Friday, June 27, 2008

Writing/not writing


PewInternet have made a headline out of an observation that I've been making on and off for the last seven years: Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their emails, instant and text messages as writing. The comment is drawn from work with 8 focus groups in 4 US cities and a telephone survey of 700 parent/child pairs. You can download the whole report here or look at the IRA blog headlines here. The bottom line is that teenagers' lives are text-rich, but because their writing is embedded in their social interactions, and because the technology is therefore rendered invisible, they don't think they're writing - just communicating. The survey headlines show that 85% of the 12-17 year olds were using e-communication, but that 60% of them didn't consider it to be writing. There's an obvious gap, then, between literacy in their everyday lives and schooled literacy, and the survey does suggest that: educational institutions know they must review what constitutes effective institutional practice (2008:3) in writing. But do they? I would argue that the dominant view, at least in the UK, is that e-communication is undermining or even contaminating standards of academic writing. Could it be, though, that social uses of e-communication are simply more compelling than school literacy practices? In the light of this, I was interested to learn what the teenagers in the survey said would improve their writing. Over three quarters felt that if schools used more computer-based writing tools, their work would improve. That's not surprising, but still good to hear. Similarly, in overviewing everday writing in out-of-school contexts, there's nothing new: Effective communication, self-expression and self-presentation, and social connection are among the prime motivations behind the writing teens do in blogs, social network posts, emails and instant and text messages (2008:62).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bringing back Bakhtin

I’ve been going on about the power of dialogic reflection for some time now, without really thinking it through properly. In my university teaching I’ve been trying to develop learning spaces that promote reflection. There’s this work on connected learning spaces that attempts to make sense of how dialogue in virtual spaces can help (I like the idea of learning ecosystems), and this article is quite helpful in this respect. But Rupert Wegerif’s piece in the current edition of BERJ is very helpful, both in reminding me of what has influenced my own thinking, and also in doing a really good job of separating out the ideas of Vygotsky from those of Bakhtin.... and in so doing bringing back Bakhtin.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Virtually the same question

With the virtual world phenomenon I keep on coming back to the same question: how does online avatar-based interaction change our sense of who we are and how we relate to others? And that’s essentially a question about identity. The more I think about this, the less comfortable I feel with both the Giddens idea of the ongoing narrative of the self and the Goffman thing about identity performance. Both imply an essential self and neither really account for how identity is differently structured and formed (re-formed) in contextualised interactions. In this passage, from Issue 100 of Granta, Salman Rushdie seems to capture how identity as a discursive practice is subject to social and historical forces: As Popeye the Sailor Man so succinctly put it, I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam. These days, however, we have a slipperier, more fragmented sense of what character actually is. We argue a good deal about how much of our behaviour is externally determined and how much comes from within. We are by no means certain of the existence of a soul, and we know that we are very different people in different circumstances: we are one way with our families and another way in the workplace. We are more fluid and metamorphic than our forefathers believed they were; we know that within the ‘I’ there is a bustling crowd of different ‘I’s jostling for space, coming to the fore, being pushed back again, growing, shrinking, even disappearing entirely, while new ‘I’s grow. We can change, in the course of a life, so profoundly that we no longer recognise our younger selves [...]the nature of the self and the extent to which it determines our actions are more problematic subjects than they used to be. (Heraclitus - Rushdie in: Granta Winter 2007)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cue music

Brown Eyes 1
Technology has a key role to play in the history of music performance, recording and distribution. Within our own lifetime we have seen a massive expansion of radio-based music broadcasting (including the rather troubled emergence of the DAB format), rapid changes in music storage (from vinyl and reel-to-reel tape and on to eight-track, audio cassettes, mini disks, CDs and MP3 files) and changes in how live music is produced. All these changes have contributed to new ways of hearing music, and have transformed the role that music plays in our lives. Listening to our favourite tunes on an MP3 player or mobile phone allows us to take our music with us and this compares rather unfavourably to the idea of lugging a carrier-bag full of vinyl LPs around with us to share with our friends! It's an aspect of networked individualism - our music is delivered to us regardless of place, it has become highly portable. And so I think the way we use music in our everyday lives has had a sort of backwash effect on how we view live performance.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Worlds apart

at SP 4
I’ve been trying to compile a useful list of virtual worlds for children. I hear a total of 150 mentioned, but I’ve found it tricky to get past 10. This blog gives a listing(for youth, boomers, retired and beyond (that’s probably the dwellers in the great virtual world in the sky!). So in no particular order here is stardoll, and then moshimonsters, and then goaudition, and then nicktropolis, and clubpenguin (of course!). Then there’s buildabear, and mytinyplanet (ah!), not to mention chamberofchat, and whyville. Of course we won’t forget webkinz or weeworld or the rather different gaiaonline. And if you’re thinking that I’ve just done this to make up for not linking in my last two posts, you’re wrong. I guess the really useful thing would be to include a commentary on each virtual world. Well, I hope to do that later, with a little help from my friends!

Monday, June 16, 2008


It was great to get some fan mail from Islamabad, today! But more seriously it illustrates the power and potential of blogging. I quote, i have had great fun reading your vedana site on a weekly basis - as not much educational talk happens in staffrooms! and being overseas we dont have as much exposure to courses and training, so people plod on doing their own work and not discussing or scrutinising the education they provide....and so on. Thank you!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Flickr writing

In writing about Flickr, I have become more aware of its sophisticated design. Decisions about levels of participation are placed firmly in the hands of the user. At the most basic entry level, you can simply use Flickr as a private online archive of photographs. There is no pressure or obligation to do any more than this. However, images that are public on a photostream soon begin to attract some interest, particularly if they are seen as interesting by others and even more so if they are carefully titled and tagged. Others in the Flickr community may leave a comment or invite you to be a contact. But again you are free to accept or decline as you build up your list of contacts. There is no pushing or poking. You are in control of your level of particpation from the very onset. That's what distinguishes Flickr as a quality social networking site.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Yes it is (I think)
Copyright laws are supposed to protect property and income. But with the increasing number of ways that you can copy and disseminate material in new media they’re becoming harder and harder to enforce. Is the media future unregulated, or should it be regulated by users rather than owners? Project YouTomb monitors alleged copyright infringement on YouTube by looking at the videos that get taken down. I think it's interesting that YouTube owners are not as concerned about appropriacy and ethics as they are about getting sued (see this post). Not surprising, really. If you want to read more about YouTomb read the Henry Jenkins commentary.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


five and twenty two
I was pleased to see that all the presentations from the Children in Virtual Worlds conference at the University of Westminster are now up – that’s a useful resource that I'll be referring to I'm sure. I’ve also been looking for a good virtual world review site, but since the demise of this one , not updated since 2006, there’s nothing. However, I did come across this site that provides a useful overview of references to virtual worlds in the Byron Report. And, of course, as one does I also found a report that I missed this from last August’s Guardian!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Research Day

clematis again
At the faculty research day we did an interdisciplinary symposium on 'Identity and personal development: the place of electronically-mediated relationships in academic and social life' . Four key themes came out of our various studies of SNS and professional dialogue. They were the salience of identity - particularly the idea of performativity and the person in dialogue; the interweaving of different kinds of online and online space; issues of trust and emotional closeness in the development of social networks; and the different kinds of learning (learning about oneself, each other, about stuff and about academic/ professional knowledge) that can take place.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Flickr reflections

ukulele renaissance
Writing about photosharing is helping me to think more clearly about the Flickr experience. One thing that I realise is that I've built up a lot of knowledge about how Flickr works over a period of time. It has been an incremental approach in which I've learnt just what I need to know when I need to know it. Another thing I've realised is that the intelligent way in which it is structured leaves you in control of your own level of use. It's a very different experience to entering the somewhat anarchic world of YouTube. And finally, when you compare Flickr photosharing with blogging, you realise the difference in social interaction. Flickr allows for comments, notes, tagging and mail - so there are multiple options. By way of contrast, blogs will only display comments (and these are often hidden away). In Flickr they're right up there next to your picture. Blogging is much more about having your place on the net, personalising your page and performing your identity. Although you have your own portal in Flickr it looks more or less the same as someone else's. That seems to create the feel of a more continuous shared space.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Image as social object

more rain
I'm currently writing about Flickr, and just wanted an excuse to rehearse Engestrom's idea about social objects. In the case of Flickr, the social object is the digital photograph; for Amazon it is the book, and for YouTube, the video. The social object is the focus of user generated content and the resultant interaction that takes place. As objects become of particular interest to individuals, then a social network can develop around them. This is not particularly different to the formation of traditional interest groups - apart from in two aspects. Firstly, because the interaction is online, social networks are often dispersed (time and location are no obstacles to communication), and secondly, because social networking sites allow for varying degrees of engagement, they lend themselves to lightweight engagement and multiple group membership. The idea of the social object not only allows us to predict the likely success of a Web 2.0 app, but also helps us to provide an account for how networking gets organised. Interestingly, though, when pre-existing networks exist, such as friends and family on Flickr, the social tie is primary and the social object secondary.