Technology and Culture

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Blog Research Bibliography

Kaye Trammell has put together a blog research bibliography that I saw a while back and meant to link to here, but I'm just now doing it.

Response to "Mommy (and Me)"

Via Prof. B., I see that the New York Times story on parents' weblogs has been published. I'm dismayed but not all that surprised with what's in there, and I'll tell you why.

I was interviewed for this story because part of my dissertation research focuses on women's weblogs, many of whom are mothers. When David Hochman was talking to me about the story, he used the words "narcissistic" and "confessional" to describe parents' weblogs, albeit in a questioning way ("Aren't they just kind of narcissistic and confessional?" that kind of thing). As I told him about my dissertation, I tried so hard to explain to and persuade him that "baby blogs" are often -- almost always -- so much more than "the new baby book," that they're a way for parents to express what's on their minds, but children figure in prominently, obviously. By the way, I'm still working on communicating my dissertation topic in a sound bite, but here's my attempt: I'm doing a feminist rhetorical analysis of political discourse on weblogs, particularly an exploration of what gets interpreted as a political weblog and what perhaps doesn't, and how this difference is gendered (a personal-reflective approach to political writing as opposed to punditry). For an illustration, see the difference between this Eschaton post and these posts by Prof. B.* Different in terms of style and topic, but both political, to be sure. I actually emailed Hochman the links to those posts, as well as links to 11D and Laura's excellent Family Politics category of posts. Laura was also interviewed, and her comments -- again, not surprisingly -- aren't mentioned.

It's nothing personal against Hochman. He was friendly and great to talk to, but comparing my initial conversation with him to the finished product I just read, it's clear to me that he'd already made up his mind about "baby blogs," "mommy blogs," "daddy blogs," what have you: "The baby blog in many cases is an online shrine to parental self-absorption." Parents are "insecure," and they crave "attention and validation." And the thing is, I'm sure a lot of people agree with this attitude, as though there's some sense of undue entitlement about wanting to blog about one's experience as a parent. I wonder if those who espouse this view would say the same about political bloggers "proper," who have the apparent decency not to bother us with their personal lives, or if so, very seldom.

* I'm looking at differences, and I realize that what I'm doing may sound very Chodorow/Gilligan/Belenky et al., but I'm not interested in saying "men write this way; women write that way." If you can think of a good way for me to show that I'm distancing myself from theories criticized for essentialism, I'd appreciate hearing it. I'm more interested in the gendering of the discourse itself as well as the Where are all the women political bloggers? question. There's such a pronounced disconnect for so many people in what counts as political writing, from the issues discussed to the writing style/rhetorical approach, and the disconnect is brought up over and over again, to the point that many have likened the debate to a dead horse or poked fun at it, though none as well as flea:

Popular, Liberal Male Blogger: Why don't women blog? I've looked on my blogroll and I don't see any women bloggers. Therefore, they must not exist. Women must not be interested in thinky stuff like politics or computers.

45 Women Bloggers respond in the comments section: WTF? We all have blogs!

Liberal, Male Blogger: I don't mean blogs about tampons**. All women do is talk about feminine hygiene products. I mean, Where are all the women who blog about important stuff; the stuff *I'm* interested in.

45 Women Bloggers: You're right. We only talk about feminine hygiene products. Here's more talk about feminine hygiene products: You are a douche.

Liberal Male Blogger: Wahhhh! You're oppressing me! Censorship! My civil rights are being violated!

One Asshole Woman: I am so embarrassed to be a woman right now! Don't you listen to those hairy bitches, Liberal Male Blogger! *I* understand you!

Liberal Male Blogger: See there? One woman has validated me! That means you all are wrong and I am right!

45 Women Bloggers: douche.

Liberal Male Blogger: Wahhhh!

Repeat in three months with a different blogger. I'll point it out next time it happens.

** Link added to demonstrate the political bent of many women's weblogs.

From around the globe to your frontal lobe

Just some linking:

The Directory of Open Access Journals, via Byron.

Give Us Real Choices, a new NARAL campaign. Although I support the cause, the tactic -- protest "Chastity Awareness Week" in Pennsylvania by requesting a chastity belt -- seems about as rhetorically effective as crowning a sheep at the 1968 Miss America Pageant. I don't and have never lived in Pennsylvania, so I have no real sway over members of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, but I'm posting this anyway. An employee of M&R Strategic Services emailed me asking me to post it, and as it didn't read like link-exchange spam to me, I decided to email her back and ask her a few questions about her organization, including: Did you send this email to other feminist bloggers? What does your organization think of weblogs as a way to disseminate information, awareness, etc.? How does your organization view weblogs' role in activism? She wrote a substantial and very friendly note back and explained that M&R believes it's important to engage the blogosphere in its outreach efforts, and she said she was sending the link to other feminist bloggers. Anyway, I thought it was pretty interesting.

For lack of funding, Wellesley's Women's Review of Books ceased publication with the December 2004 issue. I don't think this should go without being duly noted. Navigating through the directories is cumbersome, but you can access the archives online, or you may search by reviewer name, book/essay title, or author name.

Hugh Hewitt's _Blog_

HOW did I miss this book until now?! I'm disgusted with myself for being so behind the curve. Today I picked up Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World at the bookstore after, as I perused a display table, it jumped out at me amidst such fare as The Neocon Reader and Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant! I can already tell I'm probably not going to be that impressed with the book; the blurb on the inner flap of the dust jacket reads strikingly like just another technological conquest narrative:

Since HughHewitt.com was launched in early 2002, more than ten million people have visited his site (seven million just since the beginning of 2004). "Why does this visitor traffic matter?" asks Hewitt. "People's attention is up for grabs. If you depend on the steady trust of others, suddenly you have an audience waiting to hear from you." The race is underway, though, to gain mindspace and to be part of readers' habits. If your organization has not established itself in the blogosphere, now is the time to move ahead, but quickly!

From a business standpoint, your organization can benefit from developing a two-pronged approach to blogging by creating offensive and defensive plans. Not only do you need to blog internally to promote ideas and foster better communication among colleagues, but your company also should take advantage of the advertising and publicity benefits of blogging. Put yourself at the front of people's minds, and make sure you stay there. As for a defensive strategy, create a plan for addressing immediately even one negative blog, because in just a click of a mouse it will spread like wildfire, and you'll soon have one hundred negative blog references out there, and then a thousand or more. Blog shows you how to develop both.

With 4.5 million blogs in existence as of November 2004 -- and with that number expected to double in 2005 -- almost everyone will soon feel this phenomenon impacting their lives or organizations. With Hugh Hewitt's help, you can make sure that you advance in the blogosphere rather than retreat and lose ground in this information movement.

While I see the value of intranet blogging as organizational/business communication, I'll maintain in my dissertation that there are many bloggers who do it out of a genuine desire to engage in discussion with others rather than to "gain mindspace" as though it were a commodity (but hey, I suppose it is, actually. Plus, I'm sure Hewitt isn't trying to say that gaining mindspace is the only motivation.). Ugh, I shouldn't even say that having not yet read the book. At any rate, Hewitt seems willing to make strong claims about blogging's effect on general culture; the sub-subtitle is "Why you must know how the blogosphere is smashing the old media monopoly and giving individuals power in the marketplace of ideas." And Glenn Reynolds gives it high praise: "This is the best book on blogs yet, which isn't surprising since it's by a successful blogger who also knows a lot about communications and the world in general." Definitely a must-read for my dissertation research.

Water Nymph

I'm trying to get out of the habit of doing quizzes, but I simply couldn't resist this one:

.....!|
./.n).|
......|

If I were a NetHack monster, I would be a water nymph. Relationships are more about what you get out of them, than what you put in. That elven cloak really matches your eyes, you know.

Which NetHack Monster Are You?

I haven't encountered one of those yet, but I'm still only a Footpad, and just now I was killed by a gnome lord. Oh well, RIP Clancy the Rogue.

I wonder if Sam has played any NetHack...

Jill's Dissertation Now Online

This is old news, and I'm sure everyone's already seen it, but Jill Walker has put her dissertation online. It's titled Fiction and Interaction: How Clicking a Mouse Can Make You Part of a Fictional World, and I just downloaded it and skimmed the table of contents as well as part of the first chapter, and I'm in full agreement with this part of the committee's report: "Another strong point of the dissertation is its lucid and economical writing style, which make it a true pleasure to read." Over the winter break, I've been reading those dissertation self-help books and other advice*, and one of the books emphasized the importance of "telling a good story" in one's dissertation. In my limited reading of Jill's, it looks like she has done that very well. The writing is engaging, almost conversational at times. One section of the dissertation includes definitions of key terms Jill's using, and she begins her definition of "fiction" with the following (p. 27-28):

What is fiction?

Sometimes, when I’m sweating away at the gym, I imagine that I’m an Olympic weight
lifter. The crowd is cheering me on, Mum and Dad are close to the podium holding
banners with “You’re brilliant, Jillikin!” emblazoned on them in huge letters, and if only
I can lift those gigantic weights above my head I’ll win the gold medal I’ve been working
towards for a decade. Actually, of course, I’m pulling handles fastened to pulleys and
weights on a contraption that looks nothing like a dumbbell, and 5 kilos is a significant
load for me. Just as we all do every single day, I am imagining a situation that isn’t real.

Though my daydream was prompted by my being in a gym, my imaginings were
not prescribed by the gym or the apparatuses. I could have imagined completely
otherwise (that I was skiing or lying on the beach in the sun), or not imagined anything
at all. Indeed, my daydream may have been prompted as much by things internal to
myself as to the machines around me. The process of completing a PhD makes
daydreams of lifting impossible weights come easily.

What fun! I wonder if I could get away with something like that. :-) Speaking of my dissertation, in case you wanted an update on it, my prospectus is done and I'm awaiting responses from committee members on possible dates and times for the defense. As you might expect, I'm anxious to get started on the chapters, but I want to get some feedback from my committee first (and I want to get some kind of at least provisional imprimatur from them before I start posting more here about the content of my dissertation). Last semester, I took a writing practicum in the Women's Studies department and got comments on drafts of my prospectus from seminar participants and the professor of the course. They were helpful, of course, but I need to see what my committee thinks. Wish me luck!

* In a comment to his post, Collin writes, "You know, I'm thinking that this [dissertation advice] would be a great wiki project. Maybe it's something I'll get going this spring." Well, Collin, I think it's a good idea too, and I hope you don't mind, but I'm trying to get one started myself (with many thanks to James Farmer for setting it up for me). Anyone who would like to contribute, please do so; I'd greatly appreciate it!

Historicity and Internet Research

At AoIR 2003, in a roundtable on qualitative internet research, Annette Markham said (my paraphrase):

We need to place our research in history; ahistoricity is a problem. Go to other researchers' work even if you're working with a new technology--other researchers have already thought through epistemological and theoretical problems.

A sensible statement, one to which I don't think many people would object, but still, I came across a nice illustration of this claim and would like to share it. Rhetoric, Community, and Cyberspace, an article about MOOs, was written by James P. Zappen, Laura J. Gurak, and Stephen Doheny-Farina, published in 1997, but based on research they did in Fall 1994 during a ten-week colloquium in the Diversity University MOO. It struck me that one could pretty easily substitute the word "weblog" for "MOO" in this passage, that the issues and questions raised continue to be quite relevant (last paragraph of the article):

Traditional rhetoric focuses its attention upon a single rhetor (or perhaps single rhetors each in turn) seeking purposefully and intentionally to persuade an audience within a single community upon the basis of shared beliefs and values. We found in our colloquium in the MOO a kind of rhetoric and a kind of community that seem to us to be quite unlike anything that we see in the mainstream of the tradition--a rhetoric and a community characterized by a multiplicity of languages and perspectives and a consequent challenge to the rhetor to find the opportune moment to enter into and influence the course of a discussion. Though we recognize the current limits to the access and use of this technology, we nonetheless believe that the MOO has potential to become a contemporary rhetorical community--a public space or forum--within which local communities and individuals can express themselves and develop mutual respect and understanding via dialogue and discussion, and we believe that the graduate students who participated with us in our colloquium demonstrated this possibility through their own positive action in making this space their own. Given the potentially global reach of the MOO, we also believe that it has potential not only to transmit information across time, space, and cultural differences but more especially to provide a forum for dialogue and discussion among people of vastly different cultural backgrounds and beliefs, to become, if we choose to make it such, a contemporary rhetorical community in cyberspace.

What About Blogs? A Literature Review Introducing Nascent Pedo-Blogs to the Blogging World

Check out this piece by Nicole Converse Livengood of Purdue University, written for Linda Bergmann's Writing Across the Curriculum seminar. It's a good prolegomenon-style essay, especially for people who don't know a lot about weblogs and would like to explore their potential uses in writing classes.

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