Friday, November 30, 2007

"Forget it ... It's Chinatown"

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

Wear Red for Jake's Final Paper!

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

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

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

My paper will be organized roughly into three parts:

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Global from Global Perspective?

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

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

Translation as Protocological Resistance?

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

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

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

Resistance to the techofrontier?

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

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

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

Allegories of Migration

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Abandoned Roads (Tsing)

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mobilizing the universal for social action

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

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

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

friction as anti-Babel, friction as form?

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

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

Quest for the frontier

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

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

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

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

Nature lover knowledge

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

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

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

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

Frontiership and technology

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Gang Mentality

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ted Talks: Cell Phones

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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

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

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

na zdraví to social connectivity!

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

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

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

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

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

Salvation thru SMS?

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

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

News Flash! - Historicizing the Mob Mentality

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

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

Let's historicize the flash mob.

Whither Flash Mobs?

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

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

Mobile Phones and Open Source

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

Phone Fetish

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


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

Spatial Awareness

In "Smart Mobs," Rheingold notes:

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Teen Txtpressionism

One element of Rheingold's discussion I found particularly interesting was the social possibilities for teenagers created by texting. The history of youth culture is punctuated with new spaces for exploration incorporated into the urban environment. A few examples of these types of spaces include the movie theater and the automobile. Both allowed youth to escape the family domain to explore and develop in these places that were private and far from the reach of their parents. The threat of these new places often stemmed from the inherent sexual possibilities of the automobile, on a lover's lane, or the movie theater's darkened rows. In these physical venues, such sexual exploration was in fact pursued. It seems that similar activities have resulted from the use of text messaging and the "unheard conversation." Just as social activity was often centered in the home, on the front porch or in living rooms before the automobile took family entertainment away from the home, the phone conversation that once could be monitored by a parent is silenced and messages are entered silently. Rheingold mentions that adolescents sometimes conduct entire relationships in this manner. I view this as a positive product of gen text. The avenue of exploration and free expression is too often denied teenagers by the suburban environment where they cannot usually do anything on their own. Urban teens would seem to have it easier as they can experience a sense of "getting-away" and self-sufficiency though the rites-of-passage built into their environments, namely public transportation. I am pointing out this somewhat small facet in Rheingold's essay as it seems to present another area for even more in depth discussion of the nature of teen expression and the potential of texting and private technology to serve in liberating adolescents, as well as providing them with a non-destructive venue for interaction and expression. Much of this post is also inspired by my personal growing-up experience where I could not feel self-sufficient or autonomous due to the lack of privacy implicit in an environment that was enabled and controlled by parents and other authority figures - going places, buying things, using the telephone, using the computer, and when all these activities took place. There are few ways to subvert this type of totality and the cell phone offers a chance at freedom and privacy without requiring subversion.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Texting and Space

In reading Vicente Rafael’s essay, I was most struck by the way he envisions the relationship of space and technology. He lays out the ways that cell phones both allow their users to distance themselves from the crowd and become immersed in it. Yet as his discussion of the protests spurred by texting goes on, the cell phone itself disappears as the medium, replaced by first the camera and then the crowd itself as technology. It seems as though this physical movement and coming together of the crowd is the necessary or at least ideal consequence of a certain sort of cell phone use – to bring people together not just imaginarily but physically, to make its own purpose momentarily obsolete. Throughout, Rafael seems to see the cell phone and the crowd, or the person, as extensions of one another, not as opposed forms. This taps into an issue we keep dealing with this semester – how do technology and physicality relate? How do virtual or imagined spaces compare to “real” or physical ones?

I thought it was interesting that in his essay Rafael refers to several people who live primarily outside the Philippines but did not address how these technologies affect those trans-national interactions. Obviously, this is partly because text messaging is not an international medium (I think?). But what is the relation of those who are physically removed but connected through technology, unable to become a part of the crowd but able to hear the call? Perhaps texting is specific to this cause precisely because it is limited in a way that telephones and the internet are not? Is texting than a “local” medium, one more connected to the spaces it inhabits? Or is this just a question of availability, since it seems technologically possible for texts to cross long distances? These are some of the questions I am grappling with.

Teen culture

"If I don't receive a text when I wake up or I receive only a few messages during the day, I feel as though nobody loves me enough to remember me during the day."

This quote comes from the report of an online correspondent on Manila's "GenTxt." It immediately made me cringe. Are teenagers really this reliant on text messages, that they can't feel like anybody LOVES them if they don't receive enough messages? It also seems like mobile companies might be exploiting these insecurities for profit. By charging for text messages, the more SMS's fly the better; this teenage reliance on messaging might be making these companies a significant chunk of change. At the same time, I'm really only familiar with the American problem of expensive texting; in Manila, texts might be much less costly. I'm still curious about emotion as a commodity, though; the more invested mobile companies can get their consumers in their products, and the greater extent to which they can make these gadgets another limb, the more money they will make. And not just on text messages; on advertising, products these ads eventually sell, future purchase of updated gadgets... etc. etc. This may make Rheingold's emphasis on "refusal" that much more important; if you don't want your emotions commodified, you might have to just say no.

Nirvana, brought to you by samsung

Gil Scott-Heron's song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" advises its audience that when the revolution occurs, there will be no way to hide behind the trappings of commercial society that create so much distance between the viewer and the images streaming across the wires. Scott-Heron warns that "you will not be able to stay at home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out," and in saying, he suggests that the collectivity of the revolution, and the raw unified power of it will draw the listener in and make them part of a larger whole. Revolution, when it is successful (generally speaking) is successful because the revolutionaries are bound together by messages, ideologies, and ideas that make them not into a raging disorganized mass, but into a collection of "countless and anonymous 'buddies'" (421).

The hippie movement (as usual, stepping outside my comfortable bounds of actual knowledge, correct me if I'm wrong) during the viet nam era gained its strength from the free-love culture and principles by which participants in the movement lived. The forces at play in creating these communities around revolutionary ends are, in my opinion, quazi-religious in nature. There was a distinct philosophy of life that characterized this movement, and to which its participants subscribed. Interestingly, it was because of this that the movement was so frightening to many who stood in opposition to its principles. The idea that a large group of people could become part of this ostensibly hive-like set of ideologies that made their own individual identities only a small part of a larger whole is a terrifying one to someone who is firmly dedicated to a world-view in which they are themselves, and the external world is separate and disconnected.

This fear manifests in many of our modern cultural narratives, such as the Borg of star trek. The key feature of the Borg that makes them so horrifying is the threat that if they capture you, you will not simply lose your life, but your very identity and sense of who you are will be violated and subsumed by the collective will. You have not lost your body, in essence, but your soul. Interestingly though, this very oneness that is treated with such fear by what amounts to a western worldview is precisely what is sought in many non-western philosophies. Enlightenment and oneness with all other consciousness and matter is the ultimate end goal of many forms of Buddhism, for instance, and while this position has traditionally been treated with hesitation by western observers, many of the same principles so feared were treated not with fear but with wonder and even joy by those who participated in the cell phone revolution (admittedly, the Philippines are not exactly western, but I can only assume that the culture is not by and large especially spiritual or buddhist).

Rafael says of becoming part of a crowd that, "estranged, one becomes like everyone else" (414). Throughout the paper, it seems as though those who participated in this revolution felt themselves to be part of a larger movement much greater than their own identity, but with which they were in harmony. Rafael invokes Derrida to describe this crowd mentality as "'the messianic without a messiah'" (421). These descriptions of becoming subsumed by this larger identity seem to suggest the kind of quazi-religious harmony found in many massive revolutionary movements. It almost seems sometimes that human beings were really designed to work as a collective.

The tower of babel is one of my favorite myths, and the treatment that it had in snow crash was, I thought, particularly intriguing. Stephenson's use of the power of language as an implement through which human beings can be harnessed collectively to achieve great ends falls directly in line with Rafael's arguments regarding the power of the txt. I found this particularly interesting in the context of the final comparison between revolutionary mobs; whereas the "crowd" constructed by digital communication around their common principle was seen as democratic, the other mob formed by built up resentments and word of mouth was seen as "unruly" (423). It almost seems as though the power of the text that is discussed to transmit data perfectly and reproducibly along all paths of a network acts as a language of babel to propagate the same instructions and fashion all human participants into parts of this new unified crowd that is "thoroughly conscious of itself as a movement headed toward a common goal" (403). The unruly mob did not use cellphones, but rather formed around a sea of disorganized personal complaints whose commonality was their irritation and volatility towards the administration. It is not surprising that the first crowd appeared to be a more organized, unified, individual creature.

It seems that drawing from what Rafael argues in this essay, a new venue has emerged to facilitate the creation of massive scale networks. Movements have certainly been possible before that have harnessed collective energies towards a common goal—what else is religion, after all—but now with the introduction of this digital medium of communication, such networks can be build larger, more easily, and perhaps more effectively than ever. It seems now that the revolution will indeed not be televised, it will be txt'd.
also bringing us back to the anderson... "at its most utopian, the fetish of communication suggested the possibility of dissolving, however provisionally, existing class divisions." according to this article, flilipinos imagined cell phone technology as the "weapon" of revolution that brought would bring about a new "horizontal" community. vicente rafael makes it pretty clear that cell phone use was crucial in creating an imagined community where people sent numerous text messages to each other in a space-less "crowd." this takes me back to our keenan readings. i think its interesting to compare and contrast the humanitarian activist movements through media technologies and the revolution in the philippines with cell phones. what made one work while the other didnt? are the two technologies even comparable in their ability to stimulate action?
I think looking at text messaging with reference to Galloway’s article “Allegories of Control” about the algorithms of video games might provide some interesting connections, as well as his article on protocol. Both Rafael and Rheingold express a sort of wonderment at the motor memorization possessed by the new generations of cellular phone texters. Rafael: …“[others] tap away with one hand without even looking at [their] [phone.” Rheingold: “Like many of her friends she could compose a message with her thumb without looking at it.”
This strikes a direct chord with Galloway’s statement about console video games, “in which intricate combinations of buttons must be executed with precise timing to accomplish something in the game.”
Grandmothers don’t text message. My grandmother has trouble reading the buttons on her cellular phone, and if she can read them she often has trouble hitting them only once, or one at a time. Motor skills aside, what other barriers are there? Grandmothers also don’t play videogames. Of course there are other factors in this generational divide, but do the physical requirements to ‘beat’ or ‘use’ the algorithm of the games and the cellular phones target younger audiences?
Rheingold quotes DoCoMo’s Takeshi Natsuno as saying mobile phones are “…useless unless you know the right telephone number. The distribution of data via phones, however, would make it possible for users to search for a restaurant or make a dinner reservation. They could reserve a train or airplane ticket….Ads for companies would no longer be unnecessary information, but essential information that users could be charged for accessing.” This almost sounds like a desire to do away with protocol on the user’s side. offers book selections they think you might like based on your previous purchases. They’re doing away with the protocol of the system that requires you to type in titles to search. Clothing retailers would love it if RFID tags were sewn into clothes. Then when I walked into a store the sales associate could approach me, scan me, and inform me that there is a new shipment in of the briefs I’m wearing. Instead of looking through the racks and shelves, the built environment of the store’s protocol, the desire is to have everything done for consumer, down to the decision of what to buy.
I guess what I’m trying to decipher here what the absence of protocol in a cellular phone, or any technology, might mean. The presence of protocol signals to some extent that we are operating within a system of rules, such as the internet http. These rules must be understood, but sometimes they can be broken. The absence of protocol as described above is designed to streamline the user’s experience, but who is doing the designing if the user isn’t? So perhaps protocol is a signifier of interface?
Terrorist networks don’t have their own servers. They operate within commercial routes, although they may be fighting against the flow, they’re in the same river of information as everyone else. The same is true of text messagers, or organizing tools like TxtMob. I’d love to find an exception, but I don’t know of any homemade, D.I.Y. mobile phones or transmission towers. There is some software hacking of cellular phones, and of course computers, but where’s the alternative Internet? Where are the underground cellular phone networks, like the pirate radio station operators working with homemade transmitters? At the level of hardware protocol, it seems that everyone is currently following suit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the cultural critics relationship to the future – this question has come up in the past – especially when we were dealing with Jameson and his call for a new aesthetic of the present⁄ future … but never has this [theory as projection] paradigm been more conspicuous than in Rheinhold’s work on the implications of smart-mob technologies. He explicitly presents his work as a formative cultural force – as a theorization of the future in an attempt to somehow master that future: ″how we talk about that future holds the power to influence that future,″ (xx). Here, Rheinhold presumptuously charges himself (or at least his work) with the task of determining the form of future human-human and human-machine relationships.

What is productive about this project? what’s at stake in this search for this future? what is it about technological artifacts of the present that specifically lend themselves to this theoretical inquiry into the future? does technology come from the future or lead us towards the future? shouldn’t culture be allowed to do what it will? how does Rheinhold fundamentally differ from Vannever Bush and Licklider, two cultural critics he so reveres? (I would argue there’s a big difference here)

Why do I have such a problem with Rheinholds critical stance anyway?

Even after I have these moments of self-reflexive questioning, the fact still remains that Rheinhold’s voice grates on me as embarrassingly hokey (was anybody else weary of his presumptions toward heroism: ″It had not yet become clear to me that I was… galloping off on a worldwide hunt for the shape of the future″)?

I’d go out on a limb to claim that Rheinhold is working with a false concept of the future (perhaps this is why his attempts at mastering the future seem so strange – he is working with the wrong future here…). The last line of the book belies Rheinhold’s false sense of the futures place: ″especially in this interval before the new media spheres settles into its final shape, what we know and what we do matters, ″ (215). Why does he project an eventual settling of technological configurations into a ″final shape″?

There is no such thing as a final future. I’d say that the future is happening to us, that it is a continued happening. (Why cant Rheinhold limit himself to the productive and provocative work he does when he’s in his ″this is what’s happening now″ mode) Any kind of placement of the future as somehow formally cohesive and final, a thing to be blue-printed and constructed, a monument to be visited, seems so fool-hardy. It also seems totally incongruous to the nature of his general project – he should know by now that there is no such thing as a settled future tense, especially when it comes to the ways in which humans develop technologies to aid in their legislation with a continually present reality.


In reading the selection from “Smart Mobs,” I was surprised to find that even amidst exploration of wireless devices, mobile communication, and imagined communities, Rheingold continually returns to the physical, the locative, the earthbound.

His description of Botfighters demonstrates this strange contradiction. Botfighters is “a game that involves virtual persona, mocking text messages, [and] location-sensing technology… [Players] spend too much of their time chasing game opponents around Stockholm… After the virtual battle, the four exchanged good-natured insults via SMS [and] decided to meet face to face” (18). Later, Rheingold gets technical: “Players sign up on a Web site, create a “bot,” name it, and arm it with guns, shields, batteries, and detectors. When their mobile telephones are on, the players receive SMS messages about the geographic distance of other players” (19).

Botfighters’ Internet and SMS elements are clearly vital to its success, but the game’s continual return to and focus on Stockholm’s physical landscape implies that virtuality is not enough. This is not the first time we have seen such a trend: although global connectivity via computers and cell phones ostensibly displace the need for physical proximity and tangible interaction with one’s peers (friends, neighbors, buddies), in reality geography still seems to be quite necessary.

In the MySpace article, for instance, we read that most of a user’s friends are people he or she already knows in “real life.” Right off the bat, Aula’s creators “construct[ed] the physical locus of their community center” as they sought to “design a space where virtual communities and mobile tribes could mingle in the physical world” (17). Lovegety, too, uses “devices [that] recognize another Lovegety in the vicinity” to effect “location-based matchmaking” (xvii). And of course, many cell phones incorporate built-in GPS (global positioning system) technology.

All this makes me think of Rheingold’s early description of how the new, virtual public sphere “of the texting tribes” uses “bursts of terse communication [to] link people in real time and physical space” (2). Clearly the physical, local public sphere is not so close to disappearing as some new media prophets would have us believe. In fact, some of these examples suggest that virtual and mobile innovations, global in scope, are helping to create a more functional, connected, and communicative local geography. Maybe we’re not yet ready to let go of our land.

Do unrooted innovations like wireless Internet and mobile cell phones suggest a reality more or less grounded in the physical? In light of Keenan’s writings on a “virtual war” and my earlier question about virtual violence or the possibility for a nonviolent war, what do you make of Botfighter players that chase each other around a physical locality but hurt and kill each other virtually? If online avatars’ faces ever achieve Juanita’s level of expressive nuance, will physical interaction become less necessary? But can we ever truly dispose of touch?

Keitai Girl

I'm attaching a link to one of my favorite art works by Noriko Yamaguchi titled Keitai Girl. For the piece, Yamaguchi created a body suit from cell phone keypads and also wears a pair of large headphones that are connected to an actual cell phone. During her performance, certain viewers are given her number/the number of her bodysuit and can call and speak to her. Here is a larger image of Keitai Girl.

Many theorists speak about cellular phones as extensions of the hand or the self. Rafael refers to this convergence of person and phone as a mania, noting "The insistence on having cell phones nearby, the fact that they always seem to be on hand, indicates an attachment to them that surpasses the rational and the becomes an apparatus for sending and receiving messages at all times" (405). In Finland, the word for cell phone is känny which is a "diminutive form of 'hand'" (Rheingold 12). In Sweden (cute as well as interesting), the word for cell phone is nalle which translates to teddy bear. The full term was originally 'yuppie teddy bear,' referring to the cost and status signaling role of cell phones int he 1980s. Today the term has been shortened to teddy bear, referencing the dependency of users on their mobiles - like children with their teddy bears or blankies. Yamaguchi's literal interpretation of the self/phone is a visually alluring interpretation of the future of the cellular phone and its interactions with the human body.

Physical space and the mobile

Rafael argues that Manila's topography and congestion create an environment conducive to the power of the crowd. He notes the importance of the 'view' in the West and it's absence of Manila: "In the West, the 'view' is understood as the site for evacuating a sense of internal unease and a resource for relieving oneself of pressure, both social and psychic. This panoramic notion of the view is not possible in Manila's streets" (413). The psychic congestion of viewlessness coupled with the physical congestion of the streets results in a "sense...that there is no single, overarching authority" (414).

I'm curious whether physical city structure inhibits or enhances crowd formation in general and how this effects political protests organized via cellular phones. Perhaps the reason the 2004 protest of the Republican National Convention in NYC was not as successful as similar mobile-powered protests in South Korea, Spain and the Philippines was not only because of the hierarchical dissemination of text messages (thus making them more prone to police infiltration), but also because of the ordered structure of New York City. Similarly, the absence of mobile mobilization in Tokyo is perhaps a result of the ordered nature of the city in conjunction with the "ultra-consumerist tendency of Japan's mobile culture and the relative inactivity of alternative political forces outside the mainstream in general" (Castells et. al. 281*).

* Castells, Manuel, Mireia Fernandez-Ardevol, Jack Linchuan Qiu, and Araba Sey. "Electronic Communication and Socio-Political Mobilisation: a New Form of Civil Society." Global Civil Society 2005/6 (2006): 266-285.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Not a Casual Observer

It strikes me that the type of community Keenan discussed on Tuesday (forum-based, shifting host sites, "collectable" video downloads, etc.) can be considered atypical for the internet. It sounded as if, as time has progressed and the leaders of these online communities have adapted and grown more savvy, these communities were not accessible to all and shining examples of democracy in the internet. To access these communities, one must know where the forums are, where the hosted sites are, stay smart enough to follow the site shifts, get a recommendation from a more trusted member, and even, as Keenan suggested, meet with a respected member in real life. One cannot casually review these sites and stay loosely in touch with these communities. Visitors must be members-- engaged members who visit often and stay in touch with what goes on in the forums. In short, it seems as if visitors must join and stay connected to the community in order to even peruse these sites. A visitor must somehow become invested even before he/she fully understands what he/she is invested in. This seems to fit with some of what Keenan was saying about jihadist groups-- staying mainly secretive, mobile, and closely knit. Anyway, I thought that this change in what type of visitor can see these sites was interesting.

Post Prod Pokes

Certainly, as Keenan suggests, and JWK reiterates, the Jihadist movement's use of networked digital media technologies forces us to reflect critically on our advocation for the "Witness" -- side note: Peter Gabriel...? -- model of use for transnational cyberspace, and the fundamental implications of such a media zone. However, I was particularly interested in something Keenan brought up during the Q&A: his analogy of the videos to baseball cards, and the "fan culture" of trading media clips. Such commodification and circulation of these DIY, war videos, and the consequent questions of meaning, ownership and "work", might be investigated in reference to such techniques as the intercutting of text (in the Humvee segment, for example), and the overlay of logos. In terms of the latter visual trope, Keenan mentioned that a Sunni and Shiite group had alternately claimed the same footage, switching logos. What does that imply? Additionally, what do these post-production effects of text and logo have on the "decreasing time between event/reality and its recording and dissemination" (MKDUCH)? I am also curious how my questions of the function of text and logo relate back to EDONAHUGE's blog post about the loss of the "literary foundation" of news media. Post-production effects in the videos we watched also included some pretty snazzy replays -- the Humvee explosion was repeated multiple times. How does this affect the "being-there" and the Truth claim or value of the clip as trading card? Just some pokings from a production stand-point.

Get out there!

I found the part of Keenan's lecture on Packer's "The Revolution Will Not be Blogged" to be the most interesting part. This brought to mind a number of temporal problems with the time/location gap that the internet creates. Keenan mentioned the problem of the journalist not getting out there, due to the accessibility of blogging. Yet, even before the internet, there was the problem of whether the camera was following the action or the action following the camera. Thus, technology inherently problemitizes "the revolution" and its televising/blogging/etc. However, while decreasing the time gap creates problems, the revolution following technology vs. tech. following the revolution seems to stand as a consistent problem regardless of specific tech advances? Thoughts?

Jihad and American news media

Like the two bloggers before me, I was particularly struck by Keenan’s assertion that, rather than following or recording an event, the camera actually creates it. In the case of the clips he showed us, not only is the destruction of a humvee specifically staged for the camera (as Christina points out)—the camera actually legitimizes and substantiates such isolated acts of terror by assuming an audience of likeminded viewers and linking those viewers through internet spectatorship and the mediation of the forum. In this sense, then, the camera is Jihad: it creates the battle (staged terror attacks), the army (the network of spectators), and the reason for fighting (a unified front against the enemy depicted).

I can’t help but agree with Keenan that this appropriation of what was supposed to be democratic technology, the hand-held camera and the internet, is the most disturbing aspect of the Jihadist movement. Jihadist media destroy the all-important myth of the digital as Enlightenment—technological autonomy=individual freedom=universal access to knowledge—which has framed discourse about the internet for the past 20-plus years (think the MCI commercial, distributed networks, the “digital divide,” etc). This notion eerily echoes Keenan’s commentary about the indifference to media coverage of Bosnia: “What is lost in Bosnia is nothing less than the Enlightenment, and with it the discovery of the public sphere as the site where knowledge and action are articulated.” Where the American public sphere has failed in its inability to support images with ideology (in order to produce action), the Jihadist public sphere has succeeded. The “ideal public sphere,” as Keenan called it in his lecture, actually functions against the principles of Enlightenment.

One thing I wish Keenan had addressed (and wish I could have stayed to ask him about) is the relationship between amateur footage, that of both Islamic terrorists and American soldiers, and the mainstream news media. The “CNN effect” that Keenan addresses in “Live From…” and “Publicity and Indifference” seems obsolete in the Iraq War—yes, there are embedded journalists, but CNN and other news networks just aren’t showing the images of this war, at least not the nitty-gritty, everyday images that documentary filmmakers, youtubing soldiers, and terrorist groups show. We could attribute this mainstream (visual) silence to the political ambiguities of the war: this isn’t a case of trying to arouse humanitarian sentiment, as Somalia and Sarajevo arguably were, and the moral and political grounds of our engagement in Iraq are intensely controversial. We could say that the images of the war are too disturbing for a middle class American audience, but since when has that been a problem? Those arguments seem a little too easy, and I’m not quite cynical enough about the media yet to argue that they are just bending to the powers that be by not showing the public what’s going on. After all, that notion assumes that images would necessarily inspire us to act; and we have already seen that this assumption no longer holds up. Furthermore, in what seems like a total reversal of the way authority is typically structured through images, the news networks now rely on video produced by terrorists (messages from leaders, hostage video) for their most salacious content—their biggest stories. If this is a “war of perceptions,” a war of images, the armies of Jihad are holding the cameras and in control. This seems like a total shift in the landscape of news media and image-production and dissemination, and I wonder what it means for our ability to engage in and shape public discourse. If the camera is now Jihad, can we envision an enlightened public sphere?

Real Time Reality

I, like Christina below me, thought Keenan’s discussion of the decreasing time between event/reality and its recording and dissemination (through blogging, television, etc.) was interesting. In his lecture he noted that the time between the two might even, in some circumstances, have decreased to “less than zero” because events might occur solely to be recorded. In “Live From…” he also points out, however, that things like television necessarily put in place a distance and therefore a desire to reduce that distance. Because the television, he writes, is in “place” of the viewer, we are reminded of our absence from the event, even if we are seeing it in “real time” (138). Using the example of D-Day, he writes that even when “time is real,” the reality of what is happening “remains at a distance (138). The television “that should offer reality seems to provoke an even stronger desire for it,” Keenan argues (138). I am interested in how or if we can desire a “reality” that is exists solely for reproduction — how does the reality that would not exist without reproduction affect the viewer distance from it? In these cases, what do we desire, if anything? Does the desire exist separate from the acknowledgement that the event might or might not be real? How does this affect things like “war tourism” that he argues stems from a desire to return to a place one has never been(134)? How does danger, which he argues fosters immediacy and intimacy, factor into this (especially if violence is created strictly for purposes of reproduction and might or might not actually exist otherwise?) How can we then return to something that does not exist anymore?
This is a post I am making up for the first week of school--shopping period!!

In the first week, we read pieces from Anderson's Imagined Communities, and since then we've covered so much about different imagined communities that it's difficult to think of Anderson's ideas independently. What interests me the most concerning Anderson's ideas of nationalism and community directly relate back to his suggestion that in an imagined community of the nation, “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship” (Anderson p.7). The biggest and most complicated imagined community i can think of at the top of my head happens to be the United States. Since I am an Ethnic Studies concentrator, this quote made me think a lot about what Anderson actually means about "horizontal comradeship," and how he might apply that to the numerous different ethnic, especially racial communities across the nation. Growing up in a huge Koreatown, I never considered myself "american" until high school. Before that, I was just "Korean." So if I dont consider myself part of the apple-pie baseball larger american nation, am i still part of a physical imagined community called america? is that even possible, for an imagined community to be validified just by a common piece of land that we are living on? through citizenship and official documents? i guess what i want to say is that the nation may exist (called america) but there really isnt anything connecting different american communities through a "horizontal comradeship." I wonder what Anderson would say to this.

We'll Bring the Terror, If You Pack the Cameras!

In the beginning of Tom Keenan's lecture, he described the various roles of the camera in the "media event" or "photo opportunity" breifly highlighting the camera as memorist, as archivist, as always there, but, always after the fact. He stressed that the camera presence at least typically, follows the event itself, "Reality comes first." He used the example of the phrase "The Revolution will not be 'something'ed" to illustrate the after-the-fact nature of capturing events. Keenan points out, however, the decrease in lag time to nothing, even less-than nothing between the event and the presence of a camera.
Certain events don't happen, unless there is a camera present. The reality exists for the sake of its distribution and subsequent archiving. One might consider the host of media events that, when strung together across almost two years of television programming, constitute the presidential race, for example. Where I found this scenario most clearly indicated, however, was in one of the videos Keenan played during his talk. The surveillant view of a humvee being blown up seems to reveal the deeper complexities of the nature of events created for the camera when something is staged in reality, not in Hollywood. It is clear that the bomb or mine was set up for an explosion that would be captured and distributed. In this manner, the one explosion takes on the life of many explosions when considered in terms of the positive results this visual destruction of an American military icon would have in boosting Jihad morale, not as a significant tactical victory. Keenan quoted Army Brigadier General John Custer, who called the war in Iraq "...a war of perceptions. They [the Jihad] understand the power of the Internet. They don't have to win in the tactical battlefield. They never will. No platoon has ever been defeated in Afghanistan or Iraq. But, it doesn't matter. It's irrelevant." The battlefield that matters to the Jihad is immaterial and exists on the screen, enabling one humvee explosion to have the same impact as hundreds. I find this so interesting mainly because when events are set up for the camera and in conjunction with the internet these events are given a power that far exceeds the reality of what is being depicted, one must ask the question: What is the limit on turning reality into a fiction? Destruction in life for the sake of the camera is still destruction, but leaves us with no clear form of retaliation. If we consider September 11th in terms of its cinematic qualities, it can be seen, above all, as the most profound media event to take place created by and for terrorists - and all they had to do was pre-production. With our absolute obsession with getting on location - notice how often news networks highlight the use of a helicopter or "we were there first" - the production was taken care of, immediately. It seems that terrorists hoping to simultaneously demoralize our nation and encourage a global network of terrorists can do so easily, as long as they can count on the cameras of the world to point, rush, fly, descend upon and track the nearest and newest atrocity. Keeping the flow of global mediascapes open is perhaps the most essential element in the blockbuster success of terrorist actions. This makes clear an entirely new set of negative implications of our media obsession in so far as it renders the very fiber of our morale vulnerable to attack.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Keenan, Foucault, Sovereignty

I was quite struck by Keenan's discussion of the Ansar al-Sunna communique's ambiguous attitude towards human rights. In discussing Foucault's conception of human rights, Keenan has an interesting line: "The politics of human rights is, in this sense, largely a 'politics of the governed'--not a project that aims to govern, precisely not that." (67) So in Foucault's imagination human rights politics are by definition a sort of resistance, a sort of politics that cannot be easily instituted within the state.

Keenan notes, "Although the discourse of human rights got its modern start with the revolutions that overthrew the French monarchy and British rule in the American colonies, today an assault on the state in the interest of seizing power is far from the norm for political action undertaken in the name of human rights." (67) I think Keenan misses something important in this conflation of French and American conceptions of human rights. If you accept Arendt's argument that the American revolution was effected largely for negative rights, then Foucault's argument for a politics of the governed does not seem particularly new. And, further, it doesn't seem as absurd to think that a human rights of the governed might necessitate violence or that even a government's constitution might include allowance for a non-governmental conception of rights. Consider the 2nd Amendment: its words enshrine a right to keep and bear arms for the sake of securing a free state.

Foucault's suggestion for a "ship to protect those drifting refugees" looks like no government we've ever seen. (It does look more than a little like the Sea Shepherd vigilante fleet). But what will this ship do? How will it protect those drifting refugees? If it is forced to resort to violence, is it not just another contender for the monopoly on violence? That's what I assume when I read Foucault suggesting that we will need to oppose "a [state] monopoly that we have to uproot little by little every day." That seems like a rather direct call to make "an assault on the state in the interest of seizing power." The difference between French revolutionaries and Foucault, however, is that the latter seems to suggest a conception of non-governmental power: an oligopoly or anarchy of power. Keenan himself grants this: "'human rights' can easily become another form of political administration, of governmentality, and sometimes even an excuse for worse." Am I wrong in suggesting that this is not a new phenomenon? That this problem this conundrum is not radically different from the top-down (by the drafters of the Bill of Rights) and from the bottom-up (Foucault, etc.)?

I would like to cite another interesting jihadist critique from October 2006: the Mujahideen Shura Council's announcement of a new Islamic Iraqi state. The Shura Council is an organization of Sunni militants that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq. Gulfnews called the state "an illusion born in cyberspace" and asked "how can a state be born out of a video clip, in the depths of cyberspace?" I wonder if Keenan suggests an answer: "The language changes when the plebeians, copying, speak it." (66) The language of sovereignty changes when the Sunni militants speak it. No more should it be taken as a literal claim for an organized state--state sovereignty contradicts the idea of a caliphate anyways--but instead for a "non-governmental" government, one with borderless sovereignty. I think the Shura Council's announcement was yet another acknowledgment that the Sunni jihadists see human rights and sovereignty as everywhere and nowhere.

Response to Peter's Post - Thoughts and connections

There are a few things that your post makes me think of, Peter. First, I hadn't thought of the tourist/soldier dynamic in terms of today's recruitment, but I think that is a really interesting point. My friend's husband just decided to re-enlist with the air force after 4 years, even though he has had bad experiences being in Iraq and Qatar, in part because the military offered them the chance for travel - if they spend x number of years in Okinawa, Japan, they were told, they would get their choice of desirable international placements like Spain after that. This seems to intersect Keenan's ideas about the collapse of tourism and war, in that these zones are considered desirable precisely because they are not war zones, but soldiers are still placed there - partially, it seems, as a reward for braving real war zones.

The second thing that your post made me think of in its links to Keenan’s articles was the increasing practice of township tours in South Africa. In “Looking Like Flames, Falling Like Stars” Keenan looks at the belief that new media will allow information to get through and mobilize people – something which failed miserably in the highly covered war in Kosovo. Yet these tours seem to rely on the same ideology that direct information will mobilize action. This is maybe different than what Keenan describes, though, in that the township tours at least claim to be based on the idea that these areas are not getting covered by media, as opposed to the tourist destinations of war zones where “the television that should offer reality seems to provoke an ever stronger desire for it” (Back to the Front, 138). What would it mean for the representational and political issues Keenan brings up if people on township tours were asked not to take pictures, and were unable then to “cite it as one of the high points of their holiday,” as one agency advertises, because it could not be incorporated into the feeling of a holiday without the images? In “Looking Like Flames” Keenan pointed out that the black hole of silence from inside Kosovo “told us more eloquently than words or images or sounds” what was happening there (94). Obviously, neither coverage nor lack of coverage on its own brings change – that seems to be a major point for Keenan throughout the articles we read. And he doesn’t seem to think that we can really get out of the war of images, or that we should.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this – I can’t come up with a conclusion of any sort to the questions you raise. So I will just leave it with these connections and try to think further about this strange collapse.

I never did plan to go anyway... to Bosnia

One of my (many) favorite Bob Dylan songs, Black Diamond Bay, chronicles the rapid fragmentation and descent into ruin of a small island resort that is, over the course of the song, covered by a volcano. In the final verse, Dylan pulls the perspective away from the frantic last minutes of the resort inhabitants and into the living room of the television spectator with the verse,

"I was sitting home alone one night / in LA watching old Chronkite / on the seven o clock news. / Seems there was an earthquake that / left nothing but a panama hat /and a pair of old greek shoes. / didn't seem like much was happening, / so I turned it off and went to grab another beer. / Seems like every time you turn around, /there's another hard luck story that you're gonna hear. / And there's really nothing anyone can say. and I never did plan to go anyway / to black diamond bay."

This song came to mind when I read Keenan's Publicity and Indifference, because way that Dylan mirrors the indifference that Keenan discusses in his article. This verse's first line, "I was sitting home along one night.. watching old Chronkite" accurately challenges the perceived notion of some that television is the "means by which we shoulder each other's fate" (6). Television and the global media was viewed at first (and still is) by some as an agent of unity that would bring connectedness and a sense of community to those joined by a common circulation of images; television, it was believed, would collapse the distance between the suffering and the safe. Dylan suggests that he does not feel connected through the television, but remains alone. This is because while global media is a useful tool to sustain communities and organizations that derive their collectivity through other commonalities (such as doctors without borders) it does not itself create a community because it does not connect its viewers to its subject: there is no inherent meaning in the images it displays.

Dylan notes that it "seems like every time you turn around, there's another hard luck story that you're gonna hear," suggesting that the deluge of stories and images transmitted through the global media area all empty and void of meaning—there is nothing distinguishing the Darfur genocide from the etheopian famine from the congalese electoral violence from the plight of illegal immigrants from brush fires in the western part of the country from a hurricane moving up the coast of one's very own region. The pure information has no power. The reason being, in my opinion, that the media has lost sight of its literary foundation.

In the classical literary tradition with which I am perhaps more familiar than other traditions, hundreds of names are slaughtered in works such as Vergil's Aeneid; hundreds of names, but only a few actual people. The purpose of literature is to create a symbolic man that IS every man. The pure images of death are not themselves emotional, but when the vile Turnus slays the young boy that Aeneis was supposed to protect, the reader can feel the implications of the action reverberating through their own lives and relations. Literature creates a symbol that gives its message an interpretive meaning and an effect.

Dylan's final line, "I never did plan to go anyway, to black diamond bay" illustrates this principle. It is not the business of the individual to care for those of no relation to them. The brush fires in the western states are simply a news item... unless one lives in the at risk area. Dylan's disconnection from the plight of Black diamond bay stems from his lack of personal connection. The news does not give its readers symbols or messages that they can internalize, and so the reader responds to tragedy as much as to just another name being cut down in a Trojan battle. The news must create a symbol. Keenan's article discusses the eternal cameramen in Bosnia, "waiting at a dangerous crossroads to see somebody killed" (12). The endless imagery of death does not create a symbol, and cannot galvanize public support. As far as motivating a country through symbols, 9/11 is the 800 pound gorilla in the room that cannot be ignored. Much of America was up in violent arms at the outrage of 9/11, undoubtedly fueled in part by that one powerful image of the falling towers, and what it represented about American identity coming under attack. There were not 3000 Americans in those towers—there were 300,000 Americans. I speak slightly out of my depth on this issue, but similar images seem to have come through the Viet-Nam war era. Famous photographs and icons that fueled opposition to the war still linger in history textbooks throughout the nation. The media is a new face on an old game, and when newsmen start thinking less like authors and more like chroniclers, then they should not be surprised when the real impact of their art gives way to a slowly growing database of information, inert but useful in the hands of later authors.