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Archive for the ‘blogging’ Category

omg I just talked to Howard Rheingold

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 16, 2010

You can keep your Robert Pattinsons and Miley Cyruses and whichever other beautiful prepubescent sexy people you young people idolize these days. My idols are people like these folks:

That guy in the lower lefthand corner is Howard Rheingold, who is by just about all accounts one of the kindest, happiest, most curious, most fascinating, most colorful, and most thought-provoking media theorists around. (If you want proof, take a look at this little gem of his writing.)

Because Howard is kind and supportive of other aspiring intellectuals, I’ve had email conversations and twitter conversations and blog conversations with Howard. There’s this interesting feature of the new technologies that swell around us, see: They efface the distance–perceived and real–between our idols and our selves. If you’re patient enough and quick enough, you can use these new technologies to climb right up on the pedestals your heroes are standing on and tap them on the shoulder.

And today in a webchat I got to talk to Howard–with my voice–about crap detection, participatory culture, and pedagogy. It. Was. Awesome.

It may soon enough be the case that the structures and norms that allowed us to toss up celebrities and intellectuals as cultural heroes–well, it may soon enough be the case that those structures crumble, leaving our heroes in the rubble at our feet. I’m young enough to hope it’ll happen in my lifetime but old enough that I may not be able to fully shake the notion of the celebrity as icon. After all, I grew up alongside this:

And yes, I know that a huge chunk of Americans have never even heard of Howard Rheingold (or Lisa Delpit or Paulo Freire or Jim Gee or Henry Jenkins or Yasmin Kafai) and that these people don’t count as ‘celebrities,’ as least not in the “zomg the paparazzi are everywhere” sense. I don’t care. As Intel explains, our rock stars aren’t like your rock stars.

Posted in academia, academics, awesome, blogging, fannish, Henry Jenkins, Howard Rheingold, Jim Gee, joy | 2 Comments »

thoughts on creative writing, MFA programs, and the social beat

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 4, 2010

I recently participated in a local event called Ignite Bloomington, where my co-presenter, Christian Briggs, and I performed a poem we called “the social beat.”

The design of the background images, the development of the poem, and the planning of the performance were all completed collaboratively; this was by far the most collaborative creative project I’ve ever been involved in. I say that as a graduate of an MFA program who spent three years doing almost nothing but creative work. I say that as someone who intentionally moved away from what I’m coming to see as the antiquated approach to writing that pervades creative writing programs around the country.

I write more now, and more creatively, and with more enthusiasm, than I ever did during my days as a ‘poet.’ In part, this is because the primary type of writing I do these days is far more public and persistent, and more closely linked to issues that matter deeply to me, than was the writing I did as a creative writing major. But the writing I do nowadays is also more aligned with my ethos: These days, I embrace openness, collaboration, and collective knowledge-building; and producing, circulating, and building upon others’ ideas online meets these interests nicely. In fact, this “writing publicly for a networked public” thing meets my needs like gangbusters.

Creative writing, at least in the MFA-program sense of the term, never did meet my needs or interests. It felt too far out of my control. We more or less buy the idea of the “muse”–call it flow if you want, call it the zone, call it whatever you want, but what it means is that we embrace this strange idea that the greatest works emerge when you can set your conscious mind a little bit to the side and let your unconscious break through to the surface. It had to happen in silence. It had to happen alone. And you couldn’t control it. You could only control the circumstances that make it more likely to happen.

Sure, fine. We need people to make those great brilliant works by betting on the muse. But that way of thinking about writing is just not for me–it never has been. I’m more into the “how do you get to Carnegie Hall” approach to writing, which is why blogging, and the attendant potential readership, appeals so much to me.

And when it comes to creative writing, I’m kinda into this “collaboration” thing. Coordinating the partnership is tricky and time-consuming, but if you find the right partner you end up standing on each other’s shoulders, finishing with something better than any one of you could have written on their own. One thing I know for sure is that the work that came out of my collaboration with Christian is better, stronger, more powerful than anything I could have come up with on my own. I’m proud of this work, maybe prouder than I was of any poem I wrote on my own, and I’m proud to include the poem and a video of our performance of it below.

the social beat
Jenna McWilliams & Christian Briggs

let’s walk it backwards:
when a girl
in a field
face shielded from the sun
looks out at you and smiles
you think something has begun
but that’s not a smile
it’s a grimace it’s a sneer
you’ve got that camera around your face and a 21st century leer

but it’s a circle, a cycle, a snake that eats its tail
explosion, says mcluhan, split the instrument from the wail
and now we’re walking that split backwards to where the hammer meets the nail
to where the language meets its speaker and the face removes its veil

is this a flat world?
a kind world?
a world framed as a game?
what’s the win state?
who’s losing?
should we send it all up in flames?
and with every change we fight for does it all just stay the same?

in 1984 papert blew up the school or said computers would
{they didn’t
or if they did, they hid it}
it’s a long revolution
a slow evolution
characterized by dilution and diffusion
and confusion
sometimes, but joy too, and profusion, collusion and elocution
and hope, and motion, and implosion
of space and time and multiple uses
we lifted our tech and it calmly spoke through us.

implosion: the same plane with the same name moves us and rushes us and smooshes us together
that long walkway is us walking away from the everyday pulleys and gears of our years
we climb onto the tech we climb into the sky
we can collaborate now we can elaborate now we can fly

it’s gonna crash
the school becomes a skull
its planks and its floorboards and its chalkboards and its front doors flash past us like shrapnel
as we dash past with laptops
the floor’s falling in and we have them building backdrops and stage props in woodshop.

they’re gonna fall
explode in on themselves, the freight and the chaos
beams buckling, roof knuckling under the weight
as crowds spill like kindling into the street
meeting each other again flinting and squinting again in the sun {ignite}

it’s all going under
it’s all yellow light slanting sideways across shining faces
it’s thunder
it’s traces of ozone it’s acres of blight
as we push back the night as it grinds to a crawl as the old ladies watch and wonder
they’re gonna go under

but the story’s not finished
they’re gonna defend
they’ll never give in. they learned how to stand in an age of their father’s machine.
they’re clean.
so they defend. and they default. and they defer
to the icon and its policies and its politics and its poetry
we automate the manual. now our hands are clean on the path to hell

cue eye roll.
we know how to build, we can do it again. so we build.
and we machinate. and we slap down machines to palliate the children
we fill them as if they were containers.
it’s heinous.
it took two days for those green machines to fill up with guess what? porn.

we’ve had millennia now of dissemination, maybe it’s time to change the story
to disovulation: one perfect idea at a time, sent out into the world
then we’ll let you guys fight over who gets to claim it.
or blame it.
millennia now of the Churchills the Hitlers the Gateses the Jobses the Spitfires and Messerschmittses and Habermas and Hobbeses

like a girl
in a field
face shielded from the sun
is still inside the lines
where something has begun

it’s the circle, the cycle, the snake has caught its tail
the explosion’s moving backward though the timid first will fail

the tots will test it, resisting with a poke, a prod, a post
the slightest and the smallest seem the most benign of rabble
filling up the tubes with what will mostly seem a babble
to defenders of the past

now they’re teens
on the street
the lines are giving way
babble turned to business
as the structures start to sway
but still defenders are within this
scene, clutching for the days….
that will no longer be..

you see…

the teens have grown and jumped the lines
we’re not walled in and not walled out
nor confined by any doubt
instead we clamber for the time
when all that’s in will all be out
a coalescing of the minds
whose synaptastics speed the time

technology will take its place
a toy a tool connecting us
aiding a collective us
crushing in both time and space
freeing up the play in us

we are those girls
in our fields
faces turned toward every one
collectively reflecting on the
thing that has begun
or is it ending as it rends us?
the scream igniting as it mends us?
unbends us and upends us:
a lick of flame, a bonfire, night brought shrieking to the sun
a slow sermon whispered softly:
there is much that must be done.

Posted in blogging, creativity, participatory culture, poetry, social revolution, writing | 2 Comments »

Blog for International Women’s Day

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on March 7, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010, is International Women’s Day, and Gender Across Borders is helping to get the word out by asking people to blog on this year’s theme: “Equal rights, equal opportunity: Progress for all.”

Find out more at Gender Across Borders. Sign up to blog for IWD here.

Posted in blogging, feminism, gender politics, human rights | 1 Comment »

One year and 235 posts later…

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 9, 2010

Today is the one-year anniversary of the establishment of this blog. I count my decision to start this blog, and after that decision the decisions to cultivate it, populate it, and spread the word about it as the most significant aspect of my developing identify as an academic.

And I don’t mean “academic” in the stuffy, yes-quite kind of way, either. I mean that the decision to start this blog–a decision that came suddenly, without much by way of any warning–was a decision to speak. It was a decision to move from “Yes, that’s something I care about, and I wish there was something I could do about it” to “Yes, I care about that, and here’s what I think about it and here’s what I’m doing to change things.”

I love blogging. It has opened doors for me. It has allowed me to say things I wouldn’t have otherwise had the space to say, to people I want to hear those things. And if I sometimes go a little overboard on extolling the virtues of blogging, it’s only because I hope for everyone to experience a similar falling away of the weights and chains that for so long kept me close to the earth.

I have a dim memory of the person I was before–a much smaller, much timider person who was horrified at the prospect of taking up too much space or too much of your time. I know that version of me is killed for good, and I’m glad for it. I hope that all of you have the chance, at least once, to experience this kind of total transformation. I hope you get the chance to experience the power of some tool, some network, some community, some practice, online or off, to change your life and trajectory and goals and plans for good.

Posted in awesome, blogging, joy | Leave a Comment »

gifts for the blogger in your life

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on December 21, 2009

In case you’re looking for some last-minute gifts for the bloggers you know, I offer the following products designed to show how much you love and value their work in that nebulous place we call the blogosphere.

T-Shirts, stickers, and mugs

I actually don’t know many bloggers who would wear T-shirts advertising their blogging practices. I’d probably be more likely to wear a T-shirt that advertises my blog’s URL than I would to wear any of the shirts below, but on the other hand, I’m a big fan of the last two designs.

These are, respectively, from One Horse Shy, North Shore Shirts,, and teezeria.

Mugs for bloggers, by At the risk of stereotyping: If there’s one thing bloggers use, it’s mugs.

Cafe Press gifts: T-shirts, stickers, and mugs. These are fairly clip art-looking, but there are some gems in the pile. There are also some clunkers, exemplified by this kid’s hoodie encouraging caffeine addiction and antisocial behavior, if the imprinted message is to be believed:

Happiness is…
Your favorite pen
a great plot line,
a hot cup of coffee,
and an entire day alone.

Gift Lists from Elsewhere

Ten Great Gifts for Bloggers and New Media Moguls, by Catherine-Gail Reinhard ( I offer this link even though I think only eight of the ten gift ideas proposed in this article are actually useful for your typical blogger / new media mogul. Idea #2, a laptop hideaway, is basically a $50 paperweight since no blogger worth her salt actually chooses to or even wants to stow her laptop out of sight. Suggestion #8, typewriter jewelry, is perhaps useful for some bloggers, but others of us spend so much time stuck to a laptop that we don’t have time for things like personal adornment and / or hygiene.

50 Perfect Gifts for Webophiles, Bloggers, and Internet Marketers, by SEOmozBlog. This list is fairly gadget-heavy, with several desktop toy-type items (including the Cranium Poindexter doll at right). In my experience, bloggers tend to lose / drop / break things with a fair amount of frequency, so exercise your good sense here. I do like the emphasis throughout this list on gadgets that can clean / feed / organize the typical webophile.

Gadgets for Geeks, from Skimbaco Lifestyle. This list is exactly what the title suggests: a short list of a variety of geeky gadgets, including clocks, quirky USB drives, and the Kindle.

HoMedics Shiatsu Back Massager This is a must-have for any blogger. Well, okay, it’s a must-have for this blogger. I tried one of these at a local pharmacy the other day and I almost slid out of the chair. I was JUST THAT RELAXED.

Posted in blogging | 1 Comment »

Edublog Awards 2009: and the nominees are…

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on December 6, 2009

Below are my nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards. If you’re interested in submitting your own nominations for this year’s awards, you’ll need to act fast. The deadlines start rolling in this week:

  • Nominations: Close Tuesday 8 December
  • Voting: Ends Wednesday 16 December
  • Award Ceremony: Friday 18 December

Click here for more information about the awards and nomination process.

…and the nominees are:

First, “open” is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our commonsense, every day experience teaches us that “open” is continuous. Anyone who will argue that “open” is a binary construct is forced to admit that a door cracked open one centimeter is just as open as a door standing wide open, because their conception of the term has no nuance. Alternately, they may adopt an artificial definition, in which a door opened 20 cm or more is considered open, while a door opened 19 cm is not considered open. But this is unsatisfactory as well.

Wiley has since addressed the question of openness in a systematic, deliberate, and useful way; but I consider this post more influential than even the ideas it gave rise to because it so clearly delineated the problem and so clearly demonstrated (in the tone of the post and in the comments below) the emotional tension underlying this issue.

  • Best teacher blog: Kevin’s Meandering Mind, a blog maintained by Kevin Hodgson, a 6th grade teacher, National Writing Project teacher-consutant, creative writer, and author. It’s absolutely essential reading for anybody interested in questions about how we might teach the “new” writing.
  • Best educational use of video / visual: viz.: Visual Rhetoric — visual culture — pedagogy.

Posted in blogging, education, open education | 1 Comment »

may I suggest a new hashtag?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 15, 2009

In my search for interesting new blogs to follow, I recently realized I could easily crowdsource this search to the Twitter community, assuming I could get enough users behind it. Twitter users have leveraged the #followfriday hashtag for recommending follow-worthy users and #musicmonday to offer musical suggestions, to roaring success.

I’m going to try starting a #blogroll hashtag, intended to share interesting blogs with other users. I think this will work best if the blogs are grouped by category, so that people who search #blogroll will be able to sort by their interests. So a #blogroll tweet might look like this:

If this works for you guys, then perhaps we should choose a day. I nominate Wednesdays, since for some reason that’s the day I most often find myself looking for new blogs to read.

Posted in blogging, Twitter | Leave a Comment »

a wordle of my last 50 blogposts

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 14, 2009

I’ve been accused, off and on, of being a technological determinist. I’d just like to point out, for the record, that the five most common terms I’ve used are, in order or frequency:

  1. new
  2. media
  3. people
  4. like
  5. social

Emphasis on the social effects of new media for people who like stuff FTW.

Posted in awesome, blogging, social media, social revolution | 2 Comments »