And it all comes back to day one

With the readings for this week, I feel as if we have come full circle with some of the ideas put forth our very first week. Aside from the obvious traces of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge moving through Ernst’s Digital Memory of the Archive, I saw those first readings playing an important part in our understanding of “Moving into the Archive.” In Empire and Communications, Innis warns that “civilizations can survive only through a concern with their limitations and in turn through a concern with with the limitations of their institutions” (section 2) and his warning seems to answer Parikka’s questions of e-waste management and the implications of electronic media apparatuses (in all material senses). The Media Empire cannot survive unless its limitations are acknowledged. And as of now, we still operate under “the black box nature of media technologies which are not to be opened up, fixed or reused” (Parikka) and not even acknowledged as waste. We hold on to these technologies because we don’t know what to do with them or we don’t understand them—they are black boxes filled with “sourcery of source codes” that shouldn’t be released into the world for anybody to access. They have become so veiled to the common user that (s)he becomes paralyzed at the notion of tending to its final resting place.

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I must admit that my heart was breaking as I read through the Sterne and Parikka articles–I had never truly considered the extent and proliferation of e-waste disposal (or lack thereof). Image via rethinkingprosperity.org

Parikka’s and Sterne’s materialist approach also brought me back to the historical materialism we discussed with Benjamin—history gets written, told, and produced through social relations and economics. If according to Parikka, “e-materializaton is likely to be the source of some of the biggest impacts the Internet has on energy intensity and pollution,” then the economics of information is currently writing our history in the future. Our current history is being written in a moment of “half-technologies” and “planned obsolescence,” which might mean that we are both our own thesis and antithesis. Can it be that simple? If Thesis and Antithesis oppose each other through economics and the material production and consumption of goods, then does that not describe our current production model for new media/computing technologies? And if (according to HM) social conditions are produced through the production, consumption, and reproduction of material goods, then does that mean our society cannot be divorced from these electronic goods? I think that Sterne, Parikka, Ernst, and even Guattari with his ecosophy would all agree with that they are inextricably networked and that through this Internetwork, our history will be written.

 

 

That’s all I’ve got for now.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kendra

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You Have Died Of Dysentery

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“We’ve been called Generation CatalanoXennials, and The Lucky Ones, but no name has really stuck for this strange micro-generation that has both a healthy portion of Gen X grunge cynicism, and a dash of the unbridled optimism of Millennials.

A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the internet.  We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.” (Anna Garvey, socialmediaweek.org)

Before I read the Boyd article this week (I was still wading my way through Galloway and Thacker), I stumbled across this popular (mainstream) article (http://socialmediaweek.org/blog/2015/04/oregon-trail-generation/) and I felt like it completely hit the nail on the head. I have always felt this weird relationship with technology because it has functioned in such different ways throughout my life: from “dying of dysentery” with my friends in elementary school to pulling the sides off my printed reports in high school to spending countless hours in the computer labs in college and now living with a screen permanently within my touch, I can’t help but wonder how my unique situatedness between low-tech and all-tech of the “Oregon Trail Generation” has shaped my understanding of social-networking sites (SNS).

http://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/things-that-will-make-you-miss-the-old-days-of-the-internet#.iwkPAW0Zx

It amazes my students that I didn’t have a laptop or even a computer in my dorm room and I still made it through college—granted, I spent an exorbitant time in the computer labs and in the library, but I made it. I also made it through college and my first round of grad school without Social Networking Sites—MySpace and Facebook were around, but they weren’t all that popular with any of the people that I knew. In fact, I don’t think that I joined Facebook until closer to 2008 when I was getting close to my ten-year reunion and everyone was trying to get in touch for the big event (and I was only on for a few months before going off the grid again until I moved back to Charlotte in 2010). And yet now, that’s primarily the way that I stay in touch with people from my “past lives” and how I communicate with people in the program here at CRDM (which I’m still getting used to).

If I go by the rules of Boyd, and I base my pseudo SNS-analysis on profiles, networks, communication, and connections, then I am using at least 10 SNS almost daily—and this worries me. Having been a part of this Oregon Trail Generation, I still have a phantasmagoric fascination with technology and too much of an online presence scares me. How do I know who is looking at my profile and keeping my pictures and talking to my friends? It just seems so odd to me at times. Not always, but at times, and I go through these SNS-free streaks (especially with relation to dating sites like Match, Tinder, or Hinge) and I wonder if it has to do with my generation’s strange situatedness and relationship with technology.

A second thing that occurred to me as I was reading for this week and perhaps we can talk about this in class—Boyd’s 2008 article and Galloway and Thacker’s 2007 book were written in context of the time that they were researching (presumably the research is within a previous year of publication) and as a reader not even a decade later, I desperately want them to be including up to the date information, research, and scholarship. Of course, they have done their due diligence and it is great scholarship, but technology scholarship seems to become outdated as soon as it is published…There are so many things that we could include to “update” these articles. With that in mind, I am wondering: how do we navigate the digital scholarship issue of remaining updated? Do we write with planned obsolescence? Do we continuously add updates? I can see that working with new editions of books, but how would that work with articles in journals? I’m wondering if we could talk this through.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Thanks for reading,

Kendra

All Things are Connected

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I have a feeling that many of us may be writing on seeing Latour at Duke, (it felt like we were in the presence of a theoretical rock star), and I apologize since it’s already been used, but I’m going to go ahead with it. Many of the ideas laid out in the first two chapters of We Have Never Been Modern were also mirrored in the talk that he gave: “The Education of Bruno Latour;” most specifically, he complicates and tears apart our “modern” tendency to make distinctions and create dualisms—especially with regards to science and the human. However, Latour contends now (and seemingly always has) that it is much more complicated than that—the “imbroglio” cannot (and should not) be separated so easily. The complicated knot isn’t a thing to be unfurled, but it is the thing itself.

Although Peters has a few caveats concerning Latour, I think that he would agree that the imbroglio is the things and that media is certainly part of this imbroglio as well since he claims, “the questions of how to define nature, humans, and media are ultimately the same question” (51). In essence, Peters is illustrating how media is also part of this imbroglio or Gordian knot that should not be unfurled. Media, Nature, and Human weave together the complicated knot that creates life as we know it:

 “Without means, there is no life. We are mediated by our bodies; by our dependence on oxygen; by the ancient history of life written into each of our cells; by upright posture, sexual pair bonding, and the domestication of fire; by language, writing, and metalsmithing; by farming and the domestication of plants and animals; by calendar-making and astronomy; by the printing press, the green revolution, and the Internet. We are not only surrounded by the history-rich artifacts of applied intelligence; we also are such artifacts. Culture is part of our natural history.” (Peters 52)

NatureCover120315Although his talk was geared more toward his education and experience as an Earth Scientist on Critical Zones (Krystin gives an awesome recap!), Latour also explored this concept of the interpenetration of nature, human, and media in the current epoch of the Anthropocene. In this modern epoch of the Anthropocene, human activity has profoundly altered the environment (geological conditions) and Latour asked the question: “Where does the organism end and the environment which interpenetrates it begin?” In other words, can we ever separate one from the other? Shouldn’t the real point of interest be where they all affect each other and intertwine rather than offer analysis of one in isolation? Which is where we get to Latour’s main concept: network theory, which is “more supple than the notion of system, more empirical than the notion of complexity” (3) and it can be the thread that brings all of these seemingly disparate parts together.

Although Network Theory did not need the Internet or digital computing to operate as a system, digital computing certainly could not operate without networks. Even the terms, world wide web, internet, and wireless networks all imply that networks undergird the infrastructure of digital media. In this Anthropocene epoch, we may be moving toward screens and keyboards operating as visages and modes of composition, but we will not lose the technological’s imbrication with the natural. Media, nature, and the human will always be connected because there will always be the undergirding of the network.

Alive in the Superunkown

“The fact that one can educate oneself in the particulars of electronic keys and signatures notwithstanding, most users will simply not have entrée to the mecanisms governing their information. According to Hancher, one must ultimately take the security of electronic documents on ‘faith’” (Kirschenbaum 58).

This concept of taking the digital world on “faith” really struck a chord with me after last week’s conversations on Chun and the fetishization and “sourcery of source codes” and it again resonates with Kirshcenbaum’s exploration of medial ideology in this week’s reading. I don’t know why this concept keeps coming up for me: you can see “traces” of the same idea in my post on the radio schematics included with my grandmother’s radio/record player as well as my post on the blind reliance on “proper” grammar.  I don’t know why it surprises me; I just find it so odd that something like computers and technology with such a strong cultural narrative and connotation of being a soul-less and emotion-less mechanism creates an interaction that is “faith-based.”

MacWorld 2000 in New York. Although it wasn't the first generations of iMacs to have color-backed monitors and semi-transparent hardware, it is interesting to see that Mac's attempt to be transparency in hardware was not its most successful endeavor. The public was not as keen on seeing how their technology worked as was hoped--although people liked the colors.
MacWorld 2000 in New York. Although it wasn’t the first generations of iMacs to have color-backed monitors and semi-transparent hardware, it is interesting to see that Mac’s attempt to be transparency in hardware was not its most successful endeavor. The public was not as keen on seeing how their technology worked as was hoped–although people liked the colors.

And then I start to wonder, what has created that “faith-based” narrative? It is certainly there: I have no idea what is happening inside my laptop as I type up this post and I am okay with that. But, if we are now becoming completely reliant on digital technologies to engage with the world through communication, information storage, and governmental organization, then shouldn’t we be moving toward a desire to know what’s inside? I still don’t think that desire is there yet and I have to wonder why. More than likely, Kirschenbaum would invoke the medial ideology and its “common assumptions about electronic textuality that characterize medial ideology: that electronic text is hopelessly ephemeral, that it is infinitely fungible or self-identical, and that it is fluid or infinitely malleable” (50). I think that he does a wonderful job of complicating and “disproving” those common assumptions, but I do wish that he would have gone more in depth about where these common assumptions came from. Would it be popular media’s treatment of what could happen if you learned how computers work or *gasp* became a hacker.

You can see this “scary life” that comes with knowing too much about computers as early as 1982’s Tron where a computer programmer gets sucked into the mainframe of his computer’s video-game or when a computer hacker inadvertently starts World War III by plugging into the military’s supercomputer nuclear program in War Games or even into the 90s when understanding the Internet meant it was some kind of Scary Wild West (See Julia Stiles’ Hacker Clip). Aside from popular media, even the computer companies themselves played into this “beware of technology” or propaganda-like commercials from the computer companies themselves like the “Paperwork Explosion” IBM video from last week or even Apple’s groundbreaking 1984 commercial that introduced Macintosh to the world to save the world from Big Brother.

War Games: When knowing how to program your computer can lead to World War III

So, why these narratives? Ephemerality, fungibility, malleability, and the “scary unknown.” And how do these stories play into our “faith-based” relationship with technology? Perhaps, it’s the way that we’ve been taught to deal with what we can’t understand or find scary or what is unknown; it’s just like jumping off a cliff or surviving a scary movie: we close our eyes and hope for the best. Or perhaps it’s the lesson that we’ve learned from Pandora’s Box, if we dare to open it up and know what’s inside, then we let this elusive, ephemeral, replicable unknown out into the world and then we have to become part of it–it’s no longer separate and safely contained in its little box…we’ve entered the unknown.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for reading this, Kendra.

Connecting Coding and Grammar through Fetish

I have to admit that I am struggling through the readings for this week. Not due to my inability to understand what the authors are describing, but my ignorance to the topic in general. To say that I know hardly anything about software studies or the computational side of New Media would even be an understatement. I am the quintessential n00b to invoke the only computer-generated terminology that I already know.

The way that I am trying to work through my understanding of software and computer programming is by seeing it as a “grammatology” as Kittler suggests in “There is No Software.” I can find something to hold onto with grammatology since it’s a close reading or analysis of a system of writing. That’s speaking my language (to employ a metaphor to explain my metaphor à la Chun).  I can understand coding and software by thinking through it as a writing system–I have always been drawn to learning new languages (proven by my underutilized BA in Romance Languages) and language analysis and writing systems were the underpinning of my MA Thesis where I traced how the historical definitions of grammar shaped the systems of writing in the composition classroom.

What I found to be especially interesting as I read through Chun and her chapter, “On Sourcery and Source Codes” was the connection of source code to fetish.

Chun explains, “A fetish allows one to visualize what is unknown–to substitute images for causes. Fetishes cause the human mind both too much and not enough control by establishing a ‘unified’ causal field that encompasses both personal actions and physical events. Fetishes enable a semblance of control over future events–a possibility of influence–if not an airtight programmability–that itself relies on distorting real social relations into material givens” (50).

She then brings in “Karl Marx’s diagnosis of capital as fetish” because it rests on false causality–capital rests not on the relation between things as is often assumed, but on the relations between men. This same sort of false causality appears with source code as it is seen as a magical entity that mysteriously produces the magic (new media) into existence, but the power relies in social and machinic relations.

I would offer that we see this same false causality occur with the prescriptive and traditional notion of grammar used in popular society. Rather than seeing grammar as the logical system of relationships between words or Chomsky’s (rather machine-driven and “programmable”) definition of grammar as “a device that generates all of the grammatical sequences [of a language] and none of the ungrammatical ones” (Syntactic Structures 13), popular society still understands the term “grammar” to be equivalent to the proper use of language. This conception of grammar falls under the idea of fetish as Chun describes it: “fetishes enable a semblance of control over future events–a possibility of influence–if not an airtight programmability–that itself relies on distorting real social relations into material givens” (Chun 50). Society clings to these traditional notions of proper grammar, especially in relation to the classroom, even though “proper” knowledge of grammar and its formal teaching in the classroom has long since illustrated its impotence. However, this fetishization of grammar allows us to cling to a semblance of control over future events and the possibility of being “grammared into better writers” (Dean Memmering, 1978).

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If advanced, excellent writers such as ourselves probably can’t describe the syntactical ordering of adjectival phrases including ordinal numbers, possessive pronouns, adverbs and color (or at least not quickly or without looking it up), and yet if asked to make a sensible arrangement of the words: brown, first, my, teddy, very, bear, we could make that adjectival phrase in seconds. {My very first brown teddy bear}.

We don’t have to explain the rules of grammar to use the grammar, but the fetishization of grammar has us believe that those rules are a “material given.” It reminds me of Chomsky’s perfectly grammatical, nonsensical sentence “colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” This sentence follows all of the “rules of grammar,” but offers no meaning to the user. In the same way, source code follows those rules of coding, but lacks the ephemeral meaning of software.

That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading, Kendra.

What’s the Frequency, Kendra?

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I probably should have put an REM record out front with the title reference, but it’s been a Velvet Underground kind of day.

One of my most cherished possessions is a clunky, rickety, out-dated and rather ugly record console that I was given after my grandmother passed away. Aside from the fact that I’m a nerdy music collector (both analog and digital), I love the console because for the first few years I had it, I could still smell my grandmother’s apartment when I opened the doors and whenever I see it now, I am always rushed back to times spent with her in front of the radio. It’s a sonic technology that not only captures sound, but it has captured time for me. The piece itself is a mid-century furniture console model with dials that indicate “loudness” instead of volume and with an instruction manual so detailed, that I was able to order needle replacements fifty years later. And I couldn’t help but think of my tired turntable as I read through the radio and television readings for this week.

In both the Spigel piece as well as the Urrichio, one of the driving questions is how did the technologies shape American ideologies of the time and conversely, how did American ideologies shape the technologies themselves? I was especially interested in the non-linear presentation of both radio and television to American audiences. Neither technology followed the traditional innovation narrative: invention of technology, presentation to consumer audience, and grateful acceptance; rather, both technologies went through great ebbs and flows during their initial releases. Spigel explains that during the early 1920s, radio receivers were rather crude with “faulty reception and crude tuning mechanisms, early receivers required the practical know-how of the radio ham” (27).

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The manual not only explains how to operate the system, but it explains what an FM style of broadcasting is as well as AFC (Automatic Frequency Control) and different types of radio signals. This manual not only provides instructions, but a detailed knowledge of the technology.

This knowledge of tuning mechanisms or the “active sport” of radio seems to have persisted for several decades because in my original instruction manual (thank goodness, my grandmother saved everything) there are not only instructions for use, but detailed explanations of circuit features and “schematic diagrams” for customer use. I can only assume that these detailed diagrams operated on the assumption that the “Stereo Am/FM Music Console” wasn’t just a musical piece of furniture for entertainment, but a technology that would require active participation not only through the manual placement of records and the tuning of dials, but also in its maintenance and general function. Users would have to have a general “mastery” of the mechanics and circuitry for its operation—they would have to actively participate in the technology.

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The “Schematic Diagram” for the Console including details to rebuild the console yourself. It suggests that if there is not enough information, then you should order the “technical manual” from the local Sears store.

If this sort of active participation in technology potentially shapes American ideology of that time (mid-century ideals such as hard work and importance of education), then I can’t help but wonder what our current tech model of “plug and play” or manual-less (knowledge-less) computing will do for shaping our ideology? I recently bought a Macbook and was blown away by the fact that all I had to do was turn it on and it was ready to go—no manual necessary. In fact, I think that the manual consisted of some product reference information and then a website for troubleshooting. If the popular relationship to technology is to use it, but not understand how it works, then what does that say about the current ideology and/or zeitgeist?

I’m still not sure about that one. So for now, I’ll just step back in time and enjoy the music.

Composition (The Typographer)

“The unconscious task of the painter in the new electronic age was to raise this fact {the electric form of pervasive impression is profoundly tactile and organic} to the level of conscious awareness” (Marshall McLuhan)

composition view

For the readings this week (in 702 as well as in 701), I kept coming back to this idea of emodiment and technology–what is outered? What is extended? How is it connected? How is it disconnected? When is technology a prosthesis and when is the human prosthetic? How does the human enter the technological (communication) as in “In the Cage” and when does the technological enter the human as in describing nerve or hormone transmitters in communication terms? McLuhan explains that “what makes a mechanism is the separation and extension of separate parts of our body as hand, arm, feet, in pen, hammer, wheel” (248)…but what happens with the electric? It seems to become something more imbricated or symbiotic. I see this connecting to my work with Gregory Ulmer and Electracy (the third apparatus after orality and literacy) as well the work Sarah Arroyo did with participatory composition and choric invention. However, what I see it connecting to the most is a Cubist painting that I fell in love with about a year ago.

Composition-The-Typographer-Fernand-Leger-1919-650x876

The painting is titled Composition (The Typographer) and it is a piece by Cubist painter, Fernand Léger in 1918(19) and is currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This painting literally stopped me in my tracks and I couldn’t leave that spot–I was mesmerized. Aside from its massiveness, what was so powerful to me was how the subject of the painting (the typographer) was lost in the messages that he was creating, so much so that you don’t even see him at first glance. Léger created the piece as a response or an illustration of the inundation of visual messages (billboards, advertisements, posters) that papered the streets of a post-war Paris. The typographer has become part of that visual message and he is being constructed by the content he is also constructing. This power of visual communication Léger experienced in post-war Paris demonstrates McLuhan’s point that “each innovation is not only commercially disrupting, but socially and psychologically corroding as well” (250). Begging the question: who or what is in control?

In The Composition (aptly named for the “arrangement” or “rearrangement” of man and machine), the typesetter is becoming the technology in itself and the viewer can see that through the blended connection of seemingly disparate parts. It is nearly impossible to see what is machine, what is man, and what is message–perhaps the answer is that it is all of them since they are incapable of being disconnected if you want to understand the experience. McLuhan explains that “the artist must ever play and experiment with new means of arranging experience, even though the majority of his audience may prefer to remain fixed in their old perceptual attitudes” (254). Léger certainly plays with arrangement in The Composition and he plays with the concept of new media in an old medium (painting) since McLuhan posits, “it is the artist’s job to try to dislocate older media into postures that permit attention to the new” (254). Perhaps Léger took up that mantle and attempted to dislocate the older media to show the imbrication of man, new media, and composition itself.