Sunday, August 30, 2015

Nightmare Network

A nightmare network of ganglia, charged and firing without my knowledge, cuts and splices what I do see, editing it for my brain. (21)

Annie Dillard, "Seeing," Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

Question: Where in the conductive cuts and splices do the ganglia end, the brain begin, the seeables stand apart, quarantined in their viewspace?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Open Source Ecology

This morning I came across this short video on efforts by the Open Source Ecology initiative to develop prototypes for easy cast, easily assembled, low cost farming and building technologies, what they're calling the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). It connected with some of the things I've been thinking about for ENGL505: Rhetoric of Science and Technology this fall.

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

How? First, we hear nowadays about everything "ecology." And I have ideas about how "ecology" in many cases functions as a metonym for rhetorical action, which of course includes readily identifiable material qualities in the case of OSE. The video itself is not all that different from Marcin Jakubowski's short TED Talk, and I haven't spent much time going carefully over what's posted at the site and wiki (wish there was an RSS feed or date stamps for their blog). But I can already see issues of modularity and scale foregrounded here, which, combined with the ideals of open source might be enough to return to this as a rich case for further consideration.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Unplanned Meanderings

Steven Johnson's "The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book" renews questions about what happens when e-readers unexpectedly suffocate text behind no-copy/no-paste barriers. Safe-guarding text against circulation is not new, of course, but Johnson offers a timely reminder of the ways this glass box logic is noxious, lying dormant, going unnoticed until it is revived in this or that text-walling application. There's much to think through in his entry (which is a transcript of a talk Johnson offered at Columbia University), much in the way of commonplace books, motivated filtering, and how it is homophily bias takes hold differently online than in "real-world civic space."

§ § §

Each rereading of the commonplace book becomes a new kind of revelation. You see the evolutionary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red herrings; the ones that turned out to be too obvious to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession. The beauty of Locke's scheme was that it provided just enough order to find snippets when you were looking for them, but at the same time it allowed the main body of the commonplace book to have its own unruly, unplanned meanderings. (para. 5)

"But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession." Here is a line that succinctly captures for me how blogging has always functioned a little bit differently than the kind of "being digital" I experience in Facebook or Twitter. Long-forgotten hunches and emerging obsessions are not so much a function of friendship, sociality, or phatic affirmation as they are a distributed, often faint, read-write memory--a recollection of being (or having been) on the verge of something mind-changing.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


This was a jam-packed week (local travel, semester buildup, starts), so I neglected to celebrate properly the Barthes of September. Barthes of September is my own semi-forgettable holiday, Sept. 7, a day when in years past I have posted something or other from Roland Barthes. Pure negligence on my part to miss such an event.

I did, nevertheless and a few days late, leaf around yet again in RB by RB, and I smiled--a smile of understanding, a smile of 'yes, this one'--when I read "The privileged relationship." The singular-multiple dynamic he describes matches up well enough with my own radical social reorientation in recent weeks.

He did not seek out an exclusive relationship (possession, jealousy, scenes); nor did he seek out a generalized, communal relationship; what he wanted was, each time, a privileged relationship, marked by a perceptible difference, brought to the condition of a kind of absolutely singular affective inflection, like that of a voice with an incomparable timbre; and paradoxically, he saw no obstacle to multiplying this privileged relationship: nothing but privileges, in short, the sphere of friendship was thus populated by dual relations (whence a great wasting of time: he had to see his friends one at a time: resistance to the group, to the circle, to the crowd). What was wanted was a plural equality, without in-difference. (65)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Insinewating Ties

Election coverage this week has shifted from the blaze town hall draw to the cascading economic slide (i.e., a crash dragged out for a few days) to the McCain campaign's great efforts to weave strong ties between Obama and Bill Ayers. Am I riled up about any of this? Not really. I had the debate on in the background as I did other work, I have watched the modest paltry TIAA-CREF nest egg I micro-accumulated over seven years at Park U. suffer disfigurations akin to Humpty Dumpty, and I don't for a second accept that Obama is terrorist-like for the company he kept with Ayers.

So what, then?

I have been interested in the way the campaigns try to establish ties and linkages. Palin and other McCain surrogates have tried mightily to forge a strong tie between Obama and Ayers. If they succeed, if they get people to believe that such a tie is strong, that, in effect, Ayers of old and Obama of late think alike, then they will have sprung from thin air a damaging blow: probable guilt by the company one keeps. Yet, nodes perform ethos. Obama can simply say, "No tie," or "weak tie," and the burden of establishing a linkage falls on the accusers.

There are other interesting questions here about temporality and, perhaps, about how the ties suggested by associative technologies (e.g., Facebook) will function as evidence of strong ties in the future. Serving on a board together, dinner at one's house: these are time-constrained connections. They do not live on in quite the same way as some more recent developments. Maybe we'll see more of it in the weeks ahead, but so far this election cycle has seemed to me to dwell on whose network is more presidential, more executive in its constitution: McCain's? (a network of houses, a claim to be a Senate boundary-spanner, a hand in the Keating Five heist) or Obama's? (a recklessly outspoken pastor in Wright, a radical former colleague in Ayers, generous friends in F. May and F. Mack). Campaign: another name for the high stakes practice of network building at breakneck pace--a rhetorical production of ties and associations that will trip one candidate into second place and vault the other into the White House.


Somewhat related (via). Warning: Cover their ears or the innocents will pick up a cuss at the end:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Small-crowd Mentorship

Monday is our grad program's "Community Day," a day of pre-semester conversation to set up the collegial mood that will sustain us throughout the year. I am both happy and sad (not tearfully so): it will be fifth and final such gathering I attend at SU.

I'm slotted in the afternoon for an informal ten-minute spiel concerning "experiences finding and working with mentors and building relationships." And I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately, especially about the options available given such a specious invitation. I've had experiences. I can identify several really terrific influences--a long list of folks, academics and non-, who have shepherded me in various ways through this program of study.

Best to list a few? Name names? Cut straight to anecdotes? I have considered this, thought about zeroing in on three off-site mentors who helped me to think differently about what I was setting out to do back in 2004 when coursework got underway. Maybe begin with John Lovas....

But the list is long, and I expect that there will be a lot of this sort of thing on Monday--naming of names, recounting how thus-and-such has been such a beacon, etc. It's hard to avoid. We're largely accustomed, it seems to me, to talking about mentoring relationships at the scale of person-to-person.

Fine, so I will probably do some of it, too. Only a little bit. Because I'm also interested in getting at a larger proposition--that my program of study, because of non-directed networked writing practices, has been shaped tacitly by a large number of people (viz., the blogroll and reciprocal Delicious network). Many of these encounters are fleeting, serendipitous, casual, and gift-like. An aggregated subscription to 20 or so Delicious users' links, a pseudonymous comment posted to Yellow Dog, a syllabus for a course at Purdue, a blogged call for a conference. None of this is especially directed at me, and yet, at the very same time, much of it is and has been. Is this mentorship? Seems so. It's a sort of opt-in presencing, a manner of dwelling, of doing stuff not because anyone said you should. And I am tempted to say that those passing characterizations of online narcissism, vanity, or self-aggrandizement (wherever they lurk, usually in "that's not for me" conversations) tend to dodge, downplay, or under-value this point about tacit, small-crowd mentorship I am trying to develop. I can't definitively put a finger on what sustains it. Desire? A blend of interests (self-interest among them)? Whatever it is--in terms of mentorship--it has left me with a sure sense that my program of study would have been drastically different without it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Kremers, "Sharing Authority on a Synchronous Network"

Kremers, Marshall. "Sharing Authority on a Synchronous Network: The Case for Riding the Beast." Computers and Composition 7 (April 1990; Special issue): 33-44. <>

Kremers examines different manners of teacher-presence in synchronous chats using ENFI (Electronic Networks For Interaction), an early multi-user LAN messaging client. How can the live chatroom interchanges bolstering student interest in the other writing they are asked to do in their writing courses? He is also interested in the risky, experimental side of the technology as it allows him to more radically vary assertions of teacherly authority: "The teaching model I am trying to develop is a networked writing class in which authority is shared, decentralized, distributed, even communal; a class in which teachers sometimes participate directly in the discussion and at other times stay out of things, letting their students take control of their own dialogues; a class in which students compete among themselves for influence in the group through the force of their language and the clarity of their arguments" (para. 2). He offers examples of the chat transcripts that best illustrate two primary approaches to pedagogy using the ENFI system: a teacher intervention model and a non-intervention model.

The teacher intervention model presumes a teacher-centered classroom or, at least, a scene in which the teacher's presence in the conversation actively moderates the dialogue. After framing his pedagogy as student-centered (following Knoblauch and Brannon's articulation of this model) Kremer explains that he prefers to use the chat room (during certain class sessions; not all of them) because he "want[s] to write with them rather than talk with them" (para. 9). What is gained by writing with? Positive aspects of this approach include a sense of ownership felt by students who, after they mature beyond a mutinous stage, stand to realize the advantages such interactions have for concept formation, inquiry, and invention. Even while using the intervention approach, Kremers says he does so to act as a guide (one who asks questions and collaborations) rather than as a dominating force of authority. He explains that the path of the conversation is unpredictable, that it is "more spontaneous, more organic" than in many of the more traditional activities they engage with in a writing class.

The non-intervention model, on the other hand, embraces precepts from Elbow's Writing Without Teachers: Kremers might leave the room or observe their interactions without getting directly involved. Later, he observed the chat transcripts to see what transpired. His example suggests a surprising turn, in which a role-playing activity around the issue of rain forest preservation resulted in the off-ing of one of the made-up participants (Pat Tree). Out of this, Kremers devised prompts for subsequent classes, and he found that the students grew still more enthusiastic about what they were being asked to do. The non-intervention transcript functioned as a catalyst for other writing.

Kremers mentions in his conclusion that "[f]or the most part...the students I have worked with so far have not taken up the offer of partnership as readily as I have wished" (para 22). The final section, "Authority Sharing in the Future," speculates that long-standing traditions of teacher-dominated classrooms affect the expectations of everyone, students and teachers alike, who gather in that scene. Kremers is optimistic about the promise of "networked co-authoring" for getting at some of the currents that run beneath the more decorously-ordered classroom.

There is an unmistakable parallel here between the creative and expressive dimensions of the LAN chat room and the more formal writing occasions served by these activities. The references to student-centeredness from Knoblauch and Brannon, the mention of Elbow, and Kremers' own appeals to the sparking of student interest in narrative ("So, by not intervening, I let the students set their own direction for their writing" (para. 19)), all seem to be lorded over by some under-represented force--the serious1 variety of academic writing. This is, then, an early example of "networked authoring," one that was promising because it is a relay in service of something more substantive.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Relation and Association

Aha! I catch myself being loose with these terms (and two or three others). What is the difference between relation and association? Are they equivalent? Synonymous?

These are connective devices, right? They indicate a tie that can be expressed, though perhaps this is not always so for association. They do not seem to me equal in this job they do of indicating ties. Relation, as in relation-ship, is describable, identifiable, and perhaps even compulsory (cannot opt out; the evidentiary ground is too firm). Association, as I think of it, tends to be breezier and more speculative. Association meanders; relation takes the shortest available route. Association nods in assent; relation points its index finger. Association is spherical, maybe even elliptical, curvy; relation linear by comparison. Association is possible and sometimes roundabout; relation is direct and existent, meaning it plots a different ontology. Relation is verifiable; association is a degree removed, hazy and faint (not equally observable; therefore, refutable, enigmatic). The two terms begin to have a pact something like connotation and denotation.

Could all of this be flipped around? Reversed? Well, maybe (try it and you will see whether anything happens). Yet association has become much more theoretically important for me in the past year. With Latour's Reassembling it is the activation (and verbing) of the social that manifests in networks, and so association gives off sparks, emits a different energy than it once did (first in algebra, with the associative property). Every encounter with "social" is interrupted with this: associative how? The "social turn" is, when matched with network studies, an "associative turn," which, in effect, is an expansive turn outward. What are "social networks" if we take association for granted or treat it as a given?

This does not quite make the point I thought it might make when I first typed "Relation and Association." The point: these two have diverged (I hedge, hesitate; I am also asking). I should add that I have been thinking lately about vocabulary, about "speaking the same language" in the sense that Raymond Williams mentions it early in his introduction to Keywords:

"When we come to say 'we just don't speak the same language' we mean something more general: that we have different immediate values or different kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often intangibly, of different formations and distributions of energy and interest" (11).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Network Typology

There are other typologies. There will be more. I may have glanced a few of them casually (i.e., lightly & forgetfully), but I have not gathered them together as part of any concentrated, focused effort or project. What I am trying to work through here is hit and miss. I think hit more than miss; if you think miss more than hit, tell me why, will you?

"Network" gets to be a God term. Invoked at every turn, it lugs around a fleet of connotations, some of them especially burdensome for the sluggishness they assign to the term. Consider my least favorite: network as a verb for professional hobnobbing (business attire preferred). Here is network in its commonplace form. Networking is schmoozing, clinking glasses, play-acting, pretending to pay attention, death-by-boredom conversation, etc. This mythology of network is bad for network studies and bad for the complex-ion of networks. Unfortunately we begin with this term, but it is a loose, pre-emptive reference (an I like the sound of networks, but who knows what's been said about them). I don't have any misgivings about the phenomenon of professional and organizational networks, complex systems, making one's way, etc. (see Burt, right?, also Weick). My itch is with the verb network for the way it implies the gaming of advantageous associations (this plays with Modern rules and roles, not subjectivities). It reminds me of the mass media references to "rhetoric" as only the most deliberately misleading and propagandistic political discourses, where "mere," "dirty-rotten," and "icky" are implied.

I said there would be a typology. I'm getting to it. There are five terms, but I think there need to be more. And like the dramatisms and the stases, there are two- and three-term ratios among them, depending on the network in consideration, the methodology, and so on. I will try to give explanations or examples, but I don't know yet whether I have them lined up for each one--the network -eses.

Mathesis/Mathetic: Schematic/mechanistic. Quantification and metrology. We find this in Social Network Analysis (SNA) and mathematical sociology. Mathesis as learning produces a rupture that causes confusion (or some other sort of fusion) between this and noesis.

Aethesis/Aesthetic: Evaluative/artistic. Distributed artistic production, collaborative design, and collectively curated and circulated works. We find this in distributed aesthetics and Saper's Networked Art. Saper keys on Barthes' receivables for networked art; it is also a useful alternative to readerly/writerly for aesthetic networks and their "enigmatic" experimentation.

Poiesis/Poetic: Rhetorical/productive*. I am tempted to align this with new media, but these more generally organize around rhetorical practices (invention, circulation). Poetic networks are more self-consciously rhetorical than the other types (but I can't think of any reason why this should always be so). In network studies, poetic networks are behind in the horse race. I mean that these other four network -eses seem to me more common. This will change because of the growing convergence of network studies with rhetoric and composition.

Noesis/Noetic: Rhetorical/epistemic*. Contemporary network studies has emerged with these last two types, primarily. Knowledge as networked (slime molds and emergence, semantic networks, etc.). I am tempted to call this the broadest category. How what is known/knowable can be traced; knowing as connective. This type (though not exclusively) guides many of the networkists: Barabasi, Watts, Ball, Buchanan.

Graphesis/Graphetic: Presentational/visual. Also rhetorical, this one is introduced by Johanna Drucker, even if she doesn't write explicitly of networks. It is the wedge (or bridge?) between aesthesis and mathesis where visual presentation motivates the approach. Many approaches to networks involve graphesis; those that do not instead rely on narrative and databasic modes of presentation (of course these have a visual quality, but they are more discursive than presentational).

*I have started to think of these as identifiably rhetorical, but this does not mean that the others are arhetorical. I was thinking here of primary characterizations, not exclusive, inflexible ones.

I also want to say something about how network substitutes for community. Community is easily falsified (named but not identified beyond the act of naming). We have a community here in our graduate program, let's say (this has been said before, it's just one example that comes to mind). But what is the network? To know this, we must granularize the community. Flatten it out (Latourian-style, an actor-network) so that we can put a finger on the ties. Who is working with whom? Who has had courses with whom? Who has regular conversations with whom? A community turned network answers a different set of questions (even if you never ask them) because the paths are lighted (or otherwise shone) and, consequently, patterned. This might sound like a wild runaround. It's not. I only mean that I prefer "network" to "community." Community is more elusive, more capacious. I don't find the concept all that helpful (no, it conceals more than it reveals). Too often when it is muttered I am surprised to learn that I belong to anything promoted as so grandiose, well-understood, and inclusive (such a thin gravy as to never have realized it was there). On the other hand, I can sense a network, put a finger on it, tie it for oneself (a community, I ca-knot).

I put this together because I want something with more explanatory power than what I have found in work I would describe as network studies. What happens when we attempt a quantitative project (bean-counting) but attempt it in service of other network aspects--not mathesis alone. This is tremendously important to my work. I need to be able to explain these ratios because, even while distant reading toward disciplinary "network sense" is, on the first floor, mathematically invested, it is not ultimately mechanical, structural, or schematic. It is, instead (and by my modest insistence) contorted (Latour would say "acrobatically") into poiesis--into the making and doing, into a heuristic that ought to mobilize.

What? That's all? No. I said I thought there should be more categories in this tentative, provisional typology based on network -eses. I don't know what to do with Benkler because I haven't been careful about reading Wealth, yet. I don't know where infrastructural networks fit in (the wires, routers, and such). Material and geospatial networks? Latour helps me (with 'hybrids' and 'all points local') think of these two as either noetic or poetic. But this can be another cause for the wheels to fall off at anything above Earth Wide Miles per hour.

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).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Richards, "The Resourcefulness of Words"

Richards, I.A. "The Resourcefulness of Words." Speculative Instruments. Chicago: U. of Chicago P, 1955. 72-78.

"Are we perhaps like mathematicians who had never thought of using the working of examples as a technique of instruction?" (77).

I.A. Richards ends "The Resourcefulness of Words" with this, posing a question of limitations, narrow perspectives, and a missed opportunity in thinking through the techniques of instruction appropriate to a course in dialectic (which, in this context, I take to refer to argumentation). This statement bears some resemblance to the David Foster quotation from JAC I have referred to again and again about the limits of what we will know.

Richards is responding to the suggestion from the President of Yale (Mr. Hutchins) that nothing coheres a course in argumentation, nothing "except talk of personality, 'character', and great teachers, the slogans of educational futilitarianism" (73). But what holds the course in argumentation together, answers Richards, is the resourcefulness of words--their versatility, their crucial part in structuring and connecting (ideas and things).

To a degree, Richards is concerned with stasis--with ways specific language in philosophy and metaphysics can lead to misunderstanding. His rhetoric is one that reconciles, patching up misunderstandings caused by words. He is not interested in "attempting to show our students (much less tell them) what Plato or Aristotle really meant" (76). Rather, students would study the ways shifting meanings in "central intellectual terms" (viz., being, have, cause, connection, same, etc.) has "give[n] rise to varied misunderstandings" (76).

The challenge I find in working with Richards is his proximity to New Criticism. Following through what Berthoff adds in "Abstraction as a Speculative Instrument," and what Haynes does, subsequently, to invoke Berthoff's notion of abstraction as a beginning point and an answer for pedagogies seeking to move beyond reason and argumentation, I would expect to find, in Richards, something that resonates with abstraction in this discussion of the resourcefulness of words. Maybe it will turn up in How To Read A Page, in chapters called "Random Scratching and Clawing" (the rustle of language?) or "To Unite, Abstract." Distant reading methods do not, per se, read a page, but a pile of pages.

The section on more expansive abstracting practices can get by without Richards. Yet his concluding thoughts in this brief essay relate to the semantic networks that are presented in, among other forms, tagclouds:

To develop a spatial metaphor here, which being all but unavoidable should be made as explicit as possible, all these words wander in many directions in this figurative space of meaning. But they wander systematically, as do those other wanderers, the Planets. By fixing a limited number of positions, meanings, for them, we may help ourselves to plot their courses. But we should not persuade ourselves that they must be at one or other of these marked points. The laws of their motions are what we need to know: their dependence upon the positions of other words that should be taken into account with them. (77)

In a fairly obvious sense, Richards is talking about context here. Words appear on a page, spatialized there--arranged in such a way that their sequentiality is implicated in their meanings. But I see no reason why this spatialization, this systematically observable wandering, and this hesitancy to fixate--why any of these should be incompatible with tagcloud as a visual model of a semantic network that drifts breezily along the same trajectories as the discipline of composition studies. Doesn't Keywords in Composition--"the first systematic inquiry into compositions' critical terms" (1)--advance this very idea? Yes. But Keywords in Composition Studies, like the class of texts dedicated to keyword extrapolation, including Williams' Keywords, is limited by its mode of presentation to a historical account of a term's wandering. [This is better elaborated in c. 3 than in c. 2]. The "systematic ambiguity" bears a past-ist orientation; its refresh rate is nullified by the limitations of its medium--print.

Note: Heilker and Vandenberg cite Richards' Speculative Instruments and How To Read A Page, but rather than going to the original publications, they draw on the excerpts reprinted in Enos and Brown's Professing the New Rhetorics: A Sourcebook.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chreod: Alignment of Set-ups

Reading more than writing today, I planned to get down notes on another run through Porter, Sullivan, et. al.'s "Institutional Critique," (re: my own little life raft in postmodern geography) the same for Richards' short piece on "The Resourcefulness of Words," from Speculative Instruments (re: wandering resourcefulness, another spatial, and I would say networked, consideration) , and the same, yet again, for Miller's latest (Spring 2007) RSQ essay on automation, agency, and assessment, "What Can Automation Tell Us about Agency?"--not for the diss., this last one, but because I need to know more about it before responding to an email marked urgent. Only, rather than note-making, the day turned to night, and my efforts grew more digressive when I sought out one of Miller's references to Latour, an article I hadn't heard of called, "Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer" (Social Problems 35.3). Here is Latour, er, "Jim Johnson," at his most playful. Terrific. Coincidentally, I also have an special place in my heart for compression door-closers.

A selection:

A scene, a text, an automatism can do a lot of things to their prescribed users at close range, but most of the effect finally ascribed to them depends on a range of other set-ups being aligned. For instance, the groom closes the door only if there are people reaching the Sociology Department of Walla Walla. These people arrive in front of the door only if they have found maps and only if there are roads leading to it; and, of course, people will start bothering about reading the maps, getting to Washington state and pushing the door open only if they are convinced that the department is worth visiting. I will call this gradient of aligned set-ups that endow actors with the pre-inscribed competences to find its users a chreod (a "necessary path" in the biologist Waddington's Greek): people effortlessly flow through the door, and the groom, hundreds of times a day, recloses the door-when it is not stuck. The result of such an alignment of set-ups is to decrease the number of occasions in which words are used; most of the actions become silent, familiar, incorporated (in human or in nonhuman bodies)-making the analyst's job so much harder. (308)

Before reading this, I'd never heard of chre-od ("we need" and "path"...a variation of met-hod, no? needful path or necessary path). For me, Latour, as usual, triggers a number of clicks and instigations. Something in the effortless flow and series of set-ups reminds me of disciplinarity and institution (Porter and Sullivan's concerns), but in a way that lightens the load on discursive structuring of these entities. Chreod incorporates actions in such a way that demands a rhetoric suited to the extra- (or is it non-?)discursive (institutions and disciplines are rhetorical constructs, but that's not all...Porter and Sullivan make this point, more or less directly, I would say, in their emphasis on the micro).

For reasons that are hard for me to pinpoint, I appreciate that chreod--this alignment of set-ups--turns away from words. Or it doesn't rely exclusively on inscription. It's not all textuality that determines the chreod. Texts are influential, yes, but actions, (redundant) performances, and things are, arguably, as forceful in the "holding together" of this alignment. Would Richards, in suggesting the resourcefulness of words as adequate for holding together a dialectic course of study, be receptive to this expansion that saves room for non-human actors and their speechless persuasion?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Speculative Instruments

I've taken lately to thinking about the thinspreaden feeling of dissertating like this: the writing moves in a forward direction, advancing ideas and discussions, attempting claims, suggesting reasons for limiting the discussion to these few pages. The reading, on the other hand, moves in a backward direction, filing through influences before influences before influences--something like tracking the (non-)origin of the Missouri River. Writing and reading in this way at once leads to the thinspreaden feeling--it is a stretch.

For example, I was, for a while (~15 pp.), writing about abstraction. The very concept of abstraction. From Cynthia Haynes to Berthoff. Berthoff's work with abstraction draws from I. A. Richards and Susanne Langer. I trailed off, reading some of Langer's work in Philosophy in a New Key and Philosophical Sketches. I also have a copy of Feeling and Form on my night stand. I've read zero pages of it. Every time I leaf it through, I feel this dreadful drain of energy until...lights out. I can see the tiny threads of influence running from Langer to Berthoff, but I still can't decide how much I need to write about them or how explicit those familiarities should be in the chapter itself. Langer and Berthoff have in common that they attempt to recover abstraction from the General Semantics movements and their strict verticalization of the Ladder of Abstraction. They tug abstraction over to the side of connotation, to the side of the "rustle" of language, away from scientistic referentiality. Were they successful? I don't know.

But what they were attempting accords with what I am trying to emphasize, following Moretti, in the discussion of visual models as abstract. Why call them abstract? The data they present are concrete enough (he calls the "consequences" concrete)? I mean that the data are replicable; any other researcher would come up with the same citation counts for articles published in CCC over the past 20 years, no? Berthoff reworked abstraction in her '86 essay "Abstraction as a Speculative Instrument." "Speculative Instruments" matches up with the title of I. A. Richards' book from 1955. It's a collection of "pieces [that] were composed at different times and for very different occasions and audiences" (ix). One six-page "piece" stands out: "The Resourcefulness of Words" which comes "[f]rom a Bergen Lecture given at Yale in 1940." It goes at matters of comprehension and interpretation: language is ambiguous, meanings are multiple. There is a certain "wandering" quality to the resourcefulness of words, Richards explains, trying to finesse systematic misunderstandings in language and this wandering quality. A few pages of this were reprinted in Enos and Brown's Professing the New Rhetorics. Richards also mentions that this short piece developed into his book, How To Read A Page. That stretch I mentioned earlier, it is sometimes a yawn (or a yowl of exasperation).

Another opportunity in this for digression (or call it redirection): Will I connect How To Read A Page with distant reading and the abstract visual models produced by these methods? Maybe. But not yet. I like the riff that goes for distant reading as How To Read An Epitome (of Composition)--something along the lines of layering metadata onto relatively stable forms (i.e., models), shoring up disciplinary data-sets, and so on.

What else can I say about Richards' Speculative Instruments? What a shame that the title--a title I like--was used up on this grab bag of "pieces." With this in mind, Berthoff's "Abstraction as a Speculative Instrument" comes back into the spotlight. For the chunk of this diss on the concept of abstraction, Berthoff's piece will have to do the leg work. But it shouldn't have to do all of the heavy lifting. Sure, there's Langer, but that's not the direction I want to go in. Berthoff's recuperation of abstraction--a recuperation Haynes says failed and must be broached once again--sticks with abstraction as forming. Berthoff entangles concept formation and writing as knowing: "[Abstraction] can show us how to think of forming concepts as a matter of composing" (236). Continuing, she goes at issues of writing across the curriculum (the relevance of language to all disciplines) and also to "abstraction as a speculative instrument [that] can help us re-think the nature of the relationship of 'the contingent and the particular' to 'the general orders" (237). I can't decide whether this last part has more to do with compositionists being "great minds" or whether it is an allusion to scalability constrained by the General Semanticist's Ladder analogy (referentiality, from particular to obtuse). Berthoff's is a discussion of abstraction I find to be slotted with a space for what, of late, is more commonly discussed in terms of networks, traces, and formative, inventive association--abstraction as forming (with or without reference to "speculative instruments" and the "wandering resourcefulness" of words) gives way not to a Ladder of Abstraction, which Berthoff firmly and persuasively argues against, but to networks, impermanent paths of activation, instigating clicks of fascination and intensity, and various other evocative, uncanny encounters. It's on this point that the pre-digital foundation of Berthoff's work on abstraction seems most conspicuous.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Rice, "Networks and New Media"

Rice, Jeff. "Networks and New Media." College English 69.2 (Nov. 2006): 127-133.

In his contribution to the College English symposium on "What Should College English Be?", Rice answers "new media" and, more precisely, the aspect of networks as connective, associative phenomenon proliferating throughout the digital, informational orders. "College English has not yet imagined or perceived itself as a network," (128), Rice writes, and while the ways "networks alter current understandings and rhetorical output still need unpacking and further study" (132), we might begin by with Hayles' suggestion of linking as an emerging form of expression or Burroughs' anticipation of "the rise of the network as rhetoric" (130), as we "reimagine English studies' efforts to generate a twenty-first century focus" (130). In the collection of essays titled Composition in the Twenty-first Century, David Bartholomae, suggests a focus involving composition's focus on "the space on the page and what it might mean to do work there and not somewhere else" (130). Rice emphasizes Bartholomae's differentiation between the page and the "not somewhere else," suggesting that, in fact, new media and networks compel us toward the somewhere else, the open space constructed out of connections where multiple writers engaging within multiple ideas in multiple media at multiple moments function" (130). In the "complicated act" that is "writing as network" (131), "'writing' feels too limited", its connotations of "fixity" burden the metaphor "in an age of total information and delivery" (129). Drawing on Hayles and Lyotard, Rice examines the paradox between "established knowledge" that is the prototypical concern of English Studies and the "momentary configurations" of networks and the texts that circulate across them.

Developing a strong case for new media and networks as a new focus for college English, Rice acknowledges precedents in "intertextuality, the avant-garde, or Bahktinian dialogue" (130), but these concepts have not theorized networks adequately, particularly in light of the Web. Rice's response to "What Should College English Be?" fans out, as well, through a succession of answers, one of which is that "College English should be the intersection of the various areas of discourse that shape thought and produce knowledge" (132).

"Or it may involve a complete reworking of how information is classified and stored, as the emerging practice of folksonomy, a system where anyone can attach any term to any piece of information, does in a direct challenge to referential organizational systems" (128).

"Whether for good or for bad, the network is reimagining social and informational relationships so profoundly that even if the discipline of English Studies remains wary of the network and suspicious of its place within the curriculum, the field can still benefit from learning how networks alter both understandings of writing and writing itself" (129).

"By social, I do not mean 'people,' 'friendliness,' or 'mingling.' Instead, I mean the ways bodies of information socialize, the ways they interact, or, as Burroughs wrote, the ways they associate" (131).

Terms: established knowledge (131), momentary configurations (131), emergence/growth (132), folksonomy (128), connectivity (128).

What is at the junction between Rice's call (new media/networks) and Bialostosky's (variegated reading and productive attentiveness)?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Stroking a Pumpkin

I was just leafing through Latour's Reassembling again.  I can't quit this damn book.  I keep picking it up, leafing around, mulling over the marginalia, adding underlines, junking up the edges of the pages with more check marks and asterisks.

This morning I was also looking back again at "Visualization and Cognition," the 1986 article that begins to outline immutable mobiles, a concept further defined in Science in Action. It led me back around to Reassmebling; I was looking for the spot where he lists the properties of the face-to-face interaction as non-isotopic (a-ha! p. 200). A few weeks' Latour binge, so what? (L.'s mention of "the ethnography of abstraction" has me thinking maybe I can subtitle the diss. "an ethnography of disciplinary abstraction" or, at the very very least, write it as if).

While digging around for that other part, though, I saw a rare exclamation point in the margin. A spot where Latour writes of extreme shifts in scale:

Have you ever noticed, at sociological conferences, political meetings, and bar palavers, the hand gestures people make when they invoke the 'Big Picture' into which they offer to replace what you have just said so that it 'fits' into such easy-to-grasp entities as 'Late Capitalism', 'the ascent of civilization', 'the West', 'modernity', 'human history', 'Potcolonialism', or 'globalization'? Their hand gesture is never bigger than if they were stroking a pumpkin! I am at last going to show you the real size of the 'social' in all its grandeur: well, it is not that big.  It is only made so by the grand gesture and by the professional tone in which the 'Big Picture' is alluded to. If there is one thing that is not common sense, it would be to take even a reasonably sized pumpkin for the 'whole of society'. Midnight has struck for that sort of social theory and the beautiful carriage has been transformed back into what it should always have remained: a member of the family Cucurbitaceceae. (186)

Touché: Use caution with the pumpkin-sized gestures.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Net Morticians

It wouldn't surprise me much at all if, in the year ahead, The Lives and Deaths of Networkswe hear more about network blight or the dissolution, abandonment, and decay of once-thriving clusters of interconnected activity. Danah Boyd's entry from Wednesday started me thinking again about the nascent network cycles that have yet to show significant, extended desultory patterns and down-trends. Boyd responds to Steve O'Hear's notion of social network fatigue (via) or, basically, the idea that actors in a given system will tire, grow weary, and as such, the system on a broader scale will slow to a creep or halt altogether. Boyd at first expresses skepticism--"Users aren't going to tire of their friends but they will tire of problematic social spaces that make hanging out with friends difficult"--before working through other considerations related to the fading of social networks and speculation about YouTube, MySpace, and teens.

For now, I'm most interested in the idea of network decay or fatigue brought up in the entries by Boyd and O'Hear. I suppose I'd be guilty of painting with broad brushstrokes to suggest that interest in network vitalism has, for the most part, favored genesis rather than dissolution, abandonment, and the cadaverous husks of exhausted (adequated?) links and nodes. Heck, we've seen much more of it, much more of the early waves of enthusiasm and euphoria, I mean. And still, we have digital monuments (relics to networks, not people, in this case), but the web's clouds of data-dust cover them rapidly enough that encomia are usually brief. The web, despite the ether, deletion, and ephemera, needn't be a funereal domain.

To the degree that social networks are living, they are also dying, right? Or prone to vacillations and arrhythmias. I only want to make a couple of notes about this, and keep them here for later. The first is that this resonates with something I was skirting around two weeks ago in my take-home qualifying exam. I won't go into great detail (oughta wait until they're assessed as passing, eh?), but I was working extensively with Munster and Lovink's "Theses," in which they call for a "distributed aesthetics" that will "account for these experiences of stagnation within network formations and for coupling these networked experiences with a network's potential to transform and mutate into something not yet fully codified." Dying, living, ongoing, mutable, more or less cyclical. But because these social networks fuse together organisms and constructs (a primal puddle of entangled code), strictly organic metaphors falter, failing to account for the multiple life cycles of flocculent data and metadata, variously inscribed. Maybe Thacker's "Living Dead Networks" would help us toward a better theorized understanding of the contrails and exhaust left by networks or the network junkyards piled high with cast-asides and waste. This is what I mean about the web not being a funereal domain: there's no burial ritual for zombies, no panegyric for walking-deadworks (this/that wiki or listserv or forum or blog lived long ago!), no lasting sense of loss in abandoned heaps of information and mummified memes.

The second thing--and this is a point made both by Munster and Lovink in their discussion of mapping and by Thacker in his discussion of diagramming--is that the iconic representation of networks is, much like its counterpart in human anatomy and physiology, the anatomical chart, a momentary and (potentially) idealized slice of complexity (could the same be said for symbolic representation? for enactive?). That is, representing networks (mapping them, diagramming them; much of which I continue find intriguing and suggestive) really must constantly reassert the inherent dynamism of the thing depicted and the vitality downplayed by its static presentation. Otherwise, there comes the risk of something like dogfish in the dissection pan--the network trapped long enough to rest between two slides for magnified inspection is not quite the same as its raw form, still open to transformation and mutation. I'd locate my reservations about SNA or mathematical sociology here. How, then, can mapping and diagramming network formations proceed without merely dealing with dead things--the post-mortem networks, steel-gray in their baths of formaldehyde, describable only in their stillness?

Friday, November 3, 2006

Gliffy and Facebook

The week's quasi-experiment in WRT302 blended Facebook and Gliffy. In the session dedicated to Facebook (what of it?), I wanted to prime our upcoming discussion of networks when we read a few chapters from Critical Mass. But reading about Facebook didn't seem to me to be enough. I was mildly bored with the idea of reading about Facebook. Next, pose as if critical. Next, rehearse the cautions about visibility and decorum. Thorny! It's a fairly reliable pattern that when I'm bored, my students are doubly bored. And so.

By involving Gliffy (Draw and share diagrams on the web), we prefaced the conversation about Facebook by mapping ourselves as a network, first assembling into small clusters of three or four and then by researching ties that would connect each person within a cluster and then each cluster to another. Gliffy did the trick. I could easily start a file (one for each group) and then invite collaborators. Each collaborator received an email with a temporary password. Once logged in, each collaborator was able to draw and rearrange elements on the canvas. Saving the file swiftly captures that iteration of the glyph and adds it to running list of versions for all to see (enabling restorations of earlier versions as well). It's especially suited to collaborative diagramming, activities like composing a network map or chart.

At first this meant that students had to spend time (re)learning names of peers and looking over their Facebook profiles for link-worthy criteria. This stage was only loosely defined; the one caveat was that students should try to avoid obvious ties (direct friends; live in N.Y.; taking WRT302). Dig around, prefer the non-obvious, and make use of degrees of separation as needed. In twenty-five minutes, each of the clusters of students was finished with the first phase. Gliffy includes one-click publishing to the web, so the groups were able to publish, then drop the links to their network diagrams into the class's account for simplified sharing. Everyone could then see the work performed by other groups.

I'm blogging this mainly to record (for an eventual return) that this might serve well as an ice breaker (if, that is, the ice must be broken) provided everyone has a Facebook account. For those who don't, however, it's still possible for them to suggest a basis for links to others, and establishing those links generates a lot of other conversation. More importantly, when we finally turned to our discussion of Facebook, it made far more sense to approach it as a network phenomenon, and as such, we could deal with the strength of ties (what warrants a thick line? a thin line?), centrality (who was easiest to connect to?), dynamic relations, and structural holes as concepts applicable to a broad assortment of domains and beyond the most facile uses.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Today I was invited to join the Facebook group "Muellers of the World Unite." After excitedly accepting, I read "the wall" (Facebook's discussion board feature) and learned that I am not alone in being mocked by the clever many who have launched into full-blown impromptu renditions of the gone absent scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "Bueller, Bueller?" Yeah, I know. Horrifying or hillarious, it remains a don't-choke-on-your-tongue laugh riot after twenty friggin' years.

That's right, "Muellers of the World Unite" is an invitation-only group (still in its infancy, mind you, with merely 140 more than 200 members) largely concerned with mispronunciation: as often mill-er or mull-er as the preferred mew-ler. The seventh cousins and other kin-folk are outraged by such egregious treatments of the surname.

I kept on reading the fourteen wall-posts, and than, feeling good about being surrounded by like-named people, I found this treasure in the "Recent News": "This just in: Muellers are better then you."

No, I haven't been invited to take a leadership role in the group. I only ask that next time you are tempted to let fly with your impersonation of a nasally teacher uncomprehending of delinquency from school--"Mueller? Mueller"--tune the pronunciation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lloyd-Jones on Centrality

In "A View from the Center," his 1977 CCCC keynote address, here's what Richard Lloyd-Jones said about Mrs. Peterson, "the emblem" of those in his audience:

Some will share a memory with me--the recollection of picking up the phone, cranking one long ring, and getting "central." You could ring various combinations of shorts and longs and get specific subscribers directly, but if you really wanted to know what was going on in the village you rang "central."

The folks in bigger towns, which had numbers, had to call central in order to be hooked up to anybody else on the system, but their central didn't know much except numbers, and out central had a name--Mrs. Peterson--and she knew all sorts of things. Somehow, in the village, she knew who was at the bank, who had gone down to the ice house, who hadn't been feeling well. I don't know that she listened in on all the conversations, but we supposed so. She just made herself central in the life of the community. In our more urban and perhaps urbane way, we would think of her as a communication nexus, but we'd to better to remember Mrs. Peterson as Central. (49)

Compositionist as pastoral telephone operator. A communication nexus. This isn't the only metaphor Lloyd-Jones invokes in the talk, but it is the piece that resonates most with network studies. Whatever her methods (eavesdropping? Mrs. Peterson!), she is knowing because of a high degree of centrality, her niche in a reasonably sized network. When network become too large, the connector's knowledge diminishes. Thresholds: Central knows only numbers in densely populated areas.

Nothing to add beyond that. Just reading for exams, posting notes, and thinking Lloyd-Jones was talking about network centrality in his address out in Kansas City some years ago.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The Networked Image

I first picked up on Google's Image Labeler two days ago (via). In a nutshell, Image Labeler addresses a semiotic problem: the indexing of hundreds of thousands of images based on semantic assignments in the visual field of each image. Indexing an image depends upon the assignment of keywords that correspond to the objects represented. Google Image Labeler makes this process into a game of peer review: in this two person game, a player win points by registering a descriptor that also appears on the other person's list.

Tracing a few links (succumbing, that is, to the beckoning of a surprising curiosity), I briefly started to follow the life of this conversation in computer science and art. Most intriguing in this regard was the talk embedded below, a talk called "Human Computation" given by Luis von Ahn at Carnegie Mellon.

I find von Ahn's talk fascinating on several levels. He explains gaming (i.e., "Games with a Purpose") as a solution to the labor-production dilemma of developing a gargantuan repository of indexed images, of reconciling the gap, using the most basic set of terms, between image and word. Implicitly, he sets up a way of thinking about "writing the image" as collaboration, as writing that connects (in the allure of consensus, agreeing, that is, on the equivalence of Bush's photo and "yuck" (around 21:00 in the video)) and produces. In keeping with the title of his talk, he explains human computation--"Running a computation in people's brains instead of silicon processors."--premised upon "anonymous intimacy," the pleasure of coming to terms with strangers about the verbal evoked in the encounter with the visual. He also refers to his impressive research projects The ESP Game and PeekaBoom, predecessors, it would seem, to Google's Image Labeler.

Is it going too far to invoke Barthes here? If not the studium, exactly, there is something studium-like in Google's Image Labeler. The image-index undertaking is a project akin to establishing studium as a database. The collaboration between a labeler and a validator (partners in the game) devalues the intense singularity and instead reduces the image to human-generated language agreements, its lexical mutuality. There is a networked quality to the image in the way it is treatment here. Enigmatic thinking won't win in this game. The image is domesticated by the process and submitted into the most generic realm of culture, which, as Barthes puts it, "is a contract arrived at between creators and consumers" (28). It's useful for image searching, but is also has implications for habituated seeing and collaborative image work.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Digital Onomastics, Frenetic Place-Names

What happens to onomastics or proper place-names with infusions of the digital? How do the logics of the web, networked writing and folksonymy let loose (a plentitude of named small-pieces, loosely joined) the propriety of an onomastics founded on scarcity, where place-names refer formally to physical locations and also depend upon authorization, a kind of official license? We will have one name and one name only! Erm, okay, two...two names. No more. Granted, place-names or toponyms are not altogether unraveled or let loose. Kansas is still "Kansas," or "KS," even in Google Maps (at a certain scale, though, the name vanishes because it's too specific, too local; KS fades into anyplace). But while these stabilized place-names remain on highway signs and also showing at certain scales of the cybercartographic mash-ups, the digital introduces a capacity for differently circulating and contending name systems. Toponyms are further compounded. For now I don't care whether we're online or on I-90. New (by which I mean not pre-fixed), folksonomic names and tags don't automatically replace the official names, although they might one day contend with them and even displace them or unsettle them a bit.

Maybe the questions are all wrong. What is the tie between tagging and place-names, whether space is prefixed with geo- or cyber-? No, no, that's not quite it either. Or else it is, and I'm not able to come up with a satisfying answer. But the digital seems to awaken something between protocols (IP addresses and URLs) as place-names and cartographic toponyms (physical place-names on maps) as tags. In other words, online mapping apps make me think that something shifts (or is brought nearer together, maybe) between official geographic place-names and Weinberger's idea of the web as "places without space." The web's geography of place-names mixes the proper, the common with the improper and uncommon, with the uncanny and anachronistic (even if the a href requires syntactic precision).

Here you could have just read Weinberger's "Space" chapter. Credit to Jeff's stuff for getting me to think about this, too.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Keep 'Em All Coming Back

What exactly constitutes loyalty among readers of weblogs? What is loyalty, anyway? Habituated interest? Supersocial attachment? Attentional symbiosis? Casual subscription? And are future returns, tracked through IP addresses, adequate or reliable indications of loyalty, of interest, or of a sort of persistence, of ongoing reawdrite entanglement? Could be.

Seven days ago or thereabouts, I signed up for a trial run of Google Analytics. I was invited, which means that I must've filled out a form some time ago expressing interest in the measures and data presentations, being the graph-geek I am. G.A. runs on a few lines of code; I slipped into the templates for this weblog, just before the </body> tag, as instructed. Within a few days, the reports accumulated enough data to begin suggesting trends and patterns: yet another matrix of activity at this weblog, tracked, I should note, during what's been yet another dull stretch of writing. Rather like a hitless streak: a flat and yawning series of blase-blogging. Still, as if to mock me and my dis-ambition, the numbers twinkle, evoking in me some down-deep fascination with statistics, with counting and with related reports, displays of information.

Google Analytics offers up a number of graphs and charts, ranging from visits and page views to geographic locations and search terms/phrases, and all of the displays are easily re-sorted and layered for different periods of time and for easy-to-see comparisons. I won't be commenting on all of the features here. By no means is this a comprehensive review of G.A. I only want to point, for now, to one of the graphs, "visitor loyalty," because I find it off somehow. I mean that it makes some odd suggestions.

First, notice that the graph cover a one week period, from May 25 to May 31. According to Google, I had a few visits during that stretch. Okay, 1,476. Some differentiation is due. All visits and visitors, as you might expect, are not equal. My best guess is that there are three distinctive groups here: searchers, readers and spammers. Searchers largely make up the left-most counts. That is, they visit once and never return, whether because they're satisfied with what the search summoned (notes on Barthes' photographic image, for example) or because they are not satisfied (recipes for moth poison, let's say). The point is this: searchers are not yet loyal. Their presence is casual, often accidental, ordinarily forgettable, passing and nonchalant.

The third bunch, those 74 visitors who, in one week's time, came by between the frequencies of 9-14 times and 51-100 times are, well, too loyal to be trusted. Rather than be naive and celebrate them as die-hards, I take them to be spa&mers, mostly, although it's conceivable that a few of the 9-14ers could be legitimate readers, I suppose, or folks coming from a lumped-together network ID (e.g., sub-nets on the network). Even when the finest, most compelling entries are rolling through EWM on a daily basis, it's unthinkable that this site would draw 51 visits from any reasonable person in a single week. I could start selling hats and t-shirts with that kind of following.

I take the 32 mid-range visitors to be the regulars, those whose loyalty is most in sync with the steadiest currents in this blogstream--a mix of family, colleagues and outliers, some of whom, perhaps, subscribe to one of the RSS feeds. The graph, then, displays this paradox about blogs, audiences and loyalty (even if I'm still reserved about the term as it applies to reading and writing activity): I'm aiming for the belly, for the lowest point in the U-shape between searchers and sp&mmers. I'm not quite sure, but I think that's the point I was writing toward.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Some prankster from one of my alma maters just invited me to a group called "Facebook Over 30!"

Um, no thanks.

To my mind, the only activity apropos for an "over 30" tag is basketball.  At everything else, I'm better now than I was at 29 (unless you consider my time in the mile, which is likely remains nine and a half minutes, just like always, even if there is no evidence that I'm slower than I once was). Hmph.

No need to remind me that "shenanigans" is so rarely uttered by anyone under 30.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Next: Disciplinary Facebook

I'm intrigued by the Facebook's expansion beyond colleges, as reported here (via). Like any social networking app, the euphoria surrounding it is offset (too often in extremes) by abuses, missteps, skepticism, and lags in the adaptation of institutional policies to respond to the activity at the site. Yet recent shift--ten corporations signing on--gets at the spreading recognition of the value of social networking apps beyond mere friend-making, beyond "poking" strangers as a casual gesture of interest. Prepared to engage social networking as something more than trivial?

I'll watch with interest as more reactions to the latest expansion crop up. And those reactions will vary, of course, from jeering to the more serious. The announcement brings me all the way back to the earliest announcements of the Facebook in 2004. If they're expanding to workplaces, maybe it won't be long before leadership in the discipline starts weighing the possibilities of the Facebook for an entire field, such as composition and rhetoric. Granted, it wouldn't be perfect, but the way I see it, it'd be a marked improvement on the existing means for building and locating profiles, tracing interests through those who've written on such things, and so on. Imagine a use of Facebook with a professional orientation whereby disciplinary bibliographies, institutional affiliations (and histories), and linked tags for research and interests. I know it's a wild, data-based fantasy, and it would require us to see Facebook as more than forum for delinquency, but here's hoping. What, maybe five or ten years from now?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wondering Now

I just turned in my final project for the fall semester--a look at Social Network Analysis adapted as methodology for rhet/comp.  Hard-line SNA researchers often turn to mathematical sociology (half-seriously, I liken it to discourse analysis, peopled), heavy with formulas as probabilities for activity/system/org-phenomena, structural equivalence, and so on.  Basically, I wanted to sort the more general areas of network studies from SNA, tie in a few definitional pieces and key concepts, stake out the methodological layers of a few SNA-oriented future projects, get grounded.  Been a good project for that.  And yes, some relief in its completion.  Before the weekend, I have some grading to pace through; alongside that, leisure reading, a light read-ahead for the spring, and maybe a few days in Michigan at the end of the month if Ph. doesn't have hoops practice.

I didn't realize this would turn into another update (updates heaped upon updates lately).  But it does bring me to something I noticed on a science workbook laying open on D.'s workspace earlier.  She's plotting out the finer points of a science lesson for tomorrow.  The book, it has sets of questions to go with each of the labs.  Usual stuff.  Except the final question for every unit: What are you wondering now?

What are you wondering now?  Ought to end all semesters (projects, blog entries, etc.) that way.

Friday, October 7, 2005

Into the Long Tail

Considering that this entry ends my longest blogging drought since early July, you might have wondered what's been happening lately.  I've gone and followed up a personal-best thirty-one entries in the month of September with a three-day lull in blogging.  To be completely honest, I devoted a lot of time and energy this week to developing and fine-tuning a paper I shared late this morning at the Contesting Public Memories Conference here in Syracuse.  The cross-disciplinary conference continues tomorrow, bringing together folks from a variety of specializations, a variety of places.  In the paper, "Networked Writing as Micro-Monument: The Long Tail's Nested Memoria," I was going for a three-part argument about the persistence of social/shared memories in the niches of blogspace.  To attempt the triple leap, I discussed John Lovas's weblog, micro-monument in relation to Chris Anderson's articulation of the long tail, and ways in which memorable personal intensities punctuate the long tail by applying Barthes's studium/punctum.  That's where my mind has been--stuck in the long tail for three days or so.

On a related note, I'm thinking through a few of the lessons I've learned related to this project and this week:

That's probably enough for now, although it doesn't exhaust the dim sense of ought-to's.  For the remainder of the weekend, I'm on with reading I've neglected--the rest of Tufte on data visualizations and Dunnier's Sidewalk.  Also, in 307 on Monday we're starting The ClueTrain Manifesto and attempting our own collaborative Writer's Cluetrain. Going to shine some attention on that as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Expected-value Navigation

Researchers at UMass-Amherst announced this week that they've derived an algorithm useful for explaining the "six degrees" phenomenon in social networks (and related activity systems) (via). 

The social network exploited by Travers and Milgram isn't a straightforward, evenly patterned web. For one thing, network topology is only known locally—individuals starting with the letter did not know the target individual—and the network is decentralized—it didn't use a formal hub such as the post office. If navigating such a network is to succeed—and tasks such as searching peer-to-peer file sharing systems or the navigating the Web by jumping from link to link do just that—there must be parts of the underlying structure that successfully guide the search, argue Jensen and Şimşek.

What guides the search?  The press release briefly touches on issues of homophily and "degree disparity." Previous research has tended to treat these qualities discretely, Jensen and Şimşek's algorithm merges or blends them. Perhaps most noteworthy from the release is the question of how network topologies are known. This hooks into a few of the talks from CCR Community Day '05 and also at least a couple of the motivations behind CCC Online: how is disciplinarity known?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


I'd noticed faces before, but the sudden spike in wallborn figures around here was beginning to concern D. and Ph. Of course, I was taking pictures of the few might-be shapes emerging in the cracked paint on the door frames in this old flat, even posting the images to Flickr. Changing humidity levels, expansion and shrinkage, next appear the cracks and with them, patterns: even people.  Nonsense, you say.  I had my doubts too. 

Cracks III

But, today when I picked up D. from work, I went upstairs to pitch in on a shelf-altering project--make a crooked shelf flat (earlier came the phone call: "Bring a hack saw.  We have a shelf with two inextricable nails in need of sawing.").  We had to adjust the shelf from angled--display-like--to flat.  Easy.  Yet the best part was that there, on the cluttered table nearby, this was staring back at me:


Face to Face, an issue of Pentagram Papers 4 from the late 70's, filled with found faces or face-like patterns.  From the jacket note:

The collection of accidentally created faces shown here was assembled over a period of two years by the Swiss designer Jean Edouard Robert.  During that time each new addition would be presented for the approval of his friends and colleagues, and it became a regular source of diversion for them.

Judging from this, it's near to Saper's notion of the intimate bureaucracy in Networked Art except that in this set (maybe not an assembling, hard to say) the fantastical dimension provokes another question: how do the art objects/receivables themselves act in the network? How do they impart the network structure, dynamics and flow? It is somewhat far afield from my initial compulsion to grab images of the paint-crack formations--best viewed in the half-light of daybreak when I should be asleep.  Just the thing I was looking for to help me think about something more than the peopling of the paint cracks (not just some lead-dust hallucination, turns out!): extra-human networked interaction.  Photographer Irwin Dermer adds this in the introduction to the collection of thirty or so photos:

Once a group of "faces" has been found, it can be seen that a unique society has been discovered.  A society existing in isolation until the moment they are seen in relation to each other.  But unlike other societies, there is no interaction between members.  They serve silently until the time when they no longer function or simply become worn out.

No interaction? Doesn't quite seem right for some reason. And so I'll leave this question open for now, and take away a different understanding of the persistent figures in the paint cracks.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005


Briefly, I just want to post a few thoughts on Greg Urban's chapter from Metaculture, "The Once and Future Thing (PDF)."  As Urban tells us, the ways culture moves, flows and circulates "is the central mystery of our time" (39).  Urban frames the paradox of cultural flow by characterizing its latent tension: the pull between sameness and difference. According to Urban, these two forces combine in a conglutination of alpha (α) (which he derives into beta (β) or "new" culture) and their inventive counterpart, omega (ω).  Where beta is inertial (replication and mundane derivation in New! culture), omega is accelerative (inventive).  Urban tells us that "The force behind such accelerative culture is the interest it generates, which stems in part from its novelty" (16).  As I read it, this has bearing on our other considerations of the ways memes achieve thriving conductivity (Aaron Lynch in Thought Contagion) and restrictive factors in diffusion theory (Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations). And although I don't want to be hasty in extending this to questions about the ways ideas and innovations spread/cycle through a discipline or field (like ours, I will return in a brief second to one connection.

Here's the thing:  Urban's work invokes familiar sources, from Bakhtin--"Our speech is filled to overflowing with other people's words" (17)--to Benedict Anderson (imagined communities, text privileged, print capitalism), Bourdieu (habitus as "filter created by inertial culture for new expressions" (23)), and Gramsci (hegemony), he draws on an impressive list of thinkers/writers often invoked in rhet/comp.  Yes?  Without being explicit about what he regards as the most formidable cultural objects involved in the replication of culture, Urban does, in places, give us cause for supposing that we might be capable of making--perhaps composing--the ω object.

"The process [of hegemonic struggle] must depend upon the production of new expressions, and hence, on ω culture" (26).


"However, accelerative culture opens the possibility that a new object--an ω object--can cut new pathways, can reshape social space by harnessing different strands of extant inertial culture" (19).

I'm not making my point as succinctly as I'd hoped to, and it's a rather simple point: "Shared and circulating documents, it seems, have long provided interesting social glue" (190). See there, it's not even my point.  Here I'm drawing on a chapter I used with WRT205 students for this evening's session from Brown and Duguid's The Social Life of Information (PDF). Basically, the connection for me is that the busy vehicles shuttling memes, enabling diffusion and so on are oftentimes documents--produced texts; written, designed and rhetorical.  Brown and Duguid tell us, "documents do not merely carry information, they help make it, structure it, and validate it. More intriguing, perhaps, documents also help structure society, enabling social groups to form, develop, and maintain a sense of shared identity" (189).  I'm not trying to make a case that documents are the only thing; they're merely one thing.  But that they're the thing of interest to many rhet/comp folks reminds me that we should come to terms with the relationship of writing to Urban's ω cultural object.  It's not a tidy match with Urban's cultural object-types, but Brown and Duguid differentiate documents into two groupings: fixed and fluid.  Particularly as we conceive of the bearing of texts on network/cultural formation and organization, the distinction is incredibly useful, I think. I'm trying to say that consideration of memes, diffusion and variously same-different cultural vectors (from Urban) presents us with productive correspondences to document production (text making...writing) and the (dis)comforts manifest in our biases toward/against fixed or fluid texts. 

Cross-posted to 711.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Homophily Bias

Among the many intriguing ideas offered by Ronald Burt in the chapter draft of "Social Capital of Structural Holes," (PDF) from Brokerage and Closure, homophily bias--or the echo chamber effect--returned me to some questions I was thinking about at CCCC in San Francisco last week.  We're reading Burt's chapter for CCR711 this week, taking it up alongside a chapter on postmodern mapping as research methodology from Porter and Sullivan's Opening Spaces.  Earlier this semester, we read about homophily parameters in Duncan Watts' Six Degrees; commonly framed as echo chambers, the concept circulates in correspondence to like-mindedness, absolution of dissent, or the kind of diminished, unproductive parroting bound to stagnate--an abundance of closed-group gestures.  Homophily bias, then, is the orientation of a particular network structure toward such a closed-ness. 

And so I find the connection to CCCC in the structuring of Special Interest Groups or SIGs--the interest-defined clusters that form around a particular issue, cause, political imperative or specialization.  SIGs meet each year, and, of course, they make possible a forum for collegiality, perhaps even solidarity, organizational focus and expert niche.  Variously, they serve social, political and professional needs; as defined structures (form-alized with the petition to be listed in the program), they give us one way to imagine the field--embodied in the annual flagship conference--as a clustered topology.  Fair to say?

If we apply Burt's analysis to these clusters, however, we might begin--productively--to find vocabulary for understanding the rules, roles and power dynamics enforced in a particular SIG.  The groups have membership rosters, but what would happen if we started to differentiate the members as connectors (people who have multiple ties across special interest groups) and brokers (people who, because of their multiple ties, are able to pitch the group's interest to other, perhaps larger, bodies in the organization)?  Should the SIG accumulate too high a homophily bias, it would stand to disconnect from the more active channels in the organization.  Through particularly well-connected agents--active connector-brokers capable of bridging structural holes in the organization's topology--might the SIG sustain itself beyond a kind of isolation and connect meaningfully with the organization at-large, provided, of course, that such broader persuasions are mutually valued to the SIG's members.  For what it's worth, I'm not thinking about any particular SIG; instead I'm trying to reconcile Burt's terms with network formations related to CCCC.  Furthermore, I'm interested in exploring what it might mean to convene a heterophily-biased interest group--maybe something that would have different interest groups co-mingle for fruitful partnerships and cooperatives.

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Tulip Economy and Fitness

Last week, when I ran across Henry Farrell's Crooked Timber entry on flogrolling, I was also reading from Watts' Six Degrees and Barabasi's Linked.  Flogrolling, as I understand it from the few places I could find it in recent circulation, names the aggressive efforts to publicize or promote links, thereby elevating the rate of emergence of newer bloggers.  From Farrell's entry and the comments following it, the discussion seems to center on the problem of spamming entries to Technorati and the resulting skew altering an entry's popularity or "interestingness" (a term which Farrell acknowledges as "ugly").  Flogrolling potentially circumvents more authentic geneses of interest in small-world networks, such as those networks constituting the blogosphere. It assumes, with links as a basic unit of exchange, rank is sharable; it can be passed from one high-ranking blog to another through simple linking, even if such linking is profit-motivated.  Consequently, the new weblog stands on the shoulders and enjoys a fleeting, deceptive mobility.  Yes?

Although Barabasi doesn't write directly about weblogs, a few principles from his research seem to apply.  Foremost, Barabasi suggests that scale-free networks (as distinguished from random networks) should be understood in terms of growth and preferential attachment.  Their busy edges and volatile topologies present us with just a few defining premises--premises which, as I understand them, may or may not apply neatly to the blogosphere or, more specifically, the network(s) of politically-interested blogs and bloggers.  In a scale-free network (which is a theoretical abstraction, Watts tells network can be both an object of study and purely scale-free), we might guess that the earliest-established nodes (some turned hubs) occupy a privileged position, near the tall margin of the power law graph (in fairness, Farrell and Drezner speculate that the politically-interested blogosphere follows a lognormal distribution, rather than a power law).  But when we factor in competitiveness--the ongoing "up-for-grabs" nature of links--network fitness intervenes, bucking the assumption that the first-comers hold a protected position of privilege in the network.  Fitness addresses the consequence of newly adjoining nodes, latecomers who inject new energy to the network, often with the potential of cascading beyond the proximal nodes and, thereby, imparting other effects.  Barabasi discusses this phenomenon in terms of Einstein-Bose condensations and Bose gases, and although my few notes here are mostly just a summary of Barabasi's middle chapters, some of his physics references are more scientific than I can write through with confidence just yet.

I'd like to return to the idea of "authentic geneses of interest."  How do we find weblogs we're interested in or, more specifically, entries we're interested in?  If we accept that ordinary links (rather than trackbacks) are the dominant currency unit in the blogosphere, then I suppose it follows reasonably that futzing with the genuine link as a gesture of interest and replacing it, instead, with the flogrolled link--a paid-for gesture meant to by-pass the economic order, results in economic disturbance. And although this quasi-counterfeiting might initially appear in the form of robust new accelerations in traffic for newcomers exploiting such a system, I tend to think that the net effect will be negligible. Maybe that's too strong a way to put it.  But as I read it alongside Watts' discussion of tulip economies (196)--the high-hopes bubbles bursting over The Netherlands following the spark-fizzle of bulb sales, I had the impression that flogrolling will settle out as one of the lesser disturbances in the blogosphere. Just how great is the disturbance?  How long will it elevate low-interest (or artificially trafficked) sites into lofty standing before those sites must self-sustain or before the network's fitness coefficient stabilizes again?  It's just a hypothesis, really, but the selective paths of specific readers who follow links according to interest or reputation will restore the regular patterns.  Granted, much of this does little to account for the different ways we trace paths of interest across the various small-world networks of the blogosphere.  Whether by RSS, Technorati searches, trackbacks, chains of blogrolls, conventional links and so on--distinctions in how our interestedness is enacted when reading across the blogosphere most definitely bears on these tentative few ideas.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Rusesabagina and Network Externality

We walked two blocks over to the Westcott Movie House last evening to catch an 8 p.m. showing of Hotel Rwanda.  The Westcott is a single-show, old-style theater with only mildly graded seating so part of the view includes half-head silhouettes from the people one row up. Westcott picks up a few arts-cinema runs, shows them once each weekday and twice on weekends. 

Hotel Rwanda is full of events and scenarios suited to our developing vocabulary of networkacy, especially related to crisis and adaptation.  I'll keep it brief, considering that some folks probably haven't seen the film.  Because it's based on the Hutu-Tutsi clashes in Rwanda during the early '90s, the tragic premise of mass genocide is, perhaps, familiar enough for these connections to seem plausible.

Very much a connector, Paul Rusesabagina--the lead character played by Don Cheadle--navigates a series of variously constituted networks--from failed communications channels to unconvinced or indifferent international political structures and their agents.  So while I don't want to reduce network theory to a simple device for analysis and critique, I was struck--throughout the film--by the application of many of the notions Watts works through in Six Degrees. In one scene, for example, Rusesabagina urges the refugees to exercise their connections, shame their ties (weak or strong) into action. What of it? Enough visas to help some of the families. I wonder if we could call this some sort of rhetorical externality, a slight variation on information externalities (211).  I guess this could be read as a grand leap, so I only want to suggest one other connection. Watts says, "From a scientific point of view, therefore, if we want to understand what might happen in the future, it is critical to consider not only what happened but also what could have happened" (245, emphasis in original). In terms of Hotel Rwanda and the complexity of networked roles moderated by Rusesabagina, we might agree that just one of the compelling dimensions of network studies involves sorting through the "could have happened" questions.  And it reminds me, too, of Milgram's research on agency in "dispensing brutality" (131), which, through his Obedience to Authority research, sought to come to terms with Adolph Eichmann's part in genocidal crimes.

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


I'm still grogging through a hyper-invasive head cold.  'Snot easy to read and write through the sinus pressure, drainage and trips to the kettle for another hot tea.  I've gotten on with reading Robert Connors, Hayden White and a couple of chapters from Barabasi's Linked for tomorrow in addition to a project overview for comp history and a trip to the tax prep office to sign the proper filing forms.  This was only the second time I've sought an accountant's assistance with taxes; with the move, bi-state filing, and limited opportunities for sorting through tax forms, we turned over to the pros.  And today when we were at their office nodding our heads to the double-check of name-spellings and socials, the friendly accountant showed us an itemization asking nearly twice what they'd initially quoted.  I'm too ashamed to share the number; I'll just say that I'm ordering the software next year and doing it myself again.  The $70 worksheet pushed me off the edge (of chair, cliff, reason).  In the late age of computer-spun accounting, no single worksheet prep should cost seventy bucks.

So we signed all the forms and came back home. I was too head-coldy to give the guy hell for puffing up the tax prep bill. 

Once home, about hot tea, I learned this: Peppermint will re-steep for a second good cup.  Raspberry zinger will not.

Renormalization is a term credited to physics (perhaps other fields, too).  According to Barabasi, it comes from the work of Cornell professor and 1982 Nobel prize winner Kenneth Wilson who assigned the term to the event following a physical phase transition.  Renormalization (granted, read second hand) accounts for the paradoxical flux and structural stiffening of real networks--the shift from chaos to complexity, from disorder to system:

By giving a rigorous mathematical foundation to scale invariance, [Wilson's] theory spat out power laws each time he approached the critical point, the place where disorder makes room for order.  Wilson's renormalization group not only called for power laws but for the first time could predict the values of two missing critical exponents as well. (77)


We had finally learned that when giving birth to order, complex systems divest themselves of their unique features and display a universal behavior that has similar characteristics in a wide range of systems. (78)

It's quite possible, even likely, that I'm misunderstanding or misapplying this concept.  Even so, I find something catchy--sticky--in renormalization, and I wanted to put it on the table, set it out there for other possible connections (even if only my own, later on).  Barabasi goes on to explain two basic features of scale-free networks that complicate earlier theories that treat such structures as static and random.  To detail the importance of hubs, he names the characteristics of growth and preferential attachment.  And although his notion of growth seems teleologically biased, allowing for decay or detritus only briefly in a discussion of aging, I continue to be struck by the application of concepts from physics to social patterns.  At least for tonight (no telling how much credit to my head cold or tax fiasco), renormalization seems an especially interesting idea.

[Added: Renormalization is the same as order-disorder-order in story structures?]

Friday, February 18, 2005

Meme-fluence, Elaboration, Chains

When I read Chuck's entry this morning, I turned to the 123rd page of four different books, three of which I had slated to read from throughout the day today (yah, bring on the meme police bc I didn't follow the rules).  Well, that's one way to get to the 123rd page: start there.  Fifth sentences of each went like this:

No. 1: "In other words, over the course of ages or over the course of an individual's biography, the 'life' of the work resides in the history of individual reading-events, lived-through experiences, which may have a continuity, but which may also be discontinuous with only a varying 'family' resemblance" (123).
No. 2: "He generously agreed" (123).
No. 3: "So we analyzed the discourse itself, finding the revealing words, the signature expressions, the tell-tale grammatical forms" (123).
No. 4: "Lately, however, he had been avoiding the popular discos and the hottest nightclubs" (123).

The books, differently ordered: Bruner's Acts of Meaning, Barabasi's Linked, Watts' Six Degrees, and Louise Rosenblatt's The Reader, The Text, the Poem.

And nicely enough, the juxtapositions got me thinking about a few things. Now that I've read all day long, I'll leave notes here about two of them.

Watts and Barabasi open their books on network theory with anecdotes about vulnerability.  Watts starts with the "cascading failure" of the power grid in the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 1996; Barabasi begins with the upheaval of Mafiaboy's efforts to incapacitate Yahoo with a hack-load of "ghost" queries.  Watts shifts into a narrative on the formative days of his research project at Cornell; Barabasi gives us an example of network robustness in the dissemination of early Christianity a la the apostle Paul.  Watts: emergence and "How does individual behavior aggregate to collective behavior?" (24); Barabasi: The Konigsberg Bridges.  And then, together, Erdos and Euler, Milgram, graphs, as if surfing tandem on scroll waves.  Almost.

Notably absent from Watts' accounting for the premise of six degrees is Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy's short story from 1929, "Chains" or "Lancszemek." Last night, after my first class session involving Linked with 205ers, I was rooting around the web for way to get my hands on a copy of "Chains."  Didn't find much.  I mean there are plenty of references to it, but I didn't find much of anything beyond references, mentions. Barabasi's notes tell us that he doesn't think it's ever been translated from Hungarian into English.  I'm just curious whether, as Barabasi speculates, the degrees of separation idea stemmed from the fiction of Karinthy.  He evens supposes that Erdos and Renyi might have read the story and found, in it, a sufficiently sticky premise to stimulate their later mathematical work.  I wouldn't say it diminishes Watts' project or points to a gap in his research, but it does leave me wondering about "Chains."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

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 manipulanda--affordance-ness with the network and with our related involvements. 

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

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


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.

Saturday, February 5, 2005


Predictive first-thoughts on post-literacy (my-ning def'ns for 711):



Edited to add: network literacy is happen-stance image conversation.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Retromediation and Novelty

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

Frankly, as I read "Remediation, Genre, and Motivation: Key Concepts for Teaching with Weblogs," by Brooks, Nichols and Priebe, all of NDSU, I wondered about the consequences of framing weblogs as remediations of older forms--the journal, the notebook and the filter.  What results from a setup of weblogs that calibrates their potential in terms of paper-based corollaries?  It's difficult to know exactly how this was framed beyond the evidence we find in the article (the framework, the research narrative, the questionnaire, the data-sets, the conclusion) and in the related links (the weblogs themselves, a syllabus, a reading list, adjacent assignments) so I'm reluctant to respond to the essay with firmly resolved skepticism, especially considering that it reflects some of the earliest uses of blogs to teach writing. Yet through this limited lens, I have doubts about why we need to liken blogs to paper counterparts.  What's gained?  Is it a way to legitimate composition pedagogy adventurously (inventively, imaginatively!) straying from long-recognized forms, forms often occupying the lion's share of weight in the event-oriented syllabus or program-wide curricular design?  Is it a way to call up, for students, a sense of the familiar?  Although it is, perhaps to a lesser degree than resonates in this article, necessary at times to present students with a grounding in the familiar, when Brooks et. al. tell us, "we wanted to balance the novelty of the activity with a grounding in familiar literate practices," my initial thought is that a high stakes flattening/deadening/adequation is inevitably brought about.  And this, I think, must bear on motivation, if only subtly, tacitly.

What do I suggest instead?  Well, it depends on the broader aims of the course. For collective course blogs, I'm less and less inclined to model exemplary entries for the whole class, and rather than talking about what blogs enable by connecting them to the written forms they (more or less) resemble, I prefer to introduce blogs to students in terms of their impact on how we think (sure, paper variations impact thought, too), develop and write with/about ideas and so on (more to this, but I'll let it rest here).

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Van Dijck suggests that we might think of a weblog as a journal or diary nouveau--the result of digital media and the internet blending to enable linked writing spaces.  I like the genealogy she traces: the long (papery) tradition of daily record-keeping from the confessional, lock-n-keyed entries of a teenager to the "communal means of expressing and remembering"  we find in the nautical records of S. Pole explorers.  And yet I'm uneasy with the correlation between blogs and diaries, perhaps because "that's just journaling, right?" often comes with a sneer meant to infantilize/trivialize the medium of weblogs (or perhaps that's just my own sensitivity to such suggestions, which I have, at times, thought to be pejorative, aimed at demeaning that which bloggers claim to find so meaningful).

I don't want to go blog-wild with this entry, but I do want to register one half-formed idea: the label genre, while it might be appropriate for the "varied and heterogeneous" category of diaries, seems to work less well when applied to blogs.  Half formed...perhaps less...that idea. Genre, as I think of it, imposes a kind of hard edge to the scope of what's being defined.  And, because blog, as Mortensen and Walker point out, can be understood as an action (verb), I like to think of blogs as considerably more varied and blog as infused with doing/performance more than any genre (genera/kind) designation affords.  So that's all: differentiating blogs by genre always makes me pause, as it did in Van Dijck's article.  As well, on the correlations of weblog types to "link-logging" and "life-logging," I find the clusters to overlap, rather than to function discretely.  (I'd have to review again whether Van Dijck is explicit about this point, too).  I only mean to say that weblogs consisting primarily of entries reporting on links and weblogs consisting primarily of entries reporting on life rarely deny the encroachment or interference of the other.  As guiding definitions, they quickly deteriorate or blur, I think. For such rules (and rule-minded blogs), there are as many exceptions, and exceptionality is--for me--one of the more fascinating dimensions of the blogosphere.

I want to put this entry to rest, but before I do so, here are two more gems from Mortensen and Walker's article (which is, I think, full of simple, glowing bits).  First, they say, "I think better when I write" (269).  I really like what this says, mostly for what it does to remind me about my own habits of reading, writing and thinking.  I think I think better when I write, too, and it's been especially engaging to write in a blogspace where various folks can read into my writing to whatever extent their own interests compel them.  Second, they note that blogs have a discrete topoi: memory and meta-reflection (270)--another interesting piece I'd like to return to, explore, etc.

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

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.