PBS: Digital Nation

PBS has a new documentary called digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier, which Henry Jenkins writes about both with disappointment and with appreciation. He states:

What I value from the production is the website which gathers together extensive interviews with key thinkers with a range of views about the value of digital media in education and our everyday life and which has collected the voices of everyday people many of whom share stories of how they have built productive relationships with and through new media technologies and practices. The website allows us to chart our own paths through this debate, to drill much deeper into different points of view, and offers a more balanced picture of the current state of the debate. The website allows us to ask questions, while the television show tells us what to think. Granted it does so in a way that is much more subtle than the typical Fox News scare story, but it is hardly “fair and balanced” either.

The existence of the website with so much raw footage alongside the completed documentary offers a unique resource for teaching basic media literacy skills, allowing us to question the choices the filmmakers made, and how various rhetorical devices shape how we respond to the words and images included.


Tinderbox is a great tool for keeping notes and for writing. MacWorld has a good review of it. For one example of how it can be used, see Steve Zeoli’s recent post, Tinderbox Chronicles, part 3, on how he “wanted to create a visual representation of our catalog of titles, showing how old our books are by the type of book.” (See also his introduction, Tinderbox Chronicles, part 1.) For another example, see David Phillip’s use of it to plan a sermon.

The Viral Nature of the Internet

Although most posts and communications on the Internet remain unknown to the world, at times, a story or image can connect thousands and more. Here are a few examples:

The story of Haiti’s devastation has brought more than $5,000,000 for relief to the Red Cross via text-messaging (Jennifer Van Grove at Mashable). Some posit that the “immediacy” of text-messaging helps more people to respond than they would otherwise (Ker Than and Ned Smith at LiveScience).

An image of a transit worker sleeping on Twitter has attracted the ire of Canadians and over 18,000 views (Ben Parr at  Mashable).

Sleep Talkin’ Man, a blog that posts the ramblings of Adam Lennard while he sleeps, “has become a bonafide viral sensation, with more than a half a million visitors, nearly 20,000 Facebook fans and more than 10,000 Twitter followers to its name” (Brenna Ehrlich at Mashable).

With respect to the transit worker Twitpic, Mashable concludes:

This story’s unique because it only took one TwitPic and one tweet to start the whole thing. In the past, spreading an image like this one to friends would have taken emails, a website, or calls to the media. In this case, the TwitPic was retweeted until Canada’s media outlets picked up on the image and the controversy.

The world is changing because of social media. Information can be spread in real-time to millions of people. It’s the same power that has helped raised millions for Haiti and forced big companies to listen to their customers.

While it’s unfortunate that this worker has become the center of controversy, he helps teach us an important lesson: be conscious of the actions you take, because anybody can post what you do online and spread it like a forest fire.

In other words, for those who begin to take this advice, modern communications and the Internet are shaping what and how people post online, as well as actions they take in the case of donating to charity.

Technology and Mediation

Doug Belshaw asks, “what changes when a new technology is introduced?Drawing upon Marshal McLuhan’s notion of tetrads, Belshaw responds that changes occur in four different ways; that is, technology “simultaneously enhances, reverses, retrieves and obsolesces” and gives an example with cell phones:

The mobile phone enhances communication by voice whilst reversing the need to keep people close in order to communicate with them. Public telephone booths become obsolete, but certain behaviours (such as infantile shouting) are retrieved.

He goes on to talk about technology and literacy, tying literacy (with Knobel and Lankshear) to social identity, and digital social identity as being multiple. That makes sense, and with digital writing, too. As noted in my previous post, people use Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin for different purposes, socially and professionally. Obviously, one’s identity with friends and relatives differs from one’s identity at work.

He ends on George Siemen’s concept of connectivism, a theory of learning positing that learning, especially in a digital world, occurs through connections, or nodes, in one’s networks.

Although saying that learning occurs in and through networks doesn’t say how that learning takes place, it is useful to consider the interaction between the individual and the environment (and one’s networks) and how that mediates learning, rhetoric, and writing at both individual and network levels.

How different are Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter

“Blog of Mr. Tweet” asks, Are you using Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter differently? and features two commenters.

Heather Rasley comments that she uses Facebook and Linkedin infrequently, the former because she doesn’t “take it seriously” and the latter because it is in part “cold” and in part for the purpose of building  her professional career. In contrast, she uses Twitter for personal and professional reasons and likes it because it is “malleable.”

Somewhat similar to Rasley, Dean Kakridas uses Facebook for close friends and family, Linkedin for building a professional networking profile, and Twitter for “a social stimulus for personal and professional betterment.”

Like these two, I use Facebook and Linkedin rarely. In part, at least, Facebook is not that important for me, as I moved all of my life and thus did not form a close network of friends. Like Rasley, I don’t post on Linkedin often, but consider a professional networking tool that may be of use in the future. Although I have only 20 connections, I am only one step away from their connections, which total to more than 3500 people.

Unlike Rasley and Kakridas, I use Twitter rarely. I can see its usefulness in business endeavors and for friends who are separated spatially. On the latter, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to tweet and reach 10 (or more) friends in different states and countries than it would be to text or call all of them. Even so, I just haven’t gotten around to using it frequently.

Like the other commenters stated, these tools have different purposes, which affects the frequency of posts and their content, and in the case of Twitter, even the amount of content. So, rhetorical considerations are mediated not only by social and cultural considerations in the nature of audience and purpose, but also by material constraints and affordances.

Digital Generation Myths

Siva Vaidhyanathan has a good article, Generational Myth, exposing the myths concerning the digital generation in The Chronicle Review.

College students in America are not as “digital” as we might wish to pretend. And even at elite universities, many are not rich enough. All this mystical talk about a generational shift and all the claims that kids won’t read books are just not true. Our students read books when books work for them (and when I tell them to). And they all (I mean all) tell me that they prefer the technology of the bound book to the PDF or Web page. What kids, like the rest of us, don’t like is the price of books.

Better Writing Through Design

Bronwyn Jones at A List Apart has an interesting article that applies design principles to online writing and states:

It’s one thing to write copy that fits on a website. It’s quite another to write copy that fits in with a website. You wouldn’t try to force an incongruous visual element into a carefully considered design. Same goes for written content. Even if you’ve wisely designed a site around the content it delivers, written copy may fit neatly physically but still ring false to the intended audience.

NASA’s second life

NASA is collaborating with others in Second Life.

Snelson and other space activists have set up virtual shop on (and above) Space CoLab Island, adjacent to the International Spaceflight Museum. The island, which serves as Second Life’s nexus for NASA and allied space groups, boasts a high-tech headquarters building, a mountaintop meeting room and amphitheater, and three levels of “skypods” floating directly above the mountain. …
NASA is serious about using Second Life as a frontier for collaboration and technology, said Jessy Cowan-Sharp (a.k.a. DragonFire Kelly) of Ames Research Center. “If you look at the functionality of Second Life, it’s really just a set of tools that you can do whatever you want with,” she told MSNBC.com. “There’s so much more going on with Second Life than games.”