On Saturday I went to the first Version conference. I went in as my skeptical self and left really amazed at the conversations I was able to listen to from the wonderfully curated panels. I didn’t have any deep thoughts until this morning when my normal train route was not running on my way to work. I’d also forgotten my idevice and headphones so I was reading Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct. Recommendations for Good Scientific Practice and the Consumers of VR-Technology (I’ve not finished it yet, but the deep thought came so here it is, jotted down before my next meeting).
I was very struck by the work of Jacolby Satterwhite. He is using virtual reality to create a world where he is more whole than he can be outside where his myth can be constructed, completed and fully experienced in a way not possible I the real world. In fact, he said as much, vulnerable, on a stage with only a few faces that looked like him in the audience.
These thoughts are so drafty I can feel the virtual wind on my body
I am stuck in this place where VR is the broken mirror stage as defined by a footnote in black skin white masks that I can’t cite because the book is at home coupled with the McLuhan idea of amputation, only it is the ultimate amputation. What this has me thinking, or realizing maybe, is perhaps I was so attracted to the theory of Fanon and McLuhan because they are both talking about the same exact thing/experience. Media amputates us from our embodied selves in various was as it extends who we are. When we other stand the body as a medium in and of itself, when the body is stuck in a place of alienation due to a lack of mutual recognition, which is the case for different bodied people, be it because of race, ability, or other things that might present as a visible or aural difference, there is an amputation from the perceived metaphysical (not sure this is the right word, but the basis for all of this is there is no actual self just the perception… oh damnit this is so theory I’m angry) self. Okay, I forgive myself. The way VR is being imagined right now does not give primacy to embodied experiences. It gives primacy to the plaststicty of the brain and the fact that because of the brains plasticity you can fool the body into disembodying itself and attaching to a virtual analog.
So why race? Well, there is always race. I live in a raced body. Also it is female. I’m a little bit chubby. I feel and experience my inner self and live in a body that is marked and reacted to in particular ways based on things outside of my control that I do not notice until I realize I’m being seen in 3rd person. What the experience of race or marked/unexpected difference highlights, unveils, demystifies is that some of us are never ourselves. We live as a virtual version of who we are because there are things about us that already script how we are read and reacted it. If I am on a train, and people see me all of those markers of difference might or might not make them have thoughts about me that are untrue. Because of the ways I am marked by difference, those thoughts might veer towards negativity (but that is a whole other conversation on perceived mircro-aggressions versus actual ones and the complications of interpreting a space when you are “Other”). So, back to this third person business. Everyone (not everyone but many people) gets mad at me when I use Fanon to speak about existing in 3rds, but I have to because he is the one who is speaking specifically about the broken mirror stage, as mentioned above. The mirror stage, per Fanon, breaks for the black child when the child in pre-adolescence realizes their body, their self is not the one projected by media, history or society.
The plasticity required to reconcile the self already exists for those bodies marked by difference as they already have to exist in third person when they live in dominant societies. They are at once themselves, the person they project and the person others perceive them to be. We see t his in Mamie (and Kenneth) Clarks doll experiment. The black child, seeing the dolls wants to play with the white dolls. The sadness the child has at having to reconnect with the doll they rejected, the doll they said was bad, shows that for many people, they always already live in a state of detachment from their bodies in a meaningful way because that is where society takes them. When I listened, and reflected on what Satterwhite was saying about having to take in the racism of the live audience and how the virtual him could be layered and contain the mythologies and performance that cannot be done in the real world, even as they were still a representation of himself, unchanged, it was meaningful. For me, the black body is one that is, by society and media and culture, amputated from its own humanity. The mask in Black Skin White Masks is a virtual reality where I realize to the world outside I am a monster (at times). It is one I cannot escape. There are no goggles. It is a light field discussed in terms of color and hues. I am sad that the place of empowerment and humanity is a virtual one… but there is another side to this too.
I love Fanon because he says that we all experience this world in 3rds, it is just more obvious to those marked as Other in a way that cannot be escaped if they are to move with other humans. For those in groups of privilege that don’t acutely feel the amputation, VR is the tool that takes them to that space through that wonderful plastic brain of theirs. In the Code of Ethical conduct, seeing the virtual body as the real body was seen as being detrimental and something we should worry about the psychological effects of (in the part that I read). And Yes! Yes! Of course!! but what about all the children who go through this micro-psychological change very time they are confronted with their own image. Every time they choose them self (in a doll or other thing) they are briefly experiencing a moment of disembodiment and radical embodiment… and this is fascinating and I’m still trying to figure out how/what I think and feel about this. I guess the question is, is VR different because on chooses to enter that world, but with race (or other marked difference) choice is removed and there is no world without the goggles (except for the electric one)?
Anyway, to end, because I have another meeting… The danger in VR around bodies and alienation, then, is that those in power and privileged might realize their bodies are meaningless because others have the power to manipulate and define their image (because it is clear that VR is a tool that can radically manipulate those who enter virtual worlds through immersive experiences that cause the body to feel and experience things that are not real outside of the image/sensation created in the mind). In the world of immersive VR that comes as a prepackaged experience the experiencer is at risk of being stuck in the world they entered, unable to change what’s been coded into their lived experience by the machine and the people who control it.
But hey, this is the world I was born into so…
/very drafty thoughts.
I totally survived. In fact, I kind of sort of had an amazing time. By far though, the most amazing for me thing was the Echo Park Film Center:
I first saw them at the Mozilla Science Fair, on Thursday night, the night I arrived, and was exhausted (the super shuttle took 2 hours!!!). I also presented at the Science Fair on Future class (more on that later), and was put next to this table with tons of DVDs, prop films, buttons, and two super charismatic guys (I wish I had taken a picture. I’m sure someone did, and I’ll find them and add them later).
Anyway, Out the Window consists of many film and media centers that are doing outreach to marginalized youth. It gives them a space to create, express themselves, explore etc. They brought a group of kids that had participated in the various programs to speak during their panel, well, really during the question and answer session. They were AMAZING!!! All of them said that they were empowered, and all of them, without prompting, explained their experience as a chance ot think critically. I LOVED it. So I had to ask a question, that is related to my research interests of course. I asked them if participating in these groups, and learning how to and actually creating these alternate narratives and representations of themselves and their neighborhoods and communities had changed how they view their communities, neighborhoods and how their role in them. One kid stood up. He was latino, tall, lanky with long hair and a red ski cap on. His name was Walter. Let me tell you, Walter blew us ALL away.
He talked about how all the representations he’s ever seen were made by people who had the money to control all the messaging that gets out on a massive scale, and all that messaging made people like him and from his neighborhood seem bad, less than and not worthy. But the project had allow him to see what he can do, and explore the rest of LA and see what it was like, and he was just like everyone. His participation made him feel empowered, and let him think critically about the situation and it allows him to show it for what it was.. and you could just feel the love and empowerment and it was seriously, tears. I talked to other people and they had the exact same experience. Just phenomenal and mind blowing.
The best part of all of this is of course that there is a big blue bus called the film mobile that has been gutted and turned in to a mobile cinema and production studio and it will be coming to North Carolina over the summer. I am SOOOOO there.
Even cooler, I got a couple of the DVDs of things the kids have made and I’m planning on sharing them with some of my classes and of course, guarding them as the sacred items they are for years to come.
Then there was the DML Showcase, which was amazing! I will have to write more about that later (probably with video), but it was soooo inspiring.
On to what I did
SCIENCE FAIR: Future Class
So, there was a Mozilla Science fair at DML2011. I exhibited as Future Class. I had my drumbeat site up and explained that my role in the class was to see how digital media could be used in ethnographic projects. The best comment was “isn’t that just a blog?” my response was of course, yes, and I explained that the purpose was to show a quick and easy way to create a discursive space where you field site can visibly say yay or nay to your observations. Even if it is just a blog, most people aren’t allowing for that type of exchange yet and blogs are easy and simple.
I also had a very small activity. I explained that future class was about thinking in the digital age and exploring what that means and what the challenges are in the university setting. It was a project based tutorial for the most part, but we also had to determine what needed to be different than the traditional classroom experience. I had tons of post its and pens and let people cover the table with words, sentences and paragraphs of what they needed to be changed. Almost everything centered around assessment and community/engagement. There were also quite a few on media.
A Taste of Mozilla Drumbeat: Storming the Classroom Grading and Community
The next thing I did was have a workshop session at the drumbeat workshopping session. The purpose of this was to create a foundational idea of what we want grades to do so people could then move on to brainstorming tools and methods to get them to where they needed to be. I had the smallest group but we had a wonderful time. I brought a ton of markers and a roll of paper and we created a “cloud” of thoughts (there were 4 of us), first on what was bad about how grading currently works, then what was good about how grading currently worked and finally on what are wishless was for how grading should work in the future. Everything ended up being that grading needs to be a community driven type of thing that allows for continuous feedback rather than relying on test that are incapable or measuring what people actually learn. Oh, and collectives. Classroom spaces need to be more community driven. I think the paper we had ended up being at least 14 feet. We taped it up on the wall. Even though we were few, we did something big, literally.
PANEL: New Collectives HASTAC Scholars as a Case Study
The last thing I did was a panel with Cathy Davidson, Fiona Barnett and Dixie Ching, on the HASTAC Scholars. I showed a short film (final edited forth coming) and share a website: http://jadedid.com/dml2011
The other three women on the panel? Simply amazing. I continue to be humbled to be sitting with these people.
I also shared my big revelation from DML2011.
ACADEMICS are just HACKERS and REMIXERS and FORKERS of KNOWLEDGE! By that I mean, what is a dissertation or a thesis other than taking the existing body of knowledges, mixing them, remixing them, forking them, modifying them, changing them, breaking them and coming up with something new and then publishing them? We just do it on paper (and that is starting to change slowly but surely).
I don’t know why it took me so long to come to that realization. When I think about academic work like that though, it makes me super happy.
So, all in all… wonderful amazing trip. There are so many people out there doing amazing work, and being around them is simply inspring. I’ve got to do more. I just have to.
It is also so interesting to hear what people are saying. I went to drumbeat with one question: “How do you imagine the involvement of tradition forms of Higher Education in the future of Freedom, Learning and the Web?” I actually had responses from everyone I spoke with other than “but how are we going to credential” which is not something that has happened yet in academic settings. Most people there were in agreement that the approach to learning and spaces of learning needs to be more holistic. However, people were still unwilling to completely let go of some of the ideals of industrialized education. They are just re-imagining them and making them more flexible. I would have to do more reflecting and exploring to determine if I think that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Things that were great:
- Gunner, quite possibly the best facilitator ever
- The quality of everything
- Variety of people there
Things that could have been better:
- More local involvement (I am still not clear how locals are kept out of a conversation on the city as a classroom)
- Volunteers to translate so participation is more open
- Finding a means to encourage exploration
- Putting people/tents closer together
- Drink/Snack Stations (coffee, water, fruit, crackers throughout the event)
- Longer time for sessions
So, on to the points that I am trained to observe that were reproduced (as is normal and also abnormal) at the event. There was a very clear lack of diversity. In terms of people of color there were a few of us. I believe there was one other black American female and one European African female (she was amazing. Her name was Nadia, and her project makes my heart sing. It is called the Prototype Project, and yes, you should check it out). There was also at least one black American male from, from Chicago, a Saffa… and… I might have missed some people. There were some asian males, from all over, meaning US and UK asian ;0), but not as many as one often sees at big tech events. I also came in to contact with one asian female from the states. So that was interesting.
Now on to the abnormal/positive observation: THERE WERE SO MANY FRIGGIN’ AMAZING WOMEN at the event. I didn’t realize, though I’m sure I’ve seen it before, that Mitchell Baker, the Chair of Mozilla Foundation, is a woman. And she was just one of too many to name who were in attendance. She and Cathy, the prof from the Duke class I was there with, gave the keynotes. That was super empowering. Also, even though they didn’t speak about it openly, the people who were interested in using digital media and the open source culture for advocacy were there, and we found each other. That was a wonderful thing.
- Learning without Frontiers (yes please) http://www.learningwithoutfrontiers.com/
- The Vienna Hack Bus (I love fun and tinkering and that is all this is) http://www.hackbus.at/
- The Prototype Project (totally earned a double mention) http://www.theprototypeproject.com/
- Universal Subtitles http://universalsubtitles.org/
- Web Made Movies (this is amazing) http://www.drumbeat.org/webmademovies
- Switch Craft (Crafts meet technology!!!) http://www.iHeartSwitch.com
So, I will go in to more detail about what I observed/did/the point was for me in the digital performance ethnography thing I am in the process of working on. I will post and update and link from this blog once it is ready (hopefully by the end of this crazy month).
I am hoping I get invited back to next year’s event and that next year is in Amsterdam… but Amsterdam is just a personal preference.
Today was THATCamp RTP, months in the making, supported by HASTAC, ISIS, and FHI at Duke, and UNC Comm Studies. It was very good.
Everyone who registered didn’t turn up, but those who did turn up were really in to it. Everywhere I went there were some very exciting conversations. Lots of stuff around digital histories, archiving, community engagement, museums, and the future of the academy with the changing digital environment (something I will also be exploring at Mozzila Drumbeat next month in Spain).
Highlights for me:
- Ghost Histories: Histories that can be found with geolocation tools of places that no longer exist (i.e. where this house now stands is the former site of church x… etc.)
- Acoustic Recreation: Using technology to recreate the acoustics of former buildings to enable people to hear what performances, or worship etc sounded like in buildings no longer exist (the person who was working on this was specifically looking at St. Paul’s Cathedral pre the fire that burned it down).
- Future of the Academy: People from the academy have no clue what the future of the academy is and what it is going to look like. This is exciting because it could be anything and no one knows. I am excited to be a part of the shift (hopefully).
I was told that our THATCamp had a much different feel than THATCamp prime, in that it was more academic. But that makes sense. We are in the research triangle after all. Either way, it was a very good time. There was talk of another school hosting one next year.
And now it is time to move on to prep for Drumbeat.
So, I participated a week ago in the Peer-to-Peer Pedagogy (p3) workshop and (un)conference at Duke on September 10th. I’ve been holding off on writing something up. I needed to let my thoughts marinate and then meditate. The most important conclusion I came to was that this peer-to-peer stuff seems to be keeping the invisible people invisible.
Here is a transcript from the backchannel (the chat that was going on during the presentations). I am “Jade”:
Two things were said that made me a little uneasy. The first was the idea of letting people go in to a peer-to-peer situation without guidance. Some people are better equipped than others to do certain things. Different levels of education, access, socialization and culture will impact how well people will be able to handle collaborative learning/teaching/grading. I don’t like the idea of the professor abdicating their role as facilitator and educator when the need arises. So, I wrote the following:
Jade: Sometimes the babies don’t learn to walk if you don’t stand them up first, right?Sep 10
I was thinking of the experience of my own two children learning to walk. They saw other people their size walking. They were interested and frustrated by their immobility. They would scream and cry. So, I stood them up. We turned it in to a game. I got so excited when they would stand for prolonged periods. This moved to holding my hand and taking steps on their weak legs. As they got stronger, I would sit with their father on the opposite side, maybe a two feet away. We’d say “come here” with a big smile on our faces and our arms out stretched. The baby would take steps. And slowly, as their confidence grew, we would sit further apart, until, one day, the baby decided he was ready, and he’d stand up by himself, and walk across the room without needing a hand. I don’t think students are babies, but, I think we learn new things by observation, and experience. Often, those experiences need to be facilitated.
So, the other thing that was said was in the backchannel. Here is the exchange:
Grace Hagood: I think (coming from the standpoint of teaching composition) that students are better able to understand not only issues of audience, but also their own agency as authors when they’re involved in producing digital work that they know is going to be available online.Sep 10
Grace Hagood: They’re very tuned into how they present themselves in a public digital context, often.Sep 10
Amanda Phillips: @grace I will probably make the forum more open next time. But does it feel public to them if no one from the outside is responding?Sep 10
Grace Hagood: @amanda I think it feels public as long as the class has access, but no doubt that’s compounded if outside readers are allowed.Sep 10
Amanda Phillips: I mean if you make a forum public, will students treat it as such if no one from the outside is posting? The Internet is a big place and can feel emptySep 10
Nilspete: Public space for students to work on toy assignment will not draw a real community. That is why you need real problems situated in real communitiesSep 10
Jade: @Nils, I think it is good for practice though so students feel comfortable going out to real communities.Sep 10
Nilspete: @jade. Learners do need to understand and develop these skills. But I’d argue, dare to be bold.Sep 10
The conversation continued a bit, and then I posted the following:
Jade: @nils, I agree it is important to be bold but it goes back to the question of making sure communities that have a history of not being included are integrated.Sep 10
There was no response to that from anyone. I have this new thing. Well, it isn’t new. It is something I determined for me and my research interest and methodological leaning will be important. It is called a”privilege check”. The space I am coming from, the status I have etc gives me so many more privileges than people I interact with every day in daily life, the classroom, research etc. I don’t want to take it for granted. To me, my research will not be meaningful if I don’t check my privilege and try to ensure that everyone I am interacting with has an equal voice. If they don’t, I need to try to help level the playing field as much as I am able to. I feel like, especially in a University setting, people should feel they are safe to explore knowledge and expression of knowledge (or learning I guess). For some people, that might be just the basics; learning that their ideas and thoughts are as valuable as any other idea or thought.
Not everyone feels safe enough to be bold. Not everyone IS safe enough to be bold. To ignore that is unrealistic. It is something that must be discussed when looking towards a peer-to-peer system in a University context.