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.


Welcome to Zur-En-Arrh

There’s something about the idea of performativity, about the capacity to reenact different versions of one’s self depending upon the demands (and opportunities) presented by a given situation, that freaks people out sometimes, because–

–they’ll say.

That is, I think many people believe that they possess a “true” self, an inner rock of being that is distinctly, unequivocally their own.

But to me, the notion of a One True Anything–much less a One True Self–is frankly terrifying.

Maybe it’s the Gorgias lover in me [yes], or the postmodernist [yup], or the wanderlust, but for me, everything is situational.

It’s like Zora Neale Hurston says in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road: “Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person.  That is natural.  There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, see it from its own angle” (45).

The cynical version of this would be it’s all relative, but that’s not quite what I mean.

I’d say: it’s all kairotic.

Toss these questions online, these musings over identity and performance, and whoa.

Who am I online? Given that there are different versions of me running around on tumblr, on twitter, on AO3, here on this blog: what control do I have over the answer to that question?

Well, as Corrine Weisgerber notes, the answer may be not a damn lot:

Interpersonal communication research tells us that on social networking sites the people in our network actually co-construct our identities.

Weisgerber uses the metaphor of the multiverse to illustrate this effect: in essence, we’re read repeatedly and from an enormous variety of perspectives by those whom we encounter online. Each of these readers constructs a slightly different version of our “online self” based both on information about us they’ve collected [and we've shared] and on the particular screen through which we’re read.

Thus, who we are online is not one being, rather a constantly evolving set of selves whose outlines we may sketch through the information that we provide but whose features and characteristics are ultimately created by each of our readers.

It’s like online: I’m Batman.

Batman-batman-4488825-1280-800

And I’m Batman from Earth 2 (who gets to marry Selina):

Batman-Catwoman-Wedding-Earth-2
And I’m Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

batmite

The Batman of Zur-En-Ahh, as re-conceived by Grant Morrison, is a man for whom all of Batman’s other selves are real. He’s the crazed, embodied Bat whose head is drowning meta and experiences and identities that his body, his brain, can’t hope to contain.

So I am all of these selves, all at once. Along with many more versions of myself that live in the minds of my readers, as it were, that I’ll never meet, much less name.

I find this vaguely comforting, this kind of being and not-being.

As a writer, I’m always quick to dismiss the notion of authorial intent: to my mind, once I write something and put it into the world, it’s the reader’s to play with, not mine to control. I can give it all my attention in the crafting, the furious typing, the inevitable swearing. But once it’s published, out there in the ether for anyone to see, it’s not mine anymore.

Certainly, the stakes are higher in academia than in fan fiction: interpretations of my Professional Online Selves may help or hinder my ability to feed myself, for example. But the multiverse metaphor is freeing for me because it underscores the limits of control I have over this particular form of text, of Online Me(s). It doesn’t give me a free pass to openly not give a shit about what I post or who I speak to or what I choose to say–though that’s tempting, believe me–but it does take the pressure off a bit.

Because let’s face it: I think of myself of the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh, but most folks have no idea who he is. And I’m ok with that.


Search Return

So you know (my ex says) they have this new search function on Facebook.

Yeah, I say sage to the phone.

So! he says. I wonder. Will people start living their lives so that they match the search norms on Facebook? Like, would you go to the beach just so that you can write a post about it and then show up in the search results for “beach trip”? Would you tailor your life so that you appeared at the top of certain searches, so that you were the most visible person planning a BBQ or choosing a preschool or going skiing or whatever?

Wow, I say. There’s a short story there. Or even a novel. Huh. I may have to quote you on that. But if I do, I’ll give you credit.

Ok, he says, uncertain. How would you cite me? As your ex?

There’s a pause, filled for me by the little cat gnawing on my knee.

Actually, he says, yeah. That’d be good. ‘Wisdom from my ex.’

It’s a very cool idea, I say. You should write a poem about it.

Eh, he says, breezy. Maybe. We’ll see.


The Genre of Suck

cas_bw

I’m struggling to revise an academic essay right now, a fanwank-y piece about the American TV show Supernatural [what else?]. However, unlike my usual SPN stuff, this essay centers not on feminist readings of fan practice but on the narrative tic-tock of the show itself.

That is, I’m struggling to say something useful (gods please) or even interesting about the canon side of things; specifically, about the angel Castiel’s shenanigans in season six and brief foray into godhood–via a postmodern critical lens, no less.

Sigh. And it sounded so cool as an abstract.

But man! do I suck at it, this kind of writing.

It’s not the mechanics of revision that are troubling me now. To the contrary, the editors of the maybe-collection in which said essay would appear have been kind, providing very thoughtful comments, suggestions, exhortations on the first drafty-as-fuck draft. So I know how to hack the thing into some kind of shape.

Exactly.

But re-reading [foundational rhetorical critic] Carolyn Miller this week has helped me to nail this sucker down, the thing that’s driven my confusion about the essay from the get-go: I don’t understand what the thing is supposed to do, in the end.

Miller argues that a genre is defined in large part by the “action it is used [by writers and readers] to accomplish” (151). So, ok, who cares if I can talk about a fictional avenging angel in terms of contemporary rhetorical theory and a Foucaultian analysis of power? Fundamentally, what action might such an essay be used to accomplish? And by whom?

Right! I don’t know!

That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, that there’s no action in play here. No. I just have no fucking clue what it might be because–when you get down to it–canon-centered fandom essays are not a genre I tend to hang out with, frankly.

Here’s Miller again:

A genre [she asserts] is a rhetorical means for mediating private intentions and social exigence; it motivates by connecting the private with the public, the singular with the recurrent (163).

That is, a genre offers a socially acceptable way for a writer/speaker to publicly express an individual intention in a manner that can be recognized by others.

So slash fic, for example–you know, just for instance–offers a genre through which writers can express a private intention to revel in, uh–

–within a generic form that’s socially acceptable [at least within particular communities of readers]. And the genre also provides sufficient constraints as to make an individual writer’s public expression recognizable to an audience, to someone other than the writer herself.

I suppose what I’ve discovered, then, in the process of battling with this essay is that I’m lacking a goddamn private intention here: I’m crafting a public expression that’s not grounded in me, necessarily, in a burning recognition of exigence to which I feel my scholarship must speak.

Maybe it’s the rhetorician in me talking [duh], but this experience has reminded me that I’m much more interested in what texts do, or what we do with texts, than in the content of the texts themselves. I mean, the content matters, dude; indeed, it was the content of one particular SPN episode [that I will be hatefucking in perpetuity, as my ex puts it] that put me on the road to fandom-centered scholarship.

Which is all well and good. But given that I agreed to play in a generic sandbox of another color, it might have behooved me to get a little dirty first.


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.

Current gig: PhD wonderland
One word that best describes how you work: Ongoing
Current mobile device: iPhone 4
Current computer: MacBook Pro that’s aging gracefully

What apps/software/tools can’t you truly live without?

  • Notes on the iPhone. A good 80% of my projects, both fan fiction and academic, start there.
  • WordPress and Tumblr.The next generation of idea development happens here.
  • Dropbox synched on all my devices and online. Almost all of my teaching materials live there, in various iterations, along with tons of fandom and academic-related PDFs.
  • Good Reader for iPad. PDF access all the time to shit I pull down from Dropbox.

What’s your workplace setup like?

workspace @ school

The key for me is having a big space to spread out in. I don’t need shelves or drawers, really; just a big wide workspace to fill with books, papers, computer, and other detritus  At school, I spend as much time sitting on my desk as I do behind it; it’s just easier for me to work up there. At home, I make a conscious effort to work at my desk and not on the couch. Couch = social media. Desk = writing.

That said, I spend more time working in alternative spaces like the library and the local Starbucks than I do in either of these officially sanctioned places.

workspace @ home

Decorating my spaces, adorning them with the relics of academic fandom, is key for me. I need Batman putting his finger in my face sometimes; at others, I just need some pretty to stare at when the words aren’t coming fast enough.

Blank walls freak me out, is what I’m saying.

What’s your best timesaving hack/shortcut?

Write shit down. Whenever and wherever an idea comes, I write it down RIGHT THEN or else it’s gone. This saves me time later wracking my brain for evidence of my previous brilliance, because it’s all there on my iPhone or in the margins of my homework.

ideasgenerating

when i run out of space here, these notes migrate to other rooms. my hallway’s full of the things.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? 

Giant sticky notes on the wall of my workspace. They’re the in-world version of my iPhone Notes.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

The iPad when I’m traveling and at conferences and a good set of headphones, always.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

Giving myself permission to write. Just sitting down and letting the words come, fucked up or sideways or even right the first time. Publishing my stuff on the internet has done wonders for me, in this way: I write something, I publish it, period. Writing’s like a trap-and-release program, for me.

What do you listen to while you work?

Blessed silence or movie soundtracks like Tron: Legacy and X-Men: First Class.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Ugh. Terrible. I go to bed at a reasonable hour, sure, but then I wake up more than once and check email, which suggests to the cats that it’s time to get up. A struggle ensues, with sleep the inevitable loser.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Bitch please. I am the textbook introvert.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Listening solves 95% of problems. Help people to know they’re being heard.

The hardest part, for me? Is listening to myself.


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.