Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blog Up!

To continue to reflect on the topics brought up in yesterday's Through the Blogging Glass post, you might say that the bias of the blog as a medium of communication is to present posts in reverse chronological order, making it, in Lewis Carroll's words, a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.

Except that blogs do not only work backwards, that's just their default mode. There is more than one way to skin a blog, that is, to read this type of text or move through this particular media environment. For one, each post can be read individually, as its own, discrete web page. For another, posts can be grouped together topically, by clicking on the labels or tags (but note that within this grouping, the posts still come up in reverse order from latest down to earliest). Alternately, it is possible to navigate the blog hypertextually, clicking on links within the blog that might take you to other pages in the blog, or to pages outside of the blog.

And it is also possible to read a blog in chronological order, moving forwards from the earliest post to the latest. This is what one of my MA students, Marian Kozhan, is doing in her research for her thesis, which is on the topic of courtesan blogs. In doing so, you can capture and in some way recreate the sense of a life being lived in forward motion, a sense of an ongoing personal development, a sense of some sort of series of events, unfortunate or otherwise, that is being recorded through the blog.

To read a blog in chronological order is to go against the grain in some ways, especially when you navigate by scrolling up. But it is more than the bias of the blog that is being countered here, but a larger cultural bias as well.

Simply put, we are accustomed to reading from the left to write, while some writing systems, such as Hebrew, move from the right to the left. Most writing also allows for reading from the top down (in Chinese writing, both top to bottom and right to left are norms). But writing from the bottom to the top is very rare, albeit not unknown, and it comes across for the most part, and certainly for us westerners, as strange and unnatural.








I know, I know, reading upwards is not the same as scrolling upwards, but there is a common element here, which leads me to ask, are there any examples of this upward movement? Maybe when we look up at tall buildings, monuments, trees, mountains, and the like, so this possibly is associated with a sense of climbing. But reading upwards does not convey any sense of loftiness that I can discern, just maybe a bit of vertigo.

I should note that when we scroll down through any kind of electronic text, be it a word processing a document, hypertext node or a blog, the lines of text move upwards so that we can read downwards. The same thing happens when the credits roll in a film or video, the lines almost always move up, which seems only natural as we read or scan the text downwards. On occasion, a filmmaker may violate this norm for effect, generally to create a sense of the alien, as George Lucas did in his first feature film THX 1138(based on a short film he did as a student), starring Robert Duvall.

If you've never seen the movie, you might want to take a look, it's interesting, but a far cry from the Star Wars films he's famous for (although you can see some hints of what's to come). THX 1138 is an artsy film about a future dystopia where society is like a machine, entropy has set in and things seem to be running down, everyone is sedated through drugs and holographic television (following Aldous Huxley), but sex is illegal, and reproduction is done in the factory. The soundtrack is especially notable, given the collaboration with audio expert Walter Murch (and the sound system THX is derived from this movie). An interesting thing about this movie is that it was the first release from Francis Ford Coppola's film company, American Zoetrope, Lucas having been an intern for him previously. Warner Brothers, who backed Coppola's production company and distributed THX 1138, was not at all happy with the initial product to come out of American Zoetrope, the movie itself bombed (although it did develop a cult following), and the WB called in Coppola's debts. Coppola had to abandon his plans for the epic film about Vietnam that he wanted his company to do next, and produce something more commercial, so he wound up doing The Godfather (a truly great film), and wasn't able to make Apocalypse Now until much later (and Lucas was not able to work with him on it as he had originally planned to do). So, THX 1138 changed the course of movie history, although Coppola and Lucas remained friends and did work together from time to time (e.g., American Graffiti, not to mention the Captain Eo attraction that once could be seen at Disney theme parks, a 3D SF music video starring Michael Jackson). Lucas was always unhappy with the final editing of THX 1138 and was able to release a director's cut (with some updated special effects, as is his way) recently.

That was a long digression, I know, and for a relatively small point, the fact that the credits on THX 1138 roll from the bottom up. But, hey, it's my blog and I'll digress if I want to.

But to return to the main point, the question of whether to move forward in time by moving up or moving down is an issue of some contention in regard to e-mail etiquette--when replying with history, do you place your new comments before or after the text you are replying to (or alternately reply inline, which allows you to skate the issue, I suppose). This topic has earned a Wikipedia entry under the heading of Posting styles.

One last example, one that I encountered in the amazing National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City (site of the upcoming Media Ecology Association convention, as mentioned in an earlier post), is that some Mayan documents, including calculations and calendar listings, were written from the bottom to the top. Could it be, then, that the Mayans were the first bloggers?

In any event, I'm looking forward to another opportunity to climb the pyramids of Teotihuacán, from the bottom up, and then back down again. And after I do, you can count on me to blog it up!

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