Materiality

By Lauran Whitworth
Secondary Author: Jasmine Ponder

Fragment of the Antikythera Mechanism (believed to be an astronomical computer made ca. 87 BCE)
Image courtesy of Andrew Barclay via Flickr and Creative Commons.

 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines materiality as:

  1. That which constitutes the matter or material of something.
  2. Material or physical aspect or character; outward appearance or externality.
  3. The quality of being relevant or significant.

Most often used as an accounting term, one can think of materiality as what imbues stuff with its “stuff-ness” or substance. The Latin roots of the word derive from materia meaning matter. In the context of digital technology, much has been written about what Matthew Kirschenbaum has called “the haptic fallacy,” the belief that we have to be able to touch something for it to be “real” (Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination). Consequently, some of us may be inclined to deem the digital, such as the x-ray image of the Antikythera Mechanism pictured above, as less material or even immaterial because we can’t reach out and touch it in the same way that we can grasp the original object being represented.

In an age of cloud storage and data shared across multiple devices, digital tools are becoming increasingly ethereal and abstract. In response to this, Ted Dawson offers up “the hammer fallacy” as his take on the haptic fallacy. He explains, “[…] if there is something that can be smashed with a hammer resulting in the loss of your digital object, then that object is material. Of course, in our age of cloud-computing, you might have to smash quite a few different things to lose your file. The hammer principle helps us remember that this condition, in which the destruction of your hard drive does not mean the destruction of the digital objects stored there, does not make those objects less material, but rather means their materiality has been amplified, that the material accretions of our digital lives are multiplying” (“The Hammer Principle: Smashable (and Sustainable) DH”).

Our Connected Learning class, ART 120, has embodied this idea of “amplified materiality.” In the early weeks of our course, we began explicitly engaging materiality as course leader Nell Ruby taught us about the principles of design and tasked us with taking photographs of an array of textures, shapes, colors, and forms.

 

We tweeted our photographs of sunsets and stairwells and the shiny skins of tomatoes, transposing them into the Twitter-sphere and arguably amplifying their materiality through social media and the enhancements afforded by iPhone cameras and their filters.

In class three, we read George Siemens’ “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” (2005) and discussed rhizomatic learning, a “net-enabled” pedagogical approach influenced by French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and inspired by the rhizome, a subterranean plant stem that grows and sprouts horizontally versus vertically. Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical ideas and abstractions are rendered all the more material and cognizant through that most organic and “down-to-earth” of metaphors, the growing plant.

A rhizome of Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) showing old and new leaves and a small root.
Image courtesy of John Bebbington (awaiting link).

These horizontal nodes serve as models for networked learning. As Juha Suoranta and Tere Vadén explain in “From Social to Socialist Media: The Critical Potential of the Wikiworld,” “The division between a hierarchical tree-like democracy or organization and that of the rhizomeian democracy or organization not only has political implications in the ideas of ‘leaderless revolution’ and networked dissidence but also educational implications in how to organize curricula […]” In this model, “teaching cannot be easily seen as an authoritarian activity but more like ‘subversive activity’ (Postman & Weingartner 1971) in which teachers, along with their students, compare information from various sources, negotiate their knowledge and experiences together, and interpret the world.”

As Suoranta and Vadén make clear, the implications of this rhizomatic model extend beyond the classroom. We witnessed this in our Women’s March studio project, which created a multi-perspectival research approach by chronicling different facets of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. From protest signs to viral March photographs to critiques from marchers and non-marchers alike, our posts became a networked archive of the March and its “amplified materiality.”

 

Network

In the digital age, mattering, in both senses of the word–being physically substantive and being relevant–has shifted how we think about who and what matters. The haptic fallacy, that we have to be able to touch something or, in the case of the hammer fallacy, to break something for it to hold value to us, no longer applies. As this course has demonstrated, the seemingly immaterial–connected learning, social media activism, online communities, hashtags and re-Tweets–is often what matters most.

 

 

 

Penultimate Class to Final Class

For tonight’s class we’ll be putting the final touches on our Connected Learning Keywords project. Please log into Nell’s site (here) and build a keyword post that follows this format:

  • The title of the post should be the keyword, capitalized.
  • The first words of the post should read: “By [your name]” and on the line beneath it: “Secondary author: [that person’s name]”.
  • The post should include at least three images that are ethically chosen and clearly attributed. One should be placed as the “featured image” for the post.
  • Any sources you cite in your post should include, on first mention, the author’s first and last name and the title of the source. The title of the source should be a hyperlink to that source or a publicly viewable abstract of that source (in the case of sources behind the library paywall).
  • The content of your post should provide a thorough unpacking of 1) the definition of the word, 2) its relationship to the emergence of digital literacies, digital citizenship, and/or connected learning, and 3) the relevance and use of the word in the course.

For next week, we’d like you to submit a final reflection on your work in the this class. Please have answers prepared for anonymous entry next week:

  1. We are curious about the expectations that you had about this course and whether or how they were satisfied or addressed. What did you think this class was going to be about and/or why did you take it? How did it satisfy or fall short of those expectations? Did anything about the curriculum of the class surprise you?
  2. How relevant was this class to work that you’re doing or have done in other classes? Did you find the use of any of the techniques in the course (use of social media, collaborative writing/planning techniques, new media design components, readings, etc.) useful to work that you’re doing in other classes? Do you anticipate that it will in the future?
  3. What was your favorite component of this course? You can narrow in an anything — the dynamic of the in-class time, the use of WordPress or Ublend, a particular reading, figuring out a particular tool or method, etc — and reflect on why you liked it. This feedback will be really useful in deciding what components of the class to keep next time.
  4. What was your least favorite component of this course? You can narrow in an anything — the dynamic of the in-class time, the use of WordPress or Ublend, a particular reading, figuring out a particular tool or method, etc — and reflect on why you liked it. This feedback will be really useful in deciding what components of the class to amend or drop next time.
  5. Consider how this class could be modified. What would you add that would be relevant to the class?
  6. Please define, to the best of your ability, “connected learning” as we studied it this semester? What is connected learning and what isn’t it?

Finally, are you willing to sign a release form that would allow Nell and/or Pete to cite your work in future publications they may compose individually or individually? If so, please let us know tonight or via email this week so that we can bring you a consent form to sign. We can answer any questions that you have about this use and/or why we are asking for it.

Class Eleven: Ending with a start: Designing a Collaborative Project

 

March 28:

  • What have we done? [create a list — nouns/verbs]
  • Look at sites: short guide to digital humanities/living handbook of narratology/
  • Define final project:
    • “connected learning key words”
    • Discuss format
      • Define Partners (primary/secondary)
      • Review process (peer review and submit to Pete and Nell)
    • Select words
    • Timeline

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Class Ten: Where is the crossover?

. . . with the understanding that Weeks Eight and Nine were spent on Peak Week and Spring Break . . . 

Today we’re going to read Ethan Zuckerman’s 2014 essay “New Media, New Civics?” We’ll study the article collaboratively after a half hour of reading time. Primarily we’ll be isolating Zuckerman’s claims, the reflecting on the design of the journal article, and reimagining how Zuckerman’s argument could be represented for a new/different audience. We’ll also be looking back at the network reflection posts on Ublend to draw some ties together.

We’ll talk about the question that I (Pete) find the most motivating in any of this work: where is the crossover? How has your study of networks, the recent readings for class, WordPress, etc. been relevant and applicable to work that you’re doing in your classes or beyond the boundaries of the university?

Catching up: We’ll finish up early so that people can work on/ask questions about any/all of the following:

  • Network reflection blog posts (week 1, week 2)
  • Brainstorm, research, analyze jobs from Week Seven on Ublend.
  • Women’s March post revision (following the “standardization” conversation in class on Week Seven).

For next week: By Friday at noon, use this Ublend post to suggest an article, news story, video lecture, or other media artifact for class discussion. It should be something people can digest easily in an hour or less, and it be in some way relevant to the discussions we’ve had so far on networks, curation, ownership of the web, design, knowledge production, etc. Nell and I will choose one or two and boost them back out to the group. Look for an email (and a message on Ublend) announcing the reading selections, and please come to class with that reading complete.

 

Class Five: Revision, Curation & Design

Today in class we’ll be focusing on REVISION, CURATION, and DESIGN with a collaborative activity designed to turn our Women’s March project into an organized resource (network? framework? artifact? invitation?).

Next week we’ll spend some time talking about knowing, research, and storytelling. Your “reading” for this week are two podcasts:

Link to class notes on Creative Commons and Fair Use images

New York Times : When It’s Illegal to Photograph Artwork

The Women’s March: A Digital Studio Project

Blog posts collected for our Women’s March project. We’ll be adding to them later today, but for now (11:57am, Saturday morning), these are the ones that everyone should reading and using for reflection.

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Class Four: Studio Project

 

Discussion:

Lauren and Gundolf lead an annotated discussion of the Week Three readings on connectivism, networks, and rhizomatic learning.

The Women’s March: Digital Studio Project

Today we’ll be putting everything together from the first three weeks of the course. We’ve examined digital literacies, design principles, and new ways of learning that are inflected by the web. Today we’ll be engaging in a collaborative exercise in knowledge production that collects composing, research, collaborating, and design strategies. Our subject will be the Women’s March of January 21, 2017.

“Knowledge” is “produced” when research on discrete artifacts is assembled and analyzed in new ways. Consider the broad concept of World War II, for instance. Most of us could easily talk for 3 minutes about the events, timeline, and causes of World War II in general terms. However, an “expert” in World War II history is an expert because she has learned and can connect dozens or hundreds of interlocking facts, arguments, pictures, people, maps, documents, battles, and objects into a complex narrative. We usually assume that an expert on a particular subject can demonstrate both micro- and macro-work mastery of that subject — the details and implications of those details.

So, today, we begin a mini-research project on the phenomenon of the January 21, 2017, Women’s March. In doing so, everyone will choose a discrete component of the March, research it, and publish a 300-400 word, blog post that explains the significance of that component and demonstrates effective design principles (use of embedded media, citations, and narrative). This is analytical work. You’ll want to choose a component that is both narrow enough to “fence in” and broad enough that you can learn about it from a variety of sources.

We’ll use The Women’s March: Digital Studio Project Planning Document to choose topics, share links, and keep an eye on the bigger picture. After your publish your post in a tweet. The tweet should be carefully built to include a description, a link to the post, the post’s  featured image, and the #agnesconnected and #womensmarch hashtags. Yes. That’s a lot. You’ll see why later, but for now, here’s an example of a similar, carefully constructed tweet.

For next week:

Read the blog post that we’ll publish with everyone’s tweets embedded (link soon to follow).

Compose a reflective post of your own in which you contemplate the meaning of all of these unique components and how they impact the story of The Women’s March. Leave that link here on Ublend.