Skip navigation

Category Archives: Lakshmi’s section

The magnetic strip on your credit card is silent. It is nondescript. It is there. And yet it holds a wealth of knowledge. Your prepaid toll transponder hangs unassumingly from your windshield, quietly relaying information between your vehicle and a data storage facility somewhere in the far-off United States desert. You have a smartphone in your pocket. All of these and an infinitude of other simultaneous whirring processes comprise Matthew Kirschenbaum’s idea of screen essentialism—that is, a sort of ease with which we ignore all that is happening behind the pleasant, glowing façade of the omnipresent “screen.”

Consider the fact that interactions within the stock market used to be recorded and displayed on ticker tape, a physical paper medium that literally went on for miles. In purely logistical terms, the modern trend towards screen essentialism does away with the hassle of combing through a waterfall of information to locate a single data point. But now, the idea behind this benign example can be expanded to the entirety of human knowledge, and increasingly, human capability to monitor. Screen essentialism, in its ubiquity, has allowed for information storage and inscription so huge and comprehensive that it reaches far beyond the personal computer. Every tap of a key, scroll of a mouse, every contact, leaves a trace.

Is there anywhere to hide? Given time, there will be pieces of evidence, certain ones and zeros zapped onto certain magnets that certain people will want, or need, to have deleted. Kirschenbaum is illustrative in his examples of bygone data destruction procedures—but these are, for the most part, being rendered obsolete. The modern digital age is yielding “Greater and greater storage capacity [which] will only serve to further dematerialize the media as their finite physical boundaries slip past the point of any practical concern.” Those who have access to the stored data thereby wield unprecedented power over the system of people who subscribe to it—namely, all those who remain the least bit attached to “the Grid.”

In a sense, Kirschenbaum presents this idea neutrally. He is simply commenting on one of the conditions we adopt by accepting our current notion of new media. But there is something unmistakably sinister to this image. Anytime we carry out some inane task—Kirschenbaum cites the simple swipe of a subway card—we subject ourselves to an intense system of scrutiny that extends far up the chain of command. Presumably, for those whose very existence is contested by the law, this should prove a daunting fact of life.

But screen essentialism is being embraced, both in theory and in practice, by such activists as DREAMers, many of whom are attempting to queer the political realm surrounding undocumented activism by displaying their “illegal” status in a public sphere.

For many DREAM activists, this fear of the panoptic gaze of the world beyond the screen is not only of no concern—it is something to be acknowledged and rejected. Indeed, Cristina Beltran points out that “more and more unauthorized youth have chosen to reject secrecy in favor of claiming membership through a more aggressive politics of visibility and protest that includes cross-state pilgrimages, hunger strikes, bus tours, rallies, sit-ins, and other forms of direct action.”

Visibility. While we might limit these activists’ actions to a precise lineage of physical events, Kirschenbaum would remind us that we are seeing the issue through the eyes of the screen essentialist. Every contact does, in fact, leave a trace. By making a choice to be visible, DREAMers are flaunting their message—namely, themselves—in front of a system they know doesn’t allow for them to exist. Beltran cites various other examples of ways in which DREAMers have “come out of the shadows.” Many have made public statements in blogs and on YouTube, crossing into the boundary of true screen essentialism, embracing and at once challenging the “consensual hallucination” of digital spaces as private spaces that Kirschenbaum cites. By doing so, they are warping the approach to the political as seen through a digital window, creating a new environment for protest and raising awareness by developing new media to suit their message.

This sort of activism holds deep implications for both the political struggle at hand and the framework of screen essentialism that it relies upon to make its point. First and foremost, by making themselves seen, undocumented activists are propelling themselves into a political fight that existed for years without them. Practically, this accomplishes two things: (1) it shows unity among an incredibly diverse group of individuals, who from this unity derive strength, support, and passion for their collective cause, and (2) it puts faces to a struggle that many Americans only know by the evening news. This process, which Beltran describes as a “queering” of the political activism landscape, doesn’t rely solely on traditional methods of mobilizing change. It incorporates these techniques—petitions, lobbying—into a new perspective through which to view the problem. By doing so, it both captivates attention and encourages action.

In the context of new media, this statement challenges the overarching mentality of blind acceptance. When presented with knowledge of the framework of the modern digital world, of mass storage and proliferation of personal data, the ubiquity of capture, our own accessibility to those in positions of authority, many find themselves not ignoring the facts, but rather complacently abiding. I am not issuing a call to action; rather, I am showing that action against these mechanisms is both doable and effective. To throw a kink into a massive, grinding machine takes stamina and substantial determination. But when it is in place, the cogs will turn on an angle.

It’s hard to believe Digital Media is in its 11th hour. As DM was my first course as a Brown student, I’ve been surprised by the intellectual stimulation (and confusion) I’ve found in this class. From Barthes to Citizenfour to Snapchat to Prezi to the wonderfully creepy TIME magazine image, we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’m by no means a technical person—and am thankful I never will be—but can’t help but feel grateful for the absolute confusion I’m left with. I have dozens of unanswered questions ranging from privacy to networks to digital archives, but I’m satisfied with the tools I have.

  I enjoyed our assignments the most. Starring a text (which I doubt I will EVER do again) and writing about revenge pornography have been both challenging and rewarding. I appreciate their complexities, their mysteries, and their opportunities. Like the class itself, the assignments are flexible and unpredictable in the best of ways. I look forward to the third and final assignment based on a blog post (a couple, actually, that I have written). I want to explore the intersection between sexuality (specifically gay men), big data, homonationalism, and capitalism. Before September, this intersection of ideas would have never crossed my mind. And for this enlightenment—as confusing and overwhelming as it may be—I thank you.

Professor Chun’s statements today about the potential of digital media and new media for democracy really resonated with me, and my thoughts concerning the potential of initiating and resolving a social movement through social media channels. As I said last week, I have spent a lot of time working on a research project concerning social movements in the cases of Jordan, Turkey, and Cyprus. The largest caveat that I found in the use of social media was, despite its organizational potential, its inability to resolve preexisting grievances and social structures. I asked Professor Chun to clarify her opinions on the potential of social media in social movements and political resolutions — while social media is an effective outlet, we cannot assume that technology will solve our political problems. Particularly in the case of Cyprus, there are longstanding political and social grievances between the TRNC and the Republic of Cyprus. Technology cannot solve our political problems, in that it cannot erase the scars of the past and create a move towards the future. Rather, in the context of revenge porn, digital media has the potential to continue making the present the present. And what the DREAMers use social media for is to ensure American citizens are aware of the continuing presence of their struggle and political movement — perhaps presenting an unrelenting presentness is the use of digital media in a political context. Professor Chun also encouraged us to critically consider the new digital system, and that system’s impact on the socialization and expectations of contemporary society. Again, the issue of presentness is one that social media is capable of tackling. In the case of Cyprus, both the TRNC and the Republic of Cyprus are not only aware of the presence of the other side of the island, but also the presence of a conflict. Perhaps utilizing social media to interrogate that presence, and thereby encouraging citizens to engage with the other side in order to better mediate and resolve that conflict, would be the method to use. The method is not to agree over unresolvable differences — rather, the use of social media is simply to raise awareness about an unsustainable status quo that is detrimental to the overall future of the island and country. The present nature of digital media is an optimal forum to do so.

We were warned early on in this course, perhaps even in the first lecture, that the term ‘new media’ contains its own demise, quietly gesturing towards the time when new will become ubiquitous, and then, inevitably, old. The very existence of this class indicates the historicity of the digital that perhaps marks it as post-new: it’s a field vibrant enough with critical theory that we can devote a semester (a degree, a career) to studying the study of it. Indeed, as Cramer points out on page 701 of What Is Post-Digital, the digital has become so omnipresent as to render a complete digital withdrawal impossible, as digital systems permeate and regulate even the most classically analog aspects of our lives, snail mail and nature.*

I think Cramer could go one step further, though, when he claims that “‘post-digital’ eradicates the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media”. By his logic, if I’m understanding it correctly, something ceases to be new as soon as it is reflected upon critically. ‘Post-digital’ seems, to me, not to eradicate distinctions between old and new but rather to make the new immediately old, consumed by (or turned into) history as soon as it begins to exist.

*sorry

Big Data is an incredibly hyped concept in the common discourse. This comes as no surprise in an era of rampant neoliberalism, where practically any government intervention is seen as “too much” and privatization is seen as the solution to all our economic woes. Thus, when the layperson began to realize just how pervasive Big Data is, much controversy was stirred over the notion that Big Data is an arm of “Big Government.” Sure, the problematics of the NSA’s surveillance methods are an easy target for the modern neoliberalist, but what is interesting to me is the fact that Big Data is actually a weapon of Big Consumerism. The very purpose of the collection of such large sums of data, as Mayer-Schönberger presents, is to gather information that will better predict certain trends. In essence, laissez-faire economics — a distinctly neoliberal policy — is a driving factor behind the “invasive” data collection that is hyped by many media outlets as being anywhere from creepy to infringing upon rights to privacy. But government regulation wouldn’t solve this issue, either, as their track-record with pervasive data storage isn’t quite clean either. So which type of Big Data is the lesser of the two evils: that of the government or that of corporations?

Counterculture has thrived on the socially unacceptable and quantitative minority for as long as culture has existed. Throughout the recent cultural and social history of our country, we can watch counterculture movements change and fluctuate, from hippie to punk to grunge to “hipster” – and one begins to wonder exactly why it is always so present and prevailing throughout the ages. It is my opinion that counterculture is the behavioral result of dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is always present in any population. It is interesting then to see the development of counterculture in the age of the digital, where it flourishes with a wider reach than it has ever achieved before.

Cramer’s article on the Post-Digital supposes that hipster counterculture and the rise of analog in the age of new media is fueled by several different motivations, and it seems the purveyors of these ideals often only figure out their purpose after they have begun to practice their counterculture-ish trends. One may say that they reject their laptop and embrace their typewriter or their vinyl records in the spirit of rejection towards digital media’s surveillance, publicity, and inherent “creepiness”, but I think it’s a safe assumption to make that that isn’t the reason behind every hipster’s vinyl collection. Maybe it was always like this in the past, where a counterculture fad became the cultural fad, of what is “cool”, but I think the reach of digital media and digital media expression has definitely aided counterculture’s spread as it slowly overtakes, or becomes, the mainstream.

Tonight, I spent about three hours editing Wikipedia.

It actually started totally unintentionally. I was procrastinating and started to watch a video on youtube taped by the Shoah Foundation of my Grandfather, who was a Holocaust Survivor and was one of the Jews saved by Kastner’s Train. Kastner’s train was an attempt by a Jewish leader in the Budapest community named Rudolf Kastner to make a deal with the Nazis, and exchange a large number of trucks for the safe passage of a thousand Jewish-Hungarian lives. It was one of the largest and most ethically controversial decisions made by Jews in the Holocaust. And yet, it also saved my entire family.

After the Holocaust, Kastner immigrated to Israel and was assassinated by angry Jews for his actions about 50 years ago.

I always knew that it was a significant event. But I never had a chance to have a mature conversation about it with my Grandfather, who passed away a few years ago. And rewatching the video I engaged with the event in an entirely different way. I felt like I was transported back 5 years ago to a time when I would just sit with him in his house and listen to him tell stories.

However this time, I began to Wikipedia some of the things he was talking about. Just out of curiosity. My Grandfather was an incredibly brilliant man. His mind functioned like a huge archive of information ranging from circuits to the Prussian Empire, and growing up I remember being incredibly impressed by his encyclopedic memory. When he would tell stories about growing up in Budapest, he would name the exact dates of every single turning point of the Nazi occupation of Hungary, and I was pretty sure had probably memorized most of the recorded history of Western Europe. So I decided to Wikipedia what he was talking about just to see if he was right.

And then I had a thought–my Grandfather was a Holocaust Survivor. He was one of the few people who had testified and remembered a very unique and important event in the Holocaust, and in Jewish History. Who is to say that his testimony is or isn’t more accurate than the books cited listed on Wikipedia?

To my surprise, I discovered a lot of discrepancies. Namely, that there were 20-40 unaccounted Jews who did not arrive to Switzerland after the transport, because they were detained (according to my Grandfather’s testimony on youtube) on the grounds that they were ethnically Romanian, not Hungarian (check out the Wikipedia article now!). And I think I’m going to use the second assignment to try and correctly account for these lacks in Wikipedia’s record.

But this experience also raised some larger questions for me in Digital Media. In a world governed by open source knowledge, how to we rank the quality of information? Recording the Holocaust using open source citations, is a book’s account of an event more objective and accurate than my Grandfather’s memory? Or is my Grandfather capable of remembering incredible details left out of the historical record? And how does the both digital media and the internet give power to each of these sources of knowledge? I look forward to discussing this in section.

This week’s theme directly related to a research question and project that I have been pursuing since January 2014 — I investigated the presence of social media in the development of social movements in the cases of Jordan, Turkey, and Cyprus. Turkey operated as the location where social media was most prevalent (out of the three case studies) and appeared to have a direct correlation to social activism. As Twitter and mobilizing through Facebook became more prevalent, theoretically, so did the protests. As a case study, Turkey demonstrated the stark presence that social media has in a community — despite government bans on Twitter, for example, there remained a strong Turkish presence on the site, attempting to mobilize the community. Jordan as a case study demonstrated the faulty points in traditional media outlets — there have been no lasting protests and reforms in Jordan. I interrogated whether this related to the lack of a social media presence, and the only media presence being directly tied to the state. Finally, Cyprus operated as a direct synthesis of social movements and social media — in Cyprus, the social movement is one moving towards the unification of the TRNC and the Republic of Cyprus through bicommunal peacebuilding efforts. Based on my findings, while social media does have the potential to maintain preexisting ties and to organize on-the-ground events (again,with individuals with preexisting ties), social media seems to lack a particular capacity to forge a bond/connection between people who have totally different viewpoints on the Cyprus Problem. I raised the question: does social media have the capabilities to forge a connection between people who have entirely different outlooks on the political and social situation? Why or why not? I concluded my piece with the thought that social media lacks the capacity to forge new ties between individuals with opposite viewpoints on the problem at hand. However, I was unable to offer a concrete reason as to why — while I supposed that something lacks in social media to forge a concrete connection, I was lost as to exactly what that lack is, and how to “fix” that lack.

Based on this week, I suppose that that lack comes from a multiplicity of issues: primarily, I perceive social media (and perhaps digital media in general) as being unable to communicate an objective perspective. Continuing with the case of Cyprus, the TRNC and Republic of Cyprus have extraordinarily subjective views of the other, and are unable to see past the fact that both groups are both victims and perpetrators of the broader conflict as a whole. And if social media is becoming the more prevalent form of communication between the two territories, if social media is unable to communicate objectivity, how can the two groups begin to forge an understanding? Similarly, if subjectivity is a group’s truth, and social media cannot promote the recognition of subjectivity as truth, then how can it begin to bridge the gap between the two communities?

I think it is interesting the way that Wikipedia has evolved as a “credible” information source over the course of my time in school. I remember back in elementary school when we were first starting to use computers for research, we were never allowed to cite Wikipedia articles. Then later we were encouraged to use the site for the links at the end of the articles. And more recently (in high school) I’ve heard teachers encourage us to use Wikipedia. Their argument is that it has become such an established source, employing real experts to write their posts, that the information is plenty reliable to reference in an academic paper. This always made me uncomfortable because if Wikipedia was ok for academics, then couldn’t you argue that any source on the internet was valid? Because the Internet has no real divisions, every category of writing and information overlaps and blends so that it’s near impossible to tell where one source ends and the next begins. Wikipedia is famous in fact for how they hyperlink pages together. “Wiki Game” anyone? The site seems to bridge the gap, or blur the line, between older information sources–which we see as reliable and concrete, like published books and journals–and our new fount of (unreliable?) knowledge, the Internet. I think Wikipedia is the prime example of how old media is getting subsumed into digital/new media.

 

 

I was really interested in the logic undergirding Professor Chun’s statement on Wednesday that democracy functions as a constant action against “privatization and thus categorization.” I’m wondering how one might use the relationship between neoliberal privatization and the categorizing of lives and bodies as a means of framing a discussion of the DREAM activists described in Beltran’s chapter. Beltran quotes a video by one DREAM activist who states that “my people are being criminalized for crossing borders to seek a better life while the industries that drove us here are not being held accountable.” Indeed, it seems as if the acts of policing borders and surveilling undocumented youth rests on a dual logic of serving private interests (which Beltran, in a discussion of neoliberal globalization, refers to as “the economic factors that integrate economies but segregate populations”) and keeping bodies policed and categorized–across lines of ethnicity and immigration status, certainly, but also sexuality, gender expression, etc.  That neoliberalism depends on these two, seemingly oppositional systems–at once opening up transnational trade for private interest, and closing borders off to bodies that don’t conform to a heteronormative, xenophilic ideal–perhaps extends the meaning of Ranciere’s “politics of paradox.”