Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Surfing Selves

Boyd's enumeration of the four properties unique to online publics -- persistence, replicability, searchability and invisible audiences -- strikes me as the most apt and concise articulation of digital social phenomena that I've read. In a way, it explains precisely the properties of bodies rendered in hypertext. These hypertext bodies share some small proportion of the internet's promised infinite depth of field. Take an individual's google search for their own name and the millions of possibilities this opens up for clickthroughs. That we can now surf through individuals -- clicking through their online personalities, doubles, their various networks, their forums, their achievements as documented digitally, their accounts, etc. -- is remarkable and unique to our generation who started to be online when being online became possible.

With online personalities, an individual's internet double has the ability to exist in more places than one, circulating in chains of access and communication, even when the user is not there to perpetuate him or herself. Far from being a compartmentalization of this individual, the very hypertextual qualities that produce the four properties of online publics group these existences into one, under the hybrid umbrella of self. By writing profiles, by being online, as Boyd discusses, teens in particular (and users in general) write themselves into being. Perhaps the pleasure of this second being is its flexibility, epitomized by the omnipresent 'edit' button. As she writes, finding one's digital body online is just a matter of keystrokes" (9). Changing that identity, mutating it, following it through cyberspace -- all are also a matter of mere keystrokes.

Another feature which I would add to the list (and which I am still having trouble naming) is microscopic. I have been wrestling with a term in my head for a while now -- microbiography, or perhaps more appropriately automicrobiography -- which would describe an aspect of the phenomenon of online personality: its unrelenting obsession with the infinitesimal self, one that announces itself at the second, that constantly updates with smaller, less individually meaningful details. Take the Twitter network, for example, which allows users to post their minute-by-minute status updates from their computers or cell phones. Other users can then choose to "follow" their friends and are in turn followed by their friends. What is unique to Twitter is its absence of a true profile; rather, the You you create and You other people read is an amalgam of all of your actions over time. The more you update, the more fleshy you become in this environment. This breaking down of the individual umbrella of self into the smallest of constantly updating minutiae is significant, and exemplifies perhaps an extreme version of this imperative to 'be online now'. So perhaps microscopic is a misnomer and the word I'm really looking to coin somehow communicates the feeling of zooming in AND breaking down in tiny pieces at the same time. Is there such a word? Oh, the limitations of language.

One question that I also had and which is on a different tack, is about Boyd's brief invocation of "copy/paste culture" in her article. She names it in relation to the mass customization of MySpace profiles, noting that few teens possess true coding skills, but simply copy/paste the code from any number of help sites dedicated to this purpose. This gesture seems especially meaningful to me, mostly because it takes place in the production part of online identity and bears all relation to the process of performance, interpretation and adjustment (11) that she also discusses. What does a copy/paste culture even mean? What does it do to name it? What are its ramifications for true ownership/authorship, particularly of online identity? I'm in love with this phrase.


I like what Boyd discusses in terms of the networked publics seen in popular social networking sites such as MySpace, Cyworld, Orkut, and Facebook. I would have loved to seen her address the Newsfeed on Facebook, though. What I find so fascinating about the Newsfeed is that many Facebook members were adamantly against the Newsfeed when it first started. Many Facebook groups (which is interesting-- a group within the network to oppose/state dissatisfaction with the network) were started to oppose the Newsfeed, complaining that it invaded privacy too much. This seems to be the most fascinating part when thought of in the context of Boyd's article-- public information made too public? What the Newsfeed did effectively was "network the network". What were isolated public facts about friends that you had to look up on your own was now made available all on one page-- and not only that, but was timelined, linked to other friends, etc. In Boyd's works, this public information was made more persistent, more replicable, more searchable, and more available to invisible audiences (instead of the more determined of friends finding your updated information, all of your friends could see it). This example of a networked public is so intriguing because it was not received well (at first) by the majority of the networked public. It leads me to think about how all of the Newsfeed-opposed Facebook users got used to the Newsfeed. Did they end up liking it? Did they stop using Facebook (unlikely)? Did it become a non-issue? My guess is that they grew accustomed to it and the Newsfeed made what was once thought of as a very linked and involved networked public even more persistence, searchable, replicable, and available to invisible publics.

Like Mono and Make-out Parties...

By asking users to rank and display their top eight friends, Myspace gives hackers, viruses, and advertisements the potential to penetrate a critical social radius of each user’s friends. Granovetter’s study of a Michigan junior high school in which students were asked to rank their eight best friends (Granovetter 1369) is strangely prescient of Myspace’s “Top 8.” For casual teenage Myspace users who “just hang out” (Boyd 9) on the site and who are likely to spend much of their time holding comment-conversations with their top eight friends, any piece of harmful code they may have copied and pasted onto their profiles, or any band’s advertisement left in their comments, can be exposed to a large number of people in weakly-overlapping social circles.

Question # 4

I was part of the group that answered question #4-- the question concerning the definition of "imagined" and how different communities or networks can be imagined.
"Imagined" is hard to define-- like my group outlined on Tuesday, we first began thinking of readings we had done where imagined communities (etc.) were the topic. This seemed to fully cover Anderson and Boyd, but it also seemed to extend to Galloway. We tried to refocus on screenings, labs, and novels that seemed to address imagined communities, such as Snow Crash, Second Life, and Cyworld. Soon enough, we realized that World of Warcraft, Civilization, The Sims, even Google Earth seemed to apply to our conversation.
I was very interested in why "imagined" is so hard to define-- what had seemed rather straightforward in the beginning of the semester had now become very complex (for example, Anderson had been fairly clear of what a straightforward imagined community was-- the nation, but with the advent of the internet, imagined communities seem much more pervasive). It is interesting to think of how different it would be to define "imagined" before the creation of the internet-- like Wellman discussed, after the internet community was no longer based on location, but on interest (since sites on the internet focus on interest, not location).
Is the complication of "imagined" based in the changing times and circumstances? Is it based our different idea of time (homogeneous empty time to something more postmodern, insular, and individualized)? Has gaming been the death of imagined communities based around space and the birth of imagined communities based around interest?
Anyway, these are some of my thoughts around the idea of "imagined" and the "consequences" of new technology. Is technology making these ideas of imagined communities simpler? Or more complex?

The Human in the Computer - Reading/Writing Digital Identity

How do we define ourselves in cyberspace? How do we read personality on social networking sites?

Danah Boy'ds study of Social Networking Sites suggests that digital identity, and by extension inclusion in online digital communities, operates in the realm of necessity- a necessary "other" identity that allows physical individuals to manifest secondary digital selves.

This practice is manifested in the creation of profiles, user accounts, and most obviously, in the creation of avatars. At each point, the individual is allowed an opportunity to "stay true" to themselves, to entirely "(re)invent" themselves, or to create a hybrid of actual and digital other that point to both what the individual is really like, and what he/she wants to be like. Avatar creation most clearly articulates this desire, as a user works with a humanoid model to render their persona, in contrast to profiles or user accounts where personality is mediated through data fields.

In either case, the act of creating a secondary digital self represents a search for translation, an attempt to articulate abstract conceptions of self into objectified computer-consumable data. The result is a data-derived personality sketch, pointing to certain components of the person it represents, but failing to reveal the person en toto.

The translation of personality into cyberspace, manifested by making an avatar or creating a profile also demands a way to decode the information- a translation back from the computerized personality sketch into a human understanding of the individual presented. This is the act of looking at a existing profile, and trying to decode the meaning of the data- which is to ideally understand the person presented, to detect the human individual within the data. The soul in the code.

Most of the tools are textual, but the photograph (remembering the maxim: ... worth a thousand words.) presents an even more literal glimpse of the individual. Beyond the actual content of the photo, there is stylistic concern and technical concern, essentially, everything within the photo becomes a clues to identity. Consider the photo above, taken from this site, here, that shows a translation guide for Friendster photos. While presented humorously, this guide posits certain photographic stylings as symptomatic of certain attempts to hide true identity. To return to an earlier point, digital identity may be faked, re-invented, blur, or hybridized with existing identity, but interestingly, despite the supposed obvious faking of digital identity, decoding individuals are always seeking the true self, the original.

Digital identity is problematic by nature. It is not "real" identity, because it is not real, not physical. Like names without faces, digital identity represents a shifting realm of language games were identity can be played with, misaligned, mismatched, moved, editted freely, etc. It takes static identity and allows for digital manipulation, which following Manovich is simply restructuring algorithimic value. And yet it prevails, it is "necessary."

To return to Danah Boyd, and her article's invocation,

"If you're not on MySpace, you don't exist"

e-citizenship and alternate allegiences

I'm really interested in the intersection of internet and government suggested in The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Invidualism – without doubt, our notions of nationality are being greatly transformed in the wake of the glocalized ties that have begun to unite people from disperate and otherwise unrelated social networks. It's particularly interesting to see ways in which Democratic governments have fully embraced networks as a means of incorporating the citizenry in the political process, as in the Scottish parliament's acceptance of e-petitions (3). Even more intriguing than such positive fostering of network use by governments is the flip side of that coin, the use of such networks to mobilize resistance within a citizenry – as in the case of the sms-incited demonstrations in the Philippines (18).

This kind of electronically mediated protest on the part of a citizenry reminds me of the immense backlash in the facebook network following the introduction of the “feeds” feature. A quick overview for those not active on the network at the time : Before the introduction of feeds, profiles were relatively static representations of ones online identity – recent alterations to interests would perhaps be highlighted, but no other information regarding the user's habit was on display. Feeds changed all that though by providing a realtime rss-style “feed” announcing a user's activity (including not only additions to his or her own profile, but as well exchanges which took place elsewhere on the site with other users).

These feeds were turned on by default, and within a few hours a huge number of facebook users began to raise a fuss. Complaints were aired and within a few days, groups like “Students Against Facebook Feeds (which is still alive here) saw their memberships soar into the six figure range. An interesting account of the feature's introduction, written concurrent with all the fuss that followed, can be found here, as well as news covereage here.

What interests me about all the outcry over feeds is that most arguments relied on a sense of citizenry within the facebook network – users felt entitled to certain rights to privacy, much like those expected in the real world, and petitioned the facebook ownership to address these grievances. Many groups even pledged that their members would revoke their citizenship in the facebook world and delete their accounts of demands weren't met by a certain date. Of course, facebook isn't a democratic nation, it's commercially owned network – and the company chose to leave feeds in place (adding privacy filtering functions to calm big-brother fears). But the intensity of the mobilization, and its implicit assumption of a sense of entitlement, still makes clear the degree to which our allegiances have become splintered among disparate networks and identifications in ways not addressed within the article.

Yes, the internet affords the citizenry of a geographic nation another field in which to participate ; but it simultaneously creates new networks of allegiance, new citizenries vying for the attention of the individual. I can't help but wonder if, as in snowcrash, such allegiance to a corporately controlled network could eventually supplant that to traditional geographically determined national government.

The Art of Ironic Facebook Profiles

Danah Boyd's ethnographic study of Web 2.0 teen social networks reminded me of the evolution of Facebook profiles, particularly at Brown. I remember as a freshman, when Facebook was young and our profiles were simple and naive, the number of legitimately constructed profiles - actual attempts to list their creator's favorite movies, music, interests, etc - far outnumbered the few ironic attempts to mock the very essence of Facebook ("interests: you"). Yet as the technology matured, spread, grew more egalitarian, and lost some of its sheen, the balance flipped. Now, at Brown at least, it's a rare find to see someone's profile full of honest information. Instead, self-aware Brunonians stretch the protocol of Facebook to create themselves on the page, not through a listing of their favorite things, but through how they engage with the website itself. Someone who only fills in a favorite quote, or who doesn't have a picture, or who lists only one item for each box, says more about themselves than they would if they listed their full true interests.

My own ethnographic observations would be that this trend is less pronounced at other schools. Perhaps I'm being a little elitist here, but I suspect that Brown's heavily liberal arts focus has made its students far more ironically prescient about modern culture and their role in it. It seems students here have gotten less caught up in the Facebook craze - or at least, were caught up in it for less time - before we realized the larger social implications and started to play with them. Hey! Maybe that would make a good Facebook group....

Six Degrees of Marxist Revolution

In our group discussions during class yesterday, we investigated Jameson's goal of creating a cognitive mapping of a Marxist utopia - one which could truly inspire and capture people's minds in the same way as capitalism, totalitarianism, or religion - as well as practical examples of cognitive mapping. One that came to mind was the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," which reduces the incredible complexity of human relations and connections to a simple matter of how far an actor is separated from Kevin Bacon through their films. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere once that EVERYONE is six degrees from EVERYONE (or maybe just Kevin Bacon?) but the movie-focused game allows us to conceptualize that bewildering, sublime degree of inter-connection in terms of Hollywood. Certainly a more effective, and easier to conceptualize, mapping than a huge network diagram. Perhaps Jameson's mission requires a similar approach - cognitively mapping the whole of a global Marxist system seems damn near impossible, far harder certainly than mapping global late capitalism (and we have learned that that task is no cake-walk either). In some way, this connects to our theme of "content vs form" - Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon employs the form of a massive cognitive mapping of all human connections (everyone is six degrees from everyone) but drastically reduces the content to movie stars. A successful cognitive mapping of a Marxist world might require the same approach - leave out the unneccessary economic, political, and social details and just focus on the form. What would this look like? I'm going to take the Jameson cop-out and say I don't know.


In her article "Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites", Danah Boyd discusses Erving Goffman's concept of "impression management". According to Boyd, "Impression management is a part of a larger process where people seek to define a situation through their behavior. People seek to define social situations by using contextual cues from the environment around them."

Boyd goes on to say, "Learning how to manage impressions is a critical social skill that is honed through experience."

Since maturity, and the ability to function in society align with experience, the emergence of social networks serves to complicate the social roles of adult and teen. According to Boyd (and her statistical findings), social networking sites are primarily frequented by teens (12-17 and occasionally 20somethings), which means that this age group is learning impression management far more quickly than their parents. This clearly complicates social, and hierarchical roles, as socially adjusted adults stumble to catch up with their "more socially adjusted teens."

This also complicates the concept of sociability through the subtraction of the literally body and replacement with a digital "invisible" body. It seems to me that person to person contact is a skill that is far more complex due to the complexities of body language (something that cannot translate digitally). Are we reducing ourselves through these networking sites (I would be as guilty as the next) or is that just antiquity talking?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Confessions of a 14-year old internet addict...

It is a shame that Boyd begins her study of teen social-networking sites with Friendster in 2002. While Friendster certainly "popularized certain features that define contemporary social networking sites", teen identity-modelling and publicizing social interactions online significantly predated this.

I choose not to focus on AOL profiles because, while they offered searchability, replicability and availability to invisible audiences, they did not permit communication (which was instead undertaken via e-mail or AIM, and un-hierarchized save for assigning contacts to certain "groups" on an individual's "buddylist"). Instead, Boyd's article brought to mind the vast network of personal websites, maintained by HTML-savvy teens around (memory serving) 2001.

This was a world that I stumbled upon purely by chance: under their own domain names, teens created a network composed of their own slickly designed personal websites. Each site had generally the same content: a blog, a detailed biographical section, a guestbook and a list of links to other similar sites. This was without a doubt an example of the Internet as an "elite tool and toy" (Wellman). These kids had insanely good coding / design skills governed by a certain protocol: the graphic layout of one's website must change frequently (presumably to show off coding talent and to remain visually interesting to visitors). Teens "plugged" their favorite personal websites into their blog-posts, or, as an even greater honor, created a permanent link on their site's home page. Webcams were also de rigeur. Usually updated daily, physical attractiveness garnered hits.

Since these sites were created by an elite group with a certain skill-set, the network was limited. This allowed for the creation of sites like the now-defunct and games like "Survivorcam" (perhaps no need for explanation other than the game's slogan "Outpost. Outshine. Outwhore"). These sites relied on the online relationships that these teens formed with eachother, as well as the relationships they formed with their non-participating audience. A mention on was the holy grail of teen cam/bloggers- purely owing to the fact that for some bizarre reason, even those passively observing this social network cared about the goings-on of people in it. Myspace celebrities abound, but the foundations for online social popularity were laid far earlier than Friendster.

At this point I should probably add that I had one of these sites for, you know, like 2 seconds. My HTML skills were shoddy at best, and once my free trial of Dreamweaver ended, all bets were off. For the record, I never had a webcam...that was a little too weird.

This kind of social network is significant because teens used their web-savvy to set up their own structure in which to participate, and to establish their own protocol. This network connected teens not with their "real life" friends, but with "online friends", making social networking less about fitting in among one's peers than creating a whole other arena in which to assimilate. Personally, I think they deserve a little credit.

Imagined vs. Invisible Audience

Boyd argues that one of the defining properties of the networked public is the “invisible audience.” On page 9 she writes “”While we can visually detect most people who can overhear our speech in unmediated spaces, it is virtually impossible to ascertain all those who might run across our expressions in networked publics.”

I think there is a tension that exists between these “invisible audiences” and the “peer audiences” that seem to control the appearances of the “digital bodies” in some way. Boyd writes that the profiles are created for the “primary audience [that] consists of peers that they know primarily offline” and that “because of this direct link between offline and online identities, teens are inclined to present the side of themselves that they believe will be well received by these peers” (12, 13).

A New York Times article from 2006 ( writes that the self-portrait has become “a kind of folk art for the digital age” and quotes one psychologist who writes that teenagers use them to project to an “imaginary audience” and do not gloss over the fact that participants change lighting, take multiple shots, and delete the “duds,” presumably to pander to the “imaginary audience” and its taste.

I think that the “imaginary audience” is perhaps more fitting than the term “invisible audience.” One of the utopian promises of the internet holds that the internet is a place without race, class, and gender. On the internet, as the MCI commercial tells us, we are just minds. My question, then, is this: What credibility does portraying your real body in flattering light have that portraying someone who is not your gender, race, ethnicity does not? What are the limits of truly writing into existence your own digital body? How do peer audiences in “real” life serve to transform the digital body? What is the relationship between and invisible and an imagined audience? How does the imagined audience operate to make the invisible body visible?


As we were playing around with avatars in Second Life today I remembered this feature the New York Times magazine had a while ago, in which they juxtaposed photos of gamers with their online avatars (for Second Life, World of Warcraft, Lineage II, etc.)

Of particular interest is the number of hours per week that various people play and the degree of resemblance avatars have with their creators. Also hilarious: special abilities!
"I've been cruising around myspace."
What does anonymity allow for in these virtual networking sites? The act of looking someone up and down, or cruising the strip checking people out, looking for potentials of some sort is regarded completely differently over the Internet.
Boyd would say the relative anonymity is for privacy, but it's important to also look at what is lost as well as what might be gained. While cruiging briefly through MySpace, I was really shocked by what teens, and others, would post in their profiles. Is it really because they feel safe somehow, or is just because they're naive and don't realize that strangers in cars with puppies also have accesss to the internet, or - perhaps, they simply don't care? There's definitely an aspect of exhibitionism involved, but who is the exhibition for?

Monday, October 29, 2007

this refers slightly back to what someone else had previously posted about the local popularity of social networking sites. as i've mentioned before in class, i've been using cyworld for quite a time now but i had to use a friend's korean citizen registration number (which i don't have because i'm korean american). it's interesting to think that these imagined communities have very defined borders, or at least they attempt to set the boundaries by making korean minihompies inaccessbile to u.s. ones, vice versa. because koreans and americans use essentially different versions of cyworld, you can only "neighbor" a korean cy if you are a korean cy user and if you have a u.s. cy, like all of us have in class, we cannot be 'neighbors' with koreans. this was troubling and difficult for me because of the issue of 'security' that boyd brings up in her piece. for me to acquire a korean version of cyworld where i can type in korean, add korean songs and network with my korean friends, i had to send a scanned or xeroxed copy of my american passport and send it as an attachment to cyworld. this made me incredibly uncomfortable, sending my passport info online just to join an online social networking site. still, it bothered me because i was in high school and i wanted a cy dammit, lol ^^;;
anyway, i strayed a lot from where i was starting but this made me really question, what are the limits of socializing on these popular so-called global websites when it comes to formation of a community? does it matter if these communities exclude people? can that be considered unjust?

imagination and realness

Something I returned to thinking about more carefully this week that had been brought up in my section before is the effect of falseness and sincerity in online networking sites. danah boyd focuses on the ways teens use Myspace to interact with those they already know, and looks at falseness such as a fake name or location as a measure of protection rather than imagination. In Second Life, however, falseness is assumed – it is impossible to really look like yourself, and in most cases it is impossible even to retain your real life name, even if you wanted to. This does not strike me as being for protection, though maybe it is in some ways – there is that clause in the agreement that you will not share information about other people’s personal real life identity with others. But in general it seems to me that this is more for performance and imagination – Second Life, in my brief usage of it, seems more like an RPG than a social networking site, more like reading a book or watching a movie (albeit an interactive one) than having a conversation. Even in Snow Crash, people seemed to gather with those they already knew and to generally be known as their real world selves – unlike in Second Life, where anonymity seems more or less guaranteed if you desire it. I wonder if this might account for different demographics – I kind of assume that Second Life is geared towards adults while MySpace is for teens, though I don’t know this. It would be interesting to see how Second Life dynamics differ – in a way, there’s a lot more you can do in Second Life than MySpace (I think?), and so maybe they have inherently different purposes? Although I think Lena’s discussion with the Second Life mentor (now I wish I’d had one) shows that similar social codes about popularity still apply, this imagined world seems at least to have very different connections to offline communities than other social networking sites.

Evan Donahue's post, thoughts, and identity

The term "avatar" obviously alludes back to the concept of a divine figure that could manifest variously as one of any number of different representations. Gods had avatars that were commonly recognizable, such as Zeus' eagle or Demeter's deer, but divine figures were also capable of creating avatars that could not as easily be associated with them, as when Athena transforms into a bird to guide Odysseus unrecognized through his battle with the suitors. One of the issues addressed in Boyd's article "Why youth (heart) social networks" is the degree of closeness that an avatar shares with its user, and I found the implications of these varying degrees of closeness to be particularly interesting. It seems to me that there has been a shift from an older paradigm of anonymity online to a new sense of rupture between the virtual and the real. I would suggest that social networking is changing, and that change is something that must be taken into consideration.

While the issue of "profiles" and the drive to conflate personal and public identity do characterize facebook et al, one of the first placed I experienced social networking was through mmorpgs, or online multiplayer games. Games such as runescape or world of warcraft encourage players not to have any direct personal link to their characters aside from the spirit they imbue their fantastic warriors with. Even without the connection of the virtual body to the real, still the greatest attraction of these games is the other people. It seems to me that a good way to characterize this sort of networking is the creation of the virtual body by the investment of the real. In other words, since that doesn't actually mean anything, mmorpgs demand that users draw on elements of their real identity—their language, personality, intelligence, etc—to forge digital selves. The investment here is in the digital, since the game ties no accomplishments in the virtual world back to the self. This suggests to me that the mmorpg here creates a virtual identity and a virtual life that the player can live in separate from his own life.

Contrast that with the social networking as it is traditionally discussed; with Boyd's discussion of social networking sites as "based around profiles" (6), there exists in this space a clear link between the real self and the virtually constructed. It seems here that the "virtual body," as Boyd calls it is inferior to and an appendage of the real body. Social networking sites like this do not take elements out of the real world and host them in a fake, but rather build elements in a fake world and map them out onto the real. Boyd's discussion of the minority student who was almost denied college admission on account of the damning evidence of, "hip-hop
imagery, [and] urban ghetto slang" (17) demonstrates the way in which the image projected into the imaginary comes back to reinforce and reshape the real. I personally have a lot to say on this subject from personal experience. There was a time when I was a shy little computer-lab junkie, although I liked to think extremely personable friendly and funny to those who knew me. I didn't use myspace per se, but I had always found that the computer instant messenger medium allowed me to break the social barriers that I could not in person—I feel I was fairly interesting to talk to, but had never learned how to talk to new people very well in person. By starting up conversations with people I had just met through instant messenger, I was able to show off a much different side of my personality through this new medium. The normal requirements of engaging every social mode of transmission during normal communication—eye contact, bodily position, voice, tone, etc—was too much for me, but sitting sideways on my chair next to my bed reading emails and typing in im, I was able to focus solely on the textual level of exchange where I felt it was easier to express myself than with the other physical modes of communication. I still feel that people got to know and like me much better as a result of my communication with them through IM. Now of course after 4 years of public speaking training I've managed to get a hold on those pesky elements of physical presentation, but I still find additional ability in the digital world not accessible to me in the real body that I possess. However, this public tie between the virtual and the real carries serious implications, because a higher volume of traffic and communication brings both boon and bane to the end user.

It interested me to hear the term "myspace whore" as one who has too many friends. If I may draw an allusion back to snow crash, whores were the ones responsible for spreading the diseases and evils around a culture. Likewise, being connected to (via a friendship link) a myspace whore increases your online visibility through the means that Boyd discussed in her segment about parental supervision. This increased visibility means that all the nasty things floating around out there, from viruses, to commercial industries, to predators, can find you as a result of your intercourse with the myspace whore. Runescape, wow, and mmorpgs do seem so hearken back to an older paradigm of anonymity that is rapidly becoming replaced by a conflation of the user and the avatar. While there are many positive things that can come from this, there are also dangers. I can only conclude with a message similar to that of Boyd's; the (virtual) world is a dangerous place, but eventually kids will have to spread their wings. The only thing that protecting them does is keep them from the lessons they will need.

Rural, urban and gargoyles

Danah Boyd makes an interesting comment on page 4, noting that Friendster quickly became popular amongst urban dwellers. Also, in the article The Social Affordances of the Internet, the case studies focus on suburbs and 'exurbs.' I am curious to see how the networking changes in rural settings. Although the global is reaching the local through networked communications technologies, as the authors of The Social Affordances make clear, "the Internet supplements existing face-to-face and telephone contact" (11). Because of the different structure of rural areas (longer commutes to visit friends, fewer local gathering spots, etc.), it would make sense that the rules of Internet usage are different. Just as Internet usage differs between countries (as the authors of The Social Affordances state), since rural versus urban culture within a country, it would follow that Internet usage differs too.

I also found Boyd's discussion of teens learning to "write themselves into being" (12) very interesting. Just like the different levels of avatar expression in Snow Crash, teens can control their online persona and, the better they are with code, the more descriptive a representation they can create. Instead of copying and pasting code from ready made websites like the Brandy's of Snow Crash, teens who can write their own code can control their backgrounds and create a page that more accurately reflects what they want. The authors of The Social Affordances also note on that Catalans "put a premium on the multidimensional communication of face-to-face, high touch personal encounters" (15). Perhaps if we could create a virtual environment that mimics reality more closely, even people from cultures of contact will wish to move online. I suppose then the new danger would be losing yourself in these imagined worlds (like the Star Trek episode...) or becoming a gargoyle. Maybe we're already part way there. As the authors of S.A note, "The person has become the portal" (17).

Second Snow Life Crash

I didn't manage to find out how to recover the actual conversation, but I wanted to paraphrase a conversation I had with one of the Second Life Mentors when I was getting my bearings last week. She was helping me set up my avatar, mostly to get rid of the squirrel head and tail I had somehow selected for myself (or been assigned to?), and she gave me some helpful hints for how to "be hip" in Second Life. She told me I had "newbie hair," and that I would need to buy a better style in order to "be hip" and make friends. She said, "It'll be a lot easier to make friends here if you have a cool avatar," and told me she "sees a lot of girls walking around in that skin." (Echoes of Brandy, anyone?). She effectively told me everyone would know I was new, and "not serious about Second Life," until I sacked up and forked over the Linden Dollars to fit in. Interestingly, "fitting in" usually meant standing out; the "hippest" Second Lifers were--as in Snow Crash--the ones with the most intricate, original, and unique avatars.

Our conversation reminded me so much of Snow Crash that I asked her if she had ever read the book.

"Yeah, I read the wiki on that," she said. "They cared a lot about avatars, too, right?"


I found a brief but interesting interlude in "The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism." Under the subject heading "Wireless Portability," the authors quote Randall as saying "Communication will be everywhere, but because it is independent of place, it will be situated nowhere."

Wired magazine (and other techno-fetishists) like to paint this ultra-portability of communications technology as a stirring advance for always-on, networked humanity. Baudry took a more critical look at the cinematic apparatus, as I think we should at iPhones and wired cellphones and so on. I've noticed the creeping appearance of an extra organism in my own body: Google Text.

It's hard to go a few days now without resorting to it--for directions, for weather, for most any sort of information. I think it's important to remember that social networks aren't just about communication between people, they are also about communication within ourselves. Will internet-enabled phones and other biotechnology devices be assimilated as one more part of our body or another entity in conversation with us? Will they introduce a new sort of device bias into our lives?

humor and dissonant identity performance

I′ve been thinking a lot about why having a dreaded, black, female avatar (posing for white-kid-x) is so haha funny. Why having ″98 degrees″ as one of your favorite recording artists on Facebook is also so haha funny. I′m curious about the function of humor in the online performance of identity, and I wonder how perhaps humor itself is beginning to change due to such iterations of disjunctive identity performance. So some questions I have: why is dissonant identity performance humorous? why is such identification through negative difference (claiming to be what I am surely not) so appealing? and even potentially productive? what kind of agonistics is the language game of humor involved in? why is Steven Colbert so funny, so popular? how should/ could we assess the notions of agency, control, and political affiliation (on the part of the subject), as they performatively circulate through the mediascapes of online social networking sites and network television news programs? how can such moments of disjunction or dissonance be read as a critique of the attempts to systematize identity? are we becoming strangers to ourselves, or simply distrustful of identity markers? why are some of the best commercials (Orbit, Volkswagen) ones that thematize their own commerciality? can slapstick humor become divorced from the body? has it already?

Social network sites around the world

In reading Danah Boyd’s piece “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites,” I was struck by her brief exploration (on page 5) of different countries’ popular social networking sites.

“MySpace was a popular destination for high school students throughout the United States… Social network sites like Orkut and Hi5, which were initially popular among adults in Brazil and India, began attracting the attention of younger audiences in those counties… Sites like Tagworld, Bebo, Piczo, Faceparty, and Mixi all launched with youth in mind and took off in places like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan… In China, an instant messaging service called QQ added social network site features, as did the popular Korean community site Cyworld; both are popular across all age groups in China and South Korea.”

These sites aim partly to connect people who are geographically apart, and consequently they are continually noted for their democratization and globalism, for helping create border-less imagined communities. All things considered, then, it’s surprising that these sites – theoretically nearly unlimited in scope – are in practice quite locally defined.

The obvious explanation is that of language differences – of course monolingual English and Chinese teenagers can’t communicate textually via MySpace – but Boyd recognizes this: “Cyworld has completely separate domains that segregate the Koreans from the Chinese. On Orkut, they share the site but the Indians and Brazilians barely interact with one another.” These divisions along language lines are understandable, or at least explainable.

But why don’t English-speaking teenagers from America, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, India, and other countries take advantage of their common language and the Internet’s globality to connect on social network sites? Even in comparing Cyworld with more familiar sites like MySpace and Facebook, we’ve seen that different countries’ sites offer different services and emphasize different network elements. Is this simply a result of a given site catching on locally and spreading via offline friendship networks that are necessarily more geographically limited? Or could it be that these sites are tailored to teenage desires and interests that vary by nation? In other words, does a nation’s predominant social network site accurately reflect its users’ values, illuminating basic differences of identity formation from nation to nation?

(Boyd writes that “Orkut began as a side project by a Google employee,” and I’d be curious to know whether that employee was American, Indian, Brazilian, or of a different nationality.)

Marketing to the Weak Ties

I'm interested in the practical value of the ideas in Granovetter's "The Strength of Weak Ties." The types of networks he describes (i.e., wide ranging and characterized by very few clusters of strong ties) must obviously evolve organically. However, they could be put to use very effectively by certain forms of viral marketing or anti-capitalist propaganda. His examples all involve spreading messages that result from and strengthen mutually beneficial relationships between the nodes of the network. But how could we use the characteristics of such a network against it from the outside? What are some concrete methods by which we could spread information?

One example I've been toying with using the imagined (or individualized) network of chain-smokers: In the smoking network, relationships are characterized almost entirely by weak ties. Nicotine crises, for example are on of the few scenarios in which it is deemed socially acceptable to ask a stranger on the street for a certain product, and expect it to be offered with some certainty. This certainly sounds like a weak tie: "Got a light?" or, better yet, "Can I bum a smoke?" This seems like a good opportunity for viral meme warfare along the pathways of these weak ties. Perhaps by embedding the message along the tube of the cigarette itself? Or perhaps by taping a recorded message to be played every time a lighter is flicked on? Of course, this network also has some strong ties: smokers who happen to be close friends, who might borrow a lighter for a day or split packs. This, too, is an opportunity for saturating a certain cluster of networked nodes with a given message, assuming that these nodes are also connected to the outside via the same type of weak ties characterized above.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Beyond Bullet Time?

I'm taking a CG animation course this semester and many of the people in the class were resisant to the rule of 180 degrees when filming. A few students brought up the filming techniques used in The Matrix and how that "broke" the 180 degree rule. The professor for the class patiently tried to explain how that was different since the continuous 360 shot didn't have any cuts, but it got me thinking about CG animation and the totality involved with that kind of filming.
In many CG films and shorts (not usually video games, though), and entire world is created and then the camera is moved though the world. When animating, many objects are created that will never be seen or examined closely. What does this mean for totality? Is the potential for a 360 total view (since the entire world "exists") greater than with live action filming (where the "world" of the film is created just in front of the camera)? Does this matter if CG films never show the rest of the world to the viewer?
Furthermore, temporality is different in CG. How does time exist? Of course, the computer is keeping track of "real world" time and using its own clock to regulate its functions, but that is not the time used in CG animation. Unlike live action filming, the actions of the characters can be slowed down through slower animation-- they can be slowed down by the animator in real time. Actors can not slow down their actions-- this must be done in the editing room. This CG world can be examined in (infinite) multiple time frames. How does this affect totality? Again, does it mean anything if we as the viewers are never allowed access to this world with the ability to animate it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I’d like to suggest that Jameson is hinting that criticism is the figuration (a cognitive map) of postmodern space. Jameson is calling for an aesthetic solution to the disjunction between “individual experience” and “a scientific or cognitive model” -- which I understand to mean the incomprehensibly complex societal, political, economic forces on a global level that inform the individual experience in both seen and unseen ways.

Jameson uses “Gide and Conrad” and other modernist writers as examples of artists who were able to create an aesthetic representation of their era. These writers, it seems, have successfully created a “cognitive map” of the modern experience.

Something interesting happens when Jameson discusses Brecht. He writes that with Brecht’s work “the cognitive becomes in and of itself the immediate source of profound aesthetic delight” (348). Jameson seems to be describing, and praising, the collapse of critical and aesthetic work. Brecht is an artist who has managed to make art this is criticism. Here it collapsing of intellectual and individual experience. [Jameson’s warmth in the passage show his love of criticism…]

Elsewhere Jameson writes that the “new and enormous global realities are inaccessible to any individual subject or consciousness” (350). It is impossible to comprehend the scientific/cognitive/global view of the world. Yet, although this superstructure is “unpresentable”, it can be alluded to through analysis of its effects in world of the subjective (in literature?). He writes “one of our basic tasks as critics of literature is to track down and make conceptually available the ultimate realities and experiences designated by those figures…” (350).

Jameson is looking for a formulation of individual experience and scientific model. Artists accomplished this in the modernist era. The best was Brecht. In his work Aesthetics become criticism. Today, it is impossible to represent the scientific model (aesthetically or otherwise). The only way to approach the scientific model is through critical analysis (of literature…art? society?). Therefore, I don’t think it’s stretching things too far to suggest that Jameson may see an aesthetic value in criticism, and that in this article he may be hinting that some criticism (his?) is the reverse of Brecht’s work. Modernism required aesthetics that approached criticism to offer a vision of the whole; postmodernism requires criticism that approaches aesthetics.

Jameson asks, 'what would successful, postmodern, cognitive mapping look like?' His essay implies 'this is what it looks like'.

(on the other hand, I'm not sure that he (or anyone) would argue that criticism can "grip the masses"...)

Briefly: Much of MC 25 is still fresh in my head from last semester. As a result I was in a good position to understand the first half of the Baudry article: the Cartesian mode of perspective and everything that comes with it, transcendence in the vanishing point, heterogeneous Greek space etc etc. But as soon as Baudry gets into the Mirror stage and Bataille on page 294 the article jumps off the tracks for me. It’d be great if we could unpack this in section a bit.

Baudry and the Role of the Spectator/User

As technology has advanced, the role of the spectator has become that of the user. We have entered into an age where we no longer sit and absorb media/art exclusively but instead interact and "use" media. Baudry breaks down the role of media, projection, and the spectator's relation to both. He goes on to discuss the effects of concealing the technical base, editing together "slices of reality", and the problems posed by "the relation and restoration of continuity to discontinuous elements." (290) Yet, digital media has changed much of his argument (the images in digital film are continuous and don't subscribe to "frames per second", not to mention that the spectator now uses, and contributes to media.

Baudry also talks about how film can be seen as "instants of time or slices from 'reality' (but always a reality already worked upon, elaborated, selected)", how do video games which are interactive "second worlds" operate within Baudry's framework? Reality television?
I'm really into Galloway's interpretation of modes of gaming as allegories of “informatic control,” and the ideologies inscribed within the algorithms behind games like Sid Meiers' Civilization and similar micromanaging presentations of societal struggle. But despite all of this, I think edonahue brings up an incredibly good point that Galloway largely overlooks : the intentions of the human participant within the gaming environment don't always match up with the victory conditions inscribed within the algorithms.

In the specific case of Civilization, there's quite a lot to be said for the ideological use of racial “typing,” as well as the assumed methods of victory (be it cultural, commercial, or militaristic) within the framework of the game. But as a player, I myself was always far more fascinated by the ways in which Civilization interrogates understandings of historical narrative. Regardless of whether or not my playing was successful with reference to the algorithm's understandings of “expansion” or “cultural assimilation,” I was hooked by the possibility of repositioning the Mayan empire in a modern diplomatic context, or of projecting the Iroquois as the militaristic and economic superpower within the North America of the twentieth century. The attribute qualities Galloway alludes to (as in the chart on 99) never had any impact on my choice of civilization, nor on my style of play ; and though these attributes may have somehow effected the gameplay on some level, I was neither aware of nor concerned with it.

Over the many hours that I spent playing Meier's game, I can't recall having ever actually finished in the traditional sense. I never won, was never victorious with regards to the game's cultural or military conditions. I'd always get bored and say “ok, a Persian rule of modern middle-europe has been cool to explore, but what if I were to reimagine a Mayan conquest of the area instead? And what if that conquest succeeded because of commercial instead of combative domination? What if the seeds of a cross-atlantic trade network had been planted in the first millennium!?”

In other words, though a certain mastery of the algorithm may be necessary to achieve victory as defined by the game, I didn't really care about that kind of victory. Though a game's informatic structures may provide certain “goals,” the ultimate motivating “victory” can still be subjective for the user in many cases. And even if the game inscribes a certain understanding of informatic control in the way it's played, Civilization (as an example) still importantly invites a very interesting reimagination of cultural domination and historicity on the part of the user (without the need for a Zinn-like ideological reinterpretation from within the gaming system) which can have profound effects on understandings of geographically specific nationhoods, the constructions implicit within orientalist modes of thought, etc.


Having said that, here's an unrelated but totally interesting link, if anyone wants a fun read:
"Humans Not Evolved for IT Security"

Also, !!!

Totality and Google Earth

Fredric Jameson posits that postmodernity is an age seeking it's totality, an epoch seeking a cognitive map with which to ground the individual in a hybridized relationship of the local to the global. Interestingly, Jameson presents such views as inherently artificial and contrived, constructed to reinforce existing paradigms such as imperialism, or "monadic relativism." Jameson calls this perspectival manipulation "play of figuration" and continues that these "global realities are inaccessible to any individual or consciousness...which is to say that those fundamental realities are ultimately unrepresentable..." (350). This suggests that the individual can never understand the global because they are incommensurate. Still leaving in a world based on Descartes' "cogito ergo sum," human thinking remains the central reality of human perception- where everything must relate to the individual and the individual can neither understand the collective conscious of the world nor the nonconscious of empty space.

But I'm distracted. What I would like to examine from this framework is the postmodern totality. Google Earth would seemingly pose a mediated understanding of the individual's relationship to the global. Just watching a user play with Google Earth will almost certainly produce a search for the place the user lives, the individual investigating the local, and the subsequent transitioning of the user from the local to another reality, perhaps a major metropolis or foreign landmark. The discourse of movement through this satellite mapped space shows a journey from the local to the global, producing a cognitive map of abridged space as Jameson claims on page 351, "a new space [that] involves the suppression of distance..."). Americans don't really live clicks away from Paris, but Google Earth is symptomatic of globalist cognitive maps, destroying previous absolute senses of distances for arbitrarily relative distances, stripped of time (it's never night on Google Earth) and seen from an impossible position that is neither a bird's eye view nor a transcendental view. Instead, Google Earth sees from cosmic technology which certainly produces some form of totality, perhaps a satellite totality.

But is this a postmodern totality? It would seem that Google Earth is a modernist totality produced by postmodern technologies. The satellite vision of the world seems to remain an anachronistic holdover from the cold war, when space was power, and the view from space was likewise empowering. To create cognitive maps from cosmic heights was then to control the mapped space, presenting perspective as power. So what then is the postmodern totalizing view? Video games? Shopping networks? Utopianistic realms of bits and bytes manifested by second life? Satellite Simultaneity represented by "live" television or up to the minute news relays? And does Jameson's treatment of "utopia" suggest that totalities are simply idealistic viewpoints placed upon the individual? Wherever cogntive mapping emerges, there is already a betrayal of truth, a subjugation of three-dimensional space to two dimensional projection. In this way, Jameson seems to have loaded the dice from the very beginning. If cognitive maps are inherently artificial, then perhaps that is because they are maps rather than cognitive.

Jersey City, NJ

I largely agree with Ben’s assessment of Jameson. One of the questions Ben raises is in regards to the effectiveness of “visualizing global totality” and its ability “change the inequalities and injustices that occur continually on a very local scale”. Jameson, in his example of “Detroit: I Do Mind Dying,” seems to gloss over or fail to account for the very real local problems and injustices occurring in these cities at the time period.
Perhaps I’m missing what exactly Jameson is trying to say with his example of Detroit, but I can’t help but notice that he does not address the very real local problems that black workers in Detroit would have been facing at that time. While it’s a nice story, I don’t think that their ultimate failure in the local center of Detroit can solely be chalked up solely to Jameson’s “spatial problem.” Detroit continues to suffer from the devastating effects of post-war deindustrialization and blacks in the city at the time faced overwhelming racism that has been linked to contemporary inner-city poverty and inequitable policy. Their difficulties in the city, I believe, extended far beyond a mere diversion of resources. I don’t think these local conditions should be ignored and I don’t think the movement’s failure, then, can solely be linked to their turning their attention away from Detroit.
My point is this: I think Jameson’s suggestion to visualize a global totality in the end ignores varying local conditions that affect very real ways that people attempt to bring about change. From what I know about Detroit, the League made huge strides in the city and I think Jameson’s ultimate project would devalue and ignore this progress; Jameson calls their entire project a “defeat” (352).
As a side note, because it bugged me, I attached a map of downtown Jersey City, one of the cities referenced by Lynch and Jameson as so chaotic as to induce urban alienation. I live on the border and know that the downtown area is the only place in Jersey City that is not only a grid but also uses numbers instead of names. I find it difficult to believe that residents could not mentally map such an area.

Ideology versus Informatics in Video Games

I dabbled in the Civilization game series in the halcyon days of my youth, and I'm afraid that Galloway would likely have laughed at me if he had watched me play. Despite his informatic reading of the video game, I must admit that I was completely seduced by the ideological aspects of the game. "Would my ideal civilization be more industrious or philosophical?" I'd ask myself. "I could wipe the French civilization off the map, but then how would my people visit the Louvre?" Although I knew intellectually about the algorithms underlying the programming, I'd build cities that I thought would really be nice places to live and I'd spare my vulnerable neighbors if they assuaged my ego or if I liked the aesthetic of their buildings.

I think Galloway misses the point of video games when he reduces their pleasure and their essence to mere informatics. Surely, purely informatic games have their place - Tetris comes to mind - but part of the fun of a game, especially in contemporary gaming, is the surface ideology. This may make them uncomfortably and inconveniently similar to the cinema, but it is impossible to deny the importance that most gamers place on story lines and presentation - alongside the admittedly priority of "game play." Good video games thrive on this tension, a game that is too "difficult to figure out" would get bad marks, just as one that was too obvious, or whose mechanics were too easy to spot and manipulate, would get panned. Contemporary "Tetrises" nevertheless include some element of ideology and story, be it the concert venues and music in Guitar Hero or the space-ship atmosphere of Geometry Wars. Perhaps this trend is just a throwback to an audience still dependent on the ideological narratives of the movies, but I suspect that purely informatic games would be less compelling regardless. Its certainly a unique feature of video games - one I appreciated the Galloway reading for explaining - but its hardly their essential element.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bullet Time and the Problem of Mediation

I have two relatively unrelated topics of interest this week, and I hope folks can help me tie them together.

First of all, we find in Jameson a tension around the idea of mediation. He first characterizes the postmodern experience as "a perceptual barrage of immediacy from which all sheltering layers and intervening mediations have been removed" (351), but then goes on to discuss the constant "process of becoming an image and spectacle" (354). I would argue that perhaps these layers of mediation become less and less apparent, but also become more and more totalizing. When Jameson speaks of "the relentless saturation of any remaining voids and empty places," we could perhaps argue that it is the media of the spectacle that does the saturating (351).

Secondly, I would like to touch briefly upon the idea of "bullet time," as we noted in the Matrix today. In a Pembroke seminar lecture ast fall, Brian Rotman brought up the figure of "atemporal change" as a way to counter the influence of the "ghosts" that remain of a certain type of theological logocentrism (i.e., God, the alphabet, and infinity, if I remember correctly). I couldn't imagine any form of atemporal change, and I begged Professor Doane for an explanation, but couldn't really get anything out of her. I think bullet time could be some sort of visualization of this figure; as it may double as a form of cognitive mapping, it is interesting to note a tactic that could simultaneously combat postmodern disorientation and logocentrism (although I have some issues with the effectiveness of Jameson's idea of mapping).

Now, for a weak attempt to bring these two ideas back together, I want to raise the twin concepts of specularity and the spectacle. Can mediation (i.e., in the sense of "mediatizing" live action through bullet time) itself act as a form of atemporal change? Could distortion through a cybernetic phenomenological (and hence only technically subjective) lens be considered a process that changes its object without the intervention of time? Or is this just a skewed temporality? The object must be spectacular for this to work, in that it must be a media event to begin with. It must also be, somehow, a reflection-distortion (via some figuration of the mirror) in order to carry any weight as a technique of cognitive mapping. Or something?
I found Galloway's interpretation of films v videogames interesting when it comes to popular media and how we may learn from the two, especially when it comes to racism and political governing of the public sphere.

Much like what Braxton lectured about conspiracy theories today, Galloway reveals the limits of film as a way to create somewhat of a cognitive map for living in society. He says "translation of political realities into fil has a soewhat complicated track record, for mainstream inema generally deals with the problems of politics not in fact by solving it but by sublimating it" (89). Film will either make the problems (like racism or race in the Matrix) seem trivial or "sublimate" it with another problem.

However, with videogames, Galloway suggests that the more interactive approach and the need to master the algorithms force the user to learn more about societal relationships/situations and come up with possible solutions to real life issues, as in government: "in their very core, video games do nothing but present contemporary political realities in relatively unmediated form. They solve th eproblem of political control, not by sublimating as does the cinema, but by making it coterminous with the entire game...a unique type of politcal transparency" (92).

Referring back to Tess' point, which I thought was very interesting because this is still a prominent question especially in American society today, is Galloway suggesting that race is just "a game we play" (Tess) like we do with characters and avatars in videogames?

I agree that there is a fundamental flaw with this idea that race becomes erased or the dynamics and old tensions that are related with race are erased. I feel that especially with games like Civilization where you choose the potentially best-performing race, one is not presented with a racism-free society. Just the opposite can occur; because we live in a society where racism is still so prevalent, a game like this could just promote more racist ideas to live on, especially because the avatars and videogame characters are restricted to just their stereotype.

Also, I feel this particular idea presented by Galloway cannot or should not apply when it comes to politics: we cannot govern treating race and racism like they do not exist as in videogames. I might be reading too much into it but yeah, I felt some of his comments were too idealist or just ignored some important facts that all society does not necessarily live with the values of this horizontal postmodern world.

RE: Jameson

I am more inclined to Jameson than (Ben) Stark is, but his critique raises some important points. For my part I think the question "why does an activist or even revolutionary movement have to operate on the same global scale as capital?" answers itself. A large-scale problem demands a large-scale solution.

What Ben is driving at, however, is the problematic correlation between capital and control that Jameson lays out. One line that really struck me in "Cognitive Mapping" was Jameson's swipe at Foucault: "a Marxian view of such space [the Cartesian grid] grounds it in Taylorization and the labor process rather than in that shadowy and mythical Foucault entity called 'power.'" What an irony: Jameson is attacking Foucault for ambiguity in an essay that (perhaps prophesying the Seinfeld era?) purports to be about a subject that "does not exist." Jameson is wrong to attack the notion of "power" as nebulous: it captures an important cluster of concepts in an era where even capital is hard to track.

The map Ben posted is attuned to both aesthetics and politics. It seems to be an appropriate example of cognitive mapping at the municipal level--but I don't think that's necessarily enough. Cartography and maps are much in vogue as of late, perhaps as a reaction to the truly frustrating and bewildering complexity of the world-system we live in. I wonder if a bigger cognitive map (one not necessarily in "map" form, which I find reductive) is possible. Could there be, for example, an aesthetic representation of Appadurai's discussion of the derivatives market? Can there be a great opera for the hedge fund era?
I was interested in how Jameson's cognitive mapping : “that mental map of the social and global totality we all carry around in our heads in variously garbled forms” can be used to interpret 'The Matrix.' According to Jameson, if we can't find, or locate ourselves, be it in an urban or a political experience, we have no hope of changing anything. I thought the The Matrix seemed to really hit on this idea of location in physical and metaphysical space with its rampant locative technology, such as cellphones, blueprints, directions given over the phone, etc. The humans stuck in the biopower supplying grid of the matrix are oblivious to the computer program which controls their world and as a result cannot shape it to their whim the way Neo, Morpheous, and Trinity can. These human batteries fully imagine themselves within their worldly totality of life, but in physical reality, they exist in bathtubs of goo.

Monday, October 22, 2007

the problem of the postmodern body

In trying to grasp some concept in Jameson’s speech on “Cognitive Mapping” that I could hold on to, I was struck by the idea of the “postmodern body.” Jameson writes that “the new space involves a suppression of distance…and the relentless saturation of any remaining voids and empty places, to the point where the postmodern body…is now exposed to a perceptual barrage of immediacy from which all sheltering layers and intervening mediations have been removed” (351). This detailing makes me think especially of the action scenes in “The Matrix” – the viewer is exposed to the perceptual barrage, yet simultaneously told that this barrage happens while the actual bodies of those involved are stagnant – mirroring, in a sense, the viewer of the Matrix who is stagnantly watching the action take place. What strikes me about this image is the lack of agency given to the body – the body can do nothing, it cannot move, it can only accept the saturation around it. Even when Jameson figures the body as “wandering” it is within the confines (apparently randomly) of a “postmodern hotel” – still a designated space intended primarily for resting, not wandering. And the other examples of the body have it “locked” in to music or “undergoing the multiple shocks and bombardments” that come from watching a movie (351).

I’m not sure what Jameson’s answer is to this lack of agency for the body. He moves on to say he is talking about “practical politics” (351), yet bodies seem to disappear (unless my memory is fooling me?). Is cognitive mapping the answer? Jameson says that “The truth of daily experience of London lies, rather, in India or Jamaica or Hong Kong…Yet those structural coordinates are not even conceptualizable for most people” (349). This seems to be primarily a bodily problem – people’s bodies are in one place and not others. Is the answer, then, a loss of the body as important – does the importance reside solely in the mind and its cognitive mapping abilities? I feel like I am missing part of the argument here – if bodies were no longer important, why would it matter if the activists left Detroit bodily? Maybe the real problem doesn’t have to do with their bodies, but only with their mappings? I am not sure.

I just want to note that it occurred to me in re-reading this section that my experience in reading this essay feels like the exact opposite of the experience of the postmodern body – Jameson’s dense theoretical framework, with its evocation of various philosophical and aesthetic movements, and its occasionally biting criticism (I think?) towards colleagues at the same conference – it feels overall very removed from the experience of reading, especially with the questions tacked on at the end emphasizing the distance of the specific time of the conference and the moment of reading. This experience seems to me to avoid “the suppression of distance” – despite the feeling of immediacy in Jameson’s call for change, this “barrage” is undermined by the form of the article. Anyway, that’s just a rambling side note I found interesting.

As one who would describe himself as a frequent player of and occasional meditator on video games, I was particularly interested to read Galloway's allegories of control. The process by which Galloway argued that games create meaning, namely that "meaning and doing transpire in the same gesture" (104) I felt was interestingly at odds with the views ostensibly held by several game designers that Galloway alludes to elsewhere. More specifically, consider Buckminster Fuller's game "World Game" in which the objective is to achieve a balanced harmony with all of humanity. Fuller seems to believe that by investing his game with his political agenda in the form of the game's objectives, he can encourage game play that fits with the game's algorithm and perhaps by extension comparable gameplay in life that reaches for the same end. If players constitute their own meaning through their gameplay interactions, can a game designer exert control through game objectives? I actually don't think so.

It has been my experience that game objectives do not necessarily line up with player objectives, and ultimately any game interaction consists of a player playing the algorithm they choose in the medium of the game world. As an illustration, take the shooter game mentioned by Galloway. When my brother and I join forces and play through the story mode of TimeSplitters 2, as good a shooter as any, only sometimes do we allow our algorithmic play to be oriented towards subverting soviet control of the zombie-infested siberian dam and erradicating the undead. Other times our algorithms consist of coming to fisticuffs with one another out behind the shed, or racing for the dynamite to see who can dynamite the other's face first. Obviously this example is somewhat imperfect as we do eventually end up infiltrating the soviet base or dying in the effort, but consider what Galloway alluded to regarding the mundane details of gameplay; Galloway notes that the gamer, "is instead learning, internalizing, and becoming intimate with a massive, multipart, global algorithm."

I would suggest that precisely the element of gameplay which allows much meaning and content to be created--player freedom over the details and aspects of the scenarios--is exactly what undermines attempts to integrate a specific goal and force the player's algorithms to adapt to that goal. Solitare is very mono-goal oriented, but it is not likely to reinforce many racial and cultural stereotypes (well I guess it could, but arguing about that would be slightly silly) rather it is the games that allow players to create the most personal meaning that have the most impact on a player's outlook and therefore the most control. It is really hard to get a player to do what you want given freedom. Therefore, I think it is interesting to look at games that do not try to have as direct a goal. Take world of warcraft.

WoW is a game entirely built around questing and adventuring... for quests and adventure. There are no particular constraints compared to a game like Civ, and I have seen players intent on becoming the best player-killers, and I have seen players who do nothing but dance on tables across a wide range of in-game taverns. It seems to me that it is in this kind of world where control can be the most effective, if the most subtle. Unlike civilization, this game does not force imperialist tendencies as part of its main objective, but ultimately aggression against the opposing faction (defined entirely along racial lines) is a part of the game with which most players will just happen to intersect, and the races in the game do have an unfortunate tendency of pattern-mapping right back on to good old reality. Yes, the bull-people that inhabit the planes region do have totem poles and animal-skin clothing. Yes, the culturally secluded dynastic tribe of elfin mystics does have slanted eyes. I feel as though civ and wow are, on this vector at least, subtly reinforcing the very same things, although I think that the way in which civilization does so--by forcing the player to fight the prescribed fight against the opposition--is much less subtle than wow's strategy of just happening to place your character at the end of racially-motivated hostilities.

Special effects and continuity

My question is on Baudry's discussion of the cinematographic apparatus. I was wondering how contemporary films that use any kind of special effects figure into his equation. He notes that film "lives on the denial of difference," on the ability of the viewer to forget about the technical apparatus. However, it seems that many films made today serve to remind us of the technical prowress of its designers. For example, Waking Life captures audiences with both its execution as well as its content. Same with The Matrix. While it's still possible to suspend your disbelief at times while watching The Matrix, part of its appeal is the, how did they do that? (The mirror scene, the flying, every single fight scene.) As far as I can remember, it was one of the first movies to use the slow motion camera/flying fight scenes.

Baudry also talks about the relationship between the dominant filmic format and Western painting. While the sizing of film may be related, I'm curious as to whether other people think his comments on time and continuity always apply. Apart from stop motion animation, I believe most films do have visual continuity. However, many films don't have narrative continuity. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding his definition of narrative continuity, but films like Old Boy or Memento (where the plot doesn't really make sense until the end), Mulholland Drive (which never makes sense), or Baraka (which has no plot) seem to fight against his stipulation for narrative continuity.

- remobilizing the map

Most of the trouble I have with Jamesons theory of cognitive mapping is the problematic socialist politics that underlie the purported need for visualizing a global totality. The beginning of his lecture says it all – in a room full of left leaning cultural critics, he brazenly claims to be one of the ″few Marxists left.″ And clearly Jamesons vision of cognitive mapping, as well as the supposed necessity for such an innovation in aesthetic practice, is all about re-achieving the prominence of socialist activism and revolutionary potential: ″Cognitive mapping is an integral part of any socialist political project. ″ And because I see Jamesons critical impulse towards socialist reform as signifying a kind of regressive nostalgia for a more simple world, do I more critically view this cognitive mapping project. Don’t get me wrong, I think the need for economic and social reform (on a multi-national scale) is there, I just think visualizing global totality counteractively adopts the totalizing influence of capital, and would really do nothing to effectively change the inequalities and injustices that occur continually on a very local scale. So some questions I have – why does an activist or even revolutionary movement have to operate on the same global scale as capital? Why cant capital be mobilized for social reform? Why cant the map endure as a productive forum for quantifying space, place, population, and movement (why cognition instead of sustaining representation)? Why cant the correlation between politics and space be revitalized and mobilized to effect social change?
″Million Dollar Blocks″ is an activist project based in New York that productively engages all of these questions – questions of representation, politics and space, the need for social reform - and provides us a way out from Jamesons vague-eries and misplaced alliances. ″Million Dollar Blocks″ lets maps (actual maps) speak for themselves: the project assembles incarceration rates from New York City neighborhoods - a color-coded map of the five-boroughs represents the results. Blocks that cost the state over $1 Million to imprison former residents bleed a deep red. By representing the fiscal cost of incarceration as locally contained and identifiable, the map suggests forms of investment that might effect such in a more proactive way (what would the same million bucks do if invested here, in this single block?). The project has had real influence on prison policy within New York and other States, a testement to the beneficial effects of activist movements that refuse to reject and as essential elements of all social justice projects. Project Manager R. Cadora says he hopes that these maps ″would help envision solutions rather than just critiques.″ This optimism, and this proactive spirit is really commendable – Jameson should stop his vague theorizing, his hopes for something he cant even imagine, and start thinking to effect actual change by exploiting the mechanisms of representation that have proven so transformative.

Race in Cyberspace

Reading Galloway’s piece “Allegories of Control,” I was struck by his examination of racial coding and “ ‘soft’ racism” (101) in video games, because it made me think about the internationalism and racial heterogeneity in the cyberpunk worlds of Snow Crash and The Matrix.

Galloway argues that the expansionism central to games like Meier’s Civilization “has, historically, always had close links with racism” (96), and Meier’s “gamic algorithm” specifically “endors[es] a logic that prizes the classification of humans into types and the normative labeling of those types” (97). Civilization III further “conflates a civilization with a specific national or tribal identity and ignores questions of hybridity and diaspora” (98).

Complicating this idea, he continues by saying that “the skin tone parameters for player character construction in everything from Sissyfight to World of Warcraft are not an index for older, offline constructions of race and identity…but instead an index for the very dominance of informatic organization and how it has entirely overhauled…the function of identity” (102).

Snow Crash and The Matrix, on a related note, bring us worlds in which the Nebuchadnezzar’s crew is a smorgasbord of races and even individual characters like Hiro are mixed-race. What’s more, extreme racial diversity initially appears to be a non-issue in these stories, humans having simply accepted their transnational world.

The television commercial we watched in class advertised the Internet as a place without racism and other physical judgments, but Internet communities like Second Life still cannot manufacture wholly raceless identities. People in the Metaverse can choose their avatars’ skin tones, but the digital secretary still shifts to explicitly reflect a given character’s race.

I have a hard time subscribing completely to Galloway’s claim that video game “skin tone parameters…are not an index for older, offline constructions of race and identity” (102); what then do they signify to the average gamer?

What are the implications of an increasingly transnational culture in which many people no longer identify themselves as one particular race, thus evading “the classification of humans into types”? What does it mean that the cyberspace created in Civilization includes code for race and even racist stereotypes?

“The gamer is…learning, internalizing, and becoming intimate with the massive, multipart, global algorithm,” Galloway writes. “To play the game means to play the code of the game… To interpret a game means to interpret its algorithm” (90-91). Is race merely an algorithm that we learn to interpret, a code that we learn to "play"?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Shibboleth (Jameson Reading)

Just a quick note: In the Jameson reading for this week, he mentions "shibboleth" on the first page, a word I was not familiar with. When I looked it up, I couldn't help but think of Lyotard's language games...just thought this might be interesting food for thought.

Shibboleth: a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Open Source ≠ Web2.0

Ok. I agree with Terranova's framing of the 'new web' (or 'web 2.0' as it's been popularly termed) as a field reliant upon user generated material – companies now offer platforms through which users exchange selfmade content, as is apparent with youtube, myspace, facebook, etc. But the assertion that the Open Source movement reflects “further evidence of this structural trend within the digital economy” (113) overlooks many key principles of the legal premises of Open Source and the ideologies which underly them.

Open Source software is fundamentally more free than the Freeware Terranova lauds for being “freely distributed and [not even requesting] a reward from its users”. Not only is Open Source software freely available like Freeware, but so is the recipe that made it, and all of the tools needed to alter it or appropriate certain parts of it for use in other open source projects. So if for example you're writing an open source media player, and you need it to decode mp3 files, you can find another open source mp3 player and directly take the mp3 decoding part of the code for use in your program (so long as you provide credit where due, and in turn release your software under Open Source license). This public offering of source code to encourage further experimentation places Open Source in a wholly different field than Freeware and Shareware, both of which maintain a curtain between the end user and the underlying code which operates beneath the surface of the software they offer.

Now, while a select few Open Source projects have corporate backing (ex Sun's Open Office / Star Office suite which provides a free replacement for MS Office), the vast majority do not. To begin with, the Gnome, KDE, and XFE linux desktop environments (all of which provide free OpenSource equivalents to the kind of ClosedSource environment one pays for with Microsoft's Windows or Apple's OSX) are all run as open source non-for-profit organizations. Hundreds of thousands of individual software packages also exist within this open source framework divorced from corporate roots, many of which the average pc or mac user may already be familiar with such as GIMP (equivalent to Adobe Photoshop), audio manipulation tools like Audacity and Ardour (similar to Protools), and the 3d modeling suite Blender (similar to multithousand dollar commercial suites like Maya, 3DS, & Softimage).

Furthermore, corporate software is often Open Sourced these days not in the hopes of shifting labor onto unpaid cyberjunkies, but instead for the sake of publicity. Embracing Open Source can have profound effects on the public image of a company, allowing the corporate entity to affiliate itself with the positive connotations born of grassroots Open Source initiatives. It's really a lot like the “BUY RED” campaign recently spearheaded by GAP, which allows companies to sacrifice a small amount of their profits in order to ally themselves within the consumer's mind to notions of humanitarian aid and eradication of the global AIDS epidemic. Going Open Source lends a company the appearance of greater translucency and community involvement, which can in turn drive sales.

AND In cases where corporate entities have arisen from within the open source movement, the great majority have simply served as means of organizing tax infrastructure, not as vehicles of commercial gain. One of the largest such corporations which jumps to mind is the Mozilla foundation, initially responsible for maintaining the Mozilla and Firefox web browsers, as well as the Thunderbird email client – the corporation is registered as a non-profit organization under Californian tax code IRC 501(c)(3).

Given this vast majority of non-commercially driven Open Source activity, it seems inaccurate (to say the least) for Terranova to imply that the movement as a whole reflects the 'new web' structure of corporate platforms populated with user-generated content. To say that Open Source projects generate “either a product that gets you hooked on to another one or makes you just consume more time on the net... consume bandwidth” (as Terranova quotes Horvarth on 114) is ridiculous. In the vast majority of Open Source projects, no corporate platform facilitates the generation of content ; there really is an exchange of code for the sake of free exchange. And while at times open source packages may be appropriated within corporate distributions of Linux (like Novell's SUSE or SLED) which offer paid service and support, this relationship between producer and corporation seems quite different than what we see on facebook or myspace, where the production and exchange of content is wholly dependent upon the existence of those corporate platforms! Your facebook profile wouldn't exist without facebook, but the Audacity audio editor is still going to be freely available open source software contributed to and improved by volunteers around the world regardless of whether or not Novell decides to include it in their latest distribution of a commercial SUSE package.

The Open Source movement just isn't structurally equivalent to that of the Web 2.0 revolution of user generated content, and Terranova's conflation of the two greatly disregards much of what the open source community has accomplished on its own.

The Problematic of Participation

In Henry Jenkins' treatment of emerging digital culture, I felt that the operating definition of participatory culture was both highly limited and ill-defined. Jenkins alternately defines participatory culture as "grassroots cultural productions" that fostered "self-expression and creativity," and an encouragement "to see ourselves as active participants in the world of fiction." These definitions are on the same page.

The problematic presented by Jenkins' definition of participatory culture is one of disjunctive realities. "Grassroots cultural productions" seem to come from the reality of the everyday and present themselves as alternatives to the system. In fact, Jenkins defines this "grassroots" space as "space for various minority groups to tell their own stories or to question hegemonic representations of their culture." But alongside this definition of participatory culture, tied to critique experienced political realities is the world of fiction, and enacting and re-enacting of establish fictive practice to escape the experienced reality of Jenkins first definition.

How we do reconcile this discrepancy? Is fan fiction both about escaping a world of fiction and simultaneously examining the social issues of experienced reality? How does participatory culture relate to identity? What do widely circulated cinematic costumes, t-shirts, catch-phrases, and quotable language games say about the ability for individuals to form a sense of self within a culture of fandom that is predicated on capitalistic forces of production, arguably narrating the very variables with which participatory culture and fandom try to free themselves.

The Story the Way It Is

Jenkins cites Amy Harmon's 2002 NYT article in which Jim Ward, vice president of marketing for Lucasfilm, says, "We've been very clear all along on where we draw the line. We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that's not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is."

How can we read this statement? Given Jenkins' descriptions of the various Star Wars departments' differing stances on fan participation, this is obviously consistent with the film branch's perceiving "rogue" fan creation as a threat. But what strikes me is Ward's emphasis on the story of Star Wars in opposition to fan-created stories. What's especially surprising about this official stance is its effacing of the perceived universe of the franchise, which is what fans supposedly ultimately care about. There is no way to put a stamp on how fans derive meaning and pleasure from the official storyline Lucasfilm puts out. I'm wondering, is there more at stake in science fiction narratives? Because of the mythology and the complexity of the worlds involved that give us a storyline to begin with, where do we begin to draw boundaries on where fans can enter and what they can take away from it? In other words, if we read the phrase "the story the way it is" as fundamentally problematic, what does this say about corporations' official views on fans?

Other forums for fanvid experimentation?

It strikes me that the major element missing from this week’s debate about industrial appropriation/limitation of fan production is the self-professed mecca of user-generated content: youtube. I think the significance and groundbreaking-ness of youtube tends to be over-emphasized and over-talked, including by me, and it is certainly not the totally free and open forum for user creativity and sharing that it likes to portray itself as (witness corporations’ regular removal of copyrighted content, etc.) But it does seem to offer some kind of alternative to the protocologically-limited Battlestar Galactica Video Maker and the content regulations of AtomFilms’ Star Wars fanvid contest. Given the sheer number of videos (a search for “Battlestar Galactica” yielded 3,210 results), the industrial mechanisms in charge of purging the internet of threatening or unauthorized content would have a hard time. And since youtube functions simply as a forum, with contributors creating content using their own software, it cannot limit the tools or resources that go into fan videos.

Or can it? This is all based on my completely unauthoritative impressions of how youtube works. Just glancing through the results of the BSG search, it seems like most of them fall into the corporately-inoffensive “song video” or “parody” categories; could/does youtube censor its content according to the same criteria with which industry institutions judge the appropriateness of fan videos?

p.s. I searched “battlestar galactic slash” to see if any gay-themed fan videos were allowed on youtube (they weren’t), and happened on several tutorial videos created by Julie on “how to make characters have gay sex (in your mind).” Very relevant and very funny—check them out.

Sanctioned Derivative Works

How could the project of the Battlestar Gallactica Video Maker be improved? Right now, the sanctioning of derivative works is highly mediated. The practice of fans is appropriated for publicity/commercial gain and worked into a controlled framework. The main issue with this is that the possibility of transformative works which might produce a commentary or critique is undermined. One cannot work within the protocol and against it. Can we hope to see the removal of proprietary constraints on sanctioned/unsanctioned derivative production?