“Infostructure of Knowledge” Response for #TtW13

by admin on March 6, 2013

This weekend, I was asked to moderate a panel at the Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW13) in New York City. During this time, I had to write down the key points of the panel and post them on Twitter. In addition, I wanted to respond to the panelists’ points and add some analysis to the work. Like most great panels, this one ran long. I only had a few short minutes to take some questions from the digital floor. So, I want to use this format to provide some sort of response to the panelists.

Bonnie Stewart began the panel with her discussion titled “MOOCs are Not the Enemy: Networked, Non-Imperialist MOOC Models,” which was framed under the following question “are MOOCs the future of higher education?” MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses I thought she did a great job tying some of the criticism about the platform and used strong visuals to support the popular theme that MOOCs are disrupting the status quo of education. This revolution of online education represents a sense of academic colonialism, imperialism & predatory privatization, which is the fear of higher education professionals within the traditional “brick and mortar” realm of the academy. The elements that get lost in the discussion is the different “flavors” of MOOCs. The questions that always gets stuck in my mind when thinking about MOOCs is the structural support needed to run a class of this nature. Stewart makes the point about the key word of MOOCs is open not massive. She refers to the openness of knowledge. My point would be that it also needs to include the openness of support of the student. There needs to be technical support (IT department), academic support (tutoring) & great peer support (groups outside the MOOC environment) in order for the class to work. Stewart does a great job describe the meta-model of education (the old myth of the blind men touching the elephant & describing it) and trying to tie in the utopia mindset of the MOOC while at the same time describing the reality of the state of online education. This current state is framed under the themes of academic hierarchy, globalization, venture capital & data surveillance, which represents parts of the MOOCs structure.

Daniel Greene followed Bonnie with his talk “‘Do We Have A Sign That Says ‘Weirdos Welcome?’: Urban Libraries and the Control of Access,” which was an interesting ethnographic style study on the urban library being the center-point of not knowledge but social interaction between the different stakeholders of the system. One of the early keypoints that Greene addressed was the fact that libraries has lots of issues in order to address Internet access, mentioning the fact the poor of under-classed use the library not as a center of knowledge but as a refuge from the elements as the shelter closes for the day and the homeless make make their way into the city. This image of the poor hold up in the building presents a confliction to Greene’s point about the librarians and other library staff adding to the role of production in the USA, where the library is the knowledge center of the community and responsible for the training of productive member of society. The conflict between library schools vs. i-schools speaks to this change as both schools have different philosophies in terms of changes the norm of the librarians’ job & interactions within the library. For the most part, I found Greene’s ethnographic narrative on urban librarians and patrons engaging especially his discussion of the “two ends of the [digital] chain gang” as it relates not just to the librarians in DC but the exploited workers in Foxconn. However, I disagree with his analysis of the issues related to the “digital divide.” For the most part, Greene is overinflating the connection between digital divide as access. The digital divide issue represents not just access as the generic, but skill sets related to using technology, the willingness to use technology, the ‘roads and nodes’ and the personal connection and access to mobile and other portable forms of communication technology. To shortcut the discussion to describe it as ‘politics of access’ or ‘social relations in 2013’ without the theory and support of the digital divide lit would leave out the issues in rural environments related to a connection populace.

In perhaps the most relevant talk to the conference, R. Stuart Geiger gave a presentation called “Values Where? Interrogating Client-Side Scripting as a Design Process,” which dealt with the use of bots and how the creation of those bots represents more than the code needed to create them. Bots were embedded in the Twitterstream for the conference, making it hard to separate the signal from the noise. Stuart created a spambot Twitter account related to the conference to point out the amount of spam that was on the hashtag feed in relationship to the people participating in the dialogue related to the themes of the conference. One of the key takeaway from Geiger’s talk was the point about an algorithm used to create the bots is not just code but represents a policy and infrastructure of the organization. Geiger used the example of the YouTube takedown notices, which are bot-driven and are counter to the spambots on Twitter. YouTube bots represent that “standard operating practices” of YouTube in terms of acceptable content and mark the policy of the company. Spambots are a “bottom-up” mode of code, which represents a marketing practice more than anything else. Geiger ties up his time by borrowing Lessig’s adage that “code looks a lot like law.” Geiger makes his points through the use of memes and cultural products. I wish he would have extended his line of thinking to “code as dialogue” between company and user between he was on solid theoretical ground, but he was out of time.

To wrap the panel up, Shannon Sindorf discussed “In defense of eavesdropping: Twitter as conversation, not self-indulgence” Sindorf made a few good point through the course of her talk. The key element was that social media is often thought of as self indulgence and a performance. Twitter gets most of the criticism due to the nature of its format and purpose. However, Sindorf presents an argument that Twitter should be seen as a broad conversation, specifically when looking at the political tweets. Twitter can be one venue (of many) for crucial, informal deliberation that precedes voting. I was hoping that Sindorf would talk more about the communication process as it relates to the “eavesdropper’s role” in engaged dialogues. It sounded like Sindorf was trying to make the argument that eavesdropper was acting as an “invisible other” audience designed to play the role of bystander during the course of the discussion. However, she dug too much into the background theory without presenting a solid takeaway. Her discussion was informative, but didn’t answer the “so what?” question.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: