In This Life

the adventures and misadventures of rivas franizzi, SL ethnographer and traveler.

An attempted ethnography on students taking a course on ethnography and new media (originally ‘A proposed ethnography on ethnography and new media’)

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WHAT I PROPOSE. It feels good to finally end my silence in this blog, this documentation of my acts of derring-do with respect to ethnography and Second Life. Originally, I was going to commit to an exploration of SL as a ‘queer’ space, a site where multiple identities/subjectivities can emerge. But I hit a wall (I hate walls, I wish I could walk through them). Personal issues (mood shifts, lack of sleep, depression, family crises, bad diet, trying to figure out my FUTURE, being HU-MAN) put my ideas, and my investment in the topic at a stall. And my place and state of mind as moved beyond that idea. So where does that lead me now? I’ve thought long and hard about alternatives, other approaches, and I didn’t have my epiphany until one late, late night, dealing with a slight fever, when the ‘A-HA!’ moment occurred. I said to myself, “What have I learned about learning about ethnography and new media? What I have found to be useful to me?” And I figured it would be a much more productive, yet difficult endeavor, to give an attempt to interrogate, to burrow through what I’ve learned in this course, and see how its been useful for me, as well as my peers. I thought the best approach was to do a ethnography on the course itself, or at least give it a shot. The next question was that of format. Should I make a video, write an essay, blog, twitter, create a Powerpoint presentation, speak off the cuff, go Borges-ian or Burrough-ian, etc, etc, etc? I decided to (slightly) appropriate the format of Steven Shaviro’s CONNECTED as a away to tie together my thoughts, and the thoughts of others (with proper citatations of course!) into a sort of bricolage, to integrate my interdisciplinary leanings into a work-in-progress that I could revise, change, and make necessary addendum in the following day, week, or even decade.

WHAT IS ETHNOGRAPHY? Nearly fifteen weeks after taking this class, I’m still without a clue. The notion of ethnography has become more complex. I have more questions. I am more uncertain. I decided to revisit my notes from the first day of class:  NEW MEDIA ECOLOGY– social sciences/humanities  and its relationship to media studies—bridging the gap—they could inform each other—REVIEW OF ANTHROPOLOGY–it is in colonialism that the origins of anthropology can be traced–recording/observing the discovered ‘other’—a mode of analysis begins to emerge–an objectifying modality–and it is through this that people can be know—the world can be known. One way the world could be seen is through the cinema.

The 'subject' made 'object.'

Still from Antonioni's THE PASSENGER: The 'subject' made 'object.'

The ethographer has the camera turned on him by his 'subject.'

Still from Antonioni's THE PASSENGER: The ethographer has the camera turned on him by his 'subject.'

CLIP FROM ANTONIONI’S ‘THE PASSENGER.’ We saw this clip twice: in the first week, and the last lecture week. Why? NOTES: Jack Nicholson plays a journalist. He has a video camera, and begins asking specific questions to a African villager. The subject (or object) never looks at him, just smiles. He doesn’t answer to any single one. His refusal is staggering. He says, “Your question are much more revealing about yourself than my answer about me.” Jack gets defensive. The   villager responds, “…we can have a conversation… but only if it’s not just what you think is sincere…but also what I believe to be honest. ” The villager takes his camera and points it directly to Jack’s face. Jack looks uneasy. “…now we can have an interview…” End clip. Jason raises the question on what it means in the context of examining the roots of anthopology and ethnography. My notes state two words: BIAS and ETHNOCENTRIC.  I know people in the class gave some attempts an an answer, but I don’t remember. I have jot down that Heidigger has expressed how framing shows a glimpse of the world as limited, closed off. Perhaps the interaction between Nicholson and the villager calls for a ‘re-definition’ of the process of documentation?

DOCUMENTATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS. In an interview I conducted with Alessia on ethnography and new media, she expressed [begin excerpt]: “[in the] first classes [I] was surprised to discover ethnography…research methods was…this immersive way of looking into things…i liked that…[it is] connected to Jungian therapy…this is very similar type of stuff to relational based…therapy…psychoanalysis…thinking…relational way of exploring something…is very Jungian…first readings [I] was bored…mobile phones in Jamaica…people reporting every
word…logging in information…found it tedious…wasn’t a lot of interpretation from first readings…logging…more than a way of readings…the discussions in class were interesting in the beginning…into environment…and then…interesting moments, trying to define what ethnography is…interesting for me…the fact that you can’t define it, is the definition…doing with the means you have is the way to do ethnography…very flexible…liked that part…go and do things, i don’t to read about things…ethnography…the logging…throws me out a bit…i  like taking the experience, and the reading, and seeing what goes in my head, and my brain…and generate something that comes out in other forms…
[end excerpt] Alessia doesn’t like the documentation associated with the ethnographic method. This ‘logging’ is a source of boredom. She prefers the experiential aspect of doing ethnography. Forgot to interrogate this point further.

THE METHODS HAVE EVOLVED AS ANTHROPOLOGICAL ANALYSIS HAS EVOLVED. Perhaps anthropological ethnographic methods are more flexible after all. I consult my notes: — structural functionalism examines cultures as a complete system—parts working together–taking into account the metaphor of the ‘organism’—but there are problems–a closed system implies stasis—as Jason points out, a ‘world like this doesn’t need the force of globalization.’ Another method, symbolic anthropology, reads culture as a text, in a language of its own–still highly practiced yet criticized for skimming, objectifying cultures. Recently, phenomenology has been incorporated into the practice of ethnography…it keeps things alive, looks at things as evolving, a process…but is that enough?  Late 80s questions emerge: What is an ethnography? What is genre? What power is being wielded? Is this the final word? Are we reducing everything?

WHAT IS ETHNOGRAPHY? I still don’t know. But what I have learned (and has been expressed by some of my colleagues) is that its a lot more flexible than we think. The Horst and Miller cell phone study in Jamaica was primarily based on the collection of data through questionnaires. But it lead to very little input. The subjects were not vocal. Once the researchers began to recognize their subjects as dependent on relationships to discern meaning on the technologies that facilitated those very relationships, were they able to break through.  Anna Tsing‘s exploration into the ecology of the Kalimantan rainforests seems to be relegated to a study of localism, but is revealed to be much more global, interconnected, universal, but involves a ‘grip of encounter: FRICTION. “[friction] reminds us that heterogeneous and unequal encounters can lead to new arrangements of culture and power (Tsing 5).” She incorporates history, personal narrative, literature (citation of poetry), list-making (taking the local vernacular and making it understood),  and interviews to demonstrate how the burning of a rainforest is tied into machines, corporations, trade, flows of capital, and personal consumption. We cannot ignore Thailand. It is not ‘out there.’ It affects us just as much as we affect it. Even Jason’s own study of the neomelodica scene in Naples draws upon  ingenious methods to bring the subject, and their canned music, to life. Chance, error, luck, and risk become crucial, even instrumental in his ability to make sense of the neomelodica genre, and the pirate networks that are necessary to its creation and propagation. Through these studies, the ethnographic toolbox becomes more elastic than is initially perceived by me.

ETHNOGRAPHY IN SECOND LIFE. So perhaps ethnography can be useful in exploring virtual worlds, or what is deemed as ‘virtualization.’ Jason claims that ethnographic method is appropriate to the ‘new media ecology,’ and by using Second Life, a virtual environment of sociability, we can refresh our senses. I personally am excited at the prospects of this. My first interactions in SL are encouraging (check blog entry: ‘navigating through the SL underground‘). I begin to interact with subjects (furries, nekos, child avatars, etc) who reluctantly and actively persuade me to be part of their co-culture, participate in their activities, and transform into them. What begins as a enthusiastic journey leads me to ask ethical questions of what I’m pursuing. Is it appropriate to reveals one’s identity as a researcher? Is it ethical to keep one’s identity private in the face of collecting, logging, accruing data, raw material, information??? I remember posing this to Jason in class (noted in lecture notes). He says its a grey area. There are hardly any studies on SL that have been published because of the long legal tape that has to be overcome in the face of an institutional review board. If Second Life ‘avatars’ are considered ‘subjects,’ then examining  and studying them becomes a big ‘no-no.’

THE CYNIC DOING ETHNOGRAPHY IN SECOND LIFE. So what’s the point of doing research, of doing ethnography with new media, or in new media, with all of these legal loopholes to go through? Its a very grey area. The interest in my attempted ‘ethnography’ begins to slowly wane. I spend several hours trying to teleport myself to different sites and localities, waiting for these brave new worlds to emerge before my very eyes (loading time is annoying). And when I do, I still feel naked, even after undergoing several incarnations of my ‘character.’ A lot of time is spent closing pop-up invitations to the next party at Club Fluffys, and doing Google-type searches on potential sims to visit. Perhaps ‘Trout Esquire’ is right after all, perhaps SL is nothing but a playground for the elite (source: http://troutesquire.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/hello-world/), just merely about money and sexual fantasy. But I cannot be that cynical. In some ways, Second Life is about play. You spend Linden $$$ buying land, operating businesses, socializing with pockets of friends with specified interests, getting dressed and redressed. But the software lagged. It lacks dimensions. I want to penetrate it, but I’m unable to. The cyber-orgasmic satisfaction is delayed. I somewhat feel like I’m techno-impotent. And then real life hits hard. I think this really doesn’t represent my thoughts, more of the cynic of me that wrestled with ideas on a late, late night. Hahaha.

A ::SLIGHT:: PAUSE. IS THIS AN AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHY? Of course. Well, let me be honest, not quite yet. As expressed in Ellis and Bochner’s piece, AUTOETHNOGRAPHY, PERSONAL NARRATIVE, AND REFLEXIVITY,  ‘the self questioning auto-ethnography demands is extremely difficult. […] Honest auto-ethnographic exploration generates a lot of fears and doubts, and emotional pain. Just when you think you can’t stand the pain anymore…that’s when the real work has begun (Ellis & Bocher 738). In all fairness, I must be honest about my intentions with this assemblage of  ideas. The real motivation is to try to explore why my interest in the class itself, as an apparatus, or as Chelsey put it in an interview I conducted with her, a ‘shared learning space,‘ has waned. My enthusiasm for ethnography and new media has diminished over time, and I’m trying to figure out why. Why do I feel like this course has been no more than an exercise? While being involved in good, productive on-site discussions, I feel that we often say ideas for the sake of stating ideas, but very little interactivity between us. We also haven’t met much on SL, except for a few lectures and some adventures together, but they didn’t really happen until halfway into the fall semester. I myself, have to admit, that my own input has diminished. I have become more and more reluctant to speak, to share, but simply listen. I wanted to know if these concerns were all in my head, or if they were shared. I needed to reach out to my classmates and get their perspectives. What began as an interrogation on a course in ethnography and new media  expanded to something greater: an attempted ethnography on students taking a course on ethnography and new media.

A METHODOLOGY TAKING SHAPE/INTERVIEWS WITH WILLING SUBJECTS. I sent out an email to several classmates to see if I could interview them. How did their initial perceptions on the course itself, learning about ethnography and new media, change over time? What impressions did they draw from the on-site learning experience, to on-line learning experiences in Second Life? What did they like and not like about Second Life? How was their experience with blogging? Were there theorists or readings that they really enjoy? If they had to continue taking this course for the next 14-16 weeks, what could they expect to learn? Where would we go from here? I must admit I stressed some questions more than others, but all my subjects got the same sampling of inquiries. For prep, I read through all of the blog entries for my subjects, which ended up leading me to some revelations about their learning styles and (later) shaped my initial inquiry into something more fascinating. Sean, Jedd, Chester, Alessia, and Chelsey responded. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to sent out questions to Jedd (sorry dude, but we will talk :)), so the remaining four became my willing subjects.

TECHNOLOGY SCREWS ME, BUT I STILL GIVE IT A GO. I wanted to document these interviews through SL, but due to several technical problems with capturing audio (from my end), I had to cut corners. Two interviews were conducted through Skype (Sean and Chester), one through the cell phone (Alessia), and the last through Second Life (Chelsey). I took extensive notes that originally were done in an outline style (with Sean and Chester), but ended up taking on a more informal, almost dialogue form with Alessia and Chelsea.

chatting with the Jedi.

Skype chat #1: Sean, ethno-blogger, and Jedi.

FIRST INTERVIEW: MARS ZANZIBAR/SEAN. Sean admitted to me that he wasn’t fond of the SL platform…as he has admitted in class, multi-role playing environments such as World of Warcraft seemed more accessible and engaging for him. He also had hardware problems (SL would constantly crash on his Mac), and the learning curve (navigating around sims, etc) was slightly off putting. He compared Second Life to his First Life in terms of how finding meaning in both environments was difficult. One factor that helped facilitate his immersion in Second Life were the experiences in-class…he credited Jason and Jenny as being very helpful in guiding him around Second Life. It it wasn’t for them, he admits, he would have ‘given up a long time ago.’  When asked about his interactions on Second Life, he stated that SL was ‘not the most interesting thing to stare at,’ and that ‘without voice chat, interaction was impossible.’ It was difficult for him to focus on the lectures conducted on Second Life…he often found himself distracted, wandering around when the class met as a group. While ‘not a fan of writing things in long-form,’  blogging was a starting point to start a discussion. With respect to the readings, he thought they ‘had bombast’…were dense, complicated…and demonstrated how ‘language can be exclusionary sometimes–too complicated–create a barrier,’ but that they served as a “starting off point for what he considered the ‘survival of the best idea.'” Shaviro was his favorite text, because he identify with his enthusiasm for science fiction, and its relevance in exploring the network society. Sean offered several ingeneous ideas on the course if it was extended for an additional 14-16 weeks…he proposed the creation of a social network inventory, and creating a ‘starter/freebie kit’ with landmarks/accessories/clothes/etc for new users in SL to guide their exploration. His most tantalizing idea was his concept for how we can better adapt to new media…for him, access was an issue, and he contemplated on the radical notion of giving everyone, from birth, a laptop, a means to connect to mediated environments.  For him, there are no no ‘villages’ of social interaction left in his First Life, except possibly the MTA system, which is a site where people from multiple facets of life, identity, and territory have the ability to interact.

chatting with Chester.

Skype chat #2: Chester, dig the moustache.

SECOND INTERVIEW: CHESTER/TROUT ESQUIRE. Chester considered Second Life to be an ‘anomaly…a small phenomenon.’ He admitted that he is not a fan of Second Life (prefers conference calls)..he took a summer course with Jason, and had prior exposure to the environment, but it didn’t change his perceptions. For him the ‘avatar creates a lot of mis-communication’….and he didn’t care about people having a life or not [in SL]. For him, the purpose of SL is more about putting a value on it than what is actually there…[SL] supplements a social world. There are ‘psychological arguments you can make’ on the ’emotional value’ associated with interacting in these online worlds…he expressed how he was very ‘pro First Life instead of Second Life.’  In terms of his primary impressions on the class, he stated that ‘theory didn’t apply so much in Second Life…that its not a big phenomena…its ‘not Facebook, Frienster, or Grand Theft Auto.’ For him, the readings raised larger questions about the role of academia, and academic in studying new media, and informed his ‘ongoing dispute with friends in the social sciences.’ He thought that ‘academics, by its nature, is behind what’s happening [in new media]…and that it has to rely on frameworks, and that’s a change from examining literature, philosophy, and anthropology…studying people as opposed to studying concepts.’ For him, Jason took an ‘aesthetic approach’ to exploring new media by making ‘the best of what you have.’ He liked the discussions in class, feeling that it contributed to a continuation of  ‘critical dialogue.’ The value of the course was that it ‘presented [several] points of view, on a world…whether we like it or not, to our point of view.’ What ‘Jason does very well’ is managing the class, not letting his opinion get in the way (which was something similarly evoked by Alessia and Chelsey).’ If Chester taught the course, he admitted that he would probably take ‘a more subjective approach with the material….he would give students oppositional texts…setting up a foundation of academics to on to a more combative, argumentative setting…he would set it up as a debate class…require people to take a point of view, and battle it out,’ and admitted that it would not be ‘an ethnographic, or anthropological course.’ For him, the class was itself an ‘experiment in ethnography’…and by ‘surveying a scene,’ accomplished ‘what it needed to do.’

Phone convo with the one and only Uffa Burstein.

Phone convo with the one and only Uffa Burstein.

THIRD INTERVIEW SUBJECT: ALESSIA/UFFA BURNSTEIN. Primary impressions of the course? [in] first classes was surprised to discovered ethnography/research methods was not about content/initial thoughts…this immersive way of looking into things…liked that…connected to Jungian therapy…this is very similar type of stuff to relational based…therapy/psychoanalysis…thinking…relational way of exploring something…is very  Jungian…first readings was bored…mobile phones in Jamaica…people reporting every word…logging in information…found it tedious…wasn’t a lot of interpretation from first readings…logging…more than a way of readings…the discussions in class were interesting in the beginning…into environment…and then…interesting moments, trying to define what ethnography is…interesting for me…the fact that you can’t define it, is the definition…doing with the means you have is the way to do ethnography…very flexible…liked that part…go and do things, doesn’t like to read about things…ethnography…the ‘logging’…throws me out a bit…i like taking the experience, and the reading, and seeing what goes in my head, and my brain…and generate something that comes out in other forms…with respect to this project…take the abstract and put them out…reading Tsing and Shaviro…felt more freedom with the way they presented their results…doesn’t like the logging..of information…embodied epistemology…first argument, is this literature, academic research, art? all ethnographic methods…you can apply these embodied knowledge in
everything…it can become research, art, it can become literature…the method was good…to make sure we were inside the context, trying to record…or to listen to all of our sensations…being in SL…the digitizing of the people…the presentation of the data, or what you call it…

On-site and on-line learning?…I never had a blog specifically for a class…worked well for me…pushed me…trying to articulate [ideas]…don’t do enough of articulation and putting it out..discovered with blog…it pushes me to make connections…class discussion is a performance…very few of what is said stays and sticks…blogs…pushes thoughts and makes you think a particular way…first couple of responses were difficult…enjoyed commenting on each others’ blogs…but was too much…not enough time to write a blog and comments on others blog…readings were over 100 pgs a week…the SL meetings were messy…had problems logging on SL…lacked microphone….technically annoying…it was cool to be in SL with people…problem with SL…its either empty, or people are interested in clubbing or having sex…its different to have your people to explore than be on your own…enjoyed S&M scene…seeing other peoples avatars…seeing people’s blog told her more about people’s RL…the participation in this world was SL…wanted more SL meetings…didn’t feel that we achieved a lot in SL meetings…or create a space for people to meet regularly…debates in class were getting boring…doesn’t know why…maybe something more could have been done…have a structure where things could be discussed better…to revive the discussion…people missing in class…disturbing…the connections via Skype were fine, but could have been done better…going to Jason’s place was interesting…we have been meeting in different spaces…in his living room was nice…a contrast to the aseptic environment in class…seeing teacher’s house…reminds me of therapy…standard Freudian therapy…not allowed to see therapist in a personal way…a session…seeing the cat of the therapist…’oh my god…this is so wrong’……Jungian therapy…fuck that…everything is part of a context…you shouldn’t worry about following strict rules…things that bothered me a bit…definitely the conversation sometimes was stagnating…Jason is strange…is so innovative on one end, but is so structured…I don’t know if its him, or people, or what it was…the one good thing that he has….he stops people if they digress…sometimes its good to let those things out…in some classes it becomes ridiculous…but Jason is of the idea that you need to speak to a point…S&M class…there was that sense of play…giving toys/clothes…more expert SL user with SL newbies…interacting with peoople in SL makes it more interesting…

If this class would continue for 14-16 weeks…we could explore more of second life…do more in a collaborative way…a lot of initiatives in SL used as a platform…we could create a virtual class…invite them…present them with issues…identities, race, virtual/real…interesting to do as a group…the humanities side…i loved it at a lot …didn’t get bored of…how people behave in SL, and that is compensating for something…it could be nice to sign up with group, and report…have a journal…and report on what goes on in those groups (cites Helen)…it would be interesting this info…we haven’t done a lot of collaborative work…share material, and do something with that…web exhibition…installation…etc…explore a bit more..identity…there’s so much that could be done there…new media is a hot topic…

How much time did you spent in SL? [I] spent 3-4 hrs a week…some days for 6 hours…a lot of boring moments, looking for things that are interestings…SL has been turned into a shopping mall…everything is very fragmented…
learning about experience…if you have a proper FL, you will have a proper SL…

Chelsey

Second Life voice chat: Chelsey...striking a pose.

FOURTH INTERVIEW: MINA MUGGINS/CHELSEA.  Primary impressions of the course? Liked class a lot…very useful for me…pleasantly surprised I could be OK with ethnography…intense things with anthropology….divisive power relations…difference…issues with anthropology and ethnography…whiteness and ethnography…this class has served me…[made me] rethink its existence…even with the history [of anthropology] that I struggle with sometimes…Chester and I have butted heads…or rather, pleasantly disagreed…has been really useful for me…I would say we still disagree…that its still unresolved…ethnography…knowledge…where it comes…what is scholarly research…what isn’t…difference on embodied knowledge…for me, its academic…for him, embodied knowledge is art…literature…research…scholarly research…followed in the tradition of white, heterosexual patriarchy…I liked Jason…learned a lot from him…one of my favorite professors…good as drawing answers from people….facilitating sharing…doesn’t give the map…asks questions…facilitating people having different opinions…and exchanging about those…think he’s a fabulous professor…

On-site and on-line learning? My first time in SL…really nervous about it…was asked to present on Katherine Hayles…wanted to present it in RL…but instead had to present in SL…and didn’t want to…and I found it to be …I felt more challenged…to define what I was saying…but I felt less from a challenge from Chester than if it was in class…I felt I could defend her [Hayles] more in SL…that had to do with Jason not having voice chat..there was something about the source of authority not being able to participate…that made me feel more empowered to talk about…engagement was a different level…but I couldn’t engage with questions…I couldn’t see their faces and body language…other encounters…I multitask in a lot of places…except when I was presenting…compared to in-class where I’m totally focused…SL is important as a learning tool, the personal interaction is important to the process…it makes it more real…so that it can be applied…I used the blog as a way to process the reading…I used the points that were most
relevant…made more sense to me…and I’ve gone back to it…as a bank of resources when i write my research …and my thesis…while my research may not be in that classical style…I have to have something easy to access…another blog for a class I have is similar…’before class’ blog similar to this one… what points are most relevant to me so I can use it as reference…but i feel i have some other people use blogs different for their own purpose…class discussions...video…The Passenger…I always like seeing the films…for the most part…I found the discussions to be helpful and relevant…I’ve gotten a lot of it and its served me well…there were times where I felt we got on tangents and it got me frustrated sometimes…but for the most part, I liked the discussions I had with people, and the things we talked in class…

How much time did you spent in SL? 2-3 times a week, 2 hours each…it grew on me…I spent more time on SL than I originally planned…in terms of what I did…I did a lot of hanging out with people…I spent a lot of time in the youth SL…with an organization that was trying to do learning in SL [AMIGOS]…and once I started with my research…for two weeks I focused on that…I pretty much hung out at the same sim and [with] the same people…

If this class would continue for 14-16 weeks..we could have gone in different directions…I guess for me…I would be interested in creating curriculum for young people to use in leadership…cognitive side of interaction…could be helpful for me…my interests are very specific…we’d have to decide as a group if we could do it…….

POST INTERVIEW REVELATION: DIFFERENCE IN LEARNING STYLES CREATE DISTINCT LEARNING EXPERIENCES. A lot of things were revealed to me as I was doing each subsequent interview. Initially, I thought that some of my experiences in the class were shared (trouble communicating in SL, discussions running into tangents, the role of ethnography in dissecting new media, etc.), which they were, but there was something even more fascinating that was emerging. It was interesting how each of my subjects, through their responses in the interviews, and their writing styles in their blogs, as well as face-to-face interactions, revealed a lot about their distinct learning styles. Each subject applied the ideas and concepts in the ethnography and new media course to their own intellectual pursuits and leanings. Hearing Sean talk over Skype, and in class, I could see how the Shaviro text really echoed with him. His ideas seem scattershot, but if you pay close attention, he is able to draw on several ideas and connect them. You have to simply listen. His words darted from place to place, location to location, but yet he managed to make several great points about his learning experience, his engagement with ethnography and Second Life, and his own interests. His mind operated much like the Shaviro text, if it was made of flesh, and took on a material form. My interactions with Chester were somewhat frustrating (for me) because I wanted to see if he would be as critical as he was in his blogs…and to an extent, he was…but it was less about the organization of the course, Jason’s teaching style…and more about Second Life as a space where embodied knowledge can take place…and the role of academia. He comes from a literature background, and it was no surprise to see his blogs cite literary theory. Even though he has a skeptical view of SL, he really engaged with the texts…he fought with them, contested them, in a way that was fruitful to his learning. Alessia has a vibrant stream-of-consciousness approach to communicating, drawing on her past, her childhood, and knowledge of psychoanalytic theory, and found connections with the work of Hayles, etc. There is a flow to her speech, the way she expresses her ideas, but they are rich with content…for her, I get the impression that theory is alive, vibrant, and that is the way she has most embraced ethnography, when it is not tied down in documentation…she has to experience it for herself. Chelsey had first struck me as someone who is academically rigorous. As she has admitted, her blog in the course served as a pool of knowledge, a sort of database that she could turn to for her thesis and research work. But that approach is only relegated to this class…she later emailed me a blog from another class that seemed (to me, anyway) more in the style of a narrative, an auto-ethnography.  When we talked, she shared something that really made me re-think my perspective on the course itself, and how it has served me, and served others. She expressed that when comparing learning experiences in a ‘shared learning space,’ it is not fair to raise a value question (what experience was richer, better, lacking, etc), but how our learning styles manifest themselves differently, depending on the learning ‘space.’

Other notes:

–What I have learned? The process? The exploration?

–How to organized these ideas (write a paper? used a blog? incorporate more readings?)

–Raise questions to class

Written by rivasfranizzi

December 12, 2008 at 7:38 pm

research idea: ‘queering’ in SL

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I’m still brain dead as to what I will do for my research project, but as of now, I’m learning toward examining Second Life as a space where ‘queering’ takes place, where multiple identities and/or subjectivities are emerging. I think performance artist Jose Munoz’s concept of disidentification (which describe a tactic by ‘minorities,’ ‘outsiders’ or people ‘in the margins’ to construct their identities out of difference as a survival strategy) might be helpful in addressing why so many subcultures in SL (neko, goth, vampires, transsexuals, robots, etc, etc) grow, expand, and flourish (I’m sure there a lot of research on this). Ultimately, the queering that exists in ‘SL’ allows subjects to lay claim to identity, desire, power (or force), and agency.

Written by rivasfranizzi

October 10, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Posted in queer, Second Life

i’d like to be a neomelodica lip synching singer too

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this photo came up when i did a google image search for a neomelodica singer. he may or may not be one, but he has the look.

this photo came up when i did a google image search for a neomelodica singer. he may or may not be one, but he has the look.


the neomelodica scene

I enjoyed reading a bit of Jason’s ethnographic work on the neomelodica scene in Naples, Italy. It immediately made me think of subgenres of music in several regions of the world that are often kept secretive, or have a negative stigma. One that comes to mind is the narcocorrido in Mexico. Narcocorridos are similar to the corridor genre (its a folky, polka music with accordions at the fore with lyrics that usually speak about immigrant struggles, love, heartbreak, etc) in style, but the content is more violent, glorifying and celebrating crime life, drug trafficking, etc. And its just as hardcore than gangsta rap itself.

Going back to neomelodica…I was fascinated, and not surprised, by the popularity of such a low budget, pirated, underground network of performance. It’s amazing how people don’t mind that the songs are lip synched ‘live,’ and that the production values are so raw. But its the immediacy and the ‘hey-we’re on TV-and everyone can see us’ mentality of the scene that makes it so popular in Italy.

There is also something to say about the presence of the camera in this context, and how it affected Jason’s interactions with neomelodica artists, producers, and members of the camorra in his research. As he mentioned, those interactions went in flux. Sometimes, his subjects were happy to ‘ham it up’ for the camera, candidly speaking about the joy of the musical genre and what it meant for the Italian subject. Other times, he was discouraged by some of his subjects to like such a subgenre, and persuaded to sample other musical styles that were more widely accepted in Italy. And I must say its pretty gutsy to shoot at a camorra‘s son’s birthday party, only to have your work rejected for not being flashy enough.

As crude as the neomelodica music videos are, there is an unwritten rule to how to do it right. When Jason made a video for one of his subjects, opting for a more documentary style, the subject’s father criticized it for not framing enough on his face. The video is not only a propaganda tool for neomelodica music, but also a way to affirm the singer’s status as subject, to give them a ‘face,’ to make them a *star.*

I loved the work. It would be interesting to see if other ethnographic work has been done on other genres of music that like neomelodica, navigate in more underground, guerrilla forms, and to how these forms inter pollinate.

Small comment on Dourish
Paul Dourish’s article “Accounting for System Behavior” was pretty dry compared to other readings for this class, but it is helpful in understanding how SL, as an interface, complicates traditional perspectives on our actions with computer mediated systems. To an extent, SL is process based, in that any new user has to undergo some orientation, some guidance on navigating sims, getting apps, talking to people, etc, etc. But for the most part, SL users are engaging in constant improvisation, morphing, moving, shifting through these virtual spaces (or more appropriately, ‘contact zones’), and changing them at their will.

Written by rivasfranizzi

October 9, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Posted in ethnography, music

autoethnography (or getting back on track with the SL thing-thang)

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so i decided to do a video autoethography than something written, or more mixed media based. watching it again, some self-critiques:

  • i need a better mic
  • i need to mix snapshots/video of second life
  • i should address some specific readings or journal entries more.

all of these things will change. but i’m posting it, because in the spirit of the autoethnography, i prefer it be as raw and honest as possible. in the coming weeks, expect something more professional, but still honest and true to my self.

there’s also a short capture of rivas walking around a sim.

Written by rivasfranizzi

October 8, 2008 at 3:00 am

Posted in Second Life

cyborgs, chatting with Zoe-bot, and Zapatistas in cyberspace

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the evolution of cyborg steve mann over time.

the evolution of cyborg steve mann over time. source: wikipedia.

Do we need smart people?

I’ve always read Howard Rheingold with a degree of skepticism.  Its not that I enjoy his enthusiasm over new media and Internet, but I always felt its lack the rigor and reasoned analysis that someone like Haynes would have. But his presence is important, for his work provides us with a glimpse of entities working on the fridges of communication technologies.

Take for instance, Steve Mann. He has lived with wearable computer technology (or what he calls the WearCam) for more than two decades, documenting and sharing his experiences as a human cyborg. What is startling about his ‘transformation’ (noted by the photograph above) is how the bulky, heavy apparatus that were once part of his body has been reduced to a pair of sunglasses and a small joystick. Any visual of the ‘artificial’ is becoming harder to determine as the technoogy has become part of him. It is him.

[…] It is it exciting to hear developments of mu-chips approaching the size of ‘small dust,’ carrying volumes of information and performing physical activity (pg. 103). Or the possibilities of moving beyond ‘smart rooms’ and ‘smart cars’ to what Mann envisions as the ‘smart person,’ an independent, sentient being who can rely on their intelligence to control the environment that surround us through a prosthetic transformation of the body (p.107). But as my collegue in class Jacqueline pointed out, the evidence of such technologies (particularly wearable computing technologies) being part of our culture, are few and far in between. Perhaps the reluctance of releasing such gadgetry has a lot to do with making the technology profitable and arguably, affortable to everyone. Even Mann, a proponent of wearable computers, is unsure that such technologies will be empowering. Corporations are always in the process of co-opting, or co-branding devices of ‘change’ and ‘transformation’ into something trivial (like ‘smart’ clothes for instance).

This leads to the complicated question of whether or not such technologies are necessary, or if they will ever be necessitated by the greater culture. We’ve already examined how the cell phone, itself once a technology that was looked upon as an object of transformative change, has in the Jamaican case, mostly become inculcated into existing cultural norms and practices. It hasn’t changed Jamaicans as much as Jamaicans have changed it. But in some ways, it has changed what it means to be ‘Jamaican,’, but not as much as it was perceived to be. In the case of wearable computers, is it really needed by us? Will it dramatically change our status as citizen subjects? I don’t know. I’d like to find out.

There is one thing that bugs me about the motivation behind Mann’s work. Its all human-centric, driven by the ideals of the Enlightment period that we can achieve the means to be free. But why hasn’t he expanded the vision of how his cyborg-self can co-exist with his environment? Imagine a posthuman species of cyborgs that actually become part of a greater ecological system, contributing to the preservation and existence other systems and subsystems of life. This is where the smart mob case can be helpful, but I’ll save this for class discussion 🙂

this is zoe. she's an android. and she's cool to talk to.

Meeting Zoe

I was curious about Melanie McGee’s work (I was actually kinda jealous that Rheingold had the opportunity of meeting with a cyborg like her, I’m such a geek!), and I ended up in her website. I began reading on one of her pet projects, Zoe, a ‘web android’ (1), and immediately noticed this flash applet with the head of a blonde female inviting you to ‘SAY’ something to her. So I said, hi, and she responded back. I asked her what she was made of, and she said ‘artificial intelligence.’ I then asked her what AI was, and she gave me a pretty dense answer. I later asked her if she needed, or wanted sex as a robot. She said that she didn’t. She also gave me an answer along the lines of, ‘It is all part of God’s plan.’ I asked her why she believed in God…that robots didn’t believe in God. And then she said, ‘Why not? Are you moral?’ I said yes, but that I didn’t believe in God, and that it wasn’t necessary to have morality, to be moral. And through this brief conversation, I was pretty surprised at how the conversation held up, and said more about me, my opinions on AI and morality, etc…than about Zoe herself (who gave me this extensive ‘database’ of categories, responses, etc. that she relies on to give her answers…she is an evolving intelligence…she is emerging). It was exciting, and kinda chilling. I finally asked her if our conversation was being logged…she said she didn’t know, but was pretty sure it was. Zoe was ‘fun’ (in the, ‘my goodness Kevin, are  you now resorting to chatting it up with web androids instead of humans?’) to talk to, but it was only a programmed piece of software? It wasn’t human, it wasn’t sentient…yet its responses varied in their tone and content…it was pretty sophisticated for a web applet. McGee also states to have a Skeletor-bot, an ‘in the flesh’ robot that she has had at her Halloween parties and other public events. I can only imagine what a conversation with Skeletor would be like.

(1) Zoe, a web android / bot, works on all platforms, not just Microsoft (very important for web-based solutions). She’s had many incarnations, including an MP4 version, an SVG version, and ultimately a Flash version that chats with users over the Internet (source: http://www.melmcgee.com/about.php) .

Zapatistas in Cyberspace

The segment in the ‘Smart Mobs’ chapter that most aroused my interest was RAND’s work on ‘netwars’ and how they have grown, propaganted, and what they mean for the near future. I’m familiar with the ideas on ‘netwar’ from the thesis I did on the Zapatista movement in Chiapas in the mid 1990’s, and how information technologies (i.e. list serves, email, etc) were essential in helping build a international network of support for the people of Chiapas and the EZLN. But it had its limitations. I thought I’d put my Powerpoint presentation which addresses some these topics: kevin-zapatista-presentation

Written by rivasfranizzi

September 26, 2008 at 5:12 am

Posted in Second Life

my–emerging–warped–self–burroughs–eating–mutant–tapes–sleep

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william s. burroughs. with a gun.

read through ‘the materiality of information.’ wow. pretty raw stuff. some quick reactions (more to be posted later in the week):

  • william s. burroughs. his experiments with audio tape definitely demonstrate how new subjectivities can ’emerge’ from our relationship to technology. an infinite number of audio ‘cut-outs’ can leads to new ‘selves,’ new ‘voices’ to come into being. he feared the tape, the word, as a parasidic, a viral form…yet he indulged himself in them. i’d LOVE to create a ‘reality studio.’  what will it take to make?
  • gender identity and the body. hayles states that “gender is produced and maintained not only by gendered languages but also by gendered body practices that serve to discipline and incorporate bodies into the complex significations and performances that constitute gender within a given culture.”  i definitely agree. there is a large body of work (in gender studies and performative studies) that is focused on how our ‘femininity,’ ‘masculinity,’ ‘butchness,’ etc. etc. is articulated through our performance and play. our gender identity/ies are constantly negotiated by ourselves, by others, by systems, by complex structures both on-line and off-line. SL, while a primitive interface (and necessary, as i pointed out to a friend yesterday, perhaps making our avatars too human would led to an ‘uncanny valley’ scenario (1)), and a virtual ‘playground’…gives us the capability to choose whatever ‘body’ we desire… it is still is a space that polices our gendered body practices. i remember when i first met ‘ron’ (the subject of an earlier blog entry), he chided me for not walking ‘normal’ and proceeded to give me an app that allowed me to walk ‘like a man.’ once i did it, i passed the gender test and ascribed to an underlying code of proper gendered behavior.
  • contesting a dominating narrative on the ‘disappearing body’ in postmodern ideology. hayles provides us with a dense summary of ideas by critical theorists on how the ‘body’ has been removed of its subjectivity in a postmodern time, and argues that we should instead consider the ways by which ‘a certain kind of subjectivity has emerged’…one that is ‘constituted by the crossing of the materiality with the immortality of information.’ in our class discussion on SL, Jason kept bringing up the issue on whether or not SL is evidence of a technology that has facilitated the emergence of new subjectivities. a few classmates of mine pointed out how they felt disconnected from the interface of SL…that there was some kind of split between their physical ‘self’ and their avatar, and that it was hard to connect the two. i see what they mean,  but for me, it has been difficult to tear away such ‘selves.’ rivas, my SL avatar, feels as real to me as any type of appendage on my body. but perhaps its because i’ve become comfortable with interacting in such environments. you cannot become immediately comfortable in such virtuality. as Jason stated, many critics of SL argue about the ‘vertigo,’ the ‘coldness,’ and discomfort inherent in using such technologies. and i definitely can see some of that. but given some time, some messy play with SL, and i think you can overcome some of that.

Endnotes

(1) The Uncanny Valley is a theory posited by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori on how human beings can do much in making a ‘humanoid’ robot before it becomes too uneasy, too uncomfortable to interact with. As expressed in this Glimpses article:

Though originally intended to provide an insight into human psychological reaction to robotic design, the concept expressed by this phrase is equally applicable to interactions with nearly any nonhuman entity. Stated simply, the idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human “look” . . . but then a deep chasm plunges below neutrality into a strongly negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete.

This chasm—the uncanny valley of Doctor Mori’s thesis—represents the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting. (source: http://www.arclight.net/~pdb/nonfiction/uncanny-valley.html#top)

Written by rivasfranizzi

September 23, 2008 at 1:38 am

Posted in Second Life

on being posthuman and visiting the official McCain-Palin sim

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rivas/kevin is posthuman

i enjoyed the ‘conclusion’ section of Katherine Hayles forays into what it means to become ‘posthuman.’ a lot of it referenced cybernetic theory, which i was fortunate to be exposed to (nsu prof. paul ryan teaches a terrific class on the work that gregory bateson has done on this)…and i felt that the use of literature to highlight the ways by which a semiotics of virtuality can operate made the semiotic ‘map’ easier to understand. i was familiar with one of the texts referenced…’blood music’ by greg bear…although i have to recommend the short story rather than the extended novel. the story is much more succinct in describing the tantalizing possibility of ‘bio-chips’ inhabiting our bodies and taking a life of their own, leading to not only an evolution of themselves, but of the human ‘body’  as well.

i would also have to agree with Bruno Latour that we have always been posthuman. especially in my generation, which has become more attuned to worlds, both virtual and real, that are governed, regulated (and sometimes subverted) by networks and systems. i smile whenever i hear talk-talk about how technological ‘breakthroughs’ like social networking websites and ‘smart mobs’ are introducing facets of human behavior and interaction that didn’t exist before. they have, but these are merely extensions of our human-ess…of the ways by which like Hayles mentions, we are ‘extending embodied awareness in highly specific, local, material ways.”  the technology helps us greatly, but networks of communication, interaction, and engagement with ourselves and the greater ecology have existed for a long, long time. its strange though, how we must look to the past (especially if you examine native american ‘epistemologies’…) to really get a sense of what’s at stake now in a time of ecological, political, and ideological crises… we must use our mind, our sensory awareness to re-connect to our ecology, to ‘jack-in’ with other species in our planet.

but i feel like i’m veering too far off base. i’m still a little confused by the semiotic ‘map’ that Hayles has laid out…perhaps we can discuss a bit in class how SL can work into the presence/absence and randomness/pattern schema…and its relationship to mutation/materiality/hypperreality/information…if anything, i’m pretty convinced that SL is an extension of our ever-changing, ever-fluxing ‘self’ that continually redefines our humanity…and yet as ‘artificial’ and ‘simulated’ the sims are, they eerily remind me of the isolation, the engagement, and the miscommunication (those cybernetic redundancy patterns can be applied here) that is part of my life.

and on a similar note…

after reading up on several online newspapers about hackers cracking Repulican VP candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account last night, i visited SL, curious to see if there was any chit-chat on the topic. i did a quick search on political areas, and ended up on the official McCain-Palin sim. i entered the bar/cafe lounge area in the main building annex (there’s a beach bash tomorrow evening!), and observed an intense conversation between an SL Herald female reporter and a large group of (obviously) McCain-Palin supporters. she was trying to get them to answer a simple question: if Palin was naively using a public, non-encrypted email system to conduct private, political business as governer of Alaska, how could she be entrusted with keeping sensitive information in Washington away from hackers, crackers, political ‘enemies, terrorists, etc, etc.? No one in the McCain-Palin group responded. They easily dismissed her as a ‘troll for the enemy,’ an ‘Obama tree-hugger’…and told her to leave, which she did. i sent her a private message thanking her for pointing out that both McCain (who publicly claimed that he didn’t know how to use computers) and Palin (who should have had better IT people in her office informing her on the importance of having particular information ENCRYPTED…i mean, doesn’t she have money to upgrade her Yahoo account to Yahoo Pro?) lack technological literacy. but when i say ‘literacy’…its not merely knowing how to operate a computer, but having an ‘awareness’ that as a public servant, you must be attuned to the larger communication networks at work in our country, our world…especially in a time where copyright law is undergoing major challenges from rampant, viral piracy, in a moment where net neutrality is being debated in Congress, and especially when we are now aware that our phone calls are being wiretapped in the name of ‘national security,’ we should elect competent people (or at least people in their staff) who have some understanding of the effects of technology on political life. but when you admit no knowledge of such critical informational systems, or allow a breach of your personal data during a pivotal moment before a presidential election (imagine a President Palin or President McCain picking an FCC chair…I dare not think!)…well, i gotta have second thoughts if you can lead this country in a (slightly) better direction than the past eight years.

Written by rivasfranizzi

September 19, 2008 at 8:26 am

Posted in Second Life