Shay David’s article “Toward Participatory Expertise” made me think of the current debates in our political system regarding true democracy and elitism. We are programmed by our society to believe that the United States is the ultimate bastion of democracy when in fact it is at best a republic with democratic qualities. Even though every citizen has the right to vote, it is the intellectual and powerful elite of politicians and corporations that make the most important decisions that impact our society. Many might argue that this is as it should be, as the smartest of us will make the best decisions, but I might counter with the question: best for whom? Yes, the most intelligent and the richest have the capacity to make our society better, but sadly they seem to look after their own interests first and then society’s second. Wikipedia though provides an excellent example of a truly democratic enterprise that is successful without class demarcations. If someone writes something that is incorrect, there is a vast group to oversee and correct any oversight. In a sense Big Brother is more active than ever, but it is not the corrupt government Orwell imagined it to be; Big Brother is now the consumer culture ensuring that things are done the way they should be. I wonder if this same idea could be applied to our government with the public more actively correcting the mistakes our government makes, and the sooner the better, in my opinion.
I am ambivalent about the tactics of the Slashdot.org website, as I think certain comments being eventually pushed out can be a positive or negative thing. On the one hand, I abhor Internet “trolls,” those who know that they are being ridiculous but take joy in it because of the anonymity provided by the web, and I think this kind of system would push them out efficiently. On the other hand, sometimes an opinion is not popular but it is right or it has something that makes us critically think or question our own values, never a bad thing. The fact that enough “dislikes” can make it just disappear is worrisome to me.
I generally agree with what Krapp has to say in his article, that corporations and the government are more concerned with protecting their bottom lines than in preventing cyberterrorism. I do believe there must be some guidelines somewhere though – open source code is a wonderful ideal, but it is not in humanity’s nature to only use a freedom in a positive manner. I do agree that “since 1941 wars have been victories of machines over machines” (Krapp 37), and cyberterrorism is indeed a real threat today, not just a “conspiracy theory.” Thus I am glad he concedes “to take the real threats of cyberterrorism seriously is certainly not alarmist” (Krapp 49). It is a very fine balance we must tread as far as providing Internet usage, providing enough freedom to allow those who wish to use it for artistic purposes free reign, but also developing enough security to prevent those who wish to do harm to our societal systems the access to succeed in their endeavors.
It’s not perfect, but my site is finally ready for the viewing public. You can see it at:
While reading about the history of the surveillance of the United States/Mexican border and how such territorial definitions are breaking down in “Border Hacks,” it made me think how the borders of (thinking about) American superiority are breaking down in much the same way. Up until this past decade the United States was living in a bubble, and while many of its citizens decry how the quality of life here is not what it once was, we have had to realize that things are still much better here than in most places in the world. When we read about iPad workers laboring for 15 hours a day (and of the many suicides due to this kind of work) in China we are incensed, but this is not a new development. Our lavish American lifestyle has always come at the expense of another culture’s exploitation; it is just that such knowledge is more public now. Similarly we hate the idea of allowing Mexican immigrants to “dilute the American dream,” yet we refuse to acknowledge the beneficial aspects of their being here, as they often do jobs that many Americans would not be willing to. There are perhaps millions of undocumented immigrants here already, so it seems more logical to allow those already here to become full citizens so that they can at the very least contribute to our tax system. In addition, I believe that implementing a system by which Mexicans can petition for citizenship would greatly decrease illegal traffic at the borders – even if only a small amount were allowed in each year, many people would apply for citizenship through this legal route rather than risking their lives to cross our borders.
When reading about Electronic Disturbance Theater’s denial-of-service attacks, I have to admit I was very irritated. I completely agree with Oxblood Ruffin, who argues that a “denial-of-service attack is an assault on free speech and a violation of the principle of free flow” (Raley 41). This reminds me of a situation I became embroiled in during college: on National Coming Out Day, the Southern Baptist Student Union planned a speech on the sinfulness of homosexuality. Many gay students held a protest outside this speech, but I refused to go, which made a few of my friends very angry with me. While I admit the timing of this speech was in poor taste, it was the Southern Baptist Union’s right to state their opinion; freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment, no matter how wrong or illogical we might find what is said. While SWARM makes the comparison that slowing these sites down is akin to how “a physical sit-in slows down the movement of people in buildings or on streets” (Raley 41), those physical sit-ins are not in effect silencing people, while keeping people from accessing information and other’s opinions is doing so. I do believe that in the case of EDT they would have been better off engaging in web activism, which is “productive and nonthreatening” (Raley 42) – in that specific instance instead of messing with the servers they could have coordinated a “verbal attack” on the sites targeted, leaving valid arguments by the hundreds on the forums. This seems to me to be a case of people doing a wrong thing for a right reason and an example of how, to protect the oppressed, a group can sadly become a form of oppressor itself.
Since I have always enjoyed games and interactive narratives, my choice in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2 reflects those tastes. I chose to look at the following two different works: Inanimate Alice (Part 4) and Façade. Inanimate Alice (Part 4) shares the perspective of an immigrant teenage girl who now lives in a small town in England. On a dare from her friends, Alice has climbed to the top of a factory only to find that the stairs she just used have crashed to the ground. While trying to find an escape route, she worries that her life might be over before it’s begun, and she reminisces about her time in Moscow, her school, her friends, her family, and her passions and creations. This looking back segment takes the form of photos that the user can click through as well as images that appear with accompanying words on the screen, and in addition, the user gets to control her movements in the factory as well. While this is obviously intended for a high school audience (sometimes it takes way too long to move to the next segment, probably to give students time to read everything), I was still impressed by how immersive it was with the many images and sounds drawing you in to tell this story. This work especially captured the feelings of fear and uncertainty while trying to find a way out of the factory with the often creepy graffiti images on the walls and the chilling, disturbing background music.
Façade meanwhile is a little more artful in its interaction. Instead of being immersed as a spectator to someone else’s life, you are in the middle of the action in this scenario. You play as yourself (but you can create whatever name you wish from their supplied list), a friend at the apartment of Trip and Grace, a married couple having severe marital issues. Before you even enter the door you can hear them arguing, and once you are inside the apartment (you can navigate yourself using arrow keys), you can actually enter into the conversation by typing what you say on screen. Sometimes they will directly ask you questions, but often you must interject in their constant back-and-forth conversations. Through a very well-made engine, the responses of Grace and Trip will change depending on what you say. Both are hiding secrets from one another, and it is up to you to draw those out and keep this couple together. I played through this a few times, and while I kept them together two out of three times, the third time it turned out that Trip was having an affair with his assistant and he stormed out of the apartment. I wonder if there is a way to have Trip reveal he cheated and still keep them together, and this makes me want to replay the scenario again and again. This ability to replay the action and the feeling that you have such a strong hand in how the narrative works itself out is a very unique, addictive, and enjoyable experience. I believe that interactive experiences like these two creations could be implemented in this course’s Anthology project, and perhaps Alexandra or Johansen could take some cues from Alice and Façade in particular to help inform their projects.
My interest as far as the Occupy movement is concerned is primarily in the movement’s tactics and its subsequent reception by society, or perhaps lack thereof. I have friends and family members who seem dismissive and negative towards the movement, and yet when I ask them if they know what the protesters really stand for, they seem vague or fuzzy on the details. Why is there so much cynicism and ambivalence toward the movement (or is it instead indifference due to our population’s growing complacency in political affairs)? I will analyze the strategies used by the Occupy movements to see if there are perhaps better ways to proclaim their message and be more successfully accepted by society.
I also want to analyze media and pop culture representations of the Occupy movements and what these depictions might suggest about the movements themselves and about our current society in general. In the case of the media I want to examine ways in which the Occupy movements can either get around the obstacles that the mass media has thrown up around them or how they can actually use these hindrances to their advantage. If the main problem facing the movements is in fact a skeptical and apathetic population I will suggest ways to get people more educated about this cause and more willing to want to join in and make a difference. As far as popular culture I will be taking a look at several portrayals of the Occupy movement in television shows and comic books, from South Park to Archie and beyond.
While I will primarily write a paper article, I might also make a PowerPoint, Pecha Kucha presentation, or a short video to accompany the article and summarize the main points using visuals and clips from television shows and news segments.
While reading Chapter 11, particularly on the discussion of “figures that circulate through society with fetishistic force… attached to the commodity, to be sure, but also hovering over it as a desirable value” (Poster 234), I could not help but think of an iPhone commercial that for some strange reason disturbs me. For the unfamiliar this commercial is paid for by Sprint to advertise their lack of data restriction on the iPhone compared to Verizon and AT&T and has the phone app icons floating over trains and buildings in New York City, as these businesses and the people within them are now represented by these icons, for all intents and purposes reified. Companies I am sure would like consumers to think of them as concepts rather than as individuals, and vice versa, with consumers not real people but rather statistical data on databases that they can analyze with complex algorithms to better market to. And yet “consumers identify cultural objects not with corporations… but with stars, directors, musicians, and authors” (Poster 248) in my opinion as a bid to stay connected to people and to further their own concepts of individuality. The same is true for what people buy now, as “in modern society, consumer objects represented social status; in postmodernity they express one’s identity” (Poster 242). I believe that when computers were first introduced most corporations viewed them as just a digital and more connected version of the advertising they already were instituting on television, with the added bonus that people and their commercial interests could now be more adequately and easily tracked. They did not foresee though that computers are not just devices where people passively receive information as “mouse potatoes,” but instead are being employed to give people agency and to reverse the dynamic, making the corporations the passive receivers of what consumers demand from their products and how these consumers can immediately take them to task when they do not perform as they are expected to. This active involvement and monitoring of these corporations could be seen as one of the “tactics” mentioned as “the resisting practices of individuals and groups” to counter the “strategies” of corporate manipulation (Poster 239). Later in the chapter some examples are given of tactics used in regard to television, specifically zapping, zipping, and muting of commercials. I wonder though if perhaps the strategies used by corporations have inadvertently allowed people to better develop tactics over the years. Recently I was in the car with a friend while he was driving, and he was complaining about an overt billboard ad we had just passed. I had to admit that I had not even noticed it – I had completely blocked it out. I believe this is due to the oversaturation of ads everywhere which has led to desensitization and allowed us to sometimes outright ignore what is right in front of us. Perhaps I am a rare exception though, and it is still possible that I am subconsciously being affected without knowing it. Still I do believe that when it comes to advertising that less is more and that corporations are better off creatively involving us with their products rather than simply bombarding us with images and slogans constantly.
I found The Century of the Self very fascinating, as I had never heard of Freud’s nephew Bernays before, and it is amazing how Freud’s ideas and theories were taken and used in so many different ways (both honorable and corrupt) by others. Bernays takes the cake for the ultimate manipulation, particularly in regard to how he “restored democracy” to Guatemala all so that the United Fruit Company could keep their stranglehold on the banana trade. It is impressive that the corporations, with the public relations men guiding them, used whatever the current social norm was to sell their products regardless. When everyone was expected to conform to create a homogenous society, the businesses sold them products based on this idea of a unified society. When people began to assert their unique individuality, the corporations threw in the element of choice so that people could take these physical items and use them to represent their newfound individuality.
I feel that people of my generation (that is to say, Generation X) are not as materialistic as many other generations (particularly the Me Generation and Y), but we are still very highly impacted by technology. Our vice is that of popular culture – the characters, movies, cartoon TV shows, and concepts of the movies and television shows that we grew up with in the 1980s. We bring them up in conversation constantly, even in graduate courses, and they permeate our lives in unconscious ways, the least of which is that we can recognize a fellow popular culture devourer when we meet one. While not physical objects, these popular culture “icons” often have the influence and emotional impact of real physical people and things. There is a great generational separation that occurs due to mediation as well, as my parents do not understand my fascination with videogames, and classic shows like My Three Sons and The Dick Van Dyke Show will most likely never have the resonance with me that they do with my parents.
I am not sure I agree with the author’s conceit of the traditional idea of identity as “an interior state of consciousness, bounded by the skin of the individual” (92). While the current technology makes the contrast between internal human identity and external threats to that security more pronounced, it is difficult for me to see identity as a stable or fixed entity at any time. Long before digital technology existed (and to a large extent still now) the identity of an individual was determined by a variety of external factors: genetics, lessons taught by parents and teachers, the experiences one encounters in the workforce or as part of particular discourse communities, and what one absorbs from books, movies, television shows, etc. In addition, while the author might see Locke’s views on identity as flawed, I do believe that our identity is constantly in flux, the “sameness” changing as we move through time. I for one am very different from the person I was five years ago, and I am even more far removed from the person I was ten years ago, and yet those former selves are still part of me. Even now I find facets of my personality I did not realize previously existed, but maybe this is just me.
I have little familiarity with Erik Erikson, and so I found his theories very interesting regarding identity, the ego, and the anxieties that can take hold of us. I did find it amusing that the author asserts that “identity in the United States is secure” (109), especially after Erikson described in detail the mass anxiety felt by Americans in the Post-War boom “perhaps” due to “the incredible success of the United States in world affairs” (108). If Americans then felt anxiety because of how well the United States was doing, how much more anxiety must we be enduring now in the current economic and political climate that years from now will no doubt be seen as anything but successful? It seems to me that both the United States and its citizens are currently in the midst of an identity crisis. Yes, we proudly wear our favorite movies and characters on our T-shirts, and we “like” our favorite companies on Facebook, but these almost seem like emotional firewalls that protect us from digging deep and discovering who we truly are. This results in the “self alienation” that Benjamin speaks of. Perhaps I am interpreting his words incorrectly, but when he says “it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order” (115), I am thinking that we are so distracted by all of the media out there, that we are blissfully unaware of the destruction of both our inner selves and our society in general. As we talked about previously, downloading too much is dangerous, and currently this “cultural diabetes” has resulted in an assault on our personal identities. We are bombarded by so many outside sources that we are not quite sure who we are any more, but I do not believe that this is an exclusive feature of digital technology; rather, this has been going on for quite some time.
Poster finds Hardt and Negri’s terminology in Empire troubling when it comes to technology, but I find his criticisms a tad nitpicky, especially considering that they wrote their work in 2001. The world is changing so quickly that it is becoming difficult to keep up with everything honestly. Even this book, written in 2006, comes off dated at times because of how quickly everything changes. In the first chapter assigned for today the author states that “since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the United States has found itself in a position of unchallenged power” (Poster 46). I would agree that this was a prevailing view of the 1990s, but with the occurrence of 9/11 and the most recent economic crisis, there are few who would claim the U.S. is anywhere close to being as dominant as it once was. The United States cannot even balance its own budget, pay its loans, and it was on the verge of bankruptcy less than six months ago: if it is ruling the world, then the world is much worse off than I could ever imagine. The point is that this work can seem a bit outdated, the gap between 2006 and now a gigantic one, and between 2001 and now an even more enormous one. Hardt and Negri could not have foreseen how popular and impactful tools such as blogs and Twitter have become and the agency they have brought to the average citizen.
I definitely do not agree with those “researchers [who] are concerned that the Internet, a Western technology, will destroy other cultures” (Poster 81). I believe the Internet can be a win-win for everyone, with our cultural products reaching countries from around the world while the products, customs, and traditions of other cultures being uploaded to the Internet for us to see and learn from.
I find it both amusing and ironic that despite the Bangladeshi protesters’ strong dislike of American popular culture, Bert from Sesame Street showed up anyway. I can definitely agree with the author that this resulted in “a series of misrecognitions, perfect transmissions, confusions, and blends of politics and culture” (Poster 21). I am not sure I can entirely agree, however, with his “solution” for this problem. The author cautions that “one must be especially careful in taking as an offense the legitimate cultural practices of another even if they are on one’s own soil” (Poster 22). I guess my question here is what does the author mean by “legitimate,” and who defines what is and what is not legitimate? While in general universal tolerance is an ideal I can get behind, this is also a naïve policy, as some things are just offensive and should be opposed. While I do believe other nations and cultures should possess the freedom to practice their laws as they see fit, I do believe that lines must be drawn at certain points, specifically in regards to most Middle Eastern nations’ attitudes and behavior towards women. Most women in these countries possess no freedom and are subjugated, and the shackles binding them are usually a combination of religious doctrine and local laws. In addition, while I do believe that people have the right to state their opinions, I again draw the line where the attack on 9/11 is concerned. To hear people believe that this attack of violence was an acceptable way to combat America’s greed or popular culture (or whatever excuse they needed really) is disgusting – violence should never be allowed to be the answer, no matter what their cultural norms or religions dictate. So while it is great on paper to talk about two cultures meeting on a neutral ground, in a lot of ways this is not realistically possible, which is what makes this cultural nexus via the network so potentially complicated and incendiary.