Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Future

So, the fiction titles are listed as the last titles. Do they need to be the last?

I know that continuing the reading group into the semester would be difficult if we were to continue to read books, but what if it 'downsized' to an article or two, or a book chapter?. Say, maybe, place a 40-ish page cap on readings.

Just a thought.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Last book(s) will be fiction to ease the pain

Our last reading group meeting of the summer will take place Friday August 25 on the Terrace at 3:30. To reward ourselves for surviving yet another summer, we've decided to choose two novels that deal with information in near-future societies.

The first one is a young adult novel entitled _Feed_ by M.T. Anderson. It's a relatively quick read and very engaging. From the blurb from Amazon: "This brilliantly ironic satire is set in a future world where television and computers are connected directly into people's brains when they are babies. The result is a chillingly recognizable consumer society where empty-headed kids are driven by fashion and shopping and the avid pursuit of silly entertainment--even on trips to Mars and the moon--and by constant customized murmurs in their brains of encouragement to buy, buy, buy."

The second one is a regular adult novel entitled _Air_ by Geoff Ryman. It's a longer read than _Feed_ but covers similar ground, this time from a non-Western, subsistence culture perspective: "Life in Kizuldah, a village in Karzistan, has changed little over the centuries, though most homes have electricity. Chung Mae, the local fashion expert, earns her living by taking women into the city for makeovers and by providing teenagers with graduation dresses. Intelligent and ambitious, this wonderfully drawn character is also illiterate and too often ruled by her emotions. One day, the citizens of Kizuldah and the rest of the world are subjected to the testing of Air, a highly experimental communications system that uses quantum technology to implant an equivalent of the Internet in everyone's mind. During the brief test, Mae is accidentally trapped in the system [...] Mae soon sets out on a desperate quest to prepare her village for the impending, potentially disastrous establishment of the Air network. For all its special effects, what makes the novel particularly memorable is the detailed portrait of Kizuldah and its inhabitants. Besides being a treat for fans of highly literate SF, this intensely political book has important things to say about how developed nations take the Third World for granted."

Both books are available in paperback and you can choose to read either one or both for the August meeting.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Meeting today on the terrace

We meet this afternoon at the Union to discuss Bowker's book. I propose we adjust the meeting time one half-hour forward to 3:30 (since that's when everyone seemed to show up last time anyway). In the event of another torrential downpour, we'll meet inside the union within shouting distance of the bar (or you might find us floating down Langdon Street, clinging to the Big Orange Chair).

Back to "open access" for a moment ...

An news item in Inside Higher Ed today provides an update on the current state of the "open access" debate dealing with the free electronic publication of research findings and research papers (which we read about in our first summer reading club book):

If universities pay the salaries of researchers and provide them with labs, and the federal government provides those researchers with grants for their studies, why should those same universities feel they can’t afford to have access to research findings?

That’s part of the argument behind a push by some in Congress to make such findings widely available at no charge. The Federal Public Research Access Act would require federal agencies to publish their findings, online and free, within six months of their publication elsewhere. Proponents of the legislation, including many librarians and professors frustrated by skyrocketing journal prices, see such “open access” as entirely fair. But publishers — including many scholarly associations — have attacked the bill, warning that it could endanger research and kill off many journals.

In an attempt to refocus the debate, the provosts of 25 top universities are jointly releasing an open letter that strongly backs the bill and encourages higher education to prepare for a new way of disseminating research findings. “Widespread public dissemination levels the economic playing field for researchers outside of well-funded universities and research centers and creates more opportunities for innovation. Ease of access and discovery also encourages use by scholars outside traditional disciplinary communities, thus encouraging imaginative and productive scholarly convergence,” the provosts write.

While the letter acknowledges that the bill would force publishers and scholarly societies to consider potentially significant changes in their operations, the provosts conclude that the legislation “is good for education and good for research.”

The letter originated with the provosts of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which includes the universities of the Big Ten Conference plus the University of Chicago. Others joining the effort include the provosts of such institutions as Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Texas A&M University, the University of California, the University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, and Washington University in St. Louis.

The article continues at

Maybe we should try to link the debates over open access repositories with Bowker's ideas about "memory practices" this afternoon ...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A little off topic, but... is a link to a transcript of a book chat with Peter Morville about "Ambient Findability":

The chat was earlier today at the Washington Post's site. Sorry I didn't find it soon enough for those who might have wanted to participate.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Synchronization and synchrony in the archive: pgs. 35-73

Bowker uses a historical analysis of geology to create a backdrop for modern day record keeping. His explanation, although developed more elegantly in the book, is something like this:

  1. Geological Sciences in their infancy where heavily influenced by traditional Creationist beliefs. Catastrophe and miracles were thought of as occurrences that happened on a regular(?) basis. These events could not be predicted or discovered without empirical evidence.

  2. British scientist Charles Lyell challenges this idea, and develops the idea of geological events being semi-deterministic, and occurring slowly over time. Fellow Englishman, Charles Babbage, supports a fully Laplacean determinism, which is not nearly as well received.

  3. Lyell supports record keeping this is cyclically dependent. Due to his thoughts about the history and evolution of the Earth, he believes the best way to record and research geological history is by incrementally recording change in fixed intervals and by spatializing time.

  4. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution uses a similar concept in order to organize the workforce. Labor is divided and fixed spatially and temporally on the assembly line.

  5. Record keeping for these activities reflects this spatiotemporal philosophy.

I have a feeling the next part of Bowker's argument in the following chapters is that applying this type of record keeping is pervasive and and it imbues these spatiotemporal values into human archives and memory systems.

Comment #1
Given the interest in technological determinism from the last book, I'd be interested in thoughts about this passage from pg. 47.

Technoscientific representations were socially and organizationally imposed by means of the new infrastructural technology-with a dual process of commodification and representation central to the shift. The same infrastructural technology that permits a qualitative leap in the process of commodification (the railway) also enforces a form of representation (abstract space and time) that is inherent in commodification. It enforces this form of representation not out of some kind of weird magic (or, worse, Hegelian dialectic) but for very good organizational reasons of control and communication. You need to be able to represent the world in a coherent and standard form in order to run railways and deal in commodities. Emerging here is Michel Serre's insight (1987) that since we live in a world with the human/nonhuman (nature/society) boundary is increasingly less well-defined, then we need analytic categories that allow us to account for the unified representational time and space applied to both bureaucratic and scientific work.

Comment #2
The past could be generated from knowledge about causes such as climate or race; but contemporary humanity would move completely outside the flow of narrative time. The end of history, anyone?

This passage from pg. 51 bugs me. Bowker is making a strong case for the rhetoric of a spatiotemporal archival system, but as soon as he would offer a narrative as an alternative, he's lost me. A social historical narrative would potentially be an even more persuasive form of record keeping than the tables and grids of a spatiotemporal record. He may not have meant it in the way that I took it, but it still raised a red flag for me.

Comment #3
Bowker goes well out of his way to create a framework for pervasive ontological influence. He then goes on to cite Derrida several times, but not mention the rhetoric of language once. In my mind, he needs to make a connection and then division between why his categorical theory of influence is different than many post-structural linguistic arguments.

BTW, I found this online for those interested in an alternative media form to the book. It takes forever to load (so long that I'm still waiting after a couple hours), but I believe it's Bowker lecturing about this book.

Bowker Video