Bolter and Grusin – Remediation (1999) III

the final section of Remediation, B&G break out three self orientations–three
varieties of self in light of the forceful processes of remediation: the
remediated self, the virtual self, and the networked self.  The remediated
self basically begins with a notion of self as summative and re/configurable
(like William James’ empirical self (233)) rather than rigid or authentic. 
Remediated self gives way to (at least) two variations of self:  immersed
and interrelated/interconnected.  These selves correspond to the poles of
remediation; the immersed experiences the visually mediated as transparent and
immediate; the interrelated/interconnected self experiences the visually
mediated as opaque and navigable (232).  According to B&G, we experience
ourselves in both ways.  This connects up with expressive activity, too.
Virtual reality (where the user moves through) fits with romantic selfhood,
while opacity and ubiquitous computing are akin to the fixed-subject self of the
Enlightenment.  The clearer part of this first chapter in section
three–"The Remediated Self"–builds on the duality of self as object and
subject in the specific case of bodybuilding.  In bodybuilding, when "the
body is reconstructed to take on a new shape and identity," the body as medium
seems most plausible (237).

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Expected-value Navigation

Researchers at UMass-Amherst

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.

Continue reading →

Pass It On-sendings

[Ray "Sugar Dada"] Johnson initiated a practice called
‘on-sending’ which
involved sending an incomplete or unfinished artwork to another artist, critic,
or even a stranger, who, in turn, helped to complete the work by making some
additions and then sending it on to another participant in the network. 
These gift exchanges, begun in 1955, evolved into more elaborate networks of
hundreds of participants, but at first they included a relatively small circle
of participants.  Johnson would often involve famous artists, like Andy
Warhol, as well as influential literary and art critics in these on-sendings. 
In a variation on this process, each participant was asked to send the work back
to Johnson after adding to the image.  Much of Johnson’s mail art and on-sendings
consisted of small, trivial objects not quite profound enough for art critics to
consider them ‘found objects.’ These on-sendings were part of the stuff
previously excluded from art galleries.  Johnson’s gift giving resembled
the lettrists’ earlier use of a type of potlatch (which was the name of one of
their journals), Fluxus Yam Festivals, and the work of intimate bureaucracies in
general.  The gift exchanges soon led Johnson to explore the fan’s logic in
more depth. (31)

Saper, "A Fan’s Paranoid Logic,"
Networked Art


Over the weekend I finished up Connie Willis’ 1996 novel Bellwether
It was the between-semesters pleasure-read I made space for.  I overheard
C. and
M. chatting about it one
day this spring; decided it’d be worth a quick read if it made both of their
lists. And so reading lists spread.

Basically, Bellwether is the story of a diffusion researcher, Sandra
Foster, and her work on fads.  Foster is concerned with hair-bobbing and,
as well, with other inexplicable flare-ups of activity.  She maps the 
flashes of pop anomaly in space and time, works to discern the forces figuring
into the genesis and spread of fads, runs statistics to trace patterns and
trends.   Each sub-chapter leads off  with a blurb on a specific
fad–coonskin caps, mah-jongg, diorama wigs–and the narrative is laced with
allusions to Robert Browning’s

Pippa Passes
.  I was familiar enough with the Pied Piper of Hamelin; in
fact, reading Bellwether reminded me of an encounter with P.P. when I was young:
Mom had a hair appointment in Rosebush and it was the only kids book (only one I
remember, anyway) in the waiting area.  Read and read and read that story. 
The references to Pippa Passes were unfamiliar and something of a pleasant
surprise.  Pippa, as framed second-hand in the novel, is an elusive,
fantastic figure–one who influences others from the obscure periphery, whose
passing song carries from a distance and leaves its mark without Pippa
full-knowing.  In this sense, Pippa mirrors the annoying office assistant,
Flip, who unwittingly proliferates fads while fumbling through her duties as an
office assistant at HiTek, the lab where Foster works.  And a third
mirroring: the bellwether itself, as an exceptional looks-like-a-sheep,
smells-like-a-sheep leader who impacts the herd without much cognizance of her
persuasive impact.

I don’t think I’ve ruined it yet–for those who haven’t read this one. 
S. mentioned recently that she finished Doomsday Book by Willis;
is the first I’ve picked up, but I look forward to reading more
of her stuff, perhaps during a future between-semesters break (now that my
summer course on genre theory has officially started–today).

Here’s just one more keeper on research-mapping models from
.  There’s a place mid-way through where Foster is at a
friend’s house for a birthday party. The friend’s kid, Peyton, is in her room as
a punishment, and Foster goes in to use the telephone–a conversation with her
rancher friend who ends up providing the sheep herd for research.  Rather
than skulking through the punishment, young Peyton appears to be doodling, but
instead she’s line-charting–with a series of squiggles–her Barbie’s
predilection for this or that (shopping, riding mopeds, dating) because
"everybody’s doing it."

It was a map, in spite of what Peyton had said.  A combination map and
diagram and picture, with an amazing amount of information packed onto one page:
location, time elapsed, outfits worn.  An amazing amount of data.

And it intersected in interesting ways, the lines crossing and recrossing to
form elaborate intersections, radical red changing to lavender and orange in
overlay.  Barbie only rode her moped in the lower half of the picture, and
there was a knot of stars in one corner.  A statistical anomaly?

I wondered if a diagram-map-story like this would work for my twenties data. 
I’d tried maps and statistical charts and computational models, but never all
three together, color-coded for date and vector and incidence.  If I put it
all together, what kinds of patterns would emerge? (122)


Briefly, I just want to post a few thoughts on Greg Urban’s chapter from
, "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
). 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 truly…um?), I will return in a brief second to one

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


Homophily Bias

Among the many intriguing ideas offered by Ronald Burt in the chapter draft

"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

Trails of Activation

No, I really don’t have time for puttering around with graphing software, so
that’s exactly what I did for a brief while yesterday, an insignificant gesture
of defiance at my own focus and production obsessions.  It is spring break
after all, a period of regenerative slothfulness.  Yet knowing that I have
to ease into slothfulness to avoid system shock, I watched a little basketball
while reading, trying to get ahead of the post-break reading load to avoid any
related trauma on down the line.  It all folds together–the slothful
regression, the read-ahead and NCAA hoops–this way, in what I’m calling trails
of activation.  Just a quick graphic generated by software from a
randomized list of stuff from Saturday.  I’d offer claims toward
intelligibility, but that would require effort and, therefore, undermine my
attempts to enjoy some overdue rest and relaxation. 

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

.  Flogrolling, as I understand it from the


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

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 us…no 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.