Tag Archives: Hayles

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

Escobar – Welcome to Cyberia

Welcome to Cyberia: Notes on the Anthropology of Cyberculture

by Arturo Escobar

[Escobar, Arturo. 1994. “Welcome to Cyberia: Notes on the Anthropology of Cyberculture.” Current Anthropology 35 (3):211–31.]

Points

  • “The point of departure of this inquiry is the belief that any technology represents a cultural invention, in the sense that it brings forth a world; it emerges out of particular cultural conditions and in turn helps to create new ones” (211).
  • “the priority accorded science and theory over technical creativity has led moderns to believe that they can describe nature and society according to laws. Rather than as the effect of practice nature and society appear as objects with mechanisms and are therefore treated instrumentally” (213).
  • cyberculture” refers specifically to new technologies in two areas: artificial intelligence (particularly computer and information technologies) and biotechnology [… to] the realization that we increasingly live and make ourselves in techno-biocultural environments structured by novel forms of science and technology” (214).
  • Anthropological research into cybercultures should be guided by four inquiries:
    1. What are the discourses and practices that are generated around/by computers and biotechnology?
    2. How can these practices and domains be studied ethnographically in various social, regional, and ethnic settings?
    3. What is the background of understanding from which the new technologies emerge?
    4. What is the political economy of cyberculture? (215)
  • “The anthropology of cyberculture holds that we can assume a priori neither the existence of a era nor the need for a new branch of anthropology” (216).
  • “technoscience is motivating a blurring and implosion of categories at various levels, particularly the modern categories that defined the natural, the organic, the technical, and the textual”
    • “Bodies,” “organisms,” and “communities” thus have to be retheorized as composed of elements that originate in three different domains with permeable boundaries” (217).
  • Possible ethnographic domains and research strategies:
    1. The production and use of new technologies
    2. The appearance of Computer-mediated communities
    3. Studies of the popular culture of science and technology, including the effect of science and technology on the popular imaginary
    4. The growth and qualitative development of human computer-mediated communication, particularly from the perspective of the relationship between language communication, social structures, and cultural identity
    5. The political economy of cyberculture (217-219).
  • Then a bunch about complexity, including:
    • “The discovery that “inert” matter has properties that are remarkably close to those of life-forms led to the postulate that life is a property not of organic
      matter per se but of the organization of matter and hence to the concept of nonorganic life (de Landa 1992)” (221).

Terms

  • interface anthropology—put forth by Laurel (1990, 91-93), it is a “focus on user/context intersections, finding “informants” to guide the critical (not merely utilitarian) exploration of diverse users and contexts” (218).
    • appended to that definition is this cool footnote: “Walker (1990) distinguishes five phases in the history of user interfaces (1) knobs and dials, (2) batch (a specialist computer operator running a stack of jobs on punched cards), (3) timesharing (,4) menus, (5) graphics windows. The next phase will take the user directly ‘inside’ the computer, through the screen to cyberspace, so to say. This will be a three-dimensional space such as the one achieved by virtual reality today. The hope of designers is that it will replace more passive viewing with active participation” (218)
  • Poeisis—Heidegger’s term for the essence of Being. It’s present in the arts and certain Eastern philosophies. See The Question Concerning Technology
  • Social constructivism—a methodology and theoretical stance based on the idea “that, contrary to the technological determinism of past times, contingency and flexibility are the essence of technological change; by showing that social processes are inherent to technological innovations, they deal a fatal blow to the alleged separation of technology from society and of both of these from nature” (212).
  • interpretive flexibility—”the fact—long known to anthropologists—that different actors (“relevant social groups,” in the constructivists’ parlance) interpret technological artifacts in different ways” (212).

Abstract

Significant changes in the nature of social life are being brought about by computer information and biological technologies to the extent that—some argue—a new cultural order, “cyberculture,” is coming into being. This paper presents an overview of the types of anthropological analyses that are being conducted in the area of new technologies and suggests additional steps for the articulation of an anthropology of cyberculture. It builds upon science, technology, and society studies in various fields and on critical studies of modernity. The implications of technoscience for both anthropological theory and ethnographic research are explored.

 

Continue reading Escobar – Welcome to Cyberia

Burgess—Nation, Book, Medium

Nation, Book, Medium: New Technologies and Their Genres

by Miranda Burgess

[Burgess, Miranda. 2009. “Nation, Book, Medium: New Technologies and Their Genres.” In Genres in the Internet: Issues in the Theory of Genre, 193–219. Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing.]

Points

  • This essay “treats genre less as a self-evident proposition than as an analytic category that is undergoing (re)definition, a scholarly mode that has itself become the object of study”
  • “In arguing that the self-reflexive discourse of new media shares both a history and a form with the scholarly discourse about new media, this essay makes the case for the utility of genre theory in charting the process of media succession and in examining the experience of media change” (193-94).
    • emphasis is on experience, defined here as “the interface between history and the subject, or the perceptual and analytic exchange between the flow of events and their narrative rendition” (194).
  • “relatively few have sought to remake genre theory as what Cohen calls “a theory of behavior” (Cohen 2003: iv). By attending in a specifically historical way to what I will be calling the genre of new media history, this essay aims to propose, if not a general theory of generic motivation, then at least an account of genre formation in the context of the experience of change” (194).

Genre, Model, Method, Theory

  • “Marshall McLuhan addressed the citation of older media by newer ones in his famous aphorism that “The ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium” (McLuhan 1964: 23) (195).
  • “N. Katherine Hayles characterizes the relations between contemporaneously existing forms as a “medial ecology”: all media, and thus all mediated works, are to be understood in a context of interaction within and against one another (Hayles 2002: 33).”
  • “I wish to emphasize the pragmatic character of genre in my own account of new media history, which will argue for the recognition of genres in process where a common ground of what I will call, for lack of a better term, narrative form can be found among writers and new media producers. But I want, at the same time, to underline the role played by genre both as an experiential reflection and a motor of historical change” (197).

New Media Histories

meta-media:the scholarship on new media 1991-2000

  • “In the Anglo-American world of the 1990s, salons and newspapers rang to the clash of competing voices as academics, journalists, politicians and public intellectuals argued about new media […]
  • “Jean Baudrillard and Jameson, were engaged with a corresponding set of problems, which they characterized as a loss of cultural depth, of a sense of location, of a historical sense, of a sense of the real (Jameson 1991; Baudrillard 1988).1” (199).
  • the new media histories of the 1990s reference a past whose characteristic modes of social organization (the nation) and of writing and reading (the book) exist in an analytic proximity—indeed, an intimacy—that yields to a slippage between them.”

New media: The net.goths and their websites in the 1990s

  • “The slippage of nation and book that typifies the meta-media of the 1990s is even more apparent in new media practice itself: in the social networking websites produced by net.goths at the end of the twentieth century” (203).
  • “As in Rheingold’s account of the WELL, the participants in Nola-Goth.org envisioned their use of electronically mediated communication as a way to establish a form of direct democracy, which they described as a characteristic American public practice of the past and represented as having been lost. As in Doheny-Farina’s more skeptical analysis, however, they conceded the technology’s inadequacies by meeting in person to socialize and debate, and their electronic interactions remained nostalgic for the same material spaces: the town hall, coffeehouse, and tavern” (205).

New media and meta-media, 1790-1820s: Walter Scott’s situation

  • “conjunction of (old) books with nations may well be an inherited expression of crisis, one that is not, however, transhistorical, but rather post-Romantic: a form of crisis founded at the historical moment when print becomes ubiquitous (St Clair 2004: 10–13). In this context, it may be seen that the old book that is an apparent generic requirement of new media history does indeed “come from” another genre, a precursor narrative of media change in which old books and new compete on the battleground of national community” […]
  • “The “Net.Goth Directory book,” in particular, is a visibly, even exaggeratedly antiquarian object […]
  • it resembles an earlier book: the “Mighty Book, With iron clasp’d, and with iron bound,” belonging to “the wizard, Michael Scott” in Walter Scott’s 1805 narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel (Scott 1805: 2.21.8–9; 6.26.25). The antiquity of the Directory’s book thus refers doubly to its history: to the hypermediated forms of Romantic nationalism associated with Scott as well as to the interlocking conceptions of literary and national tradition on which new media history from the turn of the nineteenth century to the turn of the twenty-first has drawn in its nation—and canon—making” (208).
  • “Scott’s poem intervenes, moreover, in a context that forms a striking parallel to the emergence and spread of new communications media in the 1990s: that of the widening of reading audiences and growth in periodical writing at the turn of the nineteenth century that William St Clair has termed the rise of the “reading nation” (St Clair 2004)” […]
  • “The wooden frame of the press was replaced by iron, hand- fed broadsheets were succeeded by the mechanized feed of continuous paper, and, after 1811, the hand-worked press began giving way to steam (Steinberg 1959: 198–206)” (209).

    Page 221, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As these examples suggest, new media debate at the turn of the nineteenth century shares with the new media discussions of the 1990s a governing oppo- sition between materiality and dematerialization, substance and insubstantiality, in which the nation and old books serve as reassuring ballast.”

The genre of new media history

  • “These distinct situations share not only a narrative arc and a metaphoric register but also, I would suggest, a set of causes. To read the writings of new media historians from the turn of the nineteenth century is to find an explicit argument about the dependency of nations on literacy and the subjection of nations to the vagaries of reading. To some extent this Romantic argument may have been self-interested, rooted in very personal anxieties about the fate of literature, and poetry in particular, in what seemed to be the coming age of mass literacy and ephemeral written forms (see e.g. Keen 2000; Siskin 1998: 130–152). In this way, it parallels the hinted but rarely voiced concern of late twentieth-century commentators, academic and otherwise, about their own displacement by new media and new content—from the depopulation of academic courses and the corresponding loss of intellectual property to the tabloidization and disappearance of newspapers in the new day of the blogosphere (see Noble 1998; Liu 2004: 30; Angwin & Hallinan 2005)” (213).
  • the emergence of genre is a behavioral response to change. It is the outcome of the mingling of purpose (a response to the experience of history) and of purposiveness (the subject’s self-consciousness about his or her encounter with the forms in which history is understood and narrated) with a narrative response that, broadly, shares a common form, an arc, figure, or set of references” (214, italics and bold added).
  • “to what extent can it be suggested that genre as a category, at once a hallmark of continuity and a register of evolution, is a writer’s (failed?) response to subjectively experienced agonies of change (as a loss of agency)? (215).

Conclusions

  • For Scott and for others, the nation and the book, whether figured as the traditionary objects of nostalgia or as threatened ideals in need of restoration or defense, serve as compensatory objects in the face of medial and social history. Both are always already superseded; the question is only whether they should or can return, and in what form. For these writers, … however, genre itself—the shape of the mutually metaphorical narratives of nation and book and its function as a common ground of reference, conversation, even understanding—is the real recompense for change, even as it helps to make visible the workings and experience of history” (216).

Abstract

This essay examines some ‘new media’ practices of the 1990s together with late twentieth-century critical commentaries on computer-mediated communication and electronic textuality. It compares both with discussions of changes in communications technologies and readerships from the turn of the nineteenth century. Based on observations about narrative form—especially the mutual metaphoricity of the nation and the book—in conjunction with the associated qualities of self-consciousness about sociability, historicity, and mediatedness that emerge from this study, I propose an understanding of genre formation as a characteristic, and under-recognized, response to the experience of media change and outline the possible contributions a more self-conscious theory of genre could make to existing theories of media, mediation, and media succession.

Continue reading Burgess—Nation, Book, Medium

Altman—Posthum/an/ous

Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet 

graduate thesis by Eric Stephen Altman

[Altman, Eric Stephen. 2010. “Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet.” Thesis, Appalachian State University.]

Points

  • based mostly on online written materials, as well as 10 interviews
  • an English department MA thesis
  • looks at Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin as three fandoms with three similar aspects
    1. emphasize an online avatar that represents identity to members
    2. engages in fan fiction
    3. has a sexual, fetishistic component as a prominent feature
      • “The object of this thesis is to engage in and describe three different communities that engage in community behavior that deviates from and challenges mainstream culture. Each of these communities is primarily based on the Internet and their members consistently identify with an identity that is not human. These communities often express discontentment with their human body or existence and instead idealize the conception of another state of existence. Interestingly enough, many members justify their beliefs by stating that they must have once been the creature that they identity with so, believing their past lives to be the one where they were once happy and accepted, as opposed to the sham of their human existence” (7).

By describing Otherkin as a fandom, Altman misses the boat completely

  • the piece references the furry subculture along with Otherkin & Otakukin as if they were comparable levels of identity
    • the problem= Furries identify with a non-human entity; Otherkin/Otakukin identify as a non-human entity
    • this leads the author to treat Otherkin identity as a fundamentally fictional construct, which is not the case to Otherkin
    • “Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction” (33).

Altman gets close to describing Otherkin belief as a valid religion-like system by linking fandoms to mythology and religious structure:

  • “The devotion of fandoms to media is a new kind of mythology. Fans have the opportunity to adhere themselves to a system of fundamental guidelines that appeal to them, and these moral and societal edicts are transmitted through the narratives that are crafted by media and literature. The heroes and saints of religion are transmitted within the narrative of popular culture, and archetypes of mythology continue to define the way in which the viewer experiencing the media understands characters … A key difference between fandoms and religions is that fandoms are inherently outside of cultural hegemony” (41).

But then falls prey to the fandom construct by viewing Otherkin personal histories and narratives of awakening as genres of fan fiction—governed by rules, but completely fictional:

  • “if I were to endeavor to make a persona in the Otherkin community, I would have the nearly limitless horizons of fantasy literature and media from which to draw inspiration. I could easily craft a creature that defies all logical sense, but under the loose framework of fantasy, could indeed be completely plausible; if I establish enough background and history then my idea could be “believable” within the context of the fan community” (63).

Since the Otherkin belief system is based around the cultural productions of a fandom, it is an alternative ontological choice the members have made rather than a true belief system

  • “trappings of humanity isn’t so much an indication of the fandom’s sanity so much as a critique of a world that discarded them; humanity hasn’t worked, and so therefore the alternatives are explored” (89).
  • This is not necessarily true or false, but the fact that Altman starts from the position of a fandom precludes any exploration of ontological possibilities and does not take the participants of his research seriously.

Abstract

The Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin are Internet fan subcultures whose members personally identify with non-human beings, such as animals, creatures of fantasy, or cartoon characters. I analyze several different forms of expression that the fandoms utilize to define themselves against the human world. These are generally narrative in execution, and the conglomeration of these texts provides the communities with a concrete ontology. Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction. Through the use of the mutability of Internet performance and presentation of self-hood, the groups are able to present themselves as possessing the traits of previous, non-human lives; on the Internet, the members are post-human. The members no longer need to suffer through the society of humans around them: they can reclaim their past lives and live out a posthum/an/ous existence

Continue reading Altman—Posthum/an/ous