Updated Portfolio


I’ve recently updated my portfolio on this site as part of the preparation for advancing to candidacy in USC’s iMAP program. As a hybrid theory/practice program we not only write on three exam areas, but also are expected to present a portfolio of work to our committee. I included a fairly wide variety of projects — some of them dating back to my experimental video and performance art — in part in an effort to trace the evolution of several themes that have dominated my work over the years. In the past, I’ve been interested in themes of contextual indeterminacy, ritual disruption, and translation in my video and performance work, and these concerns have carried over to my design practice and design research work at USC.

More recently, I’ve been interested in designs that enable distributed audiences to intervene into public space, collapsing the distance between rituals of the everyday and rituals of public spectacle. I’ve been interested in working through these new models of participation in relation to a methodology of ritual design. In particular, I’m interested in developing a design framework for what I call ‘plebiscitary counter publics’ (i.e. ad hoc publics that appropriate vote-based participatory platforms to intervene into public space). As part of a project funded by Intel’s IXR lab, I researched parallels between cases of plebiscitary counter publics in reality television (such as Vote for the Worst) and parallel examples in virtual worlds where player avatars assemble to protest developer decisions. I’m interested in the new sorts of rituals that have emerged in these contexts, and I’m excited about how a ritual-design approach might support or re-envision these sorts large scale interventions. The concept of ritual design here draws in part from Julian Bleecker’s revisitation of Goffman’s interaction-ritual concept through the framework of design fiction. However, my approach here is interested not only in using objects as a way of activating alternative futures, but also in using a design approach to tinker with the rule-sets of everyday interaction. As I look towards my dissertation, I’m interested in using a notion of ritual design as a springboard for reimagining our civic rituals from the ground up. In particular, I’m interested in new possibilities for audience-performer interaction, emerging models of public assembly and plebiscitary participation, and frameworks for mediating distributed groups through strategies of animistic or telematic representation.

Your life as defined by Facebook’s new annotation features:

Here are the default life-events categories. Right now they’re just icons, but I thought they needed titles so I invented my own.

    Self-improvement:

This timeline category is for bragging about how awesome you are.

    Adversity:

This category is for things to include in your college application essays in order to demonstrate you’ve had a rough life but still managed to kill it on the SATs.

    Stuff and status:

This category is is about annotating things that you’ve bought… and roommates.

    Love and Death:

This category is available so that the juicy awkwardness of announcing your relationship status in your newsfeed can now be applied to losing a loved one.

    Level Up:

This category is available so that FB can map its data about your consumer profile onto different phases of your life. Soon to be added categories include: menarche (and its boy counterparts), losing your virginity, gaining the ability to shoot fireballs at goombas, posting lewd pics on twitter that jeopardize your political career, reinventing yourself after said scandal, becoming a vampire.

First look at Facebook’s new Timeline features


I’m sitting here testing out Facebook’s new timeline feature, and a couple things jump out at me:

1. For a platform that has, for years now, promoted a false sense of ephemerality in order (I’m assuming) to get us to share more, they are now actively trying to reinvent themselves as a personal narrative platform (think 21st century version of the family album or scrapbook) as opposed to a serialized communication platform where you don’t worry about what you posted 5 years ago having an impact on how people perceive you now.

‎2. Towards this end, the timeline’s UI asks us to participate in life annotation by highlighting certain posts, photos, etc. as well as actively choosing to annotate particular life events in our past. (I include screenshots of suggested life-events in a follow up post here.) The emphasis here is decidedly on human-annotation as oppose to algorithmic analysis, which is somewhat surprising considering the extent to which algorithmic analysis of our data figures in Facebook’s business model. I’m guessing they have killer data visualizations available but they’re keeping them behind the curtain. It would be interesting, for example, to be able to see posts that achieved “top story” status graphed on a timeline, or even to see how different kinds of user-activity have ebbed and flowed over time. When do I spend most time uploading photos, for example, vs. doing other sorts of activities? How has this distribution evolved? I would also love to be able to see general data on how much time I’ve spent on Facebook at different periods in my life. Can you imagine a visual representation of your last 6 years of procrastination? Scary! There are reasons why revealing this kind of activity (even if it’s private) might be detrimental to Facebook’s business model because it helps us to see ourselves as marketing agencies see us. But, it’s not clear yet whether this emphasis on human-annotation vs. algorithmic analysis is just a matter of developers wanting to grab low hanging fruit for the beta version or whether Facebook plans to actively encourage us to think of timeline as something human rather than machine authored.

Johannes Grenzfurthner on Context Hacking


I’m really interested in this notion of “hacking contexts.” This seems aligned with what I’ve been thinking about as ‘ritual design’ (in contrast to platform design). It feels like an area that’s calling out for a more clearly defined methodological tool kit, so I’m excited by Grenzfurthner’s explanation of his approach. And I love his “BIG FAIL” comment.

Redesign and the critique of critique

Lindsay Grant recently posted a provocative argument about the purpose of redesign over at the HASTAC blog.

In work for the Beyond Current Horizons project, Gunther Kress argues that contemporary conditions call not so much for taking a critical stance towards media, but an approach of re-design. Rather than analysing and deconstructing media artefacts, re-design draws on notions of “rip, mix and burn” in which young people appropriate the digital media texts and resources around them, arrange them into new configurations with new meanings, and share these widely amongst their networks. Re-design acknowledges that the “consumer” of media can also be its author. Rather than just deconstructing and critiquing in order to resist the ways that we are influenced and positioned by media, we are able to create and circulate new, alternative messages and meanings, even imbuing existing media texts with very different meanings through a process of editing and juxtaposition. Texts, in this view, are resources to be mined for the creation of new meanings, dramatically recasting issues of authenticity and authorship, and making questions  such as “where did this come from?” or “who is the original author” less pertinent. In education, this focuses attention on the learners’ own texts and meanings, rather than on a media text under analysis.

I’ve been hearing this kind of rethinking of critical thinking more and more lately. Michael Wesch gave a great talk at OVC last month where he argued that, while critical thinking is still a key part of the toolbox, we need to recognize that we’ve moved beyond the read-only mindset of a television dominant era. It no longer makes sense to think about critical thinking as a kind of inoculation for the spectator. Critical thinking may still be the spark and the fuel, but it needs to be let loose out into the world for the promise to be realized. This means focusing on processes of making, design, and distribution. And in the classroom it means teachers are increasingly having to relinquish the authority as expert. Instead teachers play the role of facilitator and coach as students reach beyond the classroom walls as they grapple with new modalities, resources, and audiences.

Civic Media — digesting the White Paper

This semester I’m excited to be taking Henry Jenkins’s new Civic Media course at USC. As one of our first assignment, we’re reading a few of the recent white papers that focus on new directions in civic media. These included: The Center for Social Media’s Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics, The Knight Commission’s, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, and the Media Consortium’s white paper, The Big Thaw: Charting A New Course for Journalism.

In true white paper fashion, these documents not only describe the phenomena (new directions in civic media), but also deliberately prescribe various actions to take (through efforts of policy, philanthropy, etc.). I found myself reacting to these position papers in various ways — as an academic, citizen, designer, etc. But after reflection, I found these various perspectives to be in dialogue with another identification — that of the frustrated media consumer.

We were asked to document our responses, and I’ve chosen to do it here in blog form in order to practice bridging the gap between my public and academic voices. This attention to voice felt apropos considering the ways that academic authors of white papers shift their register when reframing their ideas in relation to a particular policy position.

Before I delve into my reaction to the white papers, though, it might help to know a bit about the intellectual soup of ideas circulating for me during the first week of class. This week we looked at Clay Shirky’s blog post Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkablea classic post about the past and future of journalism and the nature of technological revolutions. Last week Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities also figured strongly, along with James Carey’s Communication as Culture. During our first day of class, we found intersections between these works by focusing on the practice of reading the newspaper as kind of civic ritual.

For Anderson, the newspaper functions similarly to literature in the way it calls forth an imagined community of readers and fictively traces connections between variously juxtaposed stories. The logic of calendrical coincidence is part of what binds this imagined community together. But the readership is also bound together through their shared identity as an implicit “us” addressed by the newspaper. Anderson sees the newspaper as “an ‘extreme form of the book, a book on a colossal scale, but of ephemeral popularity… one-day best sellers?” (33). And Anderson describes the activity of reading the newspaper — borrowing from Hegel — as a mass ceremony in which the linkages between seemingly unconnected news stories form the backbone of a shared experience.

Carey goes further in describing this relationship between the dramatic role of storytelling and the ritual function of the newspaper. In particular, he underscores the ‘ritual’ features of the newspaper by opposing this interpretation to the more traditional ‘transmission’ model.

A ritual view of communication… view[s] reading a newspaper less as sending or gaining information and more as attending a mass, a situation in which nothing new is learned but in which a particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed. News reading, and writing, is a ritual act and moreover a dramatic one. What is arrayed before the reader is not pure information but a portrayal of the contending forces in the world.

Taking this ritual understanding of communication as a starting point, what kind of rituals do the white papers, then, advocate?

I think this is a valid question, because even if a particular policy position is couched in the language of a transmission model of communication, the reality — a la Carey — is that any form of civic media will also encourage particular ritual practices. So when interested parties aim to shape a new civic media future, they advocate for particular technological platforms, particular policy efforts, and particular philanthropy models, it’s important to think about what sort of rituals those structures will support and — likewise — what kind of new imagined publics they might call into being.

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The Difference between Impartiality and Neutrality

img from wikipedia
Following up on NPR’s ear-stabbing economic coverage, here are some interesting comments from Brad Delong in response to David Weigel’s firing. I think they apply equally well to the kind of obligatory false balance that has become par for the course from NPR.

[They] never wanted to be perceived as impartial in the sense of an umpire with good eyesight who called balls and strikes as he or she saw them. The Washington Post wanted to be perceived as neutral in that roughly half its calls would go for the establishment Democrats and half its calls would go to the establishment Republicans. There are very big differences. For one thing, a neutral paper is bound to be untrustworthy as a source of information.

In response to Delong, Paul Rosenberg recently added this point about the Democrats’ failure to recognize the basic rules of the game:

Just to add some further detail: If the Post and the rest of the not-strictly rightwing Versailles press aim for such “neutrality”, then the incentives are quite clear: (1) Move as far to the extremes as possible in your own statements, in order to shift the neutral point in your direction. (2) Attack the other side continuously for its “extremism” in order to deter it from doing the same–and perhaps even to get it to do the opposite. This is precisely what the conservative movement has been doing for most of the past 30+ years, and Democrats–with a few lonely exceptions like Alan Grayson–still have yet to catch on.

So why is this still the case? And why are so-called strategists like Rahm Emanuel considered “smart” politicians when they fall into this trap?

NPR’s economic coverage is hurting America

NPR’s latest economic coverage makes me want to stab my ears with ice picks. Here is the formula: misconstrue side A as only wanting to improve the economy through stimulus without concern for the deficit, then misconstrue side B as having a reasonable argument that deficits are scary so lets stop feeding the kids because that’s what tough-love daddies do.

Next, sidestep the fact that side B’s argument doesn’t make any logical sense as a short term strategy if you actually want to reduce the deficit in the long term. And definitely don’t point out that side B’s specious position is much more likely to be rooted in a cynical (albeit ingenious) political tactic.

Now, find two experts who reach across the proverbial isle to find a much more subtle position which advocates short term stimulus with a plan for future deficit reduction, but make sure not to mention that this is actually what side A has been advocating for all along. This way NPR gets to implicitly associate itself with the oh-so-subtle middle ground by way of distorting the periphery.

Throw in some he-said-she-said about whether tax cuts for big business work to stimulate jobs. Quote one expert as advocating this position and another expert as citing evidence which contradicts this claim. IMPORTANT: No matter what happens do not do ANY independent research to verify either claim, because we all know this reality-based-research would point to a slightly more Keynesian version of said “reality” which would in turn open the door to your critics who could call you nasty names like “libural.” Instead just shrug your shoulders and straddle the Overton window while the rest of us deal with the world falling apart.

Finally end with something Mitch McConnel says about not wanting to hurt future generations (a claim that is directly contradicted by the arguments of both your experts). Voila! [Commence stabbing of ears.]

Thanks NPR! I can’t wait to hear your smug Argumentum-ad-temperantiam voice as the soundtrack for economic Armageddon. I’ll make sure to save the podcast, so I can listen on repeat long after you’re gone.

Adam Greenfield on read/write urbanism

Adam Greenfield wrote a great post about urban environments as a kind of “software under active development.”

While he’s not the first to express these sorts of ideas, he unfolds the metaphor of city-as-software in a particularly compelling way.

What if we imagined that the citizen-responsiveness system we’ve designed lives in a dense mesh of active, communicating public objects? Then the framework we’ve already deployed becomes something very different. To use another metaphor from the world of information technology, it begins to look a whole lot like an operating system for cities.

Provided that, we can treat the things we encounter in urban environments as system resources, rather than a mute collection of disarticulated buildings, vehicles, sewers and sidewalks. One prospect that seems fairly straightforward is letting these resources report on their own status. Information about failures would propagate not merely to other objects on the network but reach you and me as well, in terms we can relate to, via the provisions we’ve made for issue-tracking.

And because our own human senses are still so much better at spotting emergent situations than their machinic counterparts, and will probably be for quite some time yet to come, there’s no reason to leave this all up to automation. The interface would have to be thoughtfully and carefully designed to account for the inevitable bored teenagers, drunks, and randomly questing fingers of four-year-olds, but what I have in mind is something like, “Tap here to report a problem with this bus shelter.”

via boingboing

some thoughts on prezi…

I just started using prezi, and something just occurred to me…

As you fly across various words and phrases and layout architectures of prezi, it’s not just the frames, words, or objects that you zoom into that count. It’s the spaces in between and the stuff that’s gets passed over that structures meaning.

In the prezi above I was thinking about how words can sometimes serve as the linguistic equivalent of fly-over states — loosely acknowledged but not attended to. It’s this form of reading, of knowing not only what to attend to but what not to attend to, that seems so valuable in an era of faltering information filters. But I’m interested in that negative space, in how we can learn to understand the construction of meaning by paying attention to what we’re meant to ignore.

The Future of Traffic

Over at my blog on the Interactive Media site I’ve been recording my assignments for the Experiments in New Media course with Elise Co and Nikita Pashenkov. Here is the latest proposal that I’m doing with Michael Annetta.

This particular design exists for a future world where traffic is a kind of thematic commodity. I enjoyed writing it up, and thought I would cross-post a bit of it here.

FutureWorld.jpg

(Image by Michael Annetta)

The year 2060.

The humans who survived peak-oil all live in giant honeycomb-like structures that contain self-sustaining mini-ecologies within each geodesic cell. Movement is tightly regulated, but residences are efficiently distributed such that all experiences of landscape are consistent.

There is no open space nor closed space; there is only space. Each individual residence is the same size and the same distance from every other. Experiences of proximity to other human beings are thus normalized, and travel is coordinated by cloud-based supercomputers, so that one never encounters more or less than the same number of people at any given time.

But ironically, years after peak oil, people start to nostalgicize the era of the automobile. Entranced by the tragic romance of our (once-upon-a-time) collective disregard for the future, consumers look at the car as a kind of thematic palette for restaurants, parties, films, etc. In this sense, the era of automobile is experienced the way we think of pirates, the 50s, or the Wild West today.
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spectacles, objects, and baby daddies


(If you read the whole thing, this will all tie back into Maury Povich. I promise…)

I last posted about how I’m in the middle of reading Stephen Duncombe’s Dream: Re-imagining progressive politics in an age of fantasy.

Duncombe (like Lakoff) is concerned about progressives’ inability to frame empirical reality within a compelling narrative. He criticizes the way progressives naïvely cling to empirical research and sober deliberation. Instead he advocates a new kind of ethical spectacle.

I find his argument compelling, but I’m thrown by how he seems to want to discard the rituals of deliberation, fact-checking, and empirical research. (Or, put differently, he wants to keep the facts but change the packaging.) Could this be a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water? While progressives (like John Kerry) are sometimes famous for failing to resonate emotionally with their audience. Duncombe’s argument is that these politicians put too much faith in logos and ignore mythos. While I find this point fairly compelling, my quibble is that progressive politicians also need to get more emotional about logos.

When Joe Wilson screamed “You Lie” to Obama he wasn’t just painting an alternative narrative model; he was also expressing his apoplectic frustration over the mismatch between his model of reality and Obama’s. Honestly, that’s the kind of passion I want out of politician. I wanted Obama to yell back! And even if I completely disagreed with Wilson’s stance, I can at least appreciate his passion. It’s the kind of raw emotion that a coach has when he yells at a ref on the sidelines of a sports match. It emerges out of a friction between questions of discursive reality (whose narrative frame will dominate?) and empirical reality (did the player foot really go out of bounds?). And this is why watching an instant replay in football can be incredibly dramatic.

So, besides sports, what are the modern-day rituals that accentuate this friction between objects and human discourse? One of my favorites examples from pop culture is the Maury Povich series called Who’s Your Daddy. Continue reading

ethical spectacle vs. consensus politics

...from the cover of Dreams: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in the Age of Fantasy

After having read a compelling interview of Stephen Duncombe on Henry Jenkins’s blog, I decided to order Duncombe’s book Dreams: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in the Age of Fantasy (for more info see his website). I’ve just started reading the book, but so far I’m finding it a fascinating compliment to the arguments of Lakoff and Westen about the failure of progressive politics to successfully market itself. At the heart of Duncombe’s claims is the argument that progressives need to “transform the techniques of spectacular capitalism into tools for social change.”

As I’m reading, I’m finding myself working through a number of reactions.

First, I’m interested in possible intersections with this piece by Jeremy Young (from last June). Young connects Obama to Philosopher John Rawls in order to criticize the politics of blind consensus formation. Integrating Young and Duncombe’s arguments together, you might say that the drawback of consensus building is that it treats your opponents’ positions and interests as static — in other words, you miss out on the possibilities of transformative (rather than deliberative) politics. And you also open yourself up to sideways attacks of the Overton window variety. This happens when an opponent trades in honest deliberation for extremist theatrics in order to indirectly guide popular discourse towards their own position (i.e. as the new fulcrum of “moderation”). We’ve seen this time and time again with all sorts of issues, from Health Care Reform to the environment.

Where I feel that Duncombe is losing me, though, are the places where he seems to want to do away with deliberative rituals entirely. This seems to underestimate the possibility that deliberation itself can become more of a participatory spectacle — especially in ways that benefit a progressive politics.

I’ll get into this more in an upcoming post that contrasts Duncombe’s ethical spectacle with Maury Povich’s Who’s Your Daddy? series. Don’t worry… it will all make sense in the end.

Interdisciplinarity and the Interview: AIS conference and more…

So much has happened since I last posted that I have developed a bit of the writer’s constipation. Instead of a comprehensive update then I’ll just dive right in.

I recently presented the Synaptic Crowd project in one of the HASTAC panels at the recent AIS conference. The video I presented is from a shorter edit of my documentation (originally created for the Visible Evidence Conference here at USC).

I had a great time at AIS and learned a ton! Thanks in particular should go to Julie Klein who was an incredibly thoughtful and engaged panel leader. Since the conference I’ve been thinking a lot about possibilities of interdisciplinarity within new media research, and Julie’s writing has helped me think through some of my own hurdles in trying to integrate scholarship from the humanities and social sciences. (Here is a link to her most recent writing.)

One of the central question I keep butting up against is how (and whether) to frame my work in relation to the social sciences. In particular, it’s the challenge of trying to frame the work I’m doing as relevant to the social sciences that has been more challenging. By contrast, drawing from the social sciences “into” the humanities has been less of a hurdle — maybe because the humanities always considers its purview to be everything (the Katamari Damacy of disciplines!).

Since coming to USC’s iMAP program (a subject which will get a forthcoming post all its own) I’ve had some really amazing conversations with faculty here about these sorts of disciplinary boundaries. I’m trying to think through how new media design can offer alternative methodological tools for social science researchers. But I’m not sure I have an easy answer so far.

A recent conversation with Mimi Ito helped crystallize things for me. She pointed out how the Synaptic Crowd style interviews may be incompatible with the interview methodologies of social scientists (where trust has to be built over a long period of time and interviewees need to feel safe about the scope of their audience). She used the term “genre-clash” and that was a really helpful notion for me to think through. Public art practice has a fairly long tradition of seeking out “clash” as a kind of pleasure, and so I may have overlooked how those sorts of pleasures fail to translate from one discipline to another.

In one particular niche of the social sciences (ethnomethodology), however, clash (or contextual instability) is a desirable object of research. In Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), Garfinkel writes:

Procedurally it is my preference to start with familiar scenes and ask what can be done to make trouble. The operations that one would have to perform in order to multiply the senseless features of perceived environments; to produce and sustain bewilderment, consternation and confusion; to produce the socially structured affects of anxiety, shame, guilt and indignation; and to produce disorganized interaction should tell us something about how the structures of everyday activities are ordinarily and routinely produced and maintained.

In my recent MFA thesis for UC Santa Cruz, I dove whole heartedly into the rabbit hole of ethnomethodology and now feel myself coming up for a bit of air. While this idea of transgressing “the everyday” helps explain why I see correlations between art practice and social science research, it’s important to acknowledge that ethnomethodology is but one niche within the social sciences. For good reason, not every researcher finds it helpful to make their informants uncomfortable (a la Garfinkel).

But there is definitely room for thinking about the resonance that ethnomethodology has with the fields of design (especially mobile media, augmented reality, locational media, alternative reality games, HCI, etc.).

One of the larger questions I’ve been wrestling with is this: if social scientists were also designers what new tools would they design and how might their research methodology change?

This question feels at home in a Science and Technology Studies disciplinary paradigm but feels less familiar when applied to more traditional ethnographic research (for example).

A design-oriented approach to social science would seem to complicate the researcher’s role as mediator and open up questions about the relationship between tools, practices, and regimes of knowledge production… (including, potentially, collaborative knowledge production).

Traversing Digital Boundaries: Rethinking the Vox Pop Interview

vox-pop-carnivalOn April 19th I’ll be presenting a version of my project, Synaptic Crowd: Vox Pop Experiments, for the HASTAC III conference, Traversing Digital Boundaries, at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).

I’m interested in understanding how identity performance adapts to the contextual uncertainty of online media where audiences are distributed unpredictably across space and time. The Synaptic Crowd: Vox Pop Experiments project represents a series of performative explorations in which I attempt to mediate remotely distributed audiences as collaborative agents in the here-and-now of a public interview space. In my current design model, remote participants collaboratively nominate and vote on questions which get relayed via mobile phone during a vox pop (“on the street”) interview.

I’ve always been fascinated by the vox pop interview as a kind of oddly evocative performance space. There is something bizarre about walking up to a stranger with a camera in hand. For me, the experience is an odd combination of artifice and exhilaration — a tension that seems to emerge out of the dance of solicitation, as the camera-operator tries to persuade a potential interviewee to offer up the gift of testimonial. In this state of provocation, the interviewee will sometimes demand more context by asking the interviewer “what is this for?”

The question not only points to the here-and-now of the interview context, but also points to a there-and-then of future addressees — a mysterious audience which is both present and not-present at the same time. Continue reading

Macher's vs. Schmoozers continued… what it means to "head down to Wilmington"

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVBE7L37bgw]
In the previous post I talked about how Palin uses folksiness to signal a particular kind of community engagement—one that often doesn’t make sense to those on the left. I borrowed from Robert Putnam’s writing about the decline of community engagement in America in order to point out a fundamental difference between what he calls “machers” and “schmoozers.” The last half a century has seen a sharp rise in “schmoozing” (i.e. fluid social relationships) and a decline in “maching” (i.e. enduring relationships). Palin, appealing to those who bemoan the loss of more stable community life, tries to portray herself as a “macher,” steeped in the enduring communities of small town life (the PTA, the church, the network of hockey moms). Likewise, as a political outsider, Palin wants to paint Washington as a haven for precisely the kind of opportunistic insider-ism that Putnam associates with schmoozers. In this way, Palin tries to paint Biden’s verbal acuity as indicative of an opportunistic Washington deal-maker, while her own verbal clumsiness is supposed to underscore an unfamiliarity with the world of the schmoozers. In this way, lack of knowledge signals hometown trustworthiness.

For the rest of us, more comfortable in the dynamic world of “schmoozing,” the folksiness that Palin channels comes across as naivete. Or worse, as a calculated performance.

And yet, this longing for a bygone era of more stable communities is clearly not an exclusive narrative of the right. Think about how Biden’s references to his father having to move down to Wilmington when money was tight:
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Machers vs. Schmoozers… how Palin uses "folksiness" to send coded messages about community and trust

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiQoej_9-Js]

Yesterday, Elon James White’s This Week in Blackness released a hilarious new video in which he dissects the recent vice presidential debate and questions the mysterious power of “folksiness.” (The full version can be found here.)

I found myself particularly drawn to the excerpt above where Elon asks the question: “Why do people like this folksy nonsense?” Do people really want to select a president based on whom they’d most like to “have a beer with”?

For me, the questions he raises here point to a significant divide between different modes of friendship and trust formation—a difference that most likely splits along party lines.

Robert Putnam’s distinction between “machers” and “schmoozers” seems particularly apropos here. In trying to understand why, over the past 50 yrs, Americans have been dropping out of organized community life, Putnam argues (in Bowling Alone) that there are two distinct modes of sociality that can be located in the history of our country. He deploys the Yiddish distinction between “machers” and “schmoozers” to illustrate this point.

In Putnam’s passage below, think about which group (“machers” or “schmoozers”) best describe the persona that Sarah Palin tries to project:

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Michael Wesch's presentation at the Library of Congress

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU&hl=en&fs=1]

I’m a little late here, but this talk by Michael Wesch provides some really nice background on his work. He’s great at taking the hugely complicated topic of social media and presenting succinct and straight forward explanations about the way that the web is restructuring human relationships. For those of you not familiar with his research, you’ve probably seen this video from back in 2007. He’s been on my radar ever since I got to see him speak at the AAA back in 2006. Since then he’s become somewhat of an academic rock star in the field of web 2.0 ethnography. If you’re interested, here are more videos via the AAA blog (which is doing a series on Wesch this month).