Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Blog

Currently spending lots of time making a new website and blog. Not quite finished yet, but you can see the new blog here. Torn between posting new entries there or here....

UPDATE: Now officially posting over there from here on out.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wow, long timelines

Sometimes I am amazed at how long journals still take to get articles and reviews into print. Given how quickly things get posted online, I would have thought they would all be changing their practices in order to not get left behind entirely. I mention this by way of introducing the following review. i wrote it for the European Journal of cultural studies and have just learned they expect to publish it in 2010. It's a book review, not a 20 page article requiring peers to read it. But anyway, I don't care that much, except I think the book really deserved more attention sooner, so I'm re-posting the link to my review (which I blogged a couple of months ago) here.

I also just learned that a chapter I proposed on the FB stuff has been accepted for publication in the Handbook of Digital Research (at least the proposal has been accepted meaning, I can send a full chapter, which I think will be also be reviewed), so that's cool.

On the downside, My NEH grant proposal has been rejected. I asked for the feedback, but haven't yet received it. I was approved for an internal grant of a few thousand dollars, but our school is so broke at the moment, there is no money to actually fund that grant program. Unless they find money somewhere in the next 2 weeks, it seems I will not be able to make the trip I had planned to the Netherlands in late January. I'm pretty discouraged about that because it will delay my work on my book projects by at least 6 months and they have already been held back by the fact that I can only visit each time for 1-3 weeks, have only been able to afford 3 visits in the last 2 years, and have such a heavy workload the rest of the time that (like almost all of my colleagues) I have almost no time for research anyway.

Lack of funding and too much work would be problems for any academic, but when you actually love your research like I do (as opposed to just doing it because your school requires some amount, and I personally know several people who take that approach) this is especially awful. If all I cared about was meeting a requirement, I could argue that the requirement was unreasonable under these conditions and have a powerful case, but I love the research. So much so that I've been doing it on my own time and out of my own pocket. --My school doesn't have a really good internal grant program to support junior faculty, nor are any time or money allotted to everyone just to support research.

So it boils down to my work being accepted by my peers for publications and presentations, but if I want to do the work and travel to present it, I have to pay for it myself because academic research is not sufficiently valued by the public to support it (not just mine, but most scholars') generally. Maybe I need to just leave the country. :P

Monday, December 1, 2008

A page from the Mirkopedia

A page from the Mirkopedia
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
The defense is probably not quite over, but already Mirko's influence is spreading. It seems he has been recognized as exemplifying many sterling qualities!


Now all is concluded and Mirko has been duly promoted to his proper place as Dr. Mirko.

Bastard Culture!

My good friend, Mirko Tobias Schäfer is defending his dissertation today. In fact, by the time many of you read this, he may already be finished and recognized as Dr. Schäfer. :-)

It has been my pleasure for the last 15 months or so to read Mirko's manuscript, Bastard Culture! User participation and the extension of cultural industries, and I am pleased to report that he has posted a pdf online. --Particularly since I need to cite his work in some of mine, and have been waiting on this! It's a solid piece of scholarship. Briefly, it

steps beyond the usual framework and analyzes user participation in the context of accompanying popular and scholarly discourse, as well as the material aspects of design, and their relation to the practices of design and appropriation...

The availability of computers and Internet expand the traditional culture industry into the domain of users, who actively participate in cultural production, either by appropriating products from the commercial domain or by creating their owns. But while user activities constitute a significant loss of control for certain sectors of traditional media industries, especially in the area of distribution, the larger culture industry benefits from user driven innovation through the appropriation of corporate design.
Go and download it immediately.

So congratulations, Mirko. I'm proud of all your hard work and perseverance.

Friday, November 21, 2008

News From Comparative Media Studies at MIT

I never thought I'd see it, but Henry Jenkins is leaving Comparative Media Studies at MIT and moving to the Annenberg School at USC. The full story (or as full as will ever be made public, I'd guess) is on Henry's blog.

I express surprise, but in another way I'm not surprised at all. The whole time I was teaching in Course 21 at MIT I observed how little the Institute as a whole seems to value Humanities and Social Sciences. I had thought though that they might care more about supporting CMS because they have such a strong international reputation and really enrich the academic programs, the campus community, and the school's image. But in the early 2000s I saw how much time Henry had to spend on fund-raising, and how in spite of the MA program's growth and the creation of the BA, that no new faculty positions were created. So really maybe the surprise is that Henry waited this long.

I would hate to see that program disappear; all the things they do are so valuable in general, and I personally gained a lot from some of the programs they were running when I was there. But I wonder what it will take for MIT to stop treating the humanities as not even second rate? I know many people want to work there; they have a good reputation, good students, good location, etc.. But in fact this is at least the third member of the humanities faculty I know who has chosen to leave in the last four years, and likely there have been others. Maybe this will be a wake-up call at last, but I doubt it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Florian's moment of revelation

Florian at Ars Electronica 2007.

Note, visit Ars Electronica 2007 for more info. about Florian winning the Prix Ars prize for theory.

I was still a student in 1995, in Comparative Literature, and there was a conference in Berlin. It wasn't really a conference so much as a public culture event, and it was called Soft-Moderna --soft modernism and basically it was organized by people from the American Studies program from the John F. Kennedy Institute in Berlin, and it imported the whole Brown University Hyperfiction discourse. So it was about literature and the internet and computing, but heavily based in the whole hypertext-hyperfiction paradigm. And bringing together Robert Coover for example and some German people who were doing early experiments in that field. And you could see the whole helplessness of people there, and they also operated in the new media paradigm so they asked a couple of media journalists and media studies people to be on this panel and discuss this whole thing. And you could see this complete helplessness. And I was just this young student and I just stood up and asked critical questions. I didn't talk so long, maybe two minutes or so, but I was really critical of what they had said. And then basically the organizer of the conference said well, you seem to know more about that stuff than the people we had on the panel, so do you want to be in the next conference? So that was actually my first public lecture and I was on a panel with Friedrich Kittler (!) and Andy Müller-Maguhn the spokesperson from the chaos computer club. And from there I got writing commissions and I gut sucked into this whole field.

This is a short one, but next time I'll be covering what Florian likes about the field, his concerns about the art being produced, and his own role.

I'm interested though to learn how closely connected new media and hyperfiction were early on and how hyperfiction/text was really one of the basic paradigms because today in the US, hyperfiction seems like a narrow genre that a few people are really getting into, like Nick Montfort, but at least on the conference circuit it seems to have lost it's place as being so basic, being something everyone knew about and discussed.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Florian Cramer on the problem of new media paradigms

We moved on to discuss "new media" as a discipline and I mentioned how both Sher Doruff and Renee Turner had said one thing that attracted them (among other characteristics) was the lack of constraints on the field, because no body knew what was possible or not, and no one expected or required that any particular methodology be used. I'm afraid I also indulged in a mini-rant about how often I've seen presentations that were basically just descriptions of the speakers encounter with some situation involving new media, and just stopped at that--no analysis, no theory, no further data... Ahem. Anyway, Florian (as usual) had a far more thoughtful take on this issue.

I go even deeper than that and say that there is a lot in the so-called new media field, especially in the more alternative, or activist, or off-mainstream field, a kind of naive continuity of cybernetics. What do I mean by that? Well cybernetics in the 1950s and the 1960s was basically the idea that we operate with a notion of system-feedback-control and that these are descriptors that we could commonly apply to both artificial and natural systems. So that means we can analyze a society in terms of feedback, control or whatever. We can describe human organisms, we can describe politics, but we can also describe a machine.
And here I noted we had arrived right at Katherine Hayles! Florian agreed and continued.

Then what I see in the so-called new media field is that it was from the same paradigm except that it doesn't work with this classical behaviorist model which is really about almost totalitarian control fantasies, but their model is something like the rhizome. But the rhizome is just another cybernetic model and it is based on the same idea of using that structure in order to compare the internet to human society, etc etc etc. And that is something I find very questionable and I also want to do more critical writing on. And I think there is little reflection and little awareness of the continuity of these cybernetic paradigms. And nobody questions for example the notion of "system." System is a highly speculative construct. I mean you say we are systems, society is a system, the human body is a system, and a computer is a system. But I think this kind of rhetoric obscures and clouds more than it actually helps to analyze things and I think we have to go beyond that. For me, really critical media studies would be to question both notions.

But I see when I say this that I'm really making myself enemies. And even with people with whom I wouldn't have thought it. Well I thought they also come from a really critical camp. But it's really astonishing to see how deeply these paradigms are really embedded into the whole field.

So now, after these two entries, we are about 17 minutes into the interview, and I already feel like I've swallowed a rich media text! In the next entry we finally get to the actually reasons Florian got into this work.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The secret origins of Florian Cramer

Ok, there aren't really any secrets but I haven't seen any really biographical interviews with Florian anywhere else, so maybe it will be some kind of revelation. :-) I've known Florian for a long time now, about 15 years, but when working on my projects in the Netherlands, I realized we had never talked very explicitly about his own history with technology, art, culture, etc. --For reasons that will become clear, I am not using the term New Media.

In fact my first question was how Florian got involved with new media to begin with, and this led immediately to a a lengthy and detailed explanation of the problems with the term from a historical perspective. I will try to encapsulate it:
  • First, new media means something totally different in the US than in Europe. Here it means digital or computer media, ala Lev Manovich, but in Europe TV and radio are often included in that, in fact, from a historical perspective, all media is new at some point.
  • Second, the terms medium and media are being used incorrectly throughout the field. For example, if we speak of radio, one of the earliest technologies to be discussed as a medium, then technically the medium, the carrier of radio waves, is air. This was then extended metonymically to include the waves themselves, then further expanded to include the devices themselves, the senders, and even the receivers (that is the people sending and receiving). So that the term now encompasses so much, it's not even very useful.
I explained that while I agreed with this critique, I've been using the term as the most broadly understood as covering the territory I mean to explore, but I am coming to believe that it's really time to dispense with it altogether. At any rate, I reiterated my question, how did he get started?

According to Florian he started by programing his own computers when he was 13, and in fact might be considered to have been doing the same stuff for 25 years: he used computers to generate random poetry which he published in his own punk fanzine. :-) The most fascinating thing for him then was the random generator, though of course now that he's "older and wiser" he knows that the randomness of a computer is not true randomness; it's "pre-determined chance." This shaped his interest; the kind of meta reality, textuality, emergence of code, and also the connection to society and all the arts.

But back to the timeline; I asked how at this starting point at 13, in 1982 how he even had a computer. Through friends he started using them, especially an older friend who used computers to trigger the light show for his music--all of this was programmed in Basic.

But his interest in computers went up and down; in the very early 90s he was on the internet but found it really boring; it was all controlled by system administrators and not much was going on. Now he reads papers by his students that glorify the old days, he says "oh but you couldn't do much then; you couldn't use your own server or install your own software; you could only dial up the university mainframe."

I contrasted this to Sher Doruff's experience that people felt even a sense of wonder at being able to connect at all. But of course she is older than Florian or I and so had a different set of expectations about what might be possible. Further, and I think this is a crucial factor affecting people's attitudes toward computers and "new media," Florian has always been quite skeptical about the technology itself and the promise it might hold. (A skepticism I share.) As he puts it:

They're not the perfect machines and they're not the dream machines, and this is what also cripples the whole new media field. Basically there have been all these kinds of utopian expectations. The first machine I had was incredibly primitive; it had 1 kb of memory. But today's machines cannot really do more. And the structure of programming is not at all different, it's just more comfortable. The machines have become faster but they haven't become smarter. And what also surpised me, when I came to the Netherlands, is that even more than in other parts of the world, is the expectation that somehow computers will become smarter or less deterministic. And you can name those expectations with certain names such as artificial intelligence --where computers are not just stupid sytactic machines, but become semantic machines that have a true understanding. Or artificial life; that you have something like emergence , or whatever, out of computers. And the third one I think is new media. The whole idea, especially in the 1990s with the whole virtual reality nonsense, is that somehow through multi-media interfaces, the machine wouldn't be this whole command-line deterministic thing, but would become more intuitive, less deterministic.... but if you're a smart computer user you know that a mouse click is the same as typing a command. The logic remains the same.
So that is Florian's take on new media as such, and a tiny bit about how he himself got involved. But in the next part we talked much more about the actual conditions of the field (however one names it) and about his own history, from being a graduate student in comparative literature to his current role as Director of the Media Design MA course at the Piet Zwart Institute.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A quick note to thank Ritchie Pettauer (whom I met through Facebook!) for asking to publish my Facebook paper on his blog, datadirt. As he describes it:

the main focus is (pro)blogging, WordPress and online marketing with the occassional media theory twist. I also like to blog about music and funny stuff on the net - yup, it's a wild mixture of highly personalized preferences; but hey, that's why it's called a blog and not a magazine.
I've been following it for a little while via Twitter and there always seems to be something fun and interesting posted over there. --A much cooler blog than this one! ;-)

And Ritchie has reformatted my paper in a really easy way to navigate--I'll have to steal it someday. ;-) Last, upon reading I see that in spite of my efforts, typos are plentiful in that text, and I want to make clear they are mine, not Ritchie's.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Brenno de Winter

B. de Winter
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
I should also note that Brenno is starting to establish quite a journalistic reputation when it comes to reporting on IT and issues of privacy, freedom on information, and related matters. For example, he has relentlessly pursued the privacy problems with the OV Chipkaart. You can see the most recent article at WebWereld--all in Dutch though.

An interesting thing about Brenno's work is how he manages the rhetorical frame around these issues in order to be more persuasive. Rather than using the usual hacker image and discourse which is scary and paranoid, all about protecting individual's privacy, instead he talks about protecting data in more business-like terms which are far more appealing to government and business types, but in the end lead to the same desired results. An interesting example of someone co-opting corporate language and discourse in the inverse of the way corporations often try to co-opt user discourse.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Finally, Brenno de Winter

Having got through everything I want to say for now about IR9, I hope to finish with my summer interviews--it's not too long now until I go back to NL for more interviews, so I have to get these done!

So actually one of the earliest interviews I did in the summer was with Brenno de Winter, who I actually first learned of through his podcasts and and website, Laura Speaks Dutch. --That's a great resource for learning Dutch, by the way. Strangely, he turned out to be the one who had translated the instructions for how to use GPG with Mac mail and when I realized he had done these two totally different but helpful things, emailed to thank him. Once I learned more about his work in IT security and as an IT journalist, I decided to interview him. Also, we've gotten to be friends, so it was nice to meet in person finally anyway.

Brenno has a fairly classic history with technology, from the gender standpoint. Like many male geeks, he started very young and was coding before age 10. But beyond that, I'd have to say he violates most other stereotypes about male geeks or hackers. He tends to wear preppy clothes, is quite sociable, has a very positive attitude toward people at all skill levels when it comes to technology, as long as they are trying to educate themselves, and he shows no hostility at all toward girl geeks. In fact he's very supportive.

Our conversation was not so focused because his work is really outside the new media stuff I usually look at, but we did have a very interesting discussion of what the atmosphere was like in the open source and hacker communities and how it might have changed over time. He felt that when he first got involved, it was very community-spirited, and even described himself as feeling tearful at some evnts, because he was so moved by how everyone cooperated and how warmly people behaved toward each other. Over time though he feels this has diminished and gave the example of his own efforts to found a house in Amsterdam where hackers could live for free. He met with a group of them and offered to help them find funding, which he thought might be fairly easy. But because the group could not reach any agreement at all about how the whole thing might work, it just collapsed and went nowhere.

This really seemed to echo some of how William Uricchio has described his own frustrations in trying to organize new media scholars in the Netherlands for everyones mutual benefit. I wonder if no longer being such small and beleaguered has actually made it harder for people in these groups to unite. This is a fairly common problem when a group that has been outcast starts to gain social currency; since they no longer have to spend all their enrgy and resources to survive, room opens to argue about how to spend the "excess." Or everyone gains a little power and security, and suddenly they have something to lose, and so they become territorial.

I guess no matter how technology changes, in some ways, people never do.

Anyway, nowadays Brenno is working on a project called Small Sister that aims to educate people about privacy issues and provide tools with which they can guard their privacy in these frightening days of increasing data-retention. It's already a cool project just in the way it collects together so much useful info about protecting your privacy, but I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up themselves. He'll be speaking at 253C in December, so if you are around Berlin, go see him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bernhard Rieder and Algorithmic Proximity at IR9

The last talk I saw that I'll report was Bernhard's, on Algorithmic Proximity. Bernhard started off with background on the work he and Mirko have done that led up to the hybrid foam model, but his main question in this talk was to look at lower level sociality, such as in sites like Flickr, where most interactions are singular, and connections are fleeting. He is trying to understand "socio-genesis" or the process through which these low level communications crystallize into a real relationship.

In reality, individuals stand at varying social distances, or in network theory terms, where individuals are linked by paths of varying lengths which represent the probability of association. Add to this the notion of homophily; that we tend to associate with those like ourselves. (on the twitter channel for IR9 a number of people agreed that while it was true, we hated to admit it because it seemed narrow-minded).

Next, it is possible to render social interactions digitally and what will that reveal? Skipping the math... we see the importance of space somewhat reduced, and status homophily seems to be replaced by value homophily, where interest factors become more important than socio-economic factors.

Algorithmic proximity is a form of social proximity produced by the rendering of many factors in order to make recommendations about friends or matches. For example, on Facebook, the number of friends you have in common with someone may lead to a friend recommendation in "people you might know." This is most noticeable on dating sites which aim to match people based on similarity across a range of categories, and in fact is almost essential if one is to effectively filter through all the possible matches. Bernhard went through a few other examples;, Flickr, and Delicious, and said a bit about how on these sites, similar tagging practices might lead people to start following other users.

But what about serendipity? Is homophily a feature or a bug? If we only see people who are like us, then what? I think that's a frightening prospect myself; I can think of a lot of interesting ideas and people I would hate to have missed, but if all my encounters were based on some kind of homophily, we would never have met. A fun counter example, the Unsuggester. This site tells you what books you would hate based on books you like (and maybe by extension, the people). I'm afraid I do judge people by what they read, sometimes....

I really need to get the whole paper because I think the math would be interesting, and also, Bernhard makes very strong but closely argued points, and a lot of the details have to be left out of such a short talk. So I've emailed Bernhard and if I can get more details, I'll update this entry later because this seems important to me, thought it's a tangent to Bernhard's work.

If I am to figure out how people connect and stay connected, I think this could be a really important piece of the puzzle, and also suggests measurable data I could look at in order to see patterns -- for example, what kind of proximity, exactly, seems most important? Are there certan values or other shared chracteristics that correlate more strongly with connection than others?

A really thought-provoking talk.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Panel

I don't want to brag..well, actually I do. The panel went very well considering how many speakers we ended up with. Everyone kept to the time limit, no one had technical problems. And the talks themselves were all quite good; I think even exceptional in going beyond the anecdotal case studies we so often see when it comes to work on participation. Since we had so many speakers, there was really no time for discussion; that was the one downside, but I did have some short chats with people later on about our panel, so I guess they liked it.

Here is a link to my prior post which has links to all the full papers.

I also recorded audio for the whole panel and hope to eventually make podcasts for each speaker.

Big thanks to Elfi, Anders, Christian, and Mirko. You guys rock! :-)

Finally, I really have to thank Bernhard Rieder for his masterful work as respondent. He had quite a job having to read all five papers and find some way of summing them all up. I also recorded that, thankfully because Bernhard had good ideas that inspire further development of my ideas at least. --I heard the same from Elfi, in fact.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Marianne van den Boomen at IR 9.0

The next talk I saw was Marianne's; a much more developed version of the research she presented at New Network Theory in Summer '07. The title this time was "E-sociability metaphors:
From virtual community to social network and beyond," and looked at the evolution of metaphors used to describe social relationships on the Internet.

The most interesting point for me was the really concrete way she identified ways that Web 2.0 platforms in their technical workings actually might be described as undermining the previous kinds of online communities that were so much glorified.

As she puts it, Internet communities were once like this:

  • localized social aggregation on the Internet
  • based on shared practice, interest, or value
  • gathering at a collective place
  • having a core of recurrent active users
  • engaged in on ongoing group communication
  • and so developing a common frame
  • of reference
But, Web 2.0 technologies create this:
  • the page is dissolved as unit for collective gathering
  • on the fly aggregation and reassemblage of user enriched data
  • interacting data entities rather than interacting users
  • no common collective place of gathering
  • no ongoing debate between a recurrent group of users
At least in part these changes occur because of technologies--scripts, usually--that allow dynamic html content to be generated, saving time and bandwidth by not serving page after static page or creating whole new pages from scratch. This means that users don't have to interact with each other or with other real people (web-mistresses, sys-admins, site owners or whomever). Instead the system can answer most requests.

While this is true, in fact, fora still exist, and people often interact through blog comments, wall-posts on Facebook, etc. But it's probably true that the focus is not any more on centralized "gathering places." Insteadit seems more like visiting neighbours, to me. Occassionally you all get together socially, but most interactions are one to one. But that is often what we do in person too, isn't it? Phone calls, meeting for coffee or lunch, sending email. Historically we might say that this is more typical, so I don't know that we can really blame web 2.0. On the other hand, I haven't researched the whole history of human intercation (yet!), so maybe this is so. SHould have asked about this at the talk, but I guess I can just send a message... ;-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

IR 9.0 talk, Camille Paloque-Bergès: Internet as playful business : interactive hypertext in

Ok, I went to this talk for two reasons, first because I am interested in the ways communities construct knowledge and in how we can observe that, and because Camille is a student of my friend Bernhard Rieder and I know how hard it can be as a grad student at a big conference, so I wanted to be supportive.

The talk itself was hampered by how little time was alotted to speakers in every panel--only 15 minutes instead of the usual 20. That missing 5 minutes equals 1-2 pages of text and it's quite a challenge to explain any but the most superficial ideas in only 15 minutes. Unfortunately Camille's talk was fairly complex, and I think it didn't all come across clearly. However, since she has posted her slides and paper, I was able to take a closer look and found that my initial impression was correct; she is onto something quite interesting.

I'll quote a short passage from her paper that sums up what she is studying right now:

From this quick contextualization, we can specify two major directions the net.artists have followed in Internet cyberculture: the economy of things (the growing population of hobbyists among the sub-cultures on the Web), embodied by informational objects (content and form) that are collected and shared in most of web communities, and the economy of people (triumphant in the Web 2.0’s fashion), embodied in the usage of applications, information processing and communication networks.
In the talk she went on to discuss the example of nasty nets, a site that was active from 2006-2007 and at which a group of net.artists shared links and images of interest that they discovered while surfing, identifying an emerging vernacular that counters the serious or high culture (or hacker, which is an interesting connection) approaches to both the Internet and to Talking afterward, there was some thought that the 4chan "/b/" image board may be a good place (or even the best?) to spot the bleeding edge of memetic evolution online. --Not that we needed an excuse to visit it, but what the hell. ;-)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Talks at IR 9.0 -- Mimi Ito Keynote

Ok, I've had some more sleep and will start commenting on talks I saw. Honestly, I didn't see as many as I would have liked or register them as clearly as I should, because I was exhausted and sick for the whole trip, but I did at least see a few. I'll just mention the high points--otherwise know as the talks I can remember having attended!

In her keynote, Mimi Ito reported on a really large project being carried out at USC to look at youth culture and the internet, and she identified two kinds of participation, and focused on discussing the second. The first kind is not so different from kinds of socializing that have existed for a long time, but the latter is newer, or at least the extent to which it is available to teens is new and is allowed by the Internet.

1. Friendship-driven learning and participation

--hanging out
--overcoming limitations in local social network
--highly motivating to participants -- who are producers of knowledge and social reality
--social life becomes more public and persistently remembered.
--capacity building, jumping off point for...

2. Interest-driven learning and participation (Example, Naruto fans)

--expanding social networks beyond local groups
--unprecedented opportunity to connect with like-minded peers.
--learning new skills
--higher publicity potential

Naruto Fans who produce Anime Music Videos (AMVs) and who engage in Fan-subbing exhibit:

--high degree of collaboration and reciprocity
--mastering esoteric knowledge leads to status
--peer-based ecology of review and critique
--directed outward mainly to other subbers, but also to "leechers"
--become media creators--a moment of recognition and identity creation when they see something produced by another fan
--competing with industry

In general they found fans enjoyed:

  • Diversity of genres of youth participation
  • peer-based learning, participation, and reputation building
  • small scale, local networks and communities
  • accessing broader publics and audiences
  • routing around traditional gatekeepers such as parents and teachers.
The most interesting point (to me) was the extent to which these interest based communities resembled similar communities typical for adults, such as acdemic discipline-- the AoIR being an obvious example of course, except maybe that the line between industry and fan scene is blurrier for adults because many adults are in the industry. Of course there are plenty of adults in hacker groups, demoscene groups, filesharing groups etc. --this last point is mine, not hers though.

It was a nice talk with fun video examples, but I really wish she had done more than just describe the Naruto fan scene.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mexican Restaurant in Denmark

More of our group, different night. I think there are some real advantages to maintaining a group like this during a conference. I felt much less burnt out by the conference itself, I think because our ongoing discussion of the conference helped me digest it. Also, since we didn't all attend the same panels, I could hear about other panels from my friends, and since we had this ongoing conversation and got to know each other's general views, we could more accurately judge how someone's review of a panel would map to our own reaction. At least that's what I think.

Also, we came up with fun nicknames for certain people, and rules for others.

Cozy ambience

Cozy ambience
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
More of our little group. Well, not so little. Actually, though maybe we were rarely all together at once, there were, I think, eight of us hanging together much of the time. Groups of 4-6 seemed to be the optimum conversational number because with more than that, the talk split into groups that lead to fragmented conversation.

Part of a lovely dinner group

Some of the conversational participants... I am so tempted to going into a lengthy and silly post about participation that is really about the nice time we all had... maybe when I feel more human! --Currently unable to manage that thinking thing thanks to sinus headache. Alliteration abilities still seem stable.

This is not a post

ok, of course it is, but not a real one.

By that I mean that I have a ton of things to post about the IR 9.0 conference and other things as well, but I'm exhausted and sick right now, so I can't muster the energy, will, brainpower, or anything else needed to compose something coherent.

Instead I will just say that I had a really good time seeing people I usually only see online. It was actually kind of strange at first because I noticed that I had gotten so accustomed to speaking with people individually through email, or FB messages, or Skype chats that being with them in a group where we all talked together felt very strange at first. But it was actually lovely, and sometimes a really amazing group chemistry would develop.

I also noticed that when most of your socializing is one on one, you can't develop much sense of what people are like in a general way, only of what they are like with you. So that's something to think about incorporating in my latest paper on Facebook.

So yes, all you people know who you are and I'll name you later when I talk in a more professional way. Now suffice to say that you all proved even nicer, smarter, and more fun in person than I had even expected. So thanks, people. :-)

--and yes, I just bet a few of you are almost feeling sick because I am writing in this so personal and gushy way on my, gasp, research blog. It's called leading the examined life, my dear ones. ;-)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tiny Update on IR 9.0

Good conference so far-- seen all interesting talks, but still so so jet-lagged. Really wish I could have come a day earlier to get more rest before it all started. Also, all European colleagues seem to have lighter workloads and more travel funding than I do...

I recorded the audio of our panel; will edit and post it next week and/or possibly coordinate it with slides for a podcast.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Papers for IR 9.0

Here is our panel, by the way:

Web 2.0 sites are praised for promoting sharing and collaboration; at the same time, they are criticized for violating user privacy and profiting from the free labor of users. This panel considers the complexity of relationships among users, and between users and system designers. In particular, each paper explores what motivates user behavior, whether website loyalty, desire for sociality, indoctrination in networked behavior, or the power relations among owners/designers, consumers, and prosumers.

Elfi Ettinger presents in-depth interview results from users of an e-recruiting platform and interviews with system designers of the same platform, conducted in order to determine which design would insure long-term participation of its users.

Anders Fagerjord relates a study of what Norwegian Facebook users publish about themselves in their profiles and the way they represent themselves through "prescripts" provided by popular applications and publishing tools.

Christian Ulrik Andersen analyzes the Facebook software interface, in particular the Vampires game, to explore its discursive and semantic properties and reveal the political aspects of the software.

Kim De Vries combines a rhetorical analysis with an auto-ethnographic study of academic and scholarly Facebook users to explore how we interpret the social connections made through social networking applications.

Mirko Tobias Schaefer explores user participation that in the last 10 years has developed on a global scale and now contributes to the development of software as well as changing, commenting, creating and distributing media content.

A collection of all the papers is posted on the IR 9.0 conference site, but only members can see it and some papers are slightly abridged, besides it being one giant file. You can see full, individual papers here:

Participation Inside? User activities between design and appropriation. by Mirko Tobias Schäfer

Networking Vampires -- Life in a social network seen through a game. by Christian Ulrik Andersen

Anders is missing ”is”: Posting and Prescripts on Facebook. by Anders Fagerjord

Sustainable e-Recruiting Portals: how can we motivate career-long applicant participation? by Elfi Ettinger

And I will add mine later today... Ok, I didn't, but it's finished and out for feedback, so probably by tomorrow night... damn, good feedback means revision...

Ok, here is mine though I am probably going to revise further; at least I feel this draft is not too embarrassing. Your Friend has just tackled you. Bite, lick, or tackle them back, or click here to theorize about what this all means.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Some people are stupid...

Now, I am aware the Creative Commons Licenses are seen as problematic by some people in the FLOSS scene. Having said that, I think it is outrageous when someone uses a fairly generous flavor of the CC license, and still gets ripped off by someone else who refuses to listen when notified that they are violating even those minor requirements.

My friend Aaron posts about such an incident in his blog, and I refer you all to it here, in an effort to at least let people know what a JERK Jillian McDonald is being.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Goth Morris Dancers

Goth Morris Dancers
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
I also went to Folsom Street Fair where there were Goth Morris Dancers. --That's why I went, of course. Isn't that what brings most people? ;-)

More on the fair later...

And note that neither the other pictures on my Flickr set for the fair, nor the fair's site itself, are work safe. NOT SAFE AT ALL. Just so you know.


Ok, I still have two interviews left from summer-- Brenno de Winter and Florian Cramer. Florian's was 3 hours long, and was actually recorded! So that may take several entries at least...

But I'll put that on hold, for a bit. In a week I leave for IR 9.0, the Association for Internet Researchers 9th annual meeting, which is Copenhagen this year. I got two panels accepted but they got compressed into one because they were short on rooms and we lost a panelist, though that will be a pain, but on the other hand it should be a really fun panel. Also a good one; I know the work of all the participants from articles and other conferences and I am also happy to report that they already sent me full papers, which I'll link to soon. So none of those half-assed "done on the plane the night before" slide shows here. :-)

Also, on the last weekend of September, I went to San Francisco for Arse Elektronika where I got to meet Johannes Grenzfurthner and some others from Monochrom. I also met Aaron Muszalski, who was speaking at AE, and Richard Kadrey, author and photographer, who also spoke and did a reading. I managed a short interview with Johannes and talked to Richard at length on Friday before meeting him for an interview on Saturday. --They were all great! So reports on all of that are coming up.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nancy Mauro-Flude Youthful Veteran of Dutch New Media

Nancy Mauro-Flude
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

As mentioned earlier, I spoke with Nancy and Audrey together and this is Nancy's half of that conversation, plus info from a few, brief, subsequent chats.

I had been thinking of Nancy as part of the new generation in the Dutch new media art scene, but in fact she's been involved for 15 years though she only finished her MA at Piet Zwart in Spring 2007. Now on the one hand, maybe I am just ignorant, but also wonder why have I not heard of her before? I'm tempted to think this supports my contention that's women's participation is just not being documented. But in fact the scene is not very well documented overall. I will need to look at many examples before I can say for sure that one group of participants has been differently reported than another.

Anyway, Nancy has been on the scene for quite some time but in this conversation we mostly talked about the Genderchangers and differences between that environment and her experiences learning about tech in other venues. Nancy didn't seem to feel she had encountered as much impatience over her lack of tech experience in academic programs, but she took it for granted that she'd had to prove herself to "the boys" in other tech groups, or just generally techie guys.

I find very surprising how little attention she seems to have garnered, because she has been doing interesting, technically ambitious work for quite some time, yet doesn't seem to get what I would consider the attention she deserves. Particularly interesting to me are the projects that combine a performance, which is ephemeral, with creation of an artistic tool which may have many future uses. For example, one of her most recent projects is Bag Lady. Follow this link to a description/review by Mirko Schaefer.

I need to talk more with Nancy, and get the story of those 15 years.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review of Cyberfeminism in Northern Lights: Digital Media and Gender in a Nordic Context

This review will be coming out in a few months and once it does I'm not supposed to publish it elsewhere for a year! So here's a sneak preview...

Malin Sveningsson Elm & Jenny Sundén (Eds.) (2007). Cyberfeminism in Northern Lights: Digital Media and Gender in a Nordic Context. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. isbn: 9781847180896. UK: £34.99 US: $69.99 295 pages

Malin Sveningsson Elm and Jenny Sundén launch this collection with the claim that other research on gender and digital media has been US and UK-centric, taking the experiences of people in those countries as universal and ignoring differences in the construction of gender and in the actual living conditions of men and women in other countries. As they point out, this blinkered view of gender and technology, and of cyber-feminism in particular, parallels the development of feminism itself. It is discouraging to think that the realization of a narrow view in the general case did not prevent a similar error in subsequent cyber-feminist studies, but this book offers a good example of the work needed to clarify our understanding. Further gaps the authors seek to fill are in providing a more critical view of technology and most importantly, solid empirical research on the intersections of gender and digital media.

The ten chapters are divided into three parts: “Sexualities, Bodies and Desire,” Gender Identities, Performance, and Presentation of Self,” and “Gendered Computing and Computer Use.” The cohesion even within sections is a bit loose because the editors aimed to include research from each of the Scandinavian countries, scrupulously avoiding the essentialism they critique. One common theme though is the ways discourse around gender and technology tends to make some users and practices visible and others invisible, and the way it constructs some users and practices as normal or positive, while others are placed firmly in a deviant or negative category. Because, as argued in the introduction, both gender and technology are socially constructed, understanding these discursive practices is essential to understanding the ways men and women perceive and use technology.

In Part One, Jenny Sunden considers “intersectionality,” which

has come to stand for research that explores the ways in which power relations, constituted in and through socio-cultural categories, such as gender, sexuality, race, and class, co-construct one another in multiple ways (32)

and how it may be applied to the study of technology and cyber-culture. This chapter serves to further illustrate the need for country specific work because by definition, an intersectionalist approach would be based in this specificity.

The next two chapters by Susanna Pasonen and Janne C.H. Bromseth are even more specific. Chapter Two explores what Finnish online pornography reveals about definitions of some sexual practices as good and others as less good. Passonen draws our attention past the usual critique of heternormativity to point out that pornography has been largely ignored by Nordic internet researchers because it is part of less good sexual practices, and that further, porn is inaccurately perceived as homogenous, thus making some sexual practices invisible and inaccessible to discussion or study. Chapter Three follows a debate that occurred in an online lesbian and feminist community over who counted as a “real” lesbian, demonstrating that in online communities as in offline, “hegemonies of identity, gender,and sexuality are also reproduced (93).” In particular, Bromseth teases out the discursive practices of online gender construction, and the ways this is shaped by the Scandinavian context which is characterized by (among other things) steady government promotion of equal rights, and a less adversarial relationship between men and women than found in studies of online culture in the US.

Part Two offers three studies of gender performance in online communities, some in which the performance is explicitly stated to be opposing stereotypes, and others in which representations of gender roles are conscious, but aimed at other purposes, such as what is believed to be historically accurate. These chapters are valuable in the way they document the actual practices of online community members, and in the close readings they offer of websites. For example, Sveningsson Elm's study of Lunarstorm in Chapter Four illuminates the interaction between users, culturally bound gender stereotypes, and the hetero-normative design of the social networking site. Particularly interesting are the analyses of what information is included or excluded from personal pages, which often point toward stereotypes that are unconsciously fulfilled by the creator.

Charlotte Kroløkke studies players of the Danish online game Powerbabes in Chapter Five; in this game all characters are female, but players are both male and female. As Kroløkke finds, they find ways to co-opt the games affordances and both feminist agency and cultural production can be seen. In the last chapter of the section, Six, Åsberg and Axelsson analyze the websites of several Swedish historical reenactment groups, finding that in some cases a display of female confidence and agency expressed through the pride in intricate details of costume and assertive poses for the camera. But perhaps most striking here was the realization that in many cases women were the ones behind the digital cameras and creating the websites.

Finally in the last section, four chapters focus on gendered use of computers themselves. AnnBritt Enochsson studied how Swedish boys and girls used the internet to determine what differences and similarities were present. She found that while boys and girls spent about the same amount of time online (182), and often might engage in similar activities(188), these activities were described differently by the media, in the structure of research studies, and in the accounts of users themselves(184, 190), suggesting the differences have more to do with culturally bound expectations of boys and girls, men and women, than with the actual computer use itself.

Chapter Eight offers a history of computer adoption and appropriation in Norway, from 1980-2000. Hilde Corneliussen teases out the discourse used to promote computer use and create a consumer market, and also reveals how this discourse depended on a highly gendered rhetorical frame. She identifies discursive practices that have favored boys and men: women who were highly competent were ignored if they weren't programmers, while men who did not use computers tended to regard that as a valid choice rather than a personal failure and so presented themselves as potential users, rather than non-users (215). Again it seems that the biggest differences may be in the way we talk about computers and gender.

In Chapter Nine, a study of gender and surveillance technology in Iceland first argues that "if men predominate in engineering and the production of technologies," ... they may "focus on problems of primary interest to males (226)." If women do have different preferences in the way they use technology, then male dominance may be self-replicating. The analysis of surveillance technology also revealed that because the division of labor is highly gendered, men and women were observed in very different ways that usually led to women feeling more powerless and anxious (237-238).

The section concludes with a chapter exploring women in programming culture in Sweden, a culture which Fatima Jonsson argues is neither as misogynistic nor as male dominated as in the US and UK. In a thorough literature review, Jonsson demonstrates that hostility toward women is clearly visible in some hacking cultures, and that research on computer culture more generally tends to reinforce it's image as a boy's club, but that women have been active and that some computer subcultures are more welcoming (250). Though Swedish hacker cultures share much with its US and UK counterparts, the differences suggest it is worth further study.

Finally, the book ends with Anne Scott Sørensen's essay on feminist and Nordic approaches to digital media and cyberculture. She reiterates the opening arguments about the state of cyberfeminism, and proposes a new framework for feminist action through incorporating "third-wave feminism, the performative turn and cyberfeminism (265)." In particular Sørensen calls for including the concept of transversality, the recognition of one's own position and shift to others, or transverse in order to recognize commonalities (269). This closing essay goes on to review each of the preceding chapters to identify points in common as well as significant differences, enacting the approach Sørensen urges we all follow.

The value of this collection is far greater than the worth of each essay--those will be of primary interest to individual scholars working on related research. But the book as a whole, by allowing comparison of gender dynamics around technology in numerous contexts reveals things that have been invisible until now. The way we speak about how men and women use technology, the way research questions are framed, the way users describe their own activities, all of these discursive practices are shown to have a profound impact on our perceptions of how men and women use technology and of the technology itself. In raising these issues and revealing our blind spots, Cyberfeminism in Norther Lights makes an invaluable contribution to research on both gender and technology.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Now this is funny!

A list of the top 15 criteria for interactive or new media art has been posted by the Near Future Laboratory. Based on the responses I've seen so far, this really struck a chord with many readers. I also notice that one of the main purposes of new media might be providing conversational topics. Maybe my next "project." ;-)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A younger generation of women using tech-- the Gender Changers

Audrey Samson
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

OK, finally I'm on the last women I spoke with on this last trip, Audrey Samson and Nancy Mauro-Flude. This joint interview was less formal and in depth because we had trouble finding times when they could meet and eventually met altogether for just about and hour. They'll be among the first with whom I follow up. I originally met Nancy and Audrey last summer when they were graduating from the Piet Zwart Media Design MA program. I had been impressed by both of their projects and was interested over the subsequent year to see that they were both involved with the Genderchangers as well as continuing with their own work.

Audrey grew up in Canada and got her pilot's license before going to school for a BA in Art and Design. She didn't do too much with computers at first, apart from learning skills that might make her more employable. One of her ongoing concerns is how people communicate and she's interested now in how different technologies can shape and facilitate that. When I asked about what she had observed or experience around gender, she felt there were definite stereotypes. She felt she had to prove her tech savvy to men sometimes--for someone who can fly a plane, this seems especially tiresome. More than that, when she was learning to code, she felt that the men around her got impatient if she "slowed them down" by needing more or different explanation.

Now she is working with the Genderchangers and she has felt that Genderchangers is more comfortable as a place to learn than what she has experienced before. Though Audrey has had less experience and less time to reflect, I was interested to see that again time seems important, or in this case, speed. I'll be speaking further with Audrey to see how things look to her as she continues teaching. ok, next time I'll continue with Nancy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Finishing up with Marianne

So I will get back to this at last and wrap things up from this interview a little more quickly so I can get to the next ones of the women, plus I still have Brenno and Florian to add, and I then have to actually do the interviews with Jaromil, Mirko, and maybe some others, not to mention follow ups with Hajo and Alex. Yeesh.

So, toward the end of the email part of the interview, I asked what Marianne thought about the the people involved with new media, whether it was or is a community.

No I don't think in terms of community, more in terms of a scene, which I consider less coherent than a community. Very different people, hackers, journalists, organizers, artists, idiots, designers, querulants, activists, often fighting each other (as at the aftermath of the Digital City).
And the same question again--did she still find this range of people getting involved?
Actually I am not sure. It may be that I just don't attend as much of the meetings and events as I did before, but I would say today there are less journalists involved and more students. And mor artists/dsigners - but that may be my perspective, since I have spent the last weeks with all these plans of e-culture institutions. What is clear anyway is that what was once a scene is now a social-cultural sector, the e-culture sector.
I think this has been a gradual change, but the changes in the Dutch funding structure seem as though they could potentially lead to a petrification of the e-culture sector because there will be so many more bureaucratic hurdles to get through in application for support that only very established professional groups will be able to manage it.

Finally I asked her what had led her back into academia to get her PhD.

That must have been somewhere in 2000, when I was finishing my book Leven op het Net - De sociale betekenis van virtuele gemeenschappen (in Dutch, title can be translated in: Life on the Net - The social meaning of virtual communities; though here the nice ambiguity of the Dutch word 'leven' which means both 'life' and 'cosy noise' is lost.)

Every time I was really inspired in writing and was starting to have real fun (when writing about the meaning of media, of space and spatial metaphors), the publisher said: No, that's too complex for the intended audience for this book, don't do that in this book, write a PhD if you want that kind of stuff... And so I finally did. First as a nomadic savage, without an appointment, later at Utrecht University, which also had connections to my supervisor in Rotterdam, the Dutch 'cyberspace philosopher' Jos de Mul.
When we met in person I followed up on the e-culture aspect, but unfortunately the whole discussion has to remain confidential. I need to speak with someone in charge if the sector who would have the authority to say I can reprint or repeat her replies without her getting into some kind of trouble!

But we did talk about other things, one being what the dept. looks like from her perspective which was interesting in the way it is similar or different from what I've heard from Erna, William, Mirko, and Nanna. Overall they all have good things to say, but for example, the extent to which they find it very collegial or just somewhat, leading the way, or keeping up--all these things depend on the other communities and academic groups they compare UU with, and on their own personal preferences. So someone who really pushes to publish and go to conferences and is always in the middle of the global academic debate on new media may feel the dept is ok, but just keeping up, or maybe out in front, but shouldn't relax. While someone who is not so interested in that may feel it's a bit of a pressure cooker already. Very subjective.

I'll be following up with Marianne later, as with everyone, but that's it for now. Time to get to my next victim, I mean interviewee... ;-)

hopefully getting back on track

OK, so I ended up spending much longer on the East Coast than I originally planned for this summer, which means I had a really poor network connection--both slow and sporadic--and I didn't have the books I needed to finish up various articles, reviews, and so on. Then I came home, and oh yeah, no day care. Sigh.

Now I might normally feel a bit bad that I am complaining about my kids being home, but anyone who has tried to write while small kids are in the area interrupting every 2 minutes (literally) will understand. Also, I had the dubious pleasure of having my mom and sisters insist to me for most of my visit in the east that working so much is hurting my children. This was especially ironic given my current research on women's use of tech and participation in the new media scene in the Netherlands. I heard from several women there that they often encountered a sort of incredulity from other people at their not wanting to be home all the tie with their kids.

Incredulity is bad enough, but I wonder how many encounter what I have? Actual resistance from the people we might have expected to help us manage work and family. I now know that I can't turn to my parents or sisters if I have another research trip or conference, because they don't think I should be going anyway. My husband travels as much as I--he's also an academic--but apparently "it's different for men." --So says my mom. It's no mystery that women are still not equally represented in so many fields or at upper levels in fields where they are present if we are still being pressured and socialized this way.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled discussion.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quick update

For a variety of reasons (some will be elaborated later; most will not) I have fallen behind on my entries, especially on writing up the interviews. Fear not. Posting will resume shortly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marianne van den Boomen part 2

So, more from Marianne... First her account of how she encountered the internet:

The Internet came into view in 1993, when I attended the famous Hacking at the End of the Universe camp (the HEU, as it is called) in a Dutch nowhere land polder, organized by the hacker-techno-anarchists of Hacktic (later called Xs4all, still my Internet provider, and I am proud that my e-mail adresses at Hacktic and xs4all are still working. I was there with my tent and laptop to write an article for De Groene about the hacker movement. Man, what fun did I have there! Hundreds of tents on a site, lectures, workshops and demonstrations in bigger tents, 300 public computers connected to the Internet, 1000 boys and 10 women/girls camping, talking, internetting, listening, laughing.
I notice that even then, there were far fewer women, but interestingly, Marianne felt the following way:
The amazing thing was that the atmosphere was really like what I knew of women's festivals - I came right out of the women's movement, and here there were boys and men all over the place, sharing their stuff and experiences, discussing how to get human right violations reports out of Gaza over weak telephone lines, how to get rid of the fascists on their bulletin board systems without betraying their principle of freedom of speech, talking about Gopher (the text menu based navigating system, no web yet) and newsgroups and mailinglists and FTP.
From here we talked further about gender stuff and Marianne had some interesting observations. I'm not sure a man who did not know how computers worked (who was not a nerd) would have felt any different than what Marianne describes below.
Mm, my prior experiences with computers did not really impress me. At school 'computers' were something unseen, a hobby of a few boys with the wrong clothes, who went studying math and physics. Classical nerds, and at that time 'nerd' was not associated with anything sexy or fun at all. When I studied psychology I had my first hands on experience with computers: mainframes behind glass...(the typewriters connected to the computer did not even have screens). I did not have a clue what I was doing and it did not interest me at all. ... no, not my cup of tea. For that matter, just a classic women stance towards computers.

The first time I had an idea about computers was again at the research institute were I worked, actually before they bought the word processors. In the hall there was a piece of furniture I did not understand. It was a huge table, in which a kind of typewriter was built in. No one used it, it was just standing there. I asked other people what it was, no one knew, but one day the publisher visited the insititute, he saw the thing and he told me that it was a word processor, on which you could save and edit text. And that is was a shame that the institute did not know how to handle it. At that moment I got a glimpse, I had a idea what could be done with such a device, I have been involved in several feminist magazines as a volunteer, and some of these we had to typeset ourselves at the printing house. ... Though there were ways to correct a letter or a word, you usually ruined the rhythm of the words and the sentence cause the font types were proportional, there was not enough space or too much space after deleting and then inserting a new letter. I realized that this problem would be solved with a word processor.

So in that sense my computing education is 'classical feminine': I did not see anything in computers as long as it was about calculation, but when it turned out to be about writing, language and typesetting I got it. Of course, this is a tricky stereoptype male=calculation, language=female, but it worked for me. I have to admit that I used this stereotypical argument in my book 'Internet ABC voor vrouwen' (Internet ABC for women, 1995) to convince women they had to get their hands on this stuff, because otherwise the Internet would remain a toy for boys. My message was basically: don't be afraid, the Internet it is more about language and communication than it is about computing and technology. I am still a bit ashamed for that argument... But it worked.
I really question the way we use this stereotype of pragmatism versus play. Marianne and others have said they cared about tech once they saw it could help them do something they wanted to do, and they seem to think this is more how women think, while men use tech more often for playful reasons. But This distinction rests on what we define at "just for fun" or "for a serious purpose" and no one seems to question those categories.
Oh, I suddenly remember another 'computing' experience which was perhaps also crucial. Actually, I would not call it computing, but it definitely had to do with micro-electronics and chips. I was playing in a punk band, and in Amsterdam Michel Waisvisz from STEIM (institute for experimental electronic music) had designed a so called crackle box, a very primitive synthesizer which did not have a keyboard as interface, but turning keys and a metal plate on which you laid your fingers. The resistance (temperature, moist. movement) of your fingers was then translated by VOC's (I don't remember what it meant, voltage operating circuits or centers, I think - anyway, they were computer chips) into eh... sound, noise, great noise! But you never knew before what noise :-)
To me, this sounds like just the kind of playful appreciation usually attributed to men.
I wanted to play a crackle box too! ... I went to STEIM and they gave me the drawings, the schemes, and a list of stuff needed: transistors, VOC's, and all kinds of other tiny little things you had to buy in a radio hobby shop. I had a friend who was deeply into electronics and soldering, and he taught me how to do this. I have ruined so many chips and two print plates by my unexperienced soldering! Eventually we never did a gig with the crackle box, it blew itself up all the time, and that was completely my fault since I changed the original design: I did not want to work with batteries but with a transformator and ordinary net current... Which was pretty stupid, since the thing worked by direct touch contact. I have had my portion of electroshocks...

I think for me the point was, both with the word processor and the crackle box: if I have an idea of what I want to accomplish, and if I have the idea that this can be done with a technology on which I can lay my hands on, which I can appropriate, adjust, tweak, then I am into technology. I am not a hacker, of course, but I always liked the old hacker's slogan: hands-on! Because it is both literal and figural a matter of hands-on, both with the crackle box and the computer (which' most important interface is the keyboard, and not the screen.) Strange enough such a basically pragmatic drive is not usual in women. I at least had no women friends who have the same fun in appropriating technology.
So Marianne seems to have really gotten into a kind of hardware hacking, or even circuit bending, which again is usually assumed to only be interesting to men. And she even describes this as atypical among women. I talked to her further via email about this, so I'll get into that in the next post, as well as finally getting to the in-person interview! --and if you think this has been long (even though I edited out a lot) just wait a few entries until I get to my interview with Florian Cramer, which I managed to actually record. Or rather he did. ;-)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Interview with Marianne van den Boomen

On the same day I interviewed Erna I went also to speak with Marianne van den Boomen, who is also working on a PhD at Utrecht University, in new media. Marianne has already been writing about technology for some time, so she has a very well-informed perspective. Before meeting in person we exchanged a series of emails, so I will start with some excerpts from that exchange.

I guess I have to make a distinction between new media and Internet, because I encountered these separately.

My first involvement with new media was in 1984. I was working as an editor of a magazine called Marge, a monthly magazine about social work, community work and social movements (feminist, gay, squatting etc). That year the research institute where we had our office had bought a word processing system (not even MS DOS, it was a dedicated Dutch word processing system, with huge 8 inch floppies, on which you could store I think 30 pages). The system was meant for just the secretaries, to type reports, but we, the three magazine editors, went with the secretaries on a course to learn it. We had the idea that with this we could publish the magazine without the expensive, bureaucratic and tiresome steps in between the editing and final printing (manual copy editing on typescripts, sending it by snail mail to the typesetter, getting strips back by snail mail, proofreading, sending it back again, doing the layout with the returned corrected strips, sending it back again, and then final proofreading - and always fights with the publisher about delivering to much typesetting work). So we started to do the typesetting by ourselves in-house - that indeed did save us money we had to pay to the publisher, and it was big fun, but of course it increased tremendously our working hours... First mistake :-)

Nevertheless, I was completely in love with those word processing machines - magical typewriters, which enabled bypassing intermediary institutions by doing-it-yourself, hands-on (I still consider PCs that way). The same year I organized a conference and a special issue of the magazine about 'The electronic social worker - Information technology and welfare'. The issue was about what would happen when computers would enter the field of social and community work. The issue and the conference addressed computer democracy, community building, client-registration systems, privacy issues, Orwell's 1984, new labour relations, changes in quality of labour, social and cultural impact etc.

To write the general overview article I visited several clubs and institutions, among these an open day of the Utrecht School of Arts, which showed the latest stuff in the field of computer aided design and games. It was impressive, color screens, moving images (I had never seen that before), proud technophilic teachers giving demonstrations. But the most impressive moment was when three boys sneaked in (I guess 14-year old, clearly not the intended student target group, they had the wrong age, the wrong coats and the wrong Utrecht accent). They asked if they could show their stuff, because they had 'some problems with sequencing' they could not figure out. The teachers allowed them to put their cassettes in a computer, and at once all the other CAD-stuff in the room looked bleak and dull: this was the real stuff, very professional funny animations and games, including music. Homebrew! The embarrassed teachers immediately pulled the plug. The boys left, and I now regret forever that I did not talk to them. But that was the moment I realized: there must be a whole subculture out there, doing things with computers which will amaze the world...

Later at my work MS-DOS computers with WordPerfect and 5 1/4 inch floppies replaced the Océ proprietary system, and we started to use telephone modems to send the magazine completely laid out to the publisher. I started working as a copy editor at a weekly magazine, the Groene Amsterdammer, and because I had a little bit more knowledge about computer systems I also became the system manager (teaching the editorial team Windows and e-mail!), and now and then I wrote articles about computer culture, and later about the Internet.
Marianne really took time to reflect on what she thought when she first encountered computers, and I note that for her as well there is an idea that they can confer some kind of freedom; freedom from layers of control, freedom from the constraints of some other medium. Also, like Sher and Erna, Marianne had the experience of being the most knowledgeable in a community or workplace, and so sort of fell into the role of tech expert, and in her case actually gaining a title of system manager. I have a tone of material for this interview, so tomorrow I'll post another entry but try to make it a little more of a digest.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Erna Kotkamp part 2

So I talked to Erna quite a bit about gender stuff, since she actually has worked in that area for some time and she has reflected pretty thoroughly on her own experiences and observations. For one thing, she finds that she does have to prove her technological expertise more often than male teachers, and when she observes the teachers she trains she sees the same thing. In a class on computer use, women teachers are still more likely to be asked "test" questions than men, which suggests that though men and women may use computers for daily tasks in the same ways, and may be aware that they use them in the same ways, when people talk or think about being "experienced with computers," they tend to use a narrow definition that depends on actual programming or other creation, rather than just use, and that men are still perceived as being more competent.

Also, Erna made a really good point in saying that she defined her own level of experience differently in different settings. Among her colleagues in Gender Studies, who are not so focused on tech, Erna describes herself as very experienced, but among people who program a lot, she describes herself as less so. So I think we need to look more closely at what standard people are using when asked to either describe their own practice or to evaluate others.

She also made an interesting comment about relationships and careers; as I said in part 1 of the interview, she mentioned herself still feeling like she had to have serious reasons to use tech, not just enjoying the playful aspect and that this was part of an old, embedded gender stereotype. She also later said that it was easier for lesbians to escape that dynamic because between two women (and I assume his would hold for gay men) choosing to work or not did not instantly force you into some stance in relation to traditional roles. Oddly, in a completely different context, a gay friend of mine here in the US recently said the same. So that may be a real issue, but hard to get at since if self-reporting about tech use is unreliable, I would guess that self-reporting about partner's attitudes or relationship issues connected to work with tech might be even less so! And I'd really prefer to avoid using tiny spy-cams.

Erna in particular found that ICTs were important to her because she doesn't like F2F communication so much. She claimed that she simply would not talk to people or stay as connected to them without email, chat applications, and Skype. This went really counter to the assumption most people seemed to make that connecting, speaking, or performing live was always better.

Finally, continuing the theme of socializing, she felt that while New Media as a field was more cooperative than some, it was not very cohesive, compared to E-Learning, for example. What I start to notice is that the artists I speak with find it quite cooperative while the academics do not, which suggests again another case where people are using different baseline criteria. Really a great interview in the way it helps me to start seeing larger patterns and figuring out which questions I need to ask next.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Interview with Erna Kotkamp

Erna Kotkamp 2008
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
My next interview was with Erna Kotkamp, who is at U. Utrecht where she has been doing work on gender studies, and more lately on technology. Erna described her use of technology in a way that, so far, more closely resembles the "classic geek mode" than any of the other people with whom I spoke. She said she was most comfortable with a screw-driver in hand, tinkering with a computer's guts. At the same time, even she was not completely comfortable saying she just found it fun, admitting any frivolous reasons for her use of tech. And she noted herself that it was interesting to find such an old gender old still affecting her so much.

Though Erna is not focusing explicitly on gender in her current research, which is on open-source software and e-learning, it was more explicitly part of this interview than in many, maybe because she notices that aspect in her work as a matter of course. She mentioned that 10 years ago, it was still common for people in humanities disciplines to feel comfortable ignoring tech or even announcing their ignorance of computers. At that time she was the "tech-y one" in Women's Studies at U. Utrecht and was often called on to help others do things with computers, even to make PowerPoint slides. Now people are not so comfortable admitting techno-illiteracy, but Erna still feels some she knows need to be more savvy, and more importantly to recognize that knowing how to use tech and how to think critically about it are both essential basic skills now.

This conversation seemed to be be much more organic (that is to say non-linear and recursive) so this write-up will also be that way and also since I thought I was recording it and the device turned out to not work, I will probably have to come back and edit details later. :P

Though Erna is the most inclined toward hardware hacking and of the women I've spoken with so far, one of the most proficient at coding, she seemed to get started sort of incidentally. Her family always was much more focused on arts and humanities kind of stuff, so neither she nor her brother were encouraged to do much with math, science, or tech. So though Erna feels her strengths lie in these later areas, she never really had much chance to develop them (or maybe even recognize them?) until by chance she took computer classes during her BA studies.

Anyway, Erna had quite a few insights into her own use of technology, the open-source scene, and the impact of gender...but that will be in the next post because in fact i have to go do family stuff myself right now!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Renee Turner part 2

Ok, slowly trying to catch up on these interviews... So, Renee is now working on an MA in fiction, and interestingly, she seems to share some of the same interests as Sher in thinking about writing or text as part of artistic practice. Right now she's finishing her MA project which involves both fiction and non-fiction intertwined and she's thinking about going on to a PhD in which she can explore narratives in electronic literary forms. Work she's already done in De Geuzen reflect some of these interests, like the virtual seance with Guy Debord or some aspects of the Female Icons series.

Along with discussing these aesthetic and theoretical aspects, we talked a lot about how she used technology and what really affects women's use. A couple of really interesting things emerged from this part of the interview. Because Renee has been a tutor at Piet Zwart this year, we were talking about that experience, in particular about women learning to program. Anyone who knows Florian Cramer (the director of the Media design MA program at Piet Zwart) knows of his preference for the command-line and has probably heard his reasoning on why graphical user interfaces are limiting to users. Since I know Renee is not a really avid coder, I asked her what her view on this was and how the students reacted.

(Since coding is almost always part of gender stereotypes around tech, this is a useful way to create an opportunity for gender to arise in the discussion without forcing it into the story artificially.)

Anyway, a couple of things came up. First, all of the students seemed to manage the coding without too much trouble (and the class is about 50/50 women and men). Second, at the same time, the students most likely to get into "tech as toy" thinking were men, but in such a small group, that doesn't really show anything. Third, and most interesting, she thought the real reason women appeared to have a harder time learning to write code or use the command line has to do with the way their time is structured, especially if they are taking care of kids or other family.

Renee felt, and I can certainly confirm this from my own experience, that learning a programming language or to use the command line takes a kind of sustained attention over time that often women don't have if they have families. She realized this after reading Martha Rosler's work on how women read magazines (among other topics). Apparently women read magazines like Vogue because they can put them down and pick them up easily, and being interrupted is not too much of a problem. So her idea is that graphical user interfaces enable a similar ability to put down and pick up computer work. Her own experience has been that if she is trying to (or succeeds at) learning how to code something or do something via the command line, if she then has an interruption of several days (or of course longer) she loses her place and has to start over figuring out how she did it. I have found this as well, and when I later spoke with Erna Kotkamp and Audrey Sampson, they each independently mentioned similar experiences

I don't think this indicates a difference between how men and women think, rather, anyone would probably have trouble if they were frequently interrupted and I think women are more prone to being interrupted or perhaps allowing themselves to be. Certainly anyone with children experiences this problem, and women are still more likely to be primary caregivers, especially when kids are very young (a time when one is lucky if one can squeeze out an hour of uninterrupted time from caretaking). But further, I suspect that women are less likely to insist on uninterrupted time because it may seem self-centered. --The persistence of this particular aspect of gendered socialization is still surprisingly strong and it showed up in most women's reluctance to feel using tech for fun was even relevant to our discussion.

So when I ask how or why they use tech, most women only talk about reasons they feel are serious, worthwhile, important, etc. Though some may actually play with it in the same way men do, or use tech in the same way for the same reasons, they seem to perceive or at least describe their use very differently. This raises interesting challenges in how to best interpret my interviews if I want to make any general comment about women and tech/new media in the Netherlands.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some other important ideas--but maybe the ones that stick are most important. Yeah, that's it... ;-) Well, I'll check with Renee, but that's it for now.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Renee Turner 2008

Renee Turner 2008
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
My next interview was with Renee Turner, a member of De Geuzen, for whom I gave a talk last January. De Geuzen is a group of 3 women conducting what they term "multi-visual" research, and most of it involves computers and digital media in some way.

Renee describes herself as a perpetual student and this is pretty clear looking at her educational history: BA University of Dallas, [1984-1989]; MFA University of Arizona, [1990-1992] and MAs from Rijksakademie, Department of Photographic Media, Amsterdam, The Netherlands [1993-1994], and the Jan van Eyck , Laureate: Theory, [1995-1996]. Now she's finishing an MFA in writing from a UK school and is considering going on for PhD in New Media or something like that. But this seems in a certain way another point in common among the people I've interviewed, especially the women--they are always pushing into new areas, learning new things. That's not to say this is reserved for women, or new media scholars/artists, but more people have explicitly mentioned that as a motive. I suppose maybe it's no surprise that people studying new media (and as a foreshadowing, I have trouble even writing that phrase now that I've officially interviewed Florian) are more interested in continually having to learn something new.

Anyway, Renee started really with photography, but soon got in to digital images. She said that for her, new media seemed to allow more freedom from disciplinary constraints, but also that it allows her to much more easily combine and remix media (the advantage of digitality, of course).

She summed up her overall view as this: "I want to be rigorous, but I'm not into being disciplined at all."

more on Renee's work soon...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sher Doruff part 2

Ok, so...the creative industries. I must say that so far I have not heard one good thing about the plan to change to this model, and Sher was no exception. She feels the added bureaucracy will prevent any really interesting and original project from ever getting funded. While maybe this will push some artists into doing much more interesting work because they have no funding,but do have some freedom, in the meantime the money is going to some kind of domesticated, tamed crap.

The issue of tech becoming tame is interesting. Sher felt really strongly about that; how the ease with which we can now do things has eliminated the wonder people used to feel, and also made the practice of connecting online really routine, so that people don't think about new possibilities, they just use it for pragmatic things. (Practice is really important for Sher, as I'll get to later). To illustrate, I can compare something like google docs which numerous people edit a doc, even simultaneously, or that site (I forget the name of course) that let's people kind of jam together and lay down musical tracks, to the tool Sher worked on for her PhD project at De Waag KeyWorx. The developers of this platform created a

Multi-User Cross Media Synthesizer - a distributed application that allows multiple players to generate, synthesize and process images, sounds and text within a shared realtime environment. As an instrument it allows communities of players to dynamically control and modify all aspects of digitized media in a collaborative performance.
and Sher described it as really exciting because you gave up control, couldn't always tell what was going to happen or what would happen because keyworx would let other people change not just the media files that were being produced, but the actual functioning of the scripts that transformed the files, so it was a kind of live coding as well. (I think) Anyway, this tool really only makes sense for people who know some scripting or programming languages, so the availability of other tools that do much less but are much easier may stop artists (or whomever) from going as far as they could to learn a more flexible but also more difficult practice.

We also talked a bit about specific institutions and while I feel like maybe it's gossipy, on the other hand, I think it's informative so... I had suspected last summer that De Waag had really moved away from an art focus to a much more creative industry kind of focus, yet they were still applying for art funding, and also in site of having some massive budget already (not sure where their other money comes from). --This is what I have gleaned from numerous conversations, but of course what defines an "art focus" is debatable. V2_ on the other hand has become really hermetic and narrowly focused, (again, this is what I thought last summer when Alex told me he wasn't really interested in outreach at all, and it seems to have been an issue for them this year. It's also problematic (I think) in terms of how they participate in the scene because in the end they are just talking to themselves and not really participating in the development of new media in a way that affects or takes into account what anyone else is doing, or the socio-economic events going on around them.

Steim, I learned, has been around for ages and continues to do interesting things (don't know as much about them) but they've never had enough money and don't seem as well publicised (but maybe that's because everyone already knows them?), which may also be why they have trouble. In fact, neither V2_ nor Steim seem to have communicated very clearly what they are contributing to the new media scene. --This is my sense because when I try to ask people about what they aim to do, I haven't yet met anyone who says clearly "oh yes, they aim for this."

--In fact since originally writing this I've emailed with Sher a bit more and she said that Steim is not actually interested in the new media scene, but rather is focused on instruments, interfaces and sound. Of course a group probably shouldn't worry about explaining to people everything they are not concerned with, but on the other hand, many other people have said I should talk to some members of Steim, and seem to consider them part of the new media scene, so there really does seem to be some confusion. The conflicting perceptions of both the scene of what's good for the scene or not are turning out to be really interesting. I think that I may end up with something like what one sees through a "dragonfly eye" rather than a single picture.

I mentioned Worm and Sher didn't know them very well, but was interested in the kinds of things they've done, especially the collaborations with Piet Zwart--it's funny but I find myself feeling the impulse to connect people I think would offer something good to each other, which seems to be a basic feature of this scene. I've seen Florian do it a lot, William Uricchio, Sher herself offered to help me contact people...I guess it really is very cooperative.

Finally, Sher spoke about a project she is working on right now with support from Brian Massumi and Erin Manning; it's an artist's residence, but her project is textual. She is trying to develop writing as an artistic practice and has evolved an approach that includes pasting texts and images onto an 8 meter scroll of paper everyday, taking pictures of that and reintegrating them on the scroll, cutting up the text, moving it around, and creating a kind of collage that represents the development of her ideas over time. Of course this immediately rang a bell because this process is very similar to things we have students do sometimes in the writing classes, but Sher is doing it in a much more sustained way, and also thinking more rigorously about it as a practice (or process, to use the comp. theory term). I'll be interested to see where it takes her.

So yeah, a really dense interview, and probably there are things I'm forgetting right now. More than any of the other people, Sher had a clear sense of herself as a practitioner, always looking for a new challenge, always exploring and testing. Like many of the people, especially the women, she seemed to really enjoy taking a moment (or several hours) to speak about these things. I'm wondering if it's because no one has really been interested before (which seems unlikely with Sher) or if being officially asked to reflect is somehow interesting... well, maybe that will become clearer as I go on.