Monday, December 14, 2009

How can the wind be borrowed? Finding oneself (and losing oneself) in a new (old) aesthetic

How can the wind be borrowed? How can it be made to have a bearing on corn and bread? How can its force be translated so that, whatever it does or does not do, the corn is reliably ground? Yes, may use the words translation and interest as well, because it is no more and no less difficult to interest a group in the fabrication of vaccine than to interest the wind in the fabrication of bread. Complicated negotiations have to go on continuously in both cases so that the provisional alliances do not break off.
(Latour, 1987, Science in action)

And so it is also for fund raising for a charity, will the sun shine on Christmas in the park, will the donations suffice for another year of service...

And for a phd student...
How to bend the to represent that which takes shape in one context, squeeze it through pages and have any evocation of what one sort to represent.

Tyler, cited by Strathern (1991) on what ethnography does:
"the point of discourse is not how to make a better representation, but how to avoid representation"...Ethnography works by evoking in the reader responses that cannot be commensurate with the writer's
- there is no 'object' that they both grasp....rather s/he provides a reader with a connection to it. Ethnography makes available what can be conceived but not presented."

The image loses its power the moment it becomes a subject of discussion as a shift to rhetoric alters the form.
A juxtoposition then of image following image where sediments of previous evocation might connect the one with the other in the reader's mind.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mediation effects

A New Zealand take

Technical mediation

In what ways do the media we shape, shape us in return?

The concept of young people being negatively affected by the ubiquitous mobile telephone (“mobile”), has taken firm hold in the public consciousness. Unfortunately, an instrument blaming perspective fails to consider the relational issues involved. Questions of how we are both shaped by and shape our technologies are neglected when questions collapse to binaries of good or bad. This paper draws on the work of French sociologist Bruno Latour as a means to understanding the discourse positioning the mobile as an object of harm, and for strategies considering how the mobile might be positioned otherwise. In an attempt to redress the negative evaluative imbalance associated with mobile phones, an example taken from research in progress involving Youthline’s text messaging for counselling is explored. Implications for teaching and learning are suggested, including strategies for text messaging and for positioning the mobile as an adjunctive instrument supporting students through their studies.

Haxell, A. (2009). In what ways do the media we shape, shape us in return? In Same
places, different spaces. Proceedings ascilite Auckland 2009.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Playing with time

"Playing with other people , you must keep the time they keep."
In writing a thesis summary i am told some general guidelines:
Context (present/past tense)
The problem (past tense)
Data collection (past tense)
Data analysis (past tense)
The findings (past tense)
Conclusions (present tense)
Implications for further research (future tense)

I think there is room for movement.
Time, and chronologies, are punctuated differently for different actors in a network, Once upon a time marks beginnings, and they all lived happily ever after an end...but for whom, surely different realities will contest this.

There is no God-like view, accounts are partial; fractional and biased. One's present implicates past and future. Whats important to me today, may be blown out of the water with the important things that happen just a little further on. And any chronology of events with which I mark times passing are going to be very different to that of others.

As Etienne Van Heerden said, there are so many pasts, and "it" never looks the same.

In my thesis,
The past is with us, it creates the conditions of possibility (current tense)
The problem, continually evolves (current tense)
Data collected, is partial, reflects a time and place, or several times and places
Data analysis, is done here and now at a particular time and place,but is also read in the here and now of a different time and place
The findings, and conclusions are speculative.

And then there is the weirdness of language, in English there is a way of talking of the past but which does this with currency, a continuous past.
She was saying...
Of writing a thesis summary, is it of an object (study past) or is it more like a painting, its always here? Not the artist showed...but shows...
Is it not possible the tool (a thesis) may be more like an engine, not a camera enacting a future, rather than capturing a past?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Performativity in social science research; what a haiku knows

Photo by Michael Flick, cc license, original at

Void in form

When, just as they are,
White dewdrops gather,
On scarlet maple leaves,
Regard the scarlet beads!

Such poetry brings a reflexive stance to my understanding of what material semiotics and performativity can bring to my doctoral research. This Japanes poem by Ikkyu (translated by Stryk and Ikemoto,1981) stops me in my tracks.
In wonder I can think about what makes things so, what assemblages are required, how does the performance hold me as well as its assembly of actors and of spaces.

In iterating toward openness by David Wiley, I too wonder about what's needed to turn my educational institution into a place where I want to sit within and wonder at, rather than wonder why.

The frustrations of working in the academy where change happens either in incredibly small increments or tearing people distressed into a future they are scared by, are the issues that prompted my own studies into change and the use of emergent technologies.

Taking an actor-network approach is what helping me in making meaning of my world, as well as the worlds of others. I have come to appreciate that there are alternate realities. Sometimes these clash, sometimes they coexist.

Developing a network sensibility provides a fuller knowledge of the contingencies that hold certain actors in place.
This sensibility also provides for understanding that the social and the technical, that people and their technologies, are well enmeshed, that each actor is also a network.

Having this sensibility doesn't leave me stuck in despair though, for knowing the intimate details of how things are aggregated also provides insight that things can be done differently. Its a practical and pragmatic knowledge. There are potentials for adding to, taking away; working around; aligning alongside; or splicing into.

Trying to work change through lineal change theory approaches will clearly cause unexpected frustration.
Trying to use a rationale chooser approach similarly doesn't work. Logic and the wonders of an innovation do not of themselves create the conditions for a different way of being.

With wisdom shared by Seth Godin (2009), If you want to change what your boss ([or other people you work with] believes, or the strategy your company is following, the first step is to figure out how to be the best informed person in the room. To put this into actor-network terms, is to state the obvious, to reveal is to critique

Doolin, B., & Lowe, A. (2002). To reveal is to critique: actor-network theory and performativity in critical information systems research. Journal of Information Technology, 17(2), 69-78.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What if the price of mobiles connecting with mobiles for counselling purposes is that people don't

Frank Schirrmacher is interested in George Dyson's comment

"What if the price of machines that think is people who don't?" He is looking at how the modification of our cognitive structures is a process that eventually blends machines and humans in a deeper way, more than any human-computer interface could possibly achieve. He's also fascinated in an idea presented a decade ago by Danny Hillis: "In the long run, the Internet will arrive at a much richer infrastructure, in which ideas can potentially evolve outside of human minds."

Is this what George Seimens and Stephen Downes have been getting at with connectivism cck09?
We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on.

And this is what led me into looking at how changes are both shaped and shaping with the integration of mobile phone technologies into texting for counselling.
To rephrase the question:
What if the price of mobiles connecting with mobiles for counselling purposes is that people don't?

And the questions provoked keep coming:
If you were asked, where do you keep whats important of your life, is the answer facebook?
I'm not saying it's good or bad, I'm just aware that I have not only outsourced parts of my memory (i never memorize phone numbers anymore, and i leave editing and spelling to autochecks), but now i also consider that i have an external repository of my photos, and my highlights and lowlights of my life, and the bits inbetween floating on a'cloud' of blogging, twitter, facebook , texts and emails,, librarything
Need i fear like chicken licken having the sky fall on my head?

I think twice about what i post, here and there, I think twice about whats accessible into perpetuity by whoever whenever...
If I am exposed to an attention overload, how do i select the attention deficits to filter this? How do the tools i use select what they will attend to?

I spent an hour 20 yesterday trying to convince my mobile phone to talk with me let alone anyone else. Part of my life I cannot have back...
I told myself again and again that my mobile was to make my life easier... i had an inkling that i had been suckered into thinking this thing that was meant to improve my life and had decided i was not worthy of it. So much for my reach being extended, my voice being carried, or my hearing being able to cross the Tasman. For a cyborg I wasnt doing very well. Seemed something as supposedly worldwide as global roaming, visa top ups and the international company of vodafone could not make good on promises. Be with your bestmate anywhere anytime...yeah right.
I fell into a dark hole for a small time.

I begin to wonder who and what is determining my reality.

Schirrmacker provoked in me some angst for my very human condition, I suspect i need a psychotherapist to help me with this one:
but with the possibilities unfolding
the question of predictive search and others, of determinism, becomes much more interesting. The question of free will, which always was a kind of theoretical question — even very advanced people said, well, we declare there is no such thing as free will, but we admit that people, during their chidhood, will have been culturally programmed so they believe in free will.

i had loved Pandora, our detachment was a forced one. Should i now be grateful that my 'choices' are no longer contrived by the machine?
I love, should i be worried that my choices could be traced?
On my blog, my readers are more likely to be looking at just one posting than any other (it mentions panties) ...(whoops I've done it again).

That i am not so fully in control of how i might be perceived, or judged that I might not be so much predicting my own life, but having it predicted by others, through the cloud, through the ways i am linked to the Internet, are matters of import. Not so much that i should retreat from such involvements but that I should be more interested and invested with where such creations take me.

Reading Latour(2008), he talks me through the sin with Shelly's Frankenstein - was not in the making but in the abandonment. To withdraw from technology is not an answer, it is not possible, i am already inside of the machine and it in me.

How then to proceed? What is important, what is not important is something Schirrmacker describes as being linear, it's something which needs time, at least the structure of time. Now, you have simultaneity, you have everything happening in real time. And this impacts politics in a way which might be considered for the good, but also for the bad....

And I suspect it needs time because in the chaos of now, things are always unclear, it is with hindsight that a trajectory can be plotted.
Meantime I live withe the 'wealth of information' available, and the means with which to access it . I wonder to myself about the wonders of this- do thesis now have more references than 10 years ago... Are the expectations on PhD students to be well read more demanding now that there is so much more that can and therefore should be accessed? In my 100,000 word thesis, is 20,000 in referencing something that reshapes academia...and thereby me? being in this information cascade how to cope with information bittiness?

Nick Bilton, reassures me saying
We'll create and consume whatever information makes us happy, fulfills us, and leave the rest by the wayside. Maybe. Or maybe we'll school like fish in the Web's algorithmic currents, little Nemos, each of us convinced we're going our own way because, well, we never stop talking, never stop sharing the minutiae of our lives and thoughts. Look at me!
The informavore in me just hopes i dont get swallowed by sharks while I'm finding Nemo.

Latour, B. (2008). “It’s development, stupid !” or: How to Modernize Modernization In J. Proctor (Ed.), Postenvironmentalism: MIT Press.
Shirrmacker, F. (2009)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The one with the most toys wins

Data of itself is not the persuader or we wouldnt have such well informed smokers.
Seth Godin is suggesting that if you can data mine you'll be ahead of the (marketing) crowd. While data is one of the allies you might align with, of itself it does not have its own trajectory, it does not 'do the work'.
More alliances need to be formed. Instead of 'letting the data do the talking' which patently as shown by the examples Seth Godin points to are not enough, other ways of winning friends and influencing people (and making the world to your liking) might also be considered. For example, providing behavioural clues or examples demonstrating usefulness, consider how you might make the 'better' choice an easier choice, as well as how you might unpeel current attachments. From Latour, it would take a connecting up of favourable alliances, and reducing the strength of others. Putting it crudely, the one with the most toys (ways of doing the attachments, and detachments, and number of attachments able to be brought to bear) wins.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The hinterland that Markers of PhDs find themselves in

I've been reading John Law (2009) on performativity in social research method, where he discusses the hinterland inside of which things are done.
And there's scope here for studying the hinterland inside of which PhD marking occurs...
More to add to the box for the post doc life :)

Here's a taster that didnt use ANT or hinterlands taken from Kiley and Mullins (2002)

Examiners assume PhD candidates are still apprentices in the profession of research in their discipline; and so their theses are judged in terms of current competence and future promise as academic colleagues. If there are particular problems, then the examiners regard the department, the supervisor and the candidate as all being potentially implicated; and if there are remarkable achievements, the recognition likewise extends beyond the performance of the individual candidate. Similarly, the examiners themselves are conscious that their own reputation is being judged through the quality of their reports. (pp. 13–14)

There are then marking concerns that are right outside of the thesis itself, ones that a PhD student writer has no ability to control for.
Does the marker have time for this, is it a duty or a passion, is the thesis to be compared to several assessed or are they are relatively new academic with the thesis being judged against the markers own work...for the criteria themselves are broad and open to wide discrepancies in interpretation. What else are in these dark woods?
How are markers there respect for the research method, at the very least one would hope a marker was coming from the same or similar paradigm.
Getting past what makes for a passable thesis to one that is outstanding, Kiley and Mullins note the metaphors used valuing the artistry of the thesis. Personally, and as a PhD student 'sparkle' comes easily to me. My worry is that what I see as sparkle the marker may see as tinsel. While there is a level of art in a thesis, what i like and what others like in art is always going to be a debatable and possibly, a fashion commodity.
"I know what I like, and I dont like that."

I am back to wondering about the circumstances of markers, and their tolerance for difference.

I wonder what else is in the hinterland...

Mullins, G. & Kiley, M. (2002) 'It's a PhD not a Nobel Prize' Studies in Higher Education, 27(4).
Kiley, M. & Mullins, G. (2006) Opening the black box: how examiners assess your thesis, in, Doctorates downunder: keys to successful doctoral study in Australia and New Zealand, ACER, Melbourne, pp 200 - 207.
Law, J. (2009). Seeing Like a Survey. Cultural Sociology, 3(239).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Exploring the dark wood. #CCK09

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
for the straight way was lost.

From the opening terza of the Divine Comedy. Dante.

Susan Saltrick used this for her opening lines as a keynote speaker at a conference on learning communities and I have always been struck by the resonance this has in my own exploration of the unknown. She continues;

For the world we once new has changed...and we need to consider what we are being asked to change into.

A similar thread is explored by Latour
A new vaccine is being marketed, a new job description is offered, a new political movement is being created, a new planetary system is discovered, a new law is voted, a new catastrophe occurs. In each instance, we have to reshuffle our conceptions of what was associated together because the previous definition has been made somewhat irrelevant. We are no longer sure about what 'we' means; we seem to be bound by 'ties' that don't look like regular social ties. (Latour, 2005, p. 6)

Ulises Mejias (2006) also explores the unknown, The tyranny of nodes, saying 'my thesis is that the network undermines productive forms of sociality by over-privileging the node. It might be difficult to see this because nodes are not anti-social (they thrive by forming links to other nodes), nor are they anti-local (they link to nodes in their immediate surrounding just as easily as they link to other nodes). But what I am trying to say is that to the extent that the network is composed of nodes and connections between nodes, it discriminates against the space between the nodes, it turns this space into a black box, a blind spot. In other words, networks promote nodocentrism. In this reconfiguration of distance, new ‘nears’ become available, but the ‘far’ becomes the space between nodes. To ignore this dark matter is to ignore the very stuff on which the network is suspended, much like the fish ignoring the water around it.

And given the composition of any 'fish' is also that it is imbued with the substance of its surroundings...there is need to explore what it is 'we' are becoming.

I have until now shied away from the 'dark spaces'.

There is scope for looking internally at shadows, a reflective take on what one does and doesn't attend well as there being the creation of shadowed spaces in throwing illumination on some aspects and not others.

There is also scope in looking at the effects within change: what is and is not in the assembly?
Who does this new assemblage include as 'we' and what have 'we' become?
And what possibilities might be made possible if one were to take flight into the paranodal?

These questions are ones that relate to power, for they are questions that frame scope. With connectivism as a learning theory, the questions prompted by Mejias might include: who is advantaged, and who is not? What types of learning gain currency, and what does not?
And what then of the role of an educator?
One aspect informed by Latour, is to keep the knowledge of how the world is constructed, the knowledge of how institutions are shaped and shaping, an awareness of how technologies contribute...and to keep such knowledge sufficiently open, 'to maintain the reversibility of foldings'. I would agree, this is my moral concern when I consider education and its encounter with (current) technologies.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mejias, U. (2007). Networked proximity: ICTs and the mediation of nearness. Columbia University, New York.
Saltrick, S. (1998). Through a dark wood. Paper presented at the Conference on Learning Communities, University of Miami.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hitting the wall; redecorating with a phd; a literal take on phd literacy

The PhD approach to redecorating.
1. Write on the walls
2. More colourful, redecorate with postit notes
Alternately try vacuuming the ceiling, cleaning the stove, washing the cats...or best one I've found in a while, washing windows and gardening till you are too sore to move so being with the computer becomes the easy choice.
At least i now have really really clean windows :)

A Pulp fiction take on a thesis

In a po mo* to go loose moment,I found myself (very un po mo...i lose myself) looking up words like pastiche to explain the way my thesis writing is not following a clear trajectory.
Fortunately my methodology values this, sadly academic markers probably not.
What i have done is meandered across the terrain, and with every intention of mixing metaphors: this thesis is like herding a river.
Nonetheless, a brief excurion into metaphors that might explain the pastiche, I refound pulp fiction. And here's the added bonus, another use for a mobile phone :)

Pumpkin: The way it is now, you're taking the same risk as when you rob a bank. You take more of a risk, banks are easier. You don't even need a gun in a federal bank. I mean, they're insured, why should they give a f#ck? I heard of this one guy, walks into a bank with a portable phone. He gives the phone to the teller, a guy on the other end of the line says, we've got this guy's little girl, if you don't give him all your money, we're gonna kill her.
Yolanda: Did it work?
Pumpkin: F#cking-A right, it worked. That's what I'm saying. Knucklehead walks into a bank with a telephone! Not a pistol, not a shotgun, but a f#cking phone. Cleans the place out, doesn't even lift a f#cking finger.
Yolanda: Did they hurt the little girl?
Pumpkin: I don't know, there probably never was a little girl in the first place. The point of the story isn't the little girl, the point of the story is, they robbed a bank with a telephone.

* po mo = post modern

Visit here for a fast tracked recap mashup on pulp fiction in angryalien bunny style

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

magic dust time

Mining for fairy dust but will also accept an other useful strategies for helping to enroll me in my own phd.

Reward self; chocolate for each paragraph written
do not go straight to the chocolate

Write a chapter, then post it through wordle
do not be tempted to reword it to make a prettier wordle

Wear self out on cleaning. When you cant move, writing is a viable choice...
and then use strategy 1.

If you cant write, read... and then write about it.
try to restrain the reading choices here relevant to the main goal
or at least keep finding relevance to the main goal.

Put going to starbucks or similar on a strict reinforcement schedule. No less than two hours of dedicated, meaningful, chapter writing to an hour of down time.

Cindarella's Fairy Godmother could do wonders with pumpkin and mice, if you want to add your tuppence worth, it might just help, so please do add to the magic dust list. I am so desperate I have even turned off the bot troll detectors so as to make it easier for any suggestions :)

an archeology of the mobile phone

These great vintage advertisements clearly demonstrate that there has always been a market for making phones personal (size and colour matter).

The intent has always been to be more accessible; to communicate more rather than less.
And what's inside the box getting harder and harder to fathom. Blackboxing (a Latourian phrase) the innards makes replication and therefore competition more difficult? In conjunction with the demands for small, portable, multitasking on microchips that makes it all too intricate to fathom.

With multitasking Bell and Motorola have come a long way :)

And that's just a part of it, as there are the assemblages behind the assemblages, most times such concerns are hidden from consciousness until there is a 'need to know' a breakdown or a justification for charges, for costs...

....the telecommunications network grew with jacks... power sources...power optic cabling...transmitters...
Such telephone networking required significant work and a vast hinterland of historical advances to move from there to here. 'An ant account draws attention to the negotiations that needed to occur for a stable assemblage to be formed.... as patterns are laid down, grooves formed, a kind of template is created which also limits, proscribes, {contains, constrains, constructs} what can come next (Bigum & Rowan 2004).
Clay Spinuzzi has this well covered in his book, Network. The competition between US providers is a fascinating read well supported by the Machiavellian analysis lent from actor-network theory.
Spinuzzi describes the 'accretion of sediments'. In what has gone before, the laying down of grooves makes particular contingencies more and less likely. Competition between service providers is hugely difficult where one company owns the lines and wouldn't share without threat of Government interventionism. Duplicating such a network is a nigh impossibility. Issues of scale make it financially viable to compete only in areas of high population density. And then along came competition that circumnavigates the high transmission costs; microwave towers can go from here to there without the maintenance costs of lines, linesmen.... Cell phones then evolve.

Change comes in increments that have discernible traces.

Bigum, C., & Rowan, L. (2004). Flexible learning in teaching education: myths, muddles and models. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 32(3), 213-226.
Spinuzzi, C. (2008). Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An etymology of texting

I take the elusive object, text messaging, as one of the objects i am studying, and find that far from a flat unidimensional subject, this simple question takes me into multidimesional spaces.
I could consider the unexpected with traces of ink on a page that with sufficient magnification would bring to me a three dimensional view of ink on textured paper, or of a two dimensional imaging of pixels involving an intensity of variable coloured light shining on a flat screen.
However neither of these descriptions provides substantive meaning. I turn instead to considering text as a synergistic whole rather than as a sum of its parts. Taking the latin derivative 'texere', text involves a weaving, a bringing together. There would be no ability for a text message to communicate were it not for a writer as well as a reader. There is then need to consider text as making a 'coherent whole' (Noth, 1990,p332). In the processes also there would be no communication of such a message were it not carried through a medium that transcends time and space. A weaving is required in transmitting thoughts from one person to another. In this study such a weaving is multidimensional for the means of transmission required multiple actors to make it so.

This study of text traces pathways through the three dimensional terrain by following the actors involved. I explore the text(ure) following actors through the tightly knotted as well as the loosely woven threads, but it is also my intention that it is a symphonic texture that is held at the end of such travels. It is not my intent to unravel what is, but instead to create conscious regard for the cloth that is woven.

Textile: ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting a woven fabric or something resembling this): from Latin textura ‘weaving,’ from text- ‘woven,’ from the verb texere.

Text: ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old Northern French texte, from Latin textus ‘tissue, literary style’ (in medieval Latin, ‘Gospel’ ), from text- ‘woven,’ from the verb texere.

Nöth, W. (1990). Handbook of semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Studying the blur; hunting for elusive objects

The more i look, the less distinct my research becomes, what hope then for any reader?

It is with joy that I discover, again, the writing of Casper Jensen who found it so hard to know his own object of study, the electronic patient record.

I take heart from this for I am studying emergent changes in counselling wrought with technology in a youth counselling centre. To explain to others that I am studying change, and my focus happens to be a youth counselling centre undergoing change as it alters its ways of relating because of technologies such as text and email and internet message board processes is also correct.
But then the problems start coming in thick and fast for when i voice this I am asked for a clear delineation of whether text counselling is good or bad or should even be called counselling. And that's where it gets trickier, because counselling is an indistinct entity also.
Pop on top of that the study of change and looking for what's there now but wasn't then, or what wasn't present then but is now, plus consideration for what was planned with what actually occurred, as well as the sequalae of a ripple effect ... a fractal object spread in textual artefacts occurring within a network of moving actors and of no clear geographical location ... and it feels like I'm studying a blur.
I am heartened that i am not alone for Casper Jensen also writes of conversations assuming involvement in the practical development of a specific technology. Alternatively the political processes relating to current events; and asked for evaluative judgments of good or bad. He says "Such understandings are rather far from the mark, however, offering a lucid exposition of just what and where that mark is has proven insistently elusive throughout my project."

At least i am not alone
And thankyou Peter for introducing me to endnote groups as it was because i reopened Casper Jensen's article to decide what topics to place it under that this gem of insight fell out.

Jensen, C. B. (2004). Experimental devices. Studies in STS and electronic patient records. University of Aarhus, Aarhus.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Todays half glass is half empty and the spirulina is green slime.

I have confirmation today that peer review in academia is a fickle process.

A paper I wrote for Ascilite 09 is accepted.
(I'd say yay, except the celebrations are somewhat muted.)

It scored between three reviewers ranging 4.5-6.15 on a 7 point scale.
As was my experience last year, what some reviewers like others hate. The instruction then is to respond to the feedback.
Pity no-one checks to see if there is any consistency between the reviewers comments.

What is confirmed is that "you cant please all of the people all of the time."


Reviewer 1 said nothing positive but accepts the paper.
Reviewer 2 comments on the melodramatic tone then continues,
"Despite the paper being written with excellent grammar and spelling, the writing is quite complex and requires re-reading to fully grasp the ideas
expressed in the paper."
Reviewer 3 says
"The paper is well expressed and presents a strong argument for the need to re-examine how text messaging is perceived in educational contexts. The argument put forward is logical and well supported by the literature cited."

I'm happy with the paper.
When I wrote it I felt there wasn't much new and there wasnt much to do with education.
And I wasnt sure i could write.

Rereading it, i know I can write.
There is newness in that content applications had not been addressed previously.
And I now have more space to make relevant links more formally to education.
Still its descriptive, but that's what actor-network theory does.
To me it feels lightweight, but with applications worth sharing.

Here is the abstract:

In what ways do the media we shape, shape us in return?

The concept of young people being negatively affected by the ubiquitous mobile phone, has taken firm hold in the public consciousness. Unfortunately, an instrument blaming perspective fails to consider the relational issues involved. Questions of how we are both shaped by and shape our technologies are neglected when questions collapse to binaries of good or bad. This paper draws on the work of French sociologist Bruno Latour as a means to understanding the discourse positioning the mobile as an object of harm, and for strategies considering how the mobile might be positioned otherwise. In an attempt to redress the negative evaluative imbalance associated with mobile phones, an example taken from research in progress involving Youthline’s text messaging for counselling is explored. Implications for teaching and learning are suggested, including strategies for text messaging and for positioning the mobile as an adjunctive instrument supporting students through their studies.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

actors are not always human, a demonstration

Actors are not always human, in this example people are responding to a non-human actor ... previously people were choosing the convenience of speed and rest in using an escalator where the escalator could have been deemed a non-human actor also.
The alteration to the stairs brings in new actions, interestingly the new behaviour also involves in many instances an added delay. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Love is watching someone die'

Sarah introduced me to "What Sarah Said"
where 'Love is watching someone die'
Mum has significant bruising to half her face having fallen on Friday and is increasingly fragile.
Today talking, sipping through a straw and breathing all seem too hard for her.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I are/we am

I remember an early school experience where i felt humiliated being made to stand and read aloud some of my writing while other children in the class were asked to point out the mistake made. I was about 6 and had written I are, and attempted to defend this grammatical error by saying but I am always more than one, my twin brother and I are always together... Didnt work, the plurality was not anticipated and got drummed out of me. It is a pleasure to be reading Latour on Tarde, and feel vindicated that while grammatically incorrect,
philosophocally i are very astute!

This article by Latour seems to be arguing that identity cant answer questions of behaviour because identity too is made in contexts

"...whenever you want to understand a network, go look for the actors, but when you want to understand an actor go look through the net the work it has traced. In both cases, the point is to avoid the passage through the vague notion of society....
So far, all of philosophy has been founded on the verb To be, whose definition seemed to have been the Rosetta's stone to be discovered. One may say that, if only philosophy had been founded on the verb To have, many sterile discussions, many slowdown of the mind, would have been avoided. From this principle 'I am', it is impossible to deduce any other existence than mine, in spite of all the subtleties of the world. But affirm first this postulate : 'I have' as the basic fact, and then the had as well as the having are given at the same time as inseparable" (Latour citing Tarde)

And Latour expands further, saying
"Here goes Hamlet, as well as Descartes with his cogito, Heidegger with his Being qua Being, together with thousand of homelies about the superiority of what 'we are' above what 'we have'. Quite the opposite, Tarde instructs us. Nothing is more sterile than identity philosophy —not to mention identity politics— but possession philosophy —and may be possession politics ?— create solidarity and attachments that cannot be matched. "For thousands of years, people have catalogued the many ways of beings, the many kinds of beings, and no one ever had the idea of cataloguing the various kinds, the various degrees of possession. Yet, possession is the universal fact, and there is no better term than that of 'acquisition' to express the formation and the growth of any being'' p. 89. If essence is the way to define an entity within the 'To be' philosophy, for the 'To have' philosophy an entity is defined by its properties and also by its avidity� No way to escape from Tarde's logic: take any monad [individual, atom, unit of measure], if you look at what are its properties and its proprietors, you will be led to define the whole cosmos, which would be impossible if you had only tried to define the essence of an isolated identity."

Brings back a Latourian tenet I had earlier had difficulty with 'existence precedes essence'.
Here I seean application for identity does not precede what makes it.
Identity is made, it is plural...the body is multiple in more ways than that described by Annemarie Mol.
And then to take this a step (or several steps) further, and here's a new thought (for me) in the making:
If "The whole outside universe is composed of souls different from mine, but, in effect, similar to mine'' p.44 (Latour citing Tarde again).
And if we/you/I concede that in knowing something, I only know it in as much as I can fathom, recognise and/or project my beliefs about its being anything at all, then part of me is in everything I meet...
"if you don't want to share avidity and belief with the things you have, then also stop to say what they are. The accusation is upturned and the burden of proof shifted to the accusators. Abstain from the ridiculous solution to say that things exist in themselves but that you cannot know them. Either you talk or you remain silent. But you cannot possibly speak and say that the things you speak about are not in some ways similar to you: they express through you a sort of difference that has you, the speaker, as one of their proprietors. What looks like an impossibility with the philosophy of identity, offers no difficulty with the philosophy of 'alteration'. Possession is another way of talking about translation.

To paraphrase Latour's discussion further: After this brief brief brief brief presentation of some of Tarde's and Latour's thinking on the metaphysics of social theory, you/we/i may now understand why so much of ANT appears difficult:
you/we/i don't want to be had.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's new? and can I get some.

what's new media?
I tripped over this question on a couple of blogs this morning (Jenna McWilliams and Julie at new media power) and seems to me it's a subset of a question I address in the early parts of my thesis. An opportunity then for clarifying my own thoughts since my thesis is about new and emergent technologies in a Youth counselling centre as at some stage I am going to have to clean up that section...

In popular parlance, a new technology is anything invented after you were born.
I quite like Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

E.M. Rogers pointed to the use of the word innovations and technology being used synonymously as many of the ideas analysed are technological innovations. He defined innovation to be an idea, practice or object that is perceived as new. So it's something in the eye of the beholder.

For Ursula Franklin, technology is 'the way things are done around here' so new means its new to the context. And i like how she expands on this in ways grounded in reality...Thats why i think it is better to examine limited settings where one puts technology in context, because context is what matters most. . one has to keep in mind how the practice of doing something defines the activity itself... precludes the emergence of other saves us from thinking of technology as part of the icing on the cake. Technology is part of the cake itself.

Taking those involved and the context then as a primary consideration, an actor-network analysis is helpful as looking at what makes things more and less real provides greater depth to understanding hoow some new things 'take off' and some fizzle. Bruno latour's take on what makes something real is that, “...anything can become more or less real, depending on the continuous chains of translation. It’s essential to continue to generate interest, to seduce, to translate interests. You can’t ever stop becoming more real.” (Latour, 1996: 85)

A new take on the story of the velveteen rabbit- Being played with makes it real.

Seems to me it is the process of becoming involved with something that makes for better questions in new innovations, technologies or media. In what ways are we both shaped and shaping when we negotiate our involvement; play, work or tinker with such things? And I really like how Chris Bigum and Leonie Rowan sum this up in saying:
"The key issue here is that innovation... is not determined by scope or scale, but by direction and effect."

Expanding this further, how then are we pushed and pulled, knowingly and unknowingly, as we work, play and tinker with new technologies and as new technologies work, play and tinker with us? For as Sproull and Kiesler have identified, it's not just the changes that we anticipate that may be important. And in areas where the changes are about communication, such effects become hugely important because, as identified by Sherry Turkle, '“The tools we use to think, change the ways in which we think.” (2004, p.1).And Clay Shirkey takes this further,"When we change the way we communicate we change society."

There are a lot of new ideas out there just fighting for survival, and in a Darwinian survival of the species mode, if they can get copied they will...using you and me as their propagation, copying machinery...we are the meme machines as eloquently expressed by Susan Blackmore on memes). What's new may be less important than how might we use it, and how might it use us?

Franklin, U. (1999). The real world of technology (Revised ed.). Toronto: House of Anansi Press.
Latour, B. (1996). Aramis: Or the love of technology (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5 ed.). New York: Free Press.
Rowan, L., & Bigum, C. (2005). Innovation chains; possibilities and constraints for critical perspectives on computers, difference and educational Innovation. Paper presented at the OQL Seminar, Deakin University, Melbourne.
Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes every-body. London: Allen Lane.
Sproull, L., & Kiesler, S. (1991). Connections. New ways of working in the networked organization. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Its a bit like doing health promotion in a war zone

The one laptop perchild programme (OLPC) is apparently 'not working'.
Providing deworming tablets at hugely lower costs can also be shown to have significant effects on school attendance and potentially also on income earning potentials in a population.
Not quite as sexy as a colourful laptop though.

An actor-network analysis might point to the laptop as suffering from faith in its technical determinism and forgetting that it needed to enroll human actors to also make it work. Not least of which is the telecos, internet charges were/are crippling. The laptop aimed to be provided as a one off charge US$100 per child and an initial charge in the first year of $1 for internet access....but then that vanishes and the costs come in, leading to more, rather than less, indebtedness.

For the OLPC project to succeed, it needs to accept that it's selling a $100 laptop with an $872 support plan, and find countries that can afford it as such.
says Jon Camfield

IT's all a bit sad really.
Pity the blogger condemning the OLPC campaign wasn't savvy enough to point to what needs to be done differently, 'cause things can always be different when the networks understood.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The problem of scale

Clay Shirky describes the problems of scale; when you have 20 emails a day, its no problem, quadruple this and its getting difficult, ten fold and there's a serious problem because bigger is not just about more, it's different.
Think about it; a two km walk every day is pleasant, a two km walk faster, to fit in 10 two km walks a day isn't.

Youthline (NZ) has had a 1280 percent increase in its text messaging in the last year.
Rapid learning curve; its not the same when it's faster.

Shirky cites Merlin Mann regarding the foibles of email, and I think the similarities here carry a portend of doom;
"Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn't take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that's taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can't handle that one tiny thing. "What pile? It's just a pebble!"

The ability to create conversational opportunity seemingly effortlessly seemingly creates its own capacity for failure as a means of conversing; it works up until the point that it cannot, that it becomes pointless.

The limiting effects of scale; the limits of human cognition will mean that scale alone will kill conversation.
Need to create a way of managing the scale; how to hold the conversations?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

writing on the inside, performing a Phd

wordlebubble, originally uploaded by ai1sa.

If I wrote on the inner aspect of a glass sphere,
it couldnt be more difficult;
positioning me would be less important;
positioning you, wouldn't be my concern.

Getting in or out of the glass sphere
now there's a problem for another day :)

meat in the sandwich; and which relish would you like with that?

William Doll's approach to curriculum is very much one of relating, something neither he nor I see a lot of in a functional approach of outcome based ideas married to assessment processes; easily audited but loses the plot.
To instead take Dewey's vision of integrating education, schooling, curriculum and community into a seamless whole, would require conversation. A willingness to engage with those involved, with authenticity.
Taking Daniel Pink's suggestions in arguing the economical transition needed, for conceptual rather than knowledge workers similarly emphasises the relational also.
But that would take some fundamental shifts that valued communication skills; listening and empathy. Such skills seem to my mind to be in diminishing supply in the university that is increasingly focused on technologies mediating its purpose. Such devices as ppt and content management systems can be useful, but its worth looking at how such shaping impacts on teaching and learning...not just at a technological application level but a level that looks at the sociotechnical relationships that evolve. Jan Nespor does a fine job of this bringing together an analysis including the wider picture of how come there was a readiness for this evolution in current teaching and learning practices in the university. I'm enjoying his writing style with personable quips such as "how had my work ended up as meat on somebody's lunch line?" A sentiment I can relate to.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Flipping thoughts

Two days of not writing, and a mini sized crisis of confidence...
And then some thinking that came in on a tangent :)

I'd been reading Tatnall, A., & Davey, B. (2003). An actor network approach to informing clients through portals. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 771-779.
Their very clear description of a network described from the perspective, primarily, of those creating the change, who happen to be service providers, had me do a flip on my thinking.
I was spot on way back when i thought the mobile was an obligatory passage point (in ANT speak). I just was unable to make it fit because i was coming at it from the wrong direction. AND was unable to hold that point of tension because of the multiple OPPs involved, which could all be explained in a pre and after Ant way.
ANT has been criticised for its management centred approach and i was blind to the bias as it resided within me. I knew the options for counselling made it far from obligatory...until today.
Turning this on its head I get this:
From the users perspective; the text format on the mobile is an OPP as its "use this or we dont talk."
Its the users who are binding the other actors into place.
Text counselling wasnt the first choice of counsellors, the organisation or its techy people.
Here's an example of an organisation that prides itself on its responsiveness to its target group...and inside of this is an example where the target gp even tho it never meets and has no 'leader' , and only has artefacts, or one-on-one conversations, is driving a change. Even where there is voice given to their concern, its created by users... This is a pretty unique experience in change theory. Unique in actor-network worlds also by putting the focus on the users in the network. It is relational and the change might be seen as initiated more by the ebb than the flow.
Worth following up a bit more Clay Shirkey in Here comes everybody, of how social media used in this way is shaping those it connects.

Working with a primarily volunteer / not for profit organisation, and with a service claiming to be responsive to its consumer group, challenges the conventional thinking on how change occurs.

Seems so obvious in hindsight...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Deskilling humanity or cyborg enhancement?

Ivan Illich wrote of the effects of school as more than a dependent variable within society; but as the reproductive organ of a consumer society. If I take the institution of schools as being nothing but a tool that leads to another end, the education of people, I miss so much of what does and doesnt go on. He argued for a radical change to how teaching and learning might therefore be envisaged, namely by deschooling society.

His 'deskilling' argument leads me to wonder about more recent innovations with the ways we might to do things,and to wonder if the outsourcing of so much of people's abilities to their mobile phones is a deskilling of their humanity or just sour grapes on my part.
See, I dont have one, iwant one, an iphone that is.

This mornings rant is following a nice little column on smartphones by Richard Fisher that helps that author find a cab, a cafe, is a note taker and records interviews, times his teeth brushing, maps and times his cycle rides, and even finds itself through a synch option with a computer. Fortunately he drew the line at only musing about the vibrator option (I know, don't go there).
The cyborg connection is made, there's enhancement of abilities. And there are questions of what does this do to how we function as people.

In light of my PhD study: I continue to consider the questions of what it means to be mediated by a mobile phone in our relationships with others, specifically with regard to counselling relationships mediated by text. And I continue to wonder about the assemblages that create changes in the ways we relate; how such changes occur and what the anticipated and unanticipated results might be.
I am prompted, again, to wonder of how we are shaping the mediums we use, and how they might be shaping us, for no other technology is so close, so much of the time.
What impact does this have on our relationships and on us?

As expressed by one of the young people interviewed for my study, "I had every technology possible, but it was my mobile i reached for." Texting was her first choice for a conversation she anticipated as likely to be distressing, not because it denied the emotions involved, but because it allowed her to express these.

And the reskilling that then occurs seems to more than compensate; have a look at this article on the positive associations texting has for literacy in August Wired magazine.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The secret life of text

I've been looking at the intimate relations of writers and their text to investigate how the written medium might carry the message.

On screen writing is easier on the eye, apparently, when it uses a sans serif font(one without the extra edging on each letter).
On paper, serif with its extra flourishes are, apparently, easier on the eye.
The default for mobile phone texts appears to be sans serif.

Apparently for higher academic grades, go with Georgia, at least according to a curious but lively little blog on The Secret Lives of Fonts posted by Phil Renaud on March 12th, 2006.
... or at least that's what was seen as preferable, back then, or more authoritative, or matches what newspapers (such as The New Yorker).

But my searching didn't answer my own question which is about showing multiple voices in a thesis and so am still curious of ways to do this.

Bruno Latour's, Aramis or the love of technoology divides the sections of different voice with inserted lines and changing fonts: using Times New Roman font for the main text to one sans serif for documents, and different again for interviews (where his own prompts to the conversation are italicised), different again for a senate hearing of multiple people that is all italicised but reads like a play, and also seems to change font between what is current time investigation to that which is written in the third person posturing a more theoretical voice, and then an italicised font for Aramis' voice.
It does get a little hard to follow.

John Law, in Aircraft stories, puts in the advertising voice as an inserted exhibit with sans serif. He also puts in pertinent conceptual discussions as a boxed text.
To my mind, it could have done with more voice.

I will continue this search for a text life
Happy to hear your views, or any reference to other texts that speak in multiple voice.
Its for a thesis, so I may have to draw the line on use of coloured font.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Designing a PhD thesis in a conceptual age

It does not seem to me that we have been as quick, in academia, to prepare ourselves for new threats, new dangers, new tasks, new targets. Are we not like those mechanical toys that endlessly make the same gesture when everything else has changed around them? Bruno Latour

How might the academy change? Taking a more personal concern, how might a PhD thesis be designed? If we take a whole new mind to information and to concepts as suggested by Daniel Pink in moving from an Information age to a Conceptual one, what might be the implications for the Univeristy and for PhD writing if such a shift were taken seriously? How might this inform a thesis undertaking?

Information age:

Knowledge accumulation

Conceptual age:


The thesis of the knowledge era suggests functionality: get accredited by following the rules: the thesis presents the coherent argument, is logical, focused, serious and contributes to the knowledge base of the world. In doing so, new approaches to learning are not being transferred, the institution that is the academy is lagging behind.

In a a thesis crafted in design, the very foundations of purpose are shaken.
According to Pink, design is utility enhanced by significance (p.70).
Design is more than titivation, it's about value added portrayal.
Latour's speech at design Cornwall argues design as a drawing of things together.
My undertaking as drawing things together involves a work of alchemy; combining myself, a supportive professor with a bent toward actor-network theory, and a voluntary organisation thirsty for establishing an evidence base for newer practices. The next challenge is in drawing in the academy to credential my doctoral work - to positively entice, bind and glue such readers to the undertaking.

In telling the story of change, I plan for intersecting slices of stories of practice. In story telling,a provocation is made where the reader is not a passive spectator but enters into the story. Stories encapsulate the knowledge, the context and the emotion into a compact package. In an argument, the information sledgehammers a point, and the outcomes are constrained, agree or disagree, yet such binaries no longer serve so well, if they ever did. I am not arguing against an analytical position but that such knowledge might be shared with a means that creates contextual relevance. As Pink describes it, "what stories can provide - context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why that matters." In such a conceptual orientation the outcome is not telling others what to think or do; instead there is space for making local, contextual, even personal, meaning at a given point in time. An approach more akin to projecting light on certain aspects while recognising such practice also creates shadows. Given an orientation that suggests all knowledge as mediated, truths have a small 't' and have have limited portabiltity.

My study lends itself to a symphony approach, the knowledge gained, illuminated, presented and (re)presented require involvement. I am involved, and in that involvement, there's a negotiation between myself and others, myself and the material, myself and the reader.Such a thesis could not be seen as a one way viewing window, nor a sport for spectators. (And I am really not sure that the academy is ready for this radical provocation in their marking criterias.)

Being empathetic involves having the ability to see an issue from many different perspectives. There are politics then in choosing to be empathic, to consider others and to consider the issues of what is made visible or invisible. A dispassionate approach is one that I cannot accept as valid; people's lives can be made more and less tenable through such acts. Performing a thesis is therefore a political, ethical and moral act. What is studied and how this is portrayed and to what purpose are all critical questions.

Taking a serious stance often leads to total risk aversion. There needs to be space for error, for exploration, in this sense seriousness needs to be revisited. A more playful orientation can allow for ideas to be explored more fully. To toy with one's ideas, to bounce them around are not such unusual concepts to thinking peoples. Taking play seriously though will also need to accept imaginative possibilities. Imagining such change inside of well established 'tried and true' processes may have shattering implication. Will such explorative 'play' be accepted?

Making meaning to my mind, is the ongoing act of this alchemy, for meaning gets created in contexts, locally. The craft is in opening up possibilities, for as an actor network approach would have it, things can always be otherwise.

A final word on designing from Bruno Latour on design:
"To design is never to create ex nihilo. It is amusing that creationists in America use the word “intelligent design” as a rough substitute for “God the Creator”. They don’t seem to realize the tremendous abyss that exists between creating and designing. The most intelligent designers never start from a tabula rosa. God the designer is really a redesigner of something else that was already there —and this is even truer for His Son as well as for the Spirit, who both are sent to redeem what has been botched in the first place... If humanity “has been made (or should I have said designed?) as the image of God”, then they too should learn that things are never created but rather carefully and modestly redesigned. It is in that sense that I take the spread of the word design as a clear substitute for revolution and modernization. I do so furthermore, because there is always something slightly superficial in design, something clearly and explicitly transitory, something linked to fashion and thus to shifts in fashions, something tied to tastes and therefore somewhat relative."
A link to the pdf file of the speech is available here-

Monday, August 17, 2009

How to win friends and influence people; an Ant rant.

If you want to change what your boss believes, or the strategy your company is following, the first step is to figure out how to be the best informed person in the room(Seth Godin, 2009).

Seth Godin's approach on being willfully ignorant or aggressively skeptical is useful up to a point; being well informed helps, but of itself its not enough. What would take this a bit further is a consideration for the type of knowledge needed.

The type of knowledge is important. Actor-network provides a structured approach, as do many other theories, but central to this approach is a focus on relational knowledge; what it is that maintains what is, and in knowing this, there is scope for knowing that things might always be otherwise.

In looking at change, what's not so helpful, and could be considered offensive even, is an approach that is trivial, and neglects the multiplicity involved.
An informed, multilevel analysis broadens the options; being the best informed person in the room means understanding the network at play.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

moral panic & children's use of mobile phones

Daleks are training the children, seducing them with mobiles phones and texting, it is a world wide threat, and resistance is futile. Here's the empirical evidence:
Todays headline catastrophises mobile phone use and texting comes from the Sydney Morning Herald, a Melbourne University study says

Text-addict kids 'make more mistakes'
The spin maintained pathologises the behaviours as addiction and as impulsive and associated with error.
Basically its bad.
And its the cell phone that's training them?
A study of 317 Melbourne high school students found frequent mobile phone users were faster to respond in a series of tests but also made more errors.

A bit more balance might have said, "when you do things faster, the error rate increases, risk and speed are not associated with accuracy".

Those who made 15 to 20 calls or texts per week were more likely to respond quickly before they knew the correct answer.

Does that equate with people who like to communicate in quick ways, with little concern for accuracy are likely to respond in quick ways with little degree of accuracy?
The research, headed by Monash University epidemiologist Professor Michael Abramson, found predictive texting, in particular, was changing the way children's brains worked by teaching them to act before thinking through a response.
Now hang on a minute, there's a behaviour being commented on and suddenly the ways children's brains work is being altered? I'd suggest no pathologist is able to confirm this.
Furthermore, there is nothing presented here that any such alteration is in a cause and effect relationship, its a correlation.
Radiation associated with mobile phones, a long-held health fear, did not appear to be to blame for the higher rates of inaccuracy in frequent phone users.
Monash University researcher Geza Benke said children who were heavy texters, and were exposed to low levels of radiation, had similar test results as those who made a lot of phone calls and were in closer contact with handsets.

Bit more catastrophising, a long held fear, plus there's the radiation threat...
"There's a couple of hypotheses you can generate from this - one is that it's possible that the use of mobile phones is training kids to do this," Dr Benke said.

"Another possibility is that it just so happens that kids who are fast and don't worry too much about the errors they make tend to be the ones who also are using the phone technology more because that suits them.
Ah yes, but that wouldnt be a headline lead would it?

"I think there are already so many other things out there that affects kids' brains that I wouldn't worry about the mobiles," he said.
"I think there's nothing here that would show great concern from a public health point of view."

So what is it with the headline?
Some reading to inform the current moral panic:
Marvin, C. (1988). When old technologies were new. Thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century New York: Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

nomo phobia

Anyone noticed that the number of zombies increased with the uptake of cell phones?
Personally I havent met any greater numbers of young walking dead than elderly or middle aged walking dead, and i do not accept that this is due to an absence of my observation skills. I've taken a great interest in mobile phone use, particularly texting and cant say that it has increased the zombie population.
I do appreciate that there are people young and otherwise who are seriously attached to their cell phones. According to Chipman, a cell phone is the third most likely thing to be picked up on leaving the house (after a wallet and keys).
But I think that pathologising the attachement would be a bit like saying those who lock there houses (something my mum and dad did not do) are paranoid. I dont see that there is really a psychological problem here.
The projection that because others (read young people) act differently in terms of their connectability, is pathological has gained currency with the media. Research by Sherry Turkle gets reported so often I am tempted to turn off my google alerts on her name following the May, New York Times interview. At least she had suggested, tentatively, that it 'may' cause a shift in the way they develop. Well yes, it may. The same article cited another psychologist saying it also has potential for benefit. This doesnt get repeated. Nor does it get repeated where it said its too early to tell.

Seems demonising sells papers, but its not possible to trace 'the research' behind the suppositions. There are articles oft repeated in papers, and there are interviews with people with an interest in such things such as Sherry Turkle. But the evidence is more anecdotal and tentative than gets repeated in the media. In Sherry Turkle's publications at the MIT website, there is no research evidence demonstrating increased cases of developmental delay. What is present is speculation on possibilities, on how people are shaping their interactions and being shpaed inside of those interactions.

That others act differently does not indicate a change in physiology. There is no new form of psychiatric illness, there is no cell phone induced developmental delay. There is no measurable alteration in electrical wiring nor in chemistry.

The capacity to be connected by cell phone provides an avenue to do what has always been done, differently, and differently creates differences. But the differences worth studying may well be the other things happening concurrently ; We might want to look at other factors impacting on young people in terms of how tethered they might be to their parents...increasing debt secondary to the costs of study also significantly impacts on independence.

We are facing change, and it is worth looking at. Should we reject Turkle’s work and refuse to accept the suggestions of emotional developmental delay completely? Perversely, I say no. Latour quoting Kant says “It is not enough to show that something is an illusion we also need to understand why the illusion is necessary.”
There's something in this that suggests change is newsworthy, but is extra newsworthy when its frightening or provocative. In emphasising supposed difference, and in making technology the source of difference, anxieties are provoked that can help the 'rest of us' feel comfortable. What might occur if we were to take away this excuse for our anxieties? We might have to start accepting the needs young people have for feeling connected, we might stop blaming them and look at ourselves.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The tipping point; stickiness; and scale

Malcolm Gladwell's analysis on how small things can be responsible for substantive changes is an enticing read, and there are some similarities to an actor network intent; there is a mystery to unravel. However, Galdwell seems a bit too keen to attribute causative features down to the few things, rather than the many.
He describes ho (some) changes occur with a contagion like effect. If I look at the stats for Youthline's mobile phone text counselling service, there's been the exponential growth, it started small, grew in smallish increments, then starts doubling. All this with advertising that in no way is synchronised with such growth; first when it was launched- and even here the adverts could have been confused with the greening of a philanthropic company, the new free texting phone number has barely been advertised- once in tearaway magazine.
When I talked with 2 users of the service, neither had been consciously influenced by the advertising. One had known of it through extended family and one by associations with happier times, a presence at yoth events. This is something that is worth recognising in the committment of this community organisation to 'building the brick mother'.

Gladwell defines the tipping point as the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.... a sociological term: "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." There are growth curves that happen exponentially, but being actor network theory inclined, I disagree with the unstoppable. I accept the exponential nature of viral contagion, but he doesn't talk of what happens next, because such fads as he mentions also stop, such viruses do outgrow their nurturing environments and grow beyond sustainability. The conditions that made for the event, can also alter- because of that event or for other reasons. Things can always configure differently. If I pour boiling water on an agar plate the doubling stops...if the conditions that make for cheap texting stop, so too could the demand for Youthline's texting service.

In the liklihood of such changes moving socially, Gladwell also talks of stickiness. This is a concept that is also discussed by community of practice writers such as Wenger. The point of difference actor network theory might bring to these accounts is that stickiness can be held because of the nonhuman actor:
When Em texted Youthline, she could keep the responses on her phone, a cell phone's memory is 'sticky', unless actively deleted its a reminder. She kept them "because they felt good". The messages provided ongoing affirmation. The other thing she did was push a message saying "Youthline does txt counselling 4 free, # 234 and sent it to 6 people and she had sure knowledge that one of these people sent it to another 12. The forwarding function provides an ease of conveying the message; this message too is 'sticky'. Unlike the game called either 'Chinese whispers' or 'broken telephone', accuracy stays intact.

In actor network theory terms, its also about the cellphone as a non human actor having attributes that create the conditions that make something more likely to occur.
At the same time, it takes a network, not an individual. Gladwell's argument is based on the 1967 "Six Degrees of Separation" study by social psychologist Stanley Milgram.

Milgram distributed letters to 160 students in Nebraska, with instructions that they be sent to a stockbroker in Boston (not personally known to them) by passing the letters to anyone else that they believed to be socially closer to the target. The study found that it took an average of six links to deliver each letter. Of particular interest to Gladwell was the finding that just three friends of the stockbroker provided the final link for half of the letters that arrived successfully. This gave rise to Gladwell's theory that certain types of people are key to the dissemination of information.
In 2003, Duncan Watts, a network-theory sociologist at Columbia University, repeated the Milgram study by using a web site to recruit 61,000 people to send messages to 18 targets worldwide. He successfully reproduced Milgram's results (the average length of the chain was approximately six links). However, when he examined the pathways taken, he found that "hubs" (highly connected people) were not crucial. Only 5% of the e-mail messages had passed through one of the hubs. (Wikipedia re Gladwell's Tipping point)

What remains essential is the work required. Rather than multiconnected individuals, that might make the physical movement of a letter easier, the electronic actor has no such limitation.The absence of an intimate relationship makes it very easy to ask to have a message passed on. Who these days would willingly cross countries or states.
The electronic medium creates an easy option, cheap cost wise and effort wise. Clay Shirkey in Here comes everbody explains this in terms of cheap transaction costs. Lowering transaction costs provide a platform for communities of practice. The potential only evolves though, only picks up speed because of the ubiquity of the message carrier, the tool allows for increasingingly rapid communication.

Cascading knowledge of a service also results in increased scale for the service to meet demand. A challenge then for how to get counsellors up to speed with providing the service...but perhaps more importantly just as more is different, faster is different. How to manage multi conversations occurring simultaneously?

a thesis as slices of stories

Daniel Pink's book, A whole new mind, lists the aptitudes for success in a conceptual era. These include
Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.
I'm wondering if the academy can embrace the shift from the knowledge age with its logics and linear approach and instead value Pink's conceptual concerns of engagement.

Since i am writing a thesis informed by actor-network theory, how might Pink's attributes be demonstrated?
Design would encompass what 'makes things up' not as fantasy but very much as an empirical analysis of what is pulled together. For the thesis, design is also about form with function, design not being an act of titivation. I can use art work, poetry, allegory ... but not as a gimmick, it has to progress the story. And because the academy may not be attuned to work in a conceptual rather than knowledge era, such use needs arguing.

The 'story' tells of how other actors are seduced into such design. How we enrol others and peel them off from prior, or distracting, concerns. In addition, an ANT thesis presents the research story as partial, and or fractal and or overlapping. The multivocal voice need to consider all actors, human and otherwise, so voice is uncovered for such actors; what is the influence of the environment, or of the tools of the trade.
In Aramis Latour demonstrates the use of story to convey multiple stories of a mystery in Who killed Aramis, a nascent form of transportation. In the Body multiple, Mol demonstrates through the telling of empirical stories the multiple performances of practice demonstrating arteriosclerosis as a multiple entity.
Stories are not lineal in the making, they are made lineal retrospectively.To simplify this ignores the messiness that is part of the social (dis)order, and as Law suggests, to make such complexity simple may be to make a mess of it.
The storytelling is not to imply that fiction or facts are necessarily separate entities. In ANT all research is also partial, it does not stand in isolation from those who create it....all facts are creations. In addition, to tell of 'facts' may not suffice, our ability to access knowledge has never been greater, but of itself this does not result in changed behaviour. We probably all know of smokers who are well informed on the facts. Pink tells us "What begins to matter more [than mere data] is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact."

In symphony there is a pulling together, how might it be done with more deliberate intent, if one were wanting a particular shape what could be pushed, pulled, left alone. Here its worth the time spent with Itay on youtube for there is an art to great composition and to leading.

This symphony also takes into account the custodial role of telling the story, for the storyteller too has impact. The story chosen and the way it is shaped, and to whome it is told...all these are alo political acts of researcher involvement.
"The most creative among us see relationships the rest of us never notice," Pink says. And this too is the major part of an actor network informed analysis.

Empathy- having a critical imagination is to consider how unknown or unexperienced lives might also be shaped within a network. To not pretend a God like view from nowhere but to appreciate the person's own experience as that which is experienced. To have voice, to make voice. And to know when to make things more and less heard, to have empathy includes considering if whats invisible should be made visible, or not. Susan leigh Star writes on this in her ant approaches to research analysis. It is also a consideration expressed by Latour in saying always consider putting yourself at the peak of enthusiasm that has actors act the ways they do, do not play the sly one advantaged by hindsight.

; suggests that there are serendipitous acts that will not be fully known in advance, that there needs to be space for the unknown. To be playful is also about leaving space for being creative, to consider that new learnings may be told in new ways. And also that what is planned for doesnt usually consider failure and risk.

Meaning, and finally to make meaning is also to know that things might also be performed differently, there is therefore scope that things might also be performed differently.

Seems to me that a conceptual approach is congruent with Actor- network theory.

Friday, August 07, 2009

a meme fashion victim

Visiting David Weinbergers joho blog, and followed a tail to memetracker,

MemeTracker builds maps of the daily news cycle by analyzing around 900,000 news stories and blog posts per day from 1 million online sources, ranging from mass media to personal blogs. We track the quotes and phrases that appear most frequently over time across this entire spectrum. This makes it possible to see how different stories compete for news and blog coverage each day, and how certain stories persist while others fade quickly.

My mind is just boggling as to what this one refers to
"I've got this thing and its expletive golden"
a relationship?
an investment tip?
the holy grail?
Just about covers anything.
My mum used to have a picture of the golden hand of Buddha above the doorway to the kitchen, could be that :)
Blessed all who entered her space.

The memetracker is a great idea, useful for looking at where stories evolve, and get repeated. I was surprised, for a little while, to see how highly rated and were rated when it comes to an analysis of where breaking stories are reported...but then again, anything that happens overnight gets reported earliest by those whose time clocks are advantaged.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

getting smarter with your mobile

Back in the 1960's this is what a mobile phone looked like.
Obviously its got a dial phone, for the obvious reasons that if you stepped on uneven surfaces, or chewing gum, you wouldn't want to be accidentally phoning people or running up costly toll bills.
These were also emergent days for feminism. The problem was that while it was really hard on socks, it was an impractical device for women. Agent 99 had far too much to do in her working life to risk getting holes in her tights, in these olden days, getting holes, or runs, meant darning.
An additional problem, was that walking around with one shoe off was worse for women, the heel difference made this an impractical lopsided choice. Furthermore, the innovation developed at a time when stilettos were the fashion choice for female fashion victims, this made accidental tympanoplasty and self imbedded grommets a frightening surgical risk, especially without anaesthesia.
Then there was the social stigma attached, these were not very enlightened times regarding mental health issues, talking into ones shoe, in public, could have got you certified.
Amazing really that it ever caught on. Who would have thought That Get Smart a spy spoof would lead to the ubiquitous use of mobile phones that we have today.

Amazing also is that the phone is more memorable than the dialogue, this was 1965, there was a cold war (the war that you have when your not having a war) and remember this predated the pre-emptive strikes on weapons of mass destruction occurring 40 years later...

The dialogue between Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 in the episode titled Appointment in Sahara. Behind the two characters is an image of a mushroom cloud:

99: Oh, Max what a terrible weapon of destruction.
Smart: Yes. You know, China, Russia, and France should outlaw all nuclear weapons. We should insist upon it.
99: What if they don't, Max?
Smart: Then we may have to blast them. That's the only way to keep peace in the world.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A lol approach to thesis writing

A pleasant wet Saturday afternoon at Borders, nice comfy chairs, read the the book, seduction. I have been reading and lol(ing)the latest Janet Evanovich, finger lickn fifteen. In Borders was the How to write a book by said author, so here's some wisdoms that I take on board for the thesis.

Show up for work every day.
Dont try for perfection in the first instance, rewriting comes later.
(This is my third worst fault, my first two are not taking the first two pieces of advice seriously enough)

Don't fall into the trap of rewriting chapter one until it's perfect. And don't discard everything you write halfway through because you're sure it sucks. Writing stuff that sucks is part of the learning process!

Show dont tell, the impact in first person is stronger than it is when describing.
Instead of stating a situation flat out, you want to let the reader discover what you're trying to say by watching a character in action and by listening to his dialogue. Showing brings your characters to life.

(If I take this piece of wisdom, i escape my trap of having an inarticulate research participant, I just need to describe the scenario, it is its own story)
And some nuts and bolts advice on structure;
Map the story; tell it with small arcs, there should be ups and downs, there should be mini moments of suspense; use a storyboard so everything keeps progressing the plot.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Teaching naked

Students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web. Why bore them with what they already have.
The purpose of presence is engagement; talk with them, discuss, debate, provoke. Construct lnowlegde together rather than throwing it at them.

Reported by Jeffrey Young, A dean at Southern Methodist University is proudly removing computers from lecture halls. José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts, challenges colleagues to "teach naked"—by which he means, sans machines.

The article cites a survey consisting of 211 students conducted at the University of Central Lancashire and published in April in the British Educational Research Journal.
59% of students reported at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods.

Students in the survey gave low marks not just to PowerPoint, but to all kinds of computer-assisted classroom activities.
"The least boring teaching methods were found to be seminars, practical sessions, and group discussions."
To summarise, tech-free classrooms are more engaging.

Despite millions of dollars in investment in hightech; teaching and learning is about engagement. Bells and whistles might gain attention, but they are not a substitute for teaching.
So stop using the slide-display program of power-point as a crutch rather than as a creative tool.

Personally, I happen to like ppt...and dont want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, or teach naked...
I dont have control over resources and do have the constraints of large class sizes, (usually well in excess of 150 at a time) and this does impact on debates and discussions. There are a few things that the large class size does better, the mexican wave comes to mind. And there are some advantages to a hightech environment, it just needs using better.
Think big screen, big environment, but also think engagement...

Here's resources I recommend if you are going to use ppt and the tech available, and want to do it better:
Animoto. (2009) The end of slideshows. Retrieved May 17 2009 from
Brown, G., and Godin, S. (2009). Seth Godin’s Presentation hierachy. Retrieved May 17 2009 from
Kaptarev, A. (2006). Death by bullet point and how to avoid it. Retrieved 17 May 2009 from
Kawasaki, G. (2006). The art of the start. Retrieved May 17 2009 from
Palmer, Parker J. (2007). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Reynold, G (n.d). PresentationZen blog

(Thats the nuts and bolts, philosophizing on ed is another issue for another day)