25 May

Anarchy and Copyright Law

I finally got around to reading Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Anarchist in the Library (visit his blog here).  What a fantastic read.  As I understand it, he puts Laurence Lessig into overdrive.  He starts with the problem of information flows and the laws that prohibit them and goes to fantastic places including the vulgar manifestations of neo-liberalism and the struggle between anarchy and republicanism (not to be confused with the party by the same name).  While believing in anarchistic principles, he adroitly argues that anarchism too neatly follows destructive neoliberal patterns of radical individualism and that republicanism (as theorized by little known philosophers such as Aristotle), would cultivate a connection between personal freedom and belonging to society, political structures and culture in general.

This is a big problem as far as I’m concerned.  It’s the premise of my work that networked and distributed technologies have aided the cultivation of neoliberalism, that even patterns of spectatorship have bended to an individual perspective.  We are always in the driver’s seat when we view content.  Digital media, if nothing else, has trained us to demand control over consumption.  Being part of a crowd or mass audience is practically intolerable to most consumers and the world is being designed accordingly. 

All that is to say, I applaud Mr. Vaidhyanathan for taking seriously the big picture.  I applaud him for making the essential connections between the everyday legal battles and the global struggle for culture.  It takes a skilled scholar to argue convincingly that when I download a song with any P2P technology, that I am in fact engaging in a much larger discourse about freedom, democracy and technology.

24 May

Nor’easter

I just moved to Boston from Los Angeles to take a job at Emerson College.  When I told people in California that I was moving east, they looked at me as if I was betraying the holy right of paradise – as if I was somehow turning my back on my good fortune.  "You don’t move that way," people would say.  Well, I did.  I picked up and moved east.  And, I’ve been enjoying living on the other coast quite a bit – so much more to satisfy my already obsessive taste for the weather channel. 

So I lived throught what people tell me was a pretty bad winter out here.  I think we got something like 80 inches of snow.  But I was fine.  I hardly ever complained – in fact, I was loving it.  But now, it’s the end of May and it’s freakin’ freezing outside and there’s another one of those legendary nor’easters pounding at my window (although it keeps the dog occupied).  For the first time since my move, I’ve developed a little distaste for the unseasonal weather (inclimate as they say out here).  One thing I like about the seasons is that they’re predictable.  You know it’s going to be cold in February.  Great.  I like that.  Then don’t complain.  But, one doesn’t expect this from May.  So, I feel that I have license to complain now.

So, here it goes: bitch bitch bitch

23 May

Malls as Entertainment

In Columbus, Ohio, Gordon Group Holdings is developing a hybrid mall / internet space called Epicenter.  This space, scheduled to open in 2006 at the Polaris Fashion Place, will combine the convenience of online shopping with the consumer desire to feel, touch and try on.  It looks like a mall, but something is different.  In this situation, visitors carry with them a little device called a "BuyPod" where they scan the items they’d like to purchase.  Subsequently,the item is available for pickup that day or is shipped from the warehouse.  According to John D. Morris, a senior retail analyst at Harris Nesbitt, "Today’s consumer demands convenience with specificity, instant gratification and minimal effort.  We’re a time-starved, demand-driven society" (NY Times, May 23, 2005).

One of the goals of this hybrid space is to reduce sales staff.  If consumers are comfortable with browsing on their own while online, then why can’t they browse on their own in geographic space?  It’s  the Internet-plus.  Retailers are clamoring for a solution to their labor problems.  And this would dispose of all those pesky service-sector jobs. 

If this model proves successful, we can expect developments in the technology with such things as google searches for products on the "buypod" and, eventually, the ability to use one’s own personal device to purchase things.  Whether in real space or digital space, we should be able to point, click, and buy. 

22 May

post-materialism

I came across a reference today that put me on edge: post-materialism.  It’s from a book by Pippa Norris called Digital Divide (2001).   Norris’ hypothesis, as told by Barney, is that, "given the demographic profile of internet users (affluent, educated, and young), we might expect that the culture of internet users is particularly postmaterialist in its value/ideological structure" (169).  Huh?  Postmaterialist?  First of all, I can’t stand the word ‘post.’  It just has to stop.  Does anything really ever end?  And, more significantly, how can she possibly say that this affluent class of internet users is no longer interested in the "by-gone" materialist culture?  Most internet use is directed towards shopping.  And, all internet use, in my opinion, is directed toward consumption in one way or another.  We consume knowledge, community, objects, information.  Because of the customizable nature of the digital media, exploration and navigation has become of the same phenomenon as consumption.  We consume culture more self-consciously than we ever have.  We determine the settings for culture and can customize our engagement.  This is consumption as customization. 

Please, let’s stop with the ‘post.’  I like the definitive statement as much as the next guy.  But, if we are ever to move beyond the simple speculative rhetoric of the network, we must stop declaring an end to history.

20 May

Networked Individualism

In Darin Barney’s book The Network Society, he breaks the topic into five chapters: network society, network technology, network economy, network politics, and network identity.  Each chapter reads like a lit review of sorts, providing a useful, but rather dry overview of  the topic.  He relies quite heavily on Castells, so much so that it is difficult to determine precisely what Barney’s argument actually is.  In any case, upon reading this book, I was most drawn to the final chapter on Network Identity.  Here, among other things, he proposes that Castells’ notion of Networked Individualism is a useful paradigm for the larger topic.  He quotes Castells’ The Internet Galaxy:

The most important role of the Internet in structuring social relationships is its contribution to the new pattern of sociability based on individualism…it is not that the Internet creates a pattern of networked individualism, but the development of the Internet provides an appropriate material support for the diffusion of networked individualism as the dominant form of sociability.

So Barney concludes, along with Castells, that the Internet doesn’t cause this new phenomenological condition of networked individualism, but serves as its instrument.  It is, in Heidegger’s terminology "ready at hand".  In other words, a tool that assists in the "natural" order of the world.  But then, what has caused this networked individualism?  How can we explain the readiness to see the world as user-centered, as extending from a personal node outward towards a networked world?  I would say that the social condition of networking has long been around, but technology does more than simply mirror "the dominant form of sociability".  If identity is performative, so is its instrumental technology.  Networked individualism doesn’t exist outside of technology because that is how its recent manifestation is known to us.

19 May

Mediated Urbanism

What is the connection between new media and urban design in the twentieth century?  How have the  promises of shape shifting media in fact shifted the shapes of urban areas?    Likewise, the culture of cities shapes the media designed to connect and broadcast the culture.  This book I’m working on will find the points of tension between these two parallel tracks, isolating moments of overlap and moments of digression.