Tag Archives: web 2.0

Spotify: Joy, Wariness

As their unbelievably happy video attests, Spotify is here:

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, reading about how this legal stream-all-the-music-you-want service is changing the face of music all over the world. So when I saw it was here I signed up for an invitation right away and got my “Step right up!” email in the next day or two.

I’m not going to go into all the features, because you can read about that elsewhere. Suffice it to say that it really is as easy as it sounds. I downloaded the program, logged in, searched “harry potter and the deathly hallows part 1” and instantly began streaming the soundtrack. (Part 2 isn’t up yet, as far as I can tell–but it’s on Grooveshark!) This morning I thought, “Oh! I haven’t bought the newest R.E.M. album yet! I’ll stream it now!” It’s going now, and I really love it.

Quick interlude: before I got married, I listened to music while falling asleep every once in a while–say, 2 nights a month. I would put on a CD, and I’d almost always be asleep before it ended. When I got my first mp3 player, I made awesome “fall asleep” playlists, because I love playlists. But I found that when I listened to the playlists, I would never actually fall asleep with them on. It wasn’t the headphones–when in college, I fell asleep plenty of times to Björk’s Vespertine through headphones.

I finally decided that I couldn’t sleep to the mp3s because there were too many of them. I always wondered, “What’s coming up next?” or I thought, “Oh, I don’t want to hear this one, so I’ll just skip it–there are dozens more!” That little bit of mental engagement kept me from sleep. I’ve nostalgically felt somewhat similar feelings about cassettes sometimes: when your friend makes you a mix tape, you get to know every song on that tape, because you don’t want to bother fast-forwarding to the songs you know you like. And in the meantime, you often begin to like the songs that you initially didn’t appreciate as much. With a mix CD, there’s nothing stopping you from plowing ahead. In both cases, there’s something about the bounty and ease of the new technology that had an unexpected, negative side-effect on the human element. (Call it the epistemology of the cassette, if you like words like that.)

Back to Spotify. Now that I have it, I hear this little, eager voice in my gut that moves from one possible future listen to the next, with somewhat alarming speed: “Oh! And I could listen to Paula Abdul later! And then Cyndi Lauper! And Depeche Mode! And The Cure! And Phish! Do they have live Phish? Live Pearl Jam? Live Death Cab? Rare Death Cab? Rare Smashing Pumpkins? Rare Björk? Club-remix Björk? Club-remix Delerium? Old-school Delerium?”

And on, and on, and on.

So while I’m excited at what Spotify can offer me, I’m wary about anything that makes me think so much about me and my wants, and allows me to fill those wants so easily, with no hesitation at all. I’m afraid that too much bounty puts me into a me-focused, jittery mindset that doesn’t include room for living within boundaries, or sleep. No, I’m not anti-Spotify. I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep using it for a long, long time. But I’m also trying to pay attention to subtle changes that new technologies want to make in me, and I want to be the one who decides which changes are allowed to happen.

Am I over-thinking this?

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Yancey on Information Literacy

I just got back from the 6th Annual Georgia Conference on Information Literacy in tree-lined, square-happy Savannah. Proof that this is a lovely place for a conference: a brief Tweet that I was there (which updates my Facebook status as well) received 7 dreamy-eyed, jealous comments on Facebook in 4 hours, which for me is pretty high traffic. (My favorite: “I love Savannah! My stepfather’s twin brother is a Benedictine monk, and there’s a military school there where all the monks taught.”)

(If you’re saying “Your conference was on what kind of literacy?” you could check out this handy page from the Association of College and Research Libraries. Their short definition: “Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.”)

I’ll write later about my presentation on remix literacies; here, I’d like to respond briefly to Kathleen Blake Yancey‘s boundary-pushing keynote address (handout). (By the way, I wish I had Yancey’s delivery: a clear, crisp voice, with punchy sentences and never any hesitation. Maybe she’ll give me delivery pointers when she visits USF this spring. Probably fewer parentheses would help.)

Much of her talk contrasted two models of access to information:

  1. The Victoria and Albert Museum model, which, though awesome in its own way for its own time, is inherently restrictive: readers take the time to go to its “cathedral of knowledge” on its terms.
  2. Our entirely new world of information online, which requires new maps and new education and new searching strategies, and which is inherently open, unstructured by time, and accessible.

To this conference crowd of mostly library faculty (with plenty of rhet/comp folks sprinkled in for good luck), perhaps Yancey’s most provocative point was her insistence on teaching content along with information literacy skills. It doesn’t make sense to teach someone how to search a database as though the topic of the search were meaningless, much as it doesn’t make sense to teach someone how to organize a paragraph as though the purpose, audience, and context of the paragraph were meaningless. She pointed out that without content, students don’t see the whole “map” of the information they seek, and therefore don’t learn the big picture–they only learn how to get from point A to point B.

But for me, of all the things I could go into here, I’m especially interested in her 3 categories of sources that might make up an information ecology: there are academic sources (from journals, scholarly books, etc.), mainstream sources (from Time, Malcolm Gladwell, USA Today, etc.), but also alternative sources–anything from The National Enquirer to a blog about science–i.e., anything that doesn’t fit comfortably in the first two categories.

Research these days is necessarily going to encounter all of these types of sources; we can’t simply say to students, “You can only use sources that are academic, from .edu websites, with no advertisements, with reputable authors.” Sometimes the info on mainstream and alternative sources is provocative, worthwhile, and (gasp!) even correct, reputable, important, etc. The trick is that–get this–the reader actually has to read the sources s/he finds and make judgments about them–it’s not a simple one-size-fits-all process!  And that is where students often miss the boat.

I think I’ve been waiting for someone (reputable…*grin*) to say this for a while. After all, when I research online, I blend these kinds of sources all the time; like Chris Anderson, I go to Wikipedia a lot, and don’t feel bad about doing so. I’ve struggled to teach students ways of research that more closely mirror the “real-world” stuff I do all the time, but it’s been hard. Yancey’s paradigm will help, methinks.

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Conversations in Books

After writing a bit about interactive reading a few days ago, I’ve dug up two more thoughts on the topic:

1) I’ve been reading Stephen North’s 1987 book The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field as part of my qualifying exam reading. (I should read approximately half a book a day for the next 8 weeks.) I bought it used online, and apparently it used to be owned by a Mr. Michael J. Ma____e (can’t read his signature), who bought it in May 1989.

I’ve appreciated Ma____e’s pleasant, restrained style of annotating the book: mostly small checks in the margin, rare penciled underlines, and even more rarely, with words jotted down. Even though my style is wildly messier, it’s okay because he went first, which allows me to nod in appreciation of the things he appreciated but not feel annoyed that my book came pre-scribbled.

(Which is more than I can say about my much-reread copy of Frederick Douglass’s first Narrative, which came with 1/4 of each page underlined in fat red marker. I keep almost buying another, but I can’t quite make myself take the plunge to replace something I already own. That would be like replacing my cassettes of U2’s War or Boyz II Men’s Cooleyhighharmony with CDs, or replacing our Mickey Mouse waffle iron with one that doesn’t produce waffles that smile at you as you rip off its ears. Waste drives me crazy!)

Here’s an example of my favorite exchange in North’s book:

Scan of Stephen North's book with caption

Scan of Stephen North's book with caption

Captain Ma____e thoughtfully responded to North’s phrase methodological integrity by asking, “Is this North’s God-term?” I responded with an emphatic, underlined, “Yes.”

How pleasant! It was like a face-to-face encounter, all three of us chatting (or really, me and Ma___e gossiping about North pouting in the corner) about an idea.  This is my ideal for public commenting in books: real, friendly exchange that takes place easily and unobstrusively in the same medium where I’m already reading.  One day. . . .

2) On a music journalist pal’s Twitter page, I learned about FLYP (all caps necessary?), an online magazine that a recent Atlantic piece describes thusly: “Imagine a full-screen PDF of a magazine page with embedded features, like flyout charts and music and clickable images.” (They also link to my buddy’s article! Sweet!)

It’s a dreamily pleasant layout experience–one of few web pages that I would really care about reading on a large, crisp monitor. But for my context here, I’m especially pleased by the handy “comment” button in the lower-right of each spread. Commenting online is nothing new, but there’s something pleasant about being allowed to comment on magazine content that’s laid out like a magazine–something even Wired doesn’t do online. I’m not sure if that’s an old fashioned impulse or not–a leftover memory of reading National Geographics in my grandpa’s adventure-stocked Ohio attic. But layout and design increasingly matters to me, more than it ever has before, and Flyp delivers–and it delivers in a way that keeps the conversation alive in a layout-happy space.

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A Blog! (And W1N5T0N)

I figure it’s time to start a blog–for all the usual reasons a PhD student like me does:

  • To help me organize thoughts and responses to all the reading I’m doing for qualifying exams and an eventual dissertation
  • To set up a place to hear a mix of comments and conversations from my different communities (current and past student and faculty colleagues; scholars in the field; buddies who are interested in cool things)
  • To celebrate coolnesses worthy of celebration

Since I’m studying new media, intellectual property, remixing, fan fiction, information literacy, and delivery in classical rhetoric, you might find anything at all relating to those topics on here. But of course, I reserve the right to mention anything else that comes up as well.

For example:

Cory Doctorow’s site recently mentioned this exciting site, W1N5T0N, that posts the entirety of his novel Little Brother online in a format allowing users to make paragraph-level comments (powered by digress.it, a WordPress plug-in).

I’ve seen this concept used before for academic work (an undergrad thesis in Lost and a stellar CCCC 2009 panel, “On Making Waves without Falling Out of the Boat: The Experience of Composing an Electronic Dissertation”), but never for fiction.  It seems something like reading a fancy version of Shakespeare: lots of footnotes, half of which aren’t welcome and the other half of which are crucial insights that I’m glad I got. The difference, of course, is the people who are allowed to enter the conversation about the work: everyone, or only fancy, oft-published scholars.

There also seems that there’s a tension here: the best annotated works will be those that are popular enough to have a lot of people drop by to add annotations, but that eventually makes the novel that much slower to read as you pop back and forth between texts. (And it’s kind of sad, I imagine, to see a text formatted to allow comments that no one will comment on–something like passing a wonderfully small corner store that no one ever visits.) Doctorow’s work seems perfect in this respect: mid-level popularity with a dedicated (and, er, geeky) fan base that really believes in his copy-left agenda.

Now all we need is for the perfect ebook reader to come to pass–it seems to me that the more seamless the ability to add comments, the more services would offer it, and the more I would drool over it. In a recent Wired piece, Steven Levy describes Chris Anderson’s eventual dream for readers, which I think would fit nicely with the idea of the ever-annotated novel:

When I showed the DX to Wired‘s editor in chief, he rotated it to landscape mode to see whether it was wide enough to convey the experience of a magazine spread—it covered less than half the territory. Even the expanded screen could deliver only a shrunken facsimile. But then he took the leather binder that Amazon sells to cover the reader and flipped it open. The folio fit the open pages of Wired almost precisely. Imagine that binder crammed full of silicon and liquid crystal—that’s the form factor of the future periodical.

Drool, indeed!

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