Digital Media and Society
December 15, 2015
This class has shed light onto many aspects of digital media that I was oblivious to before. My views on digital media and networked technology were very much one-sided. I saw the Internet as an open platform available to everyone, a place where the free flow and exchange of information served an egalitarian purpose and, for the creative types like myself, a platform on which we could discuss new ideas and be inspired by other people’s work. I came in as a “new media thinker” and believed that any restriction on the free flow of information was an assault on culture. Today, while I still hold on to some of those ideas, my opinions are a little more critical having been exposed to the real costs that having a “free” networking platform comes with
One of the major pieces of knowledge I’m taking away from this course is that the Internet is not free in so many ways I hadn’t thought of before. Just because we don’t get charged for every “like”, or post, or every time we check our e-mails, does not mean that the Internet is free. As users we are paying with our personal data, collected from us unknowingly by data brokers, in this way, the Internet ceases to be an egalitarian platform because money is being exchange while not all the participating parties are seeing the profits. These same data brokers have a hold on the content we are exposed to online, and so while we the users, believe we have the power over what we choose to read online, in reality “advertorials” have taken over online news platforms creating their content based on popular searches and keywords And so as far as the free flow of information goes, this occurrence reflects quite the opposite, a flow of information that is not as transparent as I once thought it was.
Furthermore, and I would say most importantly, one fact that made me re-think my opinions was how networked technology affects the work life and working conditions of different demographics around the globe. We are told of the benefits of working from home, “it’s like being your own boss”, yet through our lesson and discussion on “the Mechanical Turk” the inequality that this perpetuates was exposed. For many people living in third world countries that are not protected by any labor regulations, “working from home” means working indefinite hours. No minimum wage regulations set in place means settling for whatever compensation a recruiter is willing to give you, no matter how time-consuming the task is. Meanwhile, corporations are benefiting from the extended working hours, and operating on a 24 hour day, at the cost of others, on a platform that is believed to even the playing field for all the players.
This class was nothing like I expected it to be. At times it felt like an Economics class, at others a Political Science class and because so much previous knowledge was required to understand the material, it felt at times like a really big catching up game. However I feel that our efforts were validated in class, whether it was by Prof. Bullock patiently braking down the readings for us, or by the discussions started among my classmates. I feel like I leave this class having a new and valuable perspective on digital media, and grateful that I was exposed to a reality that I would’ve probably never stumble upon outside of this class.
Digital media and Society
December 8, 2015
Wired and New Right Politics
In the chapter titled “Wired”, Turner walks us through the events that lead to the convergence of new communication technologies and new right wing politics. He focuses on the role that “Wired” magazine had during its first five years, and its many influential contributors that promoted ideas of personal and collective liberation through the “computational metaphor”. Towards the end of the chapter, Turner uses Wired’s 1995 interview of then Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to illustrate the cusp of this convergence, and the influence that the use of interpersonal networks had in presenting the Internet as a political sphere.
During this interview between Dyson and Gengrich “they depicted the Internet as a model of an ideally decentralized and in many ways degovernmentalized society, and as a tool to which bring that society about” (p. 231). In this way, Dyson and Gengrich married countercultural ideas of leveling hierarchies with the social conservative ideas of the New Right, through the use of new communication systems. However, “for the New Communalists, transforming consciousness had meant stepping outside party politics” (p. 219), and so for New Right dogmatist to bridge these opposite definitions of counterculture, and to explain how one can be countercultural while heading to Washington at the same time, it took some building up to which was the role of Wired magazine for its first five years.
Turner explains that to bridge these ideas, Wired and its contributors engaged in a “cycle of mutual legitimation”. They made use of the interpersonal networks gained from “The Whole Earth” and the “WELL”, allowing stories “by and about members of the editor’s personal and professional networks” (p. 217). They used editorial techniques to legitimize politicians that were pro-deregulation and global market place, while these politicians then could legitimize new communication technologies as essential to the national interest. Through this cycle, both spheres attempted to prove that “their current work was an extension of the 1960s consciousness revolution” (p. 219).
The Newt Gengrich interview was in a way, the icing on the cake, legitimizing the intersections between the technological, the Whole Earth, and the political sphere. By entering the political sphere the tech community stood for the open market proposal, and this in turn, gave way to looking at digital technology as a “tool and symbol of business” (p. 232) and thus also entering the corporate sphere.
Digital Media and Society
December 1, 2015
The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL) was, as Turner explains it, a teleconferencing system that was modeled after Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog. Originally, the arrangement between Brand and Brilliant was for Brand to post Whole Earth Catalog items onto the WELL, and users then would be allowed to comment and discuss on these topics in a sort of bulletin board system or forum. However, Brand keeping true to his anti-hierarchical and New Communalist dogma, proposed that instead users should be allowed to create their own topics of discussion. It was “a way to create the countercultural ideal of a shared consciousness in a new ‘virtual community’” (p.142). With the participation of users in an array of fields from engineers and computer technologists, to journalists and musicians, the WELL came to be both a community and a business because of its networking potential and the access to information that could be used offline for a profit.
In this way it served the “shared consciousness” aspect of the New Communalist approach, but it also had to remain non hierarchical which Brand aimed for through management strategies that prompted self-governance within the virtual community. One example of this was the way in which system owners “refrained from intervening in fractious debates whenever possible” (p. 145) and instead gave users the power and authority to erase other users’ posts that they might have found upsetting. However, they were only able to erase them form their own screens, not from the system. Much like we adjust our Facebook settings today to not see updates from certain users on our newsfeeds. Additionally, WELL users that changed their opinions or regretted writing a post were allowed erase them, and so “rather than assert their authority directly, the WELL managers chose to give users the powers to self-rule” (p. 145).
Another strategy to prompt self-regulation required as McClure puts it, “staying the hell out of the way at the right time” (p. 148). By this he meant allowing the system to evolve in its own way. Instead of designing it to be something in particular, they designed it to evolve. By having a text-based forum in which its users were able to build on existing information, and putting the responsibility of these postings on their users, the WELL created in them a sense of ownership (regardless of these postings creating any sort of profit) and the need to maintain the new network/relationships formed and the cyber-structure that provided them. “The WELL sells its users to each other and it considers its users to be both its consumers and its primary producers” creating a self-regulating environment and remaining non-hierarchical.
November 17, 2015
Digital media and Society
The Comprehensive Designer
In the chapter titled “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture” Turner further immerses us in the sociopolitical and economic environment that shaped the views of the new communalists, emphasizing how their relationship to information technology came about. In doing so, Turner introduces us to the technocratic doctrine of “architect, designer, and traveling speechmaker” Buckminster Fuller, who became an inspiration to Brand and his movement. What Fuller proposed was a view of the material world “imagined as a series of corresponding forms, each linked to every other according to invisible but omnipresent principles” (p.55) that also included the industrial production world which he advocated, influences the patterns of our natural world. To achieve this imagined world, Fuller deemed necessary an individual that was able to view the full scope, the “Comprehensive Designer” an individual who could “recognize the universal patterns inherent in nature, design new technologies in accord with these patterns and the industrial resources already created by corporations” (p.56). The purpose and ideals that the Comprehensive Designer evoked were very appealing to Brand for several reasons.
First, Fuller’s Comprehensive Designer and its ability to view the full scope satisfied Brand’s need to escape the limited scope of the fragmented “specialist” forged by the Soviet Union’s terror during the cold war. The collaboration and interdisciplinary aspect of Fuller’s doctrine offered Brand a new way to model the world in which an individual’s learning was not mandated by hierarchies, nor the state of war and politics but promoted a type of learning that required the individual to become a more wholesome and “learning participant”.
Furthermore, for Brand, growing up during the cold war meant growing up with the threat of human annihilation. Fuller’s ideology starves this fear by stating that “the proper deployment if information and technology could literally save the human species from annihilation” (p. 57) presenting the use of technology and other disciplines as vital for the evolution of humans. This aligns with Brand’s thoughts on the concept of evolution where he explains that “the responsibility of evolution is on each individual man, as fir no other species. Since the business of evolution for man has gone over to the mental and psychological phase, each person may contribute and influence heritage of the species” (p.45). In this way, for Brand, the interdisciplinary and collaborative aspect of Fuller’s ideas were not only vital to become a wholesome individual but vital for the human species as a whole.
To finalize, Fuller’s emphasize on the use of technology as a resource provided Brand with a way to think about alternative forms of communal organization. Through his work and communal living with USCO, Brand made use of technology, networking and collaboration to produce art. Tapping into the communal living and the communal production of art was in itself then, a counter move for Brand as it contradicted the rigid organizational structures of the cold war environment.
Digital Media and Society
November 10, 2015
The New Left and the New Communalists
In the chapter titled “The shifting Politics of the Computational Metaphor” Turner explores how branches within countercultures have differing relationships to information technologies. More specifically, he explains how the emergence of the New Left and the New Communalists has its roots in the war and post-war environment of the 1950s and 1960s where free speech movements started proposing the idea that the knowledge taking place in universities was inherently entangled with the military-industrial complex. In this way, free speech movement supporters were concerned that knowledge and information were being fragmented to fit the necessities of the political environment of the time and that students were then being deems as part of the machine. Turner writes “the university generated new knowledge and new workers for an emerging ‘information society’. In that sense…the university was an information machine.” (p. 12). This implied then, that university was underpinned by a hierarchy system, and the students opposed to being used as parts to a machine or bits of information. They refused to be compared to the two-dimensional dullness of an IBM card. “The transformation of the self into data on an IBM card marked the height of dehumanization.” (p.16)
However, Tuner alludes that there was an openness in this seemingly closed world that has been forgotten by historians. He highlights that the war environment provided a platform for new technologies to be produced, and allowed for multiple disciplines in universities to work together in a system of collaboration rather than in a hierarchy system. “The laboratories within which the research and development too place witnessed a flourishing of nonhierarchical, interdisciplinary collaboration.” (p. 18). This environment of collaboration seemed to be obscured when it resulted in the production of the atomic bomb, exposing to many, that decisions made in in the higher tiers of the hierarchy affected the everyday lives of individuals. “Some men come to occupy positions in American society from which they can look down upon… and by their decisions mightily affect, the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women” (p.29) From here stemmed the ideologies that forged the New Left. Having understood that a new kind of social structure would have to take place, the New Left “took activism to be the fundamental mission of the movement” (p. 35), Turner’s argument is that they did so while still using the traditional political tactics. New Communalists however, while also pushing for a new kind of social structure considered that “political activism was at best beside the point and at worst part of the problem.” (p.35). The New Communalists considered a change of consciousness as the answer to significant social change and if they were to focus on changing the mind first, it was logical to them that this cannot be separated from information. “Information would have to become a key part of countercultural politics.” (p.38) viewing cybernetics and systems theory as a viable alternative to overthrow hierarchies and promote a system of collaboration through which the flow of information could reach and change consciousness.
November 3, 2015
In the chapter titled “Whatever Blogging” Jodi Dean explores the new forms of personality that have emerged through our participation in blogging. She states that the essence of this new form of personality erases all qualities, or “qualities so interchangeable and obvious that they erase all identity” (p.129). However, she emphasizes that “whatever being” is not to be confused for indifference, but that it’s rather an active effort to not prioritize which set one belongs to. She writes, “What matters is belonging, not that to which one belongs” (p.130). In this way, the “whatever being” rather than agreeing or resisting a label, is merely acknowledging communication.
One example that Dean uses to elaborate on this idea is cinema and how the effects of it in national identities compare to the identities formed by networked communications. She argues that cinema steered the attention, and location of spectators in efforts to produce a collective mind. “The unity of the screen produces out of the disunity of persons a singular audience that can see and recognize itself as a collective” (p.132). The production of a common culture was its purpose. Contrastingly, she argues that networked communications “do not provide broadly shared symbolic identities from which we see ourselves” (p.134) thus what they produce through its multiplicity are subjects that view themselves as particularities.
Another example that Dean uses to illustrate the notion of “whatever being” is the turbulent state of contemporary networked communications. Through multiple subjects sharing their location, their moods, and pictures continuously, what is trending is constantly changing at a very fast pace. This then produces a stance of “I don’t have to settle on any one direction or theme. I can live in the momentary” (p. 134). In this way, blogs are not a platform for the creation of a mass identity but rather displaces mass identity and allows the subject to remain in what Dean calls “a kind of permanent indecision or postponement, a lack of commitment” that neither attacks nor resists.
October 27, 2015
Digital media and Society
Return of the Crowds
In chapter 5 “Return of the Crowds” Ayhan Aytes relates the mechanics of 18th century automata, specifically Von Kemplen’s Chess Player, to the workings of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (AMT). The most prominent comparison Aytes makes is the hidden nature of the workers, which is concealed by the spectacle of the machine. In the case of the Turk Chess Player this translates literally, as the mechanical mind of the Turk was manipulated by a master chess player who remained hidden behind the internal mechanisms. In the case of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Aytes points to the fragmentation of cognitive labor, in which “workers from across the world and around the clock browse, choose, and complete human intelligence tasks (HITs) that are designed by corporate or individual contractors” (p.79). In this way, the connection between the workers and the end result is erased, and these complex tasks come across as automated. Both the Turk Chess Player and AMT prompt the idea that mechanisms can be living entities that instead of operating as clockwork, are in contrast self-regulated.
Furthermore, Aytes talks about how just like in a game of chess, in which each piece has a specific role that is to be performed in relation to the other pieces, so do AMTs cognitive workers. By organizing the roles and their functions, the cognitive labor market is able to fulfill these roles by anyone in what Aytes calls the “socioeconomic chessboard” (p.87).
Finally, Aytes relates the two in their role of “disciplining the human mind for industrial production” (p.81). She deems the Turk Chess Player as the precursor for today’s cognitive labor market, as it first imagined the automatization of the operations of the human mind. Amazon’s mechanical Turk reflects this in the way that it maximizes the profits of multinational corporations through the use of legislative gray zones surrounding cognitive labor. Aytes calls this the “neoliberal system of exception” facilitated by the digital networks, which allows requesters to escape employment regulations.
Digital Media and Society
October 6, 2015
Throughout this chapter Ross explains how the rise of digital media has given way to what he describes as “token-wage” labor. “In most corners of the information landscape, working for nothing has become normative, and largely because it is not experienced as exploitation.” (17) One way in which corporations have used digital technologies to reduce professional pay scales, is by monetizing the “cognitive surplus”. Corporations are taking advantage of all the free time people have by promoting tasks that feel like fun, thus blurring the line of work and play. One example of this is crowdsourcing. To make his point, Ross directs us to the popularity of the “Comments Section” not only on social media platforms but also in popular news sites, where users that post their comments become a source for extracting ideas, images, and information for little to no compensation. Why pay for a creative team to come up with new ideas for articles when the users can provide them without demanding a salary? “Readers will be gratified to participate” (19) is the underlying principle.
Another aspect of the “corporate race to the bottom” is the distributed labor technique. In this occurrence, the micro division of labor into bits and pieces allows for cost – saving. “Taskers are effectively deskilled, dispersed and deprived of any knowledge about the nature of the product to which their labor contributes” (21). At the same time, this reinforces long-held believes about and among creative types, about sacrificing monetary compensation in return for job gratification. About this Ross writes, “This willingness to donate labor was referred to as self-exploitation”. However Ross, emphasizes that new media is not to be blamed for this token-wage labor economy. In turn he states that “while digital technology did not give birth to the model of free labor, it has proven to be a highly efficient enabler of nonstandard work arrangements”.
Digital Media and Society
Ross Definitions- “Feminization of Work”
In chapter 1 Ross dives into one aspect of the free-labor frenzy, internships, and how this has affected women in a disproportionate manner. Internships, Ross states, are “the fastest growing job category of recent years for a large slice of educated youth trying to gain entry into work places” (23). However, although individuals go to extreme measure to land and keep a white-collar internship, the chances of them getting a job out if it are slim. Ross compares it to “the equivalent of a lottery ticket”. The only real beneficiaries in this equation are the employers who make a profit of $2 billion dollars from the work employed by the interns. Ross then questions why, given the lack of transparency in white-collar internships, individuals are not running towards apprenticeships instead. Here is where it presents a conflict for women. Only “10% of registered apprentices are female” which results in women being allocated in 77% of unpaid internships, and thus affected disproportionately which is known among sociologists as the “feminization of labor” but Ross goes a step further in defining this term. He states that in this instance, the feminization of labor not only takes place because of the number of women in internships, but because of the lack of transparency and regulations that separate “task and contract” and “duty and opportunity”. This occurrence only promotes a communal mindset of self-exploitation as a rite of passage, and reinforces the blurry lines that underlie the unfairness in the freelance and salaried fields.
Digital Media and Society
Drawing a Line – Ch. 6
In chapter 6 “Drawing the Line” Taylor encourages us to look into the “hidden abode”, the systems and means by which we have what seems to be free access to the web. She makes special emphasis on debunking ideas that promote the internet as a democratic and egalitarian platform that empowers users. Instead she, states that “it is clear that this revolution is not from the bottom-up variety” (p189) and as opposed to empowering consumers, the internet is really an advertiser-driven environment with marketers very much in control of what circulates in the digital space. At the core of what circulates in this attention economy is the selling of detailed knowledge about specific users and their behaviors such as “zip code, income, age, race, gender, educational attainment, religious leaning, health and marital status, and preferred entertainment options” (p190). In this was they are able to filter which ads are seen by which users; we become packaged into categories. Taylor calls this occurrence reputation silos, the effect of this she states, is that reinforces preexisting inequalities. It is a “prejudicial system that shapes what information we are exposed to and what products we are offered” (p190).
Another way in which marketers influence the digital cultural environment is through the advertising of their products in editorial-style pieces and journalistic articles, which Taylor calls native advertising. She states that taking advantage of the many unemployed journalists, “companies are busy building online news rooms of their own”. As a result of occurrences such as reputation silos and native advertising, marketers have a hold on the cultural content that circulates the web, proving that the internet is not as egalitarian and unrestricted as new-media thinkers consider it to be. What is unrestricted however, is the reach markets have into our online behaviors and information, and as long as that reach is not regulated, the digital cultural environment will be an uneven playing field in which only a pre-approved set of ideas will be promoted in benefit of the ones who have more resources.