#1: the real internet is a fake.

Truth #1 is a deceptively simple start and intentionally so. It mirrors in its construction two organizing structures and conventions of the internet and the social media it spawns: namely, 1) that one of many paradoxes structure the place and its experiences and 2) that its user-experienced minimalism hides complexity (among other things):

  • What is the “real” internet? It is hard to see and thus hard to say. Is the internet the corporate overlay where the vast majority of us play? The protocols, controls and networks that underwrite this? The governments, corporations, and tech companies that own and write it? The deep web that sits below all that?
  • What is the “fake” internet? It is hard to see and thus hard to say. Is the internet the empowering, intoxicating illusions of freedom, democracy, self-expression, and openness that have been intentionally linked to an ease of use, abundance, and play thereby hiding its darker corporate, censorious, surveilled, controlled nature?
  • Why aphorisms? Like tweets, they can pack a wallop and they move swiftly and easily in relation to the norms of contemporary internet use. I suggest that they function with more power, and usefullness (at least for movements of social change), when they are associated with, and linked to, the complexity that comes with research, writing, data, community and context (see below):

For more complexity, please see:

  • Protocol, Control, and Networks, by Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker
    “Via Deleuze, Galloway and Thacker map our meaningful counter-protocols of current networked life.” Recommended by Harry Gilbert as part of a reading list created by Graduate Students in “Activism and Digital Culture,” University of Southern California, Department of Cinema, Professor Tara McPherson, November 2016
  • On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge, by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun
    Recommended by Harry Gilbert
  • My own Learning from YouTube, where I offer 10 such structuring contradictions for YouTube and the internet more broadly, only one of which is Real/Parody.


Learning from the Book Tour

February 23, 2011

I’ve been on the road with the video-book: CAA, NYU, University of Toronto and OCADU. I’ve been having fun, and learning a lot too during long and intense Q and As where people are actually critical and productive (in this sense it feels more like a film screening than my image of a book tour, but maybe that’s because showing the video-book is more filmic in that it is screen-based, live, loud, and defined by images). A few beginning thoughts, now that I’m live, and being read and even talked to (btw: write a texteo in my book and talk back through the v-book, please!)

-The video-book is harder than most online experiences (more dense and has its own rules of navigation) and this turns readers off. Food for thought for other budding digital-auteurs, and like everything else in this self-reflexive process, useful in its failures.

-Along this vein, the video-book takes time. I’m suggesting now that people should give it the length of a movie, not the three clicks usually afforded a web-site. It takes that much commitment to take in its logic, scope, scale, and structure, which in some ways makes it like a book (that is if you all actually read books, and don’t just buy them as a sign of [later] commitment).

-Users really don’t like my (highly limited, fiercely constrained, but ultimately, I think, empowering) mode for commenting (see link above), and feel it goes against the best of the internet. They want a wiki.

Two more cool things: this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed and an invitation from the Library of Congress for “inclusion in the historic collection of Internet materials.” Who knew!?

Digital Praxis/Filmic Texts

February 11, 2011

My colleague at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy at USC, Virgina Kuhn, has just published Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate which “maps the use of a documentary film as a main text in an undergraduate course, explaining its practices and elaborating its theoretical underpinnings before gesturing toward some of the more salient unresolved issues that offer avenues for further research.”

The essay sits online and is written in Scalar, an authoring tool by the same people at IML and Vectors who helped me design Learning From YouTube. In fact, built into Scalar are many of the features we had to make from scratch to write LFYT: the linking and moving of video and text as one composite object and a way to make and mark recursivity as a digital authoring stylistic, for example. It’s an amazing tool, and Virgina has done really interesting things with it. Her essay has three paths (what I call YouTours), covering theory, pedagogy, praxis, and then attending to her own writing forms and practices.

It is this last move—describing her new digital writing tools, methods, and concerns, the subject of the path called “structure”—that seems particularly telling about this new breed of writing. Yesterday, I gave my first talk about LFYT at NYU’s Anthropology Department (thanks to Faye Ginsburg!), and I seem to have the very same impulse when asked to discuss my digital publication. My talk begins: “While I’m very pleased to present to you my video-book’s content (my ideas about YouTube) today I will be as interested in thinking about this online, networked, multimodal academic writing about YouTube as one offering in a sea change of texts and from a developing community of practitioners—all humanities based experiments and experimenters working in what I call digital praxis. Today my goal is to demonstrate how for my work of digital praxis the forms, processes and structures I choose and use are inseparable from my YouTube findings.”

In my recent teaching on Feminist Online Spaces, I’ve been wanting to think about such self-reflexivity in relation to form, practice, and structure as a decidedly feminist act. In the Q and A at NYU we further discussed this in relation to the devoted labor practices such forms demand, not to mention their ephemerality, and devotion to economies of the gift (feminist principles all).


February 8, 2011

YouTube is baked; its video forms and conventions badly done. We’re stuck with corporate media-like “stunts, pranks, violence, gotchas, virtuosity, upsets, and transformations.”

Sure, every video holds its own small surprises and variations, but this is expressed in a vernacular and melody with which we are already comfortable.

See this texteo (and 200 more) on my video-book, Learning From YouTube.

My video-book goes live today on the MIT Press website. I hope you will take a look, contribute a texteo, and share it with others who might be interested (handy promo here: juhasz flyer). With nothing to buy, sell, or hold, it will be interesting to see how the work fares. Please let me know what you think (by authoring on the vbook).

Thinking through education on YouTube, after teaching a class using its many resources and even greater limitations, I found that the specificity of the site, and some of the features more generally of Web 2.0, served to unsettle six binaries that typically structure the academic classroom. As these rigid binaries dismantle, the nature of teaching and learning shifts. I’d like to quickly outline the nature of these changing conditions and some of the thoughts they have opened for me about teaching in a digital world.

Please note: these thoughts are rudimentary and changing. Your responses and criticism are greatly appreciated.

Public/Private: The elite liberal arts classroom, usually (or in the ideal) comprised of an intimate and “safe” gathering of high-paying, and carefully selected students, depends upon privacy to create a communal pedagogy. Get me, I’m no advocate of this as the final and end all form for learning, in fact, as a practioner of “critical pedagogy” I am always undoing typical structures of education. That said, for me, YouTube took things in new and unchartered directions, and it is these I want to explore here. In m typical classroom, doors are closed, and students are asked to actively contribute their interpretations, and sometimes personal experience or knowledge, always knowing that they are not experts, but are certainly experts-in-training. The construction of a confidence of voice, particularly in relaying a complex analysis is one of the “services” we hope to provide. Students, often vulnerable in the eyes of their fellow students, and their esteemed professor, are challenged to add their voices to the building dialogue, one in which they are an active, continuing member. I am ever aware of the power dynamics that structure the classroom, allowing some to speak with comfort and others not, and engage in strategies to alter the “safety” of the space. Of course, this lofty dynamic shifts when anyone and everyone can see and also participate. During the class, students felt and actually were judged by critical YouTube viewers we would never see or know, who may or may not be aware of the history of our conversations, the subtle dynamics in the room, or the particularities of the speaker. While access grew, the structures in place (attendance, grading, community responsibility) to insure that our viewers were as committed and attentive as were we, did not. Note the role of discipline here, see Control/Chaos below.

Aural/Visual: The capacity to express ideas through words is almost entirely closed down on YouTube where both the 500 character limit, and the sandlot culture of web-expression, produces a dumbing-down more or less impossible to improve upon. The place to speak and be heard on YouTube is through video: which effortlessly links sounds, language and images, and where it might be argued, images dominate. However, most newly empowered videomakers on YouTube are not educated or adept in the language of the visual, and thus depend on the relaying of their recorded words, primarily through talking-heads, or rants. Meanwhile, professional content on YouTube abounds, making use of the flashiest, fastest gizmos available. This raises the question of competing standards on YouTube: those of the “bad” videos of the amateurs, and the “good” videos of the pros, which itself indicates that this is not the level or uniform playing field people want to pretend it to be. I am interested in thinking about how YouTube is changing the standards of video-production: how “bad” videos (poorly shot and composed, unedited, weak performances, all-talking all-the-time) are sometimes thought to be “good.” More on that later.
However, I will end here by saying that I have previously written about the reliance upon talking-heads in the beginning of film movements (by women, AIDS activists, queers and the like), and how people speaking new truths to power directly through newly available technologies is not necessarily the naïve step the elite may imagine. However, in the case of YouTube, rather than say, AIDS activism, I would suggest that the site’s force to keep its makers from unifying around style, from organizing around ideas, from learning from the words and images of others, keeps this “bad” video less complex than I might wish.

Body/Digital: Teaching and learning depend in significant ways upon presence: the forceful, dynamic, inspiring, rigorous performance of the teacher, the alert attention and participation of the student. While in a typical classroom this may not function in the ideal sense, in that the professor can be uninspiring or uninspired and the students may be there in body but not in mind, the YouTube classroom diminishes this further, losing entirely the powers of eye contact, professorial censure (control again…), and expressions of boredom or enthusiasm writ large on the bodies of students in exchange for expanded access. When we attempted on-line classes through YouTube, they simply fizzled and died (see my blog entry, On YouTube). There is something in the shared exchange that creates the atmosphere for education that is not possible on this site.

Amateur/Expert: On YouTube, amateurs rule, experts are deflated, and authority is flattened. While it is exciting to hear from new and varied people, and while this undoubtedly widens and opens our knowledge-base, it is difficult to learn in an environment where vying opinions rule, where data is helter-skelter and hard to locate, and where no one can take the lead. Again, the role of discipline within the academic setting proves the rule. Without it, ideas stay vague and dispersed, there is no system for evaluation, and you can’t find things or build upon them.

Entertainment/Education: Today’s students, schooled on YouTube, iphones, and Wiis, want their information relayed with ease and fun: they want it pleasurable, simplified, and funny. They don’t want to be bored; even as they are always distracted. They want school to speak to them in the language they like and know and deserve. While I’m the first to admit that a good professor makes “hard” information understandable, this does not mean that I do not expect my students to take pleasure in the work of understanding it. While I have always been aware that I am a performer, entertaining my students while sneaking in critical theory, avant-garde forms, and radical politics, much of what I perform is the delight and beauty of the complex: the life of the mind, the work of the artist, the experience of the counter-culture.

Control/Chaos: The college classroom is a disciplined space where knowledge moves in a formal and structured routine familiar to all the players. While the critical classroom begins to alter this script by giving more real power to the students, and allowing knowledge to be created dynamically, this is not the random chaos of information and power which is YouTube. For effective education, structure is needed in all kinds of ways: to control conversation, to allow ideas to build in succession permitting things to grow steadily more complex, to be able to find things once and then again.

I recently read an article by two professors equally underwhelmed by social networking in a classroom setting posted on the Wired Classroom. In “Learning to Leisure?  Failure, Flame, Blame, Shame, Homophobia and Other Everyday Practices in Online Education,” Juliet Eve and Tara Brabazon at the University of Brighton, argue that the “blurring of leisure and learning has corroded the respect that is necessary to commence a scholarly journey.”

So, after the class decided to study “popularity” on YouTube–my students making an end-run on my best intentions for the course (which were to hi-jack YouTube to make it work against itself by making it “educate”) by re-routing our attention back to what they really want from YouTube–we created an assignment, or contest really, where the student(s) who could make the most popular video, the one with the most hits in two weeks, would win a prize (an automatic A on the final). With a few notable exceptions, the videos are god-awful re-hashes of paltry popular culture. A few, the highest rated among them, are stolen music videos, re-uploaded. All the entries make use of erroneous or titillating titles, tags, and thumbnails mixed with ripped-off mainstream songs, artists, and images to make uninspiring, insipid, and inarticulate blips into the digi-sphere. Not that I blame them, they have studied YouTube seriously, and this is what they have learned works best on its pages.

Meanwhile, the very atmosphere of the classroom has begun to reflect not the (slightly more) studious air we had exhibited for the first half of the semester, but rather has become a fun free-for-all, where laughs, comraderie, and playfulness define our interaction. We get little done, learn less then we did before, and have a good time at it. Once again, the course well reflects what we are learning about digital learning and culture. We have often tried to parse out the differences between entertainment and education, and this section has been helpful at that.

So, interestingly, the class decided today that we’d had enough of the fun. The students’ best intentions seem caught between their interest in learning (the old or real way) and the fun they seem to have with popular culture and this inventive class that mirrors or remarks upon it.

For me, the few weeks we’ve spent thinking about popularity (something that has held little interest for me since Junior High when I chose against my feminist mom’s best intentions to be a cheerleader) has merely confirmed my worst estimations of YouTube, and the generation that loves it. It will be interesting to see what they wish to learn in our final weeks.

See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2eUPc3F08A&feature=PlayList&p=7AD7CD49335B9862&index=27