3.06.2006

apparently a new web revolution is picking up steam

what, another one?

According to CNN Money, "things are really crackling in silicon valley these days..":



We are in the early stages of what might be better thought of as the Next Net. The Next Net will encompass all digital devices, from PC to cell phone
to television. Its defining characteristics include the ability to interact
instantaneously with any of the more than 1 billion Web users across the globe
-- not by, say, instant messaging, but by evolving instant-voice-messaging and instant-video-messaging apps that will make today's e-mail and IM seem
crude.
The Next Net is deeply collaborative: People from across the planet
can work together on the same task, and products or tools can be rapidly tweaked and improved by the collective wisdom of the entire online world.

really? truly? wow... the whole collective wisdom of the entire online world????

[warning, navel-gazing straight ahead]

i love it when pundits start to use epochal terminology to describe the latest advances in technology and communications media. whenever i read about the "next big thing" and how it is going to revolutionize our ways of communicating, living, even our sense of identity, i always find that i am at once both deeply cynical and captivated. part of this cynicism comes from my academic training. i got interested in new media during the mid-to-late nineties when the rhetoric surrounding the new "digital era" was deeply epochal and polarized ("cyberspace" would liberate or enslave us; dehumanize us or free us from the shackles of material identity, and so on and so forth). like the good graduate student i was, i spent time examining this rhetoric and summarily critiquing it for inherent essentialism, cartesian leanings, postivitist logic, and humanism. (blegh). i noted how so many of the anxieties/celebrations of digital media could also be traced to the similar tenor surrounding the invention of the printing press, image-based culture, photography, telephones, telegraphs, film., etc., etc., what a clever, clever girl i was...

my own job is actually reliant on the prevelant assertion typified (however hyperbollically) by the CNN piece. that people can come together (in my case, scholars, programmers, teachers, students) and use digital technology to collaborate, learn, and share resources. i write grant applications that fully exploit the old"we stand at the dawn of a new digital age" addage. in our proposals, we speak of the dramatic improvement we can make to curricula resources, student learning, online access of digital archival materials, scholarly research and collaboration. and a lot of the time occasionally, i really do believe it. as a project director, i try and put these lofty visions into a concrete and workable production plan. (let's place the emphasis on try shall we?)

as an academic, i am fascinated by research that can make solid (and historically situated) claims over how technological advances intersect with cultural transformation. but at the same time, as i drudge through a day of programming specs, administration, documentation, design tweaking, troubleshooting, email sifting, and endless meetings (and I swear, with some of these meetings--i have the same one about 50 times) i think to myself, where is all this transformation we are supposed to be witnessing? will i always feel this sense of schitzophrenia over what we actually do, and what we say we do? or is the schitzo feeling normal or even necessary?

there must be something going on... and so i write this. in a blog. a blog where for the most part i write about the ludicrous things i observe about my everyday life. this act is at once an elaborate avoidance strategy (see above on, daily drudge activities) and also a way to discover things about myself and how i see the world--toilet signs, knitting, mothering and all--through the act of writing. and suddenly i am connected to the blogosphere--mommy blogs, gossip blogs, tekky blogs, craft blogs, personal blogs, academic blogs--all intertwining and interacting. and now i am a minute but active part of it. i am still not entrely sure why i am writing a blog, although i do know that even in these few short weeks, i have discovered something about myself as a writer that 10 years of grad school and long and drawn out ABD process failed to illuminate (perhaps even suppress).

my academic/geek side is fascinated by the nature of the various blogging communities, and how these contexts for blogging are emerging in such different ways. as an old school cultural studies gal, there is something deeply grativating to see that, despite all the Alan Bloom type panic over the dumming down of culture, and the degeneracy of the next generation, there is a shitload of creative energy out there that is driven by the written word; writing conducted by and for the people. the lunatics are running the asylum (or at least an outhouse of the asylum) and i couldn't be happier. i am beginning to scratch at the surface of the academic research concerning blogging, and i might just might pursue this line of research further.

and then there's the other side--the level that is not represented in this post so much, where blogging is about something else for me. something distinctly non-academic. finslippy's recent interview with leah peah kind of summed up that part of it for me (embarrasingly, but accurately so). when asked why she blogged, she responded (at first) with this:

You know when you went to parties in high school, and there was always that
one girl who was drunk but probably acting more drunk than she was, and she was staggering around spilling drinks on people and announcing anytime anyone would look at her, “Oh my God, I am WASTED!”? That’s me, only on the Internet.

yeah, i was that girl too (though i have toned it down somewhat). finslippy goes on to explain how her reasons for blogging keep shifting. while at first it was about showing off how clever she could be, and then about how she could find something interesting to say about the most mundane and boring details of her life, she ultimately found that the most valuable part of blogging was connecting with a community that seemed to arrive out of nowhere. "Imagine writing something down and the next day a big group of people ring your doorbell and tell you that they feel exactly the same."

so. is this also a symptom of revolution? the Next Net? even though we are not talking about tools-perfecting here, there is surely a collective wisdom or certain zeitgiest that is being collected, interconnected, and stored here. the voices of the mommy bloggers are especially fascinating to me in the regard, because there really is nowhere else of these voices to be heard (notwithstanding Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, of course (har har)). Of course, put the term "mommy" in front of anything, and run the risk of having it trivialized and demeaned. but even this trend is openly, honestly, and even heatedly debated within the community--online. yeah, i'd say theres some collective wisdom there. not "triggered" by technology, but certainly facilitated by it.

i am not sure how to end this, as the specter of academe is telling me "delete! delete! for such a long and perhaps incoherent post" but i am a lunatic in the asylum, after all. so i'll throw my two cents of wisdom out, and get back to the daily work of making transformative digital resources...


6 comments:

PACO said...

I wonder if some of your anxiety is NOT only that you are so involved in technology, but you are a woman in a public role, but a role that still requires you to keep so much of who you are private: i.e., don't cry at a meetings, the men will think you're weak. The doubled anxiety is that in a blog you have taken a seemingly private mode of discourse and made it public. See Cynthia Huff's work (go to Amazon.com -- she's even looking at British women's diaries and the creation of imagined communities. In so much of what you have said, there is more than a patina of the same kind of anxiety women writers have expressed often: where do I fit in this world? In what I am doing, am I betraying myself or others in some way?

On a positive side, just remember that 20 years ago there was not Internet, so change has come.

Anne Zelenka said...

I'm so glad you didn't hit delete. Now here I am at your door knocking and saying, yeah, it's like that for me too. I figure stuff out about myself through blogging that I never would have understood otherwise. And I make connections--with people and ideas--that I never would have had. At first it was all about me, me, me. Then I got beyond me (not totally, I couldn't do that). Now it's mostly about the people and the connections and the ideas. I know people make fun of connecting online. But for people who focus on words and ideas, it's almost the perfect setting.

"a shitload of creative energy" yes indeed. And the lunatics running an outhouse at the asylum. That too.

themikestand said...

I wonder, is this the first time "hyperbolic" and "CNN" are mentioned in the same thought?!

Kidding. But I wanted to write something more than, "hey, great entry. Thanks."

Umm... Can I go now?

The Sheriff said...

I may be new to this blogging marlarky, not that I haven't tried in the past.

I find that I am writing stuff on my blog at work - because there is no one here I want talk to particularly. Sometimes you have to vent, even if it is into a piece of shit PC running Windows 98.

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