Friday, July 9, 2004

Network Captives

I admire Jeff R. and Will R., read their blogs like clockwork; their exchange(s) over the last 24 hours have been worth following, if you haven't been keeping up.  I'm here giving nods to the naming contentions as we slide between the print paradigm and electracy's futures.  In that slide, some folks pack heavy, others pack light.  I suppose there's a way of taking up the rift that contends, as Jeff often reminds me, the new media/digital turn doesn't need the lingo of literacy (or even the name).  As necessary and tricky as it is to re-vocabularize rhetorical agilities in a digital age, I wonder what--if anything substantial--is at stake.  It is, of course, about more than the terminology; it's about what we do and what what we do does.  Jeff's assessment of the high stakes are fair, clear:

In composition, I don't think we are anywhere near tackling this issue because it will undermine and reconfigure many of the truths we have accepted and hold so dearly. If we are to recognize that literacy no longer exists, what will become of composition studies which bases its identity on the ways writing empowers individuals to be productive members of society (see Brandt, Rose)? What will happen to topic sentences and Writing Centers, professional writing, or the first year textbook? Serious damage.

I can imagine this angle--in retrospect--shedding light on the grand transformation from orality to literacy.  Switch in and out a few indications of oral traditions giving way to Guttenberg's giant, and, perhaps from some perspectives, you have "serious damage" or at least wreckage, abandoned traditions, even widespread human cognitive re-patterning.  Forgive me for jabbing in the dark here (since I'm not well studied on Ong, for one), but one must preclude the other.  True?  Why must electracy unravel literacy as literacy unraveled orality?  Is it because electracy is meanwhile enfolding a textualism of all, braiding realities and programs and tunes..."I don't know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she'll...."  Maybe I haven't read closely enough; maybe effacement is inherent in these revolutions.

[Long hesitation...reading list has grown by twenty or so titles (Ulmer, Graff)...having Friday decorum...where's that coming from?]

I set out to make notes on Will's mention of collaboration.  My first thought is, Yes!, we are on collaborative ground with weblogs and wikis.  Open texts, and so on, just as Jeff sets them up as places where "writers and readers tap into, alter, appropriate, confiscate, download, share, etc."  But then I keep thinking these few thoughts about what I haven't seen blogs do:  1. Blog entries are rarely revised.  2.  Blog entries are rarely written collaboratively, perhaps because most blogware doesn't configure easily for partnering or group authorship.

The tapping and commenting and fisking--linked, interested, etc.--seem more prevalent than the sort of sharing and appropriating, which is to suggest that blogging as spontaneous media doesn't prefer to wait.  Entries are often buried in a matter of days, comments with them, and the temporality machine rolls, calendars overturn.  I get the feeling that blogs play the moment, invite the rush; whereas collaborative efforts can be slow and laborious, blogs thrive on freshness, vigor, never expiring. 

This is a jumble of (unfair, perhaps) assumptions.  I've been thinking lately about the expenses of collaboration, the problem of over-collaboration, of turning always to meetings about meetings, of everyone (including the ambivalent and disenchanted) having a say and of feeling like that just takes toooo loooong for some matters.  In part, I'm feeling jaded by the call for collaboration because I'm seeing it done in a way that turns to wheel-spinning, indecisiveness, and gross, endless shifts of leadership and agency to the (idle, vacationing, phone-message ignoring) network.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at July 9, 2004 4:14 PM to Networks,On Weblogs

I like the direction you are taking here, and I share your frustration with collaboration, particularly when it is some kind of institutionally mandated collaboration.

Anyway, I wanted to make one point. You write, "blog entries are rarely revised." This is true, but it may be useful to think of those entries as iterative. That is, time and again I find myself blogging on the same issues. I don't revise my old entries but repeat them with a difference. Perhaps such iterations will replace our concept of revision, which, in my view, often becomes tied down to the notion of perfecting a final product rather than engendering new directions and ideas.

Posted by: Alex R. at July 11, 2004 8:52 PM

Your note about iteration definitely helps me clear up some of my thinking about blogs, revision, and what happens to entries as they fold under, cycle through. Conceiving of blogging as iterative, as an ongoing sort of recursive re-ideation (maybe?), lends a whole lot of credence to the writing that goes into them. It also complicates my sweeping remarks from Friday about blogs as spontaneous, momentary.

From time to time, I notice that bloggers link to their own previous entries. While this practice doesn't seem to be widespread, it does affirm the iterative quality you point out. Linking to oneself across time certainly fits with this repetitive, ongoing, evolving sort of writing--whether those links are tagged and explicit or something loose, associated. So while we rarely see individual entries revised by an individual or group (in the sense that authors might revise a print text toward something "finished"), trackbacks (to oneself or to others) enable a kind of social, iterative revision, much like the distributed cognition you mentioned earlier today. And to the extend that it's controlled (rhetorically, perhaps), I like distributed, as a descriptor but I'm also starting to think about the tangle where control is relaxed or altogether absent, where dispersed cognition might be more in order.

But yes, iteration...that's definitely helpful. I've been meaning all day to get over to your blog to post a comment about your entry on "the literacy net." Great stuff.

Posted by: Derek at July 11, 2004 11:02 PM