Affordance and Manipulanda

What does a network afford?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted to

Network(ed) Rhetorics


This morning, I thought I’d have time for three blog entries.  I told
myself that today would be the day I posted thrice.  Hmph.  Never
written thrice before.  I’m having a bit of "dogfish in the
dissection pan" with hyper-consciousness about post-literacy, studying the
network, tweening the EWM-style blogging I know and love with more academicky
smelting–dutifully dumping into whatever contrivance, as assigned.  Of
course it is my own sense of what happens that flattens all of this out, rolls
over it again and again.  Scalpel, glassine envelope….

Continue reading →


Confess to being plumb wore out right now.  Lots of things seem
to be
are going awry, which is an expected feeling around the fourth
week of a demanding semester.  And yes, one self-monitor cautions me to
buck up, chill out, keep it steady, and another self-monitor–Disrupter–takes a
more rancorous tenor, blares like a high-and-whiny siren.  And another….

Instead of pining over a lackluster day and a stack of work among other
stressors, I suppose I ought to wrap this back into broader issues (from
classes, of course) about network literacy and identity.  I think my only
point for now is that finding a rhythm is just one tender, deceptive sliver of
living the interconnection; rhythm-finding is obscured by ease, yes?  When
the process/system (of blogging, since, what the heck, that’s under the
micro-scope) is least visible, it is susceptible to
disruption. Writing is easy, not easy. What I’m trying to work through is the
extent to which the bumps are explicit or the extent to which the strain of
doctoral study makes its way into a space frequented by colleagues whom I see
every day at work.  And so I suppose this gives an opening to theorizing
the network as wrought with dynamics I still don’t understand, new and
unpredictable avenues for being placed into
statements.  The schizo-network
(made possible by meeting twice or doubly), as a consequence of competing,
overlapping and near-simultaneous representations, is
vulnerable and, perhaps no matter how widely distributed, somewhat degraded. 
Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say.  It knows woe; it
interpolates absence, it senses strain, recovers quietly.

The unbinding can become so overpowering that it colonizes subjectivities
and tears them apart; with no guarantee of either a stable past or a connected
future, it is impossible to believe in the unity of a single, stable
subject–the subject of our previous discussions of literacy. (Wysocki and
Johnson-Eilola 365)

Phase Transitions

"Had the Soviet security apparatus decided [to retain Lev Landau in Moscow’s
Lubyanka prison in 1989], physics today would be very different. Landau
explained [Pyotr] Kapitsa’s discovery within a few months, and over the next
three decades left his mark on virtually every area of physics, from
astrophysics and cosmology to the study of magnetic materials.  Landau also
invented a revolutionary new theory of phase transitions, a theory of how
substances of all kinds change their forms" (158).Phase Transitions

Stole away several pages of Mark Buchanan’s Nexus on the flights today
from KC to Detroit to Syracuse.  Once in town, D. and I checked out an
apartment, four houses, and, after a delectable dinner on Marshall Street, drove
around a bit more until it was too dark to see.

I’m tired and scattered-feeling, but I wanted to post a few notes about
Landau while I was thinking of it.  According to one of Buchanan’s end
notes, "Landau’s explanation [of Kapitsa’s discovery?] later won him a Nobel
Prize.  He showed how the laws of quantum theory turn liquid helium at low
temperatures into ‘superfluid,’ a bizarre new liquid form of matter that lacks
any trace of internal friction.  A superfluid set swirling in a cup will
swirl forever, never coming to a rest." 

Buchanan builds up to this through a snaking series of segments on
ecosystems, networks and organic structures.  Buchanan’s explanation of the
molecular phases of water and Landau’s superfluid state strike me as incredibly
useful for retooling metaphors of ideational flow–thought, distributed. 
Next to his section on Tipping Points called "How Ideas Acquire People,"
Buchanan has me thinking that systems lacking "any trace of internal friction"
are so delicate that a superfluid state (superfluousness?) cannot prosper except
under artificially controlled conditions. Only with total control and
subjectivity is sustained superfluidity possible.  (Get your glue stick;
this is going to need some holding together.)

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

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

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

I set out to make notes on Will’s
mention of
.  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

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.