Sunday, February 29, 2004

Just because
Just because it's my first chance and because the chance will not return in four years. I want a post archived on the 29th of February! Today is the day when women in Norway can propose to their chosen men - and if the men refuse, they have to buy the girl 12 pairs of gloves.

I wouldn't mind gloves, I always lose them. Sadly, I can't risk somebody saying yes, as that could get nasty when I become a bigamist.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

The black knight
I heard furious barking, and ran to the window. I knew our young cat, still little more than a kitten and sick with some unpleasant infection, was outside. Yes, she was in bad trouble. She was still holding her ground, but the black and white dog - about 10 times her size and, I knew from previous encounters, quite unpredictable - was getting daring. She was a tiny puff of fluff before him, only the flash of her golden eyes and her very determined hiss keeping him back. I was at a loss what to do. Running to help her might be the distraction that killed her. That stupid dog might consider my arrival assistance, since humans were flock, cats were enemies.

Luckily, the decision was taken for me. With powerful deliberation the muscular black tom Socrates leaped from the fence. He was still tiny compared to the dog, but he was twice Lionchild's size, 6 kilos of tight muscle and well-kept claws. Petting him was like trying to stroke a muscular porcupine. There was nothing soft about him, and his green eyes shone against healthy black fur and his fangs showed impressively as he hissed. He walked right up in the dog's face, placed himself between the dog and my soft ball of pale ginger fur, and spat cat-curses right into that furious stream of barking.

Lionchild didn't waste such chivalry. She lept to safety on the fence, and turned to hiss at the dog. As soon as she was safe Socrates turned his back to the dog and lept up right next to her. That was my cue. I snagged a piece of rope, ran out and grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him with me over to the neighbour where he belonged. Nobody answered the bell, so I tied him outside the door, still furious.

Socrates? Well, let's just say I forgave him jumping in the windows, being sick in the bedroom and unearthing all the tulip bulbs outside the front door. Black knights can take certain liberties.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Too cool for your network
One of those peculiar little woes of the new media researcher was exemplified at lunch today. My colleague Erling, who is interested in photography, has a really cool new cellphone and a photoblog on some undisclosed location. The problem is that with a cellphone as cool as his, he doesn't have many recipients for his sophisticated messages. Today, at lunch, he sent me a multimediamessage - a picture of myself. Because, you know, my new not-quite-that-cool phone can receive pictures from his! Finally, a recipient, and he can even claim sharing pictures with me is vital to his research.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The evolution of pretense
Francis Steen at UCLA has written an article with Stephanie A. Owens on Evolutions pedagogy. It discusses the evolution of pretense play, and describes how children take delight in pretense while at the same time remaining aware of the reality of the present:

In pretend play, a bench can become a spaceship, the playground can be transformed into a faraway planet, and your friend can be turned into a terrifying alien monster. While you are engaged in pretend play, you retain the awareness that your spaceship is really a bench, that you have not traveled into outer space, and that your friend is not a monster. Such instances of pretend play, prototypically associated with young children, are common and familiar. The full distribution of the phenomenon is more difficult to determine. Many species of animals engage in activities that resemble children's pretend play, such as play fighting and play chasing. Certain forms of popular and mass entertainment, such as theatrical performances and movies, appear to involve culturally elaborate forms of pretend play. The enjoyment derived from pretending to be someone you are not, doing something you are not really doing, in a place where you are not located, using resources you don't actually have, is such a common experience that we rarely stop to consider how paradoxical it is. A good model of children's pretend play may be helpful for understanding a range of related phenomena.

The conclusion to this article, as I, the humble media scholar read it, is that play, and particularly pretense play that demands role-play, immersion, narrative and fantasy, is a necessary way to learn how to deal with the environment and the complex human society. Which may mean that computer games are not just fun, but absolutely necessary, in order to deal with a world where computers channel increasingly powerful media and influence the very society we need to learn how to master.
Blogging the reblog
Eyebeam reBlogs blogposts. They have developed a system for reposting posts from blogs around the world. Well, I have seen a lot of them already on my blogstrolls, so it's not taken from that wide a range, but still, an interesting re-use of already re-used material. In the digital society, everything can be reused endlessly, as is or slightly altered.

Makes you wonder, how many repetitions we really need...

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

testing, testing...
I know, I have argued and I do argue against comments for this blog. But at the moment I am testing out HaloScan's system for comments and trackbacks, and I am sorely tempted. I find that as my posts change from being connected to a research project I invested a lot in, emotionally, personally, professionally, to being more random and more dependent of what I teach, search for or stumble over through my day, I do not feel as vulnerable any more. I don't know. I need to sleep on this, leave the comments open on my test-site for a while and see if they are discovered by the evil empire...
Socio-technical shifts
At Networking, knowledge and the digital age, instructor weblog for Business Administration 482B a group of bloggers write unsigned posts, one of which is about socio-technical shifts (linked by Anne). This is a very interesting model, and to a point I find it very illustrating. The weakness lies, however, in the need for absolute categories in order to make Internet and broadcasting appear like oppositions or totally different. The Internet is so open it contains - and is perhaps dominated by - the qualities they ascribe to television, while the television has long since at one point or an other experimented with what they claim are the characteristics of the Internet. While a model like this is interesting because it says something about what the technology facilitates with greater ease, it does not take into consideration the peculiar blindness caused by a need for easy binary organisation of concepts, lack of knowledge about media history, theory, form and content, as well as how trends influence all media, as well as Academia.

This is a good attempt at a model, but there are too many examples of either side appearing in the other medium that it does not really work. Take raw television - it was a very popular genre of documentary and reportage, and has since been frequently used as a form in fiction, no longer raw but the aesthetic ideal of rawness utilised to push the story forwards: remember the Blair Witch Project? While JenniCam definitely was wild and unedited, what about Big Brother? Which, by the way, was a compound, a show running both online and broadcast at the same time. But did the immediacy or the rawness of JenniCam make her existence into a conversation? I am afraid not, while several broadcast shows have always relied on the feedback either from contestants, a live audience or through combining television and telephone technologies.

We can't even say that one thing is narrow-casting and one is broadcasting - not if you have ever watched community television in remote places like Norway, where the potential for viewers for a lot of the broadcast content is much smaller than the potential reader mass of this blog. Infinitely smaller. And when we come to user experiences we really get a problem. Television is in no way hypnotic/engrossing. Television is a medium of distraction. It uses redundancy so heavily (hence the endless recaptures of previous events) in combination with a very descriptive soundtrack because people don't really sit down and watch television. It is somewhere in the background, and then, when the music changes, we run to see what happened now. The Internet is a lot more engrossing, because it does not permit this distracted reception, but depends on user attention and action in order to progress. Not even the good old consume/create divide is absolute. I am old enough to remember when video cameras were big, bulky and horribly expensive investments you needed connections to get your hands on. Today they are tiny, very user friendly and carried around by tourists all over the world. Amateur videos and pictures have been used to break news in several cases, September 11th prominent among those, not to mention the role amateur video played in the hunt for Bin Laden.

Technology and the development of technology towards easier access for the masses is not limited to the Internet and the computer technology, although computer technology has increased the speed of this development and pushed the western society towards "The Information Age" at hazardous speed. But in order to understand the computer as a medium, and compare it to other media, focusing only at what apepars to be differences gets us - I will not say nowhere, but certainly into blind alleys.
Shaping a life
I don't have as much time for poetry these days as I would like, but In a Dark Time provides me with the occasional touch of wonder at the beauty of language. Some time ago I found a poem there, one that expresses one of my deepest fears. This sensation has shaped my life. The poem reads like a curse, and for as long as I can remember, this is one curse I have wanted to avoid:


I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery.
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none the wiser and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of the hillsides.

By Mary Oliver, by way of Loren

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Spring Cleaning
Outside the snow is knee deep, but it's soggy and wet with rain, so I guess it's spring. I was at work at 8 today, but it was already light out. It feels like the light returns in sudden lurks, and not through the smooth, slow transition where the daylight creeps closer to the time my alarm-clock rings every day. I have just finished 8 very hard weeks for all of the staff in the study I lead these days. It was tough on the students too, but they get a grade and a new task and can feel they have achieved something. I sit here in a messy office, and have to clean up after the party.

So what is what I have been doing today. I have thrown old papers, several crates full, just in order to be able to clean my desk. It isn't cleared yet, there is this neat little stack on my left hand waiting to be attacked, but at least those are things that need to be done, not the scattered remains of exams past and lectures done.

Now I am procrastinating, because it feels so incredibly good to be able to say "I will just wait a little". And during this spring-inspired procrastination, I checked what kind of beverage I am. Actually, I would love one of these right now!

You're a Cafe Mocha.
You're a Cafe Mocha!

What Kind of Coffee are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
New toy
I got a new toy for my birthday, and I am already drooling over extensions to it, to make it more versatile.

To me items that enhance my performance, and help me do more than I can from nature, are fun. To my ageing mother, they are a declaration of defeat. Where I am already imagining a gps- and computer-supported walking aid for when I start to get a little confused about where I am, where I came from and where I am going, she chooses not to walk, if she needs to lean on something to do it. This is not just common contrariness, but a cultural divide between her generation and ours. The tools are so alien, depending on them means giving up your integrity and sacrificing your pride, rather than making life easier.

I am really not sure who is wrong here. It is quite likely that she is as happy with her voluntary limits as I will ever be with my voluntary dependence. We will have to choose for ourselves.
Seven wonders
Can you name the seven wonders of the ancient world? I can't - or couldn't, until my sister asked "what was so special about those gardens in Babylon?" Well, play around with links, and you should know soon! However: what's considered "wonders" is culturally biased. If you don't like the old list, vote for an update, or pick a better one.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Blogs and open source
Vegard A. Johansen is a young Norwegian man studying media theory in Copenhagen. He also has a blog, an article (in Norwegian) on the history of weblogs in relation to the history of the internet and the open source movement, and a bottle of wine.

It is fascinating to see this kind of work surface: the student article where the blog meta discussions I have been part of and still occasionally participate in is quoted and put into a larger context. Vegard Johansen attempts to link to the open source movement, and pulls in familiar names: Vannevar Bush and Tim Berners-Lee most prominently among those. It triggers the knee-jerk of a teacher seeing a student have lost out on articles, references and work that should be quoted. This is an article that ought to be re-written with a wider set of quotes and published as the topic screams for attention, but the effort is exactly what it presents itself as - a work by a student who is not yet a fully-fledged scholar.

Nothing wrong with being on your way to something though. And if you read Norwegian, go have a look. It is not such a bad read.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

The white sweater
He was not yet 20, and his brother was two years younger. They had decided to cross the border between Norway and Sweden. It was the winter 1943/44. The next autumn the German troops would burn the farm they lived on, and their father would spend the winter living in a barrel. But at the time the two young men would be in Sweden, serving their country in the Norwegian police troops.

To cross the border in winter they would have to walk hundred of kilometers on skis. That did not scare them, they were both exellent skiers. They were experienced hunters, both with firearms and with traps. To cross one of the roughest terrains in the world on ski, in the middle of the winter, in darkness and before they were legally adults never bothered them. They were afraid of one thing: discovery. If they were seen by German patrols out there on the white waste, it would be the end. Camouflage was what they needed.

In Nord-Troms or Finnmark in 1943 you couldn't walk to the store and buy a set of white winter wear and then stroll out to put your skis on and set out for the border. They would have to make their own gear. And they knew where to find white. They were surrounded by it, woolen fluffy dots of white... My knowledge does not cover the experiences of the younger brother, but the older decided to knit a white sweater. To do that he had to use raw wool, which he spun into thread. Then he made a deal with two female friends (he was a handsome young man, with daring curls falling down his forehead, and the bluest pair of eyes, like little pieces of summer sky twinkling at you over that wicked grin that would stay with him through danger, sorrow, happiness and pain until cancer robbed him of everything but the colour of his eyes), and they knitted the arms of his sweater, while he knitted the body.

This took months, but that winter he and his younger brother, so alike they claimed to be twins when they registered with the Norwegian police troops, adjusting the age of the younger brother upwards to be accepted, set out to cross the tundra, Finnmarksvidda, with a sami guide. They were sami, although from the coastal settled farmer/fishermen, and language was not a problem. But they never spoke of the treck. Both were men who would spin a tale as easily as they spun white wool into yarn, still none of their many sons and daughters have yet learned the truth of that journey into the white and the borderlands.

What is known is that they arrived. They became part of the Norwegian police troops. They played a million pranks, using the fact that they looked like twins, became known as sharpshooters, but also known for never aiming at a human being, using their weapons to warn, not harm. When they arrived in Oslo as policetroops after may 8th 1945, they would use their authorithy for the protection of all under their responsibility. They were men who lived to protect and care, and the poor unhappy girls who had fallen in love with Germans would be safe for their hair and their dignity, as safe as the German bureuacrats and their hastily captured families.

The white sweater never survived that experience. It exists only as memory, it is the beginning and preparation, the part filled with hope. From the other end there were pictures and stories. But the time when it had to serve, when it was camouflage and protection from cold and danger, when it kept a skinny young body warm through the night of arctic winter, that time was buried and gone, never mentioned. The only proof of a time of trial beyond what could be spoken of was silence, months cut out of a life where everything else was a joke, a story or a grand tale. Still, I could never see my father knit without being reminded of that unspoken memory, and the way he and his younger brother crossed Finnmarksvidda one endless winter night of weeks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Getting Physical
I love this video, Private Property, Video of the month at Urban Free Flow, made by director/editor "Crispy". It is an ode to the need for movement, for physical expression, for the restlessness of the strong, healthy body, the urge to move, explode into delicious powerful activity. By way of Die ContentSchmiede - the content smith.
Brandon on branding
Brandon Barr has obviously been thinking about Victoria's Secret lately, and I just want to tuck his comments on that in here, for future reference and lectures.
Secret Pleasures
It is raining, dark clouds roll along the fjord, dropping their load of moisture over the wintergrey mountainsides. The white peaks shrink into the cloudy grey and granite black with every day of water eating at the edges of snow. Storms howl and throw sheets of water against the windows, and in the morning the world looks pared clean, scoured.

I walk to work, and listen to the rush of water from the flooded creek, see the lawns change colour in anticipating of the wild riotous green of spring, and I can smell the soil after months of frozen ground and only the salty scent of the sea. This is not what a winter should be: no white sheet of silky snow, no bright burning light reflected off pure frost crystals. I can not help it, I walk with a smile on my lips, enveloped in this premature reminder of delights to come.
One of the things Norwegians miss when they go abroad, is seasons. While we dream of moving south, after a very short we discover that we need what we left: the cold, the storms, the darkness, because it comes before what makes us stay: the light, the colour, the wild fertility of what looked like dead wastes of waterscoured rock. The two-month night yields to the two-month day, and Norwegians feel such changes physically, pumped into the bloodstream, flooding the system.

There are no such seasons in virtual worlds. Oh yes, I know, changes and flow can be planned and coded, and virtual worlds have their own dynamic. But the light of the monitor is constant, and it triggers no urge to go outside, turn my face to the sun and think deliciously wicked thought of warmth and life.

I think this will be the ultimate limitation of cyberspace. Computer generated experiences will never be anything but toys of tools, depending on what we want with them. The immersiveness will be limited by the lack of diversity and surprises. How can we code the wind turning, the quick shift of light, the surprise of a new scent, the sensuality of reality?

As far as I have seen, virtual worlds do not aim at sensuality at all, they aim at cognisance, at understanding, decisions and rules, and the play demands for the body to be controlled, not for the body to be in control. Some games have interfaces that depend on the experience of the body, but these are typically arcade games: shooters, dance games, drum games. It is part of the sideshow, the sensual overload of the street, and you lose yourself in the movement, the participation and the mastery of the body for a short while.

Or am I mistaken? Where are the seasons, the sensous experiences, the rhetoric of the body in a virtual world?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Shetland Wool
It itches and smells of wool, but when you need something functional, something that can protect you in harsh weather, something you can rely on, then it's time to find that old, worn, intricately knitted sweater in the bottom of the closet. Yes, it feels kind of right.

You are Shetland Wool.
You are Shetland Wool.
You are a traditional sort who can sometimes be a
little on the harsh side. Though you look
delicate you are tough as nails and prone to
intricacies. Despite your acerbic ways you are
widely respected and even revered.

What kind of yarn are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

(By way of Culture Cat Clancy)

Monday, February 16, 2004

Almost done
It is an experience I have to go through. This year I am the project leader and responsible for an application to the Norwegian Board of research. I am not too optimistic, I am one of several critics in the Norwegian journal of media research of this very program, where I am applying for funding on behalf of a group of researchers within this institution. And this very fear is probably why the editors of the media journal had such a hard time finding people to write about their frustration with the politics of the research program. But we'll see. Our application this year is more focused on one topic, more to-the-point and involves a smaller, tighter group of researchers used to cooperate very closely, as well as a couple of written statements from other partners.

That's where I probably missed. I didn't have the time and energy to follow up the very generous offers for clear statements of intent when it came to international cooperation, so I haven't got half the letters to attach to the application which I could have had. But the people I work with know exactly what I have been doing the last month, so if that's the reason we don't get the money, I think they are able to forgive me. Although I should have made some Australian University invite me as a visiting scholar. I really want a semester or two in a somewhat warmer climate.

Anyway - it's my very first time as the coordinator of a group application, and I am proud that I am able to meet the deadline. Feels good!

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Conservative, me?
It is a shocking thought. Politically and personally I have always been in favour of change, progress and the search for a vision of a better world for all of mankind. Lately, I have however found myself to be conservative. One consolation though: on the other side, the side of radical changes and the dismembering of standards and values are the same people I have always opposed, those who are considered politically conservative, the blue wing, the right wing, yes, the conservatives. So I have not switched sides, the sides have just changed places.

I am talking about the reform of the Norwegian educational system. In the autumn 2003, a comittee called "the Ryssdal Comitte" submitted their advice for a reform of the ownership structure of the Norwegian educational system at the higher levels: changes to the law on universities and colleges. In short: the majority of this comittee wanted universities and colleges to be privately owned, a minority wanted it to continue to be owned by the state. This suggestion was sent to all the involved parties to be assessed. It met with a massive no. Norwegian academics do not want to compete and fight over students. We want to pool the scant resources of this small country, and educate for diversity, not popularity and profit. (If you read Norwegian and are particularly interested, the respons from the Norwegian council of Higher Education is here.)

My point in this is that the minister of education who has been trying to force this change on us, this dramatic attack on important, established Norwegian values like the right to free education for all (gratisprinsippet) is not a damned red revolutionary anarchist and iconoclast, but a right wing so-called conservative. The hungry masses don't exist in this country, and so the revolution is aimed at getting inquality back into the system.

I find myself to be a conservative. And what I am afraid of is elegantly expressed here, by an other left-wing, environment-friendly conservative. So I may not agree with all these views (I do, for instance, not hate Deleuze), but University Diaries is an interesting read. (By way of Invisible Adjunct.)

Friday, February 13, 2004

Netwoman feature blogger
I am this week's blogger on Netwoman, and while I had forgotten I answered these questions, it is kind of refreshing to see the presentation now. Tracy Kennedy does a very nice job, finding females online and giving them space and attention on her personal site, like this.

Apart from my many typos (I am horrible, I know), I think I still agree with myself.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Awful timing
This hurts! My timing is just horrible these days, I left New York the week before The State of Play, and now I return the week after Form, Culture and Video Game Criticism (By way of GTA). Almost makes me wonder if the devil has my future on his PDA and schedules interesting conferences with smart people so that I just miss them. Anyway, you, my personal demon, you now have your chance to really hurt me: send all the game-researchers I would love to meet and hear speak to Volda between March 12th and April 6th. That would be devastating, and ensure my eternal paranoia.
Italian anyone?
Marco from Italy expresses his admiration for my blog by linking from his blog: Booster. This is nice, hello Marco, I am very happy you like this site! But I have to admit, the picture at the top of your blog makes me wonder, really, what context my name is displayed in. Mentioning Baudrillard is somewhat reassuring, and declaring me a voyeur for looking at the page is most fitting, but that is one alarming black rubber duck.
Serious Games
There is a discussion list and has been a conference (2003) in this very serious topic. Kym Buchanan interviews Ben Sawyer, the leader of the Serious Games Initiative.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Yesterday: connection made!
A week late, after a lot of errors and incorrect information: We have internet access at home. Fast and cheap broadband, now if it is reliable, I just may forgive Mimer that week of delay.... in a year or two.
Chrome Chalk Monster
An old gaming buddy and friend of mine, Kym Buchanan, has started a blog called Chrome Chalk Monster. Kym studies teaching and computer games, and searches for a way to integrate his two great passions: gaming and teaching. Kym also contributes to the weblog of his professor: Design Media Learning.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Gollum was my friend
And today he is gone! What happened, was he banned from Orkut because he wasn't a "real" person? He was active, had a sense of humour and a lot of friends, what more does a person need to be real? Does anybody know what happened?

Sunday, February 08, 2004

"Consider This"
The web is sometimes very good and reliable and a wonderful source of information - at others an infuriating mess. Today I have spent at least an hour trying to find a link to the "Consider This" smoking cessation and prevention program for children aged 12-15. It is supposed to be a web-based program, and lead kids through different paths of persuasion, depending on their initial input.

I found one reference to this:
Hall J, Buller D, Ax B, Brown M, Woodall W, Borland R, Frank C. Challenges to Producing and Implementing the Consider This Web-based Smoking Prevention and Cessation Program. Health Communication and Information Technology, Electronic Journal of Communication. 2001; 11 (3 & 4).

Tomorrow I am giving a lecture on information gaps, and one of the articles I am basing this lecture on is about this program: a very detailed description of the many considerations involved in making the program - but I can't find the website.

Friday, February 06, 2004

My inner geek
Is it very, very geeky of me to actually like the thought of having flexible display clothing? Not with Gucci, of course, but how about a poem cirling my wrist? A favourite quote, chosen to suit my mood, on my back? A daring invitation edging my cleavage?

But until then - flexible papers, how COOL!

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Slow, slow, stopped
No more surfing from home for quite a while for me. We switched providers from Telenor to Mimer. Telenor turned off their supply of fairly quick, smooth broadband connection Monday, and Mimer was supposed to have every thing ready so we could switch to their connection the same day. But who cares about one single user? Not Tafjord Mimer A/S! They can't even manage to mail the hardware in time, how are they supposed to be able to get the deal considering the transition from Telenor right? Am I angry? Yes. Only reason I am not driving to Ålesund to yell at them in person is that it's a deal through my husband's workplace, and he gets so embarassed when I get rude. So at the moment my respect for my husband outweighs my anger. It may change.
One of my students has started a blog, after I introduced her class to blogs in three hectic days. Her initiation is through frustration - she was outraged with how the editor treated some of her writing in an online college news-service - but quickly flows into wonder about the modern society, technology, and life as a young woman at the start of her career. In this post she links to an article in, concerning the reality of being young, female, a mother and professional. In the article the younger women attack the older generation, saying that they should have been warned! At the age of 30 they have education, good jobs and kids, and discover that the modern society isn't built for that many tasks. Children can not be managed away, and the workplace or the economy has no room for caring for children. Why didn't the older feminists tell them?

For long periods I have been the only woman teaching in the Media Department at Volda College. It is a job where it is expected that you work more than a full day. Taking work home is second nature. Spending afternoons preparing or updating on subjects I need to know about is a lifestyle. I have tried to warn class after class of girls about the attitudes and demands of society, still lingering out there. They have told me that feminism has nothing to do with them. They can have education, jobs and all the sex they like, same as their fellow male students. Feminism is for manhating lesbians or angry, disappointed, bitter bitches.

I wish that was true. I want to tell the girls that the shame psychologist Sissel Gran reports from her flood of letters from unhappy young women is needless. In these letters, the young women write how they feel. They "ought to" shut up and be grateful that they have an equal chance at work and family. But it isn't like that yet. Their problems are real. Their struggles are real. The inequality is real. It may however be time to realise that men are as trapped as women in the time-trap. It is time to liberate the men and say it is permitted for them to take their time with their children. Norwegian legislation puts increasing emphasis on this, and men are slowly starting to take advantage of that. It doesn't help single mothers right away, but these changes take time.

And girls - I am sure somebody tried to warn you it would be rough. But shame is a very efficient tool of oppression. "Shut up and be grateful" still works.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

La Napa
The White House had Disinvited the Poets, a poem about why poets can not be permitted to protest in The White House. By way of Culture Cat.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

By way of Knowledge Bridge: The Mechanics of Human Trust. The claim that Academic publishing inhibits the free flow of knowledge is an interesting read too.
Territorial software
Zephoria (Danah Boyd) has a pretty good vent about Orkut at Apophenia (found by way of kottke), and she has a nice long list of links to people commenting on it. The criticism about Orkut is interesting, not because I think social networking sites are all that significant at this point in digital history, but because this criticism makes me realise why the student/teacher network used by several Norwegian Universities and Colleges doesn't work.

Classfronter, a site for submitting papers, relaying messages, keeping calendars etc has some features that work. That is mainly the submitting papers and relaying messages from teachers to students part. The parts that don't really work are all those social features, which are aimed at making Classfronter into an online classroom. It has your personalised profile, your "who is online now" feature, your discussion lists, your potential new groups and rooms - and nobody uses it. My students are active, at times aggressive students, used to being in the top end of their class, skilled at finding channels for gathering and spreading information, and they just don't care about that medium. Why not? In Danah Boyd's vent not one of her problems are the same as with Classfronter, but I still think she is one the right track. Both Orkut and Classfronter are parodies of social interaction.

Classfronter is a mockery of the classroom situation. In the flesh world, if my students are in the classroom and they whisper or chat, that affects everybody and so is significant. It isn't just a matter of exchanging information, it is a way to express contempt, disgust and aggression, or just plain tell me they are bored. These actions influence me directly. In Classfronter, I can't even know if they are in the classroom unless they chat with me. And while their activity may stretch over a full spectre, I may never know. If they want to discuss anything at length, they need to email me anyway. Emailing me through Classfronter sends an email to my mailbox or to classfronter depending on my specifications. I can't lecture in there, I can post lectures and then listen to comments on them, that is all. No feedback, no nods, no snores, no enthusiasm. We don't really interact. A MUD or a MOO gives me a much better idea of social interaction, attendance, attention and general noise level of a class if I want to interact with students online.

Orkut is the same kind of place as Classfronter. Rather than posting papers we post comments and suggestions to groups, but the useful functions for actually communicating are all different versions of reciprocal delayed communication based on turn-taking. The social trimmings are as mangled in Orkut as in Classfronter. That I have accepted somebody as my friend doesn't mean my social interactions with those people are in that space, any more than me posting my lecture on Classfronter means I actually lecture through that digital classroom. And don't get me started on administrators who can't think around routines in order to facilitate function... At least Orkut is in Alpha and we haven't paid hard-earned educational budget money for the thing.

The main problem is, in my opinion, is that you need to move from one online territory to an other. This might be a topic for Anne's Space and Culture blog, because I think of sites like Orkut, Friendster and our own Classfronter as territorial. They want to keep the attention of the user limited to their territories, and will not allow a frontierless surfing and simultaneous use. They insist that you identify yourself upon return or keep your link-economy within their control. Well, I can circumvent that through keeping more windows open, but linking out of sites and being able to return to them smoothly is important to my surfing habits, and filling the screen with opened windows just isn't the solution.

Both Orkut and Classfronter are about controlling surfing habits and internet use. They both try to mimic and hardcode certain social interaction structures and aspects that are too subtle and too fluid for binary programming language. They both fail miserably and make a lot of people angry and upset in the process. "Interesting" is the best thing to say about them. But really - they are, as long as you don't expect them to actually work.
Oddly connected
Playing around in google (yes, yes, I admit it, I occasionally google myself just to enjoy the buzz), I found a link to a student in the early stages of planning her research. Anne K Jones at The Dump reads blogs around the world and stumbles (her word) into the scandinavian blog cluster. With a little bit of reading she finds herself oddly connected to the bloggers of the world, realising with surprise that she doesn't know any of us.

With all the definitions, all the restrictions to what blogging is and isn't, the attempts at creating significant networks and sources for disseminating all that wonderfully important information we are so blessed with, we tend to forget exactly that. Blogs connect us. It connects all of us, on good days and bad days.

We may discuss weblogs as alternative knowledge publishing, as Sebastien Paquet does in this article from October 2002, or we may discuss them through dissecting form and technical aspects, as does Dave Winer. But what makes this a differetn way of publishing for me isn't about either political strategies of formal rules. It is about common humanity and sharing experiences.

Yes, we do feel close to those whose weblogs we read. And when it gets close, it gets personal to the point that we feel both happy, worried and hurt from what we read in the blogs of our blog-friends. Human beings are emotional creatures, and we really get emotional when we feel that we are being understood. It is how we fall in love: through experiencing that finally, this person understands me! However, in the blog world, this sensation of mutual understanding is frequently built as much on our own mood at the moment, as on that other person's actual writing. And then, when we return to the blog of our loved one in times of stress, upheaval and fear, and the words we read appear to be angry, even critical of our own ideas... who can not take it personal!?

Problem is - the person who wrote didn't write considering the mood you would be in when you read, because a weblog writer knows only a very small (VERY small) number of the potential readership. Weblog writers may imagine your existance, but who would be able to imagine every nuance of your person? Still, when it does feel like you know eachother, it is because the writer of the weblog is able to communicate something universally human.

It is this communication of humanity that creates the links. While technology may make it more or less easy to keep updated on the writing of the other, while it makes it more or less easy to organise and retrieve information, the part about blogging that makes us return over and over, to rejoice or to disagree, is the knowledge that there is a human being at the other end there. Not somewhere far away in time, in some early stage of a publishing process. The human subject is close at hand, you can see the time stamp betraying when he or she touched the keyboard to write those words, and time and space shrinks and shrivels up, leaving you only a window or two away from that most enthralling and enfuriating creature of all: the fellow human being.