Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Andrew posed a senario to us at the end of class which, if I remember correctly, went something like this: If humanitarianism effaces history/narrative in favor of action on the basis of compassion (the ending of suffering, the benevolence of the giver), to what extent can networked technologies restore the context and complexity of a situation and to what extent do they simply continue the current paradigm? This question seemed very similar to me to Ahmed's plea for a recognition of the scar. We neither want a fetishization of the wound (perhaps the suffering body?) nor an apology and moving on (an archive of the suffering?), as both elide the historical event.

I think one of the better, and perhaps more natural, uses for viral political awareness/action that we have come across in class was in the case of the SOPA/PIPA legislation, as Fung and Shkabatur discussed. Because of the very nature of the legislation, which would determine how content was used on the internet, the internet seemed like the perfect place to protest. While many of the campaigns were undoubtably sensationalized, black sensored bars is a dramatic way to display the idea of censorship, they allowed people to understand the context of the legislation. Instead of presenting you with a self-encapsulated video, the banners or blackouts made me curious, made me want to find out more rather than just accept it as fact. I found at the time that campaigns against SOPA/PIPA did a good job at directing you towards information about the laws as well, providing links and asking you to do the research. In that sense, it seemed as though they managed to connect the real life impact of the legislation with the virtual call for action by showing the context.

Besides all this though, I have an issue. Andrew posed what seems like a great question, one I am drawn to besides for the fact that it was the central theme of the lecture. But, I don't feel as though I have any way to answer it. So often new technology is heralded as the end of culture as we know it, the doomsday that awaits us if we become absorbed into it, whether it be the combustion engine, the telephone, the television, the computer... and so far, we're okay, aren't we? Sometimes I just want to ask "What's all the fuss?" but that's rather simplistic I suppose. There are of course myriad reasons behind resistance to technology, whether for economic stability of the old tradition, the fear of an invasion of the unknown, the loss of an established rhythm, etc, etc. However, I do still wonder whether it isn't a little too early to fret about the effects of technologically networked and viral political action, whether online or through cell phones. I understand that this contradicts our motives in the class - we are attempting to analyze and I am asking us not to - but clearly we can see both the "good" and the "bad" within these political and humanitarian campaigns, just as we can see the progress and the stagnation within television or any other medium. As a result, I'm just not sure how to gage or evaluate the effectiveness or the progress of these actions, especially with such little distance from them. In class Tuesday, the idea that we cannot separate ourselves from the system came up. How can we map ourselves (as an individual node and/or as a part of the larger crowd) while we are in fact living this. We come back to the age old question, can you ever "get out of" the system you are a part of in order to judge it... or is it just turtles all the way down? Is it possible to "zoom in" and "zoom out" on our own lives as they are unfolding? What, if any, sort of temporal distance is needed to engage critically with "slacktivism?" This is where we run into the problem of assessing emerging technologies as the ways we use them are still unfolding. While it becomes difficult to process the long-term effects, the positive nature of attempting to analyze at this point is that you still have the option to steer the medium... but will we be able to understand our own context?

P.S. As my "slacktivist" initiative, I signed a petition electronically on against the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. I have done this sort of thing before, and have always afterwards felt an overwhelming sense of "that's it?" It was no different this time, except perhaps now with a new background on the issue of slacktivism, I felt less of a sense of fulfillment at my action.

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