[iDC] Interview Lisa Gye

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Apr 17 22:06:42 EDT 2005

On Situated Media Criticism, Personalized Education and
the Organized Network Model

Interview Lisa Gye (adjusted by Trebor Scholz)
As part of WebCamTalk1.0

Trebor Scholz: What do you think could be the best entry point for students
into new media art?

Lisa Gye: Teaching here in Melbourne (Australia) I am engaged in electronic
writing, which is a good way to open up students to new media practices. My
interest in this field goes back to Gregory L. Ulmer. His books "Teletheory:
Grammatology in the Age of Video" and "Heuretics: The Logic of Invention"
have strongly influenced my pedagogical practices. His work made me realize
that electronic writing has the potential to challenge our own subjectivity
and thus change the way we create knowledge. For the past 12 years I taught
new media and my goal has always been to think about the way writing shapes
our consciousness. A tool is just a tool. What counts are larger
issues of human subjectivity. I do not think that we fathom the full impact
that digital literacy will have on the creation and dissemination of
knowledge. Ulmer calls this digital literacy-- "electracy."


I mostly used outside university resources for teaching and to do my own
work. I avoided programs like the corporatized Blackboard system with its
virtual drop boxes. These systems did not even begin to accommodate the
projects that I have worked on with my students. Security concerns are among
the reasons of the university to limit full and unregulated access to their
network, which in turn makes it hard for faculty and students to do
inventive work. But we routed around these problems. Systems like Blackboard
are dangerous because they reinforce the idea of students coming to the
university in order to consume an education. It gives them the idea that
they can enter the discursive space of the lecture by downloading the
transcript of a presentation.


In Australia there is a strong trend towards the personalization of
education. This very noticeable movement creates the sense in students that
they pay to get whatever it is they think they need to know. This
contradicts the very idea of education. Material about 15th century rhetoric
may not have immediate and obvious relevance to students' day to day lives
but it can teach them about the current moment. Students often reject
this kind of historical material in advance of understanding it. This
increasingly prevalent attitude is, I think, caused in part by corporate
educational models. This question of 'personal relevance' is so tied to the
consumerist ethic that it prevents students' minds from being open to a wide
range of ideas and practices.

Of course, all of this is tied to the promotion of certain ideas about
freedom and choice that have currency in both Australia and elsewhere.
Education is now supposed to be a smorgasbord of choice and students should
be free to choose to study whatever they like. But freedom and choice are
complex ideas that are rarely contested and often used as slogans. I would
really love to see a public discussion of what exactly freedom and choice
mean in the context of education.

TS: Today's cooperative technologies allow for enormous social filtering and
connect people who share a very particular interest. Pro-anorexia and
cutting blogs, for example, are known phenomena.

The reason for this distributed personalization of interest can be found in
information overload. Input from anything outside of the private
world of the immediate social group of the student is excluded. Nothing that
disturbs their vision, their sense of self is let in, thus limiting the
student's ability to learn. This problem can also be linked to a drastic
increase of work load since the 1960s. This widely perceived lack of
openness may be a response to this 'dataobesity' and rather call
for anti-social software. We could also relate the decreasing student
interest in public lectures. From Stanford University to Sarah Lawrence
College, lectures by nationally acclaimed authors or artists draw no more
than a handful of students. In response, such public lectures have
increasingly been integrated into classes to secure an audience. Maybe we
should re-think the lecture model altogether.


LG: There is a desperate need for students to reconnect to campus life.
Coming to university is not just about consuming courses so that you can
graduate into a good job. The development of social networks in universities
is, I think, being undermined by the corporatization of university life. Our
government's current attempts to make student unionism voluntary will just
compound this problem. Student unions provide, at the moment, the only
social outlet for students on campus. Making them voluntary assures their
demise. In response to this we decided to create a virtual network between
all of our Media and Communications students. We hope that students will
connect online and then meet in person. The site for this network is called
SwinMC and was developed by a group of postgraduate media students in the
form of a tiki wiki.

Every undergraduate student that starts in Media and Communications gets
access to this tool but the results in terms of participation are sparse. We
need to look at ways in which we can involve students. We say-- here is this
space- do whatever you want with it. It is a hard sell. One idea is to make
the tool part of the curriculum but that creates an assessment-based
relationship of students to the tool. So, how do you socialize an online
tool? How do you draw people into a social space? At the moment, these are
problems that we are working on. I know we are not alone in this- there are
many fantastic initiatives that provide access to social computing
technologies for students in Australia and around the world. This question
of student participation, and the use of available resources is an agenda
for new media educators worldwide.

TS: This question of people's motivation to contribute to the public came up
often over the past few years. What triggers participation? What does the
browsing public really want?

LG: I prefer mailing lists to weblogs as I think that mailing lists force
you to interact with people with whom you do not want to interact. This, for
me, is the definition of social. To be social means to negotiate social
spaces. This is so important for our students. There is no doubt that social
software can facilitate and extend the kinds of spaces that students inhabit
but I still do not feel that they can substitute for actual face to face

TS: In response to many of these issues a group of educators
across Australia founded Fibreculture. What is its goal and how does it
differ from other initiatives?


LG: Fibreculture was founded by Geert Lovink and David Teh in 2001. While
there were many other online resources for discussions of network theory,
like nettime, there was no forum that was specific to the Australian
cultural context. What does it mean to live in a country of 22 million
people that is a 24 hour flight away from the major centers in Europe and
North America? Most of the texts that we read come from the U.S. and from
Europe. There are strong, valuable Australian voices and Fibreculture
provides a forum, an outlet, for those voices. Australia has a unique
relationship to the rest of the developed world. We have a British colonial
heritage, but are also still colonized by American culture. We need theory
that reflects that specificity.

Fibreculture satisfies the need we have for situated conversations about the
way the media impacts us here. We experience a certain tyranny of distance
that is also reflected in the way knowledge is constructed. Cooperative
technologies/ social software, for example, is taken up in Australia at a
much faster pace than anywhere else in the world. These technologies can
bridge the geographic distance. Fibreculture has been successful-- there are
currently over 900 subscribers to its mailing list. We have published
several newspapers and a FibreCulture Reader-- all peer-reviewed by the
mailing list. Also out of the mailing list grew a new media education
Resource site. 


In addition, we started Fibreculture Journal, which is an open access,
peer-reviewed, scholarly journal dealing with issues in media culture. The
4th issue is coming up and another 5 are planned for this year. There was a
sense that there were fewer and fewer places for academics to publish work
and yet so much of our job relies on being public.


We organized four conferences on the East Coast of Australia so far. The
success of these events reinforces my belief in the value of face-to-face


TS: There is much debate about the emergence of cultural networks as
frameworks for action. But what do you specifically mean when you describe
Fibreculture as an organized network?


LG: Last year at a conference we work on the difficult definition of
Fibreculture as an organized network. Fibreculture has facilitators who
organize conferences, bring in list members to develop initiatives, publish
other media and,  facilitate discussion on the list. But non-facilitators
are also vital to Fibreculture-- they are in fact what makes Fibreculture.
The Fibreculture Journal is run by Andrew Murphie who is not a facilitator.
But he tends to run decisions by the facilitators. The facilitators are
often those who volunteer for tasks that need to get done.

People often assume networks to be by default democratic. I do not agree.
I would compare the functioning of an organized network to that of criminal
networks. Criminal networks are not just set up for the sake of its
existence but in order to get something done. In order for organized
networks to be functional there needs to be a hierarchy, they are an
inevitable function of networks. This does not sit well with a lot of
popular rhetoric.

 Fibreculture also strives to remain independent. It does not want to be
affiliated with any university or the government. But in order to put
together a conference we need money and a legal entity to receive these
funds. Fibreculture so far runs more like a criminal entity-- we use cash.
Consequently, we open ourselves up to allegations of corruption and of being
undemocratic. The question of how organized networks intersect with other
networks and institutions needs to be negotiated. I hope that Fibreculture
does not need to get institutionalized merely for financial or
administrative reasons because I think this would undermine its
independence. Most Fibreculture members are already attached to
institutions. There is no need for them to belong to yet another
institution. What are possibilities of action outside of organizational
structures? The Australian government has recently established a fund for
research networks. Ten years ago that would have been unthinkable. In the
past, a handful of established Australian scholars would have received the
funding over and over. Now, the government, starts to offer some funding for
collaborative networked research efforts. But Fibreculture explores
structures outside the institutional to framework because this is the way we
will remain effective. The future will show how this will play out.

Resources on organized networks:

Rossiter, Ned. Organised Networks Institutionalise to give Mobile
Information a Strategic Potential, Available at

Lovink, Geert and Schneider, Florian, 'A Virtual World is Possible:
>From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes', posting to nettime mailing list,
1 November, 2002. http://www.nettime.org

Criminal networks by Vincent Lemieux, Royal Canadian Mounted Police report,
2003, http://www.rcmp.ca/ccaps/reports/criminal_net_e.pdf

Results of an analysis of 40 organized criminal groups, United Nations
Global Programme Against Transnational Organized Crime, report of pilot
survey results, 2002,

Lisa Gye teaches new media theory and production at Swinburne University of
Technology (Victoria, Australia).



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