Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Grab Bag

This week's articles were a bit of one, anyway.

The one about Google Earth.

This was a good and deeply troubling article, if plainly unproofread. I actually did a bit of that on my copy; there's no way the author would find that useful, is there?

Regardless, its content raises very interesting questions. The main ones for me are "Really?" and "Can we fix it?" -- that is, are this article and the one about Kosovo (something about falling like stars?) essentially correct that the internet is not only failing to mobilize humanitarian intervention and prevent atrocities, but in some cases actually stifling it and enabling them? and if so, is that a fundamental consequence its architecture?

I really want the answers to be 'no' and 'not applicable', and I do think the argument can be made that the real positive change brought on by the internet is not nor will it ever be visible through high-profile projects like the one studied here - rather, it's the day-to-day facilitation of previously impossible connections (and thus collaborations, inventions, discussions, solutions) that has already made the world a better place. But these articles have definitely give us cause not to take this platitude for granted, and rather to be aware that while it may be true, or possible, it becomes so not as an inevitable consequence of touching some wires to some other wires across great distances, but as a result of hard work and careful design built upon that value-neutral foundation.

The Philippines

This article was so poorly written that I can't even finish this sentence well. Full of irrelevancies, sprinkled with puns given false profundity, and specializing in restating line-for-line the interminable block quotes that make up half the text, this one is in need less of the proofreader's pen and more of the... someone who's job it is to stab out the bad parts of things's stabbity knife.

It could use a little work content-wise too, though it's certainly addressing an important and interesting set of issues. The question of whence text messages derive their power, for intstance, is an important one, and it gets pretty muddled here. In the example involving the 'backing' of the Catholic Church, this support is ambiguously reported to have been fundamental, or at least important to this one guy, or something, and all the while it's extremely unclear how a recipient five people down the chain of forwards is supposed to have any idea that some organization was affiliated with the text the just received. It seems to me that the really compelling argument is that it is the repetition and reflection produced by the 'machine' that is the network of cell-phone users that really gives texts their power: there is this sense that out there is this vast public just waiting to be influenced by you! yes, you! through your magical little doohickey, and if you do it right, you will have made an Impact, which will manifest itself to you through the exhilarition of receiving your own words out of the depths of the machine, sure proof that in some way you have become of something greater than yourself. But of course most people don't really have anything to say, so in order to participate, to have a shot at this feeling of agency, they must resort to forwarding messages received from others, acting as a cog in someone else's conception of the machine even as they start to see themselves as the operator of their own.

Oops that was a lot of words.

The other one.

Very well written. And in translation too!

Walking as a speech-like act is a really wonderful notion, and much more palatable when one considers just how rarely regular speech is actually used for the purpose of imparting impartial imformation to one person. Rather, walking, like speech, is an announcement to thsoe around you wish to be seen so, that you are a person who acts thus, and perhaps more importantly, an announcement to yourself that this is who you are, what you are comfortable with, what makes you feel good, what makes you scared, rushed, frustrated, etc.

More words would go here but I wrote too many earlier.

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