First snow here today. Roofs are whitening. Pavements are damp and dark. A moment’s sunlight will return us to autumn dryness.
The snow has put me in mind of one of my favorite blogs: Antarctic Conservation. Recently they’ve been working on paper restoration and have confessed to being somewhat distracted by the interior of objects like this well-used copy of the Illustrated London News.
I’ve always been curious about what the Edwardian explorers read. Expedition accounts frequently mention the reading habits and materials in passing. Lawrence Oates’ reading, for example, of Napier‘s multi-volume history of the Napoleonic War was a matter of comment on the expedition and is often noted in historical accounts, sometimes with a note of surprise.
In Ponting photographs, books of one sort or another often peek out of the background.
I’ve often wanted to know is whether there’s a list of all the printed material taken along on the Edwardian expeditions. Oh wait. Conservators. Of course there’s a list. I wonder if there’s a publicly accessible list.
I’ve not been keeping a close eye on social media stuff lately but the storm around danah boyd’s Web2.0 Expo keynote caught my eye. It’s fascinating not so much for the rushed presentation style or for the teasing apart of what happens when a back channel becomes a front channel or even for the outpouring of support for boyd as she survived giving a bad speech.
What fascinates me about the event is the ways in which the relationships between audience and speaker are reconfigured. It’s tempting to think of the twitterwall behind boyd as heckling—a term which I’ve just learned emerged from the industrial politics of the Scottish textile trade. (Given its origin, I’m tempted to think of heckling as a byblow of flyting).
Unlike an interruption to request a favourite song or to adjust the volume, a heckle is inherently oppositional and disruptive. Part of the point of interrupting a speaker’s flow with a heckle is to change the direction of the flow, to point out that there is another, opposing, and often hostile point of view in the room. But in boyd’s case there’s a key difference: is it heckling if the object of the heckled criticism can’t hear (or in this case, see) it?
boyd’s flow was indeed disrupted—in the video it’s clear that she’s responding to the noises off and equally clear from her later comments that she was aware of sound, the aura, of attack but not the substance. Given the physical set-up of the stage, the twitterwall ended up being far less interactive than genuine heckling. Instead the twitterwall functioned more like a cluster of gossips whispering in the hallway rather than as a site of heckling. When you’re genuinely heckled, you get to shout back. And the more skilled you become (or the more Scottish family meals you sit through), the sharper and faster your responses can become. A heckle is a challenge; whispered (or invisible to you) comments are gossip.
What fascinates me most though is how the counterpoint between boyd’s performance and the audience’s performance enacted one of the key points she was making.
Power is about being able to command attention, influence others' attention, and otherwise traffic in information. We give power to people when we give them our attention and people gain power when they bridge between different worlds and determine what information can and will flow across the network. (source)
The performance(s) demonstrated exactly how contingent authority and power are in a networked space. Usually audiences grant some short-lived authority to the speaker on a stage. Here that authority was torn down with startling rapidity as boyd’s audience refused to grant her their power or to acknowledge any authority she might have that didn’t derive from the moment of performance. The twitterwall was ultimately a power grab. True heckling would have required engagement and attention.