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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MEME-O-RAMA: Why Do I Blog?

Yesterday on MyBlogLog, I received a message from Rod tagging me in the MEME-O-RAMA: Why Do I Blog?.

I touched on this a little bit back in May, 2005. Back then, I had recently taken a job as BlogMaster for John DeStefano’s Gubernatorial bid in Connecticut. So, part of my answer was then, I get paid for it. I do not currently have any paid blogging gigs, but I don’t rule out other paid gigs in the future.

Related to that, there is political expression. I have political viewpoints that I want to communicate. This ties into the old discussion about whether bloggers are journalists, advocates, Group psychotherapists, diarists, or something else.

For me, I take on all these roles from one point to another, except maybe that of group psychotherapists. Depending on the role being taken on, different codes of ethics apply, but I’ve been thinking more and more about a proactive code of ethics based on ideas from psychological first aid.

I guess this gets to an underlying theme, the desire to help people around me, to bring healing and comfort, whether it be through better journalism, advocacy, or just taking about stuff, sort of like bringing donuts to a person that grieves.

Random Notes:

As I dig through my emails, I’m finding interesting parts of conversations that don’t really warrant a full blog entry, but I don’t want to lose.

One friend pointed me to an article in Salon about how Korean-American people are processing their reactions to the Virginia Tech shootings: Killer reflection

Over on PartyBuilder, I was invited to an evening of phonebanking for the May Municipal elections. Sheila has written more about this over on My Left Nutmeg. Hopefully we will get a bunch of Democrats out in municipal elections around the state.

Laura wrote an great comment on my blog entry about the participatory nature of online experiences. I followed up with a comment to her, via MyBlogLog thanking her for her visit and comment, and asking her what she, as a composer, thinks of Mashups. She wrote a great blog post about Mashing it up

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