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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Lisa Nakamura, in Indigenous Circuits, mentions two “counter-culture” figures that were contemporaries of Fairchild Semiconductor’s period of “insourcing” labor to Navajo communities. Gary Snyder and Stewart Brand, a poet and a publishing entrepreneur respectively, used what they perceived to be “Indian culture” their own needs. From the passage in Nakamura, it seems that they were neglectful of the wide variety of Native American cultures, and particularly of why Native American’s practiced the rituals that Snyder and Brand viewed as curative. may encourage performance from Native Americans (we see this with the practice of weaving rugs in Nakamura, as she speculates that the practice was taken from the Pueblo people).

There are other instances of performing culture for financial gain; Carmen Miranda’s pineapple hat and Eddie Murphy’s character in Coming to America come to mind. I recently viewed a YouTube video by the group 1491, which depicts two Native American shop-owners performing their Native-ness to the customers to bolster sales. Scenes of the shop-owners entering the shop wearing casual apparel are contrasted with the “Native” aesthetic (unbuttoned shirt on the first, and a shirt depicting a wolf-howling at the moon in the second) they change into when they open the shop. They even respond to assumption shared by Snyder and Brand that Native lifestyles are ascendent to practitioners; one shop-owner welcomes a costumer by assuring that “you will find many American Indian artifacts here to enlighten your spirit in our way.” The video continues with the shop-owners encouraging costumers to buy Native “artifacts” ranging from Tennessee to Mexico, again presumably a response to the flattening of different cultures into a monolithic “Native” culture, off of which Synder and Brand seem to have profited in self-branding.

Reading this passage of Nakamura, it struck me that though Snyder and Brand are not the focus of this article, and are mentioned rather to give context to Fairchild’s decision to use the Navajo women in their branding, it seems that they too are just as much culpable of molding distinct cultures into “lifestyles” that are palatable to Western notions of the “alternative counterculture,” that these cultures can be assumed by purchasing Whole Earth Catalog’s.

In “A Grammatology of the Hard Drive”, Kirschenbaum draws our focus on a device that most users recognize as existing but “will never see […] during the life of their computer”, a device that is seemingly invisible and immaterial, yet is the ‘make or break’ component of computers. This device is the hard drive, and Kirschenbaum devotes this chapter of his book to pay close attention to its defining characteristics, its exact mechanisms, and its role in bringing about new anxieties and possibilities with extreme inscription.

I was most interested in the section that dealt with the relationship between hard drives and ‘personalizing’ a computer. In other words, how did a hard drive change the meaning of personal storage and what dynamic does that create with the user?  Kirschenbaum seems to indicate that the relationship between a user and his/her PC is both deeply intimate yet also removed. One one hand, we don’t know “exactly what happens to our data or how to properly articulate our relationship to it once it scrolls of the edge of the screen”, but on the other hand “storage […] becomes the locus of the identity and the soul of the new machine”, and in turn, the user. This dynamic becomes particularly interesting when applied to cloud storage, which takes the idea of the hard drive as an invisible black box even further, since it removes the very physicality of the storage away from the user. This idea leads me to wonder if this extension of storage poses more vulnerabilities in “exposing” a user’s identity, and what dangers/possibilities this might bring.

Kirschenbaum also notes that there is an entire ‘transformation’ process that the computer undergoes to convert analog and digital signals, and this transformation is not one that the user is typically aware of, let alone close to understanding. I really resonated with the Microsoft Word example he provided: “We might know how to launch Microsoft Word and type up an essay with graphics, tables, and elaborate fonts, but, with each stroke of the keyboard or click of the mouse, do we realize what’s happening in the discourse networks of the purring, putty-colored box?” From my own programming experience, a simple feature like an undo/redo button can actually have a paragraph’s worth of code behind it. To carry out an action like undo/redo in the ‘real world’, a whole series of values and operations need to be manipulated in the ‘electronic world’ in a specific language. Your single action on an undo button actually triggers a cascade of operations that is completely invisible. This is similar to the idea that “the data contained on the disk is a second-order representation of the actual digital values the data assumes for computation.”

For me, this article raised the concept of space, by neatly juxtaposing the literal ‘space’ (land to build) and digital space (the internet). The former is obviously finite, and is hence highly valuable. Take their example of Bangalore, ‘where the urban planning authority provides for approximately 15-20% of housing requirements, while another 12-15% are met by private developers. The rest of the city emerges outside of planned development and is hence outside the law.’ This traditional ‘illegal city’ is fascinating. The fact it has ‘space’ is what creates its illegality; the finiteness of the space is where the conflict resides (do you or do you not have permission to build here?). I found this particularly interesting contrasted to the newer problems of internet piracy and ‘every computer owner’ as a ‘potential producer and redistributor’. Here, controversy lies over infinite space. Where in the physical world boundaries are causing problems, here it is the lack of boundaries. The internet cannot be contained. I struggle with his definition of porous legalities, however from what i have grasped the idea of movement feels key. Breaking down the binary and allowing more freedom and difference. The concept of a ‘profound distrust of the usual normative myths of the rule of law, such as rights, equality, access to justice’ being the basis of these porous legalities supports this idea of movement. It conjures up images of change and hatred for ‘the way things were’. This is the modern.

The essential paradox underlying the corporate racial logic outlined in Nakamura’s piece is this:

  1. the ability of the Navajo women’s adaptation to modernity is predicated on a skill set termed and marketed with preexisting stereotypes of primitivity, i.e. their identified success in chipmaking is due to their retainment of older cultural forms such as rug-making and jewelry craftsmanship.
  2. However, simultaneously, the presence of Fairchild is posited as a foreign redemption of the same primitivity that marks the Navajo women’s success, i.e. “the necessity of transforming the Navajo as a ‘modern’ Indian tribe” (Nakamura, 924). Cultural traits ascribed to them somehow both guarantees and undermines their continued survival.
  3. One of the stated purposes of the plants was “an act of purposeful and care-driven cultural preservation on the part of the corporation” (Nakamura 933). The idea that Fairchild, and their corporate presence’s impact on federal reservation funding, was in fact what they themselves posited to protect against, is entirely excluded by (and yet completely implicit in) this logic.
  4. In fact, there is a question as to whether any of this rhetoric was actually necessary at all; it was both not really involved in Fairchild’s logic of hosting the plant in New Mexico (the tax incentives involved can quickly provide a much sounder argument) and also not necessary in rationalizing the labor involved; “despite… daunting conditions,” Nakamura writes, “the hundreds of Navajo women who stayed on excelled at the work” (925). Instead, the localized discourse around the Fairchild plant doesn’t seem to be about a singular interaction with Native culture at all, but rather a development of a grammar to link labor practices and globalization with and against arguments for multiculturalism. In the Fairchild argument, you can colonize a community economically through the community’s own terms, modernize through preservation of the past, have your cake and eat it too.

Another question persists: why dabble in such complicated and convoluted discourses? Why rely upon an argument that inherently contradicts itself? For me, the argument that seems most compelling is the same argument that Fairchild also was swayed by: it’s cheaper.

Agre touched on this in his paraphrasing of Coase’s “transaction costs” in relation to his capture model (Agre 753). Agre argues that transaction costs, the expenses inherently tied to certain actions, determines whether an action will be performed in a hierarchy, clan, or a market, and that capture models contribute to the move towards market strategies because they improve efficiency, automation, and ultimately transaction costs.

Now, Prof. Chun highlighted in Monday’s lecture that our conception of networks can no longer simply be highlighted in terms of consumers (users) and digital producers, but must also include conversations about labor and the materiality of digital resources. This is, I think, in line with Agre’s focus on the capture model as a “sociotechnical system” (emphasis mine) operating within existing political and economic frameworks (755).

In aligning these two, I want to argue that the mixed multiculturalism of Fairchild’s propaganda actually makes a lot of sense — it is taking the individualizing force of existing proscribed racial identities and incorporating them into the move towards reduced transaction costs in a global market. Transformed racial rhetoric, in this case, operates like a capture system — it inherits its own grammar and method of analysis (like in the combination of faux-anthropological understanding of existing Navajo traditions and the workings of industrial capital), and evaluates itself according to its self-created norm. Globalism, then is not the imposition against cultural identities in favor of market logic, but rather the strange idea that they can be one and the same. Confusion makes sense if rationality is crafted by the confusion of terms.

I Love Alaska was a fun experience.  I ended up playing it in front of my whole apartment and the 5 or 6 people we had over.  We got a kick out of it.  While the story that unfolded in front of us was ultimately sad it was still kind of funny to see some of the stuff that someone might search on a day to day basis.  When we talked about it during/after the episodes we didn’t really understand why she thought that she would get answers for a lot of her very specific questions from the internet.  We talked about how screwed up and hilarious our search histories might be if they were viewed by an outsider and how they could think that some of our searches were dumb and ultimately pointless.  We also wondered if our search histories might tell a story just as this AOL user’s did and came to the conclusion that targeted advertisers already figured out how to piece together peoples life stories and probably know us better than we could ever know each other– especially as the world moves deeper and deeper into the information age.  I would be interested in seeing more stories like I Love Alaska be produced so that we can better understand the human condition and work towards a future where people can communicate better and advance the human race more and more quickly.

One thing that stuck out to me this week in the readings and I Love Alaska was how the emotional dimensions of ourselves inhabit the internet. The I Love Alaska searches struck chords of honesty, shame, fear, curiosity, and other emotions that become visible in cyberspace. We’ve developed a way to project empathy into cyberspace but there remains an etiquette or protocol that surrounds how and how much we are able to define ourselves emotionally online that oscillates continually especially with the idea of likes, retweets, and favorites.

In discussing the work of Boyd what struck me was the extensions of paternal nature in viewing social media. The white male gaze and its translation in cyberspace. I thought of Black Twitter and the idea of creating “safe spaces” or private spaces on the internet for communities. However, in reading buzzfeed and other news articles recently Black twitter has become marked and reposted as a form of entertainment/ fascination. The white gaze has permeated through this to expose and reinstall the notion of surveillance.

Watching ‘I Love Alaska’ I was struck by the question, ‘What is our emotional relationship with the internet?’ A lot of the artistic works we’ve studied in this class have served to explore the blurring of real life and technology (Neuromancer, The Matrix) but none of those were made at a time when technology, and specifically the internet, was as truly all-encompassing as it is now, or even as it was in 2008 (the year ‘Alaska’ was made). ‘I Love Alaska’ is set apart by being a direct analogue to the world it exists in, rather than a metaphor or a projection into the future of the world its today. Because of this, it gains the capacity to show a visceral and human approach to the internet that is easily relatable to, especially to a contemporary audience in 2008. 2008 might be said to be right in the middle of technology becoming omnipresent in everyday life: The iPhone came out the year before, and the 3G, boasting quicker mobile access to the internet than ever came out in July of that year, including the App Store and GPS; suddenly the internet was not a thing that just existed in your house, confined to one building at a time, nor was it  really optional anymore. The internet was faster, better and more mobile than ever before, and this free availability caused it to become truly ubiquitous in economically developed societies globally: The internet, once thought of by the majority of the public as a tool, a way to keep in touch with friends, meet new people and share ideas, suddenly became an indispensable character in our lives.

Now, perhaps, to most of us, millenials who go to Brown, the internet has become less of a character and more a part of us, a third arm of sorts. We’ve read Buzzfeed articles teaching us how to search efficiently, and we know our way around, so we use it with almost no thought. The interesting thing about AOL user 711391 is, because of her lack of experience and understanding as to how a search engine works, she approaches the internet less logically than we do, and with more innocence and emotion; AOL becomes her best friend. She asks it questions that she would ask very few if any of her ‘real’ friends, not just “how many online romances lead to sex in person”, which relates to a very private and intimate part of her life, but also ‘how to kill annoying birds in your yards’, an outburst of frustration that seems momentary, considering her later search of ‘god cares for the sparrows’. In fact, she seems, especially as the videos go on, to look to AOL for guidance before she looks to God (‘thought i could handle an affair but i couldn’t’ precedes ‘god can heal affairs’). She tells it about her troubles, and it lets her vent, even when she doesn’t ask questions (‘I met my cyber lover and the sex was not good’; ‘online friend is horrible in person’).

We look to it for constant advice, information and entertainment, and the internet is always ready to tell us what we need to hear.  But if the internet is our friend, is it a good friend?

In Keenan’s Windows, we see the repeated questioning of a binary dilemma- whether a window is vision out or in, whether the shape and idea of vision projects the existence of it, how a television can permeate a room or not. Ultimately, it seems that Keenan is creating a false dichotomy. The window clearly serves both purposes- if we wanted vision of the outside, we could use cameras, or one way mirrors, or peepholes, or any other number of devices within the grasp of construction and advancing technology. The shape of vision (the house shaped like an eye- reminiscent of the Panopticon tower in an implied and literally possible protruding vision) only projects an existence of true vision if it is believed to do so; the television only colors a room if it is turned on, and even then, only takes in the viewer when they choose to gaze at it, or listen to it.

In this lies what I believe to be the underlying cause of Keenan’s dilemma: that no matter the medium, the location, the reality or virtuality of something, we give it power when we pay attention to it. Our attention (and as briefly touched upon by Dibbell, this is not a novel idea) is the instrument by which we make ourselves vulnerable to everything- externalities and ‘internalities’. Just as the waveform of an electrons position within the energy levels of a particular atom will not collapse into a unified reality until perceived by an observer, it is the observation and acknowledgement (or rather belief) that the event affects the self that permits it to affect the self. From this basis the line of reasoning becomes straightforward: to ask whether the window gives or takes is merely a question of how it is used and perceived.

The extension of this attention becomes increasingly apparent in the story and reasoning, emotional and logical, within Dibbell’s ‘A Rape in Cyberspace’. The rape is perceived, therefore it is. The limitation of ones attention within the world, virtual or otherwise gives it power over the self, and in the vulnerability inherent in entering the lambdaMOO window we see very ‘real’ effects on those involved. Further proof of this location of attention is the dealing of punishment within the world- had a parent or other external actor seen this exchange over someone’s shoulder per se, they might advocate to find the one responsible and punish them in “the real world”. However, just like how a child calling for their mother during a fight between children may seem somehow ‘unfair’, this externality knocks a dissonance between our perceived bounds and the bounds of reality. As a last remark, this may also be why the punishment appeared so effective- since the perpetrator was also vulnerable within the game, they could be punished, and feel that punishment accordingly. Were they, say, so focused and immersed within that virtual mansion that they forgot reality, it is unlikely that real world punishment would have had an effect on their selves.

The internet provides us with both publicity and privacy. It seems, however, that the scale of the internet—the number of users and the amount of material that this public puts out—increases our privacy online. We gain anonymity by being just one of the massive number of users posting content publicly online. The sheer amount of material posted online makes our individual posts trivial and more and more obscure as time goes on and more data is accumulated.

Towards the end of the article, Julian Dibbell suggests a blurring of the boundary between virtual reality and real life: “the more seriously I took the notion of virtual rape, the less seriously I was able to take the notion of freedom of speech, with its tidy division of the world into the symbolic and the real.” He centers this idea around the way that LambdaMOO alters his way of thinking, solely in the mind and not his actions in real life.

The artist Ilona Gaynor presents a perspective on how virtual and real actions can be directly related in her speculative virtual city Synecdoche, Hills. Created on Second Life, this design consists of a city with an internal economy, fueling shops and restaurants, through which money can be laundered. Additionally, deals and exchanges can be made online, instead of in real life so that no actual contact between people is necessary. Arguably, she presents a public space that mimics one in real life, so that crime can take place in a “safer”/non-violent way. It would be interesting to discuss the moral implications of this, and if the advantages are significant. Also, it would inevitably redefine the way that we act in physical public spaces, as certain actions might be shifted to the online public space.