Monthly Archives: February 2010

Technology Through Time and Space

Hayles explores some complex aspects about “texts” in her chapter titled “Intermediation from Page to Screen.” She begins the chapter explaining that “all print books are digital files” in the sense that before a book is published it is an electronic text. I had not really thought about this before. I think many of us have this desire to hold on to “the good old times” when knowledge was acquired only through the “original” medium, books. Yet, book are composed and altered through electronic means. This reminded me of a scene in Sex and the City where Carrie talks about liking the smell and texture of old books, and how few people actually continue to check out books from the library (for leisure, since most students do it because we have to).

Hayles then explores the concept of intermediation which is made up of two aspects, dynamic heterarchies and fluid analogies. I felt really lost trying to follow her explanation of dynamical heterarchies until she used the analogy of the fetus in uterus, it makes sense as I can understand the interrelation between the two evolving bodies (p.46).

Hayles then expands her exploration further by analyzing the way that anthropologists have studied the effects of technology through time and space. In each stage, technological innovations seemed to substitute and revolutionize our culture. Hayles explains how computers have the “power to perform cognitively sophisticated acts with more flexibility, interactivity, and cognitive power” (p.48). She then continues the exploration of the complexity of computers and their effects. As an anthropologist, I question some of the theories she raises about Dennett’s “selfish genes” notion, as it echos some biological deterministic claims. However, Dennett does mention the importance of culture and other factors in this discussion.

Electronic Literature, hypertext, etc.

I must confess that I feel a bit overwhelmed and confused with the terminology we’ve been exploring with the recent texts. Our class discussion was helpful in exploring the similarities and differences between hypertext and cybertext and the controversy between the two. Katherine Hayles chapter one, “Electronic Literature- What is it?” also provided an excellent overview of the complexity surrounding this term.

Hayles explains how the Electronic Literature Organization’s mission is “to promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media” (p.3). I thought it was helpful to explore this mission and the ways in which it may become realized through electronic media. I think that one of the main problems with acquiring an understanding of this term is the constant comparison with regular texts or published literature. Hayles however, explores the complexity of the various aspects of electronic literature and suggests that it really isn’t as different from published literature as we may think.

I also thought her discussion on Interactive Fiction or I.F. was quite interesting. She explains how it has stronger game elements and no clear distincition between electronic literature and games. This made me think of some of the games my children play and why they would be attracted to them. For example, my daughter loves playing Sims and knows about all the variations to this game. I wonder is the electronic literature imbedded in Sims is one that appeals to a particular age, gender, or personality type. I was also thinking of all the possibilities for students who combine an English degree with Media Studies to create more Interactive Fiction with electronic media. The success of Sims and games like Second Life indicate a growing market with much potential.

We Live in Public

A new must-see film for students of digital media: We Live in Public by Ondi Timoner, recipient of the 2009 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for best documentary!


Ten years in the making and culled from 5000 hours of footage, the film tells the story of Josh Harris, “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of”:

Harris, often called the “Warhol of the Web”, founded, the first Internet television network during the infamous dot-com boom of the 1990s. He also curated and funded the ground breaking project “Quiet” in an underground bunker in NYC where over 100 people lived together on camera for 30 days at the turn of the millennium. With Quiet, Harris proved how we willingly trade our privacy for the connection and recognition we all deeply desire, but with every technological advancement such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, becomes more elusive. Through his experiments, including a six-month stint living with his girlfriend under 24-hour electronic surveillance which led to his mental collapse, Harris demonstrated the price we pay for living in public.

We Live in Public will be released for download this coming Monday, March 1st, and on DVD March 2nd. In celebration of the online release, the film will be simulcast in six theaters worldwide (including the Egyptian in LA) followed by a Q&A with Timoner from her home base in Chicago. All six events will stream live on the film’s website, I can’t wait!

Interesting video

We all KNOW this stuff… but it’s still interesting to watch this video.


I think that one of the most interesting things that this video brings up is change in the media landscape. Although many would say they are “mourning the loss” of print media, this video really shows that while one medium might be on the decline, there is a whole new medium of the internet that is opening up more possibilities for writing and communication that were not fully expressed with the print medium.

What will be absolutely necessary, and is starting to open, is for there to be effective ways to search through the millions and what will be billions of pages of the internet. I think there will also be better ways to establish legitimacy and accuracy on the web. So, although our generation may not be able to appreciate the “newness” of the first internet technologies, we are able to see the progression of internet material from total chaos to hopeful organization and legitimacy.

Ignore my previous proposal

The more that I have been thinking about my project, the more I want to change it. Originally, before my post about science fiction, I wanted to put my thesis online, in a format that would be more engaging that just reading a bound collection of text on paper. I was having a difficult time conceptualizing how I could successfully implement my thesis online, and felt that I might be sick of my topic if I focused on it for two classes. However, today I thought of a way that I might put it online and have decided to change my project back.

My thesis topic is on online deliberation. I am interested in a discussion of the public sphere outlined by Habermas, where in a successful implementation of the public sphere, individuals are able to speak freely with others, discussing issues and ultimately coming to a consensus. This type of public spheres allows for “deliberative democracy,” a type of democracy that is seen as more aligned with actual democracy than how we see democracy carried out today. The Internet is seen as a forum where deliberative democracy can materialize; the system of the internet, in theory, is open to everyone.

I wrote one chapter on online deliberation and e-democracy, a sort of lit review. My second chapter was on Twitter and Facebook and how users of social networks in devloping countries can use the internet as a medium for social change when organizing on the streets is prohibitive. I am working on a blogging chapter now where I am arguing that feminist blogs allow for women to participate in the public sphere with greater access and scope. My last chapter is on online education tools. I want to probe at the question of whether or not having educational tools available free and accesible online aids in online deliberation and more informed discussion.

SO, my project would be to put the text online available to read. However, the website would make the topic more interesting and engaging to a reader that didn’t want to sit down and read a 60+ page paper. Each section would have short “blog” type entries on the topic, links to my sources, links to similar websites with ideas on deliberation, and graphics. Finally, I would hope that I could set up an environment where online deliberation could take place about online deliberation and some of the theories and questions that I raise in my paper. This way instead of having a paper with a closed argument on deliberation, I could start an on-going discussion of ideas – sort of a free flowing of ideas about my topic.

My paper accompanying the website for Writing Machines would analyze how my topic changes from a paper in a traditional sense to being a paper published online. I want to analyze the differences and how as a writer I feel like my work changes when seen through different display mediums, using the readings of the semester as a tool to navigate these ideas.

Oblique Strategies

oblique strategies

Whenever I’m trying to find my way around a creative block, I like to consult Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies. The Oblique Strategies are (basically) a deck of cards, each containing a cryptic instructional aphorism. The deck came to be when Eno, a musician/producer and Schmidt, a painter, discovered that they both

…tended to keep a set of basic working principles which guided them through the kinds of moments of pressure – either working through a heavy painting session or watching the clock tick while you’re running up a big buck studio bill. Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking – to jog the mind. (Gregory Taylor, “A Primer on the Oblique Strategies”)

Schmidt and Eno suggest several possible ways to consult the deck: “They can be used as a pack (a set of posibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from a shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case the card is trusted even if it appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident.” Of course, the best way to get a sense for what the Oblique Strategies are all about is to try them yourself.  I recommend the online version here.

Since Aarseth counts the I Ching among his examples of “cybertext,” I wonder if he would also count the Oblique Strategies? While the deck itself is finite, the game-like format of consultation is designed to apply to any situation and hence yield limitless results. However, there’s some question as to whether consulting the deck really constitutes a “nontrivial effort” on the part of the consultee. Since the playing field of the game is real life (and not a more controlled cybertextual space) it’s entirely possible to consult the deck and not follow the suggested course of action (bearing in mind that the suggested course is totally open to the reader’s interpretation). Or is it?

White and normal

We spoke previously in class about normalization of technologies that may not be the best in their field – the QWERTY keyboard, VHS, horizontally rectangular computer screens, etc. A link to an old article on Wired reminded me of this conversation:

Why is white the norm for site backgrounds? It is energy intensive; using a black background ( saves power (though not much on the large scale) and is much less injurious to my eyes. Does the normalization of whiteness in digital design stem from its normalization in the physical world? Do you find it harder, easier, or the same to use a black background rather than white? Personally, I dig the black screen because I find myself squinting less.

Hypertext article

Doing some thesis research I came across this Wired article that relates to our class. Kevin Kelly interviews Ted Delson about hypertext and talks about the past/present/future of the internet. Good quote:

“I believed him. Despite his quirks, it was clear to me that a hyperlinked world was inevitable – someday. But looking back now, after 10 years of living online, what surprises me about the genesis of the Web is how much was missing from Vannevar Bush’s vision, Nelson’s docuverse, and my own expectations. We all missed the big story. The revolution launched by Netscape’s IPO was only marginally about hypertext and human knowledge. At its heart was a new kind of participation that has since developed into an emerging culture based on sharing. And the ways of participating unleashed by hyperlinks are creating a new type of thinking – part human and part machine – found nowhere else on the planet or in history.

Not only did we fail to imagine what the Web would become, we still don’t see it today! We are blind to the miracle it has blossomed into. And as a result of ignoring what the Web really is, we are likely to miss what it will grow into over the next 10 years. Any hope of discerning the state of the Web in 2015 requires that we own up to how wrong we were 10 years ago.”

Fore more:

Hypertext to Cybertext

Cyber, cybertext, hypertext – these are all terms that we hear repeatedly, but rarely do we analyze the definitions and differences between these terms. Aarseth attempts to do this in his book Cybertext.

“Hypertext,” a term coined by Ted Nelson in 1965, refers to a mechanical system of reading and writing where text is organized to be read in a sequence that is chosen by the reader. Reading and writing become a single process. This use of hypertext can be seen as postmodern and never ending. Furthermore, a reader cannot just sit down and read hypertext; they must gain an intuition of the spatial structure. Notice that this term was used significantly before the use of computers. Hypertext is best known as part of a computer text, but it is not necessarily so. Aarseth talks about a conflict of hypertext where the computer’s purpose is to aid in user freedom. However, what happens when hypertext, through confusion and reader responsibility, takes away our freedom?

“Cybertext” comes from the book Cybernetics by Norbert Winer. Cybertext allows for an expansion of the limits of hypertext, widening to a perspective on all forms of textuality. The “Hypertext Murder Case,” evaluates Aarseth’s work and defines cybertext as a term that includes hypertext but also expands to all forms of computer based writing. Cybertext becomes the most powerful computer machine (a Turning) while hypertext is also a machine, albeit the least powerful one.

Computers have always been integrated into my student life. Therefore, it is hard to really conceptualize hypertext on paper, or what that would really look like. I think that our analysis of these technologies may be impeded by the fact that we take them for granted and do not see a true before and after scenario.

Aarseth connects these terms by asking us to analyze technologies beyond just their practical uses. An emerging media technology is not important in itself. We should really be studying what they can tell us about human connection and evolution. The concept of cybertext allows us to really study politics and communication, analyzing the new ways that users and authors have power over content. I may have especially liked this part because it directly connects to my thesis. However, I do think it is interesting and important. The fact that Interaction Fiction did not stick as a popular genre allows us to analyze societies reluctance to abandon the narrative structure. As a society we have a hard time with the avante garde, the new, and the different. We all want a concrete beginning, middle, and end, with little guesswork and a conflict that arises, yet is resolved. I even found myself frustrated with the Interactive fiction, reluctant to really explore, and constantly searching for a linear direction of the projects. Will we ever leave our attachment to the narrative?

Zork confusion

if you are utterly confused playing Zork and don’t know what to type, read this: >

it may take a little fun out of it, but it gets you started, instead of Zork telling you “I don’t understand..”