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War blogs and blog wars

I saw this cartoon in The Star last week – interesting to see blogs mentioned in the funnies.

Also, with regards to the history of blogs, it’s revealing that the person brings up the invasion of Iraq. I was just reading an interesting PhD thesis by Geert Lovink where he argues that one of the means by which blogs became more known was through ‘war blogs’ that debated the response to 9/11. He quoted an article by David Gallagher in The New York Times which I had a look at too:
“The war-blogging movement took off after Sept. 11 as people used blogs to vent their anger about the terrorist attacks. Though they are still commonly known as war blogs, these sites now address a wide range of news and political topics, usually from right of center…
As a result, some latecomers now think Weblogs are inherently political. That has perturbed some Weblog veterans, who say the war bloggers are rewriting history and presenting a distorted view of blogs. They say the diversity of Weblogs is being overshadowed by the attention-getting style of war blogs…
‘The Weblog world before Sept. 11 was mostly inward-looking -- mostly tech people talking about tech things,’ said Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who publishes, a popular site in the war blog camp that attracts about 19,000 readers on weekdays. ‘After 9/11 we got a whole generation of Weblogs that were outward-looking’ and written for a general audience, he said.” (Gallagher)

It also goes on to note that there was some bitching going on between the ‘old guard’ and the war bloggers.

In Malaysia also, most people associate blogs with politics – probably also because of the MSM, because they only pick up stories of blogs (mostly) when blogs start to compete with them in terms of forming public opinion. Which may also explain why The Star (I think) had an article about food blogs, as people can easily turn to blogs for recommendations of restaurants and it is also a traditional newspaper domain.

Works Cited.
Gallagher, David F. “A Rift among Bloggers.” The New York Times. 10 June 2002. 30 Jan 2008
Lovink, Geert Willem. “Dynamics of Critical Internet Culture (1994-2001).” University of Melbourne, 2002. 22 Dec 2007 .

Filler post - poem

Well here goes for a quick filler post; I'm still trying to write a chapter on theory that's turning out to be more difficult than I thought...

A poem titled, umm... dunno ... titles are always the last thing I do in a poem... ummm


The beauty within us
Struggles to survive
Inside is a gem
That is alive

The struggle inside us
Is a mistake
The beauty is spotless
The struggle a fake



"In general, what passes for reflexivity in most social sciences is the sheer irrelevancy of questions raised by the analyst about some actors' serious concerns." (Latour 33)


The above from: Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

I have just started reading it today, and so far (touch wood), I am finding it refreshingly lucid and useful. Something that is not always a feature of social theory :-)

Update 20/1

Well, I finished the book and am find myself to be somewhat inspired by it; the explanations are mostly clear, and the basic message is simple: don’t invent agencies and overarching ‘frames’ for whatever subjects you are studying – listen to them and follow them where they take you.

Laying the whole mass of actors and connections on a ‘flat’ social world is a useful way of visualising ‘social’ relations: no actor/actant is ‘above’ another, and all potentially influence each other. More importantly perhaps, all that connect are ‘part’ of each other, they have contributed to building the ‘site’ as it is. Thus we are all sites, and understanding how sites are ‘stabilised’ is an important way of effectively describing the situation.

Actor-Network Theory is an essentially descriptive process, and to counter accusations of ‘mere’ description he argues that if something is properly described, in all its minute detail, then no extra explanation (i.e. frame, context, meaning, …) should be required. And he has a point there, though a difficulty is to decide when to stop tracing the connections between different actors, or actants.

In spite of what I said above about lucidity and all that, the last two chapters before the conclusion (“Second Move: Redistributing the Local”, and “Third Move: Connecting Sites”) get pretty convoluted. He comes across sometimes as somewhat structuralist/determinist: he mentions “structuring templates” that circulate, and uses that analogy of ‘plug-ins’ to explain how we cannot do anything (e.g. rationally choosing something in a supermarket) without having these ‘plug-ins’ ‘downloaded’ from other sites. For me this ignores our basic sociality, and ability to negotiate with the world based on some basic instincts (i.e. survival, social, and reproductive). In a way, it’s like he’s being an ‘atomised structuralist’, or ‘powerless structuralist’ – he’s mapping out the social world in a ‘flat’ manner, arguing that all element affect others etc., but just saying there’s no central motor force to it all, which ain’t a bad point.

In the second-to-last chapter, he asks what will be between the lines that connect the sites in the network, and starts to speculate about ‘plasma’ and “vast outside” – all very strange… My feeling is that there doesn’t have to be anything ‘between’ the connections – for the connections are what make our world, mediators affect it, things change, traces are left and actions initiated; but as he said, if it leaves no trace it is not there. I would also say, perhaps tautologically though, that what is visible is visible because it’s part of ‘society’; though he’s arguing that with his method we can discover more, etc.

His conclusion (for anyone looking for a shortcut to reading the whole book ;-)) isn’t actually a summary of the book, but an argument for the political validity of ANT. He argues that ANT is political; proper data collection needs to let subjects have all their agency, and include all relevant entities; secondly, it is political because it has as a task to make the ‘composition’ of the data in a manner accessible to all, and in a manner that loops between the elements and the composer (so to speak).

From linear to circular

The concepts of linear and circular time fascinate me. The most well known is, I suppose, is the Abrahamic eschatological concept of the ‘end of times’: i.e. as in Armageddon, the Day of Judgement, etc. The belief that the world was created, had a beginning, and that it will one day come to an end.

This is linear – i.e. in a line. Linear time makes sense to me, until someone produces a time machine. Even considering the relativity of time, Einstein only proved that time can be relatively slower in one ‘frame’ compared to another – not that one can go back in time.

Another widespread concept; particularly in Hinduism (and by implication Buddhism, but not necessarily), and apparently in Maya cosmology too, is the concept of cyclical time, or ‘ages’. Again, expressed in terms of cosmology, it means that there was no beginning point, and will be no end point of the world. It will simply carry on changing.

The Big Bang theory lends some credence to this, given that the universe is constantly expanding, and will therefore in theory eventually contract back to the initial compressed point.

For me, one problem with the circular, at least using a diagram in the way I have, is that it implies that things go back to the way they were initially. Which is why I like the idea of a spiral better: the way I see it, things tend towards equilibrium, and thus many things seem to repeat themselves, but on every ‘pass’, they have changed from before.

The spiral is really just another line, with a beginning, and never repeating itself; but the advantage of the spiral is that it reminds us that the past can ‘catch up’ with us. Everything has a consequence; and we’re not advancing straight into a virgin future, untrammelled by the past; nor can we just carry on because everything is going to be wiped clean and we start over again…
Continue reading "From linear to circular"

Social software – social intelligence?

Some thoughts…

Consider this quote from Castells, talking about the difference between data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and judgement:

"we must consider how much the recurrent interaction between computers’ programmed decisions and the feedback from their environment can influence future programs, thus modifying the information base and, with it, the knowledge base for decision. In other words, is there self-evolving programming capability?... this does not seem to be the case nowadays. However, there is a co-evolution between the human brain and the computer, learning from each other, but learning from an individual human brain, so that the co-evolution is always specific to a given personality system. So a computer cannot become a subject in its own right, but I could have (actually my grandchildren may have) a computer as an extension of the mind, whose reactions and help affect the mind, inducing individualized co-evolution between people and their machines. So knowledge-management software is a low-level application for routine operations that can be truncated and distributed, but cannot respond to an evolving context, where the critical decisions have to be made.” (Castells 2003:137)

Interesting, and it makes sense to me. My computer has become like an extension of my memory: my memory is not very good, but one could argue that depending on computers has made it worse. How many of you out there know another person’s telephone number off by heart? Apart from your own that is; you probably know a few, but not many. Maybe the ones that you do remember are the ones you have to physically dial a lot (at the office, on the home phone). If you had to depend on your memory for numbers, and didn’t have autodial and all that on your handphones, you would probably remember a lot more. And when your brain has to do the same thing a lot it actually physically changes, different connections are made, and so on – especially when you are younger (see this interview with Jay Giedd, for example).

Therefore, the more we use computers to extend our brains, the more our brains will become less able to perform those functions that the computer takes over. The pessimistic possibility is that we just develop the skills of using a computer (like when you spend ages trying to fix a bug in the wireless connection just so you can send an email…); the more optimistic option is that our brains get liberated from the more mundane tasks and reach ‘higher levels’ – whatever they might be…

Anyway, to get to the social software part. If there is such a thing as ‘social intelligence’, i.e. a form of consciousness that specifically develops with and through dynamic social interaction, then as we use more software to manage our social life (from the contacts function in Outlook, to dating via social networking sites, where ‘compatible’ potential partners are selected for us), what ‘social intelligence’ that we now take for granted will become atrophied? What will replace them? Will it make any difference?

Works cited
Castells, Manuel, and Martin Ince. Conversations with Manuel Castells. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003.
Giedd, J. (n.d.). Interview with Jay Giedd. frontline: inside the teenage brain: interviews: jay giedd, m.d. | PBS. Frontline. Retrieved 27 July 2004, from