part of the MSc in E-learning at the University of Edinburgh

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Feenberg on the Ten Paradoxes of Technology

I have just watched a recording of Ten Paradoxes of Technology. He seems to be espousing a posthumanist perspective of technology and uses these ten paradoxes to illustrate how we are often blinded to the interdependance of the human and the technological.
Here are his paradoxes and a few notes about the connection with posthumanism.
1. The paradox of the parts and the whole
Feenberg argues that technological artefacts make no sense separated into their component parts. A tyre makes no sense unless it is part of a car, a screen only has meaning if it is viewed in relation to the whole device – mobile phone, iPad, television etc. He sees technologies as occpying an (ecological?) niche in a similar way to those accupied by humans or other animal species. His aim is to foregrounds the interdependancies existing within and around that niche. Feenberg argues that we are misled into thinking that technologies can stand alone – technologies viewed in isolation can appear uncomplicated and strangely appealing. Perhaps this is one origin of the utopian views of technologies we explored early in the course.
2. What is most obvious is often hidden
Feenberg uses the example of a screen – we are not aware of the screen when we view a film for example. The idea of transparency is prevalent in the discourses of user interface design – when something becomes so common place we cease to be aware that it is there.
3. The paradox of the origin
The idea here is that technologies have a history. There prescence in society now is a result of an evolutionary past. However this past is not immediately obvious. The internet we use today does not broadcast its origins in the way say buildings or the natural environment does. This means that we are less aware of how technological artefacts have evolved and become embedded and intertwined with current social practices. The film “The Social Network” reminds us of the origins of Facebook, something that is not revealed by merely using Facebook today.
4. The Paradox of the Frame
Feenberg agues that we tend to view technology as a purely technical acheivement – a refinement of skills connected with design and manufacture. In reality our technological environment is the way it is because of many other factors e.g. social, economic etc.
5. The Paradox of Action
Often we are not aware of the negative consequences of technology because these are experienced remote from the immediate zone of action. This is in part a consequence of rapid technological development which means there is a lag before all the consequences are realised. This leads to the illusion that technologies can indeed act on the world without consequences for themselves.
6. The Paradox of the Means
Feenberg argues that technologies signify us and define our identities – we are what we do but in relation to technology we are what we use. How more intertwinned can our relationship with technology become? Is this touching on the idea of the cyborg? He summarises this idea in a McLuhanesk “The means are the ends”
7. The Paradox of Complexity
This paradox encapsulates our fixation of the technological object and blindnes to the new context and consequencecs it creates.
8. The Paradox of Value and Facts
Feenberg argues for technological development to be driven by values not just facts – this way technology would evolve in ways better aligned with social value systems
9. The Democratic Paradox
Social groups form around technologies that mediate their relations. Technology mediated groups transform the technology that constitute them. The central idea is the coconstruction of technology.
Feenberg uses this Escher sketch to illustrate his idea. I also like the cyborg version!
10. The Paradox of Conquest
I guess I was loosing focus by the time it come to the final paradox!

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on November 27th, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Mini ethnography – the virtual choir

Oops forgot to say where to leave comments….

Against this post would be great – thanks in anticipation :)

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on November 7th, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

LifeStream Reflections Week 7 – Singers adopt YouTube

This week my lifestream has been centred on further exploring the phenomenom of the virtual choir. I have visited the VC FaceBook group and browsed testimonies of individual participants. One member Songuine sums up what she has gained form being a VC participant:

Through social media, I’ve been able to converse with a music professional who generously allows me access to his knowledge and his friends. I’ve been able to ask for advice and share in online music experiences with others.

From my isolated, lonely place on the planet, I’ve become part of a universal, ongoing musical event. My health might limit my physical journey, but broadband internet has opened the world to me. I’m amazed and blessed to be given this opportunity.

There seems to be a recurring theme of learning through self-reflection or gaining feedback from others. Matt Smith summarises his experience on FaceBook:

So what have I learned from doing this?

1) Seeing a video of myself singing has revealed some interesting traits about the way I sing which I did not realise I had. I am now doing my best to sort this out and improve.

2) Do not procrastinate. It’s not worth it. And next time (hoping that there is a next time) I will give myself enough time to do plenty of recordings so that I can pick the best one.

3) It is wonderfully refreshing to be able to engage and work with someone like Eric. He makes himself so available through the use of technology. I look forward to other artists of his stature following his example.

4) I will always be proud of being part of this project and will take great pleasure in telling people that I was a member of VC 2.0

The real high pint of the week was receiving a comment on last week’s blog post from someone not on this course! It prompted me to think of the VC as an extention of the ‘Choristers and Singers’ community of practice where the adoption of the YouTube commnunity norms of communication had enabled new interactions, relationships and emotional engagment to emerge through individual and group performance.

I have also been pondering the appropriate medium for presenting this small scale ethnography (which probably isn’t an ethnography at all!). A time line seems most appropriate and I finally settled on time toast as it is both easy to author and offers a clean user interface for the viewer. It is a shame that the free version limits the amount of text you can add to an event. I would have loved to have used a time line similar to the one depicting the series of events leading up to the Arab spring – pleasingly whooshy!!

I have finally got mobile uploads to my Flickr account working so have captured a few images of some of the Wesch presentation and a new book that I’m looking forward to exploring.

Here’s my ‘ethnography’ at long last!
I haven’t really been a participant observer here as a VC event is not currently taking place. I really don’t know if I would have enough courage to post my own rendition of one of the Eric Whitacre songs! I did think of making a youtube video of my investiagtion but time ran out so we have a time line instead.

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on November 6th, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (15) | Permalink

LifeStream Reflections Week 6 – It is a community, is it networked learning, is it a GME?

This week, through the artefacts encountered in my life stream I have been thinking about the extent to which the Virtual Choir constitutes a community.

Engagement with the choir centres around a single online event or performance on YouTube. The ‘community’ is for the most part located on YouTube but participant interactions are very different to a typical YouTube community as described by Wesch in his YouTube ethnography. Although participation is via webcams and screens as in other Youtube communities, in the virtual choir individual participant videos are primarily about offering a prescriptive performance as an audition piece for the choir. Therefore the virtual choir participants can make an informed guess about their audience and the context in which it will be viewed, unlike regular youtube participants where these are typically unknown. As Wesch points out most youtube participants experience ‘context collapse’ i.e. they do not know who their audience is, when they will be watching or even if they will be watching the original or a remixed version. A ‘hyper self awareness’ that Wesch claims develops when recording and broadcasting yourself via youtube might be seen as particularly beneficial for the Virtual Choristers as they are able to review their performances and improve them. However the overt authenticity of the virtual choir participants sets them apart from many youtube participants who are often playful around their identity such that it is difficult to decide what is ‘real’ and what is ‘enacted’.

In a recent Networked Learning Conference 2011 ‘hot seat’ discussion lead by Peter Goodyear a question was raised about whether the virtual choir represented networked learning. Jenny Mackness discusses this in her blog post. I found the reference to an ‘imagined community’ quite apposite especially in the light of Wesch’s comment about an increase in individualism leading to greater desire for community. As Jenny points out many of the virtual choir participants had at some time been part of a ‘real choir’ and their virtual participation seemed to awaken nostalgic memories of the collective experience of singing in a choir. It seems to me that participation in the virtual choir did provide many opportunities for individuals to learn about and improve their own performances through receiving guidance in interpretation from a leading composer/conductor and having the opportunity to review and refine them in the light of feedback and encouragement from other participants. In some sense this collection of solo performances may be considered more demanding for the individual than participation in a synchronous group performance.

This idea lead me to the final part of my journey this week, that is exploring the concept of a Global Media Event in relation to the virtual choir. Ribes define a GME as

“a special type of cyclical contemporary event, naturally global, naturally mediated through new technologies, which produce their own emotional climate and emotional dynamics, and have at its core certain spectacular collective ritual performances.”

I reflected on other instances of collective individual performances which led me to large scale sporting events e.g. The Vasaloppet and the London Marathon.

There seemed to me to be many similarities between the virtual choir and these face to face events. They are first and foremost about individual performance but the event seems also to engender a sense of connection with other like minded participants through a collective experience of participation – perhaps another instance of imagined community? There is also an element of competition associated with the virtual choir participant performances as they are hoping to be selected for a place in the choir event.

This week my lifestream has been largely focussed around exploring the virtual choir. I mostly rely on Diigo bookmarking but have been trying to use Tumblr more as it looks quite useful for capturing quotes.

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on November 3rd, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

LifeStream Reflections Week 5 – Community, Crowds and Networks of Individuals

This week I started out by trying to get to grips with the concept of community and at the end of the week I’m not sure I’m much further on. I began with empathising with Rheingold’s vision of the lost local community regained in the virtual environment I visited The Well where it seemed that members had indeed found value in the connections they were making with others in their favourite conferences. Evidence in gains of ‘social network capital, knowledge capital and communion’ as Rheingold articulates in his seminal book ‘Virtual Community’ are  evident here As a virtual meeting place the Well prides itself on the authenticity of interactions  “As a WELL member, you use your real name. This leads to real conversations and relationships.” I was struck by how long this community(ies) had been in place and wondered if the Well was the same type of community now as when it had started out.

Buckman & Jensen chart the life and death of an online community. For me this highlighted the ephemeral nature of virtual community which strikes me as a feature that distinguishes them from ‘real’ communities. Virtual communities that emerge around an image in Flickr or a blogpost or a youtube video may be extremely short lived. Perhaps one reason is that there are relatively few social costs associated with joining or leaving these communities. However these might not be communities at all but mere associations. Bell for example sees longevity, critical mass and human feeling as criteria for distinguishing an association (or market segment) from a community. For me longevity seems less important then human feeling.

Buckman & Jensen also offer a  much looser definition of community as “a group of people interacting with one another in some fashion” and Fish has a different take altogether. His idea of interpretive communities  brought an interesting link with Kress’s work. For Fish the way we read a text is strongly culturally determined so the interpretive community is one that shares a “reading”. I wonder if the communities that form around particular art genre for example on DeviantArt are examples of interpretive communities and whether Bell and Rheingold would consider them as communities.

In looking at different definitions and conceptions of community I revisited Wenger’s ideas around communities of practice. “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” Using this definition I wondered to what extent learning might be considered as an outcome of all community interactions, whether these be professionally or socially oriented. Perhaps the difference in a community of practice is that the learning is intentional.

Some interesting questions about the implications of virtual community for real community are raised in one of Wellman et al.’s papers  I came across entitled the Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism. Here the authors draws on empirical research to explore three possible scenarios a) local communities breakdown (further?) due to the distractions of the internet. b)  “Widely dispersed communities of shared interest become dominant; neighbourhood communities become quaint residuals.” c)  existing relations continue online which enrich existing ‘real’ communities and new virtual communities emerge around shared interest . The World Café is arguably an example of such a virtual community which encourages activism around local issues while emphasises its global reach. The reciprocity of the relationships between community members is highlighted in these tagclouds generated from member profiles.  The norms of the community are engagingly expressed in this graphic.

Towards the end of this week I discovered Wesch’s Youtube ethnography. Absolutely fascinating as it turns so many of the ideas of virtual community on their head. Authenticity is uncertain,  the individual is foregrounded in a narcissistic way and asynchronous face to face interaction shapes the ‘conversation’ in strange ways. I’m hoping to return to some of these issues in my virtual ethnography.

YouTube Preview Image
Posted by Geraldine May Jones on October 26th, 2011 at 10:28 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Uncanny pedagogy: Fear or fascination in digital learning environments

Here’ a link to my visual artefact.

Looking forward to your comments!

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on October 13th, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (420) | Permalink

Words and things that go bump in the night

Kress* contends that words are empty and have to be filled with meaning. The language Sian** uses in her article e.g. uncanny, phantoms, spectres, haunting and ghostliness is a good example, in my view, of words being far from empty. For me these words are full of associations with horror fiction and convey a distinctly evil twist. So much so that I had to work hard to ‘empty’ these words of their culturally acquired meaning in order to fill them with their academic meaning in the context of this article. The words had become barriers to accessing the ideas rather than illuminating them. Intellectual uncertainty, strangeness and anxiety inducing environments I agree can provide motivation and challenge to learn in a positive way but the language used here has negative connotations of fearfulness and dark forces which runs counter to the claims being made. The uncertainties of digital leaning spaces and places for learning may indeed spark strong negative emotional responses that could lead to a paralysis rather than a galvanising of new approaches to teaching and learning. Indeed the strangeness and fluidity of partial presence in and through digital space may unsettle to the point of inhibiting learning.

It seems to me that these are dangerous metaphors and should be used with care lest we forever cast negatively the exciting opportunities for learning and being in virtual environments shaped by digital technologies.

*Kress, G (2005) Gains and losses: new forms of texts, knowledge and learning. Computers and Composition. 22(1), 5-22.
**Bayne, S. (2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education, vol 8, no 1, 5-13.

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on October 12th, 2011 at 11:07 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

How exactly is the ‘world told’ different to the ‘world shown’?


The world told The world shown
shape poem escher
Makes explicit types of relation – causality, agency and
power are explicit.

Makes explicit position in a framed space – relations of
entities made explicit.

Objects are vaguely specified

Objects are fully specified

Fixed order of ‘reading’ determined by the author

Open order of ‘reading’ established by the designer/viewer

Causality is inescapable

Causality barely figures

+ve empowers/stimulates the reader to paint the scenes and
settings of a text. Individuals can shape their own avatars in their

-ve linearity determines our path and can constrain our
view/thinking. Draws us away from seeing things as a whole or choosing our
own start point.

+ve empowers/stimulates the viewer to generate several
causalities that could fit a single representation. Enables seeing with
different eyes.

-ve down plays our visual imagination – shape, form,
colour and positioning always is always predetermined.

Some of these gains and losses show how these modalities have ‘different positionings in and to the world’ and bestow ‘different powers on the makers and remakers’ of these representations. However will multimodal communication just fill in more blanks and leave less for the ‘reader’ to ponder?

Perhaps not, perhaps it will help highlight different perspectives for example optical illusions can challenges our reading of the visual and literary devices such as puns can do likewise in the textual world.

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on October 12th, 2011 at 11:04 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Week 2 – Virtually real

World builder neatly illustrated how the digital brings new dimensions to virtuality, specifically the possibility to construct, interact with and change an illusionary reality rather than merely passively experience it. At the outset of the film clip the distinction between what is virtual and what is real is clear cut. The unrendered ‘prims’ are unquestionably virtual and the male character part of the real world. As the film proceeds the virtual world takes shape and appears more and more real reaching a climax when bird song is introduced. (This reminded me of Sterne’s point about virtuality not just being a visual phenomenon.) The separation of the real and the virtual become puzzling blurred when the girl enters the scene and we begin to question why she is there. She is slightly transparent so not quite real but neither does she seem to be something the ‘builder’ has constructed. Is she perhaps a memory he is conjuring up? Or perhaps this is a dream or unconscious experience he has constructed for her. For that matter do memories or dreams count as real or virtual? Is interactive virtuality solely a product of the digital? The piece ends with and interesting ethical twist – is she alive and to what extent conscious? Is he manipulating her mind via his constructions? To whose benefit?

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on October 4th, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Before leaving Hand …..

I really enjoyed the style of the Hand article so much so that I wanted to capture some of my favourite phrases before moving on. These might also provide sparks my visual artefact.

About the all embracing boundaryless network…..

“Interoperable, interconnected infrastructures and the perpetual interfacing of the screened world.”

An interesting definition of culture…

“Culture in terms of symbolic and material resources circulation as information flows.”

In relation to a shift in the locus of power…

“Power of flows taking precedence over the flows of power”


“Foucault’s panopticon has been given digital wings and now operates through the capillaries of information flows”

Powerful metaphores indeed!

Posted by Geraldine May Jones on October 4th, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (66) | Permalink