Tag Archives: McLuhan

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.

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boyd—None of This Is Real

None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster

by dana boyd

[Boyd, Danah. 2008. “None of This Is Real.” In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis. Social Science Research Council.]

Points

  • Based on fieldwork among users of the social networking site Friendster, specifically during the year 2003
  • Explores how the built in affordances of what was intended to be a dating site both constricted user communication and provided avenues for creative expression

Initial design of Friendster

  • Friendster allows users to see people at up to four degrees distance from themselves, which is much more than is possible in face-to-face social engagement
  • however—”Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds” (134).
  • So—”Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiating texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social networks by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system” (134).
  • This lead to the invention of fakesters—”fake profiles that signaled not the individuals behind the profile but communities, cultural icons, or collective interests” (139).

Participatory Performance

  • “The performance of identity relies on the active interpretation of social contexts. Familiarity with a context increases a person’s ability to navigate it—to understand what is appropriate or advantageous within it—and thereby shapes choices about the persona one tries to present within it (boyd, 2002). Contexts are not static backgrounds, but constantly evolve through this process (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Digitally mediated performance is no different, but the novelty and narrower channel of interaction affect our capacity to interpret context” (141).
  • The user interface started to interfere with users’ performance of impression management (Goffman 1956)
    • “A growing portion of participants found themselves simultaneously negotiating multiple social groups—social and professional circles, side interests, and so on. Because profiles presented a singular identity to the entire network, however, this diversification brought with it the potential for disruption of individuals’ carefully managed everyday personas” (142-43)

Articulated Participation

  • “Although transparency of information poses an interesting challenge, where the information comes from is also a problem. As Jenny Sundén (2003) noted, digital embodiment requires writing yourself into being. On Friendster this means an explicit articulation of who you are and how you relate to others, using the predefined mechanisms for expression. Through a series of forms, profiles must be crafted to express some aspect of identity and relationships must be explicitly acknowledged in order to exist within the system. Unlike everyday embodiment, there is no digital corporeality without articulation. One cannot simply “be” online; one must make one’s presence visible through explicit and structured actions” (bold added 145).
  • Friendships became strategic—”Impression management is encoded into articulated networks. The variable ways in which people interpret the term friend play a critical role, as does the cost of signaling the value of a relationship” (147).

Rise of the Fakesters

  • Many Fakesters began as practical endeavors to connect groups of people; alumni networks were constituted through Fakesters representing universities, and Burning Man was crafted to connect Burners .., Fakesters were a way of “hacking” the system to introduce missing social texture. These purposes were not limited to group networking: The vast majority of Fakesters were exercises in creative and usually playful expression” (148).
  • Friendster began cracking down on the Fakesters, deleting profiles that seemed fake, and the Fakesters became political.
    • “the Fakester Revolution … crafted “The Fakester Manifesto” (Batty, 2003) “in defense of our right to exist in the form we choose or assume” which included three key sections:
      1.  Identity is Provisional
      2. All Character is Archetypal, Thus Public
      3. Copyright is Irrelevant in the Digital Age (151).
    • Fakesters created Fraudsters, who impersonated other people on the service. Fraudsters were meant to confuse both the Friendster service and serious users …
    • Pretendsters combined random photos from the Web and random profile data. They were not fraudulent portrayals of any particular person, but automated Fakesters that mimicked real profiles” (152).
  • “Although Fakesters had taken on a collective impression of resistance, their primary political stance concerned authenticity. In discussing Fakesters, Batty was quick to point out that there’s no such thing as an authentic performance on Friendster—“None of this is real” …
    • “Through the act of articulation and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in performance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions” (153).

BIG POINTS

  • The abolition of distance—the classic Internet virtue—rendered many social distinctions invisible; the impact of Friends’ performances on individual profiles undermined the individual’s control over social performances; and the binary social network structure—Friend/not-Friend—erased a broad field of relationship nuances. Absent these strong orienting features, participants negotiated new norms and reintroduced new forms of social complexity” (154).
  • “digital networks will never merely map the social, but inevitably develop their own dynamics through which they become the social. The interaction of people with information systems is recurrently marked by play and experimentation, as people test the limits of their settings and manage the consequences of unexpected interactions and altered contexts” (155).

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Mosco—The Digital Sublime

The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace

by Vincent Mosco

[Mosco, Vincent. 2005. The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. MIT Press.]

Points

  • “computers and the world of what came to be called cyberspace embody and drive important myths about our time. Powered by computer communication, we would,according to the myths, experience an epochal transformation in human experience that would transcend time (the end of history), space (the end of geography), and power (the end of politics)” (2-3).
  • “it is when technologies such as the telephone and the computer cease to be sublime icons of mythology and enter the prosaic world of banality—when they lose their role as sources of utopian visions—that they become important forces for social and economic change” (6).
  • “cyberspace is a mythic space, one that transcends the banal, day-to-day worlds of time, space, and politics to match the “naked truth” of reason with the “dancing truth” of ritual, song, and storytelling (Lozano 1992: 213). Indeed,cyberspace is a central force in the growth of three of the central myths of our time, each linked in the vision of an end point: the end of history, the end of geography, and the end of politics” (13).
  • “the real power of new technologies does not appear during their mythic period, when they are hailed for their ability to bring world peace, renew communities, or end scarcity, history, geography, or politics; rather, their social impact is greatest when technologies become banal—when they literally (as in the case of electricity) or figuratively withdraw into the woodwork” (19).

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