What a class. I came in to this class thinking it’s going to be a breeze since I know so much about digital media and technology and I came out of the class being completely wrong, but learning so much. Without a doubt digital media structures our daily lives, but in this class I’ve learned how it all started. It started not so much by the typical way we describe technology but in a way that has to do more with people than products. Digital media and technology has always been a social tool that has transformed a lot over the past 70+ years.
From The Rad Lab and Cybernetics, the Merry Pranksters and the New Communalists and the New Left all the way to The WELL and the New Right, digital media and technology has changed how we interact with each other. Starting with The Rad Lab and how scientists, engineers and educators came together to help or country during war time technology transformed our society and how we interact and educate one another.
The past few chapters of Turner’s book “From Cyberculture to Counterculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism” was a tough read, without a doubt, but they also provided a wealth of history that I would have otherwise never learned. From Clark Kerr and Norbert Weiner to Steward Brand and Kevin Kelly seeing how society and digital media evolved brought to me new terms that has now expanded my way of thinking. Digital Media and technology is not all about gadgets, but about people and how we communicate.
Another part of the course I enjoyed was Astra Taylor’s book “The People’s Platform, specifically, her thoughts on copyright (and copyleft). As someone who worked in the music industry I certainly understand an artists’ right to ownership and the issues that are involved with piracy.
Overall, this class has been an eye-opener for me and I am glad that I took the course. Additionally, this hybrid course may have been the best one I have taken.
Turner connects the early intellectual and interpersonal affiliations with Kevin Kelly and the Whole Earth network and, through them, from the New Communalist embrace of the politics of consciousness with the interview in the August 1995 issue of Wired between Esther Dyson and New Gingrich by describing this new generation as a growing political force that has developed from a single network of a nonheirarchical society. Much like the New Communalists of the 60s and 70s the Digital Generation sought to create an infrastructure for a better world using technology.
The Digital Generation, of course, had better tools to be a force in society. Their reach has gone to corporations, politics and education in a way that the New Communalists could never reach. The internet and digital communication allowed for a society that very connected, yet decentralized and had the nonheirarchical format that was key to the New Communalists way of thinking.
Libertarians became a key part in this Digital Generation as far as politics were concerned. They believed that the internet should be deregulated without government interference much like what the New Communalists believed in the 60s and 70s. The internet and digital communication would be a new form of economy and the people at Wired, like the WELL and the Whole Earth Review believed that people should have access to this, especially people who can spread knowledge in a cybernetic way.
Out of this Digital Generation a New Right was formed based on Libertarianism and the right for a deregulated internet. The New Right, during the 90’s, was formed to cut back on government entitlements and the deregulation of industry that wanted to downsize government in telecommunications. The New Right, in my opinion is still here today, broadening their deregulations to elections and big business. The deregulations are not made for the good of the people, but done for the good of those who have money to influence the decisions makers. In reading this article it is easy to see how the New Communalists were really part of the 1% that we see today.
The WELL was founded by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant in 1985 as a way to put the Whole Earth Catalog online. The WELL brought together countercultualrists and New Communalists from the Whole Earth Catalog model and offered them a space where they can interact with like-minded people. The groups that were on the WELL had cybernetic ideals and believed that shared information was very important. This shared information was a product that was supplied by the consumers who were part of the WELL. This information was what the WELL founders were selling to its consumers and the price of the subscription coupled with the writers of the content made this appealing to those who wanted to be a part of the community New Communalists had dreamt of.
In my opinion, from reading this chapter, the WELL operates a self-governing system by engaging its members. Everyone can express themselves how they want in this community but it is up to the individual as to what they want to see. Everyone is their own moderator. If there was a comment from a person that you did not like all you had to was use the technology that WELL provided (Bozo filter) to erase the comment from their own screens, but not erasing it from the entire community.
This form of self-governing is exactly how the New Communalists had their community with a nonheirarchical structure while using technology. They did not have people overseeing each community within WELL that would decide what was right or wrong. Instead, they let each individual make that decision on their own. As with any new technology WELL would evolve by seeing how its members dealt with certain situations and using that as a better understanding of the social and technological interactions that its members dealt with allowing them to better use WELL.
The vision of the world espoused by Fuller in his idea of the “Comprehensive Designer” allowed an individual an outside view of all the different systemic processes that the bureaucrat could not see having “been psychologically broken down by the demands of his work.” The “Comprehensive Designer” would have available to them all the information from all different types of industry and try to figure out how they can work together in the world they inhabited.
This was appealing to Brand because he appreciated “cybernetics as an intellectual framework and as a social practice; he associated both with alternative forms of communal organization.” The whole theory of cybernetics is a collaborative process of using information for a common good without any hierarchy. The “Comprehensive Designer” and cybernetics are very similar in the fact that there is a collaborative effort that did not deal with politics. It was all about the greater good of the community combining data that was gathered in an attempt to see the world’s needs and hopefully design technologies that would solve those needs.
Brand was a man that needed his individuality and he did not want to give that up. He even fought in a war not to fight for his country, but to fight for his right of individuality that he felt might have been taken away from him otherwise. After coming back from the war he studied the readings of Wiener, McLuhan, Fuller and Ehrlich who all believed in cybernetics which was a new way to look at the world. Fuller’s “Comprehensive Designer” idea was so appealing to Brand because it aligned with his own sensibilities in what he wanted to see the world looks like.
Fuller was someone that was considered a key figure in the world that Brand was a part of at the time. His “intellectual frameworks and social ideals” may have come from the military research culture but it was endearing to the avant-garde world that Brand saw with the USCO.
On one side we have the New Left, who wanted to change the politics of the country completely. They too did not believe in a hierarchy or a “top-down flow of power” but they did believe that political action was necessary to see their civil rights and free speech movements of the time succeed. The New Left organized for political change which is a contrast from what we know about the New Communalists. Also, they used protests and demonstrations against industrial activities, bureaucratic organization of the universities and the Vietnam War.
Norbert Weiner’s definition of cybernetics as stated in the chapter is “a field focused on the ‘study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society.'” Weiner also said that cybernetics “suggested that digital processes might lead to a malevolent automation of human and biological processes.”(2006:23) Cybernetics is a “transdisciplinary approach exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities.” (Wikipedia)
When looking at this definition at first I could not figure out how the “cybernetic vision of the world” correlated with what the New Communalists wanted. Then I looked it as not just technology, but processes and systems.
So on the other side we have New Communalists, or hippies as they were also known as, and they wanted to use a collaborative process where there was no hierarchy. Most of them wanted to go in places across America where they could create communes and live without the politics of the times. New Communalists saw politics as the problem that was effecting the country at the time. They wanted a less violent society and did not trust politicians or any form of hierarchy at all. They believed that the mind could produce the ideals that they wanted in this country and go into, what Charles Reich called, Consciousness III where “citizens would serve as examples to one another; the communities in turn would serve as examples to the world.” (2006:37) Basically, the individual’s information can be passed from person to person similar to how cybernetics works within a system or process.
One example used by Jodi Dean in her essay “Whatever Blogging” to elaborate on the notion of “whatever being” and the form of communicativity that it points to is Liam Lynch’s song “Whatever.” In the song he has a George W. Bush impersonator yell, “I’m George W. Bush, leader of the free world. I want to bomb Iraq. And when the world says, ‘no’! I say, ‘whatever!’ Sadam has started to meet our demands. Yeah, whatever.” The term “whatever” in the American culture is used as a passive-aggressive conversational blocking tool. In Dean’s article she discusses how this “whatever being” has no preferences. In this impersonation in the song “Whatever” we see that this form of communicating does little to help whoever is receiving this message. It goes with Dean’s overall theme of the new form of communication that has permeated this culture. There are more voices in today’s digital media in the form of blogs, social media sites, etc. but these voices seem to offer exposure and anonymity which in some ways the receiver of this message is left saying “whatever” on move on to the next one.
A second example used by Jodi Dean in her essay “Whatever Blogging” to elaborate on the notion of “whatever being” and the form of communicativity that it points to is the word cloud. A word cloud is “a graphic representation of the content of a text understood in terms of frequency of word use.” With word clouds people have now taken context out of words and how they are said and by whom and why. It displaces the meaning and creates a very different story then the person who said it may have initially intended.
The “whatever being,” in my opinion, could be anyone and everyone. There are millions and millions of “whatever bloggers” out there who post their likes and dislikes and may or may not care about how many hits or views they get. It’s all about getting their content out there no matter who may or may not see it. I am torn a bit on this one as we all have the freedom to say whatever we want wherever we want, but if the content is not up to par in your opinion what does it really matter?
The connection Aytes wants to make between a chess playing machine and Amazon.com’s new digital labor market, Mechanical Turk, is that both the human component (the mind) and technology itself are very intertwined.
Amazon moved to the Mechanical Turk due to the fact that it’s technology could not find “duplicate product pages on its retail website” and needed the cognitive labor. The Turk mannequin that Wolfgang von Kempelen created was an attempt at technology competing against actual human opponents in serious chess matches. The “technology” ended up being his chess master assistant.
With both, the most important aspect is knowledge. There are certain tasks that only humans can perform, but if somehow humans can manipulate technology to perform these tasks then in the long run it’s for the best. In her article, she talks about how “mechanisms were also living beings.” This intertwining of both technology and the human component, more specifically the human mind, makes me believe that one cannot exist without the other. Humans are the ones that created technology and although some of the world’s brightest minds (Musk and Hawking to name a few) believe that artificial intelligence will be an issue for us in the future, all of that could not be possible if it was not for the human component.
This article seems to say that technology is part of the evolution process of the human mind. With the Turk, Kempelen’s chess master assistant was the actual computer or technology that dealt with coded actions and each chess piece assigned a role that had a limited power. This is very similar to the technology that Amazon.com created in the AMT (Amazon Mechanical Turk) as technology can only do so much and there needs to be a human component. The human component and technology are supported by knowledge and has become more and more intertwined with all the new technology in our time. Their functions are used in almost every facet of our everyday life and will continue to do so.
Terranova characterizes the relationship of subcultural movements to capitalism as being intertwined. Subcultures are usually defined as a “cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture.” (Oxford English Dictionary) Although they may be intertwined I do agree with Terranova that such movements are not appropriated by capital from the outside.
In Terranova’s article she explains how the subcultural movements and capitalism are intertwined by saying “this has often happened through the active participation of subcultural members in the production of cultural goods (e.g., independent labels in music, small designer shops in fashion).” (2015:53) The subcultural movement is fueled by the digital economy and allows those who have access to content or use distribution networks to actually make these subcultural members part of the capitalistic process.
When I think of subcultural movements it makes me think of small businesses and independent contractors. One such business practice that I find interesting and does not appropriate capital from the outside are sneaker resellers. The reselling of sneakers has become a billion dollar industry and in no way do they get capital appropriated from the outside. Granted, you must first purchase the sneaker itself which helps to stuff “the pockets of multinational capitalism” but all of the profits from reselling the sneaker goes right into the pocket of these subcultural members. What’s remarkable about this subculture is how young its members are. There are kids in their tweens all the way up to their late 40’s who comprise this subculture.
Again, I do believe that Terranova was right when she said that such movements are not appropriated by capital from the outside. A lot of times when small businesses open up they do so because these subcultural members don’t want to directly work for or deal with huge corporations. The digital economy has paved the way for more people to profit at a smaller scale.
Crowdsourcing’s biggest benefit is the ability to receive better quality results. Several people offer their best ideas, skills, and support and you can choose among them what best fits your needs. Crowdsourcing allows you to select the best result from best entries, as opposed to receiving the best entry from a single provider. Results can be delivered much quicker than traditional methods, since crowdsourcing is a form of freelancing. Crowdsourcing is definitely a form of discounted labor, which has grown in grown over the past ten years. Some can say that crowdsourcing, in some ways, has led to an open source for certain technologies. The Google App store for example is open source and crowdsources most of its apps. Crowdsourcing can also be found at Wikipedia, which is probably the best known example of that.
Reality TV show contestants are another example of the cheapened or discounted form of labor created from the rise of digital media. These contestants show up and get paid little to know money to provide entertainment to the masses. Most of the time these are young people who are in these reality shows. These young people look at this as an opportunity to be on tv and in some cases a bigger exposure in the entertainment industry. Historically, there have been a few people who have transitioned to be more than just reality show contestants and now with reality shows focusing on more than just contests we are seeing these reality tv shows that provide an income to people that has never been seen before.
Taylorism was thought of by Frederick Winslow Taylor in his book The Principles of Scientific Management. Frederick Taylor believed that decisions should have more precise procedures. These procedures could not be developed until the individual at work was carefully studied. Taylorism dealt with the following general approaches. There is to be a standard method for performing each and every job. Certain workers would be selected for certain jobs based on their abilities to perform the job, meaning that they would be chosen for the job based upon if they had the required skills necessary for the job. Training would be provided to each person who was hired for the job. The training would be centered around how to perform the job that they were hired for. The work day would be planned for each employee ahead of time. This way they could eliminate most of the interruptions that occur from not having the day planned out. If an employee out performed other employees, such as increased productivity or output, they would be given a wage incentive, such as a raise or a bonus.
Taylorism was supposed to make the workforce better by providing a scientific approach to business management and process improvement. Also, it taught people about the importance of compensation for performance, which would give bonuses or raises for people performing better than others. Managers began to study the tasks required for everyone’s job and not just their own. The right person for the right job is important and training that person to perform that job correctly was equally important.
Glad I learned about Taylorism last semester in my Labor, Technology and the Changing Workplace course.