Archive for Quick Takes

New Material on Algorithmic Culture

A quick announcement about two new pieces from me, both of which relate to my ongoing research on the subject of algorithmic culture.

The first is an interview with Giuseppe Granieri, posted on his Futurists’ Views site over on Medium.  The tagline is: “Culture now has two audiences: people and machines.”  It’s a free-ranging conversation, apparently readable in six minutes, about algorithms, AI, the culture industry, and the etymology of the word, culture.

About that wordover on Culture Digitally you’ll find a draft essay of mine, examining culture’s shifting definition in relationship to digital technology.  The piece is available for open comment and reflection.  It’s the first in a series from Ben Peters’ “Digital Keywords” project, of which I’m delighted to be a part.  Thanks in advance for your feedback—and of course with all of the provisos that accompany draft material.

 

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Late Age On the Radio

Just a quick post linking you to my latest radio interview, with WFHB-Bloomington’s Doug Storm.  Doug is one of the hosts of a great program called “Interchange,” and this past Tuesday I was delighted to share with him a broad-ranging conversation about many of the topics I address in The Late Age of Print—the longevity of books, print (and paper) culture, reading practices, taste hierarchies, and more.  Toward the end, the conversation turned to my latest work, on the politics of algorithmic culture.

The program lasts about an hour.  Enjoy!

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Lawrence Grossberg Memorializes Stuart Hall

As you know, my last post was dedicated to Stuart Hall, likely the most significant international figure in the field of cultural studies, who died last week at the age of 82.

Lawrence (Larry) Grossberg, my doctoral advisor, has penned a moving tribute to Hall, his mentor, with whom he worked at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1968-1969.  Here is an excerpt from the piece, which appeared this past Saturday on Truthout:

When I think of Stuart, I think of an expanding rich tapestry of relations, not of followers and acolytes, but of friends, students, colleagues, interlocutors, participants in various conversations, and anyone willing to listen, talk and engage. Stuart Hall was more than an intellectual, a public advocate for ideas, a champion of equality and justice, and an activist. He was also a teacher and a mentor to many people, in many different ways, at many different distances from his immediate presence. He talked with anyone and everyone, and treated them as if they had as much to teach him as he had to teach them.

Hall’s work was as much about the interpersonal—his kindness, charisma, and generosity—in other words, as it was about the many influential writings and lectures he produced over the course of his career.

I wish I’d had the chance to get to know Hall better.  I had the privilege of sharing a meal with him once, in 1996, during my second year of graduate school. He was extraordinarily gracious and, indeed, patient, as I barraged him with what must have been dilettantish questions.  Afterwards we shopped for books at a nearby used bookstore.  I still have the copy of Erving Goffman’s Asylums that I happened to pick up that day; even now I  associate the book more with Hall than with its author.

I also got to know Hall indirectly, through a study of the Birmingham Centre annual reports, which I conducted with my friend and colleague Mark Hayward.  Hall’s imprint is all over those documents, and not only because he authored the bulk of them.  In their inventory of daily life at the Centre one can plainly see Hall’s emphasis on the interpersonal—in the way the Centre’s working groups were organized; in the spirit of sharing that so defined its (as well as his own) intellectual modus operandi, and that had more than a little to do with cultural studies’ success; in the way Hall empowered students to collaborate in the production of a serious academic journal; and certainly more.

Larry’s tribute to Hall is also a call, too: for the American mainstream media to pay heed to such an influential figure, one whose passing has not received the attention it deserves; and for the American Left to embrace Hall’s legacy, a legacy defined not only by his towering intellect but, equally important, by his luminescent being-in-the-world.

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Stuart Hall, 1932-2014

Stuart Hall, a founder of the field of cultural studies and one of my intellectual heroes, has died.  Two of his former students, David Morley and Bill Schwartz, have penned an obituary, published today in The Guardian.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall

Here is my favorite passage from Hall, from his 1992 article “Race, Culture, and Communications: Looking Backward and Forward at Cultural Studies”:

The work that cultural studies has to do is to mobilize everything that it can find in terms of intellectual resources in order to understand what keeps making the lives we live, and the societies we live in, profoundly and deeply antihumane in their capacity to live with difference. Cultural studies’ message is a message for academics and intellectuals but, fortunately, for many other people as well. In that sense, I have tried to hold together in my own intellectual life, on one hand, the conviction and passion and the devotion to objective interpretation, to analysis, to rigorous analysis and understanding, to the passion to find out, and to the production of knowledge that we did not know before. But, on the other hand, I am convinced that no intellectual worth his or her salt, and no university that wants to hold up its head in the face of the 21st century, can afford to turn dispassionate eyes away from the problems…that beset our world.

Nothing sums up the project of cultural studies better for me and, indeed, the type of work I aspire to do.

Thank you, Stuart Hall, for your bravery, intellectual leadership, and resolve. The world is a better place for your having been a part of it.  You will be missed. Sorely.

 

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Books as Christmas Gifts

Did you know that books were among the very first commercial Christmas presents? That’s right—printed books were integral in helping to invent the modern, consumer-oriented Christmas holiday. Before then it was customary to give food or, if you were wealthy, a monetary “tip” to those who were less well off financially. (The latter might come to a rich person’s door and demand the “tip,” in fact.)  The gift of a printed book changed all that, helping to defuse the class antagonism that typically rose to the surface around the winter holidays.

You can read more about the details of this fascinating history in my post from a few years ago on “How the Books Saved Christmas.”  And if you’re interested in a broader history of the role books played in the invention of contemporary consumer culture, then you should check out The Late Age of Print.  At the risk of pointing out the obvious, it makes a great gift.

 

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I’ll Tumble for Ya

Because I know people inhabit multiple platforms online, I’m pleased to announce that I’m now on Tumblr.

Don’t worry—I’m not shutting down this blog.  But if it wasn’t obvious already, I’ve had difficulty  keeping up with The Late Age of Print over the last year or so, a result, mainly, of my academic workload.  Since I love blogging but have less time to deliver substantive content, I figured Tumblr would be the perfect place to engage in some of the work I do here, albeit in shorter form.  You can still expect to see extended meditations on book- and algorithmic culture on this blog, at least from time to time.  But if you’re looking for regular content, then my Tumblr’s the place for you.

I’m excited about Tumblr because, as I’m learning, it seems to be as much (if not more) about curation as my own commentary.  I like the idea of being a little less “bloggy,” as it were, and instead sharing a range of artifacts that say something about my disposition toward the world.  That’s largely how I’ve been approaching Twitter over the last few years, as it turns out, but sometimes I’ve felt too constrained by the 140 character limit.  I appreciate how Tumblr gives me an opportunity to say more, absent the compulsion to be overblown.

I should mention that my Tumblr is all about you, too.  Many of the stories I’ve shared on Twitter and elsewhere have been sent to me by friends/colleagues/acquaintances, and I’d like to keep the tradition alive as I move into Tumblr.  And of course, you can expect credit where credit is due. Always.

 

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If You Liked the Cover of The Late Age of Print…

…then you’re bound to like Art Made From Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed, compiled by Laura Heyenga and just out from Chronicle Books. The cover features one of Cara Barer’s striking book photographs—and if it looks somewhat familiar, it should. Another of her amazing images appears on the cover of Late Age.

9781452117102_p0_v1_s260x420

And, in other important news, don’t forget—ONLY TWO MORE DAYS REMAIN to download an e-edition of The Late Age of Print for a tweet or Facebook post. Don’t miss it! The freebie will be gone as of August 1, 2013.

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Did You Know…

…that The Late Age of Print makes an excellent course text?  With chapters on Harry Potter, Amazon.com, e-books, Oprah’s Book Club, and more, it’s chock full of relatable material for college undergraduates.  Graduate students will appreciate the subject matter, too, along with the rich theoretical and historical context the book provides.  If you teach courses on any of the following topics, then you might want to consider adopting Late Age:

  • Media History
  • Literary History
  • History of Technology
  • Communication History
  • Book History
  • History of Reading
  • History of Literacy
  • History of Print
  • New Media
  • Cultural Studies
  • Popular Culture
  • Everyday Life
  • Digital Humanities

If you teach a class using The Late Age of Print that’s not listed here, I’d love to hear from you!  I’ll be sure to add it to the roster.

And, in other important news, don’t forget that ONLY SIX DAYS REMAIN to <a title="Download The Late Age of Print" href="http://www additional resources.thelateageofprint.org/download”>download the e-edition of Late Age for the small “price” of a tweet or Facebook Post.  Yeah, for real.  Do it before time runs out!

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Countdown to the End

Fair warning: there’s just ONE WEEK LEFT to download the e-edition of The Late Age of Print.  It will only cost you a tweet or a Facebook post.  Beginning August 1st, 2013, if you want the book, then you’ll have to buy it—in other words, for money!

This link will take you to the download page.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy.  And while you’re at it, why not put a little goodwill back into the world.  Help support The Late Age of Print and my wonderful publisher Columbia University Press by liking the book’s Facebook Page, posting a review, assigning it in your classes, or, heck, even choosing to buy a physical copy.  My kid needs to eat, you know.

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NYT on Amazon’s Prices

Just a quick post to direct your attention to an article by David Streitfeld, published on Friday, July 5th in the physical edition of the New York Times (and published online a day earlier).  It concerns Amazon.com’s prices, specifically with respect to independent and university press books.

I’m calling attention to the piece for several reasons.  First, it raises important questions about Amazon’s role as a cultural intermediary in the wake of Borders’ demise,  Barnes & Noble’s slide, and the ongoing shakeout of independent bookstores.  Second, I happen to be quoted in the story.  Here’s what I had to say, echoing some of my points in Chapters 2 and 3 of Late Age, in addition to the Preface to the paperback edition:

“Amazon is doing something vitally important for book culture by making books readily available in places they might not otherwise exist,” said Ted Striphas, an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington. “But culture is best when it is robust and decentralized, not when there is a single authority that controls the bulk of every transaction.”

When Mr. Striphas’s book, “The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control,” first appeared in paperback in 2011, Amazon sold it for $17.50, the author said. Now it is $19.

“There’s not much competition to sell my book,” Mr. Striphas said. “The conspiracy theorist would say Amazon understands this.”

Needless to say, the rest of the piece is worth the read, too .  My thanks to David for giving me the opportunity to speak to this important issue.

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