Walking into class the first day, I was expecting the course to be completely different. I had assumed it was going to be easy since I’m such an avid digital media user. However, from that first day and on I realized I was completely wrong. It felt as if I had to clear my head of what I knew digital media as and then learn about it all over again, in textbook style.
I look back and I feel as though this class was a real eye opener because it felt like I was learning a whole new concept of what digital media was. What everyone else in the class knew or had heard about already was all new to me. This made it difficult at times. There was so much I had to really look into to try to understand what the chapters were talking about. I didn’t know that so much background information on digital media existed.
What I enjoyed most was Astra Taylor’s book and learning about the New Communalists, New Left and everything with Stewart Brand. Taylor’s book was enjoyable to read because it laid everything out for me. Since I had to read it with an open mind, I feel as though I just took in all the information without really judging on her opinions. I especially enjoyed reading about copyrights and who actually owns what once its out in the cyber world. In Fred Turner’s book, what sticks with me is the New Communalists, New Left, and Stewart Brand. This may be because I had to do a lot of digging deeper and rereading for my presentation. Either way I think I enjoyed just leaning about the different opposing sides and what each side did for the Internet.
Readings I found most difficult were from Trebor Scholtz’s book. Most of the chapters just didn’t click with me and I think it may have been because most of the readings were so dense with information. Not only were they dense but also the language was a bit too complex for me to get into the book.
Digital media definitely structures a lot more of my life than I originally thought it did. I think it’s more structured because there’s so much more behind it that I didn’t think was associated like consumerism, privacy, and ownership. All of these take part in our lives and it’s good to now see where it all started and still continues.
The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, also known as the WELL, was created by Larry Brillant and Stewart Brand as a way of continuing and expanding on the ideas of the Whole Earth Catalog. The WELL was to be “a teleconferencing system within which subscribers could dial up a central computer and type messages to one another in either asynchronous or real-time conversations” (141). This system was seen as way to bring the countercultural idea of shared consciousness online.
When it was created Brand did not want to post all the sections of his Whole Earth Catalog because he wanted subscribers to be able to make their own topics of conversation; they were free to write what they wanted. Members are able to create their own topics and create their own conversations as they pleased. The subscription rate was a lot lower than most of their competitors only because Brand wanted others to be able to share a relationship on the WELL. He wanted members to gain a true experience of communicating with others and sharing ideas rather than it being a quick rapid post.
The WELL team had comprised seven design goals of the system, the most important one being that it was self-governing. An example of them putting this goal into action was the features of erasing posts of another member from the screen that a user doesn’t like or being able to go back and delete a post of their own that they didn’t want available to the eyes of other members. They are able to create and manage the online community to what they want to see.
Based on the WELL, I think a self-governing system can be seen as one that gives its users the freedom to do what they want. Users are responsible for their words and their actions. If anything they said was used they can fight for their right to take it back. A person’s creative work is not owned by the platform they are providing for. In a self-governing system, people are able to create the environment they want to be a part of, without having that sense of hierarchy.
In this chapter, “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture” Turner tells us about all the former counterculture groups that helped to create, shape, and define the views of the New Communalists. Through this chapter we get a better understanding of how their views towards the problems of the rise of technology came into play and how each group responded towards this new information technology that seemed to have created an imbalance in the world at the time.
The Comprehensive Designer named by Buckminster Fuller, was a person who “would not be another specialist, but would instead stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness” (56). Fuller believed that what society at the time needed was a person who would do what they can for the greater good. Someone who would develop new technologies, someone who had all the resources created by the industry and would distribute this with everyone when the time called for it. This kind of person would realize the struggle of balance in the world and would be able to fix it by giving the people what they needed. Turner states “Being able to see the whole picture would allow the Comprehensive Designer to realign both his individual psyche and the deployment of political power with the laws of nature” (56).
I think Fuller’s vision was appealing to Brand because it showed that technology and the information we got from it wouldn’t necessarily destroy the human race. It could make it better if we used it a certain way, as described by Fuller’s Comprehensive Designer. Also Fuller’s vision showed equality, not one person or one thing was bigger than the other. There was no hierarchy in his system, which for Brand and people of the New Communalists group was inspiring. Through Fuller’s beliefs that technology could work towards the greater good of society might’ve been what gave Brand his ideas that he incorporated into the USCO. This information technology could be ways to connect the people instead of tear them apart.
Fred Turner focuses on the New Left and the New Communalists during the Cold War era. There are many differences between the two groups that Turner makes known, however they all worked for one thing, social change. The New Left wanted to change things using politics while the New Communalist wanted to change things with a more peaceful approach; instead of politics they wanted to use the mind.
The New Left group used mainstream political tactics to try and bring on a new world of social change. It seems as though they were not trying to get rid of the power system in place but rather make it better. They involved themselves a lot with political activism so that their social movements of the time could triumph. Unlike the New Communalists, the New Left wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of cybernetics.
The New Communalists were seen as hippies because they wanted the social change by bringing out a “new, less violent, and more psychologically authentic world.” They wanted to get rid of the hierarchy of power and not focus so much on the politics that the New Left was worried about. This in turn worked in their favor as it allowed for “circles-within-circles of information and systems theory might somehow make sense not only as ideas about information, but also as evidence from the natural world for the rightness of collective polity.”
In Jodi Dean’s essay, “Whatever Blogging,” she speaks about “new modes of community and new forms of personality anticipated by the dissolution of inscriptions of identity through citizenship, ethnicity, and other modern markers of belonging.” The idea of “whatever being” is described by Pettman as “an enactment of existence without qualities, or at least qualities so interchangeable and obvious that they erase all identity” (169).
To grasp it better, the term “whatever” that is commonly used in our culture, is one that is used to avoid confrontation. An example of this being the pop-punk song called “Whatever” made by Liam Lynch. He uses a George W. Bush impersonation and yells out lyrics: “I’m George W. Bush, leader of the free world. I want to bomb Iraq. And when the world says, “no!” I say, “whatever!” Saddam has started to meet our demands. Yeah, whatever”(170). This shows how the word “whatever” can be seen as a resistance and refusal to accept what has been told. Not only does it show a refusal but it also makes it difficult for another to fully understand the message that is given. This term gives very little awareness as to what the message is sending out, making it difficult for us to make something of it.
Another example that helps to show this sense of “whatever being” is mass media. It’s the fact that today we are communicating with friends and strangers; however what we post is unique to us. Although what we post is different from others, other users have the ability to find us and in a way, consume what they want from our profile. If they don’t like what they see, they move on from it. They resist looking further because they don’t like what they see or can’t relate to it. Bloggers and regular people that post on social media sites do not have to conform to a set way of running their profile or belong to a certain category.
In “Return of the Crowds,” Ahyan Aytes makes a comparison between the Mechanical Turk with an 18th-century Automaton Chess Player. The connection that Aytes wants to make between a chess-playing machine and Amazon’s new platform is the idea of the relationship between the mind and intelligence of a human being and the intelligence we put forth into machines/technology.
The Mechanical Turk is Amazon.com’s micropayment-based crowdsourcing platform. The idea of the Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) came about because of the lack of success of the artificial intelligence systems they used to find copies of product pages on the website. Later, engineers were able to come up with the idea of using bodies to work behind computers to be able to operate a more efficient web-based system. It employs the intelligence of the worker and the machine to act as one to perform different tasks. I view it as when the mind can’t figure something out we go to the machine and vice versa.
Automaton Chess Player, created by Wolfgang von Kempelen, was made to give off a sense that a mannequin, that was being controlled, was able to play a great game of chess against any human player. It was all an illusion because there was an actual chess player that would hide inside and control the machine. It led to the idea that machines were also living beings, which I think further shows the connection that Aytes is trying to make.
Without human intelligence, technology would not exist. We, in some way, created this artificial intelligence. Technology needs the brainpower of humans in order to keep living on and advancing. However, there are certain things that we can’t do that technology can and certain things we can do that technology can’t. In the case of AMTs and the Automaton Chess Player, it is the human’s duty to take control when the technology isn’t intelligent enough to do so.
To begin to understand Terranova’s argument we must have a clear, definite definition for subculture. Subculture can be described as a group with a culture that is different from the main culture, but still holds onto the founding principles. These subcultural movements don’t originally fall into the mainstream but through time and non-exclusivity, they appear in everything we know today. The relationship to capitalism is not that it wants to be capitalized but through sharing and cultural appropriation, it gives capital the ability to take part in this movement. Capitalism feeds on subculture movements. Cultural appropriation is defined as members of different culture, using or adopting some parts of a culture. Most times, this is done in a negative fashion. From this I think it’s safe to say that nothing can be of its own. I don’t believe that people in these subcultures want to allow capitalism, but in order for the flow of ideas to continue they have to be open to it.
Everything we know of today- music, styles, media, language- has come from something else. I think when Terranova argues that subcultural movements are not appropriated by capital from the outside, she means that all of the ideas that come out of these subcultural movements aren’t only appropriated. She believes that they have also become guided and structured by the capitalists from the inside in order for it to be seen in the outside. For example, today we see a lot of cultural appropriation with fashion. Within this month, I have seen a lot of comments about the costumes people wear. For example, the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead has been adopted by other cultures as means of dressing up for Halloween. These other cultures don’t necessarily know about the holiday and what it actually means for Mexicans. However, in almost every costume store you enter you can probably see a costume for this or search up a makeup tutorial on it. The ideas/fashion of this holiday have been structured by businesses to be part of our Halloween. Therefore, allowing it to be appropriated by other cultures and seen as just a fun way to dress or a cool costume idea.
With the rise of digital media, labor has really lost its way in giving back to those who do the most for it. Reality TV has become such a big thing nowadays that as viewers, we sometimes forget that most of the “reality” is actually scripted. These reality shows are not at all expensive to make and they earn back what they spent on it, the first time it is shown on TV. So we are left to question why most of the workers behind the scenes are left in the dust? The eighteen-hour workdays with no meal breaks and no health or any other kind of benefits is blatantly unfair to these workers. Digital media has allowed for this industry to not have a standard for both their workers and what they put out. Ross points out that “…networks have begun to categorize game shows as reality programming in order to produce them without contracts.” This proves that there is no standard to which TV shows fall into. All they want is to pay less so to make more money at the end of the day.
Internships are very common as they are usually more open to young people who are looking for a foot in to the choice of career they want. Most times if the person has done very well in their unpaid internship it opens the chance for an actual job. However, most young people don’t get this opportunity. They are simply used for their work and never heard from again. The companies that hire interns are getting money from this. They take advantage of the intern who just wants to do their best and gain experience. Companies are good at exploiting the youthful mind into thinking that all the professional and challenging work they will do will be worth it in the end, when in reality it’s sadly not the case.
Ross describes distributive labor as a way of the Internet to be able to use the left over mind power of random individuals. In this new model of distributive labor, Ross says that those who participate in this are not paid workers or your stereotypical people who go to coffee shops to write in their notebooks instead of the privacy and silence of their own home because they gain something from hearing other people’s stories. The people that can actually be seen participating in this type of labor are those who do not necessarily think or realize that what they are doing online is really considered work. This type of labor does not require much of the individual. It is not difficult and it does not need much concentration, since it is only supposed to be a distraction for the people. It’s very simple, non-excruciating labor. The people doing the jobs, called “taskers” usually have no prior knowledge about what product they are working for. Coordinating managers are the people that have all the authority and control over what happens with the labor process these “taskers” go through. According to what we read from Ross, we can assume that this kind of labor leads into what is called the donor labor. It is more or less giving up your time to do “work you just couldn’t help doing.” What kind of labor is real hard work anymore, when employers don’t expect much from you or expect you to just want to give up your time to do whatever they want you to?
The scary thought of the computer tracking us, seeing what we like and what we search often is described to us in Chapter 6. It becomes a disturbing reality when we see all the ways this is happening in our “attention economy.”
Taylor points out that we are in “reputation silos” (190). This means that we are labeled by what we do on the Internet and this in turn, manages what we are exposed to and what products or information we are given. This economy that we experience in the computer world is solely based off us. An example that occurred to me was when I was looking online for items to get for Mother’s Day. I was deciding on whether to get a jewelry box or earrings. After questioning my options, I had enough and exited the browser. The next day I open up to Facebook and the first thing I see as soon as I scroll down my feed is an advertisement for the same exact jewelry box I was looking at before. It was like my computer had decided for me. Skip a few months after and I still see it pop up today, like a constant reminder of that day.
Another thing that is circulating in this economy is the idea of “native advertising” (194). It’s summed up as a post that allows readers or viewers to be able to enjoy their content while also receiving a message from advertisements. In the book it states that BuzzFeed is the leader in bringing out this idea. As a dedicated viewer of BuzzFeed videos, I can say this is absolutely true. Just the other night one of the ads, on a BuzzFeed video, was a BuzzFeed video that took three couples and showed us how they drove. It was an ad for a specific car brand, but it was done in a way where you actually want to watch the ad instead of skipping it. It’s definitely eye-opening to read about the ways we get trapped in this “attention economy.”