Category Archives: new media

Also forgot MLA… New Media Divergence: The Problem of a Fragmented Disciplinary Discourse

I spoke at MLA last December about what I feel is problem in current academic discourse about new media:

The impact of new media on our society, and on the humanities in particular, has been widely recognized and researched, yet many faculty in the humanities seem to resist considering formal qualities of new media texts and technologies or their impact on our culture. Computer generated imagery, data bases, graphical user interfaces, and software in general constitute current media texts and affect our lives even more profoundly as literature, cinema or Television might have. Such areas as digital art and literature, code poetry, and computational music have been studied by scholars for the last ten years (at least), and study of the computers’ cultural impact has gone on longer.  However, this knowledge has been slow to reach the larger academy in more than a superficial way.  New media texts are rarely discussed outside of meetings, journals, and programs that focus on new media.   This ghetto-ization means that the texts are only studied or accessed by specialists and are unlikely to reach the general population of scholars, which in turn keeps new media texts from reaching more scholars or students in the future. But, new media are just new texts in media culture and therefore inevitably important subjects of research for anybody dealing with texts in general.

The aesthetic components of new media have been thoroughly explored through discussions of post-humanism; historical examinations of algorithmic poetry extending from contemporary work all the way back to the Qaballah; careful charting of the evolution of terms and concepts from film theory into new media; and many other approaches to these texts.  However, most scholars, in the U.S. at least, who do not specialize in new media remain only tangentially aware not only of this work on new media, but of new approaches to “old” media spawned from the novel perspectives generated in the new media studies.  Further, though many theories have been advanced, such as those describing convergence, the wealth of networks, and virtual communities, that have celebrated the power of users to effect change and leverage collective intelligence, in the last few years a more critical, nuanced view has emerged.  Some scholars examining media ecologies explore ways that different technologies are used in specific contexts, leading to specific impacts on the user groups.  Others study how groups existing largely outside our networked society have been affected by their “paranodal” position; many take a more skeptical stance on the connection between participatory media (Web 2.0) and enhanced civic functioning; while some have suggested that Foucault’s notion of the dispositif may be combined with Actor Network Theory to better understand the complex relations between communities, technologies, and cultural meanings; and others have proposed a new category of “produsage” to describe the way users now contribute to new media production.  However, many scholars outside of new media studies remain unaware of these developments, and disciplinary discussion remains bogged down in repetition.

In this presentation then, I outline some of the most recent trends in new media scholarship, the segregation of certain approaches to certain branches of the humanities, and suggest ways that new media in general and its socio-cultural impact in particular might be better and more widely addressed, both in literature and in composition/rhetoric.

  1. 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.  As Communcations Studies departments are now also talking about “new media” and technology in a manner similar to discussions of other mass media, the term new media is not even really serving to make a distinction from mass media any more.
    • In the US, New Media also is often (though not always) far more focused on educational techologies, for example, most collegiate member links in the New Media Consortium point to the schools’ IT offices, not to academic programs.  Or it may be confined to one discipline–literature or visual arts.
    • European programs tend to be far more interdisciplinary, focused on critical theory, on cultural interpretations, and on the philosophy of science.
  2. 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.
  3. It seems we are talking about technologies and about cultural/literary/artistic practices.  On the one hand a new term might be useful, on the other hand, talking about culture and technology might be a simpler solution.
  4. Whatever we call it, the actual theories and texts need to be better integrated in coursework, so that students understand the extent to which technical and cultural changes have occurred and need to be considered–this points toward a notion raised several times during conference, that we are not talking just about a new genre, but a qualitative change to the entire discipline.

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.” 😉

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… 😉

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.

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.

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.

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…

Interview with Sher Doruff — a different view of new media fragmentation

Or discontinuities, or whatever term captures the idea that a field that previously seemed really fluid and border-less no longer is so. Coalescence? Coagulation? Choosing the right metaphor seems much more important these days.

I spoke to Sher Doruff a few days ago and really wish I’d by then acquired a recorder–still working on that in fact–because it was a brilliant interview. She has been working on new media for a long time, much longer than most of the others with whom I am speaking. In fact since the mid 70s, before any one was even talking about new media the way we do now, Sher was working with electronic music. She was part of a band in this genre before moving more into computer work and even more experimental audio stuff –we didn’t go too far into this part of her story though. I really started with the points at which she moved into new media, and at which she came to the Netherlands. It seems she feels she started with new media pretty early, as I said, and mainly because of the freedom she believed it would offer both because the technologies were so new, no one had any pre-conceived idea of technical limitations, they just tried anything and everything. Further, in those early days, there were no stereotypes about computers being only for men, or that men were more inclined or more skilled at them–no one really felt very skilled.

This was sort of a revelation to me because the other women I’ve spoken with are younger–between 25-45–so they entered the larger story much later. Most of the other women mention the lack of perceived limits when it comes to what the tech can do, or at least the feeling that it offered more freedom to them in some way, but most of them did not have such an experience of thinking they would be able to completely shed gender stereotypes related to careers or activities. –I can see this will be a point I need to look at in all the ineterviews since so many people have mentioned it.

Anyway, Sher had a pretty good career developing in New York but then her apartment burnt down and she decided to go to France, ended up doing a residency there, and they went up to Amsterdam where she started doing some stuff for Steim, and just stayed there for awhile. Most recently she was at De Waag, where I spoke to her last year, but now she is teaching at the Theater School (part of the Hogeschool in Amsterdam). She has had other more immediate reasons for leaving one path for another whenever she made a change, but she also seems to reach a point in any medium where she feels she has figured out what she wanted to know and then turns to something else. Sometimes she later goes back, and of course, she doesn’t abandon any of them really, but rather shifts the focus of her inquiry (from what I can tell).

Sher had a mixed view of the New Media scene in general. On the one hand, she feels that new media artists, especially people working online, are paralyzed precisely because the tools are now so easy to use. I know what she means; it’s similar to what happens with course management systems at the university. Those CMSs make it pretty easy to put stuff online for a class, but maybe not in exactly in the way you want to try. But it’s so much easier than doing it all from scratch, and seeing how it works in the CMS can make thinking of alternatives even harder.

But my own experience has been that while the majority of people don’t go beyond the limits built into most plug ‘n play type software, usually there are some number who hit the limits, get frustrated, and switch to learning how to really do it themselves. Maybe artists who can do that ought to rethink their whole practice (or even career choice) anyway. So that’s one of the more negative things she said. But she thinks there will eventually be a crisis, and then a renewal, or a new approach.

On the other hand, she was not so worried about the coagulation of the new media field. She feels that the separation into different subfields will create difference, which she generally regards as a good thing, and that these different groups will come up with different ideas, questions, and answers, and different ways of thinking about the shared ideas, questions, and answers. –And so these groups when they do interact, would have much more fruitful exchanges. I asked Sher if she thought the groups actually would interact and share, because so far I find that they don’t seem to communicate so much lately, and William felt this as well. But Sher thinks that they still cooperate far more than most other disciplines. I wonder though if it’s really that the new media organizations Sher works with are cooperative, but that other types, like universities, are not so much. I mean, maybe it’s over-generalized. Another point to compare across interviews.

We also talked about the creative industries, some of the specific Dutch institutions, and her current work with Brian Massumi, but I’ll put that in the next post.

Fun with NEH online submission forms

Submission is the right word for it, that’s for sure! You must fill in these pdfs exactly the right way, with attachments in exactly the right order, without going over the unspecified-but-definitely-there character count in the text boxes, you must get lucky while uploading to grants.gov, and of course you must save everything every 2 minutes because Adobe will crash over and over and lose the unsaved form contents.

But in the end I got it in…would you believe the total time estimate for preparing the application was 15 hours? Who are they kidding.

Anyway, this is most of the narrative:


Institutionalization of New Media: Analysis of the Dutch Context

Research and Contribution

With the introduction of the Internet and WWW in the 1990s, scholars, artists and activists began a critical engagement with technology. These early adopters were a loose collection of individuals that came out of more traditional fields including philosophy, literature, film studies, sociology, computer science. Some also came from outside of the academy; journalists, politicians, artists, activists and business people and have participated in the evolving discourse community as well. This diverse group was united by their shared observation of and concern with the effects of technology on their respective fields and their work has shaped the field we now know as new media. Now what began as a very open area of study is becoming institutionalized; a canon of critical theory is being established, and gate-keeping mechanisms are beginning to appear, along with the other apparatus typical of an academic discipline such as journals, conferences, degree programs and so on. Increasingly, questions are being raised about this institutionalization process and how it will affect our understanding of new media and its impact on our culture (Lovink, Rossiter, Zielinski).

While early scholarship on new media came from the aforementioned traditional disciplines, recently institutionalization has been driven by former members of the early adopter networks entering academia. This is to say that rather than only following a traditional scholarly route through the academy before becoming professors themselves, many people who first work and create with new media are now entering the academy, with or without formal credentials, and are shaping the discourse about the cultural effects of new media. What began as almost a folk practice now has been recognized by the academy. The line between creator and scholar/critic has been in some ways blurred and in others sharpened, but the process of these changes remains unexamined.

Through this project I expect to answer the following questions: 1) What is the relation between institutionalization and the people, physical things, and symbols in the networks that gave rise to new media? 2) How are institutions constructed that critically reflect on emerging technologies? 3) How are the social networks of participants reflected in and shaping institutional networks? 4) How is the fluid knowledge shared between participants becoming crystallized, being canonized, such that some groups are included or excluded? 5) And finally, what do we gain and lose in knowledge production through this process? I propose exploring the human archive embodied in the actor-network of individuals and groups currently working on new media.

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

Preliminary insight into the institutionalization of new media have been studied in isolation by pioneers such as Geert Lovink (Dark Fiber, Zero Comments), but no comprehensive studies have yet appeared. I intend a rhetorical analysis of the cultural discourse on new media in Europe which I will approach as a dispositif. While Foucault applied this concept to historical archives, I will engage with current participants through interviews and observations.
Methods and Work Plan

I am requesting support to complete the necessary observations and interviews which I aim to carry out during 2009-2010, making visits each year during the summer and winter. During a sabbatical I expect to begin in 2011, I will complete the compilation, authoring a book and website.

Methods and Work Plan

For this study I have already begun observing a variety of groups and interviewing their staff, including:

De Waag Society for Old and New Media
V2_Institute for the Unstable Media
Worm Rotterdam
De Geuzen Foundation for Multi-visual Research
The Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo/Time Based Arts

Further visits to these institutions have been arranged for the award period, along with observations I have arranged at other cultural institutions and at numerous Dutch MA and PhD programs in New Media. Based on a survey of which programs have been actively publishing, seeking PhD candidates, participating in and holding conferences, I have established a list of schools hosting well-regarded programs studying and educating about new media, including:

Delft University of Technology Eindhoven University of Technology
Leiden University Piet Zwart Institute Radboud University Nijmegen
University of Amsterdam University of Maastricht
University of Twente University of Utrecht

This project will combine analysis of institutional documents with interviews and observations. At cultural institutions I will interview curators, project managers, directors and when possible artists/authors. At academic institutions I will interview faculty, administrators, and students. In particular, I will examine the basic degree structures, course content, reading lists, and assignments. When possible, sample student work will be studied as well. These interviews and observations will reveal informants’ history in the field and the interconnections between various factors such as experience, age, gender, ethnicity, location, education and so forth. At both cultural and academic institutions, I will observe events organized around new media which often reveal places where institutional and social networks are parallel and where they are unaligned.

That is all–at least all the plugged in activities. Except finishing a Sequential Tart interview with Paweł and the teaching assignments for next Fall and Spring. And just about finishing an article. I have one more to write by the end of June!

Internet or Digital Culture?

After attending a number of panels and the “birds-of-a-feather” meeting for people interested in Internet and Digital Culture, I was puzzled to see what difference there was between either category, apart from merely organizational. For this year’s PCA/ACA conference, the call for the Digital Culture Area was focused on the “mainstreams/undercurrents”, and so on, while the Internet Culture Area was open to anything. And both areas were plagued by incoherence in panels, though the Digital Culture Area seemed to have better luck on this. During the B0F meeting we talked about how more coherence might be achieved, but people seemed reluctant to ask authors to choose keywords, but some were willing to support panel calls. Privately I heard many people (not just in this area) agree that the real trouble was that paper quality is often so spotty at the PCA/ACA. I’m afraid I have to agree; it’s a fun conference, but it does feel like almost anyone can get in.

I say this in part because I’ve heard so many presenters reveal it’s their first conference ever, and the presentations lean heavily toward “hey, I found this, isn’t it cool?” Theory is rarely mentioned, nor is most work contextualized in terms of other scholarship. I noticed this especially when I went to a panel in the Composition/Rhetoric Area that was all about New Media in the classroom. (Or so the panel title claimed). What I found was a number of papers rehashing concern about computers in the writing classroom, but without taking up specifics or referencing recent work about blogs or wikis, or about the easy ways to bring media in–cell-phone cameras, for example, or using del.icio.us to help students learn about researching online.

So seeing all this led me to submit an abstract to next year’s MLA convention for a roundtable organized by Henry Turner called “What in the World is New Media.” I feel scholarship on this continues to be ridiculously fragmented and this is caused in part by the continued segregation of New Media studies to specialized departments and curricula. So I’ll post my abstract in a few days.