“An object whose form installs delays in sampling and syndication and whose content demands postponed gratification, the book mobilizes the gap of mediacy so as to stimulate thought. E-books and articles as well as blog posts on theoretical topics are conscientious ways to store and share ideas. But these benefits come at a cost: we pay with attention.” (Jodi Dean, Blog Theory)

Jodi Dean’s compelling read theorizes how “communicative capitalism,” built upon contemporary new media practices, refashions the productive possibilities of reflexivity, the gaze, participation, and communication to produce a sort of “whatever” democracy that profits capitalists over their willing user/citizens. Her writing on the blog’s (and new media’s) emphasis on the fact, volume, and reiteration of expression over its content or author seems right on to me in regards to the majority of user-generated content on today’s web. And yet, that’s not what I’m doing here, on this blog, part of that web, which leads me to challenge less Dean’s findings (her content) and instead, her form, thereby asking her to account for the place of blogs in relation to books and also new media “theory.”

Of course, I’m not telling her anything she doesn’t already know. She begins: “a book that makes critical-theoretical claims about blogging thus encounters a double problem of its object and its form of presentation.” But as she so strongly attests, reflexivity about communicativity is no longer any sort of critical out. Which is to say, just ’cause she names her formal quandary up front doesn’t mean she’s solved it. ” My wager is that critical media theory is possible in a book form,” she decides.

Sure. By why not a blog, or many blog posts, instead of a book? Dean says that it is a matter of attention, and I’d agree. When I lecture on my video-book, my much-repeated aphorism is to challenge its readers to “devote to it the undivided attention they’d be willing to give to a movie”: 90-minutes of focused attention. I do so because Google Analytics tells me that the average time on the “video-book” is around three minutes, and I know that whatever its or my limitations, there is more than three minutes of argument and theory to be had there. But more so, I have structured much of the argument into the very form of the “book” (something much harder to do on paper in codex, at least if your subject is new media), and if you don’t experience it, ride it, play with it, much of its “theory” about experience, duration, interactivity, montage, and learning online goes unlearned.

If theory is something akin to a structured set of principles that explain and clarify other systems, there is nothing inherent to “theory” taking the form of either words or books. And as Dean attests, there is something quite expressively and intellectually useful when theory’s form is aligned with its object. However, if “theory” is something academics do to legitimize and authorize the seriousness of our labors, or the qualifications needed for our practices, or the nature of our interlocutors or judges, then it makes much more sense to do this in a book given both our needs as workers to be recognized, evaluated, and promoted, and in regards to our skill-set as workers trained to write with words for readers trained to read them. However, Dean wants to say that the issue is the book’s special quality of “postponed gratification,” seemingly in relation to the Internet’s over-abundant, over-indulgent, loose, fleeting and light little pleasures. “The forms of theory’s presentation likewise highlights how communicative capitalism fragments thoughts into ever smaller bits.”

We’re back to Lanier‘s dreaded bits and Lovink’s beloved books. Hey, I like books as much as the next professor! I often also say that Learning from YouTube is a plea for the long-form written in the short-form: how good (or real) a professor can you actually be if you’re writing your complicated thoughts in sentences? But there are other long forms, and serious ways of expression outside the book, and as we all know, the Internet is a prime container and transmitter of these lengthy objects, too.

While the majority of users may have been easily convinced to use the Internet towards fleeting, addictive, anxious, reiterative expression there is ample room for other uses and users, and theory that does not attend to this misses the whole, but more critically, theory that doesn’t speak here gives up on the Internet while we still may just have time to lay claim to other practices in this ever-narrowing place.

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Just back from the Console-ing Passions conference, where I attended a panel on blogging where people joked that people might blog on the conference and the panel. Well. Melissa Click spoke about the ways that blogging has and has not been beneficial for feminist media scholars. She described, as did Elizabeth Ellcessor, a silencing climate for many feminist (and anti-racist, queer) academic bloggers. While I have not felt this to date, or at least in any way that has slowed me down, it did make me become aware that I am most comfortable blogging about YouTube (imagining a techy/bloggy readership of those interested in technology and blogs), over my more political work (on the war or AIDS for example). But that, even so, as a female academic, I am strongly protected by my rank as Full Professor. I did worry that a culture of women theorizing women-as-victims, and women-as-there-to-be-scared-away (while always true) may not be the most effective place from which to mobilize our writerly empowerment (I’ve written on this in relation to the tradition of the victim documentary), but their statistics and qualitative findings were pretty chilling. (I recently read a smart blog on this “Prejudice in Internet Communities.” Given my later posting on censorship, it seems really complicated to balance out the fact of hating, the power of the disenfranchised through these technologies, and our abilities to be other than victim). While I’m still really figuring this whole blog thing out, it has been pretty great so far, mostly in the ways it allows my ideas to reach people and audiences far afield from my small(er) worlds of queer, feminist media studies and production. I recently blogged about YouTube for OpenCulture to some viral success, for instance, and I think that brings new readers here, although, who’s ever really to know (are you there?).

I wanted to mention some of the cool things I heard about YouTube there. It was nice to be engaged, live with a community of scholars about this topic. Sometimes I feel like I’m blogging to the wind. Yes, I see there are readers, but what are you thinking?

Caetlin Benson-Allot spoke about how the “minimal mediation” or “low-bandwidth aesthetic” (often now an affectation) of what I have called “bad” videos insures their claim to a liveness similar to that of the actualities of early cinema. She suggested that this using/liveness creates a new kind of spectator and critic—the self-as-user—and the sheer doing of user-generation trumps artistry, or even subjective expression (hence the ubiquitous YouTube cover of a cover of a cover). I like to think of my attempt to speak about YouTube using YouTube as an effort to be her user-generator-critic.

On my panel about New Media and Public and Educational Space, Chuck Tryone, of the Chutry Experiment, speaking on political mash-up videos, talked about their “critical-digital-intertextuality,” which is a useful nuance to my ongoing ruminations on self-reflexivity. He, among many others (including David Gurney and Ian Reilly) is thinking about the uses of parody, satire, and other effects-of-faking in contemporary political/video culture. Through my earlier work on the fake documentary, I’ve ruminated that these forms are neither progressive or regressive in their own right, although we must remember that parody and satire are always conservative in that they stay anchored to their target text (this is Linda Hutcheon). I am looking forward to these scholars trying to nuance how and when these tactics can be radical, as I’ve pretty much steam-rolled over humor in my writing about YouTube.

Finally, Rosalind Morris, talking about

in a great panel on images of militarization post 9/11, discussed how YouTube works best by communication through affect in a culture where you can be sure you will not be listened to . Even as we speak and speak, broadcasting ourselves on YouTube and blogs, we become less convinced that we are heard (note my paranoia about readership).