Netcasting in Daily Life
Topics Covered In This Essay:
Netcasting: Web Access in Your Daily Life
Nothing is better proof of the value of the Internet than seemingly
miraculous results from a search or even from a surfing session. When regular
users of the Internet continue to see it as a game, without particular
relevance to the „real“ world, their own unadventurous search habits may
be partially to blame. When working with Net newcomers or ambivalent surfers,
I pay closest attention to how they mount and conduct a search. With the
proper imaginative fervor, you can work productive wonders (not just magic
„tricks“), without even going Boolean. Let me give you an example, from
„How do you Say ‚Nephropathy‘ in Bulgarian?“
One of my skeptical clients, Dr. Thomas A. Sattler, put me to the test.
In the 1970s and 1980s he spent time in Eastern Europe, researching a kidney
disease that occurs only in certain areas of Bulgaria, Roumania, and the
former Yugoslavia. Dr. Sattler challenged me to find any substantial information
about the disease at all, and if possible, updates in the field.
I asked him to tell me something about the disease and the area where
it occurred. While he talked, I took note of unusual words or other phrases
that seemed to stand out. I told him I’d call him in five minutes. He laughed.
A three-minute Bulgaria.
Well, he was right. It wasn’t five minutes. It was three. I found seventeen
sites with information or entire articles on the kidney disease, and the
Bulgarian response to it from 1981 to 1985. I found four sites with current
updates, information on German-Bulgarian cooperation, links to the International
Association of Nephropathy containing pointers to sites hosted by specialists
in Balkan and East European variant diseases, and one site that listed
the names, affiliations, current research, and home addresses and phone
numbers of twenty Bulgarian physicians with expertise in indigenous nephropathy.
Links were provided to any Web sites those physicians hosted, as well as
the languages used (Bulgarian,
Russian, English, and German). Dr. Sattler was
But I am a firm believer in overkill. Five minutes later, I e-mailed
him a file. It contained the software for a Cyrillic font good for both
Russian and Bulgarian (there are lots of Russian-only fonts), and a utility
that would enable the Netscape browser to read Cyrillic texts. A day later
I found a newsreader client application that loads and reads newsgroup
postings written in Russian and Bulgarian, then saves them in the regular
Newsgroup folder in the Netscape browser.
A connection where it counts.
Searching and surfing are very closely related, and a lot of one goes
on in the other. The rewards of the surfing session depend on the skill
of the navigator, just as they do in searching. But sometimes, your real
rewards don’t come from getting to a site, but from what you do after you’ve
gotten there. Let’s have one more story from „real life.“
Surfing one December afternoon in 1995, I discovered Flicker
, a web site designed and maintained by experimental filmmaker Scott Stark,
for other experimental filmmakers and their viewers. On that site were
episodes from Zoe Beloff’s QuickTime digital movie serial, Beyond
. After viewing some of the episodes of the quicktime serial, I emailed
Ms. Beloff immediately (using the e-mail address posted on her site), telling
her how much I admired Beyond , and described what I was doing.
This began a fascinating correspondence. But on top of that, Ms. Beloff
was scheduled to speak at UC San Diego in February 1996, so I arranged
to add a leg on her trip that would bring her to UC Santa Cruz, where I’m
a faculty member, and Scott Stark arranged a screening in San Francisco.
At UC Santa Cruz Ms. Beloff spoke to my class and gave a public screening
of her new 16mm-film, A Trip to the Land of Knowledge. Immediately
after the screening, my students started writing responses to the film
and circulating them over our e-mail network (this was not an assignment,
these students are just like this). I collated, hypertext-ed and illustrated
these responses, and posted them on my Web site (http://letsdeviant.com/zoe.html).
The arrangement of the Flicker site (http://www.sirius.com/~sstark/mkr/fmhome.html)
maximizes access to new communities of filmmakers and film viewers.
The cyberspace screening room of Zoe Beloff's Beyond:
the first QuickTime serial on the Web (http://www.interport.net/~zoe/).
To Beloff’s San Francisco screening, I brought my friend Ray Davis,
at the time a correspondent for the online journal, Dark Carnival
. The subsequent issue of Dark Carnival featured Ray’s elaborate, graphically
rich essay about Beloff’s film (see Figure 14.5), linking it to her Web
site, Stark’s site, and my students‘ responses.
From Ray Davis's digital response to Zoe Beloff's
And there’s more. In the fall of 1995, Zoe Beloff was one of seven artists
whose work formed the first international group exhibition of digital art,
which took place in Barcelona, Spain. Before coming to Santa Cruz, Beloff
told the other artists about the visit, and they provided copies of their
work and permissions. Beloff gave me these copies, along with copies of
the entire Beyond series and a copy of her new digital film work. With
this body of material (and the connections that began with this exchange)
I was able to establish at UCSC, „Another Scene,“ a working archive and
study center on digital art.
In the Summer of 1996, I received an e-mail message from Zoe, thanking
me for something I didn’t really do. She had learned of an experimental
film festival at the University of Colorado in June 1996. It was too late
to submit her work for review, but she decided to go to the festival early,
and ask for screening time and space anyway. She said that they did arrange
a screening, and one of the things that helped was that, while she was
explaining her situation to the committee, one of the members recognized
her name and knew what her work was like because she had read about it
in the students‘ responses on my Web site!
The Beating-a-Deceased-Digital-Horse Moral
Am I expecting you to believe that all the events in the above story were
made possible by clicking on a couple of hypertexts one boring winter afternoon?
Yep! Well, partially. It was the clicks, but it was also the willingness
to interact with the Net, viewing the Internet not as a machine but as
a community waiting to happen. This brings me to the other purpose of this
Making the Most of Internet Access
Even the most committed technophobes, if given a half an hour with a clear
teacher (or manual) will (to their amazement) be surfing the Internet like
pros. It’s really astonishingly simple. But there is the other problem.
Once you’ve learned what a URL is and how to access it, the technical facility
of the Internet is more or less done. But preparing users to realize those
potentials takes more than specifying the hardware and listing the URLS.
I think these new media have a lot more to offer than solitary entertainment
and vanity publishing. Preparing people to realize these potentials is
what interests me most in new media education.
The Net surfer who thinks accessing the Web is only a question of knowing
the URLS reminds me of people who think learning a language is memorizing
the vocabulary. As a language teacher myself, I consider a vocabulary list
one of the most overrated tools imaginable.
Surprised? Let me give you an example. Imagine that you were now studying
English as a second language. You have a basic command but that’s it. And
the instructor gives the following personal mini-narrative: „This morning
I got up, got myself out of bed, got into the shower right away because
it was getting light, and this was getting to be a habit. When I got downstairs
my brother was getting ready to go out without getting any breakfast ready.
I got fed up with this and got on my high horse and told him off, but he
wasn’t going to take it, and told me to get going if I was going to give
him that. So I got mad and got out of there, but just as I was getting
to the corner the bus got away from me. Do you get it?“ How would you understand
the varied meanings and uses of the verb „to get“-and what could you possibly
write on the line next to „to get“ on a vocabulary sheet?
A language is not a collection of individual words, but a whole way
of thinking and feeling, patterns of experience, cognitive maps, personal
and collective associations, and the nuances of daily life. While a vocabulary
list might be necessary for rote memorization, it cannot prepare you for
the lived richness of language as it is used in context. Similarly, an
Internet directory that is solely a list of URLS and a summary of operating
procedures is also a necessary and valuable reference, but such a text
likewise cannot suggest the potential lived richness of these new communicative
environments into which we find ourselves increasingly drawn. And a newcomer
who understands „Net access“ solely as a question of mechanics-hardware/software
compatibility and accurate URL lists -will not easily develop the capacity
for creative interactions with these systems and with „others“ through
As you can see, one of my main purposes in writing about the Internet and
related technologies is to develop an understanding of the „interactivity“
of the Internet as something more active and creative than merely clicking
a hyperlink. But so far, my arguments have been developed almost exclusively
from the „client“ side of the client-server interaction. I think I can
illustrate my concerns further by giving examples from the „server“ side.
Many educators and technicians have demonstrated their own high estimation
of „interactivity“ in the sites they have created which encourage and cultivate
students‘ willingness to take proactive roles in their own education.
For example, one of the centerpieces the education offered by Rensselaer
Polytechnical Institute (http://www.rpi.edu)
is the Undergraduate Research Program, in which students get valuable hands-on
experience by assisting one or more faculty members with an extended research
project. The URP online site ( http://www.asms.rpi.edu/urp)
is divided into three sections: a guide, a database of faculty and research
interests, and a classified jobs listing. There the student can search
for openings according to academic departments, and then, within those
departments, she or he can continue to search, either according to the
names of individual faculty members, or faculty research interests. Once
the research area, focused interests, and faculty members‘ names have been
pinned down, the student can navigate to profiles of the faculty members,
which include the syllabi and other materials from courses taught, educational
background, and recent publications, as well as ways of contacting the
instructor. Program guidelines and applications are also provided online.
While this site is intended for students already enrolled at Rensselaer,
it is very helpful to potential students shopping for the right college.
Internet interactivity also encourages peer solidarity among students.
One of the best examples I’ve found of this so far, is the Web site for
the Hunter College branch of the PostBac PreMed Association (PBPMA). This
incredibly complex site is maintained chiefly by Hunter College students
and alumni, as well as other members of related organizations of pre-med
and medical students. The site is an information and resource clearing
house, which includes information on upcoming events concerning both U.S.
and international medical schools, and links to academic symposium Web
pages, as well as information which emerged from past events. Besides this,
the site includes Nancy Sween’s IMSL-Interactive Med Student Lounge – premed
coaching sessions and admissions recommendations (http://premed.edu/masteringmedicine.html),
AMCAS medical school application processing software, and much more.
The Web site of the PostBac PreMed Association at
Hunter College ( http://premed.edu/) is
a hallmark of creative and socially responsible use of Internet technology
within a specific student population.
Client-side Initiative Not all online sites are as imaginative or as deliberate
in their guidance of the client-user. And for this reason, I return again
to the need for the user to develop her or his own forms of „interactivity“
with the Web. And this need is something relevant to both the student user
(or prospective student user) as well as the college instructor or professional
academic (or any other kind of professional). The illustration below, therefore,
is relevant to more than the constituency it features.
The ability to interact creatively with the Internet requires an understanding
of the differences in the various elements of the Net, and how those features
offer different kinds of interactivity.
Postings on the World Wide Web, for example, differ in a very profound
way from other venues, such as newsgroups or mailing lists, but to date
I haven’t seen any discussion of this difference online or in print. I
think it’s worth noticing and considering.
Members of newsgroups and mailing lists frequently get announcements
of upcoming conferences whose topics would be relevant to the group.
Imagine this scenario: Newsgroup W posts an announcement of an upcoming
conference, which includes a call for papers, the deadline for submitting
proposals, and the date and location of the conference itself. Some members
of this group check their messages more frequently than others, with differing
Member A reads the announcement in time to submit a proposal, it is
accepted and Member A will attend.
Member B reads the announcement after the submission deadline has passed,
but decides to attend the conference.
Member C reads the announcement a couple weeks after the conference
The announcement had maximal potential usefulness only to A; to B it held
partial usefulness; to C it was entirely useless. But once both A and B
had the information the announcement contained, the announcement itself
was no longer useful. If this announcement had been posted on the Web,
however, it could have been useful to Member C too, and its usefulness
to A and B could have continued (and in fact, developed) from the time
they read the announcement originally, through the time of the conference,
and long after.
Conferences are often announced on the Web, and such announcements frequently
serve as multipurpose sites. When first launched, a WWW conference site
has the same principle functions as a regular announcement. But even here,
there are advantages peculiar to the Web. For one thing, the graphics a
Web site can include (color, animation, even 3-d) would be unimaginable
in a mailing. And thanks to hypertext, links to external sites allow the
conference planners to send out an extremely rich document that could never
be compiled, much less printed and mailed, within any conceivable budget.
But the site is also flexible. It can give potential participants and
attendees a great deal of information, but it is also possible to change
or add information to the original announcement. And information is not
limited to the mechanics of travel and lodgings, but texts, demonstrations,
and transcripts of discussions can be included that set the stage and prepare
the conferees and provide a joint context before the conference even begins.
During the conference, the Web site might „host“ interactive workshop
experiments. Or there might be „on-site“ updates, or even „live“ netcasts
from the conference through the Web to those interested but were not attending.
After the conference is over, the site might be maintained and regularly
updated. Participant’s abstracts or even the full texts of their presentations
can be archived here, as well as discussions, workshops, plenary sessions,
and so on.
And I’m not just making this up. The living history of the World Wide
Web, for example, is being made and chronicled in the sites designed for
each Annual International WWW Conference, beginning with its first, held
in 1994 for CERN, the Swiss laboratory where the WWW was first conceived.
Or consider the Web Site for the Florida State University AECT Conference
on Distance Learning. The site continues to announce the conference and
provide all the details as if it had not yet taken place (June 20-23, 1996).
But, although the dates and instructions for submissions are now, practically
speaking, beside the point, the descriptions of the conference, the breakdown
of the various groups, the program, etc. are useful as a record of the
history of the organization and the state of the field. And the conference
program, calls for participation, and list of invited speakers, organize
hyperlinks to information and contacts and other sources that remain active
The "Interactive" page of the FSU Conference (http://ist.coe.fsu.edu/aect/dlconference.html)
announces an interactive feature and is itself interactive.
And the connections aren’t restricted to conferences or academics, even
when „research“ is one of the goals of a site. In 1995, when Dr. Russ George
began researching a deadly kidney disease was soon frustrated at the small
number of cases available for study at any one time. His medical school
had only thirty patients, and another institution across the country had
about 100. He decided, therefore, to post an offer on the Internet. Dr.
George asked for participation from parties all over the world who were
suffering from the disease. Nine months after posting this request, the
study had over 100 participants over the Net, and will become the largest
study of its kind within two years. This also attracted the attention of
researchers around the world, who contribute over the Internet latest findings
and treatments. Now this
site, which had been essentially a „want ad“ for members of a target
group, has become a major electronic forum for the exchange of information
and treatment among heath care professionals AND „patients.“ Dr. George’s
mission statement from the site says it best:
„Our mission is to provide vital information on the diagnosis and
treatment of IgAN disease to IgAN affected individuals, their caretakers,
and their healthcare and service providers; to advocate for enlightened
regulatory, research, and funding policies affecting the development and
delivery of effective treatments and to fund innovative research opportunities;
to inspire people to make informed choices amid uncertainty and to choose
hope over despair.“
The Surprise Ending: Virtual Communities Are Real,
In my examples above I hope I’ve shown ways in which the Internet is not
merely a quick reference tool, or a video game, but an ensemble of communication
systems that enable us to create new modes of communication and new kinds
of communities. Whenever I engage in an online „live chat,“ the paradox
always amuses me: I’m having a real conversation in an imaginary room.
But remember that it’s nevertheless real and the person in question is,
too. And in my examples above, it should be clear that things happen in
the „real world“ because of actions taken online. Each of the stories involves
new types of communities, too-the Flicker site creates new modes
of relations among filmmakers and between filmmakers and filmgoers; the
Distance Learning Conference site between educators and students; the Kidney
research site between doctors and patients.
Because what I’ve been describing here is not simply „data“ that can
be memorized and executed, it may seem less practical than, for example,
the information in Chapter Two. But it is very practical. I am pointing
out an awareness that you can develop, and a sensitivity to online interactions,
surfing, and searches you will conduct as you proceed toward „internautdom.“
In the next chapter, I will discuss using the Net to make decisions about
college. Those of you who will be doing this might want to put into practice
some of the things I’ve discussed here as you start your search. When you’re
following the links across the sites you’ve selected, try to search on
at least two levels:
- sources of information you need
- opportunities for contact and connection
These two areas will frequently coincide, but if you search with only
the acquisition of „knowledge“ in mind, the other aspects of life in cyberspace
may elude you. I think the story about my contact with Zoe Beloff and the
work of premed students at Hunter College provide reasonable arguments
for the importance of connections-in college as well as after, around and
through college – because the world doesn’t stop at the campus gates, and
learning doesn’t end with graduation either. Any life worthy of the name
is an immensely rich continuing education. And the Internet is a new medium
that can help you realize this.
The Internet doesn’t have to result in a nation of individuals alone
with their computers. E-mail, WWW, IRCs, etc., are called „media“ because
they mediate-knowledge, information, and so on. among many participants.
The real value and significance of life online aren’t fulfilled in isolation
but in the exchange. And the computer’s interface shouldn’t serve primarily
as a screen, guarding the private space of the lone user, but as a window,
opening up dynamic spaces of interactive communication.
Click HERE for a descriptive list of suggested
Click HERE for Basic Internet Terms
Click HERE for Integrating the Internet
and the Classroom
Click HERE for a lesson in Cyberpedagogy