Friday, June 29, 2007

Finally, some parallel sessions!

I chose the one headed "Network Theory" --of course this is the theme of the whole conference, so I'm not sure what landed these papers on this panel. Mainly I'm interested in Mirko Schäfer's talk; I know of him a little already because he's friends with Florian. --Maybe I should mention to avoid future confusion that Florian and I have know each other about 14 years, since we were both in grad school at UMass Amherst. We haven't been much in touch until we caught up at MLA 2006 but have been emailing quite a bit once we realized that we bother were doing similar work, and also are trying to arrange a joint MA program between his school and mine. I should also thank him for helping me navigate my way to the conference yesterday and writing down directions so I can get here myself subsequently.

Anyway, back to the session. The first speaker (Tincuta Parva) is comparing networks to different ways of weaving fabrics. Hmmmn, now different kinship systems. I'm getting distracted; my own talk is after lunch and I feel I need to add another slide....oh my god, sleepiiness asails me. It did yesterday at this time too, and there are 4 speakers left before lunch! I need an espresso.

Ok, I added another slide, but I'm sure it's not what I was thinking last night needed to be added. Now another speaker is up, out of order, talking about the network of knitters (literally, not knitting as a metaphor). Ah, Verena Kuni. Knitting is apparently now edgy and activist. That's pretty cool; I keep trying to take it up and now if I ever do, I'll know where to connect. Apparently network tech is very attractive "rebel" crafters, but it's still all about making yourself clothes and accessories, so what is the rebellion really? Ah, good old Make Magazine and it's companion, Craft. --"prosumer" culture. Hints of gender issues, but she doesn't really go into it. Interesting examples of protest through knitting, but I'm not sure what this tells us about networks. Now she's done and there is a mad dash for the toilets (not everyone, but enough to confirm my earlier feeling about they way things have been organized.

--Each plenary had three speakers and each parallel panel has five, but there are still only 15 minutes in between each, though some are in different buildings. Basically, we are guaranteed to get off schedule, which would be ok, except when I'm trying to arrange to meet people who aren't at the same panels.

Now Marianne van den Boomen is speaking about metaphors and starts with a really interesting claim, that thanks to digitization, there are no "media" anymore. Instead there are endless remediations and transcodings.

  • process instead of stable things
  • remediations, beyond media, friendship, communities, organizations, lifestyles, sex
  • not as representations, but enacted
  • transmediation and transcoding by way of metaphors
example--virtual community is a transcoding metaphor; it's a virtual space evoked by communication software and a strong metaphor -- village. I'm very nearly quoting her slides word for word here. Hopefully I'll see her at the Remediating Lit. conference next week...hmmn, she's not speaking, but maybe we can catch up anyway. Wow, so many departments at her school, Utrecht University, don't have websites, even the new media dept! Oh wait, they do, but not linked from the main page?

Web 2.0 pages are aggregated reassembled data fragments, but not communities. Web 2.0 is also a transcoding metaphor-- software release metaphor. It's not a package, but nested scripts working on data fragments. It moves us from page-based linearity to script-based nested assemblages. The age of the page is over.

Network: metaphor for any kind of nodal relation. But also, according to Latour, an artifact of research. Important point, it's just a metaphor, and we need to think about why we use it, what it implies. Really nice analysis of the network metaphor.

--Funny that she's saying something very similar to what Florian saying yesterday, but much less confrontationally. In fact, no one seems upset (and no one seems to be noticing the parallel either!)

Now Mirko starts. He is also critiquing the usefulness of the network metaphor to describe social relations online. Blurring of information infrastructure and social relations. Blurring of method and theoretical framework. So the network metaphor is masking important distinctions; the map is becoming the territory.

Network and Community:
  • Network implies organization, linearity, structure
  • Community implies entity, strong ties, common values/objectives
  • Network describes connections of nodes
  • Network doesn't describe the quality of connections. (Watts 2004)

Even self-described wikipedians who in some ways seem to form a community, don't seem to collaborate much on entries. (deliberately through the community).

Editing constellations are fragile, dynamic, temporary.

Flickr--all starts with "me" and a hierarchy of connections is built in--family, friends, acquaintances. Everyone provides images, tags, comments, all ways of navigating; so it's a massive collaboration, but organized by software, not by people. Some users do form communities, but it's hybrid and unstable.

Layers of interaction:
  • Community level (social network, household)
  • Pseudo-community (temporary interactions, contingent teams)
  • Multitude (I think--Sorry, have to fill this in later)
The layers are permeable, blurry, but the distinctions are made invisible by the network metaphor. So the Foam metaphor is offered instead. (Sloterdijk 2004)

  • "Multi chamber systems whose cells are separated by thin walls" -- highly permeable
  • fragile relations and connections
  • stability and instability
From Network to Foam

Interior, bubble: me and my social network, my community, identity
Exterior relations:
Dammit, a third point, but I had only got half way through noting the second when the slide changed...

We need to revise how we use the term "network" and be sure to redefine it every time. and then suggestions for future work.

I've got to get this paper; Mirko, Marianne, and Florian make a really good set together of different ways of critiquing the "network" metaphor. Lots of questions--everyone really intrigued. Great answer to a question about how the foam metaphor applies to Second Life: "I guess Second Life is a lot of bubbles." :-)

And I just noticed that Mirko and Marianne are in the same program as William Uricchio, who also teaches in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. His MIT page is here.

Now the last speaker, Leslie Kavanaugh; wow, she's not doing powerpoint!

And even more plenary...

Interesting start; Katy Borner is talking about how the amount of knowledge out there has grown enormously and yet our brains are not getting any bigger, and there's not a good way to extract it automatically. How can we create infrastructures to help us? Google is good, but doesn't show patterns and trends and outliers.

One approach is to create maps. Example of Co-Authorship of IEEE papers from 2004 shows different patterns between say colleagues in a lab or a professor at a university, and also shows that these are all local networks--most connections are to people physically close.

She and her colleagues developed maps of science which they use to educate kids about how science works. They develop them by searching different databases. But now onto her main topic (!).

  • We need software glue to interlink datasets and algorithms written in different language using different data formats.
  • The smaller the glue or 'CI Shell' the more likely it can be maintained.
  • Dataset and algorithm 'plugins' are provided by application holders/community users
  • Applications resemble custom 'fillings.'
Cyberinfrastructure Shell (CIShell) is an empty shell that support many functions. She then goes into detail about some tools like Network Work Bench and one she didn't mention but I found online.

NNT, Day 2 plenary

Ok, back to the present, and more catch up later. Today we start with Nosh Contractor talking about the motives that drive people to participate in social networks--there are lots of possible reasons, some economic, some social, mixed, etc. He is doing research to collect lots of data on motives with the aim of creating a "contextual 'meta-theory' of social drivers for creating and sustaining communities."

He identifies different kinds of theories and their claims, and different kinds of motives these theories focus on.

Collecting data and testing different theories has been difficult until now, because of the web/internet, being able to see the connections and also the behavior and motives as made visible not just in links but also in posts, tags, etc. "It's all about 'Relational Metadata'" --ref Katy Borner.

Some tools available now for text-mining, web-crawling, web of science citation data that can let us develop multi-dimensional network models. --I need to check one he's demonstrating called Crawdad; sounds really interesting. Next he shows several examples of how his research group analysed several networks and helped them be better connected, and wraps up reiterating how a multidimensional model that includes many kinds of connections and nodes helps us better understand networks. Cool.

NNT, Day 2

Here I am again and this time I've snagged a seat near one of the few electrical outlets in this lecture hall. I'll try to catch up some of my earlier notes before the morning plenary starts--we're already 15 minutes late though...

Yesterday I also saw Tiziania Terranova and she had interesting things to say about immaterial labor, capturing customers and harnessing collective intelligence. She compared Yochai Benkler's ideas with Maurizio Lazzarato and Gabriel Tarde. Mainly she was arguing that social networks and even more online communities are about relationships, not economics, even though they have real economic consequences. One of many instances when it was unclear whether a speaker really meant to talk about networks or communities--this is a problem in my paper as well. Also some trouble just with the microphones hampered her talk, which was too bad, because I think she was getting at an important idea.

Next was Wendy Chun talking about imagined networks. This was the best of the first three presentations. She started with some questions: what needs to happen so that we think of interactions as networked; how do social and technical abstractions coincide, interact, etc; and a third question I missed because my jet-lag made me fuzz out for a minute... Maybe it was the most basic: are networks communities?

An important point to note before she gets started: public/private has shifted to all private that are open/closed. Her primary example (which unfortunately is not so well known in Europe) was Facebook which she argued is a profoundly nostalgic in its drive to create a feeling of intimacy. And, people join networks when they feel excluded. --probably true, but I think almost everyone feels that to some degree, or in some arenas, so is it a useful distinction? She went on to describe Facebook and how it works and eventually got to the idea that these networks are enduring though ephemeral. But, they aren't memory, they are just data storage. Memory requires "diligent regeneration." I'm sorry to say that by this point I was really getting unfocused, so I hope her paper will be available online--it seems that hardly anyone turned one in on time for the proceedings CD.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back to live blogging

OK, I charged the battery a bit, so now back to live reporting on the first day, just in time for the very last talk by Florian Cramer. I'll go back and post my notes from the others later. A nice intro by Matthew Fuller who mentions that among other things, Florian has won in a new category for Prix Ars Electronica for best contribution to media theory. He seems embarrassed by it being mentioned. Unlike most of the other speakers, Florian is (as usual) eschewing slick presentation styles and just giving us white on black screens that look like (and in fact I think are) what you get in a terminal window.

I had the chance to see Florian's original presentation notes and of course he's not following them, which means now I have trouble identifying what I really need to note down. So what is he saying...he starts with talk of an "elegant paradox" between the syntactic, linear aspects of language and the paradigmatic, that is associative meanings of words. so there has always been a sort of weblike character to texts and in fact textus actually means web.

Then we are on to Barthe turning everything into a text, from beefsteaks, to striptease, to well, anything. At the same time, traditional philologists think of text as only about paper. Computer tech though has allowed us to see what really texts are or aren't. Ok, now I know where we are.

Syntax --> what is computable
Semantics --> what is computable only if turned into syntax

so text is just an amount of (in most cases alphanumeric) symbols

You can't really get this from a beefsteak or striptease.

So webs and networks have comparable limitations.

You can describe any network in a flat linear way, the complexity can be boiled down. But he is not proposing this as reduction, but as analysis. So maybe networks are not so different from anything else. (such as texts).

Just as texts were initially defined as anything, and we were in linguistic trap, now everything is networks and we seem to be falling into a technological trap. Despite the humanist agenda, since the 40s, the sciences were mapped onto culture, which leads to a variety of problems.

(big jump here, because I had to stop and really listen. Damn him for saying something interesting and dense)

With the assumption that the media is the message, media theory became sort of a rehash of cybernetics. The network is another cybernetic metaphor that conflates things should be differentiated. But cybernetics also takes these things literally, so interdisciplinary work always teeters on the edge of falling into the trap of mistaking a metaphor for a model.

Critical theory should be wary of taking these metaphors too far. Cultural studies and media studies have too often bought into techno-hype, and used technological terms too sloppily. He gives an example of how "signal-to-noise-ratio" is a concrete mathematical concept, but also is used in discussion lists, first as a metaphor, but then applied in the creation of semantic filters, which is questionable.

So remember:
Storage is not memory, feedback is not interaction, data is not knowledge, computation is not cognition.

A new network theory would have to consider the networks of metaphors spun and the conflations in a critical way even as it uses them. (that's rather provocative since he's basically implying that up to now we haven't been doing fact could be read as a criitique of this conference's themes...) Oops low battery again, questions are interesting and so are Florian's answers, but I have to stop. More later.

Session 1 continued, Tiziana Terranova and Wendy Chun

No more live blogging for now--battery low!

New Network Theory, day 1, session 1

Here I am in the opening plenary, listening to a talk by Siva Vaidhyanathan about Google and its philosophy, and about how talk about Google is characterized by a strongly theological tone. Interesting discussion of how it's philosophy and technology are entangled and don't always work well together. For example, level of user interest strongly influences pagerank, so just based on Google's search algorithms, terms like "holocaust" would bring up pages of holocaust denial sites. Google engineers had to really mess with their own code in oder to get around this.

Then on to Google booksearch, which apparently sucks--well, I think it hardly compares to their regular search, but is it really that terrible? Maybe I just got lucky.

Google video--well, we all know the issues there, I think. Google tells you not to infringe, but they're not responsible if you do and they aren't going to police it (unless threatened with a lawsuit by Viacom).

Interesting influence of pragmatic and technical issues on copyright law enforcement. Search engines couldn't function if those companies couldn't copy the pages into their indexes without asking every time.

And then there are the privacy issues with Google Earth... Issues with the Chinese government over making dissident material available...

Clearly drifting from the "do no evil" position.

Google is seriously understudied. It's not neutral ....not a lot of other stuff--he's speeding up to finish....we need the synoptic rather than panoptic...

We need critical information studies--but the description is what we'd like to say about any field. While I agree with this critique of Google, I don't know that his larger calls are actually anything new or different. Ok, we'll see what the next speakers say.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Boston Logan...

Ok Terminal E, the international terminal, was under construction forever and now it's done. Sadly, I'm not impressed. It's ok looking, but the design is just stupid, and makes jam ups inevitable whenever more than 50 people are trying to check in at any one airline, or more than 100 are trying to get through security. Which is pretty much always. Considering Boston's pretensions as an international hub of trade, I'm amazed they thought this was biig enough even when they started (10 years ago?).

And wifi is $7.95 for a day pass, but since most people are only here for about 3 hours (barring some awful delay) it's pretty steep, esp. since many airports have it for free. I think internet access should be free, period.

But enough of that. In addition to the conferences I'm attending, I'm interviewing people at several institutions connected with the study of new/digital media. So far these include The Waag Society, V2_, Worm, and the Piet Zwart Institute Media Design Program, and maybe other places too. So it will be quite a visit! I'm hoping to learn something about how the different ways these places are organized shaped the relationships they have with theiir local and national communities, and with each other. Also I want to learn all I can about what has worked for them and what hasn't, so hopefully it will help me and my colleagues at CSU Stan. as we work on our new center.

I should be boarding in 20 minutes, so I'll post this and get myself organized. I've read that the food on IcelandAir sucks, and I don't even know how much they would feed us on the overnight flight, so I think I'll grab something. Tot zien!

Friday, June 22, 2007

More About the Trip

So, more about the trip. I'll be in Amsterdam for one conference and Utrecht for the second, but I'll actually be spending most of my time in Rotterdam. Or as my Lonely Planet Netherlands guide calls it, "Mighty Rotterdam." :-) I haven't actually been there yet, but I suspect R'dam is seriously underrated. I mean, quaint old buildings are nice, I like them a lot, but when they are filled with stoned American college students, they lose their charm.

Rotterdam, on the other hand, is not so infested, has really amazing architecture, and excellent design being practiced in general. I'm looking forward to visiting a city where things are really going on and the main industry is not tourism. (I'm not saying this is true of Amsterdam, but certainly it's a prominent feature there.) I'll be staying there during my trip and in between conferences I'll be interviewing people at various cultural institutions and schools that are involved with New Media (or cyberculture, or whatever term we are using this week). And, on top of that, my university and the Piet Zwart Institute Media Design program are working out a joint Master of Arts program, so I am meeting with people there too. They are putting me up, which has allowed me to stay for 16 days. I'm really excited to have such a nice long visit and am practicing my Dutch.

Yes, nearly everyone there does speak English fluently, but for one thing, it's just polite to at least learn how to say "hello," "please," and "thank you." In my case though, it's a little more of an issue because I have a Dutch last name and I guess I am tall enough and blondish enough to be taken for a native and it's embarrassing to be completely ignorant. Actually, not entirely ignorant, because I studied Old Saxon in grad school, from which both English and Dutch have developed. So sometimes when I hear some Dutch, I understand a lot without being able to really say how. Anyway, if you want to practice a little Dutch, try the Laura Speaks Dutch
website, by Brenno de Winter. Rather than being like a standard lesson, it's more like talking to someone about the Netherlands and about speaking Dutch, and I find it sinks in better. You can also find it in iTunes.

Next time maybe some more about the interviews--the whys and whos.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Immediate Causes

In the last (first) post I never got round to explaining why I'm trying this again right at this moment--don't get excited though, it's not earth-shaking. I mentioned to a David Silver, who runs the terrifically useful Resource Center for Cyberculture Sudies that I was attending some conferences in the Netherlands on virtual communities and on digital lit. if he'd like reports for the RCCS, and he said I should just blog it. He said it in all caps. I respect his work and opinion, so I figured what the hell. I've been teetering on the edge of blogging again for months anyway.

So a brief intro on the conferences: next week I'll start with the New Network Theory conference in Amsterdam, and I'm presenting a paper there. Eventually I'll put it online someplace and you all can see it--but since my school currently only allows us upload access from campus computers, and since I won't be on campus again until August, this could take awhile. Or maybe I'll find some other place for it.... I'm excited about it though because a bunch of people whose work I like will be speaking and I look forward to that. If I were at a comic book convention (you will probably read a fair amount about comic books in this blog) I would collect autographs and sketchs from people whose work I like. I wonder how these speakers would react? The proceedings are going to be on cd, so it doesn't really offer much space for cute little notes...maybe I'll suggest that for next time. Anyway, here's who I want to see: Wendy Chun, Florian Cramer, Alan Liu (all keynotes, all rather well-known) and also Ramesh Srinivasan, Ulises Ali Mejias and Mirko Schaefer (not as well known, but should be).

Then I'll be going to Re-Mediating Literature in Utrecht where, happily, I am not presenting, so I can just enjoy myself listening to other people talk about things that interest me, including Katherine Hayles, Jan Baetens and some others. But it's late, I'm tired and I'll say more about this in my next post, along with more exciting news about my impending trip.

Once More Into the Breach

It's been about four years since I last did any blogging. I enjoyed it the first time, but then several things happened: a troll started harassing me, I had kids, and I had to do a job search. Then I got a job and moved cross-country. The troll alone wouldn't have stopped me, but it became so difficult to make time for blogging that being greeting mainly by hostile crap as my reward led me to put it aside for awhile, along with several other hobbies that were more satisfying, but still took too much time and energy.

Now the kids are a little older, I'm settled into the new job, and hey, it only took four years!

I'm also prompted to write because there are things I want to share with whomever might be interested without going through the channels of some on or offline publication. Mainly there are two reasons: enough of my writing gets reviewed and evaluated already (I'm an academic) and I don't need the extra stress, and I want anything I write here to be freely available to anyone who cares to read.

I expect this will mostly be a mix of comments on stuff I'm doing and thoughts about blogs, net culture, life at a state university, travel...ok, could be anything.