It’s a huge treat to be in San Antonio for this year’s ELI Annual Meeting. The first morning was more than a little overwhelming as I’ve met a succession of some of my favorite people in the field, and a remarkable number of people who I had never met personally but felt like I knew via virtual channels. I’ll try to return to the social dimension in a future post.
Though it was a minor bruise to my ego to have my presentation proposal turned down (and a much greater sadness that my would-be collaborator isn’t here), at this moment I can honestly say I have no regrets at all. For once I won’t be picking at my presentation wiki until the last possible moment, and I’ve resolved to kick it up a notch from my usual pathetic conference blogging performance.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Bryan Alexander speak on at least a dozen occasions, and I’m an avid follower of his work, so on some level I felt like I knew what to expect going into his morning-long workshop on Web 2.0 storytelling. But being in Bryan’s presence is akin to seeing a virtuoso musician perform, and it takes a certain amount of critical effort to maintain my focus on the subject matter, rather than simply marveling at his fluency, erudition and wicked humour. I don’t find myself able to offer much by way of synthesis at this point, but a few capsule observations:
* Based on shows of hands, maybe a quarter of the participants had run a blog, or used Flickr, or heard of Twitter, but everybody had edited a wiki.
* Bryan astutely noted the special affordance of aphorisms in the discourse of Twitter, and I look forward to following Jenny Holzer’s Twits. And I have no idea how the Loose-Fish, Good Captain retelling of Benito Cereno will play out in my feed, but it will be fascinating to find out.
Alan Levine had the funniest line of the day, in the context of a surprisingly durable debate question: “If you don’t have at least a shred of interesting content, then you won’t have community. You’ll have Facebook.”
Along those lines, there was a thoughtful observation concerning the discourse implied by new media, one I nonetheless found a bit troubling. A participant (whose name I missed) noted that higher education has traditionally elevated the value of some voices above some others, cited the imbalanced power dynamic between professors and students as an example, and suggested that new media was having a welcome leveling effect. I’ve made similar arguments in the past, so on a basic level I got and agreed with the sentiment. But as it happened, Bryan had a presentation slide up that mentioned both Thomas Pynchon and William Gibson. It seemed to me that any value system that reduces the contributions of the Pynchons and Gibsons as no more worthy of attention as that of anyone else is to indulge a simple relativism, and that something very valuable is lost in the process. It seems beyond question that at this moment in history the pieces on the game board have been swept up into the air, but also that it is incumbent on us to articulate new values which make sense in the new media reality. I suspect I will be returning to this tension shortly, as it has come up in other forms a few times already here at the conference.