Blogs without comments?

As sort of a follow-up to my  post about Hate Online, I decided to investigate an article provided by one of my professors (Digital Self classmates – it is on the sidebar of our class site). In this blog post, Barry Ritholtz details the reasons he is turning off blog comments (and links to why some others have as well). My two favorites:

1.) Were I to shut down my comments, it would be for a reason I have not seen enumerated elsewhere: The intellectually disingenuous rhetorical sleight of hand that has become a substitute for legitimate debate. (I love this sentence so much)

2.) Therein lay the problem: A small group of trolls somehow confuse these sites for a town square. It is not. This blog is not a forum where I am obligated to give equal time to every crackpot conspiracy theorist, birther or intellectually lazy wanker out there. To be blunt, I don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about these jackhole’s opinions. These folk need to rapidly disabuse themselves from believing other people’s blog’s are an open invitation for whatever ignorance or ill thought out nonsense they are peddling.

Now, of course, this is obviously a post written at a high point of frustration, so the language is a bit…extreme at points. And I am not a regular reader of this guy’s blog, so I don’t really know if his claims to reasoned discourse are fair and accurate. But the man has a point. It’s not for nothin’ that my friends and I have a mantra of “never scroll down.” All you have to do is click on the comments section of pretty much any YouTube video to learn that. But I wonder if shutting down comments is the answer. Yeah, I hate it when someone comes trollin’…but isn’t part of the point of a blog the interactive nature of it?

My blog doesn’t have a broad readership, so I haven’t really had to deal with this (though I have deleted a Facebook status or two because I couldn’t believe how my “friends” were commenting on it). But I wonder, if I had this issue – would I block comments? Delete the trolls? Ignore it all and move on?


“I’d like to thank the academy…”

One of the people I’m studying for our “Online Identity Analysis” project in my Digital Self course is very excited about  web texts. These aren’t necessarily a fascinating source of study for me personally, but I’ve liked a lot of the things she’s linked to. The interplay of visuals, words, and the interactivity available through different programs online creates some very interesting ways of sharing information.

With this in mind, I thought I would share this link about the Academy Awards. I’m not sure if this really qualifies as a “web text,” as my definition of this is still fuzzy. But it’s interesting nonetheless. It analyzes the acceptance speeches throughout the years of the Oscars, focusing on who was thanked, and even gestures used by the people doing the thanking. You can even choose one of the winners and compare his or her speech to others. (There are even links to speech transcripts and videos)

An interesting study in language, presented in a fun, interactive way. Check it out!

Hate Online

In class this past week, we were talking about the concept of “fractured identities” – or “multiple selves” or…<insert metaphor here> (we couldn’t quite agree what to call it!). It’s this concept that you are many different versions of yourself in many different places. The author we were reading, Nancy Baym, made the claim that this is a result of anonymity online; however, many of us declared that this “fracturing” was occurring before online existence. In some cases, the internet makes it worse – creating more opportunities for more “selves” – and in others it creates the risk of many of those worlds crashing together. This blog post is evidence of the latter.

One of my “selves” is “pastor’s wife.” I claim that label instead of simply “Christian” for two reasons: (1) I really, really dislike the face of Christianity that most often comes to mind nowadays thanks to the actions of churches like Westboro Baptist, and (2) there’s a lot more baggage that goes along with being a pastor’s wife. That baggage isn’t quite as potent for me as it has been in the past since Don is not currently in an official pastoral role; however, there’s a “fish bowl” effect to being part of a minister’s family that is quite…interesting. But honestly, this is beside the point (for now).

So, when fully participating in this part of my fractured self, I enjoy – among other things – reading the blog of Rachel Held Evans. She is an author, speaker, and blogger who tries to engage in a view of Christianity that is quite different from the mainstream evangelical view. She challenges a lot of fundamentalist thought, and usually does so in a very respectful, reasonable manner. Unfortunately, the responses to these challenges are often anything but reasonable, and often downright hateful. I’ve been amazed over the past few months as I watched people react to the release of her newest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (which one Christian bookstore refused to carry because she uses the word “vagina” in it). It is understandable that some in the more conservative corners of Christianity would disagree with her view; what was striking was how they handled that disagreement.

One of Rachel Held Evans’ pieces of origami hate mail. (Pic from her blog)

This week, Rachel blogged about how she is turning hate mail into origami. While I think this is a lovely and interestingly healing way of dealing with it, I was shocked at the images she posted including some of this hate mail. And it got me to thinking again about how this screen (computers, internet, online communication) somehow makes some of us lose our humanity. My guess is that a lot of the people who sent her hate email, tweeted negative things, or left hateful comments on news stories and blogs wouldn’t dare to be this rude in person. Okay, maybe some would. But what is it about this screen that makes us forget that we’re talking to other humans, that our words can still land like daggers? Would these “online haters” have taken the time to write (or type) a letter and send it?

What do you think? Is online discourse participating in the degradation of public discourse as a whole, or is it just simply another environment in which it happens?

MOOCs – a step backwards?

This is an interesting take on MOOCs. Usually I hear people go on and on about how “revolutionary” MOOCs are, and how they will fundamentally change the face of education. This takes a different view. A part I thought was interesting:

The pedagogical justification for MOOCs derives from a misunderstood belief in the surety and fixidity of current academic knowledge when, in fact, the entire point of the academy is discovery and dialogue. That is: the MOOC assumes we know what there is for us to know, and the only question now is how to package that knowledge in its best possible form for widest dissemination. So we must locate the “most charismatic” professors — but really, why not hire actors? — and have them lecture “deliver content” for huge Internet audiences of 10,000 or more.

But this bears no relationship to what actually goes on in classrooms, at least in the humanities fields in which I’ve spent the last fifteen years. The vitality of our teaching derives not from the recitation of what is certain but from the explorations of questions that are still unsettled and raw. MOOCs presume that nothing new will be produced in research — the entire point is to freeze established “content” in its perfected form — but also that nothing new or worthwhile is produced in the two-way encounter between teacher and student. Neither assumption reflects any college classroom I’ve ever sat in or how we in the humanities teach and learn.


Hospitality Online

In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym argues that online communities are often self-policing; if you are participating in the community and engage in a behavior that isn’t the “norm,” you will be corrected. This is, I suppose, somewhat good and to be expected. But what of communities where you are new and unfamiliar with the rules? Some communities have a guidelines page for this purpose; however, my experience has been that there are many more unwritten rules for these communities.

What I’m particularly concerned with here is how we correct unwelcome behaviors. I have seen situations where someone breaks one of the unwritten rules, resulting in one or more people smacking them down with extreme force.

This hurts way more when it isn’t scripted.

This is incredibly unwelcoming. So, I guess my question is: how can communities become more welcoming to new participants and help them assimilate to the expectations in a way that is truly hospitable? Do they even want to do that?


The Setup

In my Digital Self class, we are all talking about our “Setup” – how we get stuff done. Using The Setup website as a template, here I go:

Who Are You and What Do You Do? 
I’m Tana M. Schiewer, graduate student, wife, mother, bicycle commuter, and occasional writer-for-hire. I am currently a PhD student in the Rhetoric and Writing program at Virginia Tech, which is housed in the English Department. When not trying to force my brain to concentrate on words on a page, I spend time mostly with my husband, 9 year old son, and Puggle, who suffers from seizures. I occasionally do ad copy or write grants.

What Hardware Do You Use?
I have an HP TouchSmart that I use for most of my classwork, though thanks to a program here at Tech I also have an iPad to use for the semester. I also sometimes use my phone to do work, when necessary. Also, for bike commuting, I use a Giant Revive with a Bionx electric assist. (What? Not the kind of hardware you meant?)

And What Software?
For school, I mostly use the basics: Gmail, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Office. Library databases for doing research. Express Scribe for transcription. I tried using Mendeley to manage my PDFs and books, but I just can’t seem to get myself to keep up with it. I was using a simple Excel sheet to track what I read, make notes about the main ideas, and establish keywords, and sometimes that just seems easier. I might go back to that.

For home, the only software really necessary is to keep track of finances. Budgeting is extremely important when you’re living on a paltry graduate assistantship salary! :-)  I use our bank’s online payment systems and to keep track of finances and ensure we stay within our spending limits. (I did have an amazing budgeting software program I loved that I started using when we get married (1996), but it finally stopped working when it upgraded to Windows 7. It’s a shame, but Mint’s okay.)

For fun, the usual: Facebook, twitter, Hulu, Netflix.

What Would Be Your Dream Setup?
I still love paper and pen, but it’s not always easy to cart around all the papers you need, nor is it always easy to write stuff down when you’re, say, riding a bicycle. Most of my best ideas come to me when walking to the bus, riding my bike, or drifting off to sleep. So I would love something that could just magically transfer ideas from my head to some sort of database. And also, from my paper to the database (no, not a screen I would write on instead). Because yes, I’m lazy.

Oh, and as long as it’s a “Dream Setup” – I also want the magic bag-with-no-bottom that Hermione had in the Deathly Hallows. Because then the whole paper thing would be less of a problem.


My favorite hardware.

My favorite hardware.

On Pretentiousness and Twitter

I dislike pretentiousness. Which is a difficult dislike to have when you’re a graduate student, because let’s face it: the academic world is rife with it. Or…it has a reputation for being rife with it. To be honest, I’m not quite sure which of those statements is fact anymore. Are there pretentious people in academia? Heck yeah. But are they the norm, or the exception?

I feel like my uncertainty about this has a lot to do with the increased presence of professors on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  Thanks to Twitter, I now know that Clay Spinuzzi takes the bus to campus, Bill Hart-Davidson is a cyclist, and Quinn Warnick catalogs his Clif bars. Somehow, knowing these small extra details about academics makes them seem a little less Ivory-Tower-y. Somehow, this digital space that we each can only access from one side of a screen tears down walls. Does that even make sense?

Now, I’m not saying that these media spaces are the only things doing this. Just this past weekend, we had an Undergraduate Research Writing Symposium here at Tech, and Dr. Carter-Tod (who organized it) stated that she brought in the three guest speakers because they are “accessible” and generous with their scholarship and time. Only one of the three has an active Twitter presence, so I don’t think that’s what did it for them. They are simply hospitable scholars – and many, many of them exist in the discipline of Rhetoric and Writing. (Hooray!) But not everyone is good at showing the rest of the world that they are ready and willing to lend an ear – even if they truly are. And unfortunately, legends of snobby scholars and “I had a bad experience” stories from students often keep students from feeling like they have the “right” to approach other scholars – unless specifically granted permission to speak.

So I guess what I’m trying to say in my rambly-roundabout way is that social media applications have aided in tearing down walls – whether they be real or just perceived. And though I’m still undecided on how I feel about keeping up with all of this digital stuff, I do know for sure that I at least appreciate Twitter for helping to virtually knock down some walls.
p.s. This post sounded much better when I wrote it in my head while walking to the bus today. Isn’t there some sort of technology that can help me with that?

Twitter, Professionalism, and Performance

business suitsThis semester, I’m taking a class called “The Digital Self,” which is focused on the idea of networking online, online identities, and things of that nature. Part of the focus of the class is creating our professional presence online, mostly in order to prepare us for the job market. I have to (create and) maintain a Twitter presence and blog with this professional goal in mind. (At least, this is how I interpreted the assignment.) I already had a Twitter account, so I’m aware of the basics. However, said Twitter account (a) was created during a time when I was convinced I was going to write the most amazing book on motherhood ever (working title: The Marvelous Magnificence of Malcolm) and people would follow me to read my sage advice and my child’s witty sayings, and (b) has evolved since then include all of my interests – geeky stuff, theology, politics, etc. So, I had to consider “re-branding” my Twitter account. I left the handle (@Marvelous_M – which stands for “Marvelous Malcolm” – my son’s name) but changed the name on the account from “A Geek and Her Son” to my name. My bio now describes my scholarly pursuits with a little bit of personal info mixed in. The goal of all of this? To establish myself online as a scholar, and to build a professional network. But I continually grapple with the lines between what personal information to share, and how “professional” to make my presence.

This struggle between maintaining a “professional” presence online versus a “personal” presence – well, I find it vexing. How much of my “personal” life should I reveal? If I only post professional things, am I covering up a part of myself? Denying it, somehow? The very nature of online networking thrusts all of these problems to the forefront, as more and more information about us is posted – either by us (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.) or by others (news outlets, friends, etc.) – in an easily searchable space. The lines between private and public are suddenly extremely blurry. When this is the case, is the creation of an online professional presence some kind of performance art?

This idea of professionalism as performance struck me as I watch people on the job market. You want to see a well-dressed academic? Go to a “job talk” (the talk academics give about their research when doing a campus visit in the hopes of getting hired). No matter how people dress for their daily teaching assignments, you can bet they’ll be wearing a suit for the job talk. I can’t help but wonder – will they teach in those suits?  I mean, really? Are they just performing the identity they hope will get them hired?

Is that what I’m doing now?