Monday, September 28, 2009

The long slow pace of MEmorials

I just had an interesting talk with Niles Haich, fellow MEmorialist. He showed me some new pages on his MEMorial, which links Teddy Roosevelt (existing monument) to the contemporary environmental movement (disaster-in-progress). His new pages include a teaching philosophy, in which he realizes that "speak softly and carry a big stick" is an appropriate image for his developing identity as teacher. He also composed a September 11 memorial with his students this fall (2009), and he shared a "playlist profile" of Roosevelt with his students.

Niles, in other words, continues to return to his MEmorial, and he continues to use it. Roosevelt functions as a wide image for him--a career compass, just as Ulmer suggests it would. Niles articulated his experience something like this: "A memorial is supposed to be a place to help you remember, a place to go back to and re-visit, and even as Ulmer says, a place to theorize."

What struck me is that Niles is using his MEmorial like a defiant garden. He could have easily abandoned that web site like most students abandon their websites, but he didn't. He continues to tend that garden, and it grows slowly, now and then. It grows in new and different directions, but it keeps coming back to key themes (chora). He used a social networking tool (Blogger) but he doesn't need a large social network to give his project value.

Ulmer promotes "flash reasoneon" in Electronic Monuments, he offers up his genre and this kind of flash / image based reasoning as an appropriate means of engaging the 21st century public, but I am beginning to think that the crossing of "electronic" and "monument" has resulted in an anti-electracte genre that, never the less, partakes of the electrate.

Put another way, I should definitely abandon my virtual peace garden in second life. It makes no sense. It is expensive, no one goes there, it is hard to maintain,

and yet,

for all those reasons, I want to hold onto it. I want it to be a defiant garden. I want to not give in to the logic of speed, the trendy, the social network. I'm happy being an occasionally visited node. I want to remember where I am from and where I am now (both sides of the Peace Garden) and I don't want to abandon this cause, because I do too frequently abandon projects and move on, and because Peace is too easily abandoned as abstract and difficult to attain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Looking for Second Life help and community.

I've been sitting on a parcel of land in SL since February. Sarah M (Valerie Danes) has done some wonderful building in that location for me: she built a "Virtual Peace Chapel" as a sanctuary, placed messages of peace, put up a bulletin board so visitors can leave their own message, and she scripted an interactive memorial for victims of stoning. She is still working on streaming some video.

I am looking for additional builders who would be interested in bringing other projects to fruition.
The Peace Chapel and its features came out of a graduate class that explored Greg Ulmer's Electronic Monuments. Other, not yet built MEmorials include a burning car to remember children who die in overheated cars, a computer desk built out of books in remembrance of print culture, a happy meal box and comic book in remembrance of global capitalism's victims, a clothesline with money clipped to it, in remembrance of those without enough water, and a globe with oil flowing over it in remembrance of our environment. The course work and projects can be found at the Virtual Peace Garden website:

If you are a Second Life builder, and want to bring some of these MEmorials to life, please contact me. I will also be getting another set of proposals this fall from architecture and landscape architecture students. If you are a MEmorialist youself, and need a patch of land to work with, please also feel free to contact me. Ideally, a community of builders and users might emerge in the Virtual Peace Garden. I have been working on developing a list of days that could be celebrated at the VPG. Yesterday was International Peace Day--we should have been there.

I realize that many people have already declared Second Life dead, but I was recently introduced to the concept of a "defiant garden:" gardens grown in World War I trenches, German prison camps, Japanese internment camps in the US, green spaces among urban blight, etc.. I'm going to try to stick with SL and the Virtual Peace Garden as a defiant garden because it has proven to me to be an effective space / image to think with. I'm learning a lot about gardens--a kind of public / private space I had not thought much about--and I am starting to see just how important they have been to individuals, groups, the peace movement, the world. Gardening and war, Winston Churchill said, are two defining human activities. I'm hoping to encourage more of the former.

Kevin (dot) Brooks (at) NDSU (dot) edu for those who want to garden.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Online research presentation: Joseph A. Konstan

Attending good presentation about online research. Presenter walking through the complications and frustrations of seeking participants online; also covering 3rd party storage complications like the use of Survey Monkey. SM data not encrypted, link not secured, etc.. Importance of this depends on research being done. Also good perspective on the technical features: how do you skip a question? how do you change an answer? Etc.

Book title: Envisioning the survey interview of the future (or something like this).
Doesn't look like our library owns it.

Closing points: don't over-react. If it would be Ok to do the research in a public park or mall, it's probably ok online.
Don't under-prepare: need equivalent of "locked file cabinet". Online consent different.

I've been thinking about a SL study that might not be problematic, but I should probably be thinking about things like the impact /effect of asking students to come into SL. Is it right to "experiment" with students? with education? I also need to think more carefully about surveys if I use them.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Catching Up: Ethics of Aid and Mr. Mentality on Monumentality

Not much time for blogging, twitting, or status updating lately, but I did come across two "must blog" media events last week.

1. "The Ethics of Aid" on NPR's Speaking of Faith challenges all of us who think we might be doing good in Africa to think again. This caution, however, feels like a cliche at this point: of course everyone doing aid work in Africa needs to think carefully and ethically about the work they are doing, and of course mistakes will be made. I do cringe a little bit about tenor and approach of some aid projects (a new one about children and Uganda seemed to be more about concerts and t-shirts than politics and aid), so this reminder and response is understandable, but why do we not hear more handwriting about the billions wasted on the corrupt and collapsing western economy? Why do we not hear more about all sorts of corporate aid wasted on economic development in the west? Those concerns circulate, too, but I'd much rather western governments "waste" a billion dollars in Sudan than waste it in Texas.

2. Greg Ulmer posted the pilot episode of Mr. Mentality in which he explains to his sons the function of monumentality and mourning by explaining that in the US, we value pets so much that every year millions of them are put to sleep because we need an oversupply to ensure we meet the demand. Their deaths are a sacrifice this nation is willing to make. His kids are horrified when they learn this fact, but seeing Mr. Mentality explain this point to his kids, and seeing their visceral reaction, probably helped me understand this point better than I have in the past couple of years while working on electronic monumentality. The mourning has been elusive to me. Side note: there are twice as many dogs in America as there are people in Canada.

These two points must be related in many ways. Millions of African lives have been sacrificed to western progress, and yet we culturally do very little to mourn these losses. We have no monuments to the loss (that I am aware of), only monuments to imperialism (see Brussels). Perhaps one challenge of monumentalism is that it tends to celebrate / mourn the local and the national, but seldom the global. Where do global monuments get built? Everywhere? On the Internet? in Second Life? And is Binyavanga Wainaina saying in his interview on Speaking of Faith that "We don't want your aid or your mourning?" Rwandans have been actively trying to figure out how to properly reconcile themselves to their neighbors; I wonder if the gacacas (the public hearings) have been more effective than the monuments?