[-empyre-] Anne and Ben: thinking about fluid identities and making connections

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Wed Feb 18 07:05:59 AEDT 2015

Renate, Thanks for the positive effort of reintegrating diverse discussions!

Two things in this weeks discussion stand out for me, one is Anne's
quote below on fluidity of identity in distributed pedagogical systems,
and the other is our expectations in relation to media presentation
(powerpoint, Scalar, etc.) brought up by Selmin and Patrick.

*Identity* (From continuous to discreet)

It seems that in order for our tools to reflect the diversity of our
identities, we should reflect on what exactly our identities are
constructed of. Are they global (in the sense that they stay stable no
matter the context) or are the context-dependent and local (in that they
shift depending on the context)? The teacher / student binary is a good
example where specialization means that many (most) teachers in one
context may be students in another. I expect there is a lot of value
(for generalism, interdisciplinarity, etc.) for roles to switch back and
forth freely. Then there is the question of gender fluidity, which I'm
currently struggling to think about with similar flexibility.

I wonder if identities are categories of belonging, or sets of values
and perspectives, or constructions we develop in order to relate
socially with others, or in order to set ourselves apart in our
communities. I expect all of the above. It seems that its not just a
matter of our technologies allowing us to reflect our own identities (in
all their diversity) but also allow us to change what we consider
identity and how its constructed.

It's hard to imagine how any centralized corporate system could do this.
I can imagine a form in which a person could submit a new label for a
gender or aspect of identity, but that is not the same as reflecting
underlying continuity (if it is continuous and not discreet). I've never
seen a website where gender identity could be provided through a fuzzy
scale with super male on one end and super female on the other. What if
one dimension is not enough to reflect the complexity of gender? What
about a 2D map with male / female (biological) on one axis and man /
woman (social) on another axis? Let alone sexual orientation.

It seems there is a highly diverse and continuous space of possible
identities that a person could associate with, and also a set of labels
we use to limit the complexity and build community (through sharing the
same labels). How can we articulate this in our technical systems? Or,
more importantly, how can we change whatever system is put in place
(under the guise of objectivity) to reflect changes in how we construct
/ present / augment our identities? I find myself always going back to
computational / technical literacy as a necessary life skill, dependent
on a robust set of commons from which we can hack and rebuild what we need.

*Transparency* (From discreet to continuous)

Patrick wrote: "Powerpoint is clunky, it's difficult to move between
text and video, and sometimes I have trouble loading videos during the

I find this discussion really interesting in how it seems to mirror
media boundaries. This is text, that is an image, and there are videos.
Presentation software is a modern manifestation of "multimedia"
extending the function of a slide projector.

There seems to be high expectations for a sense of smoothness and
continuity between these forms of media, while they are treated in the
computer very differently (largely due to the simple problems of
bandwidth and CPU usage). This need for continuity is interesting in the
context of "slide" transitions, and the smooth 3D transition in keynote
that shows each slide as a facet of a cube. Why this need for smoothness
and continuity?

Film is still highly dependent on cuts, rather than smooth transitions.
So in some way, we return to this question of the poetics of a media. We
don't expect this continuity in all aspects of computing, a new browser
tab is a cut, not a fade out. Opening a new application often involves a
cut to a splash screen.

I think the need for continuity is related to the need to be
transparent, to hide the ugly interior reality in favour of the illusion
of the perfect integration of all media.

I use the open-source "libreoffice" productivity suite, which started as
a clone of Microsoft Office for Sun/Solaris users. It's a strange thing,
seemingly oriented to the office needs of an engineer. The drawing
program allows dimension lines and scale drawings to me made. The
presentation program includes the most cheesy of the early NLE video
editors and I tend to stick with a cut. I have had issues slowly and
choppy video playback within the presentation. Considering all the
codecs and video formats out there, this is no surprise. Making anything
play video is actually a significant challenge, particular in a cross
platform way. What I do is switch away from the presentation application
to the OS, and play the video manually (using a program that only exists
to play video, and does to very very well - mplayer). Being a Linux
user, what I actually do is switch to a command-line interface (with
alt-tab) and then [up arrow] to scroll through commands I set-up before
the presentation to play the various videos, and press [enter]. I only
present in mirror mode, and thus the audience sees the terminal for a
flash before the video plays.

I think of my choice of technology (in this case of presentation running
Linux on an old tiny netbook) is an aspect of my identity. While having
the videos embedded in my presentations would be convenient (if they
played back smoothy), it would hide this aspect of my identity, and be
less flexible. I think there is some irony in the so often opaque
struggle of a person trying to get their machine to 'talk' to the
projector, and then continue on with a perfectly transparent and highly
produced presentation. I pride myself on the single line of code it
takes to make my eee pc generate a VGA signal flawlessly, but opaquely,
and the smoothness with which I cut back and forth between a series of
slides and videos started on the command-line. This is comfortable and
flexible because of practise, because I've used this machine and this OS
for presentations over the last 6 years. I use the same command to
generate video; I use the same comment to play a video. To me, it's
stable and predictable, just not transparent or highly cohesive.

What are the implications of us all using power-point to make similar
looking slides with similar templates on similar hardware to present our
individual contributions? Why choose the illusion of transparency and
perfect continuity?


On 15-02-16 03:30 PM, Renate Terese Ferro wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Ben sometimes threads on -empyre run parallel to one another.  You and
> Murat have had some pretty pointed and specific discussions in regards to
> your technical work and how it translates but as Anne Balsamo writes this
> post I think about our early discussion just last week and am wondering if
> you might have any ideas for Anne. I am reposting this one segment here
> from her last post especially given your theoretical thinking about fluid
> identities.  Want to take a try at this one.  Any I ideas at all?
> Anne Balsamo wrote:
> "Right now we are in the process of modifying the FTN Commons to
> accommodate our distributed pedagogies and collaborative work modes.  One
> of the things we seek is a platform that allows for shared moderation
> (among several participants), and increased flexibility in
> user-typess.where ³instructors² and ³students² are more fluid identities
> rather than fixed for the individual or the term of use.  This last point
> is the one that has the developers most perplexed.  Accommodating fluid
> identities within a given project space is non-trivial."
> Thanks Ben for the incredibly thoughtful and provocative posts.  Renate
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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