“A Personal Cyberinfrastructure Revisited” – Rich Reflection

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“A Personal Cyberinfrastructure Revisted” (Video) by W. Gardner Campbell


(2:07) “It’s not simply a matter of technical skill. It’s not even, in some respects, a matter of being able to make a web that can be the kind of curation spot and the cyberinfrastructure for your own data driven life. It is those things, of course, but it’s also about the ability to externalize a model of one’s own conceptual framework having to do with the information in which one lives, which one produces, which one comes into contact with…”

(12:59) “By becoming a sys admin in this way by actually operating this distributed publishing system by operating a server you are actually much closer to understanding how the net works…”


The concept of digital agency has been lurking in the shadows of my past couple posts, and it’s time I should pay a little more attention to it. While no one has come out and named it directly in the definition, I think it’s a key player within digital citizenship. Figuring out what digital agency could mean is another issue: From what I’ve gathered, it speaks to an individual’s capacity for action and creation of a product in a digital environment. For W. Gardner Campbell, digital agency takes the form of a personal cyberinfrastructure. His video elaboration of some ideas from an earlier article gives specific examples of current spaces that allow users to start the process of developing their server. Projects such as BlueHost and EC2 for Poets provide the tools for those who are ready to exercise their digital agency and collect/organize/publish their life online in a meaningful way.

One aspect I appreciated about Campbell’s plan was that he has very high expectations. The superficial interactions we have online regularly will not cut it. Not only will you curate your digital products, but you will design the server that hosts them in a way that specifically reflects how you engage with information as a whole (and do so without having an existential crisis). No pressure. A personal cyberinfrastructure is digital agency flexing its muscles and taking things into its own hands as the sys admin.

And while the idea may at first seem a little overwhelming, maybe we shouldn’t be shying away from this kind of engagement with the digital world. My instinct is to say that Campbell’s idea, in its most ideal form, is currently out of reach. I know it would be awesome if we could set a precedent for this in schools, and that Campbell is correct in saying that this is a huge step towards a better understanding of the Internet, but I still hesitate. Why is it so hard to think of ourselves as not just creators but owners/system designers? As we transition from blind consumers to eager creators, we should have a little forethought for the next step in the process, an example of which I think Campbell is offering here. What could our digital experience look like when we start exercising control on a larger scale?


One thought on ““A Personal Cyberinfrastructure Revisited” – Rich Reflection

  1. Not sure if you can make the conversation with Gardner later today, but I’ve noted some of your thoughts so I can bring them up if you can’t. In particular the idea of agency (which I’ve mentioned a lot as well, but is a large and sometimes illusory idea) and what I would frame as the balance of idealism and practical application (and the accompanying need for resilience, agility, the ability to cope with pressure, and some audaciousness). To a large extent I think we can only help others explore these if we’re in the trenches ourselves…but there are many unanswered questions and many possible reason to hesitate (and retreat and, sometimes, even give up).

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