Thursday, August 9

cryptocurrency, female empowerment, + podcasts as technical communication

I am loving this podcast:

especially this recent episode of listener stories and general reflection.

and especially Ms. Manoush Zamarodi's response in that episode (around the 19:01 mark) to a listener who wrote in to criticize the hosts' allegedly "acting like silly dumb girls." as she read his letter aloud, I waited, eagerly and impatiently hoping to hear a rebuttal pointing out just how sexist and short-sighted it is to code female laughter as automatically juvenile, thoughtless, idiotic, or stupid, or as some sort of coy, superficial act. Zamarodi is subtler than I think I would have been in her response, but she makes much the same point: there's not one single societally-approved way of sounding or acting intelligent.

she says, "we laugh because we know it's okay not to know everything, that this is a real-time exploration, an investigation into changes that are happening in tech and our culture. And you know what, we don't care if it's not a good look, because it's who we are, and I'm sorry if you find that tiresome. But I really do hope you will keep listening and get used to what strong, intelligent women sometimes sound like. We're being real. And maybe you just haven't heard women in such an up-close and transparent, authentic way before."

thank you for that, Manoush.

the whole podcast so far is wonderful stuff to listen to. people, real experiences, uncertainty, trying new things. plus you get to learn a little bit about blockchain technology and journalism and the future.

I got thinking the other day that this podcast, personal and documentary-ish though it may be, is a great example of technical communication.

podcasts-as-technical-communication is a preoccupation of mine generally, given my scholarly immersion in the later and my personal enjoyment of the former. I want to write more about ZigZag and tech comm someday, but I think that post needs more thinking time.

for now... what other podcasts could be counted (at least in some way) as technical communication? let us explore my subscription list of 30+ podcasts and see what else we find.

most obvious examples:

10-Minute Tech Comm
interviews with scholars and practitioners of technical communication. this makes it more meta, perhaps, but it still counts as sharing information about technical topics. (also--I was in an episode, did I mention that?)

presenting science-y information and stories in creative narrative forms. definitely a form of public tech comm.

What Trump Can Teach us about Con Law
legal communication is arguably a more narrow sub-discipline than most, but law is very technical. Roman and Elizabeth break it down and make it relevant. that counts.

The Infinite Monkey Cageinformal, comedy-infused, very science-y discussion panels, with episodes based on a theme like space travel or the immune system. the show mixes informative with entertaining very well.

and then a few slightly less-obvious examples:

there's a lot of technical, science-y stuff related to how we use language (mouths and tongues and air and frequencies, not to mention unicode and twitter). and though it's sort of hard to think of it as such, language is a technology in its own right. Gretchen and Lauren make all that technical stuff very fun. (sidenote, I kind of can't wait to read the book Gretchen is working on.)

Ways of Hearing
music and sound and how our bodies and technologies mediate those things. so much about this is inherently technical: see above.

The Sporkful
food and cooking = technologies. most of the time this little show is human-interest stories and entertainment, but Mr. Pashman gets pretty technical about all kinds of food things every so often. they even settle debates from listeners about the practical ethics of grocery store lines and free ice cream samples.

Succulent FAQ podcast
horticulture and plant science, even if discussed mainly in hobby-ist terms, count as technical topics, I say. this one is more how-to than any of my other examples, so that makes it especially similar to traditional tech comm.

others I can think of but don't subscribe to myself-- Planet Money, TED Radio Hour (and most TED talks in general), Song Exploder, StartUp, and Car Talk (even if it is all re-runs now).

I'm sure there are dozens more out there, ranging from specifically how-to-ish all the way up to generally educational in some way. can you help me think of more? feel free to add to the list.

Thursday, August 2

reflect, revise, reset

I am preparing to teach an online technical communication course for a handful of graduate students.

it is an exciting and slightly daunting prospect, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity. teaching online is fun. teaching graduate students will be new. hopefully I will love it. hopefully the students will love it too, at least a little bit.

as I've started putting together assignment sheets and syllabus sections, I've gone back to the files I have from my first semesters as a graduate student, way back seven years ago. my experiences from then are inspiring my preparations now in a messy but helpful sort of way.

the class I will be teaching is not going to be exactly like the first technical communication course I took in 2011. there are no PhD students at my new Louisiana institution, and there isn't quite a full tech comm graduate program, either. we offer a certificate in Writing for Business, Industry, and Technology and a related MA degree in Writing and Linguistics. my work here will fit into the little tech-comm-shaped niches around and among those programs and the offerings for our undergraduate emphasis in professional writing.

it's been interesting to look back at the work I did as a brand new graduate course and revisit the thoughts I was thinking about everything I was learning. one of the essays I turned in to Dr. Kelli Cargile Cook at Texas Tech in 2011 starts out, after one boring sentence that sets the stage, with a million semi-rhetorical questions:
"Who is qualified to create or enforce a definition of technical writing? In the face of rapidly changing technologies, will a static definition be at all important or useful? What is the clearest, most accurate way to make sense of our place as people who write and communicate among extremely diverse communities? What commonalities among those communities are worth emphasizing? Are any of the basic truths about technical communication universal enough build a profession upon? Will it be possible to include all the essentials without being completely vague? These questions and many more continue to shape the process of figuring out who we are, what we do, and why it matters."
that's six questions, all crammed into one opening paragraph. another professor of mine, Dr. Richard Johnson-Sheehan, always gave me pointed critiques when I included too many rhetorical questions in essays for his courses at Purdue: "your reader is going to lose patience with these," he would say, implying his own quickly waning interest.

I think I've learned to agree with him, by now. I do still love questions, but I understand now that they can be a tiresomely slow way to introduce one's main point.

one day soon I may remediate that whole long, rambly essay into a less-long, less-rambly blogpost. that could be fun. for me anyway. possibly useful for anyone out there who might wonder what I really think I'm doing with my academic life, too.

definitions of technical communication (and of rhetoric, or writing, or art) are still, forever, being debated. my own place in this disciplinary debate is still debatable too. malleable. amorphous. emerging.

I know a lot more now than I did in 2011. and I know much, much more now than I did seven years before that when I returned from studying abroad, declared myself an English major at Utah State University, and eventually started this blog. a whole decade and a half of experience has ways of teaching one things. sometimes without you even noticing.

it's August, 2018. new things are happening. the world and me look so different than they used to. it feels like a beginning--expansive, wild, wide, and uncharted. a chance for new rules. better habits. but it's hard to know what the best new habits might be. so much of this new life is going to be unfamiliar for a while. disorienting.

teaching experience and academic credentials have piled up on top of me over the years. those things have given me some grounding amid all the chaos of finishing one thing and beginning another. the transition has felt long. May 18 was almost a dozen weeks ago, and my new semester at Northwestern State is still weeks away. as much as this feels like a beginning, it's just as much middle, and partially an ending, too. as soon as August 4 gets here and Purdue's commencement ceremonies are over, I'll officially officially be Dr. Amelia Chesley, with a real PhD and a diploma in the mail, with an exciting tenure-track job as an Assistant Professor. soon enough I'll have this office in Keyser Hall arranged just how I want it. I'll have a phone in that office, and faculty meetings to go to and everything. 

I still have a million things to learn, at least.

Tuesday, June 26

moving, books, and titles

in the mornings I put on a podcast and wash whatever dishes have accumulated over the previous evening. it is a nice routine for when I'm not yet really awake enough for much else.

our next place of residence will have a shiny dishwasher in it. and this means I will need to find a new morning routine of some sort. podcasts and doodling instead? maybe just skip straight to yoga? we shall see what the shape of our new place of residence might suggest. perhaps it will be checking on all the plants and reading under a tree.

June and mid-June and late-June have all arrived, rushingly. my dissertation is finished. a printed, bound copy is on its way to the graduate office in Heavilon Hall. I'm not a graduate student anymore. how strange. in four short days we'll be off on our way to another timezone, leaving things behind and hoping that the new place won't be too full of bugs or alligators.

this week is a weird in-between week. boxes galore. cleaning out bunches of dusty papers and things. planning at least two trips to goodwill. saying final goodbyes to people and places. returning all the library books.

there's one more left I need to return-- The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch. reading its Tournament of Books review/commentary intrigued me toward this novel, but I do not think I'll finish it. firstly, it has not managed to coax me into its world very well. secondly, we are moving away.

speaking of books, my old, dear friend Kalli (whom I have seen exactly once since her 2006 wedding, I think), tagged me in one of those facebook daily challenge things, with these instructions:
In no particular order, list ten books you love. Pick books that really made an impact and are still on your reading list, even if only now and then. You can post the cover. You don’t have to explain, but nominate people each day to do the same.
perhaps you have seen this interactive list-meme going around on social media yourself. I'm going to  break the rules a bit and not take one whole day per book and not nominate anyone else. if you are reading this and you'd like to do this thing or any other list-meme thing, just do it.

what I will do is list ten books. as I wondered which ten I would pick, I consulted my goodreads archives (where I famously do not rate the books I read unless I love them completely) and found, to my surprise, exactly ten books with five-star ratings on them.

so here they are, roughly in order of when I first read them, with brief notes about why I have found them so worthwhile.

The Picture of Dorian Gray was vivid and sensuous and a little bit mind-twisting with its dancing dichotomies. it impressed my impressionable self so much the first time I read it.

Ella Enchanted is a Cinderella story, and I for some reason just love those. this one is one of the most interesting, playful, and real versions I've ever come across.

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, which I have blogged a little bit about previously, and should really re-read as soon as it gets unpacked next week. why did we have to pack up all the books first?

The Actor and the Housewife. Shannon Hale is a treasure. she should blog more often. I related to this book and its characters far more than makes any sense. I wonder what I would think about it upon re-reading.

The Book Thief was as beautiful and touching as any book ever could be. that and its narrator are all I remember about it. also the author has a cool name.

Einstein's Dreams, to quote a past blogpost, is "like the most delightful vacation you ever found yourself enjoying. new places and sights like postcards, bite size and almost (but not really, because there is the next place and the next) over too soon." I also called it "blatantly thought-provoking," which is one of the best things for art to be. I still don't own this book but I wouldn't mind owning it.

Americanah grabbed me in a bookstore one winter. it was gripping. meaningful. the kind of semi-autobiographical story that I have always wanted to write at least half as well as Adichie wrote this one. I don't feel the need to own this book, but I would enjoy re-reading it.

The Interrogative Mood was a gift. predictably, I reveled in it. sure, its form got slightly tiresome... but I loved it anyway. to write a novel of nothing but questions is silly and brilliant.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog came recommended by (and borrowed from?) friend Lizz, I think. honestly I don't remember what struck me so much about it. the ending, probably. I'm very picky about endings, so when endings surprise and delight me somehow, I notice.

Code Name Verity was one of the audiobooks that kept me company during the early months of longdistance-dating-a-fellow-in-Chicagoland. it was beautifully written, sculpted from pure, sparkling narrativium, and just as beautifully performed. the sequel, Rose Under Fire, is rather great too.

three young adult novels, two kind of strange, short experimental things, some classics and classic-ish books, and a couple of semi-autobiographical pieces. ten books. there are handfuls of others I could have chosen for different/better reasons. but for this I let my past self (via goodreads) choose for me.

and now, a ridiculous post-script that I've been meaning to blog about for several weeks. it is partially book-related, so it won't feel too out of place at the bottom here, I hope.

you know the Blade Runner film? and how I've always been mildly obsessed with why it was called Blade Runner even though it was based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I finally found an answer that mostly-satisfies my strangely tenacious need-to-know-why.

apparently the screen writer stole the title from a totally different script--one by William S. Burroughs, based on an older novel by Alan E. Nourse.

presumably, the screen writer and his colleagues thought this title sounded cooler. but now my questions is why? should I try contacting Mr. Fancher about it? would he remember his decision and why he made it? would his answers, if he did, be in any way satisfying?

I thought for the longest time that it was impossible to know how this weirdness with this random movie title happened. but it isn't.

now I need a new thing to wonder incessantly about.

Friday, May 18

a momentus and thrilling day

this morning did not feel like a Friday. it didn't feel like any normal day of a week at all.

now, several hours later, it does feel more like a Friday, but only a little.

in between earlier this morning and now, there were a few exciting hours of the least normal thing. something I will most likely only do once. over in the third-floor conference room of Heavilon Hall, I defended my little dissertation project about

it was really great. a tiny bit daunting. the almost-two-hours it took felt both long and short at the same time. my committee members asked productive, important questions for me. I have revisions to make over the next month, and then I'll probably blog about the thing again and include a link to where you can read the five-chapters-plus-appendices of academic prose, if you're so inclined.

Dr. Sullivan and me, her advisee, the brand-new Dr. Chesley

one of the most important pieces of this work that I still have to finish writing is the acknowledgements section. there are so many people to thank. so many people who deserve at least a nod for the small and medium and big ways in which they've helped me and my research and my writing on this ongoing journey.

now that it feels more like Friday, I think it's time for fancy cheesecake at a fancy restaurant somewhere.

Friday, May 4

questions about invisibility and value

this is a fascinating and enlightening and somehow very important thing to note, I think:

"...the platform replaces labor that was previously invisible. We have a hard time figuring out what Facebook actually is because we have a hard time admitting that at least part of what it supplanted is emotional labor—hard and valuable work that no one wants to admit was work to begin with."

it's from an article by journalist Sarah Jeong about why it's such an ordeal to extricate ourselves from facebook once we start letting it connect us to people and groups and events and things.

this particular passage above is not the only thing that has pushed me toward thinking about invisible labor, lately (there was this call for papers last fall, for one thing, and various feminist chatterings on twitter, also). but this has me also asking why we don't want to admit that social/emotional labor is labor at all.

what makes it so difficult for society at large to "count" these things—Jeong lists things like keeping address books up to date, knocking on doors to make invitations to neighbors, and putting together cards to mail out for holidays—as work? do we feel obligated to count them as fun, instead? as leisure or play? is it because the social value resulting from all that work has always been enough to compensate for it, such that the work itself seemed like its own reward in a way? or maybe we feel like categorizing holiday cards and such as work would open up too many wheedling excuses for us not to do all these social-connection-making things anymore?

is it because social-connection-making activities are coded as domestic and therefore feminine and therefore "less important" than work you might go into an office somewhere to do?

even if the answer to that rather loaded question is yes, I am still going to ask why.

invisibility serves a purpose sometimes. it can be an awesome superpower, enabling accomplishments that might not get accomplished otherwise. or so the stories say.

or invisibility can be oppressive and dehumanizing. isolating. life-ruining. 

how do you tell the difference? are there times when it's both at the same time?

has anyone written a superhero story about a lonely, invisible-turning vigilante who is both empowered and crippled by his abilities? probably. I haven't read any H. G. Wells in a long time.

{ green treetops blocking the sun }

when is it valuable and affirming to be noticed, acknowledged, seen, and appreciated? and when is it valuable, even more empowering, not to be seen or noticed at all?

and does someone have to see you doing a thing to value the effort you put into it? is seeing/valuing the results at all the same as seeing/valuing the effort?

this reminds me suddenly of black boxes + related thoughts from Glasgow four years ago. (maybe it's terribly self-involved to enjoy rereading my own writing so much but I really enjoy re-reading that post.) black boxes hide things. sometimes that's useful. sometimes it's frustrating. or, as in this Invisible Bread comic, it's just really weird. 

part of my brain is telling the other part to stop asking questions and think of more concrete examples of this to talk about. I think I will, eventually. but tonight... I just want to wonder about the best ways to crack open black boxes like Facebook or Google, and whether the cracks will break them forever or not. when is the impenetrable blackness of any given magical black-box tool actually essential to the functioning of the tool, and when is it not? is the opacity of a black box correlated in any way with the amounts of labor it might be erasing or replacing? if what functions as a black box to one person is actually pretty transparent to another person, what does that mean? and do we ever black box ourselves and keep our emotional labor hidden on purpose, on accident, or out of some social pressure to keep pretending that it isn't really actually "work" work?

Monday, April 2

actually mushrooms seem pretty charismatic to me

on Tuesday last week, Dr. Michael Salvo gave a talk sponsored by our Purdue chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. it was about place and animals and all the interactions among human and non-human that make the world what it is, what it will be.

a high (very high) percentage of Dr. Salvo's slides were photographs of puffins. and that is why this ornithologist's photograph instantly reminded me of the talk.
the whole idea of designing sunglasses for a puffin so you can study it without damaging its pudgy little puffin body also fits with some of the talk's themes of conservation and properly caring about the non-human. worrying about a puffin's eyesight is a nice thing to do. considerate. ethical.

and practical, too. you don't want the puffins you are studying to get damaged or die. that would mess up your studying, I imagine.

but some might say that a few blinded, damaged puffins sacrificed in the name of science is probably worth it for what we could learn that might change the world. who knows. but as long as it isn't so much work to design sunglasses for your puffin research participants, it seems more worth it to do that.


George Lakoff's FrameLab podcast makes an argument for calling them human survival issues, rather than environmental issues.

I want to read this book about mushrooms. mushrooms are beautiful.

Wednesday, February 28

deadly light

we searched out an audio-short-story with which to pass the time on our way to and from Chicago several weeks ago. it was "The Call of Cthulu," by H. P. Lovecraft, streamed on Spotify. it begins with a few lines that I've since thought about over and over again:
"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

I've been writing (in what is shaping up to be chapter 2 of a sure-to-be-marvelous dissertation project) a little bit about what Lovecraft's narrator here describes as a terrible horror--the distant someday when knowledge from every possible corner of the world will finally be pieced together into a comprehensive whole. such a vision is what plenty of people seem to be working toward now. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales boasts that the the Wikipedia project will make it happen. The Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle insists that such a thing is more than possible. in 1926 when "The Call of Cthulu" was written, I expect it didn't seem quite so possible.

despite all the fancy internet-connected technologies that make access to information so incredibly and amazingly simple compared to how past centuries must have done things, I do have rather many doubts about whether access to knowledge could really ever be comprehensive and universal. knowledge isn't quite the same as information, after all. and whether or not it'd be easy to gather up and store some version of all the knowledge any human has ever professed to know, what would that actually look like? and how would one actually interact with it? I have a feeling that human knowledge is so diffuse and multiple and embodied that it can't ever be summed, can't ever be so singular as to be stored in any static form. no matter how interdisciplinary things get, all the kinds of knowledges out there in the world will always be in some way dissociated.

but it is interesting to imagine it differently. to dream for a moment, with Wales and Kahle and Lovecraft, that all the edges might someday match up.

and if they ever did, and if we dared to let ourselves read through the everything, would we really go mad?

or run as fast as we could back into a blissful pool of ignorance?

or both? or neither?

Friday, January 26

non-human athletes

two weeks from today, a series of sporting events like no other will be aired via youtube for audiences around the world to enjoy: the 2018 Winter Marbleympics.

husband Jeremiah and I discovered these via an amusing (if shouty and quite uncensored) internet-famous Australian fellow who did commentary on a marble race last month. how fateful that discovery turned out to be. who knew there was a whole world of marble racing out there?

from there we discovered Jelle's Marble Runs and over the break between semesters, we feasted on pretty much everything the channel had to offer. including the 2016 Marblelympics and the the 2017 Marblelympics.

it's quite an experience, these videos. they transfix in a way you don't expect them to, really. I still keep trying to figure out exactly why they are so entertaining.

it's the humor and curiousness of juxtaposing inanimate marbles with all the physics and dynamism of athletic competition, I think. it's the adorableness and pure fun of anthropomorphizing those marbles to a nearly absurd degree, and all the dedicated creativity and attention-to-detail in the team names and fan behavior and backstories and everything. the fellow-humans who make these videos happen are to be admired.

if I had the brainpower on this Friday evening to make some additional academicalish comments on how these beautifully-commentated marble races and our fascination with them could link up interestingly with some of the tenets of object-oriented ontology, I would. but I don't know all that much about object-oriented ontology myself, and should probably not let it distract me much more than the Marblelympics already have from writing up nicely finished dissertation chapters about digital ethnography and distributed commons-based peer-production and what that all may mean for technical communication and human culture and such.

you can watch the 2018 Winter Marblelympics (including all qualifying events) here.

Saturday, December 23

stories and truths of many sizes

I was just barely thinking about Jean ­Francois Lyotard, and then about Clay Shirky, and then about blogging, and when I opened up all my draft blogposts I found this one. what an odd little coincidence, it seemed.

this post began as notes copied from a reading response I must have written and turned in for my Postmodernism course several semesters ago. I'm going to revisit it and see what happens.

that semester, I wrote rather candidly that I'd thought I would tiredly skim Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. it is a short treatise, but nonetheless skimming is fairly expected in graduate school. however, apparently I almost couldn’t put Lyotard down that week. something about his little exploration of The Postmodern Condition sparked against my jumbly thoughts and I just had to finish it. and I wanted more.

my reading response post for the class eventually congealed around two main topics: technology and money. I'm going to reverse the order for this post, and put money first. mostly this is because I'm smiling at the memory of the Megan I met on a train, and I want that very small story to exist here on my blog.

the other reason is that the technology thoughts seem to loop back nicely into the current and future trajectories of my scholarship, and ending with them will perhaps as more light and insight to that trajectory as it continues unfolding for me and my brain.

in his section 11, "Research and Its Legitimation through Performativity," Lyotard leads us, his readers, around to a (by now fairly obvious) perspective on power and truth:
“A new problem appears: devices that optimize the performance of the human body for the purpose of producing proof require additional expenditures. No money, no proof—and that means no verification of statements and no truth. The games of scientific language become the games of the rich, in which whoever is wealthiest has the best chance of being right. An equation between wealth, efficiency, and truth is thus established.” (44-45)
I found this obvious then because I'd read various other bits and pieces about the construction of proofs and the materialities of epistemology. I would go on to read more, too. Barad's Meeting the Universe Halfway gets at many of the same conundrums. what it means to know something, to make known something, to verify and prove to others that you have verified it-- these are huge questions. Lyotard says that money makes it easier. money is very persuasive stuff. material. rhetorical. powerful.

and Lyotard puts this thought to us in such a clear, direct way. resigned, almost, but thoughtfully so. I was reminded by this section of a conversation I had with a medical student named Megan on a train from Dundee to Oxford this summer. she sat across the table from me and offered to share her gummy sweets, and eventually we both looked up from our studying and fell into a gloriously fluid conversation about who knows how many interesting thoughts.

one of our many topics was medical research, and Megan explained how unfortunate she found it that most useful, successful medical research is driven by capitalist, consumerist ideals. developing nations don’t have the resources to carry out their own research, nor the resources to pay for research on any of the diseases or treatments that make the most difference to them. the citizens of developing nations won't have the resources to pay for such treatments, so why should medical researchers invest their time there? no money, no science. no truth. and on the other hand, in developed countries, we have plenty of time and money with which to worry about cancers and heart diseases and such, and those are the things that get studied.

I’d never really thought about that manifestation of privilege. and it is just one example of what Lyotard points out about how power and proof and rationality and funding and research are all tied very tightly together. I have been lucky to have funding and support from handfuls of institutions, and having that has allowed all the thinking and making that I've been doing as an adult. so far I think I can count on that support remaining, in some form or another, as long as I can make myself useful in some way to the institutions providing it.

anyway-- I think the “no money, no truth” slogan, paraphrased from Lyotard, should go on an ironic t-shirt or something. somebody make one.

in an earlier section of the book, Lyotard makes a bewilderingly simple (to me) claim about technology-- that it only has two principal purposes. the line appears in section 1 in the context of the sciences/technologies of language and communication, where he says this: “Its two principal functions— research and the transmission of acquired learning—are already feeling the effect, or will in the future” (4). I had to stop there, puzzled and frozen and what? The vague pronoun and the bold claim both held me up for several minutes.

in the margin, I added this note: what?

I wondered and puzzled over this claim. technology is principally for gaining knowledge and sharing knowledge? who says? since when? in what arena?

I wasn't sure, that semester, why I was so skeptical here. (husband dearest would say it's because such a stance is my habit, and I can't help myself. maybe he is right.) mainly it seemed to be because I hadn't thought about the idea before. it was new. while I reveled in the puzzlingness of it, I questioned myself too. if Lyotard means communicative technologies, not all of them, does his claim make more sense then? but then again, which technologies aren’t at least a tiny bit communicative? really? as a rhetorician I take a position that everything sends some kind of message. are those messages always based in "acquired learning" somehow? perhaps they are. everything around us is teaching us, even if we aren't paying attention. perhaps especially then.

as a rhetorician, it is my habit and my training to notice what the everything is teaching us, and then to try analyzing how it does so. right now with my dissertation work I'm pondering what the crowdsourcing work of LibriVoxers may have to teach us, and trying to connect that to professional/technical writing scholarship and practice generally. the ideals and methods of LibriVox are inspiring, I think. every voice is welcome. every tiny contribution valued alongside the tiny (and not so tiny) contributions of thousands of others.

one of Lyotard's more memorable contributions (at least as far as my brain is concerned) is the idea of the petit récit or 'small story' in contrast to the grand narratives of epic myths and stereotypes that sometimes dominate our ways of thinking about ourselves as humans. that idea--many small stories bubbling around, opening up many new perspectives, adding difference and color to places that looked old and flat before--seems important. right now, in this early 21st-century digitally networked time, we have space for millions of small stories. millions of different voices. it can seem an overwhelming abundance sometimes. what do we do with it? how do we handle the abundance? is this a chorus of voices or a chaos of noise? these questions seem worth asking. one person's chaos may be another's chorus, I imagine.

I may need to go reread Lyotard, and this time I might skim.

{ photos taken by Dr. Michael Salvo, over a year ago, in room 306 of Heavilon Hall, where I defended my dissertation prospectus using my voice and some words and chalk } 

Wednesday, November 22

times of year, times in general

I love this time of year so much. I love waking up to the cold, late dawn and breathing in the brisk, frosty air. I love the short afternoons that seem so extra golden.

it feels a bit like my love of this time of year is oozing into everything else:
I love the prospect of revising the messy drafted prose of my dissertation.
I love figuring out what to make for dinner.
... taking my car to the carwash for possibly only the third time since it became my car.
... sifting through the cluttery piles on my desk, trying to make room for work to happen.
... chasing Wesley around the dining room when he's in a crazy playful mood.
... cleaning out the refrigerator and washing all the dishes before we leave town this evening.
... putting on podcasts and making pie crust.

this will probably be my last Thanksgiving as a resident of Indiana.

Indiana has a nice flag, too, though it's very different in tone from that of my last residence.

what will happen next? will the next place I end up living have a nicely-designed state flag, or not?

I haven't kept track of exactly how many of the 63 jobs I've applied for (so far) I've heard back from (so far). a handful. let it be said that preparing for video-call job interviews is seventeen thousand times more stressful than preparing printed job application materials ever will be, for me.

aside from job interviews and possibilities, there are plenty of other things to worry about. then again, what some people call worrying is what I just like to call thinking-lots-about. I'm not sure where the line between those might be, or if it matters.

I have been wanting to blog for some weeks now about a noticed resonance among podcast episodes and other news, on resentment, on republicans, on ethics, on who is encouraged to think which thoughts about which topics. this episode of Theory of Everything left a few very vivid thoughts in my head. concrete sculptures. politics. prejudices. the episode cites a book called The Politics of Resentment by Katherine Cramer. it's not a book I'm likely to go read any time soon, but it sounds at least mildly fascinating--an exploration of why rural parts of America feel they way they do and take up the politics they do. 

resentment came up in this episode of On the Media, too. that wasn't the part of the episode that grabbed, me though. this, from a discussion on internet/tech companies, was: 
PAUL FORD: They have to pretend that they're not media. They can. But the thing is, is you don't have the definition around tech ethics in the same way you do around media.
PAUL FORD: Aside from a few thinkers, there isn’t like some giant academic discipline that they can just go to and say, hey, what should we do? Media ethics, I can go read two books and then I kind of know how I need to behave as a journalist. There's nothing like this.
I gaped at this wild-seeming assertion. no academic discipline that engages with the ethics of technology, hm? none at all? even if, as Mr. Ford implies, there aren't two central, more or less comprehensive, conveniently at hand textbooks on the subject of technology and ethics, it's quite crazy to claim nobody in academia is thinking about it. that's what the humanities are about. half of all the tech comm courses I've ever taken touch on ethics and human-centered design.

perhaps the problem is that the 'wrong' people are thinking about ethics? I noted this twitter thread shortly after listening to Ford and Gladstone wring their hands about the absence of any definitive ethical rules for technology companies. and maybe it's a stereotype, but maybe it's not untrue either, that those in technology fields tend to want definitive answers, definitive processes, black and white, yes or no. but that isn't always the best way to think about things.

everyone on twitter also got up in arms about this opinion piece. oh, academia has been ignoring all these technological developments has it? nobody is taking the time to critique big tech companies? there are disciplines and subdisciplines all over the place that do just that. yes. really.

if the mathematics scholar who wrote that opinion piece has little enough idea of all those disciplines and subdisciplines that she can claim "no distinct field of academic study" "takes seriously the responsibility of understanding and critiquing the role of technology..." then whose fault is that? is it the humanities people's problem, for not making their work visible enough? is it the STEM people's problem, for not paying attention? is it a problem of definition, where what counts as "serious" for one side doesn't for the other, and vice versa?

my optimistic hope is that more interdisciplinary scholars will help figure it out. I'm sure that will come with its own challenges, of course. but what else can we do? we need to talk to each other. communication makes everything better, eventually. right?