Productivity and motivation

I am setting myself up for failure with a title like that, but I’m going to go ahead and try this anyway. I want to get back in the habit of blogging once a week (Fridays, probably). I know today is Sunday, but shhh. The reason why I want to do this is because it’s not just blogging I need to get reaccustomed to, it’s writing. I find it difficult to write when I don’t have pressing deadlines, and yet writing is fundamental to how I understand the world. I dislike complacency but I enjoy laziness.

How can I reconcile these? Pretty much, by forcing myself to write. So welcome to this vaguely forced post.

Here’s a bit of backstory for you, dear reader. I’ve had reason in the past few months to be around people/friends/etc. who feel stagnant in their lives. Friends who want to live their dreams but feel unable to support that. Friends who tried to live their dreams but didn’t make it (yet, I hope). Friends who don’t know what their dreams are (again, yet, I hope). In the midst of all of this, I feel simultaneously lucky and ungrateful, because I’ve been given plenty of opportunities to live my dreams and plenty of support, but I also don’t know how to pass on my luck. I feel like this about a lot of things, to be honest, which I think is how I deal with privilege in general: acknowledge my luck, and try to make a zone of luck around me for other people. (Smash the kyriarchy.)

I’m not yet in a position within the hallowed walls of academia (lol) to make such a zone for my colleagues, but I can try to get there. I can start by observing, by thinking, and by writing down my thoughts. I can start by standing up for things like anti-harassment policies (a recent example, though not the only kind of privilege I mean). But mostly I can start by remembering that everything I do, I do for myself and for others.


Constructive criticism

Okay, so based on the three responses to the readability poll (still in the sidebar), I’m going to avoid using “read more” cuts in the future. I will also go back and remove them in older posts, probably, but not right this second.

Thanks for making your opinions known, faceless readers! This blog thanks you. (And as I said in the other post, feel free to continue to do so, though it would be nice if you could save it for housekeeping posts such as these.)

Edited to add: I went back and removed (I think all) of the read more tags, so there’s that. Next readability poll might be on infinite scroll. Hate it or love it?


In which your author revises her opinion of Suchman

Technologies can be understood as materials whose stability relies upon the continuous reproduction of their meaning and usefulness in practice.

– Suchman (1993), “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use.”

I’ve had similar thoughts and read similar thoughts strewn over papers before but this is a perfect crystallization of the nature of technology. I think this has to go on my mythical quote board, to pull out whenever someone questions why I care about smashing up materiality and practice and context and performance into a great big ball of “research material.” It’s why, although I focus on games, I also look at literature and scanlation (lol yeah really) and “new media” in general.

But I’ll be honest, this works just as well to explain myths, or methods, or anything used by people to make meaning. Which makes me wonder: what if technologies are tools for meaning-making? As in, understand technology as anything that a person uses in order to add meaning? I know this is sloppy, but I feel like it kind of has to be in order to capture the human elements of this. I’m suggesting we look at myths and methods (just to be consistent here) as technologies in the production of meaning.

tl;dr: Suchman got this one right on the nose, and I’m grateful for it.


I was in North Carolina for the weekend and I found out about a THATCamp being held in the Triangle (THATCampRTP: Digital Knowledge), so I figured I might as well go. It was on Friday, March 28, and lasted all day. I personally had a great time, but I like this sort of event where talking and meeting people and learning skills is involved (I think that’s why I like school, and why I like it better when it’s less formal).

I don’t have much to say from it, so I’m going to try something experimental: a list of things that I know now that I didn’t before attending, in no particular order  (I lied, it’ll be vaguely chronological).

  • I can play around with hardware and circuits and software just by plugging something into my computer
  • I miss working with breadboards and circuits and I should pick up a kit and try stuff on my own
  • It annoys me when people assume I don’t understand basic things and explain those to me, rather than actually listening to my question.
  • Lunch with friends is always good and sometimes it’s easy to forget that academics are people too (as an academic, no less).
  • I hate when people dominate discussions, and I hope I don’t do it. There’s a fine line between making your point and refusing to let others make theirs.
  • Preaching to the choir is fun but usually not very productive, but sometimes it is!
  • On that note, I really need to look into more legal issues/scholarship: I’m talking about games in culture, and law is part of culture.
  • Safe spaces are important to me, and I will do whatever is in my power to help make them so for other people. And I will expect the same in return.
  • That said, I understand that there is a lot of work to be done and that not everyone has the energy/spoons/desire/whatever to do it, and that’s OKAY.
  • There’s a lot of effort that goes into constructing a document to which multiple people can agree and that reflects the competing goals and desires of many. I commend anyone who takes this on.

I’m lucky, here at this blog. I’m the only one whose goals and desires inform it, because this is my space and my writing. And that reminds me of the last thing I learned:

  • I need to write, learn, communicate, and teach. I wouldn’t be me without doing all that. Yes, I need to slack off and take time off and isolate myself sometimes, but when it comes down to it, the production of knowledge is what I want to help with.

Text as interface

While reading Lucy Suchman’s Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions (2007), I had a moment of analogizing texts to machines. Suchman’s argument takes machines as non-human actors (with limited agency) in a network, where ties are created through sensing and communication. There’s a spectrum of engagement with respect to this network, and in Suchman’s view, the designer is present in the network.

So here I am, reading this, and I realize that the span of engagement actually captures what we’ve agreed to disagree about with respect to literary analysis. The gamut from New Criticism to symptomatic readings to Reader Response theory to authorial intent: this is what Suchman captures, except swapping out key terms. Instead of “author,” we have “designer;” instead of “reader,” we have “user.” And instead of “text,” we have “machine.” Or do we?

Figure 8.2: The analytical framework. From Suchman (2007).

Figure 8.2: The analytical framework. From Suchman (2007).

On page 123 of this edition, Suchman includes “Figure 8.2: The analytic framework.” This figure depicts a four-column framework breaking down the interaction between user and machine into the following: 1) actions not available to the machine, 2) actions available to the machine, 3) effects available to the user, 4) design rationale. 1 and 2 comprise the user, and 3 and 4 comprise the machine. This framework drives Suchman’s (conversation) analysis in the meat of her original dissertation: Chapter 9 in this volume. This is the center of my analogy, because I argue that this framework also captures how people and texts interact. I’m going to include a picture of my notes; please indulge me. I’ll also try to recreate it in text below.

My own analogy of textual interpretation to Suchman's User/Machine assemblage.

My own analogy of textual interpretation to Suchman’s User/Machine assemblage. Also, you can see my jawbreaker nails.

So the way I see it is that in Suchman’s analysis, the issue confronting human-machine interaction was the problem of communication and sensing: the machine only has access to so much, and the user only has access to so much. With reader-text interaction, it’s a very similar issue. The reader only has so much knowledge of the author’s brain to go off, and the author only has so much access to the reader’s brain. This is a general issue with all communication, I suppose, and it gets back to what I was talking about with the contextual theory of communication. But using Suchman’s framework as a model, we can begin to see the text as the surface on which the (implied) author and the (implied) reader have access to one another.

The text is the interface.

On a contextual theory of communication

Normally people think of communication with a transmissive view, i.e. there is a sender, a signal, and a receiver, and each part of this process can be checked for success or failure. Carey talks about this as the predominant mode in American discourse on communication, and that hasn’t changed much since he wrote in 1989 (Communication as Culture). He also talks about an alternative view, the ritual view, wherein communication acts like reciting lines of a play or of a religious service, reinforcing a community’s ideals.

But both of these views depend on a receptive audience: in the transmission view, the audience receives a new belief, and in the ritual view, the audience enforces an existing belief. I think this can be limiting, especially when we think about actual vs. imagined audiences, and if we think about art that may not be intended to encode a message but just to show something.

So what if it’s more like, communication is that which affects an intellectual context and you can walk through that mind landscape and react to it how you will? What if we throw word bombs at each other’s mind palaces? And more importantly, what would it mean to begin to analyze language/communication/representation from this perspective?

I had to reread the first chapter of Communication as Culture before I let myself write this post, and in so doing I realized that Carey approached this idea himself. Reality, for Carey, is constructed through symbolic representation (aka, communication).

…communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed” (Carey 1989, 23)

There’s another part of Carey’s argument about communication: it is social, public. It doesn’t necessarily presume an audience devoted to decoding, but it does presume an audience. Our communicative acts are visible. This is less symmetric than the transmission view of sender/signal/receiver, but more personable. More human.

Although, one important caveat about the similarity between my argument and Carey’s is that I believe this is what Carey refers to as the ritual mode, while I think it’s something other than that.

Two references which prompted me to consider the question of audience and art/communication (also more reason for me to read Dewey, I guess):

On Anzaldúa; or, writing is hard but I do it anyway

I’ve always had mixed feelings about writing. That much should be obvious to anyone who’s glanced at this blog: writing is essential to my life (this blog exists), but writing is hard (this blog hasn’t been updated in oh no nearly two months now). The fact that I’m a massive procrastinator and I put off things that I don’t have to do certainly doesn’t help. But it is only in putting thoughts into words that they become worth anything, and so I write. I keep trying, because a few words every few months is still progress. I know from the outside I look lazy, complacent. But complacency is my sworn enemy.

Which is why I had such a reaction to reading Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.

It’s a book that would have changed my life had I read it in high school (or maybe early college). So much of what Anzaldúa talks about makes sense in the context of my life, such as when she talks about growing up in the borderlands between two cultures. Even though my personal experience is less physical border and more psychosocial border, I know what it’s like to exist with two homes, neither of which can fully hold you. Like Anzaldúa says, “I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back” (43). And when she talks about languages and how you ever decide which to use in a given context, I understand, because I live that life. There are people I’ve known since before birth, that cause me to stop and wonder what language I should use to speak to them (as discussed in the section on “Linguistic Terrorism,” 80-81).

More than this shared experience, however, Anzaldúa’s text resonates with something deeper: a shared worldview. Anzaldúa voices that which I dare not say: writing is the struggle of life, and it’s fucking hard.