Sunday, February 24, 2008

A book for my class, had it existed

Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations would have been perfect for my Writing Web 2.0 class this semester. If only it had appeared a few months earlier!

Here's what Shirky himself says about the book:

Here Comes Everybody is about why new social tools matter for society. It is a non-techie book for the general reader (the letters TCP IP appear nowhere in that order). It is also post-utopian (I assume that the coming changes are both good and bad) and written from the point of view I have adopted from my students, namely that the internet is now boring, and the key question is what we are going to do with it.

Yes, as I said: woulda been perfect. Because that is exactly the question of my class, and exactly the question that interests my students. So we have all these cool tools. So what? What can we do that we couldn't do before?

Actually, I think the folks in my class are coming up with some pretty good responses to that question. They're just now working on concept maps to think toward their final projects, and a number of their ideas have me pretty excited.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Social network/social action

So I was saying last time that I would like to see scholars of social action rhetoric take up network theory, and it seems that they might be. At least, it seems that sociologists of social movements are taking it up. Through the power of networks and the long tail, Amazon recommended Diani and McAdams's Social Movements and Networks: Relational Approaches to Collective Action.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

To be of use

We've been talking in Web 2.0 about aggregation. Aggregation of knowledge is one of the principles of the wisdom of crowds: individual pieces of knowledge come together. And aggregation is a good thing to do with all the content of the Web, so everyone now has an account on Google Reader.

And Duncan Watts mentions aggregation in the first chapter of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, in which he asks the basic question informing the book:
How does individual behavior aggregate to collective behavior?

One piece of that puzzle: they become a collective through action, specifically through interaction:
Although genes, like people, exist as identifiably individual units, they function by interacting, and the corresponding patterns of interaction can display almost unlimited complexity.

The emergence of collective behavior, then, comes about through the way in which individuals interact:
the particular manner in which they interact can have profound consequences for the sorts of new phenomena--from population genetics to global synchrony to political revolutions--that can emerge at the level of groups, systems, and populations. (27)

This is why I would say that insofar as rhetoric folks want to study social action, they should be studying networks. Of course, I know only a tiny bit about the scholarship on the rhetoric of social action myself, so who am I to be giving advice?

At any rate, as a final piece of this aggregation/emergence ratio, I want to quote a bit more from Foucault's The Use of Pleasure, adding a bit more to the brief quotation that Shaviro includes in the preface to Connected:

[quotation is forthcoming]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Not as Connected as I thought

I thought for sure I had blogged about Steven Shaviro's Connected, or, What It Means to Live in the Network Society. But a search for "Shaviro" on this humble blog comes up with a couple of links to entries on his blog, but nothing about Connected.

So, I guess this is my entry in response to Connected, which is on the agenda today in my "Writing Web 2.0 class.

I assumed I had written about it because I rather love this book. I love the writing in the book. I love the tiny, blog-entry-like sections. I love that he includes my favorite quotation from Foucault in the Preface (the quotation from one of the last two volumes of History of Sexuality, where Foucault in his own preface asks what knowledge is worth unless it leads "in one way or another and tot he extent possible, in the knower's straying afield of himself").

I love his discussion, drawing from Burroughs, of addiction and viruses. Shaviro writes,
the logic of networks tends toward the algebra of need because the addiction process is facilitated and accelerated when materiality is replaced by information (11)

That seems to explain my experience, reaching way back into my childhood, pre-internet, when I would sit in read what were almost the only books in the house (save for the Bible and other religious materials, and a few random books here and there): the many-volumed Britannica Encyclopedia. I could sit and read for hours and hours, spurred on by the cross-referencing, the thoughts sparked by something I had read in one entry leading me to another. The information network. The draw of knowing, the need, the urge.

And it loops back, infecting "me":
identity is implanted in me from without, not generated from within. My selfhood is an information pattern, rather than a material substance

(Kind of one of my repeated topics, as seen here: see more here.)

And while the idea of the viral spread of information isn't new, I still find it useful, explanatory, heuristic:

The message propagates itself by massive self-replication as it passes from person to person in the manner of an epidemic contagion. This is supposed to be more than just a metaphor. The viral message is composed of memes in the same way that a biological virus is composed of genes. the memes, like the genes, enter into a host and manipulate that host into manufacturing and propagating more copies of themselves. Packages of information spread and multiply, just like packages of DNA or RNA. (13)

"Packages of information": for a junkie like me, that sounds mighty tasty.

But wait! Is it a package or a performance?

We cannot think of information as just a pattern imprinted indifferently in one or another physical medium. For information is also an event. It isn't just the content of a given message but all the things that happen when the message gets transmitted. As Morse Peckham puts it, "the meaning of a verbal event is any response to that event." In other words, meaning is not intrinsic, but always contingent and performative.

And so this blog entry performs these memes in a certain way. It gives some sort of new meaning to these words from Shaviro (and Foucault and Peckham and). And so on to class, where more performance will happen.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Morning kind of person

I found this quiz at Battle of the Ants, and it turns out I'm just like JM:

Hmm. 6:49 am. I have to say that really does sound like my favorite time to be up and doing, even if it doesn't always happen. Especially in the dark days of winter. (Which, happily, are getting brighter and brighter.)

Friday, February 08, 2008

"Severe creativity"

While I'm in the quoting mode, I'll add this from poet Major Jackson, who I had the pleasure of hearing speak today. In response to difficult topics, he said, we need to approach them with "severe creativity."

I love that.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


I'm reading the blogs of students in my "Writing Web 2.0" class, and I'm noticing the pleasure of it. (Although I've been practicing mindfulness for awhile, I'm taking an 8-week class, offered freely to MU students, faculty, and staff, on "Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction." I'm planning to use aspects of that class for a class I'll be teaching in the fall, "Mindful Writing." And the reason I mention this class is that one of our homework assignments is to notice something pleasant everyday. Today, I'm noticing how pleasant it is to read these blog entries.)

Why pleasure? There's the pleasure of a person's excitement in encountering a text, the recognition that this is d*** fine writing, as in Aa's post. After a long quotation from David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined, he writes:


So, after I ignore that strange quotation mark, this is something I really wish I'd written. In a thesis or something. Maybe for the dissertation, to be named later.

I love the ALL CAPS of inspiration, of, as Aa goes on to say, feeling good.

Lauren also uses quotations as a way of blogging, writing,
Because it's late, and I've worked 9 hours today, and I'm very tired; the following is a simple list of my favorite quotes from The Medium is the Massage.

Yes, absolutely: favorite quotations are a great blogging strategy, a great way to use a blog as an extension of the brain. A way of tapping into Web 2.0's ability to aid the rhetorical canon of MEMORY.

And what are some of her favorites? Those are a pleasure, too:
"The alphabet and print technology fostered and encouraged a fragmenting process, a precess of specialism and of detachment. Electric technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement"

"The amateur can afford to lose."

Yes, yes. And, as amateurs together, we're bringing our expertise to bear, our outside connections to bear, teaching each other, as Julia frequently does, linking readings in our course to her current schooling in law. Her most recent blog entry, for example, links the idea of crowd wisdom to the jury system. She notes that the jury system is similar to "the wisdom of crowds" insofar as "the individual intelligence, prejudice (or lack thereof), and innate and learned biases will balance to result in a reasoned and appropriate judgment." But, the similarity goes only so far, causing her to question what really makes the jury system work:
The author notes that four conditions characterize wise crowds: diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and aggregation. These conditions do not exist in the jury system because jurors are severely limited in what personal, specialized knowledge they apply to the facts of a case. Jurors who are experts in certain fields may be excluded from sitting on a jury; jurors are not allowed to draw on local knowledge, and their private information is not supposed to inform their decision. . . .
The limits placed on juries lead me to wonder: is it the “wisdom of crowds” or legal rhetoric that shapes a jury’s decision?

Good question. And that simultaneous linking with and questioning with a text is another thing that Web 2.0 makes visible: connection is learning, and connection is what the web enables, and what the social web enables even more. And when those connections don't quite fit, questions emerge, and that leads to more inquiry, more learning.

jsdp59 offers another good example of linking, using the traditional rhetorical appeals to think about political rhetoric:
I think the most effective form of rhetorical communication is probably pathos. Appealing to people’s emotions is generally the best way to get a response out of them. I think if you play off of people’s fears and worries, you will generally get more of a response out of them. I was watching the political debate tonight, and I was looking for examples of these three types of communication and which one would be used the most. I saw examples of the candidates using pathos appeals when talking about the economy. They tried to say that right now it is bad, but if you elect them they will fix it for you. This probably isn’t completely true, but nevertheless it makes us feel good.

I'm also moved by pathos, finding pleasure in the sheer beauty, the sheer facility in writing that many of the folks in class are sharing with me and the rest of the class. Riffing off Anne Wysocki's notion of "reciprocal communication" in design, another Anne writes:
But people “in love,” or those choosing to practice the art of loving others have long participated in the tradition of building beauty. Parents find their children beautiful. Spouses find each other beautiful. Dog owners find their mutts beautiful. Many children, spouses, and dogs (to make an odd collection) may possess the kind of beauty (abstract formality?) that would win them facebook contests and endorsements, but not all of us that have found ourselves lucky to be loved in one of these ways could make that claim!

So beauty is (or ought to be) reciprocal. It involves communication. Communication is reciprocal. Even blogging.

How will I understand this union of form and content that I call my blog? Is it beautiful? Will I be able to make “day-to-day particular[s] stand out against the background of the larger realm of steady social practices”? Can I make that change?

A beautiful reflection on beauty. The whole entry is quite beautiful. You should go read it.

And in contemplating a similar question (how to understand the "union of form and content" that is the blog), Jake writes:
Consider what is necessary: everything.

Well, not exactly. I guess it's no surprise that in this age of technology more and more things go into a work of composition to make it work. I am not simply a writer. I am a graphic designer. I am a computer programmer. I think I may even be an interior designer--at least in some sense of the word.

I love the isolated first line, the follow up that qualifies it. The rhythm of the repeated subject, and then the surprise of that final line that interrupts the repetition: "I think."

And there's humor. McLuhan:
Humor as a system of communications and as a probe of our environment--of what's really going on--affords us our most appealing anti-environmental tool" (The Medium is the Massage 92)

I can't figure out how to attach my blog to my Facebook account, so I just put it in the info column as my website. Is there another way? I started going through the applications to see if that would give me a clue about attaching my blog, but I got distracted by the hugs, farts, and how-smart-are-you ads.

I love how the humor here gets at the amazing mix of fun and annoyance of the environment that is Facebook.

And that isn't even all the blogs. That isn't even all the pleasure.

Friday, February 01, 2008

In progress

That's right. I'm finally--finally!--updating my template. I gave the assignment to my students and felt I had to do it myself. It's long overdue. More to come.