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An Archaeologist of the Book

What sort of thing is a book? Imagine if an archaeologist from another time (or planet) arrived and wanted to know what it was. What are the sorts of things that you could and would need to describe and explain? What are its qualities or properties? How would you describe its use: what would a manual for a book have to include?

Here’s a preliminary list:
Pages. Bound. Cover. Title page. ISBN number (they’re all registered). Serial. Page numbers. Index. Table of Contents. Has an author/s. Fixed. Margins. Sentences, paragraphs. Header, footers. Footnotes and references, which point to things that live outside of this book and you have to usually visit special buildings to find them. Can’t change its size. Can’t be edited. Can be marked. Gets worn, a patina. Can be found in a book store, a library (where special people classify, store, and retrieve them, a whole priesthood). If you borrow them there are various protocols you have to follow (return them, don’t mark them). Certain legal property rights are attached to them.

Then I suggested that many, if not most, of the same things apply to a record, a roll of film, a video tape. They’re linear, sequential, fixed, can’t be edited or added to, and so on.

Now, think about all the qualities of a blog. If you use the same list that we used for a book which are the same and which are different? (This gets very interesting because virtually everything is now changed). A simple example. We can use common sense to say that there is writing in a book. It is physically in the book. But writing in a blog. It is not physically on the screen, certainly not like a book, everything on the screen is transitory. Any post can be edited, at any time, even after publication. What appears on the ‘cover’ of the blog changes, a lot. Readers can leave notes that other readers (all other readers) can actually see. There is no ‘one copy’. It is stored in a database (in the case of wordpress) and so each page only ever exists if and when it is requested by a browser. The pages have variable dimensions (so they’re not really pages at all, not sure why we even call them pages…). And so on. Finally, they are made up of short bits (posts) so that each post pretty much makes sense by itself. While a book is made up of short bits (sentences) and each sentence makes sense by itself, there is a very strong sense that it gets most of its meaning from what came earlier, and even what comes later. Yet I can read a blog post without having to read the entire blog, which is why it is possible for me here to pull in posts from 70 other blogs and things still pretty much still make sense. Imagine grabbing paragraphs from 70 different books and then expecting the parts, and the whole, to still make sense?

Now, the problem for you all, and you should blog this, is what would have to happen to video and or audio to move from being more or less book like to being more or less blog like? In other words if we claimed that most of our video and audio online is, at the moment, closer to a book than a blog, what would have to be different for it to become more like a blog?

Watermelon and Forks

The other day a toddler, firmly seatbelted (these days prams have five point harnesses that all seem to be on a par with a WRC race car), rolled past. On his lap was a plastic container of fruit salad while in one hand he held a plastic fork, and the other a piece of watermelon. With great concentration he was holding the watermelon and trying to spear it onto the fork, all the while the effort producing dripdribbles of watermelon down his t-shirt, tummy, and so on. Anyone older would have worked out that you’d just be better off sticking the watermelon in your mouth, the fork bit being a mix of manners but also just being tidy about it all, but of course for this toddler he knew you ate things of forks so he just really wanted it on the fork first.

My daughter often does the same thing. She knows that you put food on your fork and then eat it off the fork. Same mess regularly follows (she is 20 months). This is a good analogy of how we deal with new things in technology (remember, a fork is a technological apparatus). At the beginning we follow the steps literally, and when something doesn’t work we are at a loss since we know there are steps to follow, not really why, and certainly nothing about strategies to get around problems. (Need a fork, well a toothpick, a stick, a knife, fingers, chopsticks, there are many things we can use if we know why we need a fork.) As our literacy grows with technologies, we develop strategies for trouble shooting. We begin to understand more about the “background talk” of why we are doing things and parts about how the bits work. This is process based learning.

Modern Sing Song

A sample movie. One shot every minute or so for thirty or so minutes. This is what happens when we become sample machines, rat

Filmobile

two day conference coming up in London, with an exhibition, mobile phone + video. The use of mobile phones for the shooting of video is a big thing. Not in terms of how many people do it, but simply in the shift towards a new video vernacular. Home movies that are mobile courtesy of their scale – easy to shoot, easy to move elsewhere, easy to share. The thing that catches in my throat is that the telcos, which see this as a possible goldmine, are busy trying to work out ways in which we can be persuaded to download tv shows and what not to our phones. Bugger that. This is the whole problem of the first generation of .com online. They thought it was that we wanted their content, seemingly not realising that we built the net on the basis of us sharing our own content. Same with video on phones. Let us shoot and share, that will generate the billable bits, stop thinking it is still a traditional media network.And mobile films. They should be shot on phone. And then distributed anywhichway, including by phone. None of this shoot over there (on the 3 chip whatever) and turn the phone into a venue since the festival turned me down. Or the phone as another revenue stream. Go somewhere else, think about what the ‘mobile’ in filmobile really means.

Deleted

I have just removed the following from an essay I’m writing on virtual video.

In classical film studies while there has been an overstated tension between montage (epitomised by Eisenstein and his copious writings) and the ‘realism’ of the long take (championed by cinema’s first major scholar, André Bazin) both have a basis in the problem of the edit. For the former the edit was seen as the basis of the cinema while Bazin’s realism had to respond precisely to the problem of the edit through various arguments of revelation and deferral. My point is that both positions implicitly require the recognition of the role of the cut, one embraces this as a productive essence (which of itself is a highly problematic essentialism dressed up as formalism) while the other wishes to defer the edit to a catholic inspired phenomenal realism. While Eisenstein’s position is easily understood in the light of the edit, the traditional notion of the long take and deep depth of field – Bazin’s basic legacy – can only make sense as a position by virtue of cinema’s immanent logic of being able to break shots into smaller but whole pieces and place them in variable new relations.

Evidentiary Trails

In the workshops that Seth and I ran a few weeks ago on assessment some very good questions got raised. What’s really productive about these sorts of semi formal conversations is that you learn a lot about your own practice, and get new insights, from the ways in which others question and appropriate what you do. Rather than discuss assessment generally I talked about participation and a protocol for the self assessment of this.

So, one very good question was whether the self assessment of participation would work in a large class situation where students don’t have the experience of really knowing each other, and so of not really knowing what each other gets up to outside of class time. The self assessment protocol that I use relies heavily on the students more or less bearing witness to the mark that an individual will give themselves, but it also relies on a high level of familiarity with what everyone has been doing through the subject. This is done because there are regular presentations of work, whether this is work in progress or smaller regular exercises. And of course class discussions, questions and that sort of stuff.

Then there are the blogs, and this is where it all comes out pretty cleanly. You’ve either done plenty, and there it is for all to see, or you haven’t. And by ‘done plenty’ I don’t mean just blogging but using your blog as an academic or learning documentary. This class, that idea, this sketch and these references. Very regularly. This obviously extends the class out of class time, so that a lot of learning can be seen to happen in the writing out that the blogs require, and in reading each others blogs.

This made me realise that the participation protocol that I use is premised on what I’m going to call “evidentiary trails”. They don’t have to be blogs, they could be journals, regular oral reports in class, annotated readings. They are just a form of documentary evidence that indicates progress, learning, actions and activities through a semester. The provide evidence of what has been done. They are a trail because they record or indicate passage and journey.

Repost

An essay from early 2007, "That Moment Might Do", which is an interactive QuickTime essay, I've moved from where it was origin

round

Play Quicktime version These are stills taken from around the house. The constraint is that the object was to be round. I had

Another Year, Another Semester

(Dear Reader, yes, there’s only one, I started this a week ago, and I think that probably sums up this week pretty well.)

That sounds rather despairing doesn’t it? I don’t think it was meant to sound that way. Today is the first day of semester one. A lecture in a couple of hours, then a lab and tomorrow a rather full half day of labs. I’m teaching, once again, Integrated Media One, a curriculum and course I have designed and which forms part of three subjects (networked media, integrated media one and two) that are pretty much a direct consequence of the new media practices I’ve been introducing to the media program since 1995. These are all compulsory for media students, and is where we cover network literacies.

In Integrated Media One we concentrate on time based media online. All of these students (well, the majority) will be doing a professional strand in either radio or television production this year, so they all will be working in ‘professional’ time based media. That’s the rationale for the use of QuickTime online (inspite of what others think I remain unconvinced that Flash is effective for teaching, experimenting and learning about time based media online). They’ll be blogging, making short video and audio sketches, collaborating on research which will be written and disseminated via a wiki, and making individual interactive QuickTime manifestos.

For myself the big “ah ha” moment came as I was thinking through the assessment tasks. The last two times I’ve taught this blogs and participation and have been separate assessment tasks. Then I realised as I was talking myself through the self assessed participation protocol that I develop with the students, that, since their blogs are the major location for the documentation of what they do during the semester that it just makes more sense to have them assessed together. One of those really obvious things once you realise (and only in retrospect after you’ve been teaching with and in them for a while). Was a nice moment.

Anxieties

My students are an anxious lot. In the first week we discussed all the things that they might need to do to learn successfully in the subject, and then they were to write a list of their own which were to be blogged. This is their own participation matrix and will form the basis for how they assess their participation in the subject through the semester. Looking at their blogs some common early issues have arisen.

The first is that many have listed things that are teacher centred. These are things that they either think I want done, so if they do them then they’ll go better (I really don’t get this at all since it really is self assessed). This, for me, is evidence of just how acculturated to teacher centred learning and assessment some of these students are. The other popular one is “do all the set readings”. Now, we spoke a lot in the first classes about the point of the self assessment, of choosing a couple of things in there that would stretch yourself, and the things that if you did them well would really make a difference to your learning. Doing the set readings isn’t one of these things. Finding additional references and sources. Reading or finding out about terms not understood in class or readings, or something along that line I’d accept. But doing the set readings? It is easy to argue that this should be a minimum, but at the moment most students do not read all they are asked to (you can take that as a given, but as an academic I think the phrase about people in glass houses should be kept in mind here), but to put it down is just a teacher centric logic. The teacher knows what I should read. I’ll read what they tell me. It’s an invitation for mediocrity, and confuses the role of knowledge discovery in an internet age. (The problem once was where to find out about stuff, so universities had impressive libraries and lots of experts, now the problem is how to understand and sift all the information, which is trivial to find, anywhere – we’re awash in it.)