David Shay’s article “Structures of Participatory Culture” explores the way in which authority and expertise is created in online knowledge environments like Wikipedia, Slashdot, and Google. Shay suggests the challenge eventually is not the “stickiness” of the knowledge these communities create necessarily, rather how they interact and reflect upon established systems of knowledge production, expertise, and credentialization (194).
Here this makes me think of the authority and expertise of online courses versus in-class courses. While in many cases the instructor is the same and both types of courses may be offered in the same university, what of strictly online universities versus traditional universities? While currently the quality of strictly online education is seen as lacking due to issues over course content, differing experiences in collaboration, and overall value in terms of a degree, I feel if an open-source variety of online education where it’s curriculum design and internal structure could be changed through the students themselves—a diffuse and adaptable online community like Shay mentions, could potentially challenge the prevailing institutional model of vetting and ultimately dispersion of knowledge. It would take some time naturally and primarily through local communal efforts could it take flight, but I think the great flexibility and interactive nature through which knowledge would be created in such an educational system could eventually become a force in itself.
On a different level, I thought of our current political system and how ingrained traditional institutions of knowledge and authority are in the way in which our representatives are chosen. Perhaps the experimental efforts of online communities could be brought to shed light upon this process freeing up a repressive republic to include greater collaboration and interactivity based upon similar models of reputation as online communities expect through much more efficient and open means. Essentially the emphasis on process of knowledge vetting could be handed back to the people rather than puppets. While not perfect this could at the very least allow for greater dialogue on issues that is all encompassing of minority voices, issues and problems with a greater transparency revealing what works and what doesn’t work.
Rita Raley’s discussion of borders as physical and metaphorical constructs limiting access along, for instance, the border between Mexico and the United States, emphasizes above a binary logic the reconfigured notion of oppositionality through “diffuse, networked, and temporarily, rather than territorially situated” power relations (37).
Although Raley’s examples like SWARM and the Critical Art Ensemble’s The Electronic Disturbance articulate Hardt and Negri’s conception that “resistance must withdraw to the networks, for to fight a decentralized power requires the use of a decentralized means—nomadic power,” I fear, particularly in the case of the CAE, radicalized language subverts their amorphous conception of resistance and can actually propagate the dominant social order (44).
For instance, although Raley attempts to allay these fears through acknowledgement of a distinction between the ‘real’ and the ‘symbolic,’ electronic civil disobedience itself could become co-opted radicalized in more subversive and dangerous ways. Consider much as activists in the Occupy movement have developed tools and technologies to impede police intervention and prediction of staged protests, with what might seem a similar move, terrorists linked to Al Qaeda and other such formations can create systems of networks outside of the infrastructure of the internet such that pockets of non-connectivity and disruption of service become sites for not only resistance, but out-right terrorism.
While this may be a bit of a stretch considering the CAE would maintain their use of subversive tactical media is purely for temporal resistance, I fear the regulation of access much remain temporary and elusive itself lest it become abused to impose a given order.
After browsing the Electronic Literature Collection by the ELO, I really feel the vast variety of abstract and artistic works in the collection carry at the very least a pedagogical value in their interpretation and at full potential new models for representing knowledge.
Two pieces I considered were “Standing Still” by Bruno Nadeau and Jason Lewis, and “Ah” by K Michel and Dirk Vis. “Standing Still” is based around the conception of bodies as reading instruments so in order to read the text, in the installation a poem, the view must remain still emphasizing reading as an embodied activity both in the act of reading as well as the text as possessing a textual body. According to the artist this piece is meant to encourage slow reading, as opposed to our increasingly brief reading habits like skimming and scanning as we read across webpages and links. Interesting here is that although the text is embodied it still remains above all fluid influenced by the slightest movements of the human body. This makes a poignant observation that is not merely in this installation the digital that makes text fluid through electronic literature, but through humans as well. I was reminded of Mark Poster’s idea of the humachine in which the relationship between man and machine must become cooperative and cohesive—the sense of reconfiguring human relations. In a sense the digital influences us just as much as we influence it. More broadly on a structural level in terms of our anthology, having this type of site in which we provide a wealth of genres and media on the occupy movement could serve to better represent the fluid and amorphous nature of the movement itself, very apt indeed.
The second piece, “Ah” by K Michel and Dirk Vis displays a stream of consciousness form of digital text that highlights the natures of reading digital texts which is deprived of re-reading and looking ahead. So this causes us to question current configurations of texts as they occur—again highlighting the fluid nature of digital texts in general. I feel this work is the antithesis of “Standing Still” because “Standing Still” encourages an embodied approach to reading which allows one to slow the text down whereas here the text and consequently our perception become fluid and much more akin to our daily online reading habits, “twitch culture” short attention spans, and tendency to skim online texts.
As Dr. Guertin mentioned in class, neither of the changes these digital reading reflections represent are necessarily bad or gad, they simply connote a shift and this is something we should embrace. Besides look at the wonderful works such change has wrought. http://collection.eliterature.org/2/
Mark Posters explores the way relations between information technology and humans disrupt the traditional consumer/producer binaries in the sense that cultural products can stand outside traditional models of commoditized consumption ultimately challenging methods of control. Particularly resonant was his idea that peer-to-peer file-sharing networks in their rapid dissemination of files, music and other cultural digital products, cause one to question “the value one attributes to commodity exchange in comparison to sharing.”(204) Although Poster is specifically concerned with what Peter Lunenfeld terms the “stickiness” of peer-to-peer exchange toward becoming a system of dominant cultural exchange, within the idea of a non-commoditized exchange lies the impetus for a return to a more human reaction: sharing.
Specifically, by sharing cultural objects as opposed to a commoditized exchange, this model could perhaps have the potential to transfer over to non-cultural objects and thereby reshape social relations in the process. How so? The bifurcation of public and private resources can shift and what once qualified as a private resource—can in local communities become a public resource in shared exchange rather than a commoditized one. Suddenly instead of charging you 1 dollar for every hour over the limit you are late in returning the lawnmower I loaned you, what if I decided to simply loan you the lawnmower free of charge? It is shared between me and my neighbors and our community, but in this sense it becomes a public resource rather than private. The concept of ownership becomes nuanced—it becomes shared.
Now you may ask what of large corporations like Bic who sell pens and shaving razors and other function objects—objects arguably without cultural value? What would be the impetus to switch from a commoditized exchange to a shared exchange? Well, simply that as individuals become the producers and consumers of digital cultural objects, this might motivate a shift in perception of non-cultural objects and suddenly individuals are invested with the potential to create their own non-cultural objects and distribute them in ways they see fit, ways not commoditized but shared. While it may seem like a stretch—I feel like the digital humachine has the ironic potential to put the human back in social relations.
Occupy Anthology Topic:
In Adam Curtis’s documentary The Century of the Self what particularly struck me was how the insidious collusion of capitalism and democracy as a result of advertising is ever present but always in the background and only psychology—particularly the Freudian psychoanalysts— seem to have taken the fall. That’s like treating the symptom, but the general malaise still persists. Ever amorphous and resilient, through advertising large businesses have managed to consistently elude discovery of the ways in which they create and manipulate mass consumer consciousness. And even when blatant examples do come to the surface, the true effects of capitalism unchecked bear greater marks on the collective unconscious.
I’ll admit my initial reaction was something to the effect of “oh, well I’m clearly not affected by advertising, I can CHOOSE whether I want to buy those brand products or do it myself”—and yet I look down at my clothes, and things I have bought over time, even little every day seemingly unconscious decisions *cough* like buying that cookie at Starbucks*cough* are all directly or indirectly inflected with this consumer mentality. Our decisions and choices are not our own, and our late-capitalist society makes a mockery of us through the illusion of control and a warped conception of the “individual.”
Is there a solution to the malady? Well…Marx’s concept of alienation comes to mind in terms of how individuals have become removed from the life of a product. So in terms of food, rather than listening to that Eggland’s best commercial, I should continue eating the eggs from the chickens my family owns in the backyard that we purchased from a local farm. As I continue to purchase chickens from local farmers rather than buying brand-name eggs from large grocers like Wal-Mart, in a sense I am getting closer to where my food comes from and this allows me more control over not merely the decision of what I consume, but from where it came and how that product is affected.
As a society I feel if we can on a greater scale get in touch with the actual labor and work that went into the products we consume daily, we can begin to have a greater say in not only our consumption habits, but how objects are produced and perhaps stimulate a greater awareness among other people as well. In short, we can begin to take back a democratic society in small but significant ways.
Mark Poster’s example of the Citi-group identity theft commercials in Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines is more an instantiation of how identity has become fluid and more nuanced in the digital age than an affective cause. Of identity in the digital world, Poster writes, “What is stolen is not one’s consciousness but one’s self as it is embedded in (increasingly digital) databases. The self constituted in these databases, beyond the ken of individuals, may be considered the digital unconscious.”(92) In this sense what is stolen is one’s duplicate digital identity rather than individual interior conscious identity and thus, according to Poster, identity is vexed as simultaneously existing in two states: one’s embodied interior identity and external digital identity.
More intriguing than this singular example of the ways identity is constituted and simultaneously deconstructed through digital means is Poster’s mention that
We might discover the term ‘identity’ is not of much use as a critical category but rather designates the construction of the self in our current conjuncture, including our modes of subjectivation, the ways we practice the self on ourselves. And we might search for new configurations of selfhood that keep open space of resistance, finding them especially in the human-machine mediascapes of networked computing. (115)
If identity as a concept is no longer useful as a critical category as the self is constituted in the moment amidst a background of shifting subject/object positions where a complex array of interactions between material and digital forces threaten and simultaneously constitute identity, how is the space for a resistance to the deconstruction–and worse ascribing of identity from globalizing capitalist forces—created? What does it even begin to look like? Perhaps a possible answer lies in Poster’s positing of the digital unconscious. The ways that identity is crafted from the sum of our online interactions and instantiations of self might stand to resist hegemonic institutional representations of our identity. It boils down to the “you” that the government says is you in multiple dossiers, material and economic transactions, and digital data kept on various servers, and the “you” that you create in cyberspace in emails, forums, chat-rooms, and social media platforms, and then of course the material you that exists here and now in a specific time frame as a conscious being with agency of sorts. And since the traditional markers of identity—gender, ethnicity, race etc—are subtly elided in online environments, I feel that somehow the concept of individual identity in all its forms can no longer stand alone—a collective digital identity, a manifesto for Poster’s Netizen must be eked out. I must think on this more before offering up any cogent conception of how we can begin to do this, but for now, I’m putting my hope into the manifest examples of resistance—the Occupy movement and Arab spring—as somehow in the direction in which a collective digital identity may begin to be formed.
Mark Poster in Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines contends in his conception of globalization and networked culture traditional Western concepts like the “rights of man and the citizen” must be challenged by “new democratizing principles [which] must take into account the cultural construction of the human-machine interface” (72). What immediately comes to mind is the Occupy movement as perhaps an attempt to instigate resistance to traditional Western discursive concepts like the “citizen” and “rights of man” as an amorphous force that not only encompasses many people from varying cultures and backgrounds, but is importantly leaderless.
While I cannot go as far in saying that the Occupy movement necessarily embodies Poster’s concept of the “netizen,” I assert at the very least it represents a collective attempt to challenge existing hierarchical structures and indeed a bold attempt to transform them through new attempts at democracy that employ the digital in unique ways so as to stand as far outside current regimes and power relations as possible. Take for instance, the Occupy movement’s General Assemblies.
The Occupy movement focuses on the (re)creation of public consensus through different forms of assemblies where all individuals have a voice and ideas are consistently reworked. At the movement’s website they offer a “Quick Guide on Group Dynamics in People’s Assemblies” and state:
The Assembly is based on free association –if you are not in agreement with what has been decided, you are not obliged to carry it out. Every person is free to do what they wish – the Assembly tries to produce collective intelligence, and shared lines of thought and action. It encourages dialogue and getting to know one another (1). From its outset, the movement is about establishing consensus and working through all options as possibilities rather than attuned to the backdrop of a particular ideological discourse. In this sense the movement—regardless of its success—is an attempt to challenge the prevailing capitalist entrenched Western democracy through a democracy that is flexible, open, and constantly changing.
Importantly, the movement defines consensus as “reached when there is no outright opposition in the assembly against the proposal” (1)—in essence unless a Real Consensus is reached all ideas and proposals are reworked until a solution is found. While this may not be too ground breaking as a democratic process, it is certainly vastly different from the incessant bickering in Washington where privately funded political parties hardly represent any sort of public consensus instead serving their own interests.
What is also interesting is that the digital—from iPads, to websites, to smart phones–is enabling this recycling of collective ideas to not only occur, but thrive. In the process this shifts material and economic forces through the collective cooperation of various individual’s skills and talents to produce a new “culture,” so to speak, that motivates a collective opposition which has begun to operate partially from without the system. Everything from the websites, to the distribution of information, to the general assemblies, to the Occupy camps—at heart a new vision of democracy is maintained and spreading which stands to challenge the prevailing hegemonic institutions.
Poster, Mark. Information Please : Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. Print.
“Quick Guide on Group Dynamics in People’s Assemblies | Take The Square.” Web. 24 Feb. 2012.
Kazys Varnelis in “The Rise of Network Culture” discusses among other issues how the relationship between the self and the net replaces the idea of class struggle as the subject attempts to “defend its personality and its culture” against the “logic of apparatuses and markets”.
That the self asserts its identity through the network creates a challenging tension between access and apathy. On the one hand, as Varnelis points out, as networks expand and people in developing countries gain access to the internet, more and more people gain access to the means of information distribution, production and dissemination. This allows people to connect with others from diverse social spheres very quickly and to establish micro-publics. On the other hand, as the self disappears into multiple points of reception and an aggregate of micro-publics, Varnelis fears a self-confirmation bias will ensue resulting in in-group/out-group thinking and little regard for dissent, or contrary opinions and ideas.
Personally, I feel that while the metaphysical concerns of identity are certainly a force to contend with as they shape our collective conscious, the materiality of networks—and more importantly who controls these networks—reminds us that much is at stake regarding the free flow of information and ideas. For instance, if sites like Google, and Amazon, and Youtube, and Facebook suddenly decide that only certain people shall have access to certain types of information, or such information becomes a commodity, or decrees only certain types of information may be distributed or produced, suddenly we are left with a similar situation as when big media entertainment sought (and still seeks) to limit individual production and dissemination of works—information is suddenly exploitable and the physical repercussions abound. Immediately certain groups or countries of peoples are left out of the loop on important global economic, environmental, social and political concerns. Old hierarchies become re-inscribed as what develops is the informed “have accesses” versus the uninformed or worse ill-informed “not-have accesses.”
A possible solution to the iniquity of access, distribution, and production of information in networks might be something akin to freeware software. Release the material possession of networks and their moderation from private corporations and place this control in the hands of the people—or rather such that the people provide in essence a check on any one company dominating the flow of information, Varnelis’s so called big aggregators. We as individuals are aggregators of information as well and part of the responsibility of remixing and re-using reality and information is the questioning of how such information is used.
Peter Lunenfeld in The Secret War between Uploading and Downloading writes of the need for an actively conscientious use of the ubiquitous personal computer affectionately called the culture machine where users are not merely discerning downloaders but uploaders as well with an eye towards not merely mimesis in a material and digital sense, rather tweaking hypercontextualized environments to (re)create meaning in a constantly evolving “unfinished” process.
Although Lunenfeld fears the rise of a vapid vortex of passive downloading masquerading under the guise of culture where individuals shall prefer distraction in a downward spiral towards relativism as consequence of immediated experience, the materiality of our bodies in relation to other material objects and how these coalese with technology in terms of how we interact and affect immediated environments might hold promise for defining future use of the culture machine.
For instance, while Lunenfeld is skeptical of the “stickiness” of a fanzine culture as its creative out-pouring is seemingly limited to an insular community, what might be worth examining are patterns in the development of such insular micro-cultures and to what extent they may be related in the cross-over of material culture into other participatory cultures. Of hypercontexts, Lunenfeld writes: “the addition of greater levels of information to an object or system is not simply an additive process, it is a transformative one. It transforms objects by augmenting them and situating them in vastly larger hypercontexts.”(48) Material culture produced in seemingly disparate communities may bear more relations than are ostensibly perceived.
So to be more specific the Online Multiplayer Battle Arena (moba) I play, League of Legends, or just LoL, has a very dedicated gaming community that often creates material crafts—through a variety mediums—that may appropriate techniques or processes deeply embedded in another community’s participatory culture. Rammus is an “Armor-dillo” LoL “champion” who features various in-game abilities and functions that players enjoy. By (re)creating this character sewn out of yarn and through various techniques one might encounter in a knitting community, or a crochet devotee, Rammus is recontextualized and recreated, not only materially in terms of the medium by which he exists in the physical world as opposed to digital, but now intrinsically in the life of his owner. As a result a whole new set of relations grows out of the character Rammus that may bleed over into other communities as well. Who is to say if Sewn-Rammus was made with an innovative technique and introduced to other craft-artists who by turn share interests and begin to exchange information in their communities, and influence each other? Admittedly while this may seem a bit of a stretch with these seemingly isolated communities, such relations in the fluidity of objects, meaning, and context indelibly shift and in them lies the potential for new meanings to be created and associated.
Note: Rammus is a character from League of Legends owned by RiotGames, any and all use is strictly for educational purposes and no copyright infringement is intended.
While the scholars at Digirhet.org in “Teaching Digital Rhetoric: Community, Critical Engagement, and Application” efforts to narrow down a conceptual framework for the teaching, implementation, and application of digital rhetoric are admirable, collaborative social networking and composition processes are not merely an immanent part of communication, but fundamental to ways that we as humans express, relate and interact with each other.
The Digirhet scholars reference Cynthia L Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher statement that “new technologies and new media demand…as well, new pedagogies for teaching multimodal composing that can effectively cross geopolitical, linguistic, and cultural boundaries” and posit “we address these needs by returning to student’s needs in the digital writing classroom—the need for community, critical engagement, and practical application.” I assert returning to these “issues” of the classroom are a clinging to the archaic notion of the classroom as a microcosm of society and the sole source and dissemination of knowledge. New media technologies have already created a space for greater collaboration and dissemination of knowledge which is (as it tenuously stands) far more open and dialectical in the free flow and exchange of ideas and creative processes than seemingly ubiquitous traditional modes of inquiry in the academy. Knowledge is limited materially, hierarchically, and commercially on account of teacher student relationships, linear expression of knowledge in the humanities, and an implicit one-way direction of information.
Carolyn Guertin’s emphasis on how digital authorship changes us and simultaneously how we seek to change digital authorship is particularly insightful for the paradigm shift that is needed in academia especially regarding methods of production, and engagement with the material and conceptual nature of the text. Take for instance how digital methods of production have influenced the very material and ideological hegemony of American popular news-media companies. As more and more Americans turn to alternative news outlets like Aljazeera and RT news which contest the carefully crafted one-way mainstream American discourse, a new space for inquiry and information debate and dissemination is being created all as a result of digital media.
Digital media technologies have enabled a shift away from large-scale private dominance of the sole means of production and consumption of knowledge and information as in the popular media, but also education. For academia, free online-courses which allow individuals with at least a decent computer and a secure internet connection to view the same lectures as students at MIT or Stanford provide a glimpse of where education may be headed. No longer is the university as an institution with deeply entrenched material and hierarchical modes of inquiry and production immune to the digital revolution. From standardized tests, to lengthy theses as linear progressions of knowledge, to academic publications to the very process of intellectual discourse, the privatization of knowledge, the one-way, top-down model of dissemination of what gets studied and how is—kicking and screaming—changing to where students become “experts” on a given topic themselves. Indeed, with the very notion of “expert” fading into obsolescence, the challenge for educators is not how to frame digital rhetoric along the lines of past print media, but to re-purpose and return to a truly collaborative model of learning where not only are the capacities of new media recognized, but that these capacities have always existed within their students as the fundamentally human ways by which we interact and connect with each other.