Category Archives: practice

Rock, Hard Place, The Open and Constrained Writing

It was Sunday night, and we were off the reservation down at Venus Bay, squatting in a friend’s holiday house. Venus Bay is a wild beach, facing Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. The wind is always chilling, coming as it does more or less from Antarctica, and it is hemmed by ecologically recent sand dunes and, thankfully, a deep pocket of remnant vegetation. 

So here I sit. Gillian Welch on the sound system, mother and daughter in another room watching Spy Kids 4 on an iPad, and I find myself musing over things to say at an undergraduate lecture later this week. There are questions, loosely, about hypertext, and why hypertext for media students. I found myself remembering the first time I met hypertext, 1991, maybe 92, in what was then a state of the art lecture theatre in the medical building at Monash University. It was state of the art largely because it had a data projector so could present an image from a computer. 

Down there at the lectern was a pizza box Macintosh running an early version of Eastgate’s Storyspace. Remember, this is before the WWW (and before PPP dialup, I actually asked for a PPP dialup from the Monash IT people around this time and they didn’t know what I was talking about). Storyspace is a standalone hypertext system that lets you write, and read, based on granular chunks of content with links between them. It was what we now describe as a link node hypertext. Links (remember, pre WWW) could be from any object to any other. A word, phrase, sentence in one node to a word, phrase, or sentence in another. Or from a node to a node. Or from a node (so the whole container) to a word, phrase, or sentence in another. Links could be multiple, so one phrase might have four links (not HTML’s one) to four different locations. And links were first order objects, so could be named, have conditions set upon them, searched for, and all the usual things objecthood allows. 

Here you could write in an open, non–teleological way, letting the multiplicitous connections of ideas (Nelson’s ‘intertwingleness’) exist and not be tethered, domesticated, shoe-horned, into the faux sequentiality that linear print by material fiat demanded. It really was an epiphany for me. 

So as I sat there, thinking about what to say in this week’s lecture, I’m recalling the élan and liberation of twenty years ago, and realising that while I wrote quite a few published academic hypertext essays that I have not done so for a while. And if I actually want to get out what is racing through my head, I really should return to writing hypertext, hypertextually. The issue then, as now (twenty years later!) is how very few places allow for such writing. It isn’t the style that’s the issue, I’ve written plenty of things that approach the experimental in terms of form and structure for journals, but finding places that will host or support something that might be 50 or 60 web pages (or even a standalone hypertext for download), that’s an entirely different proposition. No one takes it seriously, and you end up providing a concatenated PDF of the whole thing, and that’s what’s read anyhows.

Hence a rock and the hard place. I could write in the way I want and believe I ought, and then perhaps struggle for publication outputs (which is the employment measure I’m supposed to pay attention to), or I can write linear essays that are much slower (if only because cognitively I’m not that sort of thinker) and eventually always much more timid and pedestrian than what I want, but at least they tick some research metrics. (And no, writing hypertext hypertextually and translating that to print isn’t effective, I’ve tried.) Some things to ponder.

Wonderment

As a humanities academic writing is my laboratory, where I do my thinking. It is not where I report on what I have discovered somewhere else but writing is the very place where the discovering happens. So I want my writing to have this spirit of insecure wonderment.

Possible, not Intuitive

This is, perhaps, a useful guide to how I teach (and the angst it appears to regularly cause). Thanks to the inestimable Mark Bernstein. As I wrote to students today (well, blogged), leaving a class confused isn’t really a problem unless you think the role of your teacher is to unravel your confusion, or to explain things so simply that nothing troubles. But if confusion leads to wonder, in the sense of wondering and even wonderment (why am I confused? why does that trouble me, what is it, at heart, that confuses me? what am I going to do about it?) then we’re well on the way to learning. Not telling, swallowing, but learning.

Manything, Video, Riffing

So I can use Manything on my iOS devices to let one be a camera and the other be the viewer. Motion detection, and so on. Immediate first use? Ms 8 yo is into spy gadgets, this is perfect. (What is she learning?, um, cue music.)

What would be really interesting would be trying to record something with 4 or 5 cameras and doing stuff with that media…. (thinking hat on, might try something like this with an essaying project that is coming up.)

cfp: Activism and Technology

From the bailout:

CFP—Issue 24 Fibreculture Journal: Entanglements: activism and technology

(pdf attached)

http://fibreculturejournal.org/cfp-entanglements/

Please note that for this issue, initial submissions should be abstracts only.

Issue Editors: Pip Shea, Tanya Notley and Jean Burgess

Abstract deadline: August 20 2014 (no late abstracts will be accepted)
Article deadline: November 3 2014
Publication aimed for: February 2015

all contributors and editors must read the guidelines at:

http://fibreculturejournal.org/policy-and-style/

before working with the Fibreculture Journal

Email correspondence for this issue: p.shea@qub.ac.uk

This themed issue explores the entanglements that arise due to frictions between the philosophies embedded within technologies and the philosophies embedded within activism. Straightforward solutions are rarely on offer as the bringing together of different philosophies requires the negotiation of acceptance, compromise, or submission (Tsing 2004). This friction can be disruptive, productive, or both, and it may contribute discord or harmony.

In this special issue, we seek submissions that respond to the idea that frictions between technologies and activists may ultimately enhance the ability of activists to take more control of their projects, create new ethical spaces and subvert technologies, just as it may also result in tension, conflict and hostility.

By dwelling in between and within these frictions and entanglements – through strategic and tactical media discourses as well as the very concept of an activist politics within technology – this special issue will elucidate the context-specific nature, constraints and possibilities of the digital environments that are co-habited by activists from proximate fields including social movements, human rights, ecological and green movements, international development, community arts and cultural development.

Past issues of the Fibreculture Journal have examined activist philosophies from angles such as social justice and networked organisational forms, communication rights and net neutrality debates, and the push back against precarious new media labour. Our issue extends this work by revealing the conflicting debates that surround activist philosophies of technology.

Submissions are sought that engage specifically with the ethics, rationales and methods adopted by activists to justify selecting, building, using, promoting or rejecting specific technologies. We also encourage work that considers the ways in which these negotiations speak to broader mythologies and tensions embedded within digital culture – between openness and control; political consistency and popular appeal; appropriateness, usability and availability.

We invite responses to these provocations from activists, practitioners and academics. Critiques, case studies, and multimedia proposals will be considered for inclusion. Submissions should explore both constraints and possibilities caused by activism and its digital technology entanglements through the following themes:

Alternative technology versus appropriate technology
Pragmatism and technology choice
The philosophies and practices of hacking technologies
Activist cultures and the proprietary web
Digital privacy and security breaches and errors
Uncovering and exposing technology vulnerabilities
Technology and e-waste
The philosophies of long/short term impact
Authenticity and evidence

Initial submissions should comprise 300 word abstracts and 60 word biographies, emailed to p.shea@qub.ac.uk and t.notley@uws.edu.au

References:

Tsing, A. 2005 Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

The Fibreculture Journal (http://fibreculturejournal.org/) is a peer reviewed international journal, associated with Open Humanities Press (http://openhumanitiespress.org/), that explores critical and speculative interventions in the debate and discussions concerning information and communication technologies and their policy frameworks, network cultures and their informational logic, new media forms and their deployment, and the possibilities of socio-technical invention and sustainability.