Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Always with camera

Hannah and Amy
Here’s Hannah and her flatmate Amy who came up to visit last weekend. They’re very polite and wait until us old-timers start falling asleep before they turn on the laptops to start instant messaging and updating their MySpace. At other times they’re more discreet, maintaining their networks with text messaging (it’s less intrusive). I was interested to read in this report on how text messaging is taking off in China – the report suggests that it appeals because it is ‘short, fast and conversational’. We need to know more!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Here’s a clip of Mongolian c-walking. C-walking (short for clown-walking or crip-walking) is a worldwide phenomenon, drawing on combinations of dance moves, like moonwalking, with plenty of inventive transitions. I’m not sure how Mongolian this c-walking really is, but I am struck by the multimodal nature of the performance. The music is a central feature, but also note the dress style and the graffiti backdrop – and the occasional floating in of written text. Hip-hop and a bit more edge than Michael Flatley, I think.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Seen from above

I remember a few years ago taking a good friend to see a unicursal turf maze I’d recently found out about. It was on a beautiful hilltop overlooking the southern sweep of the Humber estuary. We talked about reading the landscape as a palimpsest – the shadows of history marking its surface – just the same term that was used in the years between the wars by the early aerial photographers who contributed so much to our knowledge of archaeology. I’ve just been reading Kitty Hauser’s fascinating account of the life eccentric aerial mapper O.S.G. Crawford, whose interest was nurtured on reconnaissance flights over the Somme. I was struck by the way we see things differently from different perspectives – obviously flying over the landscape was still fairly novel in Crawford’s time – but also, in times of war, you are looking for different information in the landscape. Later, Crawford's colleagues exploited the opportunities offered by new technologies in quite daring ways. Major George Allen, for example, would fly solo with a specially designed aluminium camera. When the time came for aerial photography he would fly hands-off leaning out of the window to take his snaps! When I saw this last week about militants in Gaza using Google Earth to access secure information, I was reminded again of the co-incidence of technology and warfare. “It is not the first time that Google has been accused of unwittingly abetting the activities of militant groups or terrorist organizations” Guardian reporter Clancy Chassay points out. Information is only information – it’s only in times of conflict that it becomes dangerous.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


liquid lunch
You always get interesting stuff on the Digital Ethnography blog, and a recent post profiles ‘the student of today’. I didn’t read much here about gameplay, but you do see plenty about the diversification of literacy practices. For more specific work on gaming there’s the online journal Loading and the upcoming conference announced by Colin and Michele here - whereas in today’s Guardian, Alex Krotoski considers whether the dialogue between gamers and academics is actually taking us anywhere.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Will Self is a middle-aged flaneur. He sometimes calls his art psychogeography, but whatever the label, he’s a self-confessed twilight rambler. I listened to his confessions here last night, but you can read an account of his ramblings in this article too. He name-checks a number of luminaries including Guy Debord, but not, interestingly enough, Flaubert. At least he’s big enough to own up to the fact that Iain Sinclair is the contemporary expert in the field – and his psychogeography gets almost mystical!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Games people play

This video made me laugh because it came up as being about women gamers and the first two segments are so male-orientated that I thought it was a joke. Anyway there’s an interesting bit at the end. And over here there’s a blogger giving a warm reception to the Byron Review, particularly praising the inclusiveness of the consultation. Further on there are more comments on the ‘media violence’, but nothing really unexpected.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Where I'm coming from

Autumn walk
Social networking sites provide rich examples of what Giddens describes as the ‘trajectory of the self’. My daughter, Emma describes how Friends Re-United never did anything for her, and MySpace was ‘too young’ whilst Facebook, not only thickens her existing social ties but also networks her with old acquaitances – friends who have moved abroad, people she knew at school and so on. This, she explains, 're-defines who you are' and ‘how far you’ve come’. As Giddens says: ‘The trajectory of the self has a coherence that derives from an awareness of the various phases of the lifespan. (1991:75). Interestingly, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook (interviewed here) says: ‘We're talking about the set of connections that everyone has in real life. All we're trying to do is take those connections and map it out. Once we have an accurate model, we can help people to share their information more effectively. But it's going to take 30 years – or at least tens of years – before this becomes a really mature platform.’ You can view this project as an attempt to establish personalization through commodified experience resolving one of Giddens’ dilemmas of the self. An ambitious project (...and I’m not on Facebook, yet).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

That's OK

more graffiti
I’ve watched this writing on the wall growing over the last few days. I’m not sure whether you can say that the crane is a writing tool, but it looks like it. Each letter is about 3 feet high and mistakes need to be avoided at all costs. The poem (by Andrew Motion) is part of the Sheffield’s ‘Off the Shelf’ festival. Despite being a kind of writing on the wall that could offend some, it couldn’t be described as graffiti because it’s officially sanctioned – a privileged writer works with full permission (no danger of a court case here).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Hot metal
Looking at the Byron review, one of the key questions is “What are the benefits and opportunities that new technologies offer for children, young people, their families, society and the economy?” well that’s OK for starters and there’s plenty to say on that topic. But really it’s all about risk, and that’s tricky…. You can’t argue that there’s no risk involved for children and young people surfing the net any more than you can argue that there’s no risk in going to the local park. More important though is gauging the scale of the risk, and educating children and parents to be aware of risks. One of the problems that a number of us have reported on is the way in which schools (and school authorities) become so pre-occupied with internet safety that their students rarely get beyond the walled gardens that are so heavily protected by filters and firewalls. Well the worry is understandable, but if school environments are so heavily policed don’t we end up severely limiting children’s explorations of the internet? Then we filter out most of the best stuff along with the worst stuff and deprive them of the opportunity to choose sensibly. I also think we need to think more clearly about what we mean by risk – exposure to violence is one so-called risk factor which always gets cited. But don’t we all really know that the history of narrative shows our on-going fascination for fictionalized violence? On that note, here’s Henry Jenkins getting to grips with the concept of ‘media violence’ - pretty convincing.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Don't panic

we electric
The government is clearly worried about vulnerable technosubjects. The DCFS has commissioned the Byron Review to look into “the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games.” I 'll be featuring comments on this over the next few weeks and linking to the views of other bloggers – one would hope that this isn’t just about moral panic. Meanwhile, the Primary Review suggests that young children are stressed out – mostly about government tests, but to be fair about other things, too. Sue Palmer manages to get toxic in this report (it’s all down to screen-based entertainment, of course) although Robin Alexander, the director of the review presents a more balanced picture.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

On blogs

old sticker
There’s a lot of change in my life at the moment, moving offices, moving house (and more, too). So I find myself very pressed for time and leaving a few more spaces between posts than normal. When Dr Joolz writes about blog guilt - we’ve been here before, I recall – that doesn’t quite accord with my feelings. Perhaps I feel more that I either just don’t have the time, in the way that Flaneuse describes, or that I’m not quite sure what I want to blog about (see Simply Clare). Now that last one’s interesting because I could just blog about having a busy day, or being completely cheesed off with timewasters, or unnecessary meetings, or...but I don’t. And this is because my posts have become more focused, my blog has morphed into a technology-education-literacy sort of thing – or to put it another way, I’ve gradually started using my blog to perform a particular identity. Dr Joolz and I dubbed this the ‘hide and reveal’ phenomenon – in other words on days when I don’t really have something on technology-education-literacy, haven’t thought something, read something or visited somebody else’s blog, it’s harder to post (I hide rather then reveal).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

To text (v)

bright kids
There’s now quite compelling evidence to suggest that British mobile phone owners just love to text. Even though mobile phone ownership isn’t particularly high (as compared for instance to Spain) this is the place for SMS. So why are we so into our mobile phones – why is it such a British thing to text? A new survey makes some interesting observations about presence and connectivity, but still doesn’t come up with clear answers. Meanwhile this article from the US argues that ‘the proliferation of writing, in all its harried, hasty forms, has actually created a generation more adept with the written word’ and goes on to suggest that texting may help to boost standards in literacy. At last, the voice of reason – texting is writing and writing is literacy! But back to the safety of statistics - many Koreans own 4 (or more) phones and owning up to 14 isn’t unknown. Knowing which one to ring or pick up could be quite a problem.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Over there

The Fourth Annual Web 2.0 Conference kicks off in San Francisco next week. The line-up of speakers is impressive and the uniting concept (‘Where are we most stimulated? At the web’s edge.’) is exciting to say the least. As with last year’s conference, expect podcasts and video clips to become available. The site also provides a link to O’Reilly’s thoughts on defining Web 2.0. (here). Like many other academics, I’ll be more or less chained to my desk in this intensely busy time of year. Working up a CPD wiki (C-pedia) is about the closest I’ll get to the web’s edge for a while. Blog on!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Trouser ban

We live in a very visual age – one in which we are regularly photographed, captured on film or CCTV. We publish photographs and moving images of ourselves on the web and are immersed in a media environment which repeatedly shows other human subjects (as objects). In contemporary culture we see more representations of ourselves and others than in previous times. As a result we have become very aware of our appearance, how we look to others, how we dress and how we move – and of course commerce has exploited this new market. We spend more on how we look than ever before - we decorate and surgically alter our bodies. What we wear becomes a statement of who we are, and we feel uncomfortable with a particular group it’s the clothing that gets targeted – whether that’s hoodies, hijabs or big trousers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Is it a blog?

Another world
I’ve commented before about using blogs in a VLE: but are they really blogs? and is it really a VLE? Take the second question first – if your platform is about distributing information, making announcements, providing resources, and allowing a small area for controlled discussion, it’s really little more than an electronic noticeboard with clear lines of authority – not exactly a learning environment. So when that environment has blogs (or wikis) in it that’s not very Web 2.0. The blog function just allows the learner to publish dated posts – you can’t tag or personalise your page, although you can do links and include rich media. So it offers quite a bit more learner autonomy than a discussion board, but it’s still highly constrained. Back in 2005 people were trying to define what a blog really is, but now we know there are as many varieties (or sub-genres) as we try and imagine. For this course I’m teaching I’m thinking of the VLE blogs and wikis as a sandbox, in which learners can get used to some of the functions and try out that way of writing. In the second semester they can go out into the wide world using ‘real’ blog and wiki tools – this seems to me to be a reasonable sort of journey to take.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

About Ruth

Sometimes I wish it was punk or Pink, thrash metal or breakbeats, but anyway this is Ruth (in the middle), doing her thing with Brown Eyes Blue. I went out to get a 2Gb expansion card for my PDA so I could watch her at work, and on the move, only to find it only takes 1Gb – how sad is that? And here, Sigrid shows these beautiful forms that are made of sheet metal filled with sand. It looks like writing, but it’s not!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting ordinary

I’ve been watching Jackie’s catalogue of virtual worlds for young children as it grows and grows. It’s interesting - and somewhat worrying – that these worlds just reproduce (and sometimes amplify) features of the actual world. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. After all the same mindsets, the same commercial and educational interests are at play. We may “end up regarding the virtual world as a place no more special than the real world.” according to Richard Bartles. Richard (who was a MUD pioneer) was interviewed by the Guardian in the summer. It’s a bit of a downbeat message for someone who’s quite excited by what virtual worlds could do, but he suggests that: “So many people will encounter virtual worlds early (when they are children) and so many compromises will have to be made to attract a mainstream audience that I can easily see virtual worlds losing much of their soul, so that in 20 years from now people will wonder what it was about these things that people ever found so compelling.” Read the rest here.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Here’s Ruth’s trio, Brown Eyes Blue, from last night (Ruth’s the one in the middle). I commented here about academic blogging and the birth of the academic/researcher/journalist hybrid – here’s an example, Constance Steinkuehler’s blog on MMO gameplay and associated literacy practices. It’s statement of purpose says it all: ‘This site has been created so that we might be able to share our research findings more quickly and efficiently with a broader audience than academic print journals sometimes allow.’