Friday, February 26, 2010
  Funding the volunteer web
Photo by Jemal made available freely under a CC licence :)
The web has become a funny place. Despite its ethos of volunteerism and culture of free, increasingly volunteer effort and time are not enough for worthwhile projects. Meanwhile borrowed money, cosmetic surgery, pornography, and other essentials of modern life can finance themselves, and even enable others to make a modest income from blogging.

The latest illustration of this strange situation is Librivox. LV is a huge volunteer effort that In a mere four-and-a-half years, has made thousands of free audiobooks for anyone to enjoy. The site gets 400,000 visitors every month.One recording I did has already passed 10,000 downloads. Yet LV is appealing to its volunteers to donate money as well to pay for the system that enables all this. LV is deeply committed to the dream of free culture, so all its recordings are placed in the public domain. This ethos sits uneasily with advertising, otherwise a combination of Amazon links and/or Google Adwords would ensure an annual income of far more than the $20,000 that they are seeking (in the hopes it will cover the next few years of opperation).

There is a strange logic here, even a tiny payment from a few of the users who download and enjoy the books would cover the cost. Yet LV asks the producers of the content (well at least one group of them, the authors and original publishers are mostly dead, so they are not contacted by the appeal). So it is the readers, prooflisteners and project coordinators who must pay.

Perhaps in the gift economy and the culture of free this is the way it should be, with people covering the cost of publishing their work. But how does this fit with academic publishing? Academics (with a few, over the 20th Century a dwindling few, amateur scholars as exceptions to the rule) are mercenaries, we undertake our scholarship for pay. Yet even in this realm of "workers worthyof their hire" (we hope) publication has usually been free!

No, books and journals have not been free, but authors have most often given them away, it is usually only the commercial publisher of the work who makes any significant money (and then often barely enough to meet their costs) royalties on the average book (or even well above average like your latest one) are barely cover the coffee consumed in its writing.

There's the real paradox of digital publishing, a sector (somehow in this over-managed world we are always part of a "sector") that traditionally gave away its (or at least this) product is wary of the new culture of free and hides its work behind the firewalls of commercial publishers. Apart from hidebound inertia and fear of the new what explains this strange reality?

[See also this old post by Mark Goodacre.]

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: Chapter 2: What was the alphabet for?
Chapter two does live up to my expectations, though it challenges some of my preconceived ideas. I had accepted the conventional view that, since the alphabet is a much simpler technology of writing, it of itself promoted a "democratisation" of writing in cultures that adopted it by comparison with syllabic writing. In particular I have assumed and taught that this was so in the (Southern) Levant compared with Mesopotamia or Egypt. Now Seth asks the very good question: If alphabetic writing was so superior to sylabaries how come it was adopted so slowly between the first known examples and its widespread use?
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script from Wikipedia
For most of the second half of the 20th century the earliest alphabetic writing seemed to be the Proto-Siniatic inscriptions from around 1500BCE. However, since 1999 the Darnells' discovery of an earlier example of alphabetic writing at Wadi el-Hol pushes the likely date of the invention of the alphabet back to probably between 2000 and 1800BCE.

If the superior or easier technology of alphabetic writing was not the driver of its adoption, what was? "What was the alphabet for?"

Sanders suggests the new form of writing, associated as it was by its origin with those on the margins of organised society (as is the [presumed?] case for examples of Proto-Siniatic), was adopted to express a different and more inclusive vision of society. At Ugarit (Late Bronze Age) one ritual text was found in multiple locations, while all others were found only in one copy. The exception is a communal liturgy of atonement.

In Hebrew too, in the biblical texts (presumed to come from the [late?] Iron Age), one text stands out, the scapegoat ritual in Lev 16. It was retained among the traditions preserved in Scripture, despite fitting poorly with the ethos and ideology of Leviticus or of its presumed Tradents. It like the ritual at Ugarit involves "the people" as a significant actor.

Alongside this Sanders criticises the tendency among biblical scholars to focus on the state (witness all the excitement recently about some substantial walls in Jerusalem that may now be dated to the tenth century), whilst there is evidence for an alternative politics not based on the polis or state, but rather tribal, and typical of speakers of West Semitic languages. He writes eloquently of the flexibility (with membership determined not merely by birth, but also and perhaps more significantly by ritual and declaration) and durability of tribal authority when compared with a "state" and its kingship.

[An interesting, almost throwaway line, suggests a connection between the Hebrew Bible's unusual prominence of narrative prose and the somewhat lengthy and discursive political addresses found in the Mari diplomatic correspondence.]

Intriguingly, but frustratingly, chapter two does not explicitly answer its title. To discover, for sure, what Sanders believes was the purpose of the adoption of the alphabet one has to read on...

As you can see this is page-turning stuff ;) indeed this chapter alone asks biblical scholars to overturn a number of (too little examined) presuppositions. If even most of Seth's many theses are widely accepted this book will be a landmark in the discipline of Old Testament studies.

If you have read this book, and have reviewed it please post a link in the comments to your review, if you have not (but either agree or disagree with the opinions and reactions poszted here) please post a comment explaining how. I am finding this book exciting reading and one reason for posting my reactions as I read is in the hopes of reading with other interesting and interested readers!

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Monday, February 08, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: Chapter One
The first chapter has the grand title "Modernity's Ghosts: The Bible as Political Communication". In a little over 20 pages it sets the scene for the study on a broad canvass of the several centuries of "bibilical criticism". It also makes the case for the revolutionary significance of the rest of the book. I confess I found it less interesting and inspiring than the Introduction or than the opening and closing sections of the other chapters suggest they will be. John Hobbins found the engagement with Hobbes "engaging" is a strong reminder to my readers that the cool response to this chapter here probably tells more about the reader than the work being reviewed. Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm can be understood by remembering that here with this reader Sanders is preaching to the choir, or perhaps my less than mastery of the history of enlightenment philosophy is to blame...

Whatever, I have done my duty, and later today can begin to relish chapter two, whose much more exciting title is "What Was the Alphabet For?

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Thursday, February 04, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: Introduction
In the "Introduction" Seth lays out the four chapters, paying particular attention to the questions that will be raised, and thus providing engaging teasers drawing the reader in.

The book as a whole is situated within a framework which stresses both the direct appeal of biblical texts to their hearers ("you") and to the (usually) communal identity of those hearers ("Hear, O Israel!"). As a Baptist, inheritor of the Anabaptists, I love the stress on the way Scripture produces and moulds the community that reads it. This emphasis will be crucial to the book as a whole.

So, the first chapter will situate the discussion in the broad sweep of intellectual history, and is intended to make a case for the claim that this book aims at a significant paradigm shift to viewing language and its literatures as constituitive of social identity as well as its product.

Chapter two focuses on the Ugaritic literature that precedes and in many ways prefigures the Hebrew Scriptures. It will claim that the combination of the technological form of that writing (alphabet rather than Cuneiform syllabary), its language (Ugaritic rather than Akkadian) and its literary style (address to "you") combine to make it revolutionary. It will also trace this political consciousness back into the Mari texts as well as onward into the Hebrew writings.

With this much (hopefully) in place the second half of the book promises to trace more closely the development of these literary phenomena against the history of the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. This seems to be where the book will become more than merely very interesting! In particular the notion of Assyrian vassals "pirating" the "genres of imperial sovereignty". It is here that Sanders will claim that in this process local rulers "invented" their local languages, and deliberately distinguished them. I love Seth's commentary here (6) on the opening words of the Mesha stele: "'I am Mesha, king of Moab, man of Diban.' Rather than claiming to be king of the universe [as Assyrian rulers routinely did] Mesha claims to be a native of his hometown." I resonate too with the recognition that: "Alphabetic writing, low-budget and easier to learn and produce, circulated outside the court" allowing Levantine communities to speak back to their rulers :)

The discussion of scribal culture and training sounds really exciting too, and the claim that alphabetic scribal practice (in cultures of the Levant) may not have been like that of Imperial syllabic scribal culture seems both obvious and interesting. Here Sanders' determination to deal with the datable (epigraphic) texts from the period sounds excitingly new and powerful.

Yes! I'm sold, this is a book I'll enjoy reading, but already in ways I have not had time to explore here I am aware that it will not merely confirm my prejudices but also challenge and enlighten them, not least by the way Seth intends to situate the discussion rigorously in a broader than biblical context.

This is a proud book, the first sentence under "Limits and goals" claims: "This book is not a history of biblical literature, but ... an explanation of how shuch literature became possible." (7)

[Yesterday, I planned to deal with the "Conclusion" as well as the "Introduction" today, but time is passing and thoughts of land and earth call me back to Amos...]

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010
  The Invention of Hebrew: First impressions
At SBL Seth told me that in exchange for a review here (and/or in a journal) his publisher would be willing to send me a copy of his new book:
Sanders, Seth L. The Invention of Hebrew. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

How could I refuse, the pre-publication hype and Seth's own descriptions of the book suggest that I'll either love or hate it. It seems it addresses my passionate interest in the intersection of culture and technology, especially writing and communications technologies. And it is focused on the "invention of Hebrew". My only sadness was that I had to wait till I returned home from a ten week working trip/holiday in Thailand and other interesting places. I'm home, and along with other goodies the book was waiting for me :) I'll post the review here in several parts, and I'll follow my usual procedure for reading a book (rather than for writing a traditional review, which aims to become a seamless whole) and post piecemeal as I read.

So first I looked at the most important bits (at least for getting an overall idea of a book):
  • Publishers blurb
  • Table of contents
  • (Index etc.) not a read just a quick scan
  • Preface (unless the first sentence or two suggest it is a waste of time)
The Invention of Hebrew is an attractively produced small volume (171 pages of text - no small is good, big just means more waffle like an airport block buster a waste of time, and in an academic book probably not entertaining either). The paper feels nice, though the print could be larger and sharper or I could be younger and sharper. It has a short but useful looking index and a bibliography. (Don't you hate books where you have to hunt the notes for the first mention of a work you need to consult!) Priced at $50 but the publisher (University of Illinois Press, who have a strong stable of interesting Bible related works now) it is even better value at Amazon for $40. By only complaint so far - and if you read this Seth please pass it on to the series editor - is that it follows the idiotic habit of listing the notes at the back and numbering them separately for each chapter. (This device developed in the BC period when it was hard work for poor writers and editors to keep track of all the notes and difficult for typesetters to place them at the foot of the relevant page. Computers changed all this. But graphic designers like "clean-looking pages" and actual users are not considered, once we have bought a copy publishers have no interest in our reading experience. Readers of academic texts need references, so either use the Harvard system of inline references, or use footnotes!)

The publishers blurb claims that Seth's book is groundbreaking: "absolutely innovative", "makes new knowledge", "first book to..." It also suggests that the work has an interesting thesis that Hebrew was a "self-conscious political language" promoting "a source of power previously unknown in written literature: 'the people' as the protagonist of religion and politics". Which is nicely sweeping and in a bookstore would lead me to open the work.

The preface is not at all one of the dead and dull ones that give "preface" a bad name, it is lively, quasi-autobiographical, and tells us that Seth intends to address loads of interesting questions:
  • Language and identity: "Did writing always flow from your spoken language and everyday identity, or did the relationship change? And if it did could that change who you were?"
  • Bible and politics The history of how "the Bible exercises power: through the manner in which it speaks to people". Have maximalists and minimalists both connived at reducing politics in Ancient Israel to the exercise of state power? (A question dear to the heart of every aspiring Anabaptist ;)
  • Biblical Studies and the academy "What does biblical studies have to say to the rest of the academy?"
The table of contents reads as if the book were a collection of unrelated essays:
  1. Modernity's Ghosts: The Bible as Political Communication
  2. What Was the Alphabet For?
  3. Empires and Alphabets in Late Bronze Age Canaan
  4. The Invention of Hebrew in Iron Age Israel
The four chapters are enclosed by an "Introduction" and a "Conclusion", but their titles do not strongly suggest their coherence and progression. Each looks interesting but they do not obviously work together. However, the sort of questions foregrounded in the "Preface" suggests that the blurb may not be exaggerating, this could be a ground breaking and interesting book. So I am hoping the "Introduction"will reveal how the chapters work.

All in all, I can hardly wait to read the "Introduction" and "Conclusion" tomorrow!

(But today I must make more progress on my chapter for The Gospel and the Land of Promise. My chapter will either be titled: "'Exile away from his land:' is landlessness the ultimate punishment in Amos?" or perhaps: "Land and earth, judgement and gospel in Amos".)

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010
  Poetry 2.0 ?

NZ Book Council - Going West

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Sunday, January 17, 2010
  Might I ambiguate, please?
Christmas #23 - One hundred sigma by kevindooley
Miriam Bier wrote in her Facebook status "question: if you can disambiguate, can you not also ambiguate?"

In view of my recent posts I have to claim an emphatic: Can I [you choose the punctuation]

Since the halcyon days when I was a bright young thing the world has gained an almost infinitely greater degree of capacity to communicate. I grew up in a world of broadcast (TV and Radio - basically one way transmission of information, one way is not communication), print (also basically one way - one way is a dead end ;) and occasional handwriting (letters and such) and even more occasional telephone chats (once or twice a week to my fiancée) as the extent of common long distance communication. So a face-to-face world enriched by a little long distance communication and a lot of one to many lecturing. Now, a generation later, I sit in a refugee camp and email colleagues around the world, MSN my children in other continents, and Facebook and blog to all who are interested. Almost instant, almost ubiquitous and almost free communication. My 1975 self would see this as utopian.

BUT this increased capacity to communicate also increases our access to information, which increases our (own estimates of our) knowledge. Greater perceived certainty is a dangerous thing. It leads to simplistic black and white thinking. This combined with our increased capacity to communicate, leading to fads (on a global scale like the latest TV sensation or publishing blockbuster, or locally like the way biblical studies bloggers have rashes of posts about the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon), produces an uncertain, unstable world.

That's dangerous as well as exciting. An uncertain world in which humans are more "certain" scares me. Certainty is the enemy of truth, truth comes from living with ambiguity, ambiguation is the servant of truth.

See also: John's History versus Myth: A True False Dichotomy and my Internet fast: The degradation of predictability - and knowledge.

So, my friends: Ambiguate all you can! Disrupt certainty :)

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Saturday, January 16, 2010
  Internet fast: The degradation of predictability - and knowledge
Interdependence Tree photo by House Of Sims
Nassim N. Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering, NYU-Poly, for his contribution [to the online symposium see also my summary of Hillis' post for context] has argued that greater information produces greater confidence, and in this post adds that since the Internet does not merely increase our access to information but also our interdependence (see the previous post). Interdependence increases fads (he uses both Harry Potter and the globalisation of runs on banks as examples). "Such world", he writes, "is more "complex", more moody, much less predictable."

His conclusion is practical and personal, in an attempt to regain wisdom like that shown by the ancients and people from the pre-Internet past, he is enjoying an Internet fast:
I am not entirely deprived of the Internet; this is just a severe diet, with strict rationing. True, technologies are the greatest things in the world, but they have way too monstrous side effects — and ones rarely seen ahead of time. And since spending time in the silence of my library, with little informational pollution, I can feel harmony with my genes; I feel I am growing again.

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  Snippets on how the Internet is changing us
There is a brilliant collection of short essays at Edge, edited by Jonn Brockman in which several digerati reflect on how "the Internet" [a term the first contributor, computer scientist, W. Daniel Hillis notes is not unproblematic] is changing us. They are all good, but here are my highlighted snippets.

Hillis suggests print enabled "the enlightenment" the Internet enables the "entanglement". In the enlightenment we became independent, in the entanglement we are becoming interdependent:
In an Internet-connected world, it is almost impossible to keep track of how systems actually function. Your telephone conversation may be delivered over analog lines one day and by the Internet the next. Your airplane route may be chosen by a computer or a human being, or (most likely) some combination of both. Don't bother asking, because any answer you get is likely to be wrong.

Soon, no human will know the answer. More and more decisions are made by the emergent interaction of multiple communicating systems, and these component systems themselves are constantly adapting, changing the way they work. This is the real impact of the Internet: by allowing adaptive complex systems to interoperate, the Internet has changed the way we make decisions. More and more, it is not individual humans who decide, but an entangled, adaptive network of humans and machines.

He illustrates this discussing Internet Time Protocol the system that allows software to know what time/date it is now, so saving humans from needing to enter the time and date on bootup. The system depends on multiple networked devices, and few if any programmers understand it, we all use it. We are interconnecting not only when we are aware of it, but also and particularly when we are not.

One item only from Hans Ulrich Obrist's (Curator, Serpentine Gallery, London) partial and multiple alphabet of an answer:
D is for Doubt
A certain unreliability of technical and material information on the Internet brings us to the notion of doubt. I feel that doubt has become more pervasive. The artist Carsten Höller has invented the Laboratory of Doubt, which is opposed to mere representation. As he has told me, 'Doubt and perplexity ... are unsightly states of mind we'd rather keep under lock and key because we associate them with uneasiness, with a failure of values'. Höller's credo is not to do; not to intervene. To exist is to do and not to do is a way of doing. 'Doubt is alive; it paralyzes certainty.' (Carsten Höller)
Yes! Now, can we encourage students to begin to understand this?

The ever stimulating Clay Shirky, Social & Technology Network Topology Researcher, provoked me most with this Contrarian gem:
Rabbi Avrohom Osdoba (photo by goldberg)
It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race, a misfortune because surplus always breaks more things than scarcity. Scarcity means valuable things become more valuable, a conceptually easy change to integrate. Surplus, on the other hand, means previously valuable things stop being valuable, which freaks people out.
This is the lesson Big Music is beginning to learn, the moving image industry has begun to face, that is freaking the publishers, but will change higher education beyond belief (one day, soon?). [See my Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation especially the first section "Return of the Rabbi" 115-121.]

And, I am only about half-way through the articles :) What a cornucopia of stimulating thinking!

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Friday, January 15, 2010
  Google, politics and diplomacy
Commenting on my "Has Google gained a conscience?" post below Bill said:
Timing is so critical. I suspect it's a good thing that Google waited as long as it did to make this a line in the sand. The Chineese people are more likely to notice, now.
This is a really interesting comment, and even more striking are the thoughts it provokes. For Bill is likely spot on. If enough people in China have become Google-dependent, especially families of people with influence, then this new hard line of Google's could be effective.
Image from La Gaceta
If it is, it could also be the point from which future historians date the beginning of the state of Google, Google's definitive entry into politics and diplomacy. Already de facto if not de jure Google controls a huge proportion of the global access to information. It also wields significant economic power, if it adds to that an active use of its "hearts and minds" power Google has the potential to significantly impact global politics and diplomacy. For many years people have worried about the monetary "clout" of large corporations (though these worries may be due more to miscalculations than reality), perhaps though the information barons pose the real threat to democracy, as well as or after the threat they pose to tyranny.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010
  Has Google gained a conscience?
Tank Man — This famous photo, taken on 5 June 1989 by photographer Jeff Widener, shows the PLA's advancing tanks halting for an unknown man near Tiananmen Square.
A while back lots of people complained when Google caved in to Chinese pressure and began systematic censoring of political information on (the example most often used was image searches for "Tianamen Square" which allover the world, except in China, showed most prominently a lonely activist facing down a tank - in China only innocuous tourist photos.

At last thanks to "someone" attempting to unearth information (in part from their Gmail accounts) about Chinese political activists Google has got a conscience and is changing its policy. As a result the Google blog says:
We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.
A moderately large step for a corporation, a giant leap for humanity!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009
  Science or commerce? Copy right or copywrong?
Duane posted an abnormally interesting certificate which came from Lawrence Lessig's keynote talk to EDUCAUSE09. The video is here (I have not seen it as we only have slow intermittent Internet here on the Thai-Burma border).

I posted a long comment on Duane's blog, but since I am unlikely to post anything else here in the next while, on holiday with intermittent Internet, I'll reproduce here in even more extended and focused form, as a post.

Copyright, which seems to mean the right to forbid others to copy, may or may not be theft. Actually, of course it is NOT theft, producers of creative works have the right to obtain a reasonable (or at least today an unreasonable, if they are sufficiently famous) income from their work.

But copyright certainly IS the antithesis of science, since any science worthy of the name is open to debate and criticism.

Education is more interesting. There are two extreme cases:
  • There is a commercial form of education that exists to ration and control the supply of licenced practitioners of various professions - that sort must love copyright.
  • Then there is education as the process of learning to share in the process of growing and nurturing knowledge - that sort detests copyright as its antihesis.
Technology is another really interesting case, which Lessig (on this slide, as I have not seen the whole, having slow intermittent Internet here on the Thai-Burma border) does not mention.

As for education, the question is: Is technology science or commerce?

Now let's consider the case of theological study or education. Is copyright right or wrong? Is theology science (in this post I have tried consistently to use "science" in it's European sense of an open and criticisable body of knowledge) or commerce?

I know where I stand :)

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Sunday, November 29, 2009
  Is it is the last word that matters: Jim W on Google Wave
Jim W has experienced Google Wave, unlike the rest of us he has had time to explore (how does the man ever find the time?) and decided it's OK, but not too special...

I wonder, Jim may be right:
It’s an excellent tool for collaborative work among groups... Other than that, though, I am not quite convinced that it’s all that revolutionary or useful.
Photo by brewbooks
But then he admits that as more people use it its usefulness may change. His final word on the subject (in this post ;) was "yet". That may well be the key, when/if Wave becomes as ubiquitous as email was in the 90s it may take off as email has, and reach a whole new level of importance. Before that, email was useful, but no one regarded it as vital. Now, imagine life without email!

My take on Wave? I still don't know I've had too little time to look and feel, but I suspect it may be the killer app, the thing that takes us to a new level and enters our lives like email has, but not yet!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009
  Degrees of presence V: Works I should have cited and didn't
AKMA in his comment drew my attention to his reflections on presence I should have Googled his blog earlier, there's at least a really interesting reflection from Saturday, February 09, 2002, and the piece from 2006 Plus Ça Change that ended with a facscinating paragraph:
Of course, the church has been trying to think through the importance of non-spatial identities for centuries, which helps explain my confidence that a theologian’s perspective can contribute to the discussion. All along, people’s identities have been constituted by the memories, links, knowledge, and patterns that they share (or not) with the rest of the world; in our digital environment, those aspects of identity come to the fore. Let’s not shackle them to simulated spatiality, but instead let’s seek out a way to work with identity in ways indigenous to a non-spatial identity ecology.
Photo from Brownblog
Forgetting simulated spatiality, which is only an issue in distance education for the goofs who are using second life to mimic classrooms, ARE there ways in which non-spatial identity or presence have a distinctly different ecology? or Are we merely talking about different media of communication? Does the absence of smell (to take the most evident example of a difference in mediation between physical and distance modes) REALLY make a qualitative difference?

Then (not temporarily since I am mentioning the items out of order, or rfather in my own chosen order), when having talked about the AKMAs his physical presence might with varying degrees of falsity bring to mind in someone experiencing his presence:
a tweedy academic in a town overrun with tweedy academics or a visibly-identifiable priest (at a cultural moment when any given (male) priest bears the suspicion that he has done horrible things to children)
He concluded talking about:
[a] new, freshly ambiguated zone between full physical presence (and I've learned enough from my postmodern studies to doubt the obviousness of "presence") on one hand and merely-verbal communicative absence (on the other) that we wrestle with the messages that come to us from we-know-not-exactly-where. As we learn how to live appropriately, I might say "authentically" to bring us back around to the topic we were talking about when I first met many of you, under these unfamiliar conditions, we will find neither that "religion" is passé, nor that we are truly immaterial beings trapped in decaying flesh, but that there's more to cyberplace than just immaterial or physical existence, more even than we have dreamed of.
I am again left wondering if the different mediation of "cyberspace" is not more significant than the "cyberspace" idea suggests, and therefore the difference in "presence" less significant...

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Friday, November 27, 2009
  Degrees of Presence IV: My experience
I have already mentioned the striking presence some students presented to each other in the blog assignment. This kind of experience has been often repeated, though not with quite that dramatic intensity. Such assignments which force students to interact with each other's thought, and not merely with that of unknown "scholars" who (despite being named in the heading, and sometimes being easily Googleable) remain somehow "anonymous", impersonal, to most students, who do not read enough to pick up the peculiar tone and voice of individual scholars. (Is it just good-old-days-ism or did we really read more and more intensely?)

I have also repeatedly (though sadly only in private communication not often in the more public forum of "Student Evaluations" of courses and teaching :( noted with pleasure the positive comments students make about my quick response to emails, and discussion forum posts. Several of these comments have been phrased in ways that make it clear that a greater sense of "presence" is generated and supported by this promptitude. Interestingly the student's own presence in the class seems reinforced in this way as well as the presence of a teacher in the class.
Photo by Ed Yourdon
Then this semester I used Adobe Connect to provide a "meeting room" in which I could conduct "distant tutorials". The software allows two way (or indeed multi-way) audio communication, live text messaging either to the group or privately to a selected individual, sharing of screens and programs as well as computerised whiteboard. The idea was to mimic the face to face tutorials in which we led on-site students through the practice of biblical interpretation.

The weekly Connect tutorials were supplemented and supported by other (asynchronous) online interaction: forums, exercises, online tests etc... This is an element of the course that needs more work and to be better done next year. But apart from that, with respect to distant tutorials what did I learn about  generating and nurturing "presence" at a distance?

Microphones: it makes a huge difference when most students have mics that work. Comparing a class where most have the ability to talk aloud with one were only a few have this capacity the difference is huge. (At least for me as teacher, I'd need to do some research to discover if the students' perceptions match mine.) Text messaging, in this multi-medium environment, is great as a back channel, but acts as an inhibitor of "presence" when used instead of voice as the main communication medium.

Multitasking: the multiple channels (voice, screen, whiteboard and text) combined with all the technical issues that need to be resolved, on top of the pedagogical responsiveness needed mean that having one "presenter" is not ideal. Often I was less present, or less effectively present (again targeted research would be needed to be sure which), than was optimally possible.

Task oriented: because it was the first time (apart from a couple of "practice" sessions) I had used the medium, and because I was aware that colleagues would be judging the utility of "virtual meeting" tools like connect to a significant degree based on how students performed in this class, I was too focused on the task. When the speaker is thinking more about the "content" than the communication presence suffers, and the interactive medium becomes more like a video lecture :( Fear of failure has much the same effect on many presenters at academic conferences, as I discovered afresh in a few gabbled sessions at SBL over the last few days - though in the room those presenters were hardly present for me, and I wish I had not been present for them ;)
Failure to encourage “social” contact: (probably one to file under Duh!) related to the above task orientation, I failed to realise that I should make more effort (in a relatively - at least compared with a face to face tutorial) impoverished media environment to generate mutual presence. We should have "wasted" more time on chitchat. By the end of the semester we did at least use the minutes while everyone collected in that way (at the start I am ashamed to note I was too busy with the technology to make small talk).

Despite these teething problems several students have already (without being asked) commented on the richer experience this richer medium permitted, and among these comments some already have chosen particularly to mention terms that relate to "presence" to describe the benefits they experienced compared with a "standard" distance course.

PS: I have not looked at the issues or research around "communities of inquiry" in this series because my goal is not to change the pedagogy we use radically - even if I am convinced such a change is desirable - but to explore the concept of "presence" and how it is experienced in teaching and learning at a distance.

List of works cited in this series so far

Garrison, D. Randy. 1997. Computer conferencing and distance education: cognitive and social presence issues. In , ed. International Council for Distance Education . Pennsylvania State University.

Richardson, Jennifer C., and Karen Swan. 2003. Examining Social Presence in Online Courses in Relation to Students' Percieved Learning and Satisfaction. Sloan Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7, no. 1: 74.

Shatzer, Milton J., and Thomas R. Lindlof. 1998. Media Ethnography in Virtual Space: Strategies, Limits, and Possibilities. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 42, no. 2: 170-89.

Short, John, Ederyn Williams, and Bruce Christie. 1976. The social psychology of telecommunications. London u.a: Wiley.

Short, John. 1972. Medium of communication and consensus. Lond.: Long Range Intelligence Division of Post Office Telecommunications Headquarters.

Short, John., Joint Unit for Planning Research. Communications Studies Group., and Great Britain. Post Office. Long Range Intelligence Division. 1973. The effects of medium of communication on persuasion, bargaining and perceptions of the other. Long range research paper, 50. London: British Post Office.

Stacey, Elizabeth. 2002. Social Presence Online: Networking Learners at a Distance. In , ed. Deryn Watson and Jane Andersen, 39-48. Springer, August 31.

Wheeler, Steve. 2005. Creating Social Presence in Digital Learning Environments: A Presence of Mind? In Learning Technologies 2005 Conference: Combined Presence. Queensland.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009
  Memento Mori, Secular Biblical Studies and why I do not wish to be a "Scholar"
For some reason that I cannot explain (but which was NOT the skill of other drivers ;) I was thinking on my drive to work this morning about the question: What would I change about my life if I KNEW there was no God and that death was the final curtain.
  • Would I still have wanted to be a faithful husband and father? Yes!
  • Would I still love teaching? Yes!
  • Would I still be glad we spent a decade teaching in Africa? Yes!!
  • Would I still want to have been a Bible teacher for almost all my working life? No...
Then I remembered all the discussion on the biblical studies list, and the badge wars among the biblio-blogeratti, about the question of "secular biblical scholarship". Or if Philip Davies is right, and that term were to be recognised as redundant 'biblical "scholarship"' as opposed to the careful, debated and discussable study of the Sacred Texts of Jews and Christians which - I guess by analogy - we have to call 'Beliving Biblical Study' (at least if Philip is roight and the term Believing Scholarship is an oxymoron).

Frankly, if I did not believe (I do not use "know" for probabilities I assess as less than 85%, actually I am reluctant to say "know" at much higher probabilities than that, I am not even sure I would say 'I know that night will fall this evening' for I can envisage possibilities with greater than zero probability that it might not, but for this conversation let's set the bar low ;) that God exists, and that the Bible in some sense reveals God to us, then why bother spending the hours I do studying (even if not scholarshiping - since Philip and the others would claim that scholarship is not what I do) and teaching the Bible?

OK, the Bible is an interesting ancient text, its narrative style and poetry are striking and often beautiful... but to spend my life digging at it and encouraging others to do the same? Surely without belief that is הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים and great weariness of the flesh.

What a shame!

If I believe Philip and the other Secular Biblical Scholars that this title is redundant, and Believing Biblical Scholarship is an oxymoron, then I'd rather be no scholar, but continue to study (am I allowed that word or is that too an oxymoron?) Scripture, because it is Scripture. I just hope my fellow students (who are, at least some of them are, like me, no-scholars but believers of a sort, and so bereft of the Olympian certitude of the much-proclaimed "scholars") will continue to criticise and debate and discuss and test what I write as they always have and not descend into the moronic dictats that the "scholars" claim is the inevitable result of studying anything one actually ascribes value to!
Image above from Wikipedia

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Monday, September 21, 2009
  Preserving lemons
After work today (all that marking ;) I needed some "making something" therapy. Dough for flat bread to eat with the beans in the slow cooker is rising quietly in the kitchen, and there is the joyful sight of a new jar of preserved lemons sitting quietly waiting.

Preserving lemons is real slow food. Alchemy at work as physical and chemical processes, that scientists may understand, but that most cooks seek simply to profit from, work at the lemons (and a few limes for extra zing). The process of sitting quietly in a dark place, marinating in salt and spices softening the nasty bitterness of the white pith extracting the unwanted tastes into the liquid, whilst, paradoxically at the same time transferring the intense zing of the zest to the whole. (I told you it is pure alchemy :)

In a few months time these citrus fruits will be ready for their turn in the slow cooker with chicken and olives...

If you have never preserved lemons, start tomorrow. Beg, borrow or buy some lemons (and ideally a few limes, 1 to 4 is fine). Cut them in quarters, press them down into a jar, witgh plenty of salt. Plenty might be a tablespoon depending on the size of your lemons. This is slow food, do not ask for exact recipes ;) In the jar you have probably put a cinnamon stick, some corriander seeds, a bay leaf or three, and if you must some chilli (other spices too are optional). Over the next few days (slow food remember) as the lemons sink gracefully into the brine, add more. When this process slows top up with oil, and seal the jar.

Wait a few months, hiding the jar in a dark corner so that you can be patient. In a few months, remember this is slow food ;) you can at last unite the lenons with the chicken and the olives in a dish that even lemonophobes and olive haters will enjoy and demand more of.

I'll give you the recipe soon, as even slow foodies are somewhat impatient, and waiting is half the savour ;)

[If, when you return in a few months, you find black mold on the surface it just means that the oil did not completely cover the mix, scoop it off and pretend it never happened.]

HT: This post was inspired by thre realisation that we only have 1.5 jars left from the Christmas stock, and by Rachel Barenblat the Velveteen Rabbi.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009
  What's wrong with this picture?
I've been thinking about how to respond to Julia's biker Jesus, all rippling body builder muscles. Flexing his forearms to snap the bars of the cross. With the slogan: "You drew first blood. But. I'll be back." Apart from the obvious problem, that such a Jesus saves no one except himself, what's wrong with this picture?

It says no where in the Gospels that Jesus was weedy, granted neither does it say he went to the gym for hours every day, still carpentering probably meant that like my grandad he would have been muscly and even if wirey, strong. Not at all like the weedy androgynous Jesus of generations of popular Protestant iconography. You know the one with the wishy washy gentle smile and wavey blond or light chestnut hair down to his shoulders.

Actually, that's what's wrong with both pictures. They are pictures of Jesus. Not portraits of Jesus of Nazareth, but images of Jesus the son of God. Ikons in an iconoclast tradition. Orthodox Christianity, by and large, dismissed the Bible's iconoclastic streak, and happily developed a tradition of imaging God. Love them or hate them, Jesus images in the Orthodox tradition usally manage to avoid reducing Jesus to a kitch boy or girly boy next door. Protestant Christianity however reinvented iconoclasm. When this refusal to make plastic images of God breaks down, we have no tradition protecting us from this error. The result Jesus the girly-boy and Jesus the biker dude.

So... the deep question is, not so much: "What's wrong with this picture?" as in a culture that has become radically more visual, image-driven, can we retain the commandment: "You must not make for yourselves any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth..." or can we develop a stronger more theological iconographic aesthetic tradition that enables us to say firm NO to both Jesus the circus strong man and the gentle Jesus meek and mild (who features verbally in the Jesus is my boyfriend songs worship teams inflict on us, as well as visually in most Protestant religious graphics).

[I believe that Julia's image reproduces a painting by Boris Vallejo.]


Wednesday, September 16, 2009
  Citing Internet Ephemera
By its nature the Internet is an ephemeral medium, how many of the Biblioblog 500 still have the same URL as when they started (incidentally the site itself has moved so recently Google still lists the old URL alongside the new one ;) Why, even the venerable NT Gateway used to have a different URL just a few years back.

This makes scholars nervous of citing digital media. This is bad for scholarship, but good for nostalgia buffs who want to be scholars. They can go on advocating paper for preference.

Enter WebCite...
WebCite®, a member of the International Internet Preservation Consortium, is an on-demand archiving system for webreferences (cited webpages and websites, or other kinds of Internet-accessible digital objects), which can be used by authors, editors, and publishers of scholarly papers and books, to ensure that cited webmaterial will remain available to readers in the future. If cited webreferences in journal articles, books etc. are not archived, future readers may encounter a "404 File Not Found" error when clicking on a cited URL. Try it! Archive a URL here. It's free and takes only 30 seconds.
This needs to be better known, so please pass it on... HT to Suzanne McCarthy

NB: in case you think I should have referenced the Biblioblog Top 50 above I've done it here (so please don't complain ;)

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Saturday, September 05, 2009
  Digital audio and 'reading' the Bible
This morning I did my talk at the Digital Faith session at the University of Auckland, I've prepared short summaries of the two sections of my talk. The first is the introduction, which sets the scene, and introduces the PodBible project:

The second is a summary of the ideas behind the vernacular resourcing through approximate oral translation (that I have presented before here - but cannot resist

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Monday, August 31, 2009
  Digital Faith @ The University of Auckland
On Saturday I'm sharing in a morning of talk and discussion titled Digital Faith, hosted by the University of Auckland's School of Theology, the other speakers will be interesting and challenging all have blogs worth subscribing to:
  • Mark Brown @ Brown Blog
    CEO Bible Society New Zealand & founder Anglican Cathedral in Second Life
  • Stephen Garner @ Greenflame
    Lecturer in Theology and Popular Culture, School of Theology, University of Auckland
  • Heidi Campbell @ When religion meets new media
    Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication, Texas A&M University & author of Exploring Religious Community Online.
But as well as tuning in to their blogs, if you are near Auckland do come to the session:
OGGB4 Lecture Theatre, Level 0, Owen G Glenn Building, Grafton Road, The University of Auckland
Saturday 5th September 9am-12pm
$5.00 morning tea provided

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009
  Open Office, Spellcheckers and National Pride
My daughter Sarah and I have been using Open Office, and finding it a great replacement for the Wordprocessor, Presentation program and Spreadsheet offered by the Great Satan.

Except... since the upgrade to 3.1 we have had strange spellings accepted instantly by the spell chekker ("chekker" is an example - this is not normal NZ English spelling ;)

I have solved the problem, OO (like many citizens of the Imperial Homeland) is unaware that NZ is not part of Australia. I needed to tell OO that I wrote Australian English and now the spell checker works fine - though God help us if it ever starts to check pronunciation ;)

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Friday, May 29, 2009
  Screencasting for free
Any excuse to avoid marking ;) I'll tell you about screencasting for free. I've been using the brilliant Camtasia for a couple of years, and it does everything I want brilliantly, but some of my colleagues want to start, and a site licence would cost an arm and a leg [Just joking, but it will cost more than this year's budget would allow.] No worries two downloads and they can be screencasting, if not like professionals, at least easily and effectively!

Here's one I prepared earlier:

The two tools I used to make it are (excluding Firefox):
  • Capture Fox the screencasting add on for Firefox
  • Miksoft's Mobile Media Converter "free fast and easy" it converts most audio formats and many video formats into many others, for this job it will render the big fat AVI file Capture Fox produces as small lean MP4 or WMV video
My more usual use for the brilliant little converter is to code MP3 files of classes into AMR files that are only 20% of the size so that students on dialup can download a whole hour's class. Incidentally the video above (uploaded to one of the best video sharing sites and one which does not claim unnecessary rights to your work - as YouTube does) was under 2MB for 1.5 minutes!

PS: As anonymous comments below there is a Beta version available here which compresses the AVI file better. Using Miksoft's converter will still give much smaller file sizes, but for people who don't like technology the new version would make it a one step process instead of two. And probably many of you have less students on dialup still or poor "broadband" than we have in NZ ;) So a great tool is getting better.

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Friday, April 10, 2009
  Email attachment woes: a cure
When I upgraded from Pegasus to Thunderbird as my email client the one thing I really really missed was the neat way Pegasus would look for words or parts of words like "attach", "enclose", "file" and ask me "Did you mean to have an attachment?" if there was no attached file.

Now Lifehacker mentioned an addin for Outlook users to achieve the same thing. In the comments I found that there is one for Thunderbird.

So, missing attachments should no be (almost) a thing of the past, again, here in the future! I've seen the future and at last it works - as well as the past ;)

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Monday, March 30, 2009
  The story and the narratives
I'm teaching biblical narrative this semester, so I was interested in the post by Nick Montfort to narrations of "Little Red Riding Hood":
to which we can add Mary Hess' link to Little Red Riding Hood as infographic.

So, tell me please gentle reader, was/were the one(s) you consumed "same" story, or a new story? And why?

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Friday, March 20, 2009
  iPod for reading or reading for iPods
There's a fascinating, if slightly wandering post, both on the eponymous sebastianmary and on if::book about how an "iPod for reading" might impact our reading culture.

In it one of the great falacies of most discussion of e-books is exposed. The (probably unconscious, or maybe wishful) assumption is almost ubiquitous that when e-books finally arrive (or if they have with Kindle II, now that they have at last finally arrived ;) they will be just like traditional codex books.

But as the post points out, our idea of a "normal book" is a construct, not of literary decisions but economics:
Length is determined as well, by manufacturing constraints at the top end, and the fixed overheads of printing at the bottom. Bookshops are crammed with full-length books whose contents could just as well be communicated in a short essay, or even in the title alone: I’m thinking of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, but a glance at the self-help or business shelves of your local bookshop will show you plenty more. And yet to make economic sense they have to be padded out for publication  in ‘proper’ book size.
And since we are thinking iPod for reading, think also of what iPods have done to music. Almost no one buys "albums" for iPods, what people buy is tracks. E-books have no economic constraints on size - in either direction. Yet our electronic reading favours short focused writing.
So, extrapolating from this to an iPod for reading, what is the written equivalent of a single song? In a word (or 300), belles lettres.
Add to this renaissance of belles lettres and essays the electronic capacity for intereaction between writer and reader leads to the dream:
Armed with such a device, creating playlists, mashups, collages of our favourite short works, we might become a generation of digital Montaignes, annotating and expanding our collective discourse. Blogging is already, in effect, the re-emergence of belles lettres; and while blog posts are typically written for the moment, a device that could earn the blogger a small sum (and the cachet of being considered worthy of archiving) for every essay downloaded might well inspire a renaissance in short work written for a longer lifespan.
Sadly this is just the point at which I begin to doubt... I've heard before once or thrice that micro-payments are the salvation of serious culture on the web. See a couple of my old posts and the links there:
PS: do read sebastian mary's article, my summary and sour critique do not do it justice!

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Thursday, March 12, 2009
  Loss of library privileges
Angkor Library Sunset by Stuck in Customs on Flickr
Sven Birkerts, author of the classic Guttenberg Elergies, has written a thoughtful and interesting piece "Resisting the Kindle". There he argues that Kindles represent a move to electronic reading. The convenience and effectiveness of such reading devices hasten (I am not writing from experience, Kindles are not available or usable down here!) is killing something significant in human culture.

Birkets is still a fine writer. He still has a gift for perceiving significant changes beneath the surface of culture. So I have tried to read his piece sympathetically. But, its wrong headed.

Birkets argument (as I understand it) is that the physical manifestation of culture in "books" (by book he means a paper codex) and libraries is important, not just as an organisation of information, knowledge and ideas but somehow for that very physicality. Asa Christian this idea is appealing. Birkets is claiming that the cultural "soul" cannot be split off from its "body".

He argues persuasively that knowledge is contextual, and that a fact retrieved on a handheld electronic device (his example is a Blackberry accessing a service like Wikipedia) decontextualises information. He is right. And this decontextualisation is a major problem with current electronic information systems.

And yet... When he writes:
Turning up a quote by tapping a keyboard is not the same as, say, going to Bartlett’s—it short-circuits all contact with the contextual order that books represent. As I see it, the Kindle ethos—offering print by subscription, arriving from a vast, undifferentiated cyber-emporium out there—abets the decimation of context.
He suggests a weakness in his argument. For surely a dictionary of quotations is itself a decontextualisation of information. Its convenience and its predigestion of knowledge are bookish forerunners of the very electronic systems Birkets bemoans.

For Birkets, like an anti-technophile who deeply loves his favourite technology (the codex and the library) concludes that the medium is the message in a deep and irreplaceable way:
So if it happens that in a few decades—maybe less—we move wholesale into a world where information and texts are called onto the screen by the touch of a button, and libraries survive as information centers rather than as repositories of printed books, we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another. We will also have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associative relationships of ideas and their creators. We may gain an extraordinary dots-per-square-inch level of access to detail, but in the process we will lose much of our sense of the woven narrative consistency of the story. That is the trade-off. Access versus context. As for Pride and Prejudice—Austen’s words will reach the reader’s eye in the same sequence they always have. What will change is the receiving sensibility, the background understanding of what this text was – how it emerged and took its place in the context of other texts—and how it moved through the culture.
Think about this claim. It is another example of the fetishisation of the "book". Somehow for Birkets finding a novel shelved just so in a library evokes the historico-cultural context of the novel that Birkets learned through his education. Finding the same text through an electronic process (even though the contextual information might be presented in more convenient form - accessible even by poor plebs who lack a refined education) will fail. Because it fails to evoke the mystique Birkets desires.

Don't cry for lost manuscript editions, learn to use print effectively. Don't bemoan the supercession of books, learn to recontextualise text in the electronic medium!

Such recontextualisation is precisely what Blackberrying a quote on Wikipedia permits, in a setting where books and libraries are inaccessible. This is potentially a democraisation of knowledge as well as information. Instead of weeping for lost privilege (an expensive education and a library card for the best institutional libraries) learn to assist the masses as we adopt the new technology!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
  Defending God
Humans have a strange need to defend God. Somehow deep-wired into us is a desire to protect God from God's own actions. (At least the central poetic section of) the book of Job argues forcefully that this desire is wrong, humans cannot make God just because we lack the necessary inforation to understand. Indeed the very desire is impious! (As the formulaton above "make God just" makes clear by its phrasing - this desire is blasphemy, setting self over God.)

Claude is running a series about one of the ways many Evangelicals are tempted to commit this impiety, saving the Bible from itself. The reasoning seems to go:
  • the Bible is God's word
  • therefore it can contain no error
  • my Bible seems to say that Joshua wrote the book that follows Deuteronomy or that Amos wrote the book that has his name on it
  • but scholarship shows that these people are very unlikely to have written these books
  • therefore scholars are wrong and not proper Bible-believing Evangelicals 
The result is a whole industry that seeks to protect the Bible (and the God to whom it belongs) from itself. Great Bible readers of the past were more careful in their reading of the Bible, and less inclined to believe that they knew better than God! On the date of Joshua (one regular candidate for such "defense") Calvin wrote:
As to the Author of this Book, it is better to suspend our judgment than to make random assertions.

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Friday, January 09, 2009
  What made blogs significant?
Jenna, who commented on the post below, linked to a post of hers that that opens presenting Rheingold's distinction between "audience" and "public" - basically an "audience" is composed of passive receivers, while a "public" engages with and/or acts on the material. The distinction is useful, though I've never liked Rheingold's language for it. Many audiences used to be very engaged etc. though perhaps they have become culturally less so with the advent of TV.

I am thinking of a 1960s political meeting, with hecklers - with whom the speaker, Harold Wilson, "speaking" from an upper floor window of a terraced house in a less wealthy part of Leicester, engaged vigorously ;) There were also a whole cast of audience "types" as well as hecklers there were protestors and the bouncers who removed them, the true believers who rose for a standing ovation at the close of the speech, and many participants who then went out to canvas in an election. If I compare that scene with a TV audience, participation has been numbed into merely shouting at the referee, or offering unheard advice to the character in a soap; or dumbed and commercialised into TXT us and we'll either charge you $1 to vote in our poll, or (in the most generous case) put you into a draw to get one of our sponsors products free.

The distinction is also always a spectrum, particular audiences (and indeed individual members) are more or less involved and active, "public", but still it is a helpful distinction to consider.

Jenna turns from introducing Rheingold's classification to discussing blogs whose "authors leverage 2.0 practices" and briefly touches on the history of blogs. This is where I think it gets interesting. As Jenna reminds us, blogs began as "Weblogs" - online diaries. As weblogs, the genre was of minority interest and only a few were read by more than the writer and their second cousin who found it via a Google (or perhaps, in those far off times, some other search engine) search for the person's name. Then weblogs evolved, they added features permitting "comments" and other arcane interactions like trackbacks and blogrolls... in short, as well as shortening their name, blogs added "community". The blog bubble was born.

[I have a post in my head, that I WILL write "one day soon", on the recent discussion of "the death of blogging" - basically I'll claim that reports of this "death" are somewhat exaggerated but seek to outline some of the live areas amid the dead wood...]

[I also have a post that bemoans the way in which Christian organisations online simply do not "get" the culture but persist in seeking to address what Rheingold would call "audiences", that also will get written "some day after or before"...]

For now, notice the salient fact, blogging took off when it added interactivity and community. The resources that threaten the "death of blogging" are all offer more affordances for community. It is no accident that in 2008 Facebook killed the blog, or that (perhaps) in 2009 Twitter will kill Facebook. Community rules, OK?

[One question remains... can I bear to become a Twit?]

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Thursday, January 08, 2009
  Participatory pedagogy and cultural literacy
Dubbed "the explainer" by Wired magazine, Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the impact of new media on society and culture. After two years studying the impact of writing on a remote indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, he has turned his attention to the effects of social media and digital technology on global society. His videos on technology, education, and information have been viewed by millions, translated in over ten languages, and are frequently featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide.

Prof Wesch has a stimulating post on Participatory Media Literacy: Why it matters, he draws heavily on a fine essay Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies, by Howard Rheingold. With one of the longest running stimulating gurus of digital collaboration (Rheingold) and one of the hottest - recently voted Prof of the Year - US tertiary teachers around (Wesch) there are plenty of stimulating ideas to reflect on.
Howard Rheingold is a critic and writer; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing). He is the author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs. website: vlog:

Reading the two underlines WHY teaching about digital literacy (beyond the standard "how to use the library catalogue, online databases and Zotero to research and write an essay in a Wordprocessor") is vital whether one is teaching Chemistry, Anthropology or Old Testament.

Just as it was not merely the technology of moveable type that changed the economics of literature in early modern Europe, but even more the ways that technology was adopted and used that revolutionised the culture and the thought that changed "everything". If Luther and others had not adopted the technology and used it to undermine the old power structures in politics, theology and the academy the technology alone might have enabled a very different world, where Rome and the aristocratic families of Europe licenced print and censored its contents...

In 2009 the failure of banks and auto manufacturers demonstrates that the notion of a "free market" that can adjust itself successfully is evidently false. Yet if the new(ish) communications technologies are to have a liberating effect (like that of print) we have a greater need of an open market than ever. To achieve this we need literate users using the technologies, so that those who would harness them for their own benefit alone can be hampered as Luther's rude and crude cartoons scandalised those in power in late medieval Europe.
Digital literacy - as the ability to make use of the developing digital communications technologies - must be as widespread as possible. Yet the capacity to use the media alone is not enough, most students already Twitter and Facebook each other. They need also to think critically (surely a fundamental educational goal) about these media and the social and economic structures they inhabit and create.

As Rheingold tries to demonstrate only a participative pedagogy is up to this task. So, the deep questions are:
  • Can teachers learn fast enough? or
  • Will the volunteerism of "Web 2.0" be enough to open the doors?

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Thursday, December 18, 2008
  NT Greek music videos and publication
Danny has published another NT Greek music video this time the catchy title is "Present Active Indicative Song". I don't teach Greek, heck I don't even get to teach Hebrew any more, though I still have an interest in Hebrew teaching, but such resources are really useful.

After making this video available to the world and her uncle (if she lets her uncle share her Internet connection, as most of the world [outside Western culture] does [and even inside Western culture close family are usually allowed the odd share]), Danny then ponders the future: "as I am trying to ultimately get them published, I’m not sure how many more to share freely online :-)".
So, let's get this clear, in 21st century biblical studies making something available to almost anyone who wants it is NOT publication. Publication involves somehow controlling access to the resource so only people who pay can use it. That is a necessary, unavoidable (in the current situation) step to getting paid for your work, but what we habitually call publication is really privatization - making a work LESS public.

It is time we stopped calling a spade a "magic wand" and started calling it by the job it does - in this case the job "publishers" would perform for Danny is selling, not publishing.
Photo by teachandlearn
Now, selling is fine and necessary. Without some way to pay for work the "works" do not get produced - except in various amateur (for even when produced by highly trained people and even when those people are employed in the field unpaid work is "amateur") ways. But, "to sell" and "to publish" are two different terms with different meanings. It is high time we had a model for getting people payment for work consumed that allows them to really publish because currently all we have is a model that allows people to get paid for their work by rationning publication.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008
  Are "we" all addicts?
Frank has another fine post, on Humanitarian Chronicle, this time he points out how the impulse to spend is the sign of a deep-rooted addiction in Western culture. He began:
Allow me to make a confession - I have come to the realisation that I am an obsessive consumer. The sad thing is that in my world consuming is so normal, encouraged and needed for the survival of the economy in which I exist that I, like many other such addicts, have been mostly blind to my addictive compulsion. It’s placated so often without question that I’ve never been subject to the withdrawals and tendencies that drive my addiction to buy and consume.
Do you think, like his first commenter "I have always been a thrifty person myself so probably struggle a bit less."? I wonder, of the two most thrifty people I know round here, there is only one I do not suspect of suffering those moments that begin "with a thought - 'hmmmmm, I feel like a…' Presently I try to ignore that little thought."

So, how's your spending? Can you survive without feeding the consumption addiction? Or do you try to assuage the beast with a little purchase?

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