Category Archives: reading responses

Hardware divergence and the digital divide

Before I forget, I wanted to make one comment about Convergence Culture that I never got around to in class. When Jenkins described the divergence of hardware, I found myself wondering about implications for the digital divide. We are seeing a bunch of new devices that do substantially the same tasks, at a variety of price points. We already know that the expanding market for smartphones means that people who may not be able to afford a computer or internet connection can at least get some access to the internet. If we continue to see new devices that perform a variety of tasks and they can be more easily purchased, perhaps the digital divide can narrow. I think that the hardware has to change for this to be really feasible, and the iPad and the other upcoming tablets that are getting a lot of press right now are one of the keys to enabling more people to get on the internet. But what price point is low enough for the market to really change? Maybe the cell phone model of purchasing hardware at a discount or free along with a contract would be the best way to get the devices in people’s hands.

The Black Hole of Media

I thought the idea between the split of technological delivery systems and media as cultural systems is an interesting distinction Jenkins makes in the introduction. The dead media project, various writing machines and the internet wayback machine are all great examples of this idea of a delivery/cultural system. This is not a new idea however if we consider the ancient Greeks oral history system of transmitting cultural values as a kind of delivery and cultural system.

Metadata Mindfield

I found Fitzpatrick’s short section on metadata particularly fascinating. As someone who thinks a lot about metadata and its construction, I am always looking for new insight into this subject of study. Fitzpatrick raises two important points which directly impact the creation and future of metadata, “One of the problems that metadata poses for the future of digital publishing lies precisely in the difficulty of making maps of future terrain,” and “…the production of the set of metadata, as the production of any map, is always an interpretive act, indicating what the map-maker has found to be significant about the terrain.” One of the challenges with metadata is what to record and how to record it. If you record too much data you run the risk of the 1:1 map problem or as I like to call it the Ulysses dilemma where the key text is bigger than the original; conversely, if you record too little data it becomes useless or at the very least unhelpful. The issue then becomes how to record it i.e. what format will be extensible and robust enough to be around in 1, 10, 100 years.

Take the mess-o-metadata that is google books and scholar. They don’t even use the majority of the already existing MARC records supplied to them by the libraries they work with today. Instead, they are using an extreme form of mplp to get the data in and worry about the metadata (and copyright issues) later. The question remains if it will pay off for them.

Another issue related to metadata is controlled vocabulary which as an interpretive act can be contentious depending on what is being described. I know the LCSH has seen its far share of detractors for its glacial pace in adapting to change. This is one of the many reasons, among others, for competing standards to emerge like CCO, AAT and DACS.

I would, however, have liked a mention of the crosswalks that are surfacing of late between the various metadata schemes like CDWA Lite, MARC, EAD and Dublin Core.

Web Spheres and Im/Permanence

I found Kirsten Foot’s “Web Sphere Analysis and Cybercultural Studies” really fascinating, primarily as a librarian, but also in terms of what it says about the perception of permanence/impermanence and the internet. One of the main problems I’ve found when doing research on something that is internet-based is the danger that it won’t be there when I go back to look for it. I’m used to recording TV shows (which feel similarly impermanent) but there is always the sense that I can get an episode I need from someone, somewhere (usually the internet.) But web pages have the feeling of being simultaneously static and ephemeral, which makes research difficult. Another problem is the sense that there is always more information out there, which isn’t being linked to. I appreciated Foot’s breakdown of the methodology for building the archive, but when she notes that they identified “nearly twenty-nine thousand sites” (92) my first thought was that there had to be more sites saying interesting things about September 11. Not to mention the non-Webpage internet resources that probably couldn’t be accessed. Reading the chapter, I kept thinking of how opaque the internet can be, and how it can be almost impossible to find what you’re looking for if you don’t know where or how to search for it.

Web sphere analysis seems like such an intuitive way to go about building an archive, but I did have some concerns about it. Namely, 1) what are the boundaries of the sphere, and 2) is it applicable to smaller events/non-event related phenomena. As far as boundaries go, I assume this could be defined by the archivist, but it brought up questions for me of how useful links are in this instance. I have no clue how often and link to each other, but I don’t know that I could build an archive about the 2008 US presidential elections without including both of them. The second concern is how the methodology could be adapted to phenomena that are not based around a specific event. I think of sites like Know Your Meme, which I find really useful as a way to track internet culture and see what escapes to the wider world, but what gets tracked there isn’t going to bubble up to the surface in a Google search and archivists aren’t going to find it by looking at major, high traffic sites (at least not “respectable” ones.)

The ‘other’ white meat?

Reading Frank Schaap’s Disaggregation, Technology, and Masculinity, I was a little dismayed but not entirely surprised when the author, “found that role-players largely rely on conventional and socially legible expressions of masculinity and femininity to enact their characters, while developing finely tuned mechanisms for reading one another’s performances for cues about the player’s real-life gender” (239). It has always been my belief that the way any particular society perceives and reinforces gender types (although not gender itself) is an entirely performative act as it seems to be the case in Schaap’s findings.

I think mmorpg’s like WoW are missing a great opportunity to rewrite the digital body. It has been awhile since I have looked into the characterization but I am going to assume that every class/race has a gendered choice and I wonder why no other option exists. If it is indeed set in a fantasy role-playing universe then why not create a class/race that is non-gendered? Of course, Nakamura and other readings from this seminar as well as the demographics and economy of the game itself provide the answer to this question. I can only hope that with the continuing evolution and success of the mmorpg that the use of monolithic masculinity as an othering force will begin to grey around the edges (241).

The spectacle of the spectator

In white’s introduction on ‘not photography’ the author suggests that ,”the spectator is encouraged to view realistically rendered web site images as if they were photographs,” leading up the idea that, “many spectators equate photographs and photolike forms with what they represent” (147). Or in so many words a picture is worth a thousand words or in the case of digital photography a thousand bytes. I found this chapter particularly fascinating for the way in which it interrogates spectatorship and the instability of the image in digital culture.

Setting aside a long diatribe about reader-response and reception theory, the question that has always been in my mind as an amateur photographer is one of mediation. As Alan Trachtenberg and others have suggested is that the photo and its role in western society encourages the viewer to ignore its long gaze and the lens of production in order to overlook the fact that is not unmediated (153). It seems that as a culture we prize the evidentiary and aesthetic value of such a medium yet we somehow compartmentalize this aspect when it is subverted by a “photoshopped meme”. The simple technology of red-eye reduction which happens automatically in most digital cameras and the use of dodge and burn techniques in the darkroom belie the ‘real-ness’ of such a medium. Is a photo of a photo hanging in a museum valued the same as the original?

Haraway and boundaries between identities

Looking at Haraway’s essay in terms of the issues around gender and race we were discussing a few weeks ago, I wonder if she can offer a way to look at some of the problems of identities that we brought up. Haraway argues that much of the problem with radical feminist theory is that it is totalizing, while identities are polyvalent and contested. If we extrapolate Haraway’s approach to this, and think about identities online as made up of both the social reality of the lived experience of the user and the social reality of the experience online, it might offer a way to explain the simultaneous feeling of making your own identity and being bound by the social rules that seem to belong to an offline world.

Nakamura covers some of this ground, but the part of Haraway that I find interesting in this context is the concept of boundaries and the way in which these identities are always existing in multiple places, as multiple things. It might be interesting to think of having a female gender identity both offline and online not as an integrated whole, but two identities that are related but have different properties, and thereby expose the constructedness of both identities.

Cyborg Reality

Reading Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto couldn’t be more timely, at least at the present time for me. Interestingly enough, I have been the “victim” of a cyber attack that just happened over the past few days concerning my Yahoo contacts list. Some of you may have received spam recently that appeared to be sent by me, from my Yahoo account—I don’t send spam! Anyway, when reading how Haraway describes [modern] machines as ” …made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum…” and so on, it dawned on me how I was manipulated both physically (in that I need to repair the damage to my “network”), as well emotionally (in the sense that it has caused a minor amount of stress). So was I the victim of a “Cyber” attack or a “Cyborg” attack?

Search Engines and Training Users

First off, because we mentioned it a couple of times in class, I found the Pew report on teens and text-speak really interesting. Apparently 64% of teenagers have used “informal styles from their text-based communications” in their course writing. Interestingly, the teenagers also overwhelmingly said that they don’t consider their text-based communication real writing, so it’s clear they see a difference, but they still let one bleed into the other.

The other topic I was interested in was sparked by a tiny controversy a few weeks ago when a blog wrote a post entitled “Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login.” It came up on Google at the top of the search results, and people flooded the blog’s comments, complaining that they couldn’t login. They had mistaken the blog for Facebook because it came up high in the Google search results for the search “facebook login.”

I looked at Pew’s work on search engines, which primarily seems to be about searching for health information, but I did find one media mention, where a researcher noted that, “When you turn on a tap you expect clean water to come out, and when you do a search you expect good information to come out.” There was an article about the problems of Google ads and the issues in keywords leading to the wrong result, which the article implies will be solved by the development of the semantic web. But the semantic web probably won’t solve the problem of the Facebook Login issue, because people were looking for information on Facebook and logging in, and the search result was ranked higher because Google placed it high in its news results. The problem here is maneuvering around the fact that people only learn enough about the technology to use it for their ends, and Googling a search then clicking on the first link gets people where they want to go most of the time. The real leap may be in training the people to use the technology better, rather than trying to improve the technology.

Smart or S-mart

I have always been interested in the anthropomorphization of the word ‘smart’ and its use or connotation when applied to computing. Lister tells us that smart houses, intelligent domestic appliances, black box edutainment systems and personal post-web info-sumerism portals are all the rage in futurist circles (223 -239). What makes these houses ‘smart’ and these appliances ‘intelligent’? Ability to follow simple pre-programmed hierarchical decision trees and the element of interactivity? Isn’t that essentially what a computer does now? Then why don’t we call the computers we use today ‘smart’ : Why don’t we call other devices with complex microprocessors like microwaves ‘smart’. Does this conversely mean that all other houses and appliances are ‘dumb’? The choice and application of vocabulary revolving around this issue is an interesting one to ponder and it leaves me thinking… is it a case of projecting our own egos, hopes and fears or is it just a matter of garbage in/garbage out in the post- industrial consumer dream.

These smart meters don’t seem very smart to me