Communities

[Crossposted from The New York Academy of Medicine’s Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health, which has published a cluster of posts previewing a panel I’m presenting on at the AHA.]

The overwhelming tendency toward openness in digital networks presents both opportunities and challenges for contemporary scholarship, and in particular for the traditional structures that have facilitated and disseminated scholarship such as membership-based scholarly societies. Some of the challenges are obvious, and have been discussed in many other fora. The increasing demand for free access to products around which revenue models have long been built, for instance, challenges organizations to reinvent their fundamental orientation toward their stakeholders. For scholars, the network’s openness presents an increasing potential for information overload and an increasing difficulty in finding the right texts, the right connections, the right conversations at the right time.

All of these challenges are of course balanced by opportunities, however, as the network also presents the possibility of greatly improved access to scholarship and more fluid channels for ongoing communication and discovery amongst scholars. These opportunities suggest that an important role for scholarly societies will be in facilitating their members’ participation in these networks, helping to create new community-based platforms and systems through which their members can best carry out their work. Insofar as scholarship has always been a conversation — if one often conducted at a most glacial pace — the chief value for scholars should come in the ability to be full participants in that conversation: not simply getting access to the work that other scholars produce, but also having the ability to get their work into circulation, in the same networks as the work that inspired it, and the work that it will inspire. For this reason, the value of joining a scholarly society in the age of the network is less in getting access to content the society produces (the convention, the journal) than in the ability to participate.

However, this opportunity points toward a deeper, underlying challenge, for societies and scholars alike: building and maintaining communities that inspire and sustain participation. This is nowhere near as easy as it may sound. And it’s not just a matter of the “if you build it, they won’t necessarily come” problem; problems can creep up even when they do come. Take Twitter, for instance, which developed a substantial and enthusiastic academic user base over a period of a few years. Recently, however, many scholars and writers who were once very active and engaged on Twitter have begun withdrawing. Perhaps the drop-off is part of an inevitable evaporative social cooling effect. Perhaps at some point, Twitter’s bigness crossed a threshold into too-big. Whatever the causes, there is an increasing discomfort among many with the feeling that conversations once being held on one’s front porch are suddenly taking place in the street and that discussions have given way to an unfortunate “reign of opinion”, an increasing sense of the personal costs involved in maintaining the level of “ambient intimacy” that Twitter requires and a growing feeling that “a life spent on Twitter is a death by a thousand emotional microtransactions”.

Gartner Hype Cycle

What is crucial to note is that in none of these cases is the problem predominantly one of network structure. If we have reached a “trough of disillusionment” in the Twitter hype cycle, it’s not the fault of the technology, but of the social systems and interactions that have developed around it. If we are going to take full advantage of the affordances that digital networks provide — facilitating forms of scholarly communication from those as seemingly simple as the tweet to those as complex as the journal article, the monograph, and their born-digital descendants — we must focus as much on the social challenges that these networks raise as we do on the technical or financial challenges. To say, however, that we need to focus on building community — or more accurately, building communities — is not to say that we need to develop and enforce the sort of norms of “civility” that have been used to discipline crucial forms of protest. Rather, we need to foster the kinds of communication and connection that will enable a richly conceived panoply of communities of practice, as they long have in print, to work in engaged, ongoing dissensus without reverting to silence.

[Image: Gartner Hype Cycle, by Jeremy Kemp. Shared under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle#mediaviewer/File:Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg]

Summer 2013

Having wrapped up a whirlwind spring, in which I successfully got through the craziness of buying an apartment in NYC, got myself more or less moved into it, closed down my California office and shipped everything east, and attended a ton of conferences and meetings and gave a bunch of other talks — and mostly managed to keep things at work moving forward in the interstices — I’m now off on my summer adventure.

Like last summer, I’m on the road for quite a while, starting with a spate of bouncing from conference to conference and concluding with a nice long period of being still in Prague. Unlike last summer, however, I am staying in Europe for the entirety of the trip, and not bouncing back to the US until it’s over.

Sadly, this means that I’m missing several US events that I’d like to be at — most notably AAUP and DH — but the physical toll that my mid-tour return stateside took on me last year was way too high.

So this year’s schedule is a good bit less insane than last, and I expect it to be terrific fun:

And so far, so good, on all fronts; I arrived in Geneva this morning, hopped a fairly easy bus transfer to my hotel, had some breakfast and struggled to stay awake until my room became available, and then crashed for several hours. This afternoon, got a bit of work done. Tonight, an early dinner, a good night’s sleep (please please please), and on to OAI 8 tomorrow.

I’ve spent the last two days in a meeting of the MLA Program Committee, thinking about, among other issues, the future shape of the convention — the new kinds of sessions we want to encourage; the new kinds of issues we want to take on. We’ve got some exciting plans in formation, but I’m curious about your convention experiences: what are the best sessions you’ve attended that didn’t use the standard paper-reading format?

Undergrads Reimagine the Humanities

Last month, I was honored to be a keynote speaker at Re:Humanities, an undergraduate conference on digital media in academia organized by students at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges. It was an extraordinary two days of presentations and conversations, thinking with a cluster of energetic young scholars from about 10 different schools about how digital texts and digital practices might transform the undergraduate educational and research experience.

The organizers are now at work on a manifesto for undergraduate digital humanities, which they hope to circulate in January. In the meantime, they’ve put together a video about the conference, its driving questions, and its outcomes. It’s worth a watch.

IR 11.3

Keynote
Nancy Baym, “This Song’s for You”

— changes in music/entertainment industries being produced by internet visible in story of Nancy on her back porch on a Sunday morning requesting a song from an obscure Swedish musician busking in the streets of Malmo
— epicenter of Swedish music in Urbana, Illinois website; also west coast US site; tons of Swedish bands with international reputation
— decentralization of music 2.0; Spotify & other such services
— ways internet has freed music fans: we can get anything, we can discover new stuff, etc.
— affordances that empower fans: distance/reach not an issue; new forms of sharing and engagement; enables direct relationships between artists and fans
— major music labels trying to shut all this down; but small new labels and companies beginning to recognize that attention is the ultimate goal
— on the other hand, bands are facing the problem of trying to be everywhere online at once
— The Swedish Model sampler: theswedishmodel.org/music.zip
— labrador.se — download all singles as one zip file
— complicating notion of “gift economy” — not just about the gift; also producing revenue for bands
— also complicating sense of fan exploitation in web 2.0
— must rethink terms “fan” and “audience” — what does it mean if some artists aren’t comfortable with those terms?
— what constitutes “fairness” in these new modes of distribution? is “fair” the same thing as it was in 1999?
— high potential for burnout among fans producing content
— entrenched interests still really, really powerful; see three-strikes laws popping up in numerous countries
— “I do believe that we’ll ultimately win, because technology is always smarter than the law, but there are still some dark moments ahead.”

IR 11.2

Utterly fell down on the notetaking/blogging job today, due to early frustration when the paper I’d shown up early for wasn’t presented, and then a long mid-day exhausted slump, and then desperate trying to marshal energy and focus for my own panel. I’ll hope to get back in gear tomorrow — though perhaps not for the first session.

Unrelated: fun banquet tonight.

IR 11.1.4

Session 4
Networking and Social Sites

Robert Joseph Bodle, “Opening the social media ecosystem: the tenuous nature of interoperability, crossposting, and sharing among dominant social media sites, services and devices”

— APIs as “the sex organs of open networking”
— interoperability as key to development of web – prevent vendor lock-in, etc; but tends toward a kind of sharing that results in loss of user autonomy, creation of data monopolies
— increasingly open Facebook APIs, beginning with Facebook Developer, leading up to Open Graph
— privacy, autonomy, freedom; Zuckerberg misses the difference between friends and apps/advertisers
— Facebook achieving a form of lock-in, in which people feel they must share
— interoperability revisited: transparency, privacy/security, user control, etc

Christian Thorsten Callisen, “The Old Face of ‘New’ Social Networks: The Republic of Letters…”

— contextualizing the so-called digital revolution within the longer history of the virtual
— separating the virtual from the digital; virtual as “real idealization” that creates “the illusion of presence”
— the Republic of Letters as virtual community; relationships of commerce, reciprocal sharing of information
— techniques of virtuality, means of creating co-presence: props, simulations, rituals
— mean of media change over time, meanings bound by cultural constraints, must ask not about meaning but about effect?

Michael Zimmer, “The Laws of Social Networking, or, How Facebook Feigns Privacy”

— new revelation of Facebook privacy breach, but not the first time
— pattern emerging to how Facebook acts and reacts in these scenarios, a Machiavellian public relations strategy: introduce new “features” that share more and more info, await public outcry, make minor, mostly superficial modifications, say “we heard you, we care about your privacy”
— laws of social networking:
— social networking sites have material incentives to promote free and unfettered flow of personal information
— providing users with robust and easy-to-use tools to control information flows is counter to profit maximization
— therefore, provide privacy controls only when you must, positioning them as a great sacrifice and something that most users probably shouldn’t bother with
— i.e., make privacy hard
— great success at Facebook in monetizing our information flows
— Zuckerberg’s philosophy of information: it doesn’t want to be free, but it does want to be shared (so it can be sold)
— claim that providing privacy controls is enough (they don’t have to be easy or usable)
— Facebook suggestion that users who don’t share don’t have a satisfying social networking experience
— Facebook view that privacy is a binary: if you don’t want to share (with everyone), don’t
— skepticism about degree to which Diaspora* will be able to buck this trend; Google’s founders once proclaimed need for advertising-free search engine; pressures are toward monetization of information

IR 11.1.2

Session 2: CMS Futures: The Way Ahead for Course Management Systems
Alex Halavais, Jeremy Hunsinger, Ted Coopman, Helen Keegan

— trying to avoid just bitching about Blackboard
— certain benefits of a well-designed CMS: standardization of experience; modularization
— but the CMS tends to stifle innovation
— plus awful terms: both LMS and CMS, ugh
— what are we telling students to learn when we ask them to use an LMS? Because they do learn from those interfaces; if that’s not what we want them to learn, how do we get them an interface that they can learn from?
— the front pedagogy versus the buried pedagogy; what are we teaching students that we don’t recognize?
— benefits of students doing work in public
— inadequate training for future faculty in using learning management systems, and inadequate support for experimentation, esp for faculty with high teaching loads
— at most institutions, we’re teaching to an assumed student population (18-22 yr olds in school full time) that doesn’t exist
— what kinds of literacies do we need to teach students in order for them to do the kinds of work we want them to do?
— in what ways might we employ peer assessment in our classes? (esp with blog posts, where there are too many to read and respond to?
— VLE: virtual learning environment; how different?
— undergrad research experiences; how to manage with more than 15 students?
— future of CMS: personal learning environment? VLE with a small degree of openness?

IR 11.1.1

Please note that what follows are my notes, taken as I listen. Anything weird in here should be assumed to be my fault, and not that of the speakers.

Session 1: Identity: Finding Your Form Online

Kelly Bergstrom, “A Troll by Any Other Name: Reading Identity on Reddit.com”

— Grandpa Wiggly – turns out not to be an 80 year old man! Instead a college student, who later offered an explanation for why he did it
— saw it as interactive fiction; community thought there was some gain oriented motive involved
— community reactions: some people really upset; said Grandpa Wiggly was a troll
— so what is a troll? Disrupts discussions, offers bad advice, fractures community; Grandpa Wiggly didn’t do any of these, actually brought community together rather than fracturing it
— Grandpa Wiggly as lens for studying identity formation; IAmA forum has expectations of transparency
— Reddit Internet detectives
— does a troll need to know they’re a troll in order to be a troll?
— Grandpa Wiggly is back, and no one seems to be upset about it

Yoonmo Sang, “Rethinging ‘Right of Reply’ on the Internet: Striking a Balance Between Competing Interests”

— right of reply’s chilling effects on freedom of the press vs individual’s repetitional rights
— current state of right of reply in S. Korea and US
— US law supports freedom of press, but not ideal for individuals; right of reply legislation would equalize situation

Nora Madison, “Bi Watchdogs: Patrolling the Borders of (In)visibility”

— sites focusing on bisexual identity challenging boundaries of binary system of gay/straight
— legitimacy of bisexual identity is source of contention within LGxxx community
— “The New Bisexual”
— anxiety about threat of erasure; community members scan press (esp established LG press) for exclusion of bisexuality; campaigning for inclusion of bisexuality in such representations
— identity formation online not just about self-definition but also creating visibility

Jennifer Cypher, “Questioning Anonymity in the Blogosphere: A Blogging Cycle of Identity Formation”

— construction of identity among anonymous/pseudonymous (zero comment, zero reader) bloggers
— phase 1: identity-in-isolation; phase 2: construction and revelation; phase 3: call and response; phase 4: identity-in-community; phase 5: recognizing a “blogging identity”; phase 6: the potential for choices regarding the blogging identity
— choices: bringing together pseudonymous with non-pseudonymous identities
— pseudonym + concealment = anonymity? Seems so to some bloggers,ut not really; part of community
— sense of anonymous communities?
Seems so to some bloggers,ut not really; part of community
— sense of anonymous communities?
— is this kind of anonymity sustainable? Depends on how you define sustainability