Author Archives: allie

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.

Enlarging the Sum – Project Proposal

For my project I would like to enhance the sum total of all of my data. Don Delillo contends that “You are the sum total of your data. No man escapes that.” Instead of trying to escape this debatable truth, I want to embrace it by recreating my life digitally through personal essays with visual and aural accompaniment. Three days ago I began writing a blog ( that I would like to continue to format and develop; the posts already up exemplify (albeit very, very succinctly) the style of the writing I intend to do, but not necessarily the subject matter or length. The posts will be illustrated namely with my own photography.

The blog will pair original content with some level regurgitation (e.g. songs) in order to create an existence online. It will certainly explore McLuhan’s ideas in “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus and Narcosis,” in which he theorizes that people become so fascinated with technological extensions of themselves that this amplification of the self leads to “self-amputation” or numbness to other ways of perceiving oneself and others. Can I amplify my existence so much that I will self-amputate? Perhaps, but then I wouldn’t have much to blog about. I would also like to probe the concept of online morality – Ong claims that when writing a diary the writer fictionalizes the reader, writing for some other self and creating one’s own fiction. Is recreating oneself online a method of building an unstable personal fiction? Do we, as Manovich suggests, have a moral responsibility to recreate ourselves and the world around us accurately?

The analytical essay component will be a page formatted to look like a paper essay, a sort of remediation of the paper essay to the electronic essay. However, the essay will attempt to avoid the drawbacks found in Manovich’s work – namely representing new media through an old medium. All of the terms I use will have examples, so the essay will be in a variable “Choose Your Own Adventure” format where it can be read differently every time and requires interactivity.

Check out and let me know what you think of the idea. Thanks!

Game of Hopscotch

I’m about to rip my hair out trying to get access to Afternoon and Patchwork Girl. I’ve tried Macs, I’ve tried PCs, basically I’m just frustrated. However, these sentiments underscore our discussion questions for today’s readings: What happens when we can’t read this stuff anymore and how do we preserve it? When I Googled “run Mac classic mode,” it became apparent that others have struggled with similar problems. When technology advances, what gets left behind?

In Hypertext 2.0, George Landow claims that, “Scholarly articles situate themselves within a field of relations, most of which the print medium keeps out of sight and relatively difficult to follow…Electronic hypertext, in contrast, makes individual references easy to follow and the entire field of interconnections obvious and easy to navigate” (4). The classification of text as difficult and hypertext as easy to navigate is overly simplistic. Decisions about clarity and ease of reading and navigation still remain largely with the author. For example, The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot is poetically cryptic, despite the use of hypertext. In this case, the hypertext functions as a means to create nonlinear poetry, not as a way to help the reader understand the references made within. Stephanie Strickland’s use of hypertext is certainly a cool way to present her words, yet the concept is hardly novel. I think it is important to remember that books are not required to be read in a linear fashion. One of my favorite books is an example of the nonlinear novel:ázar_novel).

He Mindful/She Mindless

In the chapter “Automatic Writing” in Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines, Lisa Gitelman employs a gender binary to describe technology and its operators. She points to the typewriter as an example of this gender duality, both in regards to its utilitarian operations and the spiritualist movement of the 19th century. She argues, “It is a symbiosis frequent in the literature of psychical research and revealing of its method…a mind/body (so frequently his/hers) dualism that implies the legitimacy of a paranormal phenomenon by touting its rigorously normal, objective description by assuredly impartial witnesses” (p. 199). Women acted as mediums through which men and technology could communicate – or rather, is the technology the medium through which men and women could communicate? Though this question is likely unanswerable, I would argue that women, not technology, became invisible. The type-written letter is evidence of the existence of a typewriter. The typist, whether man, woman, or spirit, remains nameless, faceless, invisible, unless they choose to sign their name.

The obscure film The Phantom of the Operator ( for clips) presents the gendered history of telephones and their operators in a manner very similar to Gitelman. Through manipulative public relations campaigns such as “Voices with a Smile,” telephone companies succeeded in glamorizing the job of the telephone operator, yet their real motivation was suppressing the costs of production by employing women at very low wage rates. The voice of the operator, like the psychic medium, became a mystical object that connected men to their machines.

Choose Your Own Adventure

As I was reading Manovich’s “Language of New Media,” I found myself becoming increasing frustrated with the length, redundancy, antiquation, and blandness of his writing. The author has many compelling ideas, and I appreciate the categorical way in which he presents the multilayered components of old and new media forms. However, his writing was dull and failed to communicate the revolution, intrigue and all-around coolness of his subjects, which in turn meant that I failed to appreciate the finer points of his work. Sergei Eisenstein and Photoshop and the sweet new things computers can do make me want to TYPE IN ALL CAPS; Manovich does not exhibit any comparable fascination with his subject.

Perhaps my frustration with Manovich stems from the fact that he is using an old medium to analyze and organize new media. To write/read about hypermedia is a very different experience from seeing and using it. To play god with Manovich’s writing for a moment, his work would be much more interesting if it was in blog or webpage form and contained interactive ways to experience his writing. His discussion of hypermedia reminded me of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read as a kid, and have now rediscovered as a pseudo-adult ( Like the author’s definition of hypermedia, in Choose Your Own Adventure the reader/user can determine their own path based on personal choice and rationality, but it is within a preconceived interface that affects how the reader/user perceives their options. As Manovich elucidates, “The interactive media asks us to identify with somebody else’s mental structure…a computer used is asked to follow the mental trajectory of a new media designer” (p. 74). If Manovich had paired his thoughts with examples rather than limiting himself to a single medium, I could have experienced his work in a much more profound way.

Free Manovich Reading

For those of us who just discovered that the bookstore isn’t open on Sundays:

The Happy Medium

Ong’s discussion of the (im)permanence of oral speech and writing made me think of a memorable experience I had as a freshman at Sarah Lawrence. My Spanish Literature class visited the Hispanic Society in Harlem to look at original copies of Don Quixote. Every copy of the book in the museum’s collection was mutilated in one way or another during the Spanish Inquisition to protect the feeble minds of the literate populace. The Jesuits used chestnut oil/ink to wipe out entire sections of racy or sacrilegious text. Despite their best efforts, however, complete editions of Don Quixote exist to this day.

This anecdotally concretizes Ong’s assertion that “there is no way directly to refute a text.” He goes on to explain that this is the root of book burning’s former popularity, yet as Don Quixote shows, even physical destruction cannot always serve as refutation.

The rise of comment culture in the digital age seems to have created a means of refuting the written word. The authors of blogs, op-eds and even news articles can be reached with only a few clicks on the keyboard. The digitally written word is no longer permanent nor synonymous with truth. That said, digital writing does not hold the same permanence as books; it is semipermanent and often open to refutation and editing. Have we reached a happy medium between orality and literacy in the digital age?

Attention Deficit

““Rational,” of course, has for the West long meant “uniform and continuous and sequential”…Thus in the electric age man seems to the conventional West to become irrational” (15). Technology is not comprehensible through this limited understanding of rationality. Likewise, McLuhan’s arguments are more like the concentric spiral overlays in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Art Museum than your standard play-by-play writing formula. McLuhan’s attention to multitudinous forms of expression – from ballet to physics to political theory – emphasizes the complexity of the world he observes. To focus on a particular medium would introduce purity where it does not exist; “no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media” (26).

But then again such a broad scope of attention demands too much from the reader, the viewer, the audience, the citizen. As McLuhan concludes, “The price of eternal vigilance is indifference” (30). This resonates with me more than any other part of Understanding Media because I do not just understand it as a concept or a theory, I feel it. My constant battle against the incoming tides of apathy could be the result of “eternal vigilance,” of trying to know and understand too much at once.

Overall, I found McLuhan entertaining enough to hold my brief span of attention.