Friedberg and Moulthrop

[repost – sorry if it shows doubles]

I was the lucky person who took on both Moulthrop and Friedberg, and I’m primarily going to address the latter here because Friedberg’s piece includes a companion website. Originally, Friedberg’s website was located at, but my first attempt to access it there was pretty 😦

virt window


I wasn’t really in the mood to buy windows, so this was a disappointing result. I began to ponder the ephemerality of Friedberg’s digital companion site, a project meant “to capture the matrix of things lost in the activity of book writing and book production” (oh! the irony that it, too, was now lost!). Before I pondered myself too deep, however, I played internet detective and found the site preserved via the Wayback Machine and hosted live on Vectors (click “View Project”). Ephemerality crisis averted.

Friedberg created the website alongside artist Erik Loyer. In addition to creating a lot of really impressive digital and online art, Loyer serves as the Creative Director for Vectors, an experimental online journal focused on digital humanities. Their collaboration resulted in redundancy for the website, a lucky feature in retrospect.

I strongly recommend playing with The Virtual Window site for a few minutes. The book was published in early 2006, and while I can’t speak for its contents, the companion website seems to have help up pretty well over more than seven years of digital change. While HTML5 would have enabled a very different experience, the HTML4 design of the site is quick, clean, and entertaining, though at times the experience is repetitive and the visual aspects overwhelm the textual. A greater variety of ways to interact with the site would have gone a long way, but the design does seem to compliment Friedberg’s argument about the mediating effect of screens themselves.”We know the world by what we see: through a window, in a frame, on a screen,” she writes. “As we spend more of our time staring into the frames of movies, television, computers, hand-held displays–‘windows’ full of moving images, text, icons, and 3-D graphics–how the world is framed may be as important as what is contained in that frame.”

Friedberg, unfortunately, passed away in 2009, so we can only imagine what she might have thought of Google Glasses, smartphone takeover, or the recursive power of computers within computers.

Moulthrop works directly within the academic sphere, playing off the ideas of gaming theorist James Paul Gee, who writes that “the theory of learning in good video games fits better with the modern, high-tech, global world today’s children and teenagers live in than do the theories (and practices) of learning that they see in school….” Traditional modes of teaching, by asserting themselves as timeless and universal, have failed to adapt along with their audience. “Is it a wonder, then,” Gee ponders, “that by high school, very often both good students and bad ones, rich ones and poor ones, don’t like school?” Moulthrop takes Gee’s critique and expands it to universities, discussing everything from the possibility of the end of tenure to the new forms of literacy games offer. Moulthrop terms the contemporary and approaching learning environment “the age of serious play,” where games have become relevant as a way of learning, and tenured faculty are becoming irrelevant as experts.

Moulthrop openly admits to struggling with these theoretical ponderings, however, looking instead to develop some practical criteria to support his idea that “We must also play on a higher level, which means that we must build.” In other words, students of media must be able to be creators as well as analysts and teachers. Moulthrop offers four guiding steps (which, he notes, are works in progress):

“To count as an intervention, a project must satisfy four criteria:

1. It should belong somewhere in the domain of cybertext, constituted as an interface to a database and including a feedback structure and generative logic to accommodate
active engagement.

2. It should be a work of production crafted with commonly available media and tools.

3. It should depart discernibly from previous practice and be informed by some overt critical stance, satirical impulse, or polemical commitment, possibly laid out in an argument or manifesto.

4. It should have provocative, pedagogic, or exemplary value, and be freely or widely distributed through some channel that maximizes this value, such as the Creative
Commons or open-source licensing. Ideally, the infrastructure of the work should either be available to the receiver or documented in sufficient detail to permit
productive imitation.”

While Moulthrop and Friedberg are interested in two distinct subjects, they share connections. Both trace a shifting experience in academia, from the time of the expert, where tenured faculty wrote and taught and taught what they wrote, to an age where maybe no one is tenured and not everyone writes. Both are hyper aware of the effects of mediation, but wish to play with the new possibilities it offers. In many ways, Friedberg is the enactment of Moulthrop’s calls for “interventions,” supplementing her traditional, recognizable form of scholarship (the book) with a new and altogether different form of scholarship (the website) meant to communicate the same point in a radically different manner.


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