Social literacies: Some observations about writing and wikis

In Literacy in the New Media Age, Gunther Kress (2003) argues that the image is displacing writing as the main resource for communication in Western societies. This does not mean, obviously, that writing is disappearing. But as Kress would put it, the world told is increasingly being replaced by the world shown—with all the social […]

A study

Bookmark, Classify and Share: A mini-ethnography of social practices in a distributed classification community [Note: This is a project I did for a class on social and communicative aspects of the internet, taught by Chuck Kinzer. Not a ‘real’ study, but you might find some of the literature review and listed resources helpful. You may […]

Alterity and Technology: Interview with Profs. Furstenberg and Levet of MIT’s Cultura Project

An ongoing theme in this blog is the question of how communication technologies can enhance or distort our understanding of the world. The mediation that technology introduces into the process of communication, I argue, can yield worldviews that increase the degree of integration between individuals and their environments, or conversely, that increase the degree of […]

The limits of e-Democracy: Between Public and Mass

The use of electronic means of communication for expressly political ends is creating a lot of buzz about eDemocracy, Emergent Democracy, eCitizenship or whatever one wants to call it. Opinions about what exactly eDemocracy will engender range from narratives about enhancing the current democratic process with new ways of engagement and participation, to a total reconceptualization of how society should govern itself. In general, most proponents of eDemocracy assume the following:

-eDemocracy will increase participation in politics and will make politics matter again.

-The power of eDemocracy will lie not in its ability to connect average people to their representatives, but in allowing average people to collaborate, organize, and help themselves.

-eDemocracy will work because we finally have access to low-cost tools to manage the volume and complexity of information that we must pay attention to in order to act as well-informed citizens.

-We are just waiting for the next eDemocracy killer app, the Napster of internet politics, to bring it all together.

Now, behind most of these assumptions is the idea that eDemocracy will revolutionize politics because it will re-empower the public. If the public consists of individuals in dialogue with each other, it stands to reason that the internet–which we are discovering is a great tool for communication–can greatly enhance the democratic process.


Technology and Blindness to Suffering

Surely there is no more blatant sign of dehumanization than the inability to react to suffering. And yet, underscoring technological progress throughout the ages is the drive to obliterate the experience of suffering. We want to be immune to the suffering of others, and we want to be immune to our own suffering.

Pierre Flourens, a French physician living in the times of Victor Hugo, wrote the following about the effects of anaesthetics:

Postmodernism, Virtuality, Globalization and the (fragmented) Self – 3/3

But are technology and virtuality inherently oppressive? Can they not be instruments of subversion, even while partly complicit in capitalism? To believe that technologies cannot be re-appropriated and subverted would be to yield the power of human creativity to the will of multinational corporations. Somewhere between Audrey Lorde’s belief that the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, and Ani DiFranco’s opinion that every tool is a weapon if you hold it right, there must be a productive space for technology and virtuality within praxis. If that is a possibility, we must begin by critiquing the unsustainable practices of virtuality: mainly, it’s refusal to “get real.”

Postmodernism, Virtuality, Globalization and the (fragmented) Self – 2/3

But if the decentered self requires the internet to support its multiple identities and realities, and the internet can only be maintained with the hardware and electricity provided by multinational corporations, then we must admit that the decentered self is partly complicit in the process of globalization. In other words, the discourse of the decentered self must acknowledge how it, as a product of postmodern culture, helps to perpetuate the centralized logic of capitalism. As Jameson argues, “every position on postmodernism in culture-whether apologia or stigmatization-is also at one and the same time, and necessarily, an implicitly or explicitly political stance on the nature of multinational capitalism today.” (¶ 4)

Postmodernism, Virtuality, Globalization and the (fragmented) Self – 1/3

Frederic Jameson’s essay, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, describes the ethos of its time. Published in 1984, the work provides a detailed analysis of the social and political implications of postmodernism, and predicts the continuation of a trend already well in progress in the 1980’s: the further fragmentation of the self. Jameson’s predictions are validated and updated in Sherry Turkle’s book Life on the Screen (Touchstone Press, 1995), published a decade later. Where Jameson looks at art, literature and architecture in the 1980’s, Turkle looks at virtuality and the online world in the 1990’s for evidence of the postmodern decentralization of the self, and what its sustainable and unsustainable consequences might be.

Online Relationships: Here and Now?

The relationships we form online with people we have never met in “meatspace” are real, to the extent that they involve real social transactions. But what kind of relationships are they? In what ways do they differ from actual (I use the word here to mean the opposite of ‘virtual’) relationships? Can online relationships affect and shape us in the same way?