Monthly Archive for December, 2004

Fiendster: the new way to hate people

Fiendster Logo
Fiendster diagram

According to their web site, Fiendster is a online community that connects people through networks of fiends who are into boring the pants of each other or who want to make new fiends fast. Although clearly made as a spoof of Friendster, wouldn’t it be interesting to visually construct your networks of enemies? Say you’re a business competing with other businesses, or even america a nation which could better defend itself if there were some better form of threat assessment. This might work if we inverse the way friendster works… instead of building relationships, Fiendster could show what relationships aren’t working or are non-existent. Do you think this idea is useful?

Christma$ educates and enslaves us all

Bah Hum-Bug! Here I am studying for my COM515 Oral Exam at a neighborhood bakery (Bao Cafe along Sheridan) when a quartet of housewives entered for their afternoon tea after dropping off their kids at the nearby Tae Kwon-Do class. I was a little startled at how much housewives in their mid-30s were now quite familiar with gadgets I’ve been interested in, all thanks to the infamous American tradition called Chri$tma$. As they settled around cups of tea, they talked about how much a PlayStation 2 costs and how one of them finally managed to reserve one from MediaPlay in this most “trying” season.

“Doesn’t your son have one already?”, exclaimed a frustrated lady as she looked for the sipping hole of her paper cup cover. “No, it’s the new thin one, kind of like a laptop… it really looks nice but I don’t know if we should get another one. My husband would kill me for spending so much!”, said the other in reply. The lady who had one on-hold wanted to find someone who could benefit from her reservation, as she was thinking of relinquishing her order.

On the flip-side, I’m lucky I don’t have really celebrate Christmas… a good friend of mine told me that it’s incredible how much people spend on Christmas when they obviously cannot afford it. In fact, I hear that families go into debt in December so they can buy gifts for family members and friends and take up till July to pay back the loan, only to start the cycle all over again later on. Talk about Propaganda and Structuration baby… everything is so market driven. Even though we think we the people have powers to keep the media elites in check (i.e. blogs, podcasting, whistle blowers, etc), I still think a high power controls the bigger picture of things, something which we have cannot even make a dent on no matter how many blogs blog about it, or how many whistle-blowers blow as hard as they can, some kind of tradition still gives us the very reason to live, and at the same time, binds us to the very chains we call roots. What do you think this idea is called?

Definition through Comparison

Witch in Holy Grail

Remember the story Dr. Halavais shared with us about his graduate school classmates moving physical objects (which represented communication theorists) around a room to plot the relationship between one theorist’s ideas to another? Each day as they understood a theory better, they would individually shift the pieces closer or further from each other to illustrate the field of communication theory.

Well, Robert Craig (1999) wrote an article entitled “Communication Theory as a Field” which strikes me as a rational piece to read before or after graduate students attempts to plow through the entire dense series of communication-related theories. COM515 Communication Theory is the third communication theory class I’ve ever taken as a graduate student here at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), and to me the formation of these theories in social science has always been very dispersed. Indeed, if communication theory were to be a field, it would seem that it is a huge field made up of leftover theories which never found a proper place in the other disciplines. As Anderson (1996) recorded, out of the seven communication theory textbooks, only three had 18 similar theories presented, out of the 249 theories. That’s only 7% of essential theories that these textbooks agree on!

Still, the field of communication theory has to remain arguably alive. Although it is not something we can or should classify under one unified theory, it would be fruitful to understand how one theory relates to another. This is what Craig does through his dialogical-dialectical coherence approach, which is the common awareness of certain complementarities and tensions among different types of communication theory, so it is commonly understood that these different types of theory cannot legitimately develop in total isolation from each other but must engage each other in argument. By sketching the field into the seven traditions in communication theory, and relating them to one another by comparison, we have a matrix which gives us a good idea of the what’s where in communication theory. These seven traditions are pitted against one another: Rhetorical, Semiotic, Phenomenological, Cybernetic, Sociopsychological, Sociocultural, and Critical.

In studying for the final oral exam, it would be worthwhile reviewing the theories we have covered based on this system Craig developed. He gives us one way to make sense of (or define) the communication theory world we live in. Indeed, everything is intertextual and so we have always been comparing things in order to define them. Just look at how Bedevere helped the villagers argue whether they should burn a “supposed witch” based on a comparison between witches and ducks (See Scene 5 of Monty Python & the Holy Grail). What am I saying by illustrating this?

This scene from the Monty Python film describes, in a general way, some of the confusions and irrationalities which can arise when scientific logic interacts with the law. The faultiness of the logic employed is obvious, but the scientifically educated judge/lawyer sways the crowd with a logical theory. Just as Robert Craig puts it, all use of signs is rhetorical! Thus, even Craig’s argumentative approach will be flawed. Ah, the inescapablility of it all.

Craig, R. T. (1999). Communication theory as a field. Communication Theory, 9, 119-161.