tumblog summary

I began my tumblog without a clear notion of what I was doing. I had an idea that this was a good thing–that the value would emerge as I dived in and just started posting. I don’t think this would have occurred to me had I not been primed by IDEL, although the tumblog was quite different than the blog for that module.

In the first few weeks I took my cues from the module resources, other students’ tumblogs and the comments I received. It became increasingly apparent, especially in the early stages, that I was constantly having to leap the fences that my mind had put up. The fences were sometimes trying to keep popular culture out, or block ideas that seemed too tenuously connected to the module topics, or concerns that my tumblog would pick up the spill over from my work and personal lives. But the leaping itself, once I’d realised that it was okay for me to do, engendered a sense of freedom that had been lacking in many academic contexts up to this point. (I especially think of a paper I wrote for an undergraduate course in which I combined learning from another module, from a different department, with learning from the one I was studying, and received a failing mark for being ‘off-topic’; this seriously put me off combining different disciplines in assessed work.) The encouragement to actively pursue interdisciplinary connections, the delight of combining  unexpected and diverse content and media, and the challenge to use the academic reading and theory to gain insight into the culture represented was thus a rare intellectually fulfilling process.

It was only near the end of the module, however, that I began to see how closely the tumblog itself related to the module topics. I don’t know if I can quite map the blocks onto the progress of my understanding of the tumblog experience, but perhaps I could suggest that the first block gave us (as a module group) a way into examining and extending our shared understanding of digital cultures and the portrayal of the digital in our cultures (including self-referential reflection on the nature of online environments and individual relations to that environment and identity–which spoke directly to our participation on edc13.education.ed.ac.uk); this collective endeavour developed a community with its own norms and behaviours (again, a playing out of the theory); and finally this ‘environment’ became an amalgam of artefacts, people and ideas around a ‘matter of concern’–cyborg posthumans experimenting.

I also think this module has avoided the error of creating a ‘fake’ journey of discovery in which the student  is scheduled to experience cognitive dissonance on day X, a paradigm shift on day Y and finally a learn-by-doing epiphany on day Z. Perhaps most of my fellow students linked the tumblog to module content long before I did; but the crucial thing as I see it was that the tumblog and projects made this delivery of the module significantly and genuinely uniqueand as such a real-time enactment of the theory.

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week 12 summary

This week I’ve been thinking more about how posthumanism in particular relates to education. This has also been feeding into thoughts about my assignment topic, in which I’m going to critically narrate (in a blog) an interest-pursuing exercise to see if I can evaluate the feasibility of the de-centred, ‘consideration’ educational model.

Framing the assignment topic has been a bit tricky, as I want to keep an open mind about what my conclusions are going to be in the ‘meta’ criticism while also keeping an analytical outlook into the topic of interest… For the latter, I’m trying to find a reasonable balance between a narrowly focused, traditional approach and a genetically altered rhizome going wherever my fancy takes me! And in this, I‘m already conducting a tacit analysis of the interest-pursuit model–which will need to be included in my higher-level blog…

I’ve tried to come at these issues from some disparate starting places in hopes that I can clarify in my mind what I actually mean by interest-pursuit–or perhaps what people like Edwards mean. I think I’ll have to do some more old-fashioned research here!

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week 11 summary

I have to confess that I just this moment realised that we’re meant to continue our tumblogs through weeks 11 and 12. As we Americans say, d’oh.

But I’ll soldier on with a few things I was thinking about in week 11, although displayed post-humously…

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The Big Bang Theory, a show that I am compelled to watch by virtue of being married to a physicist, does virtual presence. Coincidentally enough, Sheldon chooses this manner of being present in the hopes that he will keep his body alive until his consciousness can be transferred into a computer and can thus be immortal. Of course the virtual presence is foiled in the end by virtue of Sheldon wanting Steve Wosniak to sign his vintage Apple. What struck me about this was that the attitude the other characters had (and thus the audience were expected to have?) was a long-suffering incredulity about Sheldon’s self-centredness and unquestioning belief in technology. It wasn’t anti-modernism (‘look what kind of trouble tech has gotten him into now!’) or anti-humanism (‘look at his vain attempt to beat death’), but rather a neutral view of tech and perhaps a reaction to humanism–at least centred around one person…Edwards’ subject?

An extreme example of the person becoming a machine is the cyberman, something else I’m required by holy matrimony to know all about. In recent years, these have been given a bit of a twist: in one of the revival episodes (10th doctor, series 2, 2006 if you’re a serious anorak), a regular character is turned into a cyberman, but remembers her life as a human. She sees it in a completely dispassionate way and can’t understand why the humans are so distraught. Is this opaquely suggesting the impossibility of Sheldon’s dream of moving an intact consciousness into a machine, devoid of physical presence not to mention bodily chemistry? Or is it just the emotion inhibitor? (And why is there an emotion inhibitor? Because if there wasn’t, the brain would be so appalled at what had happened to its…person…that it would die.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, separation of body and mind is seen as simply an inconvenience (this scene and Rimmer’s permanent hologramatic state):

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Or an technicality to be exploited:

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In both of these extremes, however, we find another dichotomy–not just body versus mind, but body versus [robot casing, hologram, killing machine]…or, translated into the debate that seems to really be going on, body versus [Facebook identity, avatar, discussion board moderator, wikipedia contributor...or equally: university alumni profile, letter to the editor, report on the main exports of Uruguay...] It’s not just a case of whether the mind (or personality, consciousness, identity, etc.) can be separated from the body, but what it [the mind/etc.] is if that separation occurs. Lister’s mind is saved onto a highly improbably disc and dropped into a cup of tea–is the disc Lister? Is the war machine Nixon?

Jumping ahead in the future a bit–this approaches my assignment topic at a bit of a tangent, in particular my investigation into fan fiction. In this situation, we have the mind of the original author; the original text; a character (if we can assume that the character is ‘greater than’ the text…which, it seems to me, is the premise that fan fiction is based on, although I won’t draw any conclusions yet…); the mind of the ff author; the text that the ff author writes; the reception of that text by others with intricate knowledge of the first three. Are they all separate entities, or do they all work to create a transtemporal posthuman…?


week 10 summary

This week I’ve been trying to coalesce the readings for this block into some sort of working theory. I realise that I’ve been skirting around the edges in what I’ve written; this is probably because I flatter myself that I’ve understood what they mean essentially (expect in the case of Haraway, where I thought getting to the edge was pretty good going). I’ve been musing a lot about what this would look like played out in education, and what the uniting of meaning and matter…ahem…means for online learning. I’d like to apply this, if I can, in my assignment…although my crazy visions of sending material artefacts through the post is probably dispensable…

It also links to something a bit more complex. Jacques Derrida seems to keep coming back to haunt me, and the attacks on Platonic forms (or separation of subject and object) recalled Derrida’s insistence that words don’t have a finite number of dictionary meanings (even if accepted by a culture using the language); rather, each time a word is used, its meaning is unique to that occasion (uniterable). This seems to be very much connected to the idea of ‘chair’ (subject) versus the six different chairs in my house (objects). The chair at the top of the stairs may look exactly like the one with the laptop on it, but they are not the same object…and therefore, you cannot use the same subject to refer to both. There are many interesting ways this thought could go, but two occur to me that are linked to our topics this week:

As I mentioned in my notes on this week’s readings, this is important to Edwardsian ‘experiments’ that the topic explored is perceived as new, even if the ‘experts’ involved have done the experiment many times before. The uniqueness has to do with the uniqueness of the participants, which is built into the [concern, or whatever the 'thing' is], but also (in proper post-human style) the uniqueness of everything else involved as well–the uniterable chair.

I think this also shows Pedersen’s investigation of the lines between human and not-human, and why they need to be drawn in the first place, from a slightly different angle. First, if a human is not iterable, then a clone is as ‘human’ as its genetic twin (that sorts out Never Let Me Go, not to mention The Island). But it goes much further: without iteration, everything is unique. There aren’t any dichotomies because there aren’t any categories. Now I’m not suggesting taking this down the slippery slope of, e.g. Douglas Adams’ ruler of the universe. Going back to language, we still use this to good (not perfect) effect in all its uniterability. And so we still need to see the difference between a hairdryer and a handgun. But it’s the right to draw lines between categories that is to be relinquished to make way for the liquidity and ignorance that have always been there anyway.

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Week 9 summary

I think I can best summarise my scattered thoughts over the past week with a quote from my undergrad Anthropology professor: ‘Invention is the mother of necessity’.

He was speaking in terms of biological evolution, but this concept quite nicely hints at a nexus joining those much maligned categorisations of the real, the ideal and the virtual.

To start with, the ‘natural’ state of humans is problematised biologically: evolution is all about adaptation to the outside world, regardless of whether is was created by ourselves or not, or whether we want to adapt or not. Moreover, it is driven by anomalies: ‘informational’ mistakes–accidental inventions–that eventually came to be necessary to survival, and necessary to be called human (and not neanderthal, etc.).

From this point of view, the ‘cyborg’ is as unremarkable as a grey moth in Birmingham. The invention process just added another step–there was the accident of a gene that made us capable of considering using animal skin to keep us warm; we just had to enact it. Ditto building shelters, fire, weapons, vehicles, farms, radios, Facebook (more or less). It’s just the complexity of the current invention system that tricks us into thinking that our latest adaptations are ‘unnatural’ or ‘abnormal’.

And the complexity can also be understood in ‘natural’ terms. Dawkin’s ‘meme’ seems to have had a cultural resurgence in helping to define social media phenomena, and is a pithy way of thinking about evolution in post-human terms as the adaptation of a complex [of anything] to inventions external to it (if anything is really external in this sense) and of its own making. Crucially, this is a completely dynamic complex; it doesn’t stop evolving, moving, changing.

I’m arguing here as if ‘post-human’ is a description of how things ‘really’ are, and we’re only just realising it now. I don’t think that’s quite right. First, I’m using the ‘nature’ argument mostly as a challenge to the mystification of the cyborg–not necessarily to say ‘whatever is, is right’. But I’m also aware that a self-satisfied ‘we’ve finally got it all figured out now’ is precisely what post-humanism is not. So I’ll just leave post-humanism as a potentially useful way to perceive…stuff…

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week 8 summary

I’ve been struck by a few things this week in finalising my ethnography and [reading? viewing? interacting with?] other people’s.

First, I think most of us got a bit hung up on the definition of ‘community’ and whether the things we were studying were communities or not. I imagine that this was part of the learning, and so was no bad thing. Certainly I’ve got a broader concept of community now, and I think this will help with, e.g. concerns over whether students are properly ‘socialised’ before beginning to interact online…

This led to another interesting trope–that social connections can be ‘mediated’ by shared interests. Chantelle showed this well, for example: Person A (with interest in X) <--> Blog B about X <--> Person C (with interest in X). Even if neither comment, I think the idea that the blog has a large readership in itself affects how A and C will feel about reading a blog about something they have a personal stake in. This is stretching it a bit, but likewise if A commented, I think it would be the degree of C’s interest in X (and thus how often she looked at the blog, read the comments, etc.) rather than her desire to comment herself that would give her the sense of belonging.

I think this is also linked to the fluidity of online communities; i.e., just because A is only interested in X for a year, or a month, or three days, it doesn’t necessarily make her less of a community member…

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week 7 summary

I’ve been thinking a lot about transience, as this has arisen as an unexpected theme in my ethnography. Does a community have to be sustained to be a community? For how long?

This is closely related to the question of whether people who come together to do something (exchanging information, getting someone elected, joining a flash mob, etc.) are a community, or just a bunch of people. The quote that Gina picked out of Bell, ‘compatible consumption’, suggests that we can take this view, and so Harlem Shake participants could be a community; people voting for the release of an Audrey Hepburn film could be a community; 1980s banking computer operators could be a community…

And conference attendees can be a community. Which leads to my main issue with transience this week, namely the disappearance of tweets from a hashtag search. This led me to think about other instances of online community artefact transience, and what this means to the community members. I will explore this as far as twitter is concerned in my ethnography, but it’s important to note that it isn’t unique to twitter.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about ways to produce my ethnography, and am quite taken with the idea of ethnography as subjective narrative (particularly as I was a participant, and unaware that I was going to be scrutinising the community later!).

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week 6 summary

For my ethnography, I’ve decided to use a community of which I was already a member and which is rather ambiguous in its status as a community (being the online components of a two-day RL conference). This got me thinking not only about what defines a community generally but what I experience personally as community.

Succinctly, not much. I’ve been part of random groupings of people that I’m sure other members thought of as community (e.g. neighbourhoods, schools, girls’ clubs, retail jobs), but that weren’t communities to me. Personally, it’s been the common interest factor that has made a [collection of people] eligible to become a community. And even then this isn’t a guarantee that ‘affective and emotional solidarity’ or a ‘strong sense of belonging’ (Bell, 2001, p. 107) will emerge. But how do I know that other people haven’t perceived these same groups in a different way? Was the IRC Beatles room that I stopped by intermittently circa 1995 a tight-knit community, unbeknownst to me? Did others of the 500 1998 Berkeley English graduates see the cohort as an interest-sharing community? And what about the groups that I do think of as communities? Perhaps other members wouldn’t agree…

My examples here rather beg the question–I didn’t participate in the IRC room consistently, and I commuted to university rather than living near campus, so there are reasons I wasn’t as involved as I could have been. But this brings up the question (that others have asked over the past week) of status within a community; while my low involvement or geographical separation put me de facto on the periphery of these communities, many online communities create de jure inner circles. These are often labelled light-heartedly, and based on number of [helpful/liked] posts, but can carry significant weight as gatekeeping mechanisms. In The Digital Scholar‘s chapter on A Pedagogy of Abundance (Weller, 2011) a hierarchy of communities of practice is explicitly broken down with the assumption that members move from the outer circles to the inner. However, it seems to me that the democratising potential of the internet should be used to allow ‘peripheral’ individuals to nonetheless feel part of a community–that their membership should be based on their interest in the topic (their ‘election’ to be there in the first place) rather than the time or knowledge that they can offer to the community.

This will be interesting to look at in terms of my ethnography, in that there wasn’t time to form a hierarchy online–but were offline status relationships leveraged in cyberspace?


week 5 summary

I’ve kind of run the gamut this week (or rather last week), from me-blog personal decompression to a bit of web silliness.

But an interesting thing happened when I decided to do a post on the phrase ‘hive mind’. It was just going to be a quick look at whether this term has generally positive or negative connotations–if it was short-hand for ‘collective intelligence’, ‘group knowledge production’ etc., or a euphamism for The Borg. As I started thinking about it more, and doing a bit of googling, I thought it could make a longer piece that drew on a few different ideas (e.g. the 1% rule and the other thing that I still can’t find anywhere about herd behaviour), maybe a few paragraphs questioning whether social media was about information or feelings, if the structure of some media was conducive to the positive hive and some to the negative, etc. But having collected a few links from different places as my thought processes progressed, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to treat this like a mini-essay; I could look at it like I had the digital artefact. Not the visual/interactive elements, of course, but (as our creative writing teachers used to say) showing, not telling. I felt like I was beginning to get an idea of what Fitzpatrick‘s post-structuralism might look like, whether multi-modal or not.


week 4 summary

I wanted to reflect just a bit on creating a digital artefact versus writing…a blog post, for example. Despite years of experience in creating digital ‘things’, starting with some cheeky newsletters circa 1987 and going right up to my IDEL assignment, I still see the non-text-based option as the easiest. I know it’s not. I know it takes much longer and there are a lot more uncertainties and things that could go wrong, and that after all that work I usually feel like I didn’t get across half the things I wanted to say.

But frankly it’s much more fun. This could just be down to the fact that I’ve not been asked to produce anything apart from an essay in any academic context for the past 18 years, so there is a definite sense of novelty. On the other hand, I do produce digital content–video, audio and text at least–on a daily basis at work. I think, then, that it’s the creativity, the implicit expectation that I’m going to do something that engages different kinds of intelligences, that makes the digital artefact more appealing. And perhaps it’s more fundamental than that–we experience the world through all of our senses, so what’s more natural than representing it back using at least two…!

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