As I reflect on this course starting from the first day where we wrote a list of digital media and how much of it we use in our day to day lives, I definitely feel like I can see how digital media evolved. While I thought this class was going to discuss digital media and society as we use it currently, I did appreciate the historical dynamic that the class gave. As I previously mentioned, I was not raised in the U.S. so for me there are many histories that I am unaware of. I enjoyed learning about the counterculture and how that movement became responsible for the growth in technology. I also enjoyed reading about the various players who fought to make the internet a platform to be used by all. For me, Astra Taylor’s book was the simplest and most straightforward to read. I encountered a lot of difficulty with the book by Trebor Scholz, but I must say that the chapter on “Free Labor” was the most interesting for me. The most difficult reading I encountered was the one I presented on;”Digititality and the Media of Dispossession.” I’m honestly still not completely sure of the point the writer was trying to make.
Fred Turner’s book definitely shed the most light on the counterculture’s contribution to cyber culture, however there were some chapters that were difficult to get through due to its long winded, philosophical language. The most disappointing part of the class was learning that the rise of digital media was really a means of fighting against bureaucracy and realizing that these counter-culturalists basically followed in the same footsteps of the bureaucracies they were fighting against. I did enjoy learning that there were online communities (the WELL) that existed so long ago, because I honestly believed that AOL, MSN, MySpace and Facebook was where online communities first began to flourish.
If I were asked again how digital media structures our daily lives, I would say that where we are today is really the result of a seed that was planted decades ago, the result of people wanting to create a collective consciousness. I would say that I believe through my observations of our current society and after reading the history of how it all began, that human beings are more alike than we think, and we all desire to connect in ways that digital media has been able to facilitate.
Turner argues that a “close look at Wired’s first and most influential five years suggests that the magazine’s vision of the digital horizon emerged from affiliations with Kevin Kelly and the Whole Earth Network, and through them the New Communalist embrace the politics of consciousness.” I think what this means is that due to Kelly’s contributions to the Whole Earth Catalog, along with the connections he made during his time there, Kelly brought a lot of his beliefs (and therefore the beliefs of those at Whole Earth Network) to Wired. New Communalists believed in turning to consciousness as a means for social change. For them, it was not about tearing down bureaucracy but instead they believed in a stable social order. However, after the 1994 elections, there was a shift in how government regulations were viewed. Now there was a call for deregulation, especially in the telecommunications sector. Dyson and Gingrich argued that “America was about to enter a new era, one in which technology would do away with the need for bureaucratic oversight of both market and politics.”
In their 1995 interview Dyson and Gingrich both compared the digital revolution to the birth of the American nation. In my opinion, the only difference between Dyson/Ginghrich and Wired’s first five years is that Dyson and Gingrich became lobbyists for de-regulation and getting rid of a hierarchal system whereas this was not the primary goal of the New Communalist movement. However, the ideas of the new communalist and the Whole Earth Catalog paved the way for cyber culture. Each movement had a vision of the future, and as Turner states “The rhetoric reflected a series of earlier encounters between the Whole Earth community, the technological community, and the corporate community. By the time Dyson interviewed Gingrich, the notion of business as a source of social change, of digital technology as the tool and symbol of business, and of decentralization as a social ideal were well established in the pages of Wired and in its network contributors.” In other words, the 1995 interview was a result of everything that began in the Whole Earth Network.
When Stewart Brand decided to take his Whole Earth Catalog digital, he created the WELL (Whole Earth Lectronic Link) and envisioned a self-governing system. In Brand’s view, information could be shared by users more frequently and allowed then to communicate in real time. Unlike the Whole Earth Catalog which was produced a few times a year, the WELL would allow users to communicate as frequently as they wanted or needed too. They would be able to access information more readily than they could from the catalog.
Brand decided that his Lectronic Link would be a self-governing system even though he charged users a subscription fee. The difference between this fee and what the other corporations were offering is that it was not a means for Brand to profit off of consumers. Brand believed that people would be more willing to exchange information through his site if they felt they were a community and a network, instead of workers for a company. I found this to be interesting because eight years ago I found myself being a part of a blogging community called “Shine” which was (and probably still is) a part of Yahoo. I remember being eager to blog as often as I could, to share my thoughts, advice, or great buys with this newfound community. It never felt like a chore to take time out of my day to do this. I believe this is what Brand envisioned when he wanted a self-governing system.
One user stated “The WELL is the online hangout of choice for an incredible array of experts; multimedia artists, musicians, newspaper columnists, neurobiologists, radio producers, futurists, computer junkies. I can contact any of them directly, through email or post a plea for information in a public conference and more often than not be deluged with insights and informed opinions. Most compellingly, the conferences devoted to non-work issues and to fun and nonsense give me a chance to get to know these folks better, and vice versa.” When reading this description, I thought about how Google has become the main search engine for us to get information. The WELL in contrast allowed people to share information with one another, without anyone profiting from it. This is how I think a self-governing system operates.
According to Fuller, the “Comprehensive Designer” would stand outside of industry and science, and would process information they produced, observing technologies and translating it into tools for happiness. This “Comprehensive Designer” was meant to restore what bureaucracy took away from society, i.e. equality. Fuller came to believe in this designer when he noticed how the world’s resources had been unevenly distributed during the Second World War. While some nations were prospering, others were stricken with poverty and Fuller believed that this “Comprehensive Designer” would be the solution to the world’s problems due to his objectivity. While corporations would always seek their interest, the “Comprehensive Designer” would seek the interest of all.
This was appealing to Brand because he too believed in a society of equality, one in which resources could be distributed equally and all people could benefit. He viewed the Native Americans as people that society should strive to be like, stating “If the White collar man of the 1950’s had become detached from the land and from his own emotions, the Native American could show him how to be home again, physically and psychologically. If the large corporations and governments of the twentieth century were organized in psychologically and socially divisive hierarchies, the world of the Native American was organized into tribes.” Brand believed that Native Americans held the key to a non-hierarchal world and he admired the way that they held a deep sense of community living. Brand’s use of psychedelic drugs mirrored the Native American way of life, where they often took various substances to achieve an altered state of mind.
I think that Brand overlooked the fact that even within the Native American community, there was still a hierarchal system in place. Tribal chiefs were often given the final say in matters affecting the community, however, they did not profit off of the community in the way that bureaucratic organizations profit off of those beneath them. In every community and society, there is usually a leader because it would be almost impossible to have a successful structure-less society. Brand came to love the idea of the “Comprehensive Designer” because he believed this person would be objective and would get rid of hierarchies. To him, the Native Americans were the closest he had come to a non-hierarchal society
Turner distinguishes the New Left from the New Communalists through the affinities of latter to a cybernetic vision of the world built “built not around vertical hierarchies and top down flow of power, but around looping circuits of energy and information. In his book, Turner talks about the rise of cybernetics and how it was initially used in the military during the war. He makes the point that this technology was exclusive to military personnel, thus, the top-down flow of power. Turner gives examples of how the rise of cybernetics during wartime gave rise to the New Left and the New Communalists movements. Although both movements may appear similar because it was born out of fear that the people who lived during this time possessed, Turner observes that there were differences between the two movements.
The New Left was mainly a political movement birthed by students in Port Huron, Michigan. Their driving force was the rise of the civil rights movement and the cold war which brought the threat of nuclear annihilation. The New Left believed that if bigotry ended and the world survived, a new social structure would have to be built. They believed “the goal of man and society should be to find meaning in life that is personally authentic.” To the New Left, a life that was personally authentic meant demonstrating on behalf of Free Speech rights and Black Power. They also protested industrial activities and bureaucratic organization of the universities, and against the Vietnam War. These New Lefts attempted to bring about a less violent and more psychologically satisfying society.
The New Communalists believed that the key to social change was the mind. They argued that the “myth of objective consciousness” was the problem and not the rationalized bureaucracy of the cold war. The objective of this counter culture was to “proclaim a new heaven and a new earth so vast, so marvelous that the inordinate claims of technical expertise must of necessity withdraw in the presence of such splendor to subordinate and marginal status in the lives of men.” In other words, they believed that a person’s mindset could revolutionize the world. By turning to consciousness as a means of social change, the New Communalists turned away from the political struggles that preoccupied the New Left. In doing so, they opened new doors to mainstream culture and high technology research culture. Thus, the New Communalists came to embrace the “circles within circles” of information which they believed systems theory presented. While the New Left believed in tearing down bureaucracy, New Communalists believed in the possibility of a stable social order based on the ebb and flow of communication.
In the essay “Whatever Blogging”, Jodi Dean talks about “new modes of community and new forms of personality anticipated by the dissolution of inscriptions of identity”. What this means is that eventually we will all have a different community and personality that is no longer tied to what previously defined us. In one example, Dean says that ” if mass media addressed society directly, organizing and speaking to the masses as collectives, contemporary networked communications have multiple addressees- addresses known and unknown, friends and strangers.” In this assessment, Dean is making the point that traditional mass media previously influenced the collective “us” while the influence of networked technology reaches people in different ways. This made me think of the Vietnam war and how U.S. citizens only knew what was reported to them by the media, whereas in today’s society information is received in a number of different ways, through friends and strangers. Often times, Facebook becomes the means by which we hear breaking news because information has the ability to go viral in a matter of seconds. In the “whatever” society, there is no deep thought process before hitting the send button, no thoughts of the consequences that could potentially be faced. Another example Dean uses is the cinema, which she says ” changed the nature of the crowd by providing an imaginary mass body.” In this section she discusses how ethnic groups, religious, political organizations and racist law worked against the image and goal of a unified political identity. One way that these forces were countered was through the use of film, because it was understood as a collective experience. In this way, the unified political identity was able to get their message across to a large group of people, reinforce their beliefs and set the culturally accepted standards for society. Still, she makes the point that there were forces that attempted to fight against these unified political identities. However, the “whatever being” is portrayed as a passive entity, a being that doesn’t really stand for much, it just passes the same information around to its network without deep thought and reflection.
In return of the crowds, Aytes compares Amazon’s micropayment based crowdsourcing platform by comparing it to an 18th Century Automaton Chess Player. Crowdsourcing platforms utilize the public to complete business related tasks that it would ordinarily do for itself. Aytes tries to get us to think about how this has replaced traditional forms of employment. While the labor may not always be free, it still costs less than paying a traditional employee, hence the appeal to corporations. She uses the example of an Indian Human Intelligence Task worker (HIT) and how he made only $572 for 10,000 HIT’s despite having a 98.2% approval rate. While many may argue that he could choose not to do the job, they are overlooking the fact that the corporations target poorer countries so that people are more inclined to do the job for a meager compensation. Aytes states “U.S based Turkers oppose exploitation claims and state their interest in Mechanical Turk is solely motivated by the novelty of the experience. This fact could be explained through the seemingly negligible amount of income that can be earned through AMT for a U.S. based worker.” Crowdsourcing therefore has more benefits for U.S. workers than for those outsourced from other countries.
Aytes also touches on the fact that these workers from other countries are sometimes forced to work much more hours than the typical U.S worker. For example, in Germany, German “guest workers” were expected to work 80 hour work weeks in order to supply the labor needs for post war Germany. These guest workers were paid less than domestic workers and were exploited outside of normal legislations, rights and union protections. All this is done to exploit time zone differences so that businesses can have the needs of their company met 24/7.
The connection Aytes is trying to make to the reader is that both systems are similar. In the Chess Player example, the audience is deceived into believing that there is a sophisticated mechanism capable of playing chess against humans, when in fact it is a person controlling the mechanism. In crowdsourcing, we often think we are dealing with an intelligent computerized program, when in fact there is a person working behind the scene to meet our needs. These businesses want us to believe that technology has advanced to a place where infinite amount of things can be done by a computer program, but it is in fact a deception because there is always a human manpower working to make these things happen.
I’m not sure if I’m the only one that had difficulty with this reading, but I am going to take a stab at what I believe is the point that Terranova is trying to make. She basically believes that subcultural movements have helped capitalism become what it is. My understanding of subcultures is that it is a type of movement that aims to fight against exploitation that results from capitalism. I think Terranova is trying to explain subcultures as being “sellouts” because instead of acting in the interest of the community, they inevitably succumb to capitalism. Terranova believes that capitalism is so entrenched in our society that it is almost impossible to have subculture and capitalism act independently. In order for these subcultures to thrive, they must give up some of their principals and do things that benefit the capitalist, which in turn benefits the subculture.
The example Terranova uses in her argument is small designer shops in fashion, which she says have been “voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices.” From the reading, the example I thought of was the controversy that has surrounded African American hair for decades. Madam CJ Walker became a self-made millionaire by developing and marketing hair products for black women. Her success was in the “hot comb” which gave African Americans straight, soft hair which was more culturally acceptable at the time. Currently, there is a “natural hair movement” among the black community that encourages women to embrace their natural hair. As a result there has been a rise in hair shampoos, conditioners, etc. designed for “natural hair”. It seems that despite the subcultural movement, capitalism will always press forward and find a way to exploit these movements, and they succeed because the subcultures fight hard for their cause, and so they are unable to see how their cause still serves the capitalist.
In this chapter Ross discusses cheapened and discounted labor that he believes is a result of digital media. He uses the example of reality tv show contestants and white collar/ no collar interns to demonstrate his point. To the public, it may seem like these two examples are simply the result of changes in our society, but Ross highlights the corporate strategy behind both of these. First, reality tv became appealing to the TV industry not because it was simply something new and exciting to present to the public, but because it benefitted the TV industry first and foremost. Ross states “The production costs of these shows are a fraction of what producers pay for conventional, scripted drama. They are so cheap to make, that virtually all the production costs are earned back from the first network showing; syndicated or overseas sales are all profit.” This move to reality television was really done to keep the Writers Guild of America out of reality programming, by claiming there is no need for writers since reality television is unscripted.
Secondly, interning in America has become, in the words of Ross, “the fastest growing job category of recent years for a large slice of educated youth trying to gain entry into workplaces.” He addresses the fact that internships are argued to provide workers with experience and skills, and as a prelude to employment, but in most cases, employment never actually happens. It’s the smartest way to get people to work for free; by giving them false hope of employment into the field they desire to be in. He states ” Corporate America enjoys a $2 billion annual subsidy from internships alone, and this sum does not include the massive tax dodges that many firm execute through employer misclassification.” So while corporations are making it seem like the benefit is to the intern (because he is gaining experience by working for free) the true benefit is to the employer and the corporation because they get a supply of people eager to work hard for no compensation.
In this chapter, Ross touches on the topic of the feminization of labor, which has to do with the fact that certain jobs (mostly low paying or non paying jobs) have been branded as “feminine” jobs in our culture today. He addresses the fact that American culture has seen an increase in unpaid internships within the last few years, and that women make up the majority of these unpaid internships. Ross states “Most trades remain male strongholds and less than 10% of registered apprentices are female, with women dominating the most precarious sectors of white collar and no-collar employment.” He believes that the intern economy is a reflection of the feminization of work, because most of these positions are filled by women. His statistics go on to show that these internships rarely transition into a permanent job placement, which in turn brings to light the inequality that women face in the workplace. Ross states “the sacrifices, trade offs, and humiliations entailed in interning are more redolent of traditional kinds of women’s work, whether at home or in what used to be called the secondary labor market.”
I agree with this assessment because more and more I see positions that are traditionally filled by women (such as secretary or admin jobs) being offered as temp jobs, but rarely,(if ever), do you find a male dominated job position for SVP or Managing Director being offered on a temporary basis. If we do a critical assessment of the jobs that offer unpaid internships or temp jobs, they tend to predominantly target the female population. We come to believe that internships provide the necessary training in order to be qualified for a position, but we do not realize that it is an illusion created by the corporate giants, one that has provided them with the ability to get workers for free.