Monday, October 22, 2007

Writers House

I may have mentioned before that I subscribe to the RSS feed for my network. For me this means big things. I use Google Reader to aggregate all of the links bookmarked in by users I have identified as belonging to my network. Twenty-two more or less active gatherers of the net's goods, the whole team working in service of, well, themselves (I almost wrote me). They don't necessarily post links for me (although makes this possible, and others have shared links with me directly a time or two). But because they post them for themselves, the bookmarks carry something like credibility, a small portion of this sort of matters to somebody. How much time do I spend sifting through the feed bubbling with all of these links from my network? Rarely more than a minute. Sometimes I herd the links into my own collection. Other times I open a link in a new tab and see what it's all about (this is the most time-consuming practice; also, sometimes, the most rewarding). Most of the time I move along, having merely glanced the bookmarks. Even when I pass them by, they give me a vague sense of what someone else is collecting (or researching or doing or even buying for holiday gifts...I won't say whose gift ideas I borrow every December). These practices, like many others (not all of them digital), promote what I think of as network sense (this, a key idea I am developing in the diss).

I learned about the Rutgers Writers House this way. The program has posted a YouTube video documenting the "house" (a lavish basement, really). I would have embedded the video for you, but embedding has been disabled (!). The video itself seems like the sort of thing that would have been mentioned on a listserv. Perhaps it was. But I didn't find it that way. When I subscribe, I subscribe by digest, and those listservs are either dead, dying, or--surprisingly--overflowing with such torrential interchanges as to be unreadable. I learned about the Writing House in this other way--from my network. Alex and Spencer recently posted it to their accounts. I followed. A small, distal circuit, one barely noticeable to anyone involved. Is there any value in this?

I think there is, and I'm more and more inclined to think of it as a nuanced form of apprenticeship or something like a mentorship model. It's not the typical hierarchical mentor-mentee dyad, but it functions in a similar way, fostering patterns of local, interested circulation among people who more or less know each other and whose participation is both self-interested (a link for one's self) and transparent (a link you too can have if you care to). It's not the typical gift-economy, right? Instead it is driven by a strange blend of beneficent self-indulgence (if collecting links is, indeed, indulgent...maybe not). It doesn't require thanks, (so the guides to netiquette tell me...okay, I made that up; really I wanted to use "netiquette" for the first time at see whether anyone's still reading). In fact, thanking someone for posting to would be, uh, unusual, let's say.

I mention the Writing House link because it is a tangible example of these in-network practices--practices that because they manifest behind the scenes are especially difficult to identify. We cannot easily tell if they are happening for other people (even by asking, the decision to add a bookmark is not always memorable). While I don't want to make too much of this, I want to note it because it seems important to me to be able to articulate that nexus of exchange, particularly as an apprenticeship model. It's one of the more basic rationale when I encourage others to use, and it's a variation of connection that runs counter to the problems of isolation, insularity, and dispersion bound up with distance, disciplinary geographies, and specialization. I would like to see more people doing it, but to get to that point, I think we need still more examples of these effects if they are, as I think they are, a substantive form of something like apprenticeship (maybe holarchic apprenticeship).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at October 22, 2007 9:55 PM to Networks

I always think when I post to my account: 1) someone will certainly guffaw that I'm marking this 2) someone will be disgusted I haven't found this already and I'm marking it *just now*, or 3) someone will be horrified that I'm tagging this as "diss."

I have (senseless) public bookmarking anxiety. :)

Posted by: madeline at October 23, 2007 9:07 AM

I worry that folks will try to make some sort of holistic inference about me from all those bizarre links. On the other hand, I decided a while back that the only way to deal with the lack of privacy in our times (eek, what a phrase) is to let it all hang out. Of course, my natural inability to be quiet probably has a lot to do with that choice, too...

Posted by: susansinclair at October 24, 2007 4:36 PM

Great post! I'm less connected w/ the network via delish, and I think it may be because I don't utilize rss (Google reader) in the ways you describe. Gonna try that!

Posted by: spencer at October 24, 2007 5:22 PM

I share some of these concerns, Madeline and Susan, but I tend to think of them as the same concerns that apply to most of the writing I do. The collection isn't written, strictly speaking (or is it?), but it is annotated (designated, too) in more or less explicit ways. Will people see me for all of my idiosyncrasies? Probably. So yeah, I embrace it, get over it, lay it on the line. And for those more peculiar links, I can simply select "do not share." It's similar with all of this online activity. Some will over-read it, some will under-read it, some will never read it.

I used to subscribe to individual delicious feeds, Spencer, but the "my network" arrangement streams them into a single feed, which is convenient (and also sometimes very close to too much).

Posted by: Derek at October 24, 2007 8:22 PM