Readings #8

6292717216_39a94ee71b_nDuncan Watts, Photo by TedxMidAtlantic


The Duncan Watts reading raised the idea that if we start to actively look for them, networks are in fact all around us. It’s also raised that networks are just human-made either. I think one of the more important ideas Watts raised came at the start of the readings – that the total network power is sometimes greater than the sum of its contents.

Albert-László Barabási wrote about how networks, especially human social networks, involve clusters, and said that the notion that network links are random was killed off by the discovery of connectors. Barabási said connectors, a part of a network that has many more links than the average, are found in many complex networks, including human social networks and the network of the web.

Symposium #6

What is the untapped potential of hypertext? Will we ever be satisfied with it?

Elliot bringing up hypertext within video as a development in hypertext reminded me of Strange Talk’s interactive music video for Climbing Walls.

Stange Talk & Proctor & Gamble’s formerly interactive video clip

I remember seeing it on the front page of YouTube and being disgusted by the unashamed advertising, but it’s a pretty relevant example of hypermedia in videos. The music video was an ad for Cheer Detergent – viewers were invited the click on objects, where they were taken to a Facebook page and given the chance to win those items. It was a fairly innovative use of hypermedia and the ad campaign was successful in gaining attention, but you have to hope that hypermedia in videos has a lot more interesting scope than advertising.

Interactive Narrative

The key take-out of the Douglas chapters for me involved the sequentiality of the interactive novel. Douglas says that although it is sometimes described as non-sequential, it definitely isn’t, because anything that has parts following after other parts is sequential – a box which interactive novels of course ticks.

Interactive writing becoming more prominent seems to make sense when you consider the relationship between interactive novels and conversational realities. Whilst they don’t currently address all the points of conversation that were raised, I guess they are a step in the same direction. But it’s important to note Douglas’ point on the tradition book and interactive novels co-existing, because traditional narratives work in a different way – they involve a total consumption of a created world. There’s a joy in being taken on a journey and not necessary agreeing with every turn.

This, though, assumes that people actually want to read like they converse, which I don’t think is the case a lot of the time. Of course there is a heavy shift to two-way communication in reading material (for example newspaper columns inviting immediate comments in their digital versions, blogs and blog platforms like tumblr allowing people to build on existing content with ease), these mostly rely on a story being told in full first, and expanded on second. One of the newest semi-social writing platforms to take off, Medium (created by one of the founders of Blogger), is dedicated to people taking short amounts of time out to read in a fairly one-way structure (although it claims to be dedicated to collaboration, in essence it’s just write and read). 

However Douglas’ point that interactive novels allow for the reader to decide when the ending is, that the ending comes when the reader is satisfied and that may come at the multitude of times, is very relevant to the reading habits of audiences.

Hypertext and Beginning, Middle and End

Throughout my life on the internet, hypertext has been pretty present. However the thought never appeared to me that hypertext actually enabled a change in the way I experienced reading.

I wasn’t sold on Adrian’s idea that the internet isn’t a story and it has no beginning or end – I thought whilst that might be true for the overall big picture of the internet, the individual components that make it up are still designed to themselves have a beginning and an end. If you look at Wikipedia, one of the best examples of hypertext infiltration, the individual pages are still set up with a story in mind. Wikipedia pages dedicated to people, for instance, have brief overview at the beginning, followed by a chronological description of their life starting with childhood or early career, and ending with death and legacy.

However, I didn’t realise just how often that my reading of a article would change because of hypertext – I have the ability to click on hypertext and read the content from the linked page immediately after coming across it in the article, or clicking on it and saving it for after I’ve finished the first page, or not clicking on it at all. Each way is a different way to consume the content and I am the master of it. And so there it is, the internet with no beginning or end. 

Symposium #4

The symposium discussion about validity brought me straight back to a Crikey article about Tharunka, the University of New South Wales’ student publication, who published a prank article about a fake protest at the UNSW’s Max Brenner store that fooled The Daily Telegraph. 

The Daily Tele ran with an article about the protest without confirming with the store or UNSW security. Two years ago 2UE ran with a story about UNSW’s student union making a $1.4 million bid for the Sydney’s deconstructed monorail without bothering to call the student union to confirm (ABC News Radio and the mX also reported it, however they called and were lied to the the student union president).

This brings trust into question – the Daily Tele might not be held with the utmost respect by some (in fact it is Australia’s least trusted newspaper), but it remains the second biggest newspaper in the country in terms on circulation, so it’s used as a news source for a lot of people. News reporting is expected to accurate and subsequently it’s taken at it’s word by its readers, so a prime source of validity. But with the rise of online news comes the race to get the jump on the competitors, and this means accuracy can be at times second priority. It’s a bit of a weird shift to see previously pillars of trust no longer earning that trust now that they’re online. 

I think also with the internet comes the belief that if something has been viewed by a lot of people, talked about by a lot of people, then it’s validity is kind of implied. If a news article gets a lot of attention on Facebook or reddit, for example, I think for a lot of people there’s less of a thought to challenge something than if someone told them the same thing in a bar. But there’s also a reverse effect happening, too – if I see a news article with thousands of likes on Facebook I’m instantly sceptical. 

But in other areas the speed and competition for comment has great benefits, too. The numbers of voices being able to be heard has never been greater, and it seems a fair trade have to give up some certainty of validity to be able to experience a diversity in voice.

Symposium #3

The copyright Q&A symposium got me thinking about the use of album art, and I came across an interesting case where the creator of a pixel art album cover for the 8-bit reworking of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was threatened with legal action.

Andy Biao settled, paying photographer Jay Maisel US$32 500, however he believes given his transformation of the photograph, as well as his intentions and effect on the original’s market, he was covered under the American principle of Fair Use. Obviously this doesn’t apply in Australian law, however the principle of ‘fair dealing’ makes room for consideration on the purpose and character of the use as well as the effect on the potential market. Given it was the album art on an 8-bit tribute to an album released over 50 years ago, Biao’s argument still stands up.

Biao said he settled because it was the most financially sensible thing to do. It’s scary how someone who created a jokey tribute album had to pay $32 500 because it was cheaper than voicing his defence in court. I think the main point in this is what Biao concludes with, and what was touched on in the symposium – it can turn out a lot cheaper to seek permission, even for works you believe might fall under the “vague standards” (as Biao called them) of fair use and fair dealing, rather than risking it.

Stuff yr stuffy stuff

“But due to a series of historical accidents the teaching of writing has gotten mixed together with the study of literature… the result … writing is made to seem boring and pointless”

The Age of the Essay, Paul Graham

This is the first thing to truly resonate with me so far in this course. Whilst I most of the readings and ideas presented in this course has made me go “mhmm” and nod in let’s be honest, rather uninspired agreement, the opening of Paul Graham’s The Age of the Essay had me yipping with enthusiasm. The rest of his post I’ll skip over, but the start had me going off.

It’s been a few years now, but one thing that has stuck with me from my high school years was that English was also a monumental bore. It was never treated with respect – certainly not by the students and considering my year 12 English teacher was better known as the music teacher, I don’t think it was really respected by the teachers either. The assignment to write about a badly recorded DVD of 12 Angry Men did nothing except turn me off.

And sure, being able to critically dissect articles and the persuasive devices they have adopted is an important skill to learn – but what use is it when you’re response to the article must be presented in a formulaic, uninspired, plain boring 800 word response in order to get a good mark. I wrote a scrappy 150 words in my phone in response to a For What It’s Worth mX article that I found on the last Belgrave train on Thursday night, and not only was it a more interesting read than my year 12 persuasive response, it was a more useful read.

There’s an obvious void in high school English of writing about things that enthuse the students, and in the big world outside school, formulaic, stuffy writing has never been so ignorable.

Symposium #2

Symposium #2 started with a small shock – Adrian telling us to put away our laptops took me back to first year, when I refused to take my bulky, half broken black Asus to meet the masses of Macs. His point that it could lead to a much more focussed audience was a good one, I realised that it was the first lecture I paid uninterrupted attention to from start to finish in a long time.

However I don’t have the greatest ability to recall from hour long lecturers without notes, and I remember a couple of occasions in the lecture where I thought “that’s a really nice point”, but here I am a week later and I have no idea what those ideas were about. I also think there’s merit to the view that switching off for small periods of time can lead to greater sustained overall focus.

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I understand where Adrian is coming from, though. These aren’t lectures – they’re symposiums, and symposiums demand, more so than lectures, everyone to be mentally in the room. This week I’ll come armed with a notebook and see if I can get the best of both worlds.

Music criticism, the live show

Last week I bought tickets to see The Needle Drop’s Anthony Fantano – the internet’s busiest music nerd, speak at The Toff in Town. This will be a new thing for me – paying to listen to an opinionated man speak about music.

The space Fantano has worked himself into is unrivalled. He pioneered video reviews on YouTube and his channel The Needle Drop was one of the first takes at music criticism that appeals to people who care for music but don’t take to the written form. I was introduced to Fantano by a friend who I don’t think has read a single written music review – last night he told me he couldn’t remember the last time he’s read proper article at all. Death to type.

The Needle Drop works the same way the best music writers work – expressing his views from a solid foundation of musical knowledge in ways that appeal to Everday Joe. It works he comes across as a normal dude talking you through his experiences with an album, a passionate mate talking to you about the last album he listened to.

Reviews on YouTube work for another reason – you’ve got the music that’s being discussed available to you right there in the related videos section, or at most through the search box at the top of the page, and you’ve also got a comment section that’s sometimes constructive (although mostly banal). In a time when YouTube hits are dramatically influential on radio playlists, Fantano’s role as a tastemaker can’t be underestimated.

The most I’ve sat through in one sitting has probably been one 7 minute Fantano review, so I’m not sure how I’ll take to seeing the Fantano Live act in it’s full blown glory. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time spent staring deeply into a beer, but I’m a little excited as well.