Dealing with Teenagers

Next week, my thirteen-year-old daughter is going on a class trip to Washington, DC. She’s a good kid and I’m excited she is going on the class trip. Yet there are times when she doesn’t clean up her messes well enough, and I can easily imagine telling her sometime before the trip that she can only go to Washington if she cleans up her mess.

What typically happens when you tell teenagers to clean up a mess is that they promise to do so, but then rarely get around to it unless you constantly nag them about it.

When she is in Washington, her class will be meeting with Rep. Shays and it seems as if the topic of cleaning up ones messes provides a great talking point for her and Rep. Shays.

As you will recall, Rep. Shays, when challenged last year, said that he would favor a timeline for withdrawing from Iraq. Yet he has consistently voted against any sort of timeline. He argues that the timelines aren’t the right ones. That sounds an awful lot like a teenager promising to cleanup his mess, but not getting around to it.

So, I hope I don’t have a confrontation with my daughter about cleaning up a mess and that when she is in Washington she gets to say something like:

Rep. Shays: You’ve told the voters in Connecticut that you would favor a timeline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but when the issue comes up, you vote against it saying that the timing isn’t right. That sounds a lot like me telling my dad that I’ll clean up my mess, but not right now, because the timing isn’t right. That wouldn’t fly with my dad and your line about the timing not being right doesn’t fly with the voters. So, when will you clean up your mess and support a timeline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq?

(Cross posted at MyLeftNutmeg )

MIT5: LonelyGirl ’08 and Collective Identity Formation and Political Campaigns

One of the papers that I found particularly interesting at the Media in Transition conference, was The You in YouTube: The Emergence of Collective Identity Formation Through Online Video Sharing. It explorer the role of the community in forming the identity of Ysabella Brave.

Ysabella has 22,745 subscribers, over four times the number that Obama has and nearly ten times that of Edwards so it is particularly interesting to observe how her identity was shaped by the community on YouTube.

The abstract for the paper starts:

YouTube has redefined the basis according to which identities are constructed by supplanting individualism with a process of collective identity formation. On sites such as YouTube, identity creation becomes a process of negotiating authenticity and performance in public by taking into account the commentary of an audience of strangers.

My first thought was about how to use this in the political process. How can we shape the collective identity of candidates? Should we even try?

MIT5: Quality, Authority, Identity and Credentials

I have long been interested in issues of authority. In my college years, I was known for frequently wearing a ‘Question Authority’ T-shirt. During my corporate years, I read books like, Reworking Authority by Larry Hirschorn as I tried to learn how to navigate group dynamics of the corporate structures I found myself in. At the Media in Transition conference, there were discussions about the role of the author in a world of digital media including the relationship between ‘author’ and ‘authority’.

Where does authority reside? How do we think about authors in a world of oral tradition or digital mashups? Is there some anti-authoritarian streaks in digital mashups, and if so, how does this carry over into the political world, where people are trying to establishing senses of authority and to elect people to offices expanding their authority?

How does this relate to credentials and identity? People would look at my name tag. It didn’t list an educational institution that I was affiliated with. Various people asked me who I was with, what organization, and what do I do? They were searching for clues to my identity, ideally for credentialed clues. They were trying to determine what sort of authority I had.

I probably confounded many of them when I responded to questions about what I do, with answers like “I’m not sure any more” or “I don’t really know”.

I blog. That stands on its own. Anyone can come here and read what they want. They can make up their own minds about whatever sort of authority they want to imbue me with. I was credentialed to blog the 2004 Democratic National Convention and then this year to blog the Libby Trial. How bloggers get credentialed remains an issue that people are struggling with. Credentials, authority and identity are all being reworked in this digital age. They are being mashed up, perhaps in ways similar to how trailers or music videos are being mashed up.

People need to rethink what authority is, how they establish their identity and what credentials really matter. People on campaigns need to think about how the public identity of their candidates is established, how that is changing in the digital world.

I write all of this as while I am rereading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’m sure quality fits into this idea of a new way of thinking about authority, identity and credentials, but I’m not sure exactly how, yet.

I will continue to explore this, to try and establish my own identity and authority online as I search for answers and search for quality.
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MIT5: The Broadcast Politics Ellipsis and Political Remixing

In the first plenary session of the Media in Transition conference, Tom Pettitt’s presented the idea of the Gutenberg Parenthesis. With the advent of the printing press, we moved to a culture where text was fixed. The author of works became fixed. The content of the work became fixed. Prior to this, storytelling was collaborative, it was re-creative. The oral tradition didn’t have a fixed author, a fixed form of the story of a fixed canon of stories. As digital media becomes more prevalent and it becomes easier to sample and remix other content, in many ways, we are returning to a pre-parenthetical mode of storytelling.

As I thought about this, it struck me as if we are seeing a similar process with politics. Jock Gill, and others have spoken a lot about ‘post-broadcast’ politics, or sometimes, networked politics, or several other phrases for a similar idea. Staying with the focus on typographic conventions, it seems like the period of broadcast politics might well be referred to as an ellipsis. The three little dots, often found inside of parentheses, indicate a pause, or that something has been left out, and I think this is an apt way to think about U.S. national politics during the second half of the twentieth century.

During the phase of broadcast politics, dialog has been replaced with a monologue, where the candidate broadcasts ideas to voters, to the political consumers that are expected to buy the ideas, but not take them, remix them, recontextualize them, and so on. Sound bites replace discourse. The ellipsis is the leaving out of truly engaged participation.

Pettitt spoke about how the parentheses are placed at different points on a timeline, dependent on different literary traditions. It would seem as if the same applies to the use of broadcast political ellipsis. Different campaigns and different candidates fit into this spectrum in different ways.

This also illustrates another aspect of what has happened with the use of the Internet by political campaigns. Making content available in digital media, is a first step in moving out of the ellipsis and into a more participatory democracy. Yet simply putting content online is not enough. The major media companies tolerate their content being provided digitally online, as long as they can control it. Yet they use every maneuver possible to prevent reshaping, remixing or appropriating of the content.

To the same extent, it appears as if political campaigns are acting like their big media brothers and trying to take advantage of online distribution, without encouraging the remixing that can bring about greater collaboration and creativity.

Will we see a vibrant culture of political remixing emerge in the 2008 cycle? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

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(Cross posted at Greater Democracy)

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MIT5: Prologue

Friday morning, I took the train to Boston to attend Media in Transition conference. As I settled into the train ride, I took my laptop out of its case, planning to read a few papers I had downloaded for the train ride, figure out which sessions I wanted to attend, work on my own talk, and so on. To my dismay, I found that I did not have my power chord.

The day before, as I browsed my bookshelves, I found an old copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Without my new media sources, I was limited to old media, and the book would have been enjoyed almost as much as having the power chord. Fortunately I had my copy of The Boys on the Bus.

I looked out the window at the rain soaked towns slipping by. The blooming forsythia heralded the beauty of the coming season, but much of the remaining landscape was bleak.

The railway abutments in the larger towns were adorned with highly stylized works by local graffiti artists. The cement palimpsests showed layers of one artist backgrounding another. Culture has always been participatory, I thought to myself, media has always been social.

Despite having no power chord, or perhaps because of it, I found my mind in the perfect place for the first plenary.

Tom Pettitt’s idea of the Gutenberg Parenthesis provides a great framework for much of my understanding of the conference. Prior to Gutenberg, in the pre-parenthetical era, media was collective, traditional, re-creative, based on oral traditions. With Gutenberg, came a focus on autonomous, individualistic, canonical texts. In the post-parenthetical era, we are seeing sampling, remixing, borrow as new ways in which collective traditional texts are re-created. What does this do to the role of the author, and the concept of authority? How does Pirsiq’s concept of quality? How does this apply in political discourse? These are a few ideas that stuck with me from the first plenary which I hope to explore in later blog entries.

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