Habit and Expectation

Two moments yesterday afternoon–one reading a blog post, one an experience in New Media–bring me to thoughts about habit and expectation for those of us grappling with what it means to write, to teach and to read New Media.

Bud Hunt’s post about the habit of blogging brings up the old question that’s been circulating around the blogosphere for some time about how often should one blog (something many of us have contemplated as we adjust to writing on the Web and finding our rhythm here–Mena Trott spoke at Blogtalk2 last year about how the pressure to post BIG OFTEN drove her off her original blog; I’ve written from time to time about my own sense of blog writing habit and audience, and now that I am fast approaching my one-year anniversary of bgblogging–my four-year anniversary of using blogs in my classes, I’m thinking about it again).

I find it fascinating our human need for explanations, for parameters, for rules, for conformity. My students enter the classroom at the beginning of the semester thinking I have answers. They soon find out I have none. That each of them will have to find the right mix of strategies, techniques, ideas, skills and desire to find their way as writers and critical thinkers. I can show them the tools and how people use them, give them practice reading and writing critically and creatively, but I never tell them there is a right way to go about anything. Same goes for blogs. I’ve come to a place with blogging that I, like Bud, never want to blog just because the “anxiety of the link”(Bernstein) makes me rush to write, rush to connect, even if we don’t really have anything to say. It’s like Samuel Johnson’s sensible declaration: “I hate to read a writer who has written more than he has read.” Of course I know that many bloggers contend that the whole point of blogging is to remain connected, moving about the community, checking in, restlessly, with commitment.

Indeed, this brings up the question of feeding the blog–when does a blog die? Why? How long dormant is too long? What happens to the collaborative blog if only one person posts after a while? A class blog after the course is over? Well, we’ll soon see on that score with my creative writing class which has indicated a desire to keep posting–

As for a classroom blogging habit, even there I am very loose these days: I give students a few must-complete blogging assignments so that they are not avoiding blogging out of fear or out of lack of confidence or practice, but then I leave it up to each of them to find their own balance with the blogging. Some students really hate it–they will never blog of their own volition. Others love it. Some need to post every day, some are fine doing it once in a while. Both kinds of blogs interest me.

Bud excerpts Steve’s blog:

I do have to admit, as much as I love writing and blogging and sharing and collaborating, I do find it refereshing to take a mental break from it as well. It may sound crazy, but NOT learning for a few days does sort of recharge the batteries. I do feel a little out of it. I’m sure that there have been some amazing things written in the past week which I missed completely. But that’s alright, there will always be more,

Now there’s a guy who’s found balance.

I know, though, that some of my favorite bloggers, such as my colleague Héctor, rarely blog any more–he’s just too busy, and so people don’t tend to find him as often as they should.

Which brings me to the second part of this post: new media experience and expectation. One of my former students gave an informal presentation of her cyberartwork “Disembodiment” (I may have the title wrong)–she showed it in an auditorium on a large screen, then talked (something she altogether loathes doing under any circumstance) a bit about her process with Photoshop, Flash, and music. The audience was discomfited by what they saw for it didn’t conform to their expectations about “film”and yet they were sitting in front of a screen which by definition set up certain expectations –where was the narrative? What had she intended? What did it mean? Perhaps the most difficult part of the piece was that it was so compellingly beautiful while it flashed edges of a girl’s movement and spun a still image of a hologramesque face and marched across the screen an xray-DaVinci-esque torso. Was this an example of what Lev Manovich sees connecting the paintings of Vermeer to art in the new interfaces, where description and immersion are more important than narrative–the importance of objects, material surfaces, light, effects.

They pummeled her with questions about what it meant, what it was, what she hoped the audience would feel, know, do. They said it made them uncomfortable, and soon, the whole discussion period was making people uncomfortable, for she turned every question back over to the asker, or she refused to answer–but no one left. Someone asked her if this Q & A tactic was part of the whole piece, what she was after. People kept talking about the images and their juxtapositions, trying to figure them out and why she did what she did with the rearticulations of the self– At the end of the showing people still didn’t know what to do with it or themselves. Some people really seemed angry, some shrugged, one professor went up and hugged her and said it was fabulous and so not-Western.

In setting on its head the need for expectations to be met, she was articulating Roy Ascott’s “deep-seated fears of the machine coming to dominate the human will and of a technological formalism erasing human content and values.” She was showing us something most weren’t quite ready for:

In a telematic art, meaning is not created by the artist, distributed through the network, and received by the observer. Meaning is the product of interaction between the observer and the system, the content of which is in a state of flux, of endless change and transformation. In this condition of uncertainty and instability, not simply because of the crisscrossing interactions of users of the network but because content is embodied in data that is itself immaterial, it is purely an electronic difference, until it has been reconstituted at the interface as image, text, or sound. The sensory output may be differentiated further as existing on screen, as articulated structure or material, as architecture, as environment, or in virtual space.

From Roy Ascott’s “Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?”

And as I get ready to present with Héctor at MIT this afternoon on digital stories, I know that there will be those in the audience who won’t appreciate what it is that my student, Julina, whose work I’ll be commenting on, has done with her digital storytelling as academic discourse and what Dominique last evening pushed well past– they insist on “dispersed authorship,” on each viewer participating in the writing of the piece, and resist leading us too far while connecting us to history, science, music, art, culture. And not feeling the need to define, to set rules, to tell us how to, when to, or why to communicate except as a way of reaching out to one another through the vast spaces that separate us. They are the artists who reside in the in-between spaces, participating yet commenting, being yet observing, on the boundaries between communities, where the most significant ideas often originate.

And so, I hope this medium stays ever fluid–that we resist the notion of how often we should post or how we should post– And that my students stay courageous in the face of doubt and misunderstanding, helping us to question and to connect and to see.

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