Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reliability: You Report; We Decide

Amused is the wrong word to describe my feelings, but my interest is piqued by the debate on methodology for arriving at credibility. I can picture a room of academics wringing their hands with concern that the masses are able to access and assess information without a “proper” gatekeeper to steer them across the flood gates in the river of converging media. I understand the concern. I am quite territorial about certain responsibilities of my own, and having the ground shift under my otherwise orderly existence would cause me to wring my hands and choose between fight and flight.

On the other hand, what is really changing?

In spite of the shifting role of the gatekeepers, information providers (including traditional gatekeepers) who can prove their worth in the open community are still going to be afforded credibility. The change seems to be that others who may not have academic credentials but who have experience in other ways will also have a stronger voice in their own credibility. Since the practice and process of acquiring credibility is still based on accuracy and reliability over time, those who have been gatekeepers should not fear. On the other hand, the environmental developments that provide others, who train themselves and become “experts” in their niche, with an opportunity to be heard and rise to the top are beneficial to the ongoing conversation. New ideas will come forth. Old ideas will be reaffirmed in new ways. No one will be able to rest on his laurels, as the “community” will continue the assessment and reevaluate credibility in an ongoing fashion. This is exciting!

I come from self-taught stock. As far as I know, I was the first female on either side of my family to earn a BA (and I think I was the first to have any college coursework). I’ve watched my mother and father be active life-long learners, and have a very strong (almost rabid at times) belief that too much stock is placed in the supposed credentials conferred by formal education. I also have a strong instinct against gatekeepers protecting me from myself; I’ve always felt there was a little tinge of intellectual elitism under the surface of many of the well-meaning gate keeping processes. I am therefore cautiously optimistic about a sea-change that provides for subject matter experts to be heard regardless of whether they come from the established community or are building a knowledge base on their own.

I do not fear misinformation or poor-quality sources. Even in the case of the ugly and ill advised message, I’d rather protect free speech and allow the community to decide the value of the message. There is more danger in limiting information than in limiting expression. The community will manage itself, even through the ugly bumps in the road and twists in the river, and the open conversation will be healthier.

Thus I ask myself the question:

In an environment shifting toward a new way of synthesizing credibility through reliability, i.e. an environment where reputation is built, tested, and debated in the open, how do we prepare to undertake the development of our standing in the community, our practice, and our track record so that we can come to the conversation, re-experience the information, reflect, and share in the learning as "reliable" participants? (Lankes, 2008)

I believe the answer will take years to discover and perfect. I don’t have the answer right now, but I am very hopeful that I am taking the first steps to finding it.

Lankes, R. David. “Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools." DigitalMedia, Youth, and Credibility. Edited by Miriam J. Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 101–122.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Persistence of Memory

“It has the potential to give them a solid grounding in their childhood throughout their adult lives, allowing them to relive memories and to keep loved ones close in memory after they are gone…” (Heverly, 2008, p. 216)

My digital life is still very surreal. It is not apart from my life; it is a part of my life. Yet it has a foreign quality; it is a place I visit, but it is not home. Sometimes, it is like fresh air and the wonder of gazing at the stars; and sometimes, it is like awaking disoriented in the middle of a dream.

I wonder how my son will describe his digital life. His digital birth occurred within minutes of his physical birth. There are photographs and a text message as testament to his entry to the world. There is already a website dedicated to his image; a place to share pictures with loved ones far away. It is a brag book that has world-wide publication. It isn’t updated nearly often enough to suite his small following, but it is there.

When he is no longer a fair-haired boy, how will he relate to the notion that he already has an online identity? Will it seem natural to have his mother give birth to his virtual identity (as she did his physical self), or will he feel a sense of regret that he was not given the option of how and when he became a subject of digital media?

I am hopeful that pictures of himself with loved ones and family will be a blessing to him, that this persistent memory book will have meaning to him as we grow older and some of us are "called home" one by one.

In tribute to the quandary that is life in a time of persistent digital media, I present:
The Persistence of Memory
Salvador DalĂ­ (Spanish, 1904-1989)

Heverly, Robert A. “Growing Up Digital: Control and the Pieces of a Digital Life." Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by Tara McPherson. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 199–218.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Body by Truly et al

Body image issues are a constant struggle for me and my sister, but interestingly, when she recently purchased a gaming system, we both designed our avatars to be on the “Rubansesque” end of the scale and resemble our physical selves as much as a limited range of graphics on a funny cartoon “me” could resemble either of us. Writing my digital body into being (Boyd, 2007, p. 2, p. 9), I find myself reflecting on similar issues. Even with all of my angst over “body image” in a resilient, persistent digital environment, I want my digital body to reflect the physical (or more importantly, the intellectual and spiritual) me. In other words, I am creating a body both in the sense of a digital manifestation of myself and in the sense of a portfolio of work exemplary of who I am.

In many ways this will occur naturally. My voice and aesthetic will come through in my writing and choice of digital imagery. Tiny clues of me will seep in from the edges of my personality and pervade my presence. My choices of network neighborhoods and social networks will ultimately say something as well. I’m not inclined to create an alternate personality, nor am I adept at hiding who I am, so many facets of shaping my digital body become mute points. In that respect, much the same as in the physical realm, my body will be created naturally by my “lifestyle choices”.

However, in the other sense, I would like to direct the creation and molding of my digital body. To that end, determining my essence and what content will most effectively symbolize and affirm who I am is still something of a mystery. Consequently, even as I tremble at the thought, I take the words of Traviesa to heart, stating in Boyd’s work: “You need mistakes to know where you are going.” (2007, p. 19)

Reflecting on what hinders the development of this body:
• I realize I have not properly considered my “imagined audience” (Boyd, 2007, p. 14). I have not actively defined my public (real or imagined) or my role in the drama of social networking. I had not even defined the context as a drama to be written, or more to my taste, a canvas to be covered. Like some of the teens torn between the expectation placed by peers and parents, I find myself distracted by the implications of developing appropriate content among various potential audiences.
• This in turn makes me realize that my frame of reference hasn’t fully caught up with the new technology. I have difficulty grappling with participatory culture and its implications. For instance, the creative process is for me very private and fraught with dichotomy. My best paintings are full extensions of my emotion and my personal symbol systems. I don’t like to have people watch my creative process, and I am often embarrassed about having the end results viewed publically. I create the message; it is a vital communication; but, in disparity, I don’t necessarily want to broadcast it for others to hear. By contrast participatory culture is a world of creating, broadcasting, and hearing almost simultaneously. I am ultimately paralyzed by my proximity to the audience.
• In the final analysis I realize that I have never had the abandon to just go out and make mistakes for the sake of learning. Risk taking is not me, so I need a more defined plan than some who have the drive to just go out and participate.

I also affirm the accuracy of Byrne’s conclusion that the community will assist in shaping my body through feedback, critique, and even silence (2008).

Reflecting on what aids in the development of this body:
• Even as an introvert and a risk avert, I realize the potential of social networking to enrich certain relationships. I realize the power of affinity spaces and sharing, analyzing, and making sense of the details of life. The more I read about and interact with social network environments the more interesting and alive they become.
• I like to write and believe it is one of my strengths, so the concept of writing myself into being (Boyd, 2007) is uplifting. For instance, I posted an original poem on my Facebook page once, and enjoyed the feedback I received for those few simple, sentimental lines. Feedback from the community is a benefit of being social.
• I can continue to hone and redefine who I am and where I want to go over time. Even if I err, there is room for growth and adjustment. There will be mentors along the way and I will be able to model the behaviors I find most appealing as I develop.

My mother is currently more active on face book than I am. My father is very active in a CGI network, posting images and enjoying the feedback of “fans” from all over the world – literally. I think about the two of them - who are not “the norm” in participatory culture, being in their 50’s and 60’s and not their 10’s and 20’s, and I realize that as long as I am willing to learn new things along the way at any age, then there will have a body and soul worth knowing in the physical world and the digital world. Coming of age and working on identity doesn’t end. We can go on asking “what are you” (Byrne, 2008, p. 18) for a lifetime and never run out of possible answers or possible ways to express the responses.

Boyd, Dana, (2007) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life." The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning -Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

Byrne, Dara N. (2008) “The Future of (the) ’Race’: Identity, Discourse, and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres." Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. (ed. Anna Everett). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Pages 15–38.

Friday, March 12, 2010

MEdia Zooscape Part II

In part one, I wrote from the perspective of the animal on display in media “ecologies” (Ito et al., 2009, p. 31) I am calling the zooscape. This time, I will focus on my journey as a visitor to the park.

A visit to the zoo is always an odd experience. I readily enjoy the opportunity to see animals I might otherwise never see. On the other hand, I am always left with a sense that, no matter how wonderfully built and maintained the zoo might be, there is something lonely about animals in cages. This effect is multiplied in the socially networked media zooscape.

I wonder through various social settings and capture glimpses of people. It is grand to reconnect with people or “stay in touch” with extended family. Yet, in these spaces, we are so abstracted from our full selves that I still feel lonely, and sometimes inadequate.

I am an introverted personality. My pattern in life has been to have just a few (count them on one hand) friends and my immediate family. Social interaction takes energy and has a marked toll on my overall state of being unless it is with my immediate circle. As a consequence, these forays into social networks and new media leave me as tired as a five-mile walk around a good zoo.

I can walk through the profiles with a few clicks and follow the links to gaze in on windows of someone else’s life. Everyone is oddly static in one sense. The sense of place and time is lost, even with the date and time stamps and streaming information. In another sense everyone is hyper-animated. Every move is marked while they are on the stage. Small details are enlarged. The whole time, at the back of my mind there is a sense that it isn’t real. I can’t maintain the suspension of disbelief and embrace the virtual life. It isn’t life. It is an angle of life, but it isn’t the whole. I begin to overanalyze. I wonder if I am meeting the needs of my “friends” and wonder what my real responsibilities are in the network. Is it enough to be an icon on a list? It becomes too abstracted for me.

In the end, abstracted humanity makes me feel a lack, as if I am missing something important. I end up turning away from the “promise” of the new medium. I end up yearning for the warmth of face-to-face conversation.

Ito, M., Sonja B., Matteo B., Boyd, D. Cody, R., Herr, B., Horst, H.A., Lange, P.G., Mahendran, D., Martinez, K., Pascoe, C.J., Perkel, D., Robinson, L., Sims, C., & Tripp, L.(2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press

MEdia Zooscape Part I

Some have described media environments in terms of “ecologies” (Ito et al., 2009, p. 31). To take the metaphor a step further, for me the media environment is closer to that of a zoo enclosure than a natural landscape. It is an engineered environment designed for the special wants and needs of the semi-domesticated, semi-wild Me. Like the lion enclosure at the zoo, there are open areas designed for viewing by the public, areas specific to the needs of the captive semi-domesticated Me, and areas specific to the needs of a wild Me. This media zooscape is centered on me, even as it exists in a wider community setting.

The public cat is still shy and difficult to spot. That Me is in a life-transition. I have an under-developed public face in several venues, where I am trying to decide what that public face should be. Which Me is most relevant to Facebook: daughter, friend, mother? What does friend mean in a social network? How and where do I make room for the other important Me personas: Christian, artist, leader? What kind of commitment is a blog? Will one of these public Me identities later affect another Me: professional, student, volunteer? The public lioness feels fragmented and wary as she tries out various Me identities like a youth searching for herself. Vulnerable to the knowledge that others are peering in at me from the sidewalk, I pace about seeking a comfortable place to just be Me.

However, since I am 36 and not 16, my search for identity is less about independence as autonomy and more about independence as distinctiveness. I yearn to distill the lessons life has brought and invest in the Me that is most uniquely the result of those experiences. I yearn for quality over quantity in my interactions, including those with media. This makes the public forays that much more stressful, that much more poignant. Even though I feel the need to be an authentic Me, there is still a teenage heart that worries whether her eccentricities are too unique for the average visitor to the zoo.

Facing these nuances of the public stage, I retreat to the private spaces of the media zooscape, where TV, movies, music, games, and books – the media of consumption – are taken in as events, not as background noise to other media. I find quiet corners behind the scenes where I can lurk among the grasses and watch the outside world without being seen. I become the audience. I am content to laze with my pride, settled at a shady side of the enclosure with family and friends comingled around some device or other. In this zone, media are tools to sculpt home in the private spaces of the sanctuary.

Then, in the truly secret places out of sight, I unplug myself. Old media have greater sway in the most private dens. The private Me is domestic and old-fashioned. Maternal instincts and commitments to sisterhood are the most powerful aspects of this Me. Bliss is reading a story or playing in the sand. Being a wife/mother and sharing a life are the highest expressions of Me in that precious sanctuary. Media is just a blur against the background.

Then again, like a big cat, my nature is too substantial and intricate to have all my needs met within the enclosure. At those times, I yearn for vast miles of Savannah to explore or perhaps just free air. At those times, I go roving on the internet; pacing through vast stores of information; taking courses; searching museums, libraries, or the open web for beauty and life. I chase wild ideas from link to link hoping to bring down a stray gazelle of thought to digest and feel sated. I dream dreams, wild and free, and ponder a less tame Me.

It is there in a kaleidoscope that the creative Me reclaims herself and recreates through creativity. Whether the tools are pixels coded in RGB or pure pigment suspended in oil, the raw experience is me. I play, experiment, take the path toward mastery.

No matter which venue of the enclosure I roam, time is the only predator I can find. I am at a place in life where most resources and spaces to explore and create are available, but time is more fleeting than the gazelle of my daydreams. I am at a place in my life where I am often as much the zookeeper as I am the kept, since I have the funds and prerogative to choose my own media landscape. Time is the only resource of scarcity, and it overshadows every Me, sometimes even distracting me from finding the Me in the Media.

Ito, M., Sonja B., Matteo B., Boyd, D. Cody, R., Herr, B., Horst, H.A., Lange, P.G., Mahendran, D., Martinez, K., Pascoe, C.J., Perkel, D., Robinson, L., Sims, C., & Tripp, L.(2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press