Monday, July 26, 2010

What is "mobile"?

This term, I think, needs better defining before we can really study the technology in meaningful ways:

Untitled from Brett Oppegaard on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Future readings

I'm near the end of Dr. Craig Baehr's 5365 course at Texas Tech, Studies in Composition: Internet Writing, and I want to note some of the many interesting topics raised in that class that deserve further review:

* Othermindedness, hypertext and networked writing forms, prompted by Michael Joyce. Joyce is a creative and provocative author (and, in essence, I think, a futurist) who can see the potential for new writing forms emerging in our networked technological environment. If, as I believe, the human experience is a narrative experience, Joyce pictures that sort of paradigm as a free-flowing and abstract series of connections that each of us uniquely can make, ever so easily, informed by a growing number of channels of increasingly interconnected media. Joyce's disorienting style, mirroring the twists and turns hypertext, could very well be the standard writing style of the future, but it certainly is difficult to go from where we are now, with traditional linear stories, to Joyce's visions, even with a high interest level in exploring that ground. My sense is that some parameters are healthy for a story. I would even argue those parameters are essential for sense-making. Maybe that is the author's role in the future, just to set up boundaries, and characters, and an environment within which to operate? But a completely open-ended story, like surfing the Internet feels, doesn't seem to me to make enough connections to the author, or authors, to qualify. I prefer stories less restricted than, say, Choose Your Own Adventure books, which typically offered just a couple of choices per juncture. But a juncture that offers unlimited choices also is problematic, I think, in terms of engaging with a story. How many choices should be available? What scope should a story have, can it have? It is impossible to generalize, but I think my readings in the future will be looking for more examinations into the story scope and open structure questions.

* New media theories. Dr. Baehr and Dr. Bob Schaller (of Stephen F. Austin State University) recently released a book called "Writing for the Internet," and the second chapter struck me as a provocative overview of the struggle academics are having with the idea of "new media." What is new media? I think I can identify media, as something mediated, but what is new? That seems to be a much trickier question. And what makes "new media" different than "old media"? There are all sorts of attractive entry points in this discussion, including critical theory (which "seeks change in the dominant social order," Littlejohn and Foss, 2008) and who the authors note are considered the "Mount Rushmore" of the field, at least from a mass communication viewpoint: Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan. I have read a lot of McLuhan and Postman but only a few articles or chapters by Ong and Innis. Ong, in particular, intrigues me with his concept of Second Orality, because I have been looking for a way to connect orality with mobile devices. If you have any other suggestions of places to look, please comment and let me know. Technological determinism, or the idea that technology inherently shapes our culture and society, also is a profound path to follow.

* The Sociosemantic Web by Peter Morville. While I have been aware of meta-tagging for a long time, I didn't think there was much importance to it, until I considered the ramifications outlined by Morville. The concept reminds me quite a bit of Clay Shirky's description of Wikipedia, and how the collective work of millions, mostly little by little, can create an invaluable resource for all of humankind. Tags, placed on data by anyone, can help us all tap into the collective wisdom of the world, and build toward the fabled semantic web. These self-regulated folksonomies do a job that no company could ever afford, to make sense of and give order to everything on the Internet. This is particularly helpful in the less capitalistic areas of information, places where people are enjoying knowledge just for the simple sake of knowing things about what they are interested in, or toppling the information monolith. More power to that!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Expectations of the visual media today

It wasn't that long ago, really, that websites were primarily text. I remember thinking we were doing something quite innovative in the mid-1990s, when a photographer and I put together a primarily visual section of a news story online, essentially a slide show, with maybe 20 images (a typical news story in print might have three to five accompanying images, at most). Such an effort today (at least the posting online part) could be done by a child, almost effortlessly. I also recall thinking was doing something quite innovative a couple of years ago, when it started streaming its video content online on its home page. Now, when I want to watch a highlight of something I'm interested in viewing, I certainly don't hang around for 22 minutes on SportsCenter, waiting for a five-second clip. I go to the website, find what I want, and leave in less than a minute, usually. That approach has a certain efficiency that I love but also a direct path that I loathe, aware that while taking that line I will never stumble upon something else interesting along the way, something that I might not even know I want to know. In a supermarket metaphor, if I could get my carrots without walking past the cookies, I might be better off, but I might not, and vice versa. That walking of the path -- at least in news, not commercialism -- is helpful to keeping your mind open to the world of knowledge bubbling up around you. You might never know when some little piece can trigger an important thought (or at least something you think could be important), and the partisanship chasm that has developed between the two major political parties in America almost certainly has been nurtured by neither side ever really having to listen to the other anymore. But that's another topic. Visual media on the web today must deliver what I want, when I want, with increasing quality. A grainy YouTube video was fine two or three years ago, but not anymore. I'm disappointed with anything but HD. I also want basic controls, being able to stop the stream, reverse, skip to the next segment, etc. I don't necessarily want to insert my commentary in whatever I see, like what Viddler ( offers, although I do appreciate that option. For now, I'm content just with high quality video and basic remote control options. I do like to have embedding code available, in case I want to share, and I suppose, the day will come, when I do want to jump into the stream, and add tags and commentary to everything I watch. I'm just not there yet. But the web is already, and it will never goes backward in terms of its visual emphasis. I can't imagine anymore, for example, the allure of an all-text website (except, of course, my text-heavy, which has only two images at this point, a banner and a photo of the iPhone; that, by the way, is more of a time issue than design decision). If you can show me any that purposively are going back to more text, please share.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Creative Process - What It's Really Like

From, making the rounds at Texas Tech.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How am I a reflection of the digital tools I use?

In creating the list of digital tools I use right now, several thoughts about identity came to mind. I seem to be in transition from commercial software to a fully open source existence, emanating from the cloud.

I recently dropped several Microsoft products (or only use them in case of emergencies) in favor of OpenOffice and the Google toolkit, especially the Chrome browser and Google Docs. FreeMind, Audacity, Skype, FileZilla, iTunes, etc., all of which I think are important programs for me to have right now, all of which are free and open source. The lone commercial holdouts for me are Adobe's Creative Suite (especially InDesign and Photoshop) and EndNote (although I was on the fence in the beginning between EndNote and Zotero; if I had to do it over again, I might have went with Zotero, but I think it's too late in the dissertation process now to switch). Quality level is the primary reason I stay with those programs. As soon as I have an open source option of similar quality with CS4, I assume I would switch.

Cost is a factor, too, since CS4, for example, is about $700, and that's with a student discount. I think EndNote was about $150, again, with a discount. I know these companies need to make money, but, as a consumer at least, I have a hard time justifying that much cost for basic digital products (with no packaging or delivery costs). I prefer the "freemium" model, in which I get to use basic services for free, but if I am using the software for particularly complicated, or proprietary, actions, that give the software its business niche, then I don't mind paying for it. What I don't like paying for is the basic functions, like saving a photo without a watermark. I wouldn't even mind the commercial model of this system, I suppose, if the versioning wasn't such a rip off.

As an example, I bought CS4 about a year ago, and now Adobe wants me to pay full price to upgrade to CS5, for just a few new features. I don't think that's fair. Honda doesn't come back to me a year or two after I buy a new car and say, "You know, we've added a lot of features to later models, and your car just won't be compatible with the roads in the near future." Instead, as long as I can find gas and spare parts, that Honda should work just fine for the rest of my life. Why can't my computers and software work that way, particularly when I buy top-end products?

Microsoft has pulled this versioning trick on me too many times to count (pushing me through all of the versions of Windows), building obsolescence into new versions of software and hardware, forcing customers, like me, to either upgrade or lose the functionality that we already had bought (Chrome OS, where are you?). I find the business model offensive. So, in reflection, I think my tool choice demonstrates that I am fed up with the heavy-handed capitalistic money grab of the system.

The sneaky commercialization of "free" software also is concerning. I was listening to Pandora yesterday, and, for the first time for me, an audible advertisement played. It was a shock to hear that ad for McDonald's. I found it so abrasive that I immediately turned Pandora off and plan to uninstall it soon, if that policy doesn't change quickly.

Pandora just plays music in a genre, based on similar musicians, like an Internet radio station. It really doesn't do anything so special, except play without advertisements (and, at times, introduce me to a new artist, just like a radio station). So now that it is playing with advertisements, I find very little use for it, and will turn back to public radio stations (without advertisements), or other commercial-free Internet radio, or play from my CD collection, which I have digitized and imported into iTunes (yes, saving the hard copies, with respect for copyright concerns). If nothing else, I think, my choices for digital tools show I am moving away from corporate control systems and further embracing the wonders of the altruistic collective (for as long as that lasts).