Thursday, December 19, 2002

These are interesting points you both make, Jennifer and Greg: yes, I would say that I am at least open to the possibilities of the new net forms that are coming along. Jennifer asked me to summarize an article I'm writing about the use of electronic media as a means of preservation for some of the wonderful texts written during the nineteenth century -- something that interests me because I am a Victorianist. I maintain an etext archive at www.ajdrake.com/etexts consisting of works by Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Carlyle, and other golden oldies. Anyhow, the new Text Encoding Initiative Standards one can find on the web are geared towards xml coding; they are excellent and will enhance the accuracy and database-ready status of scholarly e-texts. Even so, they don't seem to deal with what I think is a rather important link between the mode of presentation and the degree of "historicity" we grant a given text. Seems to me that a near-facsimile, searchable Adobe PDF presentation of, say, Wilde's Dorian Gray or Carlyle's Past and Present goes a long way towards preserving the sense of the pastness of the past rather than effacing the differences between "then" and "now." This pastness I'm invoking is itself a construction of us moderns, at least to some extent; but the fact that something is an "illusion" doesn't make it any less necessary as a tool for reflecting upon our own time. Perception is tied to a number of factors, but most of all it must be historicized, treated as a phenomenon that changes over time. So I suppose my article will at least raise the question as to whether the appearance of electronic texts would do well to reproduce as much of the perceptual "feel" of what we take as the hard-copy published original as possible. This whole issue may not matter much for the books of the future, if they're taken as equally available in electronic format and as hard copy, but I think it matters when we're dealing with very old materials. Best, Al

PS -- I am told that sometime in the near future, Cal State Fullerton's super-planners are going to relocate the entire Humanities Dept. to the former El Toro Airport. Now would that be to relieve overcrowding, or to get rid of those yammering complainers in humanities? Maybe they'll put the English folks in a military hangar next to the downed UFO and the little green men. I'm all for it.

Greg writes: "Giving primary responsibility to 'texts' requires giving responsibility to several layered technologies and conventions developed over hundreds of years." I think this is a crucial point, and one that came up in a phone conversation between me and Al just a few minutes ago. A text can't be fully divorced from its means of production; new technologies open up new possibilities and foreclose old ones. Certainly genre develops directly from technology. Also, it depends who owns the technology and for what purpose. Television is idiotic because people have given up on pure play in the medium; film is wedded to narrative for much the same reason. Texts are not simply made of free-floating language that could have been produced by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, and some ideas are not suited to the formats available. Try having a seminar discussion on talk radio, or even during a presidential debate -- it's impossible. Thus my concern about the aphoristic and journalistic nature of the web. I want the technology to spur my creativity, but I don't want it to dictate the form. Since universities are becoming increasingly corporate, there must be a space for pure play of the mind: first, a free market, not in the sense of an unregulated area where any huckster can rip you off without consequences, but in the sense of the agora, a place where people can hammer out consensus about important (if not directly useful) ideas; second, a space that need not pay off directly or even attract an audience. We're losing this space in academia; we need to carve it out somehere else. Whether I like it or not, the web seems to be the no-man's-land where we might gain a little territory. This is no surprise for the techies among you, but it is a nasty shock to those of us who like the smell and heft of a book.

A few more quotes for those of you who are on the J.L. Austin tip. These concern philosophic procedure; or, if you like, how to think: "It is worth employing the most idosyncratic or, sometimes, boring means to stimulate our wretched imaginations ... a genuinely loose or eccentric talker is a rare specimen to be prized" ("A Plea for Excuses" 184). And a little later: "[I]t is necessary first to be careful with, but also to be brutal with, to torture, to fake and to override, ordinary language" (186).

It's taken a little out of context, but it would make a nice poetic manifesto.
Jennifer - Congratulations on correctly building your first link. (You can always see what the blog looks like by clicking the "view web page" button next to the tabs in Blogger's posting interface.) Welcome, Al. Jennifer has spoken well of you. I'm glad you are giving this a try, even if reluctantly, and being candid regarding your feelings.

Jennifer's reply to your observations, Al, are much to the points I might have made. Teachers ask students all the time to open up, both to the instructor and to the fellow students. Ditto on competing responsibilities as well. I think Jennifer's (and perhaps my) apparent uncritical endorsement of blogging is a reflection of her love of writing (and my passion for communication forms). Blogging is a new way/style/approach to writing that integrates some interesting and powerful aspects of the Interne connected personal computer. Like discovering a new structure for poetry, it is not surprising that individuals such as yourself and Jennifer would have a mix of emotions upon first encountering the form: excitement, skepticism, joy, uncertainty, etc. Writing for a blog, like any form, can be approached somewhere along the spectrum of spontaneity to reflection. Specific factors such as topic, participants, hosts, presentation, and so forth, can push the mood of writing and interaction toward one or the other end of the spectrum. Jennifer has a set a pretty steep and fast pace for us mere mortal writers to maintain for long.

I think a certain challenge we will be faced with respect to cybercommunications, and cybercommunications in academia, is how much of that chaotic energy is about initial enthusiasm or fadness or inexperience or formal structure. Remember the early web pages with links almost every sentence? We are human and we do play. Giving primary responsibility to "texts" requires giving responsibility to several layered technologies and conventions developed over hundreds of years.

Part of my excitement of blogging and the current tool sets for blogging is how well the form removes certain obstacles that have kept many people, such as Jennifer, away from the technology of web pages. (Obstacles that did not prohibit you, Al.). It is a notable wonder anytime that a tool or form suddenly takes a big step into the background and enables more focus on content instead of technology.

(Now I'm starting to just on, so I'll stop.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Al, I share some of your skepticism about the use of technology in the classroom. Blogging is (if I understand it correctly) a little different from an electronic bulletin board, although that's how we're using it here. For a good, if quirky, example of a blog, you could look at the intensely weird and personal weblog of my friend Thomas Strickland at Grabbing Sand. It's the first one I ever saw, and it demonstrates a little more clearly how they were first used. I was fascinated by it when I first saw it, and have wanted one ever since.

Note to all: that's my first attempt to insert a link. I hope it works.

As far as your objections to cyber-assignments in the classroom, I have a couple of observations:

1. During discussions, we ask students to share their "interiority," or at least their opinions, and we typically make this a part of the grade through participation. If anything, an electronic bulletin board gives students more of the opportunity for reflection that you value. Instead of having to spit out readings in a hostile and mocking seminar environment, it becomes possible to craft little essays or manifestos and post them without interruption. In my experience, quieter students tend to speak up online for precisely that reason. The format favors the textually based among us.
2. Writing is as much a public act as speaking or publishing to the web; even when you're journalling, you're doing it for an audience -- your future self.
3. If a student were reluctant to post her homework, I would ask her about her reasons, and then point out to her that she needn't post some sort of precious interior essence: a few links, interpretations or observations would be fine. It's not like I'm asking students to post narratives on how (or if) they (have) lost their virginity. I'm asking them to find a link to a useful website on living conditions in Auschwitz and annotate it, for example.
4. It's true that students don't use electronic resources voluntarily; we do have to structure assignments to get them to use it. On the other hand, do you think that students would spontaneously write papers if we didn't assign them? How about using MLA documentation? It seems to me that people go to college partly because they need an external authority to coerce them into having certain types of experiences. I don't see why electronic pedagogy is more pernicious than, say, a quiz.
5. I have to admit that I've never understood this assertion about one's primary responsibility being to the text. We're always balancing competing responsibilities. In my research, I have a responsibility to portray Augustine with some faithfulness. On the other hand, my larger project places certain demands upon me as well -- I can't give an absolutely full account of The City of God when I'm writing about the rape of Lucretia. It doesn't make sense. Right now I'm writing a syllabus that covers the renaissance through postmodernism. I'd like to teach Marx's Capital, but I'm having to toss it in favor of The Communist Manifesto because I have a responsibility to the university (to cover the period specified) to the students (to do so with primary texts and not some idiotic textbook) and to Capital itself (I can't do it justice in a single class period when the students will almost certainly not have read it). And again, I don't see how writing for an audience forces one to abuse the text. We all write for audiences all the time. Unless they're censors, they can hardly force us to treat the text in a cavalier fashion. It's true that it's more difficult to bring Austin into this discussion than Thomas Strickland, since one is dead and the other is alive and maintaining a website. However, I think your project of posting Victorian prose to the web is a way around this problem.

Perhaps later today I'll write a Clue Train Manifesto for academics. We seem to need one.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Hello Jennifer,

Allosaurus here. Just wanted to let you know that I managed to log on after the cell phone cut us off. Well, on the issue of the academic uses in this medium, I was saying that at present I'm not convinced I really want to structure and assign cyber-conversation about the texts we do in class -- this is partly a personality thing with me; I've never been much of a spontaneous talker, and I tend to discount the spoken word and privilege the laboriously written word as more reflective, if not necessarily closer to some definition of "truth" or other. What I say matters little to me, unless I speak it in very particular, relfective contexts -- lecture hall, reciting poetry or prose I like, etc. -- what I write matters more; perhaps that accounts for my reluctance to write. But in any case, what would you say to a person like me if I were an undergraduate in your class, and I deeply objected to making my thoughts available to every other class member? What if my need to protect some degree of interiority made me unwilling to do my homework, so to speak, in public? The fact that when one makes an electronic forum available to students and they don't use it unless one makes them do so tells me something about the way students view their project in college: it seems to me acceptable if a student sees his or her primary responsibility as being to the texts, not to other students. (I am aware, of course, that material difficulties get in the way, too -- many students work, take care of children, and so forth; they need to manage their time.) So I guess I'm playing Thomas Carlyle with you here, and inveighing against the chaotic energies of cybercommunication, without, of course, meaning this as my final word on the matter.
And another thing: for a long time now I've wanted to start a performance art group called the Customer Service Department that would collect complaints about, say, Verizon Wireless or AOL (I have running battles on with both corporations) and take swift, appropriate, public measures to punish said companies. The punishment would have to be dramatic and appropriate, and would have to cost the company at least as much as they made from screwing their victims. It would also have to be legal, or at least untraceable. For that I suppose I need to start my daily blog recording the billing errors to my Verizon account.
I looked at the Intro to Blogging that you recommended, Peter, and was struck by several points.
1. The constant comparisons to talk radio. That creeps me out, since the level of discourse on talk radio is so shockingly low, and it functions primarily to confirm people's prejudices. This is, in part, because ringmasters like Larry Elder and that evil O'Reilly character systematically beat down opposing views. Perhaps the written form of blogging makes it possible to get a word in edgewise in a way that one can't when speaking to Elder and his ilk. And, of course, blogging allows the cranky Marxists of the world to act as ringmaster, while corporate-run radio stations will always favor the ill-informed quipsters.
2. This brings me to another point. While it's easy to link from blog to blog and blog to website, it's not quite so simple for me to give you instant access to crucial texts available only in hard copy -- Austin's Philosophical Papers, for example. I wonder if that doesn't create a tendency towards ahistoricism and the pernicious echo-chamber effect that has become so pervasive in the mass media. It also tends to limit the format to short bursts and fragments, which have demonstrated value (hey, Schlegel's 19th century proto-blogs were full of them), but also serious drawbacks. It's hard to develop a complex line of argument, but easy to come out with epigrams (like my bit about poetry).
3. Among the uses of blogging, I'm particularly turned on by the potential to talk across disciplinary boundaries and build community. This, combined with the democratization of information leads me to think of the Sophistic notion of truth: truth isn't something pre-established and "out there." Truth is specific to a particular circumstance or need, and is a form of consensus reached through dialog. In that sense, blogging is very promising indeed.
4. Educators constantly worry about their students' inability to judge the merit of ideas. As a result, we steer them away from unedited sources and towards respected, traditional sources of information. In the future, we'll have to focus on a much more difficult task: teaching students to recognize logical fallacies and to seek out and engage with sources that don't simply confirm their own prejudices. That is not going to be easy.
5. It occured to me while I was reading the author's introduction that high formalist art performs a crucial social function: by focusing on medium rather than content, it swiftly, thoroughly and provocatively explores the possibilities of a new medium. A whole new argument in favor of a liberal education.

I realize that my comments and concerns are probably common to most people as they begin to engage with the medium, but this is, after all, a place to learn about blogging.

Greg, am I the last person on earth who doesn't just whip off HTML markup code like it was my mother tongue? Every moment that I do this I'm struggling with my scholarly resistence to learning technology as opposed to concepts. And, as I noted above, it may take a bit of a search to find the kind of sources I'd like to link in.

In the meantime, let me just type in a couple of striking passages from Austin's "Truth," a mind-bending article on how words and other modes of representation interact with the world:

"There is no need whatsoever for the words used in making a true statement to 'mirror' in any way, however indirect, any feature whatsoever of the situation or event; a statement no more needs, in order to be true, to reproduce the 'multiplicity,' say, or the 'structure' or 'form' of the reality, than a word needs to be echoic or writing pictographic" (125). This fascinates me because it seems that computer languages and programs -- indeed, the whole computer world -- need not be representational in the least, and are limited primarily by our ability to imagine something that does not yet exist -- Plato's man with wings, in effect.

A little further on, when distinguishing between representation (looks like the object) and convention (we all agree that it stands in for the object, but it bears no resemblance to it): "There are many intermediate cases between a true account (convention) and a faithful picture (representation) ... and it is from the study of these ... that we can get the clearest insight into the contrast. For example, maps: these may be called pictures, yet they are highly conventionalized pictures. If a map can be clear or accurate or misleading, like a statement, why can it not be true or exaggerated? How do the 'symbols' used in map-making differ from those used in statement-making? On the other hand, if an air-mosaic is not a map, why is it not? And when does a map become a diagram? These are the really illuminating questions" (126).

These being the really illuminating questions, he does not answer them. But Greg, I think your picture commentary software is precisely the sort of intermediate case that would have fascinated Austin: a blend of the "true" and the "like," and one that can contain different people's statements ("truths") about the objects within the picture. Also, your list of different ways of regarding a photograph is much more finely articulated than Austin's admittedly simplistic model. By investigating what is particular to this medium, we may be able to come up with better ways of knocking about that horse I do so love to flog: the relation between words and the world.

One final note about blogging: it's well-adapted to text-based folks like me who are facile writers and quick typists.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Jennifer wrote, "Now I'm really regretting the inability to interlace our remarks." And Peter has offered a simple solution: copy and pasting with quotes. A luxury once had - interlaced comments from emails - becomes a necessity. I realized, too, and thought I'd make a quick comment (before I knew Peter had posted) that people who used letters for correspondence were faced with the same inability to interlace remarks, and yet we have today wonderful letters back and forth from lovers, friends, and enemies.

You are taking to this form extraordinarily well, Jennifer, already stretching it to its limits and revealing some of this channels particular shortcomings. I wonder what a blog would like if it was more suited to conversation. Or should we be using the old threaded format of bulletin boards. (I don't think so.)

What is interesting, I am noticing, that once I write a few sentences, I want to keep writing. The effort feels small, like an email, and the pay off seems large, like a published journal article or letter to the editor. Is there such a thing as the right combination of informality and formality to make writing easier, more rewarding? Or am I just enjoying the conversation among these parties, people I like, who I think have interesting things to say?

How to make links and other formatting tricks
Blogger recognizes HTML markup code. To see how it works, Jennifer, just click edit under one of Pete's or my postings and look at the markup code added in. The syntax is straightforward. Alternatively, simply select View Source in your browser and scan the text until you find a link. View Source was one of the key decisions in the early stages of the Web that helped it spread like wildfire.
Jennifer writes, "(though it took a good 5 seconds of my valuable time to clear my screen of pop-ups afterwards -- damn it)."

Sorry, Jennifer -- I surf with Proxomitron on, blocking pop-ups and making all my cookies session-only. More background at AdBlockingProxyServers, although all the software listed is for Windows. (Since it's a wiki page, it'll happily accept additions, though.)
George Siemens has a pretty good intro to blogging at The Art of Blogging. I've added the link to my IntroductionToBlogging wiki page.

Cool quote: "The ecosystem of blogging is more important than the content being generated."
I finally took the time to look at the blog links on Pete's wiki, and I think I'm a little more clear about the phenomenon now (though it took a good 5 seconds of my valuable time to clear my screen of pop-ups afterwards -- damn it). Interesting that one of the authors speculates about why leftist academics don't blog. I suppose I'm in the process of finding out why not. Along those lines, I've invited an Americanist, John Schwetman (husband of proud luddite Krista Twu), to join us. We'll see. So far my leftist academic friends are speaking through their silence.

I'd like to know more about the history of this phenomenon. At what point did it become a form of journalism/web review? Has The Man yet used blogs to promote a Hollywood release or some Larry Elder-style book of piffle? And so on. Where can I find out these things?
Now I'm really regretting the inability to interlace our remarks. I want to start with a meta-observation about the nature of blogging. To wit: so far I've invited four academics. Of these, three have answered, and two are deeply resistant to joining the discussion we're having. I had a 45-minute long conversation on the subject with Al while I was waiting to board in the Orlando airport. He kept coming up with silly reasons for not joining, even though his online archive project bears directly on your expertise, Greg. Then he went on to describe with enthusiasm his attempts to use a new voice-recognition program, along with the griping, theoretical speculation, and invective aimed at late capitalism that I've come to expect from my kind. He spoke at length about Microsoft's hostility to literacy beyond that of a dull undergraduate, and his terms were much like those used in the Cluetrain Manifesto. Every time I said, "Yeah, that's exactly the kind of thing we're trying to hash out," he reverted to technical problems rather than theoretical ones. Like, this is all easily solved, and there's no need to talk about it. Krista, on the other hand, simply wrote back "I am a luddite, but my husband might be interested." John asked for details about the participants and purpose, then never responded to my response.

This all reminds me of one of Nietzsche's fragments, in which he observes that the intellect is most like a stomach. Capacity varies from individual to individual, and there's both periodic hunger and an upper limit. I think that most humanities scholars see knowledge of computing beyond simple word processing as a poetentially overwhelming mass of information that might force them to change their fundamental intellectual orientation towards the past. I know this is the case for me; I don't read newspapers because I believe that they compete directly with my project of mastering the social history of the 19th century. As a result, even people like Al who use a lot of technology speak downright scornfully about its power to change anything -- and these are people who know damn well that simple inventions can overthrow governments. I suspect that I'll come up against this in my attempts to arrange an MLA dinner, too. Perhaps I should have guessed that there were powerful structural forces behind the lack of communication between tech people and working academics. We are luddites in the strictest possible sense, and we want the present to stand still so that the past won't become any longer.

Now to your post. I've been devoting what little research time I have to combing the classic works on speech act theory, structural linguistics and deconstruction for references to the private, creative aspects of language. There is very little to be found, although Paul de Man aligns creativity with rhetoric, an odd move, since he figures rhetoric as a machine that produces meaning independently of the writer -- and typically the meaning in question subverts the text's ostensible rhetorical mode (for example, he speaks of the wavering between metaphor and metonymy in Proust, and the dialectic between irony and allegory in Wordsworth and Schlegel). If creativity is like rhetoric for de Man, then it shares in this making and undoing function, which remains independent from the author's intentions, and indeed, from the author herself. If I'm extrapolating correctly, that means that creativity rests in language and not in the mind. I find this hard to reconcile with my research into the biochemistry of creativity; current research suggests that psychoticism and mood disorder are crucial components of the ability to contribute to literature (as opposed to just mimicking it). It occurs to me as I write this that one of the great drawbacks of deconstruction has always been its insistence that the empirical world is radically separated from language, and that the body is a textual creation (as opposed to a potential font of text). As I argued in my dissertation, deconstruction's greatest blind spot is its inability to perceive the fact that the two (language and the world) are interlaced despite their different natures; in deconstruction, text tends to gobble up the real world. My work on both rape and creativity attempts to show how material objects and events partake of the literary and change it.

I've always felt that UC Irvine should have a dual motto: "We put the words in Wordsworth" and "We put the worth in Wordsworth," just as a gesture towards our ownership and promotion of culture. No one else thinks that's funny, though. As for corporate sponsors, we have none. That's why we're poorly paid and relatively powerless.

Critical theorists seem to have given up on identifying the process of becoming-real-in-ideology, though they acknowledge that 18th and 19th century models involving the will and such don't work for shit. Speech act theory, the leading contender, catalogs instances but declines to speculate about the actual mechanism at work (for a primer on speech act theory, see my website, ajdrake.com/jjthompson and go under teaching materials -- it's a handout on the distinction between constative and performative language). Again, I think this has to do with a hesitance to acknowledge the chemical functioning of the brain. As a theoretician I hate to give up on the idea of understanding the mechanism, though I suppose I would settle for a numbered list of steps (which you can find in embryo in J.L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words).

As for personal sense-to-nonsense, Nicholson Baker, of all people, provides a series of fascinating examples of how human beings adapt even the simplest technology to their own purposes. See his novel The Mezzanine and his brilliant book of essays, The Size of Thoughts. I wonder if I could come up with a numbered sequence for my understanding of, say, rape. Like:

1. Rape is a punishment that makes manifest my previously invisible evil (personal deduction common to victims);
2. Rape is a terroristic act of violence intended to put the victim in her place (feminist understanding inculcated through reading Susan Brownmiller and Catherine MacKinnon);
3. Our "places" are not as simple and unchanging as feminism would have us believe (men get raped); also, most rapists act out of sexual desire. They choose their targets, but they desire the act itself. They are not knowing political actors, and in fact often have no idea that they're raping someone. Also, the effect of "placing" a victim within a system is a larger social phenomenon that comes long after the original act, and it is often carried out by people other than the rapist (thanks to Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Karman MacKendrick).
4. Rape is a social interaction carried out partly through language, and it has conventions of its own (Sharon Marcus).
5. Violence speaks, but what it says depends on the regime of interpretation on hand. With the proper interpretive frame in place, an act of rape becomes very eloquent indeed. It also says different things to different interpretive communities (me). In addition, assigning a different meaning to rape triggers a logical progression from rape victim to sex radical, and this progression involves learning how to shoot a .357 (again, me).

This is not a primer on rape. What interests me is how I moved from stage to stage in my understanding. Hegel would explain it as a process of dialectics; the Sophists would speak of consensus, though it's a funny kind of personal consensus reached through published texts. The question for our purposes is, how can I guide people through my own learning process as swiftly as possible while benefitting from their knowledge? That is, how can I connect with other people on this subject and change the face of public discourse on rape? The traditional modes of conversation (journal publications and conferences) aren't working for me, partly because the agendas are all wrong, partly because the audience is made up of people who rigorously exclude "rape victim" from their public identities. Publishing is hopelessly slow. But perhaps on my website....

Which brings us back to the original topic: how can this technology create community and political change?

What we need is an expert on language acquisition. Suddenly I feel the impulse to invite my mother, a bilingual teacher who struggles with ideological attempts to limit what the public schools can teach and how.

A technical question: how can I create clever links to texts that I think are relevant? That is, if I could find an electronic copy of "Resistance to Theory" or something, how do I link it so that you-all can access it without visiting a bookstore or library? I'm operating at a real disadvantage here in terms of allusions. In the meantime, feel free to ask for clarification of philosophical terms.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Jennifer, get me a gig at ERAU, so we can chew slowly over your points...Or organize an evening dinner discussion with some friends at MLA when you are in town. (English and Literary Professors Visit Computer Art Gallery. Details at 11...). Seriously, though.

It is interesting to describe language as a "shared convention." It makes me think about the unshared (private) aspects, which I like a lot. I like the idea of personal symbology in one's work, an idea to which Hana Iverson first introduced me. I also like the idea of "convention" in the conference/trade-show sense of the world. I imagine people attending this singular event, called "ENGLISH CON 2003" and there is a big exhibition hall. If language is a convention, I wonder who the major corporate sponsors of are, too...

"...how does that which is unintelligible under current ideological systems become "real" to the people who operate within them?" I'm not sure I know, but I think it is the interesting question. My own guess is that it has something to do with the same means/mechanism in which a child acquires speech and language, and the individual in general learns, or learns the subtle cues of a social group. How do we suddenly begin to get fairly accurate with our guesses of someone's sexuality, or their religious heritage? Is it the human brain's ability to learn and/or detect patterns? Is it that a 6th sense of communication does exist which we have not isolated? Is it necessary to understand the mechanism, or just know some mechanism exists and then study its stages?

Your querying regarding from nonsense to some-sense to sense is a something I feel I get to live with all the time and one of the reasons that I enjoy working with technology and especially computer technologies. How did we get from shouting to a telephone system? How did computer languages evolve? How do I go from not understanding a computer language -- to just seeing gibberish -- to having programming literacy? How are new technologies (like the web, email, instant messaging, blogs) become accepted and even mission critical tools? (We also have to try and hook up with JC Herz, author of Joystick Nation if we can get on her calendar. She is the only other person I've heard use the word "accretes" recently.) Steve Johnson's book, Emergence is seems to address these issues, too. (Or maybe there is a relationship to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in his concept of "flow.") My own experiences lately regarding more refined understanding of digital photography has taken the following evolution:

  1. a photograph is a collection of objects (thanks to Hana Iverson for the problem to be solved)
  2. a photograph is a mini-database
  3. digital photography is a different media than regular photography (thanks to Derrick Story for the insight)
  4. the camera is data gathering device (thanks to Ward Cunningham for being the example)

So maybe the interesting discussion to have with technologist and comparatist is an exchange of notes about the emergence(?) or accretion(?) of meaning from non-meaning in language and technology?