RRD 10- Tumblr- Social/Financial Collisions

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Elspeth Reeve’s “The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens” published on Newrepublic details the strange world of Tumblr, and the lives of the equally strange teens that reside within. Reeve places emphasis on the social dynamics surrounding user interaction, the monetization element tied therewithin.

What came off as immediately strange to me was the element of monetization. While I am not a user of social media, I’ve seen various Tumblr sites and they’ve predominantly been ad-free. This falls in line with the statement Reeve pulls from founder David Karp who stated, “We’re pretty opposed to advertising”. The idea of a bunch of kids pulling in thousands of dollars in days off of AdSense ads then becomes somewhat confusing when approached in this context.

However, things start to become understandable when taking into account the greater theme of Reeve’s narrative- the intersection between Tumblr as a social sphere and Tumblr as financial tool. The ill-fated diet pill scheme makes a great deal of sense when it became immersed in a world of humour and sadness. As Zach Lilley suggested, the ads he created for these pills worked better when they seemed more “genuine”, or as Reeve suggests “more relatable”, referencing the popular class of memetic content Greensfield and Lilley practiced- or exploited?- in which the comedic content tied in with real world connections that resonated with the audience, usually in regards to something negative, such as the bra strap joke Reeve cites.

What I’m most intrigued about is the way that content production is being affected by the fact that many of these social media platforms have elements that can cause select users to profit off of content that would otherwise be produced for reasons other than financial need. Reeve’s quotes from Jason Wong pertaining to how Tumblr is where “teens go to confess sadness” while they “perform joy” on Instagram. From this and the type of jokes that Reeve cites in the first section of her report, it becomes clear that that the dimensions of the content coming from Tumblr are tied to perceptions of what the site is for; as a place for sadness and negative content, “relatable” jokes and the potential improvement coming from “life hacks” are welcome. Lilley and his companion cleverly exploited this in an attempt to tap into the desires of the users for the sake of financial gain, creating relatable diet pill posts that were ostensibly lies.

My concern is not with the morality, legality or ethics of what Lilley did, but rather the interesting precedent that this and other examples could have on the culture surrounding different types of social media. My mind is immediately drawn to the Youtube “Let’s Play” community where commentary provided over gameplay footage is the name of the game. The profitability, or the illusion of profitability indirectly maintained by those who stand at the top of ladder, of the Youtube view positions it similarly to the phenomena Reeve observe with Tumblr. For example, horror game playthroughs are popular due to the reactions presented by many players when they become scared by elements of the game. Some of the best examples of…powerful…reactions come from some of the most popular horror game players, such as PewdiePie and Markiplier.  In a similar fashion to the ways upon which the diet pill ads could be molded into meaningful posts on Tumblr blogs, powerful reactions to horror videos became a reasonable thing to expect from the sort of videos you’d find on Youtube- people screaming when they’re scared is nothing unreasonable and nothing terribly new.

At this point however, some argue that the culture surrounding those types of Youtube videos have been heavily influenced by those at the top, implying that faked, overblown reactions to the average jumpscare not only have become the norm, but are also required for one to get any traction in regards to views. It’s already fairly difficult to spawn a successful Youtube career in regards to gaming videos, and so adapting to the competition is an unfortunate necessity.

While the dimensions of Youtube and Tumblr are quite different, we have two cases through which the socially-oriented and profit-oriented types of content production can mix (albeit the Youtube case is a much more explicit example). Even when taking profit out of the argument, one must consider that social media is a space through which one presents themselves. As Reeve and her interviewees allude, different spaces confer themselves to different personalities and different performances. In a space where there could be thousands of blogs vying for attention, a competitive element surfaces, which once again presents an opportunity for content manipulation based on perceived desirability. I’m reminded, in this regard, of Felicity Duncan and her observations regarding the shift away from Facebook and Twitter. The move to more narrowcast tools may still be influenced by extrinsic motivators in regards to what teens expect not only the tools are to be used for, but also what users expect to see there.

Nor Reeve or I have truly began to crack the nut that is Tumblr- we haven’t even jumped into the world of “otherkin” and fanfic yet- and so perhaps an analysis of why Tumblr users write what the write was an inappropriate direction to take the response. Still, however, I have to wonder. The “So-Relatable” stuff was so relatable because it harkens to the experiences these kids have been having in a space that is, apparently, designed for vulnerability, depression and weakness. The memes produced by creators like Pizza were humorous because they appeal to the comedic sensability of the denizens of the internet. Where does the reality lie in the production?

I’m left a question. If varying social media tools have different “personalities” and can be used to express different parts of one’s persona, to what extent are these means of self-expression tying into expectations of these new public and private spheres? Are we at a point where we create, intentionally or not, to greater or lesser extents, digital characterizations of ourselves based upon our lives but molded to fit into the narrative contexts prescribed by the cultures surrounding the types of social media available to us?

This question seems overly philosophical to me but I ask because I just don’t know what social media is like for the average person, and so a deep reflection just kind of makes sense to me. I will say that I’m not expecting everyone operating in every social sphere online to be attempting to manipulate a system of expectations to craft the perfect narratives as they see fit. Some will, such as those who manipulate social media to craft illusory lives that seem better or worse than they may be; people are egotistical and we exist in a time where one can could put their personalities out into view to an extent unknown to humans before now.

At the same time, social media at its core is, well, social. This social element just ties into the way that people wish to interact should be actively participating in social media. And it’s important to note that not every element of social media is tied to monetization; we’re not playing a zero sum game where everyone who looks at your blog or your tweet is a potential customer or anything crazy. The Lilley example is unique in regards to the fact that the financial potential overlapped directly with the content he and Greensfield produced.

Either way, it can be said that Tumblr and its culture is radically different in regards to context and content than other social media platforms, and the new generation understands this. Reeve offers us a glimpse into the strange world these kids live in- its ups, its downs, and its references to Italian cuisine. Ad revenue, ad block, content creation, clicks and AdSense are entwined with moping, venting and hope. Money and culture have collided in a strange way, and it’s only going to get weirder as the internet grows older.

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RRD 9- Space, Identity and Ownership On the Internet and Social Media

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We enter into a strange time, in which an individual could simultaneously exist within the public and private sphere- unknowingly. Social media is a peculiar phenomena through which humans have the capacity to enter closed, demarcated space through which they may share details of their personal lives and experiences- with varying degrees of intimacy- in such a way that information intended for a specified audience of peers can also be transmitted, intentionally or unintentionally, to strangers. At its outset the whole social media experiment, starting with MySpace and eventually exploding to a field where Tumblrs, Instagrams, Snapchats and Twitters vie for their userbases’ attention,  was a gigantic unknown. Would it serve as a means to revive the Roman forum for a new modern age? Would be a specialized tools for would-be stalkers and assailants to plan their crimes? No one really knew.

While we still don’t really know, I certainly concur with Felicity Duncan’s observation in her piece “Teens have a smart reason for abandoning Facebook and Twitter”; a shift is happening, but perhaps not in the same way Duncan notes. Duncan cites data to suggest that teenagers are moving away from Facebook and Twitter and into more “narrowcast tools”. I feel the two strongest explanations she offers consist of her first and third, in which she explains that more elderly individuals are gaining access to social media, and that as the phenomena becomes more and more expansive, corporations and institutions are beginning to utilize the tools as a means of assessing an individual.

Duncan uses these two points to argue that teens are shying away from broadcast tools because of an increased sense of accessibility into their private lives by caretaker figures and prospective organizations said teens may become involved with as they become adults. I focus on this point. Duncan notes that many advertisers use Facebook likes in algorithms to better tailor ads for viewers. The shift away from using Twitter and Facebook to more personalized, privatized systems is a means through which teens can escape prying eyes while still remaining social in a 21st century sense. The conceit of Facebook, as evidenced by the idea that you could have “friends” and “like” particular pieces of content was that a means individuals to interact and socialize. This element of socialization, as evidenced by the several millennia through which social media in its current form did not exist, had an intrinsic, privatized quality to it that did not translate readily to the internet. “You shouldn’t post that sort of thing there, someone will find it”, “If it’s on the internet, it’s there forever” and “future employers aren’t going to like seeing that on your feed” are things that individuals have learned- sometimes quite painfully.

Duncan states that “The great promise of social media was that they would create a powerful and open public sphere, in which ideas could spread and networks of political action could form”. While this may have been the promise, there is a disjoint here from the prospect noted by academics and the intent generated by users, who at the outset, were largely younger people. The idea of reviving the Forum was, most likely, not the conceit of the various middle and high schoolers who became the pioneers of social media. This shift, perhaps, is not a sign of the death of the phenomena or the loss of a great promise, but the actualization of intent as seen by the user. With narrowcast tools, it becomes easier to interact more intimately with those one perceives as friends, with less of a need (because ephemerality on the internet is never as true as it seems) to worry about the permanence of content such that it could be scrutinized by unintended viewers (though it likely still is, just a less wholesale scale).

Perhaps further we can see these perceived shifts in social media as a means of properly democratizing “electronic contact zones”, in the words of Cynthia and Richard Selfe. While I do hold contention with many elements of their 1994 text- so much contention that it won’t fit in a single post- I can see these apparent social media shifts that Duncan notes feed back some elements of their discourse on the social politics of interface.  My main concern with Selfe and Selfe is that their text feels mired in the shadow of the “Culture Wars”-y element of discourse that cropped up in the 90’s. For reference, their comparative elements are highly polarized. In the beginning section of their discourse in regards to the way computers influence minority students, that they categorize the disparities between the pedagogy surrounding computers at white and non-white schools to lend credence to their idea of a “technological underclass” as claimed by Charles Piller(Piller 218), (Selfe and Selfe 483-484). This, I feel, is a valid point of criticism by using clearly demarcated social, economic and ethnic divisions with the argument centered around the computer’s role in the service- or disservice- done to members of this so-called “underclass”. From here, however, things to start to get…weird.

To be brief in my responses to the aforementioned contentions, Selfe and Selfe attempt to illustrate how the then-current state of interfaces inherently represent capitalistic values, “That interface[Macintosh Computers], and the software applica- tions commonly represented within it, map the virtual world as a desktop- constructing virtual reality, by association, in terms of corporate culture and the values of professional” (Selfe and Selfe 486) . Their claim that the desktop is meant to generate the image of a corporate environment and not, you know, a desk is…dubious but the Selfes go further by trying to illicit other images that could be associated in place of the “corporate” one maintained by the desktop, “the interface does not, for example, represent the world in terms of a kitchen counter top, a mechanic’s workbench, or a fast-food worker… respectively, women in the home, skilled laborers, or the rapidly increasing numbers of employees in the fast-food industry” (Selfe and Selfe 487).

The strict dichotomies drawn here seem highly unnecessarily restrictive in regards to the the way that the language associated with the PC is restrictive to elements of the population, mainly because in addition to the type of work done with the PC as invoked by the corporate image also ties to conceit of the corporate image. These other elements are not closely tied between space and the work they do on the computer in the same fashion, and that’s assuming we accept the “corporate image” claim in the first place. Do we need to to refer to a computer as the “Tabletop or Workbenchtop” to better facilitate access to the non-capitalist, non-corporate entities that wish to use the computer. Do we reconcile the space-as-work-as-association image  by giving fast food workers their “Greasycountertop PCs”? You be the judge.

Regardless, Selfe and Selfe do have somewhat interesting claims to make in regards to the ability to personalize the interface itself as they cite the Matrix Communication Associates of Pittsburg’s attempt to market “African American Computer Graphics”. (Selfe and Selfe 499). What we can draw from the Selfes and Duncan is that identity as it relates to power structures is still a thing we talk about in 2017. We have perhaps move passed the idea of :7-Elevens, babies and rocking chairs… pinatas… powwow dances and storytellers” (Selfe and Selfe 500) as defining the way that people choose iconography to represent themselves electronically, and moved to situations in which individuals are now taking initiative to better shape their conceptions of what personal space should look like online.

That being said, I don’t foresee any major shake ups in the basic social media structure of the 2000s any time soon- unless VR tech like the Oculus really take off, sooner rather than later.

RRD 8- On Composing a Video of the Composing Process

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From the outset, the idea of critically approaching my own writing process was uncharacteristically interesting. I avoid incorporating the personal into my writing, and as such, would not have otherwise considered accounting- let alone analyzing-  my mundane writing processes, especially in a video-based format. However, my time studying digital rhetoric has revealed that there is a value in breaking down “the mundane”- from the way that sound effects are incorporated in a video, to the choices of coloration and imagery present on a website- all serve to feed into effective creation. In this regard, I am still reluctant to document my writing processes, but am willing to go along with for the sake of knowledge.

While I’ve put thought into what this critical video would look like, I have not taken many steps into completing its development. After watching the accounts of several of the authors of “On multimodal Composition”, I’ve not only gotten the opportunity to explore the compositional dynamics of 3 different individuals (Ashanka Kumari, Jon Udelson and Rick Wysocki), but also gained a better understanding of what my project should look like

Udelson’s video is the closest to what I imagined mine may have looked like. The incorporation of his facial expression, the work he was writing, his typing and the books summarized the main factors that went into the writing- the writer, the tool, the text and  the inspiration.  This visual component of the video was effective in regards to portraying the composition in a concrete fashion. The vocal component was odd; Udelson’s delivery and word choice seemed to detract from the account. His dialogue was psuedo-poetic in its nature, and that disrupted the organic or realistic feeling I derived from his visual elements. Describing his writing processes required an elucidation of the abstract, and Udelson did so effectively enough through both the dialogue and the visuals. The key here is that the account itself did not feel like it “actualized” in a video-based format, as I got as much out of the video as I did from the text-only transcript (which is perhaps a positive element in the case where a viewer does not wish to partake in video, or where visual symbols can add further layer of abstraction). In general however, I feel that the vocal and visual components of the account must aid one another, and I feel that they did not do so as effective here as we saw all the visuals in a collective sequence with the dialogue serving as a distraction.

Comparatively, Wysocki’s account of his work with 3D-printing did something similar to Udelson with a key difference. Udelson overlaid the screen with the 4 major components of his compositional process almost immediately and from there began to speak. Wysocki’s video follows a more narrative format, where we begin with him sitting down and searching for an image to produce and proceeded to the actual act of printing and retrieval. In this sense, the audience processes the compositional process progressively rather than collectively. Wysocki’s delivery and incorporation of music served to compliment the images captured of his web searches and the visuals of the 3D printer in action. The important thing to note here is that both Udelson and Wysocki’s videos were effective, though I feel that Wysocki’s production style worked better for this sort of task. Introducing the various visual elements that went into the compilation alongside a vocal recount creates a more ordered feeling that was more appealing.

At the same time, however, one must consider that writing isn’t always a controlled, highly ordered act. In Kumari’s video we can see this, as distractions, such as the smartphone interceded in her writing stochastically.  Most interestingly in Kumari’s case, the account was dominated by visuals. The lack of direct explanation and analysis forces the viewer to consider for themselves what’s going with respect to the visuals they are given, lending itself to a more abstract interpretation that is also simultaneously a more natural presentation, perhaps, as we have no self-referential commentary to back the images up; it’s not something I would have considered and seems like a risky tactic.

With respect to the examples I’ve been given, I now given particular consideration not only to what elements of my writing I decide to capture for the reflection, but how best to piece them together and how best to incorporate (or remove) musical and vocal elements in order to provide enough commentary to be effective yet succinct.

RRD 7- Choral Swiping and Unstable Composition

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The idea that Sarah Arroyo brings forth in her video, “The Choric Swipe”, in which she poignantly alludes to similarities between the swiping motion used on a touchscreen device such as an iPad to the action of erasing with a pencil in order to invoke the idea that new multimodal technologies may “erase” the act of analog writing. On paper, no pun intended, this move away from writing based on technological advancement as Arroyo presents it seems useful; writing technologies moving from analog tools to word processors opened new opportunities to writers. A movement towards this tactile composition process could equally open new opportunities for the authors of the future. Geoffrey Carter has demonstrated the potentiality for this to come about as he documents his adventures composing a video piece on an iPad.

In his recount of the challenges of composing on an iPad- the restrictive file formats, the limitations regarding the ability to incorporate audio files, and the lack of an ability to back up the individual files- Carter reveals that the problems he faced as a result of the tool he chose to use influenced his process of invention beyond the idea of nuisance. The iPad’s limitations became useful as they forced Carter to take a creative stance. For example, to incorporate a song, Carter had to insert the whole audio file into the video, and then modulate the sound of the file at different points throughout the video to allow the music to play when he needed it to, as opposed to being able to add the audio files to specific clips as a tool such as iMovie would allow one to do.

From Carter, one can pull away the idea that the challenges one faces with multimodal invention due to technological limitation, inexperience or misfortune can carry utility and as such be a positive component of the composition processes surrounding their use. For example, when I was adjusting to using certain file formats, or switching between different editions of windows around the time of XP and Vista, I occasionally encountered situations in which pieces of my text would have been wiped out due to incompatibility issues, forcing me to re-type the missing components. In doing so, however, I would consider what I was re-typing more strongly, editing my words as I went. In this sense, faulty file formats, in a similar manner to Carter’s impermanence of files on the iPad, aided me in my writing process by allowing me to reconsider what was missing and what would need to replace it.

While I garnered something useful in regards to Arroyo and Carter’s videos, their works also made me consider the counterpoint. In some regards, these limitations, be they generated by swiping or by attempting to compose a video on a tool that was not well designed to be conducive to the composition are truly and really just limitations. There are just as many cases where these limitations have been wholly detrimental to my position. For example, when attempting to format files to import data into the programming language R, features of the spreadsheet program and features of R in relation to how it reads and interprets a file can force me to reformat or retype a particular file to deal with some strange problem. In this case, there is no utility present in the instability; it is purely problematic.

With this in mind, I point in regards to Arroyo that the idea of the swipe replacing the pencil could very well be plausible, but one must also consider the fact that at this point, the limitations to certain tactile processing software makes it less useful than pure writing, such as the awkward nature of hardware that allows one to use a touchscreen to “write” in a digital space, where problems can be encountered due to lack of feedback and features of the sensor technology.

In regards to Carter, The limitations he faced and the very idea that his daughter could inadvertently delete his entire project have some appeal in regards to understanding the way that digital composition affects an author’s creative process, but at the same time, using superior technology that can specifically facilitate the needs of the text one wants to create in totality still has a definite use that, in my opinion, outweighs the benefits of the inferior technology.

All in all, Arroyo and Carter have, together, nicely demonstrated the dimensional depth one has to explore when trying to understand “digital composition”; there is nuance in both their videos that makes the narrative something more than understanding the way that the keyboard may be replacing the pencil, or the way that the video is replacing the textbook.

 

RRD 6- Wikipedia

The nature of Wikipedia is strange. As David Parry points out in his chapter “How Billie Jean King Became the Center of the Universe”, Wikipedia is basically the ultimate librocentralist dream- a book of the world (77). In his chapter Perry goes through the dynamics of the Wikipedia articles with respect to the network connectivity. In the latter half of the chapter he compares the grouping systems between Billie Jean King and Abraham Lincoln’s article, arguing that while Lincoln may be more historically significant, King is more important in regards to understanding the interconnections of information networks within Wikipedia.

This led me to think back to Jose Van Dijck’s analysis of Wikipedia and the principles that structure its function and place in the greater digital ecology. Especially within the section that detailed the bots that help administrate and bots that help to edit and coauthor articles, one thing that became clear was the consistency with respect to how a Wikipedia article is structured. Van Dijck notes that Rambot was designed to compile information on American cities, and that humans later came through and broke down the articles by the way actual composition (history, demographics, etc.).

Together, I conclude that the nature of Wikipedia is inherently strange. The focus on the refinement of an article can lead to various proclivities by way of the article compositions, which perhaps explained by King’s article outpaced Jesus’ in word count. In Wikipedia I can very readily see the forces that construct its make-up, from the highly refined details of American capitals, to the incredibly sparse paragraphs that describe specific species of chiton.

But the strangeness of wikipedia doesn’t come down to its administration, crowd management and funding model in the midst of an increasingly for-profit digital space, nor does it come the issues of librocentralism and the oddities of Bille Jean King.

For me, the consideration that other wikis and the wiki models thrive is what is strange. Wikipedia is designed as a source of pure information of the widest range of topics imaginable. As one can see from reading both Parry and Van Dijck, there is a great deal of structure and care taken to crafting wikipedia into a usual objective knowledge base. But even then, other specified wikias exist for more insular topics, namely in the gaming community. These gaming wikis illustrate a facet of the networked connections between digital information that neither author really treated, as it did not tie into their main arguments.

Essentially, wikipedia serves as a holding site for a great deal of information that is, in general, generalized. Other wikis and the wiki models cohabit a niche around wikipedia in which specific communities can model their site in a way to provide much more highly specialized information for the given topic.

What I’m saying is that we must not only consider how the “Big Dog” Wikipedia exists in the digital ecosystem, but how its influence and the wiki model as a whole is affecting the way that we process, seek and archive information in a more generalized sense.

RRD 5- Visual Literacy and Visual Communication

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There is a certain, abstract absurdity in discussing visual literacy and visual communication using text. But perhaps, in this absurdity we can see the first lesson of a discussion of visuality. To discuss this we must first turn to Scott McCloud and his Vocabulary of Comics. In chapter 2, McCloud discusses the idea of icons and iconography.

To understand McCloud’s initial point in regards to what an icon is and what it can mean we could look at the idea of trying to make a generalized point about a concept through an image alone, such as the graphic included in the edutopia article, “Common Core in Action: 10 Visual Literacy Strategies”, by Todd Finley.

Image credit: Veer

Now, Finley’s article is accompanied by text, but, judging by its inclusion, the visuals are meant to comment upon the ways that students are meant to interpret and critique images. From the image, we can see that computers, reading, education, science, thought and cooperation are involved in thought process.

Or can we?

The abstractions of the 6 ideas mentioned in the paragraph above come from visual representations, but can we really say, for example, that we’re meant to see science in the beaker and flask filled with liquid, or cooperation in a handshake? In reality, we can’t, because there are no beakers and no hands in the image above.

To echo McCloud, what you’re seeing are not arrows, is not a computer, is not a book, is not a brain. They are a digital copy of a drawing of those things, but more so over, the images themselves are simply lines and colors arranged in what could be, for all we know, a totally arbitrary fashion.

That’s why talking about visuals with text is useful and useless at the same time. McCloud’s discussion of iconography- what we get from seeing “realistic” images to cartoony images and what the utility of cartoons are- reveals the idea that the image is inherently distinct from text (though text itself has a visual quality that is related to the point that is to follow).

If you can’t identify any of the subjects in the graphic above, or can’t relate them to anything significant with respect to the point you think the image is trying to make, then the image’s communicative effect is altered entirely. We can see the effect of this in McCloud when he “humanizes” a series of blobs by drawing eyes on them.  To communicate visually is to present icons, after which the audience must interpret the image to identify its form and critique its effects.

Contrast this with textual communications. Text itself is iconographic, with the distinction being that provided you ascribe to the language the text is conveyed in, you can form words, where words have meaning. A textual author can string characters together to form words, and put words together to make a point. This is not to say that textual communication is more efficient or superior to visual communication, but that text and visuals have different mechanisms by which the author creates content and the audience receives and interprets the content.

The idea that we can get from McCloud is that there is a certain nebulousness to reality as we present it through visuals because of the nature of the icon. This is interesting when paired with some of the ideas handled by Keith Kenney in his discussion of visual communication theory. Kenney’s piece is primarily concerned with building up the generalized theory of visual communication and as such covers a wide range of topics. One section asks the question “Can visuals form rational arguments?”. Kenney states “Some scholars deny the possibility of visual arguments because visual images do not have explicit meanings.” but goes onto refute the claim, suggesting that visuals form rational arguments when audiences are given “the ability to choose” and “provide reasons for choosing one way or another, counter other arguments, perhaps via substitution of transformation; and cause s to change our beliefs or to act”(Kenney).

To come to his conclusion Kenney cites examples of visuals that make arguments against racism and in support for abortions. What we in these examples is that for the visual texts to present rational arguments, the audience must understand the forms and understand the point each piece attempts to make in its presentation of forms. In a sense, this suggests that visual language has to adopt some of the ideas of textual language to successfully argue or communicate; the forms have to have some definitive meaning or representation that is understood by audiences in the same way as one must understand words to read a textual piece of some kind.

This is not the point that Kenney attempts to make, nor is it the end-all-be-all claim to justify visual capability of conveying argument, but still the conundrum remains that one must consider what an audience will get out of an image. McCloud, however, gives us an interesting tidbit of information that is really quite powerful. In his presentation of images of a can of food, a car and an electrical outlet, McCloud states “We see ourselves in everything.”

In the identifiable images of food, car and power outlet, McCloud shows that images can display a degree of identifiability while still resonating with an audience for reasons beyond being identifiable; Humans have a natural reaction to other humans, typically through facial recognition. This goes so far as to allow people to unconsciously, “see faces” where there are none. From here we can come back to Kenney and bring in his presentation of archetypes and “culturetypes”. Between the two authors we can see that images have a unique potency in regards to the versatility, but this versatility makes communication more abstracted than in vocal or textual communications. What we have to consider though is that humans are visual creatures much of the time. We can craft images to fit or counter expectation based upon how we think audiences will react. To use one more comparison, this is the same for a textual piece as well. Putting words together in a certain way is no guarantee everyone will get the same thing out of a piece.

Visuality is an important tool both for communication and for rhetoric, given how sight for those that possess it is a major sense and a majro means of interpreting the world. Those with sight are born capable of processing visual information; it’s intrinsic to the human experience. To echo points made by (arguable) masters of visual storytelling Martin Scorsese and George Lucas, visual content is important in regards to knowing how people communicate and convey information. It’s something that needs to be deeply considered for every person, as opposed to being relegated to the realm of filmmakers and artists.

RRD 4- Heidi McKee and Auditory Dimensions of Webtext

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Commonly, in art classes, students are taught to analyze a work of art based upon the elements that comprise it. This includes line and emphasis in painting, or melody and harmony in an orchestral piece, or usage of space and timing in dance. A big feature of newer artistic media- television, film, video games, and so forth- is that they are inherently multimodal. Unlike a painting, to discuss a music video for a new hit song, one must address the visuals, the choreography, and the lyrics to really analyze the piece. This analysis requires multi-faceted perspectives that approach different technologies or art styles in an effort to understand what a given text or art form is trying to be. This task can be trying as new ways of creating continue to spring forth, but as electronic texts and electrical art forms progress, one will need to become more comfortable at breaking down all of a piece’s components.

It is here that Heidi McKee’s “Sound matters: Notes toward the analysis and design of sound in multimodal webtexts”, enters the stage. McKee’s text seeks to offer readers a means of interpreting aural aspects of webtexts with respect to how these aspects interact with other elements of the text in order to bring its form, in totality, forth. Mckee identifies four elements of sound: vocals, music, sound effects, and silence.

Mckee states when discussing the meaning behind the integration of sound to webtexts, “Yet when working with computerized writing technologies, despite the integration of modes in the final product—for example, animated images and music in a Flash movie—each of those elements still exists separately in the computer”. McKee predominantly referenced the separated nature of the components of a webtext in order to invoke Lev Manovich’s discussion of modularity in new media. She uses this to bring forth the point that, while writers and audiences may be able to see the unified structure of a webtext, all parties must be aware of the limitations of the technology that keep its multimodal elements separate.

Mckee’s idea is interesting because this element of separation, I would argue, is also a facet of a writer’s creative process and an audience’s reception.  There is an on-going, memetic phenomena amongst segments of internet subculture that encourage the production of multimodal webtexts. The production of these webtexts is inherently reliant on the potential for the elements of the text to remain separate. As an example, here is the following:

Presumably created by Youtube user “Zarnith”, the above video is an excerpt of Youtube content creator Ryan “Northernlion” Letourneau’s commentator during a video of his gameplay of The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ given a musical backing. The creator of “Northern Lion Ultra Hard Challenge” worked around the vocal, and to an extent visual, quality of the text they sourced from. Invoking the spirit of Jeff Rice, the text is essentially a remix of Letourneau’s soliloquy. The important thing to consider here is that, purely through the aural elements of the text, the creator repurposed Letourneau’s commentary to create something new.

Using Mckee’s terms, the video predominantly utilizes the elements of voice, music and sound effects.

The vocal element of the video is undoubtedly the most important. Letourneau’s enraged diatribe is given in a very steady and measured tone. The calmness the speaker possesses does much to add to the severity of the statements he makes as “the fire in his belly imbued by his ancestors hunting lions on the African planes” is lit. There is even tension, roughness, and pitch, and the speech is given in a relatively quiet voice, when compared to the music. The music is what brings the text into its own. The low bass and repetitive electronic beats punctuate the “lyrics”, so to speak. It is through the music that aural elements are given value to listeners who approach from the sensuous and expressive planes. Aside from a high-pitched ring that introduces the audience to the video, the only sound effects present in text are the barely audible sound effects from the game Letourneau was playing when the speech was originally given, a hint at the hidden context surrounding the text as a whole.

The important thing to consider here that Letourneau’s speech is a component of a much greater text in its own right, being part of his overall commentary given through episode 20 of his Let’s Play video. With the incorporation of music alone, the text is altered. The steady beats invoke the idea of a rap track, and such an intent is apparent as the author appends “Rap God” next to the picture of Letourneau’s face. Especially for any who are unfamiliar with Letourneau, the “Ultra Hard” challenge within the game, or the game itself, the is a tool by which the vocals gain meaning. His desire for Little Haunt to “destroy the enemies as you yourself have been destroyed” is given a metaphorical quality that makes the text useful to someone who lacks the full context behind the text’s creation. Though we can’t see the bitter enemies the speaker faces, we can feel the confidence, anger and hatred that the speaker feels.

Though a peculiar example, Zarnith’s video serves as an almost eeriely (especially considering how I only recently found the video while searching for good examples to discuss here) apt example for understanding how auditory elements can be picked out and analyzed individually, but also how they can serve alongside textual or visual elements. In an increasingly multimodal world, rhetorical elements will draw from all components of a text, and as such, audiences must follow in their analyses of these texts.

RRD 3- Jeff Rice and Mixing in Digital Rhetoric

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Over the past four years, I’ve probably read through hundreds of papers, articles and books, and skimmed through the body or abstracts of hundreds of others. Jeff Rice’s “The Making of Ka-Knowledge: Digital Aurality” has probably set itself up as the strangest piece of academic writing I have ever approached, and only sentences into the abstract at that. Rice throws around terms like “Droppin’ science”, “juice”, “ka-knowledge” and “sounding out” as though they were all part of common parlance. Perhaps this is simply an extreme example of the insularity of a given academic field. Perhaps other digital rhetoricians like Rice can easily acknowledge the way that a text’s mix drops science by sounding out its juice, showing a clear mastery of ka-knowledge by inserting juicy breaks, the likes of which are a common part of new physics in digital media.

Yes, I’m sure the I’m the problem here.

My opinions on the language the academics have apparently chosen to go with, there is much to say regarding Rice’s exploration of the way that aural components of texts are operating in a regards to rhetoric and composition. I wish specifically to hone in on the way that Rice uses the terms “mix” and “mixing”. I stress that this is definitely not because this was one of the more coherent parts of his piece. Assuredly not. Instead, I’ve chosen the mix because we exist in a time where we have a potent exemplar of the way that the mix interacts with rhetoric, courtesy of the internet’s beloved himself, Neil Cicierega.

Before we look at what mixing does, we should first come to grips with what the term is supposed to mean. In section 4 of his article, Rice states that the “power” of digital writing can be located in the logic of the Mix (Rice). He goes on to use a song produced by DJ Kid Koala to exemplify what the mix looks like in a text. Mixing, as Rice presents it, is essentially a means by which a digital writer can compose a given text in a non-linear fashion, similar (but distinct as Rice points out) to hypertext narratives. In the realm of music, the mix manifests itself as a combination of sounds that the composer pieces together to create a coherent, singular piece, such as the way that Kid Koala combines vocal sampling and various noises associated with automobiles and driving to create “Fender Bender”. Unlike hypertext, which is a singular text that connects to another text, and then another, along a “path”, the mix sees the intertexuality- the usage of collective forms, information or other texts themselves as we’ll see soon- mesh into a singular text, such that the audience experiences all of its components as an individualized entity that contains context far beyond itself.

As Rice alludes to in his references to rhapsodes and Homeric poetry, the mix is a compositional tool which can be likened to a sort of rewriting. Rice even goes so far as to state that “Rewriting is the logic of the mix.”(Rice). From here he connects mixing to expression of “juice”- something similar to finding a personal voice, “showing off”- demonstration of a competency of literacy that yields the ability to create mixes, and ultimately the formation of “ka-knowledge”- the formal expression of the contextuality and literacy that is displayed through Rice’s article in the examples he chooses. Here, we see that the mix is a tool by which a creator can piece together material for explicit purpose; the rewriting goes beyond arbitrary assortments of sound or song sampling.

With a better idea of what the mix is and what it serves, it becomes useful to see it in action. I neglected to detail the examples Rice uses, as I would simply reiterate his arguments; I have no background in those specific pieces and can’t contribute with new, relevant detail. Hence, I present something new:

Neil Cicierega is a man of many talents, but is well known for his peculiar musical albums, “Mouth Silence”, “Mouth Sounds” and the newly released “Mouth Moods”. The albums are characterized by the fact that essentially every song present is built off of the modification or remixing to existing songs. The example above, “Smooth” is essentially The Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” set to the musical backing of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”, additionally incorporating “O, Canada” and lines from Santana’s “Smooth”. In Cicierega’s “Smooth” we can see the power of the mix in action.

To me, it seemed as though one could easily misinterpret the significance of mixing in any form of digital text, and for this reason, I felt that Rice’s comparisons to hypertext and its differences from what he describes as mixing were important. Cicierega’s “Smooth” is not simply a mash of multiple songs to create some kind of aural detritus, nor is it simply a song that references Barenaked Ladies, Michael Jackson, Santana and the Canadian national anthem. Components of all 4 songs are meshed into a cohesive text, the impact of which can only be fully appreciated with context to the individualized components.

At the same time we can also see how mixing allows one to express other elements such as “droppin’ science” as Cicierega goes a step further to combine the lyrical elements of Santana’s “Smooth” and “One Week” to create something totally new in a similar fashion to Kid Koala,  “It’s been my world to lift you up, It’s been my life to better suit your mood…it’s the same emotion that I get from Harrison Ford”.

Though there is much to unpack from Rice’s article in totality and much more to say about aurality in digital rhetoric, we can take away a few key things:

  1. Digital rhetoric is (obviously) multimedia. In addition to textual and visual rhetoric, we must also consider aurality and its role.
  2. Digital writing offers the unique opportunity to writers- the mix. By pulling from their personal bank of literacy and cultural databanks of information, be they derived from the internet or otherwise, digital writers are poised to compose truly unique texts that synthesize the meaning and utility of the individualized components to both comment upon their individual qualities, and to create something entirely new, such as “Mouth Moods”
  3. The mix is a type of rewriting in which there must be a deliberateness to the way that the individual pieces that are mixed in are represented. “Smooth” would have been a very different song if the “Harrison Ford” repetitive fade out was inserted somewhere else, had lasted far longer, or was overlaid with Santana’s lyrics

 

RRD 2- Brooke’s “Ecology”, Sheridan Ridolfo and Michel’s “Kairos”

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In my on-going quest to study the world of digital rheoteric, I’ve spent the past 2 weeks attempting to come up with a working understanding of what digital rheoteric actually is, before attempting to comment upon it or analyze it. Marred by the lack of formal training in rhetoric or writing studies in general, it has been a challenge. But a single good challenge can be more enriching than a thousand trivial victories, provided the target and the outcome are sufficient.

One key source I’ve been referred to is Douglas Eyman’s Digital Rhetoric, which attempts to, well, do exactly what I’m doing in more a sophisticated and much more in-depth manner. In chapter 2, Eyman explores rhetorical theory and its connection to digital rhetoric. In the second half of the chapter, Eyman brings up the nature of the “ecological” theory that explores texts, producers, readers and the institutions surrounding them in the way an ecologist attempts to study organisms and the environments they live in.

From my scientific background, the theory was interesting if not a bit strange due to its metaphorical nature. What brought clarity to Eyman was Collin Brooke’s “Ecology” chapter of his text Lingua Fracta. In this chapter, Brooke focuses on rediscovery of the classical canons- invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery- and their utility in modern rhetoric study. The ecological theory Brooke deftly handles is applied to the canons in order to define their usage in a contemporary period, and indirectly, makes Eyman’s discussion that much clearer and palpable.

After an introduction to his argument that the old canons can be utilized for effective scholarship if they are analyzed through a different lens, Brooke dives into the ecological model as it connects to the canons themselves. To me, essentially an outsider, the canons and their presentation seemed more like concrete processes, similar to transcription and translation in protein synthesis; a given canon explained a given thing about some element of argument or composition. Brooke’s statement cleared the misconception I’d developed while he established as he dove into what the “ecology” he kept referencing really meant, “The canons have functioned neither as theory nor as practice…when we have paid particular attention to one or more of the canons, it has often been to render them more static.” (Brooke 43-44)

The connection between Eyman and Brooke came about as Brooke brought forth an explanation of the canon of invention in its ecological context. Brooke makes the argument that invention as a “generalized activity” further defined as “relations rather than categories.”(44) Brooke’s invention ecology essentially offers itself as a frame of the way that ideas that go into forming a composition or a text interact with one another a producer, in an individualistic sense, and in the way that these ideas interact with one another and producers on ecosystem-like scale in a way that ties into LeFevre’s “shared ecology”. Seeing a basic component of rhetoric broken down in such a way- that realistically mirrors systems biology more than ecology- added a secondary layer of clarity to Eyman’s model.

Eyman’s model focuses less on rhetoric itself and more upon the products on it, drawing off a “energy flow and material cycling” model that parallels nutrient cycling and energy flow in biological ecology. Seeing Brooke break down the canons made the metaphorical nature of the concepts Eyman puts forth more palpable. Eyman’s ecological theory can actually parallel Brooke’s invention ecology, ” …the rhetorical activity of writers and the material labor of production is analogous to the input of energy per se into a natural system; once that energy (and the digital object that results from the deployment of that energy) is added to any given digital ecosystem, the interaction of environment (network) and other inhabitants (other digital texts) in that ecosystem generates relational links and instances of material cycling (also known as remix in terms of digital practice).” (Eyman. The rhetorical activity discussed by Eyman operates in a similar manner to the Brooke’s circulation of ideas.

With Brooke and Eyman together,  I conclude that the utility of the ecological theory of the study of digital rhetoric is a study of interactions in an effort to understand not only how an individual rhetorical activity or unit impacts the intended target audience or conveys the author’s desired point, but how its existence and interaction with prior rhetorical activities or units and subsequent influence upon future rhetorical activities or units as well as conception by producers and understanding by audiences alters the digital “ecosystem” as it were.

While Eyman and Brooke have caused me to accept new lenses of focus for digital rhetoric, other scholars have instead taught me how a specific rhetorical concept is applicable and unique in the field of digital rhetoric.

David Sheridan, Jim Ridolfo and Anthony Michel’s The Available Means of Persuasion explores the concept of “kairos” indepth. Kairos is essentially a combination of the way that timing and opportunity interact with a given rhetorical situation, as evidenced by the apt reference to its original relationship to archery early in the chapter. Specific emphasis must be placed on their discussion of “ripening the time” (Sheridan, Ridolfo and Michel, 9). Timing and opportunity in a print environment was already peculiar because of the preservative element a book, or a news article or a poem could possess; How is a rhetor supposed to address the reader who receives their text decades afters its inception, when its incendiary language and powerful hyperbole in regards to warfare has been lost in an age of peace, for example? This element has not only be retained within the digital sphere but has evolved. Now more than ever, audiences have expanded as more people gain access to digital space, timeframes are heavily condensed as information transfer becomes more and more efficient, and the preservation of original work’s intent and impact becomes much more an issue as digital texts became increasingly modifiable both by the authors themselves and members of the audience who utilize and remix the text. The argument Sheridan, Ridolfo and Michel bring up is essentially that timing and opportunity are not always something a rhetor constructs. As the authors state when referencing Sharon Crowley’s “prepared rhetoric”, “Preparation is required to read a situation effectively, to discern what opportunities are available and to know how to frame a rhetorical response that is appropriate.” (Sheridan, Ridolfo and Michel, 10).

With this in mind, there are two things to consider in regards to digital text. Firstly, the element of opportunity and timing suggests that a rhetor must be able to respond to the topic their addressing with their intended audience in mind and their main argument well understood. If offering an unpopular opinion, for example, it becomes useful to approach the audience in a non-combative, neutral or even friendly tone. Most respond poorly to antagonism, and offering a dissenting opinion can breed antagonism. We can observe this phenomena in digital spaces readily in a negative light as a facet of the anonymity offered by the internet. Going into a Twitch.tv chatroom for any random streamer could be rife with ineffectual, combative rhetoric due to the disregard for the audience, for kairos and due to the protection of their identity, though the specificity of this particular digital space is a connection for another day.

The second point to consider is the kairos can change in a special way in the digital sphere; authors can more readily alter published texts and, hypothetically, could change an argument or opinion if some element of the timing changes. This could work effectively by allowing an author to “ripen the timing” by responding to changes in the nature of the topic they discuss, in the opinions of the audience, or even in changes of heart in regards to an argument for any number of reasons. In this regard, a digital rhetor can ripen the time through constant vigilance of the situation they are involved within. At the same time this could prove damaging, as the ability to change an argument or opinion on the fly could be seen as miscontruing the argument in and of itself, or even “censorship”, which has become an increasingly dreaded word in some corners of the internet.

Digital rhetoric is undoubtedly a unique phenomena, but there is much we can learn from thinkers before us who lacked the opportunity to explain this strange and wonderful realm.

Reading Response 10: Haas, the Last.

Christina Haas’ Writing Technologies closes in a rather spectacular fashion. Chapter 8 consists of an account of historicizing technology- both how and how not to- and the final chapter consists of a theorization of technology that seeks to provide some closure to Haas’ “Technology Question” and push for further research.

Chapter 8 represents a great deal of informational manipulation. Haas referenced not only ideas and concepts that she had established in earlier chapters, analyzing them with a different lens, but also takes time out to address counterarguments to the notions of historical analysis. Chapter 8 served to stand against the ideas of “revolutions” brought about by print, mainly because these ideas were commonly utilized as a means of historical comparison towards technology. Haas went into such a lengthy counterargument, namely against Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change in an effort to illustrate why historical comparisons between printing technologies and the new digital technologies may be ineffectual or inaccurate. Haas, however, does not discredit the historical lens in its entirety, and provides different conceptions, such as the validity of the Historical-Genetic method used by Vygotsky (who was mentioned at a length earlier in the book).

Chapter 9 acts as a conclusive chapter that attempts to frame Haas overall arguments by analyzing effects and suggesting the future of technology studies. Though Haas’ claims overall may seem somewhat “silly” or “outmoded” by some modern scholars, one cannot hold doubt over her thoughts in the moment, which are fairly well constructed. In fact, the main point of contention with Haas’ piece is her lack of reach, which she could have no real way of predicting.

In terms of how Haas’ study may effect mine, I think back to her section of Chapter 9 on how the material world may influence the mental. This is essentially the primary aspect of my study- investigating changes to cognitive processes, namely memory, based upon the materiality of the writing tool. However, I find Haas more useful as an exemplary of proper technique, rather than concept. Haas’ handles her ideas well, attempts to provide wholesomely objective arguments, and makes effective use of the ideas of other researchers, without leaning upon or diminishing her own ideas. These are attributes of a good piece that can be replicated in the final paper.