Void in form
When, just as they are,
White dewdrops gather,
On scarlet maple leaves,
Regard the scarlet beads!
Ailsa (Elise) Haxell, from Auckland University of Technology, in a lovely, musical (to my ears) voice, began her talk (with Frances Bell) on “Networking Power and Authority”, with the Haiku above.
Let me digress, for a brief moment, if you will be so kind, dear reader.
Ailsa (whom I call Elise) once wrote a paper in which her authorial voice came to me quite clearly. Upon hearing her real voice, in the recorded Elluminate session, I found myself not even surprised to discover they matched – both the authorial voice (imagined) and the recorded voice (real)…
Where were we? The poem. The haiku. According to Ailsa (I paraphrase), …Everything is made in association. The leaf exists to support, to form, to shape the dewdrops. The beads rest upon the leaf, scarlet in colour. The “scarlet” beads are scarlet in colour only because the leaf is scarlet.” (End of paraphrase)
Elise once used a prism, formed by the combination of sunshine and stained glass, to make this point clear to me. Both the scarlet beads and the prism were effective, full of explanatory power.
Actor network theory, as explained by Elise in her first slide, is the understanding that actors are things that act, human or otherwise. Her examples of the prism and the scarlet beads on the scarlet leaf make her point conclusively.
Frances Bell: “Things are not always what they seem”. Overlapping but congruent conversation (fragmented). Face 2 Face (f2f) as it relates to power and authority: Will the people who physically attend conferences have higher status than the ones who attend virtually?
Here it would be best to quote Dr. Danah Boyd, one of my heroes:
“Last week, I gave a talk at Web2.0 Expo. From my perspective, I did a dreadful job at delivering my message. Yet, the context around my talk sparked a broad conversation about the implications of turning the backchannel into part of the frontchannel. In the last week, I’ve seen all sorts of blog posts and tweets and news articles about what went down. At this point, the sting has worn off and I feel that it would be responsible to offer my own perspective of what happened.”
What happened? Briefly, the audience, using Twitter (the backchannel) made disparaging comments about the speaker, Dr. Boyd. What was most dreadful, and lamentable, is the fact that the Twitter comments were visually displayed behind her – while she was giving her presentation…
What is the takeaway – on how power relationships have changed – in this new environment? How can you control – what you can not control?
Take away the backchannel? At least remove it from behind the speaker. But if that only makes people angry, then you give it back to them. After all, they paid to attend the conference.
Now what do you do, when the power – and this in anonymity – has shifted to those participating in the backchannel?
Again, let’s return to Dr. Boyd for a quote: “The problem with a public-facing Twitter stream in events like this is that it FORCES the audience to pay attention the backchannel. So even audience members who want to focus on the content get distracted. Most folks can’t multitask that well. And even if I had been slower and less dense, my talks are notoriously too content-filled to make multi-tasking possible for the multi-tasking challenged. This is precisely why I use very simplistic slides that evokes images for the visual types in the room without adding another layer of content. But the Twitter stream fundamentally adds another layer of content that the audience can’t ignore, that I can’t control. And that I cannot even see.”
Again: What do you do? To be perfectly honest, I don’t think appealing to the inner angels of the audience is going to be the answer. The speaker’s resolve, to be outstanding, may indeed be the greatest possible solution.
Yet we should let Dr. Boyd have the final word, as this one is personal for her: “I have a favor to ask… I am going to be giving a bunch of public speaking performances at web conferences in the next couple of months: Supernova and Le Web in December, SXSW in March, WWW in April. I will do my darndest to give new, thought-provoking talks that will leave your brain buzzing. I will try really really hard to speak slowly. But in return, please come with some respect. Please treat me like a person, not an object. Come to talk with me, not about me. I’m ready and willing to listen, but I need you to be as well. And if you don’t want to listen, fine, don’t. But please don’t distract your neighbors with crude remarks. Let’s make public speaking and public listening an art form. Maybe that’s too much to ask for, but really, I need to feel like it’s worth it again.”
For the conclusion of this week’s guest speaker session, let’s return to Ailsa. Something she did caught and held my attention, as a Storyteller, was the Slide 11: An Ache of Wings. This was a story, within the story.
We all want to tell wondrous stories, yet some stories leave the protagtonist in a terrible state. Shakespeare, in his tragedies, was a master at telling these kinds of stories, in which our protagonist suffers.
Ailsa quotes Ilich: “Everyman now becomes Prometheus; he has fallen prey to the envy of the gods in his inordinate attempt to transform the human condition. Nemesis has become endemic; it is the backlash of progress.” (Illich, 1989/199, p. ¶ 3)
In her raising the issue of distributed accountability, towards the end of the recording, multiple ways of understanding this concept were voiced by George and Stephen, and this is understandable.
Accountability, to be understood as such, requires some form of undesirable consequences. Here is where Stephen differentiates: distributed accountability is not the same as collective accountability.
For George, the undesirable consequences can be either immediate, or delayed, as in the case of someone who abuses their health in an unhealthy lifestyle, or in the abuse of the Earth itself, where the consequences may first manifest themselves upon an innocent generation. The offending perpetrators may have existed as much as 50 to a thousand years earlier..
In either case, this begs the question: How do we move forward? How are we to act, if accountability is distributed, rather than collective?
How are we to act, if undesirable consequences may be visited upon us humans – hundreds or thousands of years after the transgression?
How are we to tell the story, when the story isn’t “pretty”?
Ailsa suggests a viable path:
“How then do we move forward,: by being grounded in practice…by research empirically based, by producing troubling stories…by knowing the myriad of detail involved is to know also that things can always be otherwise. A humility to move forward knowing one never knows it all, that the whole picture is always only known from one’s own situated reality, that other realities exist…that with the best of intentions, the tensions sometimes create, always create other outcomes…nonetheless, to study what is to inform how things might also always be otherwise.”
To finish, if you are still reading this, I salute you. And I thank you, because this is the longest single post I’ve ever written.
But as you watch the beautiful piece of music played: Beethoven’s Fur Elise, please watch the backchannel.
The violinist sitting behind the pianist is going to constantly move his stick, up and down, only slightly.
Hr forgets everything at the 2:33 mark, and raises the stick to a 45 degree angle. Maybe it was his response to the “bad note” that the pianist struck at that precise moment?
The Backchannel. Beware the Backchannel… It’s Powerful…