Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SXSWi Panel Wrap-up: "Swarming Plato's Cave: Rethinking Digital Fantasies"

The video below is a version of the talk I gave at the 2010 SXSWi conference. I was part of the panel "Swarming Plato's Cave: Rethinking Digital Fantasies" (you can find out more info about the panel here as well as links and resources referenced by the panelists here).

Working off the panel's theme, I did a short presentation on techno-utopianism titled "The Fantasy of Perfect Communication."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Review: Haraway, "Cyborg Manifesto" (1985)

Haraway Reader coverI'm coming a little late to this text, but I found it to be a fascinating read. Originally published in 1985 in Socialist Review, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" initially sprang from a debate in feminist studies, but it quickly became the catalyst—at least in the humanities—for a new way of thinking about how the individual and society interact with machines. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort write in their introduction to the essay in The New Media Reader (n.b. page references below are from this version of the text),"Haraway's cyborg preference has led some readers into uninteresting interpretations, in which it is assumed that Haraway's project is an attack on radical feminists such as Mary Daly" (515). I'm not so sure that such interpretations would be "uninteresting" to feminist studies scholars, but their larger point—that the influence of Haraway's essay has outgrown it's feminist roots "and may indeed be the starting point for current progressive scholarship on science and technology" (515)—is well taken.

In the essay, Haraway argues that the focus on dualisms—between "mind and body, animal and machine, idealism and materialism" (519)—as the basis for progressive resistance to injustice was no longer useful. According to Haraway, "a slightly perverse shift of perspective might better enable us to contest for meanings, as well as for other forms of power and pleasure in technologically mediated societies" (519). That shift was to establish the cyborg as a mythos for this resistance. In the remainder of the essay, Haraway argues that since the "cyborg world" was free of these dualisms, it would be open to the possibility of being "about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints" (519).

What was most interesting to me about the essay was that Haraway defined the cyborg as not merely the combination of human and machine, although this is the most common popular use of the term. Instead, she claims that

a cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. (516)

While Haraway frequently refers to the combination of person and machine as defining the mythology of the cyborg, the crucial move she makes in the essay is to demonstrate how the processes of language have already made the cyborg a social reality. Of course, she writes, "modern medicine is…full of cyborgs, of couplings between organism and machine" (516), yet machines aren't only fashioned from cogs and gears, or circuits and switches. Society is a machine, as is language, and Haraway argues that social theory must take into account the degree to which our humanity is intertwined with physical and social tools, using the cyborg as the metaphor for understanding the connection.

A tree visualization of Haraway's use of "cyborg" in "Cyborg Manifesto"

One particular way in which we can see this connection between language, machine, and body is the trend in the sciences to translate everything into readable code. Haraway notes that "biology and evolutionary theory over the last two centuries have simultaneously produced modern organisms as objects of knowledge" (517) and that the technologies of communication and biological manipulation "are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies," for "communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move—the translation of the world into a problem of coding" (524). In other words, not only are we literally colonizing our bodies with machines, we compose them as texts as well, thereby rendering them more susceptible to refashioning through language.

The Human Genome Project and self-administered DNA tests are just a few of the examples of the ways in which "reading" the code of our bodies is changing the ways in which we think about ourselves. According to Haraway, language has played a crucial role in way in which

late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines (518)

while language—or "communications breakdown"—is the key to stress, the "privileged pathology" of the cyborg (524).

Haraway insists more than once that the cyborg isn't interested in history or looking backward. However, if we accept her conclusions about the role of language and other technologies in creating cyborgs, then we have to admit that we have always been cyborgs. Convincing evidence in the study of distributed cognition suggests that our cognitive functions are not contained solely in ourselves, but are rather spread throughout our environment, particularly in our tools. Language is one such tool, and Haraway's work suggests that language is always embodied. She writes that our "bodies are maps of power and identity" (534), and language has played a crucial role in the ways in which that power and identity is enacted.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vote for our SXSWi panel "Swarming Plato's Cave: Rethinking Digital Fantasies"

The SXSW 2010 panel picker went live today, so you can now vote for our panel, "Swarming Plato's Cave: Rethinking Digital Fantasies," to appear in the lineup for the Interactive Conference in March. If the panel is approved, I'll be speaking with Will Burdette (Twitter), Jim Brown (Twitter), Trish Roberts-Miller (Twitter), and Jillian Sayre (Twitter).

Here's the panel description from the SXSW site:

Technology has always been packaged with promises of better democracy, media, education, minds, and bodies. An intellectual tradition, from Plato onward, questions whether technology can actually deliver on these promises. Working from—and questioning—this tradition, we will examine how material technology is inextricable from fantasies of an ideal world.

If you're interested in the topic, click through to the SXSW site and vote for us.

"Social Media & Education" panel at THATCamp Austin

Last week I had the chance to attend THATCamp Austin, a regional spinoff of THATCamp at George Mason University.

I was able to attend two thought-provoking panel sessions, and I got to hear about a lot of interesting projects through the dork shorts presentations. You can read a lot about what happened by scanning through the archive of Twitter posts at TwapperKeeper.

I really enjoyed the unconference format. Instead of having the conference schedule determined by the conference organizers, the attendees voted on the proposals they wanted to see. One of these proposals suggested a discussion about the role of social media in educational practice. Below, I've posted some video from this session for those who weren't able to make it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Social media etiquette

A month or so ago I recorded an interview with the local Fox station on social media etiquette. The interview was a lot of fun, in that I got to talk about Twitter and Facebook with reporter Foti Kallergis and producer/cameraman Jacob.

Here’s a link to the story on the Fox 7 website, and I’ve embedded the full video below.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interactive Austin 2009

Yesterday I got to attend the morning sessions at the Interactive Austin conference. I was invited along with some other students at UT to blog and tweet about the conference, the theme of which was using social media tools and organization to improve enterprise profitability.

Because I had to leave early, I only had a chance to see the first two keynotes and one breakout session, but what I saw was interesting (here’s my tweetstream from the conference, via Twitter Search).

The highlight of my visit was Sam Lawrence’s keynote “No More Whip Cream on BS.” Although I don’t have much connection to enterprise business, I really enjoyed Lawrence’s presentation style. He presented a lot of what could have been really dry material quickly and entertainingly. I had my Flip cam with me and took some (shaky) video of the talk. Below is a clip from the first few minutes of his talk. The rest of my videos can be found here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The badge-holder method for keeping track of conference contacts

One of the primary reasons cited for going to conferences is that they are great places for professionals to network. You can meet new people with similar interests, and those people can be valuable contacts in your field. This is particularly the case in academia, where contacts are important for collaboration and research.

The only problem with this system, is that it sometimes can be difficult to manage. If you’re like me and have a problem with names, it can be difficult to find a person’s contact info when all you can remember is what they looked like and what they study. I used to come home from conferences, take out all the business cards I collected, and studiously enter them into my address book one-by-one, adding keywords--like the name of the conference or what the person studies--to make it easier to find them later.

But then I found a better way. Now, whenever I get someone’s business card, I immediately write on the back of the card why the owner and I traded cards--if I was supposed to send them information about a presentation, for example, or plan to meet them for coffee--and then I stick the card in the pouch holding my conference badge. I then keep my badges in my office (see the photo) and I instantly have a filing system keeping track of my conference contacts by conference with notes about each individual.

Of course this system is limited. I can only access it at home, and eventually I’m going to run out of doorknob space and will need to find a new place to keep them. But despite these limitations this system has so far worked surprisingly well. If I need to contact someone, all I need to do is remember the conference I met them at, then access my filing system to find their info.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Is Aristotle on Twitter?" panel wrap-up

Social Collider search for #aristotle
A visualization of messages referencing the #Aristotle hashtag on Twitter, created by Social Collider. The red lines in the center are the #Aristotle references. Click on the image for a high res version.

Thanks again to everyone who came to our SXSW panel, “Is Aristotle on Twitter?,” last Tuesday. The feedback from the crowd and online was very supportive, and the discussion was driven by some perceptive and interesting questions from the audience.

If you weren’t able to make it to the panel, there are a lot of ways you can catch up with it online. ZDNet posted a video of my discussion of arrangement,

while fellow panelist Will Burdette has posted audio of the entire session on his blog.

You can also find photos of the session here.

Update (Mar. 23, 2009): Panelist Jim Brown has posted a description of his talk on delivery on his blog, along with the accompanying video “Delivery: From Cicero to Beyonce.” Here’s part of the description from his post, along with the video:

I talked about how delivery in the history of rhetorical education dealt with using the body to make meaning. While Cicero thought that teaching delivery in the form of breathing exercises was kind of silly, this didn't stop teachers from showing students the mechanics of delivery. In 19th Century elocution models, such instruction meant that students were shown very specific ways to move their bodies. To bring this discussion to the present, I discussed Obama's delivery. But I also discussed Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video has an example of rhetorical education. All of Beyonce's students (those imitating her on YouTube) are learning to use their bodies to make meaning.

Update (June 1, 2009): I’ve posted a slightly longer version of my talk here.