Tools for jimmying experience: Conceptual speed dating on Facebook
First Monday

Tools for jimmying experience: Conceptual speed dating on Facebook by Roger Dawkins



Abstract
This paper extends previous work that develops Deleuze’s concept of immanence in a research and education context. Its focus is a minor practice called Conceptual Speed Dating (CSD), noted by Brian Massumi as a technique for disabling the tendency in group dynamics for participants to perform their acquired knowledge, at the expense of “exploratory thinking.” This paper contribute to Deleuze-Guattarian “immanent pedagogies” in that it outlines Facebook’s value as a tool for implementing CSD — actually, a digitally inflected mode of CSD called Close Reading using Facebook (CRF). Facebook contributes speed, strengthening immanence and rhizoanalysis, exploding reading and allowing more opportunities for creativity. In developing this argument about an immanent reading practice using Facebook, this paper draws on teaching events at an Australian university in 2016 and 2017.

Contents

Introduction
Part 1: Facebook
Part 2: Conceptual Speed Dating
Part 3: Close Reading using Facebook
Tools for jimmying experience

 


 

Introduction

There is a minor practice, used regularly by a group of artists, academics and writers, called Conceptual Speed Dating (CSD). Some of scholars use the practice in their classrooms too, engaging undergraduate students in course content and discussion (Massumi, 2015). CSD is a collaborative practice based on close reading and performance, with an objective to encourage participants to think beyond pre-given ideas that they already have about a given text and themselves. To be more specific, the objective is for text and readers to be in immanence. Immanence is only immanence to itself [1], it is what is always and in any case already present [2]. When text and readers are in immanence, readers do not occupy a privileged, transcendent position in relation to text; readers do not add meaning to a text, but meaning is produced from the space-time singular to the event of reading itself (Massumi, 2015). According to CSD proponents such as Massumi, Manning and Murphie, immanence creates conditions for creative thinking.

CSD is an inflection of Deleuze-Guattarian ideas on thinking. To “inflect” is not to copy or trace some thing, but to adapt it according to the characteristics of the space in which the adaptation takes place [3]. As with all inflections (called, by Deleuze, “expressions”), CSD does not talk about the process methodologically (i.e., as the application of a model to a new object), but just does it. This is art-based research (Massumi, 2015). CSD is also fascinating because of the way it inflects the better known, yet very different, practice from literary pedagogy of close reading.

This paper is about the potential of implementing CSD in Facebook. Facebook creates conditions for immanent reading. As such, it is an ideal place for a mode of CSD. The most unique characteristic of Facebook is its role today as a reading technology. It is a massive content platform and a “social operating system” with an emphasis on “creating, developing and sustaining human relationships” [4], but also for reading. It is where billions of people find news, current affairs, sports and more. Crucial is how we read in this environment. We read quickly and at a distance, because of speed, pressure of time and more content, all displayed on tiny screens. How else could we read when we read all the time rather than at a certain time for a certain length of time; when we read in-between everything else we are doing; and when there is always more to read, another link to click, another thread to follow? As Braidotti (2006) makes clear in another context, this emphasis on speed and distance is not at the expense of depth. On the contrary, speed and distance result in a closer inspection of the material substance of what we are reading rather than the ideas circulating around what we are reading. There is the potential for Facebook to inflect CSD, to make it uniquely a digital expression of CSD — referred to in what follows as Close Reading using Facebook (CRF). What Facebook gives to CSD is speed, strengthening immanence; and rhizoanalysis, exploding reading and allowing more opportunities for creativity.

This paper unfolds as follows. In part one it notes the popular perspective that reading on a platform like Facebook involves all of the problems of reading online — distraction of the reader and limited depth of engagement with text — in order to offer a vision described earlier: reading on Facebook (or any other social media platform that shares Facebook’s dominant characteristics) involves immanence. That perspective recognizes an immanent structure of user and content and proposes it as a form of resistance (or “play”) to Facebook’s underlying commercial determinism. In part two, with this vision of Facebook in the background, CSD is unpacked. It is explained as a collaborative practice for the reading and discussion of complex texts, with a CSD example from a SenseLab event in 2008 entitled Dancing the Virtual. Finally, in part three, Facebook and CSD are put together, and Close Reading using Facebook (CRF) is outlined. A CRF example is provided, a teaching event from an Australian university in 2016 and 2017 called Data, Mediation, Power.

 

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Part 1: Facebook

Almost a decade ago, Greenhow, et al. (2009) argued that Web 2.0 can facilitate learners’ creative practices, in the forms of interconnections, content creation and remixing [5]. They note a difference between, on the one hand, creative play enabled (for example), by remixing content, and on the other hand, “creating new knowledge.” In so doing their discussion of theoretical perspectives on uses of the World Wide Web as an educational tool identifies an important tension: the “challenge” of “defining what counts as ‘valid or legitimate or desirable’ forms of understanding and creativity in current contexts” [6]. This paper extends this same research trajectory into what Langlois (2014) calls “the age of social media,” arguing for the creative potential of reading on social media platforms and addressing the same challenges identified by Greenhow, et al.

This paper’s focus is Facebook, currently the most widely used example of social media. According to current sources, there are more than 1,500 posts of content per week in the average user’s network of friends, followers, groups and pages followed (Oremus, 2016). The average user sees about 100 stories per day (pieces of content) in their News Feed (Kolowich, 2016). Content, provided by publishers, advertisers and (non-professional) users, includes written articles, video, podcasts, image-based media (advertisements, infographics) and music. It is fair to say that a large amount of time spent on Facebook involves reading content.

Research exists addressing how users read and collaborate on Facebook — in education and non-education contexts. Current research tends to focus on the positive aspects of Facebook as a supportive and collaborative environment that can challenge educational norms, and the negative effect of “distraction” — commonly thought to be symptomatic of reading on Facebook. Moreover, critics identify how any real potential afforded by Facebook is limited by commercial stratifications of the platform.

This paper, however, takes a different approach and proposes a philosophy of Facebook. From Deleuze and Guattari (1997), a philosophy of some thing is a collection of concepts that, together, offer an account, not a definitive exploration. A philosophy is to be measured in terms of what it can do, not if it is right or wrong. In this paper, a philosophy of Facebook is developed by mapping Deleuze and Deleuze-Guattari’s concepts into Facebook and exploring how these concepts are produced again from the space of relation of concept and context; in other words, emerging from the space-time singular to the event of analysis [7]. In what follows, “distraction” is proposed as creative thinking, independent of knowledge and resistant to algorithmic governance.

Facebook and the classroom

There is already a great deal of academic research that identifies valuable uses of social media, particularly Facebook, in secondary and tertiary classrooms. Ellison, et al. (2007) found that Facebook use correlated with learners’ sense of increased social belonging. From Lu and Churchill (2014), some students claim that in social networking environments (SNE), “deeper thinking was actually stimulated by being exposed to peers’ ideas” [8]. Furthermore, “Some students in interviews mentioned that they felt supported and encouraged due to emotional support received by means of commenting.” Yet achieving these levels of support and social interaction can be a challenge and, as Rambe and Ng’ambi (2014) point out, depending on teachers taking a less didactic role.

Cuesta, et al.’s (2016) draws from a body of work describing social media as “potentially useful innovative tools for learning and teaching” [9]. The authors’ key claim is that social media levels the intellectual playing field of its users/students. They argue that social media has the potential for challenging educational norms and knowledge [10]. For these authors, the potential of social media is its role promoting difference and making more students more visible. Crucial is the fact that social media is a “common area” which students themselves ”create and recreate,“ and the result is the development of a “co-learning community” that facilitates communication and invites participation [11]. Slightly problematic is the authors’ argument that this co-learning environment of Facebook and other SNEs is an environment in which users feel less pressure — compared to the off-line world — to construct a persona [12]. While some students may feel more relaxed in this space (see also Rambe and Ng’ambi, 2014), other researchers identify the significance of social media as strict semiotic system of image management that trades in social capital (Dawkins, 2015).

Facebook’s biggest “problem”

By far the dominant opinion on Facebook in education is that Facebook, ultimately, is distracting. Common sense says a “distraction” in learning/reading environments is something which prevents someone from focusing on something else, likely limiting comprehension and retention. Wise, et al. (2011) noted students’ own claim that they tend to turn to Facebook when “bored” or to provide a “mental break” [13]. Deppe (2013) calls this “cyber-slacking.” When Facebook is used as a break from another task (such as listening to a lecture or reading a text), it effectively hijacks time, making re-engagement more difficult [14]. Taking a more popular perspective, Carr (2010) notes that the persistent interruptions and stimulations of the Internet “short-circuit” our attentive focus. Carr (2008) laments the loss of knowledge — described as one’s “personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West.” Rushkoff (2013), another popular critic of the Internet, describes the effect of new media as a form of “present shock.” Richtel (2010) cites medical research suggesting that constant stimulation associated with online activity is not good for the brain’s development. Hooper and Herath (2014) describe new reading patterns online fuelled by distraction, skim-reading and hopping from one source to another, associated with “impatience” and “ruthlessness” [15].

This research begins from the premise that distraction is bad. Other theorists, however, take a different view. Carey (2015) explains how distraction can function as a useful “incubation period” for problem solving. Carey argues that these kinds of “breaks” actually help problem solving; he writes:

“The weight of this research turns the creeping hysteria over the dangers of social media and distracting electronic gadgets on its head.” [16]

Hope (2016) describes a real value of “informal learning” and “playing seriously” [17] — in other words, “goofing off” and “cyberslacking.” In a philosophical context, Braidotti (2006) argues that when it comes to analyzing theoretical text, it is most valuable to consider the connections between one document and other texts. Braidotti argues the importance of following “outward-bound interconnections or relations that it [the text] enables, provokes, engenders and sustains” [18]. This is distraction as a kind of methodology, and it is based squarely on Deleuze’s use of the imagination as a concept (Braidotti, 2006).

Using Deleuze and Guattari to rethink Facebook: Being rhizomatic and doing rhizoanalysis

For Carey (2015) distraction is a weapon only necessary if we are stuck doing our primary activity, which is “learning that requires continuous focus” [19] — in other words, knowledge building. It can be argued, however, that Deleuze and Guattari give distraction a more central role in reading, thinking and learning. For Deleuze-Guattari, who see the concern of thinking and research to be “cross[ing] the threshold of one’s habitual thinking,” [20], distraction is a valuable process in its own right.

To see the value of distraction one must understand the problems of “disciplinary knowledge” and “transcendent pedagogy” (Nadler, 2015), or at the very least follow Greenhow, et al. (2009) and recognize the validity and legitimacy of forms of understanding and creativity that are not knowledge-based. For Deleuze and Guattari, the application of knowledge to an “object” of inquiry is a “binary process” where one transcends their current material [21]; what is “inspired” is “a sad image of thought that is forever imitating the multiple on the basis of a centred or segmented higher unity” [22]. They claim nothing comes from the application of knowledge except the repetition or solidification of that same knowledge, which is not ultimately creative or innovative [23]. Massumi reiterates the same argument some years later: “Any potential the [thought] process may have had of leading to a significantly different product is lost in the overlay of what already is” [24].

Deleuze and Guattari do not use this exact language, but it can be argued that their concept of the rhizome can be used to rethink distraction and define it as a thought process that proceeds without reference or dependence on knowledge. The rhizome is defined through multiple examples in Deleuze and Guattari (1987), but its key characteristics include that it is a tendency (Buchanan, 2007) to continually establish connections between things [25] and that it can be broken but start up again [26]. Of most importance is that the rhizome “pertains to an infinitely modifiable map” (Buchanan, 2007) that charts the smooth space of its own growth [27]. Semetsky notes how the product of “rhizomatic becomings” is novelty in experience [28]. In education research specifically, Masny explains “rhizoanalysis” as research that cultivates new paths (Colebrook, quoted in Masny, 2013). In this sense “distraction” might well be replaced by “rhizoanalysis.”

To return to Facebook, it is precisely in terms of this “distraction” that Facebook’s potential can be perceived. The line of flight of the rhizome has evolved in this digital and networked environment, and this is in so far as the platform, through its incessant and never-ending flow of content, served up on the user’s page and in the margins of one’s activity, offers n paths of connections, and the user’s line of flight is mapped by making choices (enacted by clicking hyperlinks) on a plane of content continually served to us [29]. The rhizomatic tendency of users online refers to more than the “pre-existing networked connection of computers,” the way users drift (“surf”) from Web site to Web site (Buchanan, 2007), or hunt for information using search engines. Today, it pertains to social media users’ tendency to distraction when faced with reading so much content in their networks. Every day 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook (Top 20 Valuable Facebook Statistics, n.d.) If the enemy of creative thinking is knowledge, and an objective of the rhizome is to avoid knowledge-building, then repeated clicking of content on Facebook is the ideal weapon. Most recently, Harper and Savat (2016) describe how “the fast switching between tasks on digital software, all encourage a collapsing of traditional contexts and make it more likely we might encounter those ‘bumps in the road’ that make us think” [30].

Critical readings, however, argue that a user’s “line of flight” on Facebook is always directed into certain territories (Harper and Savat, 2016; Langlois, 2014; Fuchs, 2014). This is an extension of Buchanan’s (2007) point about commercially determined search results in Google. These territories are created by marketing and advertising, with algorithms fuelled by corporate interests that dominate social media today (Langlois, 2014). “While digital media open up the possibility of encountering the aleatory point that will force us to think creatively they are still limited by the limitations of the existing stratifications” [31].

Langlois notes how “[Social media] interrogate, scrutinise and pay attention to all kinds of clues to gain some kind of understanding as to what makes a person act a certain way” [32]. From this “understanding” a virtual version of users is created, sometimes referred to as a “grey profile” (Langlois, 2014) and a “persuasion profile” [33]. Such a profile is used to rank which content is most likely to be engaged with and then the content is served up accordingly, for example at the top of a Facebook user’s News Feed.

Two outcomes of personalization are worth noting. First: “You can find yourself in a situation where everything you see does nothing but confirm your biases are true, your interests are universal and that there is essentially nothing in the world that conflicts with your understanding of it” [34]. Second is how, for the software to serve up a version of you, it is inevitable that the personalized content recommended is, rather ironically, commonplace. Why? It is necessarily based on a type (your type) generalized from your persuasion profile and employing the same motifs, themes and desires [35].

In addition to the “filter bubble” effect noted above and described further by Parisier (2011) and the clichéd content that results (a “genrefication” according to user type), personalization feeds the corporate machine. In giving users content they “like” it is more likely they will stay online or return more frequently, which will provide more page impressions and longer time on pages for sponsored content and ads, which will also provide more opportunities for a platform to collect user-engagement data, which will also enable advertisers and marketers to refine the persuasion profiles of users and, ultimately, seed more targeted advertising. Another problem is how the software limits the potential of rhizoanalysis. With algorithmically governed content it is reasonable to think that any potential of a user’s rhizomatic exploration of content on social media is lost in the overlay of what already is (their persuasion profile). Finally, Langlois (2014) argues that social media algorithms intervene in a user’s process of making sense of the world and themselves, therefore inscribing this process within capitalist networks. She also argues that social media taps into users’ unconscious drives for immediate satisfaction and provokes a constant psychic destabilization [36].

Playing with Facebook: Testing new modes of existence and meaningfulness

Despite Langlois’ criticism of how social media corporations, based on their software algorithms, intervene in our process of making sense of the world and ourselves, in order to commodify psychic life, she does provide readers with some hope for a better social media future. Her advice involves “the concept of play” — in other words, “testing new modes of experience through new modes of playing with data” [37]. Overall, Langlois encourages readers to find new ways to make sense of existence and critically reflect on what constitutes meaningfulness and meaninglessness.

Particularly interesting is the notion of testing new modes of experience on Facebook which, in effect, involves playing with data. Yet this is something that happens naturally on Facebook, as a symptom of the amount of content online and conditions of a user’s engagement with that content. So, in response to Langlois it can be argued that a solution to the problems of Facebook is really to do what we are already doing, only more often and self-consciously as a practice. This is in order to see what happens as a result. What are users already doing on Facebook? Both academic literature (e.g., Hooper and Herath, 2014) and non-academic studies identify how users typically speed-read online content. Manjoo (2013) states that:

I read tons of articles every day. I share dozens of links on Twitter and Facebook. But how many do I read in full? [...] I wonder, too, if this applies to more than just the Web. With ebooks and streaming movies and TV shows, it’s easier than ever, now, to switch to something else.

Speed-reading is a way of dealing with the amount of content online — how else could a user get through 100 stories a day? But think also about how users flick through their Facebook News Feed between other tasks; for example, work assignments, or getting on or off the train, or writing paragraphs in an essay. Since it is not uncommon for users to check their profiles between other tasks, there is a pressure of time flowing through each event of “checking Facebook.” Combined with the fact that there is always some other link to click, another friend’s update to read, means users are speed-reading and thinking fast enough for thought presuppositions not to stick — and neither is there enough time to stand back and cast judgement. It is near impossible for users to transcend their “current material or mental conditions” [38].

What happens is immanence. In these reading events, meaning emerges from the space-time singular to the event of reading itself (see Massumi, 2015). In other words, all a user can do is think something from the materiality of what is before them. This is an example of Nadler’s theory of immanence in education according to a pedagogy that “allows students to learn about the structure of a discipline without being structured by it” [39]. On Facebook specifically, one does not draw one’s perfectly constructed and unique version of what they are reading because there is no time to do so, no scope. While this is a problem for theorists like Carr, it is a bonus for anyone taking a more Deleuzian perspective on thinking, knowledge and immanence. What can happen is an inflected form of the “new Analytic of the image” described by Deleuze in “modern” cinema [40]; in Facebook, however, instead of users’ expectations getting shocked out of the ordinary, resulting in components of the image becoming more “legible” [41], noticing “data” they typically overlook, and — as a result — connecting the data in new ways, users speed-read to stand back and notice the structural contours they may not have ordinarily seen. Braidotti explains in another context: “Just like travellers can capture the ‘essential lines’ of a landscape or of a place in the speed of crossing it, this is not superficiality, but a way of framing the longitudinal and latitudinal forces that structure a certain spatio-temporal ‘moment’” [42]. Of course this kind of thinking does not always happen [43], but important is the realization that valuable reading practices do not necessarily involve long periods of time focusing on a single text (an idea about reading so ingrained that it informs the design of some major networked reading systems aimed at developing the literacy of elementary school children [Meyers, et al., 2017]).

It is accepted that speed-reading content — which equally applies to skim-listening music on platforms such as Spotify and Pandora (Ellis-Petersen, 2014) — is the norm online. It is reasonable to claim this as the typical way we engage with an abundance of content. But what are we skim-reading? Content recommended by a platform’s software. Yet skim-reading complicates an earlier critical argument: namely, that the potential of our exploration of content on social media is lost in an overlay of our persuasion profile. Given that we speed-read online, feeling the pressure of more content and the pressure of other parallel activities, it is possible to argue against the governing effect of our persuasion profiles. Due to the ways in which we speed-read content, all opportunities afforded by personalization, as well as their commercialization, have collapsed. There is simply not enough time for users to stand back and transcend their current material and mental states. Of course it is not being suggested that the role of commercial interests in the organization of social media content be ignored. It is worth, however, reconsidering the level of influence possible given how users engage with content online. Ultimately, speed-reading is a way of “playing with data.” It is as a mode of experience that challenges meaningfulness in social media and is something to be encouraged.

 

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Part 2: Conceptual Speed Dating

Massumi and Manning claim Murphie “came up with a brilliant proposition: Conceptual Speed Dating” in a SenseLab workshop called Dancing the Virtual in Montréal in 2006 [44]. Conceptual Speed Dating is a method of “conversation” without the scourge of individual ideas, opinions and “verbal performance” [45]. That is, it is a method of talking about ideas without talking (and thinking) being burdened by what participants already know — in other words, knowledge. Too much emphasis on what people already know causes participants to approach a topic from positions of comparison and critique. If a text is the object of discussion, a comparative position involves referencing other text and bodies of knowledge, with the result that “the new situation [of interpretation] is erroneously experienced as being more similar to a class of other events than it is different in its own occurrence” [46]. The assumption of comparison is that there are “overarching concepts” that apply to text and ”against which the adequacy of this text can be assessed” [47]. Critique is much the same, but in this case ideas are applied to the text “from the lofty heights of judgement’s peak” [48]. Here the participant typically asks how the text compares with what they already know and where they are coming from [49].

The intended outcome of Conceptual Speed Dating is a depth of discussion without any pretence, cliché and theoretical baggage (Murphie, 2008). Massumi explains that when knowledge is blocked from conversation, there is the potential for “new thoughts,” “new actions” and “the new perceptions that new actions allow to unfold” [50]. The emphasis here is creative thinking, on new ideas and making a “significantly different product” without getting “lost in the overlay of what already is” [51]. With this emphasis on the newness of thought comes an idea of thinking as mobile, dynamic, non-linear and not orientated towards conclusions. Massumi describes this as a state of being “in thought” [52], calling it “exploratory thinking-together in the moment” [53]. In a different context Semetsky (2007) describes an “immanent pedagogy of the concept” and Nadler (2015) “an immanent pedagogy.”

Here is a structure of Conceptual Speed Dating for participants in large groups, with techniques outlined by Massumi [54]:

  1. Choose a generative text.
  2. Choose a minor concept weaving through the generative text.
  3. Ask each person in the group to count off as a 1 or a 2.
  4. Instruct the 1s that they are “posts.”
  5. Instruct the 2s that they are “flows.”
  6. Ask the posts to find a post: A spot in the room where they would like to have a conversation.
  7. Ask the flows to pair up with a post.
  8. Direct everyone to a page in the text where the minor concept occurs.
  9. Ask the participants to discuss the function of the minor concept, staying as close as possible to the text, with detailed attention to how it is constructed.
  10. Notify participants that when exactly five minutes are up they will hear a signal, and that when they hear the signal they must end their conversation immediately, even if they are in the middle of a word.
  11. When the five-minute signal sounds, ask all flows to move to the next post in a clockwise direction.
  12. Repeat eight to ten times.
  13. Bring the group back together and discuss in plenary session what was discovered about the minor concept and the text.

Generative texts, leaky experience and performance

Crucial in Conceptual Speed Dating is the following: A certain kind of text is used in order that the participants’ focus is maintained on what is before them (not on what they know already); a method of reading the text is prescribed (to prevent generalization and criticism); and a method of discussion is outlined, which participants must adhere to. What is not noted in the above technique are two additional considerations: first, the importance of the “leakage of experience” [55] and second, the (“enabling”) constraints placed on the way groups report back their findings in the plenary session [56].

Conceptual Speed Dating relies on what Massumi describes as a “generative” text. By “generative” it is meant that “no one reading can exhaust its potential for producing meaning” [57]. In these texts, Massumi writes, what “stands out” “moves and varies.” This is a text sensitive to the outside. The “outside” refers to the text’s relationship with a reader and the ideas (or thoughts) that result from this text-outside/reader relationship. The default relationship of text and outside is where a reader adds meaning to a text from a transcendent position [58], a binary process. A generative text, on the other hand, is always unfinished. It calls for meaning, allows for it, but is never filled and complete. In such a generative text, meaning is not added from the outside, but meaning is produced in the space of relation of text and outside, emerging from the space-time singular to each event of reading [59]. In philosophical terms, text and reader are in immanence.

This immanent relay of text and meaning doesn’t happen by magic. Generative text can create the conditions for this to happen, but other factors also need to play a role and actively assist. Important is the close reading technique prescribed in Conceptual Speed Dating. The roots of this technique lie, arguably, in literary pedagogy and the historical practice of close reading, referred to in this paper as Close Textual Reading (CTR). It is a practice that involves answering text-based questions in order to analyze sections of a generative text — referred to in this context as a text with “sufficient richness” [60] — with the intention of developing a depth of understanding (Eagleton, 1996; McCormick, 1994; Fang, 2016; Nathan and Minnis, 2016). In CSD, a similar close reading occurs — that is, a close analysis of sections of a text. Massumi explains that a concept is chosen, and a certain paragraph (or paragraphs) containing a concept are assigned to readers. According to the practice, it must be a minor concept, meaning a lesser known concept that a reader is less likely to think they already grasp and understand, a concept not typically focused on in the dominant literature on the topic and less likely to carry with it the heavy baggage of pre-existent knowledge. Second, readers are instructed to analyze the passage containing the minor concept. Third, they are to ask themselves text-based questions. These questions include: (generally) how the minor concept “helps make the text” [61] and “help it mean what it says” [62]; what the concept does, and how it does what it does compositionally [63]; what concepts “co-occur there” [64]; and also, “on what other pages do they reoccur, and do they re-co-occur in those passages in the same constellation, or do they go off on their own trajectories and just check with a congerie [sic] of others from time to time? If the latter, where are those other trajectories leading?” [65].

In CSD, text-based questions are designed to focus attention on the text itself, not the knowledge one may already have about the text being analyzed. This is similar to the objective of close reading in CTR, as it is thought that text-based questions can help “level the playing field” for students, since the amount of background knowledge possessed by each student undertaking CTR typically varies (Snow and O’Connor, 2016). In CSD, the influence of background knowledge is guarded against. In CTR it is accepted that some background knowledge is necessary, and debate continues about how much is enough, and how to incorporate this knowledge — sometimes using modelling — into the practice in a way that is equitable for all students (Fang, 2016; Neumann, et al., 2014; Brown and Kappes, 2012; Snow and O’Connor, 2016).

Given that knowledge is guarded against in CSD, other techniques, in addition to close reading, are incorporated in order to maintain an immanent practice. Important is creating the conditions within CSD for what Murphie (2008) describes as the “leakage of experience.” An example is the disruption when “children and animals are allowed into the room where serious discussion is occurring” [66] — in other words, one experience (domesticity) “leaks” into another (serious discussion: work).

Important for CSD are the restrictions placed on the way participants report their findings back to the group — which are referred to as “enabling constraints.” An enabling constraint is exactly that: a rule (constraint) that, as a result of its imposition, forces something to happen. An enabling constraint apparent from the CSD schema outlined above is the speed dating format, where half of the participants (the flows) move around the room every five minutes, from post to post. The argument is that this particular constraint forces a continual dissemination and mutation of ideas [67]. In terms of the enabling constraint involved in the reporting of findings at the conclusion of the practice, participants are not actually permitted to “report” their findings at all. They are not permitted to “describe from a distance,” “compare,” “critique” [68], “explain” or “summarize” [69]. Instead, they must “perform it anew, in a way adapted to the larger group: to reactivate it again” [70]. For example, instead of using denotative language, this might involve using descriptive language that “conveyed a performative force.” In other words, participants are experimenting with language’s “material potential,” using words to “amplify and dampen affective experiences instead of merely representing those experiences” [71].

Dancing the Virtual — Montréal, 2006

CSD has been used in the classroom by SenseLab participants, but one documented example is from the 2006 SenseLab workshop called Dancing the Virtual. Given the intention of CSD is research creation, defined as “exploratory thinking together in the moment” [72], it follows that a CSD event is not reported scientifically, as repeatable and with measureable outcomes. Instead, a schema is provided (as described earlier) and aspects of the event are simply described that would allow future researchers to implement a different version of the practice, immerse themselves in the practice to “reactivate it again” [73]. On the Dancing the Virtual workshop, Murphie reports “a profound effect on the direct philosophical discussion, which was conducted with precision at an extremely high level, but with no expressed animosity” [74]. He describes an example of the leakage of experience, specifically the leaking into one another of philosophy and dance, where participants were commanded to “create a movement of thought” [75]. An example of an enabling constraint from the workshop was the following instruction: place a hand on another’s chest and then move with each other without this involving pushing or pulling [76]. Massumi recalls his own experience [77]:

What I say [...] ceases to feel as if it came from a separate decision made by me. What I say feels moved by the necessity of a particularly pressing strand that takes my tongue for a ride. The result often surprises me. I find myself saying things I hadn’t planned to say, or hadn't been able to say before. Sometimes I’m not even sure I agree with them. But rather than being alienating, that feeling intensifies the sensation of being in the discussion. Owning a thought personally and expressing an opinion has simply ceased to be what is at stake. What is at stake is a movement of thought passing through the exchanges and rolling with the intervals. The felt imperative is to be true not to oneself but to that movement: to help further its iterative unfolding, toward a terminus whose contours are unknown in their details, but whose presence is effective: compelling (another iteration) and orienting (giving a sense of direction). The vagueness of the terminus does not feel like an absence. It feels creative.

Whether or not Massumi’s — or Murphie’s — account is “correct” or “accurate” is not the point here. What is important are two things: first, how a description of the event stimulates a reader to think: in this case, thinking about what it means to have an “idea,” and where that idea comes from, and what that idea could be like. Is the idea reaffirming some idea we already have of ourselves, compounding our individualism, or is it — could it — be something that grows and develops along a path it creates with every twist and turn of its evolution, charting a completely new terrain? Second, what is also important is that the structure only of the event is sketched. Here, CSD involves the following structure: a group of participants; posts and flows; a close reading; and a performance. If the reader desires to create their own practice — perhaps in the classroom, or using Facebook, or even architecturally in a built environment (Ednie-Brown, 2015) — it is up to them to create it from the structure provided. Such an approach is an inflection that avoids the replication of CSD, according to which any potential of the event leading to a significantly different product would be lost in the overlay of what already is.

 

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Part 3: Close Reading using Facebook

Close reading using Facebook (CRF) is a reactivation of CSD that is equally as useful for university students as the artists, academics and writers of the SenseLab. The intended outcome of CRF is to engage participants in a productive discussion of complex text. Such a discussion is one that does not depend on what the participant already knows — for students, their level of preparation in advance of a given class. In this respect it shares CSD’s aims of doing away with the lofty heights of comparison and criticism. It is an example of Nadler’s (2015) immanent pedagogy yet it is unique because research does not yet exist that explores what Semetsky (2007) calls “a creative pedagogy of the concept” in social media. Facebook’s platform, of multiple and colliding content streams, a platform that is networked and searchable, where skim-reading rules, lends itself to rhizoanalysis. With the addition of a close reading practice and guidance encouraging rhizoanalysis, a creative, stimulating and enjoyable research event can be created. Facebook is a place where billions already are, and are comfortable being there, and — for students specifically — the use of digital technology enables remote access, asynchronous participation, and of course, an element of novelty that also increases engagement. Finally, Facebook retains an archive of the structure of a discussion, for future reactivation.

Here is a structure of CRF, developed for use with students:

  1. Create a Facebook group; advise students that classes for a nominated face-to-face session will be replaced by online discussion using Facebook. Encourage students to “attend” from anywhere.
  2. Assign students in each tutorial class a specific section of a generative text.
  3. Advise students that at a minimum they are to attend the group discussion during their allocated tutorial times.
  4. During their assigned class time the tutor of each class asks a series of text-based questions at five- to ten-minute intervals.
  5. The tutor is to seed transversal content (the tutor is to encourage rhizoanalysis; the tutor is to encourage rhizomatic thinking).
  6. At the end of the tutorial, repeat with another group until the session is complete.
  7. The following week, bring each tutorial back together (in a face-to-face class) to discuss what they discovered about the text.

Generative texts, a level playing field, flying concepts, leaky experience and immanence

As with CSD and Close Textual Reading (CTR), the text chosen needs to be rich in conceptual discussion and development, but with CRF the potential of the discussion will not be stymied if the text ostensibly presupposes a certain level of conceptual knowledge. In CRF, text-based questions encourage participants to develop their conceptual understanding from the text itself. Should participants choose to transcend the text itself, perhaps seeking additional content to assist with their investigation of text-based questions, this is not guarded against. Presumably a participant may decide to search Facebook (or the overlapping environment of the Internet more broadly), but this can be a productive technique, rather than an action necessarily limiting the practice to knowledge applied from whatever additional content is located. The reason lies with how users search and read content on Facebook. Any additional research will occur quickly: multiple search results will result in speed-reading, as will the pressure of time on the activity and the session itself. Participants will glean broad conceptual strokes — in Braidotti’s words, the essential lines and structuring forces — from their additional research. Such “data,” rather than acting as a model to apply to the object of analysis (the passage), can only be used as an entry way for jimmying sentences of the passage being analyzed. Within the environment of Facebook and the Internet, knowledge is equalized, the playing field is levelled and research and reading is immanent.

The same searchable nature of the context (Facebook and the Internet) enables the transversal exploration of minor concepts along n lines of flight. Since Facebook is a platform continually updating with content, searchable, and overlaps with an even bigger searchable environment (the Internet), a participant’s analysis of a minor concept in a close reading practice could potentially be unbounded. This is due to the n dimensions of the Internet’s network through which the concept could be explored. Of course, each user’s exploration may be flavoured by their grey profile, but speed distances users from meaning, and instead, connections are made, paths forged, forces followed, inklings chased, interests piqued, “bumps in the road” (“that make us think”) are encountered (Harper and Savat, 2016).

Add to this the leakage of experience so characteristic of Facebook. On Facebook, personal space, work, entertainment and politics, converge. Incongruent contexts are “regularly colliding” [78]. Ford’s (2011) description of social media sums it up perfectly: “Potent evidence of grieving from one friend is followed so quickly by pictures of oven-fresh cookies from another.” What is produced from CRF is a discussion that includes content and ideas assembled from one’s intellectual, personal, political and commercial lives.

Data, Mediation, Power — Sydney, 2016 and 2017

An example of CRF is from a larger study conducted on a university course in Sydney, called Data, Mediation, Power. CRF was implemented on two occasions, in 2016 and 2017, with two cohorts of students. The CRF sessions replaced the students’ hour-long face-to-face tutorials for one week of the course.

For both CRF events, closed Facebook groups were created. A Facebook group is a forum where groups of users typically get together to discuss common interests, such as parenting or watch collecting. A closed group is private, meaning only those invited can see content, engage with it, and post content themselves. In the CRF events, closed groups were preferred for privacy reasons.

A generative text was chosen, and each class was assigned a specific passage of text. Students were advised that, during the discussion at their allocated time, they would perform a close reading of their passage. The only preparation required was that they familiarize themselves with their passage as well as the contextual text from which their passage was selected.

Each class’ Facebook session was facilitated by their tutor. During the events students were asked text-based questions, for example: “Look at the first sentence of the paragraph. What is this section about? What is the argument(s) being made?” Additional questions were designed to encourage students to follow a minor concept outside the immediate text to other text; for example, “Find an example of the concept using Google and post the link” and “Find an example of the concept/idea/example online ...” Given that discussion in a closed group means users were taken away from their Facebook pages, reducing their exposure to the platform’s multiple and never-ending content streams and advertisements — reducing some potential for rhizoanalysis, transversal content was seeded into the discussion threads in order to encourage “lines of flight.” For example, music videos loosely related to a concept were randomly inserted into discussion threads, as were memes and other anecdotal content typical of the Internet. In short, students were encouraged to allow their broader media lives to leak into their participation in the group.

The enabling constraints for the CRF events were as follows. Primary was the duration of each discussion (one hour) and, obviously, the fact that discussion was text-based and not face-to-face. Another enabling constraint, which references CSD’s episodic discussion and use of the five-minute signal to mark the end of one episode and the beginning of another, was Facebook’s notification system. Tutors posted multiple questions in approximately five- to ten-minute intervals, and of course the threads remained open, but the notification system alerted students to a newly posted thread, adding time pressure to the discussion. The notification system also affected students’ activity beyond the group, if they chose to search the Internet to follow a line of flight. The pressure of time created by Facebook’s notifications encouraged speed-reading already characteristic of the way users engage with content online, disrupting personalization and other forms of algorithmic governance. Related also is the way Facebook organizes posts in the group. Groups operate according to a more simplified algorithm than the News Feed algorithm, with the last post placed at the top of the group page. The result was that students needed to explore threads in order to locate themselves within a discussion. This situation could be problematic for users in “buy and sell groups”. Finally, in the face-to-face sessions in class the week after the Facebook discussion, students were placed in small groups. Following CSD guidelines, they were asked to reinterpret what they discovered in the Facebook sessions. Students then presented “stories” produced from the Facebook discussion rather than summaries.

How did the CRF events unfold? In some cases, up to four times the number of students officially enrolled in a class attended the corresponding CRF session online. Also, maximum engagement with the questions (in terms of the following metrics: likes and comments) occurred in the middle of each one-hour session. It may have been the case that students needed time to orientate themselves to the context (the Facebook “classroom”) and the problem (the passage from a text), just as Massumi observed in the first five minutes of face-to-face CSD [79]. In these “fat” parts of the sessions, up to 40 comments were posted in less than 10 minutes. Most comments were often declarations of support and encouragement for another’s response to a CRF question, textual equivalents of “high fives.” Evident was what appeared to be a high rate of students paraphrasing other comments. It is likely that such an approach is a response to the pressure of time in each question, and in some ways, it’s the easiest way to engage with the problems posed by the tutor. But, such an approach is itself a method of close reading, in immanence; what tends to bubble to the surface, during all this fast-paced paraphrasing, are the “essential lines” of the conversation thread, the key points of the discussion (for example, ideas of “right” and “wrong” in ethics).

It was to be expected too that some threads were left hanging as new questions were posted and Facebook’s notification system did its thing: shifting students in a tidal movement to a new conversation thread. Massumi [80] speaks positively about “strands of discussion left hanging in the air,” for when a conversation is not ended — but left hanging — there’s the potential for it to “revive later, perhaps elsewhere” [81]. Similarly, Deleuze and Guattari’s preference for openness and middles is also well-known: “Establish a logic of the AND [...] nullify endings and beginnings” [82]. “Hanging threads” and “open discussions” are symptomatic of CRF’s episodic structure and the caesura created in the middle of a thread by Facebook’s notification system, but with the added benefit of Facebook’s archival capability. On this platform, in a Facebook group, threads can remain open indefinitely. On more than one occasion, students returned to the CRF thread up to 12 hours after the initial session. Of course, the fact that the Internet doesn’t “forget” can be problematic, and the “right to be forgotten” warrants discussion in another context. The potential problems with the Internet’s memory can be resolved in CRF events by archiving closed Facebook groups or deleting a given group after a teaching session.

Students, in a flurry of activity in the fat part of the fast-paced discussion, paraphrased and read closely, and supported each other, creating a genuinely social event of reading. Also of interest was the effect on the discussion, and reading itself, of a kind of “trolling” or “shit stirring.” It’s something almost inevitable on this platform and in this context and with this demographic. From Milner (2013) “trolling” can be generalized as the work of mischievous tricksters that involves using humour and agonism to rile participants. It can be shocking, offensive, over the top, subversive, grotesque, fun and productive. In this case, trolling by a small minority was more fun than offensive and certainly productive. A handful of times a student would attempt to hijack a thread by posting a seemingly humorous image or meme, such as an animated GIF. Here, the mischievous student is developing a germ of an idea they have, or a feeling, about the actual conversation thread or text through a seemingly unrelated piece of content. The essential lines of the thread are produced differently in the image or meme. Call it rhizoanalysis, but it’s certainly a creative engagement born of the online networked context, its pace and all the content at users’ fingertips. The problem for CRF is how to reframe this process in more positive terms without diluting its mischievous appeal.

Evaluating the CRF event is difficult. From personal observation, some students had trouble on Facebook keeping up with discussion threads. Overall, however, most students appeared to have been stimulated and entertained, and seemed to have fun. Did the event enable creative thinking? This is not the point, just as evaluating CSD this way is pointless. Sadly too, feedback did not come close to Massumi’s rather poetic description of his personal experience of CSD: of how he felt like his tongue was “taken for a ride” and his thoughts had a kind of autonomy, produced immanently in the moment, that had nothing to do with him personally. What can be said is that participants were engaged in the process: they were reading, thinking, talking, writing and reflecting. They were challenged by time limits, and the fact that they were stimulated and entertained means that the event took them beyond what they knew and expected. One student suggested that his whole conception of what a classroom is (and of what university learning involves), was being challenged, and so it is as if the event provided him with a clean slate for engagement.

 

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Tools for jimmying experience

This paper discusses a perspective on Facebook, following from Deleuze-Guattarian immanent pedagogies. It identifies Facebook’s key characteristic as a reading technology. It identifies the significance of how users read content in this environment, because of the amount of content, conditions of their engagement (in-between things, on small screens) and role of algorithms.

Creative thinking is stimulated by this environment. Seeing this value depends on appreciating that there is more to thinking than knowledge. From Deleuze, thinking can be an exploration, and from Braidotti a model is the way travellers “can capture the ‘essential lines’ of a landscape or of a place in the speed of crossing it” [83].

Conceptual Speed Dating is a minor practice that attempts many of the objectives potential to Facebook. This paper explores the potential of doing CSD using Facebook, in a practice called Close Reading using Facebook (CRF). It describes examples, noting how these events essentially inflect CSD, realizing the potential of Facebook for reading, research and creative thinking, or immanent pedagogies.

Of crucial importance in this paper is the underlying argument about the value of experimenting with technology to investigate how we think. An experiment enabled by philosophy and media, it involves methods for jimmying experience. Important is not that a model is outlined for replication, whether that model is CSD or CRF or close reading more generally. Crucial is proposing a structure that can be mapped to new environments, to see what happens and experiment repeatedly. End of article

 

About the author

Roger Dawkins is a lecturer at Western Sydney University. His research interests include social media, semiotics, cinema, the work of Deleuze, Guattari and Peirce, and online teaching.
E-mail: R [dot] dawkins [at] westernsydney [dot] edu [dot] au

 

Notes

1. Deleuze, 2001, p. 27.

2. Massumi, 2015, p. 80.

3. Massumi, 2002, p. xxii.

4. Greenhow, et al., 2009, p. 255.

5. Greenhow, et al., 2009, p. 249.

6. Buckingham, quoted in Greenhow, et al., 2009, p. 249.

7. Massumi, 2015, p. 63.

8. Lu and Churchill, 2014, p. 483.

9. Cuesta, et al., 2016, p. 57.

10. Cuesta, et al., 2016, p. 59.

11. Cuesta, et al., 2016, p. 60.

12. Cuesta, et al., 2016, p. 59.

13. Wise, et al., 2011, p. 1,337.

14. Hope, 2016, p. 54.

15. Hooper and Herath, 2014, p. 3.

16. Carey, 2015, p. 129.

17. Hope, 2016, p. 55.

18. Braidotti, 2006, p. 171.

19. Carey, 2015, p. 129.

20. Semetsky, 2007, p. 212.

21. Nadler, 2015, p. 147.

22. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 16.

23. Ibid.

24. Massumi, 2002, p. xviii.

25. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 7.

26. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 9.

27. Semetsky, 2007, p. 200.

28. Semetsky, 2007, p. 210; see also Semetsky, 2006.

29. I have borrowed this turn of phrase from Nadler, who contrasts immanence to transcendence in her description of immanent pedagogy: “We are no longer asking our students to get something they lack and acquire it through transcending their current material or mental conditions [...]. Instead, we are asking them to produce on a plane or field in which we all have what we need already, in terms of capacity to learn or produce” (Nadler, 2015, pp. 147–148).

30. Harper and Savat, 2016, p. 158.

31. Harper and Savat, 2016, p. 159.

32. Langlois, 2014, p. 111.

33. Harper and Savat, 2016, p. 136.

34. Parisier in Harper and Savat, 2016, pp. 137–138.

35. Harper and Savat, 2016, p. 151.

36. Langlois, 2014, p. 94.

37. Langlois, 2014, p. 173.

38. Nadler, 2015, pp. 147–148.

39. Massumi, 2015, p. 145.

40. Deleuze, 1989, p. 245.

41. Deleuze, 1989, p. 237.

42. Braidotti, 2006, p. 172.

43. Bone and Edwards, 2015, p. 60.

44. Manning and Massumi, 2014, p. 96.

45. Massumi, 2015, p. 61.

46. Massumi, quoted in Ednie-Brown, 2015, p. 21.

47. Massumi, 2015, p. 64.

48. Ibid.

49. Massumi, 2015, pp. 64–65.

50. Massumi, 2015, p. 68.

51. Massumi, 2002, p. xviii.

52. Massumi, 2015, p. 69.

53. Massumi, 2015, p. 60.

54. Massumi, 2015, pp. 59–60.

55. Murphie, 2008, p, 6.

56. Massumi, 2015, p. 67.

57. Massumi, 2015, p. 61.

58. Massumi, 2015, p. 62; see also Deleuze, 2004.

59. See Massumi, 2015, p. 63.

60. Fang, 2016, p. 112.

61. Massumi, 2015, p. 64.

62. Massumi, 2015, pp. 63–64.

63. Massumi, 2015, p. 64.

64. Massumi, 2015, p. 65.

65. Ibid.

66. Murphie, 2008, p. 6.

67. Manning and Massumi, 2014, p. 97.

68. Massumi, 2015, p. 67.

69. Manning and Massumi, 2014, p. 97.

70. Massumi, 2015, p. 67.

71. Truman, 2016, p. 141.

72. Massumi, 2015, p. 60.

73. Massumi, 2015, p. 67.

74. Murphie, 2008, pp. 6–7.

75. Murphie, 2008, p. 7.

76. Murphie, 2008, p. 6.

77. Massumi, 2015, p. 69.

78. boyd, quoted in Harper and Savat, 2016, p. 158.

79. Massumi, 2015, p. 68.

80. Massumi, 2015, p. 68.

81. Massumi, 2015, p. 69.

82. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 25.

83. Braidotti, 2006, p. 172.

 

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Editorial history

Received 19 March 2017; revised 16 October 2017; accepted 26 October 2017.


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Tools for jimmying experience: Conceptual speed dating on Facebook
by Roger Dawkins.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 11 - 6 November 2017
http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/7746/6564
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i111.7746





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