Sunday, November 30, 2008

Feeding the Golden Goose

For those who have followed the conflicts between authors and fan websites about the presentation and reappropriation of copyrighted material by readers, amateur bibliographers, and imitative would-be authors, the story in the Los Angeles Times about how "'Twilight' has a strong Internet connection" will be of interest. As Henry Jenkins describes in Convergence Culture, J.K. Rowling has been particularly litigious when it comes to fan creations that have emerged in connection with her Harry Potter series. The article describes how Stephenie Meyer not only used her website at StephenieMeyer.com to make personal connections with fans but also facilitated fan content-creation taking place on the websites of other parties involved in connecting their receptive and productive literacy experiences, which colleagues like Rebecca Black have argued also should be legitimated by educators because these connections between reading and writing are important to foster.

It wasn't just that Meyer's fans came to her blog, but that she went to theirs, writing posts and commenting on the things they had written.

That's what happened with Lori Joffs -- a "Twilight" fan who rewrote the book from a different character's perspective and posted her take on fanfiction.net. Not only did Meyer write a review, she left a personal e-mail address.

The two got chatting. Joffs asked for Meyer's blessing in setting up a "Twilight" dictionary that fans could reference. Meyer gave her approval and then some, providing inside information. Less than a month later, Joffs and her friend Laura Cristiano set up Twilightlexicon.com, a website that, last summer, broke from overuse.

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General Beauty Queen

In "General Touch Up," BAGNewsNotes analyzes doctored photographs from the US military using the "before" and "after" images of a female commander that were published by the BBC, along with an editorial note about non-inclusion of such altered pictures from the Associated Press.

Beyond the fact that the Army doctored a photo of Ann Dunwoody, America's first female four-star general, I'm curious about how the National Press Photographers Association, along with other media, chose to describe the doctoring itself.

Comparing the grainy original to the redo, NPPA singles out just two aspects. One is the removal of the background and the insertion of old glory. The other is the removal of the stars on Dunwoody's uniform. Naming only these elements, however, gives the sense NPPA purposely avoided the main point, which is the tuning up of Dunwoody herself, including her hair color and complexion.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Teachers' Aid



The Center for Social Media has made a video that specifically addresses classroom teachers who are all to often left out of the copyright debate.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Fox in the Henhouse

Today's story in the Los Angeles Times about how a "Cyber-attack on Defense Department computers raises concerns" explains a recent ban on portable flash drives being used by U.S. military personnel as an attempt to quarantine a massive attack on Defense Department computer networks by agent.btz variant originating in Russia.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Stories such as "Mumbai attacks reported live on Twitter, Flickr" and "Real Time Citizen Journalism in Mumbai Terrorist Attacks" document the fact that coverage of political violence and terrorism that unfold in transnational environments is being shaped by the fact that participants have ubiquitous computing technologies, which they are able to deploy even when held hostage or under siege. In this case, the twenty-four-hour television cable news cycle that broadcasts images from outside the security perimeter may get comparably less attention from computer users, because netizens across the globe are gripped by the drama of bulletins coming from within.

In the Steven Livingston's book The Terrorism Spectacle, he argues that television has uniquely contributed to stateless combatants’ tactical shift from rural guerrilla campaigns to spectacles of urban terrorism that afford greater publicity, and even suggests that terrorism and the network news media exist in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. As coverage of these kinds of violent and jarring events becomes fragmented and diffracted through the perspectives of multiple participants in a distributed network, it is important to ask whether such coverage will feed such acts of terrorism or undermine them.

(Thanks to Tedra Osell for noting on Facebook that Twitter and Flickr became an important part of the story of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.)

Update: The New York Times is now covering this angle in "Citizen Journalists Provide Glimpses into the Attacks."

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Tower Guide

Yesterday my digital rhetoric class toured Second Life with architect David Denton, who as DB Bailey is building a reputation in virtual environment design. Using the speakerphone in our class as students navigated through the space from their multiple laptops, many of which were projected on the three walls of the experimental classroom, Denton explained how important floors were to SL designers, because of the ways that avatar vision is structured, and why ceilings are often to be avoided. He also argued that retail space was being rethought, since security becomes a non-issue when shoplifting or theft is impossible, so that what is marketed is the brand identity on the assumption that physical goods will be ordered through online retailers. Denton also showed a number of sculptural and artistic pieces in connection with the work he did for Burning Life, the virtual reality environment that corresponds to the annual Burning Man festival out in the physical desert.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dead Letter Office

The Bush Administration has had a difficult history with e-mail not only as a channel of coordinated conspiracy but also as a venue that records internal dissent. Now two cases involving environmental policy show that White House staffers are well aware of the evidentiary status of e-mail. In one case, described by the New York Times in "White House Refused to Open Pollutants E-Mail," an official statement from the EPA that was mandated by the Supreme Court that characterized greenhouse gasses as pollutants was left in inbox limbo on the grounds that its conclusions would have to be revised. The White House also sent out a mass e-mail to mayors asking for their official objections to environmental regulations, since federal agencies weren't serving as enough of a roadblock on their own, as the Washington Post reports in "White House Prods Allies to Oppose Limits on Greenhouse Gases."

As the New York Times points out, there is some irony in the White House's elaborate orchestration of e-mail response management, since public opinion -- and even federal policy -- has evolved to concur with the opinions of atmospheric scientists. The NYT reporter cited the administration's own website at www.climatescience.gov as proof that the Presidency "now accepts the work of government scientists."


However, a visit to the actual website suggests a much more complicated rhetorical history, since the portal only promises to "integrate" research coming out of government agencies by presenting reports with obfuscating titles that only indicate more data collection rather than sunstantive advocacy or policy change. These reports have weird PowerPoint-style sentence fragments and mixed constructions like "Decision support experiments and evaluations using seasonal to interannual forecasts and observational data" and "Trends in emissions of ozone-depleting substances, ozone layer recovery, and implications for ultraviolet radiation exposure" and "Uses and limitations of observations, data, forecasts, and other projections in decision support for selected sectors and regions."

Even the word "change" in the URL was apparently controversial, since the now defunct "climatechange.gov," shown below, forwards to "globalchange.gov," which was also discontinued.

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No Service



In "New European Digital Library Proves Too Popular," The Chronicle of Higher Education explains the fate of Europeana, a new multidigital library portal, which crashed catastrophically when its servers could not handle the traffic from worldwide interest in its collections, which include not only libraries but also museums from throughout the continent. This PowerPoint-style explanation for a librarians' conference explains some of the organizational and logistical challenges faced by the group, including issues involving branding the project and negotiating consensus in the face of emerging technologies of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 with interfaces for widgets and APIs.

The Virtualpolitik book has a chapter about national digital libraries that looks at the politics of this kind of digitization and includes material from an interview with former BNF chief Jean-Noël Jeanneney.

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Now This is a Digital Politics Story

My UC Irvine colleague Peter Krapp points out the posting of Facebook, Inc.: No Action, Interpretive and/or Exemptive Letter of October 14, 2008 on the website of the Securities and Exchange Commission in which the government asserts that "the Division will not object if Facebook, Inc. does not comply with the registration requirements of Section 12(g) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act") with respect to restricted stock units granted and to be granted pursuant to the Company's 2005 Stock Plan in the manner and subject to the terms and conditions set forth in your letter." The letter from the chief counsel of Facebook, which is also posted on the SEC website, states the company's case for the exemption from regulation.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Breakfast Club

I was honored to be included in a panel discussion that will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research with Mia Consalvo, Mark Bell, Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins, Nick Yee, T.L. Taylor, and Ren Reynolds that took place in Second Life. Most of them I knew from face-to-face interactions on the conference circuit, so it was interesting to have a sense of both the continuity with and the differences from these ongoing face-to-face conversations. Stay tuned for more as publication approaches.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

I See Paris

In "Porn in a flash" Salon.com describes how a "troubling surge in creepy 'upskirt' photography" has "lawmakers in a twist," since the photographs that rely on digital cameras unobtrusively hidden in mobile phones are usually taken in public places, albeit from odd angles. Although there are apparently "not many practical, legal remedies available to people who find themselves the victim" of "upskirting" or "downblousing," half of the fifty states in the US either have or are considering legislation that would bar the practice of posting photos of private body parts without the subject's consent.

Of course, one also has to wonder about the motivations of Salon.com for running the story at all, given how its prurient content is likely to garner more eyeballs who will then go in search of this material online armed with the proper keywords that the mainstream media is often so happy to provide. Furthermore, although the story contains the alarming statistic that a "keyword search for 'upskirt' on the photo-sharing site Flickr turns up 36,368 hits," it doesn't note the striking fact that many of these are parodies of what is obviously an Internet meme. Even the Eiffel Tower and the American flag are presented as upskirt subjects.

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Helpful Hints

Suzanne Seggerman of Games for Change asks some interesting questions about the President Elect in her online column "Does Obama Play Video Games?" Although Obama is known for his anti-media pitches as a candidate and his pronouncements against television and games in households with young children, he's also savvy about online technologies and ubiquitous computing devices, which were a key part of his campaign, and he's enough of a pragmatist to have allowed advertising in videogame environments to further his campaign's outreach to younger voters.

In her posting, Seggerman is arguing that videogames are a way to further specific policy agendas by allowing constituents to interact with playable simulations to foster "civic engagement" rather than stupifying distraction.

On the other hand, I understand Obama's resistance to attention-sapping electronic media in the home. Even though I am a media scholar, I've been media skeptical as a parent, as this video and its sequel shows, which document our experiences while getting television for the first time last year.

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Gold Stars

This week the university did a profile piece about my digital rhetoric course, which you can see at the upper right of the campus's home page. Unfortunately, the photographs don't show the hands-on nature of many of the sessions of the course, which are taught in our experimental classroom with screens on three of the four walls and wireless tablets and laptops for students. But I like the fact that its quotes from the writing of actual students and thus emphasizes one of the themes of the course: the importance of reaching public audiences with your words.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Webcams Don't Kill People; Things That Can Actually Kill People Kill People

The recent suicide of a Florida teenager that took place on a webcam while others online apparently egged him on is likely to stir further calls for the regulation of social media, although the family of the deceased may not have the political traction that catapulted Suzy's Law to public attention and generated outrage about the alt.holiday.suicide Usenet group.

Unfortunately, the question of whether or not we control young people's access to guns or prescription drugs rarely gets as much media attention. The sordid webcam suicide story, which was covered on CNN and Fox and headlined the New York Post, appeals to tabloid sensibilities, which have been following this week's trial of the MySpace suicide case with similar interest.

Newspaper stories like "Cruelty, cowardice in an online world," which appeared in The Los Angeles Times, are designed to make authoritative pronouncements based on anecdotal evidence and nullify the findings of researchers who are pointing to the Internet's positive effects, as documents released in connection with a recent large-scale MacArthur Foundation study seem to show, by making the cyber-bullying argument. The column opens by raising parental adrenaline in the first sentence.

Parents who felt relieved by the study released this week showing that long hours trolling the Internet can actually improve the social skills of teens might also consider the murkier message being delivered now in a Los Angeles courtroom.

The copy ends on an equally mixed-message note:

Still, I agree with the study's finding: We can't protect our children by standing guard. In fact, we do them a disservice if we try to lock them out of the "common culture" in this increasingly technological world.

But we ought to pay more attention to how it all works because the public nature of their online world makes the lessons they learn and mistakes they make more consequential than they were in my day.

My daughters survived their own online crisis when they were about Megan's age -- but that was a generation ago in computer years. Now online access is so pervasive there are even more ways to hurt yourself and others.

As my girls got older, I learned to trust them to navigate. I've never been on Facebook or even seen their MySpace pages.

That's about to change.

Warning to my daughters: Get ready to "friend" me. Because Mom feels the need to have a Facebook page.

In other words, this parent argues that her children survived online crises without her intervention and had earned her trust over time, but -- irrespective of the evidence presented by her own childrens' behavior -- this mother has decided to invade their private cyberspace.

I think that the LA Times' Sandy Banks is missing one of Ito's larger points about expertise and -- by extension -- how the Internet can facilitate intergenerational communication that may be stymied by enforcing a one-way surveillance paradigm that ignores the very real possibility that a mom may act irresponsibly with a Facebook page as well, which may be the real message of the MySpace suicide case, since a parent was the main aggressor.

Instead, why not take advantage of the collective intelligence that the Internet offers by discussing things like Internet ephemera at the dinner table? This week my younger son is entranced with the physics simulation Fantastic Contraption and the variety of user-generated solutions posted online, and my older son is captivated by music in the public domain, much of which was collected by ethnomusicologists and other field recorders in the American South, some of which is archived at Save Our Sounds, where he would like to intern this summer. Like most people online, I think that my children would rather have my sincere interest and attention to their independent online research than an unwelcome friending in which the discursive exchanges would be a burden.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

California Dreaming

In "Professor Jenkins Goes Hollywood," the MIT mainstay of fan culture and celebrations of participatory media announces that he will soon travel to the capital of conglomerated content-creation and take a professorial position at USC, just adjacent to the dream factory that has been so hostile to the cultural poaching of the distributed Internet masses. Of course, in recent years Southern California has become a nexus for the study of new media, although some may charge that the regional emphasis tends to be on entertainment and entrepreneurship rather than cultural critique, historical context, and rhetorical explication.

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Less Than 24 Frames

As a card-carrying feminist, I know that I am not supposed to like Bond films, given the spectacle of sexism and colonialism that they present onscreen. But I do like them, and I usually enjoy shelling out for the movie ticket and the popcorn for even the most mediocre of the Bonds. I like the art direction, the stagecraft, and the graphic sensibilities of the film series, which is why Quantum of Solace was such a disappointment.

Lacking in gadgets, Bond isn't even a particularly imaginative user of a cell phone, which has become so important as a plot device in many other big budget films. And the film itself is almost unwatchable, with its rapid-fire hyperactive editing style, in which a twenty-four-frame second rarely goes by in viewing time uninterrupted by a cut that contributes to the overall incoherence of character and plot.

I'm always interested in how government information-gathering and surveillance is depicted in the popular media and how agencies of the state are depicted as users of computational technologies. What one would learn from this film about the cultural imaginaries associated with British secret intelligence is that apparently MI-5 has After Effects or some similarly overly designed digital effects program that emphasizes fonts and graphic doo-hickeys rather than the verisimilitude of actually interacting with the contents of a computer screen. As "M" interacts with a Microsoft Surface-style table computer and a variety of wall displays, the viewer is struck by the number of unnecessary dingbat flourishes that are depicted that have little relevance to actual human-computer interaction.

Of course, as these screen shots show, MI-5 and MI-6 both have official government websites. Although both services use information graphics in their web-based appeals to the public, the general aesthetic is clearly subsumed by the functionalism of the day-to-day computer-mediated labor of data mining and information representation that is so critical to their intelligence missions and which seems to functions in the realm of quotidian realism.

Nonetheless, in real life, one can still be hired as an "artworker" with the following surreal job description:

In many ways, this is an artworking job like any other. But you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that the ultimate purpose of everything you do is to protect the UK. You'll also benefit from very high-quality training in your specialist skills.

We're sure you'll understand that as an organisation that collects secret intelligence, we can't tell you a great deal about what you'll be doing. However, we can tell you you'll use the skills you've developed to produce computer generated artwork for print, web and media. You'll also have the chance to rapidly develop your knowledge of pre-press and printing techniques in a fascinating work environment, within our friendly Design and Print team.

Articulate, customer-focused and helpful, you'll be the ideal addition - particularly if you've worked in a Mac-based environment using Adobe CS and Quark XPress.


I like the fact that even spooks prefer Mac over PC.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Hired Hands

Like Jane Fountain, I am very interested in online forms on government websites as an expression of the Weberian bureaucracy of the "virtual state." So I couldn't resist applying for a job in the Obama administration, specifically in the Department of Education, even though I have little intention of leaving my present position as Writing Director of the Humanities Core Course, to see how candidates for non-career appointments for the positions that aren't covered in newspaper headlines are categorized and vetted. (Click to enlarge.)


It's interesting to see the wide range of degree backgrounds that they imagine successful candidates as having, although "rhetoric" is not a viable choice (although "creative writing" in which I actually hold a degree is).

Management experience, private sector experience, government experience, and non-profit experience were all given drop-down menus, although candidates had few opportunities to write in answers that might explain the applicability of their qualifications. Ironically, I didn't see "community organizer," a profession that Obama made famous, among the choices.
t

What I find particularly interesting is the e-mails that I am now receiving from John Podesta hawking the offerings at Change.gov. So it appears that the Obama administration -- much like the Obama campaign -- is still using its websites to harvest e-mail addresses for automated messages and form letters.

(I feel that I need a new category for my blog entries on my various human subjects ventures that I have recorded here, in which -- unlike my academic work -- I am the sole experimental subject. The "experiment" tag could cover my experiments with being a poll worker, a CIA and army recruit, and other alternate identities. Of course, this is a growing genre on the web, as the popularity of personal tests of expertise or stamina -- like the "Monkey Chow Diaries" -- shows.

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Maybe They Should Call the 2009 Model "The Hubris"




Given the corporate appeals from top executives to Congress for federal aid, it is interesting to see how the websites of the Big Three auto-makers say remarkably little about their public case for help from taxpayers. While GM does put its "Facts about the Auto Crisis" close to its front page, and subsidiary Chevrolet links to the same appeal in an attempt to garner public support, the general emphasis on company websites is on showroom rhetoric not dire warnings about the possible results of non-intervention. Ford further underplays its lobbying efforts in order to emphasize its product lines, lineage, and service to various communities, discourses in which it stresses its financial largesse to others rather than its economic needs. Finally, Chrysler, which is most obviously in meltdown mode, since it doesn't even have new models to display at the annual auto show, has the sunniest website, where no hint of its economic troubles can be seen.

As to the bailout, I'm divided. I understand that the auto industry is a large part of the economy, but I don't feel that diverting attention from the failing banking industry and credit markets is wise right now. And I tend to be unsympathetic to an industry that has fought environmental regulation so vigorously and counts on profits from discriminatory practices in which women and people of color pay more for cars.

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Seven Deadly Sins



For rhetorical flourish, I have to hand it to friend and fellow blogger Siva Vaidhyanathan for making the allegorical argument in the online video above about Google and Seven Deadly Sins. The closing statements of the panel involved in this Google debate are here.

Update: NPR has provided coverage of the debate here.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Common Sense and Parental Sensibility



My UC Irvine colleague Mimi Ito has just issued her MacArthur Foundation research group's final report, which is the culmination of a "three year, 22 case study, $3.3 million ethnographic study of what kids are doing online." Ito's research was also featured in today's Los Angeles Times in a story called "Teens' Internet use is mostly a good thing, study finds."

A press release makes one of the intended audiences clear: parents of web-surfing children. This is a group to whom researchers have been perhaps too slow in the past to make any significant rhetorical appeals when pitching their findings exclusively to fellow educators or funding agencies. Ito, a lunch-making and cookie-baking parent herself, may have just the right ethos to persuade worried parents who are being barraged with cyber-safety paranoia, sometimes by their own government, most recently by the Department of Justice. This call for tolerance and support of their children's online identity-formation activities and the associated "experimentation and social exploration" is a much-needed intervention in public discourse.

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”

Released here today at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting, the study was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s $50-million digital media and learning initiative, which is exploring how digital media are changing how young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.

Together with the late Peter Lyman of the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Carter of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, Ito led a team of 28 researchers and collaborators at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley. Over three years, they interviewed over 800 young people and their parents, both one-on-one and in focus groups; spent over 5000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and other networked communities; and conducted diary studies to document how, and to what end, young people engage with digital media.

The researchers' white paper addresses some of the following "Implications for Educators, Parents, and Policymakers":

New media forms have altered how youth socialize and learn, and this raises a new set of issues that educators, parents, and policymakers should consider.

Social and recreational new media use as a site of learning.

Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technological skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning. Participation in the digital age means more than being able to access “serious” online information and culture. Youth could benefit from educators being more open to forms of experimentation and social exploration that are generally not characteristic
of educational institutions.

Recognizing important distinctions in youth culture and literacy.

Friendship-driven and interest-
driven online participation have very different kinds of social connotations. For example, whereas friendship-driven activities center on peer culture, adult participation is more welcome in the latter, more “geeky,” forms of learning. In addition, the content, ways of relating, and skills that youth value are highly variable depending on what kinds of social groups they associate with. This diversity in forms of literacy means that it is problematic to develop a standardized set of benchmarks to measure levels of new media and technical literacy.

Ito's group argues that Internet youth culture isn't necessarily subversive or undisciplined, since geekdom recognizes many kinds of hierarchies of knowledge and explicitly pays homage to recognized forms of authority and expertise.

Others “geek out” and dive into a topic or talent. Contrary to popular images, geeking out is highly social and engaged, although usually not driven primarily by local friendships. Youth turn instead to specialized knowledge groups of both teens and adults from around the country or world, with the goal of improving their craft and gaining reputation among expert peers. What makes these groups unique is that while adults participate, they are not automatically the resident experts by virtue of their age. Geeking out in many respects erases the traditional markers of status and authority.

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented toward set, predefined goals.

However, even non-geeky parents still have a significant role to play. I would argue that too often the corporate architecture of social media portals is oriented around aggregating marketing data rather than building community. Certainly, parents should at least have a role in checking the commodity culture that's being peddled ubiquitously via cell phones and laptops, a culture that VP friend Lauren Greenfield has critiqued in her recent film kids + money.

Nonetheless, Ito's research does a lot to reinforce common sense principles and to get parents out of the gated community mindset to which opportunistic pieces of legislation, such as DOPA, have catered.

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Remote Control



Yesterday, YouTube celebrity and Politico.com pundit James Kotecki spoke to my digital rhetoric class about how he developed his Internet persona, cultivated his fan base, refined the process of composing his videos, and is now making plans for the future since his initial mission of giving candidates advice about how to use YouTube effectively has ended with the election.

The ex-eagle scout and congressional intern maintained his online clean cut image throughout the hour-and-a-half question-and-answer session with students via our campus's teleconference facility, but he also gave some candid commentary about the deletion of his Wikipedia entry, his encounter with Obama girl, and the liberal bias of the media. Reflecting on the election, he admitted that the CNN/YouTube debates proved to have less of an impact on persuading the electorate. However, he pointed out that three non-candidate independently produced online videos raised Obama's Internet profile significantly: "Vote Different," "I Got a Crush on Obama," and "Yes We Can."

Kotecki will be appearing at this Saturday's YouTube Live event, in which the online video-sharing service will try to behave more like a network broadcast outlet for content, although it will lack the luxury of the forms of digital post-production that are now available to both pros and amateurs.

Kotecki said that although YouTube's role in the election was often shaped by its position as the prime dissemination engine for recordings of "gotcha" moments that used ubiquitous communication technologies to capture candidates in unflattering public moments (and a montage of such clips will introduce his segment), the leveled production platform also has allowed citizens to have a greater role in the mediascape of the election process.

Eventually, the video of the class's questions and Kotecki's answers will be posted where else but on one of the university's YouTube channels.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A New Home Page


As someone who has been looking at the same basic design at the White House website since the September 11th attacks of 2001, it is with great interest that I have been paging through the online offerings at Change.gov, the website for the transition team of President-Elect Barack Obama. The upcoming administration is also soliciting user-generated content and asking visitors to the site to "Tell Us Your Story" and share concerns and hopes. Of course, opportunist that I am, I couldn't resist filling out the job application on the link at the bottom of the page.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Games and Shoe Leather

Virtualpolitik pal Ian Bogost has announced the launch of the Georgia Tech Journalism and Games project, which seeks to provide a public forum for discussion of "the ways videogames can be used in the field of journalism, providing examples, theoretical approaches, speculative ideas, and practical advice about the past, present, and future of games and journalism."

Bogost himself has experimented with creating games for the pages of the New York Times, such as Points of Entry (about immigration) or Food Import Folly (about FDA inspections). He has argued that with the rise of online news sources, videogames can serve like political cartoons to provide editorial commentary that provides a visual argument to the reader. In the "Playing with Public Policy" panel at the Meaningful Play conference, many of the game designers present discussed how games could also provide playable simulations that illustrate how rules, regulations, or statistical conditions are manifested.

The Journalism and Games group has a very readable blog, which I have added to the Virtualpolitik blogroll, with postings from Bogost, Nick Diakopoulos, and others. It begins with a provocative essay on "Games and Transparency" and continues with interesting postings that analyze the role of crosswords, interactive information graphics, and even the new massive online social strategy game eRepublik in the news lanscape.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Fireside YouTube



As this week's digital rhetoric guest James Kotecki points out in "Get YouTube-worthy!" the Obama administration has embraced using YouTube as a vehicle for his twenty-first century fireside chats, on the assumption that the regular presidential radio address of the sitting incumbant wasn't reaching a very large constituency. Obama's first video on global warming issues -- with its desk, flag, fishbowl, and legal tomes -- is shot on a set that is unlikely to garner much of the attention economy of YouTube or rack up any design points for web-savvy presentation.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Coming to the Political Party in the Same Outfit

There are many ironies in the New York Times story titled "Israeli Candidate Borrows a (Web) Page From Obama," not the least of which is the fact that a conservative candidate from Israel is borrowing the design motifs of a web page for a candidate who was once painted as a crypto-Muslim who was unfriendly to the claims of Jewish nationalism. The fact that the page layouts are mirrors of each other may only indicate the left-t0-right/right-to-left switch between languages.

(Thanks to Suzanne Bolding for the link.)

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Cold Turkey

One of the big items for the week in Internet news services, which is being forwarded by e-mail and text messages and rapidly ranked upwards by various link-ratings systems of the digirati, is an item called "Lose the BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe" that describes how President Elect Obama is facing being weaned from ubiquitous computing technologies as he decides not to become the first president who actually uses e-mail. Of course, there are a number of logical security reasons to make this choice, given the fallibility of authentication systems that could make sensitive communications insecure. But the dismal record of his predecessor's administration in generating and then attempting to expunge thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- of e-mails that indicate conspiracy, cover-up, collusion, influence peddling, hubris, and cynical calculation from the executive branch is also likely a factor in Obama's reluctance to continue to use this instantaneous and efficient means for information sharing.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

All Eyes Upon You

In "Sharing Their Demons on the Web," a New York Times reporter describes how psychiatric patients who enter their delusions about "mind control" or "gang stalking" into a Google search window are likely to find those who share their paranoid view of the world and thus refuse medication and treatment for their mental disorders. Although the article compares these websites to those targeted to suicidal ideation, there have not been the same kinds of legal challenges to sites like Gang Stalking World that there have been to the alt.suicide.holiday Usenet newsgroup materials through legislation such as Suzy's Law.

It's important to note that the GSW site is remarkably slick rhetorically with stock photos, multilingual translations, online lectures by Naomi Wolf, and a number of technology-related plugs for using ubiquitous computing technologies against one's phantom persecutors.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Catch as Catch Can


Television ads are already airing that indicate the launch of a new partnership for the Department of Justice with stopanonlinepredator.org to earn much-needed political capital for the unpopular lame duck administration in its final days.

Not only is the anti-predator pitch trite and politically expedient rhetoric about cybersafety that gives little attention to balancing security with digital rights, but also the officially sanctioned DOJ campaign is easily confused with similarly named websites on nearly identical themes, such as stopchildpredators.org and stopinternetpredators.org.

Furthermore, although the call to action may be admirable, this appeal to citizen mobilization seems to differ little from the pre-existing cybertipline.com from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website.

Looking at the associated website for the initiative's public service announcements at knowwheretheygo.org, it becomes apparent -- just from their own tags -- that yet again the Internet is presented to young people as only a cluster of criminalized deviant behaviors rather than something that can also be a resource for information literacy and cultural participation.

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Shaken Not Stirred

Yesterday, at 10AM, millions of Southern Californians, including my two children, participated in The Great Southern California ShakeOut, a truly massively multiplayer disaster simulation in which the puppet masters were geologists at the USGS and regional emergency response planners. (The USGS created a number of videos of aerial view simulations showing the effects of a 7.8 earthquake in various local communities. To those with a YouTube attention span, they don't look very scary at first, but just wait until about seventy seconds in.) The ShakeOut website also solicits user-generated content from participants, including photos and stories from the events of the day. Although the official site has yet to post this content, ShakeOut photos are already turning up in places like Flickr. The ShakeOut Site is also promoting After Shock, a "massively collaborative earthquake simulation," and an online serious game, Beat the Quake.

In Beat the Quake, the player decides how to secure over a dozen household objects by choosing from a multiple choice menu. Once all the decisions are made the room animates with movement and object-smashing chaos takes over. (I aimed for a score of zero for maximum comic effect.) In the paper "The Birth of the Virtual Clinic," I argue that such computer-only games that represent crises in public health or safety serve a rhetorical purpose that involves the dissemination of expert knowledge without engaging in the kind of community role-playing activities that had shaped the training of a previous generation of emergency first responders. In many ways, the Great ShakeOut de-emphasized representing the emergency on the screen or in 3-D virtual space, although -- like many of the alternate reality games praised by Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture for their participatory ethos -- computational technologies were essential for coordinating activities.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is Sarah Palin's Refrigerator Running?

I'm always amazed at the tendency of people to assume that material on the Internet is truthful. I would hope that readers of this blog, who would cite content from its electronic pages, would check to make sure that I really am who I claim to be, perhaps by checking a university directory or vetting me with other academic bloggers who know me from my face-to-face presence at conferences.

Nonetheless, as the New York Times reports in "A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence," a couple of Internet hoaxsters managed to convince not only pseudojournalistic bloggers but also at least one cable news station that a fictional neocon from the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy was the source for the leak that claimed Sarah Palin told debate coaches that she thought Africa was a country. Unlike the Hoover Institution, the Harding Institute's bare-bones website has several clues that it is a fake. Furthermore, literary bloggers at Shakespeare's Sister (now known as Shakesville) revealed months ago that this supposedly high-profile conservative expert wasn't the man he was purported to be.


Nonetheless, the multimedia campaign of the character that they had created, Martin Eisenstadt, with his own YouTube channel and blog, managed to take in a number of so-called journalists who were eager to have damaging revelations supposedly from within the McCain campaign occupy their cameras.

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Web Remodel

As the role of the Internet is assessed in the most recent presidential campaign, one party is looking for ways to continue to maintain its lead while the other is looking for new online strategies for reorganization.

Visitors to the Rebuild the Party website for the GOP are invited to submit their own suggestions for regrouping and redefining the party's audience and message. A Digg/Reddit-style ratings system is designed to boost particularly popular suggestions from party activists and loyalists to the top of the heap. Currently, the top ticket items in their "customer feedback" include Ron Paul, libertarian interests, small government philosophies, and secular conservatism. The arguments that many conservative commentators have been making that Republicans were too reluctant to energize the base and should embrace a Christian Right candidate for 2012 don't make it into the site's top ten.

The site's organizers also have a numbered list of their own that is presented as a reorganization manifesto that puts online activism at the head of its agenda. Their first numbered action item reads "Recruit 5 million new Republican online activists," and the text below explains their rationale.

The Internet: Our #1 Priority in the Next Four Years


Winning the technology war with the Democrats must be the RNC's number one priority in the next four years.

The challenge is daunting, but if we adopt a strongly anti-Washington message and charge hard against Obama and the Democrats, we will energize our grassroots base. Among other benefits, this will create real demand for new ways to organize and route around existing power structures that favor the Democrats. And, you will soon discover, online organizing is by far the most efficient way to transform our party structures to be able to compete against what is likely to be a $1 billion Obama re-election campaign in 2012.


At the same time the blogosphere is buzzing with conflicting stories about who will be running the transition team to manage Obama's considerable online presence and sustain active membership in his Internet communities during a period that could be characterized as a political lull during the lame duck period.

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It's Curtains for You

In "Theater Director Resigns Amid Gay-Rights Ire," the New York Times reports that the director of the California Musical Theater resigned after it was revealed that he had donated $1000 to donate to the state proposition to repeal gay marriage in California. The donation of Scott Eckern, a devout Mormon, came to light when his name appeared on Anti Gay Blacklist, a list of all the businesspeople who supported the ban. The website notes that its data comes from ElectionTrack.com, which can also allow you to search its database of political contributors by name. As a "sunshine" site like those described in the chapter on whistle-blowers in the forthcoming Virtualpolitik book, the anti-gay blacklist is relatively low tech and crude in its design elements, but its request that others refuse to "patronize" those listed is clearly having an effect on at least the personal economies of some, since at least one high-profile composer has denied rights to perform his works on Eckert's stage because he was "uncomfortable with money made off my work being used to put discrimination in the Constitution." Others argue that the site, as even its name acknowledges by choosing the word "blacklist" rather than "boycott," could be used to stifle free speech or facilitate political litmus tests.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Election Album

Two Westside women and Virtualpolitik gal pals have created online galleries that commemorate the 2008 presidential campaign season. Le Monde's Cécile Grégoriades has published a beautiful carnet of her photographs of the election on the web. Lauren Greenfield has posted her striking photographs of the McCain campaign, which appeared in the New York Times.

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All the News That's Fit to Print


The nation's chief paper of record has already responded to the alternate reality spoof of its pages, which was described as follows in an e-mail today:

Early this morning, commuters nationwide were delighted to find out that while they were sleeping, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had come to an end.

If, that is, they happened to read a "special edition" of today's New York Times.

In an elaborate operation six months in the planning, 1.2 million papers were printed at six different presses and driven to prearranged pickup locations, where thousands of volunteers stood ready to pass them out on the street.

Articles in the paper announce dozens of new initiatives including the establishment of national health care, the abolition of corporate lobbying, a maximum wage for C.E.O.s, and, of course, the end of the war.

The paper, an exact replica of The New York Times, includes International, National, New York, and Business sections, as well as editorials, corrections, and a number of advertisements, including a recall notice for all cars that run on gasoline. There is also a timeline describing the gains brought about by eight months of progressive support and pressure, culminating in President Obama's "Yes we REALLY can" speech. (The paper is post-dated July 4, 2009.)


The beginning of a subsequent e-mail reads:

Hundreds of independent writers, artists, and activists are claiming credit for an elaborate project, 6 months in the making, in which 1.2 million copies of a "special edition" of the New York Times were distributed in cities across the U.S. by thousands of volunteers.

Since I was teaching a unit on tactical media today, it was a particularly appropriate illustrative example. Ironically, Virtualpolitik pal David Folkenflik has also been reporting about how the former head of the NYTimes online, who turned it into a top news website, will be taking over the reins of NPR.

(Thanks to Vivian Folkenflik for the link.)

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Generator Theatre

Virtualpolitik pal Nick Diakopoulos noted that one live theater group has incorporated some of elements of computational media by staging iProv in which computer generators play a role in the dramatic/comedic action. Geeky thespians can note also the existence of the Westmark Improv Generator for those who can't get enough of procedural entertainment.

For those not tired of election generators, you can check out Attack Ad Generator to relive the campaign in the name of nostalgia.

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Am I Flu?

The New York Times reports in "Google Uses Searches to Track Flu’s Spread" that the company's flu trends website indicates that search behavior is often an indicator of outbreaks of disease.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Attention, Please

Attention Economy - The Game comes from Ulises Mejias, blogger and professor at SUNY Oswego, who describes the game he created to model how online reputation management and the attention economy functions as follows:

In my course Friend Request Denied: Social Networks and the Web I have my students play a game I developed to let them explore the dynamics of building a reputation online by giving and capturing attention. It’s also a fun way for students to get to know each other. I’m posting the game instructions and materials here (under a Creative Commons license) for anyone who wants to try it. If you make any improvements, please share!


Mejias is an interesting case of what Daniel Drezner has recently dubbed the "Public Intellectual 2.0" phenomenon in the Chronicle of Higher Education. For example, his essay on "Social Media and the Networked Public Sphere" is published only on the web, although it is frequently cited. Mejias also prominently displays his support for copyleft and creative commons principles. I like the fact that he is interested in both theoretical issues and the nuts-and-bolts concerns of the librarians and instructional technologists who operate the information infrastructure of the academy.

In addition to presenting an energetic defense of academic blogging, despite the "highly skewed" nature of the "distribution of traffic and links," which Mejias's game dramatizes, Drezner's larger argument is worth reading. In particular, Drezner expresses concern that the humanities is actually retreating from the public sphere in the digital era while social scientists are becoming rhetorical actors there.

Jacoby repeatedly challenges critics of his 1987 polemic, The Last Intellectuals, to name public intellectuals born after 1940 in order to compare them with past generations. But that is not a very difficult task. At magazines and periodicals, full-time authors and contributing editors who write serious-but-accessible essays on ideas, culture, and society include Anne Applebaum, Barbara Ehrenreich, Malcolm Gladwell, Christopher Hitchens, and Fareed Zakaria. Despite the thinning of their ranks, public intellectuals unaffiliated with universities, like Paul Berman, Debra Dickerson, Rick Perlstein, David Rieff, and Robert Wright, still remain. The explosion of think tanks in the past 30 years has provided sinecures for the intellectual likes of William A. Galston, Robert Kagan, Brink Lindsey, and Walter Russell Mead. The American academy houses many intellectuals uninterested in engaging the public, but it also houses Eric Alterman, Michael Bérubé, Joshua Cohen, Tyler Cowen, Jared Diamond, Stanley Fish, Francis Fukuyama, Jacob Hacker, George Lakoff, Mark Lilla, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Louis Menand, Martha Nussbaum, Steven Pinker, Robert Putnam, Eric Rauchway, Robert Reich, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Lawrence H. Summers, and Cass R. Sunstein. Readers may easily quibble with any of the names listed above, but most cultural commentators would agree that most of the names belong on that list. Furthermore, those names only
scratch the surface.

To be sure, some important differences exist between the current generation of public intellectuals and the Partisan Review generation extolled by so many. In the current era, many more public intellectuals possess social-science rather than humanities backgrounds. In Richard Posner's infamous list of top public intellectuals, there are twice as many social scientists as humanities professors. In a recent ranking published by Foreign Policy magazine, economists and political scientists outnumber artists and novelists by a ratio of four to one. Economics has supplanted literary criticism as the "universal methodology" of most public intellectuals.

That fact in particular might explain the strong belief in literary circles that the public intellectual is dead or dying. Barry Gewen, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, for example, recently argued that one had to look to the New York Intellectuals as the standard for thinking about the current crop: "Broadly, they viewed the public intellectual as someone deeply committed to the life of the mind and to its impact on the society at large. ... That is, public intellectuals were free-floating and unattached generalists speaking out on every topic that came their way (though most important for the New York Intellectuals was the intersection of literature and politics)."

What made the New York Intellectuals stand out, however, was that they started in literary criticism and migrated to social analyses. When social scientists like Tyler Cowen or Richard Posner return the favor, they are viewed as either arrivistes or methodological imperialists. The problem here might not be in our public intellectuals but in ourselves — even a modest level of innumeracy can make the public writings of economists look arcane and mysterious.


(Thanks to Judi Franz and Ava Arndt for the links.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Campaign Disinformation or Disinformation Campaigns

As we enter the post-election season, it is interesting to consider how credibility plays a role in multiply forwarded e-mails and e-mails with attention-getting subject lines.

One friend has reported that there is a spam message linked to Canadian pharmaceuticals that is going around with the subject line "Obama's children kidnapped."

I also received an e-mail purporting to be from a biologist who claims to have met a foul-mouthed Sarah Palin "11 years ago, when she crashed a Board of Game meeting," at which the author claims to have said "we were backpacking on the tundra for over two weeks doing a mammal count, while YOU madam were busily playing musical beds with any politico hoping to get yourself elected mayor of Wasilla!"

I am somewhat skeptical of its veracity, given the description of both scientific professionals and government official that supposedly took place at a public meeting of which there should be some government record.

Nonetheless, it is true that the newsletter of the state Board of Game of Alaska was called All You Can Eat and that this document indicates that hearings about wildlife as recently as October 2002 were particularly rancorous and may have been even more so in the nineteen-nineties.

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Can the Internet Ever Really Let Go of Sarah Palin?

No, no, we can never get enough of the expensively attired, environmentally unfriendly, geographically naive politician who gave us so much Internet fun. It's like being unable to stop making prank phone calls to the particularly clueless person on the other end of the line, a role that Palin has also played, based on the sound clips from a Canadian radio station now posted on the Internet.

It's true, as Ian Bogost points out that 2008 was a bust when it came to substantive and thoughtful election games, but there were still plenty of silly online games with caricatures of Alaska governor and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, such as the Mario parody Super Obama World or AirMILF, the subversively fun helicopter wolf-shooting game, to keep us happy. When my class was reviewing the digital rhetoric of the election, one student couldn't stop playing the somewhat more sophisticated Campaign Game. And for the fan of casual puzzle-oriented games, there is always the eminently logical Joe the Plumber: Laying Pipe.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

H8 Politics

Virtualpolitik friend Ava Arndt has pointed out that digital rhetoricians should be interested in "the speed at which the Internet continues to organize around prop 8, even though it's technically over -- several FB groups (one that's for repealing, one that is called 'face it you lost' etc.)." She notes that a similar phenomenon might be taking place with the "Obama Wins" group: a need for web-based forms of political participation to continue.

Update: See this story in the Los Angeles Times for more about the Internet response.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

YouTeach YouTube? YouCrazy?

Our panel about "Video/Writing" at the Future of Writing Conference generated a lot of interest from the crowd and some provocative questions from our peers, as we described the challenges of teaching about college composition, public reception, critical analysis, and technical and aesthetic production with online video in a kind of pedagogical Wild West. Joseph Squier showed his exemplary website at Writing with Video, a course in creativity and visual argument that also has its own YouTube channel.

My talk, which began with a re-reading of the Wesch-Marino debate as a story about college composition, emphasized both the promise and peril of this new form of writing instruction with online video. Slides for my talk are here. In particular, I emphasized the importance of reaching outside your own discipline to find as many models for student work as possible. If you are teching a writing with YouTube-type course, check out this gallery and feel free to suggest works from your own students to show the range of possible compositional approaches.

Alex Juhasz posted her talk "On Video Writing" on her blog. As in the case with previous performances, she showed a series of YouTube videos rather than read from a traditional paper or gesticulated at a conventional PowerPoint. Notably, she screened a number of the difficult-to-classify-as-academic genres among her students' work that are similar to the products that I have seen in my class as well, such as parody rock video and satiric slideshow.

The day's keynote speaker Lester Faigley, who claimed that there was relatively little difference in the writing produced in his travel writing course and that turned in for his digital production course, opened his talk by apologizing for not being able to show such entertaining student creations.

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To the Dogs





Go ahead. I dare you. Google "Obama puppy" or any of its combinations. This is probably the most popular Obama puppy name site. The American Kennel Club encouraged its members to weigh in on the breed.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

The Future of Writing

My colleague and collaborator Jonathan Alexander often had a standing-room only audiences for the Future of Writing Conference at U.C. Irvine.

The conference was introduced by David Theo Goldberg of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, which has attracted a number of major digital media scholars, particularly from Europe, to the UC Irvine campus. As Goldberg points out, perhaps Barthes too prematurely announced the death of the author, although practices of authorship in the university are changing as questions about the "evaluation of labor" become more complicated in everything from grading student essays to assessing faculty for promotion and tenure. Goldberg described a tension between authorship as a "marketplace function" and the “network practices of composition.” As others have observed, computational media have also had a profound effect on the design of published material and have reshaped literacy as "whole words" are "letterized." Goldberg points to Katherine Hayles as an example of the rare scholar able to engage with computational functionalities in wys that go beyond "technological determinism" and to the literary creativity of Millie Niss in her "Oulipoems."

As keynote speaker Tara McPherson observed about one of the morning panels, the humanists present were often lamenting how particular tools constrained pedagogical and compositional practices while simultaneously creating powerful engines for expression. One example of highly constrained composition, of course, is Twitter, which Carl Whithaus analyzed in depth as a "short short form" during his talk about dialogism and speech genres and how swarms and group rhetorical purposes were often organized around "links, sexuality, obsession, the mundane." Twitter, he argued, could prove to be important pedagogically as a kind of "elevator pitch" that opens up possibilities for invention. Following Whithaus, Andrew Klobucar explained some of the experiments that he had been doing with creative writing students, who are using computerized lexical tools featured at his Global Telelanguage Resources to create new compounds and neologisms using "LexIcons."

McPherson's keynote emphasized "emerging teaching practices" in the "scholarly vernacular" and how a relatively small coterie of academics were cogitating about "grid computing or visual knowledges" or were able to recognize the specialized jargon of supercomputing in terms like the "pedaflop." She pointed to Goldberg's piece for the Vectors digital journal on Hurricane Katrina, "Blue Velvet," as an example of work that could only be shown online. Too often, she argued, online articles merely rehearse the conventions of print monographs, so that "the formal modes have not changed," even in the case of a more progressive electronic publication, such as the Journal for Multimedia History, which still does not go beyond text with images or text with video clips.

McPherson also provided a recap of recent history in the following "typology of the digital humanities":

1. The Computing Humanities in the 60s and 70s, who may have been only fleeing departments with emerging feminist, cultural studies, or postmodern agendas and who used technology to harness computational power for archiving resources in particular areas of study, as in the case of the William Blake Archive

2. The Blogging Humanities, who responded to cutbacks in academic presses and problems with peer review by facilitating peer-to-peer conversations online, although their products for the public were often text heavy and disconnected from computing resources and the challenges of "big data" and its associated radically new forms of thinking and knowing

3. The Multimodal Humanities, who bring together databases, scholarly tools, networked writing, and p2p commentary while also leveraging the potential of the visual and aural media that dominates contemporary life and push arguments beyond Steven Toulmin’s model to explore new forms of literacy that see the computer as platform, a medium, and a display device in scholarship that shows as well as tells.

She argued that Vectors serves as a “long tail” test case, edge case, or testbed in which standard scholarly production gets the bulk of the academic audience and that it served as a site where faculty researchers could do more than present the careful subordination of argument of conventional essayistic writing to experiment with embodiment and role of immersion. Participants in the project have identified the following possible benefits.

1. Relational thinking: A deep engagement with database forms and algorithmic structures allows humanities scholars to formulate new research questions
2. Emergent genres of multimodal scholarship: Such genres cover a range of approaches, from the animated archive to the experiential argument to the interactive documentary to the spatialized essay to various forms of simulation or visualization that animate or volatize materials in the archive. As McPherson says, this process is about becoming interested in something beyond illustration and allowing materials to be filtered in new ways that include but also go beyond functions such as digitize, search, and catalogue.
3. Process as much as product: It is time to shift our notions of humanities scholarship away from a fixation on product toward a new understanding of process, and we need to value collaboration across skill sets as well as failure. Thus McPherson's concerns involve not just technology’s role in the humanities but the humanities’ role in technology, as well as issues of the larger public.
4. Rethinking digital tools: Scholarly tools shouldn’t be built a priori but rather in the context of use. We began with the research questions and built the tool subsequently. Such tools should also accommodate the tactile and emotional parts of argument and expression and encourage academics to work with middleware.

She closed by calling for more participation and collaboration across national boundaries (for example, through the Hemispheric Institute of the Americas) and across disciplines and job titles. Like many digital humanists, she payed tribute to the importance of partnerships with librarians and mentioned that her group may also partner with the Shoah Foundation. She argued that "95% of humanities research is never cited by anyone" and that academics should learn something from Minoo Moallem who discovered readers for "Nation on the Move," only because they were looking for the search term "Persian carpet."

During the question and answer period, perhaps the most interesting query came from Mark Marino, who discussed "repurposing as a critical move" in asking if Vectors would release the Flash code of the journal, so that others could produce scholarly and artistic remixes.

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Never Forget as a PowerPoint

A mass e-mail with a chain mail admonition is widely circulating with this PowerPoint presentation about the Holocaust. It contains a number of very graphic images of corpses in the death camps that many might normally be filtered out by those concerned about NSFW or "not safe for work" content.

One recipient of the e-mail in the group I was in was skeptical about its message for reasons very different from those one would suspect from the Holocaust deniers who might dispute the truth of its historical information. (The PowerPoint begins with a photograph of Dwight D Eisenhower and his call for documenting the genocide of the Jews.) This person referred the group to a number of Internet resources that contradicted its claim that European textbook manufacturers were removing references to the Holocaust from their curricular materials.

It is mostly disturbing when the Holocaust is being used as a mean to spread false rumors.

Before taking for granted any suspicious information spread virally over the net I urge you to ascertain its veracity.

The fact is that the United Kingdom has NOT erased the Holocaust from its curriculum. Just Google "United Kingdom - Holocaust - Curriculum" and you'll find plenty of information dispelling this distorted piece of news. As Lenin once said "a lie told often enough becomes the truth!".

Here are some links:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/holocaust.asp
http://www.hoax-slayer.com/UK-holocaust-removal.shtml
http://www.factcheck.org/askfactcheck/did_the_UK_suspend_its_holocaust_curriculum.HTML
http://news.BBC.co.UK/2/hi/UK_news/education/6517359.stm
http://urbanlegends.about.com/do/historical/a/holocaust_chain.htm

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Theirs to Lose

In my digital rhetoric class yesterday, students worked in small groups with wireless tablets and laptops projected on the screens around the room to analyze the Internet ephemera that they had found about the 2008 presidential election, which included websites, online videos, generators, computer games, Twitter postings, and Facebook and MySpace profiles on popular social network sites.

The students were highly critical of how the McCain campaign had failed to appeal to them via the Internet. As these entries on the class blog indicate, it was a debate that continued after class on the web.

Students noticed some obvious problems in McCain's Internet approach, such as long YouTube videos, pages lacking interactivity, failure to attract "friends" to the candidate's social network sites, and infrequent updating of content. But they also made more complicated arguments about how users actually navigated the various web content and interacted with the campaigns through message programs. As one student observed, giving one's e-mail to the Obama campaign is part of entering the site's standard architecture, although one can also use a "side door" to enter. Thus, even one-time visitors to the site will receive regular e-mail updates on the campaign, many of which were authored by top campaign officials. Another student compared how the candidates had used Twitter and said that there was ten times as much content coming out of the Obama campaign.

We discussed one possible pitfall to this constant channel checking that proved so successful to the Obama campaign: the way that these forms of interactivy were highly scripted, procedural products that could be even generated by a savvy computer algorithm. Having read about the Turing Test and ELIZA, the students were well-aware of how easy it might be to simulate a candidate's online presence, as a virtual Obama bot sent you what seemed to be personal messages. They also agreed that while friending a candidate may feel empowering, having him or her friend you would just be disquieting.

The class discussion stayed lively right up until the end, while the group debated whether or not the images in this Obama Photoshop site propagated racism.

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