Daily Archives: October 19, 2009

Week 4 Summary – Super Visual!

I think Lifestream wise there are a few things I want to talk about this week: Podcasts; Twitter; and the perils of automation.

Super Visuals!

First of all though I wanted to talk about the Visual Objects. Although it took me hours and hours and hours to get mind more or less how I wanted it I had great fun building my visual object this week. OK, I had great fun until I realised I hadn’t ever explained a batch of images I’d meant to include in the trail:


The point of this image was to talk about how the visual language we already has dictates or influences the visuality of the digital domain. So I had a still from the Polka Dot polka in the Busby Berkeley film The Gang’s All Here (the robust looking gentleman in a blue polka dot); I had a complex visualisation of journal citations from the MESUR project; I had one of Damian Hirst’s dot pictures (which references his earlier turntable paintings); I had an impressionist classic composed entirely of tiny pixel-like dots; a screen capture from the 1980’s Space Invaders computer game; a modern graphic artists’ city scape influenced by the ’80s pixelated platform gaming world and, at the centre, a model of a chemical molecule. I wanted to look at how all of these images related to each other and to the modern idea that everything is made of pixels but, as screen technology evolves, we are less and less aware of this as images appear more organic and real.

But I forgot to include it properly in my Prezi path leaving it a little blind alley for the adventurous to find. I think I sort of like the mystery of that.

Overall I was really pleased with what I was able to do. And I was only a little disappointed to find so many additional good ideas pop into my head over the weekend after I’d circulated the link to my Prezi.


Anyway the real highlight of the week was to see how everyone else had interpreted the brief. This was a rare and wonderful opportunity since we could all comment and compare and experience each other’s view of one broad but not too wide ranging brief. Everyone did great things and I was really inspired to try out some new things having seen their work. Those that tackled video particularly impressed me as I always find video a small technical nightmare: I can wrangle it but it seemingly eats time. This is perhaps because I am a picky viewer and very inexperienced film maker. The more collage like Prezi suited what I am quite good at – playing with visual materials in a fairly physical-feeling way and in not too linear structures. My own art skills tend to be in craft and hand making things so the equivalent digital spaces work best for me I think.

Over the weekend I had enormous fun experiencing all the objects and commenting on them and, to make these thinsg easier to tie up, I have create a specific Delicious tag for my comments (the not terribly imaginative “Week4Visuals”) so all the links and my comments should be locatable here: http://delicious.com/nkl.osborne/Week4Visuals


Lifestream wise this has been a quieter week for me as much of what I was looking through was potential material for my visual object. However there was a theme, a problem and an aspect I’ve not talked about before:


Twitter is always a big part of any week for me as I use it at work and at home for all sorts of communication and networking functions but this week it had an additional quality… as a tool I found myself both cheer-leading for and warning against a little.

This week saw two major Twitter excitements. Last Tuesday the Guardian ran a front page piece saying that something had been discussed in the House of Commons, that they could not report what had happened, that they could not report why they could not report what had happened, and they could not say who had asked them not to report what was said. They could only say that the law firm Carter-Ruck were involved. Such an enigmatic and high profile newspaper piece sparked an instant social media response with Twitter a-buzz not least because Alan Rusbridger (Guardian editor) kept the Twitterverse updated on legal issues during the day around the super injunction. Bloggers instantly dug around to find that the suppressed item (which was nonetheless a matter of public record in Hansard) was a question tabled about Trafigura. The question asked had just been about the injunction on the Guardian of reporting on Trafigura in some respect. The bloggers actually broke the news: reported chemical spills which offered the potential to cause major commercial reputation damage. Once the power-Tweeters (including, yes, @stephenfry) got hold of the news of the superinjunction and what it was about #Trafigura soon started trending, Channel4 news ran a major item the same evening and other mainstream news started picking up the story. By then the embarrassment was complete leading to, first, a dropping of the Super Injunction and then a dropping of the original junction (moments after which the Guardian posted a full report to it’s front page online detailing the chemical polluting of an area of the Ivory Coast).

Now Twitter did play a major role (as many posts from my lifestream this week and Alan Rusbridger’s editorial piece on Guardian Unlimited will attest) but I did find myself having to point out that the power of social power on Twitter was only part of the story. The media is still about the mainstream and without that editorial decision to run that weird front page of the paper it is hard to see this story breaking in quite the same way. However in the UK Twitter does seem to be a tool that has been adopted by a fairly exclusive portion of the public: the media grabbed it first and enthusiastically; academia and library and information professionals have joined in especially as a way to remotely access conferences and events; marketeers are using the space but rarely with the panache of big US brands who are using it as consumer outreach; and some key politicians have gotten onboard. And that’s about it. The media are by far the most active group on Twitter and they are hyperconnected to professionals and keen amateurs alike. This makes it super powerful for setting the news agenda even though only a tiny percentage of the country use it as a tool. It raises interesting challenges for McLuhan’s much quoted comment that:

the Medium is the Message

As I think, for this sort of  Twitter reaction that may, correctly, mean that the Message is the urge to distribute a link or support a cause rather than the issue at heart itself. I think that’s one of the reason that the age profile of Twitter skews towards those of working age where networking and information sharing is of value. Twitter is, in fact, made up of various digital cultures and has a vibrant subculture. What is unusual is that the mainstream is flippant and silly whereas the subculture is about work and professional sharing – pretty much the opposite of many traditional fashion or media culture/subculture relationships.

The other Twitter story this week was curiously odd. Jan Moir of The Daily Mail wrote a column originally entitled “There’s nothing natural about Stephen Gately’s death” (The Daily Mail, unlike Guardian Unlimited does not practice a transparent versioning system so only the most recent version is available to read) which included a number of homophobic comments and insensitive and bizarre comments about the Boyzone star which came out a day or so before his funeral. I found out about the article when Charlie Brooker’s response article was being Tweeted around along with a suggestion that readers send their feelings about Moir’s piece to the Press Complaints Commission (at current count over over 20,000 now have over the weekend). It was a curious story as Moir has characterised her treatment as a liberal witch hunt but, in fact, the transparency of the internet allowed Guardian reading lefties to see that the earliest comments on the site from Daily Mail readers were, largely, as outraged about the piece as Brooker. Again the power tweeters took effect but this time it was a very different subculture of Tweeters – all my gay and lesbian friends relayed the news along with all my media contacts but, unlike the Trafigura story, the retweeting was not more widespread. That is understandable – Gately’s death was sad and Moir’s column offensive but, unlike Trafigura, there was no sense of rights being deprived or horrors being covered up – but also suggests there is a fascinating map to me made of the community effects of retweeting, sharing and community activation on Twitter.


Something I haven’t really reflected on particularly so far about my LifeStream are the many podcasts I listen to and, after discussions of transliteracies in the last fortnight this seems like a good time to do so.  Over the last week I seem to have consumed the following podcasts so I thought I’d talk a little about them and how they work with my day and understanding of my work and of digital culture:

  • Material World
  • Guardian Media Talk
  • The Media Show
  • Guardian Tech Weekly
  • Mark Kermode Film Reviews
  • This American Life
  • Radio4 Friday Night Comedy

Material World is a Radio 4 science magazine show and it is very much my connection back to my first academic love of science. Not only is it an interesting listen but it often flags up current or emerging processes that will feed into novel interfaces, the relationship between people and machines etc. It is also one of those shows with an unapologetically geeky tone and a fairly unparochial view of the world – this can be one of the benefits of shows with strong podcasts as they try to appeal to a wider range of listeners and can be quite expansive to listen to.

Guardian Media Talk and The Media Show are two shows that are very complimentary in tone. I listen to both every week and whilst the Media Show tends to reflect on what is happening or has happened in the media – matters of ownership, technologies, dispute etc.  Media Talk tends to look ahead to developments and likely strategic changes. Although neither advertises itself as being primarily about digital media the relationship of traditional to digital media is now very close and most of the most interesting media stories – the decline of the newspaper, competition law around cross-platform catch-up streaming etc. – are influenced by the way the mainstream media audience is swiftly adopting the internet (often through their TV) as the hub of home entertainment.

The last three podcasts are much more directly about entertainment. Mark Kermode Film Reviews is a podcast of the Radio5 slot Mark fills on Simon Mayo’s show. I would have no objection to listening to the live show were it not for the fact that Mayo’s show is 3 hours of sport – not at all my thing – with a burst of great cinema content. This is one of the joys of the podcast – I cave have an experience entirely separate from the broadcast product. In fact I saw a live recording of Mayo’s show during the Edinburgh Film Festival this year and was astonished by the rest of what fills his show – and I wasn’t alone, most of the audience seemed equally befuddled in the face of life interruptions from horse racing, football chat etc. We were a niche audience with no ideas of the rest of the show we normally listen to. It was like discovering that Marilyn Manson hosted a cross-stitch programme  – we couldn’t have been more astonished that anyone would combine a cult film reviewer with a boys own sports fest. Quite surreal and quite an interesting insight into what selective digital distribution means about measuring and addressing your audience.

This American Life is a weekly programme of stories, usually documentary pieces, on a particular theme. It is produced by NPR and, as well as often being both fascinating and fun, is also a connection between my partner, myself and our friends in the US. My partner is from California and she listens to a lot of podcasts of shows she used to regularly listen to as a connection to home – we can ring up family and friends and chat about them sometimes. But various podcasts (from the UK and US) are common to both myself and my partner’s iPods and this lets us have a new and wonderful communal listening experience – we listen in moments of time convenient to us but can then discuss the shows as if we’ve heard them together. It’s a connection I have with other friends over specific podcasts and, because many allow their entire archive to be downloaded, the conversation might be about the latest episode or one from many years ago. It’s a lovely, curious and confusing way to listen since your latest episode is always the most recent to you – even if it’s actually 10 years old!

My Radio4 Friday Night Comedy podcast is a matter of sheer indulgence – I often hear the show played live but listen again to the podcast as a gentle soothing background track as sometimes familiar talking is far easier or more fun to work or sit on the bus with than either music or silence. I listen to several silly shows in the same way but the Radio4 one tends to be listened to a bit more often as it’s often news-related so has a shorter shelf-life and, in an odd sort of way, keeps me in touch with the silly stories that I otherwise miss. I consume news in very eccentric ways these days – recommended links to articles, specific sections of the newspapers (usually the cultural sections at the weekends, the media section on a Monday), I listen to Today every morning on Radio4 but I don’t catch TV news most of the time – usually just the end of Channel4 news – and don’t commute on the bus so don’t see Metro. When I’m looking for a random set of things to read I will go over my RSS feeds so don’t look at the BBC News website much either (unusual if studies of oft-used websites in the UK are to be believed) so listening to the Now Show or the News Quiz keeps me up on the less world-changing but socially useful matters like manscara, celebrity outrages, unlikely science of biscuits etc!

Broken Lifestream

Finally this week I wanted to talk about automation and it’s perils. I set up an automated summary option for my lifestream last week and it caused a gigantic headache – firstly it alerted me to the sheer volume of material in the stream, an alarming thing indeed as it forced me to wade through it, but secondly it publicly posted that summary before I’d remembered I’d set it up. Once I’d dealt with that I suddenly noticed another automation woe: my comments on others’ blogs are not feeding correctly and I seem, instead, to be feeding in Silvana’s comments. I have still yet to fix that one but it did make me wonder what else I am missing/adding to my lifestream without knowing it. I haven’t really begun the filtering process (and am not sure how I feel about filtering posts – I’m not sure how I want to frame my lifestream to fit the requirements yet so will need to think some more on that) so I’m hoping the comments referred to in the course blog earlier today may help a bit with that.

I think that covers most of my thoughts this week. There is some thought on mobile phones, the internet, and how I am now an old fogey in terms of accessing and using the web that I think I will save for next week as I will be thinking about them over the course of this week as well.