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We’re Going To Lingua Fracta All Over This Post_Reading Notes September 22nd

Okay! Time for a new set of reading notes for a new book, Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. (I have to admit that the title made me giggle a bit).

Image hosted on Giphy.

Image hosted on Giphy.

So, this week’s post is actually in regards to the whole book rather than divided into the two halves of the book since I missed posting last week’s reading notes. >.< I’m going to combine what I had previously in a draft, along with my new understandings. Anyways, let’s begin.

Collin Gifford Brooke, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at Syracuse University.  Image hosted on his website.

Collin Gifford Brooke, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at Syracuse University. Image hosted on his website.

One of the first things I want to sort out for myself in terms of this book is Brooke’s re-envisioning of the rhetorical canons (the classical ones are invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery) through ecologies – “ecology of code,” “ecology of practice,” and “ecologies of culture.” These three ecologies definitely threw me a bit when I first read them, and continued to do so until we worked through a few examples in class. **There has been another attempt through CHAT to remap the rhetorical canons, which were a part of my reading notes for the spring semester’s Networks course.

“Ecology of code” – “is [Brooke's] designation for the varied communicative and expressive resources we draw on when we produce discourse, regardless of the medium. In other words, both the rules and objects of grammar are located within this ecology, but language is one among many media whose elements participate in it” (48). In a sense, these are the underlying tools upon which ecology of practice is grounded, not just as binary codes, but can also be language components for speech or the digital tools used to create video games. Brooke elaborates on this when he clarifies that, “I suggest that an ecology of code is comprised not only of grammar, but also of all of those resources for the production of interfaces more broadly construed, including visual, aural, spatial, and textual elements, as well as programming codes” (48).

It can be thought of as this:

Binary code as an example of "Ecology of code." Image hosted on the website Inspiration Feed.

Binary code as an example of “Ecology of code.” Image hosted on the website Inspiration Feed.

But, it can also be this:

The tools of video game design.

The tools of video game design. Image hosted on the blog, Game On Podcast.

“Ecology of practice” – “Practice implies conscious, directed activity, the explicit combination of elements from the ecology of code to produce a particular discursive effect” (49).  *this ecology gave me the most trouble, especially when we were asked to choose images of what each of the ecologies would look like (I may have blanched a bit in-class).

 As an early example in chapter 2, Brooke uses the ideas of a “Revitalized understanding of canons” as an insight into his idea of “ecology of practice” since the “canons supply a framework for approaching new media that focuses on the strategies and practices that occur at the level of interface” (28).

“Ecologies of culture” – “it is this category that operates at the broadest range of scales, from interpersonal relationships and local discourse communities to regional, national, and even global cultures. Any act of discourse is going to be constrained in various ways by cultural assumptions; similarly, such acts intervene simultaneously at several levels” (49).

So why attempt to revamp rhetoric into ecologies? What is wrong with the traditional canon? Brooke says that he is presenting these ecologies as a way to help “evolve” rhetoric and the aims of rhetorical scholars because “The elaborate dance of competition, cooperation, juxtaposition, and remediation that characterizes our contemporary information and communication technologies has rendered obsolete some of our most venerable models for understanding today’s rhetorical practices” (28). By drawing upon the canons, Brooke seeks to build a new vision of how they work within the digital world and within new media, rather than simply recasting the same terms. The metaphor of the ecology is also very interesting because an ecology is not static; it is organic and adaptive, something rhetorical canons need if they are to stay relevant to the needs of present day rhetoricians and their audiences.

One really interesting point made in the section regarding rhetorical canons was when Brooke alludes to Sven Birkerts and his prediction of the “flattening of historical perspectives” in the sense that “we will cease to exercise history because we will rely on that which is stored in databases” (31). In his response to this death-of-memory prediction, I think Brooke does a nice job of pointing out that digital databases enhance our cultural memory rather than merely threatening to wipe out our interest in historical perspectives.

Death of memory in favor of database archives? Image hosted on the website Baen.

Death of memory in favor of database archives? Image hosted on the website Baen.

So how does Brooke remap the rhetorical canons?

To grant the classical rhetorical canons (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery) more relevance in a digital world, Brooke’s modified canons look like this:

Invention —> Proairesis

Arrangement —> Pattern

Style —> Perspective

Memory —> Persistence

Delivery —> Performance

 Okay, so one at a time:

Invention as Proairesis

Brooke’s re-conceptualization of invention as proairesis makes a space for digital technology as part of the reading/writing/creation/distribution process, giving readers of digital content as it does to those who write the content. Much of his analysis deals the “difference between seeing media such as those listed [in the chapter] as spaces that enable peer-to-peer interaction and conversation and seeing them as media that transform the nature of conversation or even participate in it” (82), but more on that after some vocabulary words.

hermeneutic model of invention – “relies on the relative sturdiness of a final object and the negotiation of meanings within it….When the final products of our invention are judged, in part, by their solidity or sturdiness, it makes perfect sense that we theorize invention to arrive at such goals” (68). It “operates through the establishment of an enigma, void, or mystery– an absence — that will be filled eventually, but is held in suspense… [and] marks the goal(s) towards which the reader (and the plot and characters) are headed” (75). Hermeneutics can be seen as “resolution or actualization,” and, when placed on the level of theory, “simply assumes systematic enigmas, such as the establishment of genre or the demonstration of a theoretical insight” (76).

proairetic model of invention – this term is used by Barthes “to indicate actions or events,” “empirics” (75). Seems to deal with possibilities, rather than resolutions. This term makes the most sense when Brooke brings up the example of a Google search: “One way we might treat Google proairetically is simply to resist the closure implied in search ‘results’ and to treat that page as a point of departure, even and especially when the results are mixed. The results of a given search provide users with pages and pages of links, of departure points, that bring potentially distant topics and ideas into proximity both with each other and the user” (83). He broadens this out to discuss social bookmarking websites that allow users to create bookmarks, but then also follow the threads upon threads of bookmarks created by ALL users on the site: “The addition of each bookmark changes the site, reinforcing certain connections, adding new ones, and expanding the network in small but important ways. It enables a process of associational research and exploration that resists closure” (85).

Brooke’s final definition of this term: “a focus on the generation of possibilities, rather than their elimination until all but one are gone and closure is achieved. Closure is no less important than it has ever been, but with the advent of new media and interfaces that resist closure, proairesis provides an important corrective to the hermeneutically oriented inventional theory that has prevailed in our theory to date” (86). It’s fascinating that the emphasis is on the inclusion of possibilities rather than slowly weeding them out.

No longer require the Highlander slogan. Image hosted on We Know Memes website.

No longer requires the Highlander slogan. Image hosted on We Know Memes website.

**As a side note, I would not Google this word. I made that mistake since Brooke does not offer a concrete definition for this word (he focuses more on hermeneutic), and found that proairesis is not considered a Scrabble word, though it is worth 12 points in Scrabble and 13 points in Words with Friends.

kaironomia – “an inventional practice that locates itself not within repetition (the demonstration of topoi) or difference (the myth of the ordinary genius), but in the dynamic of the two,” which represents a “contradictory injunction” (77)

virtualization – Levy’s term for “the opposite of reading in the sense that produces, from an initial text, a textual reserve and instruments of composition with which a navigator can project a multitude of other texts” (qtd. in Brooke 80) <— Brooke notes that, “It is the human-machine interaction that makes for virtualization” (81)

Brooke works to decouple the vision of invention that scholars like Sven Birkert put forth an illusion that acts “of reading or writing can be fully divorced from [their] context” (73). Birkerts’ concept of the relationship between reader and writer with the text in the middle– “We might reach a more inclusive understanding of reading (and writing) if we think in terms of a continuum. At one end, the writer — the flesh-and-blood individual; at the other end, the flesh-and-blood reader. In the center, the words, the turning pages, the decoding intelligence” (qtd. in Brooke 72)– might look like this:

The start(?) of the invention continuum: the writer. Image hosted on Teen Life Blog.

The start(?) of the invention continuum: the writer. Image hosted on Teen Life Blog.

At the end(?) of the continuum: the reader. Image hosted on the blog Writing and Rambling.

At the end(?) of the continuum: the reader. Image hosted on the blog Writing and Rambling.

Such a model doesn’t quite hold up, even when viewed with print as the medium. In the age of hyperlinks and greater collaboration that comes with digital communications, Birkert’s model feels heavily lopsided, something that Brooke addresses by drawing, again, upon LeFevre: “invention is not simply the process by which a writer creates a text whose meaning is received by a reader. The ecology of invention includes the practices of writing and reading, but the relationships among those practices are not closed, idealized, and privatized transactions” (74). There is no bubble in which writers and readers exist, especially as the internet connecNetowts us all outwards to information and other people.

This graphic seems more appropriate. Image was created by Collin Gifford Brooke and hosted on his website.

This graphic seems more appropriate. Image was created by Collin Gifford Brooke and hosted on his website.

This site did a nice job with their video discussing Karen Burke LeFevre’s “invention as a social act”: http://ccdigitalpress.org/nwc/chapters/garrett-et-al/a1s3.html

Arrangement as Pattern 

Brooke starts off the chapter devoted to Pattern by focusing on the claims by earlier scholars that the rhetorical canon of arrangement fell to the wayside during the advent of hypertext culture as hyperlinks did not privilege one path over another and the viewer’s decisions rendered any intentions by the author as useless. Brooke, though, counters this statement: “The links that allegedly demonstrate the irrelevance of rhetoric are rhetorical practices of arrangement, attempts to communicate affinities, connections, and relationships” (91). One of his aims is to move away from the “traditional understanding of arrangement as sequence” towards a conceptualization of “arrangement as pattern”  and to reveal that “the issue is not whether arrangement predates our textual encounters, but rather what practices we might develop with new media to make sense of them” (92).

For arrangement to be understood in regards to New Media, the division between spatial and temporal must be understood “that every technology gives us not only a different space, but a different time as well” (93). So let’s break this down a bit further.

An expectation, according to Darsie Bowden, that we have for print texts is “containerism, a set of metaphors that posit the discursive space of writing as a container into which we pour content (from the containers that are our minds),” which houses “an in/out distinction that corresponds to our notions of subjectivity and identity and, as such, appears quite natural to us,” though the text is considered “generic until it is filled with content and achieves some sort of meaning” (93-94). However, containerism fixes the concept of arrangement, seeing spatial elements in a print text to be linear and sequentially instead of seeing the space for possibilities of other arrangements (though we are not bound to read everything sequentially since we can skip around in a book: read the conclusion first, a middle chapter before a beginning chapter, and so on).

Containerism - asking us to let ourselves be contained by the text lest the text fails and we become disoriented (Brooke 94). Image hosted on the blog De la Course des Nuages.

Containerism – conditioning us to be contained by the text lest the text fails and we become disoriented (Brooke 94). Image hosted on the blog De la Course des Nuages.

In order to explore how New Media and digital spaces help us to re -conceptualize the spatial, Brooke draws upon David Weinberger and the idea that the meat-space is a container from which web-space is then filled, though I think this relationship goes two ways now with the meat-space being transformed, in a sense, by the digital space.

In terms of arrangement, though, Weinberger describes the digital space with a “sense of place that creates its own space,” with it being active rather than passive (qtd. in Brooke 95). This reminds me of an example mentioned earlier regarding social bookmarking. For every bookmark created, the threads of the site expand outward as there is more content within the site. The same for this blog. For every post I write and publish, the “space” of my blog gets bigger as the posts create an extending line of content. The posts do not have to be read sequentially, especially since many of the posts are about different texts and only truly operate under an overarching theme (usually networks). And this is where the move from arrangements to patterns comes in. Brooke brings in David Kolb and his suggestion about “a number of intermediate forms (cycles, counterpoints, mirror words, tangles, sieves, montages, neighborhoods, split/joins, missing links, and feints), patterns that demonstrate a wide variety of rhetorical effects that are possible if we think beyond the container model” (96). For Brooke, to understand how the rhetorical canon of arrangement can blossom in New Media and the digital era, we have to not limit our perceptions within boundaries, even if it seems the most convenient; instead, he turns towards Manovich’s database as an “infinite flat surface” (97).

So how do databases play into arrangement as patterns?

Brooke looks at how Manovich compares narrative and databases, with the example being Amazon. The online shopping site’s way of showing consumers items that had been purchased by others who had also bought the same initial item, the browsing/purchasing history of the consumer, and similar items that are available for purchase are part of a database for the site, but can also be threaded together to make simple narratives. What is interesting is the description of databases that follows soon after: “Although databases may contain no predetermined order, they are useful to us the degree that they provide some sort of order when they are acted on by users” (101). With this in mind, Brooke expands on the Amazon example: “It would be hard to extend a user’s encounters with Amazon into something resembling a full-fledged narrative, but at the same time, the site is designed to respond accurately and meaningfully to such encounters — a response that is not accounted for in descriptions of database that stress its utter randomness” (101). Because the website services thousands and thousands of people, creating patterns out of their purchasing and browsing histories, much like an underlying web of code that sorts through the data.

My brain hurts just thinking about this. Image hosted on Tumblr.

My brain hurts just thinking about this. Image hosted on Tumblr.

How does arrangement fit as patterns? It is through associations: “The patterns that emerge are sets of associations among texts that the site reinforces through visibility, potentiality becoming less contingent or temporary as future visitors act on the recommendations generated at site” (103). As each person uses the Amazon site, more connections are made through the data being collected, building associations that return back to the site through algorithms to increase its effectiveness. These associations, though, also create relevancy, allowing a hierarchy of those patterns being chosen over ones that are being excluded  through users’ choices. Exclusion is just as important as inclusion. To bridge the gap between narrative and database, Brooke uses the word collection as it is the “individual assembly of a large group of whatever items we might choose to collect” (109). These collections gain meaning for individuals but start to lose their context outside of that individual’s relationship to the collection, rendering that particular narrative insubstantial or altered to another individual: “The more intimately we are involved in the assembly of a collection, the more likely we are to perceive it incrementally and narratively, while different patterns may emerge in a casual encounter of someone else’s collection” (110). For instance, my anime collection has a history of which I know, with certain titles being picked up at different points in my life. To those who know me best, my anime collection means something beyond VHS and DVDs on shelves, but for those who know little to nothing about me, all they would see are a random collection of Japanese “cartoons.” The same can go for my research or my Amazon purchasing history. The patterns that appear, whether directly or subtly, are Brooke’s new form of the rhetorical canon of arrangement, but this remapping allows code and algorithms into the process, making it not just a human endeavor but a human-machine endeavor.

Style as Perspective

Whew, on to the third remapped rhetorical canon: style as perspective. This seems to be one of the more popular canons for New Media as Brooke declares that, “to speak of media is to speak of forms of expression, the traditional province of the canon of style,” emphasizing the relationship of the visual and verbal, especially in regards to how this relationship changes when “consider[ing] what style might look like when we consider it in terms of interfaces rather than static texts” (113). To be honest, the first thing that pops into my head when reading the start of this chapter look like this:

A very scholarly way to imagine initially the relationship between the visual and the verbal, no? Image hosted on Giphy.

A very scholarly way to imagine initially the relationship between the visual and the verbal, no? Image hosted on Giphy.

Yes, yes I did just include that in my reading notes. And yes, it is time to move further into style as perspective. Now Brooke seems to have chosen the word “perspective” because it offers two means, which he quotes from Keither Moxey as being “either one point of view among many, or the point which organizes and arranges all others” (qtd. in Brooke 114). This is interesting because when we think of the style of a book, something that can be seen as a static text, and we see the style, whether linear in a traditional sense or multi-layered (like the book First Person) or  even in a more random-seeming style (House of Leaves), there is a sense of permanency to the style of the text. Within a digital space, there is the feel of possibilities, though the more I work within digital spaces, the more I feel the constraints of the spaces within which I am working (a nod to WordPress and the limitations of the text box). Brooke calls for the readers to change the concept of “visual rhetoric” to “visual grammar,” and he “draw[s] on Friedrich Nietzsche to suggest that we restore style to its place in our ecology of practice, rescuing it from its classical banishment to the ecology of code” (114).

Mary Hocks, in her work “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments,” lists three features for visual rhetoric in the digital media:

-Audience stance

-Transparency

-Hybridity

Brooke takes a step back to understand how we talk about style now, especially in terms of teaching students to write: “Our contemporary understanding of style treats it as sentence-level syntax, catalogs of tropes and figures, and commonplace injunctions (e.g., avoid the passive voice; use specific, concrete language), reducing it to a series of localized, conscious choices” (116). After much meandering through Aristotle and his influence on the reduction of style, Brooke returns to perspective, stating that it is “a method for displaying three-dimensional objects and/or scenes on a two-dimensional space. Much like the technology of writing exteriorizes the reader, perspective presumes a viewer whose physical position mirrors the vanishing point” (120). This gears style, in the digital era, towards transparency. To develop this further, Brooke links to Don Idhe’s “description of the physical, perceptual process of reading…distinguish[ing] between microperceptions, which are and/or sensual, and macroperceptions, which are hermeneutic and/or cultural. The structuring (or disciplining) of perception marks a transition from microperception to macroperception; in other words, the transparency of the printed word renders our physical perceptions of the text, as we are reading at least, minimal to the point of nonexistence” (121).

This is what comes to mind every time I read the word transparency in relation to reading. Creepy, though. Image hosted on the website

This is what comes to mind every time I read the word transparency in relation to reading. Creepy, though. Image hosted on the website Frank Minnaert.

Moving from the transparency of writing, Brooke explains that, drawing upon Lanham, “Language on the computer screen, in contrast, is subject to many different kinds of transformation by the user (size, font, color, layout, etc.) that Lanham argues we are often encouraged to consider the textual form as expressive. With electronic text, he explains, we often toggle between looking through text and looking at it” (132). Transparency is no longer an issue, with the language being part of the experience instead of the backdrop. It was interesting (and quite within the scope of my research) that Brooke brings in an example of World of Warcraft and the interface the players’ interact with during gameplay, especially when players can customize the interface themselves, allowing them greater immersion into the experience if they so choose (there are options to render the game to basic elements, stripping the visuals down to necessities).

Memory as Persistence

And so memory moves to persistence. In this chapter, Brooke moves beyond seeing memory in the digital era as merely storage on our computers, as well as physical texts as extensions of our memories. Instead, he turns to Jacques Derrida (a.k.a. philosophical rock star) to help discuss archives: “[he] writes of the effects that changes in archival technology have on both what is being (and can be) archived, as well as on the people doing the archiving” (144).

Mixing of archives and human minds, plus a dash of Sherlock Holmes for the ride. Image hosted on Tumblr.

Mixing of archives and human minds, plus a dash of Sherlock Holmes for the ride. Image hosted on Tumblr.

To start his remapping, Brooke discusses Plato’s resistance to writing, believing that reliance on written texts would break down the strength of people’s memories because they could then use writing as a kind of crutch (as compared to orality when they would remember longer speeches and poems), while also raising the question “of whether knowledge is located inside or outside of the knower” (145). Within this framework, a presence/absence dichotomy arose. Plato’s belief still lingers, but we have moved far beyond oral culture, with our collective memory finding its place across various forms of media (written, visual, audio, film, and now into the digital spaces like the Cloud). One of the most fascinating points in this chapter is in regards to what we archive: “The binary of presence/absence reduces memory to a question of storage, with little thought given to the effects that various media might have on what is being remembered” (147).

Digital archive. Image hosted on the website Electronic Portfolios.

Digital archive. Image hosted on the website Electronic Portfolios.

Brooke explains a shift away from only using the presence/absence binary by N. Katherine Hayles in her book How We Became Posthuman: “Hayles suggests a ‘semiotics of virtuality’ that maps phenomena along two different axes: absence/presence and pattern/randomness” since presence/absence cannot capture the essence of online activity for both the user and his or her avatar(148). To develop this further, Brooke brings two Greek words, Chronos and Kairos, to understand why his drawing upon Hayles’ patterning and randomness:

Chronos “is the artificial patterning of time, its divisions into equal, measurable segments — the time by which we set our clocks and watches, conduct our classes, and organize our history…[and] represents our triumph over time as a cultural achievement” (149)

Kairos “is the time sense at the other end of the spectrum [from chronos], the opportunities that emerge to be seized in a particular situation, unrepeatable and unsystematizable…It is the unwillingness of the kairotic moment to submit itself to our control that has led to its ‘neglected’ status in rhetorical theory” (149)

 With pattern and randomness, there can be randomness (kairos) until a pattern begins to emerge (chronos). However, the reverse is also possible, with moments of chaos occurring in the midst of a pattern. These two happenings alter the perceptions of the the events, the data, the images, and so on. When a pattern emerges out of chaos, it is hard to return to see the chaos again, but the same can be true for when a pattern is disrupted.

When I think of patterns emerging, I think of these pictures where the viewer has to locate the hidden faces. Image hosted on Psychlinks Self-Help & Mental Health Support Forum.

When I think of patterns emerging, I think of these pictures where the viewer has to locate the hidden faces. Image hosted on Psychlinks Self-Help & Mental Health Support Forum.

Brooke looks at the canon of memory as pattern to build the conclusion that pattern is an ecology of practice, granting it a new space in the digital era beyond merely being relegated to storage. It here where Brooke justifies his reason for transforming memory into persistence with the “construction (and dissolution) of patterns over time” (151). This persistence becomes increasingly important when users are faced with the overload of data that is presented by others and constructed by them on the internet, especially with the Cloud becoming an integral part of how people handle and store data. In the final section of the chapter, Brooke discusses how websites deal with this issue through feed readers or aggregators, which “check weblogs and keep track of whether a particular user has accessed the most recent content. They check our blogs so that we do not have to, in the same way that most mail programs can be set to inform a user when there is a new mail in the inbox” (158).

So how do aggregators feature into memory as persistence? Brooke identifies two types of aggregators that he personally uses: Google Reader (GR) and the memory practice of persistence of cognition.  For him, Google Reader provides a “centralized portal” that “distributes [his] memory, freeing [him] from the need to remember each site individually” as well as tracking basic information trends in his viewing/reading (160). Persistence of cognition is his phrase for a reading and memory practice that springs out of the connection between smaller pieces (such as keywords): “Skimming requires a reader to be able to piece together information in ways that are good enough to gauge a text, perhaps without arriving at a full representation of it” but also “names the presence of particular pieces — certain themes persist across a set of texts” (156; 157). My favorite quote from this chapter, though, comes at the end when he describes our relationship to memory and information: “We take in information, sometimes without being aware of it, and only notice when the information connects with other data to form a pattern worth investigating…Our minds are not simply sites of storage; they perceive connections and patterns that may only become present to us in the later stages of their construction” (166).

Delivery as Performance 

Woot! Woot! Last rhetorical canon to be remapped: delivery as performance. Brooke lists two ways in which delivery is defined that are relevant to rhetoric: 1) as a transitive process, and 2) as a performance (170). With this remapping, Brooke brings up terms like DeVoss and Porter’s “economies of writing” and Trimbur’s “circulation of commodities” with regards to delivery of content and how aggressively some companies/organizations will try to restrict the distribution of their content (172-173): “It is difficult to imagine that corporate producers are particularly worried about audience production of content, for example, when we consider the heavily embedded technological, cultural, economic, and medial advantages that the various culture industries possess. If reflect on how heavily these corporations are invested in distributive control, both directly and through the management of consumer attention, it is difficult to see their aggression in prosecuting ‘bad users’ as anything other than an overreaction” (172). This makes me think of people who create fan-made anime music videos (AMVs) on YouTube (much like the one I have linked at the bottom of this post) and how their videos are sometimes (not always in a majority of the cases) removed despite the creators attributing ownership of both the songs and the clips/artwork to the rightful owners. The creators of the AMVs are not receiving compensation for their work, nor are they claiming ownership of the original content. Their videos are purely for entertainment and are a large part of fan culture’s tributes to a series, a character, a couple, and so on, yet some companies see them as violations of copyright.

Now that I am done with my tangent, rewind back to the discussion about circulation and distribution as part of delivery. Brooke links this discussion to Timbur again with Timbur’s comment on “how the act of translation necessarily participates in and shapes the circulation of biomedical discourse in ways that go beyond simple information transfer” (qtd. in Brooke 174). It is here where Brooke pulls in “delivery as medium” to stop the perception of circulation to be aligned with the perception of simple transmission (rhetoric should not, in this view, remain static between media) (174).

Information being circulated among media should go beyond the simple transmission of information. Image hosted on the site for Newcastle Libraries Online.

Information being circulated among media should go beyond the simple transmission of information. Image hosted on the site for Newcastle Libraries Online.

But that is delivery in the terms of a transitive process, so let us take a look at delivery as performance. What does this mean in a digital era? Brooke turns towards the concept of ethos (character, or credibility) in regards to a person’s work (for example, a student like me who is trying to create content online in a public space not just for my teacher and peers, but also for anyone who visits the blog and lingers long enough to read this far). There is the understanding that information from the interwebs must be evaluated deeply to be sure that the information is accurate, the source is credible, and the author is not some hack (and there are plenty of sites where such concerns seem to the lowest priority). However, Brooke pushes forward a little further with his comment about technology’s role in the process: “The underlying assumption of these evaluation checklists, however, is something that we should find more problematic. Put simply, much of the advice for evaluating Web-based information posits credibility or ethos as a quality that is decontextualized from the technology, an attitude toward delivery that sees it simply as transmission” (184). Brooke notes that the credibility of websites is based on their connections to the “real world” (or meat space), which is what I am doing here by citing from a physical book being held in my arms as I type this sentence; anyone could pick up a copy of Brooke’s book and check the passages that I am citing.

To push back against this notion of credibility as tied to how we have evaluated books, Brooke uses Wikipedia as example as it is open to users to edit and add content, even if those users are not certified experts in their fields. The content being added is evaluated for its content and actions taken against users who prove to add false information or prove less than credible as sources, but the openness of the adding/editing process is changing how we perceive and understand encyclopedias, even though Wikipedia is not free of criticism (188).

Encyclopædia Britannica. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Encyclopædia Britannica. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia as an encyclopedia. Image hosted on the blog Southern Lifestyle.

Wikipedia as an encyclopedia. Image hosted on the blog Southern Lifestyle.

While Wikipedia is not to be seen as a site for pure credibility, Brooke looks to it as a site of discourse for issues of authorship and credibility. The site offers what a place where credibility becomes a performance, a practice, messy as that can be at times “represent[ing] the kind of opportunity that traditional encyclopedias can never dream of providing — an ethos that is interactive, democratic, public, and, at times, contentious” (191). It is interesting to think of credibility as a performance, but his example about the credibility of Wikipedia as burgeoning with its members really strengthens my understanding of the concept.

And so ends this round of reading notes. Fare thee well, Brooke and your remapped rhetorical canons for the digital era.

Fist bump for making it through this mad tangle of notes. Image hosted on Rebloggy.

Fist bump for making it through this mad tangle of notes. Image hosted on Rebloggy.

Nothing to see here, folks. Image hosted on Giphy.

Nothing to see here, folks. Image hosted on Giphy.

Citation

Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media (New Dimensions in Computers and Composition). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press,  2009. Print. 

Skipping Along through New Media

 

Update: As part of our reading notes assignment, my classmates and I are to make comments on two peers’ posts every week. So, here are mine:

Chvonne’s post

Chvonne’s post did a really nice job of dealing with the second half of Brooke’s text, especially the way she brings him to task for not fully delving into the messiness that comes with the ecologies of culture. I think Chvonne raises a good question (one that made me stop and think for awhile) about whether or not there are practical ways to apply Brooke’s remapping of the rhetorical canons. The conclusion that I finally came to was that for the generation of students who are now entering college, it may benefit them to use their foundational knowledge of computers (since this is a technology they have grown up with) as a way to understand rhetoric, rather than to approach them first with rhetoric to understand how the digital era is changing our perspectives. These students are growing up with connections through Facebook, seeing first hand how social spaces like Twitter are sites of social activism as well as sites of public shaming, and approaching archives not as physical spaces but as data that can be accessed anywhere at any time with the advent of Cloud computing. For them, rhetoric of Socrates and Plato is an archaic past compared with how rhetoric is now being reshaped to fit the needs of a digital era (just as it had changed for television and film).

 


1st Reading Notes for a New Semester_New Media

Welcome Back to the Wonderful World of Summer’s Reading Notes!

To begin the Fall 2014 semester, we are reading Nicholas Gane and David Beer‘s book, New Media: The Key Concepts, which focuses its exploration of the discipline of New Media by looking at six core concepts (though there are others) that “facilitate theoretical and critical analysis of the new media age”:

-Network

-Information

-Interface

-Archive

-Interactivity

-Simulation

These six concepts originally fell under material forms (networks, interfaces, archives, and information) and processes (simulation and interactivity), but “have taken on a particular conceptual or metaphorical significance in recent social and media theory” (1-2). So how do we begin to sort through these concepts and begin to understand why they are the foundation to critically analyzing the discipline of New Media?

Well, for this, Ganes and Beer weed their way towards the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, discussing their three types of “conceptual work:

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on  website for Mike Hoolboom.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on website for Mike Hoolboom.

-“Universal concepts” – “encyclopaedic definitions that seek to give concepts a fixed, universal meaning”

-“Marketable concepts” – “concepts geared to the production of ideas that are valued purely for their economic worth” – “commodification of knowledge”

—> part of this are “concept-driven brands, which draw their value less from the physical aspects of commodities than from the concepts that underpin and justify their design.” This makes me think of fashion ads in which it is the “lifestyle” represented by the clothes that is being sold more so than the clothes themselves.

 

Chanel Ad. Image hosted on The Stylist Fashion Blog

-“Pedagogy of the concept” – “experimental in nature and uses concepts in a flexible, open-ended way to address research problems as and when they arrive” – “Junction of problems”

One of my favorite quotes from this first chapter was Ganes and Beer quoting Deleuze and Guttari’s comment that, “All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning…” (5). Too often, it feels like a lot of the concepts being taught in theory exist just because, so it was nice to see the idea grounded that our theoretical concepts emerge out of issues and questions that are being raised in practical settings and need to beapplied as well as discussed. From this idea of concepts needing connections to real world problems, Ganes and Beer declare that concepts are essentiallyintensities that “condense around problems,” which “prompt and stimulate conceptual work and with this give it its value” (5). Problems are at the core of conceptual work.

But, what does this have to do with New Media?

Taking a step back, what does the term New Media cover?

What makes something New Media as opposed to Old Media?

Ganes and Beer turn to Lev Manovich‘s explanation that, while there are similarities between Old Media (which ranges from print media like books to cinema media) and New Media is that New Media operates “through the production and processing of numerical (predominately binary) code,” and that “the representation of cultural forms (including art, music, text) in numerical codes enables them to be reproduced, manipulated, and transmitted with unprecedented ease” (6).

Key Traits of Digital Media, as Laid out by Tony Feldman

-“Information is increasingly manipulable, networkable, dense, compressible, and impartial”

When we think of how advancements in technology are reshaping our relationship with knowledge, it’s crazy to compare where we are right now with twenty or thirty years ago. Our devices are getting smaller, but their processing powers and memory storage outstrip devices from even five years ago. We are now a society where information is easily exchanged, portable and yet intangible. Take this course as an example. When buying my books, I was given the option of buying a physical or digital copy of the first textbook. It was in the restrictions I had on time and the prospect of a lengthy wait time for my book to arrive that I chose to go with the digital copy. While reading a book digitally isn’t my favorite method (I have to constantly keep myself from getting distracted by the other activities that are also available when I am on the computer or on my phone), the digital copy is more easily accessible and far more portable. With Amazon’s new whispersync software, I can alternate between reading the book on my laptop or on my phone, sharing highlights between the two devices and keeping both updated on what page I have read to. I can also share these books with others (like my sister-in-law who lives states away) without needing something physical to send to them.

Digital Media is both more ephemeral (mostly because I know how easy it is to lose digital data, as I have been reminded a few times with this software when forgetting to save the page before attempting to import media) and permanent (archives on the internet sometimes keep what a person may wish to be lost, which becomes a major issue with things like the leaked nude photos of celebrities hacked from the Cloud).

Interesting Scholars and Concepts Introduced

Bruno Latour – “recalcitrant objects” – “concepts that make thought possible but at the same time are hard to pin down and analyze”

Nigel Thrift – “knowing capitalism”

Donna Haraway – “thinking technologies”

Citation

Gane, Nicholas and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2008. Kindle.

Kicking off the Semester


Case Study #4: FrankenTheory

Boundaries in My Analysis of Google Analytics

I am limiting my analysis of Google Analytics as an object of study by focusing on its activities and its data model as reported in terms of dimensions and metrics.

  • Google defines Analytics activity as collection, collation, processing, and reporting.
  • Google describes its data model as consisting of user, session, and interaction.
  • Google collects and reports data in terms of dimensions (“descriptive attribute or characteristic of an object”) and metrics (“Individual elements of a dimension that can be measured as a sum or ratio”) (Google, 2014).

These limits and terms are described in detail in my earlier Re/Proposed Object of Study: Google Analytics blog post.

I chose GA as my object of study because it’s a tool with which I work on a daily basis. I proposed GA as my object of study to my boss, the director of our school’s marketing and communications team, before formally proposing it in class because I wanted approval to use our school’s GA account in my study. I also expected my study to contribute to my understanding and use of GA in web development and management. A deeper understanding of GA as a network has provided both a tool for theoretical exploration and practical application.

Here’s an example of how applied this theoretical study has become. On April 16, with little fanfare, Google announced that it was replacing the term “visit” with the term “session” in its reports. I missed the announcement entirely, so I was surprised while measuring the result of online advertising efforts in our campus newspapers to discover that the “unique visits” metric that I had been using was no longer available; instead, it had been replaced by the “sessions” metric, without the “unique” modifier. I was also surprised to discover that the “unique visits” metric I had been using did not match the “sessions” metric when I re-ran prior reports to test data accuracy reports; “sessions” reported higher numbers than “unique visits” had reported. As we reached the first of May, when I normally complete April reports, I realized the full extent of the terminology change: “unique visits” were no longer being measured. Two plus years of reporting data were potentially compromised as inaccurate, since we report data for month on month and year on year comparisons (e.g. does April 2014 look better than April 2013 in terms of overall unique web visits, and does the calendar year-to-date period of January-April 2014 look better than the previous January-April 2013 period?).

As a result of my study of the structure and function of Google Analytics, I had learned how GA counts session data. Critical inquiries had questioned whether GA’s reporting of unique visits could be accurate given the browsing patterns of today’s web visitors. Visits (now sessions) are defined as individual browsing sessions on a given website on a given browser and platform. A visitor (now user) who visits the same website using two different browsers (Chrome and Firefox, for instance) would be calculated as two unique visits (when unique visits were provided) because the session is browser specific. Furthermore, a visitor who visits the same website on a desktop platform browser, then revisits the same website on a mobile device, would be calculated as two unique visits, because the session is platform specific. In short, “unique visit” is really a calculation of “individual session” without a distinction of uniqueness of the visitor. Using the term “unique visit” suggested (and my marketing team and I took it to mean) visits by unique users, a measurement we considered superior because it suggested the actual number of visitors. What we should have been measuring, however, was visits, regardless of their “uniqueness,” because there was no unique quality to the visit in terms of the visitor. The end result is that I will need to re-record our historical data in terms of sessions rather than unique visits, potentially revealing visit patterns we had not before seen or understood.

Without this study of GA as a network, I would not have understood why reporting data did not match, and I would have struggled to find documentation of the issue. There remains little documentation from Google itself about the disappearance of unique visit as a reported metric as of this date. In short, the application of my theoretical exploration directly benefited my and my team, and ultimately our school and our understanding of our data within the framework of industry benchmarks.

Theories of Networks and Google Analytics

I’m using two theories — Castells’ network society and Deleuze & Guattari’s rhizome — to flesh out my understanding of Google Analytics and sketch out my Frankentheory of a network.

First, here’s a review of some familiar territory: My application of Castells’ network society to GA from Case Study #2. I’ve brought this in as a piece rather than linking to it because I’d like to make departures from specific aspects of this application in discussing Deleuze & Guattari and in sketching out a Frankentheory.

Defining Google Analytics

Castells (2010) considers technology to be society (p. 5). As a result, GA can be considered social. As an information technology, GA creates active connections between websites (data collection), Google data centers (data configuring and processing) including aggregated tables (processing), and GA administrator accounts (configuring and reporting). These active connections collect, mediate (configure and process), and report on the three aspects of the GA data model consisting of users, sessions, and interactions. These connections represent social actions. So Castells (2010) might define GA as a global informational network (p. 77) that collects data from and reports data to local nodes (websites). Google servers where data are configured and processed might be considered mega-nodes (xxxviii) that, through the iterative process of increasing user visits and interaction by improving website design and content based on GA reported results, impose global logic on the local (xxxix).

Nodes in Google Analytics

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 9.33.26 PM

Google Data Center Locations: Image from Google Data Centers.

Individual websites, GA account administrators, and website visitors are local nodes in the global informational network. Google data center servers are mega-nodes in the network. Google employees who program GA and maintain Google servers and centers are localized nodes in the global network. Google’s data centers are located in a variety of locations that include North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Several are found in Castells’ (2010) “milieux of innovation” (p. 419) including Taiwan, Singapore, and Chile. Others are found in what appear to be unlikely global spaces, including Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Mayes County, Oklahoma. These locations reiterate Castells’ insistence that local and global are not mutually exclusive polar opposites; rather, the new industrial system is neither global or local, but a new way of constructing local and global dynamics (p. 423). Websites, administrators, visitors, servers, and employees are simultaneously localized nodes (even the the mega-nodes are situated in space and time) in the global informational network.

Agency among Google Analytics Nodes

GA account administrators and website visitors have the greatest level of agency in the network, while Google employees exert limited agency within the confines of their labor relationships and conditions. Account administrators would likely be considered among Castells’ (2010) “managerial elites” (p. 445), while Google employees who maintain and program the servers might be part of Castells’ disposable labor force (p. 295). Account administrators have the authority to configure GA data, including the ability to filter out results, narrow data collection according to metrics and dimensions, and even integrate external digital metrics in GA. This authority is not, of course, the authority of Google’s corporate structure and hierarchy, but within the boundaries of GA data model and activities, account administrators exude authority. Website visitors may choose to visit, or not visit, any given website, once or more than once (meaning a single session or multiple sessions). This agency includes the power to intentionally separate themselves from the network, meaning that, for users, they only enter into the network as a node when they visit the tracked website. Interestingly, only the GA administrator has authority to eliminate users from the network; account configurations may filter out visitors along several dimensions.

Nodal Situation and Relation

Nodes are locally situated. While simultaneously part of the global informational economy, all of the nodes in the GA network are situated in a space and time. This simultaneous here/there compression of space and time is the origin of Castells’ (2010) “space of flows” (p. 408) and “timeless time” (p. 460). Websites are simultaneously hosted on physical servers around the world and locally viewed on specific platforms and media. Users are simultaneously accessing global data in territorial space on hardware. GA administrators are situated while configuring accounts and loading reports from the cloud. Google data centers are situated in specific locations, but they collect and process global data from local spaces and times. Google employees are culturally and territorially situated in the global Google labor pool.

Data rarely travels along parallel paths in the GA data model or GA activities. Website visit data are collected in the data modeluser, session, and interaction data — and sent to Google data centers for processing and configuration. Other than writing unique user identification data onto cookies on users’ browsers or apps, little data travels from GA to users. Website content is indirectly affected by GA reports configured and read by GA administrators, but within the GA activity network, websites are unaffected by GA activity on the data model. Beyond the boundaries of the OoS, of course, Google serves plenty of data, in the form of ads, back to users. But that’s now beyond the scope of this study.

Movement in the Network

Framework for Movement: Wires in The Dalles, Oregon, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Data moves in GA. More specifically, data in the GA data model moves in GA. Data are initiated by users visiting tracked websites. Specific frameworks must be in place for connections to occur and data in the data model to be collected. Namely, websites must contain GA tracking code, embedded in the website code through the agency of the GA administrator. The embedded GA tracking code enables, and the web browser and hardware afford (Norman, n.d.), the user to initiate a tracking pixel (gif) and generate data to be collected in the GA data model. Once collected, the data are configured (by the account administrator and by the GA algorithms), processed (in a largely opaque manner) and collated in aggregated data tables, and reported in visual and tabular representations. In Castells’ (2010) terms, data represent flow in the GA network (p. 442). That data is both spatial and temporal (it comes from and is attached to a specific territory and represents a specific, chronological activity), but it is also entirely global and digital.

Content in the Network

Data are collected and packaged — literally, in a gif image pixel — in parameters relating to user, session, and interaction. The GA tracking code encodes data and sends it to Google data centers where the data are decoded, configured based on administrator preferences, processed and repackaged in aggregated data tables, and made available to the account administrators. The reporting function remediates the data in visual and tabular formats for ease of reading and use. While the data reported are considered authoritative and authentic, the actual processing function remains largely proprietary, with only end results available to extrapolate what processing actually occurs. This black boxed processing function seems unlikely to represent Latour’s (2005) intermediary; as Fomitchev (2010) claims, there are probably processing functions that result in highly mediated, possibly even inaccurate, results. Castells (2010) would likely measure GA performance based on “its connectedness, that is, its structural ability to facilitate noise-free communication between its components” (p. 187). I hope we will see increased academic scrutiny focused on this perceived intermediary function in GA, even as we scholars rely on its results.

Birth and Death of a Network

Killing the Network: Failed Google data hard drives to be destroyed at the St. Ghislain, Belgium, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Castells (2010) indicates that global informational networks emerge within milieux of innovation. These main centers of innovation are generally the largest metropolitan areas of the industrial age (p. 66), able to “generate synergy on the basis of knowledge and information, directly related to industrial production and commercial applications” (p. 67), and combine the efforts of the state and entrepreneurs (p. 69). Nodes on the network get ignored (and therefore cease to be part of the network) when they are perceived, by either the network or by its managerial elites, to have little value to the network itself (p. 134). The GA network grows as more nodes are added, either as users or as web pages with tracking code. GA administrators have agency to kill network nodes by removing tracking code from pages, or by directing IT managers to remove poorly performing web pages. Users have agency to quit visiting a website, thereby removing its value to the person. While many other actions by agents outside the GA network may affect the growth or dissolution of the network, they are outside the boundaries of the GA activity and data model.

And Now, the Rhizome

First a note about using Deleuze & Guattari. I did not enjoy or particularly “get” this reading the first time around. I grasped the broad strokes of the argument, but this is a chapter that requires close, multiple readings. What I discovered as I re-read the chapter in light of this analysis was that it addresses a significant aspect of networks that Castells does not — namely, a rhizomatic approach to networks problematizes the very definition of GA I established during my Re/Proposal. In short, applying Castells profited from the boundaries I placed on the OoS; applying Deleuze & Guattari requires eliminating the boundaries, preferring instead a situated, chronological cross-section as a set of boundaries enabling analysis.

Second, a note about this cross-sectional approach. In my scaffolding outline, I referred to a “flattened, rhizomatic” approach to composing and networks. Placing these two concepts together elicited useful feedback and discussion during the following class, as a result of which I realized that rhizomes are not naturally flattened. While Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) refer to flattened multiplicities, they do so in the context of many dimensions: “All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions” (p. 9). In fact, rhizomes are unpredictably dimensional; connections can and must occur along all dimensions: “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (p. 7). Since the boundaries of such a “network” can’t really be established, one way to analyze the rhizome is to take a cross-sectional slice, situated in space and time, of the rhizome and examine the relationships among points in the rhizome in this “flattened” slice. The rhizome is a multidimensional assemblage, not a flattened network.

These two notes represent realizations that complicate and problematize the restrictive perspective I offered of GA as a network. Limiting the network to GA activities and data model resulted in limits to what I could discuss in my application of Castells. For example, in discussing the birth and death of the network, I cut short my analysis with this limiter: “While many other actions by agents outside the GA network may affect the growth or dissolution of the network, they are outside the boundaries of the GA activity and data model.” Similarly, when addressing nodal situation and relations, I wrote this limiting statement: “Beyond the boundaries of the OoS, of course, Google serves plenty of data, in the form of ads, back to users. But that’s now beyond the scope of this study.” These limits were real — the boundaries I established for describing GA as a network did, in fact, prevent addressing aspects of the network — but they do not reflect an accurate mapping of GA network activity. Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) point out that “the rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing” (p. 12, emphasis original). Tracing is the role of centralized control, of perspectives limited by binaries and “tree logic”: “What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” (p. 12). A mapped understanding of GA must address its real complexity, its nodes and connections in terms of real experiences, not centrally-defined boundaries.

A mapped, cross-sectional perspective on GA as a network was, to my surprise, the goal of my first case study. In fact, the first visualization of the network I provided was a portion of a Popplet titled “Visualizing a Partial Google Analytics Data Set.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 8.03.11 PM

Figure 1: Visualizing a sample Google Analytics data set from Case Study #1Popplet

My original attempt to visualize and define GA as a network was more chaotically rhizomatic than any other depiction I’ve attempted since. In fact, for much of the rest of the semester, I’ve been struggling to trace my understanding of GA as a network, when in fact Deleuze & Guattari would have me do precisely the opposite: map the multiplicity of GA as assemblage, depicted as a cross-sectional portion of the network situated in time and space.

Mapping GA as rhizome means accepting that users, servers, computers, mobile devices, browsers, operating systems, marketers, developers, programmers, designers, GA account administrators, Google data centers, Google programmers and server maintenance personnel, homes, home offices, office buildings, network cables, routers, switches, weather conditions, satellites, trans-Atlantic communications cables, seawater, signal degradation, electrons, light energy, insulators, and theorists must be included as nodes in the GA rhizome. GA collects data on some of these dimensions; other dimensions, however, are embedded as affordances and constraints to the web technologies that enable GA to measure dimensions at all, so these affordances and constraints must also be depicted in a cross-section of GA as rhizome.

There’s a reason Deleuze & Guattari did not include a visualization of the rhizome on their chapter. It’s too complex, too multi-dimensional, to capture in a 2-dimension drawing. But I’m going to give it a shot.

Popplet mind map

Figure 2: Visualizing Google Analytics as a Rhizome—Popplet

Figure 2 depicts a rhizome cross-section of a single node, User, and the connections that exist among dimensions of the GA data model, website affordances and constraints, website creators, and Google personnel. What this depicts is that a User connects from and to most of the nodes, that the nodes connected to the User are connected to one another, and that relationships proliferate exponentially if extrapolated to the entire list of dimensions. And these dimensions are themselves necessarily limited (perhaps even cross-sectioned) by the visualization technology and my own time and patience. Were I to connect all of the non-technological aspects to the User—like location and weather conditions — the rhizome could go on forever. The point is that mapping the actual rhizome, rather than tracing the limits of the network, generates the rhizome itself. Or, as Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) propose, “The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a place of consistency. It is itself a part of the rhizome” (p. 12).

Closing Gaps

Castells offers a remarkably cogent and highly matched means of analyzing GA as a network as defined by Google itself: in terms of GA activities and the GA data model. Castells addresses issues of localization and globalization in ways that make sense for GA defined as Google defines it. Here’s my conclusion from Case Study #2.

While Castells addresses the local, he tends to discuss localization in terms of groups rather than individuals. In this way, Castells more closely resembles ecological theories that apply to organism categories rather than to individual organisms. He regularly refers to groups of people and nodes: the managerial elites (rather than individual leaders), the technological revolution (rather than revolutionary technology pioneers), and the global and local economy (rather than the economic wellbeing of the individual small business owner). The result is that I can’t really address the individual user as a single agent in GA. Then again, this is hardly a hardship, in that GA aggregates data and anonymizes identities. GA, too, resembles an ecological theory rather than a rhetorical theory; it focuses on profiles of territorially localized users rather than individual users in a specific city. As a result, Castells and GA match rather nicely in defining the boundaries of the discussion. In fact, I’d argue that GA (and Google more broadly) represent precisely the network society Castells defined in his text. It’s interesting that he didn’t predict or recognize the rise of Google as I would have expected him to do in his 2010 preface. And Castells’ (2010) discussion of communication media clearly did not predict the popularity or ubiquity of Google’s YouTube on the network as a differentiated medium whose content is driven by user tastes and users-as-producers (p. 399).

Once we admit the possibility that GA is not just what Google says it is, but that GA represents a much wider and broader rhizome of connections, Castells no longer adequately describes the network. GA as rhizome requires additional theoretical application for understanding and visualizing.

Frankentheory

After a semester of theorizing, what’s my own theory of networks?

Rhizome illustration

What I think a rhizome looks like. “The Opte Project” by Barrett Lyon. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA. From The Accidental Technologist‘s post The Way of the Rhizome #h817open

Networks are local. They are also global. This is not dualism, but convergence. Local and global converge in time and space, and we must be prepared to engage in both simultaneously. The global remains rooted in the local; local conditions and environments affect and influence connections to the global. In our efforts to understand global network activity, we should not lose sight of the affordances and constraints of local conditions, including available access to the internet, proximity to other nodes, and the politics of nodal connectivity.

Networks enable nodes. A collection of nodes does not a network make. Networks enable nodal activity; this means that network frameworks must be in place for networks to exist and start collecting nods. This also means that the activity of collecting nodes in networked. The network can grow well beyond its framework in unexpected and unpredictable ways, and this should be expected, anticipated, and planned to the extent possible.

Networks are rhizomes. Or at least rhizomatic. They are unlikely to require or have inherent hierarchical structures; these will have to be applied to the network. Rhizomatic structure and growth suggest unpredictability of nodal connections. As I understand rhizomes, the importance of any node being able to connect to any other node — or to anything, for that matter — cannot be overstated. It is this aspect of rhizomatic connectivity that I would consider “flat.” There are neither more nor less important nodes; there are no inherent political relationships between and among nodes. Any political power attributed to the node will either be self-contained or bestowed from outside the rhizome; within the ecology of the rhizome, all nodes are equally capable of connecting to all other nodes and to anything outside the rhizome. In this sense, I would suggest that rhizomes are politically flat.

Networks can be analyzed in cross-section; they are very difficult to analyze in real time as they exist. They are both too large to examine as a whole and too complex to analyze as active connections are “firing.” Cross-sections can be taken of specific aspects of the network or of the network as a whole. Cross-sections are frozen in time and show little activity, merely traces that can be followed and explored. Networks contains a multiplicity of simultaneous connective activity; our abilities to analyze simultaneity is limited. Instead, we must follow specific threads of connectivity through time and space to analyze them. Such analysis is made possible through cross section.

Google Analytics’ Contributions to English Studies

First, GA can and should be critically examined as a rhetorical technology. GA activity includes reporting. These reports are discursive and rely on visual and written rhetoric to communicate meaning. The “meaning” of a GA report can be manipulated like any other statistical data. Its meanings depend on local environment and conditions, comfort with standard and local meanings of GA terminology (like “session” or “user,” for example), and familiarity with the GA data collection model. Its visualizations can be analyzed for clarity and transparency, for cultural or sociological bias (related to colors used, default views, and other determined factors), and for its connectedness to other discursive elements (like websites whose visitor traffic it measures). Critical rhetorical analysis of GA reports could easily be an object of study by itself.

Second, GA can and should be critically approached as a black-boxed network whose data manipulation and configuration are largely hidden, lacking transparency. Google’s business model depends on its proprietary search results algorithms. It protects that algorithm carefully; while GA reporting is not directly dependent on the search algorithm, website visit data contribute to search results. Full disclosure of its data configuration and processing activities would likely reveal much about Google’s search algorithm; as a result, these processes are only partially disclosed. Google’s own Analytics help files and tutorials explain the order, purpose, and general procedures of data configuration and processing, but these files and tutorials do not reveal in-depth specifics on how collected data are processed into aggregate tables, nor how those tables are then indexed for rapid, near-instant on-the-fly reporting. Google’s market share in web search and advertising result in the formation of what Althusser (1971) called a repressive state apparatus; I suggest that GA is an ideological expression of that apparatus, or an ideological state apparatus. While neither Google nor GA is a state in a political sense, its size and clout suggest an industrial state-like entity with resources and influence strong enough to manipulate or evoke responses from other political entities, as it has done recently in relations with the government of Russia (Khrennikov & Ustinova, 2014).

Third, GA results themselves can and should be critically examined. Far too many otherwise critically-written journal articles use GA results as instrumental rather than mediated. That is, GA report data are accepted as unqualified and accurate reflections of website traffic rather than mediated reports of visitor activity. Little care is given to providing GA-specific definitions of terminology like “session” and “user.” This acceptance can result in significant reporting issues — I’m experiencing a particular situation as I type in which Google has revised a reporting criterion from “visits” to “sessions.” While these two terms are being used synonymously, one implication is that GA has removed the dimension of “unique visit” from its reporting matrix. GA’s definition of session doesn’t differentiate between unique or repeat visits among sessions, as each session is considered a unique event regardless of the identity (which may not be accurately known) of the visitor. Several reports I provide my dean and marketing director were based on unique visit numbers; as a result, I’m forced to rework all of my reports to reflect sessions rather than unique visits. This has implications for perceptions of “progress” and “improvement” among senior leadership, a particularly uncomfortable reality brought to bear this week. (Google changed its reporting structure without fanfare on April 16, announced in a Google+ post.)

Finally, GA’s data collection method can and should be understood as discursive. Individual GIF calls that report data back to Google servers do so in text tags attached to tracking pixels generated through data collection. For example, every GA tag begins with “utm,” a prefix whose meaning is unclear. Many data points are collected in abbreviations whose symbolic meanings would be interesting to explore. Again, GA offers few clues for more obscure abbreviations, although Google does provide a list of many (but not all) dimensions collected via tracking pixel calls. Some of these symbols are explained in the Google Developers (2014) Tracking Code Overview. While parameter abbreviations are obscure, the values themselves are even less clear. Consider the parameter/value pair “utmul=pt-br”: the utmul parameter represents “browser language” while the pt-br value represents “Brazilian Portuguese.” This symbolic communication system is itself fodder for rhetorical analysis and interpretation.

References

Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation). In B. Brewster (transl.) & A. Blunden (trans.), Louis Althusser archive. Retrieved from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm (Original work published in Lenin philosophy and other essays)

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

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)

Google. (n.d.). Algorithms. Inside Search. Retrieved from 1 May 2014 from https://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/algorithms.html

Google. (2014). Dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics Help. Retrieved from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033861?hl=en

Google Analytics. (2014, April 16). Understanding user behavior in a multi-device world (Web post). Google+. Retrieved 1 May 2014 from https://plus.google.com/+GoogleAnalytics/posts/LCLgkyCn4Zi

Google Developers. (2014, April 16). Tracking code overview. Google Developers. Retrieved from https://developers.google.com/analytics/resources/concepts/gaConceptsTrackingOverview#gifParameters

Krennikov, I., & Ustinova, A. (2014, May 1). Putin’s next invasion? The Russian web. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-01/russia-moves-toward-china-style-internet-censorship

[ Feature image: Today's latte, Google Analytics. CC licensed image from Flickr user Yuko Honda ]

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

“Play Ball!” MindMap Reframed

http://popplet.com/app/#/1571354 So, I puzzled over how to reconceptualize a mindmap 15 weeks in the making using concepts, rather than components. I reviewed our class syllabus for footholds, pondered my case study foci, watched a little ESPN on a break, checked … Continue reading

Case Study: Scaffolding Outline

OoS: Google Analytics

  • Activities addressed in my OoS: Collection, Collation, Processing, Reporting
  • GA Data Model: User (Visitor), Session (Visit), Interaction (Hits)
  • Data Model Collections and Reports: Dimensions (“descriptive attribute or characteristic of an object”) and Metrics (“Individual elements of a dimension that can be measured as a sum or ratio”) (Google, 2014).

Theories & Selection Rationale

  • Ecosystem Ecology (Bateson, 1972/1987; Gibson, 1972/1986; Guattari, 1989/2012; Spellman, 2007)
    • Boundaries are difficult to define: Mirrors struggle to define GA boundaries
    • Inter-relatedness to neighboring ecosystems: GA connects and measures incoming & outgoing links
    • Limits analysis to groups of (rather than individual) living and/or nonliving things: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data
  • Neurobiology (Annenberg Learner, 2013)
    • Demonstrates interconnectedness of various nodes and frameworks: GA data model reports metrics interconnected with dimensions to reflect user behaviors; GA also enables both SPCS account and UR roll-up account
    • Uses hippocampus as server metaphor: Google data center as input/output hub for GA data collation and processing
    • Affirms difference between input and output: GA collects data via data model (input) and reports results via aggregated data tables and visualizations (output)
  • Network Society  (Castells, 2010)
    • Limits analysis to groups rather than individuals: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data (cf. Ecosystem Ecology, above)
    • Addresses movement of data through the network: GA focuses on movement of data from website server (collection) to Google data centers (collation & processing) to administrative accounts (reporting), although this movement is entirely serial rather than parallel
    • Provides hierarchy of nodes: GA endows administrators with creative, destructive, and manipulative authority in relation to data; other nodes have far less agency
  • Social Network (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987; Scott, 2000; Rainie & Wellman, 2012)
    • Recognizes value of social capital in network growth: GA enables measurement of increased or decreased engagement and provides help to increase engagement (social capital)
    • Reveals rhizomatic (and unpredictable) character of network connections: GA visualizes network connectivity in myriad visualizations, tables, and downloadable files (which can also be visualized)
    • Values growth and sustenance of weaker ties: GA sets up goals that seek to measure and value increased engagement on less-engaging content

Similarities

  • Focus on flattened network
  • Emphasis on rhizomatic rather than hierarchical connections
  • Address difficulties of establishing boundaries
  • Recognize value of grouping in discussing large-scale network systems
  • Focus on nodal groupings rather that individual nodal identities
  • Define network as mediator rather than intermediate (Latour, 2005)

Minding the Gaps

  • Localization: Neurobiology and Network Society affirm the value and influence of local conditions on global networks that Ecosystem Ecology and Social Network either undervalue or do not address.
  • Activity and Flow: Ecosystem Ecology, Neurobiology, and Network Society address movement of data and value across or through the network that Social Network does not directly address.
  • Agency: Social Network and Neurobiology ascribe local agency to nodes that Ecosystem Ecology (focused on instinct) and Network Society (focused on hierarchical relationships among managerial elites) do not accept or address.

My Position as Scholar

These theories align with the following statements of my theories of scholarship and pedagogy:

  • I embrace the flattened, rhizomatic character of the 21st-century classroom as a (possibly the most) valid model for preparing students for the world of the 21st-century networked workplace.
  • I embrace composition as social and situated within a larger global context, and I embrace and value local and global aspects of the composing experience as preparation for both academic scholarship and professional management.
  • I embrace scholarship as collaborative and networked, and revel in the breakthroughs made more likely and/or possible through collaborative, rather than individual, scholarship.
  • I embrace pedagogy as joining with a group of students in a flattened community of learners in which, to the extent possible, hierarchical teacher-student relationships are replaced by flattened learner-learner relationships.
  • I embrace and seek connections between scholarship and utility, between theory and praxis, and between academic and alt-academic pursuits and theorizing.
  • I embrace Yagelski’s (2006) “troublemaking collectivity” as a mantra for the disruptive role of my own and my collaborative scholarship and pedagogy in institutions entrenched in antiquated, outdated theoretical paradigms.
  • I embrace as vital the role of network activity in learning activities.
Satellite image - night

U.S Atlantic Seaboard at Night: May 23, 2011. Original image from NASA Earth Observatory.

My Biases and Background

These theories align with my own biases and background in the following ways:

  • I am now, and have been since 2000, employed in an alt-academic role as a full-time marketing web manager and part-time adjunct professor of liberal arts and scholar of English studies. This role influences the value I place on connections between theory and praxis, between research and application.
  • As former director of a summer residential governor’s school for gifted and talented high school students, I value pedagogical theory and praxis that views standards-based education as little more than a starting point for true academic excellence. This experience influences my preference for network activity in learning activities, especially over standardized assessment tools and products.
  • As a professional writer and marketer, I use academic skills like research and collaborative composing in non-academic settings. This experience influences my preference for collaborative, team-based solutions to professional challenges, including audience research.
  • As a third culture kid who grew up outside of the U.S., I embrace the global nature of communications, commerce, development, employment, and growth. This experience influences my desire to place local activities and culture within global networks.
  • As a web developer, I value and prefer platform- and system-agnostic open-source software solutions over commercial, and especially proprietary, software solutions. This influences my desire to flatten hierarchical structures, especially of proprietary commercial interests, in favor of open-source and open-access models wherever feasible.
  • I am a social media marketer. As a result, I value social networks beyond their community-building application; I value them for monetization via targeted advertising. My role as a social media marketer influences my willingness to find value in globally-accessible (but not open-access or open-source) products like Google Analytics while pushing for greater openness and access to these social networking products (see the troublemaking collectivity statement, above).
  • I measure web visit data, and my job as web manager exists because I can demonstrate value through higher visit rates, greater visibility across networks, and ultimately higher admissions and enrollment figures. In a professional and continuing studies unit, the value of individual admissions and enrollments is taken very seriously. This experience forces me to work with Google Analytics, which directly influenced by choice of Google Analytics as my object of study. I enter this study with an eye towards providing my team and my administration critical theoretical approaches to data measurement that result in better, clearer communication with prospective and current students.

References

Annenberg Learner. (2013). Neurobiology. Rediscovering biology: Molecular to global perspectives [Online textbook]. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/units/neuro/index.html

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

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

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Originally published in 1979

Google. (2014). Dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics Help. Retrieved from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033861?hl=en

Guattari, F. (2012). The three ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton. London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group. Originally published in 1989

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

Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Scott, J. (2000). Social network analysis: A handbook (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 3-23; 61-84.

Yagelski, R. P. (2006). English education. In B. McComiskey (Ed.), English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) (pp. 275-319). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

[ Feature image: Bamboo Scaffolding, Cambodia. CC licensed image from Flickr user Lorna ]

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 […]

Revisiting the Proposal: March 30

Donna Haraway has been credited as one of the first to use the term “cyborg” to describe our relationship with the Digital, as we become “hybrids of machine and organism” (151). The field of English Studies, and in particular Composition … Continue reading

Theory Application Rubric: A Class Construction

This rubric really is a social construct: class members collaborated (with a great deal of momentum generated by Maury’s contributions) on the beginnings of our rubric. While each of us likely added or removed bits of the collaborative work to personalize the rubric, I’m proud to be part of this socially constructed, class-sourced rubric development process.

We recognized two major areas of focus for the rubric:

  • Articulation and contextualization of the theory
  • Application of theory to specific OoS (explained with clarity)

After reading the hypertext theory readings, I recommended a third area of focus, which I’ve included in my rubric:

  • Mapping of theory to local context (praxis)
seattle awareness map from 1978

Seattle Awareness Map, 1978: Mapping Seattle’s historical landmarks. Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Rob Ketcherside.

While we can apply theory to our OoS, I think it’s important to be able to map the theory to localized instantiations of the OoS. If theory can’t be mapped to specific aspects of practice in the field, then it hardly seems useful (in a pragmatic sense) to the field or its scholars and practitioners. Not that every theory needs a Spinuzzi-like operationalized exemplar to be valid — but we need to be able to identify specific ways that teachers in local contexts will be able to apply theoretical constructs and principles to pedagogy, and how scholars will be able to apply theory to specific recommendations for action in the field.

We also discussed how or whether to assign grades or points to each aspect of the rubric. Most of us chose to avoid assigning grades: our goal was to develop a rubric that could be applied to both assessment and praxis, and my sense is that assessment needs to be localized at the assignment level rather than generalized at the development level (see Discussion below for more on this subject). As a result, I did not include point values, nor would I want to do so without first sharing the rubric with the person to whom I applied it.

My (class-sourced) Theory Application Rubric

Articulated and Contextualized (Theoretical Understanding)

  • Theorist(s) who developed the theory
  • Influential predecessors to the theory to theorist
  • Main premise(s) of the theory and key attributes
  • Limitations of the theory
  • Relationship to other theories in the field and importance to the field
  • Existing canonical or well-respected applications of the theory

Applied to Object of Study and Explained (OoS Understanding, Application)

  • OoS contextualized and explained
  • Theory attributes mapped to OoS attributes
  • Portion(s) of the theory used and discarded, and why
  • Contribution to understanding or re-seeing the OoS
  • Practical benefits of applying the theory
  • Limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS
  • Additions to the body of knowledge surrounding OoS and/or the discipline

Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

  • Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped
  • Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping
  • Social and political boundaries defined by theory
  • Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience
  • Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping
  • Assessment process of localized mapping defined

Applying the Rubric

Foucauldian Analysis of Live-Action Role-Playing Games as Networks

Maury applied specific aspects of network construction with Foucaultian theory to LARPs. Below are the results of applying my rubric to her case study.

Theoretical Understanding
Characteristic Addressed Comments
Theorist(s) who developed the theory Yes Foucault
Influential predecessors to the theory to theorist No The assignment did not call for the need to contextualize the theorist among others.
Main premise(s) of the theory and key attributes Partially Foucault offers a broad range of theories; those applicable to the OoS were appropriately selected.
Limitations of the theory Partially The limitations of the theory may have been demonstrated by absence in the case study.
Relationship to other theories in the field and importance to the field No This was not a required component of the assignment.
Existing canonical or well-respected applications of the theory N/A The scope of the assignment did not require this level of exploration of the theory.
OoS Understanding & Application
Characteristic Addressed Comments
OoS contextualized and explained Yes Thorough explanation of the OoS and its context made it accessible to a complete noob.
Theory attributes mapped to OoS attributes Yes Of special note were connection to archive, positivity, absence, and monument.
Portion(s) of the theory used and discarded, and why No It’s difficult to nail down Foucault to a single theoretical stance or even set of stances; as a result, this is an appropriate omission.
Contribution to understanding or re-articulating the OoS Yes Among the strongest aspects of the case study. Application revealed relational and contingent character of the game’s discourse.
Practical benefits of applying the theory Yes Among benefits noted are recognizing the change in meaning that occurs as the game is played.
Limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS No Given the broad range of theoretical position Foucault offers, it’s difficult to identify limitations.
Additions to the body of knowledge surrounding OoS and/or the discipline Yes The networked description of the OoS via Foucault focuses attention on specific connections within the game, and it broadens an understanding of Foucault’s archive and monument.
Praxis
Characteristic Addressed Comments
Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped Yes LARP as distinguished from cosplay, historical re-enactment, creative anachronism, and boffer-style LARP.
Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping Yes Very detailed; notable are Game Masters along with many other actors on the network.
Social and political boundaries defined by theory Yes The field of game play is clearly articulated and connected to the field of discourse.
Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience Yes Another strength of the case study, mapping specific lived experiences of LARP to theoretical aspects.
Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping Yes Closing statement addresses the specific social action expected: multiplicity of discourse emerging from a single LARP.
Assessment process of localized mapping defined Yes In the same closing statement, successful mapping with be demonstrated by multiple discourses from a single LARP.

Discussion

Theoretical Understanding

The rubric we crowd sourced was intended to address broadly the way a theory is constructed in its time-space and context. Since our assignment was to apply a theory that we had all worked on together in class, neither the assignment nor our execution was expected to spend a great deal of time explaining the key components of the theory, its place among theories, or other contexts related to the theory itself. It was assumed that we’d bring to the assignment that understanding without having to articulate it in the blog post.

However, as a hermeneutic, the rubric offers a useful set of tools for assessing and presenting major theoretical aspects to a reader. Of particular importance as we move forward in our case studies will be explaining more of the influential context of the theory — its predecessors, its influences, its turns and negations, its relationship to other theoretical stances. And a conference paper-length application would certainly be expected to use a literature review to place the theoretical stance(s) in appropriate context. As a result, although this case study implicitly precluded most of the contextual background of Foucaultian theory, the rubric itself is likely hermeneutically sound.

OoS Application and Explanation

In the case of Foucault, nailing down a single theoretical stance, or even a set of theoretical positions, is quite difficult. As a result, omitting some of Foucault’s theoretical positions is necessary in anything but a monograph-length study (and even then, I’m not sure). These omissions don’t necessarily mean they don’t apply to the OoS or that there are no mappings between the theory and the OoS. I take these omissions to be practical realities, and would likely consider them so even in a graded assignment (unless major issues were left unaddressed, like statements or discursive formation). That same breadth of theoretical perspective necessitates the OoS itself to define its limits within the frame of theoretical reference. In a more narrowly focused theoretical stance, I’d expect more explicit statements about the OoS boundaries as defined by the theory. In the case of Foucault, I sensed little of LARPs that Foucault would not address. While this was never explicitly stated or even implied in the analysis, the results speak for themselves — there is no shortage of LARP when applying Foucault. As a result, even though the application does not always address every aspect of the rubric, I don’t think the rubric is faulty.

Praxis

I surprised myself in finding the Praxis section of the rubric the most informative and applicable section of the rubric. I found concrete mappings between theory and localized context. I don’t consider this section to repeat the OoS application and explanation section; to me, the object of study is not necessarily localized. In the case of LARPs, for example, the localized mapping went so far as to specify a single LARP (Three Muskateers), while the OoS itself remained a more general discussion of LARPs. However, even this general discussion worked to localize the LARP by differentiating it from other similar activities. My mapping the OoS in lived experience to theory, both LARP and theoretical understanding benefitted. As a reader with no LARP experience, the localized mapping offered a clear theoretical underpinning to the concept and practice of the LARP while clarifying in concrete examples some of the more difficult concepts of Foucaultian theory. Mapping theory to localized experience offered a win/win experience for me as reader, and I believe that same experience applies to extending knowledge and understanding of both fields.

visualization of map of the internet, 2005

Map of the Internet, 2005: Mapping a global theory to a localization. Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Cesar Harada.

Localization

This rubric, like all others, requires a flexible, local application bound up in real experience. The fact that the assignment did not fulfill all requirements of the rubric makes neither the assignment nor the rubric unsuccessful. The assignment called for different expectations than the rubric (which, of course, reveals in practice the importance of developing rubrics prior to, rather than in response to, assignments), so the rubric could not be fully applied to the assignment. Furthermore, the rubric addressed a broader conception of theory and OoS than the format and length of the assignment could achieve. I believe it’s important to recognize ways the rubric can’t or won’t measure exactly what it needs to measure in each and every instance. Every assignment — and every response to every assignment — is a localization, and each requires a flexible application of the rubric. This does not make the rubric an inefficient or inaccurate measurement tool; on the contrary, it reveals the value and significance of local context in measurement.

[Top of page: rubric - Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Diana]

Theory Application Rubrics: This Is Only A Test

This week, we were asked to create a “theory assessment” rubric as a means of deepening our understanding of how we might apply theory to objects of study (at least, I think that’s the reasoning!). Given my sense that I’m … Continue reading

Case Study #1: To the Guild Network, I Present a Bazerman

Image hosted in article "Drama Mamas: How to find a World of Warcraft guild" on Joystiq's WoW Insider

Image hosted in article “Drama Mamas: How to find a World of Warcraft guild” on Joystiq’s WoW Insider

In the worlds of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, there can be two levels of networks in regards to guilds: on a game-global level (I make this specification because some games are actually global, with players from around the world joining in on different servers), the guilds themselves are part of a larger network as they compete against one another, and on a game-local level, the members in each guild represent nodes in their particular guild network. For this particular Case Study, I am going to be dealing with the game-local level in relation to World of Warcraft (WoW) as I best understand the framework of the game, and members have quite a bit of support in-game and out-of-game with the creation of, acceptance into/experience within, and dissolution of guilds. The concepts within Charles Bazerman’s chapter “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People” provide interesting insight into how members of guilds become part of the mini-societies within gameworlds, especially in WoW, through the speech acts and social facts that emerge through player-player interaction.

Bazerman’s theory of speech acts and systems of human activity can define the local level of MMO guilds through interactions between players and the cohesion and disruption felt once those interactions begin to collect into trends and movements. What makes guilds in virtual environments so interesting is that players conform to rules and norms much as they would in the “real world,” which is an idea that plays into the concept of “social facts” that Bazerman describes as “those things people believe to be true, and therefore bear on how they define a situation” (312). In order for the guild to work, players have to agree on certain organizational methods (usually in the form of hierarchies based on player rankings, group goals like raids or more storytelling play styles, and newer members being linked with mentors), or else the guild divides and falls apart. Guilds themselves can have very fluid hierarchies, as players establish themselves and gain rank, or as other players drop out of the guild or the game for a variety of reasons (work, family, school, injuries, financial issues, and so on). Much like “real world” groups, communication styles in guilds differ, but tend to be two-way as members offer suggestions for how to approach a particular raid, where to find the best armor, and what strategies are useful against specific creatures or bosses.

As a whole, these gamers generally agree on ideas like ranks as rightfully earned, that (most of the time) there should be a leader (or leaders) for raids and for the guild itself, and that the guild is a space worth joining. These agreements, or disagreements, come to define how the system works: are the raiding teams cohesive? Is there in-fighting among guild members? Is the guild strictly run or does the Guild Master encourage a more laissez faire style? Are newer players mentored by more seasoned players, or are they expected to learn on their own? The atmosphere of the group is determined by the group and the norms to which players are willing to submit, whether it is through explicit agreement or a quiet submission (though most gamers can be fairly vocal when they disagree or feel they are being treated unfairly).

Example of a "guild window" from WoW. Image hosted on WikiHow.

Example of a “guild window” from WoW. Image hosted on WikiHow.

Almost all of the interaction between players is done through speech acts, whether verbal or written. Players can either found their own guild or seek one out (through in-game means or through forums) that has already been established, and then gain acceptance into that guild (with a growing trend of actually having to file an application, especially for the more prestigious guilds). Once in a guild, players find that they have a balance of how much agency they can have within the group. Their abilities and experience define what role(s) they may play when raiding (tank, damage per second also known as dps, or healer), but the player can choose to hone skills that would give them access to other roles or make them more desirable as a combat buddy. Guild members can contact other members through the guild window (displayed above and below) for small raiding parties, or they may choose to join in larger raids (though stricter guilds demand players be present or they may be kicked out of the guild), and loot tends to be shared among players, with certain pieces being set aside for players trying to finish an armor set or guild officers being allowed first pick. For guilds that are more story-based, players have the chance to introduce origin stories for their characters, drawing on the mythology set up by the game creators, which allows players to carve out a space for themselves in the gameworld and establish their character as a more three-dimensional entity within the world and the group.

Each guild window includes a roster of members, which include options for each member to contact another member or to leave the guild altogether. Image hosted on WikiHow

Each guild window includes a roster of members, which include options for each member to contact another member or to leave the guild altogether. Image hosted on WikiHow

As social networks, guilds in WoW are the embodiment of communication technologies. While players initially had to depend on keyboard chats in order to communicate with other players, advancements in technology have opened the way for players to chat over headphones and now remote chats on cell phones. Players also communicate using official forums, through emails and phone calls, and may utilize websites like WoW Guild Hosting to stay in touch. One of the major motivations for a strong communication network within the guild is to prepare for and execute raids that require larger numbers of people. While there can be unexpected obstacles, guild and raid leaders focus on ensuring that members of raid groups understand their roles and the strategy the guild has decided on. Breakdowns in communication can be disastrous, ending with entire teams being slaughtered in more difficult dungeons (any experienced WoW player will shudder and laugh at the Leeroy Jenkins incident).

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Doing well in raids and as a guild altogether has gained greater importance with the introduction of Guild Perks, moving from player motivation for guild banks (which is in-game storage) to actual competition to have and be included in a higher level guild. Guild perks, as defined by WoW Wiki, are “special benefits received when a guild reaches a particular guild level and the corresponding guild achievement.” This new dynamic of perks into the guild network has altered how WoW is played, with most players now belonging to a guild instead of traversing the world alone or with a companion/small group. Players come to be defined by what network they belong to, finding safety and prestige in being a connected node instead of a solitary adventurer.

Remote WoW guild chats on an android phone. Image hosted on Curse.

Remote WoW guild chats on an android phone. Image hosted on Curse.

Bazerman’s theory of speech acts allows me to look at how guild members become enough of a collective to create their own mini-society in a virtual space, which becomes even more interesting in light of the fact that these players may never meet in real life, are coming together based on common goals, and are being judged based on merit, personality, and design choices represented by their avatars’ appearances and classes. His theory is helpful in that it looks at how players’ interactions through speech acts start to create movements in the guild itself, helping to establish boundaries between players, norms for the group to follow as a whole, and can also bring about the dissolution of the guild. Though interaction between players is done through speech acts, Bazerman’s theories of genre, felicity conditions, and typification would help to define how the kinds of communication players have to enrich the game experience and ensure the success of their guilds.

To Make This Quest Just a Little Easier:

Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles. ”Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People.” What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior. (Eds.). London: Routledge, 2004. 309-340[PDF]

WoW Wiki. Wikia, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.


Mindmap: Applications

Mindmap for 4 February: This past week’s class activities brought a lot of moving parts into one place, allowing me to begin operationalizing many of the connecting nodes (i.e., theory) we’ve been absorbing. For example, even as I wrote this … Continue reading

Am I in The Digital Humanities?

I’m reading a series in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the digital humanities, and it’s sparked this question: assuming I intend to focus on technology and new media in my doctoral program, will my scholarship be considered “digital humanities”? To me, “digital humanities” suggests more visual presentation and analysis of data rather than traditional scholarship applied to digital projects. I think. Truth is, I’m not sure. I’m quite interested in incorporating digital media into my scholarship, but I’m not sure whether I’ll actually create digital projects in my scholarship.

I’m hoping to begin answering this question a little more clearly while and after taking my “Theories of Networks” class this semester. Our study will include a theoretical foundation for understanding networks along with a technological perspective. My professional work as web manager is all about using technology in networked environments. I had not imagined I’d find some aspect of scholarship that matched my professional work, but I’m discovering there are areas of overlap. What those areas of overlap may be remains unclear.

I’m curious to see how using the disciplinary tools of English studies can be applied to technology networks. I’m curious about how networks can be studied theoretically. I’m curious how critical approaches can contribute to understanding networks, and how network theory can contribute to understanding culture and texts. And whether networks themselves can be studied as text, or whether networks are more like tools for creating texts that are to be analyzed.

I’ve read the first three articles for the class, and I’ll admit that i’m not sure how it all fits together. Classes start next week, and I’m eager to get started.