Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Social ties

I've been investigating what it's like to keep up with my friends in what Mimi Ito describes as lightweight contact. Using mobile messaging and microblogging you end up with some rather portable friends who are doing their own thing in ways which interweave with your own everyday activities. As in more traditional forms of networking there seems to be an fluidity and an aggregation of communication, and something more substantial may emerge from that. I guess that's the sense in this post about the social web. Twitter's microblogging service, like Facebook prompts you to talk about the everyday in terms of what you are doing, giving you a semantic frame. But this is easy to subvert as friends tweet about the sites they're looking at, the projects they have in mind, and their more abstract musings. In a way, I suppose, these too are kinds of doing; kinds of doing, or ways of knowing, that form social ties in the particular kinds of networks we are anchored to.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Participation and active consumption

Today this wonderful visual ethnography book arrived from Hong Kong, along with a beautiful card (thank you so much, Alice). It all played in so well with the James Farrer article that I mentioned in Friday's post, because the bar staff in Eric Ma and Ducky's work are using a public space to perform versions of a modern Chinese identity that recontextualise a global practice. The same happens in Farrer's account of the disco culture of Shanghai and elsehwere. Farrer's account is subtle in that it shows the stratification and differential participation that arises in the marketisation of China. There's also an interesting critique of Appadurai's notion of flows. Farrer argues that the metaphor implies that there are no obstacles or boundaries, whereas the disco work shows there are. What an interesting diversion!

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's not about anything really

Roots Manuva returns to school to rewrite his identity as someone who might just be described as an exponent of British conscious rap. There’s an intriguing bit at the end where Roots says 'That school gave me so much really. It’s not about.' And then the fade out, but you can just hear 'It’s not about anything really'. So after a whole day on Wednesday re-examining the resistance through rituals material (John Clarke was excellent), this could just be the postmodern response. Anoop Nayak however has a more sophisticated stance on youth, and an interest in the reworking of global narratives in local contexts. I must have been inspired because I went right off and looked up Farrer’s paper, Disco Super-Culture: Consuming Sex in the Chinese Disco, but I won’t be reading it till Saturday evening! Is that the kind of thing that professors do?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anticipated identities

Reading Karen Wohlwend's wonderfully-titled Damsels in Discourse in RRQ, I remain uneasy with the idea that identity positions are inscribed in material objects (such as toys). Yes, identity is born out of expressive practices such as play. We perform identity through play and the narratives of play are at least partially produced for us by wider discourses. But these narratives are not inscribed in the objects themselves.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Eyebrow meme

Parody, meme or both? I’m not quite sure which, but this is RinaKristia’s eyebrow dancing. The sisters’ version is arguably better than the original Cadbury’s chocolate version (here). Consumers of popular culture become producers of popular culture; but then making your own chocolate is a lot harder to pull off. So maybe that’s the deeper message that lies behind Colin and Michele’s coffee producing videos. Think about it!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dr Sheng

Jing Sheng's fascinating study of the literacy practices of Chinese migrants in the North of England adds to our understanding of how identity and literacy intersect in glocalised contexts. These telling stories show, for me, how identity is performed as well as called into being. Her research participants show and tell us how they use an array of cultural artefacts in multiple social networks to provide an account of themselves. To say much more would be to steal Jing's thunder, as I'm sure she is already making plans to publish. Jing is now working at Capital Normal University in Beijing. I hope her employers recognise her strengths. Can this, I wonder be read in China?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Inclement weather held me captive in my own home last week and scheduled teaching was rerouted as we hurriedly decamped into cyberspace. And that was my first experience of Elluminate which kept me engaged for a good three hours. Apart from showing a screen that looks a bit like a primitive softsynth, I was impressed by the way that it integrates a number of modes of communication. Having said that I think I prefer the illusion of embodiment that virtual worlds can provide. You also get loads of that Eurovision Song Contest stuff: I can hear you, can you hear me? No we can see you but we can't hear you, how about everyone else? No, I've just lost you. And so the medium ends up blanking out the message. But, if and when that's all sorted, and you're in a shared communicative space, it must be possible, at least possible, to learn ,assuming the design is reasonably all right. What excites me is that the participants are distributed and the immediate presence of the institution is erased. The learning is not location specific and the communication is person to person and sometimes many to many. Sounds OK. Let's see how it goes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Developing your apps

With the wildfire spread of Facebook, the idea of getting or running new apps has entered into everyday discourse. Developers have for a while realized that allowing people to create their own material can enrich the core product. Harnessing the creativity that has driven the open source movement has been important to the evolution of services like Flickr and Blogger. Although I've never met anybody who has devised a successful app, there must be plenty of them judging by the rapid innovation and dissemination of their hard work. So Apple made a smart move by allowing this kind of devlopment with the iphone. The very cheap ocarina app by smule is a classic example. It turns your phone into a musical instrument. If that was all, you might say 'so what'; but by harnessing the phone's GPRS, you can listen to other ocarina playing on a global scale. I think that's both frivolous and deeply significant. Whatever will they come up with next?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Digital Provenance

In Spook Country, William Gibson talks about the connections being more important than the content. I don’t really pretend to understand what he’s getting at although I am struck by the resonance with social rather than informational technology. But it did occur to me that digital artefacts do make some interesting crossings. Take the picture of Ruth I posted before. It’s a self-shot taken on her Blackberry and sent to me through messenger. I bluetoothed it from my phone on to my laptop, and uploaded it to Flickr. Next day I posted it in my blog and there it is, each time re-contextualised and there, ready to be changed again. Replay and remix are not, as we know, particularly new but they are certainly more commonplace in new technology.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Ruth patient

I quite often get people saying that they appreciate the way in which I post daily. Thanks, if you are amongst that number! The only trouble with that is that I feel that I might need to apologise when I don’t. Actually I often miss and I never apologise. But this week seems different. On Tuesday my mother was taken ill and subsequently hospitalised and on Wednesday evening my daughter was knocked over in a hit and run in East London. Mother’s still not well, but Ruth (see picture) is on the mend. Not surprisingly then, there’s little else to report. OK, so I did see in Reading Today that they have some material on Web 2.0. I looked at the site, but I could only see this about wikis on protest songs .The times they are a changing: slowly.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


From time to time I really enjoy reading William Gibson. He always seems to capture the zeitgeist. In Spook Country, Bobby Chombo says ‘That’s something that tends to happen with new technologies generally: the most interesting applications turn up on the battlefield, or in a gallery’, and then ‘there isn’t any cyberspace, is there? There never was, if you want to look at it that way. It was a way we had of looking where we were headed, a direction.’ So true, so true. And then back in the real world you can read danah boyd’s doctoral study here not that I have been, but it’s nice to know I can - and that her ethnographic study of teenagers’ social networking also captures the zeitgeist.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Media storm

It’s been snowing for about four hours now, and the road outside is a slushy mess. For once the forecasters were right. They’ve been telling us since Friday that we’re in for Big Snow. We were so well warned that it changed our experience of Saturday and Sunday until it became a weekend of waiting for the snow. Still there’s something quite special about being snowbound in a place when it so rarely happens. I hope you get the picture, it’s Amy Winehouse (courtesy of Emma and Ruth).