Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Boom. Proven with statistics.

I couldn't help noticing this image, tiny as it is. It's a graph showing changes in the number of U.S. jobs over time. Even though the graph depicts job losses almost exclusively, it's a graph that makes President Obama look fairly good, compared to his predecessor.

What does it mean to make a graph into a Twitter icon?

There's something terribly Harper's Indexy about it: look at the [visual representation of the] numbers; the numbers don't lie. Boom. Proven with statistics.

The Harper's Index is interesting because it is aware of its own comical aspect. Its writers think nothing of contorting a sentence or an idea in order to fit the formula of label: number. This is in part the source of the comedy. There's a certain playful pettiness involved in the Harper's Index. It's a pettiness that meshes perfectly with the Index's particular kind of authority. An index only claims to indicate.

Here, in the Twitter icon, is the same gesture. It's an appeal to statistics as an authority -- here, an authority that stands in for the President of the United States, a discursive authority that serves now as the visual marker for an authority's discourse, the President's Twitter account (managed, of course, by a staffer).

As a Twitter icon, the graph is too small to read; it only makes sense if you already know what it represents (which you may, since it's been used widely in news media). Here, too, the thought has been crammed into a small and rigid space, the conventional formula of the Twitter icon.

It's the very cramming that makes it possible to say: Boom. Proven with statistics.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Did Blogger just change my style sheet?
Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing—which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power. (8)

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. 1973. London: Allen Lane, 1977. Print.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Brief and True Report on the New Found Use of Twitter in the Classroom

The Chronicle claims that teaching with Twitter is "not for the faint of heart," a "daredevil" sort of thing to do.

Daredevil -- you know, brave, foolhardy, and done as a stunt.

Brave, apparently, because letting students communicate with you via what is seen as their natural medium, Web 2.0 (a misconception, by the way) might make you lose power. (??)

Foolhardy, because you can't control what the students say.

A stunt, because Twitter is on the web, therefore by definition vapid, ephemeral, a mere fad.

Oh, Chronicle of Higher Ed. Always bringing the laughs, always enjoying that so-called iced cream.

It was, I admit, with trepidation that I assigned Twitter as part of my new research course. It wasn't just a variation on the age-old Sakai forum, like the blog. It was really a new thing. But there were a lot of reasons I wanted to do it.

-Twitter is a real thing in the world. Despite the name, which suggests unserious chick stuff (pun intended), people use it and communicate with it. Somebody is, or somebodies are, the official tweeter for the American Museum of Natural History, the Canadian press Coach House Books, the Exploratorium, and the Harry Ransom Center, just to name a few. People, one day your job could be tweeting.

-As a medium, Twitter is qualitatively different from blogs and Facebook. It is public like blogs but social like Facebook. (Or rather, Twitter and Facebook are both social, but Twitter is social differently from Facebook.) In a course that examines various media, Twitter makes an interesting case study.

-The threshold of participation is low. It is informal and brief, meaning students are empowered to participate. It thrives on concision and links.

-Hashtags model a dynamic, non-hierarchical mode of organization that is typical of the web and distinct from most library catalogues. Students should be educated in the use of both models.

-Like most Web 2.0 applications, Twitter is interstitial. You never focus your attention on it; it's just sort of there, a low hum. I'm not above making my course intrude on my students' daily lives.

-Its publicness promotes community. Students see one another's thoughts and may respond in an informal way. This is especially valuable in the context of research.

-Other instructors have used Twitter to good effect.

I'm only three weeks into the semester, during which time the students have been tweeting for a mere two weeks. But so far I'm pleased with how it's going. The students are responding to one another. They know how to use a hashtag. They tweet more than the required minimum (because, I suspect, it's useful).

I tend to see an upswing in tweets the night before class; my students seem to use it primarily to respond informally to the reading. Sometimes it's kvetching, which I think is on the whole a good thing; the reading is genuinely difficult, and a certain amount of online griping means that no one is ashamed to admit it. Sometimes it's specific questions or observations. Sometimes it's just "Whoa" -- also a valid response. A few times, people have asked me questions via Twitter (my RSS feed keeps me informed of such things).

It is, as I mentioned, early in the semester. I'll be interested to see how the use of Twitter continues, especially as the students begin work on their research projects.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The first of my posts on current research is up at my course blog.