All the people can’t be wrong all the time – a defensive egoblogging reflex

One of the benefits of insignificance is that people rarely have reason to take shots at you. So when some fairly sharp criticisms were directed my way over my recent NMC Mashup Symposium mashup I really didn’t know how best to respond… I knew that something that weird would not appeal to everyone, and I had difficulty imagining a response that didn’t just seem defensive.

Then again, I’ve followed the work of both Jeffrey Keefer and Lisa Lane for some time, and when people I like and respect take the time to offer detailed and thoughtful critiques, it almost seems arrogant to ignore them. I also don’t doubt that other people have had similar responses to my stuff. So while I do not have the time to respond in appropriate depth to  the many shortcomings these posts identify, I did want to at least acknowledge them.

First off, mea culpas on a couple of crimes:

* Jeffrey is correct to point out that my abstract didn’t describe the session that I delivered all that accurately. I can only plead for mercy, as that abstract had to be submitted when I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I originally submitted a proposal that was a far more traditional examination of data mashups, but was asked by the NMC to consider something more culturally-oriented… So that abstract was something of a placeholder, and I do regret it if people felt misled.

* Lisa is absolutely right to smack me for not offering a more detailed list of sources anywhere. My only defense is that I did namecheck these people in the audio itself, which I conceptualized as a stand-alone piece. That, and I got lazy. I have updated my post and added the names of the spoken word samples.

Now if I may, I’d like to push back on a few other points. I don’t expect to convince Jeffrey, Lisa, or anyone else to change how they feel about the session, but I’d at least like to make my own motivations clear.

In his post (and previously on Twitter) Jeffrey complains that the session did not provide concrete steps on how to apply lessons learned in his own practice. First off, as I assembled the clips and materials that were most compelling to me, the narrative that emerged was one of mashup artists and sympathetic theorists describing their own histories, philosophies and goals in their own form of expression.  I hope I created a reasonable representation of a culture which has been influential on how we think about discourse in the digital age. If I failed at that, then I failed…

But I would hope there is room for discussion in our field that doesn’t have to boil down to universally applicable step-by-step instructions. Chris Lott, in a post that responded so well to Jeffrey that I felt like I was off the hook, makes this point very well: “there is a whole world of richness of expression and thought that ties into the way I live in and approach the world… and most of that world is in the dark, unseen and hard to quantify.”

I’m also reminded of Alan’s recent post contrasting fishing and fish nuggets: “it means less formal training, less workshops, and more learning by doing. It means using these tools a much as possible in our processes, so they become part of a fabric, not something strange and exotic.”

I have a couple of responses to Lisa’s assertions as  well. First, with regards to the respective natures of pre-literate, literate, and digital discourse, she may be right. But I never have asserted that digital culture simply rolls back the years to pre-literate  traditions. It’s possible that some of the samples in “Confessions” gave that impression, but just because I want to represent the positions of artistic and cultural thinkers does not mean I wholly endorse those views. I might be personally intrigued, even sympathetic to Negativland’s views on copyright, but I would never dream of advocating those positions to a room full of faculty that I hope will embrace an open education vision.

Lisa correctly infers the “Confessions” piece was a bit of theatre designed to provoke. So I am a bit confused why it would be judged by the standards of scholarship. Surely there is room in teaching and learning for storytelling, for sharing, for performance and provocation? Of course, that doesn’t mean she has to like it. And I don’t mean to suggest that good scholarship can’t be imbued with what Gardner Campbell calls “expectation and a sense of occasion.” (Gardner’s recent talk at UBC certainly shows that performance and scholarship are not mutually exclusive.) Maybe Lisa’s vision of the scholastic mashup will be a reality someday.

I should be clear that such strong criticisms to work that I’ve done, while they literally do cause me to lose sleep at night, are a preferable response to apathy. I honestly appreciate that Jeffrey and Lisa put thought into work that I did and that they would post such detailed appraisals.  I got next to no response to my much more deliberate (and carefully cited) mashup complement to last year’s EDUCAUSE Review article. I’ll admit that I was disappointed by the silence… maybe that pushed me to go a little weirder this time, and with more loose ends than some would like.  Personally, I find it more interesting when I am taking a risk with a presentation, and it’s natural that if you try for something ‘out there’ that it will not have universal appeal. I can only hope that there will be room for my own flavours being represented in this field, as I am having a blast working and playing here.

Before I move on, I wanted to note a hit of uncanny synchronicity that just blows my mind.  As I was preparing this post, I came across the following image from the “Confessions” presentation in Second Life in a post by Alan Levine:

And I was absolutely stunned by the resemblance to the awe-inspiring opening shot from my absolute favorite concert film of all time, Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii:

Not intentional, I assure you. Had I grokked it, we would have had banks and banks of amps (preferably stenciled “PINK FLOYD LONDON”) to recreate the set exactly. With coincidences like this, I can take any amount of criticism.

The video is small and grainy, but you can get a sense of the Floyd’s unique performance here:

At the 6:04 mark of this clip you can see the exact moment I went from hating Pink Floyd to thinking of them as one of my favorite bands. The jam that follows is sublime…

9 thoughts on “All the people can’t be wrong all the time – a defensive egoblogging reflex

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and your reflective approach to criticism. Of course, I enjoyed your “Confessions…” piece even more. I think your ideas are right on, both about mashing up and, of course, about Pink Floyd.

  2. Hi Brian,

    A few points:

    1. I listened to your presentation (didn’t get a chance to see it live). I enjoyed it…though it was initially a bit disorienting and took some time for me to get what you were communicating. But as the pieces fit, I saw how thoughtful you had been in crafting the presentation. We have been so conditioned, when learning, to expect linear coherence. As with Gardner’s presentation at UBC, the use of alternative approaches to presenting ideas sometimes throws us off. Which is great. And I think we’ll see much more of this as we continue to fragment information and interaction. The maestro creates the mix that represents one view/perspective. If we can let go of our urge for coherence in structure, and instead tolerate coherence in concept, the work you did here will become much more common.

    2. From my experience, not all criticism requires response. If you’re putting out ideas that challenge or disorient people, you will receive push back occasionally. That’s a good thing. Sometimes individuals will simply be reflecting on how they experienced what you’ve produced. Their criticism – especially as I read with the two examples you’ve cited – is not as much about your presentation as it is about how they personally view/perceive what you did (neither response seems malicious…just a statement of personal reaction). But, since you’ve spent hours (days?) putting your presentation together – and are taking public risks in communication – it can feel like the criticism is somewhat personal. As you’ve noted, criticism is preferred to apathy – especially when it comes from friends/colleagues 🙂

    3. We need more people who are creative in exploring and expressing ideas through different media. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  3. I find Lisa Lane’s response quite strange… not just because it posits a need for scholarly citations in a mashup, which is arguable (I suppose), but because most of her discussion of intellectual property, plagiarism, and remix seems like a drastic case of misreading (because I can’t believe that it would be deliberate misrepresentation) when considered with what *I* think I’m hearing and what I myself am saying.

    Posts like hers are the kind that keep *me* up at night too, for completely different reasons. Maybe I’ll find time to respond a bit there.

  4. That Pink Floyd video is wild. I don’t pretend to know much about them more broadly, but what I do know was their kind of tripped out, conceptual music that was rhythmic, piercingly smart, and crazy. Featurig them as rocking musicians as this ideo does adds yet another angle to the band, and makes me want to watch this video with you and get a sense of the nuances of that switch at 7:40 to a kind of bass-infused jam that even has the guitarist strumming with ease by the end of the clip, rather than finger picking like a maniac.

    More than that, the setting at NMC and this video in Pompeii just further suggest the uncanny nature of your Second Life presentation and its place in rock and roll history. In fact, unheimlich might be a good description of your “talk” and may account for some of the reactions, which I think were more akin to an honest wrestling with a difficult conceptual move than any real attack to your work. But Pink Floyd, huh, now you got me thinking…

  5. I agree, you give your critics too much attention. But then, you are outing them and sustaining attentions on what is some very great conceptual work, and in the process you are building and building on your work. Watching the Floyd video, that great long slow zoom, with the picture coming alive bit by bit.. reminds me of conceptual film work by Michael Snow, specifically his film Wavelength. So many great things come out of Canada. Must be something in the … water. Sleep well.

  6. I have been reading and rereading this post for a few days, Brian, and appreciate your reflection and then sharing this for open discussion. I suppose this is becoming a metareflective opportunity, and I think I need to finally process my own thoughts enough to share them as well.

    I saw Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha this past Monday evening, and your presentation came to mind when I started to process that work. I was expecting an opera about the early life of Gandhi, yet with it sung in Sanskrit, intentionally without subtitles, the focus is forced to change. The hypnotic chorus, repetitive music, and postmodern set together made this a work that was not only unexpected, but boundary-pushing for the Metropolitan Opera (and me as well).

    I see my role as an education professional to push my students to expand their boundaries (learning) while facilitating the process and maintaining some sense of safety for those who need to hold on while confronting the learning ahead of them. I felt that at the Met (the safety of being at the premier US opera stage with its desire to promote and expand culture in this art form), and have been considering why I have such a hunch there is some connection between it and your work during the Mashup.

    I have heard you present and read your work for some time now, and that is the stable (safe) part of your presentation. I trust you not to take us someplace meaningless, and that is why I attended the entire session rather than leaving it mid-way when I was completely disoriented (to be honest, I don’t dance in the first world, either). Had it been somebody I did not know or was not known by those people I read, I would not have even bothered to comment at all, chalking it up to an unusual experience, period.

    The fact you lose sleep over comments demonstrates (to me) that you take your work seriously and are in many ways helping to move education in an electronic age along. Pushing boudaries is never an easy business to be in, and having a hard skin seems to me to be a great asset when people are used to the status quo. So much for non-educators thinking education is a safe and easy profession to be in . . .

    I am convinced that education challenges the status quo, and as educators sometimes we need to shake things up to help people see there are other ways to look at issues. Where else can growth come from?

    With this said, I am really glad that this session has sparked discussion–the educator’s dream! Without it, we never know what we have done has worked if at all. As we often do not see the results of our work, these online discussions are testament that reflective practice and learning is happening. I am now beginning to wonder where it is going . . .

  7. So to sum up, I did hesitate to bring all this up, but felt like I did have some explaining to do… perhaps the length of the post was a bit much. I very much appreciate the supportive nudges.

    Rob, Jim & Leigh – glad you dug the Pink Floyd. The movie is worth a DVD rental, though that opening shot indicates a deliberately slow pace. I gotta check out Wavelength!

    Jeffrey – I appreciate the comment.That Glass show sounds great – sometimes I envy you New Yorkers.

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