Wednesday, June 16, 2010

iCollege iDiocy

As the Chronicle of Higher Education points out today in "'iCollege' Idea Gets Chuckle on 'Daily Show,' but Online Viewers Aren't Laughing," this pitch for distance learning from Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty raised the hackles of educators and students who are wary of seeing education as a download rather than a more spontaneous and participatory experience.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Suspended Time

At my university the big campus story today made it all the way to the Los Angeles Times. Thus "UC Irvine seeks to suspend Muslim student union" describes how what has become an extremely controversial student organization is facing discipline as a result of disrupting a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

In a fourteen-page disciplinary letter, campus officials detail their case against the organization as a whole and draw on digital evidence from a Google Group, an online video, and the group's pro-demonstration blog, "Stand With The Eleven," to make the argument that MSU members collectively had engaged in an orchestrated obstruction of a core campus activity comparable to "teaching, research, administration" when they prevented an invited speaker from speaking.

In a difficult-to-explicate e-mail from last month, Chancellor Drake had also indicated his concern that "endorsement of terrorism" had been supported by the MSU at other campus events. Thus, the decision to suspend the group might not be terribly surprising, although the Muslim Student Union website also includes community service announcements and even information about campus tutoring.

Of course, I can't help wondering if the case would have been handled differently had it not been publicized by the viral video below, which received some three-quarters of a million views: "Uncivilized Tactics at UC Irvine."

This nearly identical version of the event received over 350,000 views, and there are many other similar videos with the same footage on YouTube, some of which are retitled with names like "Muslims Try To Silence Israeli Ambassador at UC Irvine" and "Jew Haters Protest Israeli Ambassador" and "Muslim Students Union at UC Irvine act like terrorst fascists - against free speech." All of these videos create a negative impression of the campus community, which was picked up by conservative media outlets arguing that colleges teach radical politics not constructive subject matter.

Since I am working on a new book about universities and digital content-creation, I have been thinking about this incident a lot, as I consider what to say about student activism and new media representations of it online. Looking at images of student protests from the past that have used conventional techniques for composition and editing in photography and film, my main question is how contemporary online images of student unrest are different. Certainly, they often aren't as artfully and professionally produced in the conventional journalistic sense, as the aestheticized iconography of campus demonstrations of the sixties certainly was. In other words, how do new ubiquitous recording devices make chaotic scenes seem even more chaotic?

Granted, in the case of the MSU heckling, the most watched clips aren't from cell phone footage and aren't shot without a tripod. However, the viral video frequently pans and zooms in ways that suggest amateur videography that is both more "true" and more difficult to watch and make sense of.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010


Thanks to Jacki Morie for the link


Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Praise of Snark and Sharp Elbows

Mimi Ito's opening keynote talk about "Peer Learning with Social Media" at the New Media Consortium summer conference began by looking at contemporary debates about new social computing technologies that build on Nicolas Carr's initial provocation in The Atlantic, which asked the question "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Of course, Carr has expanded his argument into a recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, and so now the New York Times is running articles like "Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price" (and rebuttals like "The Defense of Computers, the Internet and our Brains") that emphasize Carr's role in the current cultural conversation about the effects of computational media. As Ito pointed out, however, these debates have a tendency to be highly recursive and to be structured by rigid binaries about cultural progress. Thus Carr's book could be opposed to Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You. And Don Tapscott's Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World could serve as the flat mirror merely presenting the inverse argument of The Dumbest Generation, which I further criticize here.

Despite what Ito calls the "happy opening video" for the conference, she cautioned that "opportunities and risks are inexticably linked," as Sonia Livingstone and Leslie Haddon articulately argued in Kids Online. The "collapse of treasured gatekeepers" might have many unintended consequences, and the "constant allures" of social contact with remote others may lead to checked out behavior at both the dinner table and in the lecture hall and dinner. For Ito, the benefits of learning that is personalized and social make developing new educational models promising, but she argued that it was a mistake to "hold on to old boundaries," particularly those between work and life and between different generations. She admitted that not all learning practices fostered by peer and friendship networks were laudatory in a world of Sparknotes, ratemyprofessors,com, and Cheathouse, but she also argued that educators shouldn't be too punitive about Facebook study groups and other examples of "lateral flows of knowledge."

To make her larger point about evolving networked practices and peer reputation networks, she drew the audience's attention to the genre of the amateur webcam lip synch video. First she showed the pre-YouTube classic Numa Numa video. Then she played an example of the transnational dual efforts of the Back Dorm Boys. Finally, she screened "A Day at the Office," shown below, which was recommended to her by YouTube ethnographer Michael Wesch.

This video documents a particular form of subversion of the workplace through collaborative media-making that demonstrates what Ito called the "ecology of Internet video." She also pointed to more explicitly political remixes by Jonathan McIntosh, who curated the political remix sessions at the 24/7 DIY Video Summit and had come to embrace the "identity correction" style of The Yes Men in works such as "H2: Bummer," which Ito showed.

Although less obviously formulated as a critique, McIntosh's "Buffy vs Edward," shown above, was for Ito an interesting test case of fair use that also pushed limits. (At this point, she briefly returned to remind audience members of the social dynamics of a WiFi enabled lecture hall that supports "new mechanisms for filter and focus" that might even affect audience members checking e-mail or web surfing during her talk.)

She then pointed to the book The Power of Pull, the most recent work of John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison when it came to the big shift pitched to the Harvard Business School, as a way to understand "opportunistic learning."

However, Ito insisted that such opportunistic learning always came with a "social wrapper." She pointed to the case of Snafu Dave and his journey as a college student from Math to Computer Science to Design in an educational trajectory that never quite addressed his passion for comics. She also highlighted projects like p2pu and Howard Rheingold's Social Media Classroom, as well as Wesch's digital ethnography group Mediated Cultures, as exemplary programs. All of these examples provide "reciprocity and feedback" to teachers and learners together.

Ito also emphasized the issue of reputation and alluded to her own work and the work of others on AMVs or "animated music videos" in which "all are learners and teachers," and certain conventions provide opportunities for recognition, which one AMV maker compared to the "AcademyAward for best picture." Because online learning is about embodied selves not "a brain interacting with technology," Ito argued that it was important to understand "sites for publicity and competition." For Ito, it is "not enough to be open and welcoming."

In closing, Ito recognized danah boyd in the audience and credited her for work done in graduate student blogging that created a career for herself in a burgeoning field. (In workshops like this one that I have given to graduate students about creating an online presence, I have argued that boyd might be an examplar that is too difficult to emulate, because dissertation blogging and frank talk about academic procedures is more likely to be punished rather than rewarded.)

Ito concluded by saying that we were still in the "early days" of these cultural shifts and that her "examples may seem trivial" and her plans might seem unrealistic for educational systems driven by an "insistence on individualized assessment." Her final words were devoted to a plug for dmlcentral, where I have served as a blogger this year.

See another take on Ito's keynote here.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Shots from the Other Side

To shoot has two meanings: to use a camera and to fire a weapon. A few days ago I wrote about the use of Flickr by the Israeli Defense Forces and the relationship between evidence and testimony when it comes to the digital rhetoric of government agencies. So it was interesting today to see the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/TURKEY's photostream and a number of images called "Israeli commandos' bloody raid on Freedom Flotilla to Gaza 31.05.2010" in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza set. I found it particularly interesting to see a still from the same interview in both the IHH set and the IDF set, even though those posting the image represent opposing rhetorical sides. Before the ship was boarded by Israeli commandos, there are images of men fishing and babies with pacifiers. After the ship was boarded, there are a number of pictures of the wounded being treated, which included a dramatic photograph of an Israeli soldier being treated by doctors who were Palestinian sympathizers. I am struck by two other aspects of the IHH Flickr set: the quality of the photographs is often aesthetically more compelling than the IDF photos, and the IHH uses the copyright symbol, while the IDF uses a creative commons license. (You can see the official IHH website here.)

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Letter to UC Faculty

Okay, normally I don't reproduce things in their entirety, and I feel compelled to do a lot of counter-reading of the arguments in a given digital text.

But I am going to break my rule when it comes to this letter from the University Libraries and the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. Rate hikes for subscriptions to scholarly databases have become a real problem for anyone who wants to keep resources available to students in difficult budget times. Speaking personally, we've had serious problems in the Humanities Core Course with nearly losing access to some critical digital collections that were important for our information literacy goals.

I'm like most people who teach in the UC system: a lot of my work appears in closed peer-reviewed journals that is aggregated into products sold by a very limited number of for-profit companies.

For example, to see some of my work, your library would have to pay Taylor and Francis/Sage (for Discourse), Elsevier (for Journal of Second Language Writing), and Oxford Journals (for Literary and Linguistic Computing). Gale controls access to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, which I wrote for in grad school. And if I want to point someone to reviews of my book, the pointer would go via one of the portals at Wiley. So I understand that boycotts are not appealing, but this is a particularly egregious case.

Re: Informational Update on a Possible UC Systemwide Boycott of the Nature Publishing Group

Dear UC Divisional Chairs and Members of the UC Faculty,

UC Libraries are confronting an impending crisis in providing access to journals from the Nature Publishing Group (NPG). NPG has insisted on increasing the price of our license for Nature and its affiliated journals by 400 percent beginning in 2011, which would raise our cost for their 67 journals by well over $1 million dollars per year.

While Nature and other NPG publications are among the most prestigious of academic journals, such a price increase is of unprecedented magnitude. NPG has made their ultimatum with full knowledge that our libraries are under economic distress—a fact widely publicized in an Open Letter to Licensed Content Providers and distributed by the California Digital Library (CDL) in May 2009. In fact, CDL has worked successfully with many other publishers and content providers over the past year to address the University’s current economic challenges in a spirit of mutual problem solving, with positive results including lowering our overall costs for electronic journals by $1 million dollars per year.

NPG by contrast has been singularly unresponsive to the plight of libraries and has employed a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy that directs major price increases to various institutions in different years. Their proposed new license fee is especially difficult to accept in a time of shrinking UC library budgets and with the many sacrifices we all continue to make Systemwide. Capitulating to NPG now would wipe out all of the recent cost-saving measures taken by CDL and our campus libraries to reduce expenditures for electronic journals. More information about the UC Libraries’ concerns, including a history of previous unsustainable price increases from this publisher and others, is available on the CDL’s Challenges to Licensing page at

UC Libraries have already taken a stand against NPG. After recently acquiring Scientific American, NPG doubled the institutional site license fee and raised the price of an institutional print subscription seven-fold. In response, UC Libraries, along with numerous other institutions throughout the country, discontinued their license to the online version and reduced the number of print subscriptions. As a first response to the current NPG proposal, UC Libraries plan to forgo all online subscriptions to any new NPG journals. But more drastic actions may be necessary.

What can UC Faculty do to help?

UC Faculty and researchers author a significant percentage of all articles published in NPG journals and are a major force in shaping the prestige of its publications. In the past six years, UC authors have contributed approximately 5300 articles to these journals, 638 of them in the flagship journal Nature. Using NPG’s own figures, an analysis by CDL suggests that UC articles published in Nature alone have contributed at least $19 million dollars in revenue to NPG over the past 6 years—or more than $3 million dollars per year for just that one journal. Moreover, UC Faculty supply countless hours serving as reviewers, editors, and advisory board members.

Many UC Faculty now believe that a larger and more concerted response is necessary to counter the monopolistic tactics of NPG. Keith Yamamoto, a Professor and Executive Vice Dean at UCSF ( who helped lead a successful boycott against Elsevier and Cell Press in 2003 (, has begun to assemble a group of Faculty that will help lead a UC Systemwide boycott of NPG. This means that unless NPG is willing to maintain our current licensing agreement, UC Faculty would ask the UC Libraries to suspend their online subscriptions entirely, and all UC Faculty would be strongly encouraged to:

• Decline to peer review manuscripts for journals from the Nature Publishing Group.
• Resign from Nature Publishing Group editorial and advisory boards.
• Cease to submit papers to the Nature Publishing Group.
• Refrain from advertising any open or new UC positions in Nature Publishing Group journals.
• Talk widely about Nature Publishing Group pricing tactics and business strategies with colleagues outside UC, and encourage sympathy actions such as those listed above.

We clearly recognize that the consequences of such a boycott would be complex and present hardships for individual UC researchers. But we believe that in the end, we will all benefit if UC can achieve a sustainable and mutually rewarding relationship with NPG. In the meantime, UC scholars can help break the monopoly that commercial and for-profit entities like NPG hold over the work that we create through positive actions such as:

• Complying with open access policies from Federal funding agencies such as the NIH
• Utilizing eScholarship, an open access repository service from CDL
• Considering other high-quality research publishing outlets, including open access journals such as those published by PLoS and others.
• Insisting on language in publication agreements that allows UC authors to retain their copyright (

A full list of journals currently licensed from NPG by UC Libraries is attached. We will keep you informed as this situation progresses, including the possibility of canceling all NPG titles.

Please feel free to contact the University Librarian on your campus with questions or concerns, or any of us. You can also communicate your concern to key contacts at NPG. The managing director of NPG, Steven Inchcoombe, and other members of the executive committee can be reached at

Laine Farley
Executive Director
California Digital Library
University of California, Office of the President

Richard A. Schneider
Associate Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
University of California – San Francisco
Chair, University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication

Brian E. C. Schottlaender
The Audrey Geisel University Librarian
University of California – San Diego
Convener, University Librarians Council

Update: For more on the rhetorical moves in the librarians' call for a boycott, see "Fight Club Soap" from Bethany Nowviskie.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

A Tale of Two E-mails

Regular readers know that I am a big fan of analyzing the rhetoric of anti-Obama viral e-mails. I think that e-mail is often understudied in analyses of Internet politics, because it depends on one-to-one communication and is less associated with youth culture or the practices of early adopters, unlike the politics expressed on blogs, social network sites, or microblogging sites like Twitter.

But it is important not to ignore when thinking about real communication and real elections, especially since such e-mails are probably going to reach the largest pool of likely voters in the over fifty contingent.

Let's look at two different Obama e-mails in circulation with week and examine their rhetorical techniques. Both end with a call to forward the e-mail to others, both are intended to sow doubt about the president's integrity, and both suggest dark possibilities of conspiracy and violence (associated with Chicago gangsterism and Manchurian Candidate puppetry respectively).

E-mail One

Rod Blagojevich is the former Illinois Governor who tried to sell Obama's seat in congress.

Obama was asked, by the press, if he had ever met Gov. Ron Blagojevich.

Barack Obama: "I only saw Rod Blagojevich one time ... and that was in the stands and from a distance at a Chicago Bears Football Game."

during a rally in Chicago , April 16, 2007.

To understand the next 4 years, you have to understand the world according to Chicago

While Chicago is a city in Illinois , it is almost a completely different country when it comes to politics, with a whole different set of morals and language.

There are only three rules and a few Prime Directives which anybody can understand. You don't even need an attorney to understand them --and if you need an attorney, well, you know too look out for Rule #3!

RULE #1...No matter what you see, hear, or do; --you don't know anybody and you don't know nothing!

RULE #2...If you capture something on tape or camera¦ -- it doesn't reveal nothing!

RULE #3...If you know what everybody knows in Chicago¦ --well, you still don't know nothing.

The PRIME DIRECTIVE in CHICAGO ...No matter what the vote. "Democrats win the election. Now pay close attention!

It's very simple....we'll illustrate. Remember, you know nothing.

These two? They don't know each other! They said they didn't.

The fellas in this picture "They never actually met face to face. What fellas? We don't see nothing!

The guy on the left? For all you know he's Santa Claus.

And the guy on the right... well, he's the Easter Bunny! That's all you need to know.

Go to your eye doctor...your eyes are lying to you! Ca'pish?
Remember Jimmy Hoffa? He knew too much and now,

well, now no one knows where he is.

Is the big picture clear? Not these pictures!

Remember, You've already forgot them...

Now, ain't that simple? They don't know each other and they never met!

How is that possible? 'cause they said so! And don't forget it!

P.S. If you pass this on to your friends, don't forget,

you know nothing and they will know nothing.

E-mail Two

WHO the Heck IS HE ???


Read this....

I did some of my own research after reading this. Why was his law license inactivated in 2002?

Why was Michelle's law license INACTIVATED by court order?

There is only one Barack Hussein Obama according to the U. S. Census and he has 27 Social Security numbers and over 80 aliases.

The one he uses now originated in Connecticut where he is not ever reported to have lived. No wonder ALL of his 'records' are sealed!!!

It just gets worse!!!

At least we only have 2 1/2 years of this mystery man left before we can replace him.

Was He There?

Who IS He?

I have always wondered why NO ONE ever came forward from Obama's past saying they knew him, attended school with him, was his friend, etc.

NO ONE, not one person has ever come forward from his past.


This should really be a cause for great concern.

To those who voted for him, YOU HAVE ELECTED THE BIGGEST UNQUALIFIED FRAUD that America has ever known!

This is very interesting stuff. Sort of adds credence to the idea of The Manchurian Candidate thing having happened here!

Stephanopoulos of ABC news said the same thing during the 08' campaign. He too was a classmate of BO's at Columbia class of 1984. He said he never had ONE class with him.

Was he there?

While he is such a great orator, why doesn't ANYONE in Obama's college class remember him?

Maybe he never attended class!

Maybe he never attended Columbia?

He won't allow Colombia to release his records either.

Suspicious isn't it???


Looking for evidence of Obama's past, Fox News contacted 400 Columbia University students from the period when Obama claims to have been there, but none remembered him.

Wayne Allyn Root was, like Obama, a political science major at Columbia who also graduated in 1983.

In 2008, Root says of Obama, "I don't know a SINGLE PERSON at Columbia that knew him, and they all know me.

I don't have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia. EVER! Nobody recalls him.

I'm not exaggerating, I'm not kidding. "

Root adds that he was also, like Obama, "Class of '83 political science, pre-law" and says, "You don't get more exact or closer than that.

Never met him in my life, don't know anyone who ever met him.

At the class reunion, our 20th reunion five years ago, who was asked to be the speaker of the class? Me. No one ever heard of Barack!

And five years ago, nobody even knew who he was. The guy who writes the class notes, who's kind of the, as we say in New York, the macha who knows everybody, has yet to find a person, a human who ever met him.

Is that not strange? It's VERY strange. "Obama's photograph does NOT appear in the school's' yearbook' and Obama consistently declines requests to talk about his years at Columbia, provide school records, or provide the name of any former classmates or friends while at Columbia.

NOTE: Root graduated as Valedictorian from his high school, Thornton-Donovan School, then graduated from Columbia University in 1983 as a Political Science major (in the same class as Barack Hussein Obama WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN IN).

Can it be that BHO is a complete fraud??

More intrigue concerning "The Man who WASN'T there."

I m sure the truth will be found out, but too bad not soon enough!

Please do not give up on ousting the people at the top. We must go on, and continue sending these out to everyone. Pass this on to everyone on your e-list. Pass it across America!

The Analysis:

Although neither e-mail has made it into 25 hottest urban legends on, several fact-checkers have certainly found fault with both. At the Obama Watch website that posted the "I don't know nuttin' -- the Chicago way" photo examples last year, several commentators posted objections that Obama never claimed not to know Blagojevich, so the extended refutation with images of the two together didn't have much argumentative power. The e-mail that originally appeared under the saltier title of "OBAMA - WHO THE HELL IS HE???" appears on a blog that doesn't allow comments that is credited to a "Certified Prof. Locksmith & Security Consultant, conservative blogger, computer geek, defender of 2nd Amendment, truth, justice and the American way!" Yet Snopes has disputed the claim that Obama wasn't recalled by any of his Columbia classmates, and other fact-checkers have cast doubt on the eighty aliases statistic, and the fact that Wayne Allyn Root is a libertarian ideologue hardly makes him a neutral source. (And since I know people who knew him at Harvard Law, I don't think he's a likely Manchurian candidate; one can't help but wonder if it is a kind of perverse spam advertising campaign for the company mentioned: Enoch Engineering Services to draw clients to their niche market.)

But it isn't matters of fact that makes these e-mails compelling. What is interesting to me is that they almost completely abandon conventional paragraph structure in favor of a rhythm of single lines with repetitive syntactic elements that turn exclamations and rhetorical questions into lyrical devices.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Urban Screens

The Dutch have become famous for their work with so-called "urban screens" that use computational media and new display technologies to transform civic space. For more about possible uses of the technology for tactical media activism see the Urban Screens project at the Institute of Network Cultures.

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Baby Love

More information about this condom campaign, which focuses on depicting an obnoxious iPhone app, can be found here. Note that the application appears not to be available from the iPhone store, although one can purchase the "Spice Dice" application from Durex.

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Alternative Reality

The Israeli Defense Force's latest posting on their YouTube channel is something of a mystery when it comes to its digital rhetoric . . . that is unless you play through the to very end, which few YouTube viewers would normally be likely to do.

In the video we see passengers disembarking from the Rachel Corrie ship, named after the deceased anti-Israeli American peace activist. These people, who include old women, pregnant women, frail men, and others who certainly don't fit the image of jihadist radicalism that the IDF has associated with other participants in the flotilla attempting to cross the Gaza blockade. Actually, the message is really in the applause at the end, which reinforces the idea that the soldiers are behaving chivalrously and courteously in their interactions. The sad irony is that this video represents a kind of alternative reality for which the crowd is clapping, in which the interaction between Israelis and Palestinian sympathizers never turned violent.

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Evidence and Testimony in Social Media

I've been thinking a lot about how a Flickr photostream being used by the Israeli Defense Forces to bolster their case about the boarding of the Mavi Marmara, an incident on international waters that turned into a deadly confrontation in which nine pro-Palestinian activists died. The more I look at these images, the more frustrated I become. I've been lucky in recent months to have been given a platform for my 12 Don'ts in government digital media-making, but I wish that there were more people making the pitch about rhetorical sensitivity on the Internet and in more languages.

There is a designated Flickr set from the IDF called Weapons found on Mavi Marmara that is obviously intended to quiet the international outcry that resulted from the event and present the Israeli military's case that they had to kill protestors because 1) they had weapons that they could have used against the commandos or 2) they had weapons that they could be shipping to Gaza to support Intifada-related activities.

But I think the Israeli government is making a fundamental mistake about assuming that pictures speak for themselves . . . or more specifically that governments can speak for pictures. It has to do with a larger theoretical point about the critical difference between evidence and testimony and how they function both in courts and on the Internet.

In the U.S. justice system, which is based on the English Common Law that is also still used in many countries around the world, testimony usually carries more weight than evidence, even in a present in which scientific studies often show eyewitnesses to be terribly unreliable at accurately providing a true record of what actually happened. Part of this tradition has to do with fears of evidence tampering, but part of it has to do with how justice itself is imagined as being enacted in an unmediated public sphere.

Along somewhat similar lines, I would say that the Internet is often a place in which testimony is less likely to be challenged than evidence. Online presentations of evidence often inspire doubt and nitpicking, perhaps because it is even more difficult to establish an affective relationship with documents or objects that are represented by computational media on a screen. In contrast, stirring online testimony, whether it is an e-mail sent from Sarajevo or a blog posting written in Baghdad, is often perceived as movingly true. (Perhaps an exception to the evidence principle might be the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison. Something about their composition spoke powerfully to people in a way that discouraged second-guessing, perhaps because of the mute testimony of the prisoners' poses.)

So, I would say to the Israelis: the Internet is a terrible place to settle an argument. And this admonition has nothing to do with a supposed Israeli national character, since I've seen the same attempt at evidence-marshaling belligerently pursued by many countries and types of political actors. Even as they experiment with a variety of tones -- from hyperbole to tongue-in-cheek irony -- all of it comes off as tone-deaf in its delivery. Note that in the Flickr set, they are sometimes sarcastically called "peace activists." And there is sometimes downright overkill in the assortment of materials that they present as "weapons." For example, Palestinian neckscarves are shown in the arsenal.

In general the quality of the photography on the IDF Flickr page is shockingly poor, although it is interesting to see them using Creative Common licenses. Although the IDF has disallowed comments on their YouTube channel it is interesting that they allow them on their Flickr pages, even in connection with their most controversial Mavi Marmara images.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Facing and Defacing Facebook

In recent weeks the regular calls to quit Facebook because of its steadily worsening privacy policies have become louder and more frequent among those who student digital culture and use social media to sustain their own networking practices as activists and academics. In a recent blog posting, Geert Lovink has encouraged Internet artists, activists, and theorists to participate in Quit Facebook Day, which had scheduled a mass deletion on May 31st and signed up over 36,000 fellow quitters. Meanwhile, at the tactical media BANG Lab at UC San Diego, Facebook accounts were also being deleted. BANG artists encouraged Facebook uses to adopt the image above as a profile photo while preparing to exit the site forever.

Of course, not all agreed that deletion was the right course. danah boyd argued that "Quitting Facebook is Pointless." And others suggested that users should "trade in your facebook for a fakebook."

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Rulebooks for Life

Today I was delighted to introduce game designer and critic Tracy Fullerton, as part of the seminar series at the Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds. Fullerton is an Associate Professor at USC's Interactive Media Division in the cinema school, but I first got to know her as one of the members of the feminist game collective Ludica.

She began her talk by discussing the role of the experimental avant-garde in the history of film to criticize Roger Ebert's dismissal of videogames as a meaningful genre of cultural production and rebut his declaration that "Video games can never be art." Rather than pay attention to Ebert's headline-grabbing negations, Fullerton urged her audience to attend to John Sharpe's more nuanced exploration of the potential virtues of videogames. Nonetheless, she admitted that videogames were far from a mature medium. She compared them to "gangly teenagers" who were growing unevenly and who were "held back by their own success."

Fullerton also made a point of differentiating "experimental or exploratory games" from "art games" that have recently been receiving critical attention. She also raised questions about the auteur model of game design that characterizes the work of Jason Rohrer, Jonathan Blow, and others who fit "our myth of the artist" as solo producer.

However, even collaborative approaches could go wrong, according to Fullerton, if not oriented around processes that allow time for reflection. She discussed the "game jam" mode of production, which could be wildly creative although it allowed "less time to think and less time for thoughtfulness." In contrast, she talked about the long schedules of corporate "waterfall" modes of top-down hierarchical production and how even the more dynamic "scrum" forms of mass market organization might only be "flexible" rather than reflective.

She then explained her own thoughts about the "meandering march" that might be experienced by the player navigating the experimental videogame The Night Journey and by her team of game designers as they learned to collaborate with famed video artist Bill Viola. She cited this article by William Judson about Viola's "pursuit of enlightenment through attention to transcendent experience" to explain the basic concept of a game about revelatory experiences and reflection in which players are supposed to move more slowly rather than more quickly. She explained how the "player had to enact a journey of their own" as darkness is falling in the game world.

Initially, Viola had planned to include a number of spiritual text that he had found inspirational and Fullerton was stumped by the initial plan to "read books in the game." Although they tried a number of approaches from illuminated manuscripts to word mazes to concrete poetry, the presence of the letters to be decoded seemed to detract from the game. So then they prototyped a version with a voice-over reading instead, but eventually they deleted the voice-over, which Fullerton said had functioned "like scaffolding or a mold" in the project. Unlike the usual "document, execute, polish" sequence, the results were more unpredictable but also more satisfying.

She also described her work developing Walden, a game about Henry David Thoreau's famous "experiment in self-reliant living." Unlike most games with reward "acquiring more," Fullerton wanted a game that rewarded balance. She also thought that the text was relatively easy to adapt, unlike most literary works, because Thoreau spelled out the rules himself. There were four basic needs: food, fuel, shelter, and clothing (a list that Fullerton granted many might find arguable). And then some additional quality of life items to be included: solitude, sound, reading, and visitors. Thus the game becomes about the challenge in negotiating between sustaining life and seeking inspiration. Of course, this work is still an adaptation, and Fullerton's team still had to decide what not to include. So they left out tidbits like the fact that Thoreau brought his laundry home to his mother. It is interesting to note that Fullerton described a similar issue about whether or not to include text in the game as the one she struggled with in The Night Journey. For more about Walden, see the video above, which Fullerton describes as a "tone piece," not a representation of game play and this posting about Fullerton's talk by Jana Remy.

During the question-and-answer session, the audience learned more about Fullerton's interest in "the relationship between action and outcomes," we learned more about the fascinating game Pathfinder, which her USC team has been developing to encourage students who may be the first ones in their families to go to college to learn how to "game the system" and understand "college admissions as a game." Because the point system is transparent, Fullerton hopes to help students learn about time management and fiscal planning in a way that has cards for "killer breakup" (can't earn as many points) and "robotics club" (a points bonanza).

Fullerton also talked about her confession at the recent GDC that she feared that she might be becoming a worse game designer as a result of working on so many educational games, where state standards for topics like "transcendentalism" or "botany" might interfere with the enjoyability of play.

Check back to the Center's website for video of Fullerton's talk. Footage of the Nick Montfort / Ian Bogost talk is now posted here, which I also introduced, although I did so barely coherently in a week during which I was constantly running around from place to place for the DAC conference. Hopefully the lighting will also be better for the Fullerton talk.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Official Channels

In an essay called "Official Channels" in the Video Vortex Reader, I wrote about the use of YouTube by national governments and the way that footage of dramatic scenes of conflict might be retasked and reevaluated by different parties. Now the Israeli government, known for imitating American web campaigns, is taking another page from the U.S. But in a recent talk I argued that it's a mistake to assume that "a picture is worth a thousand words," because images and video clips are inherently ambiguous and posting visual content always invites skeptical scrutiny by those searching for clues or conspiracies.

Obviously, the YouTube channel for the Israeli Defense Forces would like to prohibit what they consider to be misreadings and have added text and graphic elements that emphasize their rhetorical position. However, the mere fact of having so apparently edited the footage is now calling its authenticity into doubt, particularly since the Israeli commandos who stormed the Mavi Marmar, a Turkish ship attempting to charge through the Israeli blockage of Gaza, also seized digital photos and videos created by witnesses from the other side. As The Lede notes in Complete Video of Israeli Raid Still Missing, subsequent postings to the IDF channel continued to raise questions.

An article in the New York Times, "Videos Carry On the Fight Over Sea Raid," discusses how pro-Palestinian activists used a Livestream channel to show the convoy's progress. Right now the channel is largely devoted to news coverage about the aftermath in which nine activists were killed.

Update: The IDF has now posted new footage, which is actually taken from the demonstrators' cameras, called "Flotilla Rioters Prepare Rods, Slingshots, Broken Bottles and Metal Objects to Attack IDF Soldiers," which uses similarly obvious editing techniques. Note that the "demonstrators" in earlier videos have now become "rioters."

Of course, I have argued that there is a technique in digital rhetoric called "mediated transparency," which draws attention to shooting and editing in order to grant footage more transparency. However, Israeli message manages seem to be doing something very different. Perhaps the most noticeable cut in the "rioters" video is between 21:36 and 22:04, where it seems that the activists may have been gathered for prayer. What is striking is that the videos either use moving images alone, or they only feature sound, which gives a strange otherworldly effect to many of their videos. For example, this video with soundclips, which may have indeed included real dialogue, given the inflammatory speech habits of some political extremists, sounds like an unlikely assortment of accents that is badly edited together and does little for the credibility of the Israeli side.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

BP Means Bungled Publicity

Who wouldn't love this satirical send-up that imagines British Petroleum's use of Twitter at "A crash course in PR from the folks at @BPGlobalPR."

Here are some sample examples of advice about breaking bad news:

1. Acknowledge the problem without acknowledging specifics. This was our very first tweet:

@BPGlobalPR: We regretfully admit that something has happened off of the Gulf Coast. More to come.

2. Be open about one piece of bad news and no more. You want to appear human, but you don't want to appear like a bunch of idiots. There's another word I'd use there, but I don't think I can. It rhymes with mickleticks.

@BPGlobalPR: Sadly we can no longer certify our oil as Dolphin Safe.
Thanks to Meena Kadri for the link!

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