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Final Case Study: Synthesis

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director's Office, and Artwork

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director’s Office, and Artwork

Overview

Pedagogically based on writing center philosophies, the Noel Studio is a multiliteracy center with a unique physical space and academic/administrative structure. Occupying 10,000 sq. ft of EKU Libraries’ main building, Crabbe Library, the Noel Studio provides both public and private spaces for consultants, students, and faculty to work.

Comprised of a core administrative staff of five (director, writing coordinator, research coordinator, technology associate, and administrative assistant) and a student staff of approximately forty-five (graduate assistants, undergraduate consultants, desk consultants, and writing fellows), the Noel Studio was created to support the various communication and research projects happening both in and outside of the classroom. To support that mission, the physical space of the Noel Studio contains the Greenhouse (a large, open space with a variety of computers and touch-screen monitors), the Invention Space (equipped with wall-to-wall white boards, a CopyCam, and creative materials), Breakout Spaces and Practice Rooms (small, reserveable rooms with a computer work station, large screen monitors, and recording capabilities), and a communal space that currently serves as an office for technology support.

The Noel Studio is a network of space, people, activity, ideologies, and ideologies that cannot be separated from one another. It is a complex system that impacts and is impacted by larger institutional networks. While at first glance the network-icity of the Noel Studio might appear to exist primarily in its administrative structure the complexity of the Noel Studio is reflected in many different ways.

For example, even though the Noel Studio replaced the existing writing center, it did not simply overtake the writing center’s philosophies, space, or budget. Instead, it became an interdisciplinary space in the main library, an interdisciplinary department under University Programs (UP), and an amalgamation of budget lines from UP, the English Department (graduate assistantships), SGA, and, most recently, an endowment from the initial donors, Ron and Sherry Lou Noel. The collaborative efforts to make the space a reality are seen in the artwork commissioned through LexArt and paid for through the fundraising efforts of the Friends of the Library, the physical structures and features (small and large rooms, glass walls, brightly colored walls and glass), and the upgrades that have been made over the last 3.5 years (more and larger whiteboards, more mobile furniture).

Recognizing the importance of supporting students’ composing practices, some institutions are investing in multiliteracy centers. As the first large-scale multiliteracy center, the Noel Studio has already served as a model for other universities investing in communication initiatives and support services. While many people have visited the Noel Studio for ideas and advice, it’s an often-acknowledged fact that there is no “ideal” organization or plan that fits every writing center or writing program. Instead, each situation is unique and complex in its own right, subject to a multitude of factors. The Noel Studio is not replicable, but using the Noel Studio as an object of study allows us to understand the different options we have for examining the complexity of any given writing program, answering Jackie Grutch McKinney’s (2013) call for writing centers to look beyond the traditional narrative to see and articulate the work we actually do. If we can better see and articulate this work and how our centers and programs exist as nodes within institutional and (inter)disciplinary networks, we can not only help others understand our nodual value, but we can also focus on the connections that strengthen our work and loosen connections that don’t.

Brief Literature Review

In his seminal article, The idea of a writing center, S. North (1984) defined writing centers as far more than fix-it-shops (p. 435) where faculty send their students for remediation. He cited frequent examples of faculty misunderstanding and the frustrations of framing the writing center as a remedial service. Critical of those who misunderstand and misrepresent writing center work, North challenged the field to clarify their services and work towards educating students and faculty to the real role of the writing center: “the object is to make sure that writers, and not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction” (p. 438).

Since then, writing center scholarship has taken up the charge and sought to define the writing center in terms of praxis by investigating the politics of place and space (Nelson & Everts, 2001), the role of administrators as WPAs (Murphy and Stay, 2006), and how writing centers adapt to changes (Carpenter & Lee, 2013; Pemberton, 2003). At the foreground, however, has been a focus of the work that happens in a writing center–the pedagogical approach to both working with student writers and training consultants to do so.

In her recent book, Peripheral Visions on Writing Centers, J. G. McKinney (2013) critiques the narrative of writing centers that has emerged from these examinations. Three themes, she argues, arise as the tropes of the narrative:

  1. Writing centers are cozy homes
  2. Writing centers are iconoclastic
  3. Writing centers tutor (all students)

These themes, she argues are reductive and neglect the complexity of the work that happens within writing center spaces. While Mckinnery begins to trace the complexities of writing center work, she only touches on a deeper investigation. This synthesis, then, examines the Noel Studio primarily in terms of Prior et al.’s Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), positing that the rhetorical work of writing centers occurs in a much more complex system of activity than traditional rhetorical theories acknowledge. CHAT’s approach identifies levels of rhetorical activity that can be more fully understood by also considering the Noel Studio as labor and ecosystems constituted by social networks.

The Noel Studio as a Center of Rhetorical Activity

As a multiliteracy center, the Noel Studio functions as a center for rhetorical activity. Designed to support all communication projects, the Noel Studio’s mission considered writing, research, and oral communication as the three cornerstones of its rhetorical work. In their chapter, Studio pedagogy: A model for collaboration, innovation, and space design, Carpenter, Valley, Napier, and Apostel (2012) identify six foundational criteria for the Noel Studio’s multiliteracy approach:

1)    Critical and Creative Thinking: Consultants encourage students to engage in convergent (critical) and divergent (creative) thinking regarding, audience, purpose, context, and mode.

2)    Information Fluency: Consultant encourage student to think divergently and convergently about the ways in which students gather, evaluate, interpret, and integrate information into their communication products and practices.

3)    Integrative collaboration: Consultants encourage students to see their communication from multiple perspectives through the feedback process while incorporating insights offered from interactions within the space.

4)    Interactive: Consultants encourage students to think about the dynamics in their collaborative groups and how communication is enhanced through this social process. Consultants promote interaction by allowing students to project ideas in high- and low-tech ways.

5)    Visual: Consultants encourage students to think visually, embracing a design approach that allows students to actively participate with manipulatives and interactive resources

6)    Dynamic: Consultations change with students’ needs and expectations. That is, consultants adapt their methods of consulting.

These criteria, developed by the founding administrators of the Noel Studio, reflect both disciplinary and institutional ideologies. These reflections serve as the foundation for what Prior et al. describe as an expanded theory of rhetorical activity. Laminated chronotopes reflect the underlying ideology of the Noel Studio, as they are embodied, represented, and embedded in its rhetorical activity.

Laminated Chronotopes

Writing Center Ideology: Writing center policies and practices reflect their grounding in process pedagogy. Valuing such ideals as “HoCs over LoCs” (higher order concerns over lower order concerns), “meeting the writer where he’s at,” “minimal marking,” and “making better writers not better writing,” writing centers reflect composition theories that prioritize student reflection, student ownership, and collaboration. Students become better writers through discursive processes (the one-on-one interactions—these are important to writing center peeps…include them and explain why).

Inherent in this belief is the ideal that writing centers do not offer remedial services—rather, they support the growth of all writers in employing rhetorical strategies to develop effective communication. In addition to pedagogical strategies, writing centers also focus on space design as an important component in engaging students, resulting in what McKinney identifies as one of the tropes—writing centers are cozy homes. While the Noel Studio is not designed to be a “cozy home,” the importance of space design for the critical and creative processes of composing is one of its most important elements.

Institutional Ideology: Eastern Kentucky University is a regional university that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in general and liberal arts programs, pre-professional and professional training in education and various other fields. Established as Eastern Kentucky State Normal School in 1906, EKU began as a school for teachers and that legacy is still visible in the school’s self-described identity as an institution with three primary priorities: instruction, scholarship, and service, but the institution still claims the primary function is teaching (EKU, n.d.).

Like most institutions of higher education, EKU values grades as representations of academic success and predictors of future success. For the institution, success is often defined in terms of retention and graduation rates and programs that can demonstrate direct contributions to retention and graduation through quantitative assessments are more likely to receive funding.

Functional Systems and Literate Activity

From these laminated chronotopes emerge what Prior et al. identify as functional systems. According to Prior et al., “mediated activity means that action and cognition are distributed over time and space, and among people, artifacts, and environments” (pp. 17-18)–or functional systems. These functional systems are tied together by “some array of current objectives, conscious or not” (p.19). The primary objective tying these functional systems together in the Noel Studio is to help students become more effective communicators. Other stated and unstated objectives include creating opportunities for the students who work as consultants, creating an open and creative work atmosphere, and maintaining knowledge and practices to support EKUs evolving communication climate.

And from the functional systems emerge literate activities. According to Prior et al., the “terms of the map of literate activity . . . are not intended to evoke a series of steps, but to signal a multidimensional model” (pp. 19-20). This map of literate activity includes production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology. At this level, activity is concrete and visible, encompassing the enactment of rhetorical moves—the actions that enable the work of the Noel Studio to manifest in students creating visible representations of their ideas.

While Prior et al. identify functional systems as ecologies, people, communities, artifacts, and practices, they fail to explain how these functional systems emerge and contribute to the rhetorical activity of the larger network. The ambiguity of these functional systems (and thereby, the literate activities of the functional systems), however, can be better understood by looking at how other theorists have defined these various systems.

Even though the objective of the Noel Studio situates it as a system of rhetorical activity, we cannot ignore its multiple identities. It also functions as a labor system, an ecosystem , and a social network system that operates within the larger economic and social biosphere of EKU. Examining the Noel Studio in terms of its functional systems and literate activities in terms of these other network theories allows us to understand how meaning is made and transformed, how the network grows, evolves, or dissolves, and where operations and connections breakdown (or have the potential to breakdown).

Ecologies: Spellman defines ecology as “the science that deals with the specific interactions that exist between organisms and their living and nonliving environments” (p. 5). The Cary Institute expands on that definition, explaining ecology not just as interactions but as systems: “The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions, among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy.” In the case of the Noel Studio, the “transformation and flux of energy and matter” is actually the transformation of students’ ideas into the creation of texts. In this sense, the staff, students, and physical environment of the Noel Studio interact to create visible representations of ideas.

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

This representation, or the transformation as the Cary Institute described it, is reliant on not only the affordances (Gibson) of the physical environment but also what Norman identifies as perceived affordances. The more the student and consultant are able to take advantage of the affordances of the environment, the more effective their visual representation.

For example, when a student comes in to work with a consultant, the consultant typically first chooses a spot in the Greenhouse. With no stationary technology in the Greenhouse, the student and consultant can engage in conversation with little distraction from technology. For this example, we’ll say that the student has not yet started to write the paper—she has the prompt and an idea for a topic, but she doesn’t know how to narrow it down or start to organize it. Once the student has explained this, the consultant will ask to see the prompt, the construction of which affords the direction for the student’s paper.

After coming to an agreement about what the student is supposed to do in the paper and that the consultation will focus on brainstorming, the consultant will take the student to the Invention Space. As the consultant is already familiar with the spaces and technologies, she recognizes that the Invention Space affords brainstorming activities. The large whiteboards, CopyCam, and multicolored dry erase markers allow both the student and the consultant to contribute and organize ideas as they become represented through words and images on the dry erase boards. Additionally, revision of ideas is afforded as the representations are easily erased or modified if/when they no longer signify the evolving ideas. Once the student is happy with the representation of her ideas, she and the consultant could use an outline to create an outline—a visible representation of the logical structure of the student’s intended communication. The CopyCam then affords saving, as the student can print a copy of the work, save it as a file on a jump drive, or upload it to the Noel Studio’s CopyCam website.

If time, or in follow-up consultations, the student and consultant would use other spaces and technology in the Noel Studio to proceed through the drafting and revision processes (many times students do so in the spaces without a consultant, too). Together, they might use the Media Wall to conduct research, draft, review, and revise. If it’s a presentation, the student might also use a Practice Room to rehearse the presentation, then move to another space to work through the writing process again.

In each situation, the interactions between the student, consultant, and the tools of the environment transform the student’s ideas as they become represented in the various texts she composes throughout the process. Her (and the consultant’a) ability to perceive the various affordances of the technology that she uses shapes what the final text will look like. Similarly, the constraints of the technology also force her to make decisions, shaping the final project. For instances, if the student’s project is a video that she will share with the class, her construction of the video is reliant not only on her technical skill but also on her ability to perceive what she can and cannot do with the video editing software that she chooses. She knows that she wants to lay down a music track over the images in the video—a rhetorical choice that Movie Maker, iMovie, and most other video-editing software afford—but if she can’t perceive the function of the software, she will have to revise her plan and make new rhetorical choices with the functions she can perceive.

Communities: In this ecosystem of rhetorical activity, growth and balance depend on the population diversity (Spellman) and the abundance of resources, both human and environmental. Considering different groups of students and faculty as the different populations or communities, the ecosystem of the Noel Studio only grows when there is representation from the diverse disciplines, social groups, and demographic groups that make up EKU. Before the Noel Studio opened in 2010, the EKU Writing Center operated in the basement of Case Annex—an old dorm that has been converted to office and classroom space. Isolated to one department (the English Department) in terms of staffing, funding, and use, the Writing Center did not grow. When the Writing Center Director reached out to a new population (EKU Libraries) to discuss a potential collaboration, the idea of the Noel Studio emerged. Discussions between the Writing Center Director and the then-Dean of Libraries prompted further outreach to representatives of other populations, including the Department of Communication, Information Technology, Institutional Effectiveness, and the Office of the Provost. As ideas for what the space could be expanded, these representatives realized the increasing diversity of populations and their interests would require a new physical space.

The increased diversity also increased access to resources, as the English Department would no longer be solely responsible for the full funding (it still contributes to staffing through graduate assistant lines). Working with EKU Libraries Advancement, this newly-formed group was able to secure funding from donors, EKU Libraries, the Provost’s Office, University Programs, and a state grant. Since opening in September 2010, the Noel Studio has continued to increase the population diversity, expanding the Noel Studio Advisory Committee to include representatives from additional communities, including the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Teaching and Learning Center. Additionally, there has been an increase in population diversity among student use and faculty collaborations as we now see every college, social group, and demographic group that constitute EKU represented in the Noel Studio.

The distribution of population diversity, however, is still imbalanced as many communities are under-represented. While the ecosystem does include representatives from the college of Justice and Safety, for example, they are few and far between. If we cannot increase the Justice and Safety community’s interactions with the Noel Studio, that connection may die off as students graduate. As those connections die off, the system becomes less dynamic and resources less distributed as potential sources of funding decrease. If this trend of losing involved communities grew, the Noel Studio as a system would not be able to revert to its previous system of the Writing Center, as the resources and space have already been reallocated within the English Department. As such, the continued existence of the Noel Studio is dependent on increasing and maintaining connections with EKU’s diverse communities.

People: In addition to systems of community, the Noel Studio contains multiple systems of people as well. The primary network of people is the personnel: the administrative staff (director, coordinators, administrative assistant, and technology associate), the consultants (consultants, desk consultants, writing fellows, and graduate assistants), and the students (undergraduate, graduate, and online). Institutional ideology is most predominantly reflected in this component of the functional system, as the personnel structure is hierarchical. The consultants are responsible for the work that most explicitly addresses the objective of the Noel Studio, while the coordinators are responsible for guiding and supervising that work, the AA and technology associate troubleshoot and problem-solve resources necessary for that work, and the director makes programmatic decisions that situates the work within the larger system of EKU.

A social group comprised of undergraduate consultants, research consultants, a desk consultant, and a writing fellow

A social group comprised of undergraduate consultants, research consultants, a desk consultant, and a writing fellow

Within the labor network of people, there are social networks that are formed at and between various levels. As Scott explains, “A social group . . . exists in a field: a social ‘space’ that comprises the group together with its surrounding environment” (p. 11). This surrounding environment is not necessarily the physical space of the ecosystem—rather the space of the social group is constructed by the paths between people and their attitudes. With a full staff of approximately 50 people, interpersonal relationships and social balance is important for establishing a positive working environment. It’s unreasonable to expect that all 50 members of the Noel Studio will have what Scott identifies as “positive” relationships with all other 49 members. As he explains, social subgroups tend to form among people who have aligned ways of thinking and objectives. These subgroupings are evident within the Noel Studio as consultants tend to converge into cliques along their identified roles (their niches): desk consultants, graduate assistances, research consultants, undergraduate consultants, and writing fellows. However, as Scott explains, each person has multiple relations outside of these networks.

Understanding the social networks of the Noel Studio allows us to understand how interpersonal conflicts arise and, potentially, can be resolved with and ever-increasing staff. Thus far, the Noel Studio has had little trouble with conflict which is potentially due to the aligned objectives created by pedagogical and institutional ideologies.

Artifacts:  The artifacts of the Noel Studio are the documents and tools used the employees use to assist in the daily work. The documents and tools used by the Noel Studio employees to assist in the daily work. These include the Records of Consultation, time sheets, handouts and resources, client reports, WCOnline, Google Docs, Outlook, and Facebook.

Spinuzzi explains that relationships, activity, and destabilization that occur can only be identified by examining the relationships of activity and genres (the tools of the work) at three different levels: the macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic levels.  At the macroscopic level is the entire the activity system–the Noel Studio and its makeup (director, coordinators, consultants, desk consultants, etc) and the artifacts it use (Records of Consultation, WCOnline, the furniture, the technology) to achieve the goal of improving students’ communication skills. The mesoscopic level, reveals the actions each of the workers perform in order to achieve the goal and how the instruments mediate those actions. And microscopic level actions are operationalized behaviors.

The distribution of labor within the network is visible through the tools or artifacts that we use and create. For example, a student’s consultation is not only the labor of the consultant who works with him or her. In scheduling the appointment, either the student or a desk consultant uses WCOnline to mediate the scheduling process. When the student arrives, the desk consultant again uses WCOnline to fill out the heading on the RoC (the Record of Consultation) and then mediates the introduction to the consultant with whom the student will be working. At this point, the consultant uses the training that he or she received from the administrative staff (prior labor) to engage with the student. In working towards the goal of the improving student’s communication skills, the consultant and student exchange the labor load throughout the consultation, using both the RoC and the student’s communication product to mediate the exchange. After the consultation, the consultant returns the RoC to the desk consultant who again uses WCOnline to create a digital record of the consultation (the client report). Finally, the desk consultant passes along the RoC to the appropriate coordinator who reviews it and uses it to discuss the consultant’s success within the consultation.

Networks grow and emerge as workers create and modify genres and they dissolve as contradictions, discoordinations, and breakdowns go unnoticed or unaddressed. In the previous example, for instance, we might see a breakdown as the consultant distributes the copies of the RoC. If the consultant forgets to give the student the original, then the behavior is not operationalized and the Noel Studio will be inconsistent (and perhaps perceived as unreliable) in its processes. In response, if a coordinator or consultant notices this breakdown, he or she might develop fix–a new genre–that increases and strengthens the network.

Practices: Spellman emphasizes that each organism in an ecosystem has a specific role, or a niche, to fill. As such, “in order for the ecosystem to exist, a dynamic balance must be maintained among all biotic and abiotic factors—a concept known as homeostasis” (p. 15).The concept of balance is important for all ecosystems and the Noel Studio is no different. However, it is in the functional system of practices that the tension between writing center and institutional ideologies start to emerge. Because of writing center values of process pedagogy, forming “better writers not better papers,” and collaboration and authorship, writing centers (and the Noel Studio) have developed practices that prioritize global concerns over proofreading and editing, discussion over “correction,” and minimal marking. In contrast, because institutions value grades and assessment reporting, there is often institutional pressure to transform writing center practices to focus on product, local concerns, and editing.

These tensions are evident in every aspect of the consultation. From setting goals with students, to filling out the RoC, to having meaningful conversation to meeting faculty’s expectations, consultants try to balance the values they learn in training (and by which they are evaluated in terms of job performance) with the expectations of students, faculty, and higher administration. Despite valuing process and recognizing that students likely need to visit the Noel Studio multiple times for significant improvement in skills, consultants feel obligated to help every student move their project from whatever “grade” it is at to an “A” (as subjectively defined by every instructor at the institution). As consultants face pressure from students, coordinators face criticism from faculty whose ideas of what a writing center should do have, unfortunately, evolved little since North’s 1984 article.

Discussion

This synthesis feels woefully incomplete. I’m not sure if my reasons for choosing my different theories are obvious, so I’ll try to make them explicit here.

I chose CHAT as the overall framework because it explains how activity emerges from rhetorical motivations that are situated in cultural and institutional ideologies. It explains how meaning is embedded in systems that then represent the meaning through the resulting activities. Additionally, it accounts for various types of representation and how context influences rhetorical activity.

Using Prior et al. as a framework, however, was problematic for a few reasons that I tried to address with the other theories. First, it didn’t offer any ways of establishing boundaries for analysis of rhetorical activity. Even though my OoS itself helped set boundaries, much of the action that impacts students’ communication skills occurs outside of the Noel Studio on an individual basis, but examining those influences wouldn’t help us understand the Noel Studio as a network better.

Using Spinuzzi, Scott, and Spellman to define the types of functional systems in terms of a labor network, a social network, and an ecosystem help set useful boundaries and address ways in which the system grows, evolves, and could, potentially dissolve. Finally, they helped explain how the literate activity manifests from the functional systems and laminated chronotopes and how individuals and groups both form complex networks. Additionally, while CHAT accounts for the impact of environment on the rhetorical activity, theories of distributed cognition (Gibson and Norman) explain how that impact happens. In short, each of the supplemental theories attempt to explain the how that Prior et al. neglect.

References

Carpenter, Valley, Apostel, & Napier. (2013). Studio Pedagogy: A Model for Collaboration, Innovation, and Space Design, (pp. 313-329) In Cases on higher education spaces: innovation, collaboration, and technology, (R. Carpenter, Ed.). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Carpenter, R. & Lee, S. (2013). Introduction: Navigating literacies in multimodal spaces. The Routlege reader on writing centers and new media, (xiv-xxvi). New York: Routlege.

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The theory of affordances. The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McKinney, J. G. (2103). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Boulder, CO: Utah State University P.

Murphy, C. & Stay, B.L. (2006). The writing center director’s resource guide. New York: Routlege.

Nelson, J. & Everts, K. (2001). The Politics of Writing Centers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.

Norman, D. (n.d.). Affordances and design, Retreived from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzIskzHsjKsRN0NRRktncjBGb1U/edit

North, S. (1984). The idea of a writing center. College English, 46(5), 433-436. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/377047

Pemberton, M. (2003). The center will hold. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Prior et al. (). Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/topoi/prior-et-al/core/core.pdf

Spellman, F. R. (2008). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes.

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: A sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from Kindle.

 

 

 

Synthesis…I hope

Theories Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why? Rhetorical Situation Theory: Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker provided different approaches to the rhetorical situation, which allow me to consider exigence (problem that invites a response), the rhetor, and the site of communication, respectively. If I utilize my re-proposed Oos, in which I expanded the […]

Virtual Ecosystems of World of Warcraft_Case Study #3

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. Image hosted on Blizzard's official website for WoW.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. Image hosted on Blizzard’s official website for WoW.

Literature Review

Much of the scholarship surrounding World of Warcraft (WoW) focuses on social dynamics, such as whether or not people are isolated or more connected, gold farming in China, and how Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games can be used in classrooms (the game specifically or skills learned and honed in-game by players. For Steven L. Thorne, Ingrid Fischer, and Xiaofei Lu, in their article “The Semiotic Ecology and Linguistic Complexity of an Online Game World,” explore the affordances and environment of what they term the semiotic ecology of the gamespace, though they conclude that “external websites function as keystone species within WoW’s broader semiotic ecology” as players in their sample admit to constantly seeking advice and information from these external websites in regards to quests, armor, and lore. They also found that, while in-game text chat functions can help gamers internationally come together and learn each other’s languages, “The analysis of the text samples from the external websites revealed a high degree of lexical sophistication, lexical diversity, syntactic complexity, and based on the D-level scores, a significant proportion of structurally complex sentences…the most popular WoW-related external websites are relatively rich in lexical sophistication and diversity, include multiple genres – from informational and expository prose to interactive ‘I-you’ and conversational text types, and illustrate a high proportion of both complex syntactic structures as well as interactive and interpersonally engaged discourse. It also bears noting that related research focusing on the cognitive content of strategy and game-play websites shows that these texts are rhetorically and logically complex.” MMOs like WoW may be games and research may fluctuate between considering such games as having positive and negative effects on players, but researchers are finding that these games and the literature that was created outside of the gamespace do provide players with environments in which learning can take place, especially that of the semiotic.

Other ecological theories, beyond that of semiotics have been applied to the MMO. In their article, “Social Mediating Technologies: Social Affordances and Functionalities,” A. G. Sutcliffe, V. Gonzalez, J. Binder, and G. Nevarez place WoW into discourse with other social media technologies, like Facebook, Wikipedia, and Blacksburg Electronic Villagein order to understand the affordances that the technologies provide to their users. They draw upon theorists like Gibson, Norman, and Ackerman, as well as “Clark’s common ground theory,” when giving a broader overview of computer-mediated communication (CMC). The authors found that, when looking at communication modalities, “The game provides visual and audio interaction, which meets most of the modalities criteria, with partial support for reviewability as long as the feedback from previous actions persists; the game does not meet the criterion of revisability unless editing settings and skills levels are considered.” The authors then drew upon other scholarship, and their own, in order to understand how the goals for players in WoW matched up with people who were using other forms of social media: “Sherlock (2007) explored the role of groups in WoW and compared the game with social networking websites, arguing that WoW ties the formation of groups to shared objectives and motives (i.e., guilds). When forming or joining a group for quests, the members need a good balance of skills and abilities and a shared goal. This contrasts with SNS, where interest matching, shared background, or other social factors shape group formation. WoW shares social affordances with Wikipedia and BEV, the other community based SMTs.” They conclude that WoW provides players with a variety of social affordances that allow them to keep in touch, exchange information in-game as well as out of game, and participate in multiplayer activities.

Let’s Begin

While World of Warcraft is an online game, the code underlying the game allows for virtual representations of ecosystems, but ones that truly alter only when an expansion set or a patch rework the code. The gamespace across the servers can be seen as a virtual ecosystem, separate yet not from the rest of the online world, and each server, in turn, becomes a smaller ecosystem. The same occurs for cities within each server. These cities, populated permanently by non-playable characters (NPCs) and temporarily by players, are surrounded by pixelated flora and fauna. What is interesting is that the cities do not really bleed over into the wilderness, and monsters from the wild cannot approach the city without NPC guards rushing forward to kill the monsters. In this sense, the programmed ecosystem of the gamespace can never fully emulate or imitate a natural ecosystem, as the software only allows for activity within the parameters of its code. Everything has its particular place, except the players, who are free to move as they will, looking for boss battles, dungeons, side quests, and one another.

A city center in WoW. Image hosted on the blog, World of Games&Fixes.

A city center in WoW. Image hosted on the blog, World of Games&Fixes.

For players, the programmed cityscapes and landscapes are the environments in which their avatars as beings-in-the-virtual-world maneuver, offering their avatars social affordances as well as virtual but purposeless representations of real world affordances. Each player lives in the “meat space,” operating within the ecosystem of his or her house, neighborhood, city, and so on, but, when they log onto the internet and a game, players allow their attention and activity to also blend over into an informational ecosystem, composed of digital content created by zeroes and ones. Their bodies tap keyboards, adjust screens, and shift in chairs, but their minds extend beyond the skin (as Bateson would put it) into a gamespace where they act as nodes in a series of ever-larger networks composed of millions of players whose physical proximity is not necessary. Players’ avatars can inhabit, interact, and move through the virtual gamespaces, with players’ physical presence only filtering in as voices and text across chat systems, as well as second-hand through avatars’ actions.

In order to apply Ecology Theory to a virtual world, we must acknowledge that a virtual world only functions within the parameters which had been established before and reestablished over the course of the game’s lifespan. Beasts (recognizable and fictitious) populate the gamespace, but only because they have been programmed into being visually represented as pixelated images. As well, the various ecosystems represented in the game, and the NPCs and beasts within them, behave in a certain way because of the code underlying them. It is not a natural ecosystem where surprising phenomena can take place and ecosystems can blend together, rupture one another, or disappear quietly, unless new codes are implemented into the software. The software does not age NPCs or monsters; no matter the length of time a player has an active account, most of the virtual inhabitants of the game will be moving through the same cycle of selling wares, wandering through streets or forests or deserts, and guarding or attacking those passing by. The only thing that can occur organically within the virtual gamespace are the relationships among the players-avatars. Even these relationships cannot totally escape moderation, but they do exist and function more naturally. For WoW, like other MMOs, it is a virtual world in which the outside world is constantly in contact. In this sense, guilds and guild members in WoW can be considered ecosystems and as parts of larger ecosystems, but such ecosystems are artificial. Ecology Theory looks as guilds as wholes, but also at guild members as beings in an artificial environment.

Throughout the gamespace, there are different kinds of terrains, each sporting different types of monsters and dungeons. Cities are scattered throughout the servers, offering players transportation (in the form of flight paths, teleportation, zeppelins, or trams), banks, inns, and auction houses (for Faction cities). Though these are virtual spaces, the different terrains in Azeroth (name of the game world) have a variety of affordances for players’ avatars. The code creates a landscape upon which avatars can walk, climb, run, swim, and ride, but if there are bugs in the system, the landscape has moments where that affordance disappears (such as when a character falls through a wall or drops through a floor into virtual nothingness. There are also virtual solid substances in the game, such as weapons, armor, clothing, food, oils, stones, with the list extending outwards. Some of these items come pre-crafted, but others can be, in a sense, “fabricated by hand,” though the concept of manual labor in a game is never an accurate description of what occurs in-game (Gibson 131). Each of these affords players, through their avatars, something that will, hopefully, aid them in the game, but the gamespace does not change because of them, so players, even working within guilds, have limited agency within the scope of the artificial ecosystem.

Players only truly have control over how their avatars move through the various ecosystems represented throughout the game. An example of this would be a guild moving through a city. The city does not change because of their presence, their money does not alter how a vendor operates, and the city guards do not react when a large group moves through the space. Instead, players’ behaviors change due to the new environment in which they are playing (some players use the safety afforded by cities and towns to let their characters idle while they attend to responsibilities in the “meat space” or search online for advice and guides for in-game activities). They are not engaging bystanders in battle, they may be using a guild bank, and gathering supplies in the form of potions and armor. Once they leave the city, the behavior of the guild alters to adapt and meet the challenges of dungeons, random battles, and quests.

Where guilds and guild members have the greatest agency in-game is though the social affordances of the game, with pathways like text chats, voice chats, message boards, and guild banks. Through these social affordances, it is information (strategies, character details, object details, quest advice, social facts about the guild and the gamespace at large, roles of the sub-groups) moving within the microscopic level of the guild and between the members, not flowing down in a hierarchical fashion, but like a spider web of information to all members. Because the guilds are part of the ecosystem and do not quite compose an ecosystem onto themselves, guild members as nodes can do little to affect the programmed ecosystem around them. Instead, they leave their marks through reputation, activities, and guild rankings outside of the game, and the existence of their guild for other players. The guild as a node is only as important as the draw and interest in produces in other players throughout the gamespace. Guild officers have more power, in a sense, than non-power and new gamers because they have greater access and (usually) more experience with what can be accomplished through the social affordances provided by the gamespace, but even they do not have much agency in the ecosystem of the server or the ecosystem of WoW. The social affordances allow these nodes to have access to one another, sharing similar experiences with their avatars as beings-in-the-virtual-world, and carving out a communication and informational space that they can use to craft spaces outside of the gamespace as their own, causing the activities in the artificial ecosystem of the game to bleed over into the informational network of the internet.

However, affordances in the gamespace are not only directed at avatars or as social affordances for player communication. Some perceived affordances, Don Norman’s concept, are equally useful for players, especially for advanced players, and their navigation and success in the gamespace. Players can access addons in order to modify and enhance the user interface, such as damage meters, performance measurements, and raid cooldowns as well as communications. These perceived affordances, which can be created officially by Blizzard or unofficially by players, can help give players greater agency in-game, especially during group raids where information can be crucial for the team to perform cohesively (with each player successfully fulfilling his or her role) but also to look back and judge places where performance could be tweaked or failed completely, as a way to enhance group performance for the next raid or the next completion of the same raid.

World of Warcraft Usability. Image hosted on the website, elsabartley .co.uk

World of Warcraft Usability. Image hosted on the website, elsabartley.co.uk

Because gamers are dealing with a virtual ecosystem, what they can physically do to interact with the gameworld is afforded to them by the keyboard and the mouse, and how they can interact with their fellow guild members is afforded to them through the keyboard and/or a headset. While only certain keys afford certain actions in-game, running, cast spells, healing, attacking, making gestures, and so on, not all keys will afford players actions. The software of most MMOs also sketchy when it comes to touch-screen affordances, as touching such screens will cause movement of the player or the camera angle, but do so sloppily because the software is not truly programmed for such technology.

The perceived affordances of the gamespace are based on cultural constraints and convictions, but they also help to redefine those same constraints and convictions internationally. The layout, however, was constructed by Blizzard, a company that is located in the United States, so the cultural conventions and constraints are heavily influenced by US cultural norms. But, since the game has been around for almost a decade or more, the visual layout for things like the menus, the action boxes, and help guides are now familiar to players, regardless the country from which they are playing. These players may not be from a single culture, but they do constitute a group. They are WoW gamers, which becomes an aspect of their identity tying them together. These are perceived affordances players expect to be there when they log on to the game, and their familiarity is useful for new or returning players because it is a system where they can seek advice in-game and out of game.

Like any group of organisms functioning within a much larger ecosystem, guilds do emerge and disintegrate, mutating into smaller and larger versions of themselves as people begin and quit the game, separate into separate guilds due to in-fighting or stagnation, and vanish altogether. These guilds use the various kinds of affordances offered to them within the gamespace (as well as those external but related) to enhance their performance as individuals and groups, to stay in contact and relay information (though that information can sometimes become misinformation), and to share experiences that bind them as a unit (though such experiences and players’ interactions with and reactions against each other may also be what destroys a group). The guilds as groups and players as individuals are the organic reactions within a highly artificial set of ecosystems.

Where to Go From Here?

While Ecology Theory is very interesting in looking at what an MMO gamespace can afford players (as visual imitations of real world affordances—houses, banks, transportation—, social affordances in the way information can be relayed throughout the virtual environment, and perceived affordances granted to players from the creators and through player-innovation), from the theorists we read, it is hard to talk about the ecosystems of the gamespace. I was surprised by how hard it is to reconcile conversations about organic ecosystems with virtual ecosystems that have players’ avatars moving through different terrains, because the artificial ecosystem is programmed to run on a cycle and be the same for everyone. Players of MMOs have very little agency in the workings of the gamespace, finding only small alterations that respond to their actions, generally with certain NPCs making comments about a quest being completed.  Players are operating their avatars within a sandbox world, and yet there is very little they can do to affect the world at large.

Instead, it is the interactions of the players and the information moving between them where they have the greatest agency in WoW’s different levels of ecosystem. As well, players have greater agency in how they can tap into the information output of the game and their (and their fellow guild members’) activities by using addons. It is the perceived affordances of the gamespace that allow players to move more successfully through the gamespace as individuals and as groups. It was also intriguing to realize that the artificial ecosystems being depicted in-game are so strictly divided: wilderness does not intrude upon civilization, or at least not for long as city guards are programmed to fight and defeat any monsters who leave their territory. If I were to try discussing the ecosystems of WoW on a scale beyond the theorists we have read, I would definitely look more into virtual environments and how the perceived affordances of the gamespace make up for the meaningless imitations scattered throughout. The gamespace is an ecosystem, one that could still continue existing (for a while, at least) without people connecting to it, but the people, especially through guilds, are where the most interesting analyses of WoW come into play as their avatars moving through the virtual space are the “organisms plus environment.”

References

Bateson, Gregory. “Form, Substance, and Difference.” Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1987. [PDF].

Gibson, James J. “Theory of Affordances.” The Information for Visual Perceptions. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986. [PDF].

Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” JND.org. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Sutcliffe, A. G., V. Gonzalez, J. Binder, and G. Nevarez. “Social Mediating Technologies: Social Affordances and Functionalities.” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 27 .11 (2011): 1037-1065. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Thorne, Steven L., Ingrid Fischer, and Xiaofei Lu. “The Semiotic Ecology and Linguistic Complexity of an Online Game World.” ReCALL 24.3 (September 2012): 279-301. Cambridge Journals. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

Just Because I Can

 


Case Study #3: Snapchat and Theory of Affordances

Introduction Snapchat’s impact on social media networks has been a hot topic for several months now.  It and other ephemeral data applications are being championed as the next wave in communication. The application’s creators have positioned Snapchat in opposition to traditional social media applications, such as MySpace and Facebook, which focus on creating a profile […]

Week 11: Ecological Systems

Summary

This week’s readings all center on the complexity of ecological systems. In chapter one of his book, Spellman attempts to define ecology and its importance in nonecologist terms. First, he traces various definitions of ecology, including the most widely used: “the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how the distribution and abundance are affected by the interactions between the organisms and their environment” (pp. 3-4). The definition he offers for his text, however, focuses more heavily on the relations: “Ecology is the science that deals with the specific interactions that exist between organisms and their living and nonliving environments” (p. 5). Like the Cary Institute’s definition (“The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter”), Spellman’s primary emphasis is on interactions and how those interactions maintain or transform an ecosystem.

Spellman explains that an organism’s ecosystem can be divided into four parts: Habitat and distribution, other organism, food, and weather. Additionally, there are four main subdivisions of ecology:

  1. Behavioral
  2. Population
  3. Community
  4. Ecosystem

He also emphasizes several key points regarding ecology. First, he asserts that no ecosystem can be analyzed in isolation( (p. 4). Next, he explains that ecology is typically categorized according to complexity (p. 5), which results in levels of organization (p.14):

Organs–>Organism–>Population–>Communities–>Ecosystem–>Biosphere

Finally, he emphasizes that each organism in an ecosystem has a specific role, or niche, to fill and “in order for the ecosystem to exist, a dynamic balance must be maintained among all biotic and abiotic factors–a concept known as homeostasis” (p. 15). The rest of chapter one explains how the different elements of an ecosystem all form a network of interrelated components that work together to maintain the ecological balance. He further identifies that energy moves through the system that operates as a cyclic mechanism (p. 17).

In chapter four, Spellman narrows his discussion to focus specifically on population ecology, defining a population system as “a population with its effective environment” (p. 62).  He identifies four major components of a population system: the population itself, resources, enemies, and environment (p. 62). Spellman identifies key principles and mathematic formulas for understanding population growth and reduction, highlighting the importance of ecological equivalency (p. 62) and the properties of populations (pp. 63-64):

  1. Population size
  2. Population density
  3. Patterns of dispersion
  4. Demographics
  5. Population growth
  6. Limits on population

 

From Mr G's Environmental Systems: http://sciencebitz.com/?page_id=41

From Mr G’s Environmental Systems: http://sciencebitz.com/?page_id=41

While he spends a lot of time on the laws of population ecology, the key factors of this chapter in terms of our networks class are his explanations of how limits (and lack of limits) affect population growth, his proposed methods for studying populations, and his explanation of how distribution occurs in an ecosystem. When all populations in a a given ecosystem are in balance, he explains, the ecosystem is balanced. Ecological succession is a key component of ecological balance. Succession allows an ecosystem to “heal” itself once the unbalancing factors are removed or overcome.

 

This concern for ecological balance seems to be at the forefront of Guattari‘s argument (my book has been on backorder and should arrive tomorrow, so I’ve read several summaries in the meantime). Guattari seems concerned with what we can understand about existence as a society rather than simply an objective observation of interrelations: “Ecology in my sense questions the whole of subjectivity and capitalistic power formations” (qtd. in Sytaffel). Sytaffel explains Guattari’s argument for an ecosophy that contrasts “a capitalist system predicated on economic growth.”

Finally, Syverson expands the theory of ecology from its environmental situation to a metaphorical application to writing, proposing an “Ecology of Composition.” Current theories of writing, she argues, do not account for the complex systems of writesr, texts, and audiences. Complex systems, she explains, are simultaneously spontaneous, self-organizing, adaptive, dynamic, unpredictable, disordered, and structured, coherent, and purposeful, they better reflect the network of agents that constitute the act of writing. This approach, Syverson explains, “takes into account the complex interrelationships in which the writing is embedded” (p. 6). To fully explain the metaphor, Syverson highlights key concepts from ecology and applies them to composition: distribution, emergence, embodiment, and enaction.

Syverson then breaks the theory down into the dimensions of complex systems to better illustrate “how the attributes of distribution, emergence, embodiment, and enaction can be revealed in ecologies of composing” (p. 18):

  1. Physical-material (including technology): “Texts emerge through writers’ and readers’ physical interactions with material structures” (p. 18)
  2. Social (inter-individual): encompasses not only the interactions between individuals but also social structures, practices, and relationships (p. 19_
  3. Psychological (intra-individual): the thoughts, emotions, neurophysiology of attention, language recognition, and text comprehension involved in writing (pp. 19-20)
  4. Spatial: Texts are composed across both bounded and unbounded spaces (p. 20)
  5. Temporal: discourse is historically and culturally situated (pp. 20-21)

Syverson concludes by emphasizing the need for a comprehensive theory of composing, pointing out that current theories neglect different dimensions revealed through this ecological metaphor.

Discussion

Spellman’s discussion of population diversity  and succession and Guattari’s emphasis on the human capitalist impact on the environment, made me think of the History Channel’s show, Life after People. In this clip form the episode on Chernobyl, we see how quickly the environment begins to heal itself when devastated then abandoned by humans:

The discussions of ecology have been interesting for me (especially Syverson) in that they have provided me a new way of considering new media composing. In her chapter, Syverson discusses the concept of emergence, which seems to tie with earlier conversations regarding genre and discourse. She claims that “to get a comprehensive understanding of composition, we need to understand how distribution , emergence, and embodiment are enacted through activities and practices in composing situations” (p. 13). Combined with Gibson’s theory of affordances and Norman’s theory of perceived affordances, this approach seems useful in beginning to understand the act of composing new media. As a result, I’m now going to look at adding this approach to my reading list.

 

Key Terms

Abiotic Factor: nonliving or inorganic substances such as oxygen and carbon dioxide

Biotic Factor: the living part of the environment composed of organisms that share the same area, are mutually sustaining, interdependent, and constantly fixing, utilizing, and dissipating energy (Spellman, p. 20)

Carrying Capacity: the optimum number of species’ individuals that can survive in a specific area over time (Spellman, quoting Enger, Kormelink, Smith, and Smith, 1989, p. 70). Two types: ultimate and environmental

Community: includes all of the populations occupying a specific area (Spellman, p. 20)

Complex Systems: a network in which independent agents act and interact parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment (Syverson, p. 3)

Density-dependent Factors: the effect of the factor on the size of the population depends upon the original density or size of the population

Density-independent Factors: ones where the effect of the factor on the size of the population is independent and does not depend upon the original density or size of the population (p. 68)

Distribution: processes–including cognitive processes–are distributed; both divided and shared among agents and structures in the environment (Syverson, p. 7)

Ecological Succession: the observed process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time; a gradual and orderly replacement of plant and animal species that takes place in a particular area over time (Spellman, p. 76)

Ecosystem: the community and the nonliving environment functioning together as en ecological system (Spellman, p. 20)

Egress: emigration or departure of an organism from a population (Spellman, p. 67)

Embodiment: the content and process of interactions are dependent on and reflective of physical experience (Syverson, p. 12)

Emergence: the self-organization arising globally in networks of simple components connected to each other and operating locally (Syverson, p. 11)

Enaction: the principle that knowledge is the result of an ongoing interpretation that emerges through activities and experiences situated in specific environments (Syverson, p. 13)

Homeostasis: a natural occurrence during which an individual population or an entire ecosystem regulates itself against negative factors and maintains an overall stable condition (Spellman, p. 20)

Ingress: immigration or arrival of a new organism to a population from other places (Spellman, p. 67)

Mortality: death rate (Spellman, p. 67)

Natality: birth rate (Spellpam, p. 67)

Species Diversity: a measure of the number of species and their relative abundance (Spellman, p. 75)

References

Spellman, F. R. (2008). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes.

Syataffel. (Oct. 7, 2008). The three ecologies–Felix Guattari. Media ecologies and digital activism. Retrieved from http://mediaecologies.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/the-three-ecologies-felix-guattari/

Syverston, M. A. (1999). Introduction: What is an ecology of composition? The wealth of reality: An ecology of composition. Carbondale: S Illinois University Press.


The Ecology of Mindmap Gets Another Update

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap update_March 23

Mindmap update_March 23

Ah, ecologies, cybernetic epistemologies, differences, affordances, and perceived affordances. What to add this week to my reframed mindmap?

For the mindmap, I stuck to Bateson and Gibson as a way to continually try to contain the behemoth that has become m brainstorming of connections tool. Needless to say, even color-coding the nodes may not help if the mindmap is too big to be read (at least this is slightly better than the original). This time, though, I took a slightly different route. Instead of connecting quotes to other quotes, I decided to focus on which theories I thought best connected to Ecology Theory. This took me a while because a lot of our theories have had to do with technology and ideas, whereas ecology always seems linked to the natural world (which, I learned, from reading these two authors, need not be separated from our technological bubble). My answer for the theories: Foucault and ANT.

Bateson’s idea of the ecology of the mind, the cybernetic epistemology in which the larger Mind plays a role, reminded me a lot of the archives Foucault mentions in The Archaeology of Knowledge.

“the very meaning of ‘survival’ becomes different when we stop talking about the survival of something bounded by the skin and start to think of the survival of the system of ideas in circuit. The contents of the skin are randomized at death and the pathways within the skin are randomized. But the ideas, under further transformation, may go on out in the world in books or works of art. Socrates as a bioenergetic individual is dead. But much of him still lives as a component in the contemporary ecology of ideas” (Bateson 467)

“an economics of information, of entropy, negentropy, etc…informational or entropic ecology deals with the budgeting of pathways and of probability. The resulting budgets are fractioning (not subtractive). The boundaries must enclose, not cut, the relevant pathways” (Bateson 466-467)

Affordance - is part of the relationship between the environment and animal that can be found through “the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays,” but  it “must be measured relative to the animal” as it is what the environment “offers the animal, what it provides, or furnishes, either for good or ill” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 127)


The Ecology of the Mindmap Gets Another Update

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap update_March 23

Mindmap update_March 23

Ah, ecologies, cybernetic epistemologies, differences, affordances, and perceived affordances. What to add this week to my reframed mindmap?

For the mindmap, I stuck to Bateson and Gibson as a way to continually try to contain the behemoth that has become m brainstorming of connections tool. Needless to say, even color-coding the nodes may not help if the mindmap is too big to be read (at least this is slightly better than the original). This time, though, I took a slightly different route. Instead of connecting quotes to other quotes, I decided to focus on which theories I thought best connected to Ecology Theory. This took me a while because a lot of our theories have had to do with technology and ideas, whereas ecology always seems linked to the natural world (which, I learned, from reading these two authors, need not be separated from our technological bubble). My answer for the theories: Foucault and ANT.

Bateson’s idea of the ecology of the mind, the cybernetic epistemology in which the larger Mind plays a role, reminded me a lot of the archives Foucault mentions in The Archaeology of Knowledge: “the very meaning of ‘survival’ becomes different when we stop talking about the survival of something bounded by the skin and start to think of the survival of the system of ideas in circuit. The contents of the skin are randomized at death and the pathways within the skin are randomized. But the ideas, under further transformation, may go on out in the world in books or works of art. Socrates as a bioenergetic individual is dead. But much of him still lives as a component in the contemporary ecology of ideas” (Bateson 467). This quote also makes me think of Shakespeare’s promise in one of his sonnets that the subject of the poem will live on longer after the death of the body (which then also reminds me of the promise made to Achilles, but that is for a different day and a different thought pattern). There may not be an over-arching narrative of history, but there are the ideas in circulation, slipping beneath our view and then being dragged back out again when they make more sense. This, then, also reminds me of the second quote I added to the mindmap by Bateson: “an economics of information, of entropy, negentropy, etc…informational or entropic ecology deals with the budgeting of pathways and of probability. The resulting budgets are fractioning (not subtractive). The boundaries must enclose, not cut, the relevant pathways” (466-467). I found it interesting that there were two different definitions for ecology, and that one deals with “an economics of information.” It helps to bridge the Cartesian divide we normally have set up between mind and body, and in this case, Mind and Nature.

It is, in part, this second quote along with Bateson’s whole article, that reminded me a great deal of Actor-Network-Theory, as it is the natural world that is also a network (though we call it an ecology),  and a lot of our technological network seems to play out the kinds of networks we see among animals, plants, and plants-animals. Of course, since we are also animals, we are simply mapping onto the virtual environment that which is familiar. Actors are actors regardless of the space.

The last node I put up was a definition for Affordance, cobbling pieces of my understanding together with fragmented quotes by Gibson. “is part of the relationship between the environment and animal that can be found through ‘the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays,” but  it “must be measured relative to the animal’ as it is what the environment ‘offers the animal, what it provides, or furnishes, either for good or ill’” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 127). While I couldn’t think, yet, of how to connect this to other nodes in my mindmap, I wanted to make sure that it was in there. I think the affordances, or perceived affordances mentioned by Don Norman, are the mediators and intermediaries of ANT. They are the non-human elements that help to transform or relay information to an organism, which in turn affects the ecological network.


Mind Map: Week 10


Ecology of CCCC

I approached this assignment with what I call the “huh face.” The major issue was the phrase “distributed consciousness.” After completing the readings and annotating, I still did not remember reading this phrase. So, I was a little disheartened when I saw that it was something that was “outlined in various ways by readings from […]

Mind Map #9: Ecology, Environment & Affordances

I sense the least connection between the two concepts of ecology and affordances this week, likely because I don’t feel I gave these readings justice. One issue is the reading affordance – I’m using iPad rather than print, and the readings this week were not great scans. As a result, I didn’t annotate as completely, and my collected annotations did not include full text of the original – only my notes. When I review my notes, I typically review them as annotations rather than within the text, meaning without the original text included with the comment, I get a little lost among disjointed annotations.

At any rate, the relationship I see is that an ecology may produce a distributed intelligence, and the distributed intelligence within an ecological system depends on environmental affordances. Some of these affordances may be real, but in networked computer environments of hardware, software, and especially user interfaces, the affordances may be more likely to be perceived than actual.

Popplet visualization
Mindmap: This post entirely generated from iPad (including the Popplet), and the environment was a bit restrictive.

I found ecology quite similar to the systems we’ve seen throughout our adventures in theory – activity systems in CHAT and ANT, genre systems in Spinuzzi and Bazerman. I think what differs in ecology is the organic character of the environment and the affordances of that environment. Organic in the sense of growth, development, and advancement (although I would hesitate to suggest evolutionary advancement – more advancement of understanding and intellect) rather than in the sense of organic or inorganic objects as actors in networks.

Mapping the affordances in this ecology of my classroom was enlightening. Mapping Bateson, Gibson, and Norman among other theorists was not as enlightening, in part because I’m unclear as to where they belong. Norman’s contribution is particularly difficult, as I see it applying to the (in my opinion) far more practical, operationalized realm of user interface and user experience than network theory. I think this has to do with mediation, but I’ll be looking for new ways to draw connections between user interface, perceived affordances, and network theory.

Ecology of a Conference

Description

For this post, I’ll be analyzing the 4Cs conference in terms of ecology and distributed cognition. My conference experience this year involved multiple settings, as the main conference was at the JW Marriott, the IWCA Collaborative was at the Hyatt Regency, and my hotel was the Hampton Inn at exit 103, about a twenty minute  drive each day (except on Friday when parking turned out to be a nightmare and I drove around the city for almost an hour).

The IWCA Collaborative at the Hyatt is a mini conference on the Wednesday of 4Cs. In addition to concurrent sessions, the collaborative also offered an opening breakfast, a luncheon, and a reception for attendees. Spaces of the conference included the large ballroom for meals, meeting rooms for sessions, a boardroom for a “quiet space,” a meeting room for space planning, and (attempted) gender-neutral bathrooms–in addition to all of the non-conference spaces surrounding the designated spaces: a food atrium downstairs, other meeting rooms being used by a STEM conference, hotel rooms, and the  offices for those working in the PNC Convention Center that is connected to the Hyatt.

4Cs at the JW Marriott was a much larger conference, encompassing a substantial portion of the hotel’s meeting spaces. Like the Collaborative, 4Cs used meeting rooms for concurrent sessions as well as the ballrooms for featured sessions and speakers. The ballrooms also served for reception spaces, registration, and book exhibits. The large halls offered spaces for digital and non-digital poster sessions and socializing. Additionally, non-designated conference spaces became part of the conference as attendees took advantage of them: Starbucks, the Velocity sports bar, and the lobby (additional spaces also served for those who stayed at the JW Marriott, such as the rooms and the fitness center).

Mapping the Distributed Cognition

Because there were so many spaces and activities, I’m going to narrow my discussion down to a simply one: attending a session. As Bateson explains, a behavior is a complete circuit that includes both the person and the environment, so I’ll begin with specific behaviors and analyze how the environment is a component of them.

By “attending” a session, I mean not only being present in the session but also all of the complexities that define someone as attendant to the events and dialogue occurring in the session. Attendees who are attendant to the sessions are engaged and gaining something as a result of being in attendance (learning something, questioning existing ideas, offering ideas that help shape the session for everyone). Session boundaries are drawn in several ways: arbitrarily by conference organizers according to the presentation titles and descriptions and physically by the walls and doors of the designated rooms for these spaces.

Conference Program: Conference attendees perceive the arbitrary boundaries through the physical (or digital) copy of the program and decide which sessions to attend based on titles and speakers. In this way, the conference program serves as what Norman labels a perceived affordance–the design of the program and descriptions allow attendees to perceive that they can attend a session. Disciplinary jargon and session titles follow cultural conventions, acting as primary indicators for the perceived affordance of attendance–that is, session attendees perceive the level to which they can be engaged in the session based on the jargon and organization of each session as described in the program. If presenters’ presentations do not match the attendees’ expectations, then their level of engagement or attendance could be reduced.

Physical Spaces: While seemingly straightforward with its traditional structure (again, cultural conventions) of chairs for attendees, chairs and tables for presenters, and technology for presenting, the session environment allows for a complex series of understanding and interaction.  Beyond the affordances of sitting, standing, and demonstrating offered by the chairs, floors, and technology in the room, the arrangement allows attendees to perceive social roles and adhere to social expectations (or not). Upon walking into a room, attendees are able to distinguish between presenters and other attendees based on their choice of seating. The facing of presenters’ seats to attendees’ seats affords conversation while distinguishing presenters as the leaders of the discussions. In this way, the structure of the room also creates perceived constraints (Norman) for attendees: the ability to engage only when allowed by presenters.

Technology: There are multiple technologies in each session room that afford the displaying and receiving of information that either engages or disengages both presenters and attendees. Laptops for both groups afford the offloading of information. For presenters, they can use their laptops to display information in such a way that they don’t forget their points or to illustrate concepts to the audience. Attendees can use their laptops (or other devices such as tablets or notepads) to take notes rather than trying to remember all of the points of the presentations and ideas they have during.
The full affordances of the technology are dependent on the users’ familiarity and comfort in using the devices. While they are likely (but not necessarily) familiar with their own devices, the technology of the room often creates constraints. For instances, if the room’s projector doesn’t connect with the presentation device, the presentation is constrained to verbal delivery. Additionally, lack of access to the Internet proved to be a constraint for many of the presenters whose presentations had been designed with Internet access in mind. Finally, the layout of the room in relation to the technology provided both affordances and constraints for full attendance. While the lights were dimmable to enable better viewing for attendees, the placement of the display screen next to the presenters’ table made it difficult for both the presenter and his or her copresenters to see the visual components.

Other People: The final component in the session environment is the people. The levels of experience and the simultaneous similarity and diversity of knowledge amongst the group affords discussions of concepts and ideas. Presenters afford attendees points for discussion that, hopefully, engage learning and growth for all of the people present. The attendees afford the presenters an opportunity for feedback and questions that challenge or expand upon their own ideas. Time constraints, however, limit presenters’ ability to fully explain their arguments, thereby also potentially limiting the discussion or attendees’ full attendance to the presentation.

Examining a conference session takes us beyond Gibson’s description of affordances to Bateson’s ecology of Mind and Norman’s perceived affordances. Perceiving that a chair affords sitting and that a presenters’ afford information doesn’t fully encompass the cognitive activities taking place. The full experience of a session is a complex integration of human and environmental factors only briefly described above. Looking at it in this way, it’s easier to understand Bateson’s point about examining a system by including all of its pathways. To separate, or cut off, one of the pathways included above would exclude a key piece of the system.

References

Bateson, G. (1987). Form, substance, and difference. Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology (pp. 454-471). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The theory of affordances. The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Norman, D. (n.d.). Affordances and design, Retreived from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzIskzHsjKsRN0NRRktncjBGb1U/edit


Activity for 25 March: Mapping Ecologies of Cognition

http://prezi.com/tcrhy41ysbbh/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy For this week’s activity, I created a Prezi to represent my application of Bateson/Norman/Gibson. Since the contents of the Prezi are rather extensively explained in the nodes, I’ll forgo duplicating them here. The choice of a Prezi for my … Continue reading

Week 10 Reading Notes: Distributed Cognition

Summary

Each of the readings for this week focused on the organism’s (human’s) relationship to its environment and the totality of the system–what Bateson calls “organism plus environment” (p. 455). In Form, substance, and difference, Bateson investigates the overlap between formal premises and actual behavior. At the foreground of this investigation is the question of survival. He begins by examining traditional approaches to the relationship, namely Darwin’s theory of evolution that posits natural selection as the primary unit of survival (p. 456. This theory, Bateson argues, leads to the destruction of environment and thus the destruction of the organism. Rather than the strongest or most unyielding of organisms, Bateson posits, a flexible organism in the environment is the unit of survival.

Crucial for understanding this position is Bateson’s conception of Mind. Discoveries of cybernetics, systems theory, and information theory have created a shift in epistemology that no longer positions mind as the explanation–instead, it is the thing that must be explained (p. 456). At the center of this explanation is the importance of difference, which Bateson identifies as synonymous with “idea” and result in “effects” (p. 458). From this perspective, it is a difference that makes a difference that serves as the elementary unit of information. We perceive differences through both internal and external pathways that help us map the environment. While other theorists have created a dichotomy between mind and substance, Bateson’s approach considers both.

An organism adapts to the environment through a transformation resulting in behaviors of trial and error that are coded and transmitted through internal and external pathways. In this sense, then, he explains that “if you want to explain or understand anything in human behavior, you are always dealing with total circuits, completed circuits. This is the elementary cybernetic thought” (p. 465). The mental system demonstrates the characteristic of trial and error and, according to Bateson, “the way to delineate the system is to draw the limiting line in such a way that you do not cut any of these pathways in ways that leave things inexplicable” (p. 465). In this way, Mind is synonymous with cybernetic system–”the relevant total information-processing trial-and-error completing unit” (p. 466). From this perspective, Mind is part of the ecosystem and Bateson argues “the individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body” (p. 467). Human survival, then, is the result of the mind’s ability to code and transform the body’s relationship to the environment.

This relationship is further explored by Gibson‘s theory of affordances. Gibson argues that objects in the environment afford human actions. For example, a solid, flat ground affords walking and a small rock affords throwing. He points out, however, that an object’s physical properties must be measured relative to the individual animal as an affordance of support for a species.

Throughout the chapter, Gibson explains the concept of affordances, acknowledging that other animals and humans also serve as affordances–indeed, social interactions rely on an individual’s perception (or misperception) of what another individual affords him or her. He identifies existing concepts of environment, such as an ecologist’s niche and how those correlate with his theory of affordances (a “nice is a set of affordances”). Objects can have multiple affordances, so Gibson emphasizes the importance of understanding that to perceive an affordance is not to classify an object–the potential multiplicity of affordances actually complicates the ability to classify objects. Additionally, positive and negative affordances are determined by their effects (beneficial or dangerous) rather than an individual’s level of enjoyment of the experience.

In the final reading, Norman expands Gibson’s theory of affordances to graphical design, focusing on what he calls perceived affordances: the perception that a meaningful, useful action is afforded by the design. In product design, her argues, real and perceived affordances “need not be the same.” Physical affordances exist–keyboards, computer screens, etc.–but perceived affordances determine whether or not users recognize the availability of affordances.

Norman also identifies the importance of cultural constraints and cultural conventions when designing perceived affordances. Designers must operate within the cultural understandings of how results are afforded by certain actions, even though many of those actions are arbitrary (a horizontal scroll bar, for example). He concludes by offering four principles for screen interfaces:

  1. Follow conventional usage, both in the choice of images and the allowable interactions
  2. Use words to describe the desired action
  3. Use metaphor (even though he believes this can be harmful)
  4. Follow a coherent conceptual model so that once part of the interface is learned, the same principles apply to other parts

Key Terms

Affordances: what the environment offers (provides or furnishes) to an animal; implies complimentarity of the animal and the environment (Gibson)

Attached objects: items that cannot be removed from earth without breakage (Gibson)

Barriers: environmental objects that do not afford locomotion (Gibson)

Bioenergenetics: economy of energy and materials; boundaries at the cell membrane or skin measurements; additive or subtractive (Bateson, p. 466)

Creatura: Jung’s second world of exploration–effects are brought about by difference (Bateson, p. 462)

Cultural constraintslearned conventions that are shared by a cultural group that limits design/action (Norman)

Detached objects: items that can be removed from earth without breakage (Gibson)

Economics of information: budgeting of pathways and probability; budgets are fractionating rather than additive or subtractive; boundaries enclose rather than cut off pathways

External pathways: travel of information (perceived differences) by propagation of light or sound to the sensory organs that transform it to internal pathways (Bateson, p. 459)

Internal pathways: travel of information energized by the metabolic energy latent in the protoplasm which receives, recreates, or transforms it and passes it on (Bateson, p. 459)

Mental System: the unit which shows the characteristic of trial and error (Bateson, p. 465)

Niche: a set of affordances (Gibson)

Perceived affordance: the perception that an action is possible (Norman)

Plemora: Jung’s first world of exploration–events are caused by forces and impacts; there are no distinctions or differences (Bateson, p. 462)

Principle of occluding edges: law of reversible occlusion, reliant on opaque and nonopaque surfaces. Afford hiding (Gibson)

Discussion

It seems that all three of these readings focus on the idea of totality–the survival of the ecosystem is dependent on the relationships within it. Bateson and Gibson both argue that human actions that center on the survival of humans will destroy the ecosystem. As humans manipulate and adapt the environment to make it easier for them to survive, they change the ecosystem to the detriment of the organisms within it and, eventually themselves. Although Norman is talking about graphic design, there seems to be a similar idea. We must design within the cultural constraints or conventions or the product will not be used–the system will fail.

While I didn’t fully understand all of Bateson’s concepts, I found the argument about fractionality interesting. It seems that he’s saying we cannot add to or subtract from an environment. Instead, the environment exists as is and all of the elements within it are fractions of it, including how information is coded, processed, and transmitted. Behaviors are complete systems of activity and the environment is a part of that system.

Resources

Bateson Documentary:http://anecologyofmind.com/

Ecological affordances: http://youtu.be/Ekm60F4AD3Y

Ecology of Mind Revisited: http://www.earthzine.org/2010/10/21/a-re-introduction-to-ecology-of-mind/

Don Norman’s website: http://www.jnd.org/

References

Bateson, G. (1987). Form, substance, and difference. Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology (pp. 454-471). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The theory of affordances. The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Norman, D. (n.d.). Affordances and design, Retreived from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzIskzHsjKsRN0NRRktncjBGb1U/edit

 


The Map May Not Be the Territory, But Differences and Affordances Have More Fun

James Gibson and Gunnar Johansson

James Gibson and Gunnar Johansson. Image hosted on Spoonfiles, through Thomas Hard af Segerstad from Uppsala University

Gregory Bateson. Image hosted on Square One Explorations.

Gregory Bateson. Image hosted on Square One Explorations.

Some Key Terms to Remember:

Affordance - is part of the relationship between the environment and animal that can be found through “the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays,” but  it “must be measured relative to the animal” as it is what the environment “offers the animal, what it provides, or furnishes, either for good or ill” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 127). This is Gibson word from the kinds of support that the environment (artificial or natural, though the two should not be considered separate from one another) offers for each species.

Objects  (attached and detached) can also offer animals (humans included) affordances, but what they offer is often “extremely various;” “detached objects must be comparable in size to the animal under consideration if they are to afford behavior. But those that are comparable afford an astonishing variety of behaviors, especially to animals with hands. Objects can be manufactured and manipulated” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 133).

Difference -**side note: This may be a little more difficult to describe, but I’ll do my best.  –”when you enter the world of communication, organization, etc., you leave behind that whole world in which effects are brought by forces and impacts and energy exchange. You enter a world in which ‘effects’…are brought about by differences. That is, they are brought about by the sort of ‘thing’ that gets unto the map from the territory. This is difference” (Bateson 458).

I guess I should stop and explain here the comment about territory. Bateson draws upon a quote from Alfred Korzybski, “the map is not the territory” (455). When he says that the differences are what gets unto the map is when there is “a difference in altitude, a difference in vegetation, a difference in population structure, difference in surface, or whatever,” for if everything was the same, there would be nothing to distinguish from (Bateson 457). As strange as it may seem, this concept reminds me of Frankenstein with the Monster. How can a being distinguish what it is if there is nothing to be distinguished from? Difference is what makes the boundaries clearer (if not absolutely clear-cut).

Ecology - 1) for bioenergetics, it is the “economics of energy and materials within a coral reef, a redwood forest, or a city…it is natural and appropriate to think of units bounded at the cell membrane; or of units composed of sets of conspecific individuals. These boundaries are then the frontiers at which measurements can be made to deter the additive-subtractive budget of energy for the given unit,” and 2) “an economics of information, of entropy, negentropy, etc…informational or entropic ecology deals with the budgeting of pathways and of probability. The resulting budgets are fractioning (not subtractive). The boundaries must enclose, not cut, the relevant pathways” (Bateson 466-467).

Bioenergetics - Well, I could try, or I could just give you the video I watched.

Cybernetic Epistemology - “The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system” (Bateson 467).

Law of Ambient Optic Array (I mostly added this one because it’s fun) – “at any fixed point of observation some parts of the environment are revealed and the remaining parts are concealed. The reciprocal of this law is that the observer himself, his body considered as part of the environment, is revealed at some fixed points of observation and concealed at the remaining points” (Gibson 136).

And So We Begin…

Ecology is the wonderful key word for this week’s reading notes, and I quite enjoyed this week’s readings (even though I was startled by the turnaround in theory style). While reading both Bateson’s and Gibson’s texts, the material reminded me a great deal of my last university, Florida Gulf Coast University, whose key foundations are based on creating a sustainable relationship with the environment. Every student is required to take a University Colloquium course (students in the Arts and Sciences are also required to take a Civic Engagement course) as part of the goal of creating a student body who recognizes and respects their place within the ecology of South Florida (rippling outwards towards other areas). How successful the FGCU will be in this goal has yet to be seen, but it’s a start, right? 

So, how does this tangent on my former school tie into the readings from Theories of Networks? Well, they all seem to lead towards the same path: a network made of more than just people. Nodes, connections, groups, sub-systems, networks. It is hard, sometimes, to remember that those words extend beyond the virtual, the cybernetics, and actual exist within the natural world (the very world we seem to want to shut out because we cannot tame it as much as we would like). Nature may seem like some chaotic thing, breathing as it does in ways we’re usually uncomfortable with, but ecosystems are the very essence of a network.

Rainforest Ecosystem. Image hosted on blog, Welcome to Geography at Grangefield School.

Rainforest Ecosystem. Image hosted on blog, Welcome to Geography at Grangefield School.

We may have modified, as put by Gibson, our surroundings in order to escape from this cycle by making “more available what benefits [us] and less pressing what injures [us]” (130). But, what happens when a species consciously decides to adapt the environment to its own desires rather than adapting to the environment? What happens when, as Bateson outlines in his  chapter “Form, Substance, and Difference,” we see ourselves as separate and above the natural world– ”If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables” (468)?

What do you think would happen?

Again, I turn to Bateson (mostly because his answer made me smile and also feel a little depressed): “If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite” (468).

Dean and Sam from Supernatural know how to show us Bateson's bleak future.

Dean and Sam from Supernatural show us Bateson’s bleak future.

Toxic by-product of hate, anyone?

Toxic by-product of hate, anyone?

Feel like the end of the world is nigh because we keep jacking up our network (even on purpose sometimes)? Oh good, you can join my party. I promise I’ll bring cookies and coffee. But why bring all this up in my reading notes? Why discuss environmental destruction in a class where the digital is dominating how society even views what a network is? Well, that’s it exactly. Many of us (myself included) get bogged with the social and keeping it separate from the natural, as we have “gone astray into all sorts of false reifications of the ‘self’ and separations between the ‘self’ and ‘experience’” (Bateson 469). The Cartesian split of mind/body when they are ultimately connected, one needing the other until the technologies of Robocop and other science fiction become reality. *Side note: Personally, I don’t want to be a brain and lungs in a mechanical suit, thank you very much.

But, I digress, again. And, now it’s time to get to the good stuff. That which is made of affordances, differences, substances, mediums, design, ecologies, ideas, lives. It sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? All the fun concepts usually do.

Round 2 should always begin with an ecology of the mind.  I admit to being confused by this idea when I first read it. Were we talking about the formation of ideas in the brain? Were we talking about connections of ideas the way that occurs in academic settings?

Ecology of the Mind? Image hosted on blog, Collective ThinkTank.

Ecology of the Mind? Image hosted on blog, Collective ThinkTank.

To figure it out, I turned to one of my favorite quotes: “the very meaning of ‘survival’ becomes different when we stop talking about the survival of something bounded by the skin and start to think of the survival of the system of ideas in circuit. The contents of the skin are randomized at death and the pathways within the skin are randomized. But the ideas, under further transformation, may go on out in the world in books or works of art. Socrates as a bioenergetic individual is dead. But much of him still lives as a component in the contemporary ecology of ideas” (Bateson 467). I love that the ecology of the mind refers to “the system of ideas in circuit,”  that even Socrates (long since turned to dust) “still lives as a component in the contemporary ecology of ideas.” This system of ideas through books, paintings, sculptures, philosophical pamphlets, political pamphlets, and other texts that add to the global discourse. The introduction of the internet helped this dispersion of ideas, giving them virtual spaces where they can be collected, stored, and accessed. Socrates can now live on in digital format, spreading the wisdom Plato wrote down years before. 

Even though the virtual world of ideas is not a tangible world, where I cannot reach out my fingers at touch the items I see on the screen (even though my touch screen allows me to manipulate that which I see, to an extent) and is not one that can offer physical affordances the way the objects in my apartment can. But, this network makes more sense to me than the natural ecology I would see if I ever walked into the Rainforest. I can see the links between webpages, the connections made through email or Facebook or Twitter, how the ideas ripple outwards and then reverberate back towards the source. As Don Norman points out, “affordances are relationship” between an individual of any species and the environment within which they live, but he also points out that “perceived affordances” exist. From what I understood of his discussion, a perceived affordance is something a designer can create in the virtual world (through user interface, etc), but one that is (most often) constrained by cultural conventions and constraints (which is what makes the non-physical world of data familiar to us). Users do not see the ones and zeroes that are the core of our internet usage; instead, we see the interfaces that allow us to maneuver through vast layers of visual and auditory information. The internet then becomes the “larger Mind” Bateson describes in his “cybernetic epistemology.” Our minds are networks, our environments are networks, and the sprawling labyrinth of information of the interwebs are networks.

However, as Bateson and Gibson point out, the worlds modified by human beings, the world we try to reshape to allow us greater affordances without the struggle of truly being in the natural world, are not separate from everything else. The ripple effects between animals (which we are, regardless of what anyone thinks) are felt the way a spider feels a touch on the threads of a web.

References:

Bateson, Gregory. “Form, Substance, and Difference.” Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc, 1987: 454-471. PDF.

Bateson, Gregory. “Comment on Part V.” Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc, 1987: 472-473 PDF. 15 Mar 2014.

Gibson, James J. “The Theory of Affordances.” The Information for Visual Perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986: 127-143. PDF.

Norman, Dan. “Affordances and Design.” JND.org. JND, n.d. Web.

It’s Just a Little Alteration:


A Mind (Ecology) is a Terrible Thing to Waste (Affordances): Week of March 16th

“We can equate the place with geometry and space with geography. Geography or space is lived or practiced more than geometry of place … geometries are necessary ways of mapping relations among histories and constructing tactics of resistance that tie … Continue reading