In this week’s readings Parikka and Sterne discuss materiality, waste and technology in interesting ways and I identify with their work in different ways. Parikka highlights some compelling points about the need for the materiality of the media to be taken literally and I find that I agree with his position. Taking a quick mental count I own more than a dozen media devices and I cannot recall ever considering the processes related to “mining, processing and standardizing minerals and other rare earth materials” (Parikka, 2011) that make up the devices I personally own. Parikka and Sterne both discuss this idea of media products and computers being reclassified or value exhausted which leads to other kinds of processes. Relating this same train of thought to Sterne’s article, I too own a computer that has been reclassified as obsolete and over the course of several years has fallen into misuse. I find this fact particularly compelling because I still have this computer, a 12-inch dell laptop I received as a high school graduation gift, and it is stored in a random box somewhere in my parent’s house in California.
I am very intrigued with the ways they both discuss the ways that people get rid of or ‘recycle’ their media devices or computers and I appreciate Parikka’s explanation about the edited collections of writings and Sterne’s thoughts on who is responsible for obsolete or useless computers and the impact those computers have on a larger scale. Parikka’s explanation essentially connects the management of media devices, global capitalism, limited natural resources, politics, human labor and new ways to create, while Sterne looks at computer trash as being responsible for the ways we view digital media as new media.
After reading these I cannot help but feel that I have been missing the big picture regarding media devices because they do not become what they are simply because I purchase and use them with digital technologies, the process of their materiality begins much sooner than that. I also find myself grappling with my feelings about where “recycled materials” are really going and the part I have play in those processes. I am interested in seeing how, in 2015, computer junkyards in the United States exist in other countries and the level of public knowledge about these places as compared to other countries.
Living in a time when people’s online interactions, identities and environments reflect much of their offline behaviors I think the idea of societies of control is more relevant than ever. I agree with boyd’s (2011) argument that “The internet mirrors and magnifies everyday life, making visible many of the issues we hoped would disappear, including race and class-based social divisions in American society” (p. 36). boyd’s article on white flight and her findings after speaking with teenagers and conducting ethnographic studies made me think about when and why I joined the social network sites Myspace and Facebook when I was a teenager.
I joined Myspace my senior year of high school because a friend sent me a link to join but I was not very active on the site until the summer before I left for college. I joined Facebook my first semester of college and simultaneously managed both social network site accounts for a few years. A motivating reason for my activity on Myspace was how linked I was to my local friends and friends who moved away to go to college because it allowed us to keep in touch. I was motivated to use Facebook because I heard that people were reconnecting with childhood friends they had lost touch with and at that time Facebook required that you use your first and last name (making it easier to find people) whereas Myspace allowed you to play around with the name feature. As mentioned by boyd, MySpace allowed you to get creative with layouts and music, etc, while Facebook was a lot more simple and straightforward and looking back, I think it seemed more controlled. I was influenced by my friends to join and did participate on these sites purely for social reasons and thinking about that now, I am not sure how I feel about that.
When considering my own experiences with social network sites and the ways they exist for me past and present, I think there is a lot accuracy in what boyd has found and that many people do bring their belief systems, acknowledged or otherwise, to social network site interactions. I also think that while there have been a lot of negative things to come from social network sites a lot of good has come from these interactions as well. I found things in each article that I agreed and disagreed with but all of the texts really got me thinking about what societies of control will look like ten years from now and where I might find myself in relation to those societies. As time moves forward and this area in the literature continues to grow I wonder what theories and methods will emerge as technology continues to innovate.
All of this week’s readings provided interesting points, concepts and ideas but what really raised a lot of questions for me were Jane Bennett and Bill Brown’s texts.
Jane Bennet’s chapter on the force of things provided some creative ways to think on and consider things, objects and materiality. We have discussed materiality and, for me, this particular reading provided more context for me regarding the ways in which materiality and absolutes can exist. My personal understanding of materiality has largely come from looking up and learning a very basic definition of materiality as essentially the act of being made up of items/matter and existing. Our readings and discussions in class have provided me with more context of the term but I cannot say that everything regarding materiality has always made sense to me. Brown’s article further complicated my understanding because he delineates between an object and thing but makes clear the pervasive notion that the term thing is ambiguous. If we, as human beings, are composed of vital materials but our powers are “thing-power” (Bennett, 11) and things are ambiguous, what exactly does that mean? Does this question play into the naivety that Bennett speaks of?
Bennett posits that “we are now in a better position to name that other way to promote human health and happiness: to raise the status of the materiality of which we are composed” (p. 12). This provided more context for me but it also raised questions for me regarding the Chiasmus. In class this week we contextualized Chiasmus to be where the intersection or intertwining of the material of things and the body with conceptual relations meet/occur. How exactly, if at all, does vital materialism play into this model? I do not have an answer to this question and I could be completely misunderstanding the readings and the concept of the Chiasmus but after reading Brown’s article I would love to explore potential answers.
In Kirschenbaum’s introduction to his text Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (2008) he provides a detailed breakdown of how he has ordered his book and the methodology he used to craft the text. Kirschenbaum begins the introduction by providing Kenneth Thidobeau’s tripartite model of what defines a digital object. Kirschenbaum argues that literature he reviewed mainly dealt with the conceptual component of Thidobeau’s tripartite model but that half of Mechanisms will deal with the concept of storage and its importance in current technology.
Kirschenbaum’s explanation of storage and its immediate importance in current technology automatically brought to my mind storage in the cloud. Cloud storage is essentially a sometimes unlimited amount of space on the internet where a person can share, upload and retrieve information and files. Cloud storage is often a free service that enables people to keep backups or share information with one another via the cloud and is something many people I know use and love. In chapter 1 of Mechanisms Kirschenbaum discussed how storage as a whole has become less tangible and large in size which has changed the way that people interact with data. Cloud storage does not physically take up space for users yet to access it you need a device that is tangible. When Kirschenbaum begins discussing computer forensics, the retrieval and recovery of different types of electronic data to analyze for evidence, I began to consider the recent issues people have run into with cloud storage. In recent years there have been some major concerns regarding cloud storage, photographic images and privacy. As Kirschenbaum continues his discussion on ephemerality I think about how people’s information is sent through or to the cloud and I wonder if people know that the “deleted” files and images possibly (probably) still exist on physical servers kept by the companies who provided the storage. Is the storage of the files are on the server ambient? Or does it require some sort of intervention on a day to day basis by employees of those companies to keep the data in the cloud?
Kirschenbaum really helped me gain a better understanding of how hardware and storage, despite taking up less space, actually still very much work together in our day to day computer usage. Will cloud storage ever be a secure online option for people? Do we actually know all there is to know about cloud storage? Or have the companies only released what they feel we need to know? Kirschenbaum’s chapters really gave me a lot of food for thought because as careful as I think I am about what is available about me online, what traces have I left behind?
Reading Sterne’s article “The MP3 as a Cultural Artifact” really highlighted for me how much I do not know about the technologies that I use daily. I was also very intrigued with how intertwined motion picture and cinema technologies have been to many of our modern technological advances. I was particularly interested in the idea that an MP3 is a container for a container because when I think MP3 I automatically think an MP3 player of some kind (i.e.-an iPod, Sony Walkman, etc.) which in itself is a container. So does that make an MP3 player a container of a container of another container? It was admittedly odd grappling with this idea but this article made, for me, the MP3 about the file itself and its technical underpinnings more so than a pretty device that holds music. For instance, rather than thinking about the enjoyment I typically get from listening to music, I am now thinking about MP3 files actually causing me to work harder to hear the music than other forms of audio technology. MP3 players obviously appeal to auditory senses but are people even aware that there are better quality ways to hear music? If so, do they care?
It is surprising to find out how many decisions made about technology are linked to politics and money. Early in Sterne’s book chapter he discussed a meeting that took place at a conference for the Motion Picture Experts Group where a group decided to create “industry wide standards for the compression of digital audio date” (p. 131). The group gathering was important in establishing these standards so that there would not be too much competition in an unpredictable market. The readings each week have highlighted complicated and intricate histories regarding different kinds of media technology and power and politics always seem to be right around the corner. It is like a foreshadowing of what future technology will look like because when it comes to technology the bottom line, it would seem, comes down to money, power, presence, and space in the market.
What does that mean for access to these technologies? Would certain geographical areas with limited access to certain technologies actually benefit from a market driven by the best technology and not the most profitable? These are just questions I have been thinking about because as I gain more historical knowledge about Media Technology the more I wonder about limited access and what that may have looked like.
While reading Spigel’s chapter I began to consider how technological advancements in the twenty-first century have further complicated the line between public and private spheres. Spigler’s explanation about how domestic ideologies became informed by public cultures and ideals was very interesting because, as we have previously read, many technological advancements were birthed from a place of science or philosophical musings. Yet, many of the technological advancements that began there have slowly moved towards finding value in entertaining the consumer or helping the consumer have more time to be entertained. This brought to mind Uricchio’s discussion on the origins of television and the early connection to the idea of the telephone and an “anticipatory interest in visual systems that could share the instrument’s ability to link distant locations point to point in real time” (p. 290). This idea was intriguing to both the technological and entertainment audiences and devices to come from those interests seemed to come from a desire to please both audiences.
Similarly, Spigel discusses how the radio’s origins were not related to entertainment but after World War I electrical companies saw an opportunity to create a broadcasting market. By linking the entertainment value of the radio to the domestic and moral ideals of what it meant to be a family radio grew in popularity and, again, the scientific or industrial origins of an invention were changed to match the ideals of that time. I began thinking about the blurring between public and private spheres and how it pertains to new technology because I recently read an article “Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction” written by Nancy K. Baym and danah boyd. In this article the Baym and boyd (2012) discuss how social media and technology have changed “what it means to engage in public life” (p. 320). There is now a socially mediated publicness that has emerged which complicates everyday life and provides many ways to enlarge the notion of what it means to be public. Social mediation has now made it possible for something deemed private to rapidly become public and visible. Understanding different viewpoints on the origins of technologies is important because there is link between all of these technologies and the ideologies of the time. I believe reviewing the history of recent technologies could also discern some between technology in 2015 and the present notions of public and private spheres.
Christopher Keep’s article “Touching at a Distance: Telegraphy, Gender, and Henry James’s In the Cage” highlighted some intriguing thoughts about gender, telegraphy, the body, and touch. I was particularly intrigued with the idea that telegraphy was somatic “as a form of communication modeled on and extending the body’s own means of sending and receiving signals from one part to another” (p. 241). This particular point brought to mind a form of online synchronous communication known as a Multi-User Dungeon (MUD). A MUD typically refers to an online virtual environment where multiple people can interact with one another in real time on adventure style games or socially. I considered some of the commonalities between this late 20th century technology and the telegraph. For instance, the telegraph was an extension of the body that represented the person who was transmitting the message and early MUDs, such as LambdaMOO, enabled people to be represented through technology in an online or virtual reality environment. In MUDs people created virtual identities that were extensions of who they perceived themselves to be and who they wanted to be. Another commonality between the two technologies was the way they both “dramatically extended the scope and range at which affective force of sympathy could operate” (p. 244). MUDs often enable people from all over the world to connect with one another in an environment that is free from certain societal expectations and allow people to relate and support one another in new ways.
I found Keep’s point regarding the significance of the telegraph and it’s ability to cause “the whole of humankind to vibrate at the same sympathetic frequency of thought feeling” (p. 244) to be very thought-provoking. This made me think about current technologies and the ways in which they are inextricably linked with media. Whenever there is a tragedy or something horrendous that occurs in the United States social media outlets and traditional news outlets such as broadcast news or online newspapers seem to release the news almost simultaneously. The response to these outlets is something I think would differ from the responses received by people getting telegraphs that depicted tragic or sad news. In 2015, people can immediately respond to news by going online and tweeting, writing a Facebook post, blog, or leaving comments on a newspaper’s website. The comments and threads that result can often become volatile spaces for people to get into conflict with one another over political views, religious views, etc…and people lose sight of what has occurred. I am curious if the telegraph and people’s reactions to it had similar conflicts.
As the readings continue each week I am continually surprised by how much present technological experiences have in common with technologies of the past.