Quora is a new social media service that’s organized around questions and answers. So far, it’s pretty intriguing. The proto-web of the 1980s – Gopher, FTP sites, BBSs – was built around collectively-authored FAQs. I’m sure Google, Bing and Facebook all find that a most web searches are awkward attempts to convey in Boolean terms what you’d convey to a human in the form of a question. Ask Jeeves has always failed at natural-language processing, just like the giant mainframe EMERAC in the 1950s Hepburn/Tracy comedy Desk Set.
IBM is still hard at work at Watson, a computer smart enough to win on Jeopardy. Questionable PR move – everybody roots against Deep Blue. HAL was more sympathetic, and IBM disowned him. See Electric Dreams for more on the history of computer advertising.
But Quora takes a different track, drawing on the crowdsourcing model of Wikipedia to develop one global database of FAQs. Further, it doesn’t attempt to iron out differences of opinion as Wikiprose demands, but rather embraces a diversity of voices and relies on the crowd itself to serve as collective gatekeeper by rating each answer.
Who knows where this will go. But we may be seeing the formation of the next Google. Or Facebook. Or Pets.com – who knows. Ideally, it’ll become the next Wikipedia – one which embraces crowdsourcing, but also rewards both expertise and diversity, while engaging the crowd as both producer and gatekeeper.
So, I figure I might as well try to get in on the ground floor, or at least as close to the ground as you can get without ever having lived in California, pitched a venture capitalist or attended SXSW.
The distinction between information and knowledge is like that between database and algorithm. (Also content v form, superstructure v base, syntagm v paradigm, & practice v theory, and logos v mythos.) Information without a contextualizing theoretical (and inevitably ideological) framework is just “data smog” or bloatware. We all have access to more information – in terms of pure bits – than any citizens of any society ever before us. Does that make us more powerful? Not necessarily, as long as we still remain trapped within ideological blinders, stale frames & obsolete paradigms. Information becomes powerful – revolutionary, in fact – when it inspires and fuels paradigm shifts: from feudalism to capitalism, from monarchy to democracy, and hopefully from postmodernity/late-capitalism/corporate-globalization/scientific-rationality/phallogocentrism to transmodernity/postcapitalism/the-commons/dialectics&alchemy&mythos&logos
I’m developing a new media studies class for undergraduate media studies majors. In small 8-15 student seminars I teach game design by playing and then discussing board, card and party games like TransAmerica, Apples to Apples and Werewolf. In large lecture classes so far I’ve assigned students to download and play the World of Warcraft demo, I’ve set up presentations where students demo games for the class, and I’ve given students the option of writing about games on their final essays. But I miss the opportunities for playtesting and examining strategy tweaks and rules variations that I had in the old seminars.
On Quora you can choose to “follow” other users, just like Twitter. If you let it, Quora will scan your Facebook friends to find people to follow. Here’s what I wrote to my Quora followers:
Hi Quora Followers –
I’m sending this post to let you know I’ve now both answered an existing question and asked a new one.
I answered the question: “Can information be empowering, and why?” If you find the answer helpful, please consider voting it a thumbs-up, or whatever they call the little up-pointing triangle to the left of each answer.
I also asked my first question: “How do you teach game studies in a 30-student classroom?” If you have any thoughts on the subject, please consider answering. And if you check out the posted answers, please vote for your favorites.
I’m brand-new at this, but already intrigued. Thanks for the follows!
Popular culture is often described as “escapist” entertainment. But this dismissal evades some very serious questions. What are we escaping? Where are we escaping to? Does everybody go to the same place? How might the trip affect us, once we get back? This class looks at the social consequences and political implications of mass mediated entertainment. Its goal is to develop the theoretical tools and critical perspective to interrogate the TV shows, commercials, films, books, songs, videos, and web sites that saturate our lives.
The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South). Some readings are available online through the links provided. Links to additional optional readings will be distributed via the Twitter hashtag #popcult.
2/2 Regulation and Production
Thomas Schatz, “New Hollywood, New Millennium,” from Film Theory and Contemporary New Media, ed. Warren Buckland (Routledge, 2009). (CP)
Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail”: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html
Ellen Seiter, “Semiotics, Structuralism and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, ed. Robert Allen (UNC Press, 1992). (CP)
Roland Barthes, “Myth Today”: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/myth.html
2/14 Reading the Romance: Cultural Capital
Janice Radway, excerpts from Reading the Romance (UNC Press, 1984). (CP)
John Fiske, “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” from The Adoring Audience. (CP)
Go to a bookstore. Browse for, buy, and read a romance novel.
2/16 Ideology, Hegemony and Resistance
James Kavanaugh, “Ideology,” from Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (U Chicago Press, 1995).
John Fiske, “British Cultural Studies and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled.
Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,” from CCCS Stencilled Paper 7:
2/23 Color Adjustment: Racial Formation
Omi and Winant, excerpt from Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994). (CP)
2/28 Spring Break – No Class
3/2 Spring Break – No Class
Ariel Levy, “Raunch Culture” and “The Future that Never Happened,” from Female Chauvinist Pigs (Free Press, 2006). (CP)
Alexander Doty, “There’s Something Queer Here,” from Making Things Perfectly Queer (U Minnesota Press, 1993).
3/9 Mad Men
Unit IV: New Media Futures
3/14 Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud, excerpt from Understanding Comics (Kitchen Sink Press, 1993).
Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, Freakangels: http://www.freakangels.com/?p=23
(read through at least Volume 1)
The class assignments add up to total of 100 possible points. Your final grade for the class is determined by adding up your grades for each assignment, adjusting for attendance, then applying the final number to the following scale:
A 100-93 B+ 89-88 C+ 79-78 D 70-65
A- 92-90 B 87-83 C 77-73 F 64-0
B- 82-80 C- 72-70
Take-Home Midterm – 45 points
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened for the first three class units. Due in class March 17.
Take-Home Final – 45 points
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering units 4-7. Due May 5.
Presentation – 10 points
You will sign up with two partners to research the creators, economics, and audience contexts of a television program or video game. You will then choose a sample episode or gameplay experience, present your research to the class, screen the episode/game for the class, then participate in the class discussion. More information will follow in a separate handout.
As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes for your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.
Re-Writes and Makeup Tests
Opportunities for revision and improvement will be available for the midterm and presentations. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before the deadline listed above.
Late and Unsubmitted Papers
Late papers will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. No work can be accepted after the deadline for the take-home final. Any unsubmitted papers will receive a 0. Likewise, any unanswered exam questions will receive a 0. So, if you answer only 2 out of 3 required exam questions, you will get a 0 on the third question.
Students withdrawing on or before the midsemester point will receive a W provided they are passing the course. Students who withdraw after the midsemester point will not be eligible for a W except in cases of hardship. If you withdraw after the midsemester point, you will be assigned a WF, except in those cases in which (1) hardship status is determined by the office of the dean of students because of emergency, employment, or health reasons, and (2) you are passing the course.
Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.
Changes to the Syllabus
This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.
1. Bill Simmons, The BS Report
2. Marc Maron, What the Fuck
3. Jeffrey Kripal, Impossible Talk
4. Masterworks Broadway Podcast Theatre
5. Terri Gross, Fresh Air
6. John Hodgman, Judge John Hodgman
7. Robert X. Cringely, I, Cringely
8. Dan Savage, Savage Love Podcast
9. Doug Benson, Doug Loves Movies
10. Doug Henwood, Behind the News
11. Alex Tsakiris, Skeptiko
12. Jon Suintres, Word Balloon
13. Tami Simon, Sounds True: Insights from the Edge
14. The Guardian, World Cup Daily & Football Weekly
15. Adam Carolla, The Adam Carolla Show
The third Tedcast takes a break from my Fantasy & Science Fiction lectures to present an interview with me conducted by Erik Davis. Erik hosts Expanding Minds on the Progressive Radio Network, and is author of numerous books, including a great study of Led Zeppelin IV and the new collection Nomad Codes. Erik and I go back to college, where we worked together on a zine. Here we talk about the Centaur Manifesto, critical theory, and the tensions between being an academic and a public intellectual.
The book expands my work on politics, myth, fantasy, and the ideas of Karl Marx and Carl Jung. Theoretically, it’s a marriage of post-Marxist critical theory with post-Jungian depth psychology. My hope is the combination will prove, if not a dialectical synthesis, perhaps an alchemical reaction – what Jung calls syzygy, the marriage of opposites.
My most recent work has been on games as forms of active imagination. Here’s a short slideshow I made about the social game Farmville and active imagination. It accompanied a piece I contributed to the digital humanities journal In Media Res, “Farmville: the Garden in the Machine.”
The myth Daily is twitter feed aggregator that organizes 24 hours of tweets taken from a twitter list and turns it into something that looks like a newspaper. The software behind the page is paper.li, and it’s definitely intriguing.
I’m in the midst of a blogging-software shift from Movable Type to WordPress, which explains the current inconsistencies between this site (tedfriedman.wordpress.com) and my original website, tedfriedman.com. Eventually I’ll port all of tedfriedman.com over to WordPress, then move this blog itself back to tedfriedman.com, although the tedfriedman.wordpress.com URL should always resolve to right place either way.
In the meantime, until I can unveil tedfriedman.com 3.0, here are links to some of my stuff that’s online:
I’m the middle of Ted and Kate’s three cats. The newest is Pilot Squeaky, a three month old kitten. Congratulations to Rebecca Jackson, who won the #namethiskitty contest with the suggestion that we name Pilot after the gas station where Rebecca found her. Rebecca will soon be the proud owner of Kiki’s Delivery Service, plus a bonus Miyazaki DVD since she already has the second official prize, Ted’s book Electric Dreams.
I play Farmville and Frontierville every day. I give out lots of Mystery Gifts. Tell your friends about me, too, because I’m trying to build as big a network of neighbors as possible. It’s part of Ted’s research on social games. He’ll be writing about the experience in the upcoming In Media Res theme week on games. In Media Res is the online journal edited by Alisa Perren of the Georgia State University Program in Moving Image Studies. You can find it here.
Ted’s also curating pages for upcoming 2011-12 In Media Res weeks on Jung, Play, Pop Music, Heroes and Shadows. Ted’s looking for contributors to all weeks from inside and outside of academia. Rock critics, public intellectuals, grad students, filmmakers – please all consider joining in. It shouldn’t be too hard. Start by clicking here to find #IMR-hashtagged conversations. Reply to anybody, adding the #IMR hashtag to the end of your tweet so that your tweet can be found by everybody else. Add a second hashtag like #Jung or an address like @katyperry if it might help people find what you have to say.
Ted’s going to curate the feeds on specific topics, then turn them into the Friday roundtable pages for the IMR weeks he edits.
At least, that’s the concept – we’ll see if it works in practice. You can help in the following ways: – Become Facebook Friends with Ted Friedman and two of his cats: Pilot Squeaky and Noisy. The third cat, The Dude, doesn’t yet have a page – Facebook doesn’t approve of Firstname: The, Lastname: Dude. He may sit this out – he’s an introvert anyway.
– Become all of our Neighbors in both Farmville and Frontierville, if you play. If you don’t play, consider trying both.
– Contribute to <In Media Res conversations by going here and adding to the conversation, hashtagging your tweet by including #IMR in your 140 characters.
– Contact Ted Friedman to discuss curating a day or editing a week. You can tweet him @tedfriedman or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The standard format for the weeks Ted edits will be: Mon – Intro by Ted. Tues – 2nd curator. Wed – 3rd curator. Thurs – 4th curator. Fri – 5th curator.
The idea is to hold this discussion in the Commons, in the sense developed by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Commonweath. The Commons isn’t exactly public or private – it’s that Third Space that Jane Jacobs described in The Death and Life of American Cities. At its best, it can be a lot more than a Starbucks or mall food court. This will be the explicit subject of some of the discussions, and the implicit context of all of them. On Facebook, we will treat this private company’s network as a resource fairly purchased with our advertising eyeballs (and probably overpriced, given the data mining they do now do with your info). Same goes for our use of Google, which I assume none of us could do without. And the publishing side of this venture is In Media Res, an online journal created by Avi Santo with the help of Media Commons. That’s the concept. If all of you pitch in, we can make it happen. So, won’t you be my neighbor?