From the eSociety

I'm sitting here at the Royal Society in a grand room with grand paintings of middle-aged, white, male intellectuals and listening to a series of presentations from people involved in the e-society program and the upcoming Handbook of Online Research Methods from Sage.
Much of what we have been discussing in terms of transliteracy has been focused around what can be thought of as the arts and humanities but an interesting concordance came up when I saw a banner for "survey monkey" as part of a discussion of the practicalities of using and creating methodologically sound "Internet-mediated" surveys. Social scientists have been wrestling with transliterating/translating survey methodology from face–to-face, postal, telephone media etc. to Internet media. So, however, have non-social scientists. What survey tools such as Survey Monkey have done is to provide the ability to conduct surveys to almost anyone who might want to.
Something that I have found interesting in social network sites is the popularity of blog based "surveys". I.e. you put 20 questions on a blog entry, answer them and then ask others to answer them. It's a blog-based version of the email question lists that are routinely circulated such as the snippet below.

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Digital Lit: Some Directions

xposted at Frontline Books

I've been writing about digital works for 8 posts now and I've been receiving e-mails from readers wondering how I find these pieces. With this in mind, today's post will provide a backdrop the conversations that have been appearing here.

For me, digital works must be…erm um…digital (go figure). But, for me, I am more drawn to works that appear on the web so that they offer some kind of connectivity or are at least situated within a wider realm. CD-based poetics or hypertext or games may be no less narrative but, to me, they may not offer quite the same possibilities especially in terms of linking *out.*

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Does storytelling change in context of new forms of media?

This is the title and central question of a great article in The Philadelphia Inquirer today, in which the writer Katie Haegele asks some well-considered questions of Sue Thomas, Scott Lloyd DeWitt (director of the digital media project at the Department of English at Ohio State University) and Robert Coover (T.B. Stowell Adjunct Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University):

…what about the writing experience? Is literary writing for digital media different in a way that matters?
…Does good, old-fashioned storytelling really change just because it is distributed in new forms of media?

Windows Vista: dreaming nature in cyberspace

hero_seeit.jpg With the release of the Vista operating system, Microsoft wants us to believe it is finally throwing open the Windows and allowing screen-burned users out into the fresh air. We can wander free through the pastures of cyberspace and frolic in Aero's transparent mists. Vista recognises a deep truth – that when we log on to join the flow of collective intelligence, we bring with us a subconscious desire for cyberspace to be just like the (never-was) Edenic countryside of our youth, a verdant Elysian Fields of virtual harmony. Sounds unlikely? Picture this:

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Abominable Snowman 2.0

In a previous entry, Sue set up an equation "Media + Digital + More = TransLiteracy" and wondered how to fill in the "more".
Well, a fascinating piece of ephemera2.0 just floated up on to several of my feed readers. It concerns Forteana and folksonomy. Briefly, Charles Fort was a writer who was interested in collecting accounts of anomalous phenomena that appeared to contradict scientific orthodoxy. In a blog entry on Paranormal Mechanisms, the author draws a parallel between folksonomic datasets – "vernacular information architecture" – and "curiosity cabinets."

In essence, the folksonomy seems to be a return to curiosity cabinets of the 16th century. Housing all manner of marvelous bric-a-brac including: plants, fossils, minerals, medicinal items, unicorn horns, shells, stones, etc., these cabinets offered a glimpse of the world. Representational short-hand, accumulated in accordance with any one collector's means. In this primordial phase of the modern museum, collections were often ordered up in constellations of corresponding visual characteristics.

I find the analogy rather appealing on multiple levels. On one level it foregrounds the idiosyncratic, vernacular nature of folksonomy. On another level it hints at some of the representational power of folksonomy. On a third level it hints towards the potential for folksonomy to trouble standard knowledge categories.
Smalfut.jpgThe author started his investigation with a fascinating essay on "Paranormal Mechanism 2.0." The crux of that was a brief account of how a series of coincidences and miscommunications 'created' the abominable snowman. The author writes:

I'm a big fan of technological accidents and malfunctions with audio-visual media because it's at these junctures: a vinyl scratch, a digital glitch, electronic noise overcoming the signal –that the hidden potential of the machine at hand is revealed— these glimpses, ruptures breaks from official taxonomic structures open up possibility spaces for new kinds of crypto-techno-zoological goings on.

The clear implication here is that web2.0 with its complex web of people-to-people interactions is likely to generate similar instances of noise and that folksonomy may end up creating Bigfoot2.0. I think that understanding this may be one of the elements in the "more" of transliteracy. One of my favourite novels is Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The book takes off from folklorist Richard Dorson's analysis of how immigrant folklore was becoming North American folklore. We've recently been discussing digital immigrants and digital natives. Perhaps transliteracy is also going to be a key element in understanding vernacular culture2.0 (aka Folklore).
This doesn't mean that we're going to get some sort of Virtual Bigfoot but that the same processes of imagination, miscommunication and vernacular theorising are likely to be transliterated. Jan Harold Brunvand, the scholar who first popularised the term "urban legend" believes that the Internet has "killed" the urban legend. ("The Vanishing 'Urban Legend'." Midwestern Folklore 30.2 (2004): 5-20.) By that he means that the form which was circulating in oral tradition has been supplanted by a form that circulates via the Net and which is, in many ways, radically different from its antecedent. Understanding this relationship, it seems to me, is part of what falls within the "more" of transliteracy.

Saatchi’s Showdown – art for the Reality TV generation (aka Gallery 2.0)

My friend Emma Jenkinson has a piece 'Mentor and Mother' in the latest Saatchi Showdown.
I had no qualms about giving her piece a 10 rating – I do genuinely like it, as I do her work in general (see www.emmajenkinson.co.uk and www.flickr.com/blindfoxaroo for more). This Saatchi piece is classic Emma – great visual design and use of colour, a sense of humour that some might call left-of-centre, and a seemingly endless fascination for wallpapers, tiles and other textures that seem to belong to some bygone era.
If you aren't familiar with the Showdown, it's billed as a giant online talent contest for artists. Anyone can submit their work, and the winner receives 1,000 pounds and a three month showing in the Saatchi Gallery when it opens in West London in October. The Showdown site launched at the end of February and apparently had over 35 million hits within a week. Every fortnight a 'finalist' is chosen, then the twelve finalists compete for the top prize (the runner-up receives 750 pounds, and presumably a fair bit of publicity too).

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Booking the future

Bob Stein's presentation to the IOCT last night was superb. Bob is the driving force behind the Institute for the Future of the Book – an organisation dedicated to examining the ways in which we might write and read in the future – a subject close to the heart of the transliterati.

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