Category Archives: Media

Jones & Schieffelin – Talking Text and Talking Back

Talking Text and Talking Back: ‘‘My BFF Jill’’ from Boob Tube to YouTube GrahamM. Jones Bambi B. Schieffelin

by Graham M. Jones & Bambi B. Schieffelin

[2009. Jones, Graham M., and Bambi B. Schieffelin. “Talking Text and Talking Back: ‘My BFF Jill’ from Boob Tube to YouTube.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14 (4): 1050–79. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01481.x. ]

Points & Quotes:

“In this article, we discuss these commercials as metalinguistic meditations and examine the further metalinguistic commentary their widespread circulation—in the media, on the Internet, and people’s talk—has occasioned. In particular, we examine these videos have elicited since migrating from television—the ‘‘boob tube’’—to YouTube, a website whose commenting feature has allowed texting aficionados to voice their metalinguistic views, at times in direct confrontation with language prescriptivists.” (1051)

“Most positive assessments of the commercials in the media and online emphasize how ‘‘funny’’ they are, leading us to analyze them here as instances of speech play” […]
Generally speaking, humor depends on the performative violation of expectations or conventions, often providing a publicly acceptable occasion for expressing latent tensions, frustrations, or fears (Beeman, 1981, 2000). In this sense, jokes often vehicle serious meanings or perform serious functions […]
On one hand, proponents of what Cameron (1995) calls ‘‘verbal hygiene’’ can point to the commercials as evidence of the danger teenage texting poses to Standard English. From this perspective, text-like speech is a kind of verbal contamination, resembling Mary Douglas’s (2002, pp. 44–5) famous description of dirt as ‘‘matter out of place.’’ […]
On the other hand, the positive reactions of young fans to the commercials suggest a different way of conceptualizing the same scenes of linguistic category confusion—in terms of Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque. (Bakhtin 1984, p. 10)
(1052-1053)

The Commercials

“the commercials paint a somewhat equivocal picture. They imagine the texting craze as a source of verbal anarchy with the potential to radically transform language and undermine communication between parents and children. At the same time, they clearly delight in the generativity of texting conventions and the infectious new forms of speech play that texting enables.” (1058)

“The phrase ‘‘IDK, my BFF Jill?’’ achieved a kind of free-standing iconicity, circulating widely in young people’s talk. The availability of the commercials for viewing on video sharing sites such as YouTube encouraged open-ended, asynchronous, discussion about their form, content, and linguistic implications in online forums.” (1058)

Just as news programs … “decontextualized” and “recontextualized (Bauman & Briggs, 1990) materials from the ‘‘Beth Ann’’ ads to construct narratives about the evolving language of texting, other sources indicate that young people across the United States extracted and performed key phrases from the commercial in everyday communication, establishing different “relations of intertextuality” (Spitulnik, 1997, p. 162). In her study of the circulation of the reception of mass media in Zambia, Spitulnik explores the way “phrases and discourse styles are extracted from radio broadcasting then recycled and reanimated in everyday usage, outside of the contexts of radio listening.” Spitulnik focuses on the way “detachable” elements of media discourse provide iconic cultural reference points that accompany the formation of speech community. (1059)

YouTube

“Commercials recorded from television by individual fans have been a popular upload item, making advertising itself an object of what Henry Jenkins (2006, 2008) calls the new “participatory culture” of fandom.” […]
but it is in the written comments about the three commercials themselves where the most dynamic metalinguistic dialogue unfolds.” (1061)

“We consider the YouTube dialogues about the emergent language of texting especially significant given Herring’s assertion that “mainstream media commentators interpret new technologies and youth practices in normative, moral terms, a process that reinscribes youth as ‘other,’” (2008, p. 71) and that young people have proportionally”‘fewer rights and opportunities to participate in public discourse” (p. 76) about their own practices.” (1062)

“Through the examination of a recent convergence between advertising, technology, and slang, we explore a timeless relationship fundamental to human language: the nexus of poetic language and metalanguage. In his famous distinction between the six dimensions and corresponding functions of language, Jakobson (1985) defines a verbal message that calls attention to its own construction as poetic, and a verbal message about language itself as metalingual (i.e., metalinguistic). […]
The original AT&T commercials are brilliantly crafted artifacts of speech play that assemble elements of everyday language in highly artificial but eminently entertaining verbal performances. These performances, in turn, provide not only resources for further verbal play, but also an impetus for metalinguistic commentary and assessment. In short, we argue that there is a direct, if not causal, connection between the ads’ poetic deployment of texting language and the critical discussions about texting language they have occasioned.” (1074-1075)

“It is clear that young people are actively consuming and producing YouTube content. What is particularly impressive to us is the attentiveness to language, both as a medium for verbal play and as stylistic marker of group membership subject to careful scrutiny, evident in the dialogues around the commercials. This leads us to conclude that the verbal ingenuity associated with texting — and talking text — should be viewed not as evidence of linguistic decline, but rather in terms of the reflexive, metalinguistic, sophistication it necessarily presupposes and potentially promotes.” (1075)

Terms:

speech play— ‘‘the manipulation of elements and components of language in relation to one another, in relation to the social and cultural contexts of language use, and against the backdrop of other verbal possibilities in which it is not foregrounded.’’ (Sherzer 2002, p. 1)

Abstract:

Exploring the close relationship between poetic language and metalanguage, this article analyzes both a series of 2007-8 U.S. TV ads that humorously deploy the language of text messaging, and the subsequent debates about the linguistic status of texting that they occasioned. We explore the ambivalence of commercials that at once resonate with fears of messaging slang as a verbal contagion and luxuriate in the playful inversion of standard language hierarchies. The commercials were invoked by monologic mainstream media as evidence of language decay, but their circulation on YouTube invited dialogic metalinguistic discussions, in which young people and texting proponents could share the floor with adults and language prescriptivists. We examine some of the themes that emerge in the commentary YouTubers have posted about these ads, and discuss the style of that commentary as itself significant.

Continue reading Jones & Schieffelin – Talking Text and Talking Back

Dibbell – A Rape in Cyberspace

A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society

by Julian Dibbell

[ Dibbell, Julian. 1993. “A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society” in The Village Voice, December 23, 1993]

Points & Quotes:

The Incident

“They say he raped them that night. They say he did it with a cunning little doll, fashioned in their image and imbued with the power to make them do whatever he desired. They say that by manipulating the doll he forced them to have sex with him, and with each other, and to do horrible, brutal things to their own bodies. And though I wasn’t there that night, I think I can assure you that what they say is true, because it all happened right in the living room — right there amid the well-stocked bookcases and the sofas and the fireplace — of a house I came for a time to think of as my second home.”

“LambdaMOO, a very large and very busy rustic mansion built entirely of words”

“This is … the story of a man named Mr. Bungle, and of the ghostly sexual violence he committed in the halls of LambdaMOO, and most importantly of the ways his violence and his victims challenged the 1000 and more residents of that surreal, magic-infested mansion to become, finally, the community so many of them already believed they were”

“here on the brink of a future in which human life may find itself as tightly enveloped in digital environments as it is today in the architectural kind […]
It asks us to shut our ears momentarily to the techno-utopian ecstasies of West Coast cyberhippies and look without illusion upon the present possibilities for building, in the on-line spaces of this world, societies more decent and free than those mapped onto dirt and concrete and capital. It asks us to behold the new bodies awaiting us in virtual space undazzled by their phantom powers, and to get to the crucial work of sorting out the socially meaningful differences between those bodies and our physical ones. And most forthrightly it asks us to wrap our late-modern ontologies, epistemologies, sexual ethics, and common sense around the curious notion of rape by voodoo doll—and to try not to warp them beyond recognition in the process.

“every set of facts in virtual reality (or VR, as the locals abbreviate it) is shadowed by a second, complicating set: the “real-life” facts. … No hideous clowns or trickster spirits appear in the RL version of the incident, no voodoo dolls or wizard guns, indeed no rape at all as any RL court of law has yet defined it … no bodies touched

“to the extent that Mr. Bungle’s assault happened in real life at all, it happened as a sort of Punch-and-Judy show, in which the puppets and the scenery were made of nothing more substantial than digital code and snippets of creative writing.”

it wasn’t until the evening of the second day after the incident that legba, finally and rather solemnly, gave it voice:

“I am requesting that Mr. Bungle be toaded for raping Starsinger and I. I have never done this before, and have thought about it for days. He hurt us both.”

“Toad the fukr.”

[to “toad” is basically an MUD death sentence:
“not only are the description and attributes of the toaded player erased, but the account itself goes too. The annihilation of the character, thus, is total.”

To Toad?

“Four months before the Bungle incident, the archwizard Haakon … announced that the wizards from that day forth were pure technicians. From then on, they would make no decisions affecting the social life of the MOO, but only implement whatever decisions the community as a whole directed them to. […]
the question of what to do about Mr. Bungle began to shape itself into a sort of referendum on the political future of the MOO.”

  • “Parliamentarian legalist types argued that unfortunately Bungle could not legitimately be toaded at all, since there were no explicit MOO rules against rape, or against just about anything else …
  • Others, with a royalist streak in them, seemed to feel that Bungle’s as-yet-unpunished outrage only proved this New Direction silliness had gone on long enough, and that it was high time the wizardocracy returned to the position of swift and decisive leadership their player class was born to …
  • [for the ]technolibertarians … MUD rapists were of course assholes, but the presence of assholes on the system was a technical inevitability …
  • the anarchists didn’t care much for punishments or policies or power elites. … they hoped the MOO could be a place where people interacted fulfillingly without the need for such things [and] were now at great pains to sever the conceptual ties between toading and capital punishment”

“So that when the time came, at 7 p.m. PST on the evening of the third day after the occurrence in the living room, to gather in evangeline’s room for her proposed real-time open conclave, …
Peaking in number at around 30, this was one of the largest crowds that ever gathered in a single LambdaMOO chamber, …
You could almost feel the claustrophobic air of the place, dank and overheated by virtual bodies, pressing against your skin.”

“There were the central questions, of course: thumbs up or down on Bungle’s virtual existence? And if down, how then to insure that his toading was not just some isolated lynching but a first step toward shaping LambdaMOO into a legitimate community?

“On these and other matters the anarchists, the libertarians, the legalists, the wizardists—and the wizards—all had their thoughtful say …
midway through the evening Mr. Bungle himself, the living, breathing cause of all this talk, teleported into the room. … And then he said this:

“I engaged in a bit of a psychological device that is called thought-polarization, the fact that this is not RL simply added to heighten the affect of the device. It was purely a sequence of events with no consequence on my RL existence.”

“he’d been around long enough to leave his newbie status behind, and his delusional statement therefore placed him among the second type: the sociopath. … at this point what seemed clear was that evangeline’s meeting had died, at last, and without any practical results to mark its passing.

Action

“JoeFeedback was a wizard, … he took the crime committed against legba and Starsinger very seriously, and that he felt no particular compassion toward the character who had committed it. But on the other hand he had made it equally plain that he took the elimination of a fellow player just as seriously, and moreover that he had no desire to return to the days of wizardly fiat. … as much as he would have liked to make himself an instrument of LambdaMOO’s collective will, he surely realized that under the present order of things he must in the final analysis either act alone or not act at all.”

“So JoeFeedback acted alone. …

He told the lingering few players in the room that he had to go, and then he went. He did it quietly and he did it privately. …
Mr. Bungle was truly dead and truly gone.”

Coda

“Certainly whatever civil society now informs LambdaMOO owes its existence to the Bungle Affair. The archwizard Haakon .. . would build into the database a system of petitions and ballots whereby anyone could put to popular vote any social scheme requiring wizardly powers for its implementation,”

“as I pored over the *social debate and got to know legba and some of the other victims and witnesses, I could feel my newbie consciousness falling away from me. Where before I’d found it hard to take virtual rape seriously, I now was finding it difficult to remember how I could ever not have taken it seriously.”

the more seriously I took the notion of virtual rape, the less seriously I was able to take the notion of freedom of speech, with its tidy division of the world into the symbolic and the real.”

“whatever else these thoughts tell me, I have come to believe that they announce the final stages of our decades-long passage into the Information Age, a paradigm shift that the classic liberal firewall between word and deed (itself a product of an earlier paradigm shift commonly known as the Enlightenment) is not likely to survive intact. After all, anyone the least bit familiar with the workings of the new era’s definitive technology, the computer, knows that it operates on a principle impracticably difficult to distinguish from the pre-Enlightenment principle of the magic word: the commands you type into a computer are a kind of speech that doesn’t so much communicate as make things happen, directly and ineluctably, the same way pulling a trigger does. They are incantations.”

Continue reading Dibbell – A Rape in Cyberspace

Martin – The Egg and the Sperm

The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles

by Emily Martin

[ Martin, Emily. 1991. “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles,” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 16, no. 3]

Points & Quotes:

“As an anthropologist, I am intrigued by the possibility that culture shapes how biological scientists describe what they discover about the natural world.” (485)

Egg and sperm: A scientific fairy tale

“Part of my goal in writing this article is to shine a bright light on the gender stereotypes hidden within the scientific language of biology.
[…]
“In the case of women, the monthly cycle is described as being designed to produce eggs and prepare a suitable place for them to be fertilized and grown—all to the end of making babies. But the enthusiasm ends there. By extolling the female cycle as a productive enterprise, menstruation must necessarily be viewed as a failure.
[…]
Male reproductive physiology is evaluated quite differently. One of the texts that sees menstruation as failed production employs a sort of breathless prose when it describes the maturation of sperm:

“The mechanisms which guide the remarkable cellular transformation from spermatid to mature sperm remain uncertain …. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of spermatogenesis is its sheer magnitude: the normal human male may manufacture several hundred million sperm per day.”

—Arthur J. Vander, James H. Sherman, and Dorothy S. Luciano, Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function, 3d ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1980), 483-84. (Martin 486)

“In the classic text Medical Physiology, edited by Vernon Mountcastle, the male/female, productive/destructive comparison is more explicit: “Whereas the female sheds only a single gamete each month, the seminiferous tubules produces hundreds of millions of sperm each day” (emphasis mine [Martin’s]).” (486)

“Textbook descriptions stress that all of the ovarian follicles containing ova are already present at birth. Far from being produced, as sperm are, they merely sit on the shelf, slowly degenerating and aging like overstocked inventory:

“At birth, normal human ovaries contain an estimated one million follicles [each], and no new ones appear after birth. Thus, in marked contrast to the male, the newborn female already has all the germ cells she will ever have. Only a few, perhaps 400, are destined to reach full maturity during her active productive life. All the others degenerate at some point in their development so that few, if any, remain by the time she reaches menopause at approximately 50 years of age.”

—Vander, Sherman, and Luciano, 568 (Martin 487)

“Scientists could begin to describe male and female processes as homologous. They might credit females with “producing” mature ova one at a time, as they’re needed each month, and describe males as having to face problems of degenerating germ cells.” (487-488)

“How is it that positive images are denied to the bodies of women? A look at language-in this case, scientific language-provides the first clue. Take the egg and the sperm. It is remarkable how “femininely” the egg behaves and how “masculinely” the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively “is transported;’ “is swept;’ or even “drifts” along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, “streamlined;’ and invariably active. They “deliver” their genes to the egg, “activate the developmental program of the egg;’ and have a “velocity” that is often remarked upon. Their tails are “strong” and efficiently powered. Together with the forces of ejaculation, they can ”propel the semen into the deepest recesses of the vagina:’ For this they need “energy;’ “fuel;’ so that with a “whiplashlike motion and strong lurches” they can “burrow through the egg coat” and “penetrate” it” (489-see original for the many citations)

“In a collection of scientific papers, an electron micrograph of an enormous egg and tiny sperm is titled “A Portrait of the Sperm.” This is a little like showing a photo of a dog and calling it a picture of the fleas.” (491)

New research, old imagery

“Work which Paul Wassarman conducted on the sperm and eggs of mice, focuses on identifying the specific molecules in the egg coat (the zona pellucida) that are involved in egg-sperm interaction.
[…]
“The imagery of sperm as aggressor is particularly startling in this case: the main discovery being reported is isolation of a particular molecule on the egg coat that plays an important role in fertilization! … He calls the molecule that has been isolated, ZP3, a “sperm receptor.” By allocating the passive, waiting role to the egg, Wassarman can continue to describe the sperm as the actor, the one that makes it all happen.
[…]
“It is as if Wassarman were determined to make the egg the receiving partner. Usually in biological research, the protein member of the pair of binding molecules is called the receptor, and physically it has a pocket in it rather like a lock. As the diagrams that illustrate Wassarman’ s article show, the molecules on the sperm are proteins and have “pockets.” The small, mobile molecules that fit into these pockets are called ligands. As shown in the diagrams, ZP3 on the egg is a polymer of “keys”; many small knobs stick out. Typically, molecules on the sperm would be called receptors and molecules on the egg would be called ligands. But Wassarman chose to name ZP3 on the egg the receptor and to create a new term, “the egg-binding protein,” for the molecule on the sperm that otherwise would have been called the receptor.” (495-496)

Social implications: Thinking beyond

Even though each new account gives the egg a larger and more active role, taken together they bring into play another cultural stereo- type: woman as a dangerous and aggressive threat.
[…]
These images grant the egg an active role but at the cost of appearing disturbingly aggressive. Images of woman as dangerous and aggressive, the femme fatale who victimizes men, are wide spread in Western literature and culture. More specific is the connection of spider imagery with the idea of an engulfing, devouring mother. New data did not lead scientists to eliminate gender stereotypes in their descriptions of egg and sperm. Instead, scientists simply began to describe egg and sperm in different, but no less damaging, terms. (498-499)

“Biology itself provides another model that could be applied to the egg and the sperm. The cybernetic model-with its feedback loops, flexible adaptation to change, coordination of the parts within a whole, evolution over time, and changing response to the environment-is common in genetics, endocrinology, and ecology and has a growing influence in medicine in general.” (499)

“The models that biologists use to describe their data can have important social effects. During the nineteenth century, the social and natural sciences strongly influenced each other: the social ideas of Malthus about how to avoid the natural increase of the poor inspired Darwin’s Origin of Species. Once the Origin stood as a description of the natural world, complete with competition and market struggles, it could be reimported into social science as social Darwinism, in order to justify the social order of the time. What we are seeing now is similar: the importation of cultural ideas about passive females and heroic males into the “personalities” of gametes. This amounts to the “im- planting of social imagery on representations of nature so as to lay a firm basis for reimporting exactly that same imagery as natural explanations of social phenomena.
Further research would show us exactly what social effects are being wrought from the biological imagery of egg and sperm. At the very least, the imagery keeps alive some of the hoariest old stereotypes about weak damsels in distress and their strong male rescuers. That these stereotypes are now being written in at the level of the cell constitutes a powerful move to make them seem so natural as to be beyond alteration.” (500)

“Even if we succeed in substituting more egalitarian, interactive metaphors to describe the activities of egg and sperm, and manage to avoid the pitfalls of cybernetic models, we would still be guilty of endowing cellular entities with personhood. More crucial, then, than what kinds of personalities we bestow on cells is the very fact that we are doing it at all. This process could ultimately have the most disturbing social consequences.
One clear feminist challenge is to wake up sleeping metaphors in science, particularly those involved in descriptions of the egg and the sperm. … Waking up such metaphors, by becoming aware of their implications, will rob them of their power to naturalize our social conventions about gender.” (501)

Continue reading Martin – The Egg and the Sperm

Nardi – My Life as a Night Elf Priest

My Life a a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft [Prologue & Chapter 2]

by Bonnie A. Nardi

[ Nardi, Bonnie. 2010. My Life a a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. University of Michigan Press ]

Points & Quotes:

“I believe World of Warcraft is an exemplar of a new means of forming and sustaining human relationships and collaborations through digital technology.” (5)

Aims:

My Life As a Night Elf Priest

  1. “The first aim of the book is to develop an argument about World of Warcraft that examines play as active aesthetic experience, drawing on activity theory (Leontiev 1974) and the work of philosopher John Dewey. […]
  2. “Understanding play in its contemporary digital manifestations is a second aim of the book. I argue that video games such as WoW are a new visual-performative medium enabled, and strongly shaped, by the capacities of digital technology, in particular the execution of digital rules powerful enough to call forth complex worlds of activity. […]
  3. “A third aim of the book is ethnographic reportage—interpreting experiences of playing World of Warcraft for those who will never play but wish to understand something of the role of video games in our culture.” (6-7)

Cool Thoughts about Ethnography

“Unlike research in most academic disciplines, where investigation proceeds according to a scientific procedure involving hypothesis generation and testing, ethnography moves in a “go with the flow” pattern that attempts to follow the interesting and the unexpected as they are encountered in the field.” (27)

Quote from Marylin Strathern:

“Ethnography is . . . the deliberate attempt to generate more data than the researcher is aware of at the time of collection . . . Rather than devising research protocols that will purify the data in advance of analysis, the anthropologist embarks on a participatory exercise which yields materials for which analytical protocols are often devised after the fact. (2004)” (28)

Marilyn Strathern, Partial Connections, 2004

Specifically Digital Ethnography:

“Most anthropological fieldwork requires a budget for foreign travel and the necessity to leave home. It often requires living under difficult circumstances. The cost of entering a virtual world is very low—in the case of World of Warcraft 50 dollars for the game CDs and 14 dollars a month for the subscription. No research grants or struggles with a foreign language were necessary to initiate the research. Nor was there a need to cope with disturbing food, large insects, filth, dangerous diseases, or homesickness. My entry point to the field site was a computer on my dining room table where I sat in a comfortable chair and played for many hours. And yet this fieldwork was nearly as immersive as the fieldwork I conducted for my postdoctoral research in Western Samoa or Papua New Guinea, where I accompanied my husband for his doctoral research. I typically played about 20 hours a week. I read fewer novels and slept a bit less. In addition to game play, I read my guild’s website nearly every day and spent considerable time reading about World of Warcraft on the Internet.” (29)

However…

“Most of the interviews were conducted face-to-face; I find I learn more when I sit down with someone for an unhurried conversation.” (30)

“Many guild members were parents with small children. It was not unusual for game play to stop as a player settled an infant who had awakened or took time out to bandage a skinned knee. Part of the guild ethos was that members had real lives, so such actions were to be tolerated politely and patiently.” (33)

“One difference in studying WoW was that the research inclined toward the participant end of participant-observation. I learned to play the game well enough to participate in a raiding guild. I looked just like any other player. For many practical purposes, I was just another player. I could not have studied raiding guilds without playing as well as at least an average player and fully participating in raids. By contrast, when I was walking around villages in Papua New Guinea or Western Samoa, I was obviously an outsider whose identity required explanation.” (34)

“Blending in, however, is not necessarily characteristic of research in virtual worlds; it does not distinctly identify “digital ethnography.” In research I conducted in Second Life with IBM, my participation as a researcher was made clear to others to the point of having a halo over my character’s head to identify my special status. Boellstorff (2008) and Pearce (2009) were identified as researchers in the virtual worlds they studied. It may be more natural to set up shop as an anthropologist in non-game worlds; in a game world, the overwhelming need to play dominates interaction much of the time.” (35)

Continue reading Nardi – My Life as a Night Elf Priest

Gee – Learning and Identity

Learning and Identity: What does it Mean to Be a Half-Elf?

by James Paul Gee

[ Gee, James Paul. 2003. “Learning and Identity: What does it Mean to Be a Half-Elf?” Chapter 3 of What Video Games have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan, NYC]

THREE IDENTITIES: VIRTUAL, REAL, AND PROJECTIVE

Points & Quotes:

Virtual Identity

“First, there is a virtual identity: one’s identity as a virtual character in the virtual world … “James Paul Gee as BeadBead” … given the sort of creature Bead Bead is (a female Half-Elf) and how I have developed her thus far, there are, at any point, things she can do and things she cannot do.” (54)

“The successes and failures of the virtual being Bead Bead (me in my virtual identity) are a delicious blend of my doing and not my doing. After all, I made Bead Bead and developed her, so I deserve—partly, at least—praise for her successes and blame for her failures. Yet Bead Bead is who she is—a female Half-Elf—and must move through the world of Arcanum and be formed, in part, by it, a world I did not create.” (54-55)

Real Identity

“A second identity that is at stake in playing a game like Arcanum is a real- world identity: namely, my own identity as “James Paul Gee,” a nonvirtual person playing a computer game. I will represent this identity as “James Paul Gee as Bead Bead,” where James Paul Gee is italicized to indicate that, in this identity, the stress is on the real-world character James Paul Gee playing Arcanum as a game in real time (though Bead Bead is the tool through which I operate the game).” (55)

“In the real world I have a good many different nonvirtual identities . I am a professor, a linguist , an Anglo American, a middle-age male baby boomer, a parent, an avid reader, a middle-class person initially raised outside the middle class, a former devout Catholic, a lover of movies, and so on through a great many other identities … Which of these identities, for instance, was at play—positively or negatively—when I got such joy at having Bead Bead pick rich people’s pockets? When I chose to be a female Half-Elf in the first place? When I chose to use my points to make her as strong and good as a male at melee fighting with a sword?” (55)

Projective Identity

“A third identity that is at stake in playing a game like Arcanum is what I will call a projective identity, playing on two senses of the word “project,” meaning both “to project one’s values and desires onto the virtual character” (Bead Bead, in this case) and “seeing the virtual character as one’s own project in the making, a creature whom I imbue with a certain trajectory through time defined by my aspirations for what I want that character to be and become (within the limitation s of her capacities, of course)” … “James Paul Gee as Bead Bead … the stress is on the interface between—the interactions between—the real- world person and the virtual character.” (55-56)

“The kind of person I want Bead Bead to be, the kind of history I want her to have, the kind of person and history I am trying to build in and through her is what I mean by a projective identity. Since these aspirations are my desires for Bead Bead, the projective identity is both mine and hers, and it is a space in which I can transcend both her limitations and my own.” (56)

“For example, on my first try at the game, early on I had Bead Bead sell the ring the old man had given her. … It’s a move allowed by the internal design grammar of the game and one for which I would have suffered no bad consequences in the game world. … However, the act just seemed wrong for the creature I wanted Bead Bead to be (or to have become, however partially, by the end of the game). … I felt I had “let her down” and started the game all over again. Thus, in my projective identity—Bead Bead as my project—I am attributing feelings and motives to Bead Bead that go beyond the confines of the game world and enter the realm of a world of my own creation.” (57-58)

TL;DR

“This tripartite play of identities (a virtual identity, a real-world identity, and a projective identity) in the relationship “player as virtual character” is quite powerful. It transcends identification with characters in novels or movies, for instance, because it is both active (the player actively does things) and reflexive, in the sense that once the player has made some choices about the virtual character, the virtual character is now developed in a way that sets certain parameters about what the player can do. The virtual character redounds back on the player and affects his or her future actions.” (58)

Continue reading Gee – Learning and Identity

Smith & Mantz – Do Cellular Phones Dream of Civil War?

Do Cellular Phones Dream of Civil War?: The Mystification of Production and the Consequences of Technology Fetishism in the Eastern Congo

by James H. Smith & Jeffrey W. Mantz

[ Smith, James H. & Jeffrey W. Mantz. 2006. “Do Cellular Phones Dream of Civil War?: The Mystification of Production and the Consequences of Technology Fetishism in the Eastern Congo” in Inclusion and Exclusion in the Global Arena (ed. Max Kirsch), Routledge, New York City. Pg. 71-94]

Points & Quotes:

After comparing two epigraphs:

  • From City of Bits by William Mitchell
  • Comment Ben Wisner about Democratic Republic of Congo city Goma after it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption…

“what ties the city of Goma and the city of bits together is columbite-tantalite, known in the eastern Congo region as coltan. This silicate (from which the heat-resistant powder tantalum is extracted) is at present the most effective current conductor in existence, and a crucial component of the microchips found in all digital technology (cell phones, laptops, pagers, Sony PlayStation, iPods, etc.) as well as a host of other electronic devices, including hear- ing aids and pacemakers. It is estimated that the eastern region of the DRC is home to 80 percent of the world’s reserves of coltan (Moyroud & Katunga 2002, 159).” (71)

“Coltan is bought by middlemen frequently operating under the auspices of one or another local militias, who in turn typically sell to Belgian and other expatriate traders, often in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Those intermediaries then sell to buyers in the United States, Japan, and Europe, who will extract the tantalum powder from the ore and refine and process. […] much of this work seems to be done in former uranium processing plants in Kazakhstan, for eventual sale in China [IPIS 2002, 8]).” (74-75)

“The promise of an interconnected world, of fluid identities— indeed the possibility of postmodern thought, and the notion that we live today in a postmodern world—arguably has as its precondition this commodity and its particular qualities (of density and relative accessibility, for example), as well as the labor relations, trade conditions, and internal fragmentation that have made this commodity available to the world at an affordable price. […] The fact that most of the world’s supply of coltan is located in the Congo also means that the cultural dispositions associated with postmodernism (the emphasis on subjectivity, ambiguity, flexibility, multivocality, and the generative power of consumption as a form of agency and politics) are dependent on genocide, ecocide, incarceration, and … production in the Congo.” (76)

“Part of what we are arguing here is that in order to understand the world today we need to find ways of drawing conceptual connections between disconnected parts of that world […] we believe that the commodity coltan is perfect for thinking through the postmodern moment because, far from overflowing sumptuously with meaning (like sugar), it is comparatively meaningless, undistinguished, and invisible. More accurately, coltan is systematically rendered meaningless and invisible by the production process and by the network of political and corporate bodies that control its distribution.” (78)

“In the film The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, discovers that the world in which he lives is a computer-generated mirage, that the physical world beyond this simulacrum is an all too real nightmare, where humans are allowed to exist because they are the only remaining natural resource. […]
The truth of our times is that we are living in this Matrix now: (1) we are increasingly dependent on virtual realities, as Mitchell suggests, (2) these virtual realities are grounded in real human terror, slavery, incarceration, and world destruction somewhere, and (3) the rooted- ness of these virtual worlds in production and cannibalism (both in a metaphoric and a literal sense: for instance, reports of Mai Mai cannibalism as a form of counter-state production in the DRC) is systematically concealed from us, partly by virtue of the fetish form in which technology presents itself as a sui generis world-historic force. Any social theory that proceeds from virtual worlds as existing realities of their own accord (an analysis of the social-psychological, and even economic, implications of the online game and world Everquest, for example), detached from materiality and production, is choosing the Matrix as its reality, its home, and its sustenance. Doing so ignores the increasingly obvious fact that this virtual reality proceeds from work that is—in its current organization—rapidly bringing the underside of the matrix (dehumanization, implosion of the state, and ecocide) into being as objective global reality.” (86)

Continue reading Smith & Mantz – Do Cellular Phones Dream of Civil War?

Gershon – The Breakup 2.0

The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media

by Ilana Gershon

[Gershon, Ilana. 2010. The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media, Cornell University Press]

Points & Quotes:

Introduction

“Breaking up face-to-face is widely considered the ideal way to end a relationship. Most people told me that breaking up through the wrong medium can signal to others the initiator’s cowardice, lack of respect, callousness, or indifference. People’s ideas about the medium shape the ways that medium will deliver a message. No matter what is actually said, the medium becomes part of what is being communicated. … When you are breaking up, the medium is part of the message.” (3)

Media ideologies are a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media.” (3)

“Sometimes what is important about a medium is how much it resembles another medium—like e-mail and letters for college students. Sometimes what is important is how distinct the medium is from other media—like e-mail and letters for me. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin use the term “remediation” to describe the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (1999, 28).” (5)

“People don’t concoct their media ideologies on their own; they develop their beliefs about media and ways of using media within idioms of practice. By idioms of practice, I mean that people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other…
Idioms of practice emerge out of collective discussions and shared practices. Often the implicit intuitions don’t become apparent until someone violates an expectation—perhaps by breaking up using the wrong medium” (6)

“To sum up, remediation, different media ideologies, different idioms of practice—all these analytical concepts point to how people are experiencing these media as new media.” (9)

“People are still in the process of figuring out the social rules that might govern how to use these technologies. They are also working out how using a particular medium might affect the message sent through that medium. In asking “what makes new media new?” I am making a distinction between the fact of newness and the ways in which people understand and experience the newness of technology.” (10)

“Daniel Miller and Donald Slater are ethnographers of the Internet who warn scholars not to be the ones deciding what counts as virtual. Virtual communication, they argue, is ‘a social accomplishment’ that sometimes accompanies a medium such as the Internet, but does not invariably do so (Miller and Slater 2000, 6). (13)

“I soon realized that for the people I interviewed, Facebook, video chats, or instant messaging may be done through a computer screen, but they are not virtual. That is to say, these media are not cyberrealms distinct from other interactions, but rather Facebook communication is inextricably intertwined with every other way that they communicate. They did not understand information or meaning conveyed through Facebook or instant messaging to be “virtual,” while other forms of communication conveyed “real” information or meaning.
Practically, this means that for those I interviewed, Facebook communication is but one among many ways of communicating with others. Choosing to communicate by Facebook is almost always a choice that is understood not in terms of a choice between real communication and virtual communication but rather as a choice between Facebook, phone, e-mail, instant message, or in-person communication.” (13-14)

Chapter One

“As mentioned in the introduction, people’s media ideologies—their beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication—makes a personal e-mail account different from a work e-mail account, or a text message different from a phone call.” (18)

Second-order information refers to the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.” (18)

“Turning to the media used is just an extension of a U.S. tendency to discuss breakups by describing the way breakups took place.” (23)

“The kind of informality people agree to attribute to a particular medium, such as texting, will shape when it is appropriate to use that medium. While text messages might be too informal for a breakup, they often had the right level of informality for starting to flirt with someone. Women insisted to me that if they met someone who was interested in them, they would exchange phone numbers, but only to text each other. Calling would express too much interest; calling would be too forward a move. But texting was considered to carry low enough stakes that one could begin an exchange with the right level of ambiguity, unclear whether the exchange is about friendship or desire.” (23-24)

I have been describing some of the media ideologies at play when people break up with each other (and there are many more), in part to clarify what it means to analyze new media from an ethnographic or anthropological perspective. I could discuss the ways I think a medium functions—whether texting ensures more of an immediate answer than instant messaging or e-mail, and how that might affect a breakup—but that would be an interpretation based on my own assumptions and experiences with technology. People develop understandings of how media functions based on their own practices and conversations they have with the people they know, as well as the stories they hear and see through the media.” (32)

one should not presume to know the media ideologies that accompany a particular technology in advance without asking a person many questions to determine what his or her media ideologies and practices are.” (32)

“People always mentioned which medium was used whenever they recounted a conversation. As people of all ages told me breakup stories, they tended to tell me not only the sequence of events, who said what and when, but they also always mentioned the media in which each conversation or message took place.” (34)

“once I started paying attention, it became clear that mentioning the medium is a relatively typical feature of contemporary American breakup narratives.” (35)

“I want to suggest that because people don’t share the same media ideologies, especially about new media, part of what someone is doing by marking every medium in their story is tracing the detective work they had to do to determine which genre of story this narrative was going to become as it unfolded.” (38)

Idioms of Practice: “Groups of friends, classes, workers in an office will develop together their own ways of using media to communicate with each other.” (39)

“Two main reasons emerged from the interviews to explain why there are so many idioms of practice with new media right now, why people keep discovering that there isn’t a general consensus…

  • First, because these are new media, people haven’t had time to develop a widespread consensus about how to use a medium, especially for relatively rare communicative tasks such as breaking up
  • Second, communicating with these new media can present social dilemmas that people have to solve—and will often try to figure out with their friends.” (39-40 bullets added)

How people understand the media they use shapes the ways they will use it. As a result, determining people’s media ideologies is crucial when you are trying to figure out the ways that people communicate through different technologies. Often, people take for granted their own assumptions about how a medium shapes the information transmitted. They don’t always realize that their way of using communicative technology is but one of many ways, that what they focus on as important features of a medium may not be generally held to be the important features.” (48)

[Looking forward to chapter 2] …”To understand other people’s media ideologies, one has to figure out two primary aspects. First, what structures of that particular medium matter for people, and when do those structures matter? …
Second, people understand a particular medium only in the con- text of other media.” (49)

Terms:

Media Ideologies—a set of beliefs about communicative technologies with which users and designers explain perceived media structure and meaning. That is to say, what people think about the media they use will shape the way they use media
[For a parallel definition of language ideologies, see Silverstein 1979, 193]

Idioms of Practice—people figure out together how to use different media and often agree on the appropriate social uses of technology by asking advice and sharing stories with each other

remediation—the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them (from Bolter & Grusin 1999, 28)

Second-order information—the information that can guide you into understanding how particular words and statements should be interpreted. One never sends a message without the message being accompanied by second-order information; that is, without indications about how the sender would like the message received.
This is part, but only part, of what linguistic anthropologists have called metapragmatics (see Silverstein 2001).

Selected Sources:

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Miller, Daniel, and Don Slater. 2000. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg.

Silverstein, Michael. 1979. “Language Structure and Linguistic Ideology.” In The Elements: A Parasession on Linguistic Units and Levels, edited by Paul Clyne, William Hanks, and Carol Hofbauer, 193–247. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Silverstein, Michael. 2001. “The Limits of Awareness.” In Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, edited by Alessandro Duranti, 382–401. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Continue reading Gershon – The Breakup 2.0

Carr – Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Is Google Making Us Stupid?
What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

by Nicholas Carr

[Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in The Atlantic Monthly; Jul/Aug 2008; 302, 1; pg. 56-63]

Points & Quotes:

  • “For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind.” (57)
  • “As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive chan­nels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought . And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” (57)
  • “The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV. (59)
  • “Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that ‘s been written about the Net, there ‘s been little consider­ation of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.” (59)
  • “Google … has declared that its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “under­ stands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” In Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency.” (60)
  • “The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their eco­nomic interest to drive us to distraction.” (61)
Continue reading Carr – Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Horst & Miller – The Digital and the Human

The Digital and the Human: A Prospectus for Digital Anthropology

by Heather Horst & Daniel Miller

[Horst, Heather A., and Daniel Miller. 2012. “The Digital and the Human: A Prospectus for Digital Anthropology.” In Digital Anthropology, 3–35. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.]

Points:

Six main principles

  1. The first principle is that the digital itself intensifies the dialectical nature of culture
  2. Our second principle suggests that humanity is not one iota more mediated by the rise of the digital
  3. The commitment to holism, the foundation of anthropological perspectives on humanity, represents a third principle
  4. The fourth principle reasserts the importance of cultural relativism and the global nature of our encounter with the digital
  5. The fifth principle is concerned with the essential ambiguity of digital culture with regard to its increasing openness and closure
  6. Our final principle acknowledges the materiality of digital worlds, which are neither more nor less material than the worlds that preceded them

“The primary point of this introduction, and the emergence of digital anthropology as a subfield more generally, is in resolute opposition to all approaches that imply that becoming digital has either rendered us less human, less authentic or more mediated. Not only are we just as human within the digital world, the digital also provides many new opportunities for anthropology to help us understand what it means to be human” (13).

“In effect, the digital is producing too much culture, which, because we cannot manage and engage with it, renders us thereby superficial or shallow or alienated” (15).

“At the level of abstraction, there are grounds for thinking we have reached rock bottom; there can be nothing more basic and abstract than binary bits, the difference between 0 and 1. At the other end of the scale, it is already clear that the digital far outstrips mere commoditization in its ability to proliferate difference” (16).

“Digital anthropology fails to the degree it makes the nondigital world appear in retrospect as unmediated and unframed. One of the reasons digital studies have often taken quite the opposite course has been the continued use of the term virtual, with its implied contrast with the real” (22).

“Rather than seeing predigital worlds as less mediated, we need to study how the rise of digital technologies has created the illusion that they were” (23).

“Social science had demonstrated how the real world was virtual long before we came to realize how the virtual world is real” (24).

“the term real must be regarded as colloquial and not epistemological. it should be clear that we are not more mediated. We are equally human in each of the different and diverse arenas of framed behaviour within which we live” (24).

“Materiality is thus bedrock for digital anthropology, and this is true in several distinct ways, of which three are of prime importance. First, there is the materiality of digital infrastructure and technology. Second, there is the materiality of digital content, and, third, there is the materiality of digital context” (34).

“We would therefore suggest that the key to digital anthropology, and perhaps to the future of anthropology itself, is, in part, the study of how things become rapidly mundane. What we experience is not a technology per se but an immediately cultural inflected genre of usage” (38).

Being human is a cultural and normative concept. As our second principle showed, it is our definition of being human that mediates what the technology is, not the other way around” (38).

“The faster the trajectory of cultural change, the more relevant the anthropologist, because there is absolutely no sign that the changes in technology are outstripping the human capacity to regard things as normative” (39).

Continue reading Horst & Miller – The Digital and the Human

Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community

Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the “Fluffy Bunny” Sanction

by Angela Coco & Ian Woodward

[Coco, Angela, and Ian Woodward. 2007. “Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the ‘Fluffy Bunny’ Sanction.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (5): 479–504.]

Points

  • Discussing “fluffy bunnies” is “a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments.”
    • It explores pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings.
    • Implicit in the discussion is a sense of a “them” who are seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distance ourselves from such things (480).
  • “In a consumer society one purchases objects—commodities such as Tarot cards, ritual tools, medieval dress—that enhance, edify, improve, and sustain self.
    • These objects then act as material boundary markers that suggest things people wish to cultivate about themselves and exclude polluting aesthetics/others” (482).

 

  • pagans are conscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions of pagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in the notion of the “fluffy bunny” (499).
  • “A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicates the ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively create meaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods and services that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features of these tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundaries pagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity” (483).
  • “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice” (499).

 

  • Fluffy Bunnies defined:
    • “those people who gain a surface grasp of pagan practices but fail to incorporate pagan beliefs into their day-to-day life practices” (500).
    • “uninformed, immature, and lacking in their understanding of the forces of nature and consequently dangerous because they may misuse magic”—informant (500).
    • “a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or as was said not steadfast in there (sic) beliefs. I am sure that we have all met the 12 year old who is a high priestess and the leader of huge demonic armies and has alliances with the elves!!!!”—informant (500).
    •  “perhaps what bugs me most about these type (sic) is not so much the superficiality (which the ‘fashion-witch’ has in spades) but the hyposcrisy (sic) which often enables them todo harm whilst preaching love and light, and never once recognizing the results of their own actions”—informant (501).
    • “They refer to the superficial practitioner’s tendency to focus only on the light, happy side of life without balancing it with the dark and difficult aspects of experience” (501).

 

Abstract

The commodification of the religious impulse finds its most overt expression in the New Age movement and its subculture neopaganism. This article examines discourses in the pagan community in an Australian state. Pagans, who have been characterized as individualist, eclectic, and diverse in their beliefs and practices, network through electronic mail discussion lists and chat forums as well as through local and national offline gatherings. We explore community building and boundary defining communications in these discourses. In particular, we examine interactions that reveal the mobilization of pagans’ concern with authenticity in the context of late-capitalism, consumer lifestyles, and media representations of the “craft.” Our analysis highlights a series of tensions in pagans’ representations of and engagement with consumer culture which are evident in everyday pagan discourse. These notions of in/authenticity are captured by invoking the “fluffy bunny” sanction.

Continue reading Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community