Monthly Archives: January 2010

Thought Experiment

This week’s readings really delved into the philosophy behind the digital age, particularly in conceiving how humans must think in order to create the machines of the future and how machines of the future will necessarily shape human thinking.  Theodor H. Nelson posits that the relationship between humans and machines will necessarily change the economic situation of the developed workforce. [Theodor H. Nelson, “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Intermediate” pp.134-5] As the machine becomes more of a communicating entity, the idea of human agency over technology will morph into complicated conundrums of control.  [Norbert Weiner, “Men Machines and the World About,” p.71]  This largely results from humanity’s growing dependence on the efficiency of computer processing.  Vannevar Bush brilliantly captures an apropos example of how new media has effected one sort of office, that of the scholar”

“There is a growing mountain of research.  But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends.  The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers- conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear.  Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose. … Those who conscientiously attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields, by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an examination calculated to show how much of the previous month’s efforts could be produced on call.” [Vannevar Bush,
As We May Think,” p.37]

Last week, I offered some ideas about how to move toward a more fruitful transdisciplinary, but this week I’ve been toying with what kind of system (i.e. school) could negotiate the blessings and curses of the situation Bush describes.  While I agree that specialization can be positive, I think that part of the reason why specialization has often blocked the progress of transdiciplinary efforts lay in the lack of symbiosis in the system itself.  As Licklider envisions, the next level of output/production can result from a more mutually beneficial system in which the input/educational process is symbiotic itself.  [J.C. R. Licklider, Man-Computer Symbiosis,

pp.79-80]  Imagine a school setup in where film students use their skills to make videos that will be used in the classrooms of other students; the web/computer programming needs would be managed by computer science students; and the humanities students would consider the ethical, social, and historical phenomena guiding, critiquing, and learning from the educational system and the projects of these other disciplines.  This is all really tentative, but it seems like the type of thought experiment that actually has a chance of happening in the budding age of hypermedia.

Identity Transparency

As someone who has previous work experience with issues revolving around online privacy on both sides of the hiring desk, I thought this link might be of some interest to the rest of the class.

Of particular note is this passage: Our study found 70% of surveyed HR professionals in U.S. (41% in the UK) have rejected a candidate based on online reputation information. Reputation can also have a positive  effect as in the United States, 86% of HR professionals (and at least two thirds of those in the U.K. and Germany) stated that a positive online reputation influences the candidate’s application to some extent; almost half stated that it does so to a great extent. Baring the usual caveats regarding statistics, I would suggest that this is a growing trend.

The increasing transparency between the online and offline persona raises interesting questions both philosophical and practical. In a relatively short amount of time, through the lens of a historian at least, the gap between the pre-social-networking generation who strictly defines and is defined by the internet as a tool that they have to use and the post-social-networking generation who perceives it as a natural extension of themselves is quickly closing. Or to put it another way, will it still make sense for HR to discriminate on the basis of a drunken college facebook photo when the CEO of the company has a few as well.

Hypertext Garden of Forking Paths

With the death of Geocities, the site is only available on the Wayback Machine, but you can still get the gist of it.  I recommend reading the story in NMR first (it’s marginally less confusing that way), but you may want to just jump in and explore.

Hypertext Garden of Forking Paths

Isn’t it just media?

What is new and what is old? Isn’t media just media but in an evolving stage?

This question popped into my mind when I was reading the Lister’s part on “Simulation Games” (pp 42-44).  I wondered out loud that if we are really trying to justify the existence of new media by technical / personalized aspect?  Sure, we can quantify it by using technical measurements but do we need to?

Look at any children playing with their train set, building blocks, or their make belief games will give us an insight that we have been doing “simulations” for ages.  Prior to computers, prior to media, and prior to fancy toys, kids (and adults) had been simulating on what ever media we can find! It is true that new media and technology dramatically enhance the complexity of these simulations but it the definition of media.

“Something Old… Something New… a digital classroom for me and you?”

When connoting the increasing synergy between digital means of “production,” “storage,” and distribution,” the phrase “new media” has circulated for at least the last two decades. (Lev Manovich “The Language of New Media,” 4)  In this time, digital media theorists have come to recognize the ideological freight that comes with describing anything as “new.”

“There is a strong sense in which the ‘new’ in new media carries the ideological force of ‘new equals better’ and it also carries with it a cluster of glamorous and exciting meanings.  The ‘new’ is ‘the cutting edge,’ the ‘avant-garde,’ the place for forward-thinking people to be (whether they be producers, consumers, or, indeed, media academics).  The connotations of ‘the new’             are derived from a modernist belief in social progress as delivered by technology.”  (Martin Lister, New Media and New Technologies, p. 11)

Lev Manovich’s autobiographical reflections on Cold-War era computer science training in both the Soviet Union and the United States offer an insightful reminder that “new” accompanies a world-orientation that brands people, places, ideas, and media as both problems and solutions. (Manovich Language,  3-6)  John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination offers a historical moment where newness might be re-considered with the eyes of critical reflection.


As a budding historian of religion, I would also note that the rhetoric of newness and its intersection with technologies (not excluded to, but quite often, literacy) and social change has major antecedents in the formation of world civilizations and the enterprises often referred to as “religion.”  Note the similarities between JFK’s speech and the following verses from Revelation 21:1-8, an early Christian appeal calling for a new world order to replace the Roman Empire.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God;they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” [New Revised Standard Version]

Though the following passages can now be found in the nightstand of nearly every hotel in the United States, at one time, this first-century rhetoric (with more than a few instances of “Deus ex machina”)  signaled new expressions (the synergy of apocalpyticism, Christian myth, Greco-Roman rhetoric), new politics (Jerusalem, and not Rome, as the seat of mundane and sacred authority), new social promise (the end of death and suffering), and new technologies (writing represents power, trustworthiness, and authority).  I mention this because the need to qualify “newness” should not only aid our efforts to cease repeating past mistakes, but should also inspire us to experiment with risk-taking efforts in effecting positive change of biblical-proportions (I mean this, not from a theological standpoint, but from a marketing one . I mean the cross has pretty impressive brand-recognition.)  To take up Manovich’s prompt, how does the “rapid transformation of culture into e-culture, of computers into universal culture carriers, of media into new media, [demand] that we rethink our categories and models?”

Janet H. Murray suggests, “We may, if we are lucky and mindful enough, learn to think together by building shared structures of meaning.”(Janet H. Murray “Inventing the Medium” in The New Media Reader p.11)  To me, and a host of the authors we read this week, transdisciplinary education and collaboration stands to benefit from the offerings of new media.  The ability to sample a vast amount of information and quantify it in “byte-sized” (storage) pieces and “bite-sized  (distribution viz. hypermedia) pieces allows for levels of knowledge and analogy that were previously hampered by various material and temporal considerations. (Manovich, “Language,” p. 28)

Similarly, the ability for persons to converse about this information in real time (i.e. “waves” and “video conferencing”) opens up intriguing occasions for synergy and contribution. Given these avenues, a transdisciplinary team of researchers or a classroom could more tenably approach the teaching-learning enterprise from a problem perspective as opposed to a disciplinary one. For instance,  Mark Taylor, the chair of the Religion Department at Columbia University hypothesizes a model of teaching-learning in which problems and areas of need guide the method of investigation (discipline) instead of the more common reverse.

“Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also             considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues.  After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.” (April 26, The New York Times, Op-Ed)

What if the e-classroom meant more than using a computer to distribute handouts, turn-in grades, and blogging for blogging sake?” (This would describe all of my classes with e-components, save for this one and one other.)  What if the e-classroom spawned a different type of dissertation, history, science experiment, and ethnography?  What if we could spend as much time studying the creation of a scholar’s publication as we do the finished product?  If there’s a school that would support classrooms like that, let me know if they are hiring.

New Media and the brand new Apple iPad


The unveiling of Apple’s new product, the iPad, really embodies a lot of what Lister discusses in Ch. 1 of his book. Here is a “new” medium that attempts to transcend “traditional” internet communication and increase interactivity with the product. Now, not only do we have laptops and smartphones (some might put the iPhone in its own category), but we have an in-between product! The limitations of both the iPhone and the laptop have produced something that resembles a giant iPhone, but has much more expansive capabilities.

Lister discusses the difference between “extractive” and “immersive” interaction with a medium and the new iPad tries to break away from hypertextual navigation and become more immersive. Lister states “Instead of a text-based experience aimed at finding and connecting bits of information, the goals of the immersed user will include the visual and sensory pleasures of spatial exploration.” Like the iPhone, the iPad has multi-touch sensors (something like 1500 of them) which allow navigation to be more immersive because you are spatially interacting with the device instead of just “point and click”. One example of increased immersion that stood out to me was the new e-reader that is featured on the iPad. The iBooks app is a perfect example of how “old” media is being transformed into “new” media. A user can explore books by looking through digital shelves of books and tapping on a book to read some details on it. No longer do we have to sit on Amazon and scroll through a list of books and click each one to bring up a separate webpage for that book. Now we can browse through virtual shelves by swiping the screen and tapping on a book for a pop-up window of details. Apple has really tried to make their new product much more immersive than a traditional laptop and have expanded the capabilities of an iPhone so that it is bigger, more hi-def, and easier to navigate through digital newspapers, books, and magazines (not to mention increasing gaming usage with its HD display and interactive gesture controls). It also has a full QWERTY keyboard on a very thin, sleek, and portable device that connects to wifi and 3G. A blogger’s dream.

Apple attempts to transcend traditional boundaries in digital media. It has made connections from a GPS map to digital photos by allowing users to “geotag” their photos to not only share images, but maps of where the user has been. Again, instead of just flipping through photos of a person’s trip to Romania, an Apple user is able to spatially explore their friend’s trip in a map and have multi-touch gestures available to see exactly where that photo was taken and what preceded it. Apple has already presented this technology in their laptops, but now there is the ultra-portable iPad to do this anytime. The lines between traditional media and “new” media are continuing to blur and the Apple iPad moves us one step farther in that direction.

Principles of New Media

Lister states that new media has some characteristics such as digital, interactivity, hypertextual, networked, virtual, and simulated (New Media: A Critical Introduction). Since new media is digitized format to send it through network system so that people can share information, there are interactivity and virtual or simulated environment. From this concept, we know these are all related to computerization. Also Manovich explains the principles of new media in the book “Language of New Media”. Like as Lister, author describes new media as numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. As such new media cannot be explained without computer system. However, even though new media is very innovative way to display using computer, it has limitations to display and send data. Hence we cannot say this way is the best we can do since new media is analog media converted to a digital representation. Therefore I would like to say that the principles of new media also create principles of limitation.

What is this “new” in New Media?

The one thing I was most struck by in the readings was Janet Murray’s deceptively simple statement in “Inventing the Medium”: “Fire warms and fire burns” (New Media Reader 8).  I am one of those annoying people who insists on seeing most technology as essentially morally neutral, and this encapsulated my feelings on the subject very well, acknowledging that the same media that offers us wonderful new avenues for advancement can also be abused.  But this statement also made me wonder if the right questions are being asked, because so many people seem to be stuck at the point of figuring out if they are going to condemn the medium or praise it.

Looking at both Manovich readings, he touches on the ways in which new media 1) have been around for a while, and 2) are doing some things that so-called old media also do.  I particularly liked his discussion of the way that classical and modern art is interactive and film can encourage the viewer to look one way or another (Manovich 56). He does delineate clearly the ways in which new media are different, but there is enough bleed between the categories to make me wonder what purpose those categories serve and how we can interrogate them, especially in light of Lister’s definitions which seem to be a lot looser.

If we accept Manovich’s assertion that old media do some of the same things new media do and Murray’s argument that people are bound to predict doom whenever something new comes along, I’m left wondering what questions we should be asking.  If entertainment media that is digital is consumed in much the same way as analog media, should we study it as new media?  Should we take the doomsayers seriously, or just assume that there will always be people who are reluctant to adopt new technologies? How much of this is actually new?

Blog Usernames

I emailed everyone several days ago, asking you to send me your preferred username for the blog, so I can create your accounts. Please email me ASAP, at my gmail address; you can’t post until your accounts are created, and you’re supposed to post before class tomorrow…

Lister, New Media: A Critical Introduction

While reading Lister I came across a belief that I have thought about a lot lately. On page 11, Lister writes:
“There is a strong sense in which the ‘new’ in new media carries the ideological force of ‘new equals better’ … “ (Lister 11).
I have observed that many people do believe that any kind of new technology is better and for the advancement of humanity, such as new medical technology and computers. While I believe that some breakthroughs in technology have done miraculous things, I am still wary about any new technology always being “better”. I think every new technology has pros and cons. For example, a cell phone can be very useful and can perform many tasks, but at the same time can cause traffic accidents. After reading the quote on page 11, I started thinking about different forms of  technology that have been both “better” and “bad”, and was pleased to read Case Study 1.2: Email: the problem of the digital letter.

This case study focuses on how email did make the sending and receiving of “letters” incredibly faster than the postal service or “snail mail” as it is often referred to. This was seen as a brilliant, time saving breakthrough for companies and people all over the world. However, the case study also explains how the constant checking of email by employees wastes company time. Emailing has also decreased the amount of physical interaction between people, and has made communicating so impersonal, people will at times write things in emails they would probably never say in public or to the person they are sending the email to. The case study describes this as “flaming”:

“… hence the internet based practice of ‘flaming’ – argumentative, hostile and insulting exchanges which can accelerate rapidly in a spiral of mutual recrimination. It is precisely the absence of face-to-face exchange that leads to communication that can become dangerous” (Lister 21).
I believe email is a great tool and use it on a daily basis, as I am sure all of us in this class do, and I think it is used for its purpose of sending mail faster more often than for flaming. So, while I can see the con to email, I still believe it has many more pros.

Another thought about new technology being “better” is the popular belief that if an object or technology performs more than one task, then it must be better than the older technology it replaced. For example, the iPhone, is not only a phone, it is also a small computer that can access the internet, take pictures, send text messages, and many more tasks. However, does that make it better than the separate technologies that it converges into one object? For example, is the iPhone better than a LANline phone at home, or a digital camera, or a laptop? Not in my opinion. Yes, the iPhone is fabulous (I do own one), but it is great for being on the move. If I am at home I get better reception using my home phone, and if I want to take pictures I usually use my digital camera because it is better than the camera on my iPhone. I simply think people, especially consumers, should take a minute and really compare the technology that is available to them and see what the trade offs are for different things.