warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/culturec/public_html/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 34.

Mapping, the city, and technologies (some resources)

I'm way behind the curve when it comes to thinking about and getting involved in the intersections among ubiquitous computing, art, the imagination, rhetoric, the personal/emotional, and geography, unlike some people I know, but an article in Wired, The Art of Street Talk, caught my interest. Plus I know it's The Next Big Thing, or maybe The Current Big Thing, and I need to catch up -- which means not just reading about it, but actually making media that engages these areas (I wish I had actually gone to some of those flash mobs I intended to participate in). An excerpt from the article:

Next time you're walking down a city sidewalk, look out for the internet. It's all around you -- and not just in the phone lines and cables running under the streets or in the airborne Wi-Fi streams. In recent months, several services have sprung up to allow a communion between the real world and the internet, with cell phones acting as the medium.

If you send a text message to an e-mail address scrawled in paint on a subway advertisement or on a sidewalk, for example, you could get some digital pop art on your phone in return.

An adhesive arrow on a telephone pole could hold the key to the history of a nearby building.

[. . .]

[John] Geraci[, founder of Grafedia,] likened grafedia to putting a message in a bottle. "You don't know who will find it and uncork it, and it doesn't really matter," he said. "It's an act of anonymous, artistic sharing, done with strangers in your city."

According to the article, a teacher at Central Connecticut State University assigned this kind of place-marking to his students; I'd love to know who the professor was and what the course was about. The article set me off in several different directions, including to yellowarrow, Grafedia, and [murmur], which I enjoyed; from the main site, you go to a map, select a red dot, and then hear a story about that place. I went to Toronto once for the Association of Internet Researchers' conference; maybe I could tell a story about that. I went to Toronto during the tail end of the SARS scare, and I wish I could include a link in the audio file I'd record. It would lead to this.

MOO: I finally get it

Last night I participated in a MOO for the first time as part of Lennie Irvin's presentation for the Computers and Writing Online conference. Actually, it wasn't an old-school text-based MOO, but a web-based MOO running on enCore. I ended up learning a lot about MOO from talking to the experienced MOOers in there. For a long time, I was one of those people who had only a vague sense of MOO as synchronous chat. I thought, what makes these any different from, say, AOL Instant Messenger? Those I talked to before said something to the effect of, "Well, you have these rooms in the MOO, and the rooms are saved -- always there when you go back." I didn't at the time understand the meaning of that; it didn't seem like a good enough reason to continue to study MOO or to use them in writing courses. So I continued with my view of "The MOO is dead. Long live the blog!" (Kairosnews inside joke.)

But I now see that MOO still has much to offer rhetorically and pedagogically if people continue to use it. What struck me the most were the connections I saw to a post from a while back on Collin's blog in which he linked to Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. In it, Pink argues that in the emerging "conceptual age," the following five skills are becoming very important: "design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning." From what I learned about MOO last night, I'd go as far as to say that MOO is an ideal technology that could be used for bringing out these skills. Of course, writers must learn visual design and how to tell stories with images and sound, which means learning not just how to use tools like PhotoShop and iMovie, but fundamental design principles like line, color, texture, and form. But with MOO, users are forced to provide rich descriptions of rooms, objects, and ways of interacting with the objects. It's design on a different level, and I would argue very creative.

Consider Alex Reid's list of what should be in a writing program (I don't list them all here):

  • some creative writing courses, which offer opportunity for experimentation, for practicing poetic language, for thinking about character (psychology/affect) and narrative, for crossing genres, and for addressing audience in a unique way;
  • courses in poetics and rhetoric as the underlying theories/philosophies of writing, which is something often absent from creative writing courses that tend to naturalize the writing process (and here I'm NOT thinking about the conventional rhetorics of a FYC handbook, not a pragmatics/how-to of process and audience-awareness, but an encounter with the aporias of symbolic behavior--again, the point is to develop the creative, conceptual "right-brain");
  • courses in other professional genres--technical writing, business writing, and so on--that are not taught in the traditional positivistic manner, but rather in the context of creative writing and rhetoric/poetics;
  • and, of course, coursework in new media, the practical but also its aesthetics, poetics, and rhetorics, which is not to say that technology isn't infused throughout this curriculum, but that you actually have to have a place where students experiment with the media.

It's not that I don't think weblogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc. aren't great technologies, but MOO makes a lot of sense to me in meeting these objectives, and I'm ready to get behind efforts to keep them in use.

Dissertation Fellowship Proposal

What follows is my fellowship application. I know a lot of you have been wanting me to post my prospectus here, and this is a short, readable version. I'm still working out the chapter outlines...and, well, plenty of other questions and puzzles about my dissertation, too.



In the last three years, blogging has gained recognition as a phenomenon in online communication, offering ordinary citizens a platform to publish their ideas and a space for deliberative political discourse. However, the majority of the most influential and widely-read political bloggers are men, and issues of concern to women are often not given equal attention, a disparity that has been discussed in the “Where are the women?” debates. I argue that these debates reveal disruptions of assumptions surrounding political discourse. Identifying these points can enrich our understanding of gendered rhetorical practices and the way they are constituted on weblogs.

"I want to be a stay-at-home parent when I grow up."

For young adults: What would happen if you said that to your parents? For parents with children: What would you say if your child said that to you? I'd be especially interested in hearing from stay-at-home parents; how did your family react when you told them you'd be working as a stay-at-home parent?

Feminists have been making the case for decades that motherhood is undervalued, despite its being ostensibly revered as "the most important job in the world." Recent analyses include The Mommy Myth, as well as monetary quantifications like this one and this story that got a lot of press about a month ago.

So even though stay-at-home parenting is worth $130,000+ per year, how much is it valued at home? A lot, one would hope, but this has been on my mind lately, and I'm afraid that based on my own experience and those of my friends and family members close to me in age, it doesn't seem to be worth that much. I'm not necessarily saying I want to be a stay-at-home mother, but if I did, I believe my family's reaction would be a mixture of disappointment, anxiety, and maybe even touches of disgust, betrayal, and anger. In a practical sense, they'd have good reasons: I'd be financially dependent on a spouse, and if I had to re-enter the workforce due to widowhood or divorce, I'd be at a major disadvantage if I'd spent years at home. I don't think that's all there is to it, though, not in a culture obsessed with upward mobility, manifested in bragging rights, vicarious living, etc. My intention is not to pick on my family here, not at all, but I think part of them would believe I was squandering my talents. They want to be able to tell people their daughter (or granddaughter, or whatever) is a college professor with a title of Dr.

The whole thing is sad, and I imagine quite widespread (and far, far worse for men who want to be stay-at-home fathers). I post this because I really want to hear about others' experiences. To what extent is the phenomenon I'm referring to class-related? I'd appreciate any comments you have.

Edited to add: I forgot to include this earlier, but the viciously misogynistic stereotypes I encountered in college also informed this post. I'm talking specifically about the stereotype of sorority women as "breedstock." They major in early childhood education, and they're only in college to find a husband (or, as the joke goes, to get their MRS. degrees). It's all part of the same thing.

And, for context: Right before I came back here, I spent the day with a good friend of mine from college who is a stay-at-home mother with three children, ages 5, 3, and 3 (twins). I had a wonderful time, so I guess I'm experiencing a "grass is greener" effect, and feeling as though if I ever decided I wanted to do that, my family, and many of my friends, too, wouldn't be supportive.

Jumble of links and thoughts

I'm in Alabama until Saturday, and while I've been working at the library here, I've also been watching too much vapid TV and too many movies (we're talking stuff like Bubble Boy, Eulogy, and Wet Hot American Summer). So I have to hit the books, course preparation, dissertation, everything when I get back. But for now, a fluff post with no interparagraphic transitions whatsoever.

Proposals are being sought for a special issue of Technical Communication Quarterly on Technical Communication in the Age of Distributed Work. It's going to be great once it comes out, very forward-thinking.

Note to self: I want to use the famous Margaret Mead quotation: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has" in my syllabus for the class I'm teaching this summer. [Edited to add: Does anyone know what the original source for that is? I hate not having a specific page number or date/place, if it's a speech.] It's called "Group Process, Team Building, and Leadership," and it centers on work done in small groups. It's also one of the courses that fulfills the Citizenship and Public Ethics theme requirement, and usually teachers require students to do group projects on local issues, which I'm very excited about, as this will let me try out a modified version of that city writing/finds research process that Jenny and Jeff talk about. I have lots of ideas already, and a while back I used the new-for-OSX-Tiger built-in news aggregator in Safari to set up a folder of feeds from all the local publications I could think of, so that's helped a lot.

At Jonathan's insistence, I watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. People are shocked that I'm such a science fiction geek but I've never seen those movies. I'm already seeing Star Wars' influence on other movies and series. For example, Data on Star Trek: TNG reminds me a lot of C3PO (telling the captain the odds that some act of derring-do won't work, social ineptitude, etc.) and Moya's pilot on Farscape even reminds me a little of C3PO as well. I must see episodes 1, 2, and 3 now.

I finally created a Flickr account, and I'm wondering why I didn't do it months ago.

Check out this cool Drupal ad for the Free Software Magazine!

For anyone who was scratching his or her head about the relevance and import of the work that's being done on silence (see also Cheryl Glenn's Unspoken), this op-ed piece should clear it up for you.

Am I, like, the only person alive who had never heard of The Red Hat Society until the other day? All the stores around here have Red Hat lady merchandise -- red hats, of course, purple clothing, ceramic figurines of red hats, purple socks with little red hats embroidered on them, etc. Cookie jars, even. I saw the cover of one of the books from far away and thought, hey, that looks like an interesting Linux user/developer group! Seriously though, I told the manager of my local yarn store that they should offer special knitting classes for Red Hat Society women and classes for friends and family of Red Hat women in which they could knit red hats and other red and purple stuff as gifts for them. She thought it was a great idea. I hope they do it; I want to do anything I can to support locally-owned businesses.

Computers and Writing Online 2005: Announcement and Conference Program

I know I've blogged about this before, but I'm on the organizing committee of this conference, and I'm going to promote it; that's just the way it is. This is the big announcement, with the long version of the conference program below the fold (I copied and pasted all the abstracts here, which the Attribution-NoDerivs-Noncommercial Creative Commons license encourages me to do, I might add).

Computers and Writing Online 2005
When Content Is No Longer King: Social Networking, Community, and Collaboration

The 2005 Computers and Writing Online Conference begins on Tuesday,
May 31, and runs through Monday, June 13. This is the first-ever
online conference in our field to be open-access, Creative
Commons-licensed, and hosted on a weblog, and it promises to be
innovative and insightful. We set out to perform the concepts and values of the conference theme -- networking, community, and collaboration -- in our review process, which was open to the public and emphasized group
interaction and helpful, supportive feedback. The responders have done
an excellent job engaging the authors' ideas, and the authors'
responses to the feedback they received have really demonstrated how
enriching this public, collaborative model can be for scholarly work.
The conference organizers would like to extend a big "Thank you!" to
the authors and the responders. Included with each abstract in this
announcement is the link to the original; we strongly encourage you to
read the comments.

As with the abstracts, the presentations are accessible to anyone with
an internet connection, and anyone with an account at Kairosnews
(registration is free) can leave comments. For more information, visit
the CW Online 2005 weblog: http://kairosnews.org/cwonline05/home

Drawing upon the conference's theme of exploring the increasing value
of the network and collaborative practices within it, presenters
examine the role(s) played by social networking applications and other
technologies that are intended to foster social interaction,
community, and collaboration. Alongside studying the technologies
themselves, presenters will observe and describe the ways that
writers and users are engaging the technologies and how such
engagement is changing our ideas about writing and teaching writing,
and, more broadly, the concepts of rhetoric and composition
themselves. We very much hope you'll get involved by leaving your
comments, or, if you prefer, respond on your own weblog and leave a
trackback! Or write a response on your wiki! Or tag presentations on
your del.icio.us or de.lirio.us list! You get the idea. This
conference is meant to be networked.



May 31: Charlie Lowe and Dries Buytaert: It's about the Community
Plumbing: The Social Aspects of Content Management Systems

June 2: Cathy Ma: What's so special about the Wikipedia?

June 4: Olin Bjork and John Pedro Schwartz: E-service Learning

June 6: Bob Stein, Kim White, Ben Vershbow, and Dan Visel: Sorting the
Pile: Making Sense of A Networked Archive

June 7: Traci Gardner: From Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine to The
Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez

June 8: Lennie Irvin: MOO-the Second Decade? 7:00-8:30 p.m. CDT ProNoun MOO

June 9: John Spartz: Web Accessibility and Its Impact on Student
Learning: A Qualitative Study

June 10: Matt Payne: Digital Divides, Video Games, and New Media

June 11: Marina Meza & Susanna Turci: Desiging an Electronic Bilingual
Dictionary for International Trade

June 12: Collin Brooke: Weblogs as Deictic Systems

June 13: Erika Menchen: Feedback, Motivation and Collectivity on del.icio.us

Pundit v. Life Bloggers: Two Visual Representations

Yeah, I've been thinking way too much about this. Seriously, I thought it would be good to have an appendix to my dissertation for these little finds, as they might not fit exactly into my analysis. I'd appreciate any comments you have, or any other visual representations of categories of bloggers.

The following are two possible results of a quiz on blogthings.com. I saw the quiz on Frogs and Ravens; Rana had taken it and gotten “Life Blogger” as a result. I didn't think anything about it at the time, but I did take the quiz myself just for fun, and I was a little surprised by my result:

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

I still didn't pay attention to the representations in Rana's and my results until the next day, when I really looked at the image and noticed that this was a young, white man, upper-middle class judging from his trendy metrosexual look: He's thin, probably goes to the gym, has a haircut that looks carefully styled with product, hip little glasses, and a turtleneck that might have come from Barney's, Banana Republic, J.Crew, or the like. He has a flat-screen monitor, suggesting that he can afford relatively up-to-date technology, and while, admittedly, we can't see his whole desk, it looks like some I've seen in Pottery Barn and HoldEverything catalogs, whose merchandise is not that cheap. This isn't a guy who has to find an old door at a yard sale or in someone's trash and lay it across two metal filing cabinets, as some graduate students I know have had to do. His apartment is in a large city, as evidenced by the view, and he has a lovely view from a large window up high, suggesting a penthouse. He sits at his desk, supporting his chin with one hand but not really leaning into it. His gesture, as well as his facial expression with lips pursed, is that of a critical, thinking skeptic who is humoring the writer he's reading and who might soon turn that writer's argument upside down. The position and facial expression remind me a lot of Joshua Micah Marshall's blog photograph:

Then I went and looked at the “Life Blogger” image again.

You Are a Life Blogger!

Your blog is the story of your life - a living diary.
If it happens, you blog it. And make it as entertaining as possible.

The scene reminds me a little of Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” who sits with her laptop at her desk, or sometimes in bed, often with a cigarette, musing and writing her column while we hear her voiceover saying something like: “I couldn't help but wonder: Can women have sex like men?” Or, “Is old the new young?” This woman, like the pundit, is attractive according to mainstream cultural conventions, young, and white. She's also well-coiffed, suggesting that she either got her hair blown out at a salon to get that perfect little Jennifer Aniston-style flip or that she has plenty of leisure time to style her own hair. Its rich auburn shade could be natural, but could also be the work of a professional colorist. Her eyebrows look deliberately shaped, and she's wearing lipstick to match her hair. Like the pundit, her clothing could have come from Banana Republic or J.Crew. The Life Blogger's laptop has the look of a newish iBook (just like the one I'm typing on now, I must point out), and her leaning-back, arms-behind-head position suggests that she's just written a post, hunched over, and is now stretching out her arms, neck, and back, as I do myself periodically as I work. Replacing Carrie Bradshaw's cigarette are two aromatherapy candles, possibly sage and fig or sandalwood based on the colors, and the scent moves around the woman, touching her nose as it wafts away. Her facial expression is calm, serene, and satisfied. Her blogging is therapy just as her candles are. Her body is willowy and feminine.

In sum, these images are firmly raced/classed, and deeply gendered. The artist seems to be having fun with twenty/thirtysomething middle-class “Friends” stereotypes. I'd love to be able to talk with him or her to see if everything I've pointed out in these images was deliberate. Noteworthy too are the captions underneath the images. The pundit's blog is “smart, insightful, and always a quality read.” The life blogger's is “a living diary,” and is “entertaining.” I also think it's telling that the pundit's blog occupies a position, a rank in an implicit hierarchy much like the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem or the Technorati Top 100: it is “truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few” (emphasis mine).

Racial and Ethnic Categories in Biomedical Research

I recently attended a conference titled Proposals for the Responsible Use of Racial & Ethnic Categories in Biomedical Research: Where Do We Go From Here? and have been meaning to post a little something about it ever since. Basically the conference's discussion centered on a specific dilemma: Race is, many scientists argue, a biologically meaningless category (though some, including those who have a stake in BiDil, would disagree); therefore, it shouldn't be used as a category in biomedical research. Using it brings associations with biological determinism and perhaps eugenics-tinged value judgments based on racist ideologies. Plus, attributing medical conditions to race ignores a host of other factors, including location; as Morris Foster argued in his talk, participants in studies are often aggregated by race in order to make statistically significant claims, but location plays a critical role in one's health. Isn't it possible, Foster asked, that the people living in one's same town -- whether they're the same race or not -- the people one interacts with on a daily basis, have more of an effect on one's health than people of the same race who live 1000 miles away? (Especially given environmental toxins, epidemics of infectious disease, etc.) Foster supports his arguments with data from a study he's doing on three rural African American communities in Oklahoma and three local tribal communities in Oklahoma.

However, in a racist society with clear disparities in wealth that are closely correlated with race, race can't be dismissed entirely. African Americans and whites do not have equal access to health care (this includes referrals to specialists, health insurance, expensive prescription drugs, etc.), and if you do look at health problems by race, the social context of health and disease is revealed, and as common sense would tell us, there's far more to health than genetics. As Dorothy Roberts argued, reducing health to genetics and looking for a solution in a pill (which not everyone could afford) lets the state off the hook. There are good reasons, from a social responsibility/public policy standpoint, to keep racial and ethnic categories in biomedical research.

Also, Jay Cohn, the patent holder of BiDil, points out that using race as a category (in the biological-genetic sense) can save lives, as doctors can use that knowledge to tailor treatments more specifically to patients, increasing the efficacy of those treatments. Roberts countered (rightfully) by saying that she didn't want a doctor prescribing a drug to her based on what race the doctor thinks she is. Cohn replied that in the clinical trials of BiDil, participants self-identified as African American. This use of self-identification as a sort of rhetorical loophole came up several times, finally spurring me to pass a note to my advisor, who was sitting next to me, that said, "Aaargh! It kills me how they're using "self-identification" as though that were a completely unproblematic concept!"

The role of the market, which was the subject of Gregg Bloche's talk, must also get attention here. All these studies and clinical trials take place in the complex, overlapping, sometimes contradictory institutional contexts of academia, pharmaceutical companies, and government. I might say more about this later, but I'm about ready to wind up this post. The conference organizers put up an annotated bibliography (PDF) of literature on this topic, and I've listed the open-access ones here, if you'd like to do more reading:

The Racial Genetics Paradox in Biomedical Research and Public Health (PDF)

Medically, Race Means Nothing

Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease

Authors warn of inaccuracies concerning use of race in health & social science research

The Meanings of "Race" in the new Genomics: Implications for Health Disparities Research (PDF)

Is research into ethnicity and health racist, unsound, or important science?

Syndicate content