Better Than Fixing Things

In the last class we focused on the article, “Better Than Fixing Things”, by Elmo Stoll. He talks about his group of “plain people” and how they choose to live their lives without the use of modern technology, similar to groups like the Amish or the Mennonites. He explains the concept of “seekers”, who are basically people who are dissatisfied with mainstream society and its constant use of modern technology, and are looking for a change in lifestyle. In this article, Stoll clears up many common misconceptions. First off, he discards the myth that plain people have to be born in a plain community; otherwise they are locked out completely. He says that he has never heard of a group to turn someone away if they are determined to do whatever it takes. It may be hard for many people who are born with the Internet and smart phones to switch to a more simple way of living, but it is not impossible. He describes the situation for many, “It seems as though the entire world is on board a train that is speeding rapidly downhill, picking up momentum all the time, and although many are dismayed at the direction they are travelling, they seemingly can find no way to safely jump off,” (pg. 178).

 Additionally, he mentions that, contrary to popular belief, many plain groups do not think of technology as “evil”. I know that personally, I used to think that Amish people absolutely hated any sort of modern machinery. This is untrue. Stoll mentions that they just like to be in control of it, instead of letting it control them, like it does to so many people in the world. He makes the point that many people can be under the illusion that they are in control of their own world, and that modern things don’t control them. I think this is the case for the majority of the population today. Everyone is so focused on school and their jobs that they lose sight of many things of value that are often set aside. For instance, Stoll describes a scenario in which an American refers to the technologies in his life simply as tools that help him get where he wants to go. He says that he uses his car to visit his mother in an old folks’ home who is in there because he didn’t have enough time in the day to care for her, since he and his wife are so busy with work. Stoll then brings up the concept of professionalism. Our society today is so absorbed in the idealistic routine of going to college to get the knowledge you need to get a job and then working that job until you retire to make a meaningful impact on society. This is the agreed upon pattern for the average person. And there is a job for everything you can imagine. It’s someone’s job to birth you, to educate you, to feed you, to hire you, to train you, to advise you, to shelter you, and finally to bury you. With this, Stoll is trying to say is that people have been taught that they cannot do everything on their own; they need someone else to do it for them. People are taught to specialize in one thing to contribute to society, when we could and should be doing everything for ourselves. 

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the Selfie-Syndrome

the Selfie-Syndrome

I recently came across this “infographic” making the connection between social media and the personality disorder, “narcissism.” It’s a creative, graphical way of making an argument against a set of technologies. No doubt, social media has changed our own ways of thinking of ourselves. This may be especially powerful for children growing up with this media, and may have long-term effects on our own human evolution if we continue at it (an example of technogenesis). Has this been a largely pathological change, as this info graphic claims, or is it beneficial in some way? Is its evidence persuasive?

Click on the image for a link to the original page with more info.

Last week we read, “Studying the Digital Self” by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, which discussed five concepts of self-presentation online. In this article, the role of the authenticity of the self and manipulability of identities were common themes. A sentence that stuck out to me was, “the utopian vision of a web enabling the free play of identity can obscure how power and access are asymmetrically distributed across differences of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and other variables,” (pg. 3). Here, the authors are discussing how anyone can claim anything about himself or herself online, regardless if it is true. Online self-presentation can give the user a blank slate in which he or she can completely recreate every aspect of their biography. This is often seen as deceitful and harmful to others, however there are two sides to this equation.

 On the one hand, many will argue that there is no credibility with online identities. Since people can make themselves appear however they want to, it is often hard to determine if any self-presentation is authentic. The question becomes, how can one know if any information released online is actually reliable? This can pose a serious problem when dealing with credible sources in the news vs. tabloids where much of the information is fabricated. It can also lead to problems in the relatively new phenomena of online dating. The show Catfish seeks to expose these “unauthentic identities”.

 A “catfish” is someone who creates fake personal profiles on social media sites, pretending to be someone more outwardly appealing that his or her actual self. They create a made up biography about their character and often use someone else’s picture to convince unsuspecting victims to fall in love with them. The show’s producers receive emails from people who feel that they may be being deceived, and then conduct extensive research on the person in question. They then try to contact that person and schedule a time to meet up, to see if they are actually who they say they are. Oftentimes, this is not the case.

 Although these “catfish” may be extremely manipulative and often hurt the people they are misleading, there is another side to be seen of them. When one of them is caught, they are often very insecure and uncomfortable with whom they are—whether they are a closeted homosexual or transgendered, etc. They may be afraid that society will not accept them for who they are, which is a completely reasonable fear. In the online world, they can present themselves however they want to see themselves. They can display their ideal selves. It is much harder to put yourself out on a pedestal in the physical world because there are so many people who do not accept “different” people. Many people are too afraid of this aversion and find comfort in pretending to be someone who they are not. This is not to say that it is right to deceive people like this, but we should see their side of it and try to make a push towards acceptance in our society. 

Plain Living and Green Anarchy

For Thursday’s class, we will read “Agents of Change: Primal War and the Collapse of Global Civilization” by Anarcho-Primitivist, Keven Tucker (online here), and “Better Than Fixing Things” by Elmo Stoll, from The Plain Reader: Essays in Making a Simple Life (1998),  posted on Carmen.

What are their critiques of our industrialized life and what are their proposed alternatives? What is their idea of what it means to be human that ground their perspectives of what’s natural?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

-Seth

Electronic Literature

 

moulthrop__deep_surface [image from “deep surface” by Stuart Moulthrop, found here]

Even with the growth of computer technology, the paper book is still the paradigm for the text. The published book is primary, so that when we read on a computer the software imitates the experience of the physical book as close as possible. An article in pdf is divided into paper sized (not screen sized) pages, and despite the interactive potential of computer media, pdf texts are arranged in a linear fashion (one page after another), without internal links or embedded sound and video. In Hayles words, the interface for reading on a computer uses the paper book as a “material metaphor.” (p.22)

But there are other texts which experiment with the potentials of reading on a computer. One archive of these experiments is the eliturature collection linked above. The literary works in the collection cannot exist on paper in the way that they exist here. Each unfold differently, combining text, sound, movement, and organized in hypertext or other branching formats.

Explore some of the documents in the collection and consider the ways that the format interacts with the words and their meaning. In Writing Machines (2002), N. Kathrine Hayles writes, “To change the material artifact is to transform the context and circumstances for interacting with the words, which inevitably changes the meanings of the words as well. This transformation of meaning is especially potent when the words reflexively interact with the inscription technologies that produce them.”(p.24)

Here the computer interface is the “material artifact” and the “inscription technology.” In each case, how does the document “transform the context and circumstances for interacting with the words,” and thus change “the meanings of the words as well?” In what ways were these “technotexts?” That is, in what ways do the stories and meanings embedded in the text comment on or interact with their own interface?

Is this the future of the book or a detour along the way?

 

Alternate Identities Provide So Much

In the previous lecture, we spent a large portion of time discussing the creation of one’s own identity on the internet and how drastically changed it can be from the identity they have in person. This is something that provides the basis for a lot of arguments people have been having for many years. Personally, I play a lot of video games and spend close to 3-4 hours a day under a “different” identity. No one I played with really knows who I am and no one I talk to knows what I do on a daily basis. It really is a whole new way for people to see me. Whether or not I am extremely similar to the way I am in person is for other people to decide, however, the ease at which identity changes can be accomplished is quite astounding.

There are two sides to the equation when it comes to having an alternate identity. There is quite obviously the negative side, which almost every child has heard stories about growing up. Child predators and the like tend to use the Internet to their advantage. ABC did a great article about how people can never really know who they are talking to online. It is really way too easy to hide an identity. A teen in MA had become friends with a couple in New York, and without really realizing who the person/s he was talking to were, he got into a situation he really didn’t want to be a part of. Another person in the same story came into contact with a sexual predator she thought was her friend. These kinds of things are the very negative side of something that I think has just as much of a positive influence as well. (http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=130735

Now, back to the nice side of things. There are plenty of people who benefit from having the ability to become a new person online. Something as simple as being able to goof around with people and not having them judge you in a game to something as serious as a person who needs help but is embarrassed to ask for it. Before the internet became extremely popular, people had to go in person to get any kind of psychological or medical help they needed. However, with the ability to have a different identity online, people feel much more comfortable asking for help and solving their problems behind a mask. The ability to hide your identity really is a double-edged sword. Plenty of websites are used for anonymous help. Things like crisischat.com and blahtherapy.com can really help to assist people with their issues. A great article written on Blah Therapy does a great job of explaining the situation. People really don;t like to admit weakness. The internet allows them to do that without having to show their weak side. Even on the fun side of things, the amount of times I have been playing a game and ran into someone who made me laugh while talking to them, but in reality, I really had no idea who they were. ( http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/05/02/feel-like-venting-to-a-complete-stranger-try-blahtherapy-com/)

I think after looking at both sides of the argument, only one thing can be said for certain. There is no way to believe everything we read online. As much as we may want to, there will never be a guarantee that what we are reading or what we are seeing is real. I really enjoy thinking about being able to be a completely different person, but the fear of running into someone who isn’t there for the same innocent intentions is always something that will sit at the back of everyone’s minds. Overall, I think it really is up to the person using it.