Jeff Colby is the kind of blogger or Internet writer you might not read about. Known in Detroit as “itsjeff” on the Detroit Yes Message Board, Colby died last week. Based on the amount of posts I can find attributed to “itsjeff” on the Detroit Yes board, and based on the kind of memorializing I see after his passing, and based on my interests in technology, the city, and writing, I, too, should know who Jeff Colby was. But I don’t.
I heard about his passing this morning while listening to NPR on my way to Madison Heights. During the show’s eulogy, I listened to other bloggers and local Detroiters discuss the kind of person he was, the ways he cared for the urban space he lived in, and his contributions to a larger understanding of how space can be altered, affected, changed, or shaped by technology and writing.
It might appear crass to think of a person’s passing as exigence. And I might feel the same way if I were to read another person writing in such a manner. Yet, when I heard this story of the Detroit blogger, I was reminded of the various ways we, in academia, often think about space: the spaces we work in, the spaces we live in, the spaces we write to, the spaces we occupy regarding identity (and even this category gets broken down further: personal, disciplinary, institutional, and so on), the spaces we make ourselves heard within.
Almost two years ago, I began in earnest to think about Detroit and the Web (or the network) in such ways. The exigence for that thinking was the dissatisfaction that accompanies the two dominant narratives of Detroit: city in ruins/city on the verge of rebirth. Neither, of course, are true. The city, like any space, is a mix of various identities and formations, various expressions, various successes, various failures. None are independent entities. All play a role in a larger network of influence.
The vision of Detroit that I imagined utilized an understanding of mark-up (the tag) motivated by new media (folksonomy) not dependent on the very instrumental thinking that produces the two narratives and that I wanted to avoid (i.e., if you propose what I propose, one has to have access to a computer, actually engage in “tagging in a physical way,” be in Detroit, etc). This usage of mark-up would not be based on logos (“prove its benefits”) but on something else (another way new media leads to…..). It’s a conceptual idea, not an instrumental idea.
The story of Jeff Colby, as I heard it this morning, highlights in another way the effects of new media writing on space. One doesn’t need proof that his blogging or participation on the message board or interest in writing about the city in an online forum “did” anything. One only needs to see how writers attempt to engage with space via technology to begin to think more about this kind of composition.
And so begins another thought process….