Monday, October 29, 2007

"Appropriate " use of Facebook and similar sites

In a recent talk, Danah Boyd said that she doesn't use these social networking sites the way teenagers do, nor should she. Now the first point is inarguable, but the second struck me as rather odd. I don't see that there is any "should" about it. I mean, call me immature, but while yes, I am studying Facebook and will write about that, I'm also having quite a lot of fun with it.

I spend time sending my friends "drinks," "throwing sheep" at them, plus messaging, sending links, videos, etc. Not to mention playing that goofy vampire/zombie/werewolf/slayer game. In fact, if it weren't for my enjoyment of this new channel for social play, I don't think I'd bother with it at all, though a number of professional and activist groups now have a presence there. That would feel too much like work, and I work all the time anyway.

I'm also trying to explore Second Life, but I find that I'm not very interested in exploring because while the world itself is interesting, since no one I know is there, I'd rather spend my time in virtual locales where I can talk to my friends. Does that make me immature? Is that an inappropriate attitude for a scholar? Well, I don't think so and given who else is on Facebook and using just as playfully as I, I'm pretty confident in my position.

We'll see what happens when I stand up and say this in front of a bunch of other scholars at SLSA this week...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Raving about the Netherlands over at Sequential Tart

See your author re-live her adventures in Rotterdam and enthuse unashamedly about the people she met and sights she saw.

The Netherlands, From A Tart Point of View, Part 2: Rotterdam Culture Crush

This article ended up being a weird mix of your usual travel stuff with far more personal revelations than I had been planning on. Or am entirely comfortable with. But now and then it's happened that I found I was revealing quite a lot of how I felt and decided to go ahead because that reaction was a true reflection of my experience and concealing it would have felt dishonest. So there it is.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Doktor Sleepless, cover #4

Originally uploaded by warrenellis
I love Warren Ellis. He captures contemporary attitudes in such a beautifully snarky way.

The odd thing though, is that if someone made a movie as vile and violent, even if as funny, as one of Warren's typical stories, I'd probably hate it. (well, if it was really so funny, maybe it would be ok; I liked Tank Girl after all, both comic and film.) But my point is that I seem to have no trouble with violence, perversion, or general grossness when it's in a comic book, but in films, I don't like most violence. I guess added abstraction really does make a difference.

Friday, October 12, 2007


So, lately my impression is that Facebook is being used by a lot of people beyond the teenage stereotype. For example, in addition to friends from grad school, and other scholars, artists, and new media hacktivists, there are serious theorists, but most of them are still acting goofy. I just joined the "Critical Theory and Theorists are Hot" group; it has 1685 members, including, for example, Judith Butler. Who actually posts. Granted, I haven't seen her post in the forum about which theorists are hotter, but still.

Also, people connected with the Yes Men, Ubermorgen, Neoism, are all using Facebook. --Actually, I wasn't surprised the neoists are in there; I'm surprised there aren't even more of them. Come on, only 14 Luther Blissetts? --Well, maybe 15, if you count "Luther bin Laden."

With the growing number of applications, some of which give users a surprising amount of control, and the ability to mash their accounts with Plazes, Tripadvisor, and other sites into their profiles, and given that Facebook is going to start offering development grants, I think the site could become like a programming interface for the web, for really naive users.

At least they start as naive. I hope it becomes like a gateway drug which then makes people want more control and let's them gradually learn how to take it. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Call For Papers

I am Co-chairing a conference next spring, Empire: Migrations, Diasporas, Networks, running March 13-15. This is an interdisciplinary conference and this year there is a sub-theme around technology--which covers quite a lot of ground. I'm hoping people will propose papers about technological empires, or resisting them. Or using the internet to enforce or resist national empires. Or maybe about how networks function in, around, against some kind of empire...

Anyway, the full call is here. Submissions are due by Dec. 1, and may be made through our nifty online submission page. I'd be happy to get proposals for full panels too, or creative works that could be performed/exhibited at the conference.

Email for more info!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Final (for now) project proposal

Earlier this month I posted a proposal which did not get accepted for further submission and evaluation. I have to really thank Florian for being quite forthright about completely incoherent the first version was, and asking pointed questions that allowed me to see what needed to be straightened out. So I revised and revised and revised, which isn't always my favorite thing... But this was fun.

If I hadn't been so pressed for time, I would have enjoyed revising even more, but anyway, thanks to Mirko's willingness to spend hours talking me through a revision via Skype, I enjoyed it. Sometimes the hardest part of writing (for me) is just staying at the computer and continuing to write. Having a friend on the line (or in a chat window) really helps. A deep bow to Mirko for that heroic effort. After the extremely helpful feedback from Florian and help with revisions from Mirko and Betsy (one of my colleagues here) I submitted, three drafts later, this:

With the introduction of the Internet and WWW in the 1990s, scholars, artists and activists began a critical engagement with technology. These early adopters were a loose collection of individuals that came out of many fields, including philosophy, literature, film studies, sociology, computer science, and also from outside of the academy; journalists, politicians, artists, activists and business people have participated in this discourse community as well. This diverse group was united by their shared observation of and concern with the effects technology was having on their respective fields.

There were few possibilities then to reflect on new media from a scholarly perspective; instead the issues were debated in popular discourse, in the networks of the early adopters' various fields, and were explored in conferences and festivals. For example, in 1988 Ars Electronica featured contributions from Kittler, Baudrillard, Flusser, and Weibel, each of whom was trying to elucidate what we now commonly describe as new media. But while early scholarship on new media came from traditional fields such as literature, sociology, art and art history, film and media studies (Hayles, Kittler, Castells, Uricchio, Manovich); recently institutionalization has been driven by former members of the early adopter networks entering academia (Fuller, Lovink, Cramer, Juul, Montfort, Rieder, Schaefer, van den Boomen, Terranova).

As this field and its knowledge are crystallizing, the process raises immediate questions: what is the relation between institutionalization and the people, physical things, and symbols in the networks that gave rise to new media? How are institutions constructed that critically reflect on emerging technologies? How is the fluid knowledge shared between participants becoming crystallized, being canonized, such that some groups are included or excluded? And finally, what do we gain and lose in knowledge production through this process?

Because European countries hosted the first networks and festivals devoted to a critical engagement with new media; has invested far more public funding into cultural and academic programs around it; Europe now has far larger, more varied, and more mature institutions producing, studying, and teaching about new media. This diversity makes it fruitful ground for study, but while some cities, projects, people, or organizations have been studied in isolation by pioneers such as Manuel Castells (The Internet Galaxy), Geert Lovink (Dark Fiber) and provide preliminary insight into the institutionalization of new media, no comprehensive studies have yet appeared. I intend a rhetorical analysis of the scholarly discourse on new media in Europe which I will approach as a dispositif. While Foucault applied this concept to historical archives, I propose exploring the human archive embodied in the actor-network of individuals and groups currently working on new media, beginning in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is the best starting point because some of the first university programs in new media began there, and thanks to early and extensive government funding, a wide array of other cultural institutions have developed simultaneously. The Dutch context was originally characterized by heterogenous networks of people, things and symbols that were ad hoc and informal, but now all of these disparate elements contribute to the establishment of formal knowledge, specialization, and the construction of a canon. These activities are a clear sign of institutionalization, which also inevitably involves the development of gate-keeping processes. However, while institutionalization is taking place, the cooperative polder model still shapes socio-economic relations and allows for the continued emergence of new voices and new groups. Thus the whole spectrum of development is available for study.

In addition, the development of new media in the Netherlands allows study of other important questions: how are a loose group of people, the early adopters, who were not at first members of the academy, contributing to the creation of a field, a discourse, and knowledge by running events, funding grants and supporting themselves in the process, and how are they molding what started almost as folk practice into official knowledge, bringing not only their experiences, but their networks into the establishment? New media institutions are developing rapidly and successfully in the Netherlands; which conditions are necessary for fostering and speeding this process as it has happened there?

For this study I have begun visiting and observing a variety of groups, including De Waag Society for Old and New Media, V2_Institute, Worm Rotterdam, and De Geuzen artist collective. Further visits to these institutions have been arranged for the award period, along with observations at the University of Utrecht Department for Media and Culture Studies, the Piet Zwart Institute Media Design program, among other academic institutions. Observing this network over time will allow a comprehensive rhetorical analysis, using Burke's pentad to better understand the functioning of actors within these networks, and will yield a better understanding of how knowledge in an emerging field is institutionalized.