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February 27, 2006

Turning Ten

It's hard to say whether it was that I had fallen behind, or Derek had gotten ahead, but either way, I spent most of this afternoon catching up to him. The result? I tagged and linked up a year and a half's worth of CCC articles, six issues. As always, you can visit CCC Online, and see for yourself.

One of the peculiarities of working on the site is that our archive necessarily moves in both directions--as new issues are released, we add them to the site, of course, but we're also moving steadily backwards, at roughly an issue a week, or a volume per month. The process is slightly different for either direction, and there are certain parts of the process that simply get more intensive with each new issue that we add.

But the big news is that, as of a few minutes ago, I compiled the data for Volume 47, Issue 1, which was originally published in February of 1996. Technically, it's 10.75 volumes (since there was a 2-issue volume that shifted publication from the calendar year to the academic year), but it's definitely 10 years. So in a strange way, today is the archive's 10th birthday. In less than a year, we've managed to archive 10 years worth of the journal, interlinked the journals forwards and backwards, and generated a keyword index for those 10 years, using del.icio.us.

Not bad. Not bad at all. The further along we've gotten, the more conscious I am of some of the limitations of the approach we're taking, but for a cottage project, it's pretty darn good.

In honor of the archive's 10th birthday, then, here are the top ten tags from the past ten years of the journals (203 essays indexed). As I've discussed before, we generate the tags by parsing each article for nouns and noun phrases, and then take the most frequent to use as tags. We try to keep variations minimal, but there are some obvious synonyms that we haven't combined as well--there's probably an article in all of the tiny decisions I've had to make in compiling this data...

Top Ten Tags for CCC, 1996-2006

Students (159)
Writing (129)
Composition (78)
Language (37)
Literacy (36)
Discourse (33)
Rhetoric (33)
Pedagogy (32)
Community (28)
Work (28)

(I should mention that Derek and I will be talking about the site more generally next month at CCCC, as part of the Computer Connection. You'll find us there on Thursday at 1:45, appropriately enough during the C Session.)

That's all.

February 26, 2006

Bitter cold and the snow equals crazy wintricious



wintricious.gif

Okay, so it's not as bad as all that here today, but it's steady enough and ongoing enough that the roads never quite get clear, and it freezes when it hits the windshield, and when it comes down to it, after my fender bender a couple of years ago, I don't push it if I don't have to.

Worse comes to worst, I can always trudge up the hill to the RiteAid for some Mr. Pibb and some red vines.

February 25, 2006

Cylon Whisperer

A couple of random pop culture notes, for your personal edification. First is that I picked up the new Jenny Lewis album this past week--she's the voice behind Rilo Kiley, a band that I can listen to over and over. Lewis's solo effort is reminiscent of RK's More Adventurous in specific places, but I'm going to have to listen some more before I can say any more than that. Right now, it's on auto rotation, so I'll be listening every day, but only in chunks.

Oh, and I should mention that this CD reminded me, yet again, why I don't like ordering CDs from places like Amazon. The disc arrived, and inside the case, which was of course packed without any padding whatsoever, all of the little plastic thingies that hold a CD in place inside the case had snapped off. It was packed so tightly that they didn't drift around or scratch the disc (which would have truly pissed me off), but still. It's not that tough to design packaging that might truly protect a disc, is it?

Second, as I've discussed here before, Battlestar Galactica is the best sci-fi show on television right now, and last night's ep did not disappoint in that regard. One of the best characters has been Gaius, who's both a genius and the single most responsible person for the near-annihilation of the human race. Gaius also happens to routinely hallucinate in the form of his Cylon lover--it's unclear whether this is psychological or some sort of direct Cylon plot. Anyhow, last night's episode occurred mostly deep in the heart of Cylon country, and believe me when I say that it made this whole plot point exponentially more interesting.

Without spoiling too much, I'll simply say that most shows don't bother to think through the implications of events for the "villains"--our "heroes" are allowed to struggle, change, and/or triumph, but typically the enemies are part of the backdrop against which those things happen. Not so with BSG.

Great, great episode of a great, great show. Watch it. Now.

February 24, 2006

Seriometer spike

I hadn't really planned on saying much more about Jeff's IHE article, but then I got pulled in by the furor over it, which you might similarly observe at various places. And I write this fully knowing that there's an easy way to read this entry, which would go something like "oh, he's one of Jeff's friends and one of the 'chosen few' besides, of course he'd jump to Jeff's defense."

If I'm going to be honest about it, then I have to admit that there's a little of that going on here. When I see a friend called out as an asshat, an idiot, a pretentious academic, et al., I don't think anyone would fault me for feeling a little defensive on that person's behalf.

In the comments at one of the sites mentioned above, Jeff's point is paraphrased thusly:

All the anonymous bloggers do it out of fear, which proves Tribble right; they don't do it in order to experiment with forms or personae.

That paraphrase differs so wildly from my own perception of the article that I have to wonder how much of this is hangover from the various "nymous" fights that have broken out at various points in the short history of academic blogging. That is, I can't help but feel that there's a predisposition at work in reading the essay that way. And I'm more than happy to acknowledge that this predisposition is probably justified (and that my own predisposition is to read the article more generously).

And yet. I know for a fact that Jeff finds no merit whatsoever in Tribble. And I know that there are plenty of pseudonymous bloggers who exemplify what Jeff is after in that article. And yet I agree largely with what he says. So let me take a crack at it:

Perhaps his point would have been a little clearer had he included examples beyond pseudonymous blogging. There are those who see that kind of blogging as a form of self-censorship, and to be fair, it is. But it's only fair if we acknowledge (and I do) the degree to which nymous bloggers self-censor as well. There are lots of things that I don't talk about in this space, and while there are plenty of reasons behind those choices, one of them is the same fear that everyone else has. The fact that we have a separate word for being fired for blogging suggests how pervasive that fear is. That's one aspect of this generalized "seriousness."

Another is the tendency to domesticate blogging by using it in classrooms, as some of us have tried. By making it "count" towards a grade, we make it "serious" in ways that can undercut the energy we were hoping to bring to our courses in the first place. Another comes from those of us who include blogs amongst the texts and/or communities we study. Another is the argument that our blogs should be counted in our accounts of our academic activity, an argument that is tantamount to demanding that our colleagues take blogs "seriously." (If that's not a recipe for potential stagnation...)

The Tribble article, and the nerve that it struck (which I took to be Jeff's point in raising it), speaks further to the seriousness that can permeate not just academic blogs, but all blogs by academics. And believe me when I say that I fully understand the reasons why some people might not want to blog under the kind of cloud that Tribble (and our Tribblicious colleagues) represents.

If there's a mistake in Jeff's characterization, it's to emphasize only the fear behind psuedonymous blogging, a fear that most if not all of us must negotiate at one point or another. Blogging with a pseudonym permits many things that a real name does not. What Jeff (rightly) notices is that it's typically those kinds of posts that IHE links to, and so if one's access to those blogs comes through that portal, I can fully see how one would conclude that there's a culture of fear and complaint operating. My own opinion is that this has to do far more with IHE's editorial decisions than with any kind of uniformity on the part of academics who blog, pseudonymous or no. My limited sense of those communities is that they're far more about support than they are about complaint.

And yet, real names also permit certain kinds of posts that pseudonyms do not. My (crusading, serious) entries on the Facebook issue last week held a certain amount of credibility, and (I hope) accomplished a little more because they were tied directly to someone with direct and proximate insight into the situation and someone who actively studies the phenomena in question. Could I have written about the episode pseudonymously? Of course, but I couldn't have written about it in the same way.

And no, I'm not trying to offer a scenario according to which pseudonymous blogs must be somehow considered "less than." My point is merely that each choice offers certain possibilities and certain constraints. The seriousness I take Jeff to be talking about, though, is a constraining force that affects us all. I don't take him to be suggesting, were all pseudonymous bloggers to start blogging under their real names, that the problem he identifies would magically be solved. Because it wouldn't. Because I'd still worry about whether or not to comment about local events, and worry about how what I write might be misread by people who can affect my future. On my best days, I push those worries aside and do what I do. I assume that's true of us all.

Bottom line is that I don't think that the problem Jeff describes is intrinsic to one or another group of bloggers. Rather, it's something that we all struggle with, and could probably all struggle against a little more often. To me, that's the broader issue that's getting lost a little bit.

That's all.

Update: New Kid and Nels have really smart followup posts that are worth looking at.

Also, for some reason, my filters are throttling attempts to leave comments--they just blocked me from posting something, too. If you want to leave a comment here, and are willing to drop it into an email to me, I'll post it. Sorry about that.

February 23, 2006

Shouldafreude

That'd be my variation on schadenfreude, designating the (only slightly) jealous pang I feel when someone else says or does something that I wish I'd thought of first.

That was my thought as I caught Ben V's latest over at if:book. In particular, check out the description of the subtitling for the American release of the Russian movie Night Watch:

What they've done is played with the subtitles themselves, making them more active and responsive to the action in the film [snip]:

"...[the words] change color and position on the screen, simulate dripping blood, stutter in emulation of a fearful query, or dissolve into red vapor to emulate a character's gasping breaths."

Very cool. The idea of spicing up the traditional white text at the bottom of the screen is something that should have occurred to someone (me!) long before now.

Also, mainly bc I want to save it for future reference:

The problem with contemporary discussions about the future of the book is that they are mired -- for cultural and economic reasons -- in a highly inflexible conception of what a book can be. People who grew up with print tend to assume that going digital is simply a matter of switching containers (with a few enhancements thrown in the mix), failing to consider how the actual content of books might change, or how the act of reading -- which increasingly takes place in a dyanamic visual context -- may eventually demand a more dynamic kind of text.

February 22, 2006

Seriously

I have to admit, even after musing about Scout Niblett, that I'm feeling more than a little guilty, after Jeff went to the trouble of hailing me in his IHE piece, of not exactly living up to the compliment that his hail pays me.

Not that I'm feeling particularly serious lately or anything. Well, that's not quite right. The truth is that there are times when, despite my best efforts, the serious overtakes me, where it seemingly surrounds me on every side. Where every sentence ends up getting weighed against possible readings, especially at a time (like now) where I'm involved both in faculty searches and graduate admissions.

Times like these I can feel my blogging slow down to a crawl--even if no one else perceives them, I can chart my moods pretty accurately by looking through my archives, and seeing how frequently I post, what I post about, and what I don't post about.

...

That long pause was me reading about four months worth of archives, and forgetting what exactly I was going to say here. You may think I'm kidding, but I'm not. I had something to say, and forgot it.

Come back tomorrow, and maybe I'll have remembered.

February 21, 2006

Who is Scout Niblett?

As it happens, Scout Niblett was only known to me, for the past two weeks, as the name of someone who appeared on a poster next to the elevator on the ground floor of our building. Every day, I walked past the poster for Scout Niblett's upcoming performance/appearance (Feb 25, for those keeping track), and every day, I mused to myself on the name Scout Niblett, accurately (as it turned out) making the connection to the character from To Kill a Mockingbird and inaccurately (as it turned out) connecting it vaguely to Green Giant Corn Niblets.

Every day, for two weeks, I walked upstairs, having seen the poster, sometimes several times a day, mentally vowing to actually look up Scout Niblett on-line, so that I might sort these and other associations. Every day, that vow lasted only approximately as long as it took me to reach the top of the stairs, supplanted by other, presumably more important, activities.

You would be entirely justified in wondering: if it takes him two whole weeks just to look up some random singer on the Internet, how much longer do matters of consequence require?

I'm just saying, you'd be justified.

February 17, 2006

Talent-cide

Here's a bit of serious for you, from Nicholas Carr's "The New Narcissism":

As I myself have thought about the watery philosophy and the powerful technology that dovetail so neatly in Web 2.0, I've become convinced that we're building a machine that will, to great and general applause, destroy culture.

More provocation than fully developed thesis, this is what made me think today.

I don't think he's right, and I think there are the Long Tail arguments to support my opinion, but only if you understand that the "pure" LT position isn't that LT automatically equals quality. Rather, it's that LT outlets lower the threshold for sustainability of niche opinions, texts, communities, many of which will be crap, and a few of which we'll have been glad to have. I'm thinking here, for example, of the way that Anderson describes Netflix's ability to sustain a market for documentaries.

But I appreciate Carr's willingness to poke at the near-sacred way that plenty of LT (and Web2.0) arguments simply take for granted that more = better. I guess I feel that the opposite case (more = worse) is no more accurate...

/frenzy

It's always difficult for me to come off a few days/entries in a row where I feel as though I've "gotten serious." Does it somehow take some of the starch out of my collar to then post something frivolous? Should I try and gradually work back in by taking the serious down a notch each day until I'm back into my regular range? Do I just break the ice of seriousness with a big ol' goofhammer? I'm opting for goofhammering today.

So here are two utterly frivolous observation/comments:

Is it totally mean of me to suggest that perhaps Lindsay Jacobellis should have waited until after the race to check her board and make sure that her Visa Check Card wasn't missing? Yeah, probably so.

And speaking of mean (but still somehow completely hilarious), I should preface this by noting that while I'm really not much of a reality TV fan, I have gotten into Project Runway on Bravo over the past two seasons. Yes, this is a guilty pleasure. One of the contestants this season, Santino, does a spot-on imitation of Tim Gunn, who's kind of the fashion coach on the show (he doesn't judge the candidates, but tries to help them here and there, keep them on task, etc.). Anyhow, there's a video snippet on the Bravo site, where one of the other contestants has Santino do his Tim impersonation to sing NIN's "Closer to God." If you watch the show at all, it is sooo worth your time to download the (<1 MB) MP3. Really. It is priceless.

That's all.

February 15, 2006

Avast, ye windmill!

I want to both acknowledge and thank Scott Jaschik of IHE for being willing to brave the storm and ire of those of us who feel strongly about the whole Facebook situation. That's no small thing. In light of his visit, I thought I might lay out, without swearing, as clear a statement of my position as possible. I don't know that he will find it persuasive, but perhaps it will offer some context for the anger that many of us feel over this.

Let me start with a snippet from Katherine Hayles's new book My Mother Was a Computer (a book I hope to review once I've (a) turned back into Dr. Banner, and (b) gotten much more of my workload under control). Hayles attempts to make the case that we need to consider "code" at the same conceptual level as "speech" and "writing," sort of a parallel to Ulmer's (among others) orality, literacy, and electracy. Hayles writes

Code that runs on a machine is performative in a much stronger sense than that attributed to language. When language is said to be performative, the kinds of actions it "performs" happen in the minds of humans...[examples]...code running in a digital computer causes changes in machine behavior and, though networked ports and other interfaces, may initiate other changes, all implemented through transmission and execution of code (50).

Now, I'm taking liberties here a bit with Hayles's work, but my broader argument the past few days is that the difference among dorm room conversations, passing notes in class, and posting comments on Facebook are the differences among speech, writing, and code. The three aren't separate, of course, and Hayles says as much. But the issue I have with Scott and IHE's coverage of this event is that they have failed to appreciate the degree to which they are not simply "writing" about Facebook. They are also coding the event by creating resources that are more visible, accessible, and available, and for a longer period of time, than any of these other analogs.

Clay Spinuzzi puts it this way, rather nicely:

Collin's point is that defamation becomes a de facto part of a person's online record - the "portfolio" (my term) that Google and Yahoo are constantly assembling for everyone with an online presence:

When you write about this situation, and then code it, you are effectively contributing material to the online portfolio of each of the people involved. This is particularly relevant to those sites that have exploited the naivete of the students in that course--an irony I pointed out yesterday in reference to the fact that the Internet is far more a "permanent record" than a student's file at a university. The latter is protected by FERPA among other things, while IHE and other sites endure no such limitation.

Today's newspaper may be tomorrow's bird cage liner, but today's Internet story can be future employers' search results, even as far as several years down the line. You can still, with relative ease, locate things that I said and did in graduate school back in the mid-90s. That's one of the ways I would interpret Hayles's notion of "strong performativity"--by publishing names, by reprinting the page itself, by reproducing the comments, you are, literally, performing and participating in the event in a way that the "shield" of journalistic objectivity and coverage does not fully account for.

In this case, and let me put this as bluntly as possible, if you are willing to cede the possibility that this page constituted harassment (a possibility fully in line with determinations made both by SU and by Facebook), then it is not enough to simply put quotes around the page, or remove it from the "front" with a link. It is not enough to absolve you of the responsibility of considering that you, in consciously reproducing this document, have actively participated in the harassment that you are "reporting."

To assert that you are not responsible is to deny the very real, material effect that certain kinds of language have on the people around us. And it is to deny the very real, material differences among media. To post something hurtful, and to do so with the alibi that the material did not originate with you, is still to post something hurtful. And it is to implicitly reinforce that pain.

All the way throughout this discussion, I have not said anything about restricting Facebook, and I won't, because I don't hold them responsible for what was said. Once they learned about the abuse of their site, however, they had a choice to make. They could either leave the page in place, or remove it. There was no choice that they could make that was neutral. I believe that they made the proper decision.

Similarly, IHE and other sites posting screen grabs are making choices that themselves influence the perception of the story. By allowing these words and images to persist (without, as Spencer suggested, blurring anything), they are weighing in on the side of those who would permit this kind of behavior, because they themselves are reproducing the behavior for a wider audience. In the interests of "coverage," they are, inadvertently or not, affecting the lives of the people whose names they've "covered."

They are, of course, free to do so.
They are, however, also accountable for doing so.

And that's all I have for right now. I persist in the hope that more of us will do the right thing here.

A colleague weighs in (Yet more...)

[Note: I've changed the title of this entry, in response to my colleague's objection that his wasn't really an attack. Fair enough. My original title ("when colleagues attack!") was less an accusation than a parallel to the prior day's entry and an allusion to the hyperbolic sensationalism of those old FOX tv shows.]

I was going to settle back down into my routine today, work some more on my manuscript, and keep an occasional eye peeled to see what IHE planned to do. That was before I did a little light Googling to see how much of this had seeped into search engines thus far. That was before I came across this blog entry at moralhealth.com, a site maintained by a colleague of mine here at SU in the Philosophy Department. Perhaps my colleague will revise his opinions in light of the information that has come out since last Friday.

For the moment, though, you have the opportunity to see one of the consequences of the misleading information published in our school paper. Based on that information, said colleague offers the following opinion:

Were the remarks absolutely unpleasant? Absolutely. Were the remarks threatening or harassing? Well, not if the remarks were rather like

I would rather eat the hair out of the drain than go to class

We do know because the University is rather silent about the matter. But I can only assume that we have been given an example of the kind comments that were indicative of the remarks that were made against the instructor. And if that is so, then what we have is an institution that is over-stepping the proper boundaries.

Let me save you the suspense of discovering that the payoff of this over-stepping in this entry is the single, hyperbolic sentence with which the entry ends: "Syracuse University is not supposed to be the Taliban."

Ummm....what the...?!?!?!

But really, that's just the cherry on top of the sundae. The flawed analogies begin much earlier. To wit:

I am at a loss as to the difference between this and two other things: (a) These students going on endlessly about [name deleted] to other students on campus and (b) these students filling out anonymous teaching evaluations about [name deleted] in which they say many of the same things.

First of all, by repeated using the instructor's name, and thus further cementing the associations that will turn up routinely in Google searches, my colleague has already demonstrated that he is indeed "at a loss."

Unlike campus conversations, and unlike anonymous course evaluations, Facebook is searchable. That in and of itself is a simple difference that Every. Single. Person. who has used these people's names in their coverage needs to understand. Every time you use one of their names, you are reinforcing an association that has consequences far beyond the immediate circumstances of your usage. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but I do Google searches on job candidates, on graduate program applicants, on people I meet/see at conferences. I do them all the time. These sites are not private. Really.

Oh, but wait. There's more.

There are in fact many black students on campus who are utterly persuaded that I am an Uncle Tom. They are persuaded that I care more about white students than blacks students and that my opposition to affirmative action reflects a deep inferiority complex or some form of self-hatred. Needless to say, there is nothing flattering here, either. But it would not occur to me to think that the University should somehow prohibit them from holding these opinions of me, or that students who posted such opinions of me on a public website should be punished.

I just want to be clear here. The analogy being drawn is between the writer on the one hand--a tenured, male professor who's written several books and had ample opportunity to lay out a position with which his students might disagree--and the instructor he's writing about--a female graduate student about whom students are making public, obscene comments.

If this honestly seems like a fair comparison to anyone, then I don't know what to say.

What I will say is that much of this argument is based upon information that was essentially a lie by omission. As the argument makes pretty clear, the local coverage of this event implied that the comments on Facebook were much milder than they actually were. The odd thing about this, though, even in the absence of revision on the part of my colleague, is that in his very next post he bemoans the work of the ACLU as an organization that can't "wrap its mind around," among other things that,

When the founding fathers advocated free speech, a fundamental part of their thinking was that people could be held accountable for what they said. Indeed, that very idea finds itself in the jury system itself: a person has a right to face her or his accusers. The very idea that a person could say anything he or she damned well please without being answerable to others for her or his remarks was simply unthinkable to the founding fathers.

I don't really have much else to say--it's rare that I read an entry where the author unwittingly publishes a rebuttal to the very things I disagree with.

So let me simply close with the sincere hope that, now that more information has come to light, my colleague sees fit to act on the principle he espouses. In other words, I honestly hope that he reconsiders his hyperbole and his own overreaction to the situation. While he was not responsible for the factual error his entry duplicates, he is responsible for each day that his entry remains unrevised or uncorrected now that the information is available.

That is all.

February 14, 2006

When Journalists Attack! (more on Facebook)

I've been telling various people privately that the DO coverage of the Facebook incident here at SU committed at least a couple of serious misrepresentations. One of these was that the comments reported by the story were far less objectionable than others they could have noted. Rather than get into the issue of "how objectionable is too objectionable" or repeat the comments themselves, I made the choice to let that mistake stand.

Unfortunately, other publications don't feel a similar sort of restraint. I won't link to it here, but you can visit Inside Higher Ed and see what the story looks like when journalism works without any consideration for the people involved. As I talked about in the last entry, for me, this is a question less of freedom than it is of consequences. I would never suggest that IHE (or any other outlet) is not "free" to cover the story in any way that they choose. I would suggest, though, that by choosing to include the names of the students and the instructor, and by choosing to include a graphic of the original Facebook page, IHE has effectively piled on.

And it's not in the interests of journalism. It's entirely possible to lay out this argument, to report on this situation, without naming the people involved, without publishing pictures. It's voyeurism, pure and simple, and it's a shitty thing.

Among other things, the story reports on the worries of one of the students:

“I will have a reprimand on my permanent record for seven years,? she added, “so if a grad school inquires into any interactions with judicial affairs or asks on an application if I had any violations that required punishment, this would apply.?

Setting aside the whole "permanent for seven years" thing, what this young woman doesn't seem to realize is that, long after the reprimand vanishes, guess what? she appears in a story accessible in a Google search on her name, one that makes certain, with graphic clarity, that what she did and said will be available to anyone interested.

By publishing their names, IHE has played their part in ensuring that this incident will survive long after all of the people involved have left Syracuse. And in the case of the instructor, who did not volunteer to be treated like this, publicly and offensively, IHE has repeated, and effectively extended, the harassment represented by the original site.

IHE knows this. The unfortunate thing about this is that they will hide behind the shield of saying that they're just covering the story in as much detail as they can. They won't endure the consequences of their choices the way that the people whose names appear in their article will. And I'm not sure what's worse: the idea that they understand the consequences of reposting harassing materials but choose to do so anyway, or the idea that they didn't think it through. Neither option provides me with much comfort.

It provides me with one certainty, though: it's a fucking shameful thing that Inside Higher Ed has done. Fucking shameful. I expect better from them. Here's what you can do: email info@insidehighered.com and ask them to remove the instructor's and students' names from their story and to take down the graphic of the Facebook page. Hell, copy and paste this entry into that email if you want. That's my plan.

I'll update this entry if and when IHE decides to do the right thing.

That's all.

February 10, 2006

Facebook drama at SU

That was fast. In the past couple of weeks, our student newspaper on campus (the Daily Orange) has run a couple of front-page articles on Facebook, one about campus security using it to try and curtail underage drinking and now another that hits a little closer to home, as I'll explain below. What hasn't taken long is that these articles, including Wednesday's, have already made it to the Wikipedia entry on Facebook.

I'm not going to replicate our paper's policy of using names here, or comment too extensively on a situation with which I am only peripherally at best connected, but a couple of issues seemed worthy of mention. The basic story is this: some students in one of our FY courses created a group on Facebook that was basically devoted to disrespecting their instructor. Despite the near-ubiquity of Facebook, much of what goes on there is outside the purview of a lot of us who teach, but I don't think it would surprise many to learn that this is a fairly widespread practice. I've heard myself of several instances of "I hate X" groups on Facebook, where X is either a particular course or a particular professor.

What's different about this process isn't the hurtfulness or the aggressiveness of some of these groups--from time immemorial, students have complained about various professors and classes. Goodness knows I did my share of kvetching in college. What's different about Facebook and other SNS is the degree of speed and transparency they bring to what once was a form of institutional underlife. I might complain to a roommate about the unreasonable policies of a particular professor, and I would certainly do so without fear of being brought before a campus disciplinary committee. And if you read this account from the DO, one of the patterns that emerges is the students' outright shock over the severity of the potential consequences and the response by the university. Their complaints about the length and uncertainty of the process I take simply as an unfamiliarity with procedures that are actually designed to protect them from overreaction, a system that no student familiarizes hirself with until s/he's actually involved with it.

But the Facebook question is a different one. Clearly Facebook accomplishes something that conversation does not, or it wouldn't be successful--students would just keep on talking. We don't have a whole lot of language to describe what Facebook does yet, because it's not something that fits comfortably on the public-private spectrum. By establishing a separate space for social networking, though, Facebook certainly moves away from the private towards some form of publicness. One consequence, as the Wikipedia entry makes fairly obvious, is that what at one time happened primarily as a form of underlife, with Facebook no longer stays underliven.

I think that this is an important change. Part of what's happening is that the transparency that information and communication technologies have brought to faculty (think 24-7 email requests) is now also having some effect on student life on campus. There's one sense in which the students are right to be shocked by the response--not so long ago, administrators couldn't have had access to these kinds of activities. But to imagine that this is somehow a breach of privacy (as one student in the article does) is to misrecognize the situation to a degree. The most obvious change that Facebook makes is this step towards transparency or publicness, but there's a second step as well. There's a difference between expressing an opinion in conversation (where it is likely to be taken as opinion and unlikely to have consequences beyond the immediate conversation) and placing something on a site like Facebook or one of the rating sites, where it takes on both a more public and permanent quality.

It's not just that these kinds of activities are less private on Facebook, in other words. It's that they have potentially greater consequences. Regardless of what the students may intend (and my guess is that there wasn't a lot of intentionality in the first place), the (semi) public suggestion of an instructor's incompetence is an act that has very real consequences for the instructor hirself. This kind of disrespect can be contagious, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and affecting the quality of a course. It can persist beyond the immediate circumstance, poisoning future courses, or in the case of some of the ratings sites, affecting job prospects. While no one would argue that all instructors are equally good, or that constructive criticism is unwarranted, I think it safe to say that many of the comments on these kinds of sites are not primarily motivated by a desire to improve instruction (two words: chili peppers). There's a great deal of aggression being vented, and in fact, many of these sites market themselves specifically on the idea that they provide a place for students to revenge themselves on their teachers--RateMyProfessors specifically promises a space where students can "turn the tables" on faculty. And there's been no shortage of stories about how that particular site has been used to harass particular professors, to provide misleading information, and/or to offer up a pretty bleak account of student values.

[One of the difficulties with any of these sorts of sites is that they are too easily reduced to simple analogies--it's like X, only digital. But that "only" is misleading; most SNS sites combine various features of their analogs. For example, it's possible to argue that Facebook, in some ways, is simply a remediation of note-passing, and it does offer the convenience and immediacy of that proto-genre. But it's useful to me to think of it as well as a remediation of posters or fliers, and there's some indication that it's used in that way as well--as a site for general announcements. Things that we wouldn't think twice about putting in a note we definitely should think twice about putting on a poster or a flier, for instance...]

I guess my point here is ultimately a simple one, and that's that writing has consequences, and for whatever reason, it's been a point that's been slow to sink in on this campus recently. All sorts of behavior has been defended lately on this campus from the perspective that the pain being caused hasn't been intentional ("it was just a joke," e.g.), and yet pain has been the consequence of this behavior, and there's been a lot of shock expressed when the people who have behaved badly have been required to bear some of the consequences of their actions.

I'm not sure that it's ultimately the university's responsibility to warn or prepare students to accept the consequences of their behavior, or that such policies or workshops would even have that kind of effect. I think it's important for all of us to understand how codes of conduct extend to all sorts of venues, Facebook included, but I suspect that, just as being "dooced" entered the parlance of bloggers, it's going to take a critical mass of stories about students being held accountable for their Facebook activity for it to finally sink in. I don't think that this is an issue that can simply be "solved" with a policy or a workshop, and yet it's one that needs to be addressed in its full complexity.

I'm not in the habit of offering disclaimers on my entries here, but it should be mentioned that this is my take on this situation, and doesn't represent my program, college, or university, or the principals involved in the incident.

That's all.

February 8, 2006

40/40 Vision, or, Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

Here at cgbvb, we like to hunt down the source of each and every traffic spike that pushes our numbers just a little higher than normal, and so that's how we located a mention at Donna's English 4040 blog. Hello, 4040ers! Not only does Donna show us a little love in her description, but she links to a couple of exemplary posts, one recent and one much older. We'd forgotten how utterly high-larious that older post was, though, and thus were pleased to be able to revisit it. Moreover, we would encourage you to do the same; "Interpellation" may be our all-time favorite cgbvb post, and it's certainly one of the best replies to a net.meme we've ever seen (if we do say so ourselves).

We are somewhat chastened to note that the campaign referenced therein remains in what might be euphemistically described as the "prewriting stage," however.

We might also add, parenthetically, that the usage of first-person plural, combined with the near-bureaucratic diction that it seems to encourage in our writing, is merely an affectation for the present entry and does not signal an overall change in tone.

That is all.

February 6, 2006

Yummy class management

Lest you jump to the conclusion that February is some kind of personal snark holiday of mine, let me hasten to add a link to Bradley's reflections on using del.icio.us last semester to manage his course on computers and writing.

From my perspective, he does a better job here of articulating what's possible (and how it worked) than I managed in my spring course, where I tried something similar. Del.icio.us starts with bookmarking, but ultimately, it can be a really simple but robust tool for all sorts of organizational tasks, and I think Bradley's post demonstrates this. I also really appreciate the discussion of how his tagging practices have evolved. Not enough of those kinds of discussions yet.

Addicted to Dumb

I don't typically give a rat's ass about Super Bowl commercials. I don't care for the hype, which is inevitably overdone, I don't believe that they're about anything other than conspicuous consumption on the part of our megacorporations, and I generally find them to be a lot less clever than they seem to think they are.

Let me state unequivocally, though: the commercial for Lost where they superimposed Robert Palmer's largely forgettable "Addicted to Love" into clips from Lost and did music video cuts on it was HORRIBLE. Horrible.

First of all, it's not that kind of show. The commercial was misleading at best, and made Lost out to be an action-thriller, which it's not.

Second, if you want to attract new viewers, and I assume that this was at least partly the point, then how about this? Advertise the fact that you can get episodes on the cheap via iTunes--it's an innovative practice, and it makes it a lot easier for people to catch up. My experience may not be representative, but over and over, the biggest reason that I hear for people not watching Lost is that they don't want to try and hop in mid-stream. So why not market the solutions that you've developed for that? Why in the world would you do a dopey music video commercial for a show that's popular precisely because it's not a fast food kind of show?

The odd thing about this is that ABC has had huge success in the past two years with ensemble, character-driven drama, and instead of promoting these shows as such, they run the same old marketing ploys. People watch Lost not because of this kind of crap, but despite it.

That's all.

Update: Consider this fair warning. I'm going to start editing out spam comments and trackbacks--if you trackback my page and don't put up a corresponding link to this page on yours, I take that as (a) a violation of the spirit of the trackback, (b) a personal affront, (c) an invitation to be added to my blacklist. Seriously. It's lame.

Friends Like These

I have less to say about today's IHE article, "Reading, Writing and Representing," than you might imagine. Frank Gaughan and Peter Khost, both grad students at CUNY and instructors elsewhere, suggest that

While the public grows increasingly skeptical of the nature and purposes of liberal arts education, academics generally, and we suspect English scholars particularly, have not been as effective as they could, should, and must be when representing the value of their work, especially teaching.

Their solution is not a particularly new one--it is that we must stop writing primarily (or exclusively) to each other, and to make some effort to stage ourselves more effectively for the public, "[b]ecause the value of work in English studies is so poorly understood."

I don't really object to this, although I would take some issue with their unwillingness to acknowledge, for instance, not Michael Bérubé the scholar who presented at MLA on this very topic, but Michael Bérubé the blogger, who does more on his blog on a weekly basis to meet the goals the authors lay out here than a lifetime of MLA addresses is likely to accomplish. But that's just me. I believe that blogging, and technology in general, will ultimately not "communicate more effectively the value of English studies" but encourage some of us to revalue that discipline altogether. That's just me too.

I reserve a little grudge, though, for the dismissive treatment of composition and rhetoric:

While jobs in composition, tenure-tenure track and otherwise, have proven more available than those in, say, 19th century American literature, such jobs often consist of administrative positions, or what both critics and reformers are now calling the middle-management class of faculty, wherein one or two tenured faculty are charged with supervising a large and shifting class of part-time faculty.

I could be wrong about this, but more and more I hear this argument, coming primarily from people self-identified with literature: sure, there are more comp jobs, but they're middle manager jobs, service positions. Which, of course, is crap. It's crap mostly because even if some of us are called upon to administer programs (and I would dispute "often" in the absence of evidence), the fact remains that the same burden of scholarship and teaching is laid upon us as is laid upon our literary colleagues. So even more than the often, I react strongly to the notion that my job "consists" of administration, given that I will be evaluated next year according to the same criteria (rightly or wrongly) as any other faculty member.

In other words, this argument is rapidly become the flavor-of-the-month way to avoid acknowledging that real scholarship might be taking place within English Studies other than literary/cultural studies. One of the real joys of working in a freestanding program is the fact of colleagues who do not need to be convinced, cajoled, and reminded that rhet/comp has an important role to play in the "value of English Studies" too.

I don't believe that Gaughan and Khost believe the strong version of this line of reasoning, but it's hard to overlook, in an article about responsible and effective public representation, the way that their piece falls back into the same old snobbery when it comes to rhet/comp.

Apparently, I had more to say than I might have imagined. That is all.

February 5, 2006

SuperBowl XL, courtesy of Babelfish

I don't have a lot to say about tomorrow's SuperBowl, but what I have to say I typed into the translation window at Babelfish, and translated it first into German, then into French, then into Italian, and then back into English:

I hope Seahawks tomorrow profit. I know honestly that I would have to be honest to my E region all, dò however, he therefore much Steelers fans and paradewagenmitfahrer of parade automobile round here to that creed, as me for of the Seattle if other that to put one small number to the disposition the equilibrium did not have to radicare for some reason.

Umm, yeah. That's all I have to say about that.

February 2, 2006

If only they would feed me



cccofeed.gif
(CCC Online fed through Bloglines)

Here's one of the top items on my wishlist for our field, and here's what we've done to get there. Although there aren't a lot of subscribers yet, one of the things that using MT allows us to do with CCC Online is to publish RSS/Atom feeds of new issues of the journal.

Imagine with me for a minute. Rather than having to subscribe to all the journals, to guess when they're coming out, to borrow them from colleagues, or to hear about a relevant article months after its release when someone else cites it in a paper, imagine being able to just have a folder in Bloglines, or a feed page in Safari, or a bookmark in Firefox, that simply allows you to browse the most recent articles from the various journals in our field. Imagine that, rather than asking our graduate students to figure it out on their own what the journals are, we could just give them an OPML file that contained the feeds of all those journals. Imagine having all of those abstracts at your fingertips, and being able to bookmark them for later, email it to a friend you know would be interested, etc.

This is already possible with CCC Online. And in fact, it's theoretically possible for those journals that are oligopublished, like Computers and Composition or Rhetoric Review--I know that the big kids are slowly moving in a 2.0 direction. To generate a feed of new articles for CCC takes us (and this is including all of the other site features that we build in) maybe an hour or so an issue. Leave off the tagging, and the internal linking/trackbacking, and we'd be talking maybe 15 minutes, 4 times a year.

That's 1 hour. 1 hour per year.

For an hour's worth of work a year, a journal could make that metadata available in a much broader fashion and much more conveniently to the entire field. It really is that simple. Really. Just copy and paste, and a little bit of elementary design on the front end.

Maybe part of it is that I've been living with this idea for the last year or so, because it seems bone-crushingly obvious to me. It requires so little effort, and what effort is required is distributed so broadly that it's negligible. And the benefit is so clear and present--to have the last year's worth of articles in the field at our fingertips? Genius. There's no reason why publishers couldn't hop on to this as well: feeds for various subject areas, including books and chapters from edited collections.

Every once in a while, there are complaints about the flood of information we're faced with, even in a field as relatively small as ours is. We need to poke ourselves in the head, though, with the sharp fact that this is true for every discipline, much less every field of endeavor, and there are solutions out there, solutions that are pretty easy to implement and that could really transform the way we handle that flood.

That is all.

The Art of Making the Stronger Team the Weaker

The only coverage of the interminable lead-up to SuperBowl XL that I can stand is Gilbert Gottfried and Kermit the Frog on ESPN's Cold Pizza Chuck Klosterman's "blog" for Page2 of ESPN.com. Say what you will about their ugly habit of tucking most of their really insightful writers behind PPV walls, the one thing that ESPN.com does right is Page2, where they hire writers to write.

Anyhow, ChuckK's coverage of Tuesday (Media Day! Media Day! Gather ye sound bites while ye may!) was pretty darn good. Exhibit A is his breakdown of the logic by which the Steelers, a 4-point favorite this week, are actually victims of that most heinous (not to mention nebulous) of treatments: disrespect.

As I write this, Pittsburgh is a four-point favorite to win Super Bowl XL. As you might have heard, the Steeler players are nonetheless viewing this prediction as a sign of disrespect. And Hines Ward spent part of media day explaining how being favored is (covertly) a criticism of his franchise.

I will now attempt to illustrate his five-pronged logic, even though I remain semi-baffled by its abstract complexity; I have a feeling Hines read a lot of Jacques Derrida while attending the University of Georgia. But here goes ...

Premise 1: Earlier this season, the Steelers were not given much credence from the mainstream media. Moreover, they struggled when Ben Roethlisberger was injured.

Premise 2: Conversely, Seattle was exceptional all season. The Seahawks finished as the NFC's No. 1 seed.

Premise 3: By favoring Pittsburgh in this game, the oddsmakers are negating Seattle's success.

Premise 4: Since Seattle's greatness has been quietly negated, the media is premeditating a circumstance in which a Pittsburgh victory would be less impressive than raw evidence would normally suggest.

Premise 5: Ward believes the Steelers will win in a major upset that the world is not recognizing; as such, the Steelers have been disrespected in advance.

Wow. The weird thing about this is that it actually makes a Bizzaro World kind of sense. More to the point, it makes me wonder if we shouldn't be teaching Hines Ward in our contemporary rhetoric courses.

That is all.