power and control, and yet an onlooker might assemble their identities in ways that they might not imagine.

He also questioned how the rhetoric of multitasking was being promulgated and expressed his own preference for the term "switch-tasking," while also noting the possible unanticipated consequences of wiring classrooms not only to productivity but do the learning community's dynamic.

He even described how his own four-year-old daughter used a box camera on a vacation and how she was puzzled by not being able to see the pictures to delete bad shots and asked "Daddy, where are the pictures."

Although he granted that keyword searching habits could lead to information literacy problems and that media were not always as shareable as they appeared, he still pointed to syndication and aggregation technologies as those created by young people for young people that engaged them with code production, hacker culture, and the creative feedback loop, even if a "sophistication gap" still existed.

He then launched into several cluster concept areas in the book, starting with "Security," which in the mainstream media is associated with "stranger danger, bullying, hacking," although there has actually been a decrease in sexual predation since the online revolution. This was followed by a cluster around "Privacy" that included parental fears about "unintended audience," "persistence," "replicability," "searchability," and "unintended contributions" that are highlighted in popular journalistic accounts, although for Palfrey the real dangers lie in "identity theft," "digital record," and "continued erosion" of the privacy held dear by both young people and adults. He argued that the perception that teens didn't care about privacy anymore, since they seem to share everything from their personal lives in an exhibitionistic culture, actually didn't match the behavior and attitudes expressed by young people in his study.

His next cluster focused on the issue of "Intellectual Property," where "copyright issues" and "remix issues" take center stage. Palfrey warned that not only had the social norm of downloading become so strong that legal enforcement wouldn't change it, but that confusion about the complexities of copyright law and its four tests were encouraging many not to experiment and test the boundaries of fair use. This was followed by a "Credibility" cluster with "misinformation," "cheating," and "hidden influences" in its constellation, and then "Information Overload."

Palfrey argued that each issue presents both opportunities and costs, and that there were significant potential gains in expression as young people explore identity and media literacies and are empowered as creators and information generators. He also argued that this creativity could benefit what he called the "semiotic democracy" in which social production becomes more inclusive and accessible, which has consequences for knowledge creation, equity, democratic participation, autonomy, and cross-cultural community building, even if such a system may not directly lead to conventional forms of political participation or protest.

As he concluded, Palfrey focused the audience's attention on the "construct of a learning environment," one that might be less like the library of Oliver Wendell Holmes than traditionalists would prefer, but one capable of rich interactions and meaningful educational experiences.

He closed with a remarkable video created by one of the students working on the Digital Natives project about "Digital Dossiers" that highlights the importance of adaptation as a multimodal composition skill.

In response, I took issue with the rhetoric of the digital generation that I feared might cause policymakers to overestimate the computer literacy of the young and assume that learned behaviors were only expressions of natural facility.

In her comments, Mimi Ito provided a brief history of digital youth as the subject of analysis both in the academy and the mainstream media. She talked about the ongoing back-and-forth between "boosters" and critics and said that all three panelists were trying to present a more nuanced and complex representation of the digital youth landscape. She also said that her own research showed that both the boosters and the detractors were right, if they studied different populations of young people and that both Palfrey and I represented her favorite group to study: "geeks," who needed advocacy and understanding from the broader culture.

Moderator Mona Lynch has done a lot of interesting work about the Internet and capital punishment and the justice system, including work about "jailcams" and the push for online viewing of executions.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Crops and Robbers

As someone who has moderated a panel about chores, routine, boredom, daily life, and the mundane in virtual worlds featuring Ian Bogost, Tom Boellstorff, and Jonathan Alexander, I have to express my amusement about this video, even if the gag is pretty self-evident.

There is a send-up of the Facebook game Mafia Wars as well. (I write about several of these games in the forthcoming Facebook and Philosophy collection, along with Virtualpolitik friends (and Facebook friends) Trebor Scholz, Matthew Fraser, and Ian Bogost.

Thanks to Ava Arndt for the links!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Installing for Time

While we are on the subject of gendered humor, thanks to Maiya Williams for forwarding this popular chain e-mail item about male partners and their technical flaws, which can be found archived on the web here. It uses the genre of the install/uninstall query beautifully.

Dear Tech Support,

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed that the new program began making unexpected changes to the accounting software; severely limiting access to wardrobe, flower and jewelry applications that operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0. No mention of this phenomenon was included in the product brochure.

In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalls many other valuable programs such as DinnerDancing 7.5, CruiseShip 2.3, and OperaNight 6.1 and installs new, undesirable programs such as PokerNight 1.3, SaturdayFootball 5.0, Golf 2.4 and ClutterEverywhere 4.5. Conversation 8.0 no longer runs, and invariably crashes the system.

Under no circumstances will it run DiaperChanging 14.1 or HouseCleaning 2.6. I’ve tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix Husband 1.0, but this is all purpose utility is of limited effectiveness. Can you help, please!!!!

Dear Jane:

This is a very common problem women complain about, but it is mostly due to a primary misconception. Many people upgrade from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 with no idea that Boyfriend 5.0 is merely an ENTERTAINMENT package. However, Husband 1.0 is an OPERATING SYSTEM and was designed by its creator to run as few applications as possible.

Further, you cannot purge Husband 1.0 and return to Boyfriend 5.0, because Husband 1.0 is not designed to do this. Hidden operating files within your system would cause Boyfriend 5.0 to emulate Husband 1.0, so nothing is gained. It is impossible to uninstall, delete, or purge the program files from the system, once installed. Any new program files can only be installed once per year, as Husband 1.0 has severely limited memory. Error messages are common, and a normal part of Husband 1.0.

In desperation to play some of their “old time” favorite applications, or to get new applications to work, some women have tried to install Boyfriend 6.0, or Husband 2.0. However, these women end up with more problems than encountered with Husband 1.0. Look in your manual under “Warnings: Divorce/Child Support.” You will notice that this program runs very poorly, and comes bundled with HeartBreak 1.3. I recommend you keep Husband 1.0, and just learn the quirks of this strange and illogical system.

Having Husband 1.0 installed myself, I might also suggest you read the entire section regarding General Partnership Faults [GPFs]. This is a wonderful feature of Husband 1.0, secretly installed by the parent company as an integral part of the operating system. Husband 1.0 must assume ALL responsibility for ALL faults and problems, regardless of root cause.

To activate this great feature enter the command “C:\ I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME”. Sometimes Tears 6.2 must be run simultaneously while entering the command. Husband 1.0 should then run the applications Apologize 12.3 and Flowers/Chocolates 7.8.

TECH TIP! Avoid excessive use of this feature. Overuse can create additional and more serious GPFs, and ultimately YOU may have to give a C:\ I APOLOGIZE command before the system will return to normal operations. overuse can also cause Husband 1.0 to default to GrumpySilence 2.5, or worse yet, to Beer 6.0. Beer 6.0 is a very bad program that causes Husband 1.0 to create FatBelly files and SnoringLoudly wave files that are very hard to delete.

Save yourself some trouble by following this tech tip!

Just remember! The system will run smoothly, and take the blame for all GPFs, but because of this fine feature it can only intermittently run all the applications Boyfriend 5.0 ran. Husband 1.0 is a great program, but it does have limited memory and cannot learn new applications quickly.

Consider buying additional software to improve performance. I personally recommend HotFood 3.0, Lingerie 5.3 and Patience 10.1. Used in conjunction, these utilities can really help keep Husband 1.0 running smoothly. After several years of use, Husband 1.0 will become familiar and you will find many valuable embedded features such as FixBrokenThings 2.1, Snuggling 4.2 and BestFriend 7.6.

A final word of caution! Do NOT, under any circumstances, install MotherInLaw 1.0. This is not a supported application, and will cause selective shutdown of the operating system. Husband 1.0 will run only Fishing 9.4 and Hunting 5.2 until MotherInLaw 1.0 is uninstalled.

I hope these notes have helped. Thank you for choosing to install Husband 1.0 and we here at Tech Support wish you the be
st of luck in coming years. We trust you will learn to fully enjoy this product!

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The Girls in the Office

I'll have to say something about Steve Jobs' rhetorical performance today handling the debut of the iPad eventually, but for now I think it is worth posting this MadTV parody, pointed out to me by Sue Gautsch.

Update: The New York Times is making this connection as well in "iPad Name Conjures Up More Than Intended," and Ian Bogost is criticizing the toilet humor in "The Sanitary Handheld."

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Poster Children

In "Rendering Fear: The Graphic Design of Al Qaeda," Cliff Kuang argues that jihadist organizations have embraced many aspects of the Photoshop aesthetic and Americanized, corporatized, and transnational conglomerated media compositions.

Al Qaeda and the myriad groups that seek to emulate it are evil, without question. But they also happen to be modernizing their public face, at break-neck speed, translating their message to the Web and to magazines. What they're running into--in addition to annoyances with Photoshop and Pagemaker--are stereotypically Western middle-management questions of marketing and tone. And you can see that tension in the design of their materials.

Thanks to Jenny Cool for the link!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Like List

The popularity of the satirical blog Stuff White People Like has led to a number of imitators. Recently, Florence Chee has noted the existence of Stuff Korean Moms Like, a blog by a young Korean-American woman who includes entries on "Corningware," "Perms," "Interpreting Dreams," "Stealing Napkins and Condiments," "Their Own Cooking," and "Telling People They are Fat." It is interesting to see the enthusiasm of her readers who frequently share their own Korean mom or mother-in-law stories on the site.

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Talk Back Time

Tech President points out in "Talking Back to Obama's First State of the Union, via YouTube" that, according to the White House blog, the Commander in Chief will respond to video comments from citizens that are posted to the popular video-sharing site.

After the President's speech begins this Wednesday (1/27) at 9pm EST, anyone will be able to submit a follow-up question and vote on others at Then next week, the President will answer questions in a special online event, live from the White House.

Tech President is generally enthusiastic about establishing this historical precedent and the pose of accountability and gesture to populism that it represents.

History has often seen American presidents using State of the Union addresses to make from the podium grand promises that lack substance, announce great-sounding policies and programs without the political plans in place to actually enact them, and otherwise make statements from the podium that pretty much demand follow up. For example, President Bush's unexpected reference to animal-human hybrids in his 2006 State of the Union comes to mind as something that was perplexing to a wide range of Americans; you can start to imagine what the YouTube questions on that particular reference may have looked like. Questions from the public could be a useful reality check on that presidential text.

Doing a YouTube component to the State of the Union potentially helps the White House out in a few ways, too. For starters, it's a way of answering complaints that Obama has lost his ability to connect with the American public over the first year of his presidency. By entertaining follow-up questions Wednesday night and through next week, it also gives the White House some hope of making the president's speech front and center for an extended period of time, and extending the focus on the substance of his text -- rather than letting all attention go to the tsunami of cable pundit commentary that will begin the very moment he wraps up his speech.

As for whether Obama makes a direct reference to YouTube in his State of the Union speech Wednesday night? Place your bets.

Of course, because we are talking about a privatized corporate service that uses proprietary software and refuses to renounce troubling privacy policies, I'm somewhat skeptical about using YouTube as a venue for political speech and civic deliberation, as my recent talk at the Video Vortex conference indicates. The opening of the talk is a montage of Obama-YouTube moments, so feel free to scrub forward on the timeline.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

No Cutting, No Shoving

The content of the United Nations YouTube channel paints a very different picture of Haiti from the vision of potential anarchy and repetitive violence that is broadcast on the twenty-four-hour news cycle. Here people patiently wait in line, and there is the slow but efficient work of aid projects depicted.

Thanks to BAGnewNotes for the link.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Code Read

Check out the call for proposals for the Critical Code Studies working group, which already includes important media scholars like Wendy Chun and N. Katherine Hayles on its roster and indicates that this subfield is preparing for some serious scholarly writing to follow up on its earlier manifesto.

The call makes an appeal for response from collaborators and offers mentorship to graduate students:

The time for debating the possibility of critical readings of code is now over. It is time to begin the business of reading code.

The Working Group will offer an opportunity to produce methodologies and readings for Critical Code Studies. It will be organized around a series of hosted discussions and presentations about reading code launched weekly.
Publication: electronic book review

Electronic book review will be publishing curated threads from the Working Group discussions.

We are also planning a mini-conference after the Working Group. Details to follow.

Interested graduate students will find application information on the Critical Code Studies blog.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Communion and Communication

Today AP is reporting on its wire service about a simple command: "Pope to priests: Go forth and blog." According to the instructions in the Pope's new religious directive, his new "Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the 44th World Communications Day," the priesthood now have an obligation to master social media tools.

The theme of this year’s World Communications Day - The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word – is meant to coincide with the Church’s celebration of the Year for Priests. It focuses attention on the important and sensitive pastoral area of digital communications, in which priests can discover new possibilities for carrying out their ministry to and for the Word of God. Church communities have always used the modern media for fostering communication, engagement with society, and, increasingly, for encouraging dialogue at a wider level. Yet the recent, explosive growth and greater social impact of these media make them all the more important for a fruitful priestly ministry.

All priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, and the communication of his saving grace in the sacraments. Gathered and called by the Word, the Church is the sign and instrument of the communion that God creates with all people, and every priest is called to build up this communion, in Christ and with Christ. Such is the lofty dignity and beauty of the mission of the priest, which responds in a special way to the challenge raised by the Apostle Paul: “The Scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame … everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:11, 13-15).

Responding adequately to this challenge amid today’s cultural shifts, to which young people are especially sensitive, necessarily involves using new communications technologies. The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16) The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts. Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word.

The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ. They will best achieve this aim if they learn, from the time of their formation, how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord. Yet priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ. This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a “soul” to the fabric of communications that makes up the “Web”.

As someone who has taught Paul's Epistles in a course on globalization, I find Pope Benedict's rhetoric not particularly surprising. After all, Siva Vaidhyanathan argues that Silicon Valley companies also embrace similar appeals to universalism and a similar missionary zeal. Given the Catholic church's suspicions of capitalism's grubby materialism and survival-of-the-fittest ethos, it may be surprising to hear the Pope talk about the "digital marketplace," and it also may be surprising to hear a religious organization devoted to the one word praise multiple "voices" of individual expression and a "menu of options," but this message to the masses indicates that the Pope is interested in growing the ranks of the faithful, even if he came into his position preaching for a less universal church.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Good Bye Cruel Whirl

Reader Michael Thomas points out that assisted suicide services are now available for those who want to divest themselves from their responsibilities to social network sites. "How to Disappear from Facebook and Twitter" describes how a "Web 2.0 suicide" could be effected. Clearly many revel in this final rhetorical gesture in their online lives:

Once you hand over your log-in details and click Commit, the program will methodically delete your info — Twitter tweets, MySpace contacts, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections — much like users could do manually. What remains is a brittle cyberskeleton: a profile with no data. Users seem to love it. Testimonials range from joyous farewells ("Goodbye, cruel world!") to good-riddance denouements ("Thank you, microblogging. You are, in fact, totally useless"). Suicide Machine is so popular that thousands of people are waiting their turn for their own cyberoffing. "Our server is so busy handling the requests," says Suicide Machine co-creator Walter Langelaar.


The Fifth Freedom

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Remarks on Internet Freedom is a remarkable piece of official rhetoric about computational culture that emphasizes familiar themes of freedom, transformation, novelty, interconnectedness, information flow, and entrepreneurship.

What is also striking about the speech is the way that it never mentions the word "Google," even though its direct address to the Chinese government clearly takes the side of the Mountain View, California company in adopting the search engine corporation's complaints about unfair business practices and vulnerable computer networks that are central aspects of its ultimatum to Beijing. In contrast, Clinton avoids the language of brinksmanship in her statement and instead emphasizes global universalism rather than two-sided confrontation in her speech.

The spread of information networks is forming a new nervous system for our planet. When something happens in Haiti or Hunan, the rest of us learn about it in real time – from real people. And we can respond in real time as well. Americans eager to help in the aftermath of a disaster and the girl trapped in the supermarket are connected in ways that were not even imagined a year ago, even a generation ago. That same principle applies to almost all of humanity today. As we sit here, any of you – or maybe more likely, any of our children – can take out the tools that many carry every day and transmit this discussion to billions across the world.

Now, in many respects, information has never been so free. There are more ways to spread more ideas to more people than at any moment in history. And even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.

During his visit to China in November, for example, President Obama held a town hall meeting with an online component to highlight the importance of the internet. In response to a question that was sent in over the internet, he defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable, generates new ideas, encourages creativity and entrepreneurship. The United States belief in that ground truth is what brings me here today.

Because amid this unprecedented surge in connectivity, we must also recognize that these technologies are not an unmitigated blessing. These tools are also being exploited to undermine human progress and political rights. Just as steel can be used to build hospitals or machine guns, or nuclear power can either energize a city or destroy it, modern information networks and the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or for ill. The same networks that help organize movements for freedom also enable al-Qaida to spew hatred and incite violence against the innocent. And technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.

In the last year, we’ve seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information. China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the internet. In Vietnam, access to popular social networking sites has suddenly disappeared. And last Friday in Egypt, 30 bloggers and activists were detained. One member of this group, Bassem Samir, who is thankfully no longer in prison, is with us today. So while it is clear that the spread of these technologies is transforming our world, it is still unclear how that transformation will affect the human rights and the human welfare of the world’s population.

On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.

Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. Now, at the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear transcended the troubles of his day. And years later, one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, worked to have these principles adopted as a cornerstone of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have provided a lodestar to every succeeding generation, guiding us, galvanizing us, and enabling us to move forward in the face of uncertainty.

As "Clinton unveils U.S. policy on Internet freedom" makes clear, the rhetoric borrows from FDR's oratory against expanding totalitarianism by adding a fifth freedom about access to computer networks and secure data that wasn't part of the Roosevelt administration's agenda.

I have to point out, however, that choice of focusing on digital "freedom" rather than digital "rights" is significant, particularly given how digital rights could become a way to build coalitions and move policy.

There is already response to the speech registering on Chinese editorial pages, which names Google specifically. It is interesting to see how state-sanctioned opinion pieces like "The real stake in 'free flow of information'" use anti-Google pro-nationalist language about "information imperialism," which is similar to that used in countries such as France, as well as an opposition between "democracy" and the "free flow of information" that Europeans might be less likely to adopt.

The hard fact that Clinton has failed to highlight in her speech is that bulk of the information flowing from the US and other Western countries is loaded with aggressive rhetoric against those countries that do not follow their lead.

In contrast, in the global information order, countries that are disadvantaged could not produce the massive flow of information required, and could never rival the Western countries in terms of information control and dissemination.

Keeping that in mind, it must be realized that when it comes to information content, quantity, direction and flow, there is absolutely no equality and fairness.

The online freedom of unrestricted access is, thus, only one-way traffic, contrary to the spirit of democracy and calculated to strengthen a monopoly.

Countries disadvantaged by the unequal and undemocratic information flow have to protect their national interest, and take steps toward this. This is essential for their political stability as well as normal conduct of economic and social life.

These facts about the difficulties of developing nations, though understood by politicians like Clinton, are not communicated to the people of Western countries. Instead, those politicians publicize and pursue their claims purely from a Western standpoint.

This practice is morally unworthy and has been resisted by intellectuals in developing countries.

Take Google's threat to pull out of China for example. It has stirred widespread debate among the public in China. The recent poll conducted by shows a growing number of people voicing opposition to an unregulated or uncensored Google in China. As many as 81 percent of those polled are opposed to Chinese government accepting Google's demands.

It is not because the people of China do not want free flow of information or unlimited access to Internet, as in the West. It is just because they recognize the situation that their country is forced to face.

Unlike advanced Western countries, Chinese society is still vulnerable to the effect of multifarious information flowing in, especially when it is for creating disorder.

Western countries have long indoctrinated non-Western nations on the issue of freedom of speech. It is an aggressive political and diplomatic strategy, rather than a desire for moral values, that has led them to do so.

The free flow of information is an universal value treasured in all nations, including China, but the US government's ideological imposition is unacceptable and, for that reason, will not be allowed to succeed.

China's real stake in the "free flow of information" is evident in its refusal to be victimized by information imperialism.

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The Bad News (One) Bears

This week democracy activists are bemoaning the Supreme Court's decision to allow unlimited spending by corporations on political campaigns in "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission." Having read Oliver Wendell Holmes in graduate school, I can't say I was surprised by this ruling in favor of "the personhood of corporations," although I was appalled to see how Justice Kennedy used the language of free speech and resistance to censorship to justify the closer connection between power and money that will invariably result from overturning a century of election finance regulations.

The website of plaintiff Citizens United, a conservative interest group that also launches invective against the United Nations, Hillary Clinton, and the ACLU, along with its "limited government" rhetoric, advertises its YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

What much of the coverage is missing, however, is the role that the advent of the Internet plays in the logic of the court's reversal of prior law aimed at containing corruption and conflict of interest.

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are “‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

Check out the weird justification for corporate blogging and Internet astroturfing that the decision also contains.

Soon, however, it may be that Internet sources, such as blogs and social networking Web sites, will provide citizens with significant information about political candidates and issues. Yet, §441b would seem to ban a blog post expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate if that blog were created with corporate funds. See 2 U. S. C. §441b(a); MCFL, supra, at 249. The First Amendment does not permitCongress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.

Meanwhile, transparency activists saddened by the decision are reminding their supporters of the need for more data visualizations that show complex financial transactions between corporations and political stakeholders. is also hosting a Decodeathon to develop more free open source tools to make it possible for "publicly available government documentation be citable on the web on a paragraph level."

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Out and About on YouTube

LGBT Identity and Online New Media will soon be available from Routledge. Jonathan Alexander and I wrote about coming out videos on YouTube and will be talking about our case studies at a panel on "Queer You(th)Tube" at the Digital Media and Learning Conference. I'm also in the Joystick Soldiers collection from Routledge.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy New Ear

I talked about the 2008 mash-up of Billboard's top 25 pop hits by DJ Earworm here, so I thought readers/viewers might enjoy the 2009 version now available on the web.

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Junket Central

Geert Lovink points out yet another horrible "Government 2.0" conference designed to propagate public relations rather than reexamine the relationship between direct and representative government in the Internet era: Social Media for Government. With the inauguration of Obama, these pitches aimed at government contractors willing to pay high-priced registrations for cheerleading sessions seem to be proliferating with little imput from academics, activists, or other potential critics.

One can attend "Maximizing Your Communication Efforts By Integrating Social Media (Blogging, Podcasting & Other New Media) With Traditional Channels," which continues the command-and-control model of the Internet with a presentation by the Department of Defense's Jack Holt of DoD Live to answer self-aggrandizing questions like "Did you know that the top government and organization podcasts downloaded from iTunes are from DoD?" and "Did you know that when you talk to one blogger, you are potentially talking to 2 million virally-linked people per blogger?"

Or one can sit in on "Web 2.0 Tools for Internal Information-Sharing and Knowledge Mangagement" from the State Department's Powell-era Office of eDiplomacy, which administers Diplopedia, their internal wiki.

Or one can check out the PowerPoint slides at "Balancing Security With Information Demand While Participating In The World Of New Media" from "the world's dominant Air, Space and Cyberspace force," the U.S. Air Force (USAF)." I particularly like their order of social actors to consider: "Airmen, stakeholders, the media and insurgent adversaries." Notice how "the media" is put next to "insurgent adversaries" in the discursive logic of the "message control" of Captain David Faggard.

Jeremy Ames of the Environmental Protection agency boasts in "Reaching A New Demographic Through The Use Of Social Media – On A Shoestring Budget" that their federal agency has embraced a viral marketing technique "common in the private sector" by sponsoring a YouTube contest. ( Although they claim "this was the first such contest done by a federal agency," a government-sponsored YouTube contest for making a video about flu prevention may have been the first.)

The program piloted the Radon Video Contest using the popular video sharing site Rather then developing new messaging for YouTube, users were asked to create their own 30-60 second radon PSAs based on general guidelines. The winners received a $2500 prize and the change to have their video shown on EPA's website. Over 30 entries were received, which have been collectively viewed by over 8,000 YouTube visitors.

There is more thinking from a "power law" perspective about the web to be had in "How To Maximize Your Mission's Mandate By Using The Latest Social Media" from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which has launched a variety of "science-based, attention-grabbing initiatives to dialogue with youth" that feature videos, games, and Flash animation. The speaker points to NIDA for Teens and their "d'cisions webisodes" as exemplary content. My problem with the site, a screenshot of which can be seen above, is that it differs little from a site for young children, with its emphasis on brain teasers and comic book stories. Even after drilling down into the site in search of the research resources that might make it appealing to high school students working on school reports, I was disappointed to only see simple NIDA and NIH pamphlets that lack the kind of scientific studies that the college preparatory audience would need.

Along with spokespeople from nearby local governments like Washington D.C. and Virginia Beach, there are also many representatives from for-profit companies like iStrategyLabs and IQ Solutions who seem to be well positioned at the conference to make the pitch for capitalizing on policy maker's current love for proprietary technologies and easy black boxed solutions.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Political Apportunity

Yesterday, the White House announced that it was releasing an iPhone app for "iPhone users on the go" who will "tune in through their phones." The use of radio metaphors may be telling, since the administration seems to be thinking about the device in terms of one-to-many traditional broadcast models.

Soon critics were asking if it was really a more efficient method of delivery for the citizen-on the go, or if it was simply a "propaganda tool."

But that's where this app, despite its benefits as a window onto White House goings-on (soon to be augmented with a Web site that'll work on other smartphones), is ever so slightly questionable. Because under the guise of providing access, it smacks of a propagandizing mechanism--simply because though it provides information, it doesn't seem to allow for "customer feedback" or even debate in the form of blog comments.

My own gripe with the iPhone app, which I have downloaded onto my own device, is really twofold:

1) It doesn't do much with the ubiquity offered by a mobile device and simply repackages existing web content for the smaller screen. Geolocation, sound input, uploading of information captured from the iPhone camera . . . none of these technologies are actually used. We don't even know what regions of the country are using the app at any given time or what kind of content is generating buzz. This tends to be a problem with a lot of political apps, which are often little more than press release vehicles.

2) This is another case of the White House using a proprietary platform uncritically, one that has an exclusive contract with a single cellular provider, AT&T and therefore limits consumer choice of carriers and one that says what products developers can and can not publish on their device. Here is another opportunity to educate the public about how hardware and software decisions have political implications squandered in the name of hype and PR. Although the White House promises "we’ll also launch, a mobile-ready version of that is optimized for any internet-enabled mobile device, including many other phones," the choice to launch with iPhone first may be telling.

Update: Apparently I am not alone. The The Oh My Gov! blog is calling it a "big disappointment."

Conspicuously absent from the application is the President's 2010 budget, details of upcoming proposals, including the a summary of the Health Care Bill, a tool to track Obama's campaign promises, information about the makeup of the President's cabinet, and the White House's plan for economic recovery and elimination of the ever expanding $12.3 trillion federal debt.

Given these absences, the utility of the application is limited to members of the press who want to keep up with the President's every move and those still infatuated with Obama. Others who wish to engage in the political discussion on a deeper level, hold the Oval Office accountable for its promises to say, eliminate wasteful spending from the federal budget line by line, and obtain a detailed understanding of just how fast a few trillions dollars are spent should continue digging for the information online or just read from the New York Times application.

Also disappointing from this app, which is little more than a mobile version of the communications sections of the White House website, is a method of dialogue with constituents the Obama administration has become known for. It's a bit disappointing the makers of the app didn't build in a way for users to send their best ideas on improving things to the administration, pose and have questions answered, or vote on the ideas of others, including the ideas of the White House. Many of my best ideas occur when I am out and about, and things I see often jog my brain into action. And as we've all witnessed from the Red Cross' Haiti fundraising efforts, mobile phones can be a powerful platform for soliciting a quick response.

Thanks to Jeff Brazil for the link!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Vanished Civilization

Reader Michael Thomas points out that this item about "The World Tomorrow If the Internet Disappeared" has become a piece of Internet ephemera that is widely distributed via e-mail and other informal channels.

Much of the humor in the user-generated content in this Photoshop contest depends on knowledge of print artifacts and the oddity of Internet cultural practices when transposed to the page or to the architectures of physical rather than virtual marketplaces.

There is even a James Joyce joke for the literati!

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Till Google Do We Part

Mitsu Hadeishi points out this blog posting that contrasts Google's fill-in-the-blank search boxes for "how can I get my husband to . . ." with "how can I get my wife to . . ." and points out how the rhetoric of the query can be aggregated in a way that is strongly gendered.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Family That Blogs Together Slogs Together

I know a number of his-and-hers bloggers in which both the husband and wife chronicle their lives online, usually with an appeal to different niche audiences. Now my better half has joined the club with the Brown Bag Dad blog, where he has begun to document his morning lunchbags.

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Lifeline or Noose?

The U.K.-based group CyberMentors have complained that television stations have refused to air the ad above for their anti-cyberbullying organization. Their website emphasizes their live chat services, although they admit that "Beatbullying has funding to keep our BACP-accredited counsellors online from 8am-10pm," although "you will mostly find CyberMentors and Senior CyberMentors online until much later, often until midnight."

Of course, the question I find myself asking, as sympathetic as I might be to the parents who founded this organization after the death of their daughter, is if this ad only reinforces the idea that the web is harmful to teenagers and brings abuse into their homes, despite the fact that there are teens who use Internet websites as a way to escape abusive situations and define what is normal in a separate realm from a dysfunctional home.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Flash Nation

South Korea has become well-known in digital art circles thanks to the work of Young-Hae Chang / Heavy Industries in Flash. The Design Firm LavaNine has also created an appealing Flash introduction for the National Digital Library of Korea.

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The social advertising blog Osocio reports that Canada has shut down parody websites created by the anti-globalization and corporatization activists The Yes Men, which claim to announce the Canadian government's commitment to reducing greenhouse gasses. What I find interesting is to see the long disclaimer at and from the service provider who was obviously complying with the government's directive under duress:

Serverloft blocked the IP-range for this server because of the content of the client's website and would only unblock the IP-range if we suspended the website. The website was used in a spoof by The Yes Men.

Serverloft blocked the IP-range without a warrant and without calling us and thus affecting servers hosting 4500 of our customers' websites until we ourselves discovered the problem, and convinced Serverloft to unblock. Serverloft did send us an email explaining that they would not unblock the IP-range until the websites were taken offline. The email was sent 5 minutes after they cut of the access to the mail server, so we only received the email after the 4500 websites were back online.

Convincing Serverloft that their systems had blocked access on purpose was hard because Serverloft frontline support claimed that all their systems were working fine and they therefore assumed that the problem was a configuration problem on our server. They refused to help troubleshooting the issue.

Serverloft could simply have called us and asked us to deal with the situation. We would then have asked the Canadians for a warrant. If the Canadians had shown us a warrant we would have taken down the site immediately. As others have pointed out the Canadians could probably just have gone through CIRA and have the domain suspended, which would not have affected any of the other 4500 websites.

This is much more than a simple 404 message and even includes a timeline of the controversy with background information and an excerpt of the e-mail that the company received from their hosting service, which claims that a phishing incident was the cause for the suspension. It also emphasizes a rhetorical stance of accommodation and rationality in the conflict.

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Forgotten Country

With the escalation of violence linked to Al Qaeda operations in Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, many Americans have forgotten about recent war zones for U.S. troops, but their governments do have web presences, and yesterday's New York Times had two stories about governments with suspect human rights and civil liberties records either making a show of participating in Western-style deliberatory democracy or seeming to subverting it.

"Recasting Serbia’s Image, Starting With a Fresh Face" tells the story of the young Foreign Minister who seems to represent the country's recent desire for reconciliation with the United States and the world community and its wish to join the European Union, even if the country still is attempting to block the independence of Kosovo.

The style of thel English version of the official government website of Serbia is not only significantly different from the pages in the nation's native languages, but it also shows a progressive face to the world with a icon in the browser window. International sports events, charts showing the economics of globalization, and appeals that make the case for Serbia joining the European Union are all attention-getting elements of the page. However, the English front page also includes a link to a page called "Kosovo is Serbia," which shows links to pathos-oriented and fear-inspiring pages about "Albanian terrorism and organized crime" and the "March pogrom 2004."

At the same time, the NYT tells us that Iraq is backsliding on its democratic promises by barring many Sunni candidates. Not knowing Arabic, the visual rhetoric of the official page for the Iraqi cabinet is hard to read. (The page for Iraqi president Talabani provides links alongside the CNN logo.)

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Time Capsule

With the presidential palace in ruins from the recent devastating earthquake, it is not surprising that visitors to the website for Haiti's office of the Prime Minister will only get a message about a parse error if they travel to the online representation of the virtual state for the central government, which is currently in disarray.

The government websites that are actually online seem to be frozen in time before the disaster. The Ministère des Affaires Etrangères d'Haïti shows images of cruise ships and visiting royalty rather than foreign aid workers landing to dig citizens out of the rubble.

Similarly, the Ministre Haïtien de la Planification et de la Coopération Externe is bordered with PDF policy documents that frame the national narrative that explains a history that goes back to the country's 1946 revolution. There is no sign of the tumult that has gripped the country on a site that still bears a 2007 copyright.

Unlike the old Microsoft FrontPage sites that represent many of the Carribean nation's agencies, the site for the Ministère des Travaux Publics, Transports & Communications seems to celebrate the emerging infrastructure of the country with a more contemporary and dynamic page.

Of course, not all interactive contact is a good idea, as the website for the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances, which features cheezy animations of Santa Claus and blinking hyperactive text.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Go With the Flow

In yesterday's session on "Cutting the Cord : Strategies and Challenges of Independent Video Game Development," the emphasis was on practical business strategies rather than theoretical design issues at the Center for Games and Virtual Worlds at UC Irvine. For example, Tim Campbell, Co-founder and President of SuperVillain Studios talked about how working on Jenova Chen's critically acclaimed FlOw paid off for his company in developing new technologies that could be valuable as proprietary software rather than in customer sales. With CTO and fellow co-founder Steve Ganem, Campbell explained how the company had developed its own game engine using Ganem's skils in programming as well as his knowledge of linear algebra and 3D geometry first developed in coursework at UCI. Cambell also emphasized the tensions between the interests of publishers and developers and how more mature companies shift from focusing on logistics to focusing on morale. He also noted how game makers had become cynical about cranking out certain forms of reliable IP in three categories: zombies, space marines, and battles from World War II.

Mark Lowe, CEO of Zero G Games followed up with his own narrative about moving from tech support to quality assurance to programming and how skills learned making tax software ultimately paid off as a creater and musical composer for videogames.

Although the panel was very positive about the regional benefits of starting companies in Orange County, they were skeptical about whether there was really a viable market in serious games.

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Sacramento is a Dirty Word (Although Supermajority Should Be)

If you don't know political advertising in California, then perhaps you have never heard the way the word "Sacramento" is said on TV here. It's generally hissed out in contempt, with more condemnation than the word "Satan." Everyone hates Sacramento politics, even those who serve in office there.

However, yesterday's teach-in with famed Berkeley professor and cognitive linguist George Lakoff was aimed at undoing the rhetorical train wreck that has been the response of interested parties to the drastic budget cuts to the state's public universities that only reinforce the simple binaries in which either "UC administration" or "Sacramento politicians" are the enemy. Instead, Lakoff argued that UC faculty need to be speaking to PTAs and going into conservative districts to remind people outside the university that money invested in higher education goes back into the economy by a factor of four.

State Senator Loni Hancock was also on hand to explain the three structural factors that cause California politics to be so dysfunctional in governing even with a clear majority of sixty-three percent: 1) the initiative system that creates unfunded and even contradictory mandates based on the popular vote, 2) term limits that relegate institutional wisdom to lobbyists, and 3) the supermajority, and 3) the supermajority 2/3 rule for budgets and taxes that only exists in two other states: Rhode Island and Arkansas.

Yesterday's meeting was aimed at lowering this hurdle, which is higher even than the Senate's sixty percent fillibuster proof barrier that has inhibited legislation on everything from healthcare to climate change at the federal level. Hancock argued that many might be tempted to go with a less elegant form of attacking the problem, such as the multi-initiative and heavily obfuscated California Forward project, which has received a lot of support from philanthropic foundations, but Hancock cautioned that it will only cause more 2/3 thinking, since it will add the legislature's capacity to collect fees to this unwieldy political structure.

Instead members of the meeting were encouraged to support the more direct Californians for Democracy, which would simply remove the words "2/3" from two spots in the state constitution, those that specify the approval threshhold for the budget and for approving raising tax revenue. (The latter is a particularly vexing issue for political observers, because there is no prohibition on having a simple majority lower taxes, so there is continuous downward pressure leading to greater budget deficits.) Hancock thinks it is more likely to get voters to sanction the budget provision rather than the tax provision, however.

Lakoff said the word "supermajority" was objectionable to him as a linguist, because it sounds like it means even more democracy, even more government by the majority, but in fact it turns out to result in government by minority, where individual deal-makers can swing the vote in exchange for takeaway pet projects for their districts.

Habermas lifeworld

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Glass Houses

Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation has made the argument that transparency should be the chief virtue of government and worries that everything from hard-to-strip fiscal data in PDF files to the locations of senate hideaways creates an environment of obfuscation and secrecy.

Recently, she noted on her Twitter feed that the DMV offices in the Washington D.C. area offer live webcams in their Georgetown offices to allow citizens to assess how long the lines might be at any given moment. DMVs in Alaska offer the same service to their online potential customers. Of course, the question is whether the person reading People magazine in the waiting room or picking his nose realizes that he is being immortalized for unseen others, as convenient as these portals into bureaucratic spaces to be occupied in the future may be.

The Sunlight Foundation has also sponsored a number of applications that I have downloaded to my iPhone, which include Real Time Congress. Unfortunately, many of these programs don't make use of the iPhone's ability to use geospatial data or capture live sound, which many of the most interesting applications do. Even their application for Layar isn't particularly exciting, since it is difficult to get a sense of how money is being spent, either well or badly. Naturally, to discourage impulsive vigilantee action or attacks on people in power, there are reasons not to always have real-time geo-location. Nonetheless, the people at Sunlight Labs keep up the work on new applications and may come up with a compelling iPhone application yet.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Conan the Contrarian

The fight between Conan O'Brien and NBC executives over the network's evening late night schedule would seem to be hardly a digital rhetoric story. After all, this is all about local affiliates, conventional ratings system, and the norms of prime time programming in the traditional one-to-many broadcast model, as the NBC network tries to respond to the perceived failure of comedian Jay Leno in the nightly ten o'clock spot, which has become associated with scripted crime drama not cheap-to-produce talk shows.

However, O'Brien is counting on the power of the fan culture that Henry Jenkins has described in the book Convergence Culture in entering into a stand-off with NBC brass, where he has refused to leave the traditional Tonight Show spot inhabited by Johnny Carson for many years, right after the eleven o'clock local news. In issuing his widely reposted "people of earth" statement, O'Brien has dared NBC to force him to move. Since issuing this refusal, he has also run comedy bits on the Tonight Show that mock NBC's corporate business decisions, including its historic losses on the Winter Olympics.

Now fans of Conan may join one of many Facebook pages, including this one, and have begun to Twitter up a storm with the hashtag #teamconan.

Disclaimer: Okay, I know Conan from college, as a number of incriminating photographs, including this one, demonstrates. But it is still an interesting digital rhetoric story nonetheless.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Showdown in Beijing

Virtualpolitik pal Siva Vaidhyanathan was a big part of today's big digital rhetoric story, and he has been posting his reflections about the showdown between the search engine Google and the government of China on his Googlization of Everything blog. Although the Los Angeles Times is trumpeting the idea that "Chinese Internet users praise Google's threat to exit," the New York Times summed up their more skeptical assessment with the headline "Google's Threat Echoed Everywhere Except China."

Much of what Vaidhyanathan is doing in his blog postings and interviews like this radio interview is clarifying two misconceptions that are common here in the U.S. where 1) we don't imagine Google not to be ubiquitous anywhere else, and 2) we still accept the Bush administration's view that privacy and security is a zero-sum game. First, Vaidhyanathan points out that Google has a much smaller market share than native-born search engine Baidu, which offers access its users access to more copyrighted works than the litigation-averse Mountain View company that must abide by U.S. law. Second, Google is citing both threats to its business model and to civil liberties in explaining its risky ultimatum.

Vaidhyanathan has been working out his general "thoughts on China" for a long time, certainly before the attention paid to Google's shift in policy and its recent threat to pull out of the country entirely, if it doesn't get its way. As he explains, however," in his statement on Google's concerns about "Cyber Attack," American news organizations have been overemphasizing the human rights rhetoric in their coverage: "It's commercial malpractice to back out of the largest market in the world on principle. Google must have some good business reasons."

Certainly the rhetoric on Google's official blog about "a new approach to China" uses the language of selflessness that often appears in its official communications to explain its dare to China:

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors--have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

In one case, Google claims to be defending the interest of other U.S. companies and Western caitalism, and in the other it emphasizes the risk to democracy and human rights advocates of Chinese interference in network security, although it acknowledges that there are only two cases it can points to, both of them relatively minor.

Perhaps the most interesting question is the one being asked by Rebecca MacKinnon: "Will Google stand up to France and Italy, too?"

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