30 Jun

EFF: Breaking News

Grokster took a dump this week in the high court.  The cultural forces are indeed clashing.  While corporations are capitalizing on the "free flow" of information and selling it back to us as liberatory, they are making every effort to control that flow for their best interests.  Free navigation through the labyrinth makes money; interactivity is key.  But only if the content industry has sole jurisdiction over decorating the walls of the corridors.

Link: EFF: Breaking News.

01 Jun

Culture and Technology

Friedrich Kittler argues that "culture cannot be had without technology, and technology cannot be had without culture" ("The Perspective of Print").  This seems like a fairly simply idea, but Kittler makes it complex.  What he’s trying to get at here is that they these two discourses (technology and culture) are always already the same thing.  Technology doesn’t emerge from culture (as a response to cultural needs and desires), nor does culture emerge from technology (as Internet culture or gaming culture that corrupts the minds of youth); rather, culture is a kind of technology (or system) and it is simply manifested through machines.

In Geoffrey Winthrop-Young’s article called "Silicon Sociology, or, Two Kings on Hegel’s Throne? Kittler, Luhmann, and the Posthuman Merger of German Media Theory", he explains Kittler’s position this way:

“This does not mean that computers are artificial human brains, or that they digitally ape specifically human ways of thinking.  Rather, they optimize certain patterns of information processing that were also imposed on human beings but subsequently were mistaken to be innately human qualities.  Where subjects were, there programs shall be – because programs were there in the first place.”

This gets to the crux of the matter: programs were there in the first place.  We mourn the loss of some pre-technical reality, or what Kittler calls the "ecologically sound Stone Age," but it is just a myth.  Human beings have always been engaged in systems, and with each technological change the preceding system has been seen as natural.   Kittler is trying to tell the history of media as a history of systems, both human and machine. 

22 May


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.