Week 12: Reflections, Refinements and Reality Checks

Throughout this course I have tried to get a sense of exactly what “Digital Cultures” might mean – the very slipperiness of the term indicates the currency and breadth of possibilities encompassed. Whilst it may refer to a notion such as “digitally mediated cultures and communities”, what is included in such groupings and how that mediation or social element occurs will be ever changing as long as there is a “digital” culture to describe. The texts we have encountered recently – on cyborgs, the uncanny, the future – all point to this fluidity of both term and practice.

When I found the changing nature of the topic challenging in terms of knowing how to collate my lifestream. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for “Commonplace Books” referred to in the course guide I particularly noted that “such books were essentially scrapbooks… Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”

I therefore chose to focus on my own particular personal and professional experience of being part of various digital cultures and specifically cultures around social media spaces in which my job role, my personal interest, and this module converge. In part this was a pragmatic decision as I was already using many suggested lifestream tools but it was primarily because it is – as I found out during work on my digital ethnography – time consuming and difficult to authentically participate, understand or reflect upon an unfamiliar digital culture. I also saw the definition of the Commonplace Book as a sort of literary sketchbook and therefore felt this was as much about gathering together inspiring materials from everyday life as about seeking out much more specific material (e.g. the more sketchbook-like image collations for my visual artefact).

I could see that I had collected materials very personal to my interests in social media and academia although I was disappointed to see that I had not added as much metadata as I could have to all my postings. This was one of the disadvantages of assimilating the curation of my lifestream into all aspects of my online day in which many events go into forming ideas, thoughts and serendipitous links.

My weekly summaries were, throughout the module, rather long but in attempting to go back and edit these down I found it difficult to separate thoughts and ideas from references out to the lifestream as this is very much how I feel my weekly reflections aided my progression through the concepts encountered on the course. Reflecting on those feelings and thoughts also allowed new ideas to emerge and, though this meant longer postings, I think it was a representative way to share how encounters with even a few lifestream items was a catalyst for wider thinking about the implications of cybercultures, virtual communities and critical perspectives for my own work in higher education and for some pedagogical elements.

Having entered the course curious of what might be a “digital culture” I finish blogging here with a new found comfort with the idea that any understanding can only be based on experience and observations of an always shifting loose cultural and community space.

My Lifestream can be found here (it takes a little while to load): http://digitalculture-ed.net/nicolao/nicolas-lifestream/

The weekly summaries can be found here: http://digitalculture-ed.net/nicolao/weekly-summaries/

Please Note: This is my 500 Word submission for the Lifestream hand in. It has also been submitted via WebCT.

Week 11 – Lights down, Chest out, Jazz Hands!

This week I’ve been working on preparing my assignment but, by weird and slightly unfortunate coincidence, I’ve also had a series of presentations to give this week so I have been collating those as well. In fact I’ll start there.

Having shared some very vague ideas in last week’s tutorial I also spoke to Jen over Skype early this week to firm up my assignment topic so I wanted to talk a little about why the assignment idea I posted this week started to emerge for me.

Both in my role as Social Media Officer and my day to day life online I am becoming increasingly interested in how a website’s design contributes to behaviour. In particular social sites use clever prompts and automatic details to try and further gain personal details, new friends, and continued logins and participation in the site. Sometimes that’s appreciated, sometimes it makes people seriously angry. In the course of the last few months there have been stories of Facebook telling users to “reconnect” with their less active – and deceased – friends, leading to a new change in policy that allows profiles to be mothballed as “tribute pages” – taking your details in life and into death. On a less dark note friends of mine – a married couple – get weekly suggestions that that they should message/reconnect/poke/suggest friends for each other. It sounds silly but after amusing them they’ve started to find it mildly but genuinely disconcerting.

On Twitter the number of accounts that prove to be spam with pornographic profile images has increased massively lately but, more more peculiar, is the use of the Twitter API (Application Programming Interface) to create bizarre amalgamations of genuine posts into new Twitter accounts that follow others and post links to various sites (rarely are these spam or scam links). This is presumably a form of nefarious SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) but the disconcerting thing as a Twitter user is that it is very hard to tell the difference between these users and a genuine user. In some cases the mixture of posts gives it away easily but often it is a subtle judgement call that requires reading a page or two of Tweets and spotting some strange pattern of mentions of a site, or of inconsistent personal comments. This is not a new practice – it has been happening on popular blogging platforms for some time – but there is something about the availability of the API and the shortness of the posts that makes this far more uncanny than more obvious blogging efforts.

At the same time websites are adding social features, adding buttons to easily give permanent access to Facebook or Twitter from another site – and potentially automatically share all content – and generally encouraging users to casually change behaviours around a site and how enthusiastically they share content from that site. At the most basic level such mechanical interventions go back to automated emails, reminders and recommendations Richard has already commented that Amazon’s recommendation engine is a particularly lucrative intervention. Some may not like this part of the site but the more subtle (and slightly more recent) intervention that I suspect proves even more useful to Amazon is their related link – on most items pages – to deals featuring the current product plus one other item. Often savings here are under 5 pence difference from list prices but they are surprisingly engaging.

Automatic mechanical interventions are not restricted to commercial sites, prompts, alerts and automated interaction are a part of the MyEd site that I log into to access resources for this course. Alerts are what, in WebCT, keep many eLearning (and hybrid learners) informed about deadlines, events, changes to courses etc. And in online academic data services – which is what my workplace, EDINA, run – it is often a challenge to find the balance between helpful interventions that guide the user around a site and unhelpful interventions that may be invasive and/or might dissuade return/expert users.

This is why I felt this specific area of educational and social online services would be so fascinating to look at and why it fitted well with some of the notions in this class. Looking at digital utopias and dystopias we have considered the idealism that persist around online communities, I think mechanical interventions in these spaces can have a dystopian or uncanny feel. However when they works prompts from the machine can be enhancing, can replace low level thought and memory around mundane tasks (e.g. reminders on ediaries and calendars) and can contribute to a productive sense of post human interaction.

Presentations

Related to this idea of the post human and connected body I thought this was a good time to talk about the talks I have been working on this week. The first (“Staying eLive”) was given to the University of Edinburgh’s LAMP (Library, Archive and Museum Professionals) Forum and was a modded and updated version of a talk I gave earlier this year (”eVentures of an eLife”) and was about the way that my life online – work, study and personal elements – all merge together, overlap, feed ideas that spread across all areas of my life and basically form a huge part of me. Eagle eyed blog watchers will not be surprised that this time around the role of online life had increased importance with this presentation coming so soon after me week of total disconnect from the online world.

One of the questions I was asked – alongside excellent questions about legal issues of cloud computing and the brilliantly easy to answer “do you ever get tired” (“yes!”) – was how I could manage the sheer volume of information I encounter on a daily/weekly basis. I shared some of my tips – bookmarking, contact databases and such – but actually looking across all the items I have been looking at this week I can see that even methodical ideas cannot come close to allowing me to either discover or recall all the possible sites, services and interesting blogs and spaces I would ideally be monitoring and working with. At the same time a couple I know are about to go to China to visit family members and their descriptions of what is/is not likely to be accessible on the internet there has been scarily enlightening. Both of these elements remind me of either some sagely advice or a big PR cock up – depending on which wording you go for:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

- Socrates

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As the amount of information increases exponentially and we lend our trust to the machine to manage this for us I wonder how we ever fully comprehend the scale or nature of what we do or do not know. This isn’t just about findable or banned sites but is also about language. How can I see all the web or social sites that are huge in another country, culture or language if I am only looking at the English speaking area of the web. It’s like knowing only a small area of a huge city. When the web was younger it was easier to end up baffled, confused, but in somewhere genuinely unfamiliar. I, like many others, rely on search engines, wise contacts (often on Twitter), friends, and advertising or journalism around some sites to find new spaces on the web but I wonder how one could ever keep up more directly. The scale is now itself post human and I think that idea of not knowing what you don’t know may have interesting long term political impact as those thinking they are looking at the world only see a small cross section. Most intriguing.

The other presentation I have been working on this week is a talk (Licence to Share) for the eScience All Hands Meeting 2009 on ShareGeo and Go-Geo!, two data services run by EDINA which are both concerned with making geospatial data sets more visible and more available for sharing and reuse. Both my talk and a lot of my work, searching, and bookmarking this week has been around how one deals with notions of trust at one step remove. If you share data through a repository or sharing service then you need to be assured that (a) your licensed content has been shared only with appropriate audiences and (b) it is going to be used responsibly and (c) there is some incentive for you to share your data. This is a really interesting area when more and more services become crowd sourced (with data, including personal data, a commodity of the social spaces) and as the academic community – and scholarly communication norms particularly in the sciences – moves towards the more transparent sharing of data.

I’m not sure I have solid conclusions here but I think incidents like the University of East Anglia Climate Change hacking help to raise concerns and suggest that an ongoing data destruction policy may be legally safer than long term storage of all data. This seems to somewhat go against the possibilities of Moore’s Law – which would suggest you could keep storing and processing data even as it grows exponentially – and the current notion of deposit libraries. Such possibilities begin to raise major questions about trust and liability of user generated content and the regulation of the web. Indeed the recent news coverage of Google’s search results for Michelle Obama suggest a demand for a regulated curated web rather than impartial third party methods to access what is already out there. This is quite a change in digital culture and I suspect it stems from the relatively recent and fairly sudden mainstreaming of broadband connectivity (particularly in the UK) and it’s driver in the idea that any school age child needs (highly regulated or monitored) access to the internet. I wonder if newer internet users have, yet, been properly characterised as a weakly linked digital culture or tribe. Most of what we have looked at this semester has been theoretical debate about the social and cultural possibilities of online spaces but many of these were written – or at least conceived – in a rather different set of spaces or era of usage of the internet. I think it would be really interesting to look at (and maybe include as readings next time around) some form of discourse from a much more average internet user position (though it is hard to know the best place to engage with new/inexperienced internet users around these issues).

Most of the non-positive voices we have heard here have been either strong negative or cynical about online communities, technological futures etc. I think that the more normative voice of the “average” internet user is something less passionate and more parochial. I think that there are core concepts around place, privacy, threat and – in light of the latest Google headlines (and indeed items like news coverage of suicides and social networking profiles) – expectations of curatorial roles of web and social sites and search engines that are under explored at present. I would love to see a comparative study of expectations of physical neighbourhoods and expectations of major trusted internet sites as I suspect that a socially responsible, broadly moral and vaguely conservative attitude towards what should or should not be visible would occur across expectations of both spaces. If correct this is in fairly radical contrast to the early days of the internet and utopian visions of what it can and should be for. But, if true, it would also represent a naive stance given the role of machines, spammers, scammers and genuine bugs and glitches in programming that would make for interesting links to challenges in the area of digital literacy.

OK, I think I have blogged too long already here. I just wanted to reflect on some sense of absence of non-passionate, but influential, opinions in the discussions around digital cultures and behaviours. Passivity can often be invisible particularly to those at the heart of a topic – for instance there are many elections where non-voters represent a bigger majority than any one political view or party – and engaging with those who do not offer up a voice directly can be tricky even if these people voice interesting and/or critical opinions in other spaces. Since we have talked of absence and presence in online spaces recently I thought it was worth talking about absence and presence in arguments and literature about absence from digital culture and digital vs. physical cultural clashes.

Week 10 – Back in the loop

This week I concentrated on the course readings in preparation for the tutorial on Skype on the Wednesday of the week. Interestingly there is no way to properly represent the Skype tutorial – which was really useful for talking through some of the post human, critical and uncanny views – in my lifestream so this is probably the one reference you’ll see to it in the form of an additional reading:

  • Shared New Mappings Hauntologies. — 11:00pm via Delicious

And three podcasts that I listened to again when reading about the idea of absence, presence and cyborgism as the podcasts relate to notions of consciousness and self-awareness, of the body as a type of mystical machine:

  • Shared WNYC - Radiolab: Who Am I? (February 04, 2005). — 2:50am via Delicious

  • Shared WNYC - Radiolab: Where Am I? (October 09, 2007). — 2:50am via Delicious

  • Shared WNYC - Radiolab: Memory and Forgetting (June 08, 2007). — 2:49am via Delicious

Also the much more visceral Tetsuo Man – human literally turning to machine – came to mind in this weeks preparation:

  • Shared YouTube – Tetsuo: The Iron Man trailer. — 2:46am via Delicious

But, in fact, many of my notes and collecting for this course are hard to represent here in true “commonplacing” style because, although I do most of my collecting online, I still take quite a lot of notes on paper, particularly on the readings (although you can just about see my camera cord as well!):

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I also do some hybrid reading/activity marking up paper copies and notes whilst reading/watching or getting my computer to read me material I’m interested in. That mixture of tangible and virtual is often the easiest way to both take in information and (via a finite number of pieces of paper!) trigger myself to retrieve those thoughts later on. In fact I rarely do more than glance at hand written notes but the physical experience of writing them, where they are on the page, when I remember making them, etc. all enable me to recall information better than a screen that looks the same (or almost the same) each visit. There are digital annotation tools but you can’t embed weird environmental aspects – annotations at all angles, in many pen colours, marks from cups or food (gross but memorable aspects in any marked up page) – that aid memory. I find sound – whether screen-readings of text or unrelated audio also give me a sense of time and place to add to my memory of new information so that I can mentally retrieve ideas more easily and so that I can recall context and the original ideas and thoughts triggered, hence:

  • Drinking chai, getting my screen-reader to help me do readings for #ededc (dulcet robot tones push my reading speed way up!) & pondering bed [suchprettyeyes] — 12:04am via Twitter

This week I’ve also been up to some non-online stuff – wracking my mind for my preferred topic for the digital essay assignment – and then sharing thoughts as I go via Twitter:

  • Food for thought for tonights #ededc and the critical/posthuman view. The net rewires how we think… for the better: http://bit.ly/5uVmpU [suchprettyeyes] — 5:34pm via Twitter

  • @jar thanks ;) Will whip some ideas into better shape for then! :D [suchprettyeyes] — 2:35pm via Twitter

I also hoped to – but wasn’t able to in the end – view the virtual graduations of MSc in e-Learning colleagues via the Virtual University of Edinburgh.

  • Shared Graduates virtually guaranteed a day to remember | 4TM Services for Tourism.— 1:02am via Delicious

  • Delighted to see MSc in elearning virtual graduation getting pimped up on BBC: http://bit.ly/4mUBj8 #ededc #mscidel etc. [suchprettyeyes] — 11:27am via Twitter

Although it wasn’t quite as pioneering there was another interesting culture and technology story getting a lot of press coverage: Desert Island Discs – long running Radio 4 interview show with a twist – emerged as a podcast with Morissey the first guest to become downloadable as an MP3:

  • DID is now a podcast which is as exciting as Mr M’s app RT @media_guardian: Mellow Morissey picks Desert Island Discs http://bit.ly/7j0VTM [suchprettyeyes] — 5:38pm via Twitter

Podcasting certainly isn’t news but the novel aspect of Desert Island Disc being a podcast is that it is one of the most mainstream of Radio 4’s shows to get the treatment and hits some interesting legal boundaries: the show itself is a licensed format (“from an original idea by Roy Plomley”) which was only added to Listen Again this year after discussions with Plomley’s estate; and because the show uses music it also has to grapple with licensing costs/issues it has now been released with reduced music clips (under 30 seconds per clip) to bi-pass the potential legal problems and/or avoid the high music rights costs associated with the number of downloads a BBC podcast is likely to receive. Payment for content, and business models in general, are becoming increasingly important as most web services do not charge for content but few attract sufficient advertising to fully pay for costs. The most high profile commercial case lately has been the fight between Rupert Murdoch and Google over the indexing of original content in News International’s publications:

  • Shared Twitter chief to Murdoch: paying for internet content will not work | Technology | The Guardian.— 5:35pm via Delicious

  • Shared Bing Tries To Buy The News. — 12:59pm via Delicious

Although this case is about who makes money online from content there is also the issue of whether anyone is making any income/offsetting costs of original content. Indeed one of the recurring calls for donations on NPR shows revolves around publicising the costs associated with providing infrastructure for podcasts relying on a direct relationship with audiences. It’s a move that suggests – along with calls for user generated content, comment and participation – a shift towards more open and equal relationships between creator and audience:

  • Shared BBC News – Social media ‘could transform public services’.— 9:45pm via Delicious
    The NHS and other public services must re-organise themselves around the needs of users, say social media activists.

  • Shared Ask the former head of the WTO anything – Boing Boing. - 5:54pm via Delicious

  • Shared BBC NEWS | Scotland | Highlands and Islands | Gaelic TV channel being reviewed.— 4:26pm via Delicious

Although this week I was reminded of the insidious power of making the audience the star in this strange This American Life animation:

  • Shared “People act different behind cameras”: strangely disturbing cartoon – Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education.— 5:42pm via Delicious
    Via Graham Linehans blog and Techcrunch is This American Life examining our attitudes to censorship, citizen journalism and how people change when they’re behind a camera.

And I may have been a rather gullible participant/audience member in taking part in what seems to be a study (with involvement from the University of Kent) – indeed a work of digital anthropology – but is very much presented on the Talk Talk website as a sort of advertorial “What Tribe are You” quiz. The downloadable report is a little better:

  • TalkTalk anthropology work on digital tribes (old news but new to me ;) . #ededc. http://bit.ly/3XOeqO [suchprettyeyes]— 3:35pm via Twitter

I found out that I was Digital Extrovert btw. Here’s how the study broke down the tribes:

Talk Talk Tribes

But it could all be one of the rash of somewhat dubious (social) science studies designed to market brands as legitimised by research :

  • Shared BBC NEWS | Programmes | More Or Less | Junk maths. — 4:36pm via Delicious

According to a piece I read in the Independent this week that 10+ hours of internet a day and endless over-sharing that makes me a Digital Extrovert may mean good things for my brain (in contrast to the press items about Susan Greenfield was making earlier this year):

  • Shared What the web is teaching our brains – Features, Health & Families – The Independent.— 5:35pm via Delicious

On a related note I was tweeted a video about groups, networks and both technology and in person teaching practice – it relates to the ideas of social networking and tools and ideas about pedagogies for classes and groups of students. It’s a mash up of comments on line and in person at the 2008 Connectivism and Connective Knowledge conference (CCK08):

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This week I did also find a worrying piece, however, about how absorbing computer games can be – I found this fascinating and again it seemed to link back to the idea of being fleetingly absent and present in online and offline space (although here online is digital but not necessarily networked). The relationship between the virtual, the physical and the emotional seemed fascinating here:

  • Shared Advisor: My husband has a virtual girlfriend – Boing Boing. — 1:00am via Delicious

And there have been some interesting petitions emerging this week as those with a close emotional and personal investment in the web protest against proposed changes to cut down on illegal file sharing activities with a zero tolerance 3 Strikes And You’re Out policy that would see the internet being disconnected from offending households. In UK law there are special provisions to ensure that water, electricity and gas cannot be cut off from homes even when bills are unpaid to ensure the well-being of residents, it seems that we are increasingly in a world where the internet may be added to this list of vital utilities for participation in modern democracy which would certainly make the proposed rule changes look draconian and in the interests only of those perusing income from rights fees:

  • Shared Britain’s new Internet law — as bad as everyone’s been saying, and worse. Much, much worse. – Boing Boing. — 4:37pm via Delicious

  • Shared Pirate Party UK – Blog – Questions for Lord Mandelson. — 4:32pm via Delicious

As I am not only working on this module but also getting myself organised for the next module – which will be Digital Game Based Learning – by keeping an eye out for digital gaming/culture crossover articles:

  • Shared BBC NEWS | Business | Playfish hooked by EA for 170m. — 1:53pm via Delicious

  • Shared Learning Games. — 1:07pm via Delicious

  • Shared A farewell to SLEx – Eloise’s thoughts and fancies. — 1:04pm via Delicious

  • Shared OER in Games, Sims and Virtual Worlds Learning Games. — 1:03pm via Delicious

Work also regularly overlaps with my lifestream since everything I do is digital these days. Two links I thought were particularly interesting this week were a presentation on visualisation which I saw recently and has now been posted to the web:

  • Shared giCentre presentation at Edina, November 2009. — 6:13pm via Delicious

Here the visualisations are used in interactive and informational ways which highlight something surprisingly new to the web – the power of the visual. Although graphic design has been important on websites for years it is interesting to see graphic design mix with mash-ups and programming on data to build powerful infographics – a corner of design previously used almost exclusively in television news/production and textbooks but increasingly emerging as a useful and widely used method of discovering information. However there are good and bad infographics and well scaled interactive examples – as featured in the link above – give a great ideas of how visualisation can be used in more demanding educational or research contexts.

I am almost coming to a close here but I did want to flag up an interesting logo I spotted and followed links to this week:

  • Shared Green Certified Site | CO2Stats. — 12:06pm via Delicious

This is a site which will calculate the CO2 impact of a website automatically (it’s not exactly clear how) and allows you to display and offset this through regular payment of carbon offsetting fees. I flag this up mainly as so-called Green IT is becoming a key issue particularly for educational and public sector organisations. For now there is a persistent perception that the internet is clean and non polluting as, unlike technology such as the petrol engine of a car, the sense of pollution is far removed from the physical experience. Politically the issue of access to the internet seems to continue to be seen as a priority in improving educational achievement, and environmental issues are a clear priority (especially when events like the Copenhagen summit are destined to be such big news). I therefore wonder if raised awareness of the environmental impact of data centres, charging ubiquitous devices, etc. and the apparent emergent trend of those not using the internet (a major group within non-internet users in this years Oxford Internet Survey) will gel into a social and political movement. Digital exclusion offers some tricky challenges but as that becomes more and more about personal choice rather than cost and/or opportunity there will be more difficult social issues raised about what access does or does not mean for participation in democracy, culture, education etc.

Finally, I thought I’d finish this week on something much more frivolous though it also illustrates both some of the first films we saw in this module, some of the vibrant fan culture work I saw in my digital ethnography, and the versatility of Danish construction toys (which I’ve also recently been buying for young nephews and nieces):

  • Shared The Matrix in LEGO – Boing Boing. — 1:08am via Delicious

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Week 8 – Rewind…

    Has a sore sore sore throat. Meh. Not feeling even slightly like I’ve gotten any productive homework done/possible… [suchprettyeyes] 11:07pm via Twitter

The first thing to say is that this is, of course, a belated lifestream summary so a little on why that is. During week 8 I was busy reading ethnographies, bookmarking interesting things and thinking about the readings (now readable in Cyborgs and Post Human Adventures) but, at the close of the week the very real physical world intervened when I came down with what was either a cold or the flu. Either way I ended the week with another post to write hence the delay here.

And here’s where digital culture and traditional recording culture start to, if not clash, then at least challenge each other. If I’d been collecting materials and thoughts in person and had then fallen ill I would have had either a pile of papers or a series of thoughts in my head. I wouldn’t have felt well enough to collate the notes and it would make sense to summarise these even if a few weeks late as the lifespan of an assessment object to hand in in a more tangible permanent format seems conceptually longer. However because I had been taking notes online my notes were nicely preserved and orderly (and public) but, at the same time, I wouldn’t generally write a blog post about an event weeks after it had taken place and it does seem strange and artificial to do so here. Conceptually I see the lifespan of a blog as long but I see the time period in which it remains relevant to blog as significantly shorter than I would a report or, perhaps, even some form of hand or type written journal. The reason is access. If I expect my work to be accessed all in one block at the end of a period then a write up at any stage makes sense – that’s the assessment format here and that’s the reason I am blogging. For a blog the window I expect people to access and read it is a not quite real time basis – maybe once or twice a week or once every couple of weeks – and that suggests that what I post should be relevant in that reading window. For instance on my very informal personal blog I will post intermittently but if something is interesting and I don’t blog it in a week or two I’ll tend not to blog at all relying, instead, on real time updates to Twitter.

In effect there are expiry dates for information in my mind and I think that is one of the weirder and more subtle challenges to bringing pedagogical method and, particularly, even minimum conventional requirements for assessment into the wilder digital space. The problem is that to assess in any continual post-to-post way would be to exclude the collected work and wisdom of a fuller body of work and, crucially, to establish – for a week or several – a real challenge around any first impressions made in initial exploratory postings that could be the first blog post of some students. That is all, of course, to overlook the substantial issue of realistic time and staffing facilities for assessment. It is simply not practical to do what might be useful – perpetual lightweight assessment on almost an apprenticeship model. Ongoing commenting and guidance is of course important in most teaching methods but actually assigning grades or deciding to pass or fail a student halfway through a module (say) would be significantly more controversial and go against academic tradition. And yet packaging and archiving a snapshot of a blog at the end of 12 weeks of a module is, to an extent, to mock the concept of a blog as an alive, participative space. Indeed the relevance of a blog is generally partly determined by the date of last update.

As I try to work out just what I should do with my blog at the close of this module I cannot help but wonder what further fragments of myself I am sprinkling around the web. I have an IDEL blog, now and EDC blog and, soon, a digital game-based learning blog. As soon as a module finishes though the term “blog” seems to degrade and instead a label that fits the archive/one time journal format might be better. Laboratory notebooks are a format very much intended as a real time record of process that supports later completed academic work and publications but these too are changing. The modern lab book is as likely to be in the form of a blog (albeit a specialist implementation – e.g. Southampton Chemistry Blogs) as it is to be a traditional paper notebook with it’s mixture of lined and graphed pages for working notes.

Of course there are additional issues here. The word “book” (lab book or otherwise) is an even more disputed term in an online world than “blog”. The semantics of the internet are still evolving but as more teaching and assessing appears new labels must start to appear around “elearning” that go beyond spaces whose online status is indicated by clumsy prefixes such as “i-”, “e-”, “virtual”, “cyber”…

To the best of my knowledge there is no suitable term to cover a real time recording of process and thought on the web but I think this a gap to be filled. Whatever it is will suit this work – a blend of real time updates of thoughts and non-sequential postings that fulfil course criteria whilst adding additional reflection – rather better than the phrase “blog” with all the cultural baggage that label entails.

In the case of retrospective editing and curating of the course blogs here I find myself significantly torn. In theory I wish to make my blog readable and I, of course, want to make sure the work suits the assessment criteria but, in practice, this sprawling awkward shape is what my blog has been, how it has proved useful for me, where the comments are and it is the honest chronological record of my work. Several weeks ago I considered changing the look and feel of the site to be a little clearer and tidier but I felt that was a matter of evolving the blog on and wondered how the look and feel at the times that other people have read the blog could be captured when it comes to assessment. I re-designed my blog in the first weeks of course but as few people had read or commented on the site yet – and it was still clearly under construction – and the work was nowhere near assessment it seemed fine to do so. Recently I have felt more and more self-conscious that the aesthetics, layout and formatting of the site matter in assessing the content since it’s contextual state – readability, site design, links to others, comments and replies to these etc. – is this piece of work’s ordinary native state. It is not an essay and thus some sort of record of progression would, ideally, be packaged up along with the data when it comes to assessment.

In fact the idea of retrospective edits is always controversial online. Whilst the current UEA Climate Change debacle highlights the potential virtue of curation – and the role of disposal and privacy in the curation of the data record – it also flags up the dangers of opacity. The Guardian has moved to a system of transparent edits (listed in the “Article History” link where both corrections and updates are recorded – e.g. in the recent article “Not Jewish but Jew-ish”) so that you can always see what has been altered, added, retracted etc. You may get only a snapshot in time on the page but the previous versions are available to compare. In the case of the lab book analogy it would be seen as highly inappropriate to go back and correct or reinvent the ongoing work process as this is a record of the evolution of ideas and so errors and tangents are part of the valued record. However you might not present the full record as evidence for every piece of work, rather the relevant portion of the work. As an assessment of your participation in the learning and process of the lab though it is – like these blogging spaces – a tougher call to know what and when to edit and when that is a matter of idealised correction or a matter of sorting wheat from chaff (if that really is significantly different).

Borges (in Baudrillard (1)) allegory of simulation – the idea that to make a map of the world of sufficient accuracy you would need to create a map the same size – or larger – than the world in order to adequately represent it. By the same token would the record of experiencing a course and tracking your thoughts and deeds really add up to, in fact, more material and time to read and/or assess than the time and quantity of materials that compose the actual course itself? It’s a daunting thing in terms of containment, assessment, measuring effort and input. But it’s a thrilling thing in terms of thought, development of ideas, sharing of comments and feedback and the concept of course as mature community of peers. Digital culture is often about the now, the agile, the good enough at the time approach. I think something I’m only belatedly thinking of in our discussions of digital cultures is how one squares norms of practice with norms of education and how artificial such a fusion can or has to be. I realise I am shockingly short of conclusions here but I just wanted to stop and query the assessment portion of this course and how it fits with the work since the blog and the lifestream pose a significant asset and living space for the course but the process of assessment specifically pauses or ceases that life. Perhaps the same would happen anyway with the close of the course but since I think of blogs as living spaces it seems that to cease updating and to place a pause on activity around the space is a little like going fishing and admiring your catch – it will cope without water for a short time but leave it to long and it will no longer be a fish. It might be a tasty dinner but it won’t go back to being part of it’s former ecosystem again, at least not as a living breathing beast interacting with others. Or perhaps that too pessimistic. Perhaps one should revel in plate of delicious assessment sushi (to stretch a metaphor to alarming breaking point).

In any case, I have become distracted here so I shall refocus. Whatever this space is, and whatever the virtues or issues of updating it after the fact, here is what I got up to in Week 8 according to the highlights of my lifestream:

Sorry for the insanely long delay… my ethnography is live! http://bit.ly/P8Ct2 #ededc [suchprettyeyes]3:30pm via Twitter

Posted Comments on: Week 7 Summary – Lost in #Torchwood.11:25am via Generic

Shared 20 Questions with Mimi Ito | Standard Imagination interviews cultural anthropologist, Mimi Ito about her findings in The Digital Youth Study..9:41pm via Delicious - this was a link shared with me originally via the comments on my ethnography


The above relate to my reading and commenting on the digital ethnographies. I spent most of this week delighting in the work of my course colleagues by reading and commenting on almost all of them (to the few I didn’t get to my sincere apologies – I will try and look and comment in the next few days as they are so much fun to read through!). My bookmarks and WordPress comment stream reflect this. I was also lucky enough to received really useful and insightful comments on my own work which was hugely motivating force and allowed me to gather so many ideas and reflections on what I had done and could do. It was a really exciting process to create my ethnography and a hugely exciting process to then look up from my time fiddling with my own work to find out what amazing things others had been up to. It was like doing art a-level again in some ways as it was like we all had our own little digital workspaces in a big friendly studio and were coming together to compare and learn from each others inventive creative work.

Wonders how many of my aardvark answers end up in dubious essays for school… probably not the recipes though [suchprettyeyes]2:26am via Twitter”

This was my tweet after getting several queries through Aardvark – one of many recent crowd-sourced question and answer systems on the net though this one has a very loosely coupled social networking aspect. When it first launched (I joined fairly early in the release) questions were fairly clearly from early web adopters – about travel, electronic purchases, and daft test questions about shopping or ideas. Now there are an increasingly large number of questions that look suspiciously related to homework. I Tweeted after receiving a question about modern art that I was sure was about to end up in a high school essay of some sort. That didn’t stop me answering it but did make me answer in fulsome detail and throw some questions back at the questioner. As she replied and asked follow up questions it led me to wonder whether it is better, worse, or just fine compared with traditional peer support. By combining my previous interest in giving answers with other members’ desire for answers Aardvark sets me up as a trusted voice but there is no standard of service here. I don’t have to give a truthful or accurate answer if I don’t want to and can certainly offer unqualified answers without any need to offer a disclaimer (I do for some things – like the answer I thought was destined for an essay!). What’s odd is that the method of delivery also adds a sense of authenticity – my first name, my age, my gender, my location get shown – it’s a weird way to check the authority of an answer but it has some helpful indicators in there as well as some misleading ones.

My quality/rating/reviews from other questioners don’t get shown but these things are measured in the system since you can rate any answers you have received as useful or not. Ebay has made good work of building authority rankings based on this very informal idea of peer review so perhaps it is likely to start forming part of these Q&A systems. In any case the idea of seeking homework help (at any academic level) from the web is a shift away from searching for data/help and that is a long way from asking local peers or tutors as preceded this. Perhaps the peer support is better on the web – the group is more diverse and more plentiful – but there is no way to know or check authority in semi-anonymous systems. This is already well known issue in teaching and assessment – hence systems such as TurnItIn – but it’s fairly weird to feel you might be assisting someone with their homework without knowing if it is helpful or harmful.

Experimenting with one of the worknetbooks this afternoon. Bit like typing on a calculator… most odd… [suchprettyeyes] 2:02pm via Twitter

Shared iPhone Developer Program – 3. Distribute your application.11:20am via Delicious

Queue mathematics: 10 people with 3 items each on self service or 5 people with full baskets on human till?! [suchprettyeyes]7:04pm via Twitter

So here I am taking the reverse role by crowd-sourcing my shopping decisions. To my surprise this resulted in about 5 answers from people bringing diverse knowledge into really quite unnecessary answers! I think this is actually one of the weird and lovely effects of ubiquitous computing (see first Tweet above) – you can have a continuous one-to-many conversation but receive a mixture of interesting one-to-many or one-to-one responses. You may feel slightly more detached from others’ in your supermarket queue (if such a thing is possible) but you feel continuously in touch with your friends and the chance to have your day lightened by silly or supportive comments can raise your mood. And your queuing productiveness!

Shared giCentre – Department of Information Science – City University London. 5:16pm via Delicious

Shared A Blog Near You Blog WordPress.com.3:51pm via Delicious

Ubiquitous access to the web means needing a way to deal with information better. The links above are two very cool options for finding and using information differently and thus, potentially for new and interesting educational uses (including the types of services my own organisation runs) of information, statistics, blogs: visualisation of data and geospatial contexts for data (WordPress now lets you mark up your blog with a location so that people searching for blogs and bloggers (more likely now that Google have enabled social search) can opt in to filtering blogs by area and – potentially – relevance to them.

Shared Repper -> create your own patterns!.5:19pm via Delicious

This is a much more playful link. Repper takes an already available or a user contributed image and runs a flexible user-controlled repeating algorithm to repeat the image into a kaleidoscopic image:

repper

This is a fun example of software as a service over the web – a sophisticated process that you can run from your web browser in a few minutes is compelling although, of course, it relies on appropriate (and appropriately licensed) images are the only ones uploaded. That trust in users is getting interesting as data provenance becomes easier through tools like image recognition software becomes more widespread (e.g. Mobile Acuity or Google Goggles) but for now tools like Repper have to rely on trust and warnings and the use of take-down notices. As to what happens to authentic original data given away in exchange for a cool image though I do start to wonder if we aren’t going to want to retain licence to our own data in the future. In terms of rolling out any tools on the web for teaching the use and storage of data is an issue so having a way to somehow track usage and retain ownership of images, videos etc. even if you are not the one storing them becomes more important (though most services imply that you keep your data some state that they gain the right to share as they like and that is problematic for the types of trust required in a teaching environment. (Gosh, trust seems to be a trust theme this week).

marvels at the power of coincidence! [suchprettyeyes] 1:14pm via Twitter

A short comment about the power of serendipity in the network. Someone new started work on a project I wanted to make contact with and sent a message round a mailing list to say hello to that particular community. The email was forwarded to me by a colleague and I made a note to email this new interesting sounding person. In the course of a few days however I was moderating comments on my course blog and found one from this person. I approved it and thanked her for commenting. Then we got in touch via Twitter and I found out she was going to the same Edinburgh Coffee Morning as me and that, in fact she knew someone else that I had met through Twestival. I then met her only a few weeks after her initial email with us both having serendipitously found each other. Bizarre. True. And the magic of the actually quite small niche communities even in the huge landscape of the internet.

cyborgish? RT @simonjbains: Bob Constable: industrial revolution was extending muscle power. Info revolution is extending brain power. #ededc [suchprettyeyes]6:05pm via Twitter

@lahirondelle Yes, just to add my voice to those rather baffled by Haraway. Am getting my mac to read it me later, see if it helps ;) #ededc [suchprettyeyes]3:28pm via Twitter

These two Tweets came in in the same week and I liked the mix. At the time I was reading through Donna Haraway (as per my posting) and getting a bit lost and found the quote that was Tweeted out from Bob Constable useful for combining some of Haraway’s arguments about military development of cyborgs and potential alternative futures. And, indeed this seemed to link into some of the difficulties of Hayles (2) has in seeing human conciousness in information flow modelling and analogies.

@MatthewWells Charlie Brooker and Hadley Freeman probably. Yasmin Alibi-Brown and Germaine Greer maybe. Not a huge number… [suchprettyeyes]2:16pm via Twitter

guardian.co.uk – Media Talk: The Sun’s attack on Gordon Brown

This last set of links is a fun diversion which I like to call “Nicola Osborne: Citizen Journalist!” Well it’s over selling it a little. I saw a request come out asking which commentators I would pay for – this was research for the Guardian Media Talk Podcast and a piece on the possibilities of payment models for newspapers (most commentators agree that news cannot be charged for as it is easily found and under valued but that comment sections of paper represent more of a value-added service that people may be happy to pay for online). I offered my suggestions of who I would pay for. And a few days later I was (almost instantly) rewarded for my contribution by being quoted in the podcast – which I duly virally promoted such was my excitement! A good exercise in digital journalism (from Matt Wells rather than me) I think: twitter for research, podcast for format, iTunes and website for distribution, crowd-sources (if that makes sense) for enthusiastic viral marketing.

I think with that I shall round up since this has been a long long lifestream summary. Hope it had it’s highlights. I think the lesson for me is that belated postings tend to be that bit longer – my attempt to recall my original highlights and their context sparks lots of new thoughts to add.

References

  1. Baudrillard, J (1988) Simulacra and Simulations, in  Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings (ed. Mark Poster). Stanford. Stanford University Press. pp.166-184.
  2. Hayles, N.K. (1999). Toward embodied virtuality, chapter 1 of How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. pp1-25

Oh the glitter of virtual red carpet! It’s The Edublog Awards 2009

This week I was alerted to a great initiative (not a new one – but new to me). The Edublog Awards 2009 is about:

Celebrating the achievements of edubloggers, twitterers, podcasters, video makers, online communities, wiki hosts and other web based users of educational technology.

So, since I’m all for rewarding superb educational blogging, my nominations for the 2009 Edublogs Award are:

If you want to nominate a blog btw you just toodle on over the webpage before Tuesday 8th December and follow instructions there.

All of the above I’m nominating as they are just fabulous for what they do:

The EDC (E-learning and Digital Cultures) blog is literally the current module I’m taking on the MSc in eLearning. My own blog (this one) is my work in response to the curriculum, readings, assignments, ideas, encouragements and discussions on the core course blog. It’s been amazing to be part of something so innovative and open on the web, particularly as it means I can share what I am learning and thinking with not only colleagues on the course but also with friends and family who give great feedback and bring forward great ideas for pieces of work.

Bobbi writes a super blog, updated regularly, on libraries and their relationship, adoption, policy and experience of technology. It’s knowledgable, accessible, often really practical and also a rich source of links to interesting posts and articles elsewhere. Bobbi also does a super job of tying together all of her social presences into the blog which is great – and really hard to do coherantly.

Cameron is trying to be super open about science which is a pretty radical position to take. He tweets regularly and is not only informative and provocative but also really discursive with his followers on Twitter (and Friendfeed).

And with that, I’m off to bed to wonder how to reflect on my own blogging experience over the next week – I’ll be writing my last few weekly postings (or moving them from their current draft states) and pulling together all my lifestream content for next week. So, wish me good luck and good luck to everyone working on final blog tweeks and preens over the coming 7 days ;)

Assignment Thoughts – the current (draft plan)

After much faffing and thinking here is what I’m thinking about for my assignment (the title is especially preliminary) – comments very very welcome!

Possible Title: Post Human or Post Relationship?: Uncanny Machine Interventions in Online Social Spaces

What I want to look at (in my relatively wee word limit):

I want to explore how automatic prompts, scripts and bots intervene in relationships in online social spaces. In doing so I want to touch on the themes of current utopian ideals of web communities (specifically Social Media/Web 2 communities) and the invasive nature of the machine in these spaces. I am not set on that invasion always being dystopian but I think that the uncanny tracking and manipulation in such spaces certainly has to refer to dystopian notions of man and machine.

Although this has been inspired by the types of prompts which Facebook generates (”X has no friends – suggest some!) this work has obvious implications for learning – particularly the creation and curation of peer learning communities – in social spaces and, indeed, for the way in which the academic data services I work on/with might conduct their relationships with user communities. I think that a much longer study could look at how these automatic interventions and the community culture around a site interacted in the context of Human-Computer Interaction but, for the scale of this assignment, I will be looking at the cultural impact and effects of mechanical intervention in a more contained context. In particular I am keen to see how the machine interactions cause a community to behave post humanly and to look at how conciously individuals respond to such prompts and whether they consider such manipulation useful, invasive.


What will be in this?

I am thinking of starting by analysing the types of manipulation I am personally subject to and using this as a jumping off point to find participants from one or several social spaces who are willing to share their own experience. I hope to explore the topic with a very deliberate and invasive presentation structure that will cause the reader to question their experience of the space. I’m still thinking through the details but I hope to include some comments and analysis of ways in which social spaces model their participants’ behaviour and looking at how this impacts on communication/social culture of those participants outside the social spaces. Because of the scale of this assignment I will be talking to a few willing volunteers that might represent the issues of a wider whole rather than trying to take any statistically significant sample of participants.

So… What do you think?

Cyborg and Post Human Adventures

I found this a really challenging week as the readings were dense but very stimulating. Initially when I thought about what a Cyborg might be the types of images I had in mind came from science fiction – like the 1989 Japanese film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (see trailer below though it is a little gory/edgy so possibly not safe for work/not for everyone) – and these images are very much about the (literal) fusing of man and machine.

YouTube Preview Image

It was therefore quite a challenge to in some way relate my expectations to the picture Haraway (1) paints of the cyborg as a form of post gender idealism made whole and (almost?) physical. Before reading the Cyborg Manifesto I knew it to be a work on futurism and feminism but I found it hard to analyze and form my own opinion on the work due to the structure and range of issues included by Haraway as she critiques the status quo and sketches a possible cyborg future. I have attempted to consider the core readings with the questions raised by Jen and Sian as my starting point for reflection.

For a start I found some of Haraway’s arguments if not exactly expired had certainly lost their edge since the original publication of her Cyborg Manifesto in 1985. The political importance of nuclear weapons in the world has significantly changed since the end of the cold war and the fall of communism in eastern Europe in the years following 1989. Although many cyborg developments can still be traced to military technology I also think the role of the education, medical and commercial sectors actually have a far greater impact now than at the time Haraway was writing.

I think in fact that the end of the cold war and increasing global dominance of capitalist power has shifted the power balance in ways perhaps not envisioned by Haraway. Military funding of technology remains highly influential but there are reasons to see recent conflict as driven by commerce rather than politics or idealism and that is a type of aggression that is both post-partisan (in a very cyborg way) and promiscuously frightening. I don’t think this situation is entirely beyond Haraway’s image of the cyborg but I think the reality is that much more negative than the picture she paints.

I think there is actually a curious bilateralism of influence occuring as the military commissions private sector gaming companies to create training games – because the technology developed for commercial gaming is both the most leading edge of it’s type and the gameplay experience most closely aligned to the experience and expectations of new recruits. In turn such commissions develop and maintain expertise that is reused in increasingly realistic commercial war games that will contribute to forming attitudes and understanding of the world to future voters and recruits. There is something intriguing and alarming about the unequal bridging of commerce, war and embodiment – the apparent subject of the forthcoming James Cameron film Avatar – that might allow conflict to be conducted partially or wholly in game or virtual environments given the sophisticated, often remote and highly automated weapons systems that now so resemble a form of disconnected gaming.

The role of women in society has changed significantly (perhaps more so in the UK than in the US because of the broad and swift changes to European social policy changes including the almost total legal unacceptability of sexual discrimination in recruitment, increased and mandatory periods of paid maternity leave, increased rights for part time workers etc.) but in both cases the realm of women certainly now includes work – frequently in addition to caring responsibilities around home, family and children – in a much more significant way.

Fertility rights of women have also changed due to the (relative) mainstreaming of older pregnancies, IVF, donar insemination etc. and this (along with very little change in the available male roles in selective fertility/birth control and only limited paternity leave and rights) has not just opened up opportunities but has also forced women – in a very cyborg way – to continuously make conscious choices about their role in society and their role in their private life. At the same time the mainstreaming of pornography, the impact of Viagra, the increased rate of divorce (and later age dating and remarriage) and the rise of the energetic pensioner have all brought about the expectation that women will be youthful and sexual at all ages. This may enable exciting new senses of self and embodiment but increased visibility of high profile older women – who selectively model their appearance on a continuation of impression of youth – has led to a more homogeneous acceptable face of femininity and female power. Advances in modern medicine and biotechnology have huge impact with Botox and hair dye having physical and cultural effects far beyond the reach of the type of cosmetic surgeries that were available twenty years ago.

] There is nothing female that naturally binds women

- Haraway (1). p. 38

In fact despite the gender-blurring that has occurred since the writing of the manifesto – including the increased visibility of all types of sexualities and literally post-gender trans people – there has been a curious polarization of genders enabled by technologies around implants, cosmetic surgeries etc. but not driven by them. Modern humans are not only not post gender but the modern face of idealised womanhood is a faux youthful and hyper feminized mixture of inflated and airbrushed lips, breasts and hair with large childlike eyes. Despite a current resurgence of 1980’s fashion styles it is not the genderless 1940s inspired shoulderpads of professional women that have returned but the sloanish fashions of privilege and passivity. Even the more gender neutral styles adopt highly gendered ontologies that refer to a conceptual space not the cut or true origins of the garment, for example the Boyfriend cardigan/blazer/etc. The increased hyper feminisation of appearance seems, in part, an extreme reaction to the blurring social roles between men and women. Society seems set on the importance of strongly articulated gender and, because only a minority of women subscribing to the notion of being a surrendered wife or an idealistic Martha Stewart soccer mom, ultra feminine fashion and increased attention on appropriate grooming (for both genders: stubble and/or aggressively showy styles for men; obsessively hairless bodies and long hair for women) is the (capitalist) way to compensate for increasingly comparable careers, blurred child care roles and empowerment across genders. In other words the cyborg – if that is a relevant term for current experience – is not post gender but in fact amplifies subtle differences that potentially undermine any post feminist or post gender gains.

Haraway indicates that the cyborg will be ubiquitous, virtually invisible and this remains resonant in a world of smart phones, bionic body parts and automated processes. Though the technology here has moved on greatly since the Manifesto it is one area of the piece that I feel has dated most strongly as the ethical and moral questions remain pertinent and unresolved. This is one area where the fear of technology remains many years after Haraway took as read an assumption that cyborgs were likely to be perceived primarily as threats.

Haraway’s ideas of binaries and paradoxes has aged less well and an interview from 1997 [5] casually rejects the simplicity these implied. I do not feel we have become cyborg enough to float above these binaries but I do question that they were ever capable of such neat definition. The core Cartesian mind/body duality though is a harder to deal with. Reading through the Manifesto I felt Haraway framed the duality so clearly in spiritual terms that her own Catholic upbringing was forefronted. As someone without any religious faith or beliefs I do not see the “spirit” as a valid human form exactly but, realistically, I do articulate my function in the third party as a split of intelligence and, for want of a better phrase, meat. I came to the conclusion, reading [1] that in fact I see the body as one intrinsically connected machine with the nervous system and brain at it’s core and everything else a sensor, tool or other connector between processing and the external world. That is a mind/body split of sorts but it is also a matter of seeing skin as the ultimate in sensor technology, the eye as the very best camera in the world, and the body as more than a disposable husk for a brain. Shallow elements like appearance also effect the development and behaviour of a person and so, on a different level, there is also an important connect between body and consciousness (and I think conciousness is the word I would give to the mind/spirit or similar notion).

Cogito, ergo sum.

- René Descartes

Hayles (2) raised the condition of post humanism and I found this to be a fascinating and complimentary theory to Haraways cyborg ideology. Post humans are, from what I understood of Hayles, far more about the practical elements of joining humans to machines or at least to non-natural elements. This is where the fusing of body parts, the development of artificial joints and limbs, the idea of backing up ones memory to the machine or the internet comes in. And in fact I was reminded of three powerful radio programmes from the NPR RadioLab series: Who Am I?; Where Am I?; and Memory & Forgetting. Each explores the nature of consciousness and being and the role that the physical body has on an articulate understanding of the world and the self. Hayles takles aesthetic post humanism head on – having the luxury of 14 years more of medical technologies at the time of writing – as a part of the evolution of post human forms, something that relates back to Haraway’s notion of a superior form (of cyborg) emerging and her own professional background in evolutionary biology.

Perhaps the most powerful element of Hayles (2) though is her insistence that it is the cross pollination between disciplines and futurists that allows powerful holistic ideas to emerge. Although her own perspective is literary she pays homage to the role of science and broader colleagues. This interlinking of expertise and ideas is, perhaps, in itself a reflection of the power of networks (of all kinds) and of the power of machines in aiding discovery and communication between scholars and in processing information so that human interactions can be distilled to their most useful creative connective functions.

I found Hayles (3) a really useful piece for reflecting on Haraway and particularly the notion of consciousness and embodied self but Sheilds (4) was, to me, a curious read as it seemed to come so firmly from a practical and male perspective that it jarred oddly with the rest of the key readings here. As you would imagine I could not entirely disagree with his new sites of Body and Web but I certainly disagree with his reasons for their inclusion. In fact I felt that Body had already, to some extent, been dealt with as Haraway wanted to and her own choice had been to indicate a post gender post human form. There are cultural issues (as I have highlighted above) around how, in practice, this actually takes place but I do not see the body as distinct from the rest of the person as Sheilds evidently does. I see the body as part of the engine of human/cyborg machines.

The inclusion of the web as a site actually also seems curiously out of date. For me personally I do not see the web as sitting outside my experience of the world: it is not a unique space but (as discussed in Bayne (6)) one of many distributed embodiments of my own self. It is not a special site in terms of how I define myself any more than any other embodied space. In effect both new spaces Sheild proposes seem comparitively irrelevant given the scale of issues and ideologies that Haraway sets her sights on.

I found this entire set of readings (and those that I will reflect on as part of my Week 10 summary) very stimulating though broadly I disagreed with much of what was being said. Haraway in particular appealed to me – and my strong sense of feminism – but seemed so of it’s time and of it’s creator’s era that I felt quite isolated and distant from the images of politics (personal and state), ideology and feminist orthodoxy painted.

References

  1. Haraway, D. (2000). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century. in D Bell and A Kennedy, The Cybercultures Reader. Routledge.
  2. Hayles, N.K. (1999). Toward embodied virtuality, chapter 1 of How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. pp1-25
  3. Hayles, N.K. (2006). Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere. Theory Culture Society, 23/7-8.
  4. Shields, R. (2006). Flânerie for Cyborgs. Theory Culture Society, 23/7-8.
  5. Kunzru, H. (1997). You are Cyborg. Wired. Issue 5.02. Accessed 30th November 2009: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffharaway.html.
  6. Bayne, S. (forthcoming, March 2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education. [revised version uploaded 10 November 09]

Lifestream update

This is my quick update as my summary for Week 10 refers back to week 8’s post human/cyborg posting which I’m putting so me finishing touches on. I found this such a dense complex set of readings – touching on so many ideas – that it’s taken me a while to work out what I think.

As I put finishing touches to week 8 and 10’s lifestream summaries I’m also looking at what I might do for my assignment. Currently I am wondering about looking at the utopian idealism of community in social media and the dystopian realities of robots, identity, spam etc. but I’m not sure about it and I certainly don’t have a firm idea of what space to do that in yet.

Where’s Week 8?!

Although I will be massaging the order of my posts just a little bit in the next few days this is a short flag up of the fact that my lifestream summaries are written at the weekend – it’s when I have time and fits the timings well – which meant that Week 8, a busy week, wasn’t written up when I was tucked up early on last Sunday night nursing my fever. It will be following this week along with posts about the readings for the last few weeks (some of which I am up to date on, some of which I am only now able to catch up on). Oh and some assignment thoughts as well of course.

It’s been a really sucky time to be ill in terms of coursework and my dayjob but I’m feeling mostly recovered and eager to get back to work properly so hopefully this week will be a much much more productive one concluding with an up to date blog, a much healthier lifestream and a clearer idea of what the next few weeks will hold for me. I’m looking forward to this week’s Skype session as well so may reflect on that here since the readings across the last 3 weeks will, I’m sure come up in enjoyable detail.

Watch this space…

Week 9 Summary – Feverish and Underproductive

This week was mostly a matter of being ill at home with fluey symptoms.

Having run a fever all weekend with coughs and sniffles I was off work for the whole week and on Monday 16th and Wednesday 18th I was too busy being tucked up in bed sleeping off symptoms, taking paracetamol and feeling like my head might explode to do anything online at all. My lifestream from all corners of the web was blank and friends were much more concerned about my silence than about my tiny Tuesday tweet to say I was unwell. They know to be Nicola is to be online, sharing, posting, updating. To be silent or near silent for any number of days is weird or concerning behaviour but particularly when everyone knew I was in town and not tied up with a family event or otherwise away from access to the internet. A few friends got quite spooked and started checking in on Facebook. One was getting concerned, absolutely days ahead of time, that I might not be well enough to roast the massive Thanksgiving Turkey next week. Such is the peculiar impact of my presence/absence online.

By Thursday I had perked up enough to enter the light daytime television period of any illness and that meant I could also handle a little light email and start bookmarking a few interesting things. I let people know via Twitter that I was on the mend and answered various kind Tweets from concerned followers – most weren’t those that see me around town a lot but those who do retweet me and take an interest in following up comments. I was supposed to attend an Edinburgh Coffee Morning (a weekly networking event for new tech/social media) this week and two of the people I should have met there also checked in to see if I would be along and how I was feeling. Flicking through my email I spotted a few things I should grab and note and, particularly as I was still feeling quite ropey, could come back to later when feeling brighter. These included:

  • An announcement from the Ordnance Survey about mapping data which will be made free online – as well as offering some interesting potential for emerging location based web services this is also of general professional interest as my own organisation provides Digimap (http://www.edina.ac.uk/digimap/), a service which provides online maps and spatial data of Great Britain for UK HE and FE (including various ordnance survey data sets).
  • A link out to a webcast of the Silicon Valley Comes to the UK – NESTA event on Social Media with participants including Stephen Fry and Biz Stone.
  • An article on the unmasking of notorious escort and blogger “Belle de Jour” and what the publicity about her real identity reveals about the problems of anonymous blogging.
  • A link to remind me that Twitter have started supporting Tweets via MMS (only in the UK, only from Orange handsets so far) which I’m eager to try as I often take pictures of newspaper hoardings on my walk home from work when daft/alarming/emotive/non-news type headlines catch my eye. I also grab shots from my phone of little moments at home (often nice plates of food or daftness) and bizarre window displays in shops. None are thrilling, all are ephemeral and all are easier to MMS (multimedia message) than to email or upload on the spot (see examples below) so it should be fun gilding my Tweets in the next few weeks – it will add a whole new element to the lifestream as I could get super literal about digitally tracking my day if I wanted to.

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By Friday I was, aside from 30 second nose blows, feeling much more like myself and a lot more able to absorb the world (if not really take that much part in it again yet). In the daytime I saw a few emails and news stories like a new Facebook Privacy Policy (always interesting given how often they relate in public backlash – although Facebook provide a free service their users know all too well the value of them walking which leads to interesting clashes), an article on Second Life and the rather radical (and good) news that YouTube are adding automatic captioning for all videos (eventually) which will mean increased accessibility but also increased search engine friendliness. One of the ongoing challenges to humans becoming posthuman or part cyborg or simply delegating more work to automated systems is the fact that human understanding is very complex compared to those of machines. Machines can interpret sound, images, video but most are best with numbers, text and similar programmatic inputs. There are specialist systems and algorithms for different sorts of data but few computers are expert with all types on input whereas most humans are capable of understanding (in some way) sound, image, text etc. more intelligently. The more machines are able to understand unmediated images, video, etc. the more they will be able to serve and interact with their human users. Until then image-based pdfs will ellude screen-reading software, metadata for sound recordings will rely on words or provided information not the meaning of what is spoken or conveyed.

The strange thing about Friday’s email was the number of happy silly links friends and colleagues were sharing – I don’t know when Fridays officially became the day for silliness but they now always seem like the time the daftest things come to light. This week I was sent Catsforgold, a very accurate parody of the recent rash of daytime TV ads urging you to post your gold jewellery to similarly named companies who will post you cash in return. However the best silly site I was sent this week is actually a perfectly normal Amazon product page that has been subverted by viral people power because, well, quite a lot of people thought that a Steering Wheel Laptop Table sounded a tad lethal. The time and (in most cases) subtlety of the posts here wonderfully subverts and questions the validity of the product. It’s something I’ve seen Jon Ronson encouraging Twitter followers to do to dubious ghost detection kit and, just this weekend, a friend forwarded me the ebay ad for Debbie Magee’s moulded rubber hand which was replete with questions that may have been serious, may have been meant in jest but definitely lowered the tone of the sale in a method roughly proportionate to the unusually brief sellers description and cynical responses from not Paul Daniels, the listed seller, but his apparently unamused PA. What is always so good and challenging about these subtle virtual pitch invasions is that, unlike most physical situations, there is an opacity in text and publicness of discourse that makes (sellers) treating remarks as anything other than sincere potentially quite risky. I don’t know if that ultimately may lead to a more conservative society or not but I suspect it is just the new face of satire. Why make crude political sketches when you can post your comments ironically right on your target’s website? Maybe being post human in this way is also post political? I don’t agree with Harraway’s idealism but it’s hard not to see something recognizable in her proposal of the future of politics when there is significant public disinterest in national and party politics at the same time as interest in niche and specilist campaigns increases.

On Friday evening my partner and I were feeling up to organizing our Thanksgiving celebrations for next Thursday and, being good posthuman chefs, delegated much of our memory of recipes to the internet, so it was a Google search for a vegan chocolate pie, a world of troubled searching and browsing to find a recipe to make a tasty Turnip side dish after a massive Turnip (that’s a Turnip not a Neep or Swede – Google isn’t great at the distinction but recipe wise it’s crucial) showed up in our Veg Box, and finally a quick search for Artichoke Dip found me the YouTube clip I’d cooked (deliciously) from before. I’d forgotten the name of the dish, the cook, the website, the ingrediants for the recipe and still I knew it would take 2 minutes to find it. I can’t imagine how one would do this in a recipe book where, images aside, your only help are headings, indexes etc. and finding most dishes can be a little hit and miss. And written recipes are certainly less memorable than Mr Alan Smith…

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This weekend I haven’t been adding much to my lifestream but I have been browsing for presents for my nephews and niece as, being all the way over in Seattle, it is often easiest to send the bulk of their presents via US internet retailers as they arrive quickly but we can see what we are buying and we can pay without any currency or postal rate issues. The internet adds and takes away from international family communications – Skype and present buying online is great but it is not the same as seeing people in person or purchasing gifts you have picked out yourself – there is a rewarding festishistic quality to present shopping that it seems impossible to replicate online. However having a showroom-like store for touching, browsing, trying on etc. who would then send on items a-la online retailers may be worth revisiting as a concept (since this is how department stores operated for many years) given the way in which shops are now stocked and how frequently you are referred or suggested to look online for a wider range of items. There are many things I can pick online but until websites go haptic, 3D and odourised there are also many items it is much more fun to grab in a shop.

Talking of culture clashes there were two news items I was depressed to find this weekend. Tweeters are being paid to Tweet occasional automated ads (something I find irrationally exploitative though it may be a Million Dollar Homepage type flash in the pan) and the London Nude Tech Calendar is ready for launch. The latter I find incredibly depressing after a fortnight of reading about feminism and moving beyond human limitations and physiques. The volunteers for the calendar are very conventional attractive people but it has been promoted by the organizers as being a sort of Who’s Who of Social Media players in the capital, that implies that in order to be part of that industry there is some sort of beauty filter rather than competence measure. And, although the calendar features teams of staff and a relatively mixed gender balance, the entire promotional presence is based around the image of a young naked woman (tagged left and right NSFW – Not Safe For Work) rather than a more representative mix of images.

However I should add that I find the nude calendar movement that has come out of the Calendar Girls phenomenon more than a little degrading. The undercutting humour of middle aged ladies with wobbly bits and discretely placed baked goods is wholly absent in calendars that photograph models from a glamour or “artistic” gaze where nudity rather than comedy or playfulness is the goal. Having been given a series of wholly non ironic – though amusingly cheesy – nude calendars no more than 9 or 10 years ago (the engineering sector is, I am sure, still producing such things for sales reps to hand out) I find it can be hard to detect the irony in these things sometimes. I think I would compare London Nude Tech to most of comedian Jimmy Carr’s material – both may have a value to a post-modern ironic audience but there is simply no way to guarantee your audience or that success will not largely come from those that simply agree with what is being ironically nodded at.