Monthly Archives: May 2008

Talk at University of Twente

Now it’s official; I will give a talk at University of Twente on June 25th. Here’s the blurb:

A preliminary report on how scholars perceive their social network/audience on Facebook, and what effect the risk of and real border-crossing or transgressive behavior has for them personally and professionally with their colleagues. –So in other words shifting the focus the what students are doing or how they perceive us to what we scholars are doing and how we perceive each other. I make a rhetorical analysis of gestures that are exchanged between users, and in particular discuss how these gestures may help create a feeling of presence.

My own experience suggests that while perhaps there is some risk to the behavior encouraged by Facebook, there is also considerable personal and professional benefit to engaging in the prescribed playful actions of Facebook applications. They seem to encourage connections that are emotionally more intimate and stronger, which offers both personal and professional advantages. People with whom we have multi-valent relationships online may also become people with whom we might collaborate on research, or organize conference panels, or at least go to for advice when visiting their home countries/cities.

Thus I ultimately argue that along with the playful air pervading Facebook, there can also be a feeling of risk, and that users sharing experiences that give rise to this tension actually strengthen their social and professional bonds. In academic circles there aren’t many venues where play and risk are valued or even possible, which may explain why Facebook has been so attractive to many of us who by rights (as trained critical thinkers) ought to be the most resistant to its charms.

So basically people get a sneak preview of the talk I will give the following week in Germany at IFIP WG 9.5 and preliminary thoughts on the paper I’m preparing for IR 9.0

"The Highly Coveted Desktop Structural Achievement Award 2007-08"

Here is the text of the speech with which I was honored for my creation of truly marvelous chaos:

I confess to aspiring for this award for several years and those of you who know me and have witnessed the temple of bureaucratic agglutination that I’ve created in L195D can bear out this aspiration. When Jim Payne popped in on me last week to discuss these awards, he mentioned the superior condition of my office, and I thought my position was secure.

But then we wandered around campus a bit, and we discovered a singular effort that puts to shame my own meager and sophomoric efforts.

Several distinguishing features clearly separate this office from the rest of the pack. The empty wrappers of food and water bottles. The stacks and scattered detritus of scholarly work and the assessment of student performance. The bag of drawings clearly encrusted with what appears to be mud.

This office represents the highest example of what we can achieve given the proper inspiration, and desire, and temperament, and equipment. What makes it so is not merely all of these details, but its comprehensive vision, its theory and practice of chaos so profound, so deeply and thoroughly considered, so assiduously studied and carefully elaborated in all its possibilities.

You may see this stunning effort in L195N. I am humbled, and I bow to its greater glory.

Please join me then in congratulating my colleague in English, and this year’s winner of the distinguished Desktop Structural Achievement Award, Dr. Kim De Vries.

I must thank Dr. Scott Davis for so generously allowing me to publish his speech. He did make a good effort, but I think was unwilling to sacrifice his own or his students’ ability to walk into his office! 😉

Long Distance

I can remember back in 1999 or so I was first making friends online, and at the time people around me expressed surprise that I would really count any of these online acquaintances as friends. And of course not all them were or became friends, but some did. Now, almost 10 years later I am still friends with some of them, even close friends. Along the way people really stopped asking if net friends were real friends, and I have many many friends now whom I mostly connect with online–scholars lead an itinerant life, or at least I do.

But of course it’s not exactly the same.

There are people I see almost every day or every week in my immediate locale whom I consider friends, a few of them close friends. But even those that are not so intimate emotionally I know quite well in other ways just because I see them often. So I know what they typically eat, or whether they prefer coffee or tea, what kinds of clothes they like to wear, whether they are morning people or night owls–and this is all without explicit discussion. I just observe it.

I know these things about some of my online friends too, but only if we talk about it. I don’t know about others, but when I am taking time to email, or IM, or chat, I don’t usually spend time on these little details unless for some reason they become important as part of a larger point. But even as I write this I experience the same problem of what I would describe vs what might be observed–there are some people, a few, with whom I am in such close contact that even though we are only connected via skype or email, these details come through. But when describing our daily lives through an online medium, we all make choices about what to leave in or out. These choices create some picture of us for readers that really is only a thin slice of our lives, so in some ways our online friends almost inevitably have a distorted picture.

This is not to say people we see in person don’t have pictures of us that are distorted in other ways, but I think the distortions may be less exaggerated because a broader range of information is available. Online we have mainly text, maybe some pictures or videos, and almost all of that is chosen by the author (leaving aside for now the issue of involuntary publishing that afflicts people with highly public identities). So it seems to me that this may serve to concentrate the distortions.

But does this actually matter? I don’t know. As I said, some of my online friendships started 10 years ago and those that have lasted always lead to meeting in person at least occasionally. So maybe this is really no different from the largely epistolary relationships that were common before the telephone, or before rapid travel became fairly accessible to large numbers of people. But having both kinds of friendships does sometimes make me feel in an uncomfortable way that there is some kind of disjunction between those with whom I feel closest and those whom I might guess have the widest range of information. Are those closest friends closest to the “me” that I think of as “me”? I suppose the question has always been there, but now technology makes me really notice it often. Damn computers and ICTs. 😉

Award-winning Chaos

Award-winning Chaos
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

So my college (humanities and social sciences) had the end-of-term meeting and awards ceremony.

The recent (and ongoing) stress of budget cuts, and the just-this-week-resolved stress of the Retention/Promotion/Tenure (RPT) process has left people pretty punchy, so while most of the awards were quite serious, a few were NOT. –And really everyone was giggling through almost the whole event, without having had even one “adult beverage.”

I was honored to have my efforts recognized in winning the Desktop Structural Achievement Award, conferred every year on the faculty member who, well, I think the picture says it all. –Taken immediately after the ceremony and, I must say, after earlier this week cleaning up a little. (seriously).

Of course I’s prefer it to be neater, but I find that when I am working really hard, I naturally generate some kind of chaotic field. At least that’s my story. And honestly I may agree that neat people are just too lazy to look for things. 😉

I will reassure any future hosts that I never treat other people’s spaces this way! As soon as I can I will post the text of the speech honoring my achievement, and a picture of the trophy, which is enormous!

Birches in the Pines 2007

Birches in the Pines 2007
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

And here is the cabin itself, still standing 101 years later. My great great grandfather was an engineer, and this house fits together so tightly that even after all these years, it has hardly shifted. Amazing compared to the way things are built lately.

The window on the second floor looks out from the little room in the attic where I slept as a teenager, finally entitled to my own space. I was the only one who didn’t care if a bat or two swooped in. 🙂

Lovewell’s Pond

Lovell’s Pond 2007
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

The semester winds down and soon we will leave for the northeast, for our camp on Lovewell’s Pond. My mother’s family built a place their in 1906 and we still go there every summer. Very little has changed; we still pump drinking water by hand from the well, and bathe in the pond. We still listen to the bullfrogs on hot summer evenings.

Starting with my great great grandfather, one of the builders, daily logs have been kept of the weather and the events of each day. So when I say “we still…” in fact I know it for sure. How many people know what their great great grandparents did every day, in detail?

I guess they’re keeping me another year

So I’ve finally got the word from the powers on high that I have been retained in my job next year. Now I just have to make it through the actual tenure review in Spring 09… And even though the issue has been been debated across disciplines for decades now, still there is little recognition of work done outside traditional venues. –So, this blog counts for nothing, the rhetorically themed wiki I’ve created with students is not worthy of recognition, the monthly articles for a webzine, (but I think that’s just because it’s popular and not scholarly). And when I say they don’t count, I mean they are not mentioned in the various letters at various levels that make recommendations about retention and tenure. Why after all this time have we not figured this out? Or maybe it’s just my school? –Well, it must be more than just my school, because in 2006 the MLA issued a report finding that half of all US colleges and universities have trouble with this issue, and the current issue of Kairos takes the criticism even further.

I’m coming to realize that in a variety of ways US scholarship on new media and ICTs may be slipping, and it’s still not being consistently recognized by our own institutions really aggravates the problem by creating disincentives for scholars to experiment with non-traditional ways to publish their work and participate in disciplinary conversations.

But of course I never take the easy route, so I don’t know I’m even talking about this; it won’t really change anything I’m doing!

Summer Research

So I am once again traveling to the Netherlands to do some research, scraping away at these interviews, as many as I can cram into about ten days without going insane. I leave on 23 June and go directly to University of Twente where I will meet Elfi Ettinger in person (one of my IR 9.0 panelists) and possibly speak in their seminar series. I hope to also meet not only her immediate colleagues, but some people from other departments who work on new media and ICT stuff, but I only will be there for about 24 hours, so we’ll see.

After that I head to Rotterdam and start interviewing; I plan to speak again to Hajo Doorn (from Worm) and Alex Adriaansens (from V2_) about the state of arts funding, and finally I will interview Brenno de Winter, who who had the flu in January when I was originally planning it. Then I go to Germany to speak at the IFIP WG 9.5 –part one of scholars on Facebook–and then back to Rotterdam and more interviews. I will speak with all of De Geuzen, with Sher Doruff, Erna Kotkamp, and Marianne van den Boomen, and Jaromil. And last but far from least, I will formally interview Florian and Mirko.

I may fit in a few more interviews, depending on how well I can schedule these so that for example, I see all the Utrecht people on one day, all the Amsterdam people on one day, etc. Otherwise the travel time will probably prevent me from adding anyone else. Plus I have to allow time to write up–I learned that in January when I didn’t really have enough time to make sufficient notes here in the blog.

While all this is going on, I have to also finish a book chapter and work on my paper for IR 9.0 because the full papers are supposed to be turned in at the end of August. I think that for panels we have to get some papers in by the deadline, but maybe not all. As the organizer though, I feel I have to be one of those papers that gets in on time…

More soon, including a very protracted but increasingly useful and interesting email conversation I’m having with Aymeric Mansoux from


So yeah, spent all last Thursday and some of Friday wrapping that up. Yesterday I gardened–so glad to be in a place where I feel like investing some gardening energy. In Massachusetts I left a trail of gardens behind me, but not here. Coming out here, I was of course busy, but no one gardens much in Turlock and it was just disheartening to plant anything when I knew my landlord would actually get rid of it after I left, in order to return the property to the cookie cutter appearance standard in that neighborhood. So I was really happy to begin planting again, to figure out the irrigation, to start thinking about what I want it to look like later, even if we end up going elsewhere.

Today we went up to Big Trees state park to see, you guessed it, the giant trees. The girls were pretty impressed, but aren’t old enough to appreciate anything 1400 years old. We also had lunch at a Microbrew and stopped at a local vineyard on the way back, the Twisted Oak Winery. This was a pretty wacky place which had rubber chickens all over (hanging from trees on the drive up, for example) and humorous roads signs as well. The wine was really quite good though, good enough that we signed up to get two bottles shipped to us every two months. –The price is discounted and we get to buy some stuff not available to the general public. I tasted one of these exclusives today, a grenache, and it was amazing, so I had to sign up.

Nice to get out of the house which still is cluttered with yet-to-be-unpacked boxes. On the other hand, what I really want to to have time (and a second car) to wander alone. Oh well. Maybe in June, when school is over.

And if you are wondering why this totally random post is in my research blog, it’s because I’m about to write something in response to a discussion on the AIR list (AoIR, or Association of Internet Researchers) about unplugging or getting AFC. So this is what I was doing, and I will be referring to it later.

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, 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!