“Blogging month” is over; what have we learned here?

Just over a month ago, I set up academicipad as a web site/blog where I would post regularly for a month, kind of in honor of National Novel Writing Month, which also happens to be (coincidence?  I think not) National Blog Writing Month.  How’d it go?  Eh, so-so.  What did I learn?  A few things, I think:

  • For an academic-type, November is a terrible month for any sort of “here’s something a little extra for you to do every day” month kind of event.  November and April are the busiest months on the academic calendar, at least in my experience, and November is made all the more busy in my life by Thanksgiving, which is more or less a holiday of obligation for seeing extended family.  I think the only thing I might be able to attempt to do in November like this again is grow a beard, but a) I think the holiday of obligation (which also requires pictures) would cut that effort short, and b) beards are itchy.  I have a good friend who did NaNoWriMo on his own in January once, and that seems a better time for me, too.  Maybe next year– or really, the year after.
  • I had what I thought was a surprisingly difficult time writing on a regular basis in the form of blog posts about iPads.  It might have been the subject matter, because really, how much could I say about the iPad that is interesting, especially when my focus is on the academic?  I found myself just not all that motivated to get up in the morning to write about how I use the iPad to mark up readings or take notes or whatever.
  • The other thing I learned I thought was interesting was I was much more interested in getting up every morning and writing for 30 or 40 or so minutes on what might (maybe, someday) become a book in the form of my old dissertation.  I don’t know if this is because of the subject matter or what, but it seems to me that blogging is one of those things where I spend an hour (or so) writing a post and then that’s that.  They are sprints– maybe ones that can generate better and longer ideas later, but still short and quick pieces that are not meant to be sustained over a month or more.
  • On the positive side, I did manage to get academicipad off the ground with 17 posts and 11 pages about iPad (mostly academic) stuff, and it did find some traffic– 358 visits from the time I set it up, according to the WordPress “Jet Pack” plugin that follows these things.  That’s obviously not a lot– I get about that many hits here a week, usually more than that many hits every day at emutalk– but it’s something.  In fact, from an advertising point of view, it might be better because I think more of the traffic coming to academicipad is a result of some sort of search for iPad related info, whereas most of the traffic coming to this blog or emutalk is the same people over and over.
  • I did a little talk yesterday in the art department about iPads in academia, and while the talk was scheduled before I set up the blog, I was able to use that site in my talk.  So that was nice, too.
  • So we’ll see.  I think I’ll keep that site up and running and indeed iPad-centric with a few related (for example, iPhones in academia) kinds of things, and I think I’m going to try to set up some Google ads on the space to see what comes if it.  It was definitely worth the experiment for a month, though I’m also looking forward to getting back to the immediacy/electronic/digital situation project, too.

On Occupy UC Davis and its memes

Jeff Rice posted just the other day about the well-publicized UC-Davis pepper-spraying incident November 18, part of their Occupy protest on that campus.  More accurately, Jeff wrote about this photo. I’m linking here to the YouTube video, in part because I think it shows a little more nuance in terms of the event.  But the photo and its remixes are also important, as I’ll get to in a moment.

Jeff wrote (among other things, of course):

With the spraying photo, we immediately “know”  that someone should be fired because of this immediacy of emotional response. Barthes might call this response the arrogance of affirmation. Regardless, and as many note regarding the sense of immediacy or involvement digital dissemination allows for, we believe we know. We believe we know many things, but as the Occupy movement continues to demand attention, we believe we know this moment. We know based on a single image of a man pepper spraying kneeling protesters.

These are rhetorical questions and not value based questions. And they deserve some meta attention as well: The blog response, too, participates in such immediacy. I immediately blog in response to the photograph. My emotional response is different than what is publicly expressed regarding the photography, but it is still immediate (a focus of Internet critique – we don’t think through our ideas). Overall, then, I’m intrigued by immediacy in ways others are as well – via the blog or the photo. Immediacy is central to digital expression and understanding. We may not entirely understand that point yet.

Now, I assume he isn’t referring to my dissertation about this, but that word “immediacy” was/is an important one for me.  In my diss (this is a archive version– I think there is some kind of server problem as I write this), I write about immediate situations as being ones where digital media transform analog rhetorical situations.  In my dissertation, the examples were from the earlier, mid-90s version of the internets– email and basic web sites, for example.  As I wrote about it and as I still think about it now (I’ve been slowly going back to revising my diss since I have finally comes to terms to the whole process), immediacy has complicated connotations.  Rhetorical situations/events that are immediate are simultaneously very close to us and also very sudden, so they are thus intimate and chaotic.

The entire Occupy Wall Street situation (which I wrote about here earlier) is the larger and/or source situation for this most recent event, and that could lead to an entirely different discussion that I’m not going to go into now about what exactly constitutes a “rhetorical situation?”  Is it possible that a few years from now that we will think of the UC Davis protest as being unique relative to the Occupy Wall Street protests, sort of like the way the shootings at Kent State in 1970 have come to be seen as its own event and not inherently a part of the larger protests against war in Viet Nam and southeast Asia.

Regardless, I think this qualifies as a particularly immediate event in that it is transmitted to most of us (other than those who were there, of course) electronically and virally via YouTube.  On the one hand, there is a context that is missing here, including warnings before the spraying about the need to move or else.  But the casualness and brutality of the spraying here is hard to miss, and despite the bizarre interpretation of the event that took place on Fox (it’s just a vegetable), there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground here.  This was just bad.

Which maybe why the meme parodies began so quickly, notably at the tumblr site Pepper Spraying Cop.  Jenny Edbauer (Rice’s) “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies” probably speaks to this sort of meme/viral media event, and one of these days, I want to go back and read that essay again.  Maybe one of these days soon.  But I think that one of the reasons why the parody/humor here works is because the event itself– again, because of the proximity we have to it via digital media– is so obviously one-sided and indefensible that it lends itself to parody.  And the way the image itself functions in relation to readily available Photoshop-like technology also is at play here:  contemporary digital media and technology makes it possible for those who would previously be restricted to an audience role to themselves become rhetors/speakers in this particular situation.

It’s hard to say to what effect.  I suppose it is possible that the hundreds (thousands?) meme parodies of Lt. Pike’s casual pepper spray could create a distance from the actual horrible event itself.  We don’t want to forget that all this fun has a pretty nasty origin point.  Then again, maybe it is preciously the meme that keeps this (and the entire point of the Occupy movement) on the publics’ minds.

Not much about “iPads” or “Learning” at yesterday’s “Workshop”

Yesterday afternoon, I went to an event sponsored by Apple Education Seminar thing featuring Apple-sponsored speakers and employees that was called an “iPad Learning Workshop.” I’m going to emphasize the positive aspects of it over on my slowly growing academiciPad site, but frankly, I thought it was pretty awful.

It began with an Apple-employed speaker/PR/marketing wonk whose talk was stuff anyone who had heard of the iPad would have been able to figure out and that was about it.  “You can install apps!  You can check your email!  You can watch movies!”  This and she showed not one but two short videos/commercials that were essentially animated text with Apple-like piano music and a few pictures of iPads.  At some point, someone interrupted and asked what I think is a completely reasonable question: given that our students are coming to classes with laptops, what’s the point of an iPad? What is unique about the iPad? And you know what? She didn’t really have an answer to this question.

Really. Really?

This was followed by one of Apple’s teaching experts.  He had some interesting things to say, but it was all about secondary school, not the target audience for this group even if most of the people there were in the College of Education.  Most of what he had to talk about had nothing to do with iPads in particular but more about technology in secondary schools– and specifically, this guy talked about private and religious secondary school he works at in Holland, Michigan, a school which, judging from the pictures, is a completely different world from any public school in the area, not to mention EMU.

It was really striking.  I left that thing thinking a) maybe there is an audience for my month (maybe longer) web site experiment about iPads, and b) I ought to try to go into the educational technology consulting business.

But the other take-away was about universal access.  To the extent that the Apple marketer had anything interesting to say about iPads in teaching, it all assumed that students had these devices in their hands.  The guy from the private school in Holland talked about the enormous initiative at his school to get laptops into the hands of all students and staff and to even remodel/rebuild the school building to provide spaces for folks to collaborate together with those laptops.

So it seems to me that the iPad initiative that I’m a part of this year is completely backwards in that we shouldn’t be giving these things to a few select faculty, but rather, we should be finding a way to get these things into the hands of as many students as possible.  And I am reminded once again that the smartest thing that EMU could do is to push into the late 20th century and require all students to have a laptop computer that meets certain basic benchmarks in terms of processing, software, etc.

iPad and daily blogging goes so-so

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been taking the inspiration of National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month to start a new blog/web site of sorts, Academic iPad.  And I’m also doing this because a) as a part of this EMU eFellows program, and b) I’m giving a very informal talk at the end of this month about iPads and art/academia for a forum in the Art Department here.

So far, I’ve noticed three things:

  • I’m not particularly inspired about blogging daily about iPad things, I suppose because I’m not sure what else I can say about using iPads that I haven’t said or that don’t strike me as pretty obvious.  Use the iPad for reading; use it for writing; use it for everyday internet stuff (e.g., email, light web browsing, searching); use it for some notes; use it for fun.  I suppose there are “fine points” to be made about all of these things, but I’m not sure how interesting those finer points really are for anyone.
  • I have been motivated to monkey around more with my iPad(s) and try some new tricks, which I suppose is also a good thing and/or good unintended consequence of this little project.
  • Between the iPad thing, this blog, and EMUTalk.org, I pretty much blog every day anyway.  So I’m not sure it’s much of a challenge for me.

Anyway, we’ll see how it pans out.  I’m not going to be giving up on this little experiment mainly because of I still feel like I owe something to the eFellows and the Art department crowds, but I am also not assuming that this is going to turn into a regular and ongoing site after this month.