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Seussing up Grad School

To de-stress from a very long, kind of grueling semester of my first year as a PhD student, I wrote this to capture some of the whackiness of grad school conversations. It’s not perfect, but it made me laugh to write. I wish I had the artistic ability to capture the images in my head as I wrote it, but this will have to do.

Dissertate On, Little Scholar of Mine

It’s time to go!

Pack up your bags.

Grad school awaits,

The committee said yes!

Your application stood out

Amongst all the rest.

An adventure is coming,

Despite the naysayers.

You’re going to go far, kid,

In your quest to be a scholar.

You arrive in the city

(Is it far from your home?),

And stock your pantries

With Vodka and ramen.

The apartment you’re living in

Might be small,

Might be cramped

But living in style

Isn’t in the plans.

Your stipend will grant you

Cheap living at best!

First day of classes.

Don’t be scared,

Don’t freak out.

The professors don’t want your soul,

Until the second semester, that is!

New things to learn,

New people to meet.

There’s no energy to squabble,

So say hi and pick a damn seat!

What will I learn?

You bravely ask the first day.

Why, a great many things!

You will start with some theory

And then add a whole lot more.

Add in some Grassman and Weed Boy, for sure!

You’ll tackle the hereness of here,

And the thingness of things,

And try to decide

If the there there exists,

For the thereness of there

Is a most contested thing!

Don’t panic!

Deep breath!

You can always write a haiku,

Every time you feel stressed.

You’re going to go far,

Little scholar in training.

Unless you start screaming,

Off with her head!

It’s a juggling act from here on out.

Presentations and conferences

And journals to boot!

Just keep passing your classes;

Brain cells have died for less!

Time for the show,

Little scholar of mine.

You have years of such trauma

Ahead in your life.

Just keep going, my dear.

On this quest to be learned

What’s another seven years?

When you can hobnob with scholars,

You’ll see I was right.

One step at a time,

In this twisty academic world,

And dissertate on

As if Foucault was on your heels.

Places to Go Once We Start Walking

The OoS Matrix: FrankenTheorizing Composition MOOCs

Composition MOOCs: Theorizing Pedagogy, Space, and Learning. Why Here? Why Now? As argued in earlier case studies, the Composition MOOC is one of many different types of course offerings in an emerging trend (some would call it a fad) of … Continue reading

Final Reading Notes: Rickert, Ambient Rhetoric, Hip Hop

I have had several discussions about ambience over the years. The reason being that before I came to English Studies, music was my life. We often discussed ambience in regards to which space would produce the best sound. It is easy for a violin to be drowned out without the right atmosphere. We used to […]

Coda: Rickert’s Wonderful World of Oz Meets Pocahontas

First, an aside: I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of this scene from The Wizard of Oz in an entirely new way. While it’s clearly made with the human worldview of home in mind, I began to think of the … Continue reading

Mindmap #14: Concept Groupings 2

Last week’s concept groupings focused on theories; this week’s focuses on theorists (although, to be honest, I’ve not been adding individual theorists for the last few theories). I also added and linked in Social Network, Ideological Determinism, and Ambience as the final three theories we’ve addressed in the class. I wanted to have the full picture of all theories/theorists before I finished concept groupings. And here are the results!

Mindmap visualization

The Entire Mindmap: Concept Groupings on the Left (Popplet)

End of Semester Conclusions

At long last, mapping is complete. What appears above is the final mindmap of theorists and theories as they exist in my head. Coming to the end of the experience, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned about networks and network theories through this map.

Hierarchy vs. Rhizome: While a chronological mapping of theorists’ ideas might suggest primacy among certain theorists’ ideas — earlier theories are more influential than later theories, meaning later theories are built on the hierarchical foundation of earlier theories — the map reflects a far more rhizomatic relationship among theories. I’ve been as likely to connect theories based on chronological influence as conceptual influence, regardless of chronology. Foucault reflects certain ideas from Ambience as easily as Ambience reflects certain ideas from Foucault. The relationship among theories is conceptual, and concepts are eternal, always already existing (according to ambience theory).

Ambience, a Ring to Rule them All: Ambience is a fantastic closing theory because it sums up the direction theorists have taken throughout the semester. While ambience sometimes seems to present a certain level of mysticism, its focus a post-network ecological relationship among rhetors and rhetoric, audience and affect, environment and ideas acts as a contemporary summing up of all that we’ve read and reflected on all semester. And it also suggests an openness to what will come in network theory, a willingness to concede that we can’t possibly know, or even imagine, that which is withdrawn and hidden at this moment when it comes to network theories and understandings. I connected Ambience to every other theory in my mindmap.

RhetComp Got it Going On: We may be fractious and divided, but we rhetoric and composition teachers and scholars propose some cutting-edge theory (as English studies theories go, anyway). While we’ve not proposed string theory or chaos theory, we’ve willingly addressed the consequences and contributions of advanced scientific theories on rhetoric and composition. I drew as many lines to my Composition/Rhetoric node as to my other concepts; those lines represent theories that either directly or indirectly addressed rhetoric and/or composition, or theories that emerged from a rhetoric and composition background. We really do study all the things — and we like it that way!

The Order of Things: My minds races from idea to idea, drawing connections whenever possible. My internal dialog often seeks to organize the chaos. This has been reflected in my desire to tie things together in the mindmap in concrete shapes, especially columns and diamonds. Popplet affords such preferences when “snap to grid” is enabled — however, because I intended meaning to exist among placements in the map, I never opted to allow Popplet to put content in columns. I did that myself in several places. I struggled to keep the mindmap manageable; this last week, I struggled on my 24” monitor to see everything in the map in order to connect items on the outskirts. It’s time to let the mindmap rest.

Reflections: The Order of Things (above) is really about on-the-fly reflection and my unwillingness to allow ideas to remain chaotically (maybe rhizomatically) related for long. As a writer, I’m an editor on the fly. As a scholar, I’m a reflector in the fly. I seek to place concepts in relationship to one another as soon as possible. The danger, of course, is that by so quickly (and very un-ANT-like) categorizing theories, I overlook potential connections that I missed the first time around. This brings me to the value of the mindmap, sometimes hated though it was. A mindmap enables both node-level focus and network-level attention. I never quite escape the big picture. While I remain locally-focused when adding nodes, connecting nodes forces the shift to global view. This helps me tame the organizer in me.

A Final Thought: Like Dumbledore’s pensieve, the mindmap encourages objective reflection, a moment of god-like oversight. Truth be told, after our readings this semester, I’m beginning to believe that objectivity is false. In fact, I’m beginning to believe the subject/object binary is false and limiting. Which suggests that the mindmap might simply be my response to the already-always-existing relationships between already-always-existing theories. And my place is neither objective nor subjective, but ambient, connected to the mindmap and its ideas in an ecology of meaningful relations. I, too, have a place in the mindmap.

MindMap: Week 14


I actually got confused and thought we were supposed to start revising our Mindmaps last week. So, I started re-envisioning it based on the Theory Tree my group did–thinking about the connections chronologically and by topic. It wasn’t going well. My Mindmap was big and hard to see/follow. There were too many nodes! Then I looked at the schedule again, realized I was wrong, and gave up.

This week, however, I had a little more energy and vision in my remapping. One of the stand-out moments in class for me was when Shelley explained that most new media scholars prefer Actor Network Theory because it allows for non-human objects to serve as actors or mediators. So, I decided to begin my remapped Mindmap by dividing the theories according to those that account only for human agency and those that account for non-human agency.

Off to the side in blue are the nodes that I need to revisit and add back in. Some I didn’t understand well enough to think about agency (Foucault) and some I just don’t remember as well. I plan to add them back in next week and start to think about other concepts that will be important to my OoS as well, such as boundaries, hierarchies, and complexity.

Mindmap #12: Connectedness

Last week’s mindmap took into account most of what we’ve read from Castells, so I did not add any more to the Castells nodes. Preparing for end-of-term assignments, however, I started thinking about the network ecology I’ve created in the mindmap in order to identify some trends. So I pulled out what appear to be the most connected nodes in the mindmap network — Foucault, Ecology, and Network Society — and started thinking about characteristics that describe these most-connected nodes (aside, of course, from being the most connected).

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.30.58 AM copy

Well-Connected Nodes: Inset from larger mindmap (Popplet)

My three characteristics that help explain why these nodes are so well connected are influential, applicable, and contemporary.

Influential: Throughout the semester, we’ve seen Foucault’s ideas about the ephemeral character of discourse reiterated by various theorists and theories. From Biesecker’s (1989) différance to Prior et al.’s (2007) CHAT  to Latour’s (2005) ANT, and in several other theories in between, we’ve see Foucault’s influence. Several of us were chatting yesterday evening in Facebook about the theory tree assignment, and the phrase “Foucault is everywhere” kept repeating itself. I’ve drawn these connections in terms of the moment of discursive formation in a couple of my own blog posts, and others have focused on trace, on the archive, and on the monument in other blog posts. Foucault is clearly deeply influential on many of the theorists we’ve encountered this semester. In addition, we’ve seen ecological ideas appear relatively frequently, although less so that Foucault’s ideas. Where Foucault addresses the behavior of the individual rhetor in discourse, ecological perspectives address rhetors or actors as groups of like organisms working within a larger system. Both of these ideas are influential and, given our timeline of original publication, both Foucault and Bateson published in the same year (1972). They’ve had time to become influential.

Applicable: Here I’m focusing on the operationalizability (how’s that for a made-up word?) of the theory in real-world applications. Foucault remains entirely theoretical; on the other hand, ecology and network society find real-world applications as ways to specifically and concretely understand network activity occurring in lived experience. Ecology offers us specific ways to understand and affect the impact of actions on environment, to recognize the effects of ecological change on the biosphere, and to speculate on ways specific activities can improve ecological function. Network society offers us specific ways to understand  social activity in the informational global economy, and it provides a rubric for recognizing how networks include and exclude populations. While other theories (like ANT and genre theory) also provide operationalized examples (especially Spinuzzi’s [2003] genre tracing), I did see that characteristic on its own resulting in high levels of connectedness among other theorists.

Contemporary: I should probably term this “post-modern” to be more accurate, but I’ve chosen “contemporary” to more specifically reflect how these theorists/theories can relate to twenty-first-century lived experience. Foucault, ecology, and network society all provide broad perspectives for understanding the fragmentary, simultaneous, ephemeral experience of living in a networked age. Each in its own way resists pre-categorizing lived experiences: Foucault in terms of rhetoric, ecology in terms of biological determinism, and network society in terms of socio-econo-political realities. Each proposes to carefully study “all the things” within its domain before considering any type of categorical placement. I recognize that other theories also offer such tools for understanding; however, they did not result in the same level of connectedness in my mindmap.

And that’s the question to be addressed: What is it about these three theories that makes them more highly connected than others in my mindmap? I propose that one differentiator is the combination of these three characteristics. While other theories might demonstrate one of these characteristics, I think the combined characteristics help explain the level of connectivity. That said, I immediately recognize the need to problematize these categories as potentially hegemonic or biased toward utility. But in order to close this post, I won’t move past this point!


Bateson, G. (1987/1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Biesecker, B. A. (1989). Rethinking the rhetorical situation from within the thematic of “différance.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, 22(2), 110-130.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., Rohan, L., Roozen, K., Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P., Shipka, J., Van Ittersum, D., & Walker, J. R. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[ Header image: Connect. CC licensed image from Flickr user Katherine Pangaro ]

Mindmap #11: The Network Society

Castells represented 500 page of network goodness, and I savored (quickly) every morsel. I struggled to limit what I planned to include in this week’s mindmap, settling on a tried and true method: I use the table of contents to organize my new nodes.

Popplet mindmap visualization

Mindmap #11: The Network Society. Adding in Castells’ The Network Society (Popplet).

I linked Castells to Foucault, Latour, and aspects of ecology.

I found Castells’ depiction of the network enterprise as a virtual culture similar to Foucault’s (2010/1972) desire to “restore to the statement the specificity of its occurrence… it emerges in its historical irruption” (p. 28). Castells (2010) writes about the network enterprise that it “learns to live within this virtual culture. Any attempt at crystallizing the position in the network as a cultural code in a particular time and space sentences the network to obscelesence, since it becomes too rigid for the variable geometry required by informationalism” (p. 215).

I found Castells’ description of mega-cities quite similar to Latour’s description of individuation through increasing nodal connections. Latour (2005) writes about the emergence of the actor-network, “it is by multiplying the connections with the outside that there is some chance to grasp how the ‘inside’ is being furnished. You need to subscribe to a lot of subjectifiers to become a subject ad you need to download a lot of individualizers to become an individual — just as you need to hook up a lot of localizers to have a local place and a lot of oligoptica for a context to ‘dominate’ over some other sites” (p. 215-6). Castell’s identifies three characteristics of mega-cities in the space of flows, the third being “connecting points to the global networks of every kind; the Internet cannot bypass mega-cities: it depends on the telecommunications and on the ‘telecommunicators’ located in those centers” (p. 440).

And I found Castells’ closing statements about social action similar to a couple of our definitions of ecology, especially to Spellman’s focus on the relationship of the organism to the environment. Spellman (2007) writes that “ecology is the study of the relation of an organism or a group of organisms to their environment. In a broader sense, ecology is the study of the relation of organisms or groups to their environments” (p. 4). Castells (2010) uses a very similar formulation for his definition of social action: “social action at the most fundamental level can be understood as the changing pattern of relationships between nature and culture” (p. 508). As ecology studies relationship patterns among groups and environments, social action studies relationship patterns among culture and nature. This similarity, like the others, suggests (along with the book’s extensive bibliography) that Castells has incorporated ideas from many different sources in articulating this theory of network society.

Once I made those connections, I suggested that Castells offers theoretical, but not an operationalized, theory of the network society; his study of society is used to produce his theory, but he pointedly avoids using the theory to operationalize or predict anything about the network society.

Finally, I decided that the IT revolution is the “event” that triggered the emergence of the network society; without the IT revolution, there is no network society. All of the aspects of the network society, depicted in the table of contents — the global informational economy, the network enterprise, the transformed labor force, real virtuality, the space of flows, and timeless time — all rely on the advances brought about by the IT revolution for their existence.

I found Castells delightfully cogent and engaging. This is surely because of my engagement in a profession that relies on the IT revolution for its existence, but I also found intriguing connections to our emerging understanding of networks as they relate to English studies and to my own nascent ideas about the role of boundaries in network formation and nodal connectivity.


Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, F. (2009, December 17). The global society [Creative Commons licensed illustration]. Retrieved from

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Introduction. In Ecology for Nonecologists [pp. 3-23]. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes

The Ecology of the Mindmap Gets Another Update


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.

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 3/18/14

Perception and Reality:
"We create the world that we perceive...because we select and edit the reality we see to conform to our beliefs about what sort of world we live in" (Engel qtd. in Bateson vii).
Mark Engel wrote the quote above in the introduction to Bateson's book and identified this as the "central theme" of the text. This question of perception is seemingly central to all of the readings this week about affordances and manifests in several ways: understanding differences (Bateson), understanding usefulness (Norman), and understanding behavior (Gibson).

First though, I want to make a connection to something I have been using in the classroom this semester. My first year composition students are working with the theme of identity, and we are exploring ways in which identity is formed and influenced. One component of our class is the interaction between media and identity. Each week I post some digital content to add to our class discussions; the TED Talk below is something we have used. Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble and developer of the web aggregate Upworthy, speaks here about the restricted connections we make online despite the vast array of possible connections. He argues that even though the web would theoretically allow us to interact with people from across the globe, we tend to only build connections to those we are already geographically close to and to those with whom we share common interests or characteristics. Basically, we interact with people we already know and who are a lot like us. Our networks exist inherently in a bubble and we actively filter out the unknown or dissimilar; we "edit the reality we see to conform to our beliefs." The quote above and the way the different authors speak about perception reminds me of Pariser's observation. Our reality, our connections, is individually determined and is based on how we perceive and see the world. For networks, this suggests that our connections are highly mediated by our choices, and we have far greater control over our relationships than previously assumed.

Bateson argues in his chapter "Form, Substance, and Difference" that perception is necessary to understand how one thing is fundamentally different from another. He explains that difference exists in the "fancy piece of computing machinery" in his head (459). There can be physical differences between wood and paper, he argues, but we can only understand these physical differences through perception. Difference is an "abstract matter" (459). The concept requires the application of mental processes in order to be given the meaning of different, not the same as the other. This idea seems especially relevant to my understanding of network theory as being the studying of objects situated in a space with various connections among them. Again, like Pariser, this highlights the role of the observer in studying a particular network. The differences between nodes and the different types of connections is reliant upon the observer's perception and his or her ability to conceptualize things as different. Rather than the meaning of a network being inherently a part of the object, the meaning is in the processes of our minds. This shift in the location of meaning seems important.

Gibson also broaches the topic of perception with similar results. He writes, "The behavior of observers depends on their perception of the environment" (128). Here, rather than constructing a sense of difference, Gibson argues that perception influences behavior. Between the two, perception is a key element in both thoughts and deed, theory and praxis. We behave according to how we understand the environment. If we perceive our environment to have scarce resources, we conserve them and vice-versa. It is interesting because as I continue to engage with critical making in the digital humanities, I find myself driven by the perception that the ability to create digital content will become an increasingly more important area of our discipline. I perceive there to be a dearth of scholarship on alternative media publications, so I am driven to preserve and propagate examples from it. Does a network also grow or shrink based on perceptions? Are network action driven by the perceived environment? Whose perceptions shape a network? (These questions could be interesting to explore in a future case study...)

Lastly, Norman also manages to arrive at a conclusion about perception. He explores the idea that there are both "real" and "perceived" affordances. This is the idea that an object will have certain affordances - actions it allows to be performed based on its characteristics - but that the user may or not perceive them to be meaningful. He uses the example of the touch screen. He points out that all screens have the affordance of touch; we can physically touch a screen surface. However, we only perceive screen touching to be meaningful if that touch produces an action like opening an app or typing a message. Although coming at perception through the lens of usability, Norman also arrives at this conclusion - perhaps only implied - that meaning requires perception. If we do not perceive something it contains no validity or purpose. I think this notion that the theory of affordances continually requires perception in order to have meaning, action, or usefulness makes a critical assumption that all knowledge is user-constructed. The effects of this are that knowledge then is highly mutable from person to person (like Reader-Response) and is highly relative. Objects themselves have no force; they are only as significant as we perceive them to be. A network is only as meaningful, actionable, or useful as we understand it to be.

Affordances and Boundaries:

Gibson addresses how thinking in terms of affordances frees us into seeing objects in a multitude of ways, which reminds me of Popham in Genre Theory with her discussion of boundary objects. Gibson explains that thinking in terms of an object's affordances allows for greater fluidity in understanding it. Rather than thinking of something rigidly in terms of a classification system, we can understand how an object is used or could possibly be used. He notes that classification systems ( like giving Latin names to biological objects) often make no reference to what the objects can do or how they can be used; the names are arbitrary (134). Then these labels force us into thinking about that object as only belonging to that one place in the system. However, if we think in terms of affordances, the object can belong to many different categories of thought. For example, as I sit here in my living room, I see a small stool. It has the affordance of being something to stand on to reach a height, to be sat on, or to be used as a place to set a bowl of smashed avocados for a six month old baby girl. I use it for all these things regularly; it has the same affordances as a ladder, chair, and table respectively. This seems to be something akin to boundary objects. It is the idea that there are objects that can exist in more than one sphere and be used in more than one way.

Affordances allow objects to cross rigid boundaries based on how they can be used.
Stool image posted by Pixabay
Step ladder image posted by Wikipedia CommonsTable image posted by Wikipedia Commons

Networks and Ethics:

This section of the reading notes has been weighing heavily on my mind since finishing the readings. It begins with Bateson's explorations of what he terms "immanence," or the idea that everything is interconnected and intertwined. There is no separation between objects; we are all one (467). Now, for me, from a perspective of having studied the counterculture movement, these realizations of universal oneness are not unfamiliar. Written in 1971, Bateson admits that these sentiments occurred to him while "under LSD", not an uncommon practice among academics in this time (467). It is also not uncommon that there are strong similarities between these ideas and Eastern philosophy, with many thinkers and artists finding spiritual guidance from Buddhist gurus as a result of their experiences. The similarities between Bateson and Buddhist philosophy are evident whether he studied the religion or not. It can be argued that among academics involved with experimentation, these ideas were part of the zeitgeist and would have been familiar.

Cover of Be Here Now, a book of illustrations and philosophy written by Ram Dass. Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert, and he was a professor at Harvard in the 1960s where he experiemented with hallucigenics along with Timoty Leary. He embarked on a spiritual journey to India and found his mentor Neem Karoli Baba. This book was written in 1971 and has come to symbolize the segment of the counterculture movement that discovered and practiced Eastern spiritualism.
From his belief in immanence, he is humbled and rejects the ego - a basic tenet of Buddhist thinking. Bateson argues that we must "reduce the scope of the conscious self" (467). It is not about us as individuals, but what is important is the collective to which we belong. A reduction of the conscious self, the individual, is necessary to living with a utilitarianist ethical view. He writes, "A certain humility becomes appropriate, tempered by the dignity or joy of being part of something much bigger. A part - if you will - of God" (467-8). It is this being a part of something bigger that seems to inspire his sense of being responsible for the environment and people to whom we are linked.

What has me thinking though is that Bateson is arguing for an ethical perspective: take care on the Earth and one another because we are all one. We survive or die together. I do not think that prior to this I had thought about the ethical ramifications of a network. We have talked about action and activism, but this is the idea that there is a moral imperative to care for the nodes to which we are linked in this great field of dispersion.

What ethical questions are inherent in networks? I am thinking of the digital divide, net neutrality, and privacy immediately. I think it would be a place where my scholarly interests would be most piqued. It a systems of connections, what responsibility do objects have to one another? How closely linked must nodes be before the demise of one would mean the demise of the other? For a network to become sustainable, do its participants have to reduce their individualistic goals for the greater good?

Affordances and Patterns:

Bateson and Gibson suggest the importance of patterns rather than individual objects. Bateson argues that we need "inquiry into pattern rather inquiry into substance" (455). Gibson discusses the "niche", or how something lives and uniquely occupies space, as a "set of affordances" (128). It suggests that the individual object is not as important as how it fits into a pattern of use or behavior. This reminds me of Bazerman and his systems of activity. The emphasis is on a collection of social facts, utterances, genres, genre sets, and so on. Foucault also argues that we should examine the rules of formation, the structures that govern how an object is brought into being, its restrictions and common traits. All together, the network discussion is continually brought upward toward a macroscopic view of how objects are situated in the field and how they relate to other objects.

Studying any individual design, like the bird or heart in the above curtain fabric, would not reveal its full significance as a part of the overall pattern. Examining the object is less important than examining the pattern.
Image by Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann posted on Flickr

Privacy and Connection:

The other day while driving, we passed a car with the words "Obama Lies, Snowden is a Hero" painted on its windshield. My seven year old son knows Obama is the President, but asked me who Snowden is. I did my best to explain the situation to him in a way he would understand and wound up saying that some people thought that the secrets he knew should not be told and other people thought he should have told them. Johnnie asked me what I thought, and I had a very hard time answering.

All of this is to say that issues of privacy are now and will continue to be significant in our ever-more connected world. Gibson alludes to the difficulty of maintaining privacy and anonymity in a network with his discussion of "ambient optic array", which is the idea that an observer is revealed at some points and concealed in others. It suggests that in a network, participants can only ever be partially hidden. There is no place from which we are completely hidden; there will always be some vantage point that reveals our presence. To be connected is to be at least partially exposed. The current data and privacy concerns represented by the Snowden case are impossible to eradicate according to Gibson. If we want to walk through the forest of digital connectivity, somebody, somewhere will be able to see us.

Survival and Change:

Bateson argues that heterogeneity is necessary for survival, and that "potentiality and readiness for change is already built into the survival unit" (457). He continues, "The artificially homogenized populations...are scarcely fit for survival" (457). In other words, in a world where everything is the same, survival is unlikely. Diversity is necessary for life. We must welcome change if we wish to maintain our continuance. Aside from everything about that being wonderfully in tune with my general Kumbaya approach to the world, it also seems to have significance to our understanding of networks.