Author Archive
This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series weekly summaries

ff7_dc_lifestream05

I began my lifestream with a sense that I would be saving ephemera.  In my early blog posts I played with the ‘why?’ of the activity.  Was I creating commonplace book, a scrapbook of nostalgia, the virtual clippings and travel stubs to remind me of my journey? Or a bower bird, attracting a mate?  If so who was I flirting with – my tutor, my classmates or a wider public?

As the course progressed and the group bonded we looked more seriously at our role, were we curators creating our own cabinet of curiosities or wunderkammer.  I enjoyed Jen and Tony’s discussion, particularly Tony’s articulation of his concerns, in that it set the collector apart from the collection, not with appropriate academic detachment but a tinge of imperialistic superiority.  This was further explored in the ethnography project – should we observe, or engage?  Here I began to see the emergence of a more useful position on lifestreaming: as a record of engagement.  Much of the internet is ephemeral – I don’t see the point in saving your tweets and Gordon Bell’s decision to digitally archive every detail of his life disturbs me. Yet the experience of creating a lifestream helped me understand how maintaining a selective record of your engagement is a very valuable academic or developmental act that has a performative value.

Interestingly the lifestream did not for me contribute to the social aspect of the course.  As a group we interacted well, but primarily through the blogs and Twitter.  I visited other students lifestreams initially to get a sense of which feeds they were using, but once I felt satisfied with the balance of my own feeds my visits to others’ pages was limited to their blogs.  For this reason lifestreaming for me was a personal act (albeit in a public space) which relieved me of having to worry about the appropriacy of what I was selecting.  I chose to link not only websites, images and quotes directly relevant to my work, but also more tangential associations; blog posts which examined how the net and digital technology is changing who we are – social media’s contribution to the emergence of a posthuman population.

Finally, as I moved towards choosing the topic of a final assignment I looked out how disconcerting online spaces can be for both teachers and students.  In a Second Life talk Nik Peachey discussed how in a virtual world a teacher was often left wondering what their students were doing.  Were they paying attention or reading emails?

Usher (1998) talks of (dis)location:

a space and a non-space; a (dis)location – something that is both positioned and not positioned, (dis)placed but not re-placed, a diaspora space of hybridity and flows where one and many locations are simultaneously possible.

Similarly Bayne (forthcoming 2010) notes:

At the same time, the ontological blurring of being and not-being, presence and absence online, are crucial in considering how distance modes re-position the ‘thereness’ of learners and teachers, rendering us in a sense ghost‐like

The lifestream is a response to this enigma of absence/presence.  We become present through our streams.  This is why I noted that the act of selecting gained for me a performative value.  It represented my engagement.  Initially I was concerned with populating my lifestream in order to prove I existed (and was doing valuable work), but as I grew more comfortable with it I allowed it to give voice to my absence.  When mystified by Haraway (2000) I avoided the stream for a few days  as a way of expressing my confusion and need to retreat and resolve myself as a learner.  Similarly, I allowed myself to be playful – to add threads of whimsy: my personal skepticism towards the skill of multi-tasking for instance.

In this way my lifestream became another form of embodiment, and presumably a way for my tutor to gauge my presence and engagement in a non-threatening way.  It gave a little solidity to my phantom self as I haunted our virtual spaces.

Bayne, S. (forthcoming, March 2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education. [revised version uploaded 10 November 09]

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.

Usher, R. and Edwards, R. (1998). Lost and found: ‘cyberspace’ and the (dis)location of teaching, learning and research. SCUTREA 1998, Exeter.

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This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series weekly summaries

After speaking with Jen I decided to do my final assessment on authority, in particular how we sometimes feel that authority is compromised in digital spaces and what if anything we (should?) do to assert our authority.  I first noticed this theme in Hine’s account of digital ethnography:

Along with travel comes the notion of translation (Turner, 1980). It is not sufficient merely to travel, but necessary also
to come back, and to bring back an account. That account gains much of its authoritative effect with the contrast that it constructs between author and reader: the ethnographer has been where the reader cannot or did not go.

and is a feature in the later readings on critical perspectives and even – now I reflect back – in the very first dystopian weeks.

I won’t give away all my ideas in this post – just give you a visual introduction:

respect-my-authority

question-authority

blog-authority

authority

mod admin

authorityyx6-1

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This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series weekly summaries

uncanny

Our new pedagogies may be uncanny but it was with a sigh of relief I returned to the familiar realm of education.  The jaunt through cultural studies has been extremely interesting, but I was getting a little lost without a peg to hang it all on.  It was the readings for this block (especially Bayne and Usher) that made everything fit into place.

I understand the dislocation of online learning, and it is the strangeness that draws me.  I find it liberating – the lack of fixed rules that melt away with the disappearance of classroom walls and chalkboards.  I am interested how this uncanny nature disconcerts some and exhilarates others.  I have never been convinced the the native / immigrant divide that we explored way back in the days of IDEL – if it is that simple then why do I feel so at home in this virtual world, when I didn’t have an email address until my boss begged me to get one in 1997 (the same guy who took me shopping to buy my first computer in 2000 – I think he knew I would never get my Dip TESOL finished without one)?  As I was pondering these issues I kept coming back to Bayne’s paper on smooth and striated learning spaces, which we studied in the Course Design module.  Maybe a posthuman student (and indeed teacher) must be a little in love with chaos, and strange learning.  We have to get comfortable with alternate democratic sources of knowledge.  I remember when it was announced (on the internet of course) that Wikipedia was as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica – I have no idea if it was true and no intention of researching it’s veracity – other than googling it (here, see? 2005 – it must be EVEN more accurate now) but I got a thrill of smug vindication when I first read it.  Maybe this is what makes us cyborgs – becoming posthuman is a leap of faith, not technology.

Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and striation in digital learning spaces. E-learning 1(2): pp. 302-316.

Bayne, S. (forthcoming, March 2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education. [revised version uploaded 10 November 09]

Usher, R. and Edwards, R. (1998). Lost and found: ‘cyberspace’ and the (dis)location of teaching, learning and research. SCUTREA 1998, Exeter.

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series weekly summaries

tat tvam asi closeup

I was getting quite frustrated with the readings on cyborgs and posthumans, not that they weren’t interesting, but they were so embedded in western ideas of self and being and what it is to human (and therefore cease to be human) that I was beginning to think that mandatory courses in Eastern philosophy might be a good idea for anyone wishing to put font to pixels.  Then at last week 9, I got to Hayles (2006) and at last, something I could identify with, the potential for our relationship with a computational universe to reveal to us a deeper truth:

What we make and what (we think) we are co-evolve together.

and

The cognisphere takes up where the cyborg left off. No longer bound in a binary with the goddess but rather emblem and instantiation of dynamic cognitive flows between human, animal and machine, the cognisphere, like the world itself, is not binary but multiple, not a split creature but a co-evolving and densely interconnected complex system.

From a Buddhist belief system (via wikipedia) we have:

Some consider that the concept of the unreality of “reality” is confusing. They posit that, in Buddhism, the perceived reality is considered illusory not in the sense that reality is a fantasy or unreal, but that our perceptions and preconditions mislead us to believe that we are separate from the elements that we are made of. Reality, in Buddhist thought, would be described as the manifestation of karma.

The Buddhist concept of dependant origination states that any phenomenon exists only because of the existence of other phenomena in an incredibly complex web of cause and effect covering time past, time present and time future. Stated in another way, everything depends on everything else. A human being’s existence in any given moment is dependent on the condition of everything else in the world at that moment, but in an equally significant way, the condition of everything in the world in that moment depends conversely on the character and condition of that human being. Everything in the Universe is interconnected through the web of cause and effect such that the whole and the parts are mutually interdependent. The character and condition of entities at any given time are intimately connected with the character and condition of all other entities that superficially may appear to be unconnected or unrelated.

Because all things are thus conditioned and transient, they have no real independent identity and thus do not truly exist, though to ordinary minds this appears to be the case. All phenomena are therefore fundamentally insubstantial and empty.

Is it possible that our relationship with technology and our understanding of a ‘computational universe’ might lead us to a more instinctive and essential understanding of reality? Quantum physics has already done this in the field of theoretical science, but maybe we will make the experiential connection through the ever decresing membrane of our interface with our computers and through them the world – the real world, that is… not the illusiory one we percieve with our senses.

To quote John Eccles (the neurophysiologist)

I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent.

What is left then, but energy, information and flow? Tat Tvam Asi.

Hayles, N.K. (2006). Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere. Theory Culture Society, 23/7-8.
Usher, R. and Edwards, R. (1998). Lost and found: ‘cyberspace’ and the (dis)location of teaching, learning and research. SCUTREA 1998, Exeter.
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This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series weekly summaries

I prefer the term posthuman to cyborg.  I think as the digital world we see today was emerging in the ’90s and early 00’s we misunderstood the effects of the relationship between ‘us’ and technology.  Much of this misunderstanding was idealistic and hopeful – Haraway anticipated we would be cleansed of gender and bias for example.  I enjoyed Muri’s interpretation – that we veered towards using technology as an imagined escape from the scatological and reproductive messiness of being human.

This encourages me to look for a more realistic relationship as seen through popular culture and blogs – while technology is not about to liberate us from the need to buy toilet paper anytime soon – we do seem on the brink of being liberated from the need to buy computers (phones and online storage are the way froward).  Our use of the net will change the way we think, and relate to the world – we will be connected 24/7, cloud computing and real-time searches will take the integration with technology further.  I think we will feel more cyborg as the human / digital interface becomes more transparent – as the gadgets we use to access information become smaller and less obviously intrusive (although ironically more literally intrusive – with implants and discrete accessories replacing the clunky laptop).

Once again Buddhist doctrine makes for an interesting parallel.  Once we come across something with our senses, we experience either fear and aversion or desire and craving (kleshas).  The readings so far have made me realise our approach to digital experience is no exception.  The potential of being successfully posthuman is for me, finding the middle way.

Kleshas

500x_aimeemullinsbeachshot

Aimee Mullins was the guest editor for Gizmodo’s current theme This Cyborg Life.  The weekly theme explored many areas, but stuck mainly with the focus on medical / physical prosthesis.  I found it while looking for cyborg related content and have been following their updates avidly for the last week.  What was interesting about Aimee is how she, using cutting edge prosthesis technology was able to turn a disability into a strength.  What was even more notable was how this divided her audience.  Looking into the back ground of her posts it seems that disabled athletes are acceptable in the context of the para-olympics but once they start to get good enough to beat conventionally bodied athletes then fur and feathers start to fly and claims are made that their ‘enhancements’ are giving them an ‘unfair’ advantage.

Aimee uses the example of Oscar Pistorius who is still fighting to be allowed into the main (not para) Olympic team in 2012.   I found it shocking that we are so determined to give diversely abled people the chance to live a ‘normal’ life but then when they take that chance and run with it (pun intended) we fight just as hard to force them to remain in their disabled pigeon hole.

It places our discussion into an interesting context, and suggests we are not quite ready to allow cyborg technology to liberate us from the shackles of massive identity issues such as race and gender when we can’t even let it free us of our more obvious bigotry.

Aimee however has hope for the future specifically with respect to how children build their identity through the internet and video games:

The generation of children growing up today has a distinct advantage in this realm of identity, thanks to their daily interaction with the internet and video games. It’s commonplace for them to create avatars and parallel representations of themselves, and they see their ability to change, transform, and augment those bodies to best suit their surroundings as beneficial.

That kind of fluid thinking was once solely the domain of those whose imaginations were heavily influenced by both technology and science fiction. Talk about seeing evolution speed up before your eyes. My being able to embrace the art in my artifice, to change my identities—how I perceive myself and how others respond to that perception — has profoundly changed the way I see the world and my opportunities in it. But I didn’t possess that ability at age six.

I keep thinking of how long it takes for most of us to go through the process of first accepting ourselves as we are, strengths and weaknesses, then celebrating that self and starting to have fun with your strengths and weaknesses, then transforming ourselves as architects of own our identities, redefining what our strengths and weaknesses actually are. I think kids today are able to do this faster than previous generations.

Here are some links to Aimee’s articles for Gizmodo:

Is choosing a prosthesis so different than picking a pair of glasses

Racing on Carbon Fiber Legs: How Abled Should We Be?

Normal Was Never Cool: Inception of Perception

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This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series weekly summaries

This week was taken up with recovering from my ethnographic experience and viewing those of others.  Thus my lifestream got a bit neglected.  Pity the hard work of ploughing through Haraway doesn’t show up on it.  I have to admit  reading this text, ironically, made me regret for the first time not having face to face tutorials.  I could really do with help, the kind of intense help you get with a face to face discussion.  While I understand the overall message there is so much I just don’t get.  It is like a treasure chest of ideas that are meaningless to me.  So many of her statements left me crying “Why? What do you mean by that?”

Anyway, I will leave deeper ponderings to another post, in the meantime – check out your cyborg name:


Transforming Robotic Android Calibrated for Yelling

Get Your Cyborg Name

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This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Tracy's digital ethnography

mask

When I asked the Forest of the Moon players why they did it, they gave the following replies (Screen name / Character name[s]):

Being able to be a part of a fun world/idea/plot — more directly than just reading a book — and being able to do something with my tendancy to keep making characters like mad. (Oreta / Rehael)

the creativeness, making our own storyline. Seeing what another person will do and adjusting your own story you have going to match it. (Jessica / Seryina / Kenai)

I like it for loads of reasons. It’s an escape from reality for a moment. It’s a form of venting. I love the players I play with (does that sound wrong? darkside.gif) and the characters they’ve created are fantastic (Red / Hunter / Maia)

I love the creativity of it, the chance to get to write a story which i always want to do, without the hardship of working on all the details yourself. Also you can come up with an idea that sounds good but then it gets work on by loads of different people and comes out maybe nothing like your idea but so much better!!! Also I have dyslexia and working on posts help me work on my spelling, gramma and structure where people won’t kill me if it comes out a little weird or I dont lose marks for it being wrong. (Melas Zepheos / Nimah)

The calibre of the story telling. I love to read what people are thinking, how they react to a scene and (natch) how they write. This is so much cooler than the ol’ pencil and paper D&D route to RP. (Vyxen / Fayne)

Creativity plays a strong part in their motivation, but there is also the element of escape.  This could be interpreted as a negative tendency as Bell (2001, p.105) highlights:

For all their proponents’ chatter about inclusion and heterogeneity, the space of online community is, rather, a ‘domain of order, refuge, withdrawal’ (Robins CR: 91). As he writes in another essay, ‘virtual culture is a culture of retreat from the world’ (Robins 1999: 166). Arthur and Marilouise Kroker describe the withdrawal into VR as ‘bunkering in.

However I believe that in many aspects virtual culture the masks we wear often allow us to be more ourselves rather than less.  However for this to be a positive and healthy aspect of community we need a space where we can take off the mask and be ourselves, and in some way to articulate the learning we have gained from wearing them.  The Northlands RPGers do this in their Out of Character (OOC) thread.  This thread is ostensibly for plotting purposes but it is more frequently used as a place to praise (good writing), catch up (on real life news), make excuses (for not posting), encourage and generally form social bonds.  Looking at our RPG forum, one might suspect the OOC thread are the reason for being there – with the RPG’s being an excuse for a get together.  (Taking The Forst of the Moon as an example the RPG has a mere 18 posts, whilst the FoTM OOC thread has 91!).  This probably follows the pattern of many face to face communities where the ostensible reason for getting together (theatrical groups, bible study, writing clubs, quilting circles) is far less important than the connections made, friendships developed and support given over coffee and biscuits.  Whether we are face to face or online we feel comforted and empowered by being with people who are like us, and who like us.  This is for me a fitting case for community.

I would like to thank the Forest of the Moon players for allowing me to be part of their community for the past 2 weeks.

Bell, David (2001) Community and cyberculture, chapter 5 of An introduction to cybercultures. Abingdon: Routledge. pp92-112

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This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Tracy's digital ethnography

batman-alignment

Methodological preambles are far from innocent in the construction of ethnographic authority. The ethnography described in this book is no different. Chapter 4 is there not just to tell you what I did, but to convince you that I did something that authorizes me to speak. Devices such as the technical glossary at the end of this book display the ethnographer’s competence with the local language, just as do the glossaries included with ethnographies conducted in distant places and other languages. (Hine 2000, p46)

An RPG Glossary

Alignment – moral compass; a combination of lawful / chaotic / unlawful + good / neutral / evil

D&D – Dungeons & Dragons

GM – Game Master

God-moding – Making a character like a god with unbeatable powers.

IC – In character

MUD -Multi-User Dungeon, Domain or Dimension (multi-player computer game that combines elements of role-playing games, hack and slash style computer games and social chat rooms)

NPC – non-playing character

OOC – Out of Character

OTBRPG – Online text-based role playing game

PBC – Play by chat

PBEM – Play by email

PBP – Play by post

PBW – Play by wiki

PTB – ‘Powers that be’ (admin, moderators, GM and the like)

Free-form – Minimal formal rules and restrictions.

Re-roll – start over

RL – Real Life

Role Playing RPG – Role Play Game

RPB – Role play blog

Hine, C, (2000) “The virtual objects of ethnography” from Hine, C, Virtual Ethnography pp.41-66, London: Sage

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This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Tracy's digital ethnography

lawful_neutral

What attracted me to the topic was the level of characterization we see online and how it intersects with the question of authenticity.  In our discussion board RPG at The Northlands (an online community), board members, already ‘hidden’ behind their online identity and screenname create a second (or more) identity in order to tell a story together and inso  doing a new layer of imagined community.  As they are only allowed one forum account they have to use other means of distinguishing their RP characters, most obviously this is done by mechanical process of font style and colour, but also more subtly gender, race, style of speech, dress, and mannerism.

Character sheets are used to help role-players develop their characters.  They are also a useful resource for fellow players and readers as it describes details like appearance, race, skills and alignment. For this reason they are frequently posted in the same forum as the RPG’s themselves.  However the character sheets are just the beginning, characters are developed through this tool – but more so in game, in interactions with other characters, in the choices and responses they make.  Frequently in RPG your character evolves in very unexpected ways.  The nature of the game is character building in both senses of the word. In The Northlands all the main RPG’s have a thread for character sheets.  The character sheets for Forest of the Moon can be found here.  I have pasted a sample sheet below. It is the sheet for Hunter, a character played by our Game Master, Red.

Name: Hunter Conri

Age: 27

Sex: Male

Race/Species: Fey/something else

Alignment: Chaotic Good

Residence: Faerie, Province of Lirgeal, wherever his Army happens to be.

Physical Appearance: Overbearingly tall for fey, at almost 7′, Hunter looks formidable. Not overly muscular, but more sinewy. All leg, he has an imposing air and look. His face appears carved from stone, all angles, but not cruel. Eyes are slate grey. His skin is tanned and leathery, that of someone who works in the sun, rather than bathes in it. Hunter’s hair is cropped short, typical of soldiers, and a deep hazlenut brown. There are some lighter highlights in, and possibly even some grey!
Mostly, he can be found in plain clothes – black riding britches of some sturdy cloth, a brown shirt laced across the neck, which is usually undone, revealing glimpses of his hard chest (and a few fine tufts of hair). Hunter is rarely seen without his riding cloak – a thick black cloak, looking a bit tattered at the ends, suggesting it had seen many battles. Riding boots of the softest brown leather keep his feet dry. The only other adornment he wears is a silver ring on his right ring finger. The middle of it spins, carved with tiny figures, depicting a scene of some sort. What it shows, no one knows and no one has dared ask.

Powers: Hunter has none, except the power of warfare. He has a keen intuition on matters of warfare, being able to seemingly anticipate his enemy. He has extra sharp senses, which have no real explanation, but other than that, he’s a normal soldier. So everyone thinks.

Strengths: As mentioned above, Hunter can anticipate his foe’s moves. He is an exceptional tracker, and, despite his size, very adept at sneaking up on anyone and anything. Calm in the face of utter chaos, his demeanour keeps his men’s morale uplifted. A brilliant General, Hunter is a charismatic man who could probably convince anyone to follow him into battle. He never asks of anyone something he wouldn’t do himself, and always leads from the front. He is also naturally strong, and fast, and has keen senses.

Weaknesses: He is sometimes too much of an introvert. When faced with troubles, Hunter will often withdraw into himself and think about it, rather than discuss it. He also has a temper which rarely reveals itself, but when it does, will deeply frighten anyone who witnesses it. He tends to be a martyr too, preferring to deal with problems alone rather than putting others at risk. Despite his stony exterior, Hunter is a gentle, soft individual. Few can scale the walls he puts up, but those who can could hurt him deeply.

Personality: The General is, as mentioned above, charismatic and very likeable. There are few that dislike him, and the ones that do usually despise him for doing so well. Calm and easy-going, there aren’t many things he gets worked up about. He is very focussed and direct, and prefers to focus on solutions, rather than problems. He is also deathly loyal, and will defend his home province, and all it represents, to the death. As also said above, he is an introvert, and keeps things hidden away inside. He knows, all too well, how things like that can be used against him, but it can sometimes bear heavily upon his shoulders.

Background: Hunter was born in the city of Lirgeal to a father who had a mysterious occupation that his mother never divulged, and a kind, caring mother who worked hard to bring up her only son. From a young age, Hunter helped his mother with house chores and earning enough to feed them both. His father, apparently away representing his country, never sent any money back. Hunter grew up, never knowing his father. However, he was spotted one day, when he was about 10, breaking up a fight in the middle of the market. The fight, between two much older fey, had caught the attention of the city guards and their weapons, but, before they knew it, Hunter, already tall for his age, had dived in, and seperated the fight. although not remarkable in itself, the event was watched by a Squadron Commander of the Lirgealian Armed Forces, who happened to be on a recruitment drive. Impressed by the young boy’s courage, he silently approached as the guards prepared to cart the boys back to their mother’s, spoke quietly with them, and thanked them as they released Hunter to him. Confused, Hunter followed the man to a bench nearby, and listened as the Commander told him all about the Army and why they needed young boys like him.
Persuaded, Hunter told his mother that night. His mother had dreaded the day the Army might find her gifted son, but knew it was enevitable, given what she suspected he might have inherited more of his father than she’d hoped. The next day, the young boy left his mother, filled with excitement about his new future, promising to send money home as soon as possible. His mother wept, knowing she might never see her son again.
Which turned out to be true. She died a few years later, which Hunter has never forgiven himself for. If only he’d been home, working hard, he might have earned enough to save her. He learned a hard lesson there, and, after the funeral, dived into his training even harder than before. Fellow recruits believed him to be possessed, for he rarely stopped, except to eat or sleep. He withdrew, and barely spoke to anyone. It paid off, though. Hunter quickly became the best recruit, and rose through the ranks quickly. Exceptionally, he was awarded a commission at the young age of 16, where he joined the ranks of Lirgeal’s officers. He volunteered for every exercise, and became a highly respected soldier. He was a great leader, inspiring even the most weary of men to follow him. Eventually, he rose to become one of the highest ranking officer in the Province of Lirgeal – General of the Lirgealian Army. He answered solely to the High Chieftess of Lirgeal, which is where he finds himself now.

Extras: Hunter isn’t quite what he seems. His mother was right.

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