Troubling (with) Writing Prompt #472

Over on my staying in trouble tumblr, I’m following writing prompts. They frequently post images, quick stories or questions in order to get students (in middle school, I think?) to think creatively and to write. I was struck by #472, which was just posted (of course, I reblogged it):

My first reaction was: Making and Staying in Trouble! That’s what I’d like in a can! Almost immediately I questioned by own response. Virtues are not something you are just given to consume, like tuna. Or maybe bamboo shoots? Even though the can in the picture looks like tuna, I never want to consume tuna; I really don’t like it. Virtues require deliberate and repeated practices that get built up over time into habits which help shape/produce character. They aren’t things we have, but practices we do.

I do still like this question. It inspires me to want to think and write more about which virtue (actually, I would want to write about virtues) that I think are most important. Learning how to stay in trouble is at the top of the list. I would also include patience/persistence, curiosity, and attentiveness. I’d love to read what others think are important virtues…I might have to ask.

It has also provoked me into thinking critically (and curiously) about different understandings of how virtues are built up. If virtue isn’t something that we are given, where do our understanding of virtue come from? I’m attempting to answer that for myself by collecting my troublemaking role models over at Pinterest. So far, I’ve put a lot of my theoretical/academic models for troublemaking. I’d like to add some earlier influences…like Dr. Seuss and Free to be…you and me.

what are some key “tools for living” and where should they be taught?

This morning, while scrolling through my twitter feed, I came across the following tweet:

Of course I was immediately struck by the title of Simmon’s series of seminars: Leadership Rebels. Pretty sweet. After I briefly skimmed the NY Times article about the leadership series and the larger program at Smith for teaching students practical skills, Passport to Life at Smith and Passport to Life After Smith, I was intrigued, but not compelled to tweet or post anything about the academy (I thought about archiving their use of “rebels” and its dis/connection to troublemaking, but wasn’t sure how I fit the practical skills of “self-awareness, clear communication and conflict negotiation” in relation to troublemaking and troublestaying). Then I came across another article about teaching students life skills over on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tools for Living: The Future of American Colleges May Lie, Literally, in Students’ Hands. All of this discussion reminded me of a few other articles that I had read last week on students and their lack of “life” skills: What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind and What’s Wrong with Teenagers? (They Don’t Have Any Moral Virtue). In contrast to the NY Times article on Smith College and the Chronicle article on various institutions teaching tools for living, What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind?” and “What’s Wrong with Teenagers?” focused not on how higher education could help students to develop more skills, but how higher education and “book learning” were the problem and the reason why students aren’t able to cook or run a household or manage a career. Suddenly I realized that the universe must be trying to tell me something; I need to write about (or at least archive in a “beside/s” post) these various articles on education/training and life skills. And who am I to argue with the Universe? Umm…perhaps that question should be taken up in a different post.

Again, here are the articles that I want to put BESIDE/S each other:
Teaching Smith Students About Life Beyond the Course Book
Tools for Living: The Future of American Colleges May Lie, Literally, in Students’ Hands
What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind
What’s Wrong with Teenagers? (They Don’t Have Any Moral Virtue)

I want to put these articles beside each other because I am struck by the different approaches that they take to the issue of practical education and “life” skills. I don’t necessarily see their different visions of what skills should be taught as in complete conflict, but I do see them, when taken together, as opening up critical and creative discussions about what  counts as skills and how and where those skills should be taught. On another note, this issue of skills/tools makes me very curious. For a long time now, I’ve been wondering about whether or not to describe troublemaking as a skill or a virtue (maybe it’s both). 

on developing good reading/ consuming/ engaging habits

If you’ve spent some time reading through my blog, you know that I’m very interested in virtue ethics and the value of breaking some harmful habits (undisciplining ourselves) and cultivating other, helpful habits (like learning how to make and stay in trouble in ways that challenge or dismantle oppressive systems and practices). I’m not just interested in writing about virtue ethics on my blog, however. I’m also interested in exploring how writing/engaging on blogs can enable us to become more virtuous in general and how we might use virtue ethics to engage in blogging practices, approaches and attitudes that enable us to be more virtuous online. This latter goal of engaging in more effective, virtuous blogging practices involves thinking through how we blog and how we can develop habits that are more helpful (I’m particularly interested in habits that enable us to care–for others and for ourselves) and less harmful. What does this look like? Why are good habits important? Here’s one source that might provide some answers to these questions:

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption I found out about this book via Brain Pickings (which I seem to be reading a lot lately). Check out this video for it:

Clay Johnson’s book looks intriguing; he’s interested in addressing how to deal with the increased amount of information we have access to in the era of online media and social networks by understanding it not as a problem of information overload, but one of unhealthy consumption habits. While I haven’t had a chance to spend much time thinking about his approach (or reading it; I downloaded a sample chapter to my iPad that I’ll hopefully look at tonight), I look forward to critically assessing it. I’m especially interested in exploring his suggestions for developing effective/helpful/healthy consumption habits online. One of his big focuses seems to be on thinking about healthy internet consumption habits in relation to healthy eating/dieting habits. I wonder, does he draw upon strategies employed by “the diet industry” and dieting/nutrition experts? What are the limits of this comparison?I should mention that while I appreciate the emphasis on health, I’m a little dubious about his approach. 

Here’s what I want to put BESIDE/S The Information Diet:

Why Jay Smooth is awesome

I’ve been following Jay Smooth and Ill Doctrine for a couple of years now. His work is amazing…to watch and to teach. I’ve used his video, “How to Tell People They Sound Racist” in at least one of my classes (see here for the lecture). Yesterday morning, while reading my twitter feed (I follow him @jsmooth995), I came across his most recent video, “My Personal Pledge for the ‘Until Abortion Ends’ Movement.” After watching it, I noticed another recent video: “My TEDx Talk, ‘How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race‘.” This video, from a talk given last month, is a follow-up to the wildly popular “how to tell people…” video (which is from way back in 2008). Check it out:

This brief speech is packed with great things to talk about. For now, I want to briefly highlight a few key parts of the speech (read the entire transcript at Ill Doctrine):

1. Race is a social construct that was designed not to make sense, but to rationalize and justify indefensible acts:

The first thing is that anytime we’re dealing with race issues, we are dealing with a social construct that was not born out of any science or reason or logic, we are grappling with a social construct that was not designed to make sense. And to the extent that it is the product of design, the race constructs that we live in in America were shaped specifically by a desire to avoid making sense. They were shaped for centuries by a need to rationalize and justify indefensible acts. So when we grapple with race issues, we’re grappling with something that was designed for centuries to make us circumvent our best instincts. It’s a dance partner that’s designed to trip us up. So just based on that alone we should be able to keep in mind that you will never bat a thousand when it comes to dealing with race issues.

2. We need to shift away from the tonsils paradigm of race discourse…

These are things that will just naturally develop in our day-to-day lives, so the problem with that all or nothing binary is it causes us to look at racism and prejudice as if they are akin to having tonsils. Like you either have tonsils, or you don’t, and if you’ve had your prejudice removed, you never need to consider it again. If someone says “I think you may have a little unconscious prejudice,” you say “No–my prejudice was removed in 2005! [Audience laughter] I went to see that movie Crash, it’s all good!”

…and toward the dental hygiene paradigm of race discourse.

But that’s not how these things work; when you go through your day to day lives there are all of these mass media and social stimuli as well as processes that we all have inside our brains that we’re not aware of, that cause us to build up little pockets of prejudice every day, just like plaque develops on our teeth. [Audience laughter] So we need to move away from the tonsils paradigm of race discourse toward the dental hygeine paradigm of race discourse. Basically, if I might just offer one piece of advice.

3. We also need to move away from the idea that being a good person is just what we are and shift toward the recognition that being good is a practice, one that we must work at everyday [note: hmm….see some connections to virtue ethics here; I really like the idea of repeated practices]

And in general I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift from, we need to shift toward thinking of being a good person the same way we think of being a clean person. Being a clean person is something that you maintain and work on every day. We don’t assume that I’m a clean person therefore I don’t need to brush my teeth. And when someone suggests to us that we’ve got something stuck in our teeth, we don’t say “Wh-what do you mean? I have something stuck in my teeth? I’m a clean person! Why would you–” [Audience laughter]

4. Being good does not being perfect, but being willing to engage with our own and each other’s imperfections.

The belief that you must be perfect in order to be good is an obstacle to being as good as you can be. It would make our conversations with each other a lot smoother, and it would make us better at being good, if we could recognize that we’re not perfect and embrace that….So I hope that we can–if I could have one wish it would be that we would reconsider how we conceptualize being a good person, and keep in mind that we are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allows us to be good. Our connection with our personal and common imperfections, being mindful of those personal and common imperfections is what allows us to be good to each other and be good to ourselves.

5. Having conversations about race isn’t enough to address bigger issues…

So I know that this is no small task, but if we could shift a little bit closer, toward viewing these race conversations the same way we view a conversation about something stuck in our teeth, it would go a long way toward making our conversations a bit smoother and allow us to work together on bigger issues around race.

Because there are a lot of–beyond the persistent conversational awkwardness of race, there are persistent systemic and institutional issues around race that are not caused by conversation, and they can’t be entirely solved by conversation. You can’t talk them away, but we need people to work together and coordinate and communicate to find strategies to work on those systemic issues. Because despite all of the barriers that we’ve broken, all of the apparent markers of progress there are still so many disparities.

…but it is a helpful way to bring us closer so we can work together.

If you look at unemployment rate, infant mortality rate, incarceration rates, median household income, there are so many disparities on the various sides of the color lines in this country that it is worthwhile for us to iron out these conversational issues if for nothing else so that we can get a little closer to working together on those big issues.

So many important themes here–willingness to be wrong/imperfect + emphasis on building connections/community + recognition that being good involves repeated practices–and delivered in a way that encourages us to laugh, think and act. Jay Smooth is awesome.

One other reason (among many) that Jay Smooth is awesome: He’s fostered a great community on his blog; the comments on his Ted Talk post are really impressive (full of love and support). With so much talk about how pointless comments usually are (with trolls and blowhard d-bags derailing or hating on important discussions), it’s always great to see spaces where comments work to build community.

Who cares? I do

It seems as if the theme for this summer is self-care and care of the self. I have brought it up several times on this blog, with entries about (feminist ethics of) Care of Self (help) sources,  and personal reflections on my own need for care outside of the academy. It’s also implicit in my thinking through what a troublemaking app might look like. And, it has been a central part of my everyday (or, every other day) practices as I train to run a 5K in September (using a couch to 5K app that I wrote about briefly).

Self-care/care of self brings together many different ideas that I’m thinking about right now, including:

Virtue ethics VE is all about caring for the self; practicing/developing virtue involves cultivating certain attitudes and engaging in specific practices that promote living well (whatever that means…my current manuscript includes an entire chapter on critically thinking through the problems and possibilities of flourishing/living well as ethical goals, and on how living well relates to the good/livable/bearable/unbearable life).

Troublemaking/troublestaying Troublemaking and troublestaying are also about care: paying attention, being curious, caring about the world, and caring for self through self-critique and critical and creative self-reflection. I’ve certainly written about care a lot on this blog. Just check out my care tag.

Foucault Foucault is an important source as I think through my own vision of troublemaking as a virtue and its relation to feminist ethics. Foucault’s later writing on care of the self (and self-writing and technologies of the self) is central to my own imaginings of what an ethics of care that isn’t necessarily careful (or comforting) might look like. Plus, my biggest inspiration for troublemaking as a virtue is Judith Butler; she draws a lot of inspiration for her ethical projects from Foucault.

Feminist ethics of care One key tradition within feminist ethics is a feminist ethics of care. I am interested in positioning my own vision of feminist ethics beside/in relation to (but not necessarily within) this tradition. I aim to trouble and rethink what care could me and how it might connect with making and staying in trouble (yes! as a troublemaker, I like putting things together–like care and trouble–that seem to be radically opposed).

Self-help literature/products Self-help books and products (smartphone apps, websites, etc) are promoted as ways to care for your Self. In some ways, I was raised on self-help speak. Not by my mom; she liked to tell family stories and talk about literature, American history and art. But by my dad. An ordained Lutheran pastor with an MBA (and a PhD in church history with a dissertation on Finnish radicals, unions and copper mining in the upper peninsula of Michigan–what an interesting mix, huh?), he didn’t just read self-help books (a couple favorites: The Power of Positive Thinking, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff) he used their slogans to shape our family traditions. Every Christmas he would ask us to go around the table and answer: What 3 things did you accomplish this year? What 3 things do you want to accomplish in the upcoming year? I must confess that I liked this tradition, which ended a few years before my mom died, even as I dislike self-help books and their simplistic, business-oriented frameworks. I am not interested in using self-help logic (framework/language) in my articulation of troublemaking as a form of (self)care. However, I do need to come to terms with how self-help literature has shaped my thinking by engaging with it directly. Plus, I like making trouble for self-help (by disrupting it, playing with it, uprooting it) because I see its production of easy, soundbite answers that encourage us to stop thinking and just start doing as having seriously harmful effects for critical and creative thinking, feeling and engaging.

Blog writing/blogging For some time now, I have been interested in reflecting on how blog writing contributes to the development of moral/ethical selfhood. Based largely on my own experiences as a blogger, I see blog writing and engaging to be important ethical practices that encourage us to make/stay in trouble, and to be curious, critical and creative. These practices can also enable us to care for our selves–for example, writing/engaging on my blog has played a central role in my efforts to grieve/process/cope with my mom’s death in 2009. What would it mean to think of a blog (or blogging) as more than a space for superficial confession–a dumping ground for every thought and feeling that you might have, but as a critical and creative space that enabled you to engage in ethical practices that contributed to your own health and well-being?

I am in the process of researching/writing a chapter for my manuscript on care and troublemaking. One focus of this chapter will be on putting Foucault and his care of self into conversation with a feminist ethics of care (and also explicitly and/or implicitly bringing in the above resources). Right now, I’m especially interested in devoting attention to what Foucault’s care of the self is. Here are some sources that I will review in the next few days (or weeks, everything seems to take longer in the summer–especially when it is August 1st and I haven’t started prepping for the one class that I’m teaching this fall):

  1. Foucault, Michel. “Self-writing” in Ethics
  2. Foucault, Michel. “Technologies of the Self” in Ethics.
  3. Foucault, Michel. “The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom” in Ethics.
  4. Crampton, Jeremy W. “Part II: Technologies of the Self” in The Political Mapping of Cyberspace. (includes a section entitled: “Resistance: blogging as self-writing”)
  5. Fletcher, Peter. “Why I’m Interested in Self-Writing
  6. Theory Teacher’s Blog. “The Ethics of Teaching: Some Small Advice for New Teachers”
  7. Heyes, Cressida. “Foucault Goes to Weight Watchers” in Hypatia (excellent article. wish I could get the image of Foucault at Weight Watchers out of my head…)
Note: When I first started writing this entry, I had planned to give a brief introduction to the topic of Foucault and care of the self and then a close reading of “self-writing.” That will have to wait for later. For now, I’m glad that I was able to articulate some of my thoughts about influences for my chapter.

tracking trouble, day four

confession: I’m a little behind on tracking my virtue. Doing this every day can be difficult. I’m on day four of tracking my practices of troublemaking. I gave myself another 3 for how I did because, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t like using the ranking system; it just doesn’t seem like the best way in which to reflect/evaluate how or what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. As I write this entry, I’m starting to think more about how to assess my practices. One key aspect of Aristotelean ethics (yes, there are lots of different visions/versions of virtue ethics) is the idea of the mean and balancing virtue between the vices of excess and deficiency. I have a chart of Aristotle’s table of virtues and vices from Nicomachean Ethics that my college advisor, the amazing religion professor Garrett Paul, handed out in an ethics class that I took my freshman year, way back in 1992. I’m looking at it right now. In a framework of virtue (mean) and vices (excess/deficiency), you aim for a balance in which you are neither practice too much or too little of a certain virtue. While I see some problems with using balance as a goal for a virtue like troublemaking, I also find it helpful to be able to evaluate when troublemaking practices are excessive (there are limits to disruption, especially in relation to my feminist vision of social transformation) and when they are deficient. My daughter RJP reminds me (all the time) of the limits of excessive troublemaking. Here’s what I wrote a few weeks ago about it in my post, Really Rosie! and Really, Rosie?

Being beside Rosie is always very helpful for my own thinking about troublemaking. Much like me, her troublemaking usually comes in the form of an insatiable curiosity and a refusal to merely accept what she is told. Because she asks so many questions and always demands explanations for why she must do this or believe that, she reminds me that engaging in troublemaking (or being around someone who is making trouble) can be exciting, exhilarating and exhausting. Indeed, troublemaking has its limits and shouldn’t be uncritically embraced as that which we should do all of the time. And when it is practiced, we need to remember how it can drain us or those around us. Throughout the past two and a half weeks, Rosie has prompted me to exclaim with joy, “Really Rosie!,” one minute, and then utter in annoyed disbelief, “Really, Rosie?,” the next.

What if an app had a ranking system in which you aimed for the mean instead of a high number? That allowed you to focus on finding the balance between extremes? Can I (mis)use this app to do this? Speaking of (mis)using the app, the first thing that I wrote in my reflection box for day four is: Just realized that I might be hacking this app!? Am I using that term correctly? I’m thinking partly of the collection, Hacking the Academy, and their invoking of hacking–but what do they mean? Need to find a good definition. By hacking, I mean that I am troubling this app (critically questioning it and using it in ways that were never intended in order to practice troublemaking and to achieve my goal of tracking my trouble). I wonder, (how) are other people hacking their apps? I can think of some ways, mostly involving advanced technical skills (jailbreaks). What other ways are people using apps subversively?

Tracking Trouble, Day Three

I’m on my third day of tracking my virtuous troublemaking. While I still don’t think their focus on daily rating your virtuous behavior  is the most effective approach, I have enjoyed how using this app enables me to think about what I want in a virtue app and also what the practice of virtue on a regular basis might look like. I did my reflection/evaluation for day three this morning (on day four) because I didn’t have time or energy last night. In the summer–maybe because of the heat?–my brain shuts down around 4 PM. Oh well. I ranked myself at a 3 out of 3, partly because I’m over the ranking system and partly because I did spend a lot of time during the day thinking critically and creatively about the world and my work. I even mapped out an outline for my troublemaking book (next step: find a publisher!). Here are my thoughts from the reflection box: Another somewhat arbitrary ranking here. I put it at a 3 because I did get to write about troublemaking a lot today. Should writing count? Is tmaking just about thinking? Did I challenge anyone else today? Connections with an in relation to others? Still stuck on evaluation here. My reflection here is helpful for me in thinking through how often we should practice tmaking.

One key concern I keep coming up against with this app is its lack of guidance in helping the user figure out what virtuous practice is and whether of not they are engaging in it. What resources does the user have to draw on when developing their own plan for tracking and reflecting on virtue? I suppose the most obvious answer to this question is Ben Franklin. But, what about other sources? The brief quotations that they provide from Franklin don’t offer enough substance for really thinking through virtuous practice. I find this to be a big problem with self-help/self-improvement products (books, apps, etc) in general; they provide quick answers without any larger vision to back them up. 

As an aside: for some reason, I seem to be fixated on self-help this summer. I am struck by how self-help can take philosophical/intellectual/dense ideas and makes them more accessible to a wider range of audiences. Unfortunately, this accessibility quite frequently comes at the expense of complexity/deeper vision and is done for the purpose of selling products/ideas/ideologies. What are some other ways to make critical self-reflection and virtue ethics accessible (and compelling) to folks outside of the academy? What about care of the self? I’ve found a couple of sources on Foucault and self-help that I need to check out, including this one:

Rimke, H. M. (2000). Governing citizens through self-help literature. Cultural Studies, Volume 14, pp. 61-78.

tracking trouble, day two

It’s day two of tracking my troublemaking practices on the Virtues app. Not convinced that this is the right approach for my reflecting on/assessing/building up my virtuous troublemaking. I must spend some time researching and thinking about other approaches. Anyway, I ranked myself at 3 out of a target goal of 3. Yay me! (Yes, this is a reference to London Tipton from Suite Life…RJP loves her and the show and it’s on instant netflix so I see it all of the time.) Like I did on my first day, I used the “reflection box” to pose questions about the app. I like creating space for these questions–but is it preventing me from taking the app seriously?  How do I assess my troublemaking from yesterday? I still can’t imagine how you evaluate something like making/being in/staying in trouble (especially my version of staying in trouble, based on critical thinking, curiosity, pushing at my limits of knowing, being open to other ways of thinking).

Here are my comments from the reflection box:
Not sure why I’m giving myself a 3. What is the point of the score? Franklin didn’t have a score. How does ranking yourself in this way help? Are numbers important for people? What if you encouraged people to reflect without number rankings? Where do we learn what a virtuous action is? Doe we just know? Do we get it from our parents? What does Aristotle say? What does Ben Franklin say? Just downloaded free BF autobiography on iBooks.

All of these questions, make me even more skeptical of the ranking approach. They also make me think that I might need to narrow down the specific set of practices that I imagine to exemplify effective troublemaking for me. One goal of this evaluation process seems to be checking to make sure that your intentions and values are matching up with your actual practices. This goal reminds me of bell hooks’ discussion of habit, virtues and values in a “Revolution of Values” which I must reread) in Teaching to Transgress. I started writing about this section of hooks’ book way back on October 14, 2009 (just 2 weeks after my mom died). I never published it, but kept it as a draft on my wordpress dashboard. Here’s what I wrote in that draft:

This past week [for October 7th, 2009] my Feminist Pedagogies class read bell hooks’ Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. I am struck by her discussion of values in Chapter 2 (entitled “A Revolution of Values”). Her emphasis on transforming oppressive values that guide our lives and the habits and daily practices that (sometimes unwittingly) reinforce those values is helpful in my thinking about why we need to engage in more talking and theorizing about virtues. I want to add hooks’ Chapter 2 to my list of theories/ideas/writings that inspire my own promotion of virtue (which I discuss at the end of this entry).

Connection to virtue: In this chapter, hooks asks: “What values and habits of being reflect my/our commitment to freedom” (27)? She wants to shift away from reliance on “fancy” and “elaborate” theories that describe why we want freedom and focus instead on the values and habits that we actually practice on a routine basis (on the street, in the classroom). Her point, I think, is to suggest that theorizing by itself is not enough; we need Freieran praxis (theory, practice, reflection).

As I reflect back on these words [now on july 27, 2011], I am struck by how important reflection (and praxis as connecting theory and practice with reflection) are for assessing our own behaviors. For the Virtues app to be effective, a lot more attention needs to be given to learning how to be “honest with yourself”–which is the main advice that the app authors give for figuring out how to evaluate yourself (see yesterday’s post for more on this discussion). Being honest with yourself is not as easy as just committing to being honest. Instead it requires the tremendously difficult labor of developing both an awareness of your false consciousness/internalized sexism and racism and a critical consciousness of oppression and the need for social justice (this is a big goal for both bell hooks and Paulo Friere–with his idea of conscientization, or conscientização). In emphasizing a numerical ranking as the central part of the virtue evaluation process, the Virtues app encourages us to bypass reflection (and opt out of the difficult labor of thinking through how/why we fail to be honest with ourselves*) for an easy evaluation. I don’t care if my troublemaking is at a 2 or 3; I care about how/why I practice (or fail to practice) troublemaking in the ways that I do. And I care about finding ways to encourage myself to do the hard work it takes to make and stay in trouble in virtuous ways.

*I should say more about the various ways we are encouraged/trained/educated to be dishonest. Must leave that for another entry.

Note: my questions in the reflection box also made me what to think more about moral exemplars, education and our role models for developing virtuous practices. Could such reflection be incorporated into an app (maybe too much…need to think about this more).

Tracking my troublemaking through the Virtues App

After my post yesterday about troublemaking apps, I decided to customize the Virtues app with troublemaking. So, for the next week, I am tracking my practice of troublemaking. I’m very skeptical of this approach, but thought I would try it (and maybe make trouble for it!).

Here is a shot of the virtue detail screen:

Check out my definition of troublemaking. Not sure if it is the best description of what I’m trying to do, but I put it together really quickly. Also, I wanted to make it short so that it would fit into a screen shot. A key part of this app is the ranking system. At the end of every day, you reflect on how well you did in practicing your chosen virtue by ranking your performance on a scale of 1 to 5. The scoring is subjective; you determine what you think your target score should be and also what counts towards achieving that score. Since they recommended not making your target score too high when you are first starting the app, I went for a 3.0. Seems arbitrary. In their about section, they advise you to “be honest with yourself” about your ranking because “only you know.” How do you know and what should you base that knowing on? “Only you know” doesn’t seem to fit with such a scientific and logical approach (with numerical ranking). Maybe there should be a box on the virtue details page where you can write in your criteria for reaching your target number? Not sure. What I do know is that this ranking system really puts me off. I’m willing to give it a chance; hopefully by the end of this week I will have figured out more why it bothers me so much and/or developed my own system for evaluating (or reflecting on…does reflection = evaluation? my own troublemaking behavior without target numbers.


Here’s my first day of evaluation. Of course, I’ve already screwed it up. I forgot to “reflect” last night and had to quickly do it this morning. I gave myself a 2.5. Why? I was curious and critical yesterday, but not that much. As I began thinking through and typing out why I chose 2.5, I found myself asking lots of questions about the app, some of which are included in this screen shot. Here are the rest: When is it too much? How does this app account for excessive practice of certain virtue? Where do you establish criteria?

Hmm….maybe I’m using this box to practice some troublemaking instead of merely reflecting on it…One last thought: Underlying all of these “self-help” tools is an ethos of (hyper)individualism where self-improvement is almost only about the Self, without any awareness of others/Others. Is this built into any virtue system OR more the result of the specific virtues that we value? Still pondering this one…

Troublemaking? Is There an App for That?

While I wrote last spring about how much I love my iPad right after I got it, I really haven’t had a chance to play around with it that much. I don’t have that many apps for it. I also don’t have that many apps for my iPhone. Maybe that’s partly because the few times that I have actually gone to the app store, I have been overwhelmed by the number of (cr)apps that are available. Yet, I can’t stop thinking about how a troublemaking app, one that enabled you to practice the virtue of troublemaking (being curious, thinking critically, asking questions, disrupting common sense assumptions), might be fun and useful. I am still uncertain about the value of an app. Is is the best platform for what I want to do? Why is it better than just using a blog? Since I imagine my app to be connected to a larger vision of public pedagogy and making ideas/theories about troublemaking accessible to a wider range of folks, is an app, which usually (but doesn’t always) cost something, the best approach? Sigh…like a “good” academic, I need (and want, because I am a nerd too) to do some research on these questions. Hmmm…I wonder where I can find some critical essays about smartphone apps? Suggestions?

So what would this app look like? I’m really not sure. As I imagine the possibilities, I thought I’d archive my thoughts about some apps that I’ve encountered:

In early June, I started running with one of the many Couch to 5K apps: C25K. note: A few weeks after starting the program, I found a blog post about it on ProfHacker. Here’s how it works: You run with the program three times a week for 30 minutes–or, as I am doing it, every other day–and gradually build up strength and endurance as you alternate between walking and running. The program tells you when to run, walk and cool down. The simple format (which thankfully has few extra, pointless features) coupled with an underlying philosophy of the repeated and deliberate practice of gradually building up good habits, seems like a great model for an app.  Repeated and habitual practice is key for my own thinking about cultivating virtuous troublemaking; you need to ask questions regularly and practice thinking critically, subversively, transformatively, creatively all of the time. I also like how it uses GPS to map your route so you can see (and share with others) your route and archive it for later. It also has a journal, so you can write about and archive the run (how it went, the weather, terrain). Finally, you can share your progress with others on facebook or twitter.

I’m really interested in thinking through how to use new technologies, like smartphone apps, to develop and practice virtues. So I decided to check out what virtue apps already existed. After searching for “virtue iPhone apps” on google, I found Ben’s Virtues. In this app, which is based on Benjamin Franklin’s chart of 13 virtues (temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, humility), you can chart your daily conduct. According to the “about” page on the app (unlike C25K, I have not tried this one out, although I did download it–it’s free), you review your conduct in relation to one of the 13 virtues at the end of the day (you do a week on each virtue). If you fail to practice that virtue–for example, industry (“Lose not time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut of all unnecessary actions”), you tap the day’s date to place a mark. This app is based on Franklin’s own chart for logging his virtuous behavior. It doesn’t offer any additional features, like posting your failure to follow a certain virtue on twitter or facebook. Wow…can you imagine if an app like this did have such a feature? Confessing your moral limits through social media? In case my tone isn’t clear, I find this idea to be extremely problematic, yet interesting from the perspective of how we develop our moral selfhood in relation to others. I haven’t spent that much time looking through this app (and I haven’t spent much time critically reading/reflecting on Franklin’s virtues–are they the basis of Franklin planner stores…ugh?), but I find both the set of virtues (masculine, business-oriented) and the format of the chart/app to not be useful for my own project of troublemaking (a practice of daily reflection = marking digressions on a chart doesn’t fit with my own undisciplined approach). Additionally, the app doesn’t give you much guidance on what Franklin’s virtues actually mean (they do suggest buying Franklin’s autobiography at Powell’s books) or how we are supposed to interpret what is or isn’t an unnecessary act (see definition of industrious above). It makes me wonder about what other ways people can think about using apps to promote and cultivate virtuous practices? Instead of having a chart to mark, what other features could an app offer that would allow you to critically reflect on your day and how virtuous behaviors work in relation to a broader ethos (like social justice or feminist models)?

After doing a little more research on the interwebz, I found some other bloggers writing about Franklin’s chart and his virtues, like Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders (a STA/room34 favorite) and their post, Ben Franklin: Keeper of his own ‘Permanent Record’, and the Art of Manliness and their 13 week series on Being Virtuous the Ben Franklin way. I also found another app, Virtues, by Equilibrium Enterprises. While Ben’s Virtues was free, this app costs 99 cents. It is based on the same chart and the same description of virtues, but it has many added features, including a much lengthier description of how to use to app and what to to with the chart. It also allows you to develop your own rating system (out of a scale of 5.0, pick your “target” number for a certain virtue) and your own custom virtues (should I add troublemaking, perhaps?). When you rate yourself, you are required to type up a few comments about your rating, your day, etc. I like that you can customize the app with your own virtues and that daily critical reflection = evaluating yourself with a number rating + typing up some thoughts (as opposed to the Ben’s Virtues’ approach of only marking your failures in a chart). However, I don’t like using a numerical ranking system (how do you evaluate a day’s virtuous behavior on a scale of 1 to 5?). Even though I’m not sold on this app, I might just have to try it with a customized troublemaking virtue.

Well, I’m not even close to being done of my research/reflection on what a troublemaking app could/should look like, but I need to end this blog entry now. For next time, I want to spend some time discussing feminist troublemaking apps by starting with bitchmedia’s Revenge of the Feminerd: There’s an App for That and the app, Hollaback!