December 16, 2007

From serenity to offense in 5 miles or less

Category: Academic,Books/Articles — Biella @ 5:22 am

When you live in NYC and have a demanding job, you tend to ignore the city (at least I do), that is until guests descend upon your place. And since a Large Family Clan has recently landed in my apt, I have spent the last few days trekking north, south, east, and west, across bridges, in parks, and memorials, eating, drinking, and passing out at night after the constant flurry of activity.

Yesterday we headed pretty much as far north as you can go to pay a visit to the lovely Cloisters sitting high on a cliff. The Cloisters provides stellar views of the Hudson at the same time as it transports you back in time when a lot of energy was put into scribbling religious material on paper in really stunning and ornate ways. I have not paid a visit to the Cloisters since my undergraduate days and after yesterday’s stroll, I am sorry I waited until the frigid winter to do so. It is an *incredibly* serene place, especially the inner courtyard gardens, and if you need serenity (and I think anyone who lives in NYC, needs to counter the low-grade and high-grade exposure to constant noise with some noiseless environments), this is the place to go.

We then made our way to the Columbia area to check out the campus, St. John the Divine (currently under renovation), and so I could pick up a book being held for me at the Book Culture bookstore (which I wish was a lot closer to me than it is)… It was nice to escape the blustering winter conditions and browse the rows of books in a warm and well lit environment. But after purchasing Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Digital Age, parts of which I am hoping to teach next semester, and flipping through the book, my new found serenity was replaced by some serious offense when the only index I could find was an author index. There was no subject index in sight, which at the time left me totally surprised!!

Anyone who is in the business of using books as research tools knows the index is —-> indispensable. And a well indexed book is much appreciated (never mind what a non-existent index does). In fact, I felt like I stumbled on some rare object because I don’t think I have ever seen an academic book published in the last 30 years not sporting this useful tool and I wonder if 1) I have a bunk copy 2) The editors/authors forgot to include it and just pushed out the book anyway 3) This was a willful choice made for reasons hidden to the reader. I think I may have to contact Duke University Press and let me know they momentarily robbed me of my serenity :-)

December 12, 2007

Out with the Old, In with the New

Category: Academic,Teaching,Tech — Biella @ 5:44 pm

So I am done teaching my first two classes of 2007 and now I am nearly done with the syllabus for The One (yes one, they give new faculty a course release, thank the powers that be!!) class I am teaching next semester: Topics in Digital Media. Unlike this semester where the name of the syllabus game was a motley collection of chapters/articles, next semester I am concentrating on whole books although we won’t be reading all of them in their entirety so over the next few weeks I have to perform some whittling magic. It is just nice to have it done before I head away South to visit the family.

Less is More, Comments

Category: Tech,Web 2.0 — Biella @ 5:34 am

Since most of the readers of this blog come from Debian Planet where you can’t really see if there are comments, I thought I would link to the comments from my recebt blog post on blogging as many make some nice points. Additionally, here is a link to Joe Reagle’s post aptly entitled blog anxieties where he places a tripartite religious framework to understand the life cycle of a blog. I also agree with Alisa who notes that blogging is as much about the writer as is the reader (and I tend to post stuff for the sake of remembering, archiving etc) but I still think that the issue of overabundance is huge for I am as much a a consumer as I am a producer of blogs. I love reading people’s blogs but I just can’t keep up if they do it too often.

Tenured Radical also paid a visit and well, if you have not checked out her blog, she is a fantastic, fantastic writer/thinker and what I like about her blog most is that she weaves together just the right ratio of personal and public (for lack of better words). What I mean is that she tells her stories from the vantage point of her experiences, of her position etc. I can imagine a real person behind the posts, which is always part of the fun of blog reading, a form of imagination that frankly is not there with mainstream news and journalism.

Kaltura, Open Web Awards

Category: Kaltura — Biella @ 5:15 am

The Open Web Awards are accepting votes and well, my vote is going to Kaltura and if you don’t know what the do, or who they are, check em out. You might be surprised to find some really cool video editing software that is pushing collaboration to new heights.

December 11, 2007

Two New Blogs

Category: Academic,Disability Studies,Tech — Biella @ 6:26 pm

For those who want to see NYC streets turned into more humane, hospitable and especially bike-friendly places, this blog is for you. I love NYC because of its active street life but there is certainly almost endless room for massive improvement and these folks are pushing just for that.

And for those involved in disability rights activism, Stop Eugenics looks like a good (and important) new blog.

Musical Helping Hands

Category: Music,Wolf Songs — Biella @ 6:18 pm

It is nearly the end of the semester and in order to do all the test-making magic and grading I had to do before I am re-swamped with a stack of new papers (on the 17th of December to be exact), I spent the weekend put, grading every last response papers that I had my students write throughout the semester. When I finished those, I proceeded to get sick with the cold that seems to keep recirculating among faculty and students. Today I had to shift attention to my apartment, which, out of neglect had been turned upside down and inside out, to tidy up some before a slew of guests arrive tomorrow night.

To get through the weekend and the cleaning-spree, I had a lot of help from my friends, mostly in the form of Daft Punk (in specific, their Alive album), and then when I wanted something more mellow, Damian Jurado took over (Medication and Ohio are two of my favorites), but then the song that really did the most to get me into that special zone was TV on the Radio’s aaaaaaaaamazing Wolf Like Me. Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with wolf songs, can you? but this one takes the cake. Now to sleep off this cold…

December 7, 2007

DMCA in Canada

Category: Canada,IP Law,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 4:59 am

Canada in many ways looks and feels like the United States (and vice versa) but upon closer inspection, there are some pretty large and important differences and I think the more Canada walks away from the US path, the better. So when I heard that Canada is considering a DMCA like bill, I was of course disappointed. If you are Canadian, do your political stuff to stop it (write your MP, etc. etc. etc.) and help keep Canada unique!

December 5, 2007

Rethinking Blogs: The importance of fewer posts and preaching to the choir

Category: Academic,Politics,Tech,Web 2.0 — Biella @ 6:45 am

It is hard to believe that I have been blogging for over five years. And what is clear is that being an assistant professor is not all that conducive for blogging and this is materially evident in my sparse posting pattern over the last few months. It has been particularly bad in the last month thanks to a week long international trip, back-to-back sickness over Thanksgiving week, and finally going to Washington D.C. for the AAAs.

But this retreat from blogging as well as teaching on so-called Web 2.0 software, like blogs, has made me rethink the value and limits of the craft of blogging and so I am going to take some time (that I feel like I don’t really have, but oh-well..) to write them down as I am preparing a short piece for on the politics of Web 2.0 and I hope I can transfer some of these ideas there.

So as I have already mentioned, I am an now infrequent blogger. Prior to the era of RSS, this could have meant the death of my blog because if people went to visit my page and there was no new post and then this happened a few more times, they would just stop visiting.

The magic of RSS is that it brings the blog post to you and this alters the landscape of possibilities within the context of what has been nothing short of a seismic explosion of blogs. What I am finding—and this will be no surprise to anyone—is that it is just too difficult to keep up too many of a certain class of blogger—the prolific poster who posts medium to long posts and worse, nearly everyday! To make a point about the effects of this, allow me to tell a story: Two blogs I really like are Joe Reagle’s blog on Open Communities as well as Tenured Radical. Both provide captivating posts but I recently unsubscribed to Radical Tenure and not Joe Reagle’s. Why? My decision was purely pragmatic. Because she posts way too much, I just can’t keep up. If I stop reading her blog for 2 weeks, and then pay a visit via bloglines, I am faced with a blogolanche and I am trying to avoid, at all costs, overwhelming situations. On the other hand, if I stop reading Joe’s blog for 2 weeks, there may be one or two posts so I feel like I can spare the time to continue reading. Ironically, I will now visit Tenured Radical every month, much as I did prior to the RSS era, just to take a quick scan and see if there is anything I must read.

There is another class of blogs, such as Sivacracy, that update their site frequently but the posts are tidy and short and so I can usually keep up and they provide important news for my projects. But the type of blog that provides longer ruminations has proliferated (and I really like reading those) but I suspect that as the blogosphere has expanded, less people can commit to those types of blogs. In other words, today, you may hang on to more readers, if you only blog 1 to 2 times a week instead of 3-5 weekly posts that are medium to long in length.

Now I may be completely OFF the mark with this by generalizing my own experience so I would be interested in hearing people’s experiences or better, if anyone could point me to someone who studies these types of pattern, I would really appreciate it.

On a related note, last week I taught a now famous piece by Cass Sunstein on political balkanization on the Internet that is in part secured by blogging. His core argument, which I think stands to some degree, is that the blogosphere is less an arena where people with different inclinations and views meet to debate, and thus change their views, but is an arena where your pre-existing ideas are reinforced because you are simply reading and debating with people who hold your worldview.

As I mentioned, I think this is true in so far as you don’t see people on the left and right engaging in some debate that substantially transforms their ideas. But the argument is faulty or missing something crucial about the nature of politics, in so far as that the so called left or right or so called liberal and conservative positions are truly not unitary so that if different types of liberals/lefties are engaging with each other to change positions and ideas within that group, well then, the critical function of blogging is in fact well and alive. To state using an example, there are plenty of liberals who, in my opinion, could use a little radicalization and perhaps this is happening in the blogosphere because people come across a spectrum of ideas and positions from within their political pole.

Finally and this point really is not mine but I am poaching it from Jeff Juris who made it last weekend at the AAA meeting during his presentation on activist videos. One of his findings was that activists were the only ones watching video’s documenting protests when hosted on radical political sites like Indymedia. When they were placed on Youtube, the audience expanded considerably: conservatives were also watching them, but they effect was not to make their more sympathetic toward the left and their political points, but simply to reinforce their position, which is evident in the archived comments expressing their great distaste of the left. This is a perfect example of the Balkanization that Sunstein talks about but with an important reversal: it comes from confronting difference not avoiding it!

But Jeff made the excellent point that there is a critical function in preaching to the choir: it ensures that the choir will not stop singing! That is, your political passions are not simply ensured, they must be renewed and given the massive amounts of apathy peppering our population, renewal by confronting what you believe in, is vital.

So my advice is keep producing posts, keep reading even if it tends to be stuff you already believe in BUT please, post less. Less, I think, is really becoming the new more….

December 4, 2007

The Liberalism of Anthropology and the Anthropologies of Liberalism

Category: Academic,Anthropology,Liberalism — Biella @ 1:40 pm

In a few years I want to organize a panel for the AAA called “The Liberalism of Anthropology and the Anthropologies of Liberalism” that opens the door to discussing the role of liberalism in the general anthropological project (notably in trying to breed tolerance) and how anthropological work, especially of the last twenty years (although really since its inception) has also worked to critically disturb the liberal project (in many ways, but including debunking the myth of the liberal subject and voicing the limits of liberal tolerance). I want to say more about the ways in which anthropologists have walked this line, but I have to read for tomorrow’s class and more than anything else I wanted to permanently jot this down so as to not forget my title.

December 2, 2007

The other AAA’s

Category: academic,Anthropology — Biella @ 6:19 pm

The (overpriced) Amtrak train is rapidly hurling itself north toward New York City, the vanishing light gently illuminating the first snowfall of the year. I am heading back from the American Anthropological Association annual meetings, which were held in Washington D.C this year. After a year’s hiatus, I attended to present a short version of my paper on hacker conferences, which I have pushed along further to entertain more general questions and ideas about the role of conferences in ensuring forms of solidarity among publics that are dispersed geographically. While there are other events that are far more visceral or more profoundly produce what Emile Durkheim has called collective effervescence, conferences are probably one of the most common social forms for ensuring a steady state of moral solidarity among connected but geographically dispersed groups of people. Their importance and role is often overlooked, I think, because of their sheer ubiquity (and I am sure the fact that many are held in creepy corporate hotels populated by seriously over sized & gaudy furniture where you can sit and sip your overpriced Starbuck’s coffee does not help). But it is because they are so common that I think we need to take them a little more seriously as distinctly 20th century events that combine much older elements of ritual and pilgrimage.

Because I have attended so many developer and hacker conferences, which tend to be longer as well as far more more enveloping, festive, and, frankly, well executed than academic ones, I tend to think of academic conferences as tepid, lightweight versions. But as I make my way back home, I am pretty worn yet inspired from this one as I decided to sort of let go to give it my all, sleeping far less than I really should have. I usually hold back some, perhaps because most academic conferences I attend are smack in the middle of the academic year, so my mind is partially occupied with the pile of work that awaits me, somewhat depressingly, at the end of your journey. Academic conferences can also produce a fair bit of anxiety, especially for younglings like myself, given that you are performing your skills (or lack of) and ideas (or lack of) to people you respect and admire too. Perhaps it is also due to the hotel environment, which I find not only particularly uninspiring but in all honesty, sort of soul sucking, though albeit, *very* conveniently so.

This time, however, I was not going to let the hotel suck any more soul out of me because I was thrilled to see friends from time’s past, had a great time on my panel on digital subjectivities, and was excited to meet new folks and talk about those topics that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I also think the proliferation of (very cute) babies among my friends and the now visible crow’s feet adorning the smiling eyes of my friends made me feel the passing of time a little more forcefully than really I wanted to. So I did my best to turn that pesky faucet of time of off so as to give way to immersion, drawing those from past into the shared nest of the present, so that I would want to see them again in the future. And in the end, that is the point: social reproduction and shouldn’t procreation be fun? I think so…

Now back to that pile of work.