Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Romanticism Redux: blogging as (sometimes) very old literacy practice

Just came across a reference in some old notes on blogging from a few years back.

It's from Joe Clark, a Canadian blogger, who writes:
A blog is a form of exteriorized psychology. It’s a part of you, or of your psyche; while a titanium hip joint or a pacemaker might bring technology inside the corporeal you, a Weblog uses technology to bring the psychological you outside of it. [emphasis mine]

Deconstructing “You’ve Got Blog”
Clark is articulating the Romantic view of writing as expression, an exteriorisation of an already fully constituted interiority (my inner self, psyche or the "Real Me").


It's a long way from 'identity performance' and 'distributed selfhood'.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ian Hutchby on affordances and the text metaphor

Really interesting extracts from Hutchby on affordances and the text metaphor:
Grint and Woolgar (1997) suggest the intriguing notion that technologies
should be treated as ‘texts’which are ‘written’ (i.e. configured) in certain ways by their developers, producers and marketers, and have to be ‘read’ (i.e. interpreted) by their users or consumers. The writers of these technology-texts may seek to impose particular meanings on the artefact, and to constrain the range of possible
interpretations open to users.Users, by contrast,may seek to produce readings of the technology-text which best suit the purposes they have in mind for the artefact. It is in the dynamic between these processes that sociologists can begin to locate the
meaningful social reality of technologies. Neither the writing nor the reading of technology-texts is determinate: both are open, negotiated processes. Although there may be ways that technology-texts have ‘preferred’ readings built into them, it is always open to the user to find a way around this attempt at interpretive closure. A good example is the telephone. As Frissen (1995) points out, one of the early ways that the telephone was marketed to a mass audience (‘written’, in Grint and Woolgar’s terms) was as an instrumental tool useful for business negotiations (for men) and the management of household services (for women).However, women in particular began to ‘read’ this technology in quite a different way – as a tool for sociability, for chatting – and after a while the manufacturers, sensitive to this new reading, began to market what was to all intents a ‘different’ technology to the one they had begun with. (Hutchby 201: 445)

... different technologies possess different affordances, and these affordances constrain the ways that they can possibly be ‘written’ or ‘read’. (Hutchby 201: 447)

... the range of possibilities for interpretation and action is nowhere near as open for either ‘writers’ or ‘readers’ as the technology as text metaphor implies. (Hutchby 201: 450)

My aim has been to argue for an acceptance that our interpretations and uses
of technological artefacts, while important, contingent and variable, are constrained
in analysable ways by the ranges of affordances that particular artefacts possess. The
social constructivist consensus has usefully brought to the forefront the recognition
that social processes are involved in all aspects of technology, and not simply in its
effects upon society. But we can become too fixated on the social shaping of technology at the expense of an equally pressing, though differently framed, concern with the technological shaping of social action. (Hutchby 201: 453)

The affordances of an artefact are not things which impose themselves upon humans’ actions with, around, or via that artefact.But they do set limits on what it is possible to do with, around, or via the artefact. By the same token, there is not one but a variety of ways of responding to the range of affordances for action and interaction that a technology presents.We can analyse the development of those responses empirically, but in order to do so we have to accept that technological artefacts do not amount simply to what their users make of them; what is made of them is accomplished in the interface between human aims and the artefact’s affordances.(Hutchby 201: 453)

The Facebook phone - affordances and technological determinism again

A bit more on emerging technologies and social practices mutually informing their respective development. This is going to get a bit ragged and random ... I may have to return and edit.

We know how significant usage of both mobile phones and social networking sites are, well lots of the mobile phone manufacturers and networks are plugging phones that offer easy access to SNSs (see UK advertising campaign from 2008):

There's also a forthcoming 'Facebook phone' that will offer much cheaper access:

Finally, the SNSs too have been active developing apps - the best being the Facebook app for the iPhone.

Facebook on iPhone

Anyway, all this is to make the point that technology doesn't remain static; it's developing in response to new social trends (e.g. popularity of SNSs, desire for permanent networked connectivity, constant 'intimate co-presence' facilitated by SNSs etc.) - trends which it plays a role in developing in turn.

Existing technologies such as mobile phones received a makeover to support the growing popularity of networked practices - e.g. smart phones developed a capacity for web access, email and other data services, still and video camera for shots that can be uploaded and shared.

So, camera-equipped smart phones which make it easy to upload pictures to sites like Facebook or Flickr might be said to be responding to existing - although still newish - practices but also create new social media behaviours of their own.

Lessig on Wikipedia

This is an extract from Lawrence Lessig's blog. It's a defence against some of the claims made in Keen's book. I'm particularly interested in the section on Wikipedia which has a bad press in HE:
The wiki fallacy

Keen spends a great deal of time attacking Wikipedia, and its founder, Jimmy Wales. As Keen writes, "Wikipedia ... is almost single-handedly killing the traditional information business." (p127-8). I take it not even Wales would exaggerate the importance of Wikipedia like this. And again, implicit in Keen's argument is the efficiency fallacy mentioned above.

But the real error here is betrayed in the following:

Since Wikipedia's birth, more than fifteen thousand contributors have created nearly three million entries in over a hundred different languages—none of them edited or vetted for accuracy (p4).
"None of them edited or vetted for accuracy"? On one level, of course, this is absurdly false. Wikipedia is constantly edited, and attributions constantly vetted for accuracy. Indeed, for many of the articles, the level of editing and vetting is vastly greater than any article published in any encyclopedia ever.

But on a different level, what Keen must mean is that it is not "edited" or "vetted" by experts. Or exclusively by experts (for again, experts certainly participate in Wikipedia). This is related to Keen's obsession (indeed, I'm sure if he has one, his shrink must have a field day with this obsession) with "experts" and makers of "taste." So central is this to Keen's argument, it deserves its own heading.

Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur": BRILLIANT!

Lessig on 'true' and 'false' content sharing sites

Interesting blog post making a distinction between 'true' and 'false' content sharing.

Unusually, YouTube, a site that's often quoted as empobying the Web 2.0 ethos represents 'false' sharing: there's no way to download, just the option to embed.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Clay Shirky on blogging

I like these extracts from Clay Shirky - a good risposte to those who claim blogs are trivial, inconsequential nonsense:

... dozens of weblogs have an audience of a million or more, and millions have an audience of a dozen or less. (Shirky 2008: 84)

And it's easy to deride this sort of thing as self-absorbed publishing - why would anyone put such drivel out in public? It's simple. They're not talking to you. 
(Shirky 2008: 85)

We misread these seemingly inane posts because we're so unused to seeing written material in public that isn't intended for us. The people posting messages to one another in small groups are doing a different kind of communicating than people posting messages for hundreds or thousands of people to read. More is different, but less is different too. An audience isn't just a big community; it can be more anonymous, with many fewer ties among users. A community isn't just a small audience either; it has a social density that audiences lack. The bloggers and social network users operating in small groups are part of a community, and they are enjoying something analogous to the privacy of the mall. On any given day you could go to the food court and find a group of teenagers hanging out and talking to one another. They are in public, and you could certainly sit at the next table over and listen in on them if you wanted to. And what would they be saying to one another? They'd be saying, "I can't believe I missed you last night!!! Trac talked to you and said you were TRASHED off your ASS!" They'd be doing something similar to what they are doing on LiveJournal or Xanga, in other words, but if you were listening in on their conversation at the mall, as opposed to reading their post, it would be clear that you were the weird one. (Shirky 2008: 85)


Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press.

Lankshear and Knobel on two divergent mindsets

The first mindset [newcomer/outsider] assumed that the contemporary world is essentially the way it has been throughout the modern-industrial period, only now it is more technologized or, alternatively, technologized in a new and very sophisticated way. To all intents and purposes, however, the world on which these new technologies are brought to bear is more or less the same economic, cultural, social world that has evolved throughout the modern era, where things got done by means of routines that were predicated on long-standing assumptions about bodies, materials, property and forms of ownership, industrial techniques and principles, physical texts, face-to-face dealings (and physical proxies for them), and so on.  The second mindset [insider] assumes that the contemporary world is different in important ways from the world we have known, and that the difference is growing. This is related to the development of new digital electronic internetworked technologies and new ways of doing things and new ways of being that are enabled by these technologies. (Lankshear and Knobel 2006: 33-4)


Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2006). New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Defining affordances

Lucas Graves has an interesting article on blogging, although blogging is really just the example or case study, as the article is really about the concept of 'affordances'.

He cites the work of both Ian Hutchby (2001) and Brian Rappert (2003) whose concept of affordances attempt to construct a middle ground between technological determinism and social constructivism. 

For Hutchby, “[d]ifferent technologies possess different affordances, and these affordances constrain the ways they can possibly be ‘written’ or ‘read’ ” (Hutchby 2001: 447). Rappert takes a similar view that affordances are the perceived properties inherent in an object that suggest - but do not determine- its uses. Rappert views technology as both “configured by and configuring, affected by and affecting” (p. 569) social practices. He argues that “[w]hile objects do exist, the way in which we understand them is always subject to negotiation and interpretation” (p. 571). 

Graves argues that the technology of blogging didn't just come along and change people's practices; rather, blogging technologies were designed to "facilitate an activity that was already beginning to take place, in the same way that the development of the telephone and telephone networks conformed to the emerging practices of telephone culture." (Graves 2007: 243). He writes of the transformation of blogs as simple web pages to the sort of software we recognise now which automatically arranges posts in reverse order. He goes on to argue that blogging, as a distinct genre, emerged at the "intersection of technology and society: Technology and sociocultural practice evolve together, each feeding back into the other" (Graves 2007: 343).

Affordances: Quick definitions

"I will argue that affordances are functional and relational aspects which frame, while not determining, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object. In this way, technologies can be understood as artefacts which may be both shaped by and shaping of the practices humans use in interaction with, around and through them. This ‘third way’ between the (constructivist) emphasis on the shaping power of human agency and the (realist) emphasis on the constraining power of technical capacities opens the way for new analyses of how technological artefacts become important elements in the patterns of ordinary human conduct. (Hutchby 2001: 444)

“the affordances of the artifact: the possibilities for action that it offers” (Hutchby 2001: 449)

"the features of a technology that make a certain action possible" (Graves 2007 :332). 


Graves, L. (2007). The Affordances of Blogging: A Case Study in Culture and Technological Effects. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 31(4), 331-346

Hutchby, I. (2001). Technologies, texts and affordances. Sociology: The Journal of the British
Sociological Association, 35(2), 441-456.

Rappert, B. (2003). Technologies, texts and possibilities: A reply to Hutchby. Sociology: The Journal of the British Sociological Association, 37(3), 565-580.

Henry Farrell on academic bloggin

Not sure I'll need this link but it came up in JD's presentation.

Academic bloggers differ in their goals. Some are blogging to get personal or professional grievances off their chests or, like Black, to pursue nonacademic interests. Others, perhaps the majority, see blogging as an extension of their academic personas. Their blogs allow them not only to express personal views but also to debate ideas, swap views about their disciplines, and connect to a wider public. For these academics, blogging isn't a hobby; it's an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future.

Why are so many academics beginning to blog? Academic blogs offer the kind of intellectual excitement and engagement that attracted many scholars to the academic life in the first place, but which often get lost in the hustle to secure positions, grants, and disciplinary recognition. Properly considered, the blogosphere represents the closest equivalent to the Republic of Letters that we have today. Academic blogs, like their 18th-century equivalent, are rife with feuds, displays of spleen, crotchets, fads, and nonsenses. As in the blogosphere more generally, there is a lot of dross. However, academic blogs also provide a carnival of ideas, a lively and exciting interchange of argument and debate that makes many scholarly conversations seem drab and desiccated in comparison. Over the next 10 years, blogs and bloglike forms of exchange are likely to transform how we think of ourselves as scholars. While blogging won't replace academic publishing, it builds a space for serious conversation around and between the more considered articles and monographs that we write.

Henry Farrell on academic blogging

Blogging as new literacy practice (sorry make that practices)

In a discussion board forum, Julia asks:
[1] From looking at blogs and perhaps drawing from your experience of blogging, do you consider blogs to exemplify new literacy practices?

[2] Do you think that it is possible to keep a blog and still be of an ‘old’ mindset?

Here's my response:
[1] I think blogs simultaneously exemplify 'new' and 'old' literacy practices.

Blogs are over a decade old now (Happy Blogiversary) and there are now millions of them used for very different purposes.

It's inaccurate to homogenise blogging as a practice that can be ascribed to any one particular mindset. Like the term literacies, blogging probably needs to be conceptualised as a set of contextually defined practices (note the plural).

Some - but not all - uses of blogging might be said to exemplify new literacy practices where the text-making processes incorporate some features of digital textuality as defined by Guy Merchant (linking to other texts, embedding media, blurring of generic boundaries etc.).

[2] In spite of the affordances of blogging software, there is no reason why a user should not use his/her blog as a tool for verbose reflection (i.e. for monologuing, sounding off, one-way traffic) in an 'outsider/newcomer' mindset way without reader comments, links, quotations, blog roll, tags or embedded media content.

The possibilities for social interaction may well be bypassed by some blog users who see the tool as an online word processor - a bit like Word, or, more accurately Google Docs. For example, an undergraduate might use a blog to make reading notes that will be integrated into a essay; a tech-savvy postgrad might make notes of conference papers attended on an iPhone or ultracompact laptop.

My own use of blogging is more 'outsider/newcomer'; I use it to 'bookmark', tag, selectively quote from articles I've read, web sites I've found etc. that I think will be useful in my professional life. These notes could then be cut and paste into emails or discussion board posts, or I could send a link to the post to interested colleagues. For example, I've mentionned the Michael Wesch videos to a couple of people recently. I probably need a blog post with links to them that I can share quickly.
The next bits are more notes to self ...

Blogging characteristics and affordances:
  • minimal technological barriers to participation

  • dual structure - primary posts and secondary comments - supports dialogue, feedback, review, sharing (but also clearly demarcates readers and writers in an old skool way)

  • RSS feeds can be enabled allowing users to subscribe to new content

  • blog rolls linking to favourite blogs or on shared subject (creation of loosely coupled online learning communities)

  • tagging allowing ease of searching

Some social consequences ...
  • gatekeeper' model irrelevant (sorry Andrew Keen) - we're all publishing/broadcasting now (even if it's to nano-audiences)

  • publicising the private - (see post on Keen and Emo and Clay Shirky)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

iPhone and gaming

My son is very taken with my iPhone, especially some of the free games I've installed. He now wants an iPod Touch (and just wants cash from family for Xmas to pay for it). Watching him with it, it looks a credible portable gaming device in its own right.

Gabs on my iPhone

This item from iLounge reinforced this impression:

Speaking in a brief interview as part of a larger article on the iPhone and iPod touch’s role in the industry, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the devices may become viable options in the mobile gaming market. “I think the iPhone and iPod touch may emerge as really viable devices in the mobile games market this holiday season,” Said Jobs, noting that around a quarter of the 200 million App Store downloads thus far have been games. “Games sold via the App Store are the most profitable in terms of any of the formats we work on,” added Simon Jeffery, the U.S. president of Sega. Interestingly, Nintendo indicated that it already saw Apple as a competitor prior to its move into the mobile gaming space. “Whether you chose to play on your DS or listen to music on your iPod, we’re already in the same competitive space for time,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo’s U.S. division. Meanwhile, John Carmack, founder of Id Software, said that although he doesn’t see the iPhone and iPod touch as direct competitors to Sony and Nintendo’s handhelds, Id is developing at least two iPhone games. “I don’t expect them to displace DSs and PSPs,” he said. “I think they will be a fairly robust market all by themselves.”

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Technological determinism/medium theory

An article to ponder on some more. Here's a good bit from the conclusion:
A more sophisticated form of analysis must consider both the social forces and agencies responsible for the development and implementation of new technologies, and the properties and potentials inherent in the technologies themselves. [emphasis mine]
Potts, J. (2008) Who’s Afraid of Technological Determinism? Another Look at Medium Theory. Fibreculture Journal . 12. Accessed from:

Monday, 3 November 2008

Lots of multis

So far we've had 'multimodalities', 'multisemiotics' and 'multiliteracies'.

Another multi I've come across is 'multi-platform'. It often pops up in discussions of "360-degree commissioning" (see

360-degree commissioning is all about creating content accessible from other platforms - 'multi-platforms' - such as including mobile phones and the internet.

The BBC series Torchwood has been cited as an example of 360 degree programming. However, Doctor Who looks a better example with a web site that includes MP3s to download, video clips, an RSS news feed, make your own video trailer or comic options and a range of online games.

Quick review of The Machine is Us/ing Us

This is a rightly famous video about Web 2.0 and the bigger picture of what's new about digital culture.

The synthesized music (old-skool audio shorthand for "the Future") and swift editing of video - including that created by screen capture software like Camtasia or Captivate to grab sequences of key strokes and mouse movements - all evoke a rapidly moving landscape we've yet to fully get to grips with.

M. Wesch: The Machine is Us/ing Us (Final Version)

The opening sequence of a pencil writing on paper, annotating, a hand frantically rubbing out recalls a pre-digital era where text was (uni)linear. It switches to a sequence of a word processed text and its fluidity - easier editing, erasure and movement of words from one place on the page to another. At the end of this sequence, the idea of hypertext is introduced- texts are no longer bounded; users can now leap from one page to another with a click of the mouse.

From hypertext we leap to Yahoo and Wayback machine; this section defines html - the code that defines the way web pages look. In html form and content inseparable. Wesch claims that digital text is even better as form and content can be separated. Here, he briefly explains xml and the key idea that content can be reused; data can be exported free from formatting constraints. Another leap to images of blogs and of YouTube - exemplars of new forms of digital text offering users easier ways of participating.

Next, Wesch moves on to key Web 2.0 idea: "the wisdom of crowds"(Tim O'Reilly has pointed out that "users add value"). The web is no longer simply about linking to documents but about linking people. We haven't really begun to reflect on what this all means; we need to rethink copyright, authorship, aesthetics, identity, ourselves ...

This video response is an interesting (in places) counter argument:

Finally, I also enjoyed The Machine is Us/ing Us...for dummies.