Affordance and Manipulanda

What does a network afford?

I’m setting out with hopes that I can wrap together a few thought-strands
running through other coursework this week. It tracks through Weinberger, as
well, so the application here isn’t out of the blue.  In his chapter on
Space in Small Pieces Loosely Joined Weinberger says, "Our space is full
of opportunities, obstacles and dangers, or what the psychologist James Gibson
called affordances (e.g., the chair affords us the possibility of sitting) and
the philosopher Martin Heidegger called the ready-to-hand" (32).  I can’t
remember if I’d learned about affordances before this semester; seems
like a basketball coach once hollered something about the affordances of the
game:  playing through potentials and opportunism constantly responsive to
in-game context, or something.  But maybe not.

Whatever the case, affordances came up in other reading this week.
This succinct bit comes from a 1974 essay from Bransford and McCarrell called
"A Sketch of a Cognitive Approach to Comprehension," and it matched up nicely, I
think, with another term–manipulanda–and, as well, some of our conversation
last week about characterizing network literacy (whatever you call it):

The notion of a nonarbitrary relation between what something looks like and
what it means is related to J.J. Gibson’s (1966) notion of affordances. 
Certain objects and their properties provide visual information for the
activities and interactions they afford.  So, for example, sharp objects
afford piercing, certain extensions (e.g., handles) afford grasping, hardness
affords pounding, and roundness affords rolling.  Even surfaces afford
activities since they are ‘walk-onable,’ ‘climbable,’ and the like. 
Tolman (1958) presented similar notions in his essay on ‘sign-gestalts.’ These
are not simply information about ‘the larger wholes in which the perceived
configuration will itself be embedded as one term in a larger means-end
proposition [p. 79]." Tolman further introduced the term "manipulanda" which
he defines as:

properties of objects which support (or make possible) motor
manipulations of the species…One and the same environmental object will
afford quite different manipulanda to an animal which possesses hands from
what it can and will to an animal which possesses only a mouth, or only a
bill, on only claws…grasp-ableness, pick-up-ableness, throw-ableness,
heaviness (heave-ableness) and the like–these are manipulanda [p. 82].

Basically, I’d like to propose the inclusion of these terms in the network(ed)
rhetorics glossary (wanna second it?).  I’m finding these terms/concepts
helpful for understanding many of the paradoxes Weinberger works through and
many of the tensions surrounding the assignment of genres to weblogs (or weblogs
to genres).  It’s as if we have available to us an abundance of digital
–affordance-ness with the network and with our related

What does a web(log) afford?  A link?  A network?

Cross-posted to

Network(ed) Rhetorics


I’m reading Weinberger’s Small Pieces Loosely Joined for 711, and
hyperthreadedness lingers among a few of the sticky ideas I’ve run across. 
Describing the multithreadedness of ordinary conversation, Weinberger
tells us that "threading is practically a law when it comes to conversations: if
you’re talking about the ending of the movie Deliverance, you can’t
suddenly say, ‘How about those Red Sox?’ (67).  Of course, much of this
presupposes coherence–the turn-taking assembling of packets (textual
units) into more or less intelligible arrangement (focal, listening, attentive). 
I suppose I’m leaving something off of this.  I’ve thought about threading
or "threads" in some of the online teaching I’ve done, and I always thought it
was odd that the simplest notion of threading suggests that conversational
interchanges are best represented by local (spatial, therefore temporal, gathering together) in the
interface.  Sure, it’s easier that way.  What happens when you
mention Red Sox after Deliverance in that sudden conversational switch?

Web conversations are also like this, but they aren’t just multithreaded;
they’re hyperthreaded.  Although they usually start with a topic that’s
more formally defined than real-world conversations, because Web discussion
may spread out across weeks or months the threads can become entangled. 
And because Web time is so fragmented, we can pose new topics that are only
tenuously related to the declared theme. (67)

The entangled quality of webbed discourse seems to me to be a more robust
(confused) variety of the intertextuality commonly mentioned when we talk
about referential, allusive language/text matrices.  But just when I think
I have a handle on the subtle distinctions, Weinberger introduces another
factor: "Web conversations can be hyperthreaded because the Web, free of the
drag of space and free of a permission-based social structure, unsticks our
interests.  The threads of our attention come unglued and are rejoined with
a much thinner paste" (68).  As much as I think I understand Weinberger’s
effort to distinguish web conversations from "real world" lunchtime
conversations, I wonder if this is more a matter of communication models than it
is about substantial differences in the threadedness of internet conversation
versus other kinds of conversation.  The notion of "unstick[ing] our
interests" seems especially useful; for me, it partially accounts for what
accompanies the habitude of reading and writing the web. Stick, unstick. 
But I’ve still got more work to do in this fast-passing weekend, so this’ll have
to do for now.