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Conferences, Life Writing, Research Creation/Critical Media

RCADE 2019 Talk: Reflections on Critical Media Lab’s CAFKA 2018 ‘Digital Rituals’

Below is a brief ~10 minute talk that I presented at RCADE 2019 at Rutgers-Camden in Camden, NJ as part of a panel called “Infrastructures and Rituals of Trash.” I presented alongside Lai-Tze Fan, Meg Honsberger, and Jason Lajoie. The talk reflected on the Critical Media Lab’s Digital Rituals exhibit that was featured at CAFKA 2018. I blogged about here. And you can read more about it over here and view the computer-generated obits here.

 


 

As part of the 2018 CAFKA arts festival in June, the Critical Media Lab ran an interactive exhibit called Digital Rituals. If Lai-Tze’s E-Waste Peep Showfocuses on what happens to e-waste after it has been traded in, Digital Ritualsfocuses on the trade-in and re-contextualizes that process as a ritual. Exchanging a phone is certainly a practice, a routinized activity encouraged and proliferated by planned obsolescence; but it’s a practice that shies away from being ritualized: it’s a practice that hides itself. Among the criteria of rituals outlined by Ronald Grimes in The Craft of Ritual Studies,Digital Ritualsfocused on ritualizing the trade-in through a series of reflective, celebrative, and stylized actions performed by ourselves and by the participants. Organized by Marcel O’Gorman, Meg Honsberger, Jason Lajoie, Julie Funk, Andy Myles, Matt Frazer, and myself, Digital Rituals was a funeral home and service for dead cell phones.  We asked participants to bring in a dead cell phone that had not been traded in. During the in-take, we welcomed participants, offered them our condolences, and then took them through the necessary steps of the funeral process: we took the name of the phone,   took a picture of the phone in a 3D-printed coffin,  created a computer-generated obituary from information about the phone, created a 3D-printed memorialization model, and then said a few words at a garden grave site outside with the 3D models glued to a marble slab. We had promised that we would send the phones to an e-waste disposal, but, curiously, we all kept them for some later unknown project.

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Digital Rituals wasn’t as successful as we hoped. We only had a few participants attend, and even fewer were willing to give up an older phone of theirs. Yet, the few interactions I did have while running the exhibit made me interested in the autobiographical narratives from participants that emerged throughout the funeral home in-take, whether it be from those who gave up their phones or from those who refused to give their phones to us. I became particularly interested in the unexplained reasoning of keeping a phone whose data can no longer can be accessed: Why do some of us keep the phones we keep? What purpose do they serve, especially after the fact that certain materials can no longer power the phones or the data from those phones are uploaded to a computer or transferred to the next phone? Referring to museums that collect and show old technology, Jennifer Gabrys argues that “Electronic memories…give rise to specific modes of electronic waste” (Gabrys 105). But I am thinking of the new modes of electronic “waste” within the home, how they act as a kind of archive or materials waiting to be  archived. To flip Gabrys’s quote around, I found Digital Ritualsto be focused on the specific forms of electronic waste that give rise to specific modes of memory and autobiographical telling.

The autobiographical narratives and disclosures that emerged in Digital Ritualsreflected on their usage of the phone, how they carried it, specific memories and individuals associated with the phone, and how they modded it, if the type of phone afforded this. These narratives reminded me of Anna Poletti’s concept of the “archive of play,” a concept that I keep on returning to for autobiographical narratives or disclosures around media and media consumption practices. I want to quote Poletti at length because there is nuance to the quote worth quoting in full. Poletti writes,

“In referring to “the archive of play,” I here describe the materials produced and left behind by the activity of playing…[which result in] a rich resource for self-representation and life narrative…The materials, and the archive itself, may or may not be cherished by the autobiographer. The archive of play may not be valued or recognized as an archive. Many, one suspects, are thrown away during spring cleaning or the purges of objects that regularly occur in societies with high levels of consumption. Where such archives do persist, they may constitute the flotsam of a previous life that is stored in out of the way places and rarely accessed, or stored by members of one’s family or childhood friends. The value of the archive of play becomes apparent once an autobiographical project is initiated.” (Poletti 113-14)

The “archive of play” opens up auto/biographical material to trash, clutter, digital clutter, and e-waste stored in boxes, material that is never intentionally to be autobiographical but simply generated from play or general use. Everyday uses of phones produce material traces, and the phone itself is a material trace of a specific moment in an individual’s life. Significantly, the material generated from play and use are not always recognized as autobiographical and may never be cherished by the individual, but rather left undisturbed, hidden away in some box in some cupboard, or traded in and forgotten. But that archive of material becomes of value “once an autobiographical project is initiated” by the individual or by others.

For those few participants in Digital Rituals, the process of picking out a phone to hand over to us initiated an autobiographical project, even if the individual ended up keeping the phone. Digital Rituals itself was not an autobiographical project, at least not intentionally so. But I am intrigued by how it was unintentionally an autobiographical project, and how the project resonates with certain ways in thinking about our relation to e-waste and the personal relationship we have with our phones. One participant shared a disclosure about their customized blue casing of their Blackberry curve: she remembers ordering the part, and how it reminded her of a friendship they had during high school and the early beginning of a new relationship. Another participant shared at great length their experience with their first phone: how novel it was to always carry a phone around with you, but that they wore their phone around their neck because it was too bulky to fit in their pocket. Others could tell you exactly where each scratch came from or how their phone shattered, eulogizing the last moments that they had with their phone. These few narratives highlight a specific trend: the autobiographical material that was recalled did not refer to the data and content on the phone; instead, they mention the material components, peripherals, or markings that signal a specific life narrative or disclosure. Some even referred to the functionality of the phone: a collective reflection on the purported newness of a specific phone, such as the Sidekick, or how certain users would develop strategies to get around a broken button or trackball. These disclosures and narratives drew attention to why some people, including myself, kept a phone when the data could be transferred to another. It wasn’t really the data on these phones that coaxed life narratives but rather the material components, peripherals, and functionality that coaxed these narratives, especially as participants tossed and turned the phones in their hands during the in-take.

To wrap things up and pass it over to Meg, I’d just like to conclude with the observation that the autobiographical disclosures and narratives of Digital Rituals that emerged reminded me, and some of us at the Critical Media Lab, of Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, Tidying Up. While different ritualized actions, both Digital Rituals and Tidying Up ask individuals to reflect on their phone and/objects through a series of reflective actions. There is also, as Kylie Cardell argues, an autobiographical aspect to Kondo’s concept of sparking joy. Cardell writes that sparking joy “provides an opportunity for self-conscious as well as discursive constructions of the self as part of a process of editing and crafting a deliberate, intentional representation” (Cardell 500). Whether participants said goodbye to their phones or kept them, Digital Rituals made participants reflect on and conscious of the autobiographical value of their domestic e-waste sites. The personal collections of dead cell phones are an archive that is, to borrow a phrase from Gabrys, “more akin to a disorderly waste site” (Gabrys 119). Yet,these saved electronics stored in boxes have autobiographical potential, and the act of saving these cell phones are an autobiographical act. In the disorderly waste site of my domestic collection of phones, hidden from sight, tucked away in drawers and boxes stuffed in closets, are traces of my life; that collection is is an articulation of my personality, memories of the past, and records of “new media.” While Digital Rituals stumbled into having participants interpret and narrate the autobiographical material surrounding their dead phones, the installation drew attention to the disorderly waste site of dead cell phones within the home that serve as literal artifacts that tell a life trace.

Conferences

CFP: “Up Close and Personal: Ethical Social Media Research in a Distant and Big Data World”

Dear readers,

Please consider applying to this panel, which is already on the program for ACH 2019. And please, also, share it with anyone you know who works in social media research but might not think their work “counts” as DH. We are looking for a wide variety of topics, approaches, and presenters.

Thanks in advance for sharing and for your proposals! Below is the CFP:


CFP: Up Close and Personal: Ethical Social Media Research in a Distant and Big Data World

ACH 2019, Pittsburgh, PA, July 23-26; http://ach2019.ach.org

Social media as a field of research is both inter- and multidisciplinary, prompting methodological innovations in data collection, textual and network analysis, through approaches from rhetoric and communication, literary studies and life writing, sociology, new media studies, digital humanities, and critical theory, among others.

We invite paper proposals that instantiate this richness and variation of approach. We seek in particular work that describes and advocates for “small data” social media research that is up close and personal, situated and interested–as opposed to, perhaps, that which is objective, processed, filtered, quantified, and “big.” This panel constructs itself around critical subjectivity and ethical relations between social media researchers and the texts and authors they consider. This panel foregrounds situated knowledges and a generous reading practice that supports the rhetorical or aesthetic aims of the authors producing the texts we engage.

This panel has already been accepted onto the program at ACH 2019; acceptance of proposals for inclusion on the panel guarantees a spot on the program.

We wish to attract the participation of scholars who might not otherwise have applied to a DH conference, from their understanding or experience of the privileging of larger scale, computation heavy, distant or suspicious reading methodologies, or the high barriers to acceptance that usually mark the larger conferences. We also are particularly interested in communities not normally hailed by DH, but whose scholars are producing innovative and, we feel, highly relevant work about online practices in new media studies, critical race and ethnic studies, disability studies, and auto/biography studies, for example. We particularly invite junior scholars, precarious scholars, those new to the field, and minoritized or underrepresented scholars to submit proposals.

Send 250 word proposals to philip.a.miletic@gmail.com, by April 11, 2019, with response from the organizers on or before April 18, 2019.

(Organizers: Aimée Morrison and Philip Miletic, Dept. of English, University of Waterloo)

 

Life Writing, Research Creation/Critical Media

Biographies of Phones, a personal history

Today’s blog post is going to be a brief one – exactly one 30m pom – because I have some marking, and I’m about to come into a huge wave of marking from the TA job and a grading job I picked up. So, I’d like to fit in some article writing as much as I can this week. But I also have to start working on the thing that this blog post is about: the biographies of the phones that are kept and never thrown away, or the personal histories one has with the various phones of our past.

This topic is, more or less, what I will be presenting at RCADE this year in April. And the presentation paper comes from and is about my time co-running the “Digital Rituals” CAFKA exhibit with fellow Critical Media Lab colleagues. Together, we created a funeral-home like space in which we would receive participants’ old cell phones that they would like to get rid of. From the appointment, we would take down certain information, generate a computer-generated obituary, create 3D printed miniatures of the participant’s phone that were placed on a marble slab outside in our garden, and then hold a brief ceremony bidding fair well to the phone. You can read some of the obituaries here.

The obituaries are what attracted me the most, but not the ones posted on the website. While I did enjoy the playfulness of the computer-generated obits, I was more interested in the stories that were shared when a participant came in and gave up their phone. While we did not receive that many participants (due to numerous circumstances), the few people who did would tell their memories of their phone, fiddling with the phone in their hands; putting it down, picking it back up; if it was a flip phone, they would open and close it, move their hands/fingers across it, recalling the muscle memory that came with operating the phone. I loved these stories. Equally, there were some who refused to give up their phone, but still shared a story or at least noted that they are saving it for personal reasons.

And while we intended to submit these phones to an e-waste company, we held onto the phones for personal reasons (or at least I still think that is the case – now that the CML has moved to its new location, I’m unsure if those items were saved).

So, my proposed talk is focused on the stories that were told within that exhibit. Few sources, but I will be building off of those sources because they got me thinking through Anna Poleitti’s “archive of play,” a concept that I really like and keep on returning to. I may have written about this before – it’s a concept in my upcoming article on Cibele, and it makes an appearance in my Game Boy Camera article that just got submitted – but here’s an excerpt:

In referring to “the archive of play,” I here describe the materials produced and left behind by the activity of playing. Of course, not all play produces a material trace. That play that does, however, results in material that is…a rich resource for self-representation and life narrative. Materials in the archive of play are diverse and can include: stories, hand-drawn and digitally produced illustrations, letters, videos, photographs, puppets, costumes, collage, and automatic writing. Indeed, the kinds of materials in any individual’s archive of play is themselves informative and of interest, as I will discuss later. The materials, and the archive itself, may or may not be cherished by the autobiographer. The archive of play may not be valued or recognized as an archive. Many, one suspects, are thrown away during spring cleaning or the purges of objects that regularly occur in societies with high levels of consumption. Where such archives do persist, they may constitute the flotsam of a previous life that is stored in out of the way places and rarely accessed, or stored by members of one’s family or childhood friends. The value of the archive of play becomes apparent once an autobiographical project is initiated (“Autobiography and Play” 113-4)

Excuse the lengthy quote, but I think it’s worth it for the nuance here. The reason why I like “the archive of play” so much is that it opens up what can be auto/biographical material. I love that material generated from play (and, use in general, perhaps?) is not always recognized as archive and may never be, and that it may or may not be cherished by the individual. But that material, that archive, becomes of value “once an auto[/]biographical project is initiated” by the individual or by others. For those few participants in “Digital Rituals,” the process of picking out a phone to hand over to us initiated an auto/biographical project. Perhaps “project” is too strong, too big of a word to describe those disclosures or brief narratives. But it was our project that initiated those disclosures from the participants and from ourselves. One participated shared a disclosure of their customized blue casing of their Blackberry curve, how it reminded them of a friendship. Another participant discussed how they wore their phone around their neck because it was too bulky in their pocket. Others could tell you where each scratch came from or how their phone shattered.

When I upgrade to a new phone, I don’t think of my previous phone too much as an archive, just as I don’t think of my Game Boy Camera as an archive. Only when the thought of throwing the phone(s) out, then I think of it has an archive, of archive I need to keep – there are pictures that weren’t uploaded, voice recordings of song fragments, notes taken from who knows where that aren’t uploaded, etc. Some of it is trivial, may not be of any worth. But it doesn’t have to be.

The timer has gone off, my pom is over. But in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be re-reading Poleitti’s article and a couple more that may help with some theoretical backing to this presentation.

Academic Life

TFW you question all of the time you spend on writing

January has been a lot of things. I applied to a couple more academic jobs, I got into the swing of teaching a class that is going well, and I’ve been having an excellent time writing. But I’ve also stressed out over if my time spent writing was really worth anything, that maybe time could be spent better elsewhere, and questioning if I should just go and apply to non-academic jobs right away.  Here I am working away on an article, spending hours of my day writing and researching, and it’s all on my free time.

It’s weird and disconcerting that my job as a sessional instructor is really like a part time job while my other unpaid job is researching and writing. For most of my PhD, teaching felt like a part of my degree. And for four years, it was part of the funding package. Because of this, I always thought of researching and teaching as one, as part of the same job (and I still do).

But being out of the program and being a sessional sends me through disconcerting mindsets. I get upset if I spend too much time on putting some special touches on my teaching. I feel bad when I don’t dedicate a full day to teaching. If I had a hard day writing, I get mad at myself. If I have a good day writing and write all day, I intimidate myself that that writing better end up somewhere, that it’s not all wasted. And then I start questioning myself: what if all those hours are for nothing? What if my article doesn’t get published? shouldn’t you be more actively looking for non-academic jobs? And so on.

It’s hard to stay out of those spiralling thoughts of doom and gloom. It’s something new, and not something I’ve ever dealt with. I’m not sure if I’m handling these thoughts and days well. But I’m handling them. I’m continuing to write. I’m sharing my writing with peers to get feedback.  And that feedback has been great. I have an upcoming article in Biography, so I should feel like my research and writing is valued and worth committing to future work. I feel good about what I’m writing, and I don’t want to just give up on it. At least not so soon after finishing the degree.

But it’s really tough. And it can be quite disorienting, confusing, and discouraging post-PhD. It’s not something that too many people talk to you about when you’re in the PhD. This limbo. In the PhD, I had deadlines, a committee to look over my writing and hold me accountable, and a thing called the dissertation that was part of completing the dissertation. Now I don’t have deadlines, I don’t always have someone to look over my writing (and if I do, they are not necessarily within my field), and the projects that I am working on are tied to my CV. Book projects, right now, are intimidating because I have articles that can be written in less time (ah the speed of academia). So, I’m writing article to article, hoping for the best.

So, January has been a great time for writing. But has that “great time” been well spent? I’m going to say yes. At times, it can feel directionless but I’m trying to apply a direction to what I do day-to-day. And I might as well make the best of the time to do the work I’m doing while I can, before I am in a position where I can’t do the research or am not able to do as much as I can right now.

 

Games, Photography

Print Club + The Game Boy Camera

So far, the new year has been good for research and writing. My TA duties don’t kick in until February, and teaching one course (a course I have taught 3 times before) allowed me to focus on writing, writing, writing. At the same time, I am taking advice from a colleague to take it easy a little bit post-defence. I know the defence was in September, but teaching two courses in the same term as my defence had me always on my toes, and I really didn’t slow down until the holiday break. So, I’m using this Winter “lull” to reorient myself and partition out some time of the days to rest, apply to academic jobs, watch Star Trek: DS9, and do some research and writing (but not at the same intensity of “I need to fininish the PhD, I need to get revisions by this deadline or else I’m paying another round of tuition,” etc). And I also have relaxed time to ready things for little bean! So far, it’s been nice – a little bit frightening because I am now sessional – but nice.

On to the topic of this week’s blog post: Last week, I got really excited about a research “find” that helps strengthen some connections I am making in my Game Boy Camera (GBC, from now on) paper. I thought to share this find, which is not so much a find but a drawing of connections that could be contested with.  But here it goes.

Early on in 2018, I had been doing some RA research on photography and had come across Digital Snaps: The New Face of Photography. It’s an excellent collection on digital photography, but one essay stood out to me in relation to the GBC: Mette Sandbye’s “Play, Process and Materiality in Japanese Purikura Photography.” The essay stood out to me for two reasons: Sandbye’s connection between photography and play, and purikura photography’s uncanny resemblance to the kind of photography featured in the GBC. You can read an earlier blog post in which I write through my initial thoughts around that essay (and more), which then served as a paper I delivered at R-CADE.

But when I returned to my section on purikura photography to expand upon it and make it more of a proper section in an essay, I noticed that Sandbye’s article focuses on more recent purikura (from the 2000s and onward), and so I started looking at articles that focused on 90s purikura machines. The result is not many, but I found Richard Chalfen and Mai Murui’s “Print Club Photography in Japan: Framing Social Relationships”  to be pretty helpful at providing images of older purikura – or Print Club – machines. Elsewhere, I found a Kotaku article by Brian Ashcroft that claims Print Club  “revolutionized” arcades and “the arcades demographic.” And then there was Jeremy Parish’s Polygon article, in which he refers to the GBC as “a portable Print Club station.”

From my research, Parish’s article seems to be the only article that refers to the GBC as Print Club (but I am still going to look further into the depths of the internet and blogosphere). It’s only a brief remark, but it further confirmed the connections I was making between Print Club and the GBC and their approaches to play and photography. But I needed a stronger connection, an almost border-line “was Nintendo inspired by Print Club?” connection. Print Club was released in 1995, and the GBC was released 1998, so maybe there could be some kind of cultural zeitgeist connection. So, instead of approaching from the photography angle, I decided to look more into the video game angle of Print Club.

It is well-known that the first Print Club machine was developed by Atlus in 1995. The idea had been pitched and developed by Sasaki Miho, an employee of Atlus. But after an unsuccessful attempt at marketing towards families, Atlus teamed up with Sega to target adolescents to much greater success. The original arcade cabinets (Print Club 1 and 2) even look like a regular video game cabinet more than it did a photo booth, which I think is pretty significant when framing photography in a particular way:

What follows the success of Print Club is interesting. Starting in 1997, just over a year after the release of the first Print Club machine and coinciding with the release of the Print Club 2 cabinet, Atlus published Pocket Purikura on the Game Boy. The game became a series, which has not been released outside of Japan. But because the Game Boy did not have an internal camera, Pocket Purikura could not allow users to take photos of themselves. Instead, in the series of Pocket Purikura, you designed an avatar that you would then use to play mini games and explore areas to unlock frames, items, and backgrounds that you could then take in-game pictures of. Below is some shots from the game taken from an emulation (on the left, PP1; on the right, PP3, which seems to be more concerned with heteronorms around “life goals”):

What caught my interest is that the game included mini-games (which I never got to or play because I require a translated version, unfortunately). Because Pocket Purikura could not take pictures, the developers seemed to lean into the video game aspect of Print Club: the ability to “play” with one’s image/avatar.

The existence of Pocket Purikura on the Game Boy gave me a better sense that the Game Boy Camera didn’t just emerge out of nowhere. Further, the GBC, in my opinion, builds upon the limitations of Pocket Purikura while also tapping into the purikura cultural phenomenon. In short, there is both a technical and cultural reason the GBC emerged when it did. Unlike Pocket Purikura, the GBC afforded users to take photos of themselves and others to use as in-game avatars for the few mini games on the GBC. While there were no “unlockables,” the Game Boy Camera still provided a portable Print Club experience, while also providing mini-games like Pocket Purikura (but to be clear, not the same kind of mini games).

The Game Boy Camera is still a unique…adaptation?…of purikura photography, but I found the original arcade cabinets and the Pocket Purikura Game Boy series of games to draw a strong connection between the GBC and purikura photography. What started off as a “hey, that’s an interesting point I can make” turns out to have some techno-cultural grounding. There is much more I can say about this connection, but I am now approaching 1000 words and I should return to editing the essay (yes, I am in the editing stage, woo!).

Academic Life

2019, the year of reorientation

For the first time in a while, the new year has got me thinking a lot about changes. Not so much resolutions. Coming into this year, I wasn’t thinking too much about what I need to change for myself. I mean, as always I have to remind myself to take time off and to find comfort and relaxation when I can. I also made a more conscious effort to see friends and family during the holiday season. But no solid 2019 resolutions.

Rather, I think 2019 has a whole lot of reorientation. Not change to improve myself, but change to reorient myself towards new beginnings.

Two major things occurred in the tail end of 2018: 1) I finished the PhD, and 2) my wife and I are expecting (we call the baby “little bean”).

I am beyond excited to be a parent. Although we are the first of our friend group that are expecting, I have been finding support and love from my fellow colleagues (and from my friends!) who pass down advice and reassure us that everything is and will be fine. These conversations feel like they can be a blog post on their own, so I will leave it here for now. But with little bean expected in June, I’ve been really thinking hard about career-related choices and the personal things that matter to me the most.

Finishing the PhD has kickstarted a lot of emotions. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: I go through being absolutely relieved with the PhD being done to being absolutely terrified about what comes next. And I think I really realized that I’m DONE done when everything slowed down in December.

The anxiety didn’t truly kick in until I realized I had to worry about what I was doing for work in the Winter term. Between finishing the PhD, defending, and teaching two courses, I was caught off guard when some sessional colleagues asked me what I was teaching in the Winter and I didn’t know. Luckily, I did receive another section of Digital Lives, and through some word of mouth I secured a TA position for a Pharmacy Communications course (which I am really looking forward to, as it will offer some change of pace and some additional experience working with STEM students).

Despite these teaching positions, the whole scenario has me worried about Spring. Or, with a slightly more positive spin, it’s kickstarted me to start looking elsewhere.

That being said, I am applying for academic jobs. But some I won’t be hearing from until February-ish or end of January. So even though I have applied to multiple academic positions, I still need to think about what I will be doing in the Spring (constantly, family and friend discussions of “what’s next” in December were met with “I’ve applied and am waiting, who knows!”) .

The winter term seems like the best time to really start thinking and applying for alt-ac jobs. In the past, I have considered applying to alt-ac jobs (and I did, but only a very select few). But during that time, I really just wanted to finish the PhD and focus on my academics. Defending in September was perfect timing for academic jobs because I could apply with confidence, and post-defence gave me the positivity and encouragement to pursue academia. While I am still receiving that support and encouragement, the new year has got me thinking about alternatives.

And these alternative don’t necessarily mean that I have to stop all research that I am doing. I really enjoy doing research and writing, so I know I will also keep that up in whatever form I can. For now, while another teaching position would’ve made feel more financially secure, I am going to take this opportunity to continue research and writing, to look out for jobs I am interested in, and to pursue creative and non-academic work.

So, there’s a lot of reorienting my life around the changes that are coming in 2019. And despite the anxiety behind these changes, I feel happier for what’s to come.

Life Writing

Pocketed idea: Conversations w/ ppl who @ me

It’s the last week of classes for the term. Actually, at the moment of writing this, it’s the last day of classes. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been caught in marking, writing, reading, and applying for jobs. Looking back on the whirlwind of this semester – including finishing the PhD and successfully defending – I am surprised by the writing I nearly constantly kept up while teaching two courses. It was a bit of a challenge because it was something new, but it’s been a useful exercise of maintaining a teaching and research workload balance, and maintaining a work/life balance.

Throughout the term, I have been focusing on two papers – one that I am co-writing, and the other one being my Game Boy Camera paper that I am developing from my RCADE talk. Both papers are in the “let’s do one more round of research to make sure no glaring omissions are made” before editing and shaping it to be ready for submission. And I feel good about where those papers are.

But I have also had “pocketed ideas” – ideas that I really liked and am really excited to write, but can’t. Instead, I am slowly collecting secondary sources and reading here and there. And I thought it’d be a good exercise to write out this idea, as the blog, for me, has always been a good writing exercise of thinking through fresh and new ideas.

So, here’s one: the podcast, Conversations with People Who Hate Me by Dylan Marron and its auto/biographical coaxing.

Since it’s beginnings, I’ve been really interested in Marron’s podcast. If you’re not familiar with the podcast, the basic premise is that Marron calls people who have left “hateful” comments on any of his online material, which is left-leaning. In the second season of the podcast, he has been moderating calls between two people, where one person received a hateful comment on any of their online content or are people who Marron knows has opposing views on a particular subject. Despite the majority of the callers being right leaning, or, in the case of moderating, politically right and left, Marron has had discussions with left-leaning individuals that have critiqued his work, or moderated two left-leaning individuals who had different opinions on a particular political matter.

It’s been fascinating to listen to Marron have and moderate these discussions. And as I was preparing my Digital Lives and Introduction to Academic Writing classes, I thought this podcast would be a good example of auto/biographical coaxing.

This idea didn’t come right away – I just really liked the podcast, and threw it on the syllabus under the week of Online Affect (and for Intro to AW, I made it a last minute optional listen for a unit on digital rhetoric). But when I listened to the episodes a second time before teaching it, I noticed how big of a role life narratives or disclosures were in all of the discussions and in Marron’s moderation.

For Marron, it becomes easier to have certain discussions or see the other person’s viewpoint (and for the other person to see his viewpoint) by coaxing and telling a life narrative or disclosure. While he doesn’t say this outright, you can listen to how he develops certain coaxing strategies throughout the podcast, and that he sometimes tells similar life narratives in response to certain claims the other person makes.

In my Digital Lives class, we discussed how the life narratives/disclosures allowed for certain abstract arguments (whether by Marron or by the caller) to be grounded in real life experiences. While not changing someone’s perspective, there are moments of empathy and connection between people on the podcast.

In fact, “empathy” was part of a tagline for Marron’s show – not necessarily said in the show, but were stickers in the merch store that said “Empathy is not an endorsement” (which are, upon checking, no longer there – but he does mention this these stickers on his show a couple of times!).  Marron states in the beginning of the first couple of episodes that his aim isn’t to change people’s minds, find common ground, or critique the other caller, but rather to help both of them understand why they wrote that hateful comment.

Now the “hate” in this title has received some critique, to the point that Marron is considering renaming the podcast. His callers claim that they don’t hate Marron, they just wrote a hateful thing that they are sorry for. And the “hate” doesn’t have Marron engaging with hate groups of any sort. Still, we did discuss in the class how “hate” can be a flattening  of someone to a stereotype and/or a depersonalization/distancing process, and thus making it much easier to write hateful messages. In particular, we discussed the “hate” in the title of the podcast in relation to Ahmed’s quote on the circulation of hate. Ahmed writes, “The impossibility of reducing hate to a particular body allows hate to circulate…[and] justifies the repetition of violence against the bodies of others” (Ahmed, “Affective Economies, 123). For many of the callers, they never thought Marron would even see their comment.

The coaxing and telling of life narratives/disclosures in Conversations with People Who Hate Me make possible the reduction of a hateful action to be reduced to a particular body in the hopes of halting that circulation of hate and confronting hateful actions. Or at least, I’m playing with that idea. The podcast and the significant role coaxing plays is an interesting idea to consider, especially in relation to the Change My Mind memes and youtube series (spoiler: he, and whomever says this, doesn’t really want their mind changed). But this is an idea I may exploring next term!

And now I am off to do some marking and reading before I conclude my final class. Cheers!

 

Teaching

Play-Doh cyborgs in the classroom

I’m currently sitting at my campus office desk with a wall of Play-Doh canisters in front of me from a classroom activity I did on Tuesday. I get a lot of awkward looks or looks of utter confusion when someone sees them.

I could take them home, but I like them here: it’s a conversation starter about one of the best classes I’ve had in my  teaching career.

Some context: the Play-Doh was for my Digital Lives class this term. For their final project, they have the option of creating a “critical media project.” But because a “critical media project” is something that they may never do outside of this class and have never done before, I needed to provide a workshop where they can can create a critical media response to a particular idea or content.

Enter Julie Funk, a colleague of mine that I have and continue to work with over at the Critical Media Lab. While I do make critical media projects, I do find it helpful to have a person who is not the instructor to lead a workshop on a new idea. Having a guest speaker breaks up the flow, adds another voice (which can be helpful if students think that I am the only person that does this stuff), and adds another kind of teaching style and knowledge that I do not have.

So, when I asked Funk how to run a short workshop on critical media projects, she suggested Play-Doh. And so I ordered a pack of Play-Doh.

Because the final unit of this course is the Cyborg unit, we worked together in making some questions that would have students reflect on Haraway’s conceptions of the cyborg and/or the short anime film, Blade Runner 2022: Black Out. Here were the slides of possible questions they focused on:

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The students haven’t read Haraway, and I don’t expect them to. Rather, I have selected quotes from Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” and dwell and elaborate on these concepts. For a 1st year course, it’d be difficult to have them read and then process the whole essay while also focusing on certain aspects of the essay. So far, focusing on certain aspects of Haraway’s essay and connecting it to certain images and quotes from Blade Runner 2022 have been a success: students are grasping those concepts of how cyborgs defy unity, perfection, origins, and completion. Oh, and it’s not just Blade Runner. Next week is Joshua Whitehead Full-metal Indigiqueer, and the week after that is Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer emotional picture.

But anyways, I digress.

The result of these activities were fantastic. Groups focused on factory farming,  the eye in Blade Runner and the meaning it has not only in the anime but in cyborg fictions,  our anxiety over social media accounts, government pet surveillance, and technological bacteria that then got them thinking through medical access and class.

It was a fantastic class, and I just loved to see not only how much the students enjoyed this activity but also how much they engaged with the introductory concepts surrounding the cyborg.

Below are the projects with a short caption description of what they are. Thanks again to Julie Funk would did a phenomenal job facilitating the workshop. Enjoy:

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This group saw a future where cats were used by the government as “spies.” They were sold as pets, but their main purpose was to spy on individuals. This cat’s name in particular is Lucifer. The group was thinking through privacy and data and surveillance.
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This group was thinking through factory farming. The pig on the left was “natural” while the pig on the right was “synthetic.” The synthetic pig was designed so that there would be “more meat per square unit” and perceived as “perfect.” For this group, they were thinking of the lumpy, imperfect pig as the cyborg.

 

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This group was thinking through the multiple social media accounts we appropriate on a daily basis, and the kinds of anxiety it can produce. They chose Squidward from SpongeBob because they felt he represented that kind of anxiety (and he’s also a squid with multiple arms). 
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Another group also did an eye, but they had discussions around how “eyes” are sometimes seen as “windows into the soul.” And they used this object to think through this concept within Blade Runner 2022. 
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This group made electronic bacteria that would be injected into a person in order to keep the body healthy. Julie pushed to group to think through access and class: who would have access to this? The group’s response: the upper class. The group was really into this since some of them are in Science and got them really thinking through access and medical care. 
The Dissertation

A very belated “I’m a doctor now” celebratory update and a return to a regular blogging schedule

While over on Twitter I’ve made the announcement, I realize that this blog has not been updated on the exciting news: On Wednesday September 19th, I successfully defended my dissertation and I am now a doctor! Hurrah!

Leading up to the defence, I was quite nervous – although not so much for the question period. Instead, I was nervous about my presentation. At Waterloo, the defence goes something like this: You are given 30 minutes to present on your dissertation, and then that is followed by 2 rounds of questions. When I told a friend that I was most worried about the presentation part – because I wanted to make sure I could deliver a not-dull presentation that was both accessible to the general audience who hadn’t read my diss and nuanced enough for those who had read it – my friend said that I was the first person who expressed concern about a good presentation. “Usually, it’s the other way around: people are concerned about the question period.”

And leading up to the defence and talking to other people, I found similar sentiments: looks of puzzlement and confusion as I explained why I thought the presentation was so important. Even one person said, “I didn’t care about my presentation. I just used 10 minutes and went right into the question period.” I also heard a story where someone refused to present – and they still passed.

The word that went around was that no matter how bad the presentation, you were “graded” on how well you answered the questions. And, I guess, that could be true. But still: the presentation was important to me.

Looking back on my defence, I was quite proud of my presentation because it did a lot: by focusing on the presentation, I felt more engaged with my entire dissertation and it kept me thinking about my dissertation leading up to the defence (the strong and the weak parts); it helped me anticipate questions that I may receive or address questions I was anticipating; it helped frame the discussions that were happening in the question periods; it demonstrated my critical media projects, ensuring that those projects were highlighted and could be brought into the questions (or referred to in the questions); it warmed me up and made me feel ready for the questions. There are probably other factors the presentation played into but these are the one I want to highlight.

And although there were times when I felt like I was rambling in the question period, apparently I was not. I was surprised to find out from the report my supervisor shared with me that I am really good at vocally articulating my research and complex ideas. This floored me because I have had a long history of struggling with anxiety during presentations, tripping up on words, physically shaking, etc. I still struggle with it today. As one student commented 2 years ago, “I noticed you are shaking while talking in class. Don’t worry, you are doing a great job.” (I’m paraphrasing, but they did point out I was shaking and did comment I was doing a good job, I swear!). And I know that this still happens today. So, when finding out that I’m really good at speaking and answering questions, I was blown away and so happy.

So if you were just keeping tabs on me with this blog, rest assured – the silence was not the result of a bad defence. It was a great one! And since then I’ve been busy with writing job applications and teaching two courses, while also trying to continue some research!

That being said, I am going to make a conscious effort to return to regularly blogging here. I want this blog to be a space for thinking through teaching moments and research ideas. I’ll be starting that next week, so stay tuned!

Cheers,

Dr. Philip Miletic 🙂

 

Games, Life Writing

The Final Automedia Game Club Meeting

Last Thursday, our automedia game club met for our final meeting. For this meeting, we just decided to talk about anything related to automedia games or auto/biography theory, or anything that was not on our list. It was a really illuminating and great discussion.

The original schedule did have a specific game, of which we briefly discussed: Sean Han Tani’s All Our Asias. Although the game is not described as auto/biographical, it was described as a “deeply personal game” in a Waypoint interview with Sean Han Tani and Danielle Riendeau. So, we discussed how to analyze games that incorporate possible auto/biographical content in a fictional game. Or, specifically to All Our Asias, the role of memory in constructing a life narrative. But mostly we talked about the PS1 visuals that are used, that really communicated the abstract fuzzy content of memories and how these very abstract visuals resonated with the general title of “All Our Asias.” If the game is a “deeply personal game,” there was some creative distance in the abstraction and fictionalizing of the personal content so that it would connect to other Asian American experiences.

A group member then brought our attention to an article written by Kawika Guillermo called “Can You Live A Video Game? Autobiography and Living the Author in Video Games.” In that article, Kawika writes,

As Robert Yang said, “no one makes personal games,” and it’s not difficult to see why. First, the gaming player-base is international, so the political implications of telling “identity stories” would have totally different meanings to non-American players, and may cause the game to look provincial.

While not explicit, Kawika points out that “personal” or “identity” stories may not be accepted or be misconstrued by other players. They will be dismissed as “not a game.” Yeah, that bullshit. Or, in the case of That Dragon, Cancer, people criticized the creators for “profiting” off of the passing of the creators’ child.  Kawika goes on to describe that his experience playing automedia games is characterized by frustration.

The article made us think about the autobiographical pact for games. The pact, as it is understood in a/b studies, is an agreement between the reader and author that the name on the cover of the autobiography is the same as the character in the novel. It’s a pact that establishes it’s truth claims and that the life narrative is an auto/biographical narrative. Usually, the reader is the one that has to be convinced. But other than a few scandals (such as the James Frey A Million Little Pieces controversy) or some playful blurring what is real and not real in life narrative by the author, readers accept the truth claims “until proven guilty.” This is a wide generalization but it led us to this point: for games, the autobiographical pact is tricky and precarious because the toxic culture around games don’t want personal games or don’t believes games should be or can be personal. They refuse to accept the pact and might (but not always) refuse to play the game or acknowledge the games’ truth claims. Or the game becomes a target for hate campaigns. So although Robert Yang says “no one makes personal games,” people do. Yet, he points to the larger risk of making personal, auto/biographical games, especially for marginalized devs. The discussion made reconsider the autobiographical pact and how I understand it working in games.

We then looked at Lizzie Stark’s post “Designing Autobiographical Games.” Her focus was on designing auto/biographical LARPs (Live Action Role Playing). None of us have participated in LARPs, but we discussed the possibility of table-top RPGs and how tricky it is to tell a life narrative when players have so much more agency. We scrolled through the rules of the game, and it was a lot to absorb so we didn’t chat much about it other than sharing Stark’s rules for her auto/biographical games.

And that concluded our meeting and the summer club. It’s sad that it has to end, but with a looming defence date, two courses to teach, and some papers to work on, I’ve got my hands full for the next coming months. But it’s something I’d like to do again simply because it’s just good to chat out scholarly stuff in an informal non-academicy way/setting. Despite some academic talk, our conversations were mostly about our experiences playing the game and our thoughts on the life narratives and how they were told through the medium of games. And those conversations were highly informative for my thought processes and academic tinkering with automedia games.