Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Addition of Division

Adam J. Banks's Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher ground aims at looking at how African American rhetoric can productively contribute to discussions about technology and rhetoric in general by getting away from binaries and instead examining ideas of transformative access. Bank's discusses the Digital Divide in terms of the racial divide, and demonstrates that work in both technical communication and composition has been largely silent about race and technology. He speaks to the issue of denial (the divide, white privilege), how history has shaped current issues of access, and the the default white user on the web, and, in the end, discusses how the discussions presented can help transform the rhetoric and composition classroom. In all, the book is, in Bank's words (and as the title suggests), "a search for higher ground" (134). In the beginning of the first chapter, he explains his main claim for the text:
The overall argument I make is this: rather than answer either/or questions about whether or not technological advancement and dependence leads to utopia or dystopia, whether technologies overdetermine or have minimal effects on a society's development, or whether people (especially those who have been systematically excluded from both the society and its technologies) should embrace or avoid these technologies, African American history as reflected through its rhetorical production shows a group of people who consistently refused to settle for the limiting parameters set by either/or binaries. Instead African Americans have always sought "third way"answers to systematically racist exclusions,demanding full access to and participation in American society and its technologies on their own terms, and working to transform both the society and its technologies, to ensure that not only Black people but all Americans can participate as full partners." (2)
 Bank's text has got me thinking about a lot of different aspects of rhetoric and technology (especially as I prepare to teach 402 next semester), and I really enjoy the way he weaves narrative, history, and theory together. His discussion of access expands on Reed's categorizations by adding critical access to the mix as well. We have already talked about how access should not just be viewed strictly in terms of material access: "Hey, here's a computer!" or, in the case of this text, "Hey, look, 90% of students in the US can access the web!" (137), but that it should also include knowledge, experience, and discernment. Bank's talks about this issue in the second chapter in terms of schools who are "under-performing" paying massive amounts of money to bring in technology or a new system that teachers are not trained to use and will be obsolete in a few years, and the troubling regime of "drill/skill/kill". The depiction of the young girl using a computer program to place commas in sentences that talk about technology's takeover was particularly disturbing to me, especially because, as pre-graduate school student, I never really thought about what any of the programs were saying to me or what that meant. Now that I am a teacher, I'm struggling with that issue right now, because the functions I want to use are compatible with Word (aka. fork over that money so we can use track changes) and not some of the free programs such as Open Office and Google Docs. Though we do have the AML, I'm not sure that fully addresses what that extra work and training means to either students or instructors.

A teacher's joke about technology and how to really be successful.
According to my previous blog entry, Reed broke down access in terms of digital resources, human resources, and community resources. Bank's definitions are similar: material access (e.g. I have a computer), functional access (e.g. I have the resources and knowledge to use this computer), experiential access (e.g. I feel connected enough that I want to use this computer), and, the one I don't recall Reed talking about, critical access (e.g. I know enough about the pros and the cons of this computer to realize when I should use it and when I should critique it). However, Bank's also concludes, "[Access is] not just a neat list of material access, functional access, experiential access, and critical access. Access to any particular technology occurs only when individuals or members of a group are able to use that technology to be able to tell their own stories in their own terms and able to meet the real material. social, cultural, and political needs in their lives and in their communities" (138). I found this quote especially interesting given our recent discussions in Language Acquisition and how the fields of linguistics and composition connect. For example, we recently read an article that talked about how acquisition is not governed by static notions of motivation and the affective filter, but rather investment, a term that takes into account changing context and the tie to identity that comes along with language acquisition and the "right to speak". One woman spoke because of her need to fulfill her role as mother so her children did not have to, and it caused her to engage in conversations that others found surprising. Thus, it seems to me that this article and Bank's text are both concerned with when and how people are silenced and how and when they choose to resist. They also both emphasize the importance of the social component in use. We must undermine, break down, and complicate simplistic, damaging explanations, that (surprise, surprise) still appear regardless, whether that's "she's just unmotivated to learn the language because she's lazy" or "he cannot use a computer because he's stupid [read: not white]".

I was also especially interested in the section regarding the absence of articles discussing race and the digital divide in technical communication, given that I analyzed Technical Communication Quarterly
in 534. Banks states that in English studies, issues of race, technology, and access are examined, but rarely the connections between them (12). According to Banks, the best Technical Communication Quarterly can do is "a grudging nod in the direction of Black people" (15), and, fittingly, our review failed to mention any trends related to race or access. It seemed to us that the journal focused much more on genres (especially online), international communication, issues in medicine/health care, and the role of the technical communicator as author rather than producer. I appreciate that Banks acknowledges the difficulty and uncertainty that comes with trying to bring these issues into the classroom, stating,
Both areas [technical communication and rhetoric and composition] place faculty in two constant and almost ridiculous binds: having to choose between "The World" and "Technology," between being and remaining true to a developing tradition of critique and providing students with the means with which they can gain access to the university and the workplace (140).
I appreciate that he acknowledges the struggle and his own uncertainty (though that is also a bit scary given that I am so much more inexperienced), considering our conversation last week about the pressures and constraints that come with teaching such courses. I also like that he gives some ideas for how to use projects to have students wrestle with some of this stuff, though I'm curious how he gets the materials for some of his assignments. When we talked about our ideal learning environments last week, I definitely wanted one with a magical supply closet that contained, well, whatever I wanted, but maybe at least some markers, poster board, and Legos. Also, I want the library to trust me enough to let me into the computer lab...sigh...Banks states, "The burden of access is not only the responsibility of those seeking it, but is a systemic burden as well" (21). Where is my 'check yes' button now?

Also, on a related note, the Race Card Project is a rabbit hole that's going to stop me from getting lesson planning done. I'm following the disturbing path of patrioticvigilantie's comments (though unfortunately the activity tied to the account is private, so I can't read them all in one place). The computer has told me to "deal with it," complete with a smirking blue face and sunglasses. This brings me back to the article we read about the blogger in Cuba, and whether or not these places for comments are productive sites for real conversation or not. It seems to me that unlike the forums with students that we also discussed two weeks ago, no one is really talking to each other.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's My Body (and Other Bon Jovi Songs)

Warning: I'm not sure exactly what this blog is supposed to look like since I missed some of class last Wednesday, so I'm just doing a brief run-down of the pieces and some of my thoughts. Spoilers to follow:

"Writing Against the Normal: Navigating Against a Corporeal Turn" by Dolmage immediately reminded me of Hayles work in its emphasis on the body and embodiment. In his first paragraph Dolmage states one of his (now eerily familiar) claims about the aim of his work: "...I argue that, in fact, ignoring the body has serious consequences. As we compose media, we must also-always-compose embodiment" (115). He also brings up the default identity that we consider to be the normal subject position (straight white able-bodied male shout out, but only if you are upper-middle class!) and compares it to writing that is free of error and labor (harkening back to Hayles example of Freed). However, Dolmage expands on the relationship between the body and writing and the emphasis on clarity as a subjugating term, which leads him to conclude, "...these power dynamics, combined with an under-appreciation of the difference of the bodies engaged in writing, bodies writing processes in normative and possibly hegemonic ways--an abstract, ideal, normate body shapes the bodily possibilities for all students" (117). Unsurprisingly, I've read some of the arguments that writing should be messy before (and Dolmage discusses that it has been used by many in composition studies), and I do use the similar functions in Word (track changes, compare documents) in my own classroom. I do wonder how many composition teachers are not doing this in their practices, though the art gallery aspect of it was neat to think about and something that might contribute to seeing this as less of a linear process. Though, really, when I'm being honest with myself, I have a hard time imagining that students see revision as anything more than making their writing better or more perfect, and I cannot say I blame them. It sucks to be in that place where things have to get worse to get better and even harder to explain, and We. Never. Have. Enough. Time. I haven't quite figured out the magic of scaffolding yet (I lean on the side of introducing more forms, more functions), so I'm forced to push my students through a pretty quick composing process (even given the portfolio system). Sometimes I wish we could allow students to polish two pieces, because I think it would offer more choice and (perhaps) encourage more revision (though I know that comes with its own set of problems). Bottom Line: I like the idea of messy composing, but I wish more of the authors would speak to some of the realities that make this really difficult to use in academia (it is hard to make writing a unique process when you have to teach 50 students, or maybe I'm just doing it wrong *bangs head against desk*). Also, how much can English push back against the university standard (and the job standard?!) of clear prose as the way to go? Is this still what "we" want, or is that just what we say we want when we don't know what else to say?

I don't want readers to get the wrong impression; I did really appreciate this text, and it did make me think a lot about my practices as a teacher of composition. I especially found the vocabulary about "deficient" writing and how that relates to the body particularly disturbing. However, I thought it was interesting that Dolmage says, "While some students felt alienated by problems with the technology, at least a few felt a connection through the WIKI, and I think this means its use was justified" (129). If so, couldn't teachers justify teaching a normative model? Couldn't teachers justify anything? Dolmage quickly moves on to talk about context and how that is more important than process, but the comment still left me with a sour taste in my mouth, especially given the focus on "recognizing and enabling all bodies" (131).

Slatin's article discusses the issue of accessibility for disabled persons online and how we should use AccessFirst Design. I think his opening is powerful in pointing out that we would never create a site that would be exclusive based on gender or race (though I think that there is certainly a difference between cannot use and would not want to use and feel uncomfortable using), and I'm always interested in thinking about the technical aspect of it all, so I enjoyed reading the piece. Slatin reiterates a point made by those involved in design/technical communication:
It is far less costly, in terms of time, money, and good will, to talk about accessibility and explore alternative solutions when fundamental changes can be made with the stroke of a magic marker on a flip chart page or the swipe of a dry-eraser across a whiteboard, rather than after actual implementation has gotten underway or been completed.
I like the idea of making accessibility a design element and  that it shouldn't have to be hidden. I wish he would have talked a bit more about points 14 and 15 and the differences between retrofitting for accessibility and designing while thinking about accessibility (I would be really interested to examine an example), However, overall, I like the ideas of imaging disabilities that could be used in the classroom, and I'm thinking about implementing one next semester when I talk about usability. This article also makes me think about people (like me) who have no idea how to design websites and just use a pre-made course management system for their courses. Perhaps I can use some of these activities to test out Writing Studio!

The last article, "Multimodality in Motion: Disability and Kairotic Spaces" builds on the article by Slatin by drawing awareness to the fact that disability is often hidden:
Access statements on webtexts are often hidden from view, placed in a footer or off-site disclaimer (or just left off altogether). Such choices speak to the subjugation of accessibility as a rhetorical framework. Alternative entrances, disclaimers—by their very nature, these create a special population of people, whom we then identify as disabled.
Their goal is to examine how composition studies could benefit from a disability studies framework. and how working on accessibility often benefits the able-bodied as well. I appreciate that Selfe and Howe talk about how certain types of students are privileged in the classroom in big and small ways, especially because I've had some very productive email exchanges with students this semester (and it has also made me more interested in the distinction? between email and texting, as I occasionally find myself giving up on the conventions of the email message when its 11:00 pm and we've gone back and forth at least a few times). Another quote that really got me thinking states:
Many multimodal texts exclude disabled audiences because they are not commensurable across multiple modes, thus rendering the text inaccessible. Consider, for example, the kairotic space of a presentation at an academic conference. Conference presentations are highly inaccessible to a variety of participants. For many deaf people, like me, it is difficult to follow an oral presentation without another channel for accessing the information that is embedded in the sound of the presenter’s voice reading their paper, and consequently, opportunities for engaging in the circulation of ideas within the presentation (or afterwards) are lost.
 Given that I just returned from a conference this weekend, it is interesting to consider how much we value these meetings and how much they do exclude people. My presentation was actually a poster, and I'm wondering if that would change (improve?) some issues of access, because that format is more of a audience-centered interaction than one dictated by the presenter. People are able to examine the poster for as long as they want, ask questions (or not) if they want, skip certain posters, etc. I'm curious overall about the move to posters at some conferences in the humanities and the reasons behind that (though I would guess that it doesn't have to deal directly with accessibility). Will it always be considered a "lesser form" of presentation? These articles have also got me thinking about students in the classroom and whether or not they chose to self-identify as disabled.  Yergeau says, "Accommodation, I'd suggest, presumes that disabled people do not exist unless they reveal themselves—at which point, they need able-bodied people to help them assimilate". How do we help our students see disability as natural? Does when they do so dictate our response as instructors? How does that influence our classroom practices? Do we provide enough training/consider this enough at WSU?

Justin is red-green colorblind, and it has made me rethink my design decisions for maps etc.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Just a Woman in a Monkey Suit

I think that Hayles and Haraway would agree that we are all cyborgs, though while Hayles wants us to see the pleasure in being post-human (instead of the terror we might feel about our anti-human replacements), Haraway acknowledges the pleasure and responsibility we have from the very beginning of her text. Hayles is more concerned about how our construction as cyborgs has been historically created and how that has unfairly privileged information over materiality, while Haraway is speaking about how the the fact that the cyborg does not share the same history with us (more comments on that below) can be empowering.

Haraway also slightly extends the conversation about the lack of differentiation between humans and animals (or perhaps I just comprehended it better). I also understand more of where Haraway herself stands on this issue, as well as others. As we discussed in class, Hayles brings up points in a different sort of pattern, where she cites a lot of people and does not really bring in what she thinks until the end. Haraway, on the other hand, states:
Language, tool use, social behavior, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal. And many people no longer feel the need for such a separation; indeed, many branches of feminist culture affirm the pleasure of connection of human and other living creatures. (293)

Though I admit Haraway does not overtly claim to align herself with these "many branches of feminist culture," it is easy to fill in the blanks. After reading these texts, How We Became Posthuman seems like the kind of person at the party who wants to tell you all about everyone in the room (though of course you've already met them all and so some boring background explanations can be skipped) and everything she knows about the stories of the previous owners, because that matters to the history of the house, and, after all, we are in a house, right?! The information on your flash drive for that huge presentation tomorrow is only as important as the device it is stored in, especially if your house were to burn to the ground. You really want to understand her, but you keep getting mixed up between Terri and Kerri even after she's told you five times, and then you proceed to spend the whole night wandering around the kitchen trying to keep her from finding your matches. "The Cyborg Manifesto," on the other hand, tells you the end of the story as you are walking in the door, enough that you catch the names of some of the movements she cites (because you weren't sick that one week in theory class, were you?) before she's telling you why it matters to everyone in this room right now, and you think you want to agree with her but she seems to be agreeing and disagreeing with How We Became Posthuman in equal measure, who gave you such detailed explanations that sounded so right, and you realize maybe you should have gone to that other party that Kerri went to where they were just playing games...or was that Terri? Maybe that's just me.

While Hayles is more concerned with giving information back its body, Harroway has much more of an overt political bent. She argues that, because cyborgs have no history, they are not subject to the same constructed categories that dominate discourse; they "would not recognize the Garden of Eden. [They are] not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust" (293). She states that race and gender are historically produced, and that we need to stop trying to come together for a revolution at the expense of marginalizing others. Shortly after this, Hayles and Harroway come together when Harroway says, "In relation to objects like biotic components, one must think not in terms of essential properties, but in terms of design, boundary constraints, rates of flows, systems logics, costs of lowering constraints" (301). When I first read this, I thought about the section in How We Became Posthuman that dealt with homeostasis and the troubling uncoupling of information from context. Then I thought that Haraway was more on board with information as code then Hayles, but a second reading made me change my mind. Along with that, both authors also agree that scientists see information as "just that kind of quantifiable element (unit, base of unity) which allows universal translation" (303) and that "we are not dealing with technological determinism, but with a historical system depending upon structured relations among people" (304). However, the hints of feminism I saw in Hayles are much more on the agenda for Haraway.

One of the parts I found really compelling in Hayles' text was the story about Janet Freed. Hayles states that Freed, unlike the male scientists at the conference, would never forget the intersection between information and materiality, because she was the one doing the labor in that situation by transcribing the Macy Conferences. I couldn't help but think about this when I was reading Haraway (and her deskilling brought me back to Johnson), though Hayles was not as concerned about economics. In the work of Catherine Bateson, another woman Hayles dicusses in the same chapter, Bateson acknowledges her sadness about the death of her child, and how that influenced her view on the scientists' discussions of what constituted life. According to Haraway, "that women regularly sustain daily life partly as a function of their enforced status as mothers is hardly new; the kind of integration with the overall capitalist and progressively war-based economy is new" (305). Hayles uses Bateson (and Freed) as examples to show that the observer is always part of the system; Haraway expands on that to overtly address that more women are entering the workforce and how we need a new sense of unity and experience beyond totality (310).


Overall, both authors are all about the power of narrative and writing. Hayles carves out a special place for literary texts in representing and dissecting what scientific works cannot, and she describes in a really cool way the narrative of science. Haraway describes the empowerment that comes with being able to signify, especially for colonized groups. One of my favorite quotes from the piece is "Releasing the play of writing is deadly serious...Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recording communication and intelligence to subvert command and control" (311). She talks a bit about how students had trouble reading some of these texts after works in the cannon, but I was hoping to hear more about why we teach what we teach and how that fits in to the system of testing and reconsidering pedagogy, but I guess that's another text entirely...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

PS. I'm a Robot

I found Hayles' text to be engaging, confusing, inspiring, frustrating, and difficult: the flickering signifier of my own flickering ability to understand embodiment, liberal humanism, and Phillip Dick. In How We Became Posthuman, Hayles takes us through a truncated history of cybernetics, including both scientific and literary texts, to contest that there can be a separation between information and material; she aims to fight against virtuality (see quote below). For her, it is important to specifically describe the history of how and why that disconnect occurred, including the three waves of development in the field: "The first, from 1945 to 1960, took homeostasis as a central concept; the second, going roughly from 1960 to 1980, revolved around reflexivity; and the third, stretching from 1980 to the present, highlights virtuality" (7). The Macy conferences, part of the earliest period, were marked by wanting to see machine function as man (functionally similar but without removing liberal humanism) and maintain scientific objectivity by placing the observer outside the system. Reflexivity (see definition below) was discussed and then discarded uncomfortably by all but a few thinkers. Conversely, the second wave focused on the observer and the concept of autopoiesis, or "self-making" that required "that systems are informationally closed" (10), thus making information and the system indistinguishable and bringing the observer into the system. The last wave looked at the capacity to evolve and redefined living and the connection between the material and information, thus putting us in the mindset to think about what being post-human means/could mean. I thought the chart was fairly useful for understanding some of the distinctions between these movements (page 16), though I still get stuck in all the theory/definitions beneath it.

Early on we are introduced to reflexivity, a concept threaded throughout the text. Hayles states, "Reflexivity is the movement whereby that which has been used to generate a system is made, through a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates" (8). Hayles uses the example of hands drawing a picture being sketched as part of the picture. Reflexivity is important because it separates us from the notion of objectivity. The part about Catherine Bateson stood out as an important example that made it clear to me that the observer is part of the system. I like that Hayles describes both how this functions in Bateson's text and Bateson's awareness of her subjectivity. It reminds me of the discussion we had this week in English 360 about extrinsic proofs and the troubling emphasis on simply presenting "pure data." This was complicated by two separate lists of the best movies of 2010, signaling the importance of context and interpretation.

I also really enjoyed Hayles views of literature and science and the importance of the interrelation between them. For example she says, "As the chapters on the scientific developments will show, culture circulates through science no less than science circulates through culture, The heart that keeps this circulatory system flowing is narrative..." (21). These quotes/connections are what made me really excited to read this book in the first place. I wonder how much scientists would agree with this emphasis on narrative though. It also makes me think more about the inclusion of the observer in the system (seems to be a theme I'm stuck on), and I wonder if scientists are moving toward this acknowledgement in their texts or not. It also makes me think about the audience for this book. I found a reviewer that talked about how, because of this connection, some part of the text will always be alienating, and I'm curious to see if our class thought that was true or not. I do think that she may have benefited from scientific discourse a bit in its adherence to plain language, because sometimes I feel like her language is purposefully crafted to make me struggle. In that regard, do some texts have "natural bodies?" (45). What would that be? Does hers? Also, why have I never heard of autopoietic theory? It seems like this whole contention over the emphasis on DNA never actually made it to the biologists, or we chose to ignore it.

Another definition that is important is what Hayles is arguing against is virtuality. She states:

"Technical artifacts help to make an information theoretic view a part of everyday life....information is increasingly perceived as interpenetrating material forms. Especially for users who may not know the material processes involved, the impression is created that pattern is predominant over presence. From here it is a small step to perceiving information as more mobile, more important, more essential than material forms. When this impression becomes part of your cultural mindset, you have entered the condition of virtuality" (19).

It is easy to see how the privileging of information came about, and I appreciated Hayles discussion of pattern and randomness instead of presence/absence. What I understand is that in a general sense the formation of patterns overall from the random is part of what makes us post-human, but I'm not sure I've got that quite right. I feel like I need to understand more about related theories before I feel entirely comfortable with this text, and it has me thinking about the information she does provide (lots about the narratives of the stories she chooses, so much so that I feel it almost overwhelms her argument at times) and what she doesn't (assumed familiarity with those famous dudes).

I also found the parallels between Hayles assertion that "the computer molds the human even as the human builds the computer" (47) and her claim that "the body produces culture at the same time that culture produces the body" (200) interesting, especially because she is all about considering context and everything involved in the system. However, does this draw us back to the we shape the tools and then the tools shape us argument? Is anyone disagreeing with this?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A-Maze of Technology

My blog post should probably start with an apology, because I did not do a very good job of describing what I want my final paper to be about. I'm still not sure exactly where I'm going or what to include, but I'm largely interested in the relationship between science and narrative and how technology has influenced young adult literature. I also want to examine stereotypes of scientists and intellectualism, which includes an examination of gender roles, especially given the rise of the female-villain-scientist character in recent young adult dystopian texts. My current aim is to examine some of these issues in the text Maze Runner, a book about the struggle of Thomas and his friends to survive a scientific experiment.

Spoiler Alerts: The narrative begins when Thomas enters the Glade, a community of teenage boys that has been built in the middle of a giant maze. He enters with supplies through an elevator they call the Box, and has no memory of who he is except for his name; the boys explain that this happens every month. Thomas is slowly introduced to the boys' way of life, including their distinctive lingo, and learns that they have been trying to escape the maze for more than two years without success. Their system is to rely on a group of boys called the maze runners, who run the maze every day and subsequently record what the maze looks like. Though they have thousands of maps, the maze changes every day, and they are unable to find any patterns that will allow them to leave. Furthermore, the maze runners must return before nightfall when the doors to the maze close and grievers, half-biological, half-mechanical creatures freely roam the maze. No one has ever survived the night in the maze. As the story continues, a girl is delivered through the box who can telepathically communicate with Thomas, and, through a series of dangerous misadventures, the group eventually escape the maze to meet its creators, a group called WICKED.

I aim to analyze this book using Hayles, Nakamura, and Johnson (User-Centered Technology), as well as other relevant texts. My goal is to argue that the whole book represents our interactions and fears as users of technology. I would like to examine the expert/novice binary and the idea of technology as a black box, technological determinism, humans as product or animal (they eventually have bar codes), the scientist and the user as post-human, the default identity online (white male), and the relationship between information and materiality, including the failure of scientific method to yield productive results. Hayles text is especially interesting in this regard, given that the boys discover that they don't even know their real names, and have instead been named after famous male scientists (Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, etc.). However, the female character is not named after a scientist, and Minho, the only character described as Asian, is named for a scientist of the future, according to the author's commentary after the fact.  

I would also like to explain that technology has changed our view of the maze narrative and what is savage and dangerous, using both Greek mythology and Lord of the Flies, one of the cited inspirations for this text. Comparing the beast and the Minotaur to the grievers could be a productive direction in this regard, as well as the role of feminine knowledge and how escape happens (the string, the fire, the digital window). I would also like to delve into how digital spaces influence memory, privacy, and language/slang, as well as the role of the woman as "the end of technology" (Teresa's appearance signals changes in the maze and their eventual escape).

Mark made the great suggestion that I should speak with Dr. Boyd, so I am doing that next week. It was also suggested that I take a look at Technologies of the Gendered Body. My main concern is that I may stretch evidence too much to fit my own interpretations or that I don't have a clear idea of which ideas are going to be the most fruitful in terms of working with sources. I chose this text because I'm also hoping to be able to watch the recent movie version, though I'm not sure how much to include that aspect (my original goal was to be able to compare the written description of a griever to the visual one). I also thought about looking at art and fan fiction inspired by the text, but I'm not sure how far to go or how useful that might be. The second book also reveals that there was a whole other maze with all girls in it and one boy, and I am not sure how much that should influence my reading of the original text.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Leave a Comment after the Beep...

I want to briefly draw connections between two of the articles we read and Castells' work, because I think they both add to the conversation in ways I was hoping for when I wrote my last post. Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times is in a multi-modal form that I appreciate given the subject matter and the attention paid to preserving the co-author's voices. As I pointed out in one of my comments, I think that Networks of Outrage and Hope could have benefited from being a digital text to embrace the advantages of that mode (e.g. embedded video, links, etc.). Perhaps this is also based on personal bias, because to be honest I hate flipping back and forth between between chapters and notes, but I also think it would have helped readers compare these moments and the way these different technologies have played a role. In her blog, Zarah mentioned wanting to more about what sparked these movements, and I think that would have helped Castells include more of that interesting, important material without making the text substantially longer.

Lisa's comment about linearity vs. a network or web also reminded me of Dr. Ericsson's digital text we read in 501 and how works online can disrupt (or not disrupt) that sense of organization and how we move through them. For example, Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times does not keep all of the introduction on the same page, but organizes based on subheadings that the reader must click through. Does this say something about attention span or how we expect information online to be displayed? Readers are able to see the "title page" at all times as well, where one can click to find more information about the co-authors (though I'm interested in why the "more information" is simply another picture and when/where they were born, especially given the transnational emphasis of the text). It also includes chapters, but that has me wondering if it is important to read chapter 3 before I read chapter 5 and if we need those markers at all. What would happen if we arranged the categories horizontally instead of vertically, or even in a web (thinking Prezi)? In Castells' work, is it important that I read the chapter about the social movement in Spain before I read about Occupy Wall Street? Would an alternative organizational scheme this give the reader more agency (Is this like the digital portfolio conversation?)? I realize we should also consider the disadvantages of the digital too; after all, Castells' does that have to include a 'be patient' part of his text or make the reader wait for QuickTime to download. He also doesn't have to worry about how his text will look on a mobile phone or if readers can get the message even if they can only access part of the text. As the "Generation Y" article demonstrates, it is important to think about the constraints and advantages of these different media and if they really change the way we communicate.

Overall, I like the emphasis in Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times on maintaining the integrity of the coauthors voices, at it reminds me of the readings that speak to valuing student work and viewing them as equal members of the conversation. In the introduction Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe, describe the reasoning behind their method:
 Because participants' voices have been such an important part of these literacy narratives, we have also tried to maintain, as far as possible, the integrity of the responses: at times using digital video to record their narratives and writing processes and at other times using their own written words and language. In addition, we have selected written passages that retain the participants' words and phrasing, grammatical structures, and distinctive word choices, which also mark their digital videos. This approach, we believe, keeps the contributors’ language intact—along with all of its important markers of class, age, geography, and personal expression.
However, it also strikes me as interesting that they need to keep coming back to this methodology--it is almost as if they feel like they have to justify it, which to me is a bit strange. Are we still at the point where we need to talk about why we want to hear people actually talk/write about what they have talked about instead of a translation? Also, the co-authors don't make the cover or the works cited entry, and we don't hear from them until after chapter 1...and I keep looking at the picture of the researchers and their self-representations and trying to understand their meaning. There is a third picture that you only get if you click on the image, which is in color and also blocks out part of the shot. I can see how this relates to being the organizers and being behind the scenes, but how does looking at the building (a school?) define being an insider or an outsider? Why is this picture in the section on making a global turn? What are the different ways pictures are used in the part of the text we read, and what makes them rhetorically effective? How do these pictures give us different ideas about the identities of these students?

Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe
I also wanted to talk about "Political communication in the Cuban blogosphere: A case study of Generation Y", because it describes a particular technology and its affordances and constraints, something that Castells does not really discuss. The authors build on Castells 2008 text and his concept of mass self-communication in their article (159) and also include a section about how these spaces have made these authors (or, in the case of the article, author) famous and perhaps that they are using them for personal gain. Castells does it in his discussion of livestreamers (176) and this article does it when it talks about responses by people in favor of the Cuban process (156). Do these bloggers fall under more intense scrutiny than other "established" news sources/media? How do these spaces redefine what we consider "credible"? I also thought the discussion of Twitter was fascinating, and I'm wondering if people agree with the authors' claim that:
Twitter's interactive capabilities fall short of opening opportunities for real and substantial dialogue between Sanchez and her followers, which could lead to enrichment of the topics addressed in her blog, mostly because of Twitter's restrictions on post lengths (140 characters) (165).
Does the length constraint stop substantial dialogue, or does it promote a back-and-forth exchange? Should Twitter lift this restriction? What are online alternatives that allow us to have "real and substantial" dialogue? Would the conversation be different if comments influenced what was written in the blog? Does this piece support the claim that the internet is making us more polarized, because we read (and comment on) what we already believe in? Does consensus building better take place in the space offline? Castells highlights the importance of the connection between digital and non-digital networks, and I wonder if that is part of what this blog is missing (or what, at the very least, we don't hear about).


Thursday, October 2, 2014

When Hope Seems Outrageous

Manuel Castells' Networks of Outrage and Hope discusses social movements that aim for true democracy and justice using a combination of online and offline networks and spaces. Castells describes these movements from Iceland to the Middle East to Spain to the streets of New York and recognizes the similarities between them stating, "In all cases the movements ignored political parties, distrusted the media, did not recognize any  leadership and rejected all formal organization, relying on the Internet and local assemblies for collective debate and decision-making" (4). The book makes observations about these movements (e.g. the spark, who participated, the response and outcomes, etc.); however, Castells contends that it is too early to make any systematic statements, only hypotheses. He uses his theory of grounded power to state that institutional structure is defined by the interplay between power and counterpower and that power is gained through peoples' minds or through force, which cannot last forever: "torturing bodies is less effective than shaping minds" (5). The way to create meaning in the minds of the people, a more stable form of power, is to communicate, and we can now do this partly through digital "mass self-communication" (7). Thus, these movements have created a space between the digital and the urban to conquer fear through community, invoke symbolism, and regain representation (11). According to Castells, these movements are emotional, requiring both outrage and then hope to turn feeling into action (14).

I thought the text was powerful in the way that it described the movements and their similarities, and I learned quite a bit of detail about these different revolutions. However, I am a bit curious about the addressed audience for this text. I know that Castells' works are widely cited, but I sometimes felt as if I knew too much or too little about what he was discussing. For example, I thought the part about the government's attempt to shut down the Internet was particularly fascinating, especially the new technologies that were created to allow people to have their voices heard. However, his example about speak-to-text made me want to know more about Twitter and why that has often been the outlet for these messages; if the other readings sounded outdated due to their examples, this one made me feel old. He also made the very good point that the internet is impossible to shut down because it is "the lifeline of the interconnected global economy" (65), but I was not quite sure I completely understood the implications of that lack of physicality. Castells says that the speed in which the Internet was reconnected in Egypt indicates that "neither the disconnection nor the reconnection was physical. There was simply a matter of re-writing the code for the routers, once the government authorized the ISPs to operate again" (65). I guess I was expecting him to say something about how that plays into power dynamics or this space between the digital and the physical, but he then quickly moves on to talking about why they restored it instead. Furthermore, he also brings up the role of women in the chapter on Egypt and how these revolutions occur in places where people have internet access, but I was hoping for more. What about the role of women in these other countries? How long have these places have widespread access, and did that affect the movements? Polity Press, the publisher of his text, says that they serve a mainly academic audience, but also strive to publish works that a general audience could pick up. Could you see yourself teaching with this text? If so, in what type of a class? What type of student? Would you feel the need to supplement, or could the book stand on its own? In that same vein, could a chapter be pulled out to discuss? If you were to use a chapter, which one would you pick? Who do you think is reading this book as a "member of the general public"?

This book also hints at some of the problematic issues these movements have had to face, but overall gives a very positive view of the digital and these networks. I would be really curious to see the 2010 study that talked about how the Internet has increased peoples' sense of security, agency, and liberty done again (233), especially considering the article on Isis that Lacy and Alex provided. In other words, I'm not totally convinced, or I at least want to see some numbers (I know, there's a link, but I wish it got a chart like some of the other information). At the very least the study backed up the assertion that the groups who could most benefit from the Internet are the ones that have the least access (boo). However, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I did at least partially enjoy reading a book with a "yay Internet" message, though I feel that all the readings have stressed the importance of connection between digital and non-digital spaces. For example, in our "overview text", Reed had a brief portion of a chapter dedicated to social movements, and his final claim was, "it is this close connection to 'real-world' away-from-keyboard sites that makes online netroots activism most effective" (134). Castells expands on Reed's synopsis by discussing how these social movements have created a new sense of time as well when he claims:
...they have generated their own form of time: timeless time, a trans-historical form of time, by combining two types of experience. On the one hand, in the occupied settlements, they live day by day, not knowing when the eviction will come...on the other hand...they live in the moment in terms of their experience, and they project their time in the future of history-making in terms of their anticipation...It is an emerging, alternative time, made of a hybrid between the now and the long now [reminds me a bit of Condon's talk in the long now] (223).
Do we have the patience for the 'long now'? How do we feel about this concept of 'relearning from old mistakes in terms of consensus (130)?

Lastly, there is also a very interesting tension in this work between what the movements were able to do and what they could not accomplish, which connects to the difference between short-terms goals and long-term change. Castells mentions several times that the distrust of politics stops these movements from being able to make pragmatic changes, because that would involve working through that system. In the "Occupy Wall Street" chapter, Castells summarizes this outlook when he describes two trends of the movements:
...(a) most people simply do not trust the political process as it is currently framed, so they only count on themselves; (b) the movement is wide and strong because it unites outrage and dreams while skipping politics as usual. This is its strength and its weakness. But this is what this movement is, not a surrogate for an old left always looking to find fresh support for its unreconstructed view of the world. No demands, and every demand; not a piece of society, but the whole of a different society (188).
In the end, he says that the movement's hopes will have to be "watered down" (234) through "reform or revolution" (234). In the United States, is one more likely than the other? Has this movement done enough to empower people and influence their minds? How do we go from awareness of a class divide and the degradation of the "American Dream" (everyone and their mother's AP English final paper topic) to that next step?  Does it really matter that about 30% of people supported disruptive action, especially if most didn't approve of the movement?

On a related note, I think this book is going to need another addition given the events in Hong Kong and his discussion of the government and their control of the internet in China!

Umbrella protester

For example, see: