Archive for June, 2003

Blogging Abstract

Here is my abstract for the Into the Blogosphere CFP:

Writing to the Moment: Blogging and the Everyday

One of the primary features of weblogs is that they allow the writer to instantly publish his or her thoughts. This sense of immediacy is, to my mind, the crucial characteristic of blogging, with this instantaneity often resulting in a focus on the contemporary, the ephemeral, although the archives allow this everyday content to be placed into a larger narrative. Blogs are also characterized by their privileging of the most recent post, usually placing it at the front or top of the page, creating a medium characterized by linear, sequential organization. Finally, blogs frequently contain multiple links, both within blogrolls of blogs that the writer regularly visits, and within the posts themselves. Each of these qualities contributes to the ways in which blogs organize our thinking while also providing insight into the way our thinking about time might inform the tools that we create. Linearity and discrete posts may produce a segmentation of thinking that is rather artificial; however, they also provide a means for working through everyday experience, specifically through the heavy linking associated with the weblog medium.

This paper will discuss the temporal dynamics of blogging, specifically the role of the medium’s chronological organization and frequent updates, in order to consider how the medium organizes thought. I will consider how weblogs function as a means for organizing and assimilating experience. In this sense, my argument will draw from Walter Benjamin’s concept of experience, specifically as Peter Osborne has reworked it in The Politics of Time. Blogs provide their writers a key means for sifting through the detritus of everyday life, and by extension, offer digital studies a crucial means for thinking about how we define the everyday. In this context, I find it useful to draw from a variety of blogs that engage with the everyday in different, often contradictory ways, in order to understand how writers approach and seek to understand their everyday experience.

I found it very difficult to limit myself to 250 words, and I’m not sure that I gave myself enough space to explain how I’ll be engaging with Benjamin (especially his two distinct concepts of experience, Erlebnis and Erfahrung) in terms of blogging. Hopefully what I’ve submitted will be evocative (provocative?) enough. Other cool proposals: Anne Galloway’s discussion of blogs as liminal spaces and Grumpygirl’s Web Studio Abstract.

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Lawrence v. Texas

Via Jennifer Klyse, (scroll down to June 26) more information about the recent SCOTUS decision overturning Texas’ law banning same-sex sodomy, including the majority opinion (PDF), Justice O’Connor’s separate ruling (PDF), and dissenting opinions by Justices Scalia and Thomas (both PDF).

In addition, a nice editorial from DailyKos arguing that this decision opens up the possibility for legalizing gay marriage. The reading of Scalia’s emotional rant (about the “homosexual agenda”), er decision, helps illuminate this point nicely.

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Shackleton (Reflections on IMAX)

Had my first ever IMAX experience the other night, seeing Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (narrated by Kevin Spacey) at Fernbank as part of their Friday night Martinis and IMAX series. Afterwards, while sipping a classic gin martini underneath massive dinosaur skeletons with S, I reflected that Shackleton was more interesting in its treatment of “ways of seeing,” as this Cincinatti Enquirer reviewer suggests. 70mm IMAX shots are interspersed with photographs and film footage taken by photographer Frank Hurley during their expedition, which began in 1914 (Hurley’s footage was itself edited into a popular 1919 film, according to the review).

The film takes the standard narrative, men surviving great odds to prevail over impossible conditions (okay–I admit, I’m trying to highlight my implicit masculinity critique), but the real story in my experience is the photography itself, and the rugged icebergs and barren islands provide the cameras with compelling material although the attempts at re-enacting the survival efforts fell flat, for me at least. IMAX films require epic scope, and Shackleton’s story is certainly epic, but the contemporary performances felt a little contrived. I think I would have preferred a much more careful montage between Hurley’s photography, which for me was the emotional center of the film, and contemporary images. I also found the use of different people reading crew members’ diary entries in voice-over somewhat distracting. Keeping a consistent v/o (Spacey’s) might have made Shackleton feel less “artificial.”

The IMAX shots that captured the shape and scope of the icebergs and landscapes were quite effective. Given their visual power, I can see why IMAX films are so attracted to these images of the “natural world.” Nope, I can’t avoid the scare quotes; I’m far too aware that these IMAX images are carefully constructing an image of the natural. Manovich’s distinction between realism and photorealism is probably in the back of my mind here (as well as pretty much anything Derrida wrote in the 1970s).

Looking back at my own review, I realize the film seemed to reinforce a specific narrative about nature (that it is epic, that men compete against it) rather than any other number of potential narratives. I’m still struggling with my language here, with wrapping my thoughts around the technology. This is my first IMAX experience, and I want to get a better sense of what the technology does. I’d like to know what experiences my readers have with IMAX and whether they also find it somewhat contrived in its construction of the natural world?

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Weekend Update

Nope, I’m not talking about my weekend (although I should have some good news on a car soon), but I just wanted to do a little housecleaning with some recent political events that have been on my mind.

  • The Results are In: The winner of the Moveon.org virtual primary is (no surprise) Howard Dean. MoveOn’s analysis of the voting and their assertions of fairness are quite interesting. What strikes me is how poorly Joe Lieberman performed in the voting. I’m no Lieberman fan, but he fared little better than Al Sharpton. I realize that MoveOn skews liberal-left, and I am aware of the criticisms (Salon link, sorry to non-subscribers) of Dean’s campaign, but at the very least, I think it illustrates the difficulty of getting the more liberal-leaning Dems enthusiastically behind Lieberman.
  • The SCOTUS scores a point: As George reported (via the Washington Post), the Supreme Court rules Texas’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional, generally on “privacy” grounds (although Sandra O’Connor notably used “equal protection” as her basis in a spearately written opinion). George offers an insightful observation that Kennedy’s belief that future generations will seek “greater freedom” runs the risk of seeing freedom redefined in dangerous ways, others have argued that this decision might be a positive belwhether for preserving Roe v. Wade (actually, I’m not so sure the CSM is enthusiastic about the precedent, but I am). Like George, though, I am concerned about how broad concpets such as freedom and privacy will be interpreted by future SCOTUSes.
  • “Even the Dead Will Not be Safe:” Interesting times in Georgia this week as two of the state’s most charismatic politicians passed away, Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor, and Lester Maddox, a segregationist governor from the late 1960s. One interesting detail is current governor, Sonny Perdue’s choice to lower state flags to half-mast to honor Maddox but not for Jackson. I’ll refrain from speaking ill of the so-called “colorful” segregationist Maddox, but for someone who contributed so much to the city and the state (promoting minority business ownership and building Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport), Jackson deserves a lot better. Check out Andrew Young’s wonderful column.
  • Shut the F*** Up: Via Invisible Adjunct, I learned that Liz Lawley’s blog was blocked by the filtering software being used in a bar where she checked her blog. In both cases, an interesting discussion of SCOTUS’s decision to uphold the Children’s Internet Protection Act ensues. As Liz puts it, “Scary stuff, isn’t it?”

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The Mondrian Machine

I found a fun new toy on Blogdex, “The Mondrian Machine,” which lets the user design her or his own Mondrian images using dynamic HTML. Pretty cool, but mildly addictive.

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A Better World Through Blogging

Like almost everyone else, I’ve been thinking about submitting to the CFP on blogging (now that the deadline is fast approaching).

Right now, I’m intrigued by questions about the social and political effects of blogging. Anne Galloway has linked to Adam Greenfield’s pessimistic reflection on whether or not IT have made the world a better place. He challenges readers to answer the following questions:

Is the planet as a whole detectably better-off in the wake of a decade of decentralized, low-cost-of-entry information availability? Are we better informed, less superstitious, more open-minded, more curious, stronger, less afraid? Do we make better choices?

My initial response is a slightly ambiguous yes. I’ll grant that corporations are getting richer and fatter. I’ll admit that the current global tensions have produced an increase in superstition and nationalism. But I do think the grassroots possibilities of IT, including blogs, have at least kept some of our bullies at bay (the “Star Wars Kid” is one example). Even though the FCC voted for deregulation, public outcry has encouraged Congress to consider repealing the FCC’s decision. Blogs and online news sources have helped disseminate information that mainstream news sources have either buried or distorted.

This isn’t the question I really wanted to address here. I’m still trying to think about the temporal linearity of the blog and how that informs the way we “think through” blogs. It does seem to privilege the ephemeral, the right now, over the eternal, the past. One of the results is the number of political bloggers (of all positions). I know that part of my attraction to the blogosphere was reading Salam Pax and others who were blogging about Iraq. I don’t think that all blogs or bloggers privilege immediacy over the long-term (Matt’s discussion of the digital archive is one example), but I’m fascinated by the temporal construction of blogs. I’m just not sure where to go with it.

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Thinking Through Blogs

Anne Galloway has been asking some interesting questions about using blogs as research tools. Like her, I’m concerned with using my blog for thinking through some of my research (in my case, making the transition from dissertation to book), and I’m trying to work out how blogging might be able to synthesize discrete ideas. Anne points out that

For example, Blogger doesn’t offer the ability to organise posts into categories like Movable Type, but even so, that type of archiving does nothing to connect posts across boundaries.

One alternative may be the “search” tool on many MT blogs, which might allow me to track down any entries on a topic, but that still doesn’t necssarily allow for the types of connections that I think she is describing and creates other types of limits. I’m also a big fan of the trackback function that might alert me to others’ comments on my blog.

I think she’s right to suggest (via Ted Nelson)that “we are prisoners of our applications,” but I’d like to make a case for the temporal linearity of blogging. I think George put it well when wrote about “writing to the moment” several months ago. I realize that he was writing more about autobiography, but “writing to the moment” (i.e. in a linear medium) can also enable a certain type of thinking that might not be permitted in “writing to a database” (George’s narratives about his research in Manchster might be a good example). Certainly blogging allows one to combine both logics to an extent, but I do think that the temporal organization might allow me to see how an idea is developing over time in ways that a database with discrete categories might not. Also by privileging the most recent entries, blogs are useful in emphasizing a blogging researcher’s most immediate thoughts. Then again, linearity and discrete posts also produce a segmentation of thinking that is rather artificial.

Given some of these questions, how have other academic bloggers used their blogs for thinking through reesarch ideas? In what ways do you find the temporal linearity of blogs helpful or harmful?

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Virtual Voting

MoveOn.org’s virtual Democratic primary has been creating a lot of buzz on the Internet and among activists this week. The primary has attracted so much attention, in fact, that the website crashed this morning during the second day of voting. I’m curious to see how this online grassroots movement will unfold, and while I’m generally optomistic that these types of grassroots movements can be very useful, I’ve already encountered some potential abuses, including cross-voting by Republicans who wish to skewer the results. I’m also wondering how my perception of candidates might be limited due to the fact that I generally only pay attention to online news sources and avoid televised news whenever possible, with the result that I’m seeing a much different presidential race than most candidates (Howard Dean is apparently much less popular on TV than he is online, for example). It remains to be seen how much the online world can effect the political one, but at the very least, I think MoveOn.org has proven to be a great organizing force, a means of sharing information and creating community. When I voted for Dean (like film director Rob Reiner), MoveOn asked for my contact information. The goal is to get local people with similar political views to get in contact with each other and hopefully create some grassroots political networks.

Then again, when the majority of people support pre-pre-emptive war against Iran, I feel like I’m from another world altogether.

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Blogs and the Classroom

After a conversation with S last night, I’ve been thinking about public/private distinctions within the blogosphere, and it turns out that Adrian Miles and Jenny Weight have been blogging about this topic recently. Jenny Weight comments that she is concerned about using blogs in the classroom because of students’ right to privacy. This is certainly a major concern for me, and in the past, I’ve been hesitant to use blogs or other online discussion forums because I was concerned about a student’s comfort level with posting his or her work in public space.

I’m more inclined to share Adrian’s perception that “what constitutes private is up to individual definition.” I’m certainly intrigued by the idea of using blogs in helping my students to develop their argument skills, specifically their ability to negotiate the various audiences within the blogosphere. I also like the idea that a blog community can be defined as “an emergent semantic or epistemological community.” This notion of emergent community summarzies well the main benefit of blogging that I was trying to describe to S last night.

I’ve used bulletin boards and listservs, such as Web Crossing, in the past, but this is definitely a much more public forum. George offers some useful advice about how to deploy blogs in the classroom, specifically in terms of a Slashdot discussion. Any suggestions on how to negotiate some of these difficulties would be much appreciated.

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Manovich on Film

I’ve been feverishly working on my Dark City paper in order to get it ready to submit for publication, and one of the issues I’m considering is how Dark City seems nostalgic for earlier modes of image production (cinema, photography) in the face of digital technologies (specifically digital special effects). The perception of digital effects seems to be that because digital images are more malleable, they are less reliable than their photomechanical counterparts. People who’ve discussed this film with me may know that I’m suspicious of this claim. It seems to derive from a belief that all images are inherently deceptive, a claim that I’m not willing to accept.

This lead me to my reading of Lev Manovich’s discussion of film in The Language of New Media. I think Manovich’s book is pretty insightful, especially in its synthesis of a broad range of material. But I’ve found some of his comments on film to be quite puzzling, especially when they bear on the indexical status of the cinematic image.

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Uncanny Blogging

Even though I share Matt’s discomfort at what he calls “the doppelgänger effect,” I’m starting with MT’s “Stormy” stylesheet. I did run across several blogs that used my Blogger template. Part of my choice involves a certain type of laziness, preferring to work through the default settings rather than creating something new. I originally chose my Blogger template because it reminded me of a Mondrian painting, a perception reinforced by another Atlanta blogger (who happens to live in my Decatur neighborhood in fact), and because the thick black lines recalled film frames, which also seemed kind of cool. Since then, I’ve begun to find that template a little unwieldy, and I’ve been waiting for the chance to join Wordherders and use an MT stylesheet. I just happen to find “Stormy” to be rather elegant visually, at least for now. I’m wondering how such a significant change in templates will affect the experiences of people reading my blog, if at all. Like many of the people who have commented on Matt’s entry, I believe these changes are far from trivial.

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White Stripes, Treehouses, and Owning Mahowny

I haven’t blogged that much this week, but that’s not due to any lack of exciting topics to blog about. The last few days have been quite full actually, due to the fact that I’ve had a rental car and I’ve been trying to make up for lost time. I *did* see the White Stripes with S on Friday night at Stone Mountain (the big granite rock I refused to mention in my other blog), and it was a cool show. I’m not really good at describing concerts, so I’ll leave it at that.

On Saturday, S and I went to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens to check out their Treemendous Treehouse exhibit, which was also lots of fun. Not sure I have any interpretation here, either, but if you’re in the Atlanta area, check it out. The orchid greenhouse was also pretty cool, especially now that I’ve written about Adaptation.

Tonight, I took advantage of my last night of mobility by going to see Owning Mahowny, staring the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffmann as Dan Mahowny, a compulsive gambler who defrauds the bank that employs him out of millions of dollars in order to ssutain his gambling habit. It’s a fascinating look at addiction–Mahowny seems to derive little pleasure out of his gambling excursions and the other distractions available at casinos (he refuses the company of a prostitute; he declines free booze; and he barely notices the hotel suite that is reserved for him). I’m still trying to develop my interpretation of the film; it’s hard not to read it as moralizing about gambling, but a simple moral narrative about gambling isn’t new or even that interesting.

There seems to be something more here–specifically about personality and identity. Mahowny’s framing narrative focuses on Mahowny in a psychiatrist’s office after he’s been arrested, and the psychologist tells him that most people “have a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” These distinctions seem to be central to the story that is being told, especially to the extent that the casino manager (played by John Hurt) can find out no details about Mahowny and professes at various times not to care as long as Mahowny keeps dumping money at his gambling tables. This inability to capture an authentic self seems to be reinforced by the security cameras that follow Mahowny’s movements at various points, dissolving into graininess so that we don’t get a clear picture of him. Hoffman’s ability to withdraw into himself really adds to this reading of the film.

I’ll experiment more with the extended entry function later (especially for film reviews).

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another test

My template doesn’t look right compared to the screenshot. Just experimenting with adding another entry to see if that changes the appearance. Eventually I’ll have things up and running.

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Testing…Testing…Is this thing on?

I’m slowly making the transition to WordHerders. Just testing things out to see how they work.

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