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 The lifestream summaries, for me, have been a chance to create the ‘story’ of the Digital Cultures module. The lifestream itself, an aggregation of feeds, was a ‘bricolage’ of content encountered and included to enhance the weekly themes of the module or a method of collecting links, articles and references for my areas of interest – narrative, identity and communities. However, as John Seely Brown (2000) says 

Judgement is inherently critical to becoming an effective digital bricoleur.”

Once a week, my judgement about the output from the lifestream feeds for that week gave it a shape and focus, by the ‘weeding out’ or inclusion of  content which fitted the ‘story’ I was creating.

As Hlubinka (2003) says

“Storytelling is a natural avenue to reflective practice.”

In line with this idea of the summaries being a ‘story’ I changed the titles to reflect ‘chapters’ in the story, starting with ‘Once upon a time’ and ending with ‘and they lived happily ever after.’  Telling the story of each week’s activities on the course had multiple benefits.  As Baumeister and Newman (1991) points out

“Narrative accommodates contradiction……provides for a way to account for inconsistency”

An example of this is the weekly summary entitled ‘Skeuomorphic Christmas’. The virtual Christmas party for colleagues, a social activity, became convincingly integrated into the academic debate.  However, Baumeister and Newman (1991) also reminds us that narratives are ‘precursors of abstract, propositional knowledge’. Weekly narratives enabled me to progress to a higher order of knowledge and achieve a deeper understanding of my activities.

The act of writing the weekly summaries also provided a tool for reflection. Hlubinka (2003) quotes Schon (1983)

“Through reflective practice—that is, making a habit of taking a close look at their own work and their motivation and relationship to it—people clarify their ideas and come to better understand what they have learned.”

What I was doing in each summary was reflecting on action that had taken place during each week in the lifestream feeds.  The action in my lifestream began rather haphazardly but by week 3 I was beginning to ‘promote my knowledge’ and ‘enrich the (collective) conversation’ as Mark Krynsky (2008) says in his blog.  The ‘constructed narrative’ of my lifestream, blog postings and summaries came to ‘serve as a personal mythology’ or as Hlubinka (2003)  says, an account which helps me understand myself and represent myself to others. Personal representation was a recurring theme, not only in my blog and lifestream but those of my colleagues, for example, the Cyborg name decoder, which created an acronym and image for your cyborg identity.  With the exception of my visual artefact, which is genuinely multimodal, my representation of both myself and my academic activity has largely been restricted to words and the occasional picture, which meant my Flickr feed was rather parsimonious.

However, I did gain an enhanced appreciation and understanding of Delicious and Twitter, to which I had been introduced in the IDEL module. Being forced to use them in a more sustained and focused way in the lifestream gave me true insight into their value as digital tools. As Edwards (2010) says

Knowing is not separate from doing”

References

Baumeister, Roy F & Newman L.S (1994), ‘How Stories Make Sense of Personal Experience: Motives that Shape Autobiographical Narratives, Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol 20: 676)

Brown, J.S (2000). “Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work”,
http://www.johnseelybrown.com/Growing_up_digital.pdf
Last
accessed: 12th December, 2010-12-12

Edwards, R. (2010). The end of lifelong learning: A post-human condition? Studies in the Education of Adults, 42/1, 5-17.

Hlubinka, M.I (2003),”Behind the Screens: Digital Storytelling as a Tool for Reflective Practice”, Dissertation, School of Architecture & Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Krnksy, M (2008) “Why should you be lifestreaming?”, Lifestream Blog
http://lifestreamblog.com/why-you-should-be-lifestreaming/
Last
accessed: 12th December 2010

me in cyberspace

The end of the module in sight and postings this week have featured arrangements for our ‘virtual’ Xmas party – the cyborg version of ‘happily ever after’, where we will all ‘dance’, ‘drink’ and socialise after our academic efforts this term.

So am I a cyborg?  I now ‘exist’ in cyberspace, I have contributed to cyberculture by living my life in the open, on my lifestream – at least an aspect of my life. In the final analysis though, what you see in my lifestream is a ‘presentation’, one ‘persona’, developed not just during this module but since I began the course.

My academic persona has been reflected in recent lifestream postings, largely shared bookmarks for articles I am researching for the final assignment. Unlike the previous bookmarks in the lifestream, this week I have concentrated more on Twitter – its uses of narrative and its uses in educational contexts.  The wealth of material was surprising but much of it is embedded in personal blogs rather than academic articles.

I’ve done a lot of reading around narrative, the psychology of storytelling and microblogging but still need to collate all the material I have gathered on the subject since the course began. My lifestream has been fairly tightly focused on narrative, art, visual culture and communities.  This focus has helped me to synthesise my personal mental concept of digital culture but reading other people’s blogs has also let me see the many other conceptions of it too. 

 A final word on lifestreaming – I’ve finally understood the value of Twitter.  As well as a

“universal back channel to real world events…..microblogging has the potential to challenge writers and force them to say more with less.”  Ryan Paul.

Some reactions to my post-human pedagogy task which was situated in Second Life – the opportunity for experimentation and ‘gathering’ but also, as Jen suggested, the notion of role play and challenging the students’ sense of themselves as boundaried subjects, new rules of interaction etc. On a similar note, recalling that communication and interaction are vital for both establishing and maintaining a sense of community, many of my lifestream posts this week attempt to re-create the MSc social community in a Second Life Christmas Party. I have asked my tutor to provide Christmas decorations in Holyrood Park café area in SL and asked party-goers to ‘dress up’ their avatars in festive fashion. To encourage this I have tweeted SL locations which have free Christmas outfits, in my lifestream. Is this an attempt to recreate the real life cultural experience of Christmas through the cultural symbols of clothing, objects, music or is the party a ‘skeuomorph’ – a sentimental representation of old cultural practices in a new cultural context?

Certainly, like Bell, quoting Anderson on the sense of nation, I felt that

“…..we need ‘things’ to coalesce a shared sense of identity around..”

Much of my ‘virtual identity’ on the course and particularly in Second Life has coalesced around my interest in avatar appearance, particularly clothing and hairstyles. This was reinforced by a comment from a colleague

Damon tweet

I have spent the whole course wondering if cyberculture is simply real life culture reproduced in a different medium. However, a short way into readings on storytelling, John Seely Brown (2000) suggests that digital natives use a ‘bricolage’ approach to storytelling rather than traditional narrative structures. With this in mind, I intend to use either Issuu or Prezi as the platform for the assignment. To experience cyberculture is to become a ‘cyberculture native’?

Moving on from the exploration of ways to explore and symbolise humans and technology to ways of encapsulating the post-human in our pedagogy, I’ve also been reading articles by Edwards and Bayne and finalising the focus of my final assignment.

My final life stream entry of the week, the post-human pedagogy task used Second Life as it’s context. This sprang partly from the blog entry and the idea of ‘gathering’ and ‘entanglement’ and partly from a task I had created in my work context, for teaching students about personal finance. Students were asked to ‘collect’ various objects and pieces of information in SL in order to experiment or experience the process of planning a prom.

In terms of the assignment, I’m interested in looking at some aspect of the role of narrative in human culture and cyberculture. Again, I have been collecting retweets and articles about storytelling and narrative. I am trying to narrow down the focus to the uses of narrative in social media such as Twitter whilst still maintaining an interest in learning.

In order to make sense the weekly reading, particularly Edwards, I used the context of Second Life and my avatar, Simone, to look at the link between human and non-human in learning. The whole idea of the combination of ‘knowing as doing’ and gathering and experimentation seemed ideal for the virtual environment, where, as Bayne says, we are pushed out of our comfort zone. However, even in Second Life, experiencing a kind of discovery or active learning, we are still subjects, relating to virtual objects, acquiring knowledge. Representationalism still reigns – there is virtual Berlin, Paris etc in SL and classes tend to take a similar format to real University of Edinburgh classes.

Avatar in Paris

These are some ideas for learning in Second Life that I came up with as part of a tender for PFEG to teach secondary school students about personal finance, using the ‘planning a prom’ scenario as a jumping off point.

1.Students to join SL as group, construct avatars.

2.Give each student 100 Lindens.

3.Buy a prom outfit from one of the many outlets – get best value for the lindens you have been allocated – investigate ‘free’ clothes sites.

4.Judge best outfit, in terms of value for money. Students then to construct their own ‘machinima prom night’ and play it for other students.

5.(Variations on this could be – researching a venue in SL)

Extra variables to game
1.Do a ‘location’ competition in SL where students can ‘win’ more lindens to get a better outfit. They have to find certain locations in SL, go there and take a photo of themselves in said location (borrowed from IDEL)

2.Give them list of SL jobs where they can earn money.

After my blog post about my avatar in SL and how I ‘learnt’ without the structure of the MSc, in retrospect, these tasks seem to have a lot in common with Edwards’ ideas of “experimentation and gathering” – what do other people think?

“I suggest virtual worlds might become a site for the exploration of pedagogies concerned with the ontological (study of the nature of being, existence or reality… “ (Bayne 2010)

So, who is Simone, my Second Life avatar – does she ‘exist’? Is she ‘me’? Last year when we took part in tutorials in Second Life, I said in my blog,

Simone

“I am looking forward to trying out a virtual self, an avatar in these circumstances, where identity is a little more prescribed and bounded by the narrative and the other ‘characters’. Here, it would probably be actions which define you, because appearance might be more archetypal? Maybe that’s why men write most of the games such as Dungeons and Dragons or Warcraft? Or is that a bit stereotypical of me?”

Whose actions were they? The appearance of the avatar was certainly an invention and changed many times during the ‘life’ of interactions on the IDEL module. The ‘actions’ Simone took included text chat, moving in the virtual environment, building and exploring. Edwards (2010) says “Knowing is not separate from doing” What does Simone ‘know’ after or during these actions? Is that the same as me knowing? Are ‘we’ learning?

Edwards (2010) goes on to say,

“Experimentation and gathering rely on an entangling of the human subject with the object world raising questions about the notions of learning/knowing by subjects as a way of framing such practice……..However, to learn, humans have to gather and experiment. Learning emerges from the entanglement with the non-human.” (Edwards, 2010)

Is the co-existence or co-presence of myself and Simone in Second Life, an “entanglement with the non-human”? Simone (or is it me?) has an inventory – is that a form of ‘gathering’ or knowledge? We (my avatar and I!) have ‘friends’ and a collection of notecards with random bits of information. Simone does ‘exist’ independently in Second Life and in pictures on my blog and in the minds of my colleagues.

SL combo

“For in working online as teachers and learners, we are working in ‘destabilized’ classrooms, engaging in spaces and practices which are disquieting, disorienting, strange, anxiety-inducing, uncanny.” (Bayne 2010)

Was our classroom ‘destablised’ in terms of power relationships? Or how individuals within that class see themselves in relation to learning?

Certainly when I was first ‘present’ in Second Life, through Simone, and before taking part in the MSc course I had no guides, nothing to ‘learn from’ except my own experiences, gained through interacting with environment and other ‘beings’ or avatars. Was this “learning about objects by subjects” (Edwards, 2010)? I was certainly accumulating knowledge but still as a subject, surely? In contrast a ‘class’ in SL was much more familiar and seemed to resort to familiar structures to a large extent – did it not? The relationships between people, as embodied in their avatars, was a little different – hierarchies were largely absent with teachers being treated on the same level as colleagues, people appeared and disappeared in class at will etc. Was this ‘anxiety-inducing, uncanny’? For some people, more than others I suspect.

Noticeboard

flaneur 

The impenetrable style of the Shields article provoked a series of tweets inviting clarification from colleagues. Being rather referential, I firstly to read Haraway and then research the term ‘flanerie’, which seemed very reminiscent of traditional cultural theorists, who felt themselves capable of observing without being part of what they observed. Interesting that the person practising ‘flanerie’ was the ‘flaneur’ and not the ‘flaneuse’!

Seeking clarification for Hayles phrase ‘reality is fundamentally computational’ provoked a colleague to comment on Douglas Adams’ secret of the universe – ‘42’! Something which did strike a chord in the Hayles 2006 article was the idea of what we made and what we became co-evolving. Although Hayles was talking about tools and the development of human consciousness, I would like to follow this up in my assignment on the role of narrative in human culture and cyberculture.

Other lifestream content was largely a collection of retweets which I hope to use in my aforementioned assignment – so looking at storytelling tools in order to present my ideas in the narrative format I will be investigating.

My final lifestream entries were based on the secondary reading – very interesting – Coyle looking at ordinary New Zealanders’ reactions to biotechnology and the sanctity and spirituality of the human body and Muri on the origins of the term ‘cyborg’ and ways in which science and technology appropriated it from literature and used it in a variety of ways to explore and symbolise humans and technology in the future.

My secondary reading this week, like several other people’s, has revolved around Coyle and Muri, I suspect because their articles were slightly more accessible than some of the other offerings. Having said that, they were still very interesting and Muri, particularly, reassured me that my final assignment topic of the use of narrative in cyberculture was a fruitful area for study.

Coyle’s study of the reactions of New Zealanders to biotechnology was a good anti-dote to the more abstract musings of Haraway and Coyle. It explored the idea of the sanctity of the human body, the boundaries between human, animal and technology and New Zealanders’ relationship with nature. Technology seemed to be regarded on a spectrum between ‘posthuman pollution’ and necessary progress, a part of human evolution. It also explored, for the first time in all the readings, spirituality and religion in relation to these ideas, the absence of which had puzzled me in earlier readings.

Views about human’s place or status on the planet as either ‘god-like’ and in control – using nature to improve mankind’s lot or as a part of a larger scheme or design planned by nature, into which we should fit and live in harmony with plants and animals. However, a large proportion of people in the study were pro-science in the sense that they saw the role of science as manipulating nature to improve human health, longevity and day-to-day living. Science and technology became more problematic when it moved into areas which seemed to change the ‘nature’ of the human being, to go beyond the merely preventative, in terms of disease or the restorative, in terms of prosthetics. The logical conclusion of some technological developments were not always seen as desirable and Virilio and Fukuyama were introduced as examples of two theorists who had explored the dystopian vision of such developments.

“Simply, posthumanism refers to a series of reconceptualizations of the rapidly changing relationships between the conditions of human embodiment and technoscience(Waldby 2000 ).”

Muri, on the other hand, is amazed that the academic theorising about human embodiment and its disappearance fails to notice the huge growth in the number of actual human bodies on the planet and suggests that in the face of this reality, cyborg theories like Haraway and Hayles are more in the region of literary symbolism or fantasy.

“Why did academics embrace the obviously fictional construct of technologically disembodied consciousness?” Muri (2003)

Muri’s answer to this question is to suggest that the cyborg has been a ‘prop’ used to pursue various agendas and that ‘disembodiment’ is largely a literary production, a discursive tradition. This struck a chord with me and brought together several threads ‘dropped’ in Haraway, Hayles and Shields. The term ‘cyborg’ came from science fiction literature originally and all of these theorists acknowledge that. I wonder if science and technology just don’t possess the necessary discourse to explore ideas beyond known facts and that in order to think ‘ outside the box’, the much more flexible and imaginative parameters of fiction and the humanities allow this? This is what I hope to explore in more detail in my final assignment – the idea that ‘narrative’ is an essential, fundamental necessity for human beings – the only way for them to think and explore themselves and the world around them?

Of all the articles I’ve read so far on the cyborg and post human, this article is the one I have found it difficult to get a ‘handle’ on. The comparison of the role of the cyborg to the flaneur of 19th century Paris was too referential to be useful. I had to read up on that term before I could engage in Shields’ discussion. Baudelaire characterises the flaneur as a detached observer, commenting on and capable of criticising his environment. This very much reminded me of the stance of Marxist and mass culture theorists who characterise themselves as dispassionate, objective observers of society, able to comment on and be critical of the actions of the masses whilst somehow remaining outside of it all. The impossibility of remaining on the ‘outside’ of everyday life, whilst able to watch and comment on it struck me all over again. If we are comparing the cyborg to the flaneur maybe the cyborgian flaneur can finally achieve this objective distance? Being removed into cyberspace and created from information, with no messy emotions or need to actually engage in everyday life, the cyborg is god!

That’s as far as I’ve got with making sense of Shields but will try a bit harder later.

“what we made and what we became co-evolved together”

The central idea of this second article seems to revolve around the correlation between increasingly sophisticated tools and human evolution. Are we replacing dualism with parallelism?! Hayles almost seems to suggest that this close relationship with ‘tools’ has altered human consciousness – suggesting an almost Prensky-esque world where our brains (well digital natives anyway) are now ‘wired’ differently to reflect this?

The cyborg was a symbol, a representation of what was happening to the relationship between technology and humans. Hayles calls the cyborg “a virtual icon for capitalism” but since then, things have moved on and the cyborg is too ‘singular’ and doesn’t represent the networked reality of the Internet or web.

What is important is the ‘relation’ or ‘interaction’ as a unit of analysis, moving out to a network of such relations or interactions. The human subject with agency and free will is no longer – “agency is always relational and distributed”. Post-humans work as a group, or a hive, like worker bees?

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