09/11: Das Komputer, or, The Dialigital

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Reading: The Digital Dialectic

Discussed: The Bottled City of Kandor; Georges Canguilhem; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; Dialectic, Pre- and Post-Hegel; Julian Huxley; Internet Pornography Statistics; Japanese Vending Machines; Johnny Mnemonic and the failures of FuturologyThe Large Hadron Collider and the end of the universe; “The Machine Stops”; Memetics; Neo-Luddism; The ubiquity of Neuromancer references in 90’s critical writing about the Internet; The Office; Planned Obsolescence; Karl Popper; Sandplay Therapy; Scandinavian Death Metal; The “Science Wars”; Second Life; SmartridgesTechnoscience; Throwaways: Work Culture and Consumer Education; WALL-E

The Dialigital: Frankfurt school theorist Theodor W. Adorno saw within the dialectic a way to weld together identity and the contradiction of thought, unfolding “the difference between the particular and the universal.” Capable of indicating two possible states of conditions – “0” or “1” or “off” or “on” – the binary mode of cybernetic calculation might appear to resemble this duality, which is, in essence, the dualism of thesis and antithesis. Resemblance is not identity here, however, and conflating the digital with the dialectic is a mistake. On the digital frontier, the endless alteration of off/on, a system of closed and open switches, never generates a true synthesis; it merely impels the regeneration of the system. Yet this inability to come to synthesis may be turned to our advantage. it may prevent us from falling prey to a newly devised teleology for the digital age: the techno-utopia that cyberlibertarians promise once the markets are unfettered and the world is fully virtualized. The digitial dialectic’s universals, to return to Adorno’s formulation, are far less bombastic, averse in the end to such rosy metanarratives. (Lunenfeld, xviii)

Virtual Realism: Both network idealism and naive realism belong to the cyberspace dialectic. They are two sides of the same coin, binary brothers. One launches forth with unreserved optimism; the other lashes back with a longing to ground us outside technology. Some enthusiastically embrace the commercial development of the Internet, while others vehemently oppose it. […] What is the path of virtual realism? Virtual realism parts with realism pure and simple. Realism often means lowered expectations. “Being realistic” often implies reducing or compromising ideals. Historically, in fact, realism often follows periods of high idealism. the pendulum swings back because it had swung so high in the first place. No movement of history begins, however, without an initial affirmation, without a first postulate affirming that it has cleared the mist and found reality. Yet at the core of realism is an affirmation of what is real, reliable, functional. Today we must be realistic about virtual reality, untiringly suspicious of the airy idealism and commercialisms surrounding it, and we must keep an eye on the weeds of fiction and fantasy that threaten to stifle that blossom. (Heim, 38; 41-42)

The Digital Aesthetic/Ethic: Construction of the digital environment, what we may call the digital aesthetic, mirrors back to us all the same nagging questions about how to act in the physical, natural world of which we are a part. This construction gives us a chance to test out particiular theories and, given the gift of human imperfection, a chance to learn form out mistakes. […] The challenge of hte digital dialectic is to imaginatively work out the consequences of a particular course of action while constantly considering the responsibilities of that imaginative work. What goals do we use to choose a certain dialectical path: freedom, justice, truth, subjectivity, equality, compassion, responsibility, and care? Neither useless nor solved, the questions accompanying those goals still need to be debated and constantly revamped. (Gigliotti, 62-62)

Virtual Subjectivity: …academics can make, I believe, vitally important contributions to the development of these technologies. Perhaps the most crucial are interventions that provide historical contexts showing how and why the technologies developed as they did. Although certain paths of development may be overdetermined, they are never inevitable. Other paths and other interpretations are always possible. The points I want to underscore is that it is a historical construction to believe that computer media are disembodying technologies, not an obvious truth. In fact, this belief require systematic erasure of many significant aspects of our interactions with computers. […] Techologies do not develop on their own. People develop them, and people are sensitive to cultural beleifs about what the technologies can and shoudl mean. (Hayles, 92-93)

The Medium is the Memory: If a medium is a conveyor of memory rather than of messages, this offers us some insight into how to design for new media. This starts at the level where out memory technologies tend to define the very way we metaphorize our lives. Three generations ago, I would likely have categorized every evocative scent as inextricably linked to Proust’s madeleine. In my youth, I saw the road to work on an average morning as one long tracking shot in a nouvelle vague film. Today I find it difficult to think of my life as anything but an interactive network. The connection has become more important than the here and now of the situation. (Brody, 143)

  1. Editor Peter Lunfeld’s collection of essays, The Digital Dialectic, presents an interesting array of dialogue about the new digital textual media. Of all the articles presented in the text, the ones that linger with me most profoundly are those discussing the ethics of this new digital age. Perhaps it is the lingering haze of my recent summer teaching position where I attempted to impart the philosophies of the Utopian and Dystopian literary works to remedial high school students, or perhaps it is my current work with the literature of the Transcendentalists that I am discussing with my honors eleventh grade students and their message of slowing down and observing the realities of our universe. Perhaps it is my own nervous nilly tendencies molded through a childhood as an over-imaginative, tattle-telling, rabble-rouser who spent her time immersed in the stories of Saturday afternoon B-movie horror and sci-fi films that has me on edge about the future of man and his relationship with machines. Whatever it may be, I found myself nodding along in agreement with the essays written by Michael Heim, Carol Gigliotti, and Bob Stein and their Orwellian warnings about power of technology and the concern involving the ethics of the digital aesthetic.

    The digital age has the potential for great things for the human race as well as for great harm. Micheal Heim’s exploration of the “current debate about the value of cyberspace” in “The Cyberspace Dialectic” begins with the disturbing rants of the Unabomber in his extremist manifesto (26). The manifesto, which mimics Marx’s Communist Manifesto, warns the human race to guard itself against the dangers of computers that pose ready to tear people from their employment or to alter the nature of their employment irrevocably. The whole of mankind steps into Marx’s “worker class” and is ordered to either adapt or seize control of his new existence with the machines (or potential futuristic bourgeois class), or run the risk of extinction (29). This message, Heim points out, is mimicked throughout other antitechnological Luddite theorists and naïve realists who “use many of the same arguments to reject technology” (although they distance themselves from his violent terrorist tactics) (29). Living in the midst of a culture of fear, post-911, where technology is being implemented to monitor the population and the government is quietly putting on its Big Brother hat, a cautious individual (like myself), could find herself discovering the arguments of these individuals reasonable (despite the extreme nature of some of their tones). Despite the draw and glamour if the network idealists and the potential “global village” that Bob Stein makes reference to in his essay, “’We Could Be Better Ancestors Than This’: Ethics and First Principles for the Art of the Digital Age,” it is clear that digital media is homogenized and the Internet’s cultural ideas are permeated with American Hollywood idealism.

    Stein best summarized my concerns with his statements about the “issue” he posed in his essay. If people truly do make revolutions and machines don’t, “how do we use these machines, and who is involved in these decisions? (202-3)” As writing instructors we are responsible for pondering these questions for it is the lessons that we teach our students that help mold the perceptions our students formulate through our careful study of the dialectics of the digital age. How do we help foster a responsible and healthy relationship with our new medium and how will we create safeguards to prevent abuse?

  2. Throughout Lunenfeld’s introduction to The Digital Dialectic, Manovich’s 5 principles play an immense role. In the article, Lunenfeld claims that “[digital systems] translate all input into binary structures of 0’s and 1’s, which can then be stored, transferred, or manipulated at the level of numbers, or digits” (xv). Numerical representation is in all “new media” objects” and can be expressed mathematically. Through these equations we can manipulate media and make them anything we want. Yet, users often fail to recognize the ways in which new media is defined, discussed, and manipulated without the users knowledge. The Digital Dialectic, then, is an exploration of the relationship between theory and practice in the digital and material world. Particularly interesting is the discussion of automation. New media, technology, and information have become synonymous with our everyday life, yet we often fail to question the connection between the use of technology and subsequent corporeal and social implications and/or capabilities.
    In “The Cyberspace Dialectic,” Michael Heim defines various schools of critics. From the “naïve realists” to the “network idealists,” a common thread begins to appear—the debate regarding knowledge, identity, and materiality. Heim’s central question, I believe, asks “If our social developments begin to manifest outside the mode of material production, what does the mode of information mean for social change?” (40). I propose we venture a bit further into the corporal realm and explore the ways in which new media and information affects our materiality and vice versa. What is the relationship between technology and human affairs? How does technology become embedded within our psyche and materiality, and to what extent has technology automated our social, cultural, and bodily responses? For as Hayles asserts, “We already are cyborgs in the sense that we experience, through the integration of our bodily perceptions and motions with computer architectures and topologies, a changed sense of subjectivity.”
    Technology and information,divorced from materiality, enables theorists to privilege information over materiality; and as Hayles indicates, it is the rhetoric of this new technology, and notion of information, that defines and situates the digital realm in opposition to materiality. There is a growing concern that individuals are “drowning in an ocean of information…” (Kopra 86). How then, does one filter out relevant information from the careening blue and red balls that we encounter daily? And how does this process of selection and privileging occur? One becomes condition, according to pro-prioceptive coherence theory, through “boundaries that are formed through a combination of physiological feedback loops and habitual usage” (Hayles 88). We do not need to be consciously aware of this process in order to be affected by it. “Like posture and table manners, they implant and reinforce cognitive presuppositions through physical actions and habitual motions, whether or not we recognize that they do so” (Hayles 89).
    Hayles belief that defining and using new media can cause bodily automatic responses correlates with John A. Bargh and Tanya L. Chartrand’s “The Unbearable Automaticity of Being.” A brief and dumbed down version of the article is as follows. Cognitive, as well as social automation, develop out of repeated and consistent experience. “This is how goals and motives can come to operate nonconsciously in given situations, how stereotypes can become chronically associated with the perceptual features of social groups, and how evaluations can become integrated with the perceptual representation of the person, object, or event so that they become active immediately and unintentionally in the course of perception” (476). In fact, cognative theorists would argue that virtually everything we do during the course of the day is automatic After repeated exposures to a particular task, particular solutions are encoded, and retrieval becomes automatic and task (or domain) specific. As we learn a task, our automatic performance in that task becomes more and more efficient because it is easier to automatically retrieve past instances of successful solutions.

    If (similar to Bargh and Chartrand’s theory that memory and habitual acts produce automaticity
    0 information and technology become memory that is inextricably linked to our psyche, than technology and the use of technology becomes an interactive, and at times, an automatic network which fuses together information and materiality. This duality restructures, information, technology, and materiality. Brody, in “The Medium is the Memory” states “…every external memory technology bears the risks of diminishing the individual’s ability to develop her own ‘internal’ memory systems” (143). I wonder, if instead, our internal memory systems are working all to well. And it is paramount then, that we begin to examine and investigate the history and rhetoric of the digital realm as it becomes more and more sysnonoumous with our everyday life, mode of thinking, and exchange of information. I am not attempting to argue that our relationship to technology and the automation process that occurs through repeated exposure and use of said technology is either good or bad. Rather, as many of the author’s argue within The Digital Dialect, what is important is the types of questions we ask ourselves regarding technology, materiality, and social and culture influences that have begun to appear because of these correlations.
    Have these new technologies pushed us to new states of consciousness and new relationships? Are we using the technology or is the technology using us? To what extent are we functioning within a state of automation?
    If all information is noise, and more so, noise that has been coded in a certain way by the sender and receiver, in an ever expanding culture of growing noise, is the study of popular culture an attempt to make sense of, to code the noise that becomes ever deafening as the years progress?

  3. Because of my interest in disability studies, I am drawn to the intersections of new media with the rhetoric of autism and the teaching of writing. Specifically, I want to dissect interventions like virtual writing and other new media technologies which can aid students with cognitive diversities in composition.
    Like our ableist society, digital systems “translate all input into binary structures of 0s and 1s” (xv). This binary mode is similar to binaries such as “abled” and “disabled”. Just as society creates disability, it has created the machine; just as we work to separate the disability from the person, “automation promises to liberate the individual from the machine entirely” (Lunenfeld 66). According to Hayles, “Whatever ‘nature’ may be, it is a holistic interactive environment, not a reenactment of the constructed bifurications that humans impose in order to understand it better” (69). Here, we can examine the way humans created the social model of disability (disability is often discussed as the social model of disability – that is the social construction of disability), so they could understand it. But, just as the word disability casts a broad net, the politics of bodily identity can’t possibly be understood (or represented) from one (dis)ability. Obviously, respect for the varieties of human bodies as well as the various constructions of them is needed, but what of the virtual realities where gender, abled-ness, race, class, sexual orientation, etc are untethered from the body? Historically, people with disabilities have not been considered ‘critical agents’ because they often rely on technology advancement and/or other person(s) to communicate, but in disrupting the communication ‘norm’ aren’t the traditional definitions of the ‘human agency’ also disrupted? Perhaps, within this disrupted space lies opportunity for inclusion in revising classroom spaces, curriculums, pedagogical practices, assessments, educational notions of what it means to be a critical human being.
    Lunenfeld cites the computer as the “first widely disseminated system that offers the user the opportunity to create, distribute, receive, and consume audiovisual content with the same box” (xix). Indeed, online communication does not require students with cognitive diversities such as those grappling with High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s (HFA/AS) to adhere to unwritten, physical, social norms (i.e. looking people in the eye)—norms that have thus far earned these students the label of being (ab)normal. Further, since students with HFA/AS often don’t understand, engage in, or respond to physical or other non-verbal communication, having specific, written directives via their online classroom site prevents any miscommunication for both teacher and student. The trade off between immersion potential in the lab versus the social dynamics of face-to-face peer groups as well as isolation means we run the risk of re-instituting segregated education. But, it is also possible, through new technologies to show, finally, that limitations can become potentials; and, limitations can become formative.
    In this vein, Hayles notes “Only when the message is encoded in a signal for transmission through a medium – for example, when ink is printed on paper or electrical pulses are sent racing along telegraph wires—does it assume material form” (74). I would argue ‘voice’ too is such a medium. But, what, then, is ‘thinking’? An example of this conundrum may be looked at through the recent media coverage of Vermont resident, 27 year old Amanda Baggs, who is autistic and does not speak. Baggs instead communicates through typing 120 words per minute into a DynaVox VMax computer, generated by a software application, which translates Baggs’ words into a synthesized female voice. Since cultural expectations determine the way our bodies should look and act, the degree to which we (don’t) meet these expectations determines, then, our depth of (dis)ability. Moreover, as Lunenfeld argues, “The digital dialectic goes beyond examining what is happening to our visual and intellectual cultures as the computer recodes technologies, media, and art forms…” (xi).
    Hayles further notes that in some ways interactivity is rendered through visual conventions (80). Mitchell too disucsses the debate of place in his essay when he notes that we construct a reality in virtual “rooms” (which he argues aren’t actual rooms at all but rather computer softwares) in which we enter and interact (114). For Hayles, the visual defines the relationship—at least on a computer screen. The space in hypertexts is topography that the “reader navigates by using multiple functionalities, including cognitive, tactile, auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and proprioceptive faculties” (87). Such cognitive processes can be successful for students with HFA/AS when other processes are not. This is primarily due to the fact that students with AS report their thoughts primarily in the form of images and appear to have a predominantly visual style of thinking. For Hayles, Proprioception is the “sense that tells us where the boundaries of our bodies are” (88). Within our realm of human affect, we perceive the disabled body as a disruption to our senses. These negative constructions of disabled bodies like Asperger bodies have compelled Asperger-disabled people to become acutely aware of their bodies— and the space they occupy. As the counterpart to the ‘normal,’ the disabled body knows precisely what it means to occupy the position of the ‘other’. Ultimately, though, according to Hayles, “…space belongs to the computer, and flow belongs to the user” (91). Because of this, students with HFA/AS need only concern themselves with flow—the matter at hand—rather than the social aspect of learning that so often disables these students.
    Because I am acutely aware that disability research is a rather narrow focus and that many of my peers may not be as interested in it as I am, I have formed a more broad question to pose to our group. QUESTION: If the most important thing that matters is the self, might an analysis like this text only serve as an interest in more effectively using a medium? Might this be simplified to being “business,” in a sense, rather than “philosophy”? If this book concerns itself only with the outer, we would say this is unreal because the outer acts as a mirror…right?

  4. Instead of using the clichéd metaphor of a camera’s snapshot to capture a moment in time, author Peter Lunenfeld creatively uses a computer terminology of a screen grab to present a collection of essays on the variety of “new” media dialectic featured in the year 2000. In his introduction, he provides a half-hearted apology to his audience when he mentions the book’s subtitle, “New Essays on New Media.” He laments that there is no definition of “new media” because it is still being developed and questions whether video is still new or whether one can consider hypertext a medium. Lunenfeld also introduces theorists G.F.W. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Theodor W. Adorno to provide several similar definitions of dialectic which in include a thesis and antithesis to determine a new position: synthesis. In the end of the intro, Lunenfeld said his hope was to “capture moments when talk is as heady as literature” (xxi).

    The three “Real and the Ideal” essays provide history and some future predictions as to dialectic found in new media. In “Unfinished Business” author Peter Lunenfeld states we cannot analyze the computer because this medium is still growing—something new is being continually developed, hence the title “unfinished.” Michael Heim’s “The Cyberspace Dialectic” compares in detail the naïve realists who do not see a need for the full-fledged expansion and ever-evolving need for technology to the networked idealists who want to keep life simple and grounded in the neighborhood. The final essay in this section, “The Ethical Life of the Digital Aesthetic,” provides polar positions on cyber pornography and art to advise the readers that there can be a happy “world view” encompassing both sides of the equation. This final essay was perhaps the best example of dialectic as mentioned in the introduction with the author providing arguments and oppositions throughout his essay.

    The second collection of essays focused on one’s need for cyberspace and how it relates to life.
    Author N. Katherine Hayles states in “The Condition of Virtuality” that humans are evolving to need more technology which then affects culture. There were several great passages affecting the future of literature, which Lunenfeld would deem “heady.” One was: “Should we respond with optimism to the products of virtual writing, or regard them (as an elderly gentleman informed me when he heard some of these arguments) as abominations that are rotting the minds of American youth?” (93). “From Cybernation to Interaction” provides a historical analysis of cybernation and “Replacing Place” examines how the World Wide Web is “creating” places to see and be seen.

    The third collection in the text presents the latest in technology’s medium which Lunenfeld states is the “nearest to defining what is actually ‘new’ about new media” (131). The three articles were fairly formulaic when arguing for new media in the form of medium, hypertext and digital cinema. Each of the authors presented historical basis for the specific medium and then predicted the future importance of said medium.

    The final collection delves into the use of emerging media in one’s lives. In “We could be Better Ancestors,” author Bob Stein provides a historical perspective of publishing company. The final essay, “Musings on Amusements in America” seems to have no relevance to the rest. The new media was a virtual reality expo that author Brenda Laurel attended, then the essay transgressed to a narrative about her summer vacations. As a story, it was well written with wonderful language and description; however, I fail to find the relevance of new media hidden within the text. Doesn’t this essay seem out of place within this text?

  5. Although most of the examples of “new media” used in this collection seem to be outdated—CD-ROMs, Myst, Johnny Mnemonic, etc.—I found looking back on several of these arguments a decade or more later to be highly illuminating. Much like Huhtamo’s exploration of the past concepts of “mechanization,” “automation,” and “cybernation” to shed light on how pre-millennial culture understood technology and interactivity, looking at this “digital dialectic” as defined in 1999 is an interesting place from which to view how the pitfalls and ethical issues of technology and interactivity today are in many cases the same as then, but in many cases are also very different. In particular, how better machines, faster processing times and faster Internet connections have redefined what interactivity means in reference to computer gaming, Multi-User Dimensions, and online communities.
    Although the future is impossible to predict, it is striking how many of the essays contained in The Digital Dialectic (most notably Lunenfeld’s Unfinished Business and Landow’s Hypertext as Collage-Writing) have touched on the immense power of the Internet and hypertext to redefine how text can be generated, interpreted, manipulated, and transmitted, forever altering how we communicate, conduct business, and consume media in nearly every form. However, it is equally as striking how the authors have seemed to miss the mark as to how far it all would go. The general sense of the future of the possibilities of the Internet and interactivity seems to be more of what Heim’s “Network Idealists” would see as a light-hearted curiosity in regard to what new doors will be opened next without envisioning the sometimes justifiable fears of the “Naïve Realists.”
    For instance, Gigliotti asks the question whether or not online pornography is right or wrong—Should it be available for children to view?—without tapping into the possibility of international child pornography rings and an upsurge of pornography addiction. Mitchell alludes to the development of interactive spaces and communities where people can gather, socialize, and conduct business without identifying how people can also abuse or get lost in these spaces—online communities can be built around racism and other forms of hate, people can lose their livelihoods because of Internet gambling addiction, childhood obesity rates can go up as a result of more accessible online gaming. Some of the authors discuss the posting of or linking to works of art online (Hypertext as Collage-Writing for example) but these works of art can also be pirated.
    As a student interested in studying how people learn to read and become engaged with the texts they read, the Internet and other interactive technologies certainly present many different possibilities to study and enhance literacy and literacy practices. As a student and individual, I also benefit from and make use of the Internet as a tool for communication, research, entertainment, and media consumption. However, as a newly realized and self-proclaimed pseudo-Luddite, has interactivity gone too far? Have we reached the point where the computer is no longer a useful tool and is, instead, a detriment to our children and ourselves? Has interactivity through new media outlets such as blogs, texting, FaceBook, MySpace, World of Warcraft, and Second Life rendered us increasingly incapable of actual interactivity?

  6. Considering some of the frustrations that I experienced in relationship to other sections of the text, I felt it would be most appropriate to limit my response to the relative merits of Katherine Hayles work on conceptualization in chapter four.

    Unfortunately, I must initiate this reading by providing a brief criticism of the structure of this anthology overall. Though Lunenfeld preemptively justifies the absence of traditional textual order in the introduction, by suggesting that the reader interpret the sections as individual computer screen shots, this methodology is poorly pursued. Suggesting that the text will somehow emulate the progression one might experience online, doesn’t really excuse the greater disorder of the anthology. Though I can understand making a more dramatic methodological statement similar, perhaps, to what one might encounter with regard to Timothy “Speed” Levitch or the work of Barthes in Pleasure of the Text, I am ultimately dissatisfied with the progression in Digital Dialectic.

    For an example of this failure, one needs look no further than Huhtamo’s call for a history of technoculture in chapter five. Here, he suggests that the problem with “technocultural discourses” is that they generally absence history. Though there may be some utility in considering technology from an “archaeological” perspective, Huhtamo’s suppositions arrive far too late in the general schema of this anthology. Already, in the chapter immediately preceding, Hayles co-opts rather dated perspectives on computer technology as she discusses the issue of conceptualization. As the order currently stands, Huhtamo’s assertion of historical ignorance seems itself to ignore the implications of the text immediately preceding it.

    Considering the frustrations that I experience in relationship to the overall structure of the anthology, I find that Katherine Hayles’ text provides a breath of fresh air. I want to focus on Hayles text specifically because it seems that her discourse on the relationship between man and machine might be of some utility to a future pedagogy of technology. Here, returning to biological models of the 1940s and 1960s, Hayles’ reads that these models are derived from a rather base understanding of contemporaneous technologies. Specifically, she focuses on the parallels that emerge between human genetics and the system of information transfer that one encounters in various technological forms. The problem with early microbiological models of the human body was that they insisted a gene could produce a body; “the gene was conceived as the originary informational pattern that produces the body, even though logically the gene is contained within the body, not the other way around” (Hayles 70). It is immediately after this observation that she makes her most important contribution. Returning to Doyle’s work on Gamow, Hayles provides that the, “conceptual inversion is rhetorical rather than an experimental accomplishment.”

    Already, in Hayles work one sees the emphasis on rhetorical form as opposed to scientific discovery. If, as Hayles suggests, technology influences our understanding of the human body it is not with regard to an intimate understanding of how the various components of the computer operate, but, more generally, with regard for the base conceptual/public model that is communicated.

    In consideration of this examination as a whole, several important questions arise. The first of these inquiries relates to the structural problems addressed at the beginning of this response: Following Lunenfeld’s lead, how might this text be restructured so that it will successfully emulate or reproduce the experience of computer interaction? Here, I imagine that the use of the term “emulate” might be misleading. Returning to Lunenfeld’s terminology, it might be more appropriate to ask what a series of textual “screenshots” would really look like. Furthermore, how does this method of simulation benefit one’s understanding of digital, virtual, or computer interaction more generally, if at all? Though, as I have argued, the text fails to capture the essence of the digital, is there a way of structuring such a work that might be of more utility to teaching practice?

    The second set of questions derives from my understanding of Hayles’ contribution: What implications does Hayles’/Doyle’s emphasis on rhetoric instead of science have for pedagogy of technology? Do our current pedagogical efforts reflect an emphasis on this mode of thought – on conceptual models/interpretations as opposed to scientific facts or technical details? Would it be more effective to dilute current discourses that are technology heavy, in favor of a more intense focus on the public’s conceptualization of these technologies?

  7. My concurrent reading of Digital Dialectic and Peter Hallward’s Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation got me thinking about how to define “virtuality,” if such a definition is even possible. The idea of virtuality as presented throughout the book is palatable enough: Lunenfeld reminds us of movies like Johnny Mnemonic, in which Johnny enters a virtual world through a video headset. N. Katherine Hayles bolsters this notion of the connectivity between human and machine when she discusses the “virtual subject,” a cyborg seriated from technology and flesh. According to Hayles, virtuality is “…the cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns” (Lunenfeld 69). In other words, the virtual is tied to the human perception of and relationship with technological forms.
    Gilles Deleuze, on the other hand, thinks of virtuality in much different terms. Deleuze’s definition of virtuality (which I certainly cannot even begin to do just to in only a page) hinges upon the realization that the material world is a creation of the virtual, and the virtual is what constitutes reality. And yet, because we are creations in a fully material world, we necessarily think of the virtual in material terms; it’s all we have. And the authors presented in this collection are no different. Hayles’ virtual is determined by how we interact and change as a result of our use of technology. What especially interested me about this week’s reading is to think of how (or even if) we can define virtuality when faced with such variant conceptions.
    To Deleuze, though, these connections in the material world have no bearing on the virtual; instead, what really matters to Deleuze is how we can retrace back to our virtual essence, that is, what we really are. Along the same lines. I wonder too what the essence of our technologies are. What is the essence of an iPod, an Xbox, a Garmin? To Hayles, an iPod would likely be an auditory extension of ourselves, an Xbox our hands and eyes, while the Garmin shapes our memory and the way we do (or, perhaps more accurately, don’t) store information. Conversely, according to Deleuze, “the only effective relation between actuals . . . is determined by the differentiation in the virtual or virtuals that they actualise” (Hallward 49). According to Deleuze, then, it hardly matters how our arms become accustomed to swinging a tennis racket; rather, where we have to look (or more accrately, retrace) is how the essence of “Andrea” as such differs from that of “Andrea’s MacBook.” These differing essences, in turn, make up a small part of what Deleuze considers to be “virtuality.” But, as Hallward reminds his readers, “Neither subject nor object offer access to the essence or sufficient reason of a place, person, or experience. Such an essence can be accessed only through itself, by participating in its immediate self-expression” (123).
    While determining the essence of a particular human would be quite a task, attempting to pinpoint the essence of a digital creation would be even more challenging, because these digital creations are products of products. To put it in simpler terms, “Andrea’s MacBook” is not only a creation of the hardware & software engineers, but also the line workers who put the machine together, the advertising firm who design Apple commercials, and to begin (and I may be reaching too far here), Steve Jobs’ idea for the original Apple computer. It is perhaps this incorporeal conception that constitutes the “essence” of MY laptop. But through the tangible process of production, that essence gets marred and smeared and altered into something different. As such, I’m having a difficult time trying to understand the essence of things created by creations, e.g. us. But I still hesitate. Deleuze (via Hallward) considers essences “…not [as] fixed creatural forms, they are dynamic creatings which generate every possible form but which themselves have neither identity nor stability” (123).
    From this point of view, I’m not so sure that Deleuze and Hayles differ all that much. According to Deleuze, (excepting the practice of philosophy) art is the closest we can get to virtuality. Unfortunately, as we can see in the difference in definition of the term “virtuality,” Deleuze’s idea of art is narrower than what we or the contributors to Digital Dialectic consider to be: art is both self-sufficient, literate, immediate, and most importantly, eternal. Carol Gigliotti’s article briefly discusses the use of the Internet for museums to increase funding and market the types of exhibits available. While these are certainly important to keep museums running, what effects do the digital representations of works of art have on the works themselves? And in regard to other forms of digital “art,” like Photoshopped photography and digital animation, can these technological forms be thought of as art, or are they merely creations?
    All of this is not to say that I discount the points made by Hayles and others in the collection; however, I do think it would be interesting to parse out the Deleuzian virtuality of the “virtual” as we have come to understand it. What’s more, if we want to consider the digital to be “art,” in the Deleuzian sense, how can we make it endure? How can we create digital art that leaves a footprint? Is it even possible?

  8. In his introduction to this volume, Peter Lunenfeld argues that the digital dialectic is, in fact, a misnomer, for while the digital does function because of a primal dualism—0s and 1s, or “off” and “on”—these two states never reach a synthetic third; “on the digital frontier,” he explains, “the endless alteration of off/on, a system of closed and open switches, never generates a true synthesis; it merely impels the regeneration of the system” (xviii). The digital dialectic here, then, seems to function something like the “screen grab” metaphor that begins Lunenfeld’s introduction; the digital dialectic, rather than moving forward toward synthesis, is “a compromise”, an “embrace of ambivalence” (xiv). As Lunenfeld claims, “To embrace ambivalence, contrary to what this might intuitively seem, is to sacrifice neither rigor nor sense. It is to lodge oneself in the dialectic, where reversals are not simply expected but required” (xiv-xv).

    While I take Lunenfeld’s point about the binary operation of digital technology being something like an unfulfilled dialectic, I also think that such a claim misses the point, if for no reason other than that most users don’t experience the digital at the level of binary code. This suggests, perhaps, an interesting question about the method of theorizing the digital dialectic. To the extent we want to argue that there is a dialectical process governing the digital, at what level does the dialectic take place? Lunenfeld’s description of binary functions suggests that such a dialectic obtains in the very nature of digitality. But given that most users will never have the opportunity nor the need to read binary code structures, does such an explanation remain useful in understanding how “the insights of theory” can be grounded in “the constraints of practice” (xv)? My argument here is not that theory and practice can be used (even dialectically) to explain the way we encounter the digital, but that the dialectic cannot be assumed to be fundamental to the material workings of the digital if it is to be a useful theoretical structure.

    On what level, then, might the dialectic be relevant for studying the digital? This volume and its essays describe at least four dialectics we might theorize govern the digital: Real/Ideal, Body/Machine, Medium/Message, World/Screen. While these essays explore these binaries to mixed success, what other dialectics remain unexplored here. One, I would suggest, draws attention to way the digital artifacts are produced, marketed, and consumed. Drawing on Lunenfeld’s own reference to the transient and evanescent nature of digital technology (xx), we might offer a dialectic of Obsolescence/Innovation. What does it mean to be “cutting edge”? How do consumers adapt to new technologies and what do they do with the old? Can we theorize, for example, a condition of “digital antiquity” in which a digital “antique” is not just outmoded but valued in the same way, for example, as the Queen Anne furniture on Antiques Roadshow? In the hurry to problematize, dismantle, or dismiss both the dystopian nightmares and utopian reveries of our digital future, the authors in this volume overlook the possibility of such a dialectic that might help us better understand how we engage the digital in the present and how the digital present becomes the digital past.

  9. Erkki Huhtamo’s “From Cybernation to Interaction” notes the lack of historical consciousness that typically occurs within the technological discourse, and cites Sherry Turkle’s research on our complex personal relationships to technology. Since new media studies is a relatively new territory for me, I grasped on to Turkle’s name and googled her other publications, aside from her well-known “How Computers Change the Way We Think.” This search led me to an article she wrote in 2004, called “Whither Psychoanalysis in Computer Culture?” in which she states how “computer research proceeds through a discourse of rationality…while computer culture is associated with experiences of passion, dependency, and profound connection.” Her observation about the disparity between what critical lens technological research is often conducted through, versus how users experience and frame their subjective encounters with technology, accounts for her argument that understanding these types of “intersubjective” relationships with technology, whether with “computers, the Internet, virtual realities, or robotic creatures, calls for psychodynamic modes of understanding…[in other words how] new computational objects in culture serve as ‘objects to think with’ for a revitalized psychoanalytic discourse.” While Turkle’s article was written for a psychoanalytic audience, her emphasis about how technological objects alter our capacities to produce new forms/discourses of meaning-making – particularly on the psychological level – heightens my interests in how “technologies provide ways to describe the human mind and self,” as George Landow writes in “Hypertext as Collage-Writing.” His article discusses the “aesthetic of juxtaposition” and concludes that collage offers “an element of surprise and pleasure” and that the “juxtaposing [of ] two apparently unconnected texts produces a pleasure of recognition.” Between Turkle’s call to revitalize psychoanalytic discourse (based on an object relations theory that incorporates technological objects), and Landow’s “aesthetic of juxtaposition,” my interest in the concept of “play” was rekindled, and I found myself veering off on a thought experiment that pertains to a type of psychotherapy called “sandplay therapy” and how a virtual reality sandplay therapy would affect a person’s therapeutic experience. Basically, clients (predominantly children) are given a tray of sand and hundreds of objects/figures to choose from to form a “scene” of their “inner world” or “inner reality” that ideally would allow unconscious content to surface during the act of play and creation. Since children usually think in symbolic images, then the ability to use their eyes and hands (entire bodies) to create and represent what images they see in their minds (or what images express feelings that they can’t put into words) is a tool that can aid in healing, along with other forms of communication, including student writers that struggle to convey thoughts into words. The ability to manipulate objects, to juxtapose, to evoke “play” and “pleasure” in the act of constructing meaning, predominantly through images, symbols, and the nonverbal, allows new knowledge to surface (especially in cases of trauma – where repressed, unconscious material is unknown or difficult to excavate through traditional forms of talk therapy). Recently, Sanjay Gupta from CNN visited Atlanta’s Emory University where he tested the virtual reality therapy that has been making headlines, particularly for people suffering from phobias, anxiety, and some addictions. Even soldiers returning from Iraq, who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, are trying out virtual reality therapy to deal with issues of trauma, and the gaming aspect of the therapy tends to hold less stigma for those suffering from mental health disorders. Over the past few years, virtual reality therapy has received promising reviews and is often associated with being the “wave of the future with psychotherapy.” Currently, however, the costs and issues surrounding access to the technology are its main limitations. My research surrounding sandplay therapy led me to two interesting articles – one from a group of psychiatrists/therapists that used the computer to create a comprehensive database of the toys/objects/figures through the use of digital photography and another chapter from a dissertation project from a group of Japanese researchers in 2004, in which they actually (as usual) were ahead of the game and developed a virtual reality sandplay therapy, in which their data supported positive feedback from users, claiming that the texture and material of the virtual reality provided more variety (which led to the potential of new material exposed, expressed, processed) and also the convenient logging factor which allowed therapists to replay the experience for further examination (at a later date or even after the client was done creating). Furthermore, criticisms of sandplay therapy (aside from the virtual reality experience) tend to center around issues of access or availability of toys (for example, one therapist might have 100 objects while another has 500 to choose from) and also interpretation of data/experiences (particularly when dealing with multi-cultural issues). Although I went off on a tangent about sandplay therapy, as a concrete example of virtual reality and its applications, perhaps we can discuss, as a class, how virtual reality technologies affect our “intersubjective” experiences between the real and the virtual and how our concepts of meaning-making alter as a result of these technologies…what this means not only for psychological well-being or understanding but also what this might mean for composition studies (how students develop or acquire critical thinking skills through the use of symbols, images, metaphor, juxtaposition, etc.)

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