Monday, March 19, 2007

Dibbell sparks a revelation!

Dibbell’s piece on the “Rape in Cyberspace” tactfully raised complex issues of a cyber world that is fundamentally linked to the real world and vice versa. I was most intrigued by a point he made in passing, when he mentioned that the “covictim” of the rape, who witnessed the verbal assault on legba’s virtual being, was in fact legba’s real life husband! All that remained in my mind’s eye for the rest of the article was this image of family members, couples, and friends having interactions, dates, sex, and much more in separate rooms on their computers, or (like Snow Crash) people sitting side-by-side but sharing no physical contact – only maintaining their relationship through the computer. Although I understand how important and real these virtual spaces have become for people – the experiences, relationships and money they make there cannot be separated from the lives they lead and are in fact a part of who they are in the real world, I cannot discount my inherent discomfort in the idea that we might lose the ability to connect on an emotional level in our own skin, body and eyes interlocked. Holly made the point that many thinkers criticize the use of the phone as another dehumanizing act that removes us from true individual interaction. I think that this technology, along with AIM and other non-physical interactions all reside on a continuum of ways for people to disguise certain parts of communication and augment ambiguity in order to avoid awkward exchanges, to decrease vulnerability, and to multitask. Although AIM comes close, the one major difference in virtual worlds is that the entire realm of identity is unknown and created by the user – the interactions (no matter how personal) are not taking place between real people but rather between avatars who are controlled and created by real people that can choose exactly how much of themselves they want to appear in their avatar. In real life, when engaging in a conversation over the phone, one has some idea of who is on the other line (even if it is a hotline with role-playing, there are markers contained in the voice, speech patterns, accents, etc. that simply cannot be received in a text-based, expressionless virtual world.)! Just as Dibbell began to reformulate his views about self-expression and the real implications of a virtual experience, I am beginning to wonder if we should take our analysis of the complex, de-personalizing elements of virtual life and put away with it all (not to mention try to cut down on phones!)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Boo Algorithms

“It is thus not the fantasy of a purely aseptic war run as a video game behind computer screens that protects us from the reality of the face to face killing of another person; on the contrary it is this fantasy of face to face encounter with an enemy killed bloodily that we construct in order to escape the Real of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological operation.”

Slavoj Zizek’s insightful claim about how we view ourselves under layers of our own construction is an additive to Wark’s constant iteration that our “real” world has in fact become a game space. Yet here Zizek takes it a step further to show that not only are we unaware of how digitized and game-like our world is, but also that “reality” itself (everything outside of that game) has actually become a fantasy, an illusion. In other words, in the old days when people would be tormented by the “realness” of a disaster, the brutality of a war, now we only construct this idea of that “realness” in our head, when in fact we are living under the conditions of an ever-increasing techno-era which denies us the satisfaction (or the “realness”) of that potent feeling or experience. Thus, just as in the Veldt, as we become more plugged into simulated experience, our desires for experiences that previously seemed cumbersome or painful will surely seethe. Furthermore I think this quote rightly undercuts some of Wark’s claims that “One might start with the curious gap between the games one loves and an everyday life which, by the light of the game, seems curiously similar, and yet somehow lacking,” where the consistency and “perfection” of the game reel people in and therefore leave the gamer disinterested with the imperfection of his/her real life. Putting aside the fact that these games do not offer a nearly complex perceptive experience (and Wark’s follow up that this is precisely the kind of simplistic, algorithmic experience a gamer has been shaped to seek,) I think that this “perfection” and “consistency” Wark talks about is an obvious weakness of these algorithmic games. Even though we are maybe unwittingly transforming our own world into a gamespace that more clearly mirrors that perfection (or at least trying to,) it seems hard to understand WHY! Curing diseases is one thing, yet aspiring to a world where there is no suffering, where everything is predictable and mechanical, seems to be intuitively scary! Don’t fundamentalists even believe that God created evil for a reason? One can easily recognize how the true evil (if even possible) will boil down to a numbing of all gamers’ senses to the point that the desire for pain is no longer even there.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Second Life Possibilities

After reading the informational packet on Second Life the thing that struck me most was the idea of rules in this world. Not only is it interesting to identify the arbitrary limiting of physical spaces, (like height, dimensions of a prim, etc.) but it also brings up the question “who invented these rules, and why are people not opposed to ‘living’ with them?” In a virtual world where everything is seemingly possible, all physical and conceptual elements still work within limits except for resources. Drew brought up a really important question in class which was “how can there be any economic system in a realm where there is no fixed quantity of resources?” Not only are there no limits to prims, but presumably, mass production of any object, costs neither time nor money. Under this system, “value” no longer pertains to supply and demand of resources but rather of ideas. In other words, the Second Life market is dealing with entirely intellectual property. It seems that every law of economics fit to determine worth is obliterated, and we must study behavior within this world which is surely creating a new “pop culture” based on virtual aesthetics and desires to determine what is popular and in demand. Yet again, this topic comes back to rules: In the “real” world, many argue magazines, movies, etc. set the standards of deciding what is hip. In Second Life, who has power? Will a whole social hierarchy ensue, and if so, what will the strata be based on? An optimist would say that such a limitless, creatively inspiring world will establish a kind of prestige that is not so superficially based on material wealth and good looks, but instead on the weight of ideas (where introverted computer geeks will finally reign strong!)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Is Technological Self-Restriction a Possibility?

The short film we watched in class about ordering Pizza underlined many current and past apprehensions about the overspreading of information. Today, many technological advancements which are positively associated with convenience and heightened efficiency (like a Universal ID card) are also the kinds of developments that threaten personal security and identity. Just as seen in the film, the unlimited access to information by corporations and other public entities highly reduces an individual’s freedom. Yet this issue applies to a much broader concern about technology which I think is much more fundamental to the discussion – that technology grows under an unrestricted evolution - one which is driven by economic selection rather than natural selection. With continued progress in weaponry, genetic cloning, etc. one can easily recognize how technological processes are often completely unhindered, where the basic goal appears to revolve around asserting the limitless abilities of humans (rather than self-restricting based on ramifications.)

As companies pitilessly attempt to gain access to our every consumerist desire (through keywords in GMail for example,) one can easily see how the spread of information might be just as much at the mercy of an economic selection, free from any moral constraint. If we consider the government’s persistent need to acquire information about its citizens as a matter of “national security” in a world “plagued by terrorism,” coupled with the constant spread of information on the internet, we might wonder, “What will stop us from arriving at a world like that in the Pizza delivery film?”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back and Forth on Power

Horkheimer and Adorno’s piece immediately appealed to my youthful, rebellious inclinations to reprimand “the system.” The notion of growing uniformity, brought on by this techonological, consumerist age is especially tempting when one considers the increasing presence of cookie-cutter residential housing projects or suburbs, every building looking the same, with such a low priority on craft, all driven by power, money, and a desire for efficiency. I’ve been through all that before when studying Foucault.
Yet their mention of the change from telephone to radio as being indicative of our inability to be liberal or the subject anymore, but instead only receivers of external lectures and self-interest or power-interest ideals made me wonder. Why must this model of culture be on a chronological continuum? Is it possible to use technology and heightened modes of communication (like video chat) to reverse this regressive process of the human being and actually spur a consciousness enlightenment? – Where outlets for communcation are so free, accessible, etc. that special interest groups and the political underground in a free-trade system of ideas and self-expression have a heightened voice free from advertisers, corporations, and corrupt powers? Where there is almost a rebirth of art and craft that is NOT driven by money and advertisements, but by a genuine interest in shifting our values once we have realized just how much of our daily lives are affected (and controlled) by corporations?
Yet one might in the end chillingly add that once we have reached this point of “being free” to communicate and express ourselves free from commercial strongholds, our actions and choices (either out of rebellion or simple everyday desire) will unwittingly be serving this intangible power structure that thrives and has been birthed from our own culture (consumerism, etc.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Platonic Response to "The Veldt"

While reading “The Veldt” I immediately adopted a Platonic perspective on the society portrayed by Bradbury. Every machine, every visit to the nursery, every detail about the children, seemed to emphasize Platonic concerns about how products of human ingenuity unwittingly influence our own realities and our own development (often negatively.) And although this fictional scenario might seem absurd or far-fetched to some, I think there are many parallels to be drawn to both our present situation, and the potential that looms in the depths of our highly virtual and technological era.
The most obvious and striking influence of Bradbury’s ‘machine’ world is its desire to comfort and numb its members into a state where there is absolutely no need for mental or physical self-sufficiency. This dependency on machines becomes most significant in places like the nursery, where fundamental brain developments seem to be inhibited (the children are immediately entertained by the images and smells in the nursery that they do not wish or conceive of anything outside that room.) Instead of an imagination growing around the sensory world and subsequently departing from it through the mind, the nursery provides such a comprehensive and potent alternate reality that the children feel no need to leave their surroundings (neither physically nor psychologically.) Obviously this idea of a technological reality is applicable to our studies of fictional and cyber realities, but most importantly I think it subtly conveys where our technology is taking us – Mr. Hadley was so tempted by the new technology, convinced that it would provide his family the “best” life, that he failed to recognize the numbing effect on creativity, imagination, etc.: “I don’t want
to do anything but look and listen and smell…”
Plato would not only say that this kind of technology encourages an indulgence in unnecessary pleasures
(and therefore brings us further away from true happiness,) but he would also argue that our faith in and support of technological advance above all else as an indication of our progression is what is most dangerous – not only does it create worlds that allow us to escape every moral framework, but by satisfying every unnecesary desire (to be comforted, massaged, etc.) it can also lead us further away from abstract non-material reality that should provide the basis for that framework.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007