Digital Literacies 2016: Example reflection on an early image

NOTEThe following post is an example of the kinds of reflection you can do in your own posts, but should not be used as a guide to the creation of images – this image relies TOO HEAVILY on found/remixed imagery to be an exemplar for your assignment 3. It is here as a prompt only for the reflections. DO NOT MAKE FINAL A3 IMAGES LIKE THIS.


The context of this first image is it is a piece of visual communication in a particular non-serious, playful or even ‘meme-like’ mode, belonging to the “Visual Turn” (Gibbs, et al., 2014) in social media that (quite literally, in this case) expresses sentiment, feeling or camaraderie visually. This image involved chatting to both DL tutors Liz Humphrys and Stephen Owen on Facebook on the weekend, with Stephen showing off having “completed” the hour of code and received the certificate (, 2016). Liz asked if she could have a certificate for completing “21 hours of marking on the long weekend” having worked heroically to complete marking for DL assignments. Wanting to communicate both my sincere appreciation for her effort, and in a playful way, I decided to “shop” Liz’s name (since it originally said Stephen’s) and swap “the hour of code” for “21 hours of marking on long weekend” since there was an obvious sympathy and resonance between the two phrases.

To create the image, I saved the “original” certificate that Stephen posted, copy+pasted a section of the certificate’s background pattern that roughly matched the sections to be replaced (very rough job) and placed them in new layers to obscure the original words. Then I created new text layers, using Pixlr’s default ‘Verdana’ font, and leaving it the default ‘black’ colour – I could definitely have experimented with more fonts and I would expect students to do so. I typed the text quickly (leaving in the typos deliberately – including misspelling Liz’s last name, since I know that often happens to her and I wanted to reference that knowledge, a detail that “works” in our professional relationship/friendship).

The crudeness or ‘carelessness’ of the text places it in an informal communication mode, and the typos evoke a kind of “instant messaging” feel of rough-and-ready communication. A more “professional” version is possible, but by the same token might defeat the purpose of the image somewhat, and would involve a better match of the background pattern, and would try to match the complicated font of the originals.  On the question of copyright, I am not sure who holds the rights to the original image – as it is an automatically generated one created by the Hour of Code but one that is ‘given’ in a way to the recipient seemingly to ‘keep’ (though perhaps not to ‘edit’ – an important distinction) – perhaps I could have asked Stephen for his permission to use the image? Implicitly, I think it was fairly unlikely for Stephen or the Hour of Code organisation to assert their rights by taking me to court, but it remains a risk. Finding a free alternative was possible, with more time, and technically it was a very basic image – doing what I “needed it to do” and not much more. If this were part of my assessment I would need to have been more ambitious if I wanted to achieve more than just a passable grade.

References “Certificate of Completion of the Hour of Code”.

Gibbs, M., Meese, J., Arnold, M., Nansen, B., & Carter, M. (2014). #Funeral and Instagram: Death, social media and platform vernacular. Information Communication and Society. Advanced online publication. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2014.987152

NOTE: Make sure comments are enabled on your post (unlike here) so you can get feedback from your A3 group members. 

Raymond Williams with a word on climate aesthetics


industry_power-generation_1Two short excerpts from Raymond Williams’ essay ‘Culture is Ordinary’ (which is nice for lots of reasons) – but these two are important things to keep in mind for climate activists and action. The first is about the working class’ relationship to (industrial/mechanical/electrical) power and the real benefit to life that it brought, which is worth keeping in mind when we talk about energy, etc.:

For one thing I knew this: at home we were glad of the Industrial Revolution, and of its consequent social and political changes. True, we lived in a very beautiful farming valley, and the valleys beyond the limestone we could all see were ugly. But there was one gift that was overriding, one gift which at any price we would take, the gift of power that is everything to men who have worked with their hands. It was slow in coming to us, in all its effects, but steam power, the petrol engine, electricity, these and their host of products in commodities and services, we took as quickly as we could get them, and were glad. I have seen all these things being used, and I have seen the things they replaced. I will not listen with patience to any acid listing of them – you know the sneer you can get into plumbing, baby Austins, aspirin, contraceptives, canned food. But I say to these Pharisees: dirty water, an earth bucket, a four- mile walk each way to work, headaches, broken women, hunger and monotony of diet. The working people, in town and country alike, will not listen (and I support them) to any account of our society which supposes that these things are not progress: not just mechanical, external progress either, but a real service of life. Moreover, in the new conditions, there was more real freedom to dispose of our lives, more real personal grasp where it mattered, more real say. Any account of our culture which explicitly or implicitly denies the value of an industrial society is really irrelevant; not in a million years would you make us give up this power. (Williams, ‘Culture is Ordinary’, 1958, p.9)

Williams description puts paid to the idea (widely held among some back-to-nature types) that power is somehow an inessential and a luxury (think of the way that boomers talk about the number of unnecessary “devices” that young people use today, Cf: this tweet by old mate Donnie).

The second excerpt is about the relation between power–technology and aesthetics, and the idea that power technology = ugly:

[This] false proposition is easily disposed of. It is a fact that the new power brought ugliness: the coal brought dirt, the factory brought overcrowding, communications brought a mess of wires. But the proposition that ugliness is a price we pay, or refuse to pay, for economic power need no longer be true. New sources of power, new methods of production, improved systems of transport and communication can, quite practically, make England clean and pleasant again, and with much more power, not less. Any new ugliness is the product of stupidity, indifference, or simply incoordination; these things will be easier to deal with than when power was necessarily noisy, dirty, and disfiguring. (p.10)

I highlight this point precisely for how, well, obvious and banal it seems even at the same time as so much power generation still does produce incredible ugliness. Tesla seems to get that aesthetics are important. Of course, others disagree but that’s the nature of taste. One of my favourite photographs (one i’ve linked here on the blog before) illustrates the sharp contrast between modes of power generation and their effect on the landscape. I also think one of the reason Joe Hockey’s “wind farms are ugly” type comments gained so much traction is that people, instinctively or intuitively, understand the importance of regimes of taste in the making-or-breaking of technology. My work on the aesthetics of renewable power generation has tried to contribute to that sense, and I think it will only become more and more important.

Of course, the other thing that the photo of the open-cut coal mines next to the wind farms makes clear is the way that fossil fuel production gets to neatly shift or obscure its impacts away from the public eye, while new technologies like solar and wind come under immediate and intense scrutiny just for their ‘newness’. By contrast, legacy industries and their impacts are just facts of life.

Itchy / Cornerboy

I really like this song and clip, especially the way it melds two distinct feels together and ends abruptly. The first one (Itchy) has just enough timbral and rhythmic variability that it never gets boring or too predictable – it reminds me of a Skrillex track, actually, but less flashy-sweaty-on-drugs-excited. Lots of shifts in rhythmic emphasis too – lot of emphasis on the 4th beat in the bar, and then one section where it deliberately doesn’t emphasize the 4. Really cool. Clip is edited too to reflect the kind of bouncy rhythms as well. V neat. New rhythms when the Cornerboy rap comes in, but then we also get a sonic throwback to the Itchy beat.

A note on the NSW election (2015)

Look okay, so the thing with the NSW state election is that it was never going to go Labor, as I said a couple days before the election:

My reasoning here is that the memory of being burned by the farcical parade of labor premiers for the past decade is still too fresh (we had three premiers in the space of 5 years, which is enough to disrupt any legislative agenda), and NSW Labor still hasn’t done anything to significantly separate itself from that era. There has been no break, no repudiation of what went wrong, no communication of having ‘learned their lesson’ (whether that really is the case or not, I’m talking purely about the realm of perception).

Add to that situation the fact that the ICAC affairs and resignations were only last year and you can understand why, actually no, maybe NSW voters aren’t being completely fucking stupid and maybe it’s fairly sensible to think that Labor maybe shouldn’t be in government again just yet. People don’t seem to love Baird – there’s no widespread sense of identification with the son of a former politician and career banker, try as he might to SMS his way into the minds of everyone in the state – but they sure as hell still dislike NSW state Labor. And that dislike seems mostly entirely reasonable to me. In my electorate even a ten percent (!!) swing away from Stuart Ayres to the Labor candidate Emma Hussar wasn’t enough, because of the cataclysmic landslide Ayers benefited from after Karyn Paluzzano resigned in disgrace back in 2010 (Paluzzano presented me with awards at my High School graduation in 2004 – mum & dad have the photo on the fridge), with Ayers at the time picking up a twenty-seven percent swing (!!!!) signalling the beginning of the end for Kristina Keneally’s government – the point at which the cat was finally out of the bag that Labor was about to get fucking whacked later that year.

Heck, even Jackie Kelly picked up 10% of the vote in Penrith which goes to show the hunger there is in the electorate for third parties and alternative (and lol no the greens don’t really count out here). Also the west has almost completely lost it’s distaste for the idea of a second airport in Sydney, which is why Kelly couldn’t really muster up a solid protest vote.

Anyway, Baird looks set to begin preparing to sell off the NSW power grid which is exactly the wrong lesson to take away from his electoral victory and for which I am absolutely sure he will be massively punished at the next election. Electorates as disengaged as the state of NSW (particularly out here in the west) electorates aren’t willing to vote anyone out to pre-empt bad shit like the power sell-off, they’re only ever going to do it reactively, not proactively. Especially when doing so means going back to what seems like a political abuser who hasn’t really convinced you they’ve learned their lesson yet.


Music criticism/game criticism

So this was a really quite interesting essay (which I’ve come to quite late) by James Parker and Nicholas Croggon about music criticism, and I think it has interesting stuff to say to games criticism too. I’m thinking here about that piece by Anthony Burch recently that was very much a case of him retroactively rejecting much of his previous work as a game critic in light of his newly gleaned experiences as a game developer.

After reading this essay, what I feel like the really interesting point Burch could have approached was something like what Parker and Croggon get at – the fact that a lot of what passes for criticism at the moment really is just “human reactions” and this kind of adjective salad that results from this approach:

rather than confront the possible meaning or significance of the artist’s choice of sample (whether or not they know exactly what is being sampled) and address how that might impact our understanding of and relationship with the work, we get a flurry of adjectives. The music is “romantic,” “mesmerizing,” “intense,” and the unknown orchestral sample is an opening onto something “personal and momentous.”

It’s the “feelpinion” version of criticism – and though it sounds a bit pejorative, like the authors of the piece I’m uninterested in shutting this type of work down. It’s great and important and even awesome – it should not go away – it’s also not quite sufficient for a really well developed critical perspective. The conclusion that Parker and Corggon reach is that it takes real work to develop that insight and expertise, and I think the error that Burch made was thinking that it took literal work – making games. He was really quite horrified at how dismissive he had been as a games journalist and how much he underestimated the work that went into even seemingly small issues.

But how the sausage is made is not always important, or even relevant. Just like how we wouldn’t really care about whether the musician inserted the sample with Logic or Ableton – that’s not the important detail to focus on, and it’s actually fairly telling that the games industry (as embodied, partially, by Burch) still cares a great deal more about how the “sample” is inserted than what that sample says or its history and place within a larger history and trajectory of games/music/etc.

But I also don’t know what forms of knowledge and experience, exactly, about games (or about players? game culture? developer culture? all of these things?) is important for a critic. I’ve read some really fucking great pieces that do design analyses and intensely detailed breakdowns of certain game mechanics that go nowhere near the development process, but which do really, really illuminating work to get closer to the heart of the game-object without obsessing over the utterly boring (yet downright impressive) technology. I’ve also attempted my own Latourian thick description style analysis with limited success. Frankly, I mostly couldn’t care less about how a game is made, unless it’s under conditions of exploitation.

The necessary caveat, of course, is that design thinking goes into the development process (or should) and that might be worth knowing about, but again that’s not the same as letting your knowledge of the very human, and very sympathisable, difficulty of just making games dull your critical faculties. Yes, making games is hard, but if you don’t like the conditions, change them, or do something else.

Aesthetic Seriousness

“Over the centuries, empirical, clear thinking has become branded with the image of Default Men. They were the ones granted the opportunity, the education, the leisure, the power to put their thoughts out into the world. In people’s minds, what do professors look like? What do judges look like? What do leaders look like? The very aesthetic of seriousness has been monopolised by Default Man. Practically every person on the globe who wants to be taken seriously in politics, business and the media dresses up in some way like a Default Man, in a grey, western, two-piece business suit. Not for nothing is it referred to as “power dressing”. We’ve all seen those photo ops of world leaders: colour and pattern shriek out as anachronistic.” – Grayson Perry’s editorial intro ‘Rise and Fall of The Default Man