Digital Genres One

The conference is just beginning. . . I’m up first, so I won’t blog my presentation, but I’ll try to cover the rest.

OK, I finally stopped talking. Now Trevor is up, talking about performing identity in a tripartite way: we perform with attention to text, we select what we’re performing, and we embed that selection in a particular genre. But we don’t just reflect on texts; we also engage in praxis, in specific places or spaces, when we act out these texts, we understand them. At that point, we get feedback and take risks, strengthening or damaging relationships. Performances are embodiments of certain texts.

Trevor quotes from Ezekiel, when God appears to the prophet and commands him to eat the scroll that includes the divine word.

Does performance situate itself in virtual bodies? Trevor acknowledges that he was skeptical at first, but that his doubts may have been influenced too much by television. TV detracts from our capacity to pay attention, because we have no feedback; he cites the Matrix Reloaded, but he’s giving spoilers so I’m not listening.

Can we then instantiate individual or social bodies online? Not in familiar ways, nor in a novel on-substantial (not-instantiated-in-physical-worlds) religious phenomenon. He argues that touch can’t be simulated; there’s an ontological difference between a physical touch and an electronically-mediated touch. That doesn’t mean that Trevor is theologically negative and nervous about online theology; he wants to give a positive account of online interaction, and he focuses on blogs. They’re more oral and aural than other online modes in a healthy online parasitism that forms a web of social connections like the web of connections that we enact in sacraments (that one I doubt).

Trevor characterizes blogs as stories, whether in pictures (he cites Burningbird and Rageboy, an unnerving combination) or words. Now he’s misguidedly defending the idea of spatial metaphors for online activity, but that’s not necessary to the point that he’s making about blogs as fulfilling his characterization of online activity and performance.

He wants to push the performative dimension of blogging by drawing in a connection to virtue (not Bill Bennett), citing the Epistle of James 3:17f: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” All of this, Trevor says, can be done online, and with that he rests his case.

Now Lacey Graves is starting up; she’s the youth desk coordinator for the Bahai’i faith. The online version of her paper is here. Since she’s got the text of the paper online, I’m going to use this interval to take a break from typing (and thus rest my right thumb)

Now Naomi Chana is up, talking about naming and identity. She refers to the DIDW website, and notes that most discussions of DigID emphasize security, technical, legal, and economic issues and ignore questions about the constitution of identity. DIDW suggests that digID should restore the ease and security that once subsisted in human transactions. Naomi questions the reality of that narrative of a golden age of human interaction; was it ever that way? She points to DigID discourses as a myth of salvation from the ambiguities and fears of digital interaction. Moreover, the language of DIDW collapses theology into anthropology where “the human” is unquestionably good, and the “impersonal” unquestionably bad.

She talks about naming, pseudonymity, polynymity, and the issues of trust that that raises. If names are metonyms for reality, we need to limit the play of polynymity. She invokes the category of mysticism to escape the binary opposition of nominalism and essentialism. Perhaps by considering the question of names for God, she can help clarify the relation of name and identity online.

She picks Abulafia as a representative figure — not because he’s a representative figure, but because he opens a useful window into matters of naming. He broke down the Tetragrammaton into components, recombining (recombinant onomastic DNA?) the letters in different representations. He thought he could attain enlightenment by spoken and written versions of the Divine Name. She passed out several lines from “The Battle of Blood and Ink,” blood and ink symbolizing intellect and imagination. There are also numerical resonances with various features of the created order.

My fingers are burning out. Naomi talks really quickly, and I need a break — sorry.

Found In Augusta

Young Josiah at Fort Western AugustaBy popular demand — or at least, by suggestion from a couple of people — I tracked down my copy of the photo of Si as an apprentice in Old Fort Western. I had remembered his hair as being blonder than it shows up here, but the lighting is obviously tricky. He’s slenderer now than he was then; no baby fat on this year’s model. Still the radiance and the joyous outlook remain unchanged. The photo’s pretty dusty. My apologies to those of you who were planning to print it out and pin it on your bedroom wall.

Not only was he a good-looking, angelic kid, but he’s grown into a powerful (if somewhat grisly) writer. . . .


I’m proud for two reasons tonight. First, Michael received his offical Disseminary Hoopoe cap, and he attests that it looks good (I’d love to see a picture, Michael).

And second, even more important, Margaret got Seabury’s W. Stevenson Taylor Award for best theology essay this year. And that essay isn’t even a patch on her thesis.

I’m not really proud that Steve and Sage arrived safely tonight, but I’m very pleased they did. They’re gracious guests (they didn’t, for instance, say, “Well, you certainly have more than enough books around here,” or “Did you have to set us up in the basement, with the sump pump, the refrigerator, and the mysterious boxes of who-knows what heaped up around us”). I do hope it doesn’t rain — that sump pump gets noisy. And just our luck, it’ll flood the basement with all their stuff in it. Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Oh, well, more time to fine-tune my Digital Genres paper.

Well, What About It

How about Steve Himmer for President on the Green Party Ticket? I hear it pays better than TA-ing, Steve, and you obviously aren’t underqualified.

Something is going wonky with comments. For the time being, Steve says:

Honestly, I think what the Greens need more than candidates right now is a buzz, some momentum to carry them first over the hurdle of negative assumption–‘you cost us the last election’–and into political legitimacy. I’m not entirely sure the White House is even the place to start: as much I admire and agree with Ralph Nader, I still question how much he could have realistically accomplished as president without significant Green representation in Congress and in State Legislatures. As we’ve seen with W. and before, single-party domination of all three branches is a mighty powerful force, far more powerful than an outsider executive and insider legislative. Which isn’t to suggest one shouldn’t ever reach for the unrealistic, only that perhaps long-range plans need to be attended to as well as short.

But that’s enough political speculation for one morning, no?

And Dorothea Salo responds:

Okay, Steve, so run for something more local. 🙂

Does the Cluetrain Stop at Vatican City

    As I’m burnishing the deathless prose with which I expect to revolutionize the intellectual and spiritual lives of conference-goers, I’m culling quotations from pertinent sources, and found myself going over the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ “The Church and the Internet,” which showed intriguing signs of cluetrainical insight.

    Consider: “The Church also needs to understand and use the Internet as a tool of internal communications. This requires keeping clearly in view its special character as a direct, immediate, interactive, and participatory medium.

    “Already, the two-way interactivity of the Internet is blurring the old distinction between those who communicate and those who receive what is communicated, and creating a situation in which, potentially at least, everyone can do both. This is not the one-way, top-down communication of the past.”

    Did Msgr. John P. Foley write that, or did Doc Searls script it for him?

    There are predictable manifestations of the Magisterium’s nervousness about free dialogue — “it is confusing, to say the least, not to distinguish eccentric doctrinal interpretations, idiosyncratic devotional practices, and ideological advocacy bearing a ‘Catholic’ label from the authentic positions of the Church,” and “The ‘tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence’ to the Church’s teaching is a recognized problem in other contexts; more information is needed about whether and to what extent the problem is exacerbated by the Internet” — but the clues are there in the foreground.

Getting the Drop on DigID

Eric picks up the right stick, and perhaps even the right end of it, when he begins puzzling through DigID by way of credit cards. They don’t compare perfectly, but I do think that credit cards, perhaps in conjunction with cell phones, represent the point d’appui, the site where leverage toward DigID can most readily bear fruit without arm-twisting or hand-wringing. (Thus I’m not surprised to see Nokia, American Express, Vodaphone, VISA, and MasterCard among the Liberty Alliance members.)

I’m not a Passport expert, and I’m suspicious of Microsoft (not an MSFT-hater; that’s wasted energy) — so I’m not the one to predict whether Passport will be the lever. Liberty Alliance, though I suspect the trustworthiness of some if its partners, seems like a better bet; a collaborative approach runs less risk of misbehavior by a monopolistic proprietor, and their support of PingID and the open Jabber protocol make an impressive show of good faith.

Hey, Eric — why not seed this enterprise with something really attractive, such as an intriguing online game? Offer anyone who wants an ID to play Norlin-Land, and then say, “You know, if you’d like to buy a book from Amazon, just enter your credit card number in your preferences dialogue box.” The game doesn’t have to be as intricate as Unreal Tournament or Ultima or Sims Online; in a certain sense, the simpler the better. (Although just imagine what would happen if the game were itself fascinating; think of the possibilities if Liberty Alliance were to make a partnership with Ludicorp for the Game NeverEnding. The mind reels . . . .)

Aw, Shucks

Those of you who collect travel brochures will want to stake an early claim on this year’s Kennebec Valley tourism guide. Of course, this is always a hot item, but this year’s edition includes an advertisement for Old Fort Western, a stockade in Augusta, Maine.

And in that advertisement, on page 14, you might see an angelic blonde-haired rascal in eighteenth-century garb, brandishing an authentic quill pen over an authentic ledger book. And you would realize that you were holding a photograph of Josiah Adam, aged 8, at the Fort Western summer camp; a radiant young sprout, delighted at this opportunity to immerse himself in antique customs, and to be photographed so admirably by his grandfather. . . .

(It’s not in any of the online documents — not that I could see. More’s the pity.)

RSS, and Cheers for the Home Team

I didn’t notice that Pem (to whom a hearty Welcome back! from her week at a spiritual direction workshop) has an RSS feed — that’ll help me keep up with her, so that I don’t miss posts such as “Alternatives to PowerPoint” I have different reservations to PP, but Pem makes a great point (which resonates with one of Jeff’s points about all-in-one curriculum management megalith systems): we teachers would have fits if we were obliged to use classroom time in as regimented and formulaic a way as Courseware systems typically expect us to use online instruction. Yes, many teachers don’t want to learn to use online resources (and that’s okay, a point I tried to emphasize in Nashville before somebody’s gleeful trolling provoked the “experts” controversy), and others want to work with online resources in ways that an all-encompassing system will only hamper. There’ so much yet to be discovered about how we can learn online. . . .

More Thanks

On Friday, I omitted to mention one of the great gifts for which I give thanks this year: the birth (and continued thriving, despite some edgy surprises) of Cameron, Ruairi, and Sawyer. They and their parents have been through a lot with us, and we marvel again at the ways that a child can transform the lives not only of beginners, but even of grizzled veteran parents. Bless you, all!