There were many intriguing points in the Walther article, but I'm hung up on the notion of "text" in this article. Written in 1996, Walther is clearly referring to the written word when he talks about text. At the same time, throughout the article I couldn't help but wonder whether or not the theories and hypotheses that Walther presents would be valid with an expanded, multimodal definition of "text". As Gina also points out, while the written word is still the dominant text form on the web today, faster processors, better graphics cards, and high-speed Internet access have contributed to an increasingly multimedia Internet - just think Flickr, YouTube, and the fact that I can catch up with Heroes online when I miss in on TV, not to mention virtual environments like Second Life where the "me-as-text" that "I" can present includes visual, gestural, and auditory information as well (p. 21). Will it still hold true that "in computer networks, one's social currency is based not on riches but on the information he or she manages and the wit with which it is given" (p. 20)? (This quote I found fascinating, by the way - in some ways, I think that the introduction of the physical body via image or video has less of an impact than the way in which it is presented. Look at Perez Hilton, or any other person who has gained fame through blogging and crossed over into visual media and/or the "real world"; wit, and a way with words, are to a certain extent the coin of that realm.) The seeds for this analysis are still probably to be found in Walther, but it's something to think more about.
September 2007 Archives
We're now in the third week of class, and I've got a terrific, articulate group of students who aren't afraid to engage the material and share their thoughts (which makes my life much easier :)). As part of the requirements for the course, I'm asking each person in the class to keep a research journal blog, which functions as a place to articulate, think about, and slowly redefine a research question or questions that they'll pursue in the final project. For the first class, I asked them to come up with three questions that they're interested in exploring this semester, and in each subsequent class I've asked them to reflect on how the readings for that week may (or may not) impact on their thinking about their questions.
So. It occurs to me that 1) I have a blog, rather neglected as of late, and 2) I have a research question that I'm working on (my dissertation topic) - and it seems that it's only fair to engage with the materials in the same way that I'm asking my students to, no?
The prompt for this week: What concept or idea intrigued you most in this weeks' readings? How/does it impact your thinking about the questions and issues you wrote out for yourself last week?
Dyson et al.'s Cyberspace and the American Dream is a striking example of the rhetoric that the Internet is the last frontier for true democracy of ideas - the authors even use the phrase "bioelectronic frontier" to emphasize the wide-openness and opportunity that the Internet supposedly presents. While I tend to groan at this type of talk - partially out of an inherent cautiousness around big, sweeping remarks, and partially because I don't think we have evidence that the Internet has been truly democratizing (think Shirky's discussion of the long tail) - I did find one notion particularly interesting. Like Crawford, Dyson et al. presented an economic basis for their arguments regarding the Information Age; however, I appreciated the way that Dyson et al. acknowledged the social component as well, in saying that the Third Wave won't be achieved until we as a society, and especially those in power, learn to take advantage of both the technological breakthroughs currently available to us (and which make up a big component of the Third Wave) as well as the opportunities for social change that the technologies enable (note the use of "enable" instead of "offer!" A strategic choice after last week's discussion. :)).
One other thing: in their conclusion, Dyson et al ask, "Who, in other words, will shape the nature of cyberspace and its impact on our lives and institutions?" Cynically, I want to respond, the people in power, of course. However, it's worth thinking about some more... the rhetoric currently surrounding the Net Gen is that the new social and cultural practices that are cropping up around their uses of various technologies will have a large impact on shaping our lives and institutions. I see this happening on some levels, but I think the jury's still out on the large scale impact. Then again, hindsight is always 20/20...