Thinking Notes

A list of print literacy things to begin the symposium upon.

  1. we know what a book is
  2. what a page is (that it has two sides)
  3. what page numbers are
  4. how to use page numbers
  5. how to read
  6. how to write
  7. more or less how a book is made
  8. where to go to find a book
  9. that you can buy them
  10. borrow them
  11. steal them
  12. that to buy one you might go to a bookstore
  13. to borrow one you might go to a friend
  14. or to a strange institution called a library
  15. which stores books to lend them out
  16. (which let’s face it is an elegantly odd idea)
  17. and that the people there are called ‘librarians’
  18. and it is a bit like a church as (well, it’s changing) but food and drink is apparently bad, and you are meant to whisper
  19. that there is a taxonomy that lets you ‘look up’ books them find them on their shelves
  20. you know the social etiquette involved in borrowing a book from a library (it isn’t supposed to be written in or on, that it ought to be returned by the due date, that there could be some sort of punishment for not following either of these two rules)
  21. that people write them
  22. that these people are called authors
  23. (and we mistakenly think, in one of those odd human centric moments we’re famous for, that authors create books but it is obviously the other way round — think about it)
  24. how to use a table of contents
  25. an index
  26. page headers
  27. page footers
  28. what a cover is and what it is for
  29. that there is fiction and nonfiction
  30. that there are many genres of fiction
  31. that there are dictionaries, encyclopaedias, manuals, reference books
  32. we more or less know how to go about writing a book (whether it is any good or not is a very different question)
  33. how to fix a broken page
  34. where a broken page fits
  35. how to fix a cover
  36. what a title page is
  37. how to cope with an unreliable narrator
  38. how to cope with direct narrative address
  39. how to read silently
  40. that stories think they can tell you what is happening inside someone’s head
  41. except that someone (sometimes) is pretend
  42. that they are often pretend

With books we developed intimate reading. Also mass literacy. Those together encouraged the rise of the modern ‘psychological’ novel. The technology very strongly affects these things, particularly when we recognise the writing is a technology….

Thought Experiments aka Provocative Questions

  • If stories were written on rolodexes what would they be? What is a beginning and an ending, then?
  • If stories were written on walls, in the round, what would they be? What is a beginning and an ending then?
  • If pages dissolved as you read them, so you couldn’t go back, what would they become?
  • Why don’t stories have choruses, like songs?
  • Why does music (and dance, and sport, and poetry) allow literal repetition, but writing not?
  • stories have description, argumentation, narration, and exposition. Well perhaps not argumentation. Only one of these progresses the action, so could you have a story that was only description? or only exposition? (we have songs, poems and so on that do this…)
  • if this is not a story, does that matter (what is wrong with making films that are descriptions, or expositions?, where does the bias for story come from? Why?
  • is story the great coloniser of us? (We are its vehciles, not the other way round?)

This proves that I can post from my phone

As I sit at the tram stop, I am remembering today’s lecture.

Is it true that stories no longer have a beginning, middle and end?

If so then I have just been transported into another  galaxy. I see the Internet to be the home of many droplets of information. Some of these are self contained (with beginnings, middles and ends) others are open ended.

This got me thinking …

Pages, Books

In that flurry today missed another naive obviousness. Pages and page numbers. It means things are arranged serially, one after another. In fact most of our technical media – until the computer – has as a default serial ordering. This encourages long forms of narrative that have come to privilege a particular sort of cause and effect, again because the material form of our media encourages and allows this. If we didn’t have pages bound together but small cards that could be shuffled (for example) what sorts of stories, and how we then understand the world, would we have and be using?


A rather hit and miss start to network media 2014 with me trying to repurpose a conference presentation into service. Some parts stuck. Some parts missed, terribly. Key points:

  • industrial versus post industrial media (perhaps make a list of what we think the industrial is, and then what would the counter terms for post industral become?)
  • the decline or scarcity as what defines the media (in relation to making, distribution, access)
  • that scarcity was a consequence of cost of equipment (video and audio equipment was extremely expensive – it still is at the high end)
  • that scarcity was a consequence of industrial/heritage media having very narrow channels (one newspaper published once per day, a TV channel only being able to broadcast one thing at a time)
  • scarcity also applied to university, so we went to university to get access to media making tools (because they were expensive so only in universities…), libraries, films, and experts
  • but this scarcity is now also gone
  • so what is the role of a media degree?
  • it lies in the difference between ‘know what’ and ‘know how’, which is also the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge
  • so learning now needs to be less about knowing what and more about knowing how
  • and so the problem is how to do this, when most of our experience of education concentrates on knowing what (we’re more interested in what your essay says, than in how you went about writing it)

The week that was

Off to a flying start this week with a focus on practical skills in the workshop and more on the theoretical side in our first symposium.  The symposium was a little bit explanatory rather than analytical though hopefully as we progress through semester the nature of the readings will mean that we can start discussing the expanded discourse in more depth.

Important Notes

All of the participation diaries are now available under the ‘Assessment‘ tab.  If you need to access a copy in advance or due to absence, you can find them there.

We start work on the wiki tomorrow, so please check that out if you have a chance to see some of the previous entries from last semester.  It’s available at  I’ve also added your blogs to a new blog roll that you can find over there –> and then down a bit.  Check out each other’s blogs and see what your peers are up to.


We’ve got a few “how-to” posts already, so keep these coming.  Helping out your peers with technical skills will be vital to getting the most out of this course as they’ll surely reciprocate in kind and we haven’t a whole lot of time with the length of this semester.  Bryan talks about how to create a link list that can be added to, say, a sidebar, while Daniel makes sure everyone knows how to include a link in their posts.  We’ve also got some multimedia aficionados keen to get A/V content into their blogs, such as Tim walking you through how to upload content (do this if you own the content) and Dana on how to embed content (do this if you do not own the content).


Esther provides an excellent explanation of double-loop learning, while Kim L. thinks about how it applies to her own experiences.  A few posts are cropping up about design fiction that are starting to posit the role of design fiction in the development of new technologies, such as Dana pointing towards things like Google Glass.  Meanwhile, Mardy reflects on Blogs in Media Education and the rationale of their use in this course.

Spreading Out

It’s also good to see people starting to branch out into related ideas on their blogs.  Vanessa thinks about the integration of blogs and SEO, while Mishell ponders networked dependency in the workplace.  Kim O. looks at the significance of one’s virtual presence and the importance of maintaining a positive reputation, and of course Daniel wins hearts and minds with a video of a puppy.

Small World Networks, Scale Free, Kevin Bacon

My riff in response to Brian’s comment that the 80/20 stuff isn’t what really matters in the reading.

  • the internet is scale free – you can add and add to it and it doesn’t fill up (unlike a room, a book, film, and most other of our media)
  • it is made up of nodes (in social networks outside the internet these are people, in social networks inside the internet like Facebook these are generally people), which are small ‘things’ that can have connections to other similar things (friends, acquaintances, links from one web page to another)
  • preferential attachment means that some nodes are more likely to want to be connected to other nodes (in my academic hypertext essay one node got more links in and out because it turned out to the heart of the argument I was making, because it is was an essay this was why this one node was preferred, in a blog you might link to a blog that is authoritative (you value) in the field that you also write about, you might just link to a friend’s blog)
  • as a result of these three things hubs form, which have lots of connections in, and often out
  • interestingly hubs have very weak connections – you don’t know them (a strong connection)
  • and so a small world network arises

So it isn’t random, it isn’t disordered, it isn’t chaotic. A structure emerges that is understandable. But it emerges, the shape isn’t known in advance. This too, in many ways, is the opposite of what we think the world is.

A small world network means that because there are links, and hubs, it is quite simple to get from one point in the network to any other. Because there are densely connected hubs links follow a power law. A power law tells us that a few have a lot, but also that most of the material is in the tail, which is why niches now really matter.

Must Read

This excellent blog post is about advertising, design, and young creatives. Everything it says could and does apply to TV, radio, print, and our own university. If you want a snapshot of what your future career looks and feels like, and what you need to know and do to not be only the service company that films the clip once everyone else has decided what it is going to look and feel like, then read this. If you have questions, ask, in the blog, your blog, the unsymposium, classes. My favourite line, btw:

It’s amazing that so many agencies get away with saying they’re innovative but have nothing to show. Oh so you love being innovative so much that you never create anything internally? You’re creativity stops at client work does it? Do us a favour, stop the bullshit.

And as a teacher, my take away is that if you’re not at uni to be tested and extended and challenged, then what the fuck are you doing wasting your time here?


I’m going to wield the magical big stick super powers I have a subject coordinator and veto some class decisions that were made about participation in relation to assessment. Specifically, if you claim to do something, and haven’t, then something should happen as a consequence. I’ll explain why, but first I’m doing this not because I think the alternatives developed or other options are wrong, but in the specific context of network media and the trust based assessment model we have adopted we want the idea of trust, reputation, and the concept of a trust or reputation network to be enacted. In this model trust is understood and defined as an obligation you have to another, it is not only a relation you have with yourself. Trust, in this deep sense, is where you have expectations of others and they, in turn, of you. I trust that my friend will do what she says she will do, the people I am collaborating with will do what they say they will do and that I even need to trust other drivers on the road to, pretty closely, follow the road rules, and I will too, so that it isn’t Russian roulette every time I decide to drive a car, or ride a bike.

In this way of thinking about trust we can see that it is not something I can define for myself. It is completely dependent on the judgement of others. It is not up to me to decide that I’m trustworthy – this is up to those that need to trust me to determine. This is similar (not identical, but similar) to how reputation works online. Your reputation as a blogger for example is determined by others judgement, often realised through readership, and more significantly, links in. This is why a twelve year old can be an authoritative fashion blogger, even they when they started they had absolutely no industry reputation or position at all. I could be employed as a fancy professor at an Ivy League university, but when I take up blogging, if my blog isn’t much good, then it simply isn’t much good and its reputation (and potentially mine) will be low. However, as a professor at an Ivy League university I don’t have to do much else to have reputation and authority within the university, simply because it is a hierarchical system and I am, by definition, a long way up towards the top. Being near the top bestows authority – the role and hierarchy guarantee this – whereas when I start blogging, my prestige from my position will probably help, but if I don’t walk the walk in my blog my real world position very rapidly counts for little. This is why we can think of it as a reputation network, because the authority of your blog is determined by others, not by the institutional granting of authority (they are a professor, they must know what they are talking about, they are employed by Vogue, what they think matters more than someone not employed in the fashion industry, they write for a music magazine so must know more than that blogger over there).

The participation assessment is repeating this. It relies on trust as you self audit your participation each week, but it only becomes a trust network when others are able to judge your trustworthiness. Remember, trust is not something you can self define, it relies fundamentally on your conduct in relation to others, and they are the ones who decide. (It is hard to build, easy to break, much harder, if broken, to restore.) Therefore for the participation assessment to become a trust network there needs to be consequences of breaking that trust. What those consequences are, well that I’m less concerned about then making it clear that trust is not something you are able to define for yourself – it is not up to me to claim that I’m trustworthy. I can think I am, I can claim I am, but the proof is what others say about me, not what I say about myself. Why? Because trust relies upon an ethical obligation to an other.

Novels, An Assemblage of Histories

IN today’s unsymposium the discussion wandered around the shop about the essay and the literary. On the way home it sparked a little florid flurry of ideas that arose from that half baked discussion. A couple of weeks ago Actor Network Theory (ANT) was mentioned, and while what follows isn’t specifically ANT, the way to think of it is not as a linear sequence of causes but a network of relationships that could have different sorts of outcomes, and that the novel was one particular one, and more importantly it is this aggregation of different things, at different speeds and moments, that sees the novel happen. In this view it isn’t that the novel is at the end of a process and these are the parts of steps, but that the novel finds itself within all these things that have their own, particular, individual histories and trajectories, parts of which touch the novel. (For example the relationship between making wine and the printing press, these histories touch each other, but one doesn’t ’cause’ the other and the printing press is not the ‘culmination’ of an idea.)

I want to write about the novel because the discussion today begun from there, and it is a very useful example of how to think about what we describe as the specificity of media history not as this narrative of cause and effect, but as a conglomeration of, well, stuff. Ideas, technologies, economics, religion, technological appropriation, cultural transmission, and so on. Now, if I were particular sort of theorist, for example some sort of Marxist, I might decide that one of the parts of what I’ve described as a ‘conglomeration’ is more important than the others, in trying to explain how novels happened (and so as a Marxist I might see the emerging forms of capitalism as essential to the whole thing), but that risks a sort of theoretical chauvinism (why is capitalism any more important than realising the wine press over there would solve the technical problem of applying regular constant pressure to actually be able to print?). Personally, I think it is more elegant, and possibly more accurate, to recognise it is a complex messy assemblage and then try to recognise the terms or parts of this assemblage, and as an assemblage to recognise that the parts have their own histories, and uses, and their role here is not just to somehow give birth to printing and later the novel.

So, the novel. There was a good question today about the literary and the digital and the book. My answer was simply that if you take the literary out of the question then the book is, today, irrelevant as a particular form. It simply doesn’t matter. For some things it remains the most convenient form, but that is rapidly changing. In most contexts most people don’t care if it is a book or not (something on paper, with a cover, made up of serial pages), and in many cases a digital form which is searchable and can be annotated and all the rest is more use to you and preferable to a book. Think court decisions text books, legislation, manuals, diagnostic manuals (technical, medical, psychological) even a copy of Shakespeare that can automatically show you every occurrence of a phrase, in context (what we all a concordance), and then provide links to other occurrences of the similar phrases in other works by Shakespeare. (Once upon a time not so very long ago the complaint about ebooks was that you ‘couldn’t read them in the bath’ – seriously. Then things like the iPad came along, which you could, but if you dropped it… Except if you drop your book in the bath then, well, that’s usually buggered too. Now the complaint is about the smell of the paper, or its feel. Now, seriously, if this what makes literature have literary value, just go and buy some paper be done with it, as this is so very seriously a fetish dressed up as an argument to be embarrassing!)

I digress. Unusually. I want to stick the literary back into the conversation and make the provocative claim that the literary and the book aren’t intimate bedfellows, and might not be in to the future. They were intimate, but they don’t have to be, or, more provocatively perhaps the literary will just have had its moment and fade, to be enjoyed by a small band of academics and buffs, while the world moves along to other things. Why? How?

Let’s keep it simple and think about the novel. The novel needs the book, well, it did. The novel needed:

  • the invention of the printing press
  • the printing press developed from the innovative appropriation of the wine press (so we needed wine presses first)
  • development of new technologies of metal making so that typefaces could be easily made (metallurgy and craft skills)
  • the rise of more general literacy (so that there were people able to read books)
  • so the development of more generalised education (social changes)
  • the invention of cheap paper (as prior to paper manuscripts where handwritten and painted on very expensive leather known as vellum)
  • a new ink suitable for printing had to be invented
  • the emergence of nascent forms of mercantile capitalism as the original printers generally operated as what today we’d describe as start ups, a printer would arrive in a small town or city, set up a press, and start printing and selling, with mixed success
  • the desacralisation of knowledge and stories so that the church was no longer the centre of knowledge production, dissemination and distribution (this was cause and effect)
  • with the rise of literacy people didn’t need things read to them, and so the new phenomenon of ‘silent’ reading where those outside of the educated religious elite could now read, and did
  • and with the spread of silent reading, of reading by yourself (instead of in church where the bible was read to you since you couldn’t read) the concept of an interior voice arose
  • and so novels became stories about the insides of people (what today we’d describe as their thoughts and motivations)

Printing is fundamental here, since paper is flat and small compared to vellum (which is thick and the manuscripts often enormous), and now we have a small, intimate writing intended for an audience of one. And as people wondered what to do with it, they experimented, and we eventually arrive at the modern form of literature we call the novel. Personal, interiorised characters (we wonder and are told about their thoughts and feelings), small enough to be in the home, and linear enough to be read across several sittings, short enough and in the vernacular and so not presuming to require a life times study (aka the bible, classical literature).

Therefore the novel is a confluence of lots of different things. Technologies, cultural changes, individuals, trade routes, emerging capitalism, etc.

Now, one of the founding novels in the west is Don Quioxite, published in two volumes (1605 and 1615). That makes it near enough to 400 years old. We have had writing since 3200BC in the middle east and 1200BC in China. If we take China as our case, then we have had writing for 2800 years before the novel came along. Now, while the novel will still be around when I am in my dotage, and I suspect yours, it seems to be an extraordinary intellectual chauvinism to think that something that has been around for about 12% of the time we’ve had writing (and stories) is the final, privileged forever, definitive and going to stay just where it is thank you very much, narrative form. There is, in the history of narrative and its associated technologies, nothing that supports this view.

Stories on the other hand are a constant, while their media and technical form (oral, prose, song, dance, painting, essay, letter, film, game, serial, novel, lyric, song, word, voice, image, sound, air, light, magnetic tape, digital 0’s and 1’s, chemical reactions – photos, film ) seems to me to be anything but constant. To think that the book, as the vanguard and privileged narrative form, smacks of the same sort of imperialism that assumed, a century ago, that the world wanted to be white, colonised, industrialised and ‘modernised’. A view that made perfectly good common sense now, but which gets no recognition as legitimate today. Print here is our master, and thinking that this is the end or final form or the highest form of narrative, our privileged form, is to be its servants.

We have electronic literature and poetry, so that is already one way in which the literary happily leaves behind the page, ink, and paper. It is minor in relation to all the other literary production that is going on, it might fizzle out, but we have had literature prior to the book, which shows that literature does not have to equal the book, though when it does, the novel is the privileged form. Hence, in these conversations, when we say book most people mean literature, but even then what they actually mean, is the novel. Will the novel continue as our preeminent literary form? I don’t know, but history to date says it is unlikely. This is not the same as saying it will disappear, just that its place will shift.

What has this to do with network media? Well the digital is the place where this is being tested, as we witness the rise of ebooks and in many cases see ebook sales outstripping physical sales. This shouldn’t be surprising, it happened with music several years ago where vinyl is, as the novel might become, one for an informed elite rather than its mass, popular form. But its deeper relevance for network media is simply as a case study to realise it is not a linear series of causes and effects but something like a network where different elements have agency – mechanics, metallurgy, religion, education, secularisation, capitalism, guilds and craft practices, market trading routes (which is how print and printing spread), and so on. It is, a bit (don’t force it too much) like an ecology where if we look at a forest the forest is the product of complex interactions of all its parts, there is no simple cause and effect but instead systems of feedback that include geography, geology, meteorology, soil, species, animals, plants which all have their own time scales, their own speeds, their own histories. Recognising this density is what we need to be able to do, rather than thinking there is an answer, or a specific way of approaching what it might mean, that will make guaranteed sense of it. A forest doesn’t mean anything, it just is. I can make it mean timber for houses, or a habitat for a rare species, or a beautiful view, or a site for a hotel, or an example of indigenous significance, or a place for families, but none of these help you to understand what a forest is. In relation to network media, what we’re doing this semester is beginning to think what the network is, rather than trying to provide ways to try to work out what it means.