Monthly Archives: September 2007

Why do we all love Facebook?

I’ve really been wondering about this; all of these friends and I are supposed to have seriously critical attitudes toward Web 2.0 and all that, but were acting just as goofy about Facebook as our own undergrads. This really got me thinking about what is so powerfully attractive that in spite of knowing about the privacy issues, the labor issues (providing content for free, right here…) and all that stuff.

Right from the start I noticed how much the interactions encourages by Facebook remiind me of how my college and/or grad school friends and I used to interact. We saw each other everyday, ate together often, left each other notes, phone messages, were in class together, went to parties together, and spent hours and hours talking about, well, everything. We did know each others favorite movies, music, books, food, color, clothing style. And we knew the “whys” behind every preference.

Now, I’ve come to realize that I am one of those very social people who will use any channel available. But I wonder how much everyone who has experienced the the kind intense friendships I did in college wishes to regain that kind of connection. During grad school I realized that everyone was getting busier and busier and it was proportionally harder to maintain the intense connections we had enjoyed before we all started to become really “professional.”

I’ll post some more about this later, after I observe some more… 😉

Facebook Mania

I’ve had an account on Facebook for awhile and thought it was rather boring, but suddenly some of my friends are joining–all people who study new media things.

The funny thing is that now that were all on there, we are acting just as silly as the obsessive college students about which all the news-stories report. So we send each other virtual high-fives, little “gifts” –just icons– we post things on each other’s profiles. And this is in addition to all the emails, skype calls and chats, etc. etc. Of course this has only been goiing for about a day; maybe we’ll all get bored and drop it.

But, and I don’t how long these have been available, there are quite few fun applications you can add into your profile, so that’s kind of fun too… now if I could just connect it to my SL avatar, I could close the circuit completely.

Oh well…

I did not get nominated. 😛

I’m hoping that I end up thinking this is a good thing because the NEH doesn’t allow people to apply both for the summer stipends and for some of the other research grants…

Other suggestions of a silver lining are welcome.

Also, I’m still applying for two more external grants and two internal ones, so it’s not the end of the road, by a long way. Still feeling pretty cranky about it though…

Her Literacy Narrative

OK, I asked the students in my graduate seminar on teaching composition and literature to write a literacy narrative–the story of how they learned to read and write. Since they wanted an example, here is mine. I first wrote it as part of my dissertation back around 2001. This has been updated to reflect more recent developments. I chose then to write it in third person, which I find still seems good to me, because even now I feel rather alienated from quite a bit of my own writing–so much is done to meet quite rigid criteria. –Grant -writing, for example!

So. Here it is.

From an early age she loved pictures, especially in books that were visually busy, like those by Richard Scarry, or books that described things, like field guides to amphibians. She would pore over these for hours on end, memorizing the pictures and words. She can still remember them, from hellbender, reticulated quartz, to cumulo-nimbus. She grew to think of words as captions, as handles with which to grab bulky trunks of reality. She never did learn to sound out words, as she usually learned the whole word all together, but she learned to fake it for school.
She knew how to read well before starting school, and so was frequently chided for reading ahead in the group assignment or wandering off to hide under a table with books on secret codes, strangler figs, or little boys named Pablo growing up in large, hungry families. The complexity of the world fascinated her, and she loved adding more and more details to the universe growing in her head in the same way she like to add more and more detail to pictures, until she had filled a page with curling tendrils of graphite that were random, but balanced.

Learning to write was odd. She did not like lined paper–books had no lines and the lines felt confining. So she wrote very small, so as to have more room around her on the page, until teachers forced her to only write with crayons so she would have to write large. She shuddered every time she touched a line with her crayon or pencil. She reverted to tininess as soon as possible, which was middle school. One day a teacher insisted on changing the words she wrote because they “didn’t make sense.” To her they had been exactly right, but now she can’t remember any more her original understanding. She only remembers that it is lost.
At that time, her writing was mostly good, because she rarely talked, but read lots of long novels, like Dracula, and Wuthering Heights. She also read a lot of fantasy and of course, the field guides and dictionaries. Her prose ended up being rather dense and filled with peculiar words like axlotl, pestiferous, and her construction was rather Victorian. The teachers seemed to like it and her. She also was enjoying art class, in which she always had at least one idea to work on and tended to take a long time about finishing up because she wanted her work in the world to exactly match the idea in her head.

In high school she ran into trouble and Some of it had to do with writing. She still was reading very well and always had things to say in class, in spite of dirty looks from her classmates. Unfortunately, the high school teachers did not like her writing. They though her words were finicky, her ideas tangled, her transitions invisible, and since she clearly had read and understood, they thought she was lazy. She did however take a drafting class, where she learned to write very very neatly, which seemed to slightly improve others’ attitudes toward the substance of her writing, as well as the form. In English class, she resigned herself to earning Cs.

This unhappy state of affairs continued through all four years, so that in college, in spite of excellent test scores of various types, and an abiding delight in reading, she did not major in English. She majored in biology; lab work was fun and she still got to read things like field guides. Biology turned out to allow little time for electives, and so for a while she switched to anthropology to mask the fact that she was actually taking many art studio and history classes, and aesthetics, and other things her parents felt were not financially wise. These art classes were very helpful because, besides teaching her about art, they taught her about what she now knows as rhetoric. She learned about audience, and context, and how to communicate an interpretation or argument. She learned that while sketchbooks and other kinds of practice are very helpful, drafting is at best a gamble and often an expensive one. Once you strike off a piece of wood or stone when sculpting, you couldn’t very well put it back, and starting over took more money (squeezed out of an already tight budget) and usually did not produce the same result. Drafting was best done with little scraps of metal and wood, or inside the head where anything was possible.

Because she liked the professor, she took a class on semiotics and realized that she might have something useful to say about language after all, and English classes could be very good indeed. Perhaps she could then get a job like his in which she was paid to read books she liked and talk about them. So she decided to major in English, figuring that she would work the art in somehow, thus avoiding a potentially traumatic debate with her parents over Job Prospects. Of course, by now she had reached her junior spring, and so she squeezed all of the requirements into three semesters and one summer. As she would often read two-five books in one day for fun, she did not see any difficulty with this plan, except that some of the classes she might want to take might conflict with each other or be unavailable. She majored in English, and though she still had some of the same trouble as in high school, she managed well enough to graduate with moderately good grades. She also enjoyed finally meeting people in class who loved books as much as she did.

After working at a few poorly paying jobs while living at home, she realized that she had to find some work that would pay more and not kill her soul with boredom in the first six weeks. Around that time, she heard that her old high school need substitute teachers. She remembered how cruelly these poor souls had been treated when she was enrolled, but decided that since she knew many of the students already and knew the school rules, she would be safe from the worst difficulties. Over the protests of her youngest sister, who was still in the school, she started teaching, and finally found work she enjoyed. Thoughts of how much better college had been than high school led her to set her sights on being a professor, and thus to head off in search of an advanced degree.
Graduate school was rather a shock.

On the one hand, everyone was interested in reading, and being smart was valued, and professors treated students more like colleagues. On the other hand, some people were afraid of looking stupid, and some people were focused very narrowly, and some people like to argue to make themselves look smart. Like anything, it was neither good nor bad, but it was different from any other experience she had faced, and so was harder in that way. She loved the work—all the reading and analyzing and discussing–and she decided not to worry about looking stupid, or about people whose motives seemed self-aggrandizing. She consciously resolved to resist a narrow focus because it seemed to make people rather sour, and to make new ideas scarce; she also was very stubborn and refused to give up the fun of her comic books and artwork and all the other interests she had accumulated over the years.

At first she studied literature, and everything went pretty well. But after a while she started teaching writing, and took classes about how to do that, and things got very complicated. She studied theories about how writing worked and how it was best to teach, and while they sounded good, none described what worked best for her when she wrote something herself. In fact, her way of writing was not mentioned at all, except sometimes as an example if an immature way to use language. Well, this made her feel rather doubtful of her approach and she gamely tried to adopt the process described in the books and theories. Her writing started disintegrating, and professors were impatient, having the same reaction as those high school teachers, thinking she was just not working very hard.

This was upsetting of course, but as mentioned, she was stubborn and she decided that she did not accept this approach to writing and not only that, she decided to prove her way was just as good, though different. At first she was angry and impassioned, because the more she studied some of these theories about writing, the more she understood that they weren’t really about writing, but about thinking. The people making these theories believed that thinking and words became one—at least for any complex topic in the mind of any grown-up person.
Around the same time, a long-held interest in Asian culture began to coalesce around China. She studied Buddhism and Daoism, and rented many films and bought many books. She felt curiously at ease in the culture. Many of the books she read mentioned the difficulties Westerners, especially Americans, had in relating to Chinese culture and people. She kept waiting for this discomfort to make itself known, but it did not. Here and there she had chances to meet Chinese people, and became very close to some of them, who told her she was Chinese at heart, that she understood poetic logic, that her way of thinking, especially about language, was very Chinese. She did not feel particularly qualified to judge this herself, but as she began studying Mandarin, she felt at home in it, and enjoyed learning each character, slowly but surely.
After being in school for very nearly thirty years, she managed to combine very nearly all of these experiences into her doctoral dissertation.

***

Well, writing the dissertation was harder than anything else because there was so much to think about and as usual, none of it wanted to be arranged into neat and orderly rows on a series of neat and orderly consecutive pages. But, the Graduate School was quite strict about this, and wanted double-spacing and one inch margins on top of that, so she decided it was not worth the time or effort trying to argue for the necessity of side-bars, call-outs, and all the other textual apparatus she really would have preferred. At least she was allowed footnotes.

Eventually, after many many revisions, it was done and she was released into the fun-filledterribly busy … curiously satisfying world of composition. She got a job teaching writing at MIT where she was stuck teaching science writing, which got a bit dull, but was among people who like herself might not be so comfortable writing at all. And they appreciated comic books, SF and speculative fiction, and few people were scared of computers. So it wasn’t bad. Eventually though she realized that writing was so un-valued at this place that she would never get very far in the very explicit hierarchy of the school. In fact, they would not even put writing teachers on the committee concerned with writing requirements.

After a job search that was less painful than what most experience, almost as much fun as taking the Graduate Record Exams over and over and over… she took a job at a smallish, western, state university. The first year she wrote mainly comments on student essays, and they were most of her reading. The second year she was tricked talked into becoming director of composition, which (sadly) she had some talent for. Or at least didn’t hate as much as some people seemed to. She struggled to start writing again that year, because a pre-tenure review was looming. Thanks to the faculty writing group, she produced two articles, one of which (so far) has appeared in print. But writing was still a struggle. It was still a terribly boring conclusion to much more interesting thinking and reading and talking.

Finally, appallingly late in the game, (even later than for Peter Elbow!) something shifted. After getting involved in several mailing lists, writing every month for webzine, leading far TOO MANY grant proposals, proposing too many conference papers that were accepted, and then–and this seems to have been the most important point… finding something to explore that was even more interesting than her dissertation subject had been, she found that she didn’t mind writing so much. In fact, she even kind of liked it.

Maybe because she worked so often in collaborative way, which accorded much better with her sometimes intensely sociable nature; or maybe because the subject alone was so compelling (for more on this, read about the Book Project). Or maybe she had become so insanely busy that she could no longer think so much ahead, she had to think while writing, she had to stop resisting and let her entire cognitive process shift. In one way, this was a grievous possibility to consider, because it might be that all she gained in writing she had lost in visual/kinesthetic creativity. Or maybe not. Maybe learning is not a zero-sum game. Maybe one can gain skills without losing others. It’s something she’ll have to wait and discover.

Book Project Update

So I guess I do have a book project; it’s official. –By that I mean that I’m applying for grants to fund the research. So far I’ve applied to be nominated for an NEH Summer stipend; every campus gets to nominate only two, so I have to be selected for nomination before I can even contact the NEH.

Here’s what I said :

Since the mid 90s growing numbers of cultural institutions and post-secondary educational programs devoted to “new media” (as defined by Manuel Castells) have emerged. However, there has been little organized study of their function or of their creation of knowledge about new media and of new media texts themselves. Certain cities, projects, people, or organizations have been studied in isolation by pioneers in the field such as Howard Rheingold, Geert Lovink, and Ned Rossiter, but so far no comprehensive studies have appeared. I intend to continue a study of the new media dispositif in the Netherlands over the next three years. During the award period I intend to make my second visit to the Netherlands to conduct interviews and site visits. I aim by the end of the period to have completed a book proposal that includes 1-2 chapters.
Recent work by Frank Kessler (unpublished seminar paper) suggests that Foucault’s notion of the dispositif may be a fruitful concept to use in understanding the new media scene. Foucault first defined his use of this term in 1977 as follows: “What I’m trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly heterogenous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions–in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements (interview 1977).”
Of particular value will be a better understanding of how different philosophies, goals, and choices of new media institutions shape the work they produce and their place with local, regional, and national communities. Foucault went on to say that a dispositif arose in response to an urgent need and this will be another important question to explore: to what need does the new media dispositif respond?
The Netherlands offers a unique opportunity to extend our understanding of the complex relations among the constituents of the new media landscape. According to Peter van den Besselaar, The Netherlands has been on the forefront of both research and cultural production in new media since 1993 when the Digital City was founded in Amsterdam and because since then substantial resources have been invested in education, musea, and other cultural organizations devoted to the creation and study of new media(“The rise and decline of the great Amsterdam digital city,” Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 67). Thus it now represents a comparatively mature context to study offering at least as complex a dispositif as many geographically larger countries.
I plan to make repeated trips to the Netherlands of about two weeks each over the next few years. In each trip I will conduct new interviews and site visits, and also follow up with previous interviewees to learn the outcomes of plans they have shared during earlier contacts. I have been in touch with my current contacts who are pleased for me to continue my investigations, and I have begun contacting additional groups. Of particular interest is that all of these groups are taking some position on the development of a “creative class;” a debate that is at least several years ahead of a similar transformation in the US, and seems a good predictor of what may happen here, so I certainly will track its development.
Further, because the country is geographically compact, but diverse in both human and organizational populations, many different opportunities for interviews and site visits can be carried out in a reasonable time and at reasonable cost. Additional advantages are being able to carry out all of the research in English, and, because of prior acquaintance with some of people involved, easy access to many institutions and people central to the creation and study of new media in the Netherlands. Ultimately this research will lead to a better understanding of how new media dispostifs work, and yield a better idea of how certain organizational or personal strategies contribute to the evolution of the cultural and educational institutions involved, over time. My preliminary work with these groups and the individuals involved in them has convinced me that a more comprehensive study in the Netherlands would produce a valuable new understanding of how a variety of factors shape the new media dispositif, not just in the Netherlands but in general.

Grant-writing or ….

Actually I can’t think of anything worse at the moment. I have (I hope to god) just finished preparing an NEH proposal. I’m the Primary Investigator (PI) but I’ve been working with four other faculty here on a variety of projects, including this one, a proposal for a year-long workshop series on bringing the digital humanities into the mainstream. I’ll post the 1-page summary shortly, but this the one that had me nagging everyone for commitment letters with almost no notice.

The actual writing wasn’t so bad, nor putting together the reading lists, or arranging the schedule. In fact that part was quite interesting in a curatorial kind of way. But, trying to extract info and paperwork from people before a deadline, especially when money is involved; well, that is really uncomfortable. It’s bad with the outside speakers because they are nice for agreeing, and then I email and say, “well, that’s not quite right, do it over this way please” …and then few days later “I really need xyz” …and then “we have to have this by noon today or…”

Worse however is having to nag my colleagues here, because they are working hard, all busy with other things (like our insane teaching load) and I nag them even more. Not just for letters and CVs, but also for feedback on drafts, meetings, etc. This is not to say they won’t benefit from our getting the grant, or that they’ve ever complained at all. I just find this aspect of leadership so …icky.

By contrast, applying for an individual grant for myself (which I am also doing right now) feels like a cakewalk! –I guess that could be considered a benefit of slogging through the more complicated group proposal process…

I’m imposing a moratorium on being a PI for the next month at least. I have to focus on my classes, a conference paper, my individual grant applications, and the proposal for a new joint MA (the upper admin. here may be getting skeptical about how committed our partners are. 😐 ) Sigh. I need a clone, 30 hour days, teleport technology, and a pile of money. Is that so hard?

The effect of habitual contexts on tone

Sounds complicated, but all I actually mean is that for a long time I’ve used IRC, IM, and email to talk mainly with friends and colleagues rather than students, because my students generally have preferred to talk with me in class. But, this term I have to communicate with my first year students mostly through email, IM, etc. and I find that I’ve grown so accustomed to being in friend/colleague mode that I continue in that tone with my first-year students. Hopefully this will be ok…last fall I was pretty friendly with some of them and late in the term I had to give a rather stern talk about how my liking them would not stop me from giving them a bad grade, I would just feel worse about it.

But maybe I’m worrying for nothing. Or about the wrong thing. Maybe the one who really causes trouble will be the colleague who has registered so he can see what I’m doing in there…

And, we’re off!

The semester has started and students are starting to find their way to the Moodle site, where so far, they are managing to register and upload pictures of themselves, set up their profiles , etc. So that’s a relief. Now I just hope my grad students do as well.

Meanwhile, we are scrambling through two grant proposals and the co-I who was helping me with the one that’s due next week got food poisoning two days ago. Argh. I think we will make it anyhow, but it’s going to be close, and stressful. And, the worst thing is that we are still trying to contact potential speakers for the workshop series; if they say yes, we immediately need commitment letters, 2-page CVs, and biographical blurbs. This is a big change from the last grant cycle’s requirements, which said that the letters would strengthen your proposals, but weren’t required. So that’s been a lot of fun to deal with; I love emailing people I don’t know (and those I do) and asking for huge favors. On the up side, they’ve been quite nice about it, and two of these lovely people have said yes so far. If we get the grant and run the series, I’ll brag about who they are. 🙂