Dan Perkel's Stuff on the Web

Page 2 of 4 – So entrepreneurial

On today’s Inside Higher Ed we get some of the backstory on a service that offers students variable length corrupted files to turn into professors as they scramble to finish papers late.

Some quotes I enjoyed:

“Cheating is not the answer to procrastination! – is!” — The point is that somehow students face a simple choice when faced with a deadline they haven’t planned for: either turn in a ripped off paper or buy time with excuses. This site gives you better excuses. Obviously those are the only choices the site’s creator wants people to think about. Sadly, all of students’ other options aren’t even mentioned in the article. I guess I could list a few, but maybe I’ll let people think for themselves on this one.

“I used the corrupted file excuse back in my college days (I’m 25) as I started my first business at 19 so I didn’t have much time to do my schoolwork. When I couldn’t get an extension, I sent my professors a corrupted file to buy me time. I know this was not the most ethical thing but as a young entrepreneur, I did not have much of a choice as I valued my employees well above my academics.”  Well, this is America. Who can argue with that logic? The phrase “young entrepreneur” just warms the heart.

“Who are the best customers? “Not to anyone’s surprise, but my best clients are from Ivy and top tier schools. I guess the more perfect people think you are, the more likely in life you are to cheat to keep that perception.”” Hmmm… wonder if Berkeley students would do something like this? I’m teaching this summer and I better get my corrupted file detector working.

Another take on writing – this time from Ken Plummer

This advice that “The only way to learn to write is to write, so write every day!” is not new to me at this point in my PhD career. My colleagues and I discuss it all the time. But, it’s hard advice to follow sometimes. And often people just say this but don’t show their examples of the unedited, unfiltered, stuff they say they write when they write something everyday.

A recent post by Ken Plummer on the Writing Across Boundaries series provides such an example. The example is a nice short paragraph he says he wrote between 7 and 7:30 am one Sunday morning while visiting a friend. The point of the paragraph is that maybe social scientists should try to write more like poets do. He acknowledges poets’ own “world of pretense” (to match social scientists’ “puffed up pretense,” but then goes on to say that the lesson from poetry is that they make every word, every syllable, count. I like this view of what my writing should aspire to, though I don’t think–and I don’t think Plummer thinks–that our research papers should aspire to be poetry:

Sociology spends as many words as it can possibly use (as many as it takes for a Ph.D., a journal article or a book) – long, complicated, incomprehensible, often neologistic words – in searching for its truth. The poet by contrast elects not to waste a syllable or sound. Think of the words you use and make every word matter.

Nevertheless, as I write this blog post, I can’t help but wonder if choosing poetry as a comparison adds more confusion than it’s worth. After all, there may be more about poetry that we should try to avoid in our papers than what we should choose to copy. Poets, it seems to me, obsesses over the visual and aural properties of words and phrases in ways that we may not want to even come near to.

(However, Ray McDermott‘s recent talk at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco gives me pause here. Essentially, he performed a spoken word analysis of John Dewey and Paul Radin that was quite powerful. Hard to say more… you had to be there. Which might be the reason why it’s not a “paper”. Though both are pragmatists and Plummer’s short post is partially titled “pragmatics”….hmmmm… I’m losing everyone here.)

When I started to write this post, I thought that while it was nice to see one of these examples of “what you write at 7 in the morning before giving me advice to write every day” was helpful, it might have been a particularly intimidating example because it’s so well put and so profound. But, maybe (maybe! I haven’t done the analysis either) Plummer’s point about poetry is a little off and that’s what makes it an even better example than I thought.

“The process of writing is dealing with crisis”

People always tell me that any crisis of confidence I have as I do my research and writing is likely to be shared by others. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, I often don’t experience it this way. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to hear from a scholar and writer of Marilyn Strathern’s experience and quality sum up exactly how I have been feeling during my last several writing projects:

I write all the time, but what marks off new tasks from old (or going over old ground) is finding myself plunged into something close to despair.   I lose confidence, my self-esteem plummets, it is clear that everyone has already said things better, and it had been quite absurd to take on a task that now seems insuperable.

In my case, I don’t “write all the time” (though that would be a good idea…), but the rest resonates.

The “gap” between “between what needs doing and the capacity to do it,” Strathern says, “can actually be a prerequisite to writing at all.” They can be the “threshhold of creativity” when:

…past certainties melt away, and everything one thought was at one’s fingertips (materials, notes, analyses) slips out of grasp.  For myself, at least, it is climbing out of the crevasse, emotionally speaking, that is the writing.   I am solving a problem not (just) on the desk, but somewhere else in my life, while at the same time knowing that without the urgency of that dissolution the writing, on the desk, won’t do the gathering work it is meant to do.   The process of writing is dealing with the crisis.

This is wonderful stuff to stew on. I love the idea of each new significant writing project being a moment of significant crisis. It certainly has felt that way to me, most recently on that paper I posted last week. Nevertheless, while it’s comforting to know that I am in much better company that I previously might have imagined, I still am not sure I want to embrace crisis every few months or so. Perhaps the challenge is to learn to enjoy crisis and avoid Strathern’s feeling of “despair.”

Anyways, it’s a short essay called “Outside desk-work“. I am now looking forward to the rest of this new series coming out of Durham University.

Peer pedagogy in an interest-driven community: The practices and problems of online tutorials

I am off to London to attend the Fifth Anniversary Conference of Media@lse, which is the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics.

I’ll be presenting a paper that is part of ongoing dissertation research. It’s called Peer pedagogy in an interest-driven community: The practices and problems of online tutorials. I co-authored the paper with Becky Herr-Stephenson who has been a colleague of mine on the Digital Youth project for the past three years (and a current collaborator on the MacArthur Foundation’s efforts to create a Digital Media and Learning Networked Studio).

Here is the abstract of the paper:

While many have celebrated youth participation in online activities as an empowering opportunity for socialization, creative expression, and learning, how this participation plays out in practice is not well understood. In this paper, we consider the ways in which peers teach and learn through the creation and posting of tutorials within a self-described online community of artists and media producers. We describe the practices associated with the production of tutorials in terms of genres of participation, modes of engagement with new media. Within the genres of participation framework, creating tutorials can be seen as a way to earn reputation and demonstrate expertise within the alternative status economy of a specific interest-driven community. However, we also show that tutorials can be a source of tension between participants in such a community, as members may view tutorials and their relationships to learning and improving one’s craft in contradictory ways.

The talk that I am going to give on Monday will mainly cover the second half of the paper–the point about tensions over the value of tutorials. While it seems that tutorials on deviantART are generally fairly popular and valuable to members of the site, it was interesting to hear that not everyone feels that way. We are still trying to figure out what it all means. Therefore the paper is still a work-in-progress in many ways and we welcome any feedback.

Under construction

Having a page “under construction” seems very very old school to me. But, as I move my blog and site over to some new space at school, then under construction is the best way to describe it. Well, it’s a way.

Kids (and adults too!) Talk to Many at Once

This past week, NPR has been doing a series on The E-mail age. I haven’t listened to all of them. In fact, I found the series serendipitously because of a story I was looking for that I heard on the radio this morning on Chinese Fans of American TV Shows, which I may try to come back to in a later post.

I listened to a few of the email stories that struck me because of their relevance to Digital Youth research.

First up: Connected Kids Talk to Many at Once. That seemed to be an old topic, but maybe there’s something new here based on the provocative abstract:

Beyond e-mail, there are ever more ways to connect and communicate: text messages, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, IM and, for the old fashioned, phone calls. Help! How many connections can one person manage? How do people decide what is the best way to keep in touch?

The piece is rather strange. It’s four minutes long and there are two people featured by the journalist, Laura Sydell. The first person is actually not a kid at all, but an adult, Lenny who is 35 and is a marketer at a “Silicon Valley tech firm.” From Lenny, we hear a bit about all of the different technologies for communication that he uses and how he segments those he uses depending on situation. He describes how he can have “multiple layers of conversation” as a part of his job (Skype calls with clients, while text messaging colleagues at work, etc.). Sydell reports that when she arrived he had three IM windows open at the same time. Apparently, he used six different technologies of communication in the forty five minutes that Sydell spent with him.

This is actually quite interesting, but so far, nothing to do with kids.

Almost a minute and a half into the story the voice of Stanford Communications professor Clifford Nass comes in and talks about how at one point psychologists would have said that these kinds of multiple conversations shouldn’t be able to happen–due to “interference” which can lead to “mixed up” and “chaotic conversation” for the brain to process–but they are. Okay, sounds reasonable: theories of communication and psychology need to be refined and reconsidered (besides, sometimes I feel like my head is exploding when I have too many conversations going at the same time).

But here’s the funny transition, about halfway through, and where kids finally come into the story:

Nass says he and other social scientists suspect that many of us are walking around a little mixed up. But, it may be different for people who adapt to it versus those who are growing up with it.

Enter 16 year old Sonia (or Sonja?). Sonia is ending an IM conversation when Sydell walks into the room and, like Lenny, has a few up on the screen of her computer at the same time. She’ll talk to up to six people at once, we learn from Sonia. We also hear that she uses different communications for difference purposes, depending on the context. So far, sounds a lot like Lenny.

Lydell says that even Sonia can get overwhelmed. Going back to the point of the story, though, we didn’t hear Lenny getting overwhelmed. Not that he doesn’t, but we didn’t hear about it. (I should add that I’m not sure Sonia’s quote really supports the interpretation of “overwhelmed.” Decide for yourself around the 3:20 mark.)

The piece ends with Nass making some good points about how, historically, communication media, for the most part, don’t replace each other when they are invented. Though that point has been made before it’s worth repeating over and over again until people stop claiming otherwise. Thus, it seems like that all of us will have to deal with more and more choices of media going forward.

Okay. I am still trying to figure out how this story ended up with the title that it did and what it says about any differences between kids and adults.

To recap: here’s what I heard, at a little more abstract level.

1. 35 year old marketing guy is using many different communications media, has reasons for using different ones with different people, and often has many conversations at the same time.
2. Researchers once thought this not possible. In fact, maybe adult brains are still a little mixed up by all of it (implication: Lenny is an outlier). Ah, but what about those “growing up” (different than “adapting”) with all of this?
3. Answer: 16 year old Sonia is is using many different communications media, has reasons for using different ones with different people, and often has many conversations at the same time.
4. Conclusion? We will continue to have lots of choices in communication technologies going forward and, well, we’ll learn to deal with them.

I think I know what Sydell (or is she paraphrasing Nass and the other social scientists?) are trying to say when they differentiate “adapt” vs. “growing up with” but I’m not sure that this distinction would really hold up as we unravel what “growing up with” really means. Superficially, sounds like “adapt” just a younger age, but adult brains, as I keep hearing more and more, don’t just stop developing. I can’t really get into this here and now, but it’s worth thinking about some more.

Even though I really enjoyed the responses that Lydell elicited from her interviewees and even liked the little concluding points offered by Nass, what bothers me about this story, is that it seems to be designed to fit into the larger narrative of how adults and kids are so different from one another when it comes to technology. I won’t say more on my thoughts on that now (mainly because they are largely incoherent and I’m still working through them). But, titling this story “Connected Kids Talk to Many at Once” and then trying to turn the story on a difference between those who adapt vs. those who grow up with seems kind of sloppy considering how what Sydell reported on doesn’t seem to fit at all.

An obvious alternative framing might have been: given all that we have heard about kids and adults being so different when it comes to technology, how are Sonia and Lenny so similar? In what other ways might they be different?

Kinda down

I’m not one for posting my emotions all over the web. So for my audience of four people, sorry about this. But Tim Russert’s death is really bringing me down. I have been quite unhappy with the media coverage of the primaries. Actually, I was thoroughly annoyed last year before the primaries started. But to me, Tim Russert has been the only person on air to consistently remind me that good TV political interviewing and coverage is possible (I am not counting the Jim Lehrer News Hour in my mental comparison list, which is consistently good in their political coverage, but it’s almost apples and oranges).

I have no idea who will fill in the huge void this summer and fall. I spent the evening trying to think of one plausible new host for Meet the Press and couldn’t think of anyone who seems remotely feasible for doing what Russert does on a consistent basis. So, yes. I’m kinda down.

Dumbest and Dumbester (and Dumbesterer)

A couple of weeks ago, the rhetoric was out of control over a book called The Dumbest Generation by Emory U. Professor Mark Bauerlein. I haven’t read the book so i won’t comment on it. There have been lots of comments on it all over the web and internal among the members of the Digital Youth research group. In a recent article by Bauerlein that appeared in Inside Higher Education, we were rolled up into a mass critique of research funds for technophiles, so I’m not sure what I can say that would have much credibility anyhow. Let’s just say that the nice thing about the work that we have been doing is that we aren’t studying the fascinating question of whether or not this “generation” (uh, whatever that means) is dumber or not (uh, whatever that means) than previous ones.

But if you want to inquire into the Generation Dumbest Debate some more, than I’d highly recommend two recent articles on Radar Online. I suggest we start by collectively reading Robert Lanham’s piece in Radar:

In an article titled “Generation Slap: They’re naive, self-important, and perpetually plugged in. This is a call to arms against Millennials,” Robert Lanham is attempting to rally the 30 million or so Gen-Xers against the 50 million or so Millenials (formerly Gen-Yers) who downright suck:

“That’s why the time has come for Generation X to unite. We need to call bullshit on these naive, self-important crybabies trying to rob us of what is rightly our own. Remember how the Baby Boomers all turned into self-serving, narcissistic assholes who deified Michael Douglas in the ’80s? The time has come for us to turn into assholes, too, minus the Michael Douglas part.”

If you have fond memories of 80s and early 90s pop culture this is a great read and downright hilarious. Some of my favorite parts include a photograph of the Apple Store with the caption: “MECCA The Apple Store, where Gen Yers congregate to kneel at the foot of Steve Jobs.” There is also a nice elucidation of the double standard in coverage of this gap in his comparison of media coverage of Gen X back then and media coverage of the Millenials now. And, I like this discussion of the millenials’ 2008 venture into politics:

“Sure, there are those who defend the Millennials against the accusations of superficiality, generally by suggesting that they’re more politically engaged than the disenfranchised Gen X. But let’s be honest, had George Bush, Jr., been in office when we turned 21, my generation would have sweat through our flannel shirts running to the voting booth to replace him.”

As a member of Generation X (I guess! I used to not be. Then I was. Then I wasn’t again. But now I am.), I was so mad afterwards, I wanted to take a club to the next punk 12 year old DS-player I saw. Stupid stylus.

Oh, but then I saw that there was an equally funny response from a Millenial called “Get Off the Stage: One Millennial responds to Gen X’s discontents” by Alex Pareene. Apparently, he’s one of those meddling millenials.

Shoot. This guy makes the pop culture of my childhood and teenage years super-lame. On the list of ridiculous products of my generation: Reality Bites, “a generation of dudes whose primary goal in life was to sleep with Winona Ryder.” (Hey! When I was a kid I thought she was super cute in Lucas. Wait, no I didn’t. I thought Kerri Green was super cute in Lucas. Goonies also. Well, at least on this point Pareene’s not making fun of me!).

And this comeback is right on the money:

“I’m sorry Time made fun of your generation. But, guys, it’s Time. Don’t worry about it—we Millennials made it irrelevant. We’re killing print! You think we want Morley Safer calling us the Next Greatest Generation? We don’t know who Morley Safer is!”

(Man. All great points. Anyhow, Safer didn’t seem that credible in that 60 minutes show two weeks ago anyways.)

I guess it’s time to go buy a DS and take a club to the next person I see going into a library.

Enjoy the reads. Much better than outrage against the dumbest generation.

The downfall of the “Digital Native” and the “Google Generation”?

Henry Jenkins recently came to speak to the School of Information (audio here). While much of the talk was on his take on the notion of new media literacies, the beginning of the talk was more focused on the problematic concepts of “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrants.” He recently wrote about the these metaphors that both academics and the popular press often invoke to refer to a sense that that the consequences of “those kids today” being born into an internet-ed world make their brains fundamentally different from those of their parents and the rest of us adults.

So, even though I’ve been lucky to have had easy access to a computer since I was in elementary school, have had difficulty writing essays in long-hand for the past ten years, and my laptop and I are best of friends, I am still an immigrant to some digital world. Jenkins talks about the power this metaphor had for him at one point but also why he can no longer use it. Not only does it rely on “out of date assumptions about immigrants” (the not-digital kind), the implications, he says are dangerous:

Yet, I worry that the metaphor may be having the opposite effect now — implying that young people are better off without us and thus justifying decisions not to adjust educational practices to create a space where young and old might be able to learn from each other.

I agree with Jenkins here. Additionally, however, I would add that the metaphors also imply a universal notion of what “kids today” do. This to me is just as silly as trying to describe what the rest of us do in universal terms.

One of the themes that the researchers on the Digital Youth project have discussed for the past three years is how complex the world of young people looks when you start to compare across situations and forms of technology use. We have been delighted and surprised by both the differences and similarities between what participants in our studies say and do and things that we thought and did in our pre-Internet days. For example, Christo Sims found at that…surpise…kids in rural California still value all of the freedoms that come with getting a drivers license (even though they should be able to do everything through the internet…right?). Starting our research with the assumptions that go along with the rhetoric of a generation gap would have been costly.

Recently, a UK study made some empirical findings to help bolster this critique of the notion of digital natives and digital immigrants, of the obvious generation gap.

Besides having one of the greatest report covers I’ve seen for an academic publication, some of the findings were quite interesting. The researchers used data presented in other studies (surveys by other organizations, such as Ofcom) and did their own research on how the so-called “Google Generation” and older people used various library services (note that the term “Digital Native” predates the rise to prominence of Google so this “generation” may be even younger, but it’s hard to say how to relate the terms precisely…). Their conclusion: the idea of a generation gap is overblown and misunderstood. When there are differences amongst age groups, they note that they don’t know what can be attributed to generational issues or what can be attributed to moving through different life stages:

This is a powerful reminder that people have different information needs at different points in their lives. There are very very few controlled studies that account for age and information seeking behaviour systematically: as a result there is much mis-information and much speculation about how young people supposedly behave in cybersace.

Later, they point out that while it is “generally true” that younger users are “more competent with technology” (confidence level: medium), they also believe that “older users are catching up fast.” Note that they don’t present empirical results that justify this sense of “catching up,” but it seems no more far-fetched than the idea that young people “naturally” are more competent than their parents.

Kid making a great face at a computer not in frame with reflection of Darth Vader

They have several pages addressing the usual claims made about younger generation vs. their elders and they shoot down most of them (see pages 18-20).

Here, their conclusions actually make a great deal of sense:

“In a real sense, we are all the Google generation now: the demographics of internet and media consumption are rapidly eroding this presumed generational difference. The evidence indicates that more people across all age groups are using the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies widely and for a variety of purposes…

In many ways the Google generation label is increasingly unhelpful: recent research finds that it is not even accurate within the cohort of young people that it seeks to stereotype.”

There’s a lot of other stuff worth checking out in the study, especially if you are a librarian or educator.

Read the full report (warning: large PDF).
Go to the “Google Generation” project page.

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