on flickr as a game environment

I have a section in my chapter on Flickr about the structure of the network as an ‘architecture of participation’, where I go through the various levels of engagement that are possible or invited (from exploring to uploading to commenting to participating in group ‘tasks’ and learning communities, and so on). I know I’m not the first person to have the idea of user-generated content communities as MMOGs, and I am very far from being an expert on game studies, but I’ve found it really productive to think about these issues of structure (or perhaps structuration) through a game design model, which also gets us thinking about participation in the network in terms of multiple forms of play. Here’s a bit of the draft to that effect:

Many computer games, at least at the most obvious level, are a specific, structured form of play that has a clear and final result: they define a win and (sometimes) a loss. At the same time not all play, even within game environments, is ‘ludic’ in precisely this way, instead being characterised by more free-form and player-centred practices that are complementary or parallel to the success imperative. This approach can also be applied to ‘architectures of participation’ like user-generated content communities and, in this case Flickr, on the basis that participation in these environments, as in games, can be viewed as a form of play that occurs in a constrained environment and that offers both individual and social rewards which can be attributed to the actions of the participants. Accordingly, it is appropriate to view Flickr as an open and configurable, but at the same time deeply structured, game environment where a variety of forms of massively multiplayer online play are possible. The second feature of play that makes it a useful tool for the analysis of cultural participation in Flickr is that it is, as Kücklich demonstrates, an appropriate model for the structure-agency problem in new media contexts.

Update: Stewart Butterfield on Game Neverending:

The secret is, even though it’s called Game Neverending, it’s not really a game at all. It’s a social space designed to facilitate and enable play. The game-elements are there to provide both the constraints and the building blocks of interaction – since the thing you’ll notice about the kind of play I’m talking about above is that it is the kind of thing that goes on between people. Ludicorp was started because we imagine all kinds of social computing applications that we’d love to use and participate in, and no one else seems to be building them.

Something there about the pervasiveness of the original design philosophy, I think.

flickr meetup

Yesterday I finally made it to my first Brisbane flickr meetup, which is part of my fieldwork but also a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We met at the Regatta, hopped on the citycat and went downriver to the University of Queensland, where we wandered along the riverbank up to the construction site of the new Green Bridge, chatting about cameras (and ‘having an eye’ vs. technological mastery) and the life of the city and our jobs and hobbies.

More photos at the group photo pool

grappling with cultural citizenship

I have hit the books again, and I’m alternately working out ideas and culling stuff from my draft, so no more word counts for a while. When they do return they’ll just show how many words I’ve written that day, too, no more of this mythical ‘total’ word count business.

Like much of my writing, this sentence needs to be turned into at least 6 sentences, but at least it’s neater than my notes pages on cultural citizenship:

I use the concept of ‘vernacular creativity’ to describe the everyday practices of material and digital creativity that serve cultural citizenship, where cultural citizenship is understood, not as the static possession (or dispossession) of rights or obligations, but as a variegated continuum of participation in the cultural public sphere.

I’m using or arguing with (in no particular order) Murdock, Rosaldo, Miller, McGuigan, Stevenson, Uricchio, Hartley, Couldry, Hermes – feel free to shout out “you should read…” if something closely connected to that list comes to mind.

And here’s another sentence I wrote today:

Questioning the widespread idea that the availability of tools and platforms for participatory media somehow in itself enables universal cultural enfranchisement, I go on to examine the often implicit constraints on participation in digital culture, paying especially close attention to the socio-technical construction of literacies and ‘user’ subjectivities in specific contexts.

no more sentences this week

I wrote something like 7,000 words this week. The next step is to tidy up, remove the most embarrassing notes-to-self, and hand it over to the supervisors to get some feedback and fuel up for the next leg of the journey. I’d prefer to wait until it’s finished before anyone is allowed to see any of it, but that isn’t really the way it works.

So in that spirit, here is my last sentence of the day:

If cultural agency is measured by access to the space to self-mediate, create and engage, then it is in plentiful supply in the imagined futures of contemporary commercial democracies. Web 2.0 developers need their users to be co-creators, active participants, and even ‘good citizens’.

Current thesis word count: 26,171


Last (but hopefully not best) sentence of the day:

The ‘most popular tags’ cloud is characterised by the convergence of the most predictable subjects of vernacular photography – places, family, birthdays, weddings – with muted versions of the structurating categories of capital ‘P’ photography – technology (canon, film, black&white) and genre (art, portrait).

Current thesis word count: 25,041

craft, thesis, update

I just can’t seem to avoid the craft at the moment.

Current thesis word count: 24,017

The refusal at work in these DIY communities is not only a refusal of the affluent Western individual’s interpelletation as the consumer of inauthentic, technologised and mass-produced artifacts; it is also avowedly a recuperation of everyday domestic labour and productive leisure – knitting, sewing – from their undervalued status in contemporary regimes of cultural value. However, these practices are very often recuperated for hipness via the (sometimes post-feminist) differentiation of ‘indie craft’ from the middlebrow aesthetic of the mainstream ‘craft store’.

word count obsession

Current thesis word count: 22545

Which makes it around 3,000 in the last 24 hours. (Although admittedly I did find about 5 pages that I had forgotten to paste in from early chapter drafts).

Inspired by Jane McGonigal via Anne’s online writer’s retreat, here is one of the newly minted sentences:

Texts and their meanings matter less than practices, relationships and contexts.

I’m quite pleased, considering the word count occasionally goes in completely the wrong direction when I’m writing. Also, I think that is the shortest sentence I have ever written.

‘more than a mere assemblage of moviemaking information’

Thank you Glen for sending me this little treasure which I found in my in-tray this morning – for that you are a prince among men.

I’ve also uploaded the first two pages of one of the many fabulous example storyboards that the book includes in glossy colour. It’s called ‘Laura’s Seventh Birthday’, and it’s all about making the cake with Mother, playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and having girlish chit-chat. In a very pretty frock.

Going beyond the frocks – Kodak teaches us that in home movies the ‘in-between’ quotidian spaces and practices of everyday life are interesting and camera-worthy. But at the same time, the aesthetics of home movies are to be distinguished from professional movie-and television production; and the home-movie maker is not to aspire to those.

There’s a lot here I can use in my ‘history’ chapter on amateur creativity, new technology and the construction/teaching of new media literacy.

Current thesis word count: 20,724

‘defining’ vernacular creativity

Time to publicly update my working definition of vernacular creativity – for the record. The paragraph below will go in my thesis – either right up front in the abstract or as part of the introduction. It should be read as what we might call a heuristic definition, boiled down as far as possible in order to orient the reader. It isn’t a normative definition (an exercise in drawing boundaries); the ‘real’ vernacular creativity chapter is more like an etymological map, if that makes sense. [a very early sketch of that map is here]

By vernacular creativity I mean a wide range of everyday creative practices (from scrapbooking to family photography to the storytelling that forms part of casual chat). The term ‘vernacular’ – as with language, where it means colloquial – signifies the ways in which everyday creativity is practiced outside the cultural value systems of either high culture (art) or commercial creative practice (television, say). Further, and again as with language, ‘vernacular’ signifies the local specificity of such creative practices, and the need to pay attention to the material, cultural, and geographic contexts in which they occur. Finally, I emphasise the need to remember that vernacular creativity predates any particular innovation in technologies by centuries, and that at the same time its forms and social functions are transformed by cultural and technological shifts.

[live thesis update in response to comments below]

The various ‘others’ of ‘ordinary’ vernacular creativity discussed above – punk-influenced DIY culture, creative activism, fandom, and game cultures – are in different ways very attractive to cultural studies (either for their spectacularly creative uses of mass popular culture, or for their apparent demonstration of an evidential base for spectacular ‘resistance’). This dissertation certainly keeps those fields of vernacular creativity in the frame, recognising the ways in which they are positioned as the seductive leading edge of a potential paradigm shift in the media ecology. However, because it aims to understand whether new media allows the populace ‘at large’ to participate more meaningfully in public culture through vernacular creativity, the study deals most centrally with the most apparently accessible, mainstream and ordinary forms, practices and technologies of ‘consumer-created’ new media.

slower, softer

Let me just frame this by saying that I am at the business end of trying to construct a doctoral thesis on the implications for cultural citizenship of vernacular creativity in “new media” contexts. I use radically mixed methods and my concept maps always start with ‘worms-eye’ views. I try to live up to the ethical ideals of cultural studies, participatory action research and the power of specificity and radical contextualisation. I’m doing this in a research context where the speed of innovation is utterly incompatible with any kind of scholarly pace.

Also, I recently got external feedback on a collaborative project that is explicitly designed to mount a grounded, pragmatic critique of some of the ethical implications of “creativity” and “innovation” in particular contexts – something that almost nobody who might actually make use of such an understanding seems to have time to do, because we’re always too busy trying to find the cutting edge. The feedback wasn’t overly negative, but I was gobsmacked to find that it said there was not enough emphasis on the future.

So let’s pretend for a moment that I’m in the business of making naive and idealistic manifestoey statements. This is what I’d want to say about how “new media” talks about itself, and about how new media scholars talk about it:

Old things are as interesting as new ones.

The speed and spectacular novelty of a particular innovation should never be a measure of its value or the basis of its justification. (But I get why they are).

We* need time to explore slow and ethical innovation.

We need more space for quiet voices, more room for thoughtfulness and more recognition of the value of boredom.

We have a lot to learn from the practices of late adopters, as well as those of the thoughtful, the sceptical, and the reluctant. We should watch them. We should listen.

But that’s just between you, me and the choir.

*designers, users, researchers, critics, teachers, students, policy-makers, journalists. you. me.