del.icio.us (victory-is-mine)

Meg and I are preparing for our first real date since Rowan was born (6 months)- tonight's Ben Folds concert. I wish I saw him with the Five, but I'm still excited for the show.

I just sent of a webtext on the pedagogical dimensions of del.icio.us, the social bookmarking technology of social bookmarking technologies. Seriously, del.icio.us changed my life. I submit to any non-believer (i.e., non-user) the Firefox test- just try surfing the web wish del.icio.us for a week. You'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

As a bit of a sneak-peak, to celebrate the victory-is-mine moment of getting this off to the C&C special edition editor, I thought I would share a portion of the introduction that covers the theoretical implications of tagging. This works has a direct link to my dissertation in its focus on how digital technology contributes to the widespread, ongoing paradigm shift from Being to becoming, from product to process, from The Self to the group, from Truth to contingency. Here it is:

Beyond these benefits, the most significant advantage of del.icio.us concerns its method of cataloging entries: tagging. del.icio.us defines tags as:

...one-word descriptors that you can assign to your bookmarks on del.icio.us. They're a little bit like keywords but non-hierarchical. You can assign as many tags to a bookmark as you like and easily rename or delete them later. Tagging can be a lot easier and more flexible than fitting your information into preconceived categories or folders.

Tagging does not seek to replicate a physical organization system for information; there's no "files" being placed in "folders." In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson points out the ontological/categorical/strict-taxonomic organization of systems such as the Dewey decimal system, though effective organizational strategies for physical objects, fail to capitalize on the unique, non-physical properties of digital information (156-159). Such top-down, hierarchical systems are designed to properly "place" physical objects. Tagging represents a mode of organization that can only be realized once information becomes digital and is thus no longer tied to the limitations of physical place. Tagged data has no singular proper place- users in folksonomies such as del.icio.us can simultaneously tag data in multiple ways, allowing it to simultaneously exist across any number of spaces. Rather than attempting to organize information according to pre-existing, structured categories, Anderson imagines

a world of ad-hoc organization, determined by whatever makes sense at the time. That's more like a big pile of stuff on a desk instead of rows of items stringently arranged on shelves. Sure it may seem messy, but that's just because it's a different kind of organization: spontaneous, contextual order, easily reordered into a different context as need be. (159)

Thinking of del.icio.us, we can add "idiosyncracy" to Anderson's description of tagging as a mode of organization. Each del.icio.us user is likely to tag pages differently. Such a random system might not be as "neat" as the Dewey decimal system, but its flexibility and fluidity allow it to effectively capture what Suriowecki and others refer to as "the wisdom of crowds." To overstate the theoretical implications: del.icio.us can be seen as a collective attempt to explore, organize, and share the web underwritten by a spirit of enthusiasm and generosity ("Look what I found!") rather than one of mastery or colonization ("We must order this"). While an extended discussion of the impact of tagging and digitality is beyond my scope here, those interested should see Dave Weinberger's insightful Everything is Miscellaneous which ambitiously approaches a new metaphysics for digital information (see especially pages 92-95 for how del.icio.us and tagging contribute to this effort; see also his webtext "The Hyperlinked Metaphysics of the Web"). Interested parties should also give Clay Shirky's seminal "Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags" some attention.



I've seen this page123 meme floating around the web a bit (most recently over at Pedagogical Gregory), and I figured "hey, I like doing stuff," so here we go.

First, the rules:

  • Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more.
  • Find page 123.
  • Find the first 5 sentences and read them.
  • Post the next 3 sentences.

From Ong's Orality and Literacy:

Rhetoric had provided the various loci or "place" — headings we would style them — under which various "arguments" could be found, headings such as cause, effect, related things, unlike things, and so on. Coming with this orally based, formulary equipment to the text, the indexer of 400 years ago simply noted on what pages in the text one or another locus was exploited, listing there the locus and the corresponding pages in the index locorum. The loci had originally been thought of as, vaguely, "places" in the mind where ideas were stored.

And, oddly enough, this is post 124 on Insignificant Wranglings. Whatever.


Time to Shop for Sun Block

Its unofficially official: I have accepted a position with the University of South Florida. The job focuses on teaching the history of rhetoric at the graduate level and will also involve undergraduate courses on contemporary rhetorical theory, visual rhetoric, professional writing, advanced composition, and (eventually) new media. Initially, I'm slated to teach the History of Rhetoric every year- but I'll be looking to create a Contemporary Rhetorical Theory course at the Ph.D level and offer them in alternating years. Sweet.

I was fortunate enough to have two tempting offers- my other offer focused on teaching new media at the undergraduate level. In the end, South Florida presented an intriguing opportunity to contribute to the development of both a graduate program in rhetoric and an undergraduate program in professional writing (which is currently under revision and is beginning very much to reflect what I've contributed to at Purdue). Also, South Florida reunites me with my original tech-mentor, Meredith: not only won't I be the sole Boiler, but also I won't be the only tech person.

After doing so many campus visits, I have only general thing to say: many English departments are going to wake up one day and realize its the 21st century. Our students, our citizens, are communicating in very different ways than they did even 25 years ago. If English instruction is to remain vibrant and meaningful, then it had better start adapting to the ways that citizens communicate everyday. The essay is "dead"- but many of its values appear in blogs. The research paper is dead, too- but wikis present a new way of thinking about and purposing knowledge. Let me say it this way: the research paper is dead, but the act of researching (the process) has never been more popular. While a number of schools I visited understood this, a number didn't. Go ask philosophy (or, before that, rhetoric) how a discipline fairs once it stops being meaningful to the general public. And the public's importance will increase even more in a digital age.

Enough ranting, perhaps I'll write about the job search a bit more in a few weeks, when I've been able to digest it a bit more. Thanks to everyone who helped and supported me through this grueling process. Now its time to go by some sun block (not for me, for Meg- have you ever seen an Irish person in the sun?)


I'll Be Surfacing Soon

To everyone who asked... yes I am still alive. The job search is nearing a close, but it looks like I'll have to make some pretty tough decisions before this is all over. I don't want to blog about it until its all over, so here's some other quick and random thoughts:

  • Thank you Roger Clemens. Only your ridiculous lies could overshadow the Patriots losing perfection and SpyGate take 2. Personally, I agree with Mike Golic's take on the steroids controversy. MLB should have done what the NFL did: let the past die and focus on the present and the future. Digging up skeletons solves nothing. And until there's a reliable test for HGH, all of this is meaningless anyway.
  • Go Obama go. As a technology-oriented person, I'm happy to see Obama pulling ahead. He's the only remaining candidate that endorses complete public control of the internet (rather than relying on private corporations). The web really is an information superhighway (even if it travels over phone lines and cables), and the maintenance of highways is a governmental responsibility (rather than a corporate one). So, I'll say it again: go Obama, go net neutrality.
  • While flying around on campus visits, I've taken to reading some mindless literature. Stuff that's nice and easily digestible. I've tore through two of Dan Patterson's Alex Cross novels. Here's the quick take: wait for the movie. The writing can be so tapioca that the only thing that get's me through is imagining Morgan Freeman narrating the novels to me. Cross is so fabulous character- and Freeman so powerful an actor- that my memory of Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider keeps me turning pages. And, please Mr. Patterson- stop writing love scenes. For the love of God/Otherness.


I haven't felt this miserable...

...since my first dog died when I was eight years old. Seriously. And to make matters worse, I wasn't even able to watch the game (out for dinner on a campus visit).