Here is a paper I’m in the process of sending out to journals, but who knows how long that will take, so enjoy!
After trying a variety of different tools, I’ve come to some conclusions:
- IRC chatrooms work much better for discussion than web forums, even though they are synchronous and so are less convenient. Unless people know each other well and really care about talking to each other, exchanges on web forums always feels obligatory.
- Including a picture of yourself makes a huge difference in how well peers remember each other and how interested they are in engaging–an interesting avatar can be ok too, but I think human faces, especially if they can be seen clearly (are big enough, in focus, etc) really makes people feel more connected.
- The simpler the better, even if it means a little less functionality, especially for people unfamiliar with tech.
- The less experience people have with tech, the higher expectations they have for it’s performance.
I’m sure there will be more, but this really stood out to me.
From 27-30 December I made the traditional pilgrimage of English faculty everywhere to the annual conference of the Modern Language Association, since time immemorial held between Christmas and New year’s. This year, lucky for me, it was held in San Francisco. Bigger and … well, bigger than ever. Forty-eight concurrent sessions every day, from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm every day.
I spoke about new media and my belief that we need to ditch that term, and expand our attention to a wider range of issues than are currently getting much play in the US, –I’ll upload my remarks shortly. There was a panel on Participatory Education 2.0–quite good; a workshop on evaluating digital scholarship for tenure–grim; a panel on E-literature–contentious and quite a few others as well.
The participatory education panel included remarks from Cathy Davis (Duke) about the HASTAC project (which is aimed more at faculty than students), Howard Rheingold (Stanford) about the set of tools he’s been developing and his basic thoughts. His essay in Joi Ito’s book, FreeSouls captures most of those ideas. And Greg Niemeyer (UC Berkeley) spoke about the Black Cloud project which involves students and schools in measuring air quality in their communities. You can join the project at the main Black Cloud page. This was really a valuable panel more for making me aware of possibilities than anything else. Rheingold in particular has done a lot to integrate technology into his classes in ways that enhance participation and I can see things I shoould do very differently.
The E-lit panel was about “Genre, Form, and Cultural Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature” and included leading lights from the E-lit scene: Scott Rettberg, one of the editors of the Electronic Literature Collection, Vol. 1, and Sandy Baldwin who directs the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University, Maria Engberg who has just finished her PhD but is already well-known for her work on digital poetry, were the main speakers, while John Cayley responded and Jay David Bolter presided over the panel.
The basic question boiled down to “what is electronic literature” and was unresolved. Sandy and Scott had almost opposite views on whether it is better to define it broadly or narrowly. For me the highlight was going to lunch with Maria, Sandy, Jay, my friend Aden Evens and my co-panelist Joe Tabbi afterward, where we could continue the discussion less formally and over some yummy Thai food. 🙂
I’ll write about the tenure workshop later, but for now here’s a link to material organized by the MLA Committee on Information Technology.
There were even a few tweet-ups, but they weren’t as well-organized as might have been, given the technology, and this was complicated by the lack of an open wireless network in the conference meeting rooms. Really I would have thought that would be a given for a huge national conference by now.
Along with attending the conference, I also visited an exhibit on Participatory Art at the San Francisco MoMA and got to hang out with some people I mostly only connect with via Twitter and Facebook, so that was great. More on that stuff later as well.
My good friend, Mirko Tobias Schäfer is defending his dissertation today. In fact, by the time many of you read this, he may already be finished and recognized as Dr. Schäfer. 🙂
It has been my pleasure for the last 15 months or so to read Mirko’s manuscript, Bastard Culture! User participation and the extension of cultural industries, and I am pleased to report that he has posted a pdf online. –Particularly since I need to cite his work in some of mine, and have been waiting on this! It’s a solid piece of scholarship. Briefly, it
steps beyond the usual framework and analyzes user participation in the context of accompanying popular and scholarly discourse, as well as the material aspects of design, and their relation to the practices of design and appropriation…
The availability of computers and Internet expand the traditional culture industry into the domain of users, who actively participate in cultural production, either by appropriating products from the commercial domain or by creating their owns. But while user activities constitute a significant loss of control for certain sectors of traditional media industries, especially in the area of distribution, the larger culture industry benefits from user driven innovation through the appropriation of corporate design.
Go and download it immediately.
So congratulations, Mirko. I’m proud of all your hard work and perseverance.
Ok, I’ve had some more sleep and will start commenting on talks I saw. Honestly, I didn’t see as many as I would have liked or register them as clearly as I should, because I was exhausted and sick for the whole trip, but I did at least see a few. I’ll just mention the high points–otherwise know as the talks I can remember having attended!
In her keynote, Mimi Ito reported on a really large project being carried out at USC to look at youth culture and the internet, and she identified two kinds of participation, and focused on discussing the second. The first kind is not so different from kinds of socializing that have existed for a long time, but the latter is newer, or at least the extent to which it is available to teens is new and is allowed by the Internet.
1. Friendship-driven learning and participation
–overcoming limitations in local social network
–highly motivating to participants — who are producers of knowledge and social reality
–social life becomes more public and persistently remembered.
–capacity building, jumping off point for…
2. Interest-driven learning and participation (Example, Naruto fans)
–expanding social networks beyond local groups
–unprecedented opportunity to connect with like-minded peers.
–learning new skills
–higher publicity potential
Naruto Fans who produce Anime Music Videos (AMVs) and who engage in Fan-subbing exhibit:
–high degree of collaboration and reciprocity
–mastering esoteric knowledge leads to status
–peer-based ecology of review and critique
–directed outward mainly to other subbers, but also to “leechers”
–become media creators–a moment of recognition and identity creation when they see something produced by another fan
–competing with industry
In general they found fans enjoyed:
- Diversity of genres of youth participation
- peer-based learning, participation, and reputation building
- small scale, local networks and communities
- accessing broader publics and audiences
- routing around traditional gatekeepers such as parents and teachers.
The most interesting point (to me) was the extent to which these interest based communities resembled similar communities typical for adults, such as acdemic discipline– the AoIR being an obvious example of course, except maybe that the line between industry and fan scene is blurrier for adults because many adults are in the industry. Of course there are plenty of adults in hacker groups, demoscene groups, filesharing groups etc. –this last point is mine, not hers though.
It was a nice talk with fun video examples, but I really wish she had done more than just describe the Naruto fan scene.
Here is our panel, by the way:
Web 2.0 sites are praised for promoting sharing and collaboration; at the same time, they are criticized for violating user privacy and profiting from the free labor of users. This panel considers the complexity of relationships among users, and between users and system designers. In particular, each paper explores what motivates user behavior, whether website loyalty, desire for sociality, indoctrination in networked behavior, or the power relations among owners/designers, consumers, and prosumers.
Elfi Ettinger presents in-depth interview results from users of an e-recruiting platform and interviews with system designers of the same platform, conducted in order to determine which design would insure long-term participation of its users.
Anders Fagerjord relates a study of what Norwegian Facebook users publish about themselves in their profiles and the way they represent themselves through “prescripts” provided by popular applications and publishing tools.
Christian Ulrik Andersen analyzes the Facebook software interface, in particular the Vampires game, to explore its discursive and semantic properties and reveal the political aspects of the software.
Kim De Vries combines a rhetorical analysis with an auto-ethnographic study of academic and scholarly Facebook users to explore how we interpret the social connections made through social networking applications.
Mirko Tobias Schaefer explores user participation that in the last 10 years has developed on a global scale and now contributes to the development of software as well as changing, commenting, creating and distributing media content.
A collection of all the papers is posted on the IR 9.0 conference site, but only members can see it and some papers are slightly abridged, besides it being one giant file. You can see full, individual papers here:
Participation Inside? User activities between design and appropriation. by Mirko Tobias Schäfer
Networking Vampires — Life in a social network seen through a game. by Christian Ulrik Andersen
Anders is missing ”is”: Posting and Prescripts on Facebook. by Anders Fagerjord
And I will add mine later today… Ok, I didn’t, but it’s finished and out for feedback, so probably by tomorrow night… damn, good feedback means revision…
Ok, here is mine though I am probably going to revise further; at least I feel this draft is not too embarrassing. Your Friend has just tackled you. Bite, lick, or tackle them back, or click here to theorize about what this all means.
So one of the biggest issues in many of my interviews has been funding and William talked about this as well. Right now there is a lot of money available for digitizing historical archives and so every school is looking through their library to see what might be worth proposing as a project. The money comes from both education and art funding, so this also represents quite a shift in emphasis from supporting art creation to supporting art history. Not to say that all the money is shifting, but a million or two million euros is still quite a big chunk, and some of the smaller organizations don’t get much money, or have much of a budget at all, so even small cuts are big problems for them.
Also, there is a change to the funding system underway because of a decision to use a “creative industries” model. Since the 1980s arts funding has worked as follows: “a long-term grant is awarded with the proviso that once every four years all the institutions receiving these subsidies (more than 800 of them) will be inspected – all at the same time (Smithuijsen 2005).”
I know this system is still in place now because all the organizations I’ve been in touch with in the last year just recently got recommendations about whether or not their funding should continue and on the same levels. It turns out that many lost funding, in part because of the above archiving project, but also because a shift toward a “creative industries” model is underway. This refers both to Richard Florida’s book about the Creative Class and also to a model of cultural policy developed in the UK over the last 10 years.
I encounter very mixed responses to this change; most of the artists and new media institutions seem unhappy and William also was intensely skeptical that this would be a positive change. I still haven’t heard a systematic critique, but two problems seems to be the expected increase in bureaucracy and loss of control over arts/cultural policy. Clearly though I need to get more detail on what the new system will be and why people don’t like it.
William and I also talked quite a bit about how new media is developing and I was flattered that he wanted to know who I thought were important voices and which I thought were important centers, both institutional and national. I mentioned Worm and Piet Zwart MDMA because I think they continue to do really innovative things, and I think Vienna is or will be important. In the US I find it much harder to estimate this because everything is so spread out and incoherent. I don’t know of any cities with really strong new media scenes. Boston has some, NYC has some, San Francisco, maybe Austin. But none of these is organized the way they are in Europe because there is just so much less public funding for any art.
Finally we talked about whether or not the new media scene had any cultural specificity, and whether fan culture, to which we were drawing some parallels, has any. While he could see the point I was making about how national context my change how people can participate in new media, William feels (in spite of the fragmentation) that it is a global discourse. I think this is true to a degree, but that it can’t be assumed. If one is studying the field, one has to check the extent to which discourse is local, national or global. For example, I can say that William certainly participates in a global discourse, because he travels constantly, publishes internationally, and works with other scholars who do the same. But this is hardly true of everyone I’ve interviewed. Most of them cannot travel so much, they may read international journals, but maybe don’t publish on that level so much, and most of their work may take place at one school or in one city. Just being on the nettime mailing list or even a bunch of people connecting on Facebook doesn’t make it a global field, at least not so far. I think that in fact the way scholars and artists participate in the new media field is quite variable–maybe I have to steal Mirko’s concept of heterogenous participation and Kate Hayles’ idea about emerging complexity to discuss this. Or maybe I just need to read Eric von Hippel on democratizing innovation. And he has this paper on actor network theory and user innovations…
One of the most challenging things lately in these interviews is that I begin to hear contradictory things and yet haven’t spoken to enough people to judge very well what is a more accurate picture. Or maybe in fact there is no one accurate picture.