MicroSoftPollution

Jussi Parikka’s Introduction offers a speculative approach to the mediatic ecologies of the future. This overview sets forth a concept and framework for understanding how “high-tech media culture is entwined with a variety of material agencies,” or more specifically how media, composed of nature, “return to nature.”   In doing so, the section outlines questions about our relations to waste in terms of the environment, social relationships, and human subjectivity.

In the cycle of decay and death, Parikka discusses “hard pollution” and “soft pollution” where the former applies to our current understanding of industrial and personal waste. However, “soft pollution” relates to the destruction to the “world of signs.” The world of signs. The imminent or speculative corruption and clouding of meaning in the face of capitalistic-driven advertising is a provocative and anxiety-derived concept. Is iterative nature of signs, words, and images predicated towards entropy?

Ecosophy of #hashtags

One might ask how to retain a particular sign’s–what I have been considering–“unity of thought” across time and space. Is the decay and waste of archaic meanings, cultures, and pronunciations measurable? When inscribed, do these ideas follow the decay path of any other organic organism? In that case, what would be the “isotope” to measure for its decay? It is hard for me to speculate about the pollution and decay of current units of thought, but one might be able to study the “life” cycle of several #hashtags in order to predict the permutation, pollution, and decay patterns of such digitally native signs. Since the #hashtags exist within and beyond social relations, human subjectivity, and the environment, one could follow, longitudinally, their prevalence and cycles of prominence, preceding their pollution and destruction (should that be the case). While Parikka discusses the physical waste of the hardware, I’d love to compare the software, or the world of signs alongside.

4am stream of consciousness

Parikka’s “Materiality of Media and Waste” reminded me of my last semester of Undergrad. During that time Syracuse was working closely with refugees from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), particularly those who were, essentially, slaves working in the colton mines during the surge in price in the early 2000s. There would be weekly talks with the refugees about their experience, visiting scholars discussing the technology industry, and it culminated with a stage performance written and performed by a group of refugees funded by the University. At the time, I never really thought about the human element of what went into our technology. Clearly, I understood that devices were built and designed by people but what went into creating the hardware never crossed my mind.

Over nearly two decades, over 5 million people have been killed for the materials that go inside of our consumer products – tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. When thinking about the materiality of our devices and technology, I think the their existence is made pretty clear when we consider that people are, literally, dying for these things to be produced. As Parikka puts it, these devices are of nature, literally due to the materials, and because of the human sacrifice that goes into it.

As I’m writing, I keep thinking back on the questions of if technology changes the world or does the world change technology? This case is leading me to believe that technology changes the world. I can’t help but wonder if 5.4 million people who still be dead if the materials to create hardware weren’t found in that part of the world? Indeed, the DRC has a long history of unstability, but in what ways did our desire, need, and demand for consumer products stoke the fire?

I’m trying to think of this in reverse now – the world changing technology, with the DRC and mineral farming in mind. I suppose I can see that too – the materials needed are found in the world. Discovery of them lead to changes in technology. This is, literally, thinking about the material world supplying whats necessary to create consumer products. Perhaps its not about the world changing, and its more about what we find in the world. What we know about the world changes and that influences the development of technology.

Parikka has a nice quote from Karan Barad – “In her passage, she talks about scientific apparatuses and their materiality as intensive, formative and always participating in the reconfiguring of the world (para. 30)” – I’m wondering if we can think of these bigger questions in the same way. Perhaps it’s no matter which changes first, the world or technology, but the idea that it all flows together. There is participation on both ends that leads to a formation of a thing or series of things. Perhaps the chicken or the egg argument is just distracting.

Forget Story…no, wait, sincerity is the new irony

All of the readings this week, circled around various aspects of materiality in “new media,” redefining and re-theorizing this terms and its relationship to media studies. Parrika looks at the environmental beginnings and after-life of technologies, or their lack of after-life and the two-fold pollution caused by “the ‘hard’ regime of entropic energy consumption and production of not just things, but also of material waste; and the immaterial regime of semiotics and signs – what we usually call ‘media’” (par. 6). His emphasis on the connection and inter-connectedness of environmental cost and waste with the glut of language or discourse waste produced by the devices is interesting to consider, especially as he asks us to do so together, an especially daunting task considering Sterne’s description of the ever-faster churning wheel of planned obsolescent technologies ending up in our trash heaps along with all the marketing trash surrounding them and floating around in the ether.

Ernst’s argument in much of Digital Memory and the Archive, particularly in Part I, has to do with separating study of the material object and its electronic signals and traces from the subjective understanding and historicizing of those objects. He’s understandably concerned about the stories we humans make of history and interested in digging up what machines might be able to tell us that humans haven’t been able to see, partly due to our perceptive limitations, but partly due to our human bias, and, I guess, tendency towards meaning-making, specifically within a cultural framework. He’s really emphatic about looking at the data outside of subjectivity and culture and yearns to “resurrect an image of the past without narrative” (54). Narrative, at least for Ernst, seems to be a corrupting force, and while doubtlessly it has been, I’m not sure subjectivity and narrative should be something that we aim to erase from our scholarly approaches, or if that’s even possible.

It’s interesting that Ernst seems so assured that by using computational and mathematical methods that he’s arriving at some cold technological gaze that is so much more objective and therefore truer than “hot historiography.” While I share Ernst’s observation that mathematical and digital methods can be new tools in the humanities, a way to extend research methods beyond strictly human reach, every technology and every input and output is so inextricably linked to humans, from the creation of the object to its use to what the thing collects and archives to how all that is sorted, presented, viewed, and made sense of. There are so many human choices and subjectivity involved; even in the case of accidentally recording sounds or the sounds of the media itself, we still hear it and make sense of it in order to know and name what it is and why it’s significant, if it is. And at some points he gives a nod to this, but at many other points he circles back to some notion of the superiority of a more “sciency” interaction with media: “a truly archaeological awareness of the past goes so far as to exclude any human awareness from the representation of the past”…(53). Hmm. Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t know how that’s possible. Even if you present a whole bunch of blips and colors and etching marks, it is ultimately mediated through humans (and there are human choices and methodologies with histories involved in collecting anything, even computationally) to reach any kind of sense making, or it’s just a spectacle of sensory experience, which is still felt in human experience, even if it seems nonsensical. Also, at the same time that Ernst seems to want to dispel the dominant hierarchies of history, he seems to set up another that privileges math and science over traditional humanities’ perspectives. While I can hop on board with wanting to dismantle and disrupt the ideologies being carried forth in a lot of history and the stories that make them up, I think math and data can be just as subjective as stories and stories can be just as useful, perhaps more so, at revealing the truth of human experience, which is all we can really know, anyway, and only know just a glimpse, no matter how many computers we try to enter or bury.

But she’s got a new hat!

Both Sterne and Parikka are interested in the life and death of new media. In particular, the authors focus on illuminating the networks that exist not only in the creation and consumption of technologies, but also the disposal, decay, and reuse of these materials. Sterne notes the more recent tension between genuine progress and planned obsolescence, in that “newness” itself has come to be redefined in relation to older computers and versions instead of entirely new media. Moreover, this planned obsolescence is connected with corporately mediated concepts of hope, desire, and a lack of backward compatibility. Sterne also connects this production, consumption, and disposal with the state, as governments have an incentive to keep waste out of sight in order to preserve the idea of purity (p. 27).

It is hard to not understand this model of consumption, as we all fall prey to it. Additionally, what was once a secret aspect of corporate design is now something we engage with humorously. As the Simpsons cynically demonstrated in 1994, even the slightest modification can send people into a frenzy—something that must ring familiar to the rabid iPhone fans.

Not to pick on Apple fans (I honestly don’t care about people’s computer preferences), but The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a great joke on planned obsolescence.

This new awareness of this aspect of consumerism leads to the question of what can be done with said knowledge. As noted by Parikka, this entanglement involves:

Various layers of globalization: rare earth materials, spectacle-based industries of marketing and digital media, desires of networked connectivity, the soft issue of underpaid workers of colour risking their health, outsourcing of manufacturing to developing countries, and waste management (or more frankly, waste problems) as a (forced) part of the developing countries business models.

Focus on this network has prompted attention to sustainability. One such example of this is the ability for one to recycle one’s old phone for cash. Here, sustainability is linked with monetary gain—allowing those who recycle their phones to profit from this action.

This seems like a plan that benefits all parties; however, the real reason that companies engage in this process is because they themselves profit from the metals in the phone. Thus, as noted by Parikka, it is essential that we are critical of the discourse and actions of sustainability.

Tom Anderson was my first friend, and he was yours, too.

danah boyd’s scholarship on the sociological divisions within social media networks sparked a very serious question for me: where is Tom Anderson now? All users on Myspace began with one friend, and it was his smiling face in front of a white board. So what is he up to? Where is the “Where Are They Now?” E! special on good ol’ Tom?

What my question is really getting at is the set of discourses, networks, events, people, etc. that contributed to Myspace’s upheaval and subsequent disappearance in its Friend-based form. Maybe more importantly, where did all the Myspacers go? If Facebook was and is a space of white flight, then where do we see non-dominant SNS-users migrating to in its place? Is this a situation of colonialism in some regards, where white users have colonized the kind of communication that once occurred on Myspace, leaving the ghetto so gentrified that it disappears? And where are the new reservations, where non-white users are creating new hush harbors of access?

Through analyses of Black Twitter and hashtags like #NDN, #AfterSeptember11, and #ImNotaCriminal, it’s clear that in the place of Myspace-as-personal-SNS, there has occurred a non-white flight away from Facebook, towards media that more fully encapsulate the experience of non-dominant identity. Moving to Galloway & Thacker, we might also take boyd’s teenage SNS selection as an issue of protocol. In boyd, Anindita says that Myspace’s appeal in part is that it is complex and flexible: “You can add music, make backgrounds and layouts, but Facebook is just plain white and that’s it.” While Myspace was in some ways a more malleable protocol that included more diverse identities from the inside and was only slightly exclusive from the outside, Facebook’s protocol in both respects was more strict and therefore more controlling.

So what, then, marks Twitter/Vine/Instagram’s popularity amongst teens and adults of color? With many of the same protocol features as Facebook – likes rather than full responses, no profile individuation process – these SNS sites reflect Facebook more than Myspace. On Twitter, the protocol is even more “controlled” in that a user may only post  140 characters with little possibility for an extended “call-and-response” type of communication. Vine and Instagram use a fairly rigid model of 1:1 sharing rather than remixing and responding. So, then, again – what is the appeal that brought people of color to another place “on the other side of the tracks” rather than into the suburban modularity of Facebook?

From a paper on Org Com and Facebook monitoring

For a course on Organizational Communication I took last semester, I engaged with the organizational structure of GameStop, the primary physical game sales organization in the United States. For this paper, I looked at both horizontal and vertical integration on their part, in terms of press ownership (in line with some gamergate arguments, I know), flash distribution ownership (on the site Kongregate.com, one of the two most prominent flash sites online), and Facebook page posts. I was interested in how game culture forms in these online sites, how that is tied to game culture and legitimization of exclusion in game spaces, and how economics plays into the establishment of control in the very Deleuzian-sense covered in the readings for this week.

Something I found, and something that I think is tied intimately to control in gaming culture, was a lack of editing on the Facebook posts. Moderation was lacking in both senses of the word. One image, which I can no longer find, was buried in a primary post by GameStop. It was a comic that showed a man killing a woman’s child, then taking her as a prize, as if he’d finished a “quest.” Now, this was a common type of posting, but I was more interested in the fact that it was not only not removed, but it was a prominent post, with likes and comments attached.

If control is about managing modulation based on the ability to predict it, then in this case, the lack of censorship by GameStop indicates both an ability to predict and a sense that this kind of posting is okay. When a major organization is able to control what is okay or not in a culture, even with this implicit acceptance of violence against women, the result has to be negative. This is despite the fact that I was not surprised, nor would I think anyone reading this would be surprised by that vein of conversation. We can see what will happen in these conversations before they start.

So what happens when these communities break from what is expected, when people deliver death threats to individuals like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn? At this point, I would say such this are totally expected, but there was a point where they were not. The control structures we are discussing have to include the capacity to wrap up unintended consequences and treat them as intended, to recapture outbursts that, however negative, are by their nature trying to defy expectations.

So how do we actually do something productive? Do we break completely from the illusory online/offline dualist construction, such as in the case of the Arab Spring? If so, can we maintain the momentum, or will it lag and eventually be recaptured again? How do we promote these Deleuzian “satori moments,” the lines of flight that let us actually do something?

Remembrance of Theme Songs and Revolution

The “free-form floating societies of control” Deleuze describes in “Postscript” are characterized by their lack of enclosure; because they are more dispersed, this kind of control is less visible and centralized. You cannot point to numbers and codes and algorithms the way that you can point to prisons or schools. The fear and dangers of the free-form control systems are also more difficult to pin down: imprisonment and social-control-through-institutionalized-education moves to myriad economic and social consequences that, if one follows far enough down the rabbit hole, can eventually lead to a physical light at the end of the tunnel, like JLee’s perceptive observations about how she (and all of us) are reduced to codes and her movements controlled (i.e. passports and visas) in order to be physically granted access to one country, one space, or another. As Abigail points out, this also takes shape through debt and credit reporting, and the ways in which often invisible external amorphous forces like credit agencies (that are tied to big banks and lending institutions and stocks and it goes on and on) to determine one’s access to the means and permissions necessary to buy a house, a car, or a college education.

Deleuze also ties this shift away from a disciplinary and semi-stable shape of control in which one could see the power structure and either meet specific achievement levels to succeed and assimilate within that structure or organize a resistance; however, with societies of control, those levels and the means by which to resist or to achieve are ever-changing, like an infinitely vast videogame–there’s always another level and another mushroom to jump. Deleuze states, “perpetual training” tends to replace the school, and continuous control to replace the examination. Which is the surest way of delivering the school over to the corporation” (5). Preach it, Deleuze. That’s what you could have heard if you were near me and my laptop when I read that sentence, which was followed by, “in societies of control one is never finished with anything” (5). I put my hands in the air. This reading illuminates so much about the ways in which neoliberalism invades and pervades our contemporary lives, like the blob, kind of; it’s not there except it is–it’s just dispersed and then it comes together and physically subsumes you. So many people I know have multiple advanced degrees, endure ongoing and endless hours of certifications and continuous formal training at conferences, (never mind all the improvement spent in one’s spare time to learn a little bit more, or get a little more skilled at something not “required”). Jeez, sometimes, when you look at all that training amounts to, which is a whole lotta hours and whole lotta not-so-much in terms of monetary (or any kind of) rewards (I know, I know: the reward is in the doing, but isn’t that maybe what “they” want you to think?)

 

If you marry this kind of societies of control theory in Deleuze with the social media discussed in boyd, it gets really scary. Control is always social. It’s no accident that Deleuze terms this new system “societies”. If the systems of control, the dispersed blob of it, lives at least partially in the forms we fill out–the official ones, sure, but also the voluntary ones that we enmesh within our lives, like in Facebook and Google–then the blob already has everything it needs to control us. And we all kind of know this already, but we keep typing in the forms, uploading the pictures, Googling every passing thought. Although I’d like to imagine there’s a way to answer JLee’s final questions about possibility of resistance, I can’t imagine how one or many or the masses might resist such a dispersed system of control. Maybe a bunch of smart people can figure out how to chip away at it, but it’s hard to have a revolt when people don’t and can’t see the structure doing the controlling, when it’s just so embedded in who we think we are and how we go about our everyday lives.

I planned to also talk about my conversion to Facebook via MySpace shaming by Canadians, but I didn’t quite get there. What I do want to end with is how all of the readings this week brought home the idea that control is always social–it’s carried out in social norms and values and it’s acquiesced to by a social majority, often with moral underpinnings. If nothing else, I think these readings have taught me to be more suspicious, but not about the lurkers out there in cyberspace, but about looking ever more diligently at the control and values being propagated in our aesthetic choices and consumption patterns.