[-empyre-] [-empyre-} Consumer Technology as Revolutionary Technology?
davinheckman at gmail.com
Thu May 10 18:55:01 EST 2012
I am very interested in the way that people make do. Certainly, guerrilla
actions what the weak use, out of necessity. Apart from mortal conflicts,
I think this tends to be where people live their lives.
On the other hand, I am troubled by how quickly institutional powers have
latched on to this idea as a paradigm of control. While it does satisfy
people to make do, implicit in this satisfaction is a measure of antagonism
and inequality that arises when access to rights and dignity are denied. A
great portion of the pleasure comes with the fact that we have gotten away
with something when we weren't supposed to. This poses a couple problems
for much contemporary thinking on the topic: 1) The foundational anxiety
the precedes making do, while it can be productive, ought not be
romanticized. 2) Institutional partners, while their support for
humanistic concerns is to be encouraged, should be engaged in producing
overt processes of legitimation, not for the practices of resistance, but
for the aims of resistance (ie. human rights).
I have been in Norway for the past year, and the contrasts between
political consciousness in the US and Norway is staggering. As a wealthy
country, Norway is also saturated with consumer goods and broad access to
high technology, but the general tendency towards a critical awareness of
these things is much keener here than it is back home. At home, even at
the highest levels, the attitude towards consumer electronics tends to
privilege early adoption, and relies on the embedded assumption that
technology is progressive. What is lost, I think, is the larger sense
that, increasingly, the devices and software are not the objects, we are
the objects. We are no longer human beings with human rights, we are human
resources with inputs and outputs that are technically managed. Contrast
this to Norway, which has a robust discourse of human rights and a broad
based institutional support for those rights, yoked to a theory of social
democracy, and you see a population that is actively engaged with
technology, but more prone to critique it (another interesting thing is
that Norwegian schools emphasize outdoor activity... kids learn to hike,
build fires, knit, etc.) We need to recognize the 21st century innovations
in warfare and rethink the metaphor against the backdrop of low-intensity
conflict and counterinsurgency.
So, to answer the question, I think a good place to look for human
survivors of the post-human phase-shift.... they are probably people in
prison, the homeless, the elderly, homeschoolers, anthroposophists,
children (before they get plugged in), and, generally, people who are
removed, not from technology, but from its popular uses. I think, when we
are looking for revolutions, we are trying to identify an individual human
impulse so grand that it resonates within a community. The life or death
of the one becomes abstracted and universalized into a broad conception of
rights and duties for all. We don't need to be scholars to see that this
idea is under seige.... from people in gated communities to anti-equality
activists, from arguments over access to education to health care, from the
rights of enemy combatants to basic notions of democracy, from prescription
complacency to the controlled demolition of our social safety net.
Contrast the impulse to shared liberty to the impulse for property and
domination.... and you can see why one side draws its support wherever
human beings really live.... and the other side uses mercenaries and
machines. When we juxtapose this to much current thinking, the contrasts
are sharp: We are attracted to the outcome of producing distributed
effects, but our theory of knowledge tends to be skeptical of a notion of
human consciousness capable of producing these effects (we prefer to think
it is done by discourse, networks, chemicals, conspiracies, machine
processes.... anything but human compassion, thought, and will). But the
upheaval is meaningless without its underlying motivations.
If we want a Hacker culture and DIY ethic.... we probably need to go right
to the economic and political roots of the problem. If we want liberating
technologies.... it's probably best that we, as many as possible, form a
collective discourse of human rights and start agitating for it. Occupy is
a good start. When you want to be free and when you have companions in the
struggle, you tend to use every tool at your disposal to make it happen in
whatever way possible, small or large. It's the motives that have been
eliminated, and that is entirely consistent with counterinsurgency
On Wed, May 9, 2012 at 6:43 PM, Anne Balsamo <annebalsamo at gmail.com> wrote:
> To push the topic thread in a slightly different direction, I'd like to go
> back to a point that Margaret raised about "consumer technologies becoming
> revolutionary technology."
> Directs attention away from the level of innovation that we've been
> commenting on, i.e., innovation by embedded institutional participants, to
> a consideration of innovation EVERYWHERE: on the street, in the garage, as
> a way of making do. This opens up the issue of the cultural implications
> and possible impact of what in the US is referred to as DIY, Maker or
> Hacker culture.
> "The street finds its own use for things," as Gibson wrote 20 years ago.
> What's different now? I'd be interested in pointers to critical analyses
> that seek to make sense of the cultural shifts--these moments of
> disassembly and reassembly--that don't privilege a technology or medium.
> > As I reflect on my years-long collaboration with Jon, Scott and Dale,
> this is what I think of: first we (by “we” I mean the culture at the time)
> muddled along designing new technologies—originating social media. Then,
> last year, consumer technology became revolutionary technology. The actions
> of the Arab Spring, propelled by social media, transformed a region of the
> globe. Activists deployed available technology and created a collaborative
> space for organizing dissent. At this time, the outcome of these
> revolutions is uncertain, but the utility of their methods of communication
> is unquestionable. And this powerful shift in the media landscape, allows
> me to think of the work we did together as a miniscule part of an enormous
> cultural shift. And from the standpoint of design, provides a vital and
> renewable form to go with the function of our technological devices.<
> On May 7, 2012, at 4:03 PM, Jon Winet wrote:
> > Cherry-picking Anne's comments and dark observations with some of my own
> > On Mon, May 7, 2012 at 3:02 PM, Anne Balsamo <annebalsamo at gmail.com>
> >> Thanks Mark for kicking up the dust!
> >> Some comments and dark observations follow:
> >> On 5/5/12 1:14 PM, "Mark Stephen Meadows" <mark at markmeadows.com> wrote:
> > [snip]
> >>> you are what you search, right?
> >> Yes and no. What gets reflected back (based on the gleanings of my
> >> wanderings) is a reflection in a cracked mirror. I still believe it to
> be a
> >> case of garbage in = garbage out. Do I feel important, understood or
> >> recognized when the sidebars on my search or FB page reflect back to me
> >> recent digital preoccupations: horses, dating sites for women over 50,
> >> non-prescription sleeping aids? Does anyone even pay attention to that
> >> slice of digital wall paper? Image saturation and obsessive repetition
> >> makes me inured to the message.
> >> I built a prototype of a reverse oracle: When you enter a
> >> search term, what gets "returned" is not results & instances of usage in
> >> random contexts, but rather questions.
> >> I am my questions, not my search terms. SIRI notwithstanding, this may
> be my
> >> last defense against the singularity.
> > Apparently I'm quote-happy in this convo. Zeroing in on your final
> > statement, quoting the February 14, 2011 NYTimes article* quoting John
> > Seely Brown, brought front and center into the mainstream conversation
> > during the Jeopardy match of the millennium, regarding Watson, a form
> > of UI far more transparent than Google's quasi-mystical search
> > logarithm:
> > "Indeed, for the computer scientist John Seely Brown, machines that
> > are facile at answering questions only serve to obscure what remains
> > fundamentally human.
> > 'The essence of being human involves asking questions, not answering
> > them,' he said."
> > I'm pretty sure I can hold onto that ray of hiope as well, as it
> > certainly also identifies the heart and soul of avant garde creative
> > practice, to operate and experiment working outside of the narrow
> > angle of too much of quotidian experience.
> > * "A Fight to Win the Future: Computers vs. Humans"
> > By John Markoff
> > [major snip]
> >> Repression is a pain-management technique.
> > Amen to that, sister! - And a tried and true technique as old as
> > civilization itself if Dr. Freud had it right ...
> > ______________________________________________
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