new media: April 2005 Archives

The Trent that feeds

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(Tip: GZombie)

I can't really say that I've ever been a particular fan of Nine Inch Nails or Trent Reznor, save for the fact that I always thought his name was vaguely cool. I have a passing familiarity with some of the music, but otherwise, I haven't spared NIN much attention. That's about to change. Reznor has decided to release a track from his upcoming album in GarageBand format, with the idea of giving fans "the ability to tinker around with my tracks - to create remixes, experiment, embellish or destroy what's there." That's from the readme file that comes with the download. Here's a little more:

What I'm giving you in this file is the actual multi-track audio session for "the hand that feeds" in GarageBand format. This is the entire thing bounced over from the actual Pro Tools session we recorded it into. I imported and converted the tracks into AppleLoop format so the size would be reasonable and the tempo flexible. So... Drag the file over to your hard disk and double click it. Hit the space bar. Listen. Change the tempo. Add new loops. Chop up the vocals. Turn me into a woman. Replay the guitar. Anything you'd like.

I downloaded the file, and anticipate at least a few hours of unbridled GarageBand fun. If I have the chance and/or put together something interesting, I'll post it here. For the moment, though, Reznor has my "Utterly Cool!" vote for the month of April.

Booles rush in

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I expect that this will be a less playful version of Jeff's entry. Sorry about that.

Back in the day, back when Lingua Franca was still printing issues, they did a series of special turn-of-the-mill essays. One of these was a top-20 list, a list of those people in the academy who were doing innovative work with technology. I didn't see this list until a year or so later, in part I suppose because no one in my "field," computers and writing, was talking about it. And no one in the field was talking about it, in part, because no one in the field was represented on it. There were people from a broad range of disciplines on that list--not just tech ones--but despite the fact that my field had (at the time) an almost-20-year history of work with technology, despite an annual conference, despite a journal, despite a semi-professional organization, despite all of that, there wasn't a single member of that field represented on that list.

It was kind of depressing. But more depressing was the fact that there really wasn't anyone in my field who deserved to be there, myself included.

Flash forward to the present. Today, there's a "View" called "Hypertext 101" appearing over at Inside Higher Ed, which represents pretty conventional thinking in my field. I could snark up and down, believe me, but I'm going to restrict myself to two main points:

First, there is not a single thing I see there that couldn't have been written 7 or 8 years ago, and in fact, was being written then. With the possible exception of the "web in a can" reference (and the mistaken assignment of Blogger to the same category as Blackboard and WebCT), there is nothing new here. The examples with which this article closes? Using HTML editors to design web pages.

Second, and somewhat relatedly, I present to you a version of "net research" that was feeling its age back in the days of Gopher and Lynx:

However, research on the net means much more than typing a few words in to Google.  

A more sophisticated approach to teaching students how to do Internet research involves showing students some of the ways online searches use Boolean logic, and this is simply accomplished by visiting the Google Guide.

Ah yes. Research on the net means typing a few words into Google as well as Boolean operators. That's the ticket. I don't know what it is about this ridiculous field I'm in, but for some reason, every handbook we write testifies that Boolean operators are some sort of magic bullet for research. That, somehow, Boolean operators and a "credibility checklist" will actually result in research.

This is research that elementary school children are capable of doing. This is not "innovative" or "critical" thinking about research, or technology. This is the 5-paragraph theme of net research, an outmoded formula for gathering information that lacks any sort of nuance and actually discourages critical thought.

This is embarrassing.

Okay, a third point. Call it the bonus round. We are well past the point where it is kosher, in any venue, to issue these bland, pointless "calls for thinking critically." Put up. Give me some examples of the kind of innovation that you're calling for. Here's a few, completely off the top of my head: Will Richardson is doing more at the primary level than most college instructors are willing or capable of doing at the college level. And he's looking at the ways that weblogs, wikis, & the read/write web are challenging a model of schooling that's grounded in the narrowness of print literacy. Why not look at his work? How about EPIC 2014 as a new model for the argumentative essay? How about John Udell's study of the emerging professionalism and credibility at Wikipedia? How about, how about, how about?

Bottom line: it's not time to start thinking about technology. If you haven't started yet, it's time to catch up. If you don't know how to put together a QuickTime movie, you're behind. If you haven't futzed around with sound tools, you're behind. If you're still thinking about how to do web pages, you're behind. If you don't "get" blogs and wikis, you're behind. If you don't think that the Grokster case has anything to do with you, you're behind. And I could keep on going. There is nothing wrong with writing an essay, a view, a site, whatever, addressing those who are (by now) late adopters, but why in the world would exhortations to think critically about technology have any effect on those people when they've been hearing the same song for years now? The net is changing education, journalism, politics, science, culture, etc etc etc. If you're not keeping track of those changes, you're behind. Pure and simple.

Let me close with a passage that John Holbo cites over at his new blog The Valve. (By the way, if you don't know who Holbo is, you're behind.) Anyhow, it's from Lionel Trilling, and I've just been itching to use it:

From the democratic point of view, we must say that in a true democracy nothing should be done for the people. The writer who defines his audience by its limitations is indulging in the unforgivable arrogance. The writer must define his audience by its abilities, by its perfections, so far as he is gifted to conceive them.

"Hypertext 101" counters with this:

Computer technology has swiftly become our key writing tool but it’s too easy to imagine everyone “gets it.”

And hence the essay. But I work in a field which is frozen in this moment, the moment of assuming not only that "not everyone gets it," but also that "no one gets it." And this assumption frees many of the people in my field from ever having to really "get it" themselves. Instead, they can simply call for us to try harder to "get it."

Fact is, it's not "easy" to imagine the audience that Trilling describes. It means being willing to be ignored, which is hard. It means trading academic microfame or microcelebrity for the sake of good, meaningful, productive work. For years and years now, we've defined our work in my field as primarily pedagogical, and there's a real questionable ethic at play here, because I believe that behind that definition lurks the arrogance that Trilling describes. In other words, we've believed it easier to define the primary audience as students, the archetype in my field for an audience defined "by its limitations." So what happens when Will Richardson's students come to our classes, having learned by age 10 not only how to do Boolean searches but having been blogging, both in and outside of formal schooling, for upwards of 10 years. What are we going to have to say to them that they didn't know before they got to our classrooms?

What we need to start doing, right now, is to conceive of an audience capable of understanding what it is we have to say. We're already that audience, and sooner rather than later, our students will be, too. We need to start writing articles that take for granted the "critical thinking" that this essay calls for.



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This page is a archive of entries in the new media category from April 2005.

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