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:

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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.

Libraries & The MOOC Trois: On Disruption

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Although the traditional archive used to be a rather static memory, the notion of the archive in internet communication tends to move the archive toward an economy of circulation: permanent transfer and updating. -Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, p. 99.

Ernst starts out with this blazing redefinition of what an archive is, which substitutes use and reuse which essentially conflates the idea of archives with that of communication. In reference to my earlier posts, the canon has become the archive. The archive of internet communication is not an archive at all. When you “archive” a email in Gmail, it becomes a saved but inaccessible, a digital parody of a dusty box on a lost shelf. But that sense of archive is a misnomer: a body of work which stays relevant through re-circulation is not an archive. By keeping things past present, it is a canon. This is why all the talk of organizing the world’s knowledge and slapping it all online has become a quixotic project. While one can create an honest-to-god archive on the internet, the best function of the internet always will be communicative acts. That which is curatorial will usually take a back seat. The grafting of archives and other institutional models tend to follow this pattern:

Less so a library, the internet feels like a mall, albeit one with a robust newsstand (and adult video section). It’s open 24/7 and now offers same-day delivery. Less so a school, it’s a playground, equipped with a billboard for our personal brand. From this vantage point, the internet is less the revolutionary invention that it is, or can and should be, instead acting as a glorified telephone and digital, sepia-filtered distraction, one lubricated and optimized for constant, frictionless consumption. -Alec Liu, Groupon, Aaron Swartz and the Failings of the Second Great Tech Boom

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It is acting as optimized. Wolfgang Ernst calls it an “economy of circulation” with certainty, but that phrase understates the nature of this massive  shiny, lubricated entertain-ucation-plex, where the hustle of self-promotion edges other things out. Trying to wade through a discussion board or a tumblr looking for something that rises above the merely interesting can be exhausting, and now it’s part of education:

Taking a cue from Twitter and LinkedIn, education online also needs to do a better job leveraging peer interaction and collaboration. Most MOOCs do already promote discussions among classmates to help with homework and grading. But the emergence of Twitter and LinkedIn (and soon Facebook) as go-to sources of professional insights shows that people want to actually learn from, and work with, their colleagues and business contacts just as much as from PhDs, editors and other experts. -Todd Tauber, The Dirty Little Secret of Online Learning: Students Are Bored and Dropping Out

Granted, learning has always been communicative, but it also requires critical thinking, time away from other pressures, and focus. Making the claim that being more like commercial, entertainment-driven websites like Twitter or Linkedin as example of how people learn now is wildly disingenuous: how we entertain ourselves and use those tools in a professional setting is not at all how “we” learn. We all learn differently, and as the industrial educational complex of the early 20th century gets dismantled, the silicon-valley wet-dream of edutainment is seen for what it is: an economic tool. It follows a new advertising narrative of disruption, a familiar call in many a educational sector that is “ripe”:

The drive to create is no different, no less human than that the urge to profit. But only recently it has taken on this sickly pallor–the desire to present itself as different… as difference. It has become a drama, a narrative of success or failure. -Adam Rothstein, Disruption

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Disruption is the story of startup culture through advertising. Rothstein brings the sickly obsession to be different to the fore, as opposed to the long lines of actual institutional change which involve considerable human effort and goodwill. Disruption promises to short-circuit that, a techno-economic fix in the stead of humanity’s emotional dirty work. As they currently stand, the MOOC’s biggest supporters want to sell the disruption narrative. Less so a school, it brings the world of personal branding into the classroom. And with the work of students and teachers reformated to fit the digital insta-canon, one taken away at the end of the communicative performance, the archive dies. The cycles of knowledge get shorter and shorter, and the long memory of dusty stacks will fade. One direction out of this is a new archivist manifesto, one that emphasizes the personal ethic of care.

The current discussions on search, open access, archives, preservation of information and digital objects, often hide away the politics of individuals under the disguise of “users”. Users to technological capitalism, are consumers to consumerist capitalism. Archivist manifesto is a call for the reinsertion of knowledge and skills for developing personal archives, that on one hand, reinstall the culture of care and a technological culture; on the other hand, develop an infrastructure that allows sharing of information on individual level and bypasses marketing tools such as search engines and commercial social networks. -Yuk Hui, Archivist Manifesto

Somebody ought to add the MOOC to that last list.

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I Feel the Same Way:

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On Norman Foster’s controversial $300-million-plus redesign for the New York Public Library’s main branch:

A handsome design fitted to the specifications of a high-end airport cafe and shopping arcade, but my sensibility is at least 50 years behind both the times and the curve. In a library I like to feel that I’m in the company of books. –Lewis Lapham

I have never been to a real library. I once read a book in the summer of 1986. This library looks like it has way too many books. It looks like they are trying to confuse people with all the books. –Harmony Korine

Quote That:

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For when the claims of reason replaced those of tradition, they appeared to offer a sense of certitude greater than that provided by preexisting dogma. But this idea only appears persuasive so long as we do not see that the reflexivity of modernity actually subverts reason, at any rate where reason is understood as the gaining of certain knowledge.

Modernity is constituted in and through reflexively applied knowledge, but the equation of knowledge with certitude has turned out to be misconceived. We are abroad in a world which is thoroughly constituted through reflexively applied knowledge, but where at the same time we can never be sure that any given element of that knowledge will not be revised.  -Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, p.39.