Writing

This semester I'm using this page to blog for my Digital Humanities course (DIG 6178). Read at your own risk!

Week 6. February 12th. Congealed Labor.

"Congealed labor" is what most people mean, I think, when they say "black box." Just like "there's technology and stuff" is possibly what most people mean when they say "cyborg," a la last class. Greenfield's chapter 4 incredibly irritated me this week. To start poking at his argument, I use the second theory from "Before You Make a Thing."

Ask who benefits most from automation and novelty.

According to Greenfield, the folks who benefit most right now are the ones who know how to make things. I googled those people. They look like the same people who have always oppressed us. Forgive me my skepticism, but I have a bucketload of theory that says those people are always going to (try to) win. Can the subaltern speak? No; we were never meant to survive. Apologies to both Spivak and Lorde for mashing their most quotable quotes together. I did it to emphasize my utter disbelief that the world without scarcity Greenfield highlights will ever materialize.

It's telling, how the biggest concerns Greenfield notes are material, not theoretical. First, the need to distribute the means of fabrication. A space/place concern. Usability concerns, largely reduced to ease-of-access or clear-language. Available materials. Assembly. We can fix all of those. What we can't fix: the way that oppression works. But surely, my strawman says, you didn't read all the way to the chapter's end, where Greenfield discusses the overthrow of capitalism! He even says "our common sense, our values, our very notions of what is and is not possible...we seem to have a particularly hard time with the notion that these intimate qualities of self might rest on anything as bathetic and concrete as the way in which we collectively choose to organize the world's productive capacity" (n.p).

See, Katie, my strawman says. It's just your fault for being closed-minded. Your fault for being "sustained, mediated and satisfied by mechanisms of market." Your fault for being "[broken] to service and [inured] to our complicity in the unspeakable" (n.p.). See, I did read the chapter. Now let's talk about complicity. Despite strategic use of "we" and "our," here, I didn't see a lot of acknowledging said complicity. Dear strawman, do you really acknowledge your complicity in the oppression of [redacted because this is a public blog linked to my name and academic presence]. Because it seems that your utopian vision of "the chance to live in an environment we've fashioned ourselves, using the tools we ourselves have created...[working] out the shape of the future" looks a lot like the past we eradicated.

So the social and intellectual heavy lifting needs to begin with that, dear strawman. And given our yet largely-unacknowledged complicity in the annihilation of so many people and cultures, I doubt this "maker community" is actually working in my best interests. Oppression isn't in the eye of the beholder, Greenfield, it's woven into our being.

I believe in ranting thusly, I have "[engaged] directly the power of technology" and specifically tangled it with [redacted because see above redaction]. "Before You Make a Thing" is great! I should have started with this, and will definitely make my students read this. I like this list (despite the profusion of bullet points which don't really need to exist. Just because <ul> is easy doesn't mean it's a good method for organizing tons of information) because it asks us first to consider the ideas that I was so angry at Greenfield for considering last. Perhaps I am only a curmudgeonly rhetorician, but purpose-audience-design is how I view the world. This list is intuitive for me.

A last note, for now: being able to 3D print more legos sounds like a great idea. I always ran out.

Week 5. February 5th. Things?

I read “By His Things You Shall Know Him” last this week and am still trying to figure out where this fits into the other readings. “From Beyond the Coming Age of Networked Matter” explored what happens when humankind eventually learns how to unmake reality, while Greenfield’s “Augmented Reality” chapter showed us how to make reality more real. Perhaps the relationship between this week’s readings is that they all deal with digital technology’s ability to make and unmake reality, or simply to mediate what is real.

Along with Greenfield, I’ll begin with my memories of Pokemon Go. As someone who 1) doesn’t own a smartphone and 2) doesn’t play games and 3) has the physical balance of someone three times her age and therefore needs to look at the ground she’s walking on to make sure she doesn’t fall over, I didn’t play. However, I remember quite clearly encountering one of my friends walking back from the library, phone in one hand, coffee in the other. He waved the phone-hand at me. I waved back. But he wasn’t looking at me, just whatever pokemonsterthing was superimposed over my image. Now, I admit that I am plagued by the tendency to over-assign importance to myself, but I’d like to ask: How can Pokemon Go claim to be an augmented reality when its headspace doesn’t include me? Or other people, a question also asked in this reddit thread.

Greenfield points out that in augmented realities, “there is a very real risk that those who are able to do so will prefer a retreat behind a wall of mediation to the difficult work of being fully present in public. At its zenith, this tendency implies both a dereliction of public space, and an almost total abandonment of any notion of a shared public realm” (n.p.). Taken shallowly, if we consider digital technology the only mediator of public spaces, then here’s the danger of ARs. Given Greenfield’s own definition of AR as a “[way] we already buffer and mediate what we experience as we move through space…[imposing] a certain distance between us and the full manifold of the environment” (n.p.), I’m not sure that we can conceive this AR danger as new or a particular quality of cyberspace.

For example, the last time I squashed a bug in my house, I apologized to the offending insect, but explained to its corpse that the state of nature is war. My inspired interpretation of Hobbes aside, was I not also augmenting my reality by “[projecting] an alternative narrative of [my] actions” (n.p)? Better AR here apparently, due to what Greenfield calls the symmetry between my psychic investment and immediate physical surroundings. Imagine if I had to squash the bug, pull up the Hobbes on a phone, and then make my grand pronouncement—somewhat a misuse of the *checks notes* joke.

Which may be why Google Glass is held up to be a better AR tool than the smartphone, due to its more-symmetrical integration into physical surroundings. Presumably Pokemon Go deployed through creepy glasses would have superimposed a pokemonsterthing on top of me as I encountered my distracted friend on my way to the library that day, and provoked some sort of mundane “Katie you’re a pokemon!” conversation. Reality (me! I think I’m real? Most days I think I’m real.) would have been augmented by whatever pokemonsterthing that Pokemon Go had created. I would have preferred chapter 3 to end with this idea, rather than being called one of the digital-technologically-unmediated in need of help.

Instead, Greenfield glimpses a future where we’re not sure what reality entails anymore, a future also hinted at in “From Beyond the Coming Age of Networked Matter.” Here Ultimate Knowledge results in Ultimate Destruction, perhaps a parallel circumstance to Greenfield’s idealized notion of AR. The integration of humanity into the universe via digital technology again fails only due to a phablet. (Fun fact, until I googled it, I thought a phablet was a tablet with glitter. I stand corrected.) Crawferd is not the first person to say something like “The universe is dark and ancient and monstrous, and hostile to our frail place within it. If we ever peek just once through a crack in the doors of perception, we shrivel into absurdist nothing, We’re cackling madmen eating flies. We’re mental mummies forever frozen in fear.” See, there was a point to bringing up Hobbes earlier.

Although I’ve written “sheeple” more times in my Greenfield book than I care to admit, I hope that I don’t come across as one of those tinfoil hat people who see in digital technologies the end of all things. Like any good little new materialist, I believe that reality is circulated through the connections we make. Digital technologies’ ability to help us make more connections make realities (Greenfield cautions: certain realities) more real. Given all this talk of connections, I’m still having trouble connecting “By His Things Will You Know Him” to this concept. Something to do with AR and things, I suspect, coming from the last line: “Things are fine.”

Will AR eliminate things? or make them better? Good little feminist new materialists don’t prioritize citing Latour anymore, but talk of making things more real means I think of his Dingpolitik (2004), and the way that “objects—taken as so many issues—bind all of us in ways that map out a public space profoundly different from what is usually recognized” (p. 15). Latour derides fundamentalists as those who “think they are safer without…those cumbersome, torturous and opaque techniques, they will see better, father, faster and act more decisively” (p. 31). As I wrote last paragraph, I hope my deep suspicions about capitalism-arbitrated AR do not make me a fundamentalist, merely concerned about access. And speaking about access, like Greenfield, Latour* concludes that reality-mediators help us participate in publics—assuming we have access to them.

*I don’t actually think that Greenfield and Latour have ever read each other, so I feel a bit guilty about drawing this connection between them. My AR is still glitchy, apparently.

Week 4. January 29th. You May Be Quantified, But I'm Not.

The Greenfield chapter we read this week was on the Internet of Things, a concept a student explained to me in less terrifying terms four years ago. Then, the IoT was simply the ability to network devices in a home so that the home ran more simply. Greenfield expands this meaning of the IOT to a "networked perception" of spaces, places, things, and bodies. As someone who has at one time at least identified as a new materialist posthumanist, I'm pretty sure that spaces, places, things, and bodies are already inextricably linked. To build on Jorgensen (2016), p. 42, information has always flowed between ourselves, the rest of the world, and technologies.

To my ever-present strawman, I point out that I borrow Ong for technology: a thing that makes another thing easier. Sorry Ong.

In the grand although slightly nebulous way of new materialists, I'll point out that haven't we always been connected? Why does it take the Internet to highlight these connections? As a cynic, I'll also point out that the IoT concept has been highly capitalized. And normalized--why is it weird for me to say that the sunlight links all of us but those internetty signal things don't? So as a way of being I'm not opposed to networked reality. What I'd like to explore in this entry is our fear of sentience.

For most of us the sun is not alive (except for this one Doctor Who episode possibly?); its energy might be everywhere but it is not a moral agent, i.e. being assigned responsibility (borrowed from Johnson & Johnson, 2018). Even though the internet's signals are (like sunlight) incapable of responsibility's assignation, somewhere a human is responsible for their being. And humans can use these signals to hurt people, as Greenfield's small case study shows. To circle back to Johnson & Johnson (2018), their answer to the question of whether objects have moral agency is that an object must be institutionalized by the state to act as a moral agent, and that in the U.S. humans are held responsible (p. 135). The early days of the internet may not have been beset by concerns about security and privacy because the internet was then not perceived to be a manifestation of the state.

So what I termed sentience up above appears to be the eye of the state? I also know that we're worried about the ways that such networks can manipulate our reality, thanks to the chapters in Schreibman et al. What makes reality real? As a possible new materialist posthumanist, isn't reality made more real by the relationships we form? So if a smart toaster is able to change your reality, your reality wasn't super real to begin with. Remaking reality is fun! We should do that! (And also, haven't we always done that?)

Week 3. January 22nd. Contestations. Totally a word.

This week the readings discussed divides in Digital Humanities disciplinarity. And alliteration, apparently. From the readings, I got the impression that DH is a young discipline: is it? If so, all this talk of manifestos and ire and unrest is to be expected from a fractious new place of inquiry. An article I should probably remember because Comps are closing in upon me once told me how to develop a discipline: 1) shared subjects of inquiry, 2) shared scholarship, 3) shared theory, 4) shared methods/language, 5) common institutional places. These things don't develop quickly, and like all epideictic endeavors, some stuff (and people) get run over along the way.

Hey! I've been looking for an example binding epistemology to epideixis for awhile. (Mostly because they sound similar, so I assumed they must be similar.) Epideixis (for me as a rhetorician) is the process of building communities. There's no inclusion without exclusion, so epideixis is always violent. Here, we're building knowledge (episteme) through various institutional and disciplinary practices (epideixis). Epistemology becomes violent because, as the readings suggest, our knowledge can't become Our Knowledge unless it crushes other knowledge. Just nod and pretend this has to do with the reading.

Barlow's (1996) "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" was most dubiously received by me. How can cyberspace "provide our society with more order"? While I don't doubt that many online communities have their own social contracts, I'm not sure that the unified We of this declaration holds up to Losh et al's (2016) point that "technologies are complex systems with divergent values and cultural assumptions." And nothing designed is neutral, a thing I said in class last time that people nodded at. Apparently I stole that off Twitter: here's the original source.

But perhaps 1996 was a simpler time? Or perhaps the manifesto as a genre exists for certain purposes, to raise a hand, to draw a line ("DH Manifesto 2.0"). Questionable pictures aside, this one was a decent primer of what should be done to enact a discipline. As a tech writer, I also appreciated their bolding the important parts. Including the part where the enemies of DH were named; since I'm not a diminisher, IP trafficker, or copyright protector, I think I'm allowed to be in this class.

I may be a false fellow traveler, though, in that I'm okay with change, or continuity, or whatever the institution wants me to be okay with. Some of us would like to 1) get a job and 2) keep a job and thus I see the instrumental/utilitarian value of DH (Chun et al, 2016). It's in institutions like [redacted; see 1 and 2 above], where the majority of folks doing DH work are graduate students and NTT faculty. Some of us are told to take the courses, get the certificate in the name of professionalization. (Full disclosure, I have received certificates in both Technical Communication and Women's and Gender Studies in the name of professionalization.) Does my desire to 1) get a job and 2) keep my job cheapen the quality of work I produce? Something for my reviewers to figure out.

Done, unless you'd like a point to these thoughts.

Week 2. January 15. I Can Insult Smartphones All Day!

Best class ever. Yes, I know that the point of class wasn't to insult smartphones. I'm pretty sure the point of the reading was to explore how smartphones do (and don't) enable new ways of being. Ooh, what if the smartphone is an arbiter of ontologies? Fun words.

Before discussing Greenfield, I thought I'd stick a QR code with this story to an oak tree outside. As you were reading about Temple Terrace's dying, dangerous oak trees, perhaps you'd start to ponder the benefits of not standing beneath one. It was either this or stick a QR code over everyone's phone camera so they'd have to borrow someone else's phone to do the activity. Too much? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So. As a critique of the smartphone, I found this chapter interesting. Some of the utopian promises the book explores are hazy: magnets that can tell which way you're turning (see: Katie, Brooke, and Brooke's smartphone get lost together in downtown Tampa), GPS that is super accurate (see: Katie, Peter, and Peter's smartphone get lost together in a St. Petersburg parking garage). I don't know why a critique would gloss over this haziness.

Greenfield seems interested in the capability of data to make our lives...more understood? (at least by others) But my cynicism and three years engaging with MyReviewers asks whether anyone actually parses this data? If you're reading this, you may leap to discuss USF's cryptic student data thing (CSDT) that I'm probably not supposed to know about. I will point out that USF's CSDT doesn't talk to other USF CSDTs, so integrating CSDT information with other CSDT information is a long process of copy-paste, copy-paste. Then you have to analyze the results by close reading. I still can't tell you how I know this.

Sure, all this data can be integrated, but I'm not sure it is. Perhaps everyone thinks it is? In this Atlantic article, the author is both relieved and disappointed that the Internet does not know all the things about them. The author receives data without interpretation; interpretation remains the province of folks like us. Not sure how I feel about this.

We spoke in class later about privacy. When did cell phones start needing lock codes? When their applications became facets of our being? If a cell phone is a locked, then shouldn't the data on it be similarly locked? Isn't that the promise that a smart phone implies to us? And when I say Us, I mean Not Me because [insert tinfoil hat person rant here].

We use our hand (generally our dominant one) to control the device. More so, we use our fully opposable thumb--like, the capability that's assumed to proclaim our primal magnificence or something. Our passcode transforms the dark lock screen into the vibrant whatever our homescreen picture is. Scattered across our homescreen picture are applications that represent the various round-edged compartments of our lives.

Personalization, individualization, customization: the promises of the smartphone. Yet Greenfield subtitles the chapter "the networking of the self" for a reason; he analyzes the nonselves of your phone. Of course, the phone isn't exactly what's up for debate here. Up for debate are the networks that digital technologies bring into being, and whether those networks are useful for us as digital humanists.