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!