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Category Archives: Nathan’s section

Alex Garland’s new film Ex Machina provides a really interesting view of search engines/big data analysis as capture. Through analysis of the data collected of search engine usage habits, the film describes how the CEO of a monopoly of a search engine constructed a grammar of human action. These grammars helped him construct norms and expectations through which he programmed an artificial intelligence indistinguishable in many ways from human beings. The normative function of capture helped him construct a subject upon which he could call and with which people could interact. The AI’s model of the world is entirely based on probabilistic correlations based on data and the decisions made by her (and her software) were motivated interestingly in a way that contradicted her programmer’s intentions.

Massive scale debates happen regularly between copyright holders and fans producing fan work and the line between official and paid for work and fan/community contributions is continuously blurring. Consider sites like the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed where community contributors can write and publish content that is virtually indistinguishable from content created by paid writers.

Sites like Television Without Pity focuses on showcasing television criticism from both paid writers and from community contributors who discuss their views and analysis in forums and comments. The balance of quantity of content produced is shifted heavily towards unpaid contributors, which is entirely what Television Without Pity wants- it plays into heavy customization/personalization, the trending logic of digital era marketing.

People who post snarky and ironic commentary on TWoP voluntarily build a better television-viewing experience for themselves and other viewers who share their savvy sensibilities, thus reinforcing and deepening their participation in television’s commercial enterprise—becoming better consumers (of whatever television advertisers promote to them) in the process of becoming skilled producers.

 

If hospitals, prisons, corporations, and schools concretize the ways in which societies’ control individual existence (through control of reform, production, health, etc), digital media plays an interesting role in defining what exactly we are controlled by when engaged with by individuals. The internet might be far too fast to examine in this particular example, but the world of World of Warcraft might suffice. Thinking of the ways in which Foucault’s notion of biopower sublimate in the World of Warcraft, we can see a similar connection to Deleuze. The power of institutions in societies of control is gaseous, it spreads out beyond the institution itself and permeates. Deleuze’s text makes me think about the ways in which his notions of control conflate and intersect with digital media, potentially creating a problem that exists in both the digital and non-digital world. In particular, I’m thinking on online-for profit colleges, or modes of production that are entirely digital like the World of Warcraft gold farmers.

In “Stitch Bitch: The Patchwork Girl”, Shelly Jackson writes, in regards to hypertext, “You can’t tell what’s the original and what’s the reference. Hierarchies break down into chains of likenesses.” Hypertext essentially operates as flattening tool that, in some instances, reclaims power from what Jackson refers to as (in so many words) reality’s hegemony within fiction.

In my group presentation, my peers and I explored the way in which hypertext operates within Buzzfeed’s listicles. While hypertext makes the lateral and flattening movements that Jackson describes, it also facilitates the listicle’s massage-like quality which can quell the reader into a spell of the unquestioning intake of information. Hypertext, in this way, is rather harmless in the typical listicle (11 best condiments to put on french toast!) where the stakes of the content are low. However, as Buzzfeed transitions towards more politicized and long-form content, hypertext potentially becomes more insidious. I bring my extremely condensed version of my group project into this discussion to illustrate the fact that hypertext’s lateral, or flattening, movements are not always as ‘democratic’ as they appear to be. I am interested in the ways in which hypertext becomes insidious, and how we navigate these instances.

The stakes are high in Julian Dibbel’s “A Rape in Cyberspace”: the incident of Mr. Bungle calls to question the division between public, private, digital, and physical space. I came away from this article not only asking myself how we can navigate digital and physical spaces (given this example), but wondering about this subject’s connection to notions of screen essentialism explored later on in the course. How do we engage the digital space of digital crimes and maintain Kirschenbaum’s notion of a symbiotic feedback loop? How does A Rape in Cyberspace translate into the physical world, and thus transform notions and sublimations of visibility?

What is the future of big data? Does it give power to the people (as in the case of reducing cost of plane flights) or does it instead give power to the corporations (as a means of manipulating consumers)?

Ranciere claims within his chapter, Does Democracy Mean Something?, that there exists a democratic paradox as such: “democracy as a form of government is threatened by democracy as a form of social and political life and so the former must repress the later. Democratic life leads to a political excess that works only to undermine a central government, authority, and good policy. This excess of democratic activity is a result of the “democratic dreamers”, overvaluing their personal demands and interests rather than accepting the discipline and sacrifice required in a government expressing common interests.

Democratic dreamers are the part of the population who believe government should express democracy by representing the concept of “government of the people by the people.” This mentality in fact promotes democratic social life rather than a democratic government. If each and every individual’s personal political interests were expected to be met, all authority and notions a collective interest would be constantly challenged, throwing a government and society into political chaos.

Understanding Ranciere’s commentary on the nature of democracy as both a form of government and social life made me increasingly curious as to how this applies to the current democratic governments of the world, including my own. It appears, according to Ranciere, that the US government only operates successfully as a democracy by suppressing the freedom and chaos of democratic social life. US citizens seem to believe, however falsely, that they live in a democratic country. Excess political action certainly exists, from online political platforms and proposals to groups that exist despite extreme negative feedback such as the westborough Baptist church. Yet our government continues to operate successfully, and therefore, may not be acknowledging the political nature of its citizens to the extent they expect to be acknowledged. In this case, if we live by a democratic government, which successfully suppresses democratic life and avoids the political chaos it would engender, are many of us perhaps, as political citizens, living in an illusion of our own democratic power?

While some aspects of being “post-digital” seem “hipster,” even the term itself, there are compelling reasons why some aspects of technology fail to give one the same experience as its non-digital counterpart. For instance, Cramer gives the example of the typewriter. There is something indeed satisfying about the tactile nature of a typewriter that a keyboard fails to provide. Perhaps this is why there has been a resurgence in mechanical keyboards (besides their anti-ghosting and performance qualities). Even as I type this now on my mechanical keyboard, I can’t help but think about the relationship of the commercialization of digital technology and the retreat to something more “primitive” – like the IBM Model M keyboard. This is in line with Cramer’s definition of “post-digital” – not completely rejecting all forms of media that are digital, but instead, realizing itself as a more nuanced and evolved form of interaction with digital media. Another example would be notetaking in class. While many students take notes on their laptop or tablet, which provides a database and thereby ease of recall and search, others choose to stick to pen and paper. Myself, I always take notes by hand (there have been studies that you retain information better this way), and then sometimes use a scanner to archive these notes to access them on my devices. While post-digital actions may seem counterculture, there are compelling reasons in their favor.

We speak about the Internet, about the digital media, as (among other things) a network for connection. In considering the term post-digital, we recognize its ubiquitous influence and recognize an online presence as the norm. It may seem that way to us these days. It seems impossible to understand a world where you couldn’t immediately share a thought, a picture, an article with people outside of your immediate surroundings, or one where marketing an event could not be done by simply creating a Facebook page for it (which would automatically send reminders to all ‘attending’). This week’s reading on the post-modern, combined with my reconsideration of Kirschenbaum’s account of screen essentialism for our second assignment, reminded me that in fact our world, our whole world, does not operate like that.

4.4Billion people around the world still don’t have internet. How does the seeming ubiquity of the internet in the developed world and, particularly, in urban centres, serve to distance these populations from those communities that don’t have internet access?

Facebook and Google have launched projects to bring internet access everywhere. How will this change our virtual and real communities? Does this represent a new kind of corporate colonial project?

Should we be trying to get everyone online? It seems to me that, as Prof. Chun mentioned in our last lecture, while there are definite benefits to having internet access, we can’t expect technology to solve our political problems. These efforts, by Facebook and Google, to get everyone online might then be considered projects of market expansion and not a project to disseminate something of obvious value.

Cramer references “The IRL Fetish,” a term coined by Nathan Jurgenson in 2012 to describe the millennial generation’s obsession with out-of-date technology because it is artsy, edgy, hipster, etc. I was relieved to find a name for the Urban Outfitter’s-y recirculation of Polaroids, vinyl records, rotary phones and typewriters. An interesting theme in these technologies, once cutting edge and practical but now “cool” or “hip,” is that there seems to be a certain amount of time that needs to pass before they become retro, before they are eligible to be re-adopted by the public. For instance, a “hipster” would own an iPhone for practical purposes and a rotary phone for stylistic and aesthetic purposes, but nowhere in this picture does a circa-2005 flip phone have any value. Why is that?