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How Social is Social Software?

Socialsoftware Hello.  My name is Josh Levy and I'm a new blogger at iDC.  Like the other writers here, I'm interested in "social software" -- a phrase that writers and technophiles casually use to describe a host of different web applications.  My work at Hunter College, where I'm in the Integrated Media Arts MFA program, centers on using technology to facilitate community-building and social awareness.  "Social software" can potentially play a role in this and my work is an investigation into how this might happen; however, it's hard to read about technologies like blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking and tagging services without getting stuck in the business-oriented hype surrounding them.  I'm wondering if, because of their emphasis on social contexts and reliance on community input, these technologies can be put to use to help build communities, much in the way that community newspapers have functioned for the last 150 years.

A common criticism (one that I share) of personal networking software like Friendster, MySpace, or Facebook is that it contributes to "iPod culture," a culture that's becoming more and more atomized and insular and encourages consumers to tailor everything in their world to their own tastes, dispensing with the unpredictable world outside their earbuds.  Although they're "socially" oriented, these sites are often geared towards helping individuals to congratulate themselves for their collections of friends, hobbies, and interests.  They don't always facilitate social relationships outside of pre-existing ones.

I think there's a way to harness the networking strength of those sites and add the strengths of blogs, wikis, VoiP, tagging, etc., to make them help people build communities based on mutual interest and need, both within and without academia.  While the business world debates the staying power of the Web 2.0, the non-profit world and academia can benefit from the truly remarkable potential these technologies represent.

10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Quality and Competitiveness in Distributed Poetics

Poetry On Wednesday February 15th, 2006 at Penn State University, Charles Bernstein (English Department) and Nick Montfort (Department of Computer Science) organized a reading at the Kelly Writers House. This time, it was under the new name of the "Machine Reading Series", and it was fortunate that the two visitors were "machine" poets themselves. It was also fortunate that I was attending, so I could take some notes. They are linked here.

Loss Pequeno Glazier (Department of Media Study, SUNY at Buffalo) and Jim Carpenter (Computer Science Department at Penn State University) were invited to read and talk about their work. Although the crowd was mostly coming from the literary field, the presence of Jim Carpenter oriented the event towards a technical discussion about the possibilities of language engines. In spite of that, the topic was most of the time drifting back to aesthetics problems such as "What makes a poem worth and/or work?", "What can a prosthetic process bring to a human poet?".

Jim Carpenter brought up two interesting notions: quality and competitiveness. This triggered an interesting debate, quite original among literary scholars: what difference can we make between publishing houses' or poetry reviews' standards (= competitiveness) and the poet's work free from these standards (= quality). To me the distinction appears to be quite artificial as it repeats the traditional dissociation between the commodity/reproduction work and the authentic work of art that does nothing else but flattering the poet. Did not the printed review activities in the 20th century sufficiently demonstrate the experimental potential of reproduction and distribution? And the digital medium allows even more possibilities.

But the core of the debate was really Artificial Intelligence: what Aspen Aarseth calls the Cyborg Author was at stake. It was interesting nonetheless as the cyborg-problematic eventually raises the problem of control over text. Here, it was less a matter of control over writing than a problem of control over reading (How do I react to a poem generated by a machine?). The question of control was transferred from authorship to readership. How do you tell what's worth reading? What is quality? What does it mean to produce something that is competitive? How do you control the cultural field that you chose (or not) as your environment? All these questions were implicit, but not too much discussed.

The two guest poets directed their reading towards this problematic of reading and reception:

1) Jim Carpenter implemented a language engine, the Electronic Text Composition (ETC) project. It has a "geodesic structure" that generates words from the British National Corpus. The paratacic dimension of the program eventually leads to output poetry that stands for pastiche to any literary scholar. It summarizes the history of modern poetry via language experiments on disarticulation and pacification from late romanticism to post-modernism. While, through pastiche, the output poems can become competitive (because they correspond to the review literary standards), the notion of quality is now attributed to the writing of the program itself. The computer program becomes poetic in that sense.

2) Loss Pequeno Glazier, director of the Electronic Poetry Center gave a retrospective overview of his work. He focused on his pieces that experiment new ways of reading. The machine here intervenes as a real-time editor of the poem, disturbing the linear reading by changing the text, allowing semantic jumps. The problem of database was tackled with this other perspective on poetry reading: What value has a poem if it is composed of variable fragments?

This debate was interesting for someone with a little knowledge of the potentialities of electronic textualities. The often-uneasy reaction of the audience (part ironic, part sympathetic) was telltale: how do you recognize a robot production from a human one? How do you value a poem according to this distinction? To me it comes down to the question of the caring for literature in the first place: what draws you into a text - which is the most difficult question perhaps.

Charles Bernstein insisted on the necessity for literary scholars not to forget the notions of database and access, two major properties of the New Media object according to Lev Manovich. He focused on the importance of formats and information processing within the literary world, something that is easily forgotten. Someone told me that it was shocking how English and Linguistic students didn't have a clue how to deal with Internet tools - that might be a caricature, but it also might be true that there is a new form of textuality that we literature students are missing. Pointing in that direction, Bernstein suggested that a poem may be analyzed in terms of data processing. What was the relativity of hermeneutics (several readings of the poem) can be reinterpreted today as a multi-functionality of the poem through the software program.

Camille Paloque-B. (Lyon, France)

02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Distributed Aesthetics

Fibre Issue 7 of The Fibreculture Journal
Edited by Lisa Gye, Anna Munster and Ingrid Richardson


Rather than try to define the terminology or taxonomy of distributed art theories and practices we have proposed in this issue a descriptor for the ‘aesthesia’ of contemporary networked encounters.  Distributed aesthetics concerns experiences that are sensed, lived and produced in more than one place and time. This might equally be a sketch of reconsiderations of the operations of cultural memory or of phenomena such as endurance performances. But what we propose, through gathering together the disparate essays in this fibreculture journal issue, is that techno-social networks are crucially constitutive of this distributed aesthesia.  In various ways, all the texts here take up the mode through which ‘the network’ – the juncture and disjunction of here and there, you and I, social and individuated – functions as the crucial operand in dispersing and contouring perception, art practice and aesthetics. This issue of the fibreculture journal signals important emerging trends and directions for critically engaged artistic practices and theories in and of the network.

With contributions from:
Darren Tofts
Geert Lovink and Anna Munster
Greg Turner-Rahman
Mark Amerika
Simon Biggs
Vince Dzekian
Edwina Bartlem
Susan Ballard
Keith Armstrong

And with thanks to the readers who assisted with comments and, as always, to Andrew Murphie

09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Learning on the go

Walk1_2_11_06_1_1 The iDC list has had some great conversations (still going on at the moment!) about conferences and such recently, discussing alternative formats the problematics of bringing people together to share ideas, develop tactics and strategies, network and learn from each other in general. In a lot of ways, it seems that the whole point of conferences is to extend the traditional space of the classroom and other learning environments into more professional and specialized spaces. Of course, i'm speaking in a completely idealistic and non-cynical manner here.
But i think a lot of innovations that can be applied to educational settings can also be considered in relation to professional conferences if we want to take them as seriously and assume that they are indeed more than lines on a resume.
i was considering this while following a new course here at UIUC being taught by my colleague Kevin Hamilton, library science (& more) researcher Piotr Adamczyk and visiting artists Laurie Long and M.Simon Levin based on a larger series of events. The class, titled Mobile Mapping for Everyday Spaces, involves students from various disciplines (including art, dance, computer science and landscape architecture) in the study and creation of cartographic technologies based on walking. Without going too much into it, one great thing that i gather is going on from my limited involvement in the course is the focused back-and-forth between discursive exploration and shared problem solving. In other words, they read/view and discuss others' works related to a topic and then work on specific problems in collaborative groups, which is then fed back into discussion.

While this is extremely simple (my description, not the class), i wonder if conferences and the like could benefit from this kind of discursive workshop model. How can conference sessions actually organize response mechanisms (i.e. focused on the feedback) rather than the delivery of singular "vanguard" positions?

09:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)