Monday, March 29, 2010

The heterogeneous text

The rise of the personalised screen view constitutes an interesting challenge to our definition of text. For most of the history of digital texts we have had the capacity to alter the size, the shape and often the order in which we read on screen. But the rise of socially interactive web spaces has led to the emergence of the heterogeneous text. By this I mean textual spaces like Facebook and Twitter in which what is seen on screen is dependent on who you are - your unique point of view. Of course there is some stability and uniformity at a general level of layout, but the particular configuration of status updates or tweets is dependent on who's in your social network. Although it would be possible to create two identical pages through a contrivance, your page is esentially your own. So even one space is textually heterogeneous, and of course has a level of instability dependent on the regularity of updates. The unique point of view is an interesting departure from one-to-many print texts and their web equivalents. In the latter the 'look' may vary, but the text retains a certain authority. My blog page looks slightly different in reduced view, through Safari, Firefox or Explorer, but the text has a certain integrity. In common with gaming and virtual worlds, SNS pages are by contrast, marked by point of view - and of course that can lead us to ask 'What is the text, then?' Too big a question for here, but we could perhaps look to a modified genre theory to give an account of this heterotextuality. As I say, in an SNS, the basic design or template clearly has certain fairly stable structural features. They help us to distinguish a Facebook page from, say, a Flickr page. The macrostructure needs to be fairly stable for exactly these reasons. When Facebook alters this, as it does from time to time, there are reactions - short run debates with an 'I liked it how it was, why did they have to change it' to 'this is better, much better tone' to them. But what about the smaller stuff, the bits of social meaning, the updates themselves? Here, Bakhtin's notion of micro-genres is helpful, because it helps us to identify the patterning inherent in individual updates...well potentially, anyway. I expect there's probably some born again linguist out there doing a PhD on the generic features of tweets as we ...speak! Good luck to them. For now I'm just pondering on how the heterotextual nature of digital texts is another facet of 'newness'.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mobile interstices

Dr Joolz has a good post on the Pew Internet Survey and some commentary on the wireless world. It strikes me that the real shift is happening in the world of mobile technology (at least here in the UK). The implications for social networking are very interesting - your friends are always with you until your battery dies OR until you delete them. So the virtual and the real are interwoven in new ways. You are present and you are not present; here and almost here; now and nearly now. All of these but in a perfectly ordinary, everyday sort of way. This is from the Horizon 2010 report: ‘Mobiles as a category have proven more interesting and more capable with each passing year, and continue to be a technology with new surprises. The mobile market today has nearly 4 billion subscribers, more than two-thirds of whom live in developing countries. Well over a billion new phones are produced each year, a flow of continuous enhancement and innovation that is unprecedented in modern times. The fastest-growing sales segment belongs to smart phones - which means that a massive and increasing number of people all over the world now own and use a computer that fits in their hand and is able to connect to the network wirelessly from virtually anywhere. Thousands of applications designed to support a wide range of tasks on virtually any smart-phone operating system are readily available, with more entering the market all the time. These mobile computing tools have become accepted aids in daily life, giving us on-the-go access to tools for business, video/audio capture and basic editing, sensing and measurement, geolocation, social networking, personal productivity, references, just-in-time learning - indeed, virtually anything that can be done on a desktop.’ My Masters students tell me how they are doing some of their coursework at the bus stop, in between meetings and so on. They can connect to their studies, to others in that particular affinity space, in the interstitial moments of their daily lives. Is that new, or is it new? I guess it's nearly new!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Restricted networks

Gergen describes social networks as being 'typically composed of persons who share a particular interest or category, who make their identity public, and participate in communication with others in the network' (2009:400) and so adds to the celebratory literature on SNSs by describing them as enriching relational processes and demonstrating an investment in 'inclusive participation.' But given that there's growing evidence that SNSs mostly thicken existing social ties - particularly with teens and young people - acting as an additive to face-to-face interaction, is the globalizing, emancipatory discourse about SNSs just another iteration of evangelical technologism? I've been reading this on socially excluded young adults and note that the authors conclude that although these people's social networks are very supportive, the sort of social capital embedded in them not only binds them but also traps them and closes down opportunities. Then, it begins to look as though those most likely to benefit from the affordances of SNSs already possess considerable social capital and maybe more adept at using them to secure further advantages. MacDonald et al's work does not look at SNSs, but I'm just putting two and two together.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pivotal point?

Flicking through duGay’s OU text 'Production of Culture/Cultures of Production' gives a great insight into fin de si├Ęcle media studies. I’m interested in the way in which the emphasis comes down heavily on cultural practices rather than texts, and this is particularly relevant with respect to yesterday’s ramblings. In fact there’s very little direct analysis of texts in the book. The closest thing is Gendron’s entertaining critique of Adorno which uses plenty of examples from doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll to problematise ‘On popular music’. The pivotal point, for Gendron, is the construction of meaning (and identity) as he talks about ‘a constant struggle at the meeting point of production and consumption between the evocation of entrenched codes and the insinuation of alternative meanings.’ (in duGay, 2002: 117). Leaving aside for the moment the blurring of production and consumption in some new media environments, this pivotal point easily generalises to a whole range of encounters with texts.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Decentring the text

The study of literacy has given pride of place to the text for much of its recent history. Whether in the social construction of meaning through the study of genre or in the shift in focus from the author's design to the role of the reader in literature, the central point of interest is still the text. The NLS perspective with its emphasis on how textual practices are embedded in social events has offered a richer understanding of how literacy works in everyday life, often describing events in which texts are more peripheral to action and interaction than in the more formal contexts of literacy education and literary study. Reflecting on this has made wonder what happens when we decentre the text in the description of literacy events. I imagine that this leaves us with situated interaction, the negotation of meaning, relationships with material objects and actions, and Discourse (in Gee's sense of the word). Two examples may serve to flesh this out a bit. In studying SNSs as a particularly topical site for digital literacy, my academic background predisposes me to examine the actual 'texture' of Facebook pages - features such as the organisational layout, their multimodality, the languages used, the interactive patterning and so on. But I find myself stepping back from that to gain a sense of what Facebook means to teens, what they are doing and what they think they are doing, and its significance in their lives. That's a subtle shift of emphasis which begins to reveal how the textual space has a leavening effect on friendships and wider social relationships. In a second example I imagine what a study of classroom literacy might look like if we turned our attention away from the text. Perhaps we would describe interactions differently - for example the configurations of adults and children in classroom spaces, their actions and activities around significant objects (boards, screens, paper, books and so on), the way they are positioned and the positions they adopt. Would we begin to see how literacy practices help to reify social relationships and suggest possible identity performances more clearly? I'm not suggesting that the attention given to the text is wrong or misguided but just considering how shifting our gaze may bring other things into sharper focus.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I had such a busy week last week that I've spent most of this one catching up! Last week I extended my vocabulary to include 'ganking', 'twinking', as well as learning the subtleties of the use of 'dry' (see here) and 'bait'. I also learnt what 'fubared' (or furbied) means ... although it doesn't happen to me very much these days and won't appear on my status. And of course I spent Saturday morning in SL at the VWBPE conference which was a gas. What's wrong with a short post anyway?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friending on Facebook

Listening to insiders talking about Facebook I was struck by all the etiquette around friending behaviours in SNSs. For example, ending a relationship is a complex matter. If the simplest solution is just to delete someone, then what about mutual friends? In life-without-SNSs this is always a tricky matter, but Facebook seems to speed the process up and add another layer of complexity. Similarly you may just delete someone you no longer trust. But then what if you bump into them by accident in RL? So I heard the other day how 'I couldn't look his friend in the face because I'd deleted him'! And then, of course there's the whole process of adding which is equally complex. Leaving aside, for the moment, the idea of adding everybody and anybody to gank up your popularity, the more discerning user wouldn't 'Add a random'. So who is a friend? A friend of a friend, for instance? Or an old friend who has since become an acquaintance? I get the impression that the whole notion of friendship (already a rather fuzzy concept) is being redefined. It's also interesting to hear about who's popular in different social networks. I have 2 examples. Firstly the DJ who's 'on all the time' and throws out questions as bait. 'Most TV adverts are really dry. What's your favourite TV ad?' And in a short space of time everyone has something to say! Another crowd-pleaser is the road-rage driver who regularly reports on his driving exploits around London. The language is rich: the other motorists always in the wrong. It's a performance that has an audience in mind, and attracts both sympathisers and counsellors. Antway, that's all for now must 'go' to VWBPE to give my talk!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Seminar 4 already!

I can't believe we're on to Seminar 4 in the ESRC series already! Here's the programme!

March of the Penguins

Anna Peachey, Open University

This presentation focuses on the Disney-owned virtual world Club Penguin. Club Penguin is an international exemplar for internet safety in massively multiplayer environments targeted at children (6-14), making it a popular choice for parents wanting to support their children's participation in online game play and early social networking. However ‘safety' in this instance is based on constructs of credentials, and critics suggest that parents should be more concerned about the subliminal learning that is mediated by and within this highly sophisticated environment. The presentation will explore how playing in Club Penguin helps to develop digital literacy skills in young people, and consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a Penguin.

Learning practice in social worlds

Diane Carr, Andrew Burn

London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London

This paper is about how and what people learn in two different online worlds. Initially we report on learning practices in the massively multiplayer online role playing game, World of Warcraft. WoW is a game. It has goals, rewards, missions and conditional progression. It might be said to offer a curriculum of sorts. It does not follow that expertise is attained or assessed in predictable ways by its players. Attention then turns to Second Life, an online social world. We focus on a particular community (machinima makers) in order to explore competence, expertise and literacy in this context.

Online discussion

Catherine Beavis, Deakin University, Australia.

Being him rather than the puppet master: boys, being, gaming and literacies

Alex Kendall, University of Wolverhampton

Drawing on evidence from a qualitative study, Just Gaming , of young men's ‘talk' about the categories of gaming, reading and viewing this paper explores the ways boundaries are constructed, insulated and transgressed by participants for different performance contexts and audiences. Attention is paid to the opportunities for the frivolous, in the serious Maclurian sense, kinds of playing at being that on-line and off-line gaming seems to offer young men particularly in contrast to their own accounts of a wider range of literacy practices, most especially those contextualised by institutionalised practices of school or college. Towards a conclusion Maclure's notion of the ‘baroque' is evoked to consider what new kinds of pedagogical narratives might be called for if education is to successfully enable young people to (re)read the “textualized stories of their lives” (Kehler and Grieg 2005:367).


Saturday, March 06, 2010

What's on your mind?

I think SNSs are under-theorised. So as I turn my attention to some of the data collected last year on teens' social networking, here's some first thoughts on the big F.....I'm suggesting that Facebook provides contexts for the social construction of relational meaning. An individual personalised profile page resources and constrains this social construction in the way in which it presents multiple invitations and a limited set of opportunities. If we take the view that identity is always dialogic and performed in relation to the other, then there is a sense in which you are called into being by your profile page. Here the process of interpellation, used by Butler (1997:5)and drawn from Althusser (1971) is helpful. Interpellation is mobilised by Butler to illustrate how people accept and internalise social relations and norms. On Facebook the busy screen that updates you on activity in your social network already positions you, but the site's prompting question 'What's on your mind?' hails you into being as a particular kind of subject, to use Butler's expression. In this process of interpellation you enter into a universe of textualized selves in which your own self-narrative is developed, modified and repeatedly performed in relation to others. Social relations and friendships are rehearsed and more or less publically enacted in a heavily mediated environment. But of course this environment intersects in complex ways with life outside Facebook - life in what we sometimes call the 'everyday world', in which freindships are also enacted, but also in life in other mediated environments and life as experienced in relation to other popular narratives.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

One thousand posts

I missed the exact day of my blog's sixth anniversary but this is officially the THOUSANDTH POST! So that's an occasion for some reflection on the what and why of blogging. Thinking back to the start, I was intrigued by publishing on the web. I'd done a few courses on web design, but it all seemed far too complicated, so when I came across the blog concept in late 2003 I was keen to give it a go. Pretty soon after I'd published my first posts Colin and Michele found my blog and I was dragged rather unceremoniously into what people were beginning to call the blogosphere. That spurred me on a bit, and realising that my blog might actually be read by others made me try a little harder to do something sensible for a change. So most of the time in the early days I'd use the blog to collect links to all sorts of quirky websites that I discovered in my surfing life. Colin and Michele wrote about it once and described it as wunderkammer. At the time I didn't know what that was but it sounded all right; now I do and it sounds even better. That was a fun time. Later on colleagues like Dr Joolz caught the blogging bug and soon there were several groups of academics connected to new/digital literacies who were posting stuff. That was an era of much commenting and encouragement! Some carried on, some fell by the wayside amd some became intermittent bloggers. As time went on my blog became more focused around the issues now on the header - education, new media and literacy - but I always allowed for the possibility of adding anything random that appealed. Over time its become an important way of processing what I do in my academic life, in my writing and in my research. I'm recording what's on top for me each day. Sometimes these shards of writing get absorbed into stuff that gets published; on other occasions I'll include off-cuts and often there will just be random thoughts or half-digested bits from what I'm reading. It's a way of working that suits me. At the same time I try and keep what I'm reading, listening to and watching up on the sidebar and from time to time I update the links (but that's now overdue). I don't think I really believe in blogging as a genre. I get the point, but there's so much variation in blogs it's hard to pin down. I'm not that keen on the concept of the blogosphere now either. I work across more static websites, Twitter, Flickr and a number of VLE blogs and wikis. That's the sort of circulation around my posts. I suppose I must have an 'ideal' or 'imagined' reader, but most of the time I'm motivated by doing it for me. I'm always surprised, maybe flattered when someone says 'I read your blog', but quite early on I removed the site counter because it annoyed me. Mostly my blog is work/interest related. I know family members and non-work friends sometimes read it, but I get the sense that they're not particularly drawn to it. Performance? Why, of course, there's a performance of the academic self. I'm happy with that. And, yes, there's so much to write about this topic - and lots that I haven't written about..... but one of my conventions is to keep it fairly brief, and I feel like I've already exceeded my average length. Maybe some linguistically orientated student of blogging could do a mean length of utterance!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Self accounting

A couple of quotes from Butler that have set me thinking: 'I come into being as a reflexive subject in the context of establishing a narrative account of myself when I am spoken to by someone and prompted to address myself to the one who addresses me.' (2005:15) and 'An account of oneself is always given to another, whether conjured or existing....the very terms by which we give an account, by which we make ourselves intelligible to ourselves are not of our making. They are social in character, and they establish social norms, a domain of unfreedom and substitutability within which our 'singular' stories are told.' (2005:21). So our individual identity is the product of social interaction, is confirmed through recognition and framed through similarity and difference. I guess that's what I mean when I say identity is relational. Work in progress....

Monday, March 01, 2010

This week last week

Last week was one of those characterised by a flurry of activity. The DIY media book was published, my piece on online social networking came in final proof form, and Scholastic published the re-vamped curriculum materials on Sci-Fi writing 7-9 (see pic). That was a demanding little project, but it kept me distracted during a difficult personal time. I also had an interesting chat last Thursday with Lyndsay from Future Lab about what participation, and in particular digital participation, might mean or might look like. There’s certainly more thinking to be done in that area. As well as all that, I expanded my technical vocabulary which now includes the wonderful term exertion interface which pretty much sums up Wii activity.