[eDebate] A Question for CEDA and NDT Leadership Present and Future on Convergence

James Maritato james.maritato
Sun Dec 21 02:28:56 CST 2008

Dear CEDA Community, Potential Officer Candidates, and Random Onlookers,

I hope that you are all well as we approach the end of 2008.  I am excited
to see the discussion of potential candidates for CEDA's next 2VP taking
place within our listserv and to see our organization taking steps towards
increasing democratic participation from within the community by fostering a
series of "debates" via online forums.  As I've been thinking about the
discussions emerging this week, questions posed by colleagues within the
community, funny campaign and campaign mocking videos (yes, for the astute
who linked Poughkeepsie with me, you win, that was me), I've started to
really wonder about an important question I'll outline in a moment.  I've
also sent this e-mail to Chief, as requested, for discussion within the
organized CEDA vetting process for 2VP.  Though, given its lengthiness, I
kinda think it will just get rejected, and I'm sort of interested to see
what current leadership might have to say on this issue as well.  So, the
question is:

What will CEDA and NDT leadership do in the next five years to bring our
organizations into the fold of convergence and increase the electronic
eloquence of our organizations?  Secondarily, what will CEDA and NDT
leadership do to foster our students'  development of producerly skills
necessary to successfully communicate ideas, develop meaningful social and
political coalitions, and participate in democratic discourse in the "real
world" with all the underlying "implications?"

I pose this question for a couple of reasons:

I.  Our organizations are technologically broken.  I am not saying this in
terms of the effort applied by those who have tried to develop means of
organizational process that are more convenient and have embraced digital
convergence.  John Bruschke is my personal hero because he'll always
understand databases better than I do and must put in a ton of time to make
the "accounting" functions of our competition work.  Those that write our
tab room software are my heroes, because I could never do that, nor could I
have the ability to make it all work with John's website.  Folks who have
made the CEDA website and topic spaces function successfully should be
commended for their efforts in normalizing participation in democratic
process.And Folks like Phil Kerpen, who I admittedly have never met (though
I did see his brother on that reality tv show) are awesome because they
provide the resources to make vital communication lines of our organizations
function, despite no inherent benefit to themselves.

So why is it broken then?  Because really, none of it's converged.  Each of
the forums I just described (save the CEDA website and topic blogs) are
managed by independent individuals, attempting to respond to the changing
face of technology, media integration and syndication, etc. on their own and
in their available time.  Accountability for CEDA, in these areas, is at a
zero point -- what happens on eDebate isn't manageable by CEDA, what happens
on Debateresults is up to Bruschke, what happens to tab room software is
largely out of the scope of CEDA leadership.  What happens on Youtube is up
to Youtube, and now, as a result of things like the new CEDA 2VP group on
Facebook, what happens on Facebook is up to Facebook.  Discourse is also not
converged. Folks will inevitably want to point to CEDA-L as the point of
interaction for CEDA business, or the CEDA website, yet then CEDA outsources
its technology needs to "free" services - decentralizing discourse.  This
means that certain conversations happen in certain places - and as an
example I will point to the 2VP Facebook group.  Chief - I applaud you for
trying to encourage student discussion on future CEDA leadership issues --
but if you think I am going to sit on Facebook and wade through the various
requests to join zombie armies, vampire bite someone, install applications,
find out how my friends have been voting about me, etc. purely so that I can
know what students in our activity think about what they do and what they
would like to see out of future leadership, sorry, but you're wrong.
Personal accountability is also at a low point within our forums, and the
use of outside forums promotes this.  You can call me a hypocrite here for
posting videos of kittens as an avatar this week, but it sort of illustrates
my point.  My video was facetious and playful - and Andy was well aware of
its existence.  We did, indeed, sit back and laugh about how much his video
made him look like the Eminem of debate several months ago.  There's *
nothing* to stop any disgruntled individual from taking the most egregious
stuff posted on Youtube, or any of the other forums we have no management
of, control of,  ability to account for, etc. and editing it together into a
media savvy video news release that besmirches the identity of this activity
and those within it.  We need to centralize our discourse, and be able to
hold individuals accountable for their discourse.  That doesn't inherently
mean censoring discourse - it means making individuals liable for their
discourse through terms of service agreements, etc.  That's why those things
exist.  We need to be able to create centralized forums of discussion that
can be easily accessed and used by members of these communities -- where
both critical information and topical (not "topical" in the debater sense -
but on the topic of debate) discourse can be readily accessed without the
precondition of knowledge of "traditions," or "norms."  At the same time,
off-topic discourse can still be served.  If we had a centralized space
where forums such as Slashcode were implemented, both topical and
non-topical interests could be served.  We'd also have the ability to
communicate through convergence.  I find it somewhat ironic that as Andy and
I posted videos this week, we had to paste a link and hope people would
follow it.  Hands down, eDebate is the ONLY forum I still interact in on the
Internet that does not support embedding media, attaching a file without
changes to the file name, rich text formatting (yeah, this e-mail as italics
and emphasis in it, but you'll never see it), etc.  We're using listserve
technology when we should be using converged technologies that allow us to
upload videos we record, that allow us to syndicate the best representations
of our activity to the CEDA website, etc.  There is so much more we could be
doing -- so what will YOU do?

Secondarily then, is the issue of our students - and I'm placing this issue
second, not because it's less important, but because I'd like to scare fewer
of you by proposing changes to what we do, rather than how we do it
organizationally. If you haven't noticed, it's become increasingly important
for students to have skills in digital production in order to be competitive
in job markets, life, etc.  Are job opportunities won or lost on Youtube?
Not necessarily - but we've certainly seen stories in news media indicating
that employers are looking to these forums, as are graduate directors, etc.
in order to weed out potentially problematic individuals based on subjective
notions, or even more problematically, to "tiebreak" between two equally
qualified and skilled candidates.  At the same time, more and more employers
and schools are looking for proficiency in areas of media production
(journalists need to have digital production skills, pr students need to
have digital media awareness, production skills, and exposure to mediated
persuasive message creation and effects, poli sci students need to have
awareness of the ways these skills are changing the world, and be good at
navigating them to be aware of their impacts, their integration with
globalization, etc., educators need to have awareness of these skills... i
could keep doing this but i won't.)  Meanwhile, since last year's CEDA
Nationals my team and I have been regularly deploying visual media we've
produced to make arguments, and we're continually asked why we "get" to do
this by competitors, coaches, and judges.  As a community, we treat "policy
debate" - meaning fast, card reading, line-by-line driven debate as the
"default" paradigm.  There are certainly judges who don't do this, and they
get to be the folks who don't judge for like 14 consecutive MPJ rounds
between Harvard and Wake (hi!), because they are "regional" critics, or some
other stupid excuse that makes no sense (especially given when the critic's
been doing this for 8 years, 7 of which as a critic, 6 of which attending
national level tournaments.)  I don't understand why we are asked this
question all the time, because if I show our video to someone outside the
debate community and explain what our argument is, people get really
emotional, they get involved, they want to know what they can do to stop the
problems we're talking about.  They then usually say something to the effect
of "that's really cool, I didn't know you could do that in debate -- what
else can you do in debate?"  If I send the video to a friend of mine via
Youtube and leave it unlocked for 24 hours, my video hits double.  People
outside the community send it to each other and say wow, that's really cool,
I didn't realize what goes on, maybe I should stop putting sugar in my
coffee, etc.  But when we present the argument in a debate round, we get
asked either A.  why do you get to do this, or B. your video was so cool, i
really liked it, but why don't you have better answers to why your video
doesn't cause terrorism, or nuclear war, etc. etc.  There are rare occasions
where you have the privilege of having your students debate in front of
people like John Sharp who will say omg that was so cool and here's how you
can make it better.  :-) But why aren't there more of those types of
interactions?  (This should by the way, be recognized as my veiled attempt
to promote John Sharp as the coolest critic that ever walked the face of
planet earth, because my debaters LOSE rounds in front of him and say "can
we just have him judge every round, because he actually gives what we say
and do the time of day and cares about if it can be better".)  Why do we
have to justify what we do because it's not "normative?"  What will CEDA
leadership do to begin to change these norms?  How long are we going to
continue to say debate has no rules, but then impose norms as if they were
rules?  I will also say this:  in the four years I have worked with these
students, NEVER have they been as energized about an argument until they had
the ability to create something that they could take both to debate
tournaments and OUTSIDE of debate and have people comprehend.  On a personal
note, I've been involved in this activity for 8 years - and this is the
first argument I've ever been able to show to my mother and have her
understand.  So what will CEDA leadership do in the next 5 years to foster
the development of community norms that are conducive to the teaching of
electronic eloquence and producerly skills that allow our activity's impact
and importance transcend the insularity of the tournaments, the awards
ceremonies and the current normative formats of debate?

If you made it this far, I appreciate it.  If you don't want to respond,
that's cool.  If you want to respond with a counterargument, I'm not going
to refute it, nor do I think I should, as if this were a town hall meeting
and this were my question for leadership and candidates, I wouldn't expect
to refute your counterargument.  So, anyone purely looking for a fight
should really bother to respond.  One final caveat -- this is not the
beginning of some dogmatic campaign to change debate on my part.  Put
simply, enough of my friends in this community know that my longevity in
this activity is waning and that other opportunities are already looking
more attractive.  I have no agenda to lead this community in any direction,
but concern for what directions it will take in the future.  But I do think
that an activity that has been very important to me for a long time has
missed the boat on digital convergence, and that the impacts of that missed
opportunity will only become worse in magnitude as time goes on.

Thanks for paying attention, and since I posted this publicly, yes Chief,
you can put my name on this if/when you use your infinite wisdom to decide
which questions do and do not get submitted :-).

Jim Maritato
Director of Debate
Marist College
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