Entangled in Public

When I worked for a presidential campaign, way back before social media even existed, we were keenly aware that, as staffers, we represented the candidate at all times. Period. Thus, we were advised to consider what our field director, Tom, called “The New York Times Test”:

Before you do or say anything, consider: would you want those words and/or actions splashed across the front page of The New York Times?

I’ve been thinking about Tom’s advice lately in light of a recent uptick in talk about grad students and social media. How we should use it. What we should say. What we shouldn’t mention. Its benefits and its dangers, huzzah. (See Karra’s recent take on it here, for example).

But perhaps it’s less an uptick and more a renewed sensitivity, because it’s been an issue very much on my mind of late.

Continue reading “Entangled in Public”

Load ‘Em Up

The biggest lesson of graduate school for me? You gotta come to terms with how much you don’t know.

You gotta get to a Zen sorta place where that knowledge is a given: there’s way more in the world, in your field, than you even know to ask about. So have another beer and relax, ok?

Or, uh. Try to.

To that end:

I spent this past Thursday at a day-long symposium at Drexel University called Life Online: The Ethics and Methods of Conducting Research in a Digital Age.

Yeah, it was spring break this week. And yeah, I spent it learnin.’ Though I look at it as gathering arrows for my dissertation quiver. Because sooner rather than later, I’m gonna have to start doing research rather than just talking about it [ahem], so I say: load ’em up.

A few arrows I came away with:

Of immediate interest for wee young researchers like me is this chart from the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). Said chart sketches the different types of data that a researcher might collect online, the venues in which that data might be collected, and the concomitant ethical questions that a researcher might then consider. Interested parties may also find AoIR’s comprehensive Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research (2012) useful in generating a set of vocabulary for talking about and planning online research projects.

For me, the most useful part of the day was Mary L Gray‘s presentation on IRBs and the difficulty some have in dealing with what she calls “ethnographically-engaged” digital media research.

Dude, Dr. Gray was nine kinds of awesome: amazing research, super-smart as hell, and a great speaker. She was talking about Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), for gods’ sake–snore–but she had the whole room with her from go.

You better believe it.

Somehow, Dr. Gray was cut off for time when other speakers were not and we lost a good 20 minutes of her talk. That was—unfortunate. Especially since some later speakers had time left over. Ah well.

For me, here were the key takeaways from her presentation.

General concepts/questions re: digital research:

  • Websites are both texts AND sites; digital media are both a tool AND a location.
  • Online research regenerates the question: what constitutes a public space?
  • There are no unembodied moments online; the body is always present.
  • “The notion of privacy is a privilege,” which—

—holy crap!! One of those things that sounds so obvious and yet, damn.

Central questions re: ethics of online research:

1.  Ethical dilemmas are an index of methodological flux/growth in fields of inquiry. Such dilemmas can be generative and productive and we shouldn’t shy away from engaging with them directly.

2.  Ethics in online research are ad hoc and (re)constructed: they evolve over time, over the life of a project, and researchers must attend to this evolution.

3.  Online researchers should talk through the ethics of a particular project with a trusted colleague, peer, or professor.

AMEN! Especially when your advisor’s own research is generating simliar questions.

4.  Gaining IRB approval doesn’t signal the resolution of ethical issues around a project. Indeed, Gray argued that the setup of many IRB forms and procedures can obscure, rather than shed light on, ethical questions that can spring up around digital research.

5.  Those who study worlds online should not let the computer screen become the sole terministic screen through which they study a given population or community. Gray emphasized the importance of talking to the people whose activities you see online; there’s much that’s lost without pushing into the broader context within which the user’s digital engagement sits.

This last one really got to me, especially because Gray was pretty damn convincing on this point. But such in-world examinations work directly against both my own instincts (eek! people!) and my sense of the “norm” in rhetorically-inclined digital research. Goddamn it. Because of course, the resistant aura that in-world engagement holds in this context is like catnip to me, man.

fire

Or batnip.

All in all, I came out with more questions and angst than answers, and that, for me? Is the sign of a day well spent.

Let Me Guess: You’ve Got a Masters in Fanwank

One of our assignments in the Digital Self course I’m taking is to analyze our own online identity. You know, the professional one.

And though I made a big deal yesterday of just how cool I am with being read in different ways–in opening myself up to online interpretation–it was a wee bit scary, trolling through my profiles on various sites, kinda like–

Exactly.

And the whole time, I’m thinking: Hmmm–how might someone interpret what they see here, out of context and with no other knowledge of me?

Ha! Right.

The whole exercise reminded me of this askbox meme on tumblr:

50  Likes   Tumblr

It’s one of those memes I like to ask but to which I never have a good answer when someone else does the same.

I’d like to think I have no shame. Once you’ve said the phrase “riding the gay incest train” in an academic presentation, there aren’t many places left to hide. But I’m curious as to what a Potential Hiring Person would say if all they knew of me was what they read here or saw over on tumblr.

Ain’t gonna stop me from reblogging pictures of the Overlord’s belt buckles, you know. But it’s hard now–er, um–thanks in part to this class, not to wonder.

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

I spend a lot of time on tumblr.

Ostensibly, this is for “research” purposes.

What? I study fandom, fandom lives on tumblr, ergo: I study tumblr.

And about 40% of the time, I do. Because reblogging photos of the Overlord totally counts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heh.

One of the things I’ve learned over there is the desire seems to drive many of the interactions in that space: the users, the teenage girls and young women who hang out there–they want to be seen.

No.

They want to be noticed, listened to, taken seriously, treated as individuals worthy of love, respect, and praise.

But for that to happen, they first must be observed.

In Discipline and Punish, the philosopher Michel Foucault discusses the panopticon–a prison model designed in the 18th century that allowed a guard to see into every cell from a central watchtower, like this:

For Foucault, the panopticon is a metaphor for the disciplinary power of the state, one which doesn’t rest in a king or a president or even an government; rather, it sits in what he calls the “apparatus” of that power–the mechanics of our everyday lives. That is:

And although it is true that its pyramidal organization gives it a ‘head,’ it is the apparatus as a whole that produces ‘power’ and distributes individuals in this permanent and continuous field. This enables the disciplinary power to be both absolutely indiscreet, since it is everywhere and always alert…and absolutely ‘discreet,’ for it functions permanently and largely in silence. (177)

To put it more bluntly: we are all the panopticon. We’ve internalized the norm-ing forces of our society, our civilization, and we replicate and transmit the disciplinary power of those norms through our everyday interactions.

We’re the watchman. We’re the prisoner. We’re the Man.

Ultimately, Foucault argues, it’s this observation, though, this constant state of surveillance that we ourselves embody and enact, that creates the individual. As he puts it:

“Discipline ‘makes’ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its own exercise.” (170)

On tumblr, then, I’ve noticed a desire to be seen, to become both the object of disciplinary power and the instrument through which that power’s divined.

You’ll see a lot of posts like this, is what I’m saying:

ask

This is only 1/3 of the list of questions, BTW.

Users post selfies, they post confessions, they post minute-by-minute details of their day. And for this, you as a reader are asked to “follow” them–no, to become a follower of them–so that you might be notified each time they post to their blog. So you can see them, each and every time they ask you to look.

More than other online spaces I live in, tumblr is a place where the reader’s greatest sin is to ignore the writer, where the writer’s greatest fear is that no one will respond to or reblog their self-hate, their gif set, their grin, yes.

And I say this for myself, too: on tumblr, I feel more vulnerable than I do on here on my blog or on twitter or over on AO3. Which is odd, to say the least, given my utter lack of shame about the content of my writing in genera.

But, on tumblr, when I’m seen? It’s usually terrific. But when I’m not, when the guard in the tower has her back to me, I–my digital self–disappears.

My prof asked: Is this desire to be seen generated by the panopticon? Or is it a form of resistance?

No, I said, quick. It’s not resistance. But as for the other?

I gotta say: I find that question really fucking disturbing.

Productive, yeah. Interesting, sure. But really really disconcerting.

Start Making Sense

I’ve written in this space before about my relationship with writing, but I’ve never really considered how I write, how I get shit done. So using Lifehacker’s How We Work series as a Proust Questionnaire-type model, I’m taking a crack at chasing my workflow, so. Here goes.

Continue reading “Start Making Sense”

Turn Back Now

A friend pointed out that, in my last post about my digital self, I linked the shit out of that sucker, a choice that she argued had the effect of shifting the reader from a linear experience in this space–scrolling from top to bottom–to one that’s unstuck in both space and time by kicking the reader through my back catalogue of posts, but in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure sort of way, you know, like:

You see a series of doors ahead of you.

  • If you choose the one marked “slash fic writer,” turn to page 7.
  • If you choose the door marked “rhetorician,” turn to page 4.
  • If you choose the one marked “political junkie,” turn to page 12.

Huh. I’d never thought of this place, this blog, quite like that.

Part of it, I suppose, is that because I wrote all of the posts in question–build all the damn doors myself–it’s hard for me not to think of this space as linear. At its core, this blog’s a trace of my thinking, for better or worse, and I tend to think of it in temporal terms. How the posts tagged to what was happening offline, what I was reading, where I was physically located, etc.

Now my friend, she’s very into space, the way that physical environments–especially those designed/designated as memorials–can affect the user/visitor’s construction of knowledge. So it stuck with me, a burr under my mental saddle–and then it ran headlong into George Siemens.

Siemens is an educational theorist and teacher up in the Canada, eh, whose work explores what he calls “connectivism,” a theory of learning that attempts to account for human-computer interactions. In “A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,” Siemens recasts learning as

a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.

(HAL 9000? Is that you?)

I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.

Such a redefinition is necessary, he (Siemens, not HAL) argues, to account for shifts in learning practice and application. Educators must recognize that

knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner

but is rather constructed, negotiated, and revised by an individual end user within an ever-evolving panoply of informational networks comprised of both electronic devices–hi Gerty!–and other individual users.

I’m here to help you, Sam.

Ultimately, each of us is constantly playing in and with what Siemens calls our “personal learning network,” one which, if it’s to remain useful, must always be kairotic.

So this got me thinking. Maybe one way of approaching this blog–a clearinghouse for my online life–is as the temporary home of my personal learning network, an online space through which I can momentarily move beyond what Spock might call “two-dimensional thinking.”

That is, a place wherein I might learn/write [because for me they are inexorably connected] not outside of time and space, per say, but through it, with the understanding that the Enterprise can fly up and down and beyond just as well as she can fly straight ahead.

But this assumes, I think, that I’ll return to the blog as a reader, too; as someone who engages with what I’ve written after the fact, outside of the kairotic moment in which the words first flew. Hmm. So building this living memorial to my PLN isn’t enough, perhaps; I’ve got to wander through it from time to time and engage the gaze. Participate in a little metacognition.

So, then, if other people, other readers, visit this space, then, it might become a point of connection within their own PLN, temporarily or no.

Besides, you can always turn the pages back and choose another door if you don’t like what you find:

  • You see Castiel spread out on the bed before you.
  • You see Gorgias spread out on the bed before you.
  • You see Rick Santorum spread out on the bed before you.

…do you wish to proceed?

My Rhetorical Voltron

All right, Digital Self fans: here’s the deal–

This blog? It’s my rhetorical Voltron.

It’s a space where all the disperate parts of my self combine, where my “complex identities”–as Rainie and Wellman put it in Networked–build themselves into a sword-wielding whole:

Ok, the sword’s sold separately. But you dig what I mean.

This is a space, an electronic place, where I write through all the different kinds of shit that makes its way through my head without bothering to gloss over the borders, to make myself into a coherent, heterogeneous entity.

Oh no: you can still see the seams. Each of the robot tigers, yeah, they’re distinct–and yet connected–here.

To wit:

Look: this is a space where I write, period. For good or ill, nsfw or not, this is where I invoke the Goddess Rhetorica and use her for my own devices.

I’ve thought long and hard about what it means for this blog to be public, to be linked in any way to my official identity as a scholar, natch. And to date, my response has basically been: fuck it.

But I suspect this course will make me [has made me] have that conversation with myself once again: what does it mean to be Catchclaw and KT, all at once?

For now, though, don’t be afraid: sometimes a sword is just a sword.

Sometimes.