Tag Archives: Standage

Class, Fri, 2/28

Going Meta (1): Twitter

Standage, Writing on the Wallromans-200x150

Fastwrite: Take us to a moment in a post by one of your classmates that particularly interests or provokes you. Then, take us to a moment in Standage’s text that helps us think about that post.

Going Meta (2): Interesting uses of audio

Affordances

“Qualities that permit specific kinds of uses” (Gladwell 2002). [pdf]

x3: Responding to Davidson (video)

YTD Downloader and iMovie

hqdefault

Creative Commons/CC Search

Rhett & Link: “Squirrel Rights Song” (2010)

 

Digital Essay

Allison Carr, “Cooking School,” Harlot, Carr Harlot 20122012.

To do

  1. Tues, 3/04, 4:00 pm: Read Davidson, pp. 1–161. Post x3 to this site.
  2. Thurs, 3/06, 4:00 pm: Read x3s. Post comments.
  3. Thurs, 3/06, 4:00 pm: Tweet to #685dw.
  4. Tues, 3/11, 4:00 pm: Post x4 to this site.

 

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Resharing is Caring

In his Journal entry for March 8, 2013, novelist Neil Gaiman chronicles his travels and talks briefly about the radio adaptation of his book Neverwhere (featuring the voice talents of James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, and Benedict Cumberbatch, among others). About halfway down the page, he writes, quite a propos of nothing: “Here is a photograph of Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays the angel Islington. Many of my friends strongly believe that photographs of Mr Cumberbatch and amusing photographs of kittens were what the internet was created for.” I remember reading that last sentence, being duly amused, and sharing it on my own Facebook page with an additional comment to the effect that Gaiman’s friends and I might get along.

This incident seems to resonate well with the ideas that Tom Standage brings up in “Poetry in Motion”  in Writing on the Wall. Standage remarks that “Then as now, people enjoy being able to articulate their interests and define themselves by selectively compiling and resharing content created by others. The mere act of sharing something can, in other words, be a form of self-expression.” (Standage 75-76). In my case, one might easily assume I enjoy Gaiman, Cumberbatch, and kittens (not necessarily in that order), even though I do have many other uses for the internet. Of course, much like the poems in the Devonshire Manuscript, it is assumed that all of our online writing and sharing—whether blogged, Facebooked, tweeted, Tumbled, and Instagrammed—is part of a constructed identity, even if that identity differs from poem to poem or account to account. In this age of everything-is-public,  I wonder if photographs of cats and British actors really the current equivalent of clandestinely circulated couplets and quips. If so, it seems there is much less at stake—quite literally in some of Standage’s examples (82-83)—and much less effort expended. Yet, can resharing “amusing photographs of kittens” really be just definitive an act of self-expression as writing an original composition? After all, both play into to curation of a circulated self.

My anecdote at the start of this post is fairly unremarkable—Gaiman and Cumberbatch make not infrequent appearances in my social media outlets and/or conversation—but in thinking about it again, I am struck by the implications of Gaiman’s choice of (social) media. As a professional writer, Gaiman’s is a personal and professional blog, a mix of reflection, self-promotion (both of himself and his wife, musician Amanda Palmer, so-called “geek royalty”), and things he himself is resharing from elsewhere. By reading it sporadically, am I part of the “court circle” of Gaiman fans, receiving and recirculating his witty missives? Does that group still count as a “coterie” (Standage 77) if it is available to the whole wide web?

Gaiman’s seemingly innocuous comment about the actor voicing one of Neverwhere’s main characters definitely endorses the radio production of the novel, but does so in a way seems to not only also promote Cumberbatch but induce a kind of media synethesia as well: those tuning in to the radio broadcast of Neverwhere are of course not seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as Islington, only hearing him (in this case, singing the Lyke-Wake Dirge).

Yet, by emphasizing the visual recognizability of the actor, Gaiman capitalizes on the fact that the readers of his blog might tune in for that reason if not for others. Interesting too is the fact that the photograph in question is no longer available on the blog, so it is uncertain which of the actor’s looks Gaiman might have chosen to reshare and what that in turn says about the original text in question—I myself have forgotten. Perhaps it was one of these:

2434194-otters-who-look-like-benedict-cumberbatch
Significant otters.

Nostalgia, Net Neutrality, and the Spanish Inquisition

I have a friend who just cares so much about injustice and oppression. On her Facebook feed, she often posts exposé-style articles about injustices and petitions to change this or that about the world. I love being connected to this friend, as she often makes me aware of issues that I didn’t even know were issues and exposes injustices, but sometimes she posts something before she has had time to look into it and her worry is Snopes-worthy.

One issue that she posted about a few weeks ago was that of net neutrality. At the time, I did not take this post very seriously, even though my philosopher was adamant that I should probably care about it. As I considered this issue further I realized that I really wanted to care, but I am also pretty sure that this nostalgic idealized internet-before-regulation never existed, just like Standage’s idealized coffee shops never existed.

[For the Colbert version of net neutrality, click here. The video is longer than one-minute, though, so you don’t need to watch it in order to understand my arguments].

Standage describes the coffee houses as “forums for free speech and the free exchange of ideas” (113). In his interpretation of them, people from all classes could come together and, you know, discuss things. The problem I have with this goes back to two things: (1) it is very clear to any researcher of the period that there was little class-mixing in these coffee houses and (2) even in Standage’s examples, people tended to visit the same coffee houses in which their particular communities (the scientific qua “Philosophical” community and the sailors’ communities were his examples) gathered consistently. People, as they do now, stuck to their familiar, comfortable communities.

And now the very mild Katie-version of the Spanish Inquisition, without torture, directed at Standage:

Now, my point here is not to lambast Stangage for his misrepresentation of historical events; after all, it is clear that he really wants to think of the coffee houses and their digital reflection (the internet) as a free and open world for all to join and share ideas. I applaud this enthusiasm. My problem is with the fact that the nostalgia and idealization of processes and events creates a cloud of ignorance about what philosophers call “the facts of the matter” or the things that we really know about these idealized “freedoms” and “democratizations.” These are the facts of the matter as I—with a political ideology which is currently influenced very deeply by G.A. Cohen, to put my cards on the table—see them:

Premise 1: As long as the processes which enable the internet are controlled by capitalistic enterprises, they will be trying to enact enough control over these processes so as to make as much money as possible.

Premise 2: Capitalism is not concerned with individual freedom and liberty; it only espouses such ideology in order to make money.

Premise 3: The elite in any society that does not value and defend equality are always looking to maintain control over information and content, as knowledge = power (hence the chapter on Luther and printing).

That said I am not convinced that the internet has ever been neutral, nor do I think that it will continue to serve as the beacon of liberty that Standage espouses. I am interested, though, to hear more of your thoughts on whether you believe the internet to be a really free space which enhances individual liberties.

reddit: The Virtual Coffeehouse

After finishing Writing on the Wall, my life’s new goal is to either locate or become the proprietor of a real-life coffeehouse that operates like the ones Standage describes in Chapter 6.  Whether or not they actually existed, the idea of an “egalitarian new intellectual space” (104) where all can exchange new knowledge in diverse fields and imbibe my favorite caffeinated beverage sounds like heaven on earth.  In the words of Liz Lemon:

Liz Lemon always knows what’s up.

Sadly, I can’t think of a single real-life commercial establishment that functions as such.  I have never in my life been in a chain or independent coffee retailer that fosters the actively social “speculative environment” of their predecessors; they are more often filled with people glued to their technology, books, or other distractions in an otherwise social and public place.

Where I do find those environments, or at least analogous cultural structures, is in the virtual world.  Like the alleged coffeehouses in the days of Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren, certain online communities function as networks driven by discussion and transactions that are based around knowledge sharing.   As the resident reddit enthusiast, I have to admit that upon reading the chapter on coffeehouses, the self-professed “front page of the internet” was the first comparable website that came to mind.

In June of 2012, redditor /u/Dapper77 described reddit as “a place friendly to thought, relationships, arguments, and to those that wish to challenge those genres.”  Subreddits, or topic/theme-based forums within the site, parallel the coffeehouses that developed a specific client base.  Like Jonathan’s, which drew seventeenth-century businessmen, /r/history attracts historians and history enthusiasts for questions, debate, and other content that is relevant to their interests.  The site has areas for users to talk about literally almost anything they can think of, and if a subreddit doesn’t exist, you can create it.  Best of all, it’s all free!

The diversity and availability of content options can mean different things for different people.  Personally, I like it for the opportunity to learn new things about any topic that strikes my interest.  Serial killers, suggestions for slowcooker recipes, adorable corgis, colorized historical images, and tips on skincare routines:  I can find information and communities immersed in each topic online.

Like the coffeehouses, most of our myriad social networking or information-sharing sites have been vilified as “distracting people and encouraging them to waste time sharing trivia with their friends when they ought to be doing useful work” (111).  At least with reddit, you’re (generally) learning something new, whether or not it is actually useful information.  Plus, the site hasn’t been overrun with irrelevant content such as ads and games, like the fictional “Friendface” from British Channel 4’s The IT Crowd.

While the environment of intellectual sharing and discussion is one of reddit’s strong points, there are certainly detracting factors.  For instance, there will always be people whose sole purpose in life seems to be posting responses that are rude, offensive, or generally irrelevant or irritating.  Often, these exchanges function like the one that Standage describes on pages 40 and 41, particularly the “comment thread” between Severus and Successus.

Additionally, instead of having face-to-face, real-time interaction, users are separated by time and space, which negates the socialization aspect that makes the idea of coffeehouses so attractive.  If you wanted to get really meta, you could go to a coffeehouse and use reddit from there!  As someone who is often most comfortable interacting with strangers through friendly, down-to-earth intellectual discussion, and assuming that they did actually exist, I look forward to the day when coffeehouses make a triumphant return!

Eating on the Wall

So I tend to go out to eat a lot, particularly when I end up back in Philadelphia (even if I’m there for only an hour and this is why). This is one of those central things my significant other and I agree upon, though I do sometimes frustrate her with my constant desire to eat a whole meal at literally any time of day.

As of the first paragraph, I’m actually doing that right now. For atmosphere, put this on in another tab, wait through the ad and the promo (because apparently noise can’t sell itself), and then come back. We can pretend to be in a coffeeshop together.

You done? Okay. Fiddle with the volume. I can wait. Ignore the sidebar–Youtube is trying to distract you with paid content.

All the time in the world here.
All the time in the world here.

Anyway, full disclosure: the S.O. uses Instagram (and no I don’t have the link to her profile). Her fascination with Instagram has made her a rather good photographer, doubtlessly in some small part due to a family tradition of taking artful pictures all the time. This practice extended to our frequent mealtimes, and created a ritual I have come to call Saying Hipster Grace. It this daily ritual, the adherents await the presentation of the meal, at which point the participants make a ritual ablution with their phones, where they aggressively rearrange the table to get all the food in frame and then use their cell phones to take a picture.

The food then begins to cool as they select filters and post to Instagram. A sigh of satisfaction signals the end of the ritual, as the picture uploads and the phone goes away.

My being rather agnostic about Saying Hipster Grace (I refuse to get baptized into Instagram, and just store pictures of good meals on my phone) is uncharacteristic and difficult to explain. In Standage’s terms, where we’re all Romans running down to the dock to get our mail (26), I’m the literate plebe that taught himself how to swim. I need data, all the time, and as many of you found out today, I’m constantly trying to keep my social media presence organized.

But I just won’t share my frankly spectacular meals on social media. Something about that just seems like oversharing, like Cicero tweeting from the restroom. And this makes me meditate on Standage’s assertions throughout Writing on the Wall that social media has, in some form, “been around for centuries” (250)–and I agree, it certainly has, even if sometimes his history chaffed the postcolonialist in me for being really traditional, Eurocentric and a bit self-fulfilling. But I can’t help but think that, as Standage himself notes, there’s something a little different this time around (239), something more pervasive, and more centralized (248).

My S.O.’s picture of cinnamon bun french toast from two days ago on Instagram was linked by 49 people in 4 hours, and by noon had been incorporated into the restaurant’s online marketing presence, all without her explicit permission. Like Cicero’s letters, she’s happy to have it reproduced and used (the dish was lovely, after all, and the attention is her gift to the restaurant), but unlike Cicero’s letters, her social media is being used for a pretty thoroughly centralized, wholly commercial end. This is Facebook Corporation via Instagram, not Cicero’s scribe, and breakfast ads don’t usually save the Roman Republic from ruin. Something is different here, but I’m not sure it’s just corporate centralization (one of Standage’s constant perils).

Super-Serious.
Super-Serious.

I take pictures of my best meals because I want to remember them, not to share them. I get the impression I’m carrying around a model of “what is important information” that Standage might attribute to the broadcast media age–that magically approved authorities like CNN (which constantly posts pictures of food) have a greater claim to talk about their lunch than I do. Sponsored results like the ones at the top right of the Youtube video I’m having you listen to, and the annoying voice-over at the beginning of the video, perpetuate this broadcast-privilege model of importance–the business that provides this service has more authority to sponsor or review than the average user, despite my profligate linking to things I like. Despite Standage’s closing note, I still feel like I have to “squeeze through the bottleneck of broadcast media” (250) despite not actually being dis-enabled from having that scale of web presence. This rebirth of social media is having some trouble shaking off its broadcast media phase, like a horrible Nazi-connected (202-203) puberty that has left its marks. That might be why a lot of people (and the language of twitter, with “followers”) imagine a me-as-central-broadcaster-to-audience model of social media, even though the constant desire for response and “likes” (and followers talking back) shows how this is different and interactional.

I guess, to declare my independence from broadcast-media thinking, I should take and post a picture of the cappuccino I was drinking in Elixr as I wrote that last paragraph, but I logged out the coffeeshop without logging in to take a picture.

The Many Sides of Tumblr: An Internet Coffee House

Resident Tumblr ambassador here, this time drawing a connection between Tom Standage’s discussion of coffee houses as centers of social media and Tumblr.

At first, I thought that Tumblr is more akin to the Devonshire manuscript (Standage 65). A post is “reblogged” across the site among users with varying degrees of anonymity that can add to it however they want (with images, audio, video, capitalizing, quoting and italicizing, quoting and bolding, quoting and italicizing and bolding…and capitalizing…). What intrigues me about Standage’s description of the coffee houses, however, is his observation that different coffee houses were the home of different subject areas: science, literature, law, sailing, and so on. It is this description that brought Tumblr to my brain as site users have “divided” the community similarly.

Tumblr science side(Source on Tumblr)

I see the “science side of tumblr” most frequently. (For a more scientific science side post, see: Shape Memory Alloy). Not being all that well-versed in science, I never know immediately whether the information is accurate (but there’s Wikipedia for that). All the same, users who want to find a funny, often irreverent, and generally speaking fairly accurate update on something to do with science can explore the science side tag or follow the ever-increasing number of blogs devoted to the science side. There is also always the fact-checker side of Tumblr. They arrive on a post about science, history, politics, you name it, and are often accompanied by a .gif from Mythbusters.

Users expand and transform these informational posts through creative use of images, audio files, and video. One post always comes to mind when I think of digital writing and audio:

Origin of the American Southern Accent

A disclaimer here: I have no idea how right or wrong this post is, especially since the original poster’s blog has been deleted at some point over the past few years. What interests me about is that it does something that the written word simply cannot do and is highly persuasive – at least, to someone that is not a linguist and knows nothing about the origin of the Southern accent. I imagine that a written essay to describe the same point would either be overly simplistic (the LA accent is a French accent slowed down) or incredibly complicated (with a lot of linguistic jargon and symbols or accent marks of some sort). Less than two minutes of audio convincingly accomplishes what would take paragraphs of text to do to a lesser degree of success. Tumblr as a collection of coffee houses intrigues me because users can easily speak to one another through a variety of forms on one single platform.

This is not to say that the “sides” of Tumblr, the various coffee houses, coexist peacefully. Tumblr users also divide themselves by primary interest – the main division being the “hipster” side and the “fandom” side. Every few months I will see a post by fandom blogs for fandom blogs that remind users not to criticize the hipster side, but to let them reblog pictures of rainbow hair colors and leggings with galaxy patterns in peace.

Related to my post last week about marginalized voices and social justice on Tumblr, there is also a tension between the “social justice” side and the broader site.  Gavia Baker-Whitelaw writes about the friction on the site: “While Tumblr’s userbase tends to skew younger and more politically liberal than, say, Facebook, SJ Tumblr has gotten a bad rep for being reactive and obnoxious. Accusing someone of being an SJ blogger is the Tumblr equivalent of calling someone a hipster: You may fulfill all the necessary criteria to be one, but nobody wants to own the title.” (“Meet the Trolls and Hoaxers of Social Justice Tumblr“).  Her larger piece discusses one Tumblr user, forfuturereferenceonly, that ran a blog for about a year that mocked SJ Tumblr. I followed the blog during its run (it has been deleted) and never could call if it was an overblown social justice user or if it was a troll.

Being on the internet, and being difficult to search through efficiently, Tumblr is difficult to divide into neat sectors, and I don’t think it should be. I do think, however, that the ways in which users discuss the divisions have led to an interesting parallel between the site and Standage’s coffee houses.

(As an aside – I’ve been collecting a bunch of posts that pop up on my personal blog in a separate tumblr dedicated to this class for convenient perusal: roguemarble.tumblr.com)

Guess What I Just Heard?

In Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit, Joseph Epstein reveals how gossip, much maligned as both symptom and cause of social ills, actually serves many important purposes in human society. For one thing, chatter about other people in our network of friends and acquaintances can serve to cement relationships and alliances with like-minded individuals. Epstein also argues that expectations and rules about human behavior needn’t be enforced by physical violence because gossip and social censure can maintain societal norms.

The idea of “social currency” is very much wrapped up in both Epstein’s defense of gossip as well as in current and past modes of social media, a world in which gossip and the latest titillating news makes the rounds instantly. Although they moved at a slower-than-digital pace, “ambitious young men” in 16th century England passed poems and texts around, and those texts primarily “served as a form of social currency that could be used to establish and maintain useful connections” (Standage 76-77).

By making themselves into creators, curators, and sharers of writing, Standage shows, up-and-coming guys could win patrons and benefactors. The best could write new materials themselves by both passing along information (read=gossip) and providing new materials that the recipient could then use to impress their own circle of friends.

Today sociable humans still feel the pull to solidify and enrich friendships and acquaintanceships by passing along valuable information and ideas, and social media provides a myriad of platforms to do just that.

For example, Twitter’s name hints at the old saying when asked where you heard a juicy tidbit: “A little birdy told me.”

When a social media user passes along a piece of information, whether it be personal, gossip about someone or something else, news about a current event, or link to something salacious/funny/inspiring/intriguing, the writer looks to add value. Simply put, she seeks to tell others in her social network something they don’t already know.

Image

With the arrival and spread of the Internet, more and more people have access to news, information, facts, discoveries, trivia, and humor, and the web of social connectivity used for sharing, remixing, and promoting that content expanded. It also made it increasingly harder to get payoffs for sharing stuff. People are more and more likely to have already seen that thing you tag them in or share on their wall, just by the virtue of the speed with which content spreads.

Image

At times, social media can feel like a series of desperate attempts to share something before it gets big—to prove that you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what others will find interesting. And that you’ve read it (and shared it) first.

This world, in which social media sites can, as Standage put it, provide “personalized and constantly updated stream of links, photos, and gossip” (231), the need individuals have for sorting and seeking content that interests them is already met instantly: by heuristics and cookies and trails of recommendations, pingbacks, likes, retweets, and browser histories.

On a personal level, I believe this has impacted friend-to-friend exchange of social capital. But the biggest impact has probably been on the companies that try to predict the next big story. On NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow (21 February 2014), a writer for The Verge talked about how it matters less and less who gets to a story first because of the speed in which other outlets skim and repurpose it for their own users. Magazines, websites, and apps scramble to keep tabs on what’s hot and what people are reading.

To keep our social media lives from, as W.J. Stillman wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891, turning into “an agency for collecting, condensing, and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence” (qtd. in Standage 185), people need to add value to content not simply by forwarding or posting preexisting text and images. It is through *doing* something with them, putting things in new contexts, adding a personal or philosophical spin, and converting them  into something new that we provide a social service to our followers, friends, and readers. Otherwise, gossip is just gossip, and a link is just another link.