Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Michael Wesch's "The Machine is Us/ing Us"

This video is important for many reasons, and I want my digital culture students to watch it carefully -- perhaps a few times. I've actually made it the first of a playlist of videos about digital culture.

  • It introduces some key ideas associated with "Web 2.0
  • Its focus on text -> hypertext is especially apt for students of literature
  • It is an example of (one of the earliest) viral academic videos. Wesch's student project video essentially launched this anthropologist from Kansas State into the national spotlight.
  • It is a very creative use of basic screen capturing, and a good example of issue-based, persuasive video.
Here are some thought questions to follow up on the video. I'd love to see students do blog posts exploring some of these:

  1. Wesch claims that digital text is fundamentally different from written or printed text -- that it is more flexible. Obviously it is more editable. What other kind of flexibility does he mean? What does XML, for example, have to do with the flexibility of digital text?
  2. HTML is described as Web 1.0, and not as important as XML. Why does HTML remain important?
  3. What is to be gained when a markup language separates form and content (as XML does)?
  4. If these markup languages help machines do more with content and data, why does Wesch emphasize that we are somehow involved? What does he mean that we are the machine, or that we are teaching the machine?
Wesch doesn't mention Twitter or hashtags, but hashtags are a popular kind of metadata (making what's known as a "folksonomy"). Have you used hashtags before? How do they serve a casual purpose? How a serious one?