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new media and new technology

November 18, 2009

Digital corpse
From the discussions that had taken place in the new media classes I’ve been taking (and there also seems to be a conflation between digital humanities and new media), I can’t help wondering if the direction of their practices seem in some instances to be papering over existing superstructures rather than enact any transformative effect. In fact, there is a possible fear that technology is used to turn a particularly traumatic and emotionally explosive event into a spectacle that may undermine, deride, and render it more traumatic. Cyber forums, chatrooms, blog comments sections (though that can now be policed through the painstaking moderation by the blog administrator) and all form of digital public spaces have become the new site of offensive remarks and obnoxious ‘graffiti’, and their very accessibility, in that you need not go to that particular physical space to witness it, make them a more vexing problem for ethicists and those concern with codes of behavior on the Internet (I am sure some of you have read the now very old piece “Rape in Cyberspace” by Julian Dibbell).

But at this juncture, I am more concern as to the very meaning of ‘new’ media and how revolutionary is it; how has it changed our civilizational mental models from their destructive, repressive and oppresive tendencies. Though I am aware of the transformative conditions of new media in its ability to connect people, I am also move to wonder if it may also further reify, codify and even allow the possibility for people to remain firmly entrenched in their own comfort zones, as they are able to select and connect with people who meet their standards of criterion. Moreover, they have the tool to do this pre-selection of whom they want to include or exclude, and this is more easily done. Of course, this includes beastly side of new media such as propagation of horrific forms of pornography and greater seamlessness for the perpetuation of evil. Also, would greater convenience thus bring out in fullforce the hidden variable of sociopathy in us? We begin to use the tools to keep track of and try to control (another explosive term) others within our circle; our family members, partners, exes, friends, enemies, rivals, competitors, friends of friends. The moment of the panopticon takes a devious turn when all of Lacan’s categories of the schizophrenic, obssessive, psychotic and neurotic individuals come out in this playground of legitimized sociopathy. I am reminded by a very effective and interesting performance of the sociopathic engine at the SLSA by a professor at Duke, Casey Alt.

However, at the same time, the tools in digital media (I use this interchangeably with new media) also allows those curious to search for information inaccessible to them and to open the ways they see the world by chanced encounters. But then, how much of what you do in new media is chanced and how much is already predetermined by the way you think, the way you are enfolded into the world and the investments you’ve already made in something. After all, it seems that the argument for technological advancement in new media is about convenience and ease. In writing in a new language or confronting a different narrative (contentious noun here) or sets of events, one is never set at ease nor is convenience ever the keyword. In fact, if technology is about making it ‘easier’ and more ‘convenient’ and more ‘seamless’ for us to do everything, how can we then choose to effect a new paradigm that requires a certain level of discomfort to be effected? Hence, how new is new media if it does not revolutionize our mindsets, change the way we do our pollitics (in a transformative sense) and also when we are held hostage by the technologies we personally possess (do you have a Mac, a PC, a Geforce, a supercomputer; what’s your bandwidth like?) and can access. If totalitarian goverments refuse to regulate new media, it’s merely for the reason of opportunism and capitalist greed that does not necessarily benefit its citizens in large. In fact, governments can still make internet viable to businesses coming to their countries but inaccessible to its ordinary citizens by outlawing its access. Myanmar (Burma) is a case in point. It is interesting for me, as a netizen and global citizen straddling both worlds, being located at the site of privileged now after having navigated between access and disadvantaged (all determined by the different economic circumstances I have had the ‘privilege’ to encounter through my years growing up and as a young adult), I find it ironic that developed countries are thinking of how to make technology more modularly(?) and functionally integrated (more intuitive?) to its users, the very users who reside in the site of privileged (and this I come more and more to believe as I navigate through my classes) while poorer citizens of poorer countries are struggling to even get their share of bandwidth and the most basic of computers, a desktop. I do not know how I can unhypocritically wrestle with the wow factor of technological advancements and utopian possibilities that enable me to do the kind of research and inquiry I could now do from my site of privilege that I could never have done without a lot of struggle from the site in which i was formerly located, where material and immaterial access are never easily obtainable, and pirating of available intellectual materials have become an artform as this becomes the only viable mode of dissemination and empowerment for the relatively impoverised though by no means starving populace. However, I am open to the interjection that piracy is also another site of capitalistic opportunism and blackmarket-fuelled greed.

Quality of production in digital humanities, as in any other scholarly endeavour, is fuelled firstly by the quality of work. And for quality to be achieved, the numbers involved must be sufficient for the stochastic to compute; which is that with more than an n-amount of contribution from n-x number of people, it is possible to have a big enough sampling size to measure the efficacy of producing effective, transformative and revolutionary (or more modestly, just decently excellent work) through the methodology that draws the boundaries of digital humanities. But as Jonathan Harris, himself a new media artist, argues, which I have highlighted before and am iterating here, one then has to try to think of a powerful concept and then look around to see what are the best tools to realize that rather than be too enamoured with the possibilities of the tools. But if ,as one of the classes I’ve been in have discussed, the worry of obsolescence is very real and this is even more real for media artists/writers in developing worlds who try to operate outside the budgets of the commercial world. But for digital humanities not to become another fad nor to become a thin genre with a flat and impoverished intellectual history, it is necessary that those who set the standardmakers in the industry actually is serious about democratizing the tools to the world at large. Otherwise, those who utilize these tools, the creative practitioners of the digital field, will have to find a way to operate outside the standard OS or run the risk of having their independence and desire to share their ideas with the world be curtailed by proprietary standards. Such curtailment have the effect of turning the users of these tools into propagators of particular hegemonies (be they Windows or Mac Os, and the proprietary softwares used to create the work will soon turn the work into a product with its own set of proprietary rules), whereby their fans, readers or audiences would have to subscribe to particular technology just to be able to see their work (which therefore makes the medium more limiting than that of the book or painting, for instance). What can we do so that the revolution that made books and prints (and photography) accessible to the general public in the previous centuries (though this is questionable as economic inequities also made these very same public medium expensive to certain segments of societies in certain parts of the world) can also be considered for today’s ‘new medium’?

a use of new media

Also, there is talk that new media makes more external that which had for a long time remained in the precinct of the interior. This is made manifest in a film I managed to catch yesterday, Sleep Dealer by Alex Riviera, when the two characters in the film, Luz and Memo, connect to each other through the nodal implants in their bodies, and were able to ‘see the inside’ of the other literally during their love-making. The visual of the film seem to presuppose a notion of a solid, tangible visuality which I may find a little problematic. However, it redeems itself through its resistance to adhere to particular modes of narrative structure in its visual re-enactment of memoryscapes and of the fragments of the self being performed. However,to return to the question of externalizing the interior, could there be a possible over-confidence in that claim since it presupposes an ability for control of the effect/outcome as well as a reductive notion of interiority.

My final observation is to do with the role of affect in new media, and its relationship to politics. I am still in the process of reading more on this, as I believe it would have important use-value (and also ludic/even-value) to my work, but in talking about the politics of alienation and defamiliarization that is sometimes needed for the transformative effect to be enacted in any particular medium, by making tht which we are familiar alienating in order for us to complicate the pre-existing order of things, how would affect than navigate and negotiate through such a situation? Or do we have to do away with affect in this case? I leave this for someone more knowledgeable than myself to comment.


Hence, the sum up this winding, discursive and dialectical move which I have made here, I can point to my wish to find a way of empowering the individual and the society at large through the kinds of transformation that can be enacted through new media and finding the most fruitful way to engage this medium that is neither new nor old. I am sure I will hare more thoughts as I read, think and observe the various ideas in this domain.

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