Internet Futures and Glamour

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Now I realize they used these words to capitalize on their expiration date, their nebulousness and their opacity to anyone not encountering them that day, in that year, or that decade. I have assembled these items in hopes they will become equally misunderstood—for better or for worse—as soon as possible. They were gathered around October 18, 2013, and reflect a very personal worldview—but by the time you see this, they will all be post-recent. -Lumi Tan, Post-Recently

I recently learned about the post recent from the above blog, and if you want to really get worked over I suggest you check out the Joyce-challenging artspeak produced by Tricia Collins and Richard Milazzo’s “The New Sleep: Stasis and the Image-Bound Environment“. Dating from fall of 1985, it’s a perfect internet K-Hole, and feels like a Tumblr. Lumi Tan’s wish that these things would all be buried, unearthed, and confounded is apt in its reflection on the blaze of images both in the article itself and in contemporary life, even for those not internet-enabled. The aesthetic-acceleration of contemporary life begs for a comparison, and NY Mag writer Ann Friedman has an interesting comparison:

Again, perhaps we can take a cue from teenage girls. They’re quite aware that they’re seen as frivolous and self-absorbed, but on a deeper level they know they’re engaged in an important project: figuring out who they are and what they want to be. If we took our Instagrams and Snapchats and reblogs half as seriously as they do, perhaps we’d reach some new insight about our adult selves, too. -Ann Friedman, Our Tumblrs, Our Teenage Selves

This sounds pretty legitimate, if not just apt, but the reality is that “the millennials” are among the groups of people who, perhaps as “natives” more readily see the pitfalls of these image-cycling platforms:

The “Intel Innovation Barometer” reveals millennials globally show a stark contrast to their reputation as digital natives who can’t get enough technology in their lives. A majority of millennials agree that technology makes people less human and that society relies on technology too much. -The Future of Technology May be Determined By….

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Intel seems surprised by this, but anyone with a keen sense of observation of people under the age of 25 knows this already. Instead, the main supporters, and users of social technologies and associated issues were wealthier, not necessarily younger: “The research revealed that individuals with high incomes are the most willing to anonymously share personal data, such as results of lab tests and travel information. They are also the most likely to own technology devices and engage with technology on a regular basis.” This is the associated glamour of the internet. The ever-sharp Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at  The Beheld describes the way objects perceived as glamorous work:

We may perceive glamorous objects as an entrée into that world (hence the desire for that shade of lipstick, that style of ring, that color on the soles of our shoes), but it’s not the object we want so much as the life it promises. “But glamour only works when it can tap preexisting discontent, giving otherwise inchoate longings an object of focus.” -Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, The Power of Glamour

Not to say that some teens don’t wan’t to emulate the silicon-valley lifestyle, but many just use them as tools to pursue their own visions, glamorous or otherwise, while still maintaining a keen sense for what it does to their selves, their self-perception and their projected image. In this they are different than many who are wealthy who by actively (over)participating in social media, want to get some of the apple-cum-facebook, instagrammed sheen. Over and over again, wealth seeks youth as a source of glamour, and what can be more so than the promise of a world not tied down to specific places, especially when the function of place, in a pre-globalized sense of the world, is mediated by the great equalizer so many try to fight, time. Matthew Battles says it better:

Time is the internet’s too-cheap-to-meter cultural resource, and it’s only just begun burning through it, generating a storm of atemporal media traces that pile up before us as our wings beat furiously. -Matthew Battles, The Past Will Not be Flat

But the kids, per usual, are alright, and they know this better than those seeking wealth. They might be plastering their walls and tumblrs with images, but they’re not looking for the glamour of platforms, they seek glamour in content, and project it back out into the post-current world at a rate Lumi Tan would appreciate as being post-recent:

Finally (but never finally), this: history is not another country, not the not-even-past, not even that which we are condemned to repeat. History is everywhere, rather; you’re soaking in it. And yet we’re not angels: our faces are turned away, and we’re trailing history in our wakes. -Matthew Battles, The Past Will Not be Flat

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Quote That: Darn Internet

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And here we come to the real crux of the matter: the less people who participate, the more people end up just becoming consumers, and if the only people producing things for these people to consume are corporate entities, then we’re subjected to an overwhelming quantity of spewed-out, predigested ‘culture’.  People have stopped participating and are content just being present, and thats a problem and whoever thinks “oh shut up dude, this happens all the time” you’re wrong, the internet leaves nothing hidden, every fuck dick can copy and paste a personality they found on the internet, and thats never been possible before.   But fuck it, who needs to actually go out and do something worthwhile IRL when you get the same chemical reaction from 100 internet strangers telling you your outfit is awesome. -Johnny Love, Subculture as we know it is dead, and its all the internets fault.

 

 

Paper: Identity, Quiet, and Power

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In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability. -Atul Gawande, Slow Ideas

Uncontrolled variability, as Gawande briefly illustrates is anathema to efficiency. However, the converse of messy and anachronistic communication through slow channels is not always the domain of the technologically disadvantaged, but it also a way to display privilege in a technologically obsessed world. Literally, to not care about efficiency in communication, to do something the old fashioned way is in some ways a projected indication of class. So, in the United States, we are what we buy. Consider the Molskine Notebook:

The  reason for the brand’s success is its unique positioning, which combines  identity and culture thanks to its high design and iconic content, as the product  satisfies a sense of belonging to a community sharing common values, rather  than just a function. This also justifies its premium positioning. -Chiara Rotelli & Emanuela Mazzoni, Moleskine: Initial Public Offering

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Paper, especially a leather-bound notebook of blank paper, is a luxury. It stands opposed to the cheap xerox stock that overflows despite the birth of the digital age, and implies a non-work time suck of doodles, drawings, notes, and mental sketches. It also implies creativity, over, and over. The kinds of notebooks alone tell a tale of the creative class in mashed fibers: passion, city, reporter, professional, creativity, black page, cover art, limited edition. This is paper for the privileged. It is messy and anachronistic, but also private. These notebooks are places for mistakes, first drafts, and experiments, only to be communicated to a few, and almost never without revision. Privacy, silence, and a lack of communication are bound up nicely in pages, blank in a discreet black book that projects a quiet power as a brand object.

This takes me back to Illich (1983) and his call for the defense of the silent commons. This call, essentially a manifesto, declared silence to be a shared condition placed under threat by new technologies and their amplificatory functions. It functions as a critique of mass media, regarded as a deeply non–convivial technology in which communication ‘machines’ provide prostheses and do so selectively, so that certain dominant groups (those who get the equipment) become louder hailers with the power to silence others. -Caroline Bassett, Silence, Delirium, Lies?

Bassett is worried about people being silenced by loud hailers, and the 21st century has proven no different. But the inverse is also a problem. More often than not, we are encouraged to participate, to make ourselves seen and known. Now to have the quiet space, to communicate slowly or not at all, but to just jot some notes and doodles is the position of power.

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Disruptor of NYC, or Why I Live in the Middle of the Country.

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We installed the ethos that pedigree was over and all money was now equally valuable. The mythology of Silicon Alley was forced to coalesce for good, with City Hall’s fervor behind it. The start-up culture wars—a fresh beef with the West Coast, except boring!—intentionally pitted us against the weirdo jerks of Palo Alto. The scrunchy-face foxy Foursquare co-founders appeared in Gap ads, clad in mediocre jeans but form-fitting venture capital. You were a good person if you were an entrepreneur. You were creating jobs, until you weren’t. The big floor-through lofts of Broadway between Houston and Spring filled up with inexpensive furniture and even less expensive young people, each with a bitter mouthful of Adderall, each office bright and identical. So far, we’ve disrupted a few things, mostly coffee-related. – Choire Sicha, Let Me Tell You About the Most Heartfelt $200 I Ever Made

Quote That:

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Mindblindedness dwells in the neurotypical world. It lurks on the edges of the notion of politics that speaks of democracy as though we all had acceded to the level of easy breathing. And it lurks within a macropolitical notion of ethics that seeks to place moral standards on behavior, and ethics that overwrites, that judges and sequesters into so-called intelligibility the agitation of all ecologies that do not resemble it. -Erin Manning, Always More Than One, pgs 170-171.

EduTech and the Hipster

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6) The demand for new methods of teaching, such as flipped classrooms and blended learning, is coming from the students. Untrue.

Students are, for the most part, perfectly happy with traditional lecture courses. They know what to expect from and how to navigate courses that put no more demands on them but to reflect back the knowledge transmitted from the front of the room. -Joshua Kim, 10 Dubious Claims About Technology and Learning.

In this defense of educational technology, it appears that student demand isn’t driving classroom change. While being protective of educational technologists broadly, it tries to point out that educators are also driving the uptake of educational technology.  Given the precarious lives of educators, the additional need to innovate, both pedagogically and technologically is important. Taken individually, pedagogical innovation is difficult, and requires a lot of work and support. What it does not necessarily include is an expanded budget for hardware, software, and associated staff. While Joshua Kim makes the argument that:

What is so important about this transition from a provider to a consumer of technology services is that these initiatives free up people and resources to move up the campus teaching, learning and research value chain. Technology folks are moving from server rooms to the classrooms, from provisioning and monitoring server applications to collaborating with faculty and librarians on flipped classrooms and blended learning. -Joshua Kim, 10 Dubious Claims About Technology and Learning.

The line of reasoning inextricably ties consumerism to technology and pedagogical innovation, which might free people up, but still ties up more money than if the connection between them was severed. The final and most curious point is this: if consumerism is the model, and students aren’t viewed as consumers, then why does this feel like marketing? While it is proposed that businesses are “consumer driven” and schools are “student driven” then why is demand for innovation not coming from students? Marketing, the art of tell others that they need something they didn’t know existed, is at the center of the pedagogy/technology coupling’s consumerist model. Even for the pedagogically well-intentioned, the inclusion of further goods and services on behalf of the students or the school means that we as educators are selling those products to students.

Such an outgrowth of the broader cultural imperative to sell is very much the Liberal Man’s Burden taken up by technology providers: everything is fixable by technology, which you are free to purchase, but it is not your right to that solution. Government, the cash-thirsty guarantor of hypothetical equality stands directly in the way:

Eric Schnuerer writes of a world where government literally is a product you can buy, an eventuality he sees foretold in the increase in private security forces and flight from public schools. In other words, “‘Government’ is, everywhere, an industry in serious trouble,” and his remedy is to “resize,” “redesign” the “products,” and “compete effectively against new competitors and in whole new markets.”

This misconception is at the heart of Silicon Valley’s approach to politics, both at home and abroad. In Packer’s words, technology “has little to say about larger issues of justice and fairness, unless you think that political problems are bugs that can be fixed by engineering rather than fundamental conflicts of interest and value.” -Kate Redburn, Google and The Liberal Man’s Burden.

The technologist approach is also marketing driven: it creates more needs than it solves in order to be financially profitable. Solving problems with existing tools, specifically through the application of pedagogy rather than pedagogy and technology, is less focused on consumption and more on hard-to-capitalize creation. The Liberal Man’s burden that technology has brought to bear in education is to make it profitable and condition the educational system to seek out profitable solutions to the human problem of educational values in the 21st century. Popular culture has a word for those who push back against the technological thrust in education based on such grounds: they are the hipsters of education:

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Its zombie-like persistence in anti-hipster discourse must be recognized for what it is: an urbane, and socially acceptable, form of ideologically inflected shaming on the part of American elites who must delegitimize those segments of a largely white, college educated population who didn’t do the “acceptable thing.” -Anthony Galluzzo, The ‘Fucking Hipster’ Show.

Hipsters are the fixie-mounted, left-leaning, do-your-own-canning types who accept technology with reservations, but without Luddism. This is the analogy for those who question the efficacy of the technology/pedagogy pairing, and libraries, as places where older technologies sit comfortably beside newer ones, is hipsterism par excellence. Questioning the imperative to maximize one’s own economic advantage at one’s own expense runs counter to the “self-made” maximalist culture represented by the span of men from Carnegie to Zuckerberg. When a product is made, it bears the personality and values of its maker through and through. In education, we teach people to fit in or resist culture, so it has always been the site of contests for power. Defining educational institutions as site of “transition from a provider to a consumer of technology services is that these initiatives free up people and resources to move up the campus teaching, learning and research value chain” will teach students not to provide, but to consume.

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Quote That:

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It is therefore aesthetic theory that needs resuscitation in our contemporary moment, not the aesthetic as such…By paying closer attention to the aesthetic categories that speak to the most significant objects and socially binding activities of late capitalist life–our affectively complicated relations to commodities, information, and performing, the ways in which we labor, exchange, and consume–one can at least make a start at closing the gulf between aesthetic theory and practice… -Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting.