April 1st, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
The Raley reading was much more difficult for me to follow than Poster: she writes in a much more dense way, and of course the introduction was largely theoretical, with few real world examples to clarify concepts. It’s also difficult to understand some of the artworks and games that she describes without being able to see them visually: her description of the game La Migra, in which the player blocks migrants from crossing a street with a car, was very confusing. My lack of understanding of the finer points, aside, I found her larger arguments compelling: it is true that the nomadic life is usually idealized only by those who don’t live it, and Raley’s numerous examples of the ways in which human life is stereotyped and reduced to the level of undesirable object provided new insight on the immigration issue. The shift away from the treatment of the borderlands as a place of fusion and hybridity makes much sense in Raley’s work, since in this context binary systems become even more ensconced in thought and action, as “good” border officials work to keep the “bad” illegal immigrants out of the United States. As she says, the physical presence of the barriers between Mexico and the U.S. only drive home this reinforcement of the binaries.
Although most of Raley’s argument is agreeable to me, she seems to waffle on the issue of how politically potent and applicable to reality tactical media are, arguing at one point that they might constitute a new form of resistance to a power which is now decentralized and pervasive, and in another that tactical games about life and death fail to convey those same stakes which people go through at the border on a regular basis. Does this weakness of the game genre damage the tactical media to the point where they often cannot lead people to political realization and action, and if not, what role does it then play? I also find Raley’s point that tactical media don’t intend to transform the status quo confusing—obviously those media do not themselves bring social transformation, but I thought they were supposed to educate or motivate viewers to action?
Here is the link to my personal website, by the way:
March 25th, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
The online anthology that I examined this week was very well done, featuring texts from a variety of modes/genres (the homepage is a collage, for example), and categorizing works by genre. We may not choose to adopt this model for our online anthology, however, for one reason. Because there are far fewer contributors and texts to our project, using a collage for the homepage would be a poor choice because it would draw attention to the low number of texts available. Classifying works by genre would also draw result in this same problem: why create a category for “interactive text” when you only have one item in that area?
Additionally, while the sample anthology I viewed has a large number of interesting texts, the design and navigation of the site needs work. The red background is very hard on the eyes, and the black text is especially hard to read when rendered in smaller size on a background of this color. I also wonder, when I navigate to the page of a particular text, why there are links to the pages for texts preceding and following the current one, given that the page also provides a list of genres for getting to a particular page. For example, which falls midway through the “retro” list, I can return to look at all of the items under retro, or I can move forward or backward through the list, one item at a time. I argue that the former method should be scrapped to allow for a simpler site design and functionality.
Otherwise, the anthology is well-developed—all of the items seem to be unique and there is not excessive overlap between different items, allowing the viewer to take something new from all materials in the collection. We should take the diversity of this collection as a goal for our class anthology, acknowledging that while we will not have as many texts, the ones we do have will be distinct and radically different from one another.
In looking at the anthology, I focused on the game “Facade” and the hacktivist activity “The Bubble Bath.”
March 22nd, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
Poster becomes increasingly more interesting to me as the semester progresses: I’ve grown to admire the sophisticated way he writes, and hope to incorporate elements of his elegance into my own prose. His chapter on copyright as it pertains to digital content was a stark shift from the other chapters in Information Please, however. His critique of the music industry is very aggressive, though admittedly well-supported and explained. Interestingly, this chapter has completely changed my understanding of digital copyright law: I believed that all academic discussions of the issue took the fact of illegal downloading/file sharing as a problem which needs to stop, and in fact, used this idea many times in my undergraduate classes as a way of teaching students what is meant by the term “common ground” in academic debate. I guess I’ll need to admit to them that there are compelling arguments for file sharing as a neutral or even beneficial activity, as Poster explains.
One element of the chapter was confusing to me: the author claims that peer music file sharing does constitute a clear violation of the royalty rights of artists (199), but then seems to support such practices later on in the chapter, arguing that they disrupt control of cultural objects and technologies by cultural industries. Is his point simply that copyright law needs to be revised so that artists are compensated when their works are downloaded, or that the bypassing of royalty obligations is an acceptable loss in a more important battle between hackers and media corporations? My sense is that Poster leans towards the first option, as his discussion explores alternative models of cultural/economic exchange in which artists get their fair share and music corporations occupy a radically diminished or transformed space. In light of the presence of these other options, it seems Poster would not be pressured to accept what could be seen as the ethical low ground in the debate, a space defined by the disregard for the artists’ economic rights.
March 5th, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
Poster gives an excellent critique of Freudian psychoanalysis, arguing that the sheltered world of the Victorian era which informed Freud’s theories no longer exists today, thanks to the presence of various electronic technologies interlaced throughout the home. The criticism is a valid one, given that “information machines” operate to a great extent beyond the control of parents, and provide children with a link to alternative ideas/perspectives that would have been easily censored in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Compounding the power of technologies in children’s development is of course the presence of TV shows, video and computer games, and electronic devices created specifically for child consumption, a phenomenon which suggests a revisiting/updating of Freudian child development models is necessary.
Poster’s analysis of the Teletubbies TV show explains how media technologies play a role in the operations of child desire, situating them alongside more traditional Freudian developmental impulses such as the fear of castration, justifying and calling for the consideration of media in psychoanalytic discourse. Teletubbies is a particularly significant object of study for Poster because it embodies on multiple levels the fusion of human and technology: the child watches the TV show, desires and identifies with the events and characters onscreen, and the Teletubbies themselves are also literal examples of the machine-human hybrid, featuring television screens on their stomachs which they use to entertain each other and communicate with the outside world.
While the author seems to approve of the show in some ways, noting that it responds to the infant need to have repetitive experiences, I question what effect the cyborg characters have on children who watch it. It seems that at the least, featuring machine-human creatures conveys the message that engagement with media technologies is natural, maybe even liberating or necessary. Whether this is a beneficial or malicious concept will be answered as additional research on child development is conducted.
February 25th, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
Poster’s exploration of identity theft and the ramifications it has for our concept of identity is astute—while the concept of a secondary identity comprised of basic information and numbers preexisted the identity theft epidemic, as evidenced in Poster’s discussion of governmentality, in which governments began developing files on individuals, the problem of identity theft crystallizes the longstanding contradictions between multiple conceptions of identity. Identity is held to be something which endures from moment to moment, akin to personality, and is immaterial and thus incapable of being stolen, but is also constructed as purely informational, concrete, and thus capable of being appropriated by another person or group, as the Citibank commercials demonstrate.
Poster argues that online environments only exacerbate this double defining of identity, and calls for a reevaluation of what constitutes identity, with special attention to ways that technology transports aspects of identity (birthdates, social security numbers, etc) outside of consciousness. While I agree that further discussion on the nature of identity is required, I fail to understand Poster’s claim that the Citibank commercials “perform the…seemingly cultural impossible work of raising the specter of identity outside consciousness while confirming the security of identity within consciousness” (114). If anything, the advertisements lean strongly towards an interpretation of identity as material, vulnerable to theft—the message of Citibank is not that signing up for a special identity theft protection plan returns identity to its proper place within consciousness, but that the materiality of identity (and one could read the commercials as constructing identity as partially or totally comprised of data, rather than immaterial self-awareness) needs to be protected.
After watching the commercials, I am left with the sense of identity as purely visceral and informational, as the victims speak not only with the thieves’ voices, but also the thieves’ words and nonverbal language (the victims smiling indicates that the body is under control of the thief, not the victim). The problem with the commercials as I see it is that they fail to acknowledge the importance of consciousness and self-awareness to identity, focusing instead and the bodily and the informational, rather than Poster’s accusation that they assert the position of identity as both inside and outside consciousness (a concept which does not seem impossible to reconcile, but which does need further articulation and exploration).
February 22nd, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
Poster argues that networked technologies can be mobilized to enable entirely new forms of political activity, drawing a distinction between that which merely enhances existing strategies (sending signed emails to a member of Congress as opposed to sending them by mail, for example) and that which is truly innovative, a product which could only come about as a result of the new tech. He explains that these new political maneuvers will likely revolve around the concept of the human-machine interface. Although Poster does not offer an example of what forms this new resistance might take, we might draw on previous theorists to help demonstrate his predictions. Donna Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs” seems a particularly strong influence on Poster: his concept of the human-machine interface and the “netizen” echo her argument that in the near future the line dividing human and machine will dissolve, rendering humans no longer purely biological, but machine as well.
Like Poster, Haraway argues that the cyborg concept can be made to do political work, resisting oppressive systems of data collection and control. The cyborg, with its dual essence, resists these systems, which Haraway labels the “informatics of domination,” doing so by avoiding easy capture and categorization, and by troubling longstanding binaries such as male/female, human/machine, and living/dead. While not a direct result of the internet age, the cyborg could be applied to Poster’s predictions: we can envision activism centered around the notion that human existence is a cyborg existence, which uses that hybridity to thwart control and mount a protest. Hackers might work to program internet viruses which disable government surveillance mechanisms, such as CCTVs, and the embracing of both their biological and machine “selves” could be instrumental in avoiding censure or capture as well. Real world examples of the resistance Poster and Haraway describes are likely not far away, as people come to new understandings of the potential applications of networked technologies.
February 11th, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
The Varnelis article/book conclusion “The Rise of Network Culture” did a wonderful job tracing the history of network culture and exploring its benefits, limitations, and potential forms. Her argument that the networked culture leads to a disappearance of the self because in a digital environment we construct our identities almost entirely through associations (links, blog groups, etc) is a complete reversal of the way I have always envisioned the internet, that is, as worship of the individual. Varnelis’ discussion of the ways in which supposedly individualistic, personal sites like Facebook actually efface identity may not have changed my opinion of such spaces entirely, but has certainly destabilized it.
One aspect of the article which I struggled with was the notion that as all aspects of life are “capitalized”, any cultural space from which to critique or observe one’s surroundings disappear. I have trouble understanding what the author means when she describes the absorption of all cultural spheres under capitalism, and the disappearance of spaces for critique. What would this look like? The argument that the new major struggle in the network culture will be the “defense of the self”, a battle which will replace class warfare, also seems very abstract. Despite the prevalence of network culture in the developed world for several years now, class inequalities have not lessened, but gotten worse—gaps between rich and poor have widened.
In speaking about the disappearance of class struggles, the author may be referring more to the quieting of the competition for public attention: digital technologies do allow the less advantaged to make their voices heard, destabilizing the control the wealthy have other certain cultural resources. However, class warfare is enacted in multiple domains—the clamoring for a public voice is only one of them. I am curious how economic stratification can be reconciled with the claim that network culture will bring about the demise or decline of class conflict.
February 6th, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
The Brendan Riley essay titled “A Style Guide to the Secrets of <style>” made an interesting point that form and content are being united once again in online environments, despite a longstanding insistence on the separation of the two which runs back to the beginning of the Internet and further backwards into thought about printed materials. However, I wonder if the fusion of word and image which the author seems to attribute so strongly to digital technologies actually began earlier, with texts such as comic strips.
I also am confused about the author’s use of the word “tag”, as I understand the term as a marker attached to a database or other online resource for the purpose of making finding particular materials easier. However, this definition does not seem to be the one Riley deploys, as he talks at length about tags which operate on the level of computer code, and were around during the early days of the Internet, while I remember “my” tags being a much more recent development.
Additionally, there seems to be a fundamental disagreement about the role of style (in the textual, rather than computer code sense of the word) in writing: the bulk of writing authorities assert the need for one’s writing style to conform to fit the needs of the situation, such as audience expectations, while Riley argues for other options, such as wordiness, explaining that traditional methods are restrictive. What goes unsaid, importantly, is that Riley believes that style, both in online and print text construction, should be reflective of the writer’s persona, rather than audience-centered.
Although I understand his complaint that style guides can be stifling (and I would know; I worked as copy editor for six months and spent most of my time with my nose in an APA style guide), I feel his philosophy should only be applied to personal writing, not professional. Professional contexts require and expect specific types of styles, and to subordinate these requirements to the writer’s need for individual expression reverses a longstanding professional value hierarchy in which the job, not the person, comes first.
January 29th, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
This book has been very enlightening to me so far: I had no concept of a war between uploading and downloading, and it never crossed my mind that we could actually end up with an Internet that mimics the download-heavy model of the television and radio systems. The metaphor Lumenfield makes between diabetes and the consumerist mode of Internet use that we have today is an interesting one: because I am so involved in the writing process, being a graduate student and pleasure writer, I haven’t considered the effects on people who don’t engage in any “uploading” activities.
That said, most of my time on the Internet is spent downloading, which leads me to a question: would Lumenfield be alright with people remaining largely consumers rather than producers with respect to online activity, provided they engaged in some kind of “textual uploading” in another part of their lives? For example, does my frequent writing on Word and in journals, both for academic and personal reasons, compensate for or absolve me of my participation in a download-heave Internet culture? Or do I need to take my productive behaviors and introduce them to the online environment? I suspect Lumenfield would argue the latter is needed—an unhealthy habit is not negated by a good habit.
Although Lumenfield says that we may be moving into a new kind of Internet (we called it Internet 3.0 in class), I find it very difficult to imagine an online environment which encourages or requires the kind of uploading-heavy activity that he envisions. I doubt the public would embrace such a model—uploading, creating, is much more strenuous than consuming something that someone else has produced, though repeated practice makes the process easier. How would we modify the Internet to encourage uploading, beyond entering some sort of authoritarian system which limits the amount of time people can spend viewing online content?
January 28th, 2012 by Stephen Elkind
The DigiRhet article made several accurate points about the ways in which digital technology is permeating instructors and students’ lives, but is not being adequately acknowledged (the writers mention that some departments even resist the encroachment of these new devices/textual modes), although I feel that an important point is ignored throughout the piece. Although digital technologies are clearly becoming more prevalent and that trend shows no signs of stalling or reversing, I am troubled by the equating of presentation, of form, with content. They argue that “writing is no longer a purely text-driven practice” (240), which is true, but never admit that it is a teacher’s primary obligation to teach students to produce good writing, texts which are coherent, creative, substantive. Altering fonts, incorporating images, video, and so forth should be of secondary importance. I worry that this reading echoes a growing social trend which holds form/appearance/embellishment to be on par with or more important than content.
I should emphasize here that I do not oppose teaching digital technologies proficiency and applications in the classroom (I do it every semester with my undergraduates, and happily so), but before teaching students how to improve the presentation of their texts, we should teach them how to produce quality writing, which should be the cornerstone of any text, digital or non-digital. As a final thought, it may be that my thinking is biased as a result of the way I worked with digital technologies during my time as a high school and undergraduate student: I was required to first compose a written text (on Word or on paper, it didn’t matter), and then would add videos, images, and so on later. Perhaps this schooling has inculcated me with an understanding of texts (aside from pure artworks) as essentially collections of words, with other elements acting as “window dressing.”