November 15, 2005

Blogs: Public artifacts of Private thought.

Talking about connectivity

Blogs as cultural artifacts of the web are products of both scholarly and popular intentions. Some blogs are intentionally academic or professional, and others are solely for personal or creative use. In any circumstance, blogs function as evidence of thought in a textual form, in a digital format.

As we continue to produce the present, we can draw on an already large bit of web history, and communication history, even as we are trying to figure out what is coming next. The web affects not only how day to day life is lived, it influences how we think about the theory discussed in academia.

This connectivity of the web reaches every facet life and represents one of its most alluring and also, confusing traits. The enormous possibilities are alluring, but the magnitude can be overwhelming. How do blogs fit into both the current and historical frames of life?

All ideas connect somewhere and everywhere

Sometimes when I'm listening to an idea in class I meander too deeply into my own thoughts so that, when I finally comment aloud, I’m way across the pond from the original stream of thought, which often reminds me of the quick succession of jumps in hypertext that can take you, as an example, from your search on zebras to the medicinal properties of birch trees, to the kinship structures of tribal communities. When we talk about breaking the formally imposed rules of text, we are talking about much more than the text, but also how we use it, and what we use it for. Text itself, replicates the rules of a culture.

For example, a classmate, Chris, noticed when reading my blog that the text did not follow the formal rules of capitalization:

in your post you start out without any caps. you're talking about your mind meandering like your web searches (cool analogy, btw) and then you start talking about your grad program (in english!) and the capital letters show up. my guess is that was unconscious. was it?
Posted by prolix at September 9, 2005 04:31 PM

Even unconsciously, we follow certain protocols, in every facet of communication. In a sense, when I changed from the casual, all lowercase writing to the proper capitalization and sentence formation, I changed gears, or put on a different face. Speaking in person, I might have even stood up straighter, or used a more authoritative tone in my voice. In my blog, I am thinking through ideas, presenting these ideas to an audience, and, occasionally, receiving feedback, using text as the primary medium. The context influences the text, but I am not physically there to represent the words. I'm publishing an idea, as it comes, cemented, though, in print.

How do we decide what matters in a blog?

Writing can be a tool for interpretation in a variety of scenarios. Just as the Socratic method relies on dialogue to seek knowledge, so too, writing can create an inner dialogue that enables revelation. A blog can act as a written interaction with yourself, but it is also invites dialogue with others in the public sphere of the internet.

At a rough level, a blog is a game. You post, and you don't know who will answer, and you don't know who is reading. Not all readers leave a message. Consciously or not, a blogger uses a blogger voice, naturally different and distinctive from other voices they might use in text, say with email or with a research paper. You have a character as a blogger that is solely used for blogging.

If all interaction is a form of play, with unspoken rules, and preconceived traditions, the game of blogging can be understood to offer the same dynamism and perhaps, escapism, of all games. But, it isn’t just a game. It is, at ground-level, a diary.

But, it’s not just a diary either. Most importantly, it’s published, and written with an awareness of an audience.

Text Mortality

Text Technology is an interesting journal that examines the use of text in all of its manifestations and uses. Sites like this, and like Nines, provide a place for ideas and research to meet. This was one of the goals in creating the web: to map out information and to connect people with that map.

Blogs provide communities, and maps for ideas as well, less formally, and also, with a more limited array of possibilities. Blogs can springboard you to another level of ideas on the map, or they can reach their limit and end when they've served their purpose.

Eventually, we will need to establish the standard procedure for keeping the web uncluttered, so that, when a blog or site has reached the end of its life, it will be properly disposed of.

But then, what about archives? How far back do we save? How do we save EVERYTHING when there is so, so much? Hard copies are not saved forever. There are issues of space, durability, and simply deciding what ought to be saved to begin with.

Blogs: ubiquitous, or dubious?

From Jill/txt:

"According to a survey just done for Mandag Morgen (full text subscription only) and reported in Dagbladet, every third Norwegian published something online last week. Isn’t that amazing? On the other hand, there are only 30,000 Norwegian blogs, and even that’s just an educated guess based on various data and not, obviously, an exact number. "

Why do we publish SO MUCH?

I'm interested in why people want to publish, and if everyone's publishing, what does it mean for print culture and mass media in general? When mass print first became ubiquitous, people were enthralled. It was a whole new world of possibilities. Now, it is hard to find a place to rest your eyes without some text appearing in your field of vision.

Blogs could be considered a whole new world of possibilites as well, but, with everything given, something taken, and vice a versa. What exactly is the significance of what we might now call further mass publishing, rather than mass printing. This seems like an opportunity to dissect the various ideas of what it means to "publish" something.

Public television offers time slots for people who want to put their own show on television. Public radio offers opportunities for listeners to call in. Anyone can print up a pamphlet or a flyer, or even their own magazine or newspaper. But, the big question is: who are you reaching with these mediums, and to what outcome?

The great leveler?

The ease of self-publication creates a crowded but democratized mass media--supposedly. but you can pay premiums to search engines so that your business will be first hits. In advertising the big bucks get the best slots.

What exactly does the popularity of blogs actually mean? Is it a trend? A natural phasing out of the pen and paper journal? A formalized chat place? A place for 15 minutes of recognition?

Looking back on the history of orality, literacy, and publishing/communicating, I'm more apt to think that the web is not a phenomenon, but a part of the literate process.

I've been reading Tim Berners-Lee's book, Weaving the Web, about the advent of the World Wide Web. His comments on the Web really resonated with me. To paraphrase, he said that all information derives its meaning in relation to other information. i.e. the dictionary defines words with other words. He said, what is important, is the STRUCTURE of the information--the connectivity.

In that way, blogs are perfect for the web. So often, the postmodern is isolated, even barren, thinking there are no commonalities between us. But, everyone is connected, and the web can illustrate that, especially through the mathematical routes that we may not have thought of on our own. This, right here, is the beauty of science and humanities, together again.

But, can the altruistic intentions of the web actually work? What the Marxists forgot, is that for the plan to work, everyone has to agree on the philosophy, and it's awfully hard to achieve mass altruism.

Structuring meaning

In a way, academia has always been blog-like, only at a slower level. A scholar publishes an idea, then some one writes another and references the first scholar, and then more proliferate off of that material, and then some more people go to graduate school and dig up that stuff and write more stuff about all the stuff, agreeing, disagreeing, making FINITE differences, declarations, arguments, assertions etc. Some scholars, like Freud or Plato for instance, are likely to be academically and culturally rehashed forever. They represent some of the foundations of how we have structured western meaning.

When I mentioned Berners-Lee's discussion of STRUCTURING information and meaning, I was also thinking about how we, as scholars and thinkers, keep restructuring what we already know.

Take, for example, another of my favorite conundrums: the dual ideals of the purist starving artist, and the purist artist who is not starving. The hungry guy may well think that a commisioned piece to feed his family is a good thing, and the well-fed fella can afford to turn his nose up at less-than divinely inspired art.

In her paper on Feral Hypertext, Jill quotes Mez Breeze talking about the unmarketable aspect of her work:

"It seems evident that various web/net/code artists are more likely to be accepted into an academic reification circuit/traditional market if they produce works that reflect a traditional craft-worker positioning. This "craft" orientation (producing skilled/practically inclined output, rather than placing adequate emphasis on the conceptual or ephemeral aspects of a networked, or code/software-based medium) is embraced and replicated by artists who create finished, marketable, tangible objects; read: work that slots nicely into a capitalistic framework where products/objects are commodified and hence equated with substantiated worth."(2)

This quote offers a not so subtle derision toward a capitalistic marketplace, and makes assumptions about why "conceptual" and ephemeral" aspects get neglected on the web, if they truly do get neglected. Again, it's presented as a dual concept, but nothing is so simple as this or that.

If an artist deliberately creates elusive or intangible work, how can she begrudge a lack of community surrounding it? The web itself began as a conceptual idea, and then had to evolve into tangible system.

But, really, if Mez's work is not intended for sale to begin with, what is, in fact, the issue? "Adequate emphasis" is an ambiguous assessment. Her work is creative, but also a call back to ancient languages, and, is also, overtly experimental. She wants to criticize a capitalistic framework that excludes the intangible, but it is this same framework that enables many artists to earn some income from their work. Breeze's work does not have a large appeal, nor is it really accessible to the mainstream audience. These factors are inherent to so-called "feral hypertext" that do not "follow the standards."

In the same vein, blogs are not really meant for commoditization, just as non-literary diaries are not generally written for commercial purposes. Yet, as artists and scholars, we continually reshape how we feel about the same issues, over and over.

More discipline.

Walker brings up discipline on page three of her paper and one of the essential issues of the web--regulation. Beyond the text, the web is another marketplace. People publish their ideas, trying to sell them. The web is convenient, but also formed into a replica of the rest of contemporary western life. Even as an information source, the web can connect an idea for you, but you have to be willing to follow. The user still steers the course ultimately.

On page seven Walker discusses Justin Hall's past personal/public blog and suggests that the reader herself can define the extent of his narrative; where did it end being Hall's narrative. Here we are again with the broadly scoped word "narrative." It seems pretty basic to me. Hall wrote what Hall wrote. Anything else that others wrote about his blog, he did not write. Anything that is read by some one has an afterlife beyond the initial text, but that is not to say that the author can claim that "narrative."

Walker goes on to say that in a sense, she is "already trapped by an idea that boundaries are neccessary." Not really. Sure, an individual uses hypertext, and individuals collectively comprise the masses. An unplanned structure is not uncontrollable, neccessarily. And the very nature of the programs and tools we use to access the web ensure that we're not going to exceed the planned activities. The medium is the message? The message is the medium? It's all pretty well contained and overseen quite closely, relatively speaking.

Medium is the message?

When I read Eric Zimmerman’s essay, I copied it into word program so that I could print it out in fewer pages. I have to admit, once I took it out of the more artful design of the web page, it lost some of its gloss.

That got me to thinking about how aesthetics affect the reception of the words by the reader. On the Electronic Book Review site, it looked quite attractive, and if it had been in a book, it would have carried at least the authority that it had been deemed important enough for publication, but from the 12 point font of my black and white version, it didn’t seem to carry much authority at all.

Perhaps this influenced my take on Zimmerman’s essay, because, after I printed it out, I was able to reference various pages side by side, to write notes in the margins, and to read it easily without starting my computer. And so, on to the essay.

The Fuss?

On the one hand, Zimmerman says that "shelves of books like this one are being written and published," on the other, he says "it's clear tht the 'game story' as a form remains largely unexplored." I'm wondering if Zimmerman needs some representational discipline.

In truth, the essay did not truly clarify anything. And ironically, Zimmerman merely continues to quibble over the same issues he admonished in his introduction. As he continues the academic tradition of an over-proliferation of text, I was still left wondering why this dose of "discipline" is important, and still thinking, but they are just games afterall, which is perhaps the predictable fumble of those outside of the gaming world. I can't help but think the sociological and psychological implications of games are important, but important in many of the same functions that we already study.

resistance is defining.

Even as he begins his task, Zimmerman qualifies the essay's function by saying the terms he will spank, so to speak, are "signs for clusters of concepts," which would explain why his peers in the field cannot agree on proper definitions. "Clusters of concepts" is wriggily enough, and resists stable definition. Aside from that even, the "naughty" terms he is trying to regulate are not really "naughty," but inherently expansive terms that touch on nearly every aspect of human life. Of course they will be difficult to corral.

In the relatively young academic field of web studies, we are still experimenting the language and the concepts, and perhaps, stuck in some paradigms that don’t fully translate into the world of hypertext.

Most of web culture is predictable because it is played on the same cultural grounds as non-web life. However, as life on the web matures, the web may form some of its own rules that don’t adhere to previous tradition.

Zimmerman goes on to say that play is "uncertain, creative, improvisational, and open-ended." Well, maybe to a certain degree, but most study on play shows that there are unspoken and spoken established rules, whether it be concerning three year olds or adult basketball. It is usually not uncertain, and less often open-ended. Socially, we begin learning the rules of play very young, at one or less years of age. A player begins a game knowing where he wants the narrative, as Zimmerman calls it, to end. Perhaps the generation that is born into web culture, will know, define and create the unspoken and spoken rules as intrinsically as they know other social norms.

Trust and inhibition, connecting and withdrawing…

Blogs, though they heavily borrow from non-web social protocal, still veer from it, because it is text, and because it is disembodied from the speaker. In October, a perfect example of blog protocol, connectivity and self-perpetuation arose on my site.

In early October, the author of my buddy blog, Reshma Sanyal, found my blog and gave a 'thank you' in my comments about the comments I posted about her blog. I didn't give it much thought, except to think that I hadn't expected her to Google herself and find my blog.

A couple weeks later, I meandered around on the web and checked in with this world, as I see it, Sanyal's blog.

She had copied an excerpt of my entry into her blog (scroll down to 'the good with the bad' entry), which surprised me, simply because of the foreign-ness of seeing my words elsewhere. I was really surprised.

If you read the rest of her entry, you'll find that some one else thinks she is a complete contrivance--which she may well be. But, the eye-opening thing is that I never even questioned whether or not she is real--I just related to her so much, or, at least, could relate an aspect of myself to her.

It was truly enjoyable to be caught unaware--to realize that I'd trusted that she was utterly real. I was, in a sense, very enlightened to realize that I am still so trusting and willing to believe in text, even though I thought that I was more skeptical, and, I suppose, more savvy.

I was curious to read about the blogger who thought she was fake, so I followed her links to his blog. His blog is titled Kill the Women and needless to say, his posts are overkill on misogyny.

I live such a private life, I was unsettled for some reason, to have a path linking my blog to his. This unease might seem overly-sanitary, but it is a basic example of the unwitting mindset of the neophyte blogger. I believe that once a sort of "energy," if you will, enters your world, it leads to a long thread of that "energy." So, mister nasty woman killer has now entered my personal biosphere, and I didn't invite him here!

There's the web for you.

All the kings horses

I also checked in with my Iraq blog, Operation Truth, run by war veterans, and linked to a new blog that they were featuring called All the King's Horses written by a soldier named Daniel who has been in Iraq for almost 6 years.

He was supposed to be discharged after his fifth year but then the military instilled a new policy that required him to stay. He is patriotic and committed to his responsibility to the military, but becoming increasingly angry at the lies he receives from the U.S. government. Because the Operation Truth blog is quite patriotic, I was not expecting to link to a soldier’s blog that might portray the military in a negative light, though it is done respectfully.

Again, I found myself on blog I hadn't been intending to find.

Blogs as evidence of thought…in a new context.

Blogs can give physicality to a story that might otherwise be only verbal. The evanescence of an oral/aural story can cause some discomfort for those who like to keep track of such things. We are culture obsessed with nailing life down, setting the record straight, and “creating history.” We want evidence. We want proof.

In this sense, blogs offer people a place to create artifacts out of their ideas. Though the web still has an ephemeral quality, if you put your thoughts on a blog, they can be seen, touched, printed out into a hard copy. It is similar to the way a person might draw you a quick graph in order to elucidate a point in a conversation. Both offer you a tangible object to look at that confirms the spoken concept.

Context decides the thought.

So, how do we take these tangible objects of thought, that are so easily published on the web, and shelve them properly in the world of text? Is it conversation, or is it text? It is both. But our reflex is to offer it some of the same prestige as non-web published material. But is that appropriate?

As a private person, I can understand professional or academic blogging more than personal diary-style blogging. When Jill Walker discussed the Justin Hall blog , it seemed to have had more in common with reality television than anything else. Here, again, it seems like publishing for self-validation and acknowledgement.

Yet, we hear again and again in the media, “I wanted to tell my story so that others could learn from it,” which has some legitimacy. We tell our stories and connect with other people. We find meaning in our lives through our relationships. So why do I feel a distaste for personal blogs? It could be that there is a certain level of narcissism to publish so much of your private life. Yet, I believe in the value of self-exploration. Do we live in a culture that thinks the need for affirmation is a weakness?

So, here I am, in the middle of my own self-exploration, for the sake of scholarship, on a blog. This is my context, for now.

There are limits to any medium.

One of the chief benefits of blogging is the stimulation of ideas beyond your immediate periphery of acquaintances. If the practice of critical thinking is the catalyst for social changes, then the more thoughtful the discourse, beyond daily small talk, the more opportunity for change? Or is the casual daily exchange, when we don't have our "big, serious scholar" hat on, is that when we are most receptive to new ideas?


If our most private or thoughtful ideas come out in the form of text, then publishing these ideas on the web can promote more public discourse.?

The reign of text: We still go by the book.

One thing that will inescapably hamper blogs, is the fact that they will never truly be informal because the conversation is in text. I mean "hamper," only in that the discourse will unavoidably always carry the same benefits and repercussions of all print. It will lay mute until it is read, and it will change in ways the author never intended. This is neither good nor bad, but simply the perpetual motion of meaning.

The premise that seems to be forgotten when arguing and disseminating definitions, is that language itself is inherently both limiting and inconstant, at least in its utilitarian ability to communicate.

Academia: war of the words

(Oh no, She's looking for the meaning of it all.)
Blog has become a noun, a verb, an idea, and a phenomenon. It is integrated into the language of our culture.


I've been thinking that we need some new vocabulary, a sort of new territory, because everyone's trying to claim the same patch of the literary landscape.

I googled define: blogs.

I googled define literature , and, of course, the responses cover vast territory. Do blogs live in this territory? Or are they in a blog landscape with its own rules? Posted by wood0072 at November 15, 2005 10:49 PM