New Project :: Tinkering in a Digital Age

Ways of the Hand is the name of a new transmedia project that investigates the importance skills of tinkering for the purposes of learning, community building, and the cultivation of the technological imagination.

I began this research in 2009 as part of a research project called “Inspiring the Technological Imagination: The Future of Museums and Libraries in a Digital Age.”  With generous funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, my research team hosted a symposium on the topic of “Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Formation.”

My blog report on this symposium featured several short video statements from symposium participants about the significant value of tinkering in a digital age.  Many of the symposium participants will contribute to the enhanced ebook called Ways of the Hand that will be published next year by the Annenberg Press at the University of Southern California.  This dynamic book will include video postcards from the Makers’ Movement, essays from professional tinkerers and teachers, and interactive applications designed encourage readers to explore the ways that our hands make the world.

In Celebration :: Paula A. Treichler – Feminist Noir

Cover for Graphic Novel aabout Paula A. Treichler

click to enlarge

In 2006, I created a graphic novel about the distinguished career of Paula A. Treichler: ACE Discourse Detective, to commemorate her retirement from the University of Illinois.  The comic book, called Feminist Noir was illustrated by Roberto Gomez.

Futures of Museums and Libraries :: Research Report Blog Postings


In 2008-2009, my research team at USC developed a “creative inventory” of the use of digital media in museums and libraries.  The research was described in 15 blog postings that are available at the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub hosted by the University of California Humanities Research Institute.

Members of the research team:  Anne Balsamo, Cara Wallis, Maura Klosterman, Susana Bautista, and Perry Hoberman

This research project was supported by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Critical Making in Action :: DIY Citizenship Conference:

November 11-14, 2010

I participated in the DIY Citizenship Conference held at the University of Toronto in November. Organized by UT Professors Megan Boler and Matthew Ratto, the conference featured presentations and panels on expected topics such as: citizen journalism, citizen science, and youth and media, but it also included new perspectives on issues such DIY health, fan-based civic platforms, and the citizen factory.

Two aspects of the conference I especially appreciated: 1) the attention to gender as an ongoing SOCIAL barrier to DIY participation, and 2) the critical making hackspace.

A talk by Rosa Reitsamer (Universitat Salzburg) titled, “Challenging the ‘anyone can do it’: DIY Feminist Citizenship and Mechanisms of Inclusion and Exclusion” cogently examined the way that gender continues to structure participation in maker projects in subtle ways: by looking at the behaviors and interactions between girls and boys in DIY settings. Jennifer Jenson (York University) raised the issue as well in her excellent keynote address: “Raising the Bar on ‘Voice’ in a Troubled Community: Student Media Projects.” In this talk, Jennifer noted the difficulty in scaffolding media making experiences for youth whose media literacy is rudimentary. In particular she raised the issue of praising inadequate work (projects that had no story structure, for example) in the hopes of reinforcing the value of “process.” I appreciated her frank assertion that we need to raise the bar on our expectations of what “counts” as good work so as to avoid patronizing and misleading students about their media making skills.

The critical making hackspace included exhibits and demonstrations of projects such as the “Citizen-centric ID” created by Andrew Clement and his research team (U of Toronto). This device enables people to read the information stored on the magnetic strips of their plastic ID cards so that they can better monitor what information is shared with vendors when these cards are “swiped” during transactions and travels. As an example of a “counter-surveillance” device, this project is firmly built on a critical assessment of the kind of technologies WE NEED, but will never be developed by corporate R&D labs.

The conference was full of energy and open-sharing of ideas and projects. Video clips of conference events are available at the U of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs website.

Drumbeat 2010 :: The Technological Imagination at Work

Barcelona, Spain. November.2010

I just returned from participating in the Mozilla Foundation’s DRUMBEAT Festival on “Learning, Freedom, and the Open Web” held in Barcelona, Spain, Nov 3-5, 2010. I presented two sessions as part of the HASTAC tent called “Storming the Academy.”

HASTAC Tent at Drumbeat 2010: Storming the Academy

1) Storming the Cloud/Crowd: An improvisation and critical examination of the epistemology of tag clouds).

2) Storming the Syllabus: A crowd-sourced workshop on developing tools for use in the large enrollment classroom. (The course I “pitched” for this effort is the Annenberg school of Communication course: Comm 202–Culture and Technology.)

At the closing ceremony Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker announced that FIVE projects previewed at the Festival had been selected for further development by Mozilla.

As it turned out TWO of these five projects were ones that I brought to the festival for discussion and development during my tent sessions. Another ONE of the top five projects was prototyped by students in FutureClass, the peer-led tutorial on collaboration that Professor Cathy Davidson organized at Duke University. Five members of FutureClass accompanied Davidson and the HASTAC@Duke team to Barcelona to participate in the Storming the Academy Tent.

The three project/tools that will be designed over the next 6 months with help from Mozilla developers:

1) A TAG-CLOUD modulator that enables users to investigate the “knowledge of the cloud” for the purposes of representing minority voices, “edge thinking,” and divergent modes of “tagging.”

2) A JUST-IN-TIME small group organizer that would allow an instructor to easily organize a large group of students (200+) into smaller groups for the purposes of in-class discussion, web-searching, and other break-out activities.

3) A CLASSROOM ATTENTION BAROMETER that will enable students to provide real-time feedback to instructors about levels of engagement, questions, and interest.

HASTAC was the only organization representing the world of formal, higher education to be invited to be a community partner in this inaugural Mozilla Drumbeat event.

During the three days of the Festival, many new tools, apps, wikis, and other projects were prototyped or worked on collaboratively and brought to fruition. A Badge Lab was assembled from many volunteers and dedicated others to prototype badges that could gather information available publicly about a user and award a badge to the user to authenticate his or her past contributions, a way of instantly credentializing members of the open source and other contributor communities based not on external forms of credentials (such as college degrees) but on past contributions to the web. Video Lab also prototyped a remarkable new tool that can be used to transform any video into a website, pulling in data from the web, and also translating the video content simultaneously on the page, all generated from open content on the web.

For a full list of activities, see

For the full Storming the Academy tent schedule, visit:

Public Interactives on the World Stage

Public Interactives Expo Project Banner

Public Interactives include several types of experiences ranging from large-scale projections in public spaces (urban screens) that visually address large groups of people to human-scale digital installations intended to be used by individuals in public spaces.

For example, Environmental Interactives describes one category of public interactive experience where people engage with computational media embedded in built structures. The form of these interactives might include wall embedded displays, spaces with dynamic lighting and sound features that respond to the presence of bodies, buildings used as screens, rooms populated with animated surfaces (tables, floors), and/or buildings inhabited by robotic avatars.

I am traveling to Shanghai from June 29-July 18th to document (as many as possible) instances of public interactives that are installed at the 2010 World Expo.

The intent of this research project is to map the interactive experiences built as part of the architectural structures (including the Pavilions and functional built spaces) of the Shanghai World Expo. We will do this by visual documenting (through images and video) the design, form, and use of these dynamic interactive structures and experiences (in situ).

The documentation will be used to enable students (in interactive media design, media studies, architecture, and visual culture) to learn how to “see” these new interactive elements of architectural structures and to learn how to describe them using meaningful terms (for different notions of interactivity, for example). The broader objective is to develop ways to analyze the cultural impact of these emergent public media forms.

I am inviting students and colleagues who may already be planning to attend the Shanghai Expo to participate in this research effort, to become, in effect, part of a distributed research team studying the global staging of public interactives. Participation can range from contributing relevant links about the interactive experiences at the Shanghai Expo to documenting interactives at the site.

This research effort is ideally suited to the notion of a distributed research team: the Expo includes more than 200 pavilions and exhibits, it runs for six months, and it is a major attraction for visitors from all across the globe.

While the aim is modest at this point–to create an archive of public interactives through the creative efforts of interested participant–the outcomes will contribute to the development of new analytical frameworks for the examination of public interactives as an emergent form of media.

While in Shanghai, I will present a background lecture on the history of the World Expo and an introduction to emergent genres of interactive media as part of a course being offered by the University of Southern California’s (USC) American Academy in China. The course, being offered by Professor Paul Tang, is called Emergent Urbanism: Momentary Urbanism of Spectacle and Speculation. This is one of the offerings in the exciting new efforts going on at the USC School of Architecture now headed by Dean Qingyun Ma.

There are a number of people already contributing to this project from various institutions across the globe. Some of them will be in residence in Shanghai during the Expo visits, others will be assisting via web research. If you are interested in participating in this project, please contact Professor Anne Balsamo at annebalsamo (at) gmail (dot) com

This too will disappear

Hello World Image

I start this blog with the ritual form of digital greeting.
The first post is always the most hopeful.
I’ve opened a window to the world; here I be.

Or not.

Once I get distracted by something, the digital dust will accumulate. Then finally, the 404.

This is also a speculative obituary.

Marx=all that is solid melts into air.
We know=all that is digital will eventually fail.

But even failure can be productive.

So it begins.