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!

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