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 ūüė¶

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.


Linked thoughts

I wanted to examine Lanham in a little more visual and concept-based manner than vlogging allows – using Walter Benjamin’s method of presenting “moments,” little snippets of experience, seemed a good way to go to demonstrate a few of the links that occurred as I was reading.

The chapter on fonts really feels like so much of the early 90’s media studies. I had one teacher who would give automatic extra credit if you turned in your papers in comic sans. Half the class boycotted free points “on principle.” Fonts are srs bzness.

¬†I do get Lanham’s delight in some ways – as a kid, Microsoft Word provided a very different way to envision text than our DOS machines. And for a few minutes, playing with different fonts was entertaining. Still is.

So entertaining that people wanted to make text move and blink too.

And the text we use definitely does change perceptions.

Our blog in 1997.

With new textual types come new languages.

So close.

Language, as information, has material qualities. Perhaps, then, it is no wonder Lanham celebrates capitalism – he thinks that everyone has some access to information and material needs alike. (Everyone can afford something from IKEA!)

“This purported immateriality [of information] endows bits with considerable advantages: they are immune from the economics and logistics of analog media, and from the corruption, degradation, and decay that necessarily results from the handling of material carriers of information, resulting in a worldwide shift ‘from atom to bits’ as captured by Negroponte. This is problematic: however immaterial it might appear, information cannot exist outside of given instantiations in material forms.”
Jean-Fran√ßois Blanchette, “A Material History of Bits”

Even though you can’t drop it on your foot like Lanham’s stuff.

‚ÄúBut when you interpret nature as information, stuff and fluff change places.‚ÄĚ
“As an aside, let me point out here that ‘information’ itself, as used today ‚ÄĒ including as by Lanham in the above sentence ‚ÄĒ is a highly misleading concept. Information is an old term. You can trace it back to fourteenth‚Äďcentury England, when it principally meant convictions and understandings, mostly of a religious nature, and primarily imparted by God. The root of course is the word ‚Äúform‚ÄĚ, and so information meant a kind of shaping of mind. Over the centuries, the word became more secular and more loosely used to mean any kind of knowledge amenable to being passed on. Around 1945, however, primarily through the work of Claude Shannon, the word information took on its main contemporary guise as a number of bits passing from machine to machine. It had become part of communications theory, only peripherally involving humans at all.”
~Michael H. Goldhaber, “How (Not) to Study the Attention Economy”

Almost as pretty as VHS tapes.
Microsoft’s Software Archives

In many ways, Lanham was a frustrating read for me. I found the tone abrasive, and somewhat dismissive of his opponents. In particular though, I was frustrated by the lack of warrants in many arguments, which often made entire passages feel…

It goes both ways.


I get it, Lanham. You’re an emeritus and get to do your thing. But warrants –> attention.¬†

“Attention,” write Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun in their 1996 book Rules of the Net, “is the hard currency of cyberspace.” They’re dead on. As the Net becomes an increasingly strong presence in the overall economy, the flow of attention will not only anticipate the flow of money, but eventually replace it altogether.
~Michael H. Goldhaber, “Attention Shoppers!”

Clearly the underlying message here is that I disagree with Lanham’s underlying beliefs about economy functions. While Lanham constantly denounces his own expertise on the economy, he’s seen himself expert enough to come to a very certain, and very important, conclusion about the desirability of capitalism in an economy – whether that economy operate on a capital of dollars or a capital of attention. And that conclusion, the one implicitly serving as the foundation for all Lanham’s other conclusions, needs to be seriously examined.
infographics for everyone!