Saturday, December 13, 2008

Name That Squirrel

I've been checking out the potential names for Powell's Books' squirrel. Pretty good suggestions. The original post (with background story) and potential names is here. It's a nice departure from holiday wackiness.

Monday, December 8, 2008

WebTools4U2Use is Cool (but this title is not)

A lot of my projects at hand are focused on information literacy, and have consequently brought me to a lot of Library 2.0 resources. Here's one that I think is particularly useful. It is a wiki intended to "provide information about some of the new web-based tools (Web 2.0) and how they can be used and are being used by school library media specialists and their students and teachers." I think it is really useful. The link is above and HERE too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ah, The Serendipity of New Literacy

The Boston Globe published a piece this week that profiled a study whose findings assert that "the boom in online research may actually have a "narrowing" effect on scholarship". The article can be accessed here. This seems like a pretty broad claim and, from my reading of the article, the study does not necessarily differentiate between research practices, expectation, and trends within different disciplines. One central point in the article was that serendipity had been extricated from the research process.

Granted, I'm partial given my ties to an Information and Library Science School, but I do also teach in an English Department. One of the benefits, or curses, of my status as disciplinary interloper is that I'm on varied listservs. A recent post on one of my "English" listservs was the following:

Libraries are also making serendipity difficult. They do this with online catalogues
which make the casual viewing of records more difficult. They do this by returning to
sequestered stacks where books are retrieved by electronic means and not open to random
browsing. *serendipity: an "inefficient search strategy" according to a reference librarian I spoke to in 1982. I had just mentioned that I recommended that my students find an area of the open stacks where books about their research topic had been found and begin reading
indexes in books nearby for related terms.

I just can't get behind this sentiment, although a lot of other subscribers to the listserv could. My first reaction was that "Oh, this is disappointing but not surprising." Then I thought, "Hey, this is a certain sign that something is truly at stake." So, seriously, what value is serendipity as nostalgically constructed? Certainly there is technological serendipity which, of course, requires literacy in navigating emergent structures and repositories of information (e.g., digital libraries). Could it be that this post to the listserv is not a lament of lost serendipity, but a lament of lost or irrelevant literacy instead? Seems like it.


maybe a more accurate post on the listserv could've been (courtesy REM)

Storm into the boardroom of the conquering elite.
Did you recognize the madman who is shouting in the streets?
Destroy the things that I don't understand
Destroy the things that I don't understand.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Technology as Magic

This Daily Show piece reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke's three "laws" of prediction (namely #3):
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Magic indeed...check it out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Google Reader Re-re-articulates Literacy

Google Reader now translates most any blog in most any language. Here's a story on TechCrunch about it. Critics are remarking that the translation is pretty tight...folks are impressed.

I'm struck by this and what implications it will have for notions and practices of literacy. It's early on in the game, but without necessity what will be the motivation and utility of mastery of non-native languages? Obviously, I am not going to argue that such projects and literacies will become non-essential and a mere boutique fancy. However, with any technological advancement like this, the notion of what makes one "literate" (technically and philosophically) does shift a bit.

One recent parallel might be that of GPS usage and literacy compared to old school expertise in cartography (of course GOOG is a key player here too). An argument could be made that such impressive technological developments and dissemination actually encourage literacy, albeit not literacy as it was conceived pre-technological breakthrough. If this is indeed the case, then the pressing analysis is whether or not such flattening, opening up, and general accessibility to "knowledge" and "literacy" is happening in a way that empowers and enables versus negatively reinscribes...does this techno-utopian emergence mean a new paradigm of possibility?

At least for the moment, it seems much more exciting than sitting through those semesters of German class. Hmm, maybe that's the point. Wait, is that good or bad?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This video has been around for awhile, but it's still worth a (re)view. Richard Miller's imagining of the "New Humanities" hinges on the commitment that the real function of the humanities is to foster incisive creativity across disciplinary space...creativity that addresses the textures (and textualities) of our everyday life. Too many times humanities departments fail to do this and, in my opinion, ensure their accelerated path toward irrelevance. I like his exposition particularly because he insists on disciplinary heteroglosia shot through multimedia composition. Creative social practices anyone?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Now, Google's Good for Granny

As I was surfing the web this a.m. I ran across a story about a recent study at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study set out to measure brain activity of older adults as they search the Web. The findings were interesting and operate as a nice antagonism to Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid" published last summer in The Atlantic. The link to CNN's coverage of this study is here.

The study was paid for by the Parvin Foundation and was published by Gary Small and Susan Bookheimer, both UCLA professors, and Teena Moody, a senior research associate at UCLA's Semel Institute. The paper was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

But I really was drawn to this piece, which I've only skimmed, because it seems to touch on how new practices of literacies do enable, sustain, and maybe even sharpen minds of all ages. Often the popular press argues for the legitimacy of digital natives' critical thinking skills that stem from gaming or the like, as well as how the same digital natives have their own (new) "texts" and attendant literacies. What I hope we'll start to see is that these are new times for everyone and not just young whipper-snappers.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Facebook, Safety Schools, and Victorianism over Literacy

Ok, here's a hard sell. TechDirt recently ran a story, " Rejected From College Because of Your Facebook Profile", in which anecdotal evidence shows what has been rumored for much time...that admissions folks gander more than occasionally at applicants' online social network profiles. The author, Mike Masnick, gives a pretty fair accounting though ultimately concludes that applicants shouldn't expect their profiles to exist in a vacuum and that as much as applicants strive to "put their best foot forward" they should include their Facebook profiles in such efforts.

Yeah, yeah, yeah...I think most individuals get this. Sure, there will be those that claim this is out of bounds and not appropriate use of admissions staff time. That aside, I'd like to argue that such snooping and censure is simply out of step with with what we need to be critical of in our cyberculture present and future. If our young digital native scholars are as much the person they represent and broadcast on Facebook, then why don't we scrutinize things like the literacy skills that go into (or don't) Facebook representation. If we take this line of critique, even the current gawk and lament gang has a "way in"...they could lambaste applicants who are unaware of the rhetorical context within which they exist. Basically the same path currently taken, but without the tacit Victorianism that's at work currently (the Victorianism that suggests "we know you do these sordid things we just don't want to see them).

I'd like to see an acknowledgement of the spaces and identities that young people (and old people too) create. If we can remark on those spaces versus merely trying to censure (and censor) OSN users, then we can get into a realistic and progressive discussion/development of and otherwise. Then an actual (and virtual) conversation over creativity, stupidity, reinscription, and possibility can take place.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week September 27–October 4, 2008

This week is ALA's Banned Books Week and it's pretty exciting on a lot of fronts. Hopefully everyone can locate and attend an event in your area.

Maybe because I'm around a lot of young people and academics, and I take such open mindedness and progressivism for granted, but at first thought I was rather blase about this year's celebration of Banned Books. What I mean here is that I was looking forward to it but thought that "Hey, we've all moved past this crazy McCarthy-esque fear of change and critique and difference". I thought that maybe these books could be celebrated on a literary level and, while they're always already political, I could let political and cultural critique reside in the background. But, alas and alack, the blogosphere delivers.

One of my favorite bloggers, Jessamyn West, posted an exposition that touches on Sarah Palin's purported inclination to stricture thought via banning books at her local library. Of course, there's a lot out there about this now. The usual suspects materialize. Bogus banned books lists appear. Conservative bloggers, like Michelle Malkin, chime in. The next thing I know we've got another brouhaha that would make McCarthy proud. This is some parade yesiree Bob.

I really hope this is an opportunity to consider why certain individuals and groups are so resistant to the type of consideration and critique that banned books (or any other type "text") can offer. What is really at stake when someone wants to ban a book? Is it really "values" or is it something more sinister like a fear of losing power or questioning of identity? Is the fear that operationalizes to ban these books a misguided internal fear of introspection and courage to engage the promise of the unknown?

Maybe we'll all figure it out this week. Regardless, here we go again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

iConference 2009

The following may be of interest to many of you out there.

The Fourth Annual
iConference 2009
February 8-11, 2009
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
iSociety: Research, Education, Engagement

The Fourth Annual iSchools Conference brings together scholars and
professionals who come from diverse backgrounds and share interests in
working at the nexus of people, information, and technology. With invited
speakers, paper sessions, a poster session, roundtables, "wildcard"
sessions and ample opportunities for conversations and connections, the
conference celebrates and engages our multidisciplinary efforts to
understand the scholarly, educational and engagement dimensions of the
iSchool movement.

This Call for Participation solicits contributions that reflect on the core
activities of the iSchools community as we move more fully into the
iSociety. These would include reflections on: research topics, practices,
methods and epistemologies appropriate to an iSchool; educational practices
in iSchools; and engagement between the iSchools and wider constituencies
both in the United States and abroad.

*e-inclusion in the iSociety: addressing under represented groups among
iDesigners as well as iConsumers (e.g., women, children and youth, the
aging, people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrant
communities, non-Western cultures)
*Becoming a "green" iSchool
*What is "engagement" in a research institution?
*The influence of globalization on the nature and scope of iSchools?
research, education and engagement
*Information infrastructure development in the home, in organizations,
in communities, in society, globally
*Cultural information systems; e.g., multilingual information systems,
information systems for memory institutions or for indigenous and ethnic
*Preserving digital information and ensuring information quality,
security and privacy
*Information management; e.g., personal information management, life
cycle management of information, digital asset management
*Information organization; e.g., ontological modeling, the Semantic Web,
social bookmarking
*Information policy, ethics and law; e.g., remembering and forgetting in
the digital age


Contributed papers presenting original research, design products,
theoretical developments, educational applications and engagement
implications related to one or more of the conference themes will be
considered. Papers should be 5-8 pages in length and suitable for
publication in scholarly or professional journals. Papers will be refereed
in a double blind process. Contributed papers may be submitted
individually, or up to three may be grouped by theme for a single session
(provided the paper authors represent different institutional
affiliations); the latter is encouraged. Please remove all identifying
author information. The electronic system will ask for a separate
submission that identifies the authors, the title of the paper, and
theme(s) the paper addresses. Accepted papers will be placed in an online

Contributed posters presenting new and promising work or preliminary
results of research, design or educational projects related to one of more
of the conference themes will also be considered in a separate category.
Especially welcome are posters contributed by students. Abstracts of
800-1500 words will be refereed in a double blind process. Please remove
all identifying author information. The electronic system will ask for a
separate submission that identifies the authors, the title of the poster,
and theme(s) the poster addresses. The title of the poster should be on the
abstract. Accepted poster abstracts will be placed in an online repository.

Roundtable Discussions
Roundtable discussions will permit small group discussion of such topics as
theory, research methods, core curricula, programmatic requirements, and
mentoring, particularly as they relate to the conference themes.
Roundtables will be open to all interested conference participants. Those
wishing to host a discussion should use the electronic system at the link
above (insert link here) to submit a statement of interest of 800-1000
words stating research and development interests in the area, a set of
questions that the roundtable leaders will use to facilitate the
discussion, and indicating the names and affiliations of roundtable
leaders. Proposals are encouraged to include diverse perspectives on the
topic of interest.

Wildcard Sessions
This is the opportunity to step "out of the box" and propose a very
different type of session?debate, research critique, fishbowl, etc. The
session should be 1-1½ hours in length and relevant to the conference
themes. Description of the goals, topic, format, participants, and
organizer of the session should be provided in an abstract of 800-1500
words, exclusive of supporting images, tables, and references. Be sure to
identify your abstract as a wildcard proposal. All named participants
should have already agreed to participate.


Please use the official ACM Proceedings Format, available at, for all

The deadline for submission of complete papers, abstracts for posters,
roundtable discussions, and wildcard sessions is Sunday, November 30, 2008.
Authors will be notified of review decisions by Monday, December 22, 2008.
Instructions will be provided for final submission upon acceptance.

All submissions should be made at:

If you had a login in the iConference system last year, please use the same
login. If you have forgotten your password, the system can send it to you
as long as your email address has not changed since last year. If you have
changed email addresses, please contact for

Review Criteria
Especially welcome are submissions that exhibit any of the following
*Addresses the theoretical, methodological, epistemological and / or
topical dimensions appropriate to an iSchool
*Addresses educational and / or pedagogical themes appropriate to an
*Addresses ways in which scholarly work and educational activities can
connect to constituencies beyond the iSchool community
*Exemplifies multi- (or inter- or cross-) disciplinarity in:
participants; graduate or undergraduate education; literatures used;
research methods employed: theorizing; publishing; or engagement
*Develops intellectual geographies in which attendees can learn about
intellectual domains not their own but part of the multi-disciplinary
iSchool space.

In addition to relevance to the conference focus and themes, submissions
will be judged on such criteria as quality of content, significance for
theory, education or engagement, originality and level of innovativeness,
and quality of presentation.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Web of Science v. Google Scholar

I recently embarked upon the characteristically academic task of doing a citation analysis on a few articles I’m using for a research project. Google Scholar and ISI’s Web of Science were the two search engines/databases that I used. Of course, I’ve got some thoughts here…especially as libraries are concerned.

I was particularly struck by the stark differences in results that Google Scholar yielded and the results found when using ISI’s Web of Science. At first glance this may seem like stating the obvious, however this experience with citation analysis crystallized a point that I have been ruminating upon for awhile. Libraries are not disappearing, nor are librarians. They still matter, though they matter differently, and the key features of libraries exist as facilitation to access information and the expertise to curate and consult.

Without the radical juxtaposition of this citation analysis it would be easy to believe that Google results are significant enough and that using a library database is cumbersome and ends with results of similar utility (granted, this belief is largely bound up in perceived ease of usability with the respective databases). Being able to examine the different results and then assess the appropriateness of the sets to academic research sharply delineated the difference between a “social” search engine like Google and an “academic” search database like Web of Science. Of note, there was no overlap in my results and Google yielded two international documents as well as unpublished papers (with no citations to them) available only on faculty websites. ISI’s Web of Science yielded peer-reviewed journal articles with significant citations to each article. I continued to discover that my original article characterized an instance of a citation network whose impact and research context included both peer-reviewed published articles and unpublished scholarly work. In fact, the most recent reference was unpublished with no citations to it. This observation that both searches yield different results supports a potential argument for using Web of Science and Google Scholar in a complementary fashion, just as it supports a claim for criticality when evaluating the results.

Unfortunately, it seems that most searchers, and even researchers, can find themselves viewing these two products as nearly interchangeable. As a caveat though, my particular example might not be typical of the majority of searches when using Google Scholar and Web Science. Even so, the fact that my original article has influence and impact on a wide variety of scholarship and response shows that these tools work best when used in a complementary fashion and with clearly defined research questions. It makes sense to have an awareness of context and what one is looking for, and to consider this when using various search strategies (i.e., subject search, article/citation search and analysis), just as it is rewarding to have a “literacy” about the information tools at one’s disposal.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Whining About AAPL's Hegemony

Jim Goldman, of CNBC, has a recent post where he takes former Fake Steve Jobs blogger, Dan Lyons, to task. The piece is here. In short, Lyons claims that Apple has become increasingly hegemonic in its own right, no longer the upstart (jeesh, I guess I can't use "maverick" now). Lyons even makes the stale way-past played out comparison of Apple as Microsoft.

On a side note, such rhetorical maneuvers are so tired and preposterous. It's kind of like when someone is "describing" a band and they say: "Oh, they're alternative/folk-punk/emo/whatever and they sound like REM/The Deadly Syndrome/Bright Eyes/blah". Or, do you ever get tired of the claims when basketball season rolls around and there's that guy who always says that so-and-so is the next Jordan. Even if band, ballers, companies are similar or analogous to other earlier instances and contexts, is this really the best and most incisive way to describe commonalities? Maybe, as a Compositionist, I'm making too much of this.

But my "real" point here is, or at least it starting off being, that I like Goldman's dis of Lyons' claim that big Apple is really big bad Apple. I've been around long enough now that this pattern bores me. Once a company or individual or group emerges with fresh, radical, anti-hegemonic products or practices folks love it. The more folks love and embrace said products or practices the more hegemonic the entity becomes. Eventually, such products or practices become the norm...then the entity may even become "the man" as it were. Really? It's gotta be more complex than this.

So, is this a function of the populous truly investing in progress and change or is it mere boutique enthusiasm for the next big thing, merely for the sake of the next big thing (so truly American)? Another possibility is that such laments actually stymy a sincere conversation about the vices and virtues of an Apple or Microsoft. It creates a discursive space dedicated to the back and forth between journalists and faux pundits, resulting only in achievement of cheap identity work for the rhetors making the same old arguments.

Rant over, thanks for reading, I'm going to go grab some Dunkin Donuts' coffee before they become the next Starbucks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Brickt, Bricked, Broken: Music Management and Socialization

Last week my vintage 20GB iPod bricked...died, dead, for good. As much of a techno-enthusiast as
I am, lusting after the newest in small tech, I continued to use this older version of the iPod even though I have a newer model. Maybe it was because it was the first iPod I owned, or that it worked fine for what I needed, or maybe I was just proving that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". Regardless, my 20 GB is done.

Maybe fortuitously Apple announced that it will be unveiling upgraded iPods next week (9/9/08 to be exact). I have been seriously considering becoming current, or au courant, even.

But I digress, since my iPod bricked I have been riding around listening to CDs (instead of uploading my library to the newer iPod). This experience has proven to be a really weird meditation of sorts. I have become accustomed to certain characteristics of portability and management when it comes to music. This is stating the obvious to most (and prior to actually driving and listening to CDs such a comment would've seemed inane to me as well). I'm so privileged that I can use the word anachronism to describe this...kinda like Douglas Coupland used to talk about trust-funders faux dropping out and working as a sort of boutique slumming at McDonalds (see Generation X circa 1992).

My round-a-bout point to all this is: beyond mere socialization how many of us have any real vision for what we want to do with our music? Yes, I know there's a lot out there about DRM and exchange of mp3s and accolades for not being beholden to the album format. But what I'm asking is what do you want from your music in grandiose terms? How do you know? Is it from seeing live shows (assuming people still do that)? Is it from being really solid at online music exchange or consumption? Is it from roller skating with a ghetto blaster around your local suburban mall...wait, I bet you can't do that. What socializes us to music use and approach versus what socializes us to music appreciation and experience? Are we losing something here? At what point do the old practices seems weird, anachronistic, or even unfruitful?

It's possible to pose such questions due to our accelerated information culture that's buttressed by better and better technologies. I'm still hoping my philosophy for this materializes before September 9th. Gotta go change out some CDs.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just a Little Taste of the Bass 4U

ok, do i do this. i've got divergent interests.

the first is props for the society of american archivists' annual meeting. it's going on here. as derrida says (and this is HUGE):

...the concept of the archive must inevitably carry in itself, as does every concept, an unknowable weight. The presupposition of this weight also takes on the figures of "repression" and "suppression," even if it cannot necessarily be reduced to these. This double presupposition leaves an imprint. It inscribes an impression in language and in discourse. The unknowable weight that imprints itself thus does not weigh only as a negative charge. It involves the history of the concept, it inflects archive desire or fever, their opening on the future, their dependency with respect to what will come, in short, all that ties knowledge and memory to the promise.

always already politics in naming and organizing.

here's where it gets weird, different, or better. i was cleaning out my "old" study and came across some old Bukowski that i used to use in classes i taught at a community college during and right after my M.A.

as i remember it, my pedagogy might have been better then. it certainly was unbridled. here's an old handout.

the people are weary, unhappy, frustrated, the people are
bitter and vengeful, the people are deluded and fearful, the
people are angry and uninventive
and I drive among them on the freeway and they project
what is left of themselves in their manner of driving-
some more hateful, more thwarted than others-
some don't like to be passed, some attempt to keep others
from passing
-some attempt to block lane changes
-some hate cars of a newer, more expensive model
-others in these cars hate the older cars.

the freeway is a circus of cheap and petty emotions, it's
humanity on the move, most of them coming from someplace
hated and going to another they hate just as much or
the freeways are a lesson in what we have become and
most of the crashes and deaths are the collision
of incomplete beings, of pitiful and demented

when I drive the freeways I see the soul of humanity of
my city and it's ugly, ugly, ugly: the living have choked the

um, er, yeah.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kindle to Target Colleges

Well, classes have started and young scholars are scurrying about. Part of their scurrying involves trips to the bookstore to drop cash (or plastic) on textbooks. Like everyone else, I've heard students complaining about the cost and weight of many of their texts; fortunately, they haven't complained outright with regard to my singular required text (all other readings are available free-o-charge digitally).

These laments are part of the reason that I think it's pretty cool that Amazon intends to market a version of its Kindle to colleges and universities. I read about this on TechCrunch...the link is here.

I am sure that opposition to this will take many forms ranging from fear of Amazon's hegemony (because traditional purveyors of textbooks aren't hegemomic in their own right) to "oh my gosh Student Stores has gone/will go out of business!" to complaints that nothing beats the feel and experience of a "real" book. To all of these detractors, I would posit that what matters most is the engagement with the content we call text regardless of its form.

That said, the change in form is pretty impressive and if readers prefer it, good. I'm the last person who'd want bookstores or libraries to disappear, however I don't think they will even if every young scholar has a Kindle in hand. These institutions will endure because, at their heart, they are communities of practice. They'll endure even if the tools that enable that practice change.

What I'd like to focus on with the possible impact of Kindle on college campuses is how user practice and expectation might change. I'm also curious about how access might benefit users of all types and how users might be able to do more with (inter)textuality. In short, I'd like to take the ethics we use to critique Kindle's potential entry and use those ethics to direct Kindle's entry toward the utopias we keep pining for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Newspapers as Social Networks

I get the Seattle Times news feed in my's a good "paper" and it makes me feel connected to the Emerald City. Several days ago Brier Dudley crafted a piece entitled "Newspapers as Social Networks" where his central thesis seemed to revolve around an adamant claim that newspapers (and "traditional" news sources like NPR) still matter and that they can be construed as social networks. This seems right-headed and I buy in, but I can see how folks might now assume the term social network to mean what used to be referred to as online social network (OSN). This is, of course, fair play since language leaks, changes, and morphs in response to shifting contexts and paradigms. Web 2.0 has certainly fostered many shifting contexts and practices...realities do look differently these days.

In reading Dudley's piece, namely where to responds to Mark Anderson's tacit claim that newspapers are dead, I could not help but think of the video Googlezon EPIC 2014.

The faux documentary profiles the demise of print media and the acceleration of web-enabled hyper-consumption. Check it out.

While form has certainly changed (i.e., print) the utility of content has not. Analysis and information that comes from content is still valued and sought after, maybe now it's just in digital form. Who authors such analysis has changed too. Sure Web 2.0 allows unlimited authors, some dopes and some well-qualified pundits, but the best analysis does still matter. This assumption is akin to the claim that Google is making us "stoopid" (see previous post); and, it assumes that when authorship was a function of power and access and print was the dominant medium that people were enlightened and ever-critical. Now that the form has changed and there's more content all of a sudden everyone's confused, lazy, and more doltish than ever. That's a tough sell for me.

My take on Dudley's reminder that newspapers still matter, though they matter differently, is buttressed by a belief that "reading" as a discursive practice still happens and the communities that do this are increasing (not decreasing). I guess, I'm arguing that "reading" matters and its definition (like that of social network) changes too. Indeed, it should also be noted that merely "reading" is not a cure-all for ignorance or unenlightenment; critical engagement with any text happens beyond mere deployment of a technical literacy act. I hope and believe that people do want incisive commentary and useful information, they just forage differently for it. The social network is still there, it's not new--just sustained by a digital form that requires new acts and practices of reading, and of community.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Damn the Canon

It seems like a month of Sundays since I've blogged...syllabi, research, and baby created the perfect storm that pulled me away. But, alas and alack.

So, to that end...those last two sentences are what I love about blogs...the context and constructedness of the reading and writing that happens there. The discourse can be hokey (see above), high brow, insightful, or inane. The geographical texture is just amazing and, being a Compositionist, I'm grateful for it because I'm allowed a ton of latitude and unfettered reflexivity that other spaces don't provide.

All of this sentimentality plays in to the debate that happened recently when Clay Shirkey "dissed Tolstoy". My pal Mike Brown turned me on to this melee. Check it out at:

The story is about halfway down the page and includes many responses worth a skim through.

What I like about the debate is that it's an old one and I'm hoping that Shirkey's point gets examined to the degree that it deserves. Broadly speaking, he is right to claim that no one reads Tolstoy and the like AND that new practices of "reading" as well as the "texts" that get "read" are not novels or contingent upon historical notions of logocentrism. If he is fetishizing the web, "The Wire", and whatever else the same way that Tolstoy gets fetishized by self-deluded professors of literature, then shame on Shirkey. However, I don't think that 's his game. I hope he's not bound up in the the same teleology that canonists take is that Shirkey's simply stating that this is the space that's been authored. Like it or not, it is what it's the use(s) of literacy that the populous has authored. Vulgar Marxists be damned.

As we embark on consideration of this proposition, let's first ask ourselves: if Shirkey is correct then who has to give up power (lit profs) and who obtains access (teenagers)? My take, pretty cool possibilities...back to the syllabi.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Post-BotCamp Impressions

It's the day after BotCamp and I am slowly unpacking the experience. The impressions that seem to last at the fore revolve around the importance of what I'm terming as "the experiential". Basically this is a reference to kinesthetic learning, or learning by doing and interacting with actual objects and artifacts. Please (re)read my previous post and linkage to BotCamp if you need's a quick skim through.

What's huge for me as I comb through my ethnographic notes is the impact that BotCamp participants felt from walking through the woods and handling plants, leaves, and trees. All of the technology enhanced curriculum we designed really facilitated access to vast amounts of information (which was the point), but the exhilaration and learning seemed to stem (no pun intended) from actual material relations.

Too much of our curriculum seems to fetishize technology, simulation, and "the virtual". Not that technology, simulation, new media, etc. doesn't have a pretty huge role in pedagogy and in does. However, materiality still matters. Ideological and social iterations that are massively distributed through virtual relations and networks ultimately play out in the physical...there is no way around that.

But...the only way to realistically synthesize technology and its attendant virtual and/or hyperreal worlds is to argue for an adamant resistance to dualisms (dualisms that ultimately result in an equation where technology/simulation supplants material interaction). In a sense I'm thinking of a sort of reanimation of Donna Haraway's cyborg theory.

To that end, we are already cyborg to the degree that our technological tools have "presence", we depend on them, and they mediate our reality. Importantly though, our technological tools do not replace our reality. Techno-utopians often fail to accommodate for this and techo-dystopians amplify it a bit too much (or at least I hope they do). Plus, technology is not merely deterministic. There is no way, I mean no way, to control how individuals and groups will make do with technology once it's available and subject to users' competencies and resources (e.g., time and money). A flexible pedagogy and practice is the only way to accomodate this. Back to the notes...more soon...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Check Out The September Project

Fall is just around the corner and I'm starting to think about all the great things my favorite season brings. One event that I've followed for the past few years has been The September Project. I've lifted the description from the's below...get involved if you can.

Welcome to the 5th annual September Project! The September Project is a grassroots effort to encourage events about freedom and democracy in all libraries in all countries during the month of September. September Project events are free and organized locally.

In 2004, we began the September Project to break the silence following September 11, and to invite all people into libraries to consider topics of patriotism, democracy, and citizenship. Initially, events focused on September 11 and largely took place on September 11. As the project evolved, events spread throughout the month of September and focused on issues of freedom and democracy.

To date, public, academic, school, government, and special libraries around the world have organized September Project book displays, community book readings, childrens’ art projects, film screenings, theatrical performances, civic deliberations, voter registrations, murals, panel discussions, and so much more. What will this year bring?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Twitter, Blogs, and the Public Sphere

A recent Fast Company feed by Robert Scoble that offers some incisive nuggets on Twitter, RSS, MSFT, and several other user/tech trends has me thinking about the ever-changing public sphere. I am particularly curious about the claim that Twitter will continue to emerge as the update/news/marketing vehicle of preference. I can certainly see how this would work, and Scoble's habits of information foraging and consumption are in line with my own as well as so many others.

Print media plays less and less of a role in my life and, like Scoble, RSS feeds seem less attractive to me these days. Scoble argues in this piece, which is actually highlights from a week's worth of tweetstream (ah, postmodern narrative once again), that Twitter is the public conversation with diverse interests. I read his piece to fuse Twitter with blogs' messages in a way that complements both...ultimately creating a dialogue and remediation of events of interest. His specific claim is, "Twitter is the public square. Lots of noise, little signal. Blogs are like a speech. Signal, but little noise ... ". Such rich information texture fulfills a role that decaying print media cannot. His points make sense.

With such user-centric "news" construction however, a sincere concern over criticality does emerge. Sometimes institutional authorities, like "experts" in historical media, do offer information in a way that deconceals certain beliefs or "common sense". Blogs can do this too, but they can also reinscribe ill-founded notions, such as sexism or racism. Not to get all librarian/English teacher about this, but the ability to scrutinize sources and information is key here. To this end, Fred Stutzman's April post on curation is a good read for such sentiment.

Assuming we are inserted upon this path, it makes sense to look for creative, efficient, and informative ways to leverage social media so that the information we need (whether we know it or not) gets to us. Equally as important, is the commitment to questioning bias in information and the applications/devices that deliver it to us. Limitations (like that of print) or blind spots (like perspectives of many bloggers) must be held in account.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bot 2.0: Botany through Web 2.0, the Memex and Social Learning

About a week from now BotCamp starts. One might ask, "What the heck is BotCamp?" Well, first one (that would be you) might peruse the description for the NSF-funded project entitled Bot 2.0: Botany through Web 2.0, the Memex and Social Learning. It's cool and it's at UNC.

The official blurb, as lifted from the MRC web site and our NSF grant, is:

Bot 2.0 project is an innovative technological approach to retaining student interest in the biological and botanical sciences and addresses the lack of diversity in the student population pursing the botanical sciences. The project involves introducing students from area universities and community colleges to a three-phase curriculum involving reading and field exercises that incorporate inquiry-based learning, communal learning, and reflection.

For my part in this project I am talking with Bot participants about their experiences and expectations with regard to botany, science curriculum writ large, issues of "literacy", and technology. Toward this end I've been reading more of Shirley Brice Heath's work...this time, I'm into her new title On Ethnography which is co-authored with Brian Street. I've also been digging up some of my old qualitative data from my days in D.C., when I taught at the University of the District of Columbia. I'm hoping to post some of those pieces eventually as well.

What I'm meditating on right now is the value of ethnography, which seems not only to be disregarded way too often, but to get lost in a lot of tech talk in these globalized times. If folks do make nods toward audience or individuals it seems to get morphed into User Experience speak which is pretty deterministic (don't want to say myopic here...ooops, said it). UX seems to be bound up in technical aspects and to use behavioral theories from Psychology nearly exclusively. Good ethnography explores "the social" and gets at the dialectic between group and individual forces trump individual psychological inclinations. I'm endeavoring to craft an ethnographic frame that does this, which may be challenging in an Information Science (and NSF) context, but it would certainly be in the spirit of Heath's project.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Google's Big Plans and Possibilities in Africa

Today's New York Times featured an excellent article that illuminates some points made in my previous post last Friday. The piece, entitled "Inside Nairobi, the Next Palo Alto" details tactics for technology development and maximization at work in Kenya and other low-tech areas of Africa. The second portion of the article focuses on the influence of Google in Kenya, Google's increasing physical presence there, and the citizens' hopes for what Google can enable them to achieve. The article is linked above and pasted below. Hopefully, it adds to my supposition that perceived lackluster earnings reports from Google matter little when it comes to the company's influence on identity, ethos, and aspirations of global individuals and groups.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to Look at Google the Wrong Way

Google reported 2nd quarter earnings yesterday afternoon , meeting analyst estimates, however warnings from company execs prompted a pretty significant drop in GOOG stock. Shares of GOOG fell over 10 percent in after hours trading Thursday and continued to hold the decline today. Google chairman Eric Schmidt's description of the economy as "challenging", coupled with admissions of slower hiring at Google and decreased consumer click-throughs of ads, are being cited as common analyst concerns.

In a financial respect, some of the analyst concerns are warranted in the short term, but longer term they are not. It's also important to note that Google continues to lead our ever-emerging online experience even if they're not growing as rapidly as they were 6 months ago and if revenue looks different this quarter than it did last (when analysts were surprised at earnings and GOOG skyrocketed as a result). Importantly, there is no competition for Google in many of their continuing core business areas; they continue to set precedent as others follow.

As Schmidt noted in the conference call Google domestic business was "slower" due to the current economic situation, however non-domestic activity was rapidly accelerating. More and more of Google's business is in areas outside of the United States...areas like China (which will overtake the U.S. in numbers of Internet users sometime in the next 12 to 18 months). While analysts are marginally good at analyzing Google's earnings, they seem to be oblivious (at best) at understanding how it continues to shape user experience, preference, and behavior. These are the important, possibly intangible, assets. User search behavior, and a large part of Internet behavior and practice in the U.S. has been molded by Google for better or for worse. This will continue, in addition to Google's inroads into global markets. Forget the stock price decline (but do know Google wants to make money), look at Google's products and launch agenda(s)...they've got big plans for everyone. Few companies in any sector have the position to do such a thing when it comes to shaping user realities...which is what really matters.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

OCLC Report on Library Support

Library Journal featured an article recently that profiles findings on how libraries might endeavor to generate and sustain new support. The piece, entitled OCLC Report Suggests Ways To Generate New Library Support, synthesizes important findings from a recent study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For those of you who attended ALA in Anaheim last month this may be familiar ground. Read the article, of course, but note that among the key findings are the following points:

*The most committed funding supporters are not the heaviest users
*Many people are unaware of library services
*“Passionate librarians” help generate library funding
*Voters who see the library as 'transformational' as opposed to 'informational' are more likely to favor it
*Increasing support for libraries may not necessarily mean a trade-off with financing other public services

What I find to be a really inspiring and important is the underlying theme that the library space is a dynamic space, increasingly so. It's not moribund, nor does it no longer matter. True, it matters differently. What the report does outline, in addition to challenges, is the impactful areas of rearticulation for librarians and libraries. Communities, users, and individuals are all still tied to libraries...they are just tied to them in ways that reflect the major changes in habits of patrons/community members. Technology and Web 2.0 have profoundly altered all of our lives, perceptions, and expectations, especially when it comes to access and format of information and knowledge resources. However, just because the market has fueled the proliferation of Web 2.0 and its attendant hyperreality it does not stand to reason that agents in the market are filling the curation and instruction role of libraries. Agents of the market have neither the expertise nor the context to do such a thing, plus the logic of capital (while sometimes beneficial) stymies efforts toward curation and instruction.

Bottom line: librarians making space in different ways is what future success for libraries is all about, not librarians ceded way to technology or industry. Expertise and community will continue to matter.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Haven't We Had This Conversation Already?

Recently, the Third International Plagiarism Conference was held at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-tyne, UK. The conference theme was "Transforming Practice for an Authentic Future". To get a flavor for the conference and its proceedings check out the link above as well as Gerry McKiernan's blog for a sampling of his presentation. The blog Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0 also works for a cursory glance at topical considerations.

The point of my post is to remark on this notion of authenticity. Haven' we already had this conversation? At least philosophically, have we had it? Not to get all Baudrillard and what not, but I can't see such a conference happening in France for example, or in the French intellectual tradition rather. The French love their language, but also celebrate its fluidity and its versatility. English, on the other hand, has always suffered from policing and surveillance in efforts to control it and to make it rational in its "grammar" and representation. Cartesian predilections it seems. An analog to libraries can be made here too. This sort of control is an impossible project, now more than ever. It is just as impossible as the achievement of authenticity.

Sure, I get what the conference organizers are going for; after all, I teach in an English Department. Plagiarism is to be understood and avoided. However, as enlightened intellectuals we want a sort of criticality that gets composers to weave a rich tapestry that celebrates the many voices that have gone into said composer being able to write (or compose) a piece. It's a celebration of access and context, both of which have been profoundly emboldened by Web 2.0 technologies. What we don't want is what appears to me to have dominated curriculum pre-Web 2.0...that is, a curriculum strictured by the threat of plagiarism and grammar policing while asking students to remark (originally) on great works/texts (rather than create great works/texts themselves). I'd be remiss to say that it was the curricular assumption here, too, that the student was a subject forever positioned subordinate to these great works and she had better learn to approach these texts with the appropriate reverence. In sum, this was the modernist project and we are still wasting our time fighting its vestiges.

In a sense, Web 2.0 is about empowerment to compose and access information as text. Of course all compositions aren't great and all access isn't fruitful or informed, but the context is there and up for engagement. Pre-Web 2.0, at least in education and libraries, the context was fixed and control was centralized; consequently narratives weren't up for contestation (much less, manipulation). There were penalties for efforts toward manipulation and contestation. Policing for plagiarism is an example.

Going on the record here, in a technical sense plagiarism is bad. Yes, bad bad bad. But the irreverence (not the laziness or stupidity) associated with plagiarism is something I like because it harnesses creativity and fuels it at the same time. This irreverent creativity should be celebrated for its liberatory potential. But, do keep in mind that creativity is not the same as authenticity. I'd like to a see a conference, and not just individual papers, dedicated to irreverent creativity versus sanctioned utility. Maybe next time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I've been reading a lot of feeds of late that speculate on ways to teach, work with, "reach", etc. digital natives. This of course begs conjecture on what a digital native is and who might qualify for such status. Such deliberations seem fair enough, though they are familiar protocol for those aiming to educate in "new times" (see the cult stud work of Stuart Hall as well as the ed work of Robert Helfenbein). Anyway, my first reaction is to suggest that any attempt is always already reactionary. Digital natives, like most who drive new paradigms, author their own space and regardless of how curriculum designers feel about the merits of such "new" practices and their attendant spaces such authoring is hegemonic in its own right. Once the digital natives are inserted upon the load road to hegemony they are (at least in the near term) positioned against those who aspire to "educate", "observe", or "characterize" who and what they are as subject/digital natives. So, in this abbreviated post, I'd challenge researchers and curriculum designers to understand the colonial predisposition of "studying" digital natives. In lieu of such study, I'd advocate participation, celebration, or even resistance...remarks on those types of engagements will offer better insights into our new and emerging ways of being.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Social, Community, Discursive Practice

Following up on the previous post and on recent posts from Jacob and Paul where they're contemplating notions of the social versus the collaborative, I've gotta revisit some important conceptual touchstones.

In my last post I valorized Seattle and its "Libraries For All" initiative, labeling such thrusts emblematic of a healthy community...possibly even one that's invested in pursuit of utopias. I'm still excited about "Libraries For All".

I have also read Paul Jones' post and Jacob Kramer-Duffield's meditation on Paul's post. Good stuff. I've linked them here (and below in my blogroll) at your leisure. One of the points that they're considering is how to operationalize terms like "social" and "collaborative" with regard to software, the virtual, and the hyperreal. When I think about this I find myself returning to my cultural studies roots and the early work of media and social theorists, namely Raymond Williams.

In his work, Culture and Society, he states "any real theory of communication is also a theory of community’ (301). The Seattle post is about community and I read discussions about "social" and "collaborative" to be the same. Anyhow, Williams' goes on to argue that communication, ‘is not only transmission, it is also reception and response’ (301). Williams' work is decades old now but as salient as ever. Williams', like the other early cultural studies theorists, resuscitated the Marxist concept of the dialectic, but utilized it namely in a cultural way.

One of my favorite contemporary thinkers, Bruno Latour, works with the same trajectory when he contemplates "the social"; for Latour, the social is a's always already in flux, always contested, and always changing (like hegemony). Think through post-structuralism and sit with fluidity...all our spaces, meanings, and identities tend to leak and mix these days.
Looking at concepts, at practices, as processes overcomes the stricture and oppression of naming, labeling, or defining. Such a lens also seems appropriate given these new times. So, it might be useful to turn to such an approach when iterating over what Williams' referred to as the "mass mind". To that end, as you read the big and valuable thoughts of Paul and Jacob, indulge me and stretch beyond the quest for definitions of social and collaborative...look at how the processes that we are involved in daily get us to a point where creation of such terms are possible (or even needed). By looking at the context and the conditions that create it we might get at drivers of culture and what gets constructed as knowledge and truth in said cultures.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Libraries For All: An Intimation for Attention to Place

This upcoming Saturday in Seattle the last of the building/refurbishing projects that have comprised the "Libraries For All" initiative will officially be complete. This is really great to see such an initiative coalesce and be completed over the course of the last ten years. Seattle is a special place for a lot of reasons but the inclination of community members to actually value (and fund) projects like this one differentiate it from other locales that either don't, can't, or (worse-yet) delay such support. Materiality matters and its easy to get so disembodied via our networked world that what is actually happening in our community goes un-scrutinized. Place still matters. Development, non-development, investment (or lack of) are amplified in accelerated globalized spaces. In an era of spatial theory we tend to think that place doesn't matter as much, but it does. Place matters differently and probably matters more than it used to. Seeing communities take a stand for their places through a spatial practice (space=enacted place...see Doreen Massey's work) is really cool. Back to Seattle. A lot of these libraries were built in under served lower SES neighborhoods. Having a place to go and to interact with a variety of media and information is important. By making such a place available in certain areas, communities experience empowerment and recognition. This isn't a trope, its' real. Find out for yourself. The city takes a stand for these areas and that matters. Having lived in areas like Washington, DC where public libraries get shut down it's edifying to witness Seattle's achievement. Libraries (and other publicly supported institutions) matter and if someone tells you different it's probably because they've got so much privilege and access that they're not able to see whose back they're standing on. Help them out if you can.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Iterations on Spectacle

One of my academic interests is tussling with French theory. I like it because when I'm wasting time around other academics it seems useful as a lingua franca, sounds pretentious at just about all social gatherings, and for the most part is irrelevant to anything shaking down on a daily basis. However, there are a few French theorists that ARE useful when endeavoring to figure out how to conceptualize our social interactions. Guy Debord is one that I've spent many years reading and now, more than ever, his work seems prescient (in ways he probably never envisioned...or maybe he did). Debord, along with Henri Lefebvre, was one of the key figures/propagater of the Situationist International movement in the late 1960s. Having worked through Marxism and post-structuralism Debord (and Lefebvre) levied critiques on the emerging post-industrial organization of our society and the spaces that were springing forth. To borrow from REM, Debord commented on life and how we live it. His work Society of the Spectacle hashes out his most salient points in short easily digestable (or readable I'd say) paragraphs. From this comes one of my current research projects. I'm presenting at two conferences this fall where I've got papers driven by the following proposal. To that end I'd love some comment and thoughts on this topic. Enjoy.

Facebook as Spectacle: Image, Rhetoric, and Social Practice in the Hyperreal
Guy Debord writes that “the Spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (Debord 12). This presenter focuses on online social networks, specifically Facebook, as an exemplar and interstice of the Spectacle. This presentation asserts that central to the dominance of the Spectacle’s hegemony is the supposition that systemic forms of oppression and stricture are amplified and reinscribed by new spatial relations, specifically relations mediated by images. The presenter will discuss rhetorical practices that “spectacular” relations engender. Moves to fetishize the virtual and hyperreal often eclipse egalitarian possibilities and utopias of virtual space. Such enthusiasm can also produce physical reconfigurations in built space, alienation of (im)material labor, and uneven geographical development driven by global forces (Harvey 2006). The Spectacle’s ascent is driven by these related projects and rhetorics. These phenomena present challenges for our times and require various registers of rhetorical faculties, from reading to recognizing to responding. The presenter addresses theory and use of “spectacular” relations and concludes with examples of student (and faculty) use of Facebook as a way to problematize notions of the Spectacle as well as understand liberatory aspects of virtual participatory space. Curricular conclusions are framed by the observation that: “Concepts of the virtual in itself are important only to the extent to which they contribute to a pragmatic understanding of emergence, to the extent to which they enable triggering of change (induce the new). It is the edge of virtual, where it leaks into actual, that counts. For the seeping edge is where potential, actually, is found” (Massumi 43).

Works Cited
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994.
Harvey, David. Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development. New York: Verso, 2006.
Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke UP, 2002.

Friday, July 4, 2008

End of Method, Against Method Redux

I’ve been pining to make this post for a couple of weeks now, ever since the July issue of Wired came out. It’s the issue with a cover that claims, or intimates depending on your hyperbole register, that we’ve breached a boundary where profound change now dominates. Specifically, the claim is that we are seeing the “end of science”. Rather, we are seeing the end of how scientific method gets constructed. It’s a good and useful read that focuses on how access to and manipulation of large amounts of data can enable us to (for)see patterns and attributes of “scientific” phenomena. This can be anything from political voting behavior to issues of disease outbreak to understanding outer space. Good points and all true. Being an academic, I am used to seeing claims of the “beginning of this” or “the end of that”; such monikers are abundant in conference programs and journals (I’d love to see someone claim “we’re seeing the middle of such and such”). But the Wired article isn’t a let down…it is important, namely because we’ve seen similar calls that fell flat or were resisted. The zeitgeist seems to favor such valorization of data’s potential. Paul Feyerabend's oft-misread Against Method aimed to illuminate the social constructedness of science and argue that changes in method have largely worked to further cement a popular reception of science as truth and its methods as truth-making rituals. Feyerabend articulated his project as:

My intention is not to replace one set of general rules by another such set: my intention is, rather, to convince the reader that all methodologies, even the most obvious ones, have their limits. The best way to show this is to demonstrate the limits and even the irrationality of some rules which she, or he, is likely to regard as basic. (1975, 32)

It would be interesting to read Feyerabend against (or with) the Wired piece. Our increased ability to understand the world through the mass amounts of data that we have and through statistical analysis is impressive and does often achieve great results. Just because such great things do happen though is not reason to look askance at the method itself. My hope is that with this particular change in the way science is conducted we’ll revisit the irreverence of Against Method so that a critical use of technology and assumptions about science can yield a scientific method with reflexivity and breadth versus one that simply assumes truth from process and ability to construct a method.

Feyerabend, P. (1975). Against method. London: Verso.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Denali Rain

i've had a hiatus from the blog attributable to this beautiful one on the left...what an experience! more blogging soon!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gates's Legacy

No doubt the ample offerings of video clips and articles commenting on Bill Gates' upcoming last day as a Microsoft employee have folks lamenting enough already...fair enough. However, while the common meditation has been one that asks who'll fill Gates' shoes or how he'll continue to build the Gates Foundation I am excited to think about the context that he's been so influential in creating. For those in technology tribes this may seem obvious, taken for granted even, but the legacy I have found myself coming back to is that of hope and excitement. Certainly such a feeling could be just a geneaological extension of this year's election commentary. But, I don't think it is. I am really excited about what Bill Gates has made possible. I am equally, if not more, excited about what I anticipate he'll do in his future endeavors. Teaching in a humanities cohort I am all too familiar with the critiques of MSFT and Gates, sadly critiques that betray an intellectually irresponsible theorizing of the hegemony in which we exist and operate; regardless of one's feelings about Gates' tenacious approach to building MSFT, the fact is that he's enabled a new way of knowing and living that holds potential for better lives. As Wired iterated, he enabled a technolgy industry (that does have potential to empower) that we couldn't have dreamed of just a few decades ago. We're not there, in fact we're a long way off; but the work of Bill Gates has created a context from which we can strive for utopias. As a techno-humanist I thinks that's the project at hand, and it's a very very exciting one. To pursue this project means to challenge today's tech leaders to best Gates' record of innovation and articulation of utopia...only then can a critique be levied. I'd surmise though, that at that point lauding Gates' legacy once again will probably seem more apropos.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who's Really Shaping Mobile Habitus

For those of you interested in what seems to be an immanent and very real emergence of mobile ubiquitous computing via handheld devices there is interesting news out this week on three fronts. Google announced that its much anticipated Android OS has been pushed back to a late 2008 release; my bet, expect it late rather than early fourth quarter. I was fired up after reading the recent Wired article on Android and slightly disappointed to hear of the push back. It represents the spirit of the mobile web that speaks to me most. Also, Research In Motion —maker of Blackberry handheld devices—announced earnings Wednesday and (possibly surprisingly) lowered guidance for next quarter and intimated a slower remainder of the year compared to recent analyst expectations. This summer Research In Motion will start selling its first major new BlackBerry model in more than a year—the Bold. Lastly, Apple’s 3G iPhone continues to impress me on features and price (a mere $199) AND by all accounts (though delayed) iPhone 2.0 appears to be on track to actually be released by the end of the second week in July. The mobile web apps have sparked a ton of interests and seem to have heft. Additionally, Apple's sales forecasts look strong across the board.

What all of this means, at least to me, is that Apple's hegemony grew a lot this week and its users will continue to define the future spaces of mobile computing. While not perfect in its current manifestation or ideology, there is actually a product out there which means there are real users right now. The information-related and literacy behaviors we see (and will see) around the iPhone will drive the preferences and expectations of users in the coming months and years. The iPhone has already severely impacted RIM’s product offerings, competitiveness, and user base. We’ve all got utopian visions as far as the mobile web is concerned and my take is that if one wants to figure out how to pursue such visions, take a critical look at the socialization and habitus being fostered by Apple right now. It’s a materiality/virtuality dialectic that will prove useful when sorting out hype and fast capitalist rhetoric of/for products that haven’t materialized as of yet. With technology, hype will cloud observations of what's "really" going down...Apple seems to matter more, especially in light of this week's events.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Patterns as Drivers, Patterns as "Truth"

The New York Times ran an article by Michael Fitzgerald last weekend entitled "Predicting Where You'll Go and What You'll Like" that profiled some interesting new advancements by Sense Networks. The article is a quick read and easily accessible so I won’t summarize in detail, but essentially Sense has made significant strides in data collection and pattern assessment of people’s consumer behavior facilitated by small GPS enabled devices germaine to everday life these days. Given enough data, Sense’s application Macrosense seems to be able to sort through data and establish (what seem to be) accurate probabilities for people’s consumer behaviors. Now, I’m on board with most others who spend time thinking through network science and the non-randomness of patterns and that’s not the trajectory of this post. What I am focused on is that eventually we will see a dominant way of knowing and choosing driven by wholehearted acceptance of these patterns as “real” (read subtext simulacrum, reification, etc.) That is, these patterns will become motivators for individuals to make the choices they make---the pattern will become the driver of the decision versus the reflection of the decision. In such a transition, what literacies or abilities to discern do we give up (assuming we do give up any)? And, given our positionality as social and interactive beings, is this detrimental? Haven’t we always wanted to be where others are and do what others do? The market is now just enabling this, right? Hmm.

Authors like Bill McKibben have argued that media and technology saturation that creates the multitude of data that we know and love also makes some information “go missing”. Examples could include standard use of GPS to know geography versus “knowing the land” or psycho-geographically following the smells, sights, energy, and sounds OR McKibben’s example of watching the Weather Channel/ versus “knowing” the weather. I wonder about such contexts that GPS is able to create and if, as we adopt them, we are also developing a different sort of dominant calculus for how we know this world…a calculus built on market articulated “true” or “real” patterns as drivers versus patterns as possible reflections.