I’ve had a few days to chew on Assignment 2 (a response to Prof Gardner Campbell’s “A personal cyberinfrastructure”) and after an epic braindump on 750words.com this morning, I have decided to focus on my own personal cyberinfrastructure, namely how I got to point I am now – actively researching and working with these sort of online environment as part of my daily practise.
I think as a preamble, it is worth nothing that I have no formal qualification in ICTS or computing studies – everything I know about computers, or more specifically, the stuff that I know how to find and achieve online is entirely self taught/an accident. My parents both come from communication/technology backgrounds and I was exposed to computers, and later the internet, from a young age. There was a running joke in my family that I could run a computer into the ground within a week, pushing them to breaking point and running up high dial-up bills in the process.I used to sneak around, plugging the modem into the phoneline during offpeak hours, trying to muffle the connection noise so I could get another hit.
I built my first website in 1997 (because my mum was learning how to do it – and my dad’s work brought with it some personal work space) I started with the WYSIWYG editors like FrontPage – but often got frustrated with the limitations in the drag and drop formats, so looked for ways around it – I worked out that I could copy code from websites I like and tried workarounds to get the look that I liked (mmm, frames) The personal webspace my dad had was essentially a digital dropbox – so anything that involved scripts was out of the question – so I tried other free spaces to capture the look that I wanted. I explored bulletboards, chatrooms and early social networks like Bolt – I made friends with people who were into the same bands I was into, I’d wait for hours for sounds and images to buffer. I could go on.
It is important to note that none of these activities were encouraged within school – my computer habit was strictly for the home. It was an extra thing that I did – and it was often mocked or discouraged as a waste of time. Even at university (studying for a BA in media theory with production) it wasn’t until 2nd year where I was exposed to something “about the internet” from (my now PhD supervisor’s) class in cyberculture. It didn’t even cross my mind that it could be something that could be taught and later, researched. My mum even swore me off doing an IT qualification in school because she thought I knew too much about computers for it to be worth me doing (and I should focus on classes where I would learn something new) – ironic, when I see jobs doing what I do, but asking for qualification is IT as a vital requirement. I have no accreditation for my knowledge, it is organic and breed from, what I can only describe as, an addiction – a passion, something that I would do without anyone asking or telling me how to. Something that has changed me.
This makes my personal cyberinfrastructure a little bit unpredictable – I’m at a stage where I can now blend in, rather than being the pale and awkward computer person in the corner, a child who gets shouted at for spending too much time on that bloody computer, somebody who is different -I’m connecting with more and more people on a daily basis, who – in turn, are going through the same process. It is a remarkable (and bloody exciting) process to be part of – but it also places me in a realm where even more questions are whizzing around my head than ever before.
Here is a thought – online, in this space – we have the opportunity to be exposure to as much frequent and interesting information and knowledge as we dare chase after. But take it offline – and I don’t mean hanging out with your twitter buddies (which I have a real privilege of being able to do on a really regular basis – twitter strengthens relations exponentially) – but take it offline into a meeting, or a classroom – and it all start to feel a bit odd again. More and more people are online than ever before (thanks to ‘cheaper’ technology, ‘faster’ broadband, ‘easier’ platforms – in theory) – yet, still the rhetoric of internet still often brings tumbleweeds- I strongly believe that it hard to generalise the online experience, even when we all log into the same websites, we are looking at them in very different contexts and very different screens. The role of being the ‘geek’ (a contested term) is still the cliche of those who seem to ‘master’ this environment as part of their day to day activities – with only certain considerations being allowed into the general framework (mobile phones are a good example of this – and I guess with the safeness of web 2.0 discourse and lately, social media, we are starting to see an increased acceptability to online environments within top-down institutions at least) Yet, the increased desire to standardise it- it own it, it be the person who names and decides the outcome of it, we run the risk of missing out all those great, non-accredited, experiences that add up to who we are when we think about who we are online.
I would even go to say that I struggle in formal teaching of computer-y stuff because of this. I tried to specialise in digital illustration and web design when I was at further education college (aged 16) and duly dropped out after a few weeks of standardised lab workshops and thumb twiddling. As for answers to tackle this, I have none – but it certainly has had a huge (if not, the biggest) influence in the direction I’ve ended up taking with my work. If I could bottle that skill and share it, I would – but it’s really hard to justify telling students to right-click ‘view source’ and find the bit they like/don’t understand about the web as part of a syllabus. It’s the process that leads you to that right click to begin with is far more valuable that the source itself.