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EphBlogging Heads

If Dan Drezner ’90 can videoblog, then why not EphBlog? Which two regulars would readers most like to see in this format? I nominate: Aidan and Ken Thomas.

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#1 Comment By Anonymous On March 27, 2007 @ 11:11 am

I don’t know if Ephblog readers are ready to see Aidan in video format.

#2 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On March 27, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

Since I woke up this morning to a call that our SQL databases were broken, I’m not sure any readers would be willing to see me in video format, either.

Dan and Virginia’s conversation is intriguing, not the least because it (somewhat wittily and wittenly) participates in the very phenomena it attempts to analyze/critique– and is full of the kind of cross-referentiality where one topic (grading, measurement) bleeds into another (privacy, conversation, academia, media, market forces). How do these things fit together?

Pure ruminations in “blockquote” (again the smallest type I can manage here) until Eric responds to my (unmade) requests to turn on some more formatting tags in Movable Type …

‘If we abandon to market forces, … [individuals] will be ground away…’ and ‘I’m not sure who would pay for them’ [book reviews, written by other than academics]’ are interesting things to come up here, particularly given the contrasting irony of Dan’s draconian deadline policies versus Virginia’s “most academics think plus or minus three months is on time,” ‘because they work on a different schedule than journalists.’ Again, how does this fit together? (Does Dan really not spell out his deadline policy on the syllabus, or does he really leave such things to the chance of social convention and “penumbra”– is this issue here merely to play with the audience, or are Dan and Virginia “performing” their own lives and opinions?)
Is it real, or…? Are their student’s actions (“confessions…”) “real,” or “performances…”
That little bit about “in my day… never showing ‘weakness’ to a professor”… is this camp, or are they serious, or both?
Or perhaps they’re just blundering into irony… Virginia’s “confrontation of [her] plastic self with [her] real self…”
But maybe they’re playing it straight. Maybe Dan thinks that penalizing his students based on an arbitrary deadline — as if were still living in the medieval or even early twentieth century academic system, with no complex series of competing interests for our time, attention and talents — and as if a day or two means anything relative to “other students efforts to give something on time…”
Well, “everyone’s a jerk” (sometimes) (online), and… Dan is an American… and I just can’t tell. I’m on my seventh week of a (projected) six-week “rework” of (another groups) project that was three months overdue… does Dan really live in a world that is so far separate from mine, (and “out of touch”), that he cares about…
Or is he baiting (“trolling” in one ‘online’ lingo), making fun of collegues, or… I just can’t tell.
And… ahem… does anyone at Williams grade according to Dan’s standards? In my time, “extensions” seemed nearly as free as water (though “no one,” er, “few” bothered to specify the social rules), and only H. Ganse Little was such a holdout as to claim that a little flexibility in deadlines was “unfair to other students” (even in case of death in family)– the CEP did get complaints about this, but I think the Deans had given up on calling him personally (which, btw, is a special service Williams provides for students whose professors assign them less than a C).
Perhaps a little alum commentary on grade inflation here?
But… well I still do owe Avital Ronell a paper, and… can think of an alum or two from the 60s whose graduate records at Yale are a little more spotty… not to mention a Yale Dean or two…
No Vandy marijuana jokes here, please. (They are getting divorced! so maybe respect their privacy… or at lease Guiliani’s…)
So: is Dan a jerk, is Dan just playing a jerk; is this a little more complex, are Dan and Virginia giving us a little interpretive morality play, or does the morality play just drop (“artifactually”) out of the discussion; is this perfectly scripted, or impromptu, or somewhere in between?
“Free will,” or “determinism,” anyone?
And can we have Virginia play the bad cop next time and Dan wear the ‘Prada’ sweater? (Call this an “audience request”).

My first comment would be that Dan and Virginia’s comments about publicity (and privacy) apply only to a very narrow segment of the population, perhaps “the people they see” — the group they speak of is a portion of “their students” (though Virginia is not a professor)– and the characterization may have a something of a “problem of n as n approaches 1”. Only a relatively small amount of people who have adopted the general “technologies”
behind MySpace behave in a manner even vaguely like what Dan & Virginia describe; from my perspective, I see MySpace (and perhaps Second Life) as “blips,” perhaps not worth any attention, much less the (disproportionate) attention they are given.

“Will either be remembered in fifty or a hundred years?” (“And what will?”)

Of course, Dan and Virginia begin with a discussion of the Oscars (ok: I skipped most of it), and this might be an intentional, or “artifactual,” expression of the phenomena of the ephemeral and the self-revealing. And as Dan quite explicitly mentions, he “casually” includes aspects of his relations with his spouse… and Dan and Virginia did rehearse this the day before– or so they claim.

“Always performing,” indeed. Bravo. And: what kind of object is this “vlog?” Back to the frames of interpretation around written works such as “the Symposium”– that classic private drinking party made “public” — (Sokrates could out-drink everyone yet was always sober? I bet… and that … chick was some hetarae, huh?)

And Sokrates never accepted payment for teaching, either… what odd and exoteric moral lessons we’ve taken from such origins!

And back to point one: the vast majority of people I know “in the real world” (ha), of whatever generation, don’t use MySpace et. al., and if they do, they don’t reveal anything near the level of private details Dan and Virginia posit (and “do reveal” in their potentially scripted and “performing” way, talking points and all and indeed). And if we look at actual MySpace “clusters”– people who link together via nets on MySpace– we see entirely different types of activities (largely either economic promotion, or simple networking to meet up in “real space,” [“meatspace” in geek terminology]).

Repeating but shifting focus: in Nashville, Paris or Mexico City, MySpace (and YouTube etc) is in use by the music community– as a means of advertizing– but the vast majority of people in music (especially young people in the “generation” Dan and Virginia) have little or no technical expertise and little to no exposure, relative to MySpace “as a measure.”

So if we actually looked at it “by the numbers”– I don’t we’d see a particularly numerically significant phenomenon. A few outliers expose themselves online; a larger but still small group watch and “consume:” but the vast majority simply don’t watch (speaking of the Oscars). So what’s the significance of the phenomenon?

Generation [X|Y|Z] defining?

Of course, there are individuals who find such online networks particularly empowering: the lonely, the (for whatever reason) socially awkward, the discontented and odd– but to focus on these communities’ and individuals’ interactions with the (new) media while focusing on MySpace– well is to be blinded by the bark of the tree in front of you.

Ten years ago it was a different form of “online” community, and [*]

So if we actually looked at communities in each of the cities– musicians, individuals getting a M.A .in education, schoolteachers– I think we’d find very little adoption of MySpace as a media/technology, and very little idea of what MySpace is other than a series of “folk tales and myths…” and, not surprisingly, that MySpace is an awkward and rather useless tool for most of these individuals. They’re never going to adopt it. [*]

“Privacy” plays very much into that, of course, but only in the sense that most of us conduct our lives “in private” and wish a certain degree of control over their “audience community…”

So on the flip side of this, I don’t think we’re seeing either a particularly generational or technologically enabled phenomenon: even in ancient Athens, after all, the record tells us, there were individuals who choose to perform certain acts in public.

Was that The Clouds?

Which brings me to my second comment (later):