Category Archives: systems

web travel

Regarding my last post, how to think about what “makes up” the web? Sites, paths, a combination? Something else?

Conceptually the way we typically think of the Web is in terms of “sites” – obviously, “Web site” (with “pages”, like so many leaves) is a commonly understood term. So with my emphasis on conceptualizing the Web as made up of infinitely many organic and spontaneous paths, rather than established and locatable sites, I have been thinking about words to use to describe this ephemeral thing.

How about Web journeys? Is this too cheesy? I think of a journey as sometimes having a destination, sometimes getting there, sometimes getting quite off track, and sometimes only having a vague idea of where it will take place. It traverses sites but is not made up of them.

the linked, linear, serendipitous Web

I’m taking a course on Web archiving for the second half of this winter term at U of M, and from the very beginning our major project has got my brain going on theoretical issues and implications of technology and our offline assumptions as they impact our approach to the Web.

Here’s the thing about the Web. (And let’s distinguish it from “Internet.” I am only talking about the Web.) Perhaps the most wonderful, inspiring, and revolutionary aspect of hypertext and hyperlinks are their difference from print, and from scanned book images or e-books treated as paper books. I am talking about text that means something to the computer (in a sense, in that it’s manipulable), rather than the image of words on a page, which is also how I’d describe print media.

How are hypermedia different? Two words: linked, and linear.
Continue reading the linked, linear, serendipitous Web

a new kind of autonomy

As I was driving home tonight, I was idly listening to The World on my local NPR station and passively taking in their news tidbits (maybe a topic for another post, but something I find a truly bizarre development – possibly fueled by methods of discourse on the internet itself?). One in particular made me metaphorically stop in my tracks – I had an initial reaction of “hah,” but then my thought process kept going.

The tidbit in question was a minor dispute among brothers that stand to succeed a leader who recently died in the United Arab Emirates. (Forgive me for forgetting the name, but in this case it’s more or less immaterial.) The one, younger brother was apparently already chosen to succeed his father. However, the older, half-brother had thrown his hat into the ring by declaring that he was the successor – via “an internet video.”

Amazing how naturalized this has become for us already: that YouTube, etc., have become a norm for communication between not just those of us dancing, doing ridiculous stunts, or taking videos of our cats. No, it’s also the medium of choice for leaders ranging from Osama bin Laden to Barack Obama. (I wince at putting them in the same sentence given our political climate, but mean no association by it other than their tremendous use of new media in the form of internet addresses to the public at large.)

We have already passed a point, it seems, where we have – in general – taken the internet as a place where we can exercise some autonomy, where we can address, potentially, the world.
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arbitrary categorization: temporal boundary installment

An arbitrary annoyance of mine has piqued a strange and obsessive interest, and perhaps you could say, a one-woman mission to rethink the way we cut off time.

A fancy way of saying this: as midnight approaches (well beyond my bedtime on a school night), I look at the clock in the playground below my balcony. And I think, it’s almost tomorrow.

But why is it almost tomorrow? Why mark the day with midnight, why that arbitrary division? Not that any division won’t be arbitrary, that any border or category of “day” and “hour” and any other subdivision won’t be, but that I wonder – why not the dawn?

Surely, one can protest, it is fluid and doesn’t remain constant on every day. It ruins, as Benedict Anderson put it, homogenous, empty time. Is time homogeneous, even for those of us who live in supposed modernity? I argue that it is not, although that’s not much of an argument. I state that is not. I put forward that we give great meaning to temporal boundaries, that those meanings change day today, season to season, year to year. Those boundaries can, and are, meaningful markers, no matter how arbitrary.

As a technical Catholic (there is no escape; trust me, I tried), I reflected recently on my idea to spend Christmas as a vacation, to indulge my atheism. And then it hit me – perhaps I could enjoy a really spectacular Christmas in finding an opulent Catholic church and attending midnight mass.

Midnight mass. What an example. I’ve got my own intellectual issues with Anderson. They are legion. I can’t think of a better example to contradict his argument about time and modernity. Midnight mass is a technicality, like so much in the Catholic faith (and I say that with the utmost good will), a way to get in an obligation just-in-time, before getting off the hook for the commercial and gustatory hedonism that is Christmas Day. It’s predicted “just-in-time” delivery of business services by, well, as long as it’s existed. Something tells me that’s quite longer than the 1990s.

Back to my proposition, which is this: forget this day change at midnight. What is the point? We sleep through it. (Well, some of us. We should. And we don’t.) We can’t directly experience our social marking of the boundaries of the day. There is, really, no social marking, save for those on the night shift or those who are rushing to finish a project that was due tomorrow one minute, then today the next. Midnight projects an air of sadness, loneliness, and sometimes one of panic.

I’m on a one-woman mission to change this. From now on, I call for a universal change of marking the passage of one day to the next. My choice is 5 am. I’d love dawn. But our homogeneous empty time seems to call for an arbitrary number. 5 am. This is what I want.

Anyone with me?

wellness, environment, the body, the mind

… a Holley resident once told a reporter, at A.G. Holley, “the principal thing is to get well and get out of here.” (‘In Florida, a Lifeline to Patients with TB,’ The New York Times, June 12, 2010)

As someone born after the de-institutionalization of all kinds of patients – those suffering from both mental illnesses and what we like to call plain old illnesses – I have never stopped to consider the environment of the sanitarium. Even as someone who studies the 19th and early 20th centuries, where authors whose works I read more often than not succumbed to early death at the hands of diseases we now cure easily, it doesn’t register with me that as recently as fifty years ago, treatment could consist of anything besides a quick hospital visit and then a solitary regimen of medications taken at home, sick days meaning isolation in the private home.

When I think now about the few forms of institutionalized care that I’m familiar with, the association is purely negative: nursing homes and mental hospitals. They’re frightening, alienating environments, signaling to me the helplessness of the patient and the power of authorities over not just their well-being but over their very lives. Even I assume that I would become someone holding onto their “own” house for dear life, even after no longer being able to care for it, rather than go to someplace where I trade independence for life.

Yet reading about one of the last tuberculosis sanitariums in the United States, I was struck by the idea of community, environment, and disease. Community not in the sense of connections to family and neighbors or friends, but connections to caregivers and to a different kind of neighbor – those who share not your locale but your condition. Your way of life as influenced by what makes you suddenly abnormal. The illness.

Continue reading wellness, environment, the body, the mind