Thursday, December 13, 2007

Interesting use of cell phone?

New Zealand man vexed not sexed by text message
Tue Dec 11, 2007 10:39pm EST

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A New Zealand woman who sent a naked man to the wrong house on the promise of a good time has been charged with misusing a telephone, local media reported on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old woman sent the man an enticing text message offering him an early Christmas present in the shape of two friendly women and suggested he take off his clothes to save time, the Manawatu Standard reported.

The 31-year old man wasted no time in arriving at the house, and took off his clothes and threw them through the window before entering.

But it was the wrong house and the householder did not see the funny side. The police were called and the man arrested for being unlawfully on a property.

The woman, who sent the tempting but deliberately wayward message, was also tracked down and charged for misusing a phone.

Both the man and the woman escaped prosecution and were cautioned and put on good behavior bonds.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fittingly, the Front Page of the NYTimes Website Today

Forest Loss in Sumatra Becomes a Global Issue

“What can we possibly do to stop this?” said Pak Helman, 28, a villager here in Riau Province, surveying the scene from his leaking wooden longboat. “I feel lost. I feel abandoned.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mark Lombardi & Cognitive Mapping

Just to re-open the discussion on cognitive mapping and diagrammatic representation, I wanted to bring up Mark Lombardi, a "neo-conceptual" artist (according to Wikipedia) whose finely rendered "maps" diagram the people and systems involved in many corporate-political scandals. A classmate of mine in another class recently brought up Mark Lombardi as a figure of radical media, but I think he has even more relevance to course on imagined networks and global communities. A current traveling exhibition of his work is titled "Global Networks." Lombardi's diagrams, cleanly drawn with French curves and finely written titles, present often complex scandals of recent corporate-political context in a lucid and simplified manner. Like an elegant equation (and there is certainly something scientific about Lombardi's art) they present a system of causality, with one node leading into others, and creating complex yet entirely legible networks of event production. Some of the drawings are ordered along timelines, relating individuals and institutions to linear time progressions, while others aspire to a more global consciousness, wrapping around spherically (like the diagram above) to produce a sense that no one individual or institution is the original cause but that all are responsible, and collectively part of the same community. Ultimately, I do not think that these diagrams are what Jameson meant by "Cognitive Mapping" but like, it ponders the consciousness of corporations and their actions which Tsing has argued aspire to the global.

A Final Question

I had the thought recently that our collective imagining, longing for, and fantasies of the universal - the Borg in Star Trek, or the Matrix, or even 1984 - are a modern phenomenon. I couldn't think of any imaginings of the global from before the modern epoch. But as I widened the scope of what I considered, I decided that the Christian and Islamic empires of the past centuries, and particularly the religious ideologies they created around an ideal world, the afterlife, and judgment day, may as well be Luddite versions of the Borg - a collection of unthinking, unindivduated, enthralled humanoids united by a single consciousness. This refutes my previous conceptions that the conflict between the global and the local, the universal and the specific, was a recent consequence of an increasingly inter-connected world. Does the desire and fear of the universal, the unresolvable tension between the global and the local, stem from something more existential, something inherent to the human condition? Or can it be traced to more modern developments, the perceived increasing "sameness" of the world, and the growing conception that we are all one species sharing a small planet?

Monday, December 3, 2007

angry asians

okay. so i am scrapping the bigger plan of discussing a whole asian american community thing cuz that's too much work. I'm still in the works on the proposal, it will either be one of the two topics, or a fusion or ..:

1. is a blog i've been visiting since i even knew what a blog was in grade school. (okay, maybe not that long, about the past 6-7 years). it is a blog where a guy named patrick -- , a usc graduate posts anything and everything that affects the 'asian american community' in america. Using this web site, I want to address, using Anderson's theories about community and Appadurai's theories on the global community, how ethnic communities get created and thrive online and in the mass media today. also, how do these ethnic communities in america get along with the global community of wired asians across the globe? i know this is broad but i will cover theory with examples all from you should check it out.

2. I actually found this on AAM.

Secret Asian Man is the first Asian American comic strip to appear on a major American newspaper (sorry I forget which again ^^;;). Anyway, here i want to use the fanfiction stuff we covered in class as well as anderson's theory of imagined communities and horizontal-ness about how we (asian americans) fantasize asians by creating the anti-stereotype of asians through a comic strip like this one.

i know this is just a blah from my brain right now but whaddaya think? any comments/suggestions/questions to narrow this down/give it form would be helpful.


visualization, images, and the imagination are three principles that structure Tsings Friction. I want to engage with these concepts as a way of entering Tsings argument, but also as an excuse to discuss other theories of visualization proposed by Jameson, Keenan nad Appadurai. Ill definately be focusing on mapping (its a good way to get at the notions of travel, locality, landscape that are also at play in Tsings text, along with the whole vision aspect) but im not so sure on which particular instances of mapping ill focus on. id appreciate it if anyone had any intriguing examples of mapping they might share with me ... all Ive got so far is a story from This American Life, and The Million Dollar Block Project run by the urban studies program at Columbia... the question ill be trying to focus on: how are we trained to see, and how can we understand maps as mechanisms that aid this process of visual mystification.

Paper Proposal

I’m interested in taking a closer look at media and its uses in contemporary conflicts. Thomas Keenan’s articles might be a good starting point for this. The U.S. military’s use of, and reaction to, popular media in Mogadishu, the lack of a timely U.S. response in Kosovo despite media (and new-media) attention, and Jasish Ansar al-Sunna’s use of new-media in Iraq present several different and sometimes contradictory effects of media.

Fredric Jameson’s model of the cognitive map might be useful analytical tool. This is not to say that any of the media above provide anything like a cognitive map, but it might be useful to investigate the place if different kinds of media in a larger scheme, and how the individual/subjective informs larger structures and vice versa. Along these lines, Anna Tsing’s concept of ‘friction’ might also be useful. Specifically, I’m interested in her ideas regarding the generation of a “universal”: the establishment of an “axiom of unity” that standardizes difference, and convergence of incompatible differences to create a universal of contingent collaboration. How do competing voices, such as Jasish Ansar al-Sunna, U.S. mainstream media, and the blogs of Iraqi and U.S. soldiers converge to form a universal picture? Do they create a universal at all, or are they an aggregate of subjective fragments?

There’s also plenty of material to examine that we haven’t looked at closely in class, such as the blogs of U.S. soldiers, the online forums that host material from Islamic militants, or youtube videos from conflict areas. (There are highly-local videos on youtube such as those made by British Ghurka brigades – units made up entirely of Nepalese nationals fighting for Britain, a left-over from the colonial era – showing grinning Ghukas on patrol and at leisure in Iraq, all set to central-Asian pop music.) Bearing Jameson and Tsing in mind, the questions are: how do these individual pieces of media work to inform a global (in Jameson’s sense) or universal (in Tsing’s sense) understanding? What influence does the global have on the individual, and how is the global visible in individual? I more concrete question would be to ask if these examples of new media have any influence on policy, and if so what and how?

Media, Protocological Resistance, and Corporate Control

On October 18, the 26-year-old operator of was arrested in a massive police raid based on information gathered by British trade union FACT, the Federation Against Copyright Infringement. An operator of the site, which hosts links to free movies online, told media blog The New Freedom that the operators may be sued for as much as 100 million pounds.

Tv-links and its many imitators are the latest incarnation of the internet’s authority-flouting tradition of file-sharing, springing up at the intersection of Napster and sci-fi fandom. Sharing itself becomes an act of engagement with and appropriation of corporately-produced television and film media. Although participants simply post links, rather than creating their own media as in fan vids, they create a new cultural landscape by changing what gets watched and how. They share opinions and exchange information in forums hosted on the site. Sites that link to streaming media act as a leveler, placing foreign, low-budget, and out-of-print films next to the summer’s biggest blockbuster. In this way, it bypasses the big-budget structure of distribution by giving users immediate access to films with a range of origins and budgets.

What is most controversial about the tv-links shutdown is that these sites don’t actually host illegal media: they use a process called deep linking to link to particular pages on other host sites, like youtube or googlevideo, where the media is actually stored. Of course, it is the small independent operators of the link sites—and not the corporate giants hosting illegal media—who get taken to task for their activities.

For my project, I will interrogate the tension between grassroots creativity and protest on these media link sites and the enforcement of legal control and corporate imperatives, using Galloway, Baudry, Jenkins, and Ang. I will also explore the global dimensions that are central to these sites’ operations and openings: much of the media they link to is hosted on foreign sites, especially in China, for example. What are the implications of the fact that tv-links was a British operation, but the majority of media it linked to was US-produced? I will use Appadurai and Lee and LiPuma to answer this and other pertinent questions.

Final Paper Proposal

I want to explore the glocal and the imagined network through the example of 9/11 media coverage. This highly localized attack had serious global implications and therefore encompasses the meaning of glocal in a most poetic manner. I think the key link between the global and the local are the scapes and flows we have discussed in this course and in the case of 9/11, this could not be truer.
In order to narrow down my argument, I plan to uncover the imagined and real links between the global and local networks created, perpetuated, and complicated by the mediascape and information flows during and after 9/11. I plan to look at this tragedy as a media event and demonstrate its effects as such by theorizing the actors, producers and consumers involved according to the theories of Keenan and Baudry.
The specific question I hope to ask and answer in my final paper is how the mediascape and information flows link sometimes antithetical localities in a glocal network, what are the consequences of this linkage, and, finally, how can it be evaded?

Paper Proposal

For my final paper, I would like to examine the status of the individual within networked communities, particularly as this pertains to mediated, or published, individuals. I'm interested in the conception of the writer/editor and how this plays into the construction and negotiation of identity. How does the discourse of imagined communities play into the discourse of imagined audiences, and how does this affect how and what we publish of ourselves? What new desires/impulses arise from this new kind of culture?

Toward answering these questions, I would like to combine a treatment of the readings from the Web 2.0: Social Networking unit (particularly Barry Wellman's essay "The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism) with a treatment of Howard Rheingold's essay on Smart Mobs. I would like to offer as an arena for this discussion several examples of personal publishing: prominent social networking,,, profile-based sites, networks based on cultural production like, and viral internet sensations like Here, I think Tiziana Terranova's work on free labor in the digital economy will be appropriate.

In my attempt to answer some of the questions I raise above, I would like to offer the coining of a term "micro(auto)biography" to define some of the new behaviors and impulses I see resulting from the increasing informaticization of society. I will attempt to make meaning out of the current trend of consolidating and syncing all online behaviors as a means of "tracking" individuals, which are increasingly moving targets. Why is it desirable to create a veritable digital paper trail? What is the new kind of reading required for this type of publishing? To what extent is the utopian dream of the Internet coming true and in what ways is it growing toward something we cannot begin to imagine? Finally, how is the Internet both a tool (appendage) and an arbiter of meaning in itself?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Networking Boredom, The Community of Procrastination

This past March, the New Yorker ran article called "The New Bathroom Wall," which detailed a trend that began in the Ivy League where anonymous students, supposedly bored at their school's library, were given a forum to write anything they wanted. The idea, according to the article, was hatched by Jonathan Pappas, who created one night while he was himself bored at Columbia University's Butler Library. As the story goes, he put up a printed a few fliers about the site, and put them up all over campus.

The next day, had over two thousand messages.

Since that day, the "bored at" idea for anonymous web forums has spread to 26 separate institutions of higher education, including Brown, where the name of the forum has changed from to The entire community recently acquired a central splash page for these functions that is called, somewhat ironically,

I would like to examine the "bored at" phenomenon within the framework of Barry Wellman's "Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism," Bruce Robbin's introdcution to "Comparative Cosmopolitanisms," and Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities." Each text has something to bare on the conception of networked individualism and the sort of motivating forces that could enable an internet meme like the "bored at" phenomenon.

In particular, I would like to apply Wellman's own opening questions to the concept of the "boredat" internet community. As he asks,
  • Do people communicate more because the Internet offers them the capability to contact people at a distance?
  • How do people use their networks, social communication, and computer access information at home, work and leisure?
  • What sense of belonging to communities do networked people have?"
Each of these questions has particular meaning and insight when considered within the "bored at" phenomenon. Following from the provided logic of the "bored at" sites, the users are supposedly in close physical proximity to one another, sharing the physical space of library in addition to the mentally enclosed community that the library space represents. In a way, the choice to "speak" in online forum rather than talk out in the physical space of the library is a reaction to the taboo of silence in library spaces. But simultaneously, the boredat forum only allows for a single type of conversation- namely the out-loud, anonymous remark, that is read and received by anyone and frequently sparks reaction.

It would seem obvious that the discussion and/or existence of the site's forum creates a sort of community. Nicknames, abbreviations, and inside terms denote the site's users as already partially networked. In this way, the site functions as a manifestation of pre-existing community, but one that mediates itself through online space, and wears the mask of anonymity.

In researching this project, I hope to both note the rise and fall of the trend, as the site has certainly lost steam at Brown, the switch of domain names, from boredattherock to boredatbrown, and finally, to examine the use of the forum at other schools. Additionally, I would like to examine the traffic of these sites, sifting out traffic from within a university network to posts from outside, and to consider Bruce Robbins' "belonging, being situated, being specific" considerations in the world of

My Final Paper

For my final paper I propose a close reading and analysis of Prague, by Arthur Phillips. I've already run most of this entry by Professor Chun, but perhaps somebody else will have something to add.

The novel's title is ironic; all action is set in Budapest. Its main characters want to move to Prague (although what they really want to do is move to Paris in the 1920s).

I think it fuses Jameson's conception of nostalgia (one main character is actually attempting an academic study of nostalgia) and Anderson's idea of an imagined community with great flair. Another character is charged with writing a guidebook for a Lonely Planet knock-off, and I plan to read an old Lonely Planet Budapest book in conjunction with the novel.

For theoretical texts I intend to use Anderson (on national identity), Jameson (on cognitive mapping and nostalgia), and Robbins (on cosmopolitanism).

Technology and International Agency

For my final paper I will examine the relationship between technological development and the changing international political scene. I began thinking about this when we read about People Power II, and the capacity for technology--in this case, mobile phones--to amplify the voices of individuals and broaden the definition of "who counts" as a global actor. An estimated 22% of people in the developing world have access to a cell phone, and that number is rapidly on the rise. The spread of accessible mobile technology suggests an increasing potential for social action through mobile connectivity, and I would like to look at exactly which factors converge to bring individuals and other non-traditional international actors onto the international scene. Apart from mobile phones, I also want to look at blogging and the extent to which blogs have or might influence politics. I will draw on Rafael's article on mobile connectivity, Rheingold's "Smartmobs," the Tom Keenan and Tad Hirsch materials, as well as Granovetter's "The Strength of Weak Ties" as my main theoretical underpinnings. I hope to determine the viability of such technologically empowered individuals to actually play a role in international politics, and whether this new empowerment bodes the wane of the traditional state-centric international system.

Distributed Activism

I want to interrogate the factors at play in the success of certain 'distributed' projects, and explore the extensibility of this model to issues of more social import.

We've heard of distributed computing projects that enlist the extra 'cycles' of PC processors to solve computationally expensive problems such as protein folding simulation or a search for extra terrestrial intelligence. As we sleep, we've asked our computers to continue working for some 'greater good' by tapping into a networked grid.

Some projects are successful in harvesting human processing cycles. Google's image tagging game ((, for example, has capitalized on thousands of hours of labor by asking people to devote their free time to assigning tags to images. Other internet campaigns have asked people to mindlessly click on ads to raise money for a specific cause.

There is something unique about these problems that allows for collaboration in such a framework: they are parallelizable and distributable. I want to explore whether it is possible for activism to operate with this kind of model. Why are we tagging Google's images in our free time instead of correlating images in a crime database? Are activist projects more or less 'commodifiable'? Do they parallelize poorly? What are the implications of donating our 'cycles'? Of what nature are the imagined communities surrounding successful distributed projects?

I plan to engage with the readings from Terranova, Rheingold, and Rafael, as well as some basic theory from distributed and parallel computing literature. If I can identify an activist project that should be able to operate under this model, I'd like to implement it.

A Flock of Books

For my final project, I intend to explore the online network constructed by users of, and the culture of “BXing” that has arisen offline alongside it in contrast to other networking communities which seek to connect users through shared interest in literature (shelfari, whatsonmybookshelf). The project encourages users to “set the book free to travel the world and find new readers,” relying upon metanarrative of literature as enlightenment through which one can “Help make the whole world a library and share the joy of literacy”. In addition to interacting with each other on the site, users tag books to be “set free” in public places, assuming others will find, read, and further distribute the texts that have been left in public. The practice has spawned its own terminology with which to describe these circulations (BXing, BCing, the verb “To BookCross”). Through the website, these exchanges are 'tracked', the movements of text literally sketched out upon a “catch/release” map viewable up to the moment, and users are ranked according to the rate at which books they release have been circulated and tracked.

The creation of this networked community, with its emphasis on tracking and locality (of both books and users) within the real world, seems to me to intersect quite fantastically with many of the themes we've discussed over the course of the semester : notions of participation from afar, of circulation, mediation through protocol, cognitive mapping & informatic control. Accordingly, I intend to draw heavily from Jameson, Lyotard, and Galloway, as I explore the many ways in which the act of circulation is so explicitly valued by the BCing community alongside (or above?) the content of the texts themselves. For it is through this circulation that the act of reading is encouraged, becomes a worthwhile participatory activity : “Reading becomes an adventure when you BookCross!”

global art market

“PARIS, March 22 (Reuters Life!) - The global fine art market grew 52 percent to $6.4 billion in 2006 with prices close to levels last seen in 1990 and exceeding them in some markets such as the United States, according to a study published on Thursday.” Reuters

“Christie's has opened offices in emerging markets, such as Dubai, Mumbai and Shanghai, to expose local artists to an international audience and bring new buyers into the global market.” Business Report

For my final paper, I am investigating the increasingly global fine art smarket , drawing on Lee and Lipuma, Ang, Jameson, Tsing. Today,a new precedent for art produced for, exhibited on and sold to a global scale, and I look to interrogate 1) how the market is “Global” 2) how status and meaning of art objects might need to be conceptualized differently. For example, what are the specific challenges that the global nature of contemporary art presents to the identity-factories that are traditional museums? What is the status of art as capital/commodity? As local artifact? Viewing, ownership as knowledgeand access to “other” community?
Question s of changing content and audience, national memory embedded or represented by art, the role of the internet and emailing . For example, circulating jpgs of art-to-be-auctioned can break a dealer’s reputation . Modern ease in transport -- English aristocracy flies to Venice toacquire Chinese art, etc.

In particular, I have been thinking about art as material object s– such as paintings, sculptures, certain new media– that are arguably localized in that the pieces do work reifying local memory, identity while also demanding a physical presence, whose value is somewhat dependant on the “in-person” character of viewing at spaces (museums, galleries, buying at a fair since major deals are not usually brokered online). Yet, now it is somewhat newly unmoored from the local in in numerous ways. Some thoughts I have had: A painting, for example, is less confined to the sphere of museum and private home, now mobile or trans-frontier through every thing from rising numbers of travelling exhibitions, fairs, festivals, the web to the need for artists to have websites.

Finally, I will touch on the glocal nature of art production through the question: how have Art Colonies been affected by the internet? Specifically, has the internet and e-commerce finally made possible the sustainable, autonomous, colony? The “global” possibilities offered by internet capitalism is, perhaps ironically, the very thing which allows for the success of these idealist, escapist, separatist villages that glorify the pre-modern. What are the implications of this? Art colonies can be permenant villages in which residents stay for lifetime. Or, more fluid, anually fluctuating populations. Or, semi-permanent mix of visiting and resident artists. Movement away from urban centers, and industrialisation. Growing nostalgia for lost rural, authentic experience. Before, these did not succeed because artists were forced to return to urban centers to make money to continue their lifestyles – either by engaging in a trade distinct from their work (bar-tending, building, etc.) or to sell their paintings, etc. I will provide examples of historical colonies, current old-model colonies (MacDowell), and the new colonies (Ryujin village, Japan).

Third World imaginings

For my paper, I want to explore the evolution of the concept “Third World” as a global term with political and economic connotations, a national term arising during the Civil Rights Movement to empower people of color, and Brown’s own localized version of the term embodied in the Third World Center and its programs. I will start with Anderson to show how “Third World” became an imagined community that tied together the global and the local. Using Appadurai’s language of “scapes,” I want to show how they led to the original reproduction of “Third World” from global to national to local, and how their shifting since the Cold War era has led to a disjuncture in the imagining as “Third World” on the global level and “Third World” on the local level have come to mean different things. Using Brown as a specific example, how has its Third World community reimagined (or not reimagined) itself in the absence of a global or even national Third World movement? Can this community postulate its existence on the nostalgia of past movements?

make-up post

While reading “Friction” I found Tsing’s explanation of “nostalgia” a really interesting example of that which relates the local to global. She writes that Uma Adanag’s worries about the difficulty of finding food on her local river with the construction of new roads and electric currents in the water amounted to a “prospective, incipient nostalgia” that “helped motivate the list” (157). Tsing writes that it is the “same incipient nostalgia” as that which motivates the “science of environmental conservation” (157). She goes on to write that it was the nostalgia that enlivened their encounter and the globalism of the exercise charged the list with “emotions, quests, and voices originating from many sites” (158). This passage reminded me of the many times we have seen nostalgia used in this course. For example, in terms of Snow Crash and Jameson we saw that history itself can be nostalgic or replaced by nostalgia. Appadurai talks about history in terms of “nostalgia without memory” and its implications for a global audience. Tsing, as mentioned above, talks about nostalgia in terms of global and local environmental conservation. For me, the idea of nostalgia has been one of the most interesting course concepts though it has been defined and used in different ways. Why is nostalgia is effective tool for examining the local and the global? What exactly is nostalgia?


For my paper I want to look at “The Chat” (, which is both a social networking site and the official spin-off web site of TV’s “The L Word.” The web site proclaims that imagined “charts” are “part of the glue that holds all forms of social networks together.” The web site encourages fan production through their participation in the exclusive show-related online content and direct interaction with L word producers, writers, and actresses. It is also simultaneously a social networking site in which users can fill out Myspace-type profiles and connect with other users and/or fans of the show. It offers forums, official blogs, exclusive videos from the set, a place to ask questions to actresses/producers, and news stories about fashion, music, culture, etc. Friendship connections on the social networking part of the site can be viewed in a visual “chart” that is similar to the ones on, but is modeled after the “chart” envisioned on the “L Word.” Interestingly, fan profiles line the sides of the exclusive L word content.
The questions I want to explore are: What is the intersection between social networking and fandom? How does each work to imagine a network, and are these imaginings at odds? What are the implications of this hybrid site on the traditional model of fandom/network paradigm? How does the web site embody these imaginings? How does “The Chart” engage with both and what are the consequences for the show? How does the site complicate the traditional theoretical model of user-generated content vs. mass media corporations? How does each work to imagine the community and what is the role of the “chart” in this? Why is the chart on the show called "the chart" but the online site is called "our chart?" What is the relationship between the network and the audience?
The texts I might use include Coppa’s "A Brief History of Media Fandom,” Jenkins’ “"Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? Grassroots Creativity Meets the Media Industry,” Boyd’s “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life,” and Barry Wellman et al, “The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism.”

The Traveling Past and Allegorical Bundles

In many of the texts we have read for this semester, the past pops up as a persistent and problematic category, shifting its meanings. In Friction, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing argues that stories of the past that used as “activist packages” “come to us in allegorical bundles, marked by the culture and politics of particular moments of alliance and intervention” (238). But what allows these bundles to travel, not just through space but through time? In determining the uses of the past, what boundaries cannot be crossed? I want to look at moments in which allegorical bundles don’t come through, and the old stories are almost absent in new attempts, except in the ways that they haunt current deployments of allegorical bundles, even as central pieces of those bundles get left behind. How does Snow Crash draw on myths about the United States even as the U.S. becomes no more than an antiquated and exploitative form without real content of the nation? How does current U.S. activism around AIDS in Africa, such as that discussed in lecture dealing with Amy Kapczynski, ignore allegorical bundles of AIDS activism in the U.S. in the eighties and nineties, primarily focusing on queer communities? How do the wholes left by the absences of these stories where they could be deployed shape the way that movements take place, the way the future is imagined? For this project, I will draw on Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s Friction, Vincente L. Rafael’s “The Cell Phone and the Crowd,” Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and possibly The Matrix and/or Kill Bill. I am still figuring out exactly which stories I want to look at, but I am pulled to examining how the past does and doesn’t get deployed and what consequences this has for imagined networks.

Sifting Through the Information Deluge

In an age of an information deluge, we graze over most of what we see, hear, observe, in what was dubbed (and what Tom Keenan cited in his paper) as the "CNN Effect". Brown is a perfect example of the global (the CNN effect) intersecting with the local (activism fueled by what we absorb through the deluge). We apply world problems within the context of Brown, whether this means raising awareness through demonstrations (i.e. Jake's observation of t-shirt days), or applying larger scale issues (education reform) on a local level through volunteering in Providence schools, Brown activists serve as the translating outlets/centers. I plan to look at how this translation acts as a centralizing means of control. Moreover, I plan to examine the way friction works as a means of activist fuel on campus. "Friction is not a synonym for resistance." (6) The second universalist dream that Tsing proposes is knowledge, which in itself is fueled by friction. "knowledge claims emerge in relation to concrete problems and possibilities for dialogue—the productive features of friction.” Brown is a place dedicated to the perpetuation of knowledge. I plan to demonstrate how Brown's activism follows Tsing's concept of allegoric traveling packages gather local meaning at Brown, how they are translated to become interventions, and how this essentially controls and uncontrollable flow of information.

Profiles as Fanfiction

For my paper, I would like to link fandom to social networking. Fandoms seems to act as online spaces and networks for the relationships fans have to their TV shows, films, etc. Social networking sites seem to act as online spaces for the relationships people have to other people. The question I want to address in my paper is how these two online spaces are related. Are all the texts for Star Trek linked—do they create a social network for the fans behind the texts (or interacting with the texts)? Do the fan videos for Battlestar Galactica have a link to the fan videos for Smallville, and through this create part of a network for all fandom? How are the profiles that each person creates on a social network similar to fanfiction? What is omitted, built up, “fictionalized” in the profiles to make them “fanfictions” of one’s self? How do people’s interactions with other people’s profiles relate to the way fans interact with other fans’ texts?
In the same way fandoms can rise around other fans’ texts, networks can rise around other people’s profiles. Think about mySpace profiles that are very popular—some of these profiles have huge fan networks (Tila Tequila is a good example). How does Tila, for instance, move from a profile on a social network to an object many people are fans of? How does this relate to fandom? Can the fans of Tila be considered part of a fandom? How do Granovetter’s idea of weak and strong ties fit into fandoms?
The texts I want to look at primarily are “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy” by Tiziana Terranova, “In the Realm of Uncertainty: The Global Village and Capitalist Postmodernity” by Ien Ang, and “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Granovetter. I plan to discuss how fandoms are social networks (perhaps using LiveJournal as an example), how profiles are fanfictions, and how they can intersect (perhaps using Tila Tequila as an example). These networks relate to the glocal by either localizing a more global concept (as in the case of fandoms) or by making the local more global (as in the case of social networks). I will be discussing how these two intersect throughout my paper.

City as body

For my final paper, I would like to explore the ideas of the journey, the body, and cognitive distance/mapping. I read an interesting book recently titled Cityscapes in which the author describes the contemporary city "as a nervous system, requiring faster synapses and more and more information," and cities in the past as "a cardiovascular body, needing oxygen, healthy blood and so on..." (Highmore 132). He points to The Matrix as a film that captures this shift in perception of the city. This reminded me (somewhat tangentially) of our section discussions of the journey and our (human) desire to preserve a sense of time-lapsing travel even in cyberspace. For example, in Snow Crash, when Hiro is chasing Raven in the virtual world, they still travel on motorcycles instead of simply flashing from one location to another. In Star Trek and The Matrix, the transporter (beam) and telephone don't transfer a person instantaneously. There is a pause and a sense of travel from the moment of departure to the moment of arrival. (I remember one Star Trek episode where Barclay sees a worm/monster in the transporter beam - interesting that he sees anything at all while molecularly diassembled...)

I'm still working through my ideas, but I was thinking about the body as related to the journey through neural and cardiovascular networks. Even seemingly instantaneous communication (a burned fingertip notifying the brain) takes time. We react slowly when tired or distracted - there is a sense of time associated with feeling. I'm curious how this maps onto the city, onto our understanding of travel and distance, and onto our visions of future utopias/dystopias such as in The Matrix and Snow Crash. Why do we need to preserve a sense of journey? Is it just a continuation of our need to connect the body to the virtual and the urban? Why do we need to see the city in terms of a human system - cardiovascular or neural? And why does this only seem to be the case in fiction?

In Second Life, though, there is less of a sense of travel or distance. Moving from place to place in Second Life is immediate, although you also have the option to walk, run, or fly. In any case, there is definitely a preservation of the body. Is it possible for us to conceive of a virtual world not based on our physical selves? Or a body-less city?

Banned from the Garden

In the beginning, Adam and Eve in habited a paradisaical garden free of consequences where death was just a transient and meaningless condition... until Adam reported Eve for violating God's Terms of Service, and they were both banned from the garden. In my final paper, I would like to explore virtual worlds—worlds in which death is only temporary—and the ways in which death must be reinvented to exert control over immortal avatars. Galloway notes, citing Foucault, that within new control societies, “The old power of death that symbolized sovereign power was now carefully supplanted by the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life” (13). I would like to examine how this analysis extends into virtual worlds, and how these virtual worlds might in turn serve to better illuminate the machinery of governance at work in control society.
At stake here are the questions of from where does death derive its influence? Of what worth is a virtual life? How does one kill a username? How does justice change in the presence of the all-seeing eye of the database query? Does one live differently knowing that death is always “just”? How do interactions with administrators resemble rituals of prayer? And finally, how can virtual death collapse the locality of the avatar and the globality of the user's real identity to have real consequences for the player.
I will start by applying Stephenson's observations on virtual death to several examples of virtual death drawn from the MMORPGs Runescape and World of Warcraft, as well as from Second Life. To further explore this topic, I intend to engage Boyd's article on social networks and Lee and LiPuma's article on circulation to understand just how a virtual self becomes invested with real worth. I will then use Galloway's protocol and perhaps either the Appadurai or the Terranova to examine the nature of these e-societies, or e-scapes, and how administrative control operates. Finally, I will try to use the Rafael to unpack the concept of justice and analyze the control over virtual life and death through this lens. I hope to be able to use this paper to explore life and death in these virtual worlds, and perhaps through this investigation draw conclusions about that virtual world we call our own.
For my final paper I’d like to look at the ways in which language conveys force/control, both in terms of Lyotard’s language games/performativity as well as online vocabulary and its borrowed connotations. How does language construct and damage identity (personal and communal)? How do language and force/violence function in the physical world vs. the virtual space of the Internet? I will also question what makes the former of these spheres seem more “real” than the latter (physicality? action? humanity?), and consider authenticity vs. truth in this context.

Some topics I may also touch on: Translation as a means of control or communicative freedom. Spoken language vs. written language vs. body language vs. computer code. Cosmos and cosmopolitanism, especially as it seeks to make the invisible visible. Cognitive mapping through language. Actual terrorism, virtual terrorism, and Lyotard’s take on terrorism. Appadurai’s scapes.

In untangling these various questions I plan to look at Lyotard on language games and performative utterances, Keenan on virtual war (and “war of perception”), Stephenson on language violence and personal identity creation, and Anderson on community identity creation.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Who’s THE MAN, and where is he?

When Tad Hirsch came to speak, someone, I can’t remember who, asked him about the possibility of something like TxtMob being co-opted, and if he thought there was some sort of ethical code inherent in his design, something that could not become corrupted by commercialism. He said yes, he thought there was.
How is this in opposition to the code/protocol of capitalist power, enforced by The Man, obviously inherent in the Motorola Rzr cellular phones and AT&T transmitting towers, within which his system is operating?
How do the exploitations of existing technological devices and structures( e.g. People Power, TxtMob, Napster, Jihadist media blogs) function within the same geocapitalist system they always claims to be struggling against? Who does Lyotard’s knowledge-power benefit in this case?
Is this mainly a philosophical/ethical question, or does it translate into the efficiency of the counter-devices as well? Where is this shadowy and elusive (imagined?) Man, and how does he fit into our networks? Can control ever be wrested away from The Man, or does he exist at all?
Is the internet truly a democratic technology? I believe the answer is no, absolutely not. So if the people do not have the power, or think they don’t have the power, who does?
Where does defeatism come into play? “Of course Napster failed, the internet is just another marketplace with The Virtual Man nabbing anarchist pickpockets and shoplifters everyday.” (my own quote)
"The Man. Oh, you don't know The Man? The Man's everywhere: in the White House, down the hall, Miss Mullins; she's The Man! And The Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! Okay!? And there used to be a way to stick it to The Man, it was called rock 'n roll. But guess what? Oh no! The Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don't waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome 'cause The Man's just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul. So do yourself a favor and just give up!" (School of Rock Quote)
I want to try and locate The Man in some of our readings and try to place him within the theories we’ve discussed in class. I plan on referencing Galloway’s “protological control,” as well as Lyotard’s “language games.”

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Forget it ... It's Chinatown"

For the final paper, I would like to interrogate the phenomenon of Chinatowns as one constitutive of both imagined communities and an imagined network. Starting from the idea of diasporic migration with its roots in the pursuit of capital, the heritage of colonialism, and the flight from political turmoil, I will investigate how migration works alongside a particularly strong cultural identification to produce a reterritorialization and imagining of community. Themes and texts I plan on using include: the role of trauma and community as a site of memory (Sturken), migrant populations as allegorical packages (Tsing), imagined communities (Anderson), actually-existing cosmopolitanisms (Robbins), homogenization and difference (Appadurai), the franchise (Stephenson), the background of the Speakeasy project (Hirsch and Liu), how the idea of curating an urban space emerges in the No Chinatown project (Lu Jie), and the film Chinatown. I'm particularly interested in how the idea of Chinese-ness becomes distorted through the process of its global dislocation, and yet how many elements of the networked diaspora nevertheless remain very strongly tied into an idea of a universal China. I'd also like to use these media texts to look critically at how the idea of Chinatowns comes into dialogue with mainland Chinese notions of urbanity. To help organize these explorations, I will follow the trace of an imaginary immigrant whose digitally-constructed body will serve as the hypothetical site of confluence of these technologies, theories, and observations.

Wear Red for Jake's Final Paper!

So far this year, I've counted the following calls to wear [blank] for [blank]:

Red for Burma
Green to protest Islamofascism Awareness Weak
Black for the Jena 6
Red for World AIDS Day
Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness

I've also encountered a spectrum of reactions to this new organizing/awareness-raising/protest technique, from derision to collaboration. As one of the dominant forms of protest and activism on Brown's campus, and increasingly in the United States as a whole, I feel it merits a critical investigation.

My paper will be organized roughly into three parts:

1. What is the connection/relation of the t-shirt wearer to their larger cause or movement? For this I will rely on Robbins' investigations of different cosmopolitanisms.
2. What is the dynamic between the t-shirt wearers, particularly when they gather together, but even when they are spread about campus? For this part I will use Rafael's discussion of crowds.
3. How does t-shirt wearing measure up in terms of humanitarian activism? In this section, I will use the Keenan readings.

My over-arching questions for this paper will be, what role does t-shirt wearing play in creating, imagining, representing, or even just expressing, the glocal? Is it an expression of global consciousness, glocal dynamism, or political apathy? As activism, is it mere laziness or an important step in fostering global/cosmopolitan awareness? What does its popularity reveal about Brown, about the current social moment, about our generation's politics?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"In the matrix of colonialism, universal reason became the mark of temporally dynamic and spatially expansive forms of knowldege and power. Universal reason, of course, was best articulated by the colonizers. In contrast, the colonized were characterized by particularistic cultures; here, the particular is that which cannot grow. The universal, however, opens the way to constantly improving truths and even, in its utilitarian forms, to a better life for all humanity." (9)
-The particular cannot grow unless it is in allegorical universal packages of understanding...this seems to mandate communication.
-How does this problematize isolated cultures?

I also want to discuss Tsing's idea of the Frontier in the context of Jameson's cognitive mapping
"A frontier is an edge of space and time: a zone of not yet--not yet mapped not yet regulated. It is a zone of unmapping: even in its planning, a frontier is imagined as unplanned." (28)

and also IS BROWN A FRONTIER (of knowledge)?
-"Frontiers are notoriously unstable" (32)

-Brown is unstable in a positive way. It is constantly reformulating itself as a place/culture/concept through changing professors, students, faculty, staff etc. It thus relies heavily on tradition to ground it. It avoids chaos through nostalgia for the past (tradition)

-"Cultures never sit still; it is nostalgia to speak out for what is being lost." (25)
In his review of Friction in the American Journal of Sociology, Michael Goldman
Praises the list of animals and plants in the margins of Tsing’s book:
“The margins of one chapter are filled with her categories
and descriptions of species of snakes, beasts, vegetables, mushrooms, and
‘beings of the water.’ More than a mere list, her insights and descriptions
perform as an animated critique of the orientalizing and infantilizing
categories produced by outsider experts to describe “poor” people such as
herself. The subaltern speaks and acts in ways that have the potential to
undermine the exploitative plans of elites.”
In lecture, Prof. Chun raised the question of gaps created by Tsing’s text, using the (literally) marginalized list as an example. Tsing herself writes that the project of making the list of life-forms was a “self-conscious project of placing a local niche within a global imagining. The list acknowledged and acclaimed a global diversity by conserving a local space within it” (156). She goes on to write that the list itself “offers a vivid image of global friction” and is “self-consciously globalist” as well as “self-consciously localized” (170). Finally, Tsing argues that the list builds a “point of view from which to engage globalism” which is the “very thing scholars need to assess scale making claims and practices” (170).
I think these three interpretations of the list are interesting to look at, especially in the context of the gaps created by knowledge. How does the list function as a point of view to engage globalism? Is it possible that it also potentially serve to undermine elites? Can the list feasibly do both?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Global from Global Perspective?

I really liked Tsing’s idea of friction and like Robin pointed out, it is interesting to consider Tsing’s concepts of “universals”, “globalization”, and “friction” as it applies to past theorists and articles. In chapter 3 Tsing mentions that we often fall into the trap of using locality to find the “cultural specificity” she talks about. I keep wondering why “locality” seems tempting—why can’t we examine the global from a global perspective? It seems that we constantly need local examples and comparisons to define or create the “global picture”. How can Tsing’s definition of “globalization” be defined in a way that Tsing herself would approve of?

On a side note—it would be pretty cool if during section we could discuss the definitions of “universals” vs. “global” (sometimes I feel they are used in inconsistent ways).

Translation as Protocological Resistance?

While reading Tsing, I was particularly struck by her development of “translation” as a key element in the frictive process. Most interesting to me was the Meratus Advocacy Alliance's simultaneous application of multiple languages in its publicity materials, where English terms were substituted despite the existence of perfectly adequate correlates within the Indonesian language (212). As Tsing puts it, this combining of separate linguistic systems in the same strain of communication “serves a political purpose, building an expansive public in the space between English and Indonesian. 'Public interest' emerges in that space ; the future to which generations look forward is simultaneously local, national, and global.” (212)

By making use of two languages within one PR release, combining two protological systems into one expression, it would seem the Alliance exceeds the localizing limits of each, creating a new detached translingual space and simultaneously calling into existence an imagined transnational audience assumed to inhabit that space. So, making use of available modes of accepted communication (that is, arguing within a public space while using accepted standard tongues), the alliance has transcended each ; speaking from within these systems, through a combination of each, a new hybrid protocol emerges which makes possible a space “simultaneously local, national, and global.”

This emergence of a new space of dialogue seems pretty radical me, and I'm wondering if it's fair to tie this emergence of space to Galloway's notion of resistance from within an established network? Could it be said that, through this hybridization of standardized protocols of (linguistically localizing) expression, a new resistant public is called into being in that "space between"?

Resistance to the techofrontier?

This is somewhat of a response to Peter’s post on Monday. He asked about Tsing’s offhand designation, the “technofrontier, the endless frontier made possible by industrial technology” (31), its relation to the masculine, dominating mentality Tsing attributes to the Kalimantan frontier, and resistance to/embrace of new consumer technology. Rather than addressing the local manifestations of the technofrontier, however, I want to look at its global implications. The technofrontier is a logical extension of the idea that globalization is both universal and, once initiated, inevitable, a widespread cultural assumption that I think Tsing successfully undermines. In chapter one, she argues that the frontier—the local horizon of capitalist expansion—is always a construction mapped on to preexisting spaces by the needs of ever-expanding capital. The frontier is an ideology, not a natural fact of life.

The technofrontier is simply the information-age incarnation of the Old West frontier paradigm. It is endless, hence the perfect frontier, because the internet—and the financial transactions it engenders—knows no physical bounds.

Tsing explicitly reacts to the frontier ideology on the side of preservation—that is, preserving societies, cultures, and natural environments from the uprooting grasp of capitalist frontierism. Her criticism extends similarly, though mostly implicitly, to the technofrontier; “In the guise of development,” she says, “the technofrontier dream hit Indonesian centers hard in the late 1960s” (32). I’m not sure what she means here: how did the technofrontier “hit hard,” and what was its relation to the resource exploitation that most of the book addresses? My bigger question, though, is what alternatives to the technofrontier are available to us? Tsing’s argument for preserving local environments and cultures is clear, and I agree with it. Physical frontiers can and should be limited. But when it comes to the ever-advancing horizon of technology, especially digital technology, it’s hard to see limits: resistance to new technologies gets harder and harder (e.g., Braxton finally getting a cell phone). Granted, I am thinking about our own Western culture, which is has already been colonized and reshaped by technology. Remote localities may yet be safe. (But is the dichotomy between technological and traditional societies really that unequivocal?) Even though there are no more physical frontiers within the US, however, the technofrontier remains alive and well here, and with it the idea of inevitability that I personally find so hard to resist. Is an alternative to the technofrontier possible?

Allegories of Migration

I'm interested in re-inserting the idea of friction into some of the social formations we looked at earlier in the course, especially the imagined cosmos with its claims to global or globalizing reaches. How might we read cosmopolitanism as a frictive system? Would we come up with anything other than what Appadurai describes as actually-existing cosmopolitanisms? These two models seem inextricably linked to me—the cosmopolitanism if the transnational migrant and immigrant laborer and the friction of the articulation between their local situation and global methods of mobility. Here it is the fact of movement that must be global; could we read the uprooted refugee as a package, unmoored from locality, allegorized and absorbed into the global sense of motion, and finally reterritorialized as an “allegory of the other”?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This book just induces a random mixture of ideas in me... friction? ^^;;;

anyway, I also enjoyed the "practical" and "poetic" structure of the book. As Matt and Anne both pointed out to a certain extent, I was interested in how Tsing uses her entire book --its structure as well as its content to show how friction shapes the ever-developing glocal culture today. Whereas Appadurai tries to explain the new 'global culture' with his series of -scapes, it seems that Tsing uses her book to show how these scapes rub together and form new cultures
(technology, media, economics, ethnicity, etc). Her book physically, artistically and theoretically shows and explains her own metanarrative of how this world is changing and developing its vast, emerging glocal culture. Difference --different languages, art forms, national and regional ethnic cultures, capitalistisms, technologies--rub off each other following certain universals and oftentimes falling into gaps, thus creating a whole narrative such as Tsing's book.

I thought Tsing's book serves as a sort of analogy for her overall message, containing a mixture of theoretical passages and poems, breaking the rules, speaking to the reader at times, using images, using lists of words at the beginning and end of the book, individuals' stories and concrete events --these all tie together with somewhat of a beginning, middle, and end. These different forms of narrative come together to form her story, which presents an overall metanarrative of the world--basically, cultures are being created and destroyed depending on friction between frontiers and boundaries. I feel myself at this point agreeing with Matt's idea of Tsing presenting a "descriptive theory" rather than an explicit one just because compared to some other readings, Tsing's conclusions seem broader and more loose, especially because she started the book with a list at #123 and ended it with #608 suggesting there is no beginning or end in sight and we are just continuing to develop and evolve...

anyway I dont know if that made any sense but so I am wondering what Tsing would have to say to the idea of justice and the future that we discussed in the Rafael piece. What kind of extrapolations or predictions can we make about the future and about justice (coming or not) with her ideas of friction?

Also, I dont want to write too much, but I was really intrigued by the section on p49 about "body odor as ethnicity." how does this example relate to her theories about friction and how can we use it to predict how ethnic ties and differences will change in the future?

Abandoned Roads (Tsing)

Tsing says her goal for the first chapter is to be "both practical and poetic." (28) And one of my favorite passages in the book was one of its most poetic. On page 29, she writes,

An abandoned logging road has got to be one of the most desolate places on earth. It doesn't go anywhere, by definition. It you are walking there, it is either because you are lost or you are trespassing, or both. The wet clay builds clods on your boots, if you have any, sapping your strength, and if you don't have any boots, the sun and the hot mud are unmerciful. Whole hillsides slide down beside you into the stagnant pools where the mosquitoes breed.

I enjoyed this passage first for its style. Tsing has left the boundaries of her discipline (ethnography) for a more "poetic" style, the essay. I think much of the book functions best as a descriptive theory rather than as a work of explicit theory. This mirrors what Tsing found in her Indonesian travels: narratives competed on different levels (global, national, local) and in different forms (corporate, journalistic, oral).

Later on, Tsing asks "How does cosmopolitan specificity come about?" (124) My answer would be that it comes about through the deceptively un-aggressive power of narrative: when a story goes "viral" it can be repeated without appearing foreign or oppressive. Is there any way to fight a story without another story? "Words and concepts betray us," Tsing says, when we talk about freedom. (205) Could fighting against words and concepts in themselves be a way of fighting against one's perceived enemies (e.g. international timber companies)?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mobilizing the universal for social action

I was very interested in Tsing’s concept of the “universal” as a way of motivating social action. While noting that “in socialist Europe, universals opened possibilities for reform and even led social criticism by articulating a larger frame of reference than state-led patriotism,” she argues that universals are “limited by the practical necessity of mobilizing adherents” (8) and can therefore never move far beyond the local. This necessity of making a universal locally relevant to gain adherents is the point at which the global meets the local—and also the point of friction. Tsing goes on to say that “universals are effective within particular historical conjectures that give them context and force,” (8) and it is because of friction that a given universal cannot have a global reach.

So what a universal does in social mobilization is morph. Tsing argues that “social mobilizations are facilitated by their appeal to diverse social groups, who find divergent means and meanings in the cause. … Universalist causes are locally reconfigured, even as they are held by a wider-reaching charisma” (246). If a universal is to spread beyond a given locality with any hope of long-term virility, it must be taken and reshaped by each separate locality as its own personal brand of universality.

Tsing then discusses this cooperation and collaboration between very different and potentially disagreeing partners as making “wide-ranging links possible: they are the stuff of global ties” (247). This, obviously, brought me back to the “strength of weak ties,” in which the more seemingly incongruous connections the more possibility for efficient and widespread communication of a single message. Is it then necessary for a universal to be spread through disparate collaboration between groups who each interpret the same universality in a different way? It appears so, and indeed may be the only way for universals to move beyond the local. This means that any group seeking to mobilize action on a large scale will need to carve and craft its message in varying forms to gain any kind of critical mass of adherents. Is this friction doomed to failure, though? Will so many differing interpretations ultimately collide and break apart, resulting in less unity—or less significant progress toward a given goal of social action—than you had in the first place?
I was intrigued by the idea of the “technofrontier, the endless frontier made possible by industrial technology” (p.31) that Tsing sort of shoots out early on in her book, and while reading the rest of the book I always sort of keep it in the back of my head. I think attempting to understand technology as a frontier might offer up some really interesting thoughts. First, by definition, the technofrontier is unconquerable – as it is endless. How is technology a wild and untapped potential waiting to be harnessed? If it is, what is destroyed and what needs to be restored or conserved in the same sense as natural frontiers are exploited. And, what does that exploitation promise? Do luddites lack the courage to jump on the virtual Oregon Trail, or are they attempting to preserve something?
I’m also wondering what are some of the evolutions or connections that can be seen between the frontier and the idea of nature lovers, and maybe the technofrontier full of hackers as cowboys and consumers as nature lovers? Tsing brings up the Marlboro cigarette ads as focusing on “virility and risk” and “masculinity as the necessary prerequisite for the Great Outdoors” (p.144). I think it’s obvious that our culture is telling us we have to young and virile to keep up with and conquer/control new consumer technologies, starting with even the fairly mundane DVD player or TV remote. How many time does some pop culture reference to the extent of “I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the subtitles, so I asked my teenage son to do it for me” get made? I’ve also heard the Internet’s vast caches of information described in some of the sublime terms used by the nature-lovers climbing the mountains to learn from nature.
However, I’m not sure how or if the rural-urban distinction (p.135) might fit into this notion of Internet-lovers’ and the technofrontier. If we call it the technofrontier, how far can we stretch the metaphor, and what insights do we gain from looking at it under the model of the frontier?

friction as anti-Babel, friction as form?

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s idea of “friction” is something that I think connects well to the various arenas we have looked at over the semester. Perhaps because it connected for me on a similar engaging to read level, I keep being drawn to comparisons between Friction and Snow Crash. The two seem almost diametrically opposed in some ways (I am thinking of the representation of the people on the raft as undifferentiated masses vs. Tsing’s attention to difference in many different areas within Indonesian social, political, and environmental landscape, and the way those areas intersect), yet Tsing’s focus on the importance of not neglecting difference but incorporating it into strategies for mobilization reminds me of Snow Crash’s insistence on the necessity of different languages and mangled communications in order to protect people from authoritarian control. For some reason, this comparison was elicited for me in reading a section on page 214, which reads, “Both agree that when liberalism spreads, it is completely successful in creating the subjects it conjures…Liberalism’s dreams are no different than liberalism’s practice in these accounts.” This seems to be very similar to the nam-shubs in Snow Crash, but what prevents this from being actualized in Indonesia are the forces of difference, which need to be paid attention, similar to the differences that keep people from speaking the language of Babel. Yet Tsing also seems to go far beyond Snow Crash in seeking a way to continue communication with difference, without erasing it.

Part of her strategy, it seems to me, is the way in which she intertwines the narrative of her ethnography, stories of the people she knows, scientific and social academic accounts, and poetic language and images of people and their environments. All these different categories must come together, with their friction, in order to produce the kind of work she is advocating. I wonder what this says about the forms other works we have read/looked at take, and what path it sets out more generally for scholarly work that seeks to be “a hair in the flour.” Is this kind of heterogeneous text something that is accessible to everyone in different ways? I think Tsing would say so – she goes out of her way to emphasize the hybridity of the narratives her Meratus friends and nature lover acquaintances give. Or not hybrdity, exactly – that seems too smooth. Maybe it would be more accurate to align this kind of text with the cyborgs we discussed a couple weeks ago? Ultimately, where does her concept of friction fit in to the ideas we have discussed, and where does it push them in new directions?

Quest for the frontier

In her book Friction, Ana Tsing introduces the idea of the "frontier" as a space that is "imagined as unplanned" (28) and that "energizes old fantasies" (29). Over the course of her argument, Tsing demonstrates how frontiers can entice the adventurous to come bearing imperialism and seeking a profit. This tendency of frontiers, Tsing stresses, sets up a dangerous situation in which the influx of frontiersmen and imperial culture can do irreparable damage to local cultures and political systems, and indeed the whole of the book as well as the name "Friction" center around Tsing's proposed method of combating such ill-planned imperialism by finding common friction among many different interest groups to halt the capitalist machine. I would like here to extend Tsing's arguments a little bit to analyze the origin and function of frontiers, and then re-examine the implication of this theoretical construct.

At a certain point, Tsing observes that the search for a "universal order" or "God's order" has been a point of fascination for many throughout history. While undoubtedly one could spend hours meditating on this search for meaning or the sublime in all of its complexities, one thing that interested me in context was the way in which it referenced back to our discussion on cognitive mapping. Just as we discussed that maps and charts can help us reduce the vast amount of existent data into something from which we can generalize a "grand narrative" or pattern, so to does Tsing posit that maps and models do not serve much purpose when they contain all possibly relevant data, but only when they are adequately reduced and focused. Moddeling, Tsing indicates, is a "tool, not a declaration of truth" (105). I would suggest that the concept of a frontier arises from this tendency to cognitively map and reduce available information for the purpose of generalizing. Tsing herself notes that the post cold-war era and growing corporate transnationalism led to the creation of "resource frontiers" (28). In a polito-economic system based around accruing resource and armed with international physical presence, all of the diversity of the rainforests of indonesia was cognitively mapped into an alluring frontier full of untapped resources. It is from this reduction that the frontier is created as a construct that invites imperial exploration, and while Tsing urges a greater appreciation for existing nuance and diversity at the expense of the concept of the frontier, I would suggest another approach.

Tsing mentions of models that are "too complex and too academic" that "policy makers aren't attracted to them" (105). I would suggest that the educated focus and concentration that Tsing urges her readers to adopt simply is not something that it is practical to obtain. It requires immense education and mental agility to be able to wholly peel back the fog of the frontier from one's mind, and even if one can succeed, there will always be other frontiers, be they other rainforests, space, or academic knowledge. However, it is certainly a problem that must be addressed that these frontiers invite a destructive imperial approach that does damage to the existing area of conquest. The primary problem, I would argue, is not the allure of the frontier, but the blindness of the imperial conquest. Tsing's discussion of Freeport provides perhaps an extreme of this pattern; Freeport established itself as a "solid outpost of 'American Civilization' in Indonesia" (72). It is this crushing of local culture and knowledge in the process of investigating the frontier that I see as the problem. The allure of the frontier brings exploration, contact, interchange of ideas, and trade. I view this sort of globalization as a good thing on the whole. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "no nation was ever ruined by trade."

I feel that this argument applies not just to the traditional political-geographic imperialism rampant in the indonesian rainforest, but also to frontiers of knowledge as well. Bruce Robbins' essay on cosmopolitanism argued (or at least I extrapolated from it when I last analyzed it), that an approach to new areas of knowledge that simply seeks to incorporate them into the grand corpus of academia without understanding how the nuances inherent in the approach shape the gathering of that knowledge can be deleterious to the collection in the first place. Instead, it is necessary to acknowledge the changes that one makes by coming into contact with new knowledge as a result of one's discipline and perspectives, and in this way the creation of new knowledge is enabled in a way that the "imperial" academics that Robbins condemns often prevents. This idea of the frontier is a powerful force that we will likely never be rid of, so it is best, I feel, to reconsider our approach to the use of the frontier instead of trying to fight the frontier off. After all, it is the allure of the unexplored frontier that draws us on to seek new resources, connections, and knowledge.

Nature lover knowledge

I'm curious about Tsing's ideas of rural versus urban knowledge. Tsing's compelling description of Indonesian nature lovers describes a privileging of urban interpretations of nature to rural ones: "Some nature lovers come from rural backgrounds, but, whether urban or rural, they make themselves urbanites by re-learning nature as an object of modern technology, international standards of training, and transcendent romance" (135). Nature lovers learn to scorn and be "embarrassed by [the] countrymen" (137). Finally, they completely divorce the "local" from the "people" imagining rural people as "objects of scientific inquiry" (140).

I'm particularly interested by Tsing's description of rural mysticism in the case of the missing boy, Yudha. She notes that the nature lovers imply that they "knew better than to mix and confound the ordinary and the mystical" (138). Is this true? If we take the urbanized condition of nature lovers to be indicative of a wider cosmopolitan trend, what do we make of the Bre-X scandal? Wasn't it, too, a mixture of the ordinary and the mystical? The economy grew, "spurred on by fabulous dreams" (70). Furthermore, in one description of frontierism, Tsing points to the "magical vision" (68) of frontier regionality as an essential ingredient. Frontierism asks "participants to see a landscape that doesn't exist..." (68). Which is more ridiculous? The stock market frenzy over Bre-X or a healer throwing a decapitated chicken into the woods to find a missing boy?

On a loosely related train of thought: on page 202, in her discussion of the forest, Tsing notes that international discussion tends to equate indigenous people with the forests in which they reside. She credits European empire-building with this particular view of nature as "empty and wild" (202). I just find the nature lovers such a fascinating contrast; essentially wanting to connect to and find themselves within the natural world, they cover themselves so thoroughly with gear and rational thinking they end up distancing themselves more from nature and wishing they could one day hike in a simple sarong...

I suppose it's just a case of the grass is greener. When you have the knowledge and the gear, you wish you could climb in a sarong. When you're in the sarong, you would happily cut down your forests for a few extra dollars.

Frontiership and technology

In her book Friction, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing explores the idea of frontiership, contrasting a “savage vision of the frontier” with “later frontier optimism,” then looking forward to “the concept of the technofrontier, the endless frontier made possible by industrial technology… the technofrontier is open and expanding” (31-32).

Yet she conflates these different frontiers under confusing statements. “Frontier-making is destructive of forests and indigenous cultures,” she says, invoking the geographic and environmental, but “by frontier I don’t mean a place or even a process but an imaginative project capable of molding both places and processes” (32).

When Tsing writes of “technofrontiers” and “imaginative project,” is she suggesting that frontiers are themselves forms of technology? Or do “frontiers have their own technologies of time and space” (32, italics mine), frontiership and technology connected but distinct? “[The frontier] is a site of transformations… It is a space of desire” (32), she writes, but it “is not a philosophy” (33). I’m confused about whether she considers frontiers to be physical places, conceptual places, technologies, or symbols.

What are Tsing’s frontiers? In assessing our own culture, can we conflate physical frontiers with more abstract ones to build some kind of cohesive analysis, or does this approach further fragment an already complicated study? In a world where technology renders geographic borders increasingly obsolete, are frontiers and technology working together or in opposition?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Gang Mentality

I'm intrigued by the level of spontaneity that can be achieved in organization via texting and other forms of mobile networked communication(softening of time, virtual presence, etc). It reminds me of media theorists--notably the Critical Art Ensemble--who have proposed that the locus of power has shifted away from the street, away from monumentality, and that activism should follow. It would be an empty gesture (or a symbolically loaded but pragmatically useless tactic) to occupy the White House--it would make a pretty image, but governmental power would not be overcome. Power might rather function through networks, so activism should do the same. The key, of course, is keeping smart mob-style communication free of this same control. This seems rather impossible, unless we expect the (corporate) government to hold absurd ethical standards. Some NSA spokesman said last week that privacy no longer means that individuals can expect to keep their personal information protected, but rather that governments and corporations must protect what they do with that data. Responsibility shifts from the individual (the bourgeois, Enlightnment ego--wonderful!) to conglomerations of people, capital, and weapons. Can networked citizens resist corporate control through these mechanisms? Would we need to when this consumption is becoming more and more pleasurable?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ted Talks: Cell Phones

Don't know if everyone is familiar with this series, but it's definitely worth checking out/spending some time getting to know. It's a program that aims to bring together "great minds to talk about their big ideas" or something like that. This particular video is extremely relevant to this week's material as it brings in Jan Chipchase (I know, right?), head researcher at Nokia, to talk about cell phones...and life. He's not the best speaker in the world, and the video is a tad long, but he does touch on some interesting applications of cell phones, particularly when he discusses hacker building in third world countries, as well as how illiteracy interacts with communications technology. Also, the stage is pretty spiffy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I was struck by Rheingold's discussion of American failure to be at the vanguard of mobile phone technology. His friend David Bennahum quips that asking companies like MCI or AT&T to embrace and innovate mobile Internet technologies "would be like expecting General Motors to come up with the Beatles." I certainly see Bennahum's explanation for this lopsidedness--the way social and private space are delineated between Japan and the US has a remarkable effect on how either embraces technologies, and what either expects those technologies to do for them. Rheingold writes, "Even urban Americans have immense amounts of private space that can accomodate their full social identities as well as their social networks."

Is it fair to say, then, that Americans have less to escape/transcend? It would seem that the kinds of technologies we use and where those technologies are placed with respect to our habits and movements: "all these items work for the use of private and against the use of street and public spaces." Do we pick and choose how much and where we let technologies like txting permeate our behaviors? For example, do teens more readily accept txting in order to "escape" their parents' boundaries? To negotiate their identities socially in places that cannot be overheard? But when it comes to the near total absorption of txting into pure social practice in countries like Japan and Finland, is that where Americans draw the line?

I still use capital letters and punctuation when I text. What does this say about me? I feel some discomfort when I think about people on the street staring at illuminated screens. I consider myself to be more wired than the next average person my age, but that I still feel anxious about a totalizing embrace of new technologies as they arise is perhaps telling of at least our age and culture bracket. Why is there still this lingering sense of creepiness that surrounds the thought of total mediation? Why are people who more wholeheartedly embrace technology suffer the stigma of being "weird" or "creepy" when their behaviors would be celebrated elsewhere? Perhaps we share a doctrine that still holds some spaces sacred--and we do not want to see technology invade those spaces...or are at least more reluctant to let it. What if we look at people five years younger? Ten years?

na zdraví to social connectivity!

It's undeniable that when our social practices become tied up with restrictive communicative media, our vernacular language adapts accordingly. Indeed, the sort of shortenings and misspellings common to texting were long preceded by the chatroom slang popularized in the late 90s – to that end, a friend of mine still receives slang-ridden corporate emails from her now thirtysomething dotcom boss ('omg, capital improvement board meeting 2morrow!').

This technologically-spurred linguistic evolution can indicate a lot more than a mere degradation of accepted grammar though. These sorts of “always on” communicative technologies change not only the way we communicate, but the way we structure our social attitudes and interactions at really fundamental levels. As Rheingold sweepingly puts it, “aspects of social geography are changing before our eyes and ears.” (xxii)

A great example of such linguistically reflected social transformation can be found in “Prozvonit,” a word that's recently cropped up in common usage among speakers of Czech and Slovak. The word refers to the practice of “[calling] someone's mobile from your own to leave your number in their memory without them picking it up” (as defined alongside some other linguistic wonders in Adam Jacot de Boinod's Toujours Tingo: More Extraordinary Words To Change The Way We See The World).

That this practice warrants its own Slavic verb makes clear the extent to which general social interactions have been transformed by the availability of cellular technology in the region. To begin with, cell phones are pervasive enough to widen the semantic scope of commonly defined actions. But beyond this, phones aren't merely everpresent here – rather, they're assuming a sort of agency in the social situation, as the need to verbally exchange numbers has been supplanted by the phone's ability to store and recall a chronological record of its received calls. The gesture breaks a once formidable social interaction down to the simple exchange of bits of information ; no-longer will dates be scrawling their digits onto the forearms of their casanovas. Sure, we're a long way from being borglike. But to some degree, meeting someone has become less personal, has been transformed into an exchange of data.

Perhaps this kind of thing is less apparently revolutionary when compared to the micronesian political mobilizations Rafael explores in "Generation TXT"... but such linguistic adaptation still certainly evidences the extent to which such revolutionary changes in the protocols of social interaction are taking place.

Salvation thru SMS?

I can't help but feel that Howard Rheingold's analysis of "The Next Social Revolution" is limited in historical perspective, and caught up in the sort of "gee whiz" attitude that has been routinely criticized as naive and simplistic. What Rheingold asserts is that new technology is creating powerful new networks of social interaction that promise to change everything from "adolescent mating rituals," to "political activism, and corporate management styles" (xi). Text message technology, it would seem, is a totalizing revision of contemporary culture.

In this attitude and analysis, there seems to be a palpable ghost of the "Californian Ideology," a phrase coined by two academics, Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, when the argued against the technological utopianism coming out of California in the early Digital Age. When Rheingold suggests "social revolution" and perceived social equalizing through cell phone technology, he is in effect forwarding the logic of the Californian Ideology is presenting new media technology as equalizing. Rheingold is also inexact, vague, and overtly optimistic about the future. Lines like "Mobile technology, when it really arrives, will not just be a way to do old things while moving. It will be a way to do new things that couldn't be done before" (xiv) express a clear example of just this sort of attitude. Creating a tension between "new things that couldn't be done before" and "old things," Rheingold suggests that the things technology will deliver to society have not even been missed yet. He also uses a sort of messianic treatment of technology, suggesting that "when it really arrives" "new things" will replace the rudimentary execution of "old things while moving." This seems to be an odd fetishizing of the future.

News Flash! - Historicizing the Mob Mentality

As an extension of this attitude, Rheingold also places the cell phone social revolution and the flash mob as a "new" events, created by new technology, and founded on the ability to connect virtually online and through SMS messaging. They are presented as seemingly without historical precedent or explanation, suggesting an origin in technology itself.

This seems misguided. Flash Mobs as an entity must at least have roots in the pre-Lenten carnival, the post-match soccer riot, the spontaneous political celebration/protest, and the day-after-Thanksgiving sale rush, to name but a few contemporary examples. What would be different about these events in contrast to Flash Mobs would be their inherent "occasional" status, predicated on calendrical value, reactions to events or mediated calls to arms. But are these things really that different than text message based spontaneity? Are Flash Mobs really so discontinuous with previous social practice and history as Rheingold suggests?

Let's historicize the flash mob.

Whither Flash Mobs?

I first heard about the "flash mob" phenomenon a few years ago, before my perceptual filters were tinted by the knowledge of New Media and MCM theory. I thought it was weird and geeky - who has so much free time and so few friends that they randomly meet in large crowds, temporarily, for fun? Tuesday's lecture helped me better understand the political, technological, and social implications of flash mobs.

I particularly like the idea that flash mobs are the physical manifestation of one person's, or several peoples', virtual email lists. It made me think of today's flash mobs - Facebook party invites. I've been invited to several parties via facebook, and it's usually seemed as though the host simply checked off everyone on their list to send out the invitations. In fact, several invitations have allowed me to forward the message to anyone else I'd like to invite. Naturally, these events have important differences from classic flash mobs - namely, they have a purpose and many people likely know each other - yet they retain the key similarity that they are physical manifestations of virtual friends lists. I think there's an interesting tension here between the physical and the virtual. On the one hand, the party-goers likely all originate from a similar, albeit wide, circle of friends. On the other, the invitation list is created through the far less "real," very arbitrary friends list on facebook. Another layer of complication comes when the partygoers all meet and friend each other on Facebook, and then, one day, invite each other to a new party.

Mobile Phones and Open Source

After reading Howard Rheingold’s article, I am interested in what a marriage of mobile phones and open source technology might mean for the cooperation amplifier. In his closing he asks, “Over the next few years, will nascent smart mobs be neutralized into passive, if mobile, consumers of another centrally controlled mass medium? Or will an innovation commons flourish?” (214). The iPhone is a step in the latter’s direction, allowing us to glimpse the power of customization through software, but without letting us to hack away to our own advantage. At the moment, iPhone users are little more than the cell phone users Rheingold describes only with a more coveted interface. But even as a closed system, the iPhone still presents easier access to language games through the manipulation of code in its move away from hardware to software. If anything, the iPhone has prepared us for the announcement of Google’s open source mobile platform, and the potential it has to lead to the development of a mobile phone free from the control of traditional carriers. Moreover, there are rumors that Google is poised to make a bid on the 700MHz spectrum, which would essentially allow free wi-fi access to mobile devices across the country. What might a continuous mobile connection to the Internet change the way in which we relate to this space?

Phone Fetish

The relationship between technology and physicality that Anne talks about below manifests itself in some weird ways in the Rafael article. In particular, I was struck by the extent to which he portrays the cell-phone as a fetishized object without really unpacking this in any kind of Freudian / Marxist sense. He describes how, "in certain cases, the hand takes the place of the mouth, the fingers that of the tongue." Adding that, in reference to txting style, "Some use their index fingers, some one thumb, others both. . . . [Others] tap away with one hand without even looking at [their] phone." This emphasis on physical touch, the micro-level at which people interact with their cell phones posits the phone as a fetish object--since txting isnt really a substitute for speaking so much as it is writing (i guess it does replace voice-communication, but is clearly far more comparable to a written missive than a phone call), its a little strange that the fingers should take the place of the tongue as opposed to, say, the pen. Linking the fingers and tongue in this way screams of some kind of Freudian subtext- clearly not the point of Rafael's article, but something that I think merits comment.


I am interested in the idea of justice and the crowd. Rafael writes of People Power II: “This heterogeneous crowd was not entirely constituted by texting, for obviously not everyone owned cell phones. It emerged primarily, we might imagine, in response to a call for and the call of justice. Put another way, the crowd at Edsa was held together by the promise of justice’s arrival” (420). According to him, the crowd’s nonviolence suggests waiting for justice rather than exacting revenge (an interesting assumption about the friction between violence and justice). He goes on to write that the very uncertainty inherent in waiting for justice constitutes the “present waiting” of the crowd and t constructs justice as something that simply exists, as Professor Chun noted in class. (421). Professor Chun also talked about justice as an opening to the future and as existing in opposition to law.
I am curious as to how “justice” is being defined by Rafael. How does justice never fully arrive, and what is just in the first place? I’m not sure I understand who determines what is just, or if it is possible to determine what justice is if it never arrives. What is the relationship between violence and justice? Between freedom and justice? How does the absence of justice make it free from sociotechnical determination? What is the relationship, then, between absence and freedom?

Spatial Awareness

In "Smart Mobs," Rheingold notes:

"As more people on city streets and on public transportation spend more time speaking to other people who are not phsically co-present, the nature of public spaces and other aspects of social geography are changing before our eyes and ears; some of these changes will benefit the public good and others will erode it."

Technology is rapidly blurring the lines between social life/home life/work life by making all of those previously "physical" spaces, imagined ones. We can now, figuratively speaking, photocopy ourselves to be in two places at once (how deliciously post-modern). Yet this is problematic in a number of ways:
1. We are losing a sense of space by blurring these lines (bringing home to work and work to home doesn't sit right with me)
2. More importantly, I don't believe we, as humans, are designed to be able to multi-task this way (be in two places at once), which means we're are in fact less efficient by blurring these lines.

Will we adapt and adjust to multi-task better? How will physical spaces change as a result of this blurring? For example, will homes be closer to work? Farther? Will it impact it at all? How does this change our cognitive mapping of the work place/home/social?