Unexpected: Positive affective energies

UPDATE (3/31): The Syracuse U student paper, The Daily Orangeran a story on HappyCUSE on March 31, 2014, including a brief quote by yours truly.

I ran this workshop for a 400-level community writing class yesterday and it went pretty well. It took longer than I imagined (about 90 minutes as opposed to the 60 originally allotted), but the variety of mini-zines that came out of this workshop was impressive. I copied their zines while they moved on to another activity with the instructor (this is a 3-hour class) and dropped off the pile of 100 unfolded zines before I left.

Most useful to me was to discover yet another way to experiment with experiential circulation, but without dedicating an entire unit or course to DIY or zines. I didn’t say much to the students in terms of what they could(n’t) or should(n’t) write about. I only suggested that if students were stuck, that they could imagine where their zines might be shopdropped; that is, by imagining the possible publics who might read their zines, they could think of the various messages they wanted to circulate. The original plan was to exchange multiple zines in class and work together to shopdrop all 100 zines around campus. The exchange also made it so that if they did have ideal drop sites in mind, they could make them explicit through their content (a zine with a card catalog number on it for example, might suggest placement at the library). 

Also interesting was the fact that students improvised a range of tools and invention strategies when they were asked to physically make a zine. Some used stats or images they got from their smartphones and copied them with pens; some ran downstairs to grab a newspaper to cut and paste using the scissors and glue stick we brought; others dug in their bags for different sized pens or used ours; and yet others still  simply talked through their ideas in groups.

At least one writer took it to a pretty amazing, and surprising extreme, shopdropping more than the expected five zines around campus:

Over the last 10 hours, @happyCuse has tweeted over 45 times and gained 62 followers by shopdropping what appears to be at least a dozen zines all over campus. And while I assumed shopdropping was a critical act of dissent, it was interesting to me that @happyCuse circulates what Catherine Chaput would call positive affective energies: “pathways that invite human connectivity and constitute knowledge as an ongoing, creative pursuit” (22). Folks who found the zine must have seen the hashtag and handle because they tweeted back once they’d found the zines. This is the kind of exchange that happens all the time in zine communities, but I didn’t think it could approximated in such a short workshop.

Anyway, I’d love to explore this connection further in the future, and think about shopdropping as a teachable, everyday circulatory practice, but for now, I’m simply going to accept the unexpected and look forward to the second workshop next Monday.

Remediating the self, or: Why I left Facebook

155781_125349424193474_1654655_nThe Zimmerman verdict entered my world Saturday night as I peaked at my Twitter TL just after (appropriately enough) watching an episode of The Wire. I was shocked as I refreshed the feed on my phone, reading reports, outrage, and snark; the response was tremendous. But when I switched over to Facebook, my feed looked vacant. Hardly anyone was reacting to the verdict and the two posts that did made me angry. One argued in support of Stand Your Ground — an absurd manifestation of 21st century frontier justice — and another that asked why race had anything to do with the case (to be fair, this person lives in a state worse than Florida, if that can be imagined). Honestly, it wasn’t a totally unfamiliar feeling: I preferred Twitter to FB during the fall election and I felt overwhelmingly disgusted by a lot of what I read on FB after the the Newtown shooting last December. So, I finally did what I’d been thinking about for months: I went to my computer and deactivated my account (deleting it entirely requires more steps, unfortunately).

Dealing with the occasional family troll is something most people have to endure and, like most friends, I’ve endured them throughout two presidential elections. But there were other reasons for my departure none of which are unique. Like many others, I was concerned about my privacy (Instagram pictures, for example, started showing up in public feeds without my consent) and the growing intrusion of ads. But because I use Twitter, Instagram, Google, Yahoo, and others, these couldn’t be my only reasons. Actually, truth told, the primary reason is embarrassing — cliche, even. I had been checking FB incessantly, nay automatically, every time I’d open a browser or my phone, which was distracting me from other possibilities, from reading deeper content from my RSS or Pocket or simply paying more attention to my kids. Simply put, I don’t know if I had the self control to stop looking at it. Which is odd, actually, because it’s been almost a week and I simply do not miss it. At all. And that makes me wonder how it became such a part of my routine in the first place. What I realized over the last few months is that there was a fundamental difference between what I was reading there and what I was finding on Twitter, which is more open, active, and often awesomely weird. In composition terms, Twitter is way more of a happening, even if my interactions there are rare. I was thinking of this especially as I read a prediction by Bob Lefsetz that Twitter will soon be dead:

…there are too many people on the service. As a result, very few are heard. It’s happened over the past six months, tweeting is like a stone in a waterfall, or more accurately, pissing in the wind. In other words, if you tweet and nobody reads it have you wasted your time?

I don’t put too much stock in industry heads like Lefsetz, but the comment is representative of the prevailing critique of Twitter by users who don’t differentiate it much from other kinds of social media. Still, I’m guessing most people (and legal definitions to the contrary, businesses aren’t people) who love Twitter aren’t on it to be heard as much as to experience it, entering and exiting the interface as a moment, not in its totality.

One important difference between the two is who is representing your social reality. I’m not an expert on the technical aspects of either service, but there are fundamentally different ways each network controls your stream. FB uses an EdgeRank algorithm to decide which slice of your feed is relevant, while Twitter engages algorithms on their separate trending topics tab and probably via Promoted tweets. It’s true that I could tinker and manipulate FB to draw content out (starring certain friends, for example), but even at that moment I’m competing with the interface. What I have grown to love about Twitter is its unpredictability.

This week I’ve been reflecting on new media as I’ve been reading Bolter & Grusin’s older-but-fascinating book, Remediation. Their basic argument is that all media contains traces of old media and thus, remediation as a process that operates under a paradox of two logics: the logics of immediacy and hypermediacy. Put most simply, the logic of transparent immediacy seeks to erase media/tion through linear perspective (think virtual reality), erasure, and automaticity (24), while the logic of hypermediacy seeks to make it conspicuous and multiple through multiplicity and heterogeneity (33-34). Depending on the context, these two logics can compete, compliment or coexist — and they are not unique to digital media. The authors provide compelling examples of furniture, dioramas, and stereoscopes as hypermediated. Both logics work to form “the desire to get past the limits of representation and to achieve the real” (53). Transparent immediacy aims to make the users engagement feel natural while hypermediacy aims to create a “a feeling of fullness, a satiety of experience, which can be taken as reality” (53). As a rhetoric, remediation offers us transparency only to mature, which then “offers new opportunities for hypermediacy” (60). So before FB, we had YouTube, which remediated film which remediated photography, which remediated linear perspective paintings and drawings (excuse the reduction). FB and Twitter, in this sense, are both hypermediated, even if my engagement with them has become automated.

Or maybe not. In their discussion of networks of remediation, B&G explain how every medium “participates in a network of technical, social, and economic contexts,” which “constitutes [it] as a technology” (65). Thus, FB and Twitter offer different technical, social, and economic affordances based on their interfaces. Economically speaking, FB offers ads in my stream that other friends have liked (why some of my friends have liked Walmart, I’ll never know) whereas Twitter offers minimally intrusive “Promoted tweets.” And as I mentioned before, they’re technically different. As the Lefsetz quote suggests, many people are turned off by Twitter because of its singularity (not to mention the investment it takes to build more than one social network). But I’ve found Twitter to be tenfold more useful than FB for finding out about emerging scholarship because I can follow — not friend — smart, prolific DHers like Danah Boyd, Bethany Nowviskie, and Brian Croxall. But I believe it’s the social aspect that’s been the final push for me to actually leave FB. The authenticity of a medium is especially important to the social dimension and is, according to B&G, socially constructed through immediacy or hypermediacy. For me, Twitter has overtaken FB as a more authentic space, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because of the technical affordances; as I’ve turned more in to a scholar,  and as a result value those open social networks more than the mundaneness of FB.

After all in the third and final section of Remediation, B&G talk about remediation and identity:

…we employ media as vehicles for defining both personal and cultural identity. As these media become simultaneously technical analogs and social expressions of our identity, we become simultaneously both the subject and object of contemporary media… Whenever our identity is mediated in this way, it is also remediated, because we always understand a particular medium in relation to other past and present media. (231)

In other words, in moving to other platforms, I remediate myself — as a subject in a PhD program, a dad, a zinester, a collector of material things — and thus/because I cease to identify with/in FB. Likewise, my leaving FB could be a reaction to digital overload, one that I sense some of my closer friends also feel. Many of those like-minded friends — those I ceased to see on the interface — abandoned FB long ago. Meanwhile, others — folks I don’t identify with so much but maintain relations through blood, work, or other ties — were posting more frequently. (Then again, perhaps FB’s algorithm is inaccurate — or worse, corrupt.) The point is, in leaving FB, I’m engaging in a ongoing, never-ending process of remediating myself. There’s much more to reflect upon about this and I don’t know if it’s a permanent move. But for now it’s a good one.

Race, Rhetoric, and Reality: Adam Banks and Chuck D

For Steve’s class on Tuesday we read Adam Banks’s Race, Rhetoric, and Technology and was lucky enough to have Adam, a former SU prof now at Kentucky, Skype in. Then on Wednesday night, the family and I went to see Chuck D give a talk he called “Combating the Weapons of Mass Distraction” which was sponsored by our Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Both experiences were inspiring, and both addressed issues of race and access.

There’s a nice summary of Adam’s book plus our conversation with him over on Hitt’s page, but essentially RRT argues that when it comes to the Digital Divide, our conversation has to be about transformative access; and in order for tech to be truly transformative we (the field of comp/rhet and beyond) have to go beyond material access to address other functions of technology, namely “critique, use, and design” (44). To get there Adam broadens the definition of technology to go beyond the artifact (somewhat out of necessity) to include processes, discursive practices, and tropes. So, for example, if racism is literally coded into various social constructs — the legal system is one example Adam uses since it imprisons a disproportionate number of blacks — then we need to think about how to undo that code. Drawing from Derek Bell, Adam argues that the jeremiad, “an African American rhetorical form that is both a warning and a lament” (95) is one such “countertechnology” that does this work.

I was reminded of the jeremiad on Wednesday night when Chuck D addressed a group of mostly black undergrads. Although the talk was informal and a little scattered at times, Chuck’s main point was this: “You chasin’ the money, you runnin’ in the desert.” He called attention several times to the Occupy Wall Street as a sign of inequality that is going to lead to a social collapse, and encouraged us to think about what it means to “get money.” “If you don’t know what money is how you gonna get it?” If you’re not “a nerd at your goddamn major,” you’re going to finish college with nothing but debt. Although Chuck underscored these warnings (and framed them through hip hop many times), he was also funny and hopeful. He often reflected on what’s possible in college based on his experiences, at one point talking about the importance of brotherhood and collaboration: “I got four majors out of friendship and paid for one.” And at one point Chuck, also an avid Tweeter, held up his smartphone and said “There ain’t no excuse for you to not have an answer today … it’s impossible to not see somethin’ comin’ at you.”

Throughout Adam’s book, which was written six years ago (read: a long ass time in tech terms), I did wonder what role mobile devices are playing in the black community and how that changes the access game when it comes to his axis of critique, use and design. It makes me think about some of the affordances and limits of those devices as reading and writing tools. In a way we did talk little about this when a classmate of mine asked Adam about the role of Twitter in the black community, which does have a proportionately high rate of use among nonwhites. Adam had some interesting ideas about future work in those areas which was rich for discussion about the role of public and private discourse, counterpublics, and the underground.

There were other interesting, subtler connections between Adam’s project and Chuck’s talk: the function of hip hop in both liberation and domestication, African American intellectual identity, and the role of language in all of it. But both experiences also have me thinking about how I can bring some of this work back in to the classroom next semester since I’m betting on getting a WRT 205 course that I’d like to center on either remix culture or countertechnology, hip hop, or countercultural music more generally. Adam had some cool ideas in this regard; the intellectual mix tape, a petcha kutcha style assignment and other ideas are worth trying out. I’ll be revisiting those when the time comes.

Newspaper map

Today NYT’s Gadgetwise blogged about Newspaper Map, a site that uses the Google Maps’ API to plot newspapers from all over the world. The interface is searchable by newspaper or by region, can be filtered by language, and has full social media integration. But the coolest thing is that when users find a paper, they can either click and go directly to the site, click a link to the paper’s or Twitter profile (if it has one), or have the site translate the paper to another language. Just playing around with it, I visited papers in the Congo, China and Afghanistan. I’d like to play around with it more, but I wonder what the potential for something like this would be for research and student writing. Would the site be useful to an average American student in a FYC classroom (or in the writing center) who is trying to locate a primary source in a nation’s own context? Hell, could I? Just by browsing some of the sites in the aforementioned countries, I was a little stunned by how Google translate handled them, and how those sites were casted visually. (Take this one, for instance.) I’ll tinker with this some more this summer to see what I can come up with. But I’m also interested in placing this tool into a larger conversation on research strategies (i.e. when a student might use this tool). More on that soon.