Currently Reading: How to Write A Lot

Thanks to a colleague who mentioned the book on Twitter, I have been reading How To Write A Lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing by Paul J. Silvia. It is a quick read, written a bit tongue in cheek (imo), and quite honestly, hasn’t quite rocked my world with new information.  The key points I’ve taken away so far (and I admit to being just over halfway through the book)

  1. schedule writing time and stick to it.
  2. write goals down. This is a two part-er – general “write x paper”, “grant proposal” etc, then the smaller tasks w/in each goal as well as “write X # of words a day….(which I recall a few colleagues using a web app for this …)
  3. Track progress: this one I liked a lot – not because I haven’t thought about it before (I like the writing a list and checking boxes off), but because he suggests using SPSS or excel to track progress so you can make charts and see progress in percentages etc — and I like charts!
  4. Start a writing group of peers (been there, done that – have had both great and not so great  – or rather productive – writing groups).
  5. Reward completion. This one I really like – I never really thought about “rewarding” work I SHOULD be doing ….

As I said, I am not done reading the book – I am not on the chapter about writing well –  and I haven’t learned the “secret” to being a productive writer – I was hoping there would be a magic formula …my problem is never the in the planning, but always in the follow-through… I make the best budgets in the world!! 😉

If anything, the book is good for a few hearty chuckles thanks to Silvia’s candid writing style.

*Update (March 27)

I finished the book today, and have to say, I enjoyed it much more from chpt 5 on – where he talks about style, how to write journal articles, books, co-authoring etc in APA style (my style of choice and intellectual upbringing). There are a few nuggets in the last few chapters, but my first summary stands – still no secret to writing a lot other than the “put butt to chair and ‘git’er done'” as I was so eloquently told while writing my dissertation.

Next Up On The Reading List: Kittler

I was going to read Zizek’s The Parallax view (since it was the third book bought at the same time as the other two) – but after reading a handful of pages, I realized my head just wasn’t into it. I need to be in the right frame of mind to read Zizek, as much as I love his work.

So – poking around my bookshelf of the many “to read” titles that have been collecting dust, I stumbled upon Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. I am only in the Translator’s Introduction, but so far am quite happy at how it connects to the last two books I’ve read in terms of media & tech history. While I have never been a big fan of psychoanalysis (or Lacan), I am a closet structuralist fan, and quite look forward to seeing what Kittler has to say, and how it fits in with the rest of what I have been reading.  “Not a Review” to come.

Random Thoughts on ‘Always Already New: Media, history and the data of culture’

Finished reading Lisa Gitelman’s Always Already New: Media, history and the data of culture a few days ago. I have to say, I was quite pleased with it on a few levels. First of all, I bought in at the same time as Hayles’ How We Think. It was completely haphazard – I love Hayles’ work, and Gitelman’s book was recommended to me by a colleague – so it was much to my delight that in the opening pages, Gitelman discusses Hayles’ work – and wraps the book up with thoughts on the digital humanities.

Other than happy connections, I really liked how Gitelman set up the direction of the book. Interesting, clear and pretty to the point that history is not absolute; that it can be told from many perspectives and can (and often should) be cognate of the peripheral contexts that contribute to creating that history. The ‘example’ chapters were really interesting – I never knew that the phonograph was originally invented as a dictation/playback object. As a sociologist, it made me a bit warm and fuzzy to read about the social forces that shaped it into a musical device. Of course, I know that social and economic elements impact/influence/shape the form and function of objects, but often, history tries to be “about the facts” in a way that does no account for the nuanced ways that history is shaped. Indeed, Gitelman talks about the difficulty in tracing such histories of  technologies (and objects), since often, it was only the ‘facts’ and milestones that were documented – not the subverted appropriation of the object over time until it is fully re-purposed as was the case of Edison’s phonograph.

I admit to being a bit confused heading into the section on ‘The Question of the Web” as she began with a part on the materiality of card stock and bibliographic content as ‘proof’ that could be constitutionally protected (referring to the 1968 court case of United States v. O’Brien and the burning of a draft card). But as I read along into the transition of digital copies, then digitally created content, I had my “hmmm … aha!” moment I enjoy so much when reading. The last section on the book focused on ARPANET and the development of the web… at first I was a bit ‘oh no, not this … again … ‘ but Gitelman brought be back by focusing not on the technological development (that I’ve read more times than I care to count) but on the process of documenting the process of development.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book – there were a few passages that I marked with a sticky tab for future reference – I would definitely recommend it for a good, thoughtful weekend read.

This is Not a Review: My thoughts on Hayles’ “How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis”

Finished reading Hayles’ How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis about a week or so ago and overall, I have to say I really enjoyed it …  of course with a few “buts” in there for good measure. I really like Hayles’ writing style. I personally find it complex but not complicated. I find her tone very accessible even if I have to stop and think after a paragraph once in a while – I like being forced to ponder what I just read before moving on. The opening chapters got me thinking about the differences between traditional and digital humanities, how they can work together in a complimentary ways,  about the different types of reading on and offline and the differences and values of them, the growing trend of interdiscplinary and networked research groups and what that brings to ideas of collaboration and results, and ultimately, the debate between narrative and database moving forward in thinking about structures of information.

As always, I was left highlighting and taking notes for future use – one of my favorites is the idea of “epistemic actions” – which, following Hayles “are understood to modify both the environment and cognitive-embodied processes that adapt to make use of those changes” (p. 98). One of the main goals in the opening chapters addresses ‘attention’ and how it is shaped and therefore, in turn shapes what is being attended to (in the case of the text, media and texts for the most part) … my favorite passage:

Weaving together the strands of the argument so far, I propose that attention is an essential component of technical change…, for it creates from a background of technical ensembles some aspect of their physical characteristics upon to which to focus, thus bringing into existence a new materiality that then becomes the context for technological innovation. Attention is not, however, removed or apart from the technological changes it brings about. Rather, it is engaged in a feedback loop with the technological environment within which it operates through unconscious and nonconscious processes that affect not only the background from which attention selects but also the mechanisms of selection themselves. Thus technical beings and living beings are involved in a continuous reciprocal causation in which both groups change together in coordinated and indeed synergistic ways” (p. 104)

It is particularly that last sentence that grabs me and makes me want to push my research further into this direction, beyond the avatar and back to my original line of inquiry of human-tech interactions and the ways it alters the very concept of identity.

I hate to admit it, but as I got further into the book, it seemed to lose something for me. The first two “interludes” (all the way up until midway through the 5th chpt actually), I started to lose focus. Chapters 5, 6, 7, & 8 were interesting, but I felt they were ‘examples’ of sociotechnical change, and how the role of the concepts of narratives and databases play within it, but each chapter felt extremely descriptive without that ever-craving “wrapping up” of ideas – purpose and point – in each chapter. This was harshest in the final chapter. A fantastically descriptive chapter entitled “Mapping time, charting data: the spatial aesthetic of Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolution”. The chapter really made me want to read Only Revolution and experience this project in time/space/materiality for myself, but as the chapter was coming to an end, I realized that the book was almost finished, and there were only a handful of pages left. When I put the book down, I was left with the feeling that I had read 4 really great ‘examples’ of different arguments the opening 4 chapters developed, but I was left with wanting it tied up in a bow for me at the end. I wanted her to tell me how each chapter worked in terms of restructuring the way we think, perhaps it is wrong, but I wanted it spelled out for me – I wanted to hear HER conclusions, not be left pondering my own … what if I was wrong? What if I missed a key point? What if I just ‘didn’t get it’?!!! … but then, perhaps that is the whole point.

Game Studies – New Issue

A new issue of Game Studies – Special Issue – EQ 10 Years Later has just come out. This issue is dear to my heart not only because of the fact that we (Bart Simon & Mark Silverman) have an article in the issue, but also because it is the game that brought me to game studies. The game that has been an impossible benchmark for any other mmo’ since I stopped playing (regularly) in 2004, and that with the mere mention of its name, brings back a flood of memories and ridiculously long stories.

I, Avatar: Reading Review in Progress

I am reading the book I, Avatar: The Culture and Consequencese of Having a Second Life – yet another book that has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, and I was struck by a few things. First of all, I am really enjoying it so far. To be honest, when I first received the book in the mail (thank you internet!) and browsed through the pages, I was a little sad that it reminded me of an avant garde comic book than an academic text. I mean, it looks cool, and innovative indeed, but I think I had misunderstood what the book itself was – or what its intent was. I had flipped through the book a few times, but mostly to look at the pictures and layout then the actual text.

Now that I am over its aesthetic feel (which is quite cool if I allow myself to admit it), my second issue was that I am not necessarily interested (directly) in Second Life both personally and in regards to research. It is not that there isn’t a vast amount to experience and learn about human nature in social digital environments, but I have always been more interested in goal-oriented digital spaces (yes .. games – straightforward, no mistaken it, games… I have been told that there are games IN Second Life, but for me, they are not the focus or purpose of the space/place, but again, my focus has always been on how we construct identity in structured worlds – and what kinds of identity are developed in these worlds in particular – to paint a VERY loose picture of my research interest). All that being said, I am really enjoying the fast pace feeling of the writing. It is punchy, straightforward and to the point – sentences are clear and concise.  What I do find odd (and perhaps admire) is that there are no references! Of course, the book is an auto/ethnography of avatar, but the in the beginning, when Meadows gives definitions of community, of avatars and genres of virtual worlds, my instinct was to flip to the back and see who he ‘used’ (especially hoping to do some lateral reading on the matter – hoping to see things I haven’t read yet). But nope! Nothing! Between the acknowledgements and the index … nothing! No references.

In some ways, it is every writer’s dream to be able to simply write a book out of their head. I mean, I am positive Meadows has done his homework – read a book or ten – the definitions he uses are familiar, I have read variations of them 100 times before in many texts, but his are so clear and well written – but as an academic – I am uneasy … no, perhaps uneasy isn’t the right word here – but I have a hard time reading without seeing a reference to an idea (let alone the fact that there isn’t a quote to be seen – other than discussions between avatars). I remember feeling the same way when I read Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games… how can someone write a history with scarcely a reference!

All that being said, I am still intrigued by this book. He has a fabulous drawing of player perspectives showing the point of view of the player depending on what view they use – first person, third person etc – the drawing is so simple, I sat there for a moment staring at it wondering why I had spent pages of text in most of my papers trying to describe exactly what each perspective gave to the player.

I am still only halfway through the book – and it is a small book, but for an entertaining, yet thought provoking (at least for me and my work) relatively quick read, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in ethnography, digital culture, avatars and players.

Translating – Working through Martin Lefebvre’s ‘Psycho: de la figure au musée imaginaire’

I am working on a paper for my class on the figure in film and the primary text I chose to base my argument on happens to be in French – Martin Lefebvres “Psycho: de la figure au musée imaginaire”. I really enjoy the text, which essentially argues that the figural is not a property of the film, but rather a mental process that occurs within the spectator enabling them to ‘read’ the film (and ultimately make figural meaning out of it). It is more complicated than that – and to be fair, I am oversimplifying (and omitting) elements of Lefebvre’s argument (.. primarily the ‘imaginary museum’ part – which really is his core point – and I promise to get to that in another post). I really like this article, as it shifts meaning from artefact to spectator – and discusses the process in which this meaning occurs. Since my core work on (hybrid, digital) identity is all about the process, I am hoping to carry some of Lefebvre’s arguments into my own work.

But … translating … the text is in french. Which is all good since I can read and understand French, and Lefebvre writing style is clear, articulate with little jargon (or invented words). But I always find myself translating 80% of any French article simply for the purpose of using quotes in my work. This becomes problematic as sometimes words and concepts don’t quite translate. The French language is extensive in their use of adjectives, often which have no equivalent in English. I often find myself losing the emphasis of an idea through translation – and find myself interjecting lots of parenthesis with colloquial explanations to describe the emphasis found in the original text.

All that being said, I wonder about my ability to translate these texts – mainly since some of the work I have belabored through, I know have no (official) translations. Are my translations true to the real texts? And should I ever make them public (either on an amateur or professional level) since some of my colleagues who do not read French could benefit from even a layman’s translation. So the question is … how does one find themselves (professionally) translating a uni-lingual text? Who would one talk to if I were interested in doing it? Heck, is it even a project I would want to delve into?!