This weeks readings reflected on the transitions of The Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog was envisioned as a way to bring about a ‘wholeness’ of the earth and all its systems. It resembles an old mail order catalogue,… Read more
This weeks readings reflected on the transitions of The Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog was envisioned as a way to bring about a ‘wholeness’ of the earth and all its systems. It resembles an old mail order catalogue, and contained information on how to maintain communes; the necessary tools that would be needed, and offered items such as potters’ wheels. The Catalog transitioned into the WELL, which is described as one of the first online communities. This shift marks a point in the separation of the utopian values from material practice.
Throughout the readings I felt myself rooting for the counterculture ideal of a shared consciousness, despite essentially knowing the anticipated outcome. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, if this ideal had triumphed how different would our lives have been? Would we have achieved utopia? I believe the potential was there. We can achieve so much as a group with a collaborative mindset; thinking about the sharing of knowledge that this counterculture was pursuing leaves me feeling like a great gift was just thrown aside.
The idea of alternative communities of kindred souls that could express themselves and develop and learn equivalent to a homeostat was profound. The belief that machine and man could coevolve to benefit each system, as a whole, was intense and inspiring. As I was reading this, I was cheering them on and hopeful for their success. It was also interesting to read about the role of women on the WELL and the empowerment they felt as they glided across gender divides.
I don’t believe that the cyberculture revolution was completely unsuccessful in getting their ideal’s across as we do have the Internet. The Internet allows huge numbers of people from all over the planet to communicate and share knowledge. Relevant examples that come to mind are Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. In these realms people seem eager to share what they know and not claim ownership. This shows that many of the same values of sharing and free information within the online community managed to carry over, and this online utopia is very different from the material practices that inspired it.
Mass surveillance. Hacking. Whistle-blowers. The interconnected world of technology and national and international governments is complex, fraught with illegal activity and dubious justifications. At times is hard to believe that these occurrences aren’t merely a storyline of a Hollywood… Read more
Mass surveillance. Hacking. Whistle-blowers. The interconnected world of technology and national and international governments is complex, fraught with illegal activity and dubious justifications. At times is hard to believe that these occurrences aren’t merely a storyline of a Hollywood film, but our reality. Nevertheless, given the task of conducting an immersive experience drawing upon the core components of this largely hidden world, I along with three of my classmates began deliberating what we would do.
At first, we were somewhat perplexed. How would we draw upon our studies of this topic area given that it is so entrenched in technological practices that are not only difficult at times to understand, but also virtually impossible to recreate? Even Fred Turner states that it is a language very few can understand! One suggestion was to infiltrate the University of Richmond’s security room, and somehow incorporate this means of mass surveillance into a game of hide and go seek, monitoring our classmates every move. However, we soon realised the inherent difficulties of this lofty ambition given the various codes of conducts put in place by the University to protect student’s privacy (If only this were the case outside of UR!). After a few more somewhat unrealistic suggestions that required skills beyond our reach (hacking our classmates Facebook profiles), we finally arrived upon an idea. Taking inspiration from our quiz, I had begun thinking of a sort of role-playing game in which each classmate would assume the identity of one of the prominent figures we have been studying (Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, the NSA, etc.) That is, a simulation on a micro level of what has and is taking place in the digital world. By doing so, we would each essentially be walking in their shoes, trying to understand these events from their perspective. While initially we imagined the experience taking place outside, whereby everyone would stand up and move around to discuss tactics to other characters (in a way emulating the ability of such worms as the STUXNET in manipulating physical things), the logistics of doing so proved tricky. Thus, we agreed to remain in the classroom (in a model UN fashion) and utilise a PowerPoint that would act as a visual aid, guiding participants though our experience.
Let the games begin…
Having drawn out characters in the previous class, it was wonderful to see that everyone really jumped on board with our role-playing concept. The props/costumes were great and I felt that they added both an element of playfulness and enhanced the notion of getting into the mindset of one’s character. For instance, as Russia, I decided to draw upon the nation’s relationship with Edward Snowden to inform my visual cues (see image below).
Snowden’s Russian passport (with an additional sign reading ‘+3 years’ in reference to the recent extension of his immunity), a welcome sign and a typed sheet of notes on Russia for the experience.
After debating “Which is more valuable, cyber freedom or cyber security?” (Part 1) in the guise of each character, the experience shifted into part 2: Simulation. Again, we wanted everyone to remain in character to reinforce the notion of thinking and seeing these situations from their point of view. However, given the structure and layout of the questions there were two possibilities offered each time. There would always be a more logical response of the two (see example below). However, in order to avoid a simple yes or no answer, we added a guideline that required a justification of one’s decision.
This segment of the experience revealed the vastly different mindsets of the players. As Glenn Greenwald noted, Snowden sees his role as a whistle-blower as a matter of principle, one that isn’t informed by a motivating factor such as money. Thus, during the experience it was interesting to note the contrast between this highly moral mentality and that of Silicon Valley. For instance, when posed with a choice between giving the government its customer’s information and having to pay an incredible fine (a simulation of the 2007-08 Yahoo case), Silicon Valley ultimately sold out in order to ensure the continued success of their business. (Click the link below to hear audio)
Having successfully journeyed through the simulation, we arrived at our conclusion: the hypothetical simulation (part 3). Essentially an extension of part 2, here the aim was to encourage more creativity and freedom in responses to the hypothetical questions we created (i.e. “Snowden is tracked down and captured by the NSA…. What do you do?”). There would be no right or wrong answers. Although questions were still directed at a particular player, we hoped that they would only initiate the response with others contributing as well.
While for the most part the experience ran smoothly, there were at times lags in the conversation. This required a bit more prompting from myself and my other team members in order to enhance and develop the topic at hand. Also, given that some characters were more prominent in the events, this meant that certain class members were provided with a greater opportunity to become immersed in the experience. Nonetheless, we managed to sustain our experience for the hour – a task that is much harder to achieve than one would expect! The experience also revealed just how difficult it truly is to navigate this murky area of technology and mass surveillance, affirming Mark Poster’s assertion in Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machinesof how traditional forms of power are becoming more complicated and less reliable. I found that it was often hard not only to justify my decisions as Russia but also to ensure that those decisions would ultimately further my own objectives. Moreover, I’m sure many felt victimised during the experience, particularly the NSA who constantly had to defend their actions to multiple parties. It was not difficult to understand how sovereignty could be ‘opened up’ to new and intense forms of critical public scrutiny (‘Leaky Geopolitics: The Ruptures and Transgressions of Wikileaks’).
In regards to the documentation process, we decided to try and emulate the covert techniques favoured by such government agencies as the NSA. Thus during the experience I, along with other group members, recorded the whole conversation using the voice memo app on my iPhone. By doing so, we hoped to emulate the invasive technology employed as a means of mass surveillance by the American government and their affiliated bodies (listen here for another snippet of the experience recorded -> Digital America Experience -Sound recording). Moreover, the audio proved useful in triggering my memory of how the experience played out. I also took profile shots of each participant before the experience commenced as a means of enabling the reader to see how everyone approached their prop assignment (pictures can often be more telling than text alone -see end of post for images). Of course, the additional effect of black and white helps to recreate the air of mystery and tension that has always surrounded the world of espionage. Yet, in using my iPhone I was reminded of the opposing forces between freedom and transparency in our digital age. Although my phone provided a sense of freedom in recording the experience in a multitude of ways, I too was essentially using it as a means of surveillance.
Class members as their assigned ‘character’
Ultimately, despite ebbs and flows in the conversation, the underlying ideas coupled with the enthusiastic participation of all involved brought our experience to life. While Edward Snowden argued his position stating that, ‘You can’t wait around for someone else to act’, perhaps only those with his level of intellect and know how can indeed act within this dangerous environment. After all, as our experience revealed, at the end of the day the NSA/US government will stop at nothing in the name of “protection”.
The first two chapters of From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner address some interesting historical events that have heavily contributed to today’s culture surrounding technology. One of Turner’s discussions which I found particularly interesting deals with… Read more
The first two chapters of From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner address some interesting historical events that have heavily contributed to today’s culture surrounding technology. One of Turner’s discussions which I found particularly interesting deals with the student stigma surrounding computational terms. In the 1960s, the advances in technology, particularly concerning the military, gave this new technology a sense of power. As such, people began likening human functions and states to terms used to describe machinery. For example, the term “networks,” which is an operating system in a computer, began to be used to describe the inner workings of the human brain. Students in the 1960s presented a backlash against this movement as they did not want to be thought of as merely one bit of functionality in an overall machine. However, this idea is not completely extinct in present times.
Although people still use computational terms, I do not believe they have the same negative stigma or frequency they once did. In my personal experience at college, I find the times that I tend to think of my brain as a computer or calculator are linked to certain subject matters. For example, when I am working on an analysis such as this, I feel that my brain is more humanistic in that it perceives things differently than others thus allowing me to have a different opinion or perception than someone else. This is because an analysis is very opinion-oriented, and thus unique for every individual. Conversely, I have always felt a bit more mechanic and like part of a process when working on a math or science equation as there is usually a designated way to solve these problems making people just a part of the equation. For someone like me who is not very gifted in these areas, it can be comforting to know that there is a specific method I need only “plug into” my mind to carry out. However, I would be just as troubled as the students who revolted if this mentality permeated into all areas of life. While power is something virtually everyone seeks and values, it is dehumanizing to associate this power with such a rigid piece of technology, like a computer.
Interestingly enough, we now tend to believe that technology has freed us rather than constrained and dehumanized us. But is this really the case? Technologies like cell phones and computers, which were originally meant to keep us connected can often now do just the opposite. All too often people are glued to their phones while in the middle of an in-person “conversation” only contributing to the topic by mechanically muttering “yeah” at the appropriate times. We tend to Google search answers to opinion questions rather than thinking through things for ourselves. Sometimes people even text or call each other from different rooms in the house. By engaging in this behavior, I believe we are dehumanizing ourselves in a manner of speaking in that we are abusing our technology (freedom). Technology can offer much assistance in our quest for various levels of power. However, we all too often let it turn us into mindless, “plugged-in” machines who are on auto pilot in our daily lives rather than being fully engaged.
In my reading of Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture I came across this statement, “In a highly influential 1960 paper entitled “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” [Joseph C.R.] Licklider imagined a form of human-machine that surpassed even Vannevar Bush’s vision for the… Read more
In my reading of Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture I came across this statement, “In a highly influential 1960 paper entitled “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” [Joseph C.R.] Licklider imagined a form of human-machine that surpassed even Vannevar Bush’s vision for the Memex: “The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”"
How could one not read this and consider what that would be like, our brains constantly connected to the internet, able to upload and download information instantly.
Ok, so maybe The Matrix is an extreme example but, I think every kid out there has wished that everything we learn in school could be downloaded into our brains in a matter of minutes. This likely occurred one of those dreary days where you really just want to stay in bed. Anyway, while perusing youtube I found another video from the Vlogbrothers. Two brothers, Hank and John Green, spent a year communicating with each other via blog videos and this idea was brought up.
All of the sudden internet security became infinitely more important. Like any major change in society there are pro’s and con’s having access at all times to all the information in the world would put everyone on an even playing field and certainly result in an interestingly new societal structure. On the other hand would we become as John Green said, “mindlessly consumeristic” in a sense entirely different from the mindless consumerism we suffer from today?
I leave you with an excerpt from the book mentioned in the video Feed by M.T. Turner(please excuse the swearing) and the question of what you would expect from a world in which everyone has the internet in their minds at all times?
Your face is not an organ
We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like, “I’m so null,” and Marty was all, “I’m null too, unit,” but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall. We were trying to ride shocks off them. So Marty told us that there was this fun place for lo-grav on the moon. Lo-grav can be kind of stupid, but this was supposed to be good. It was called the Ricochet Lounge. We thought we’d go for a few days with some of the girls and stay at a hotel there and go dancing.
We flew up and our feeds were burbling all sorts of things about where to stay and what to eat. It sounded pretty fun, and at first there were lots of pictures of dancing and people with romper-gills and metal wings, and I was like, This will be big, really big, but then I guess I wasn’t so skip when we were flying over the surface of the moon itself, because the moon was just like it always is, after your first few times there, when you get over being like, Whoa, unit! The moon! The goddamn moon! and instead there’s just the rockiness, and the suckiness, and the craters all being full of old broken shit, like domesnobody’s using anymore and wrappers and claws.
The thing I hate about space is that you can feel how old and empty it is. I don’t know if the
others felt like I felt, about space? But I think they did, because they all got louder. They all
pointed more, and squeezed close to Link’s window.
You need the noise of your friends, in space. I feel real sorry for people who have to travel by themselves. In space, that must suck. When you’re going places with other people, with this big group, everyone is leaning toward each other, and people are laughing and they’re chatting, and things are great, and it’s just like in a commercial for jeans, or something with nougat.
To make some noise, Link started to move his seat up and back to whack Marty’s knees. I was like trying to sleep for the last few minutes of the flight because there was nothing to see except broken things in space, and when we’re going hard I get real sleepy real easy, and I didn’t want to be null for the unettes on the moon, at the hotel, if any of them were youch.
I guess if I’m honest? Then I was hoping to meet someone on the moon. Maybe part of it was the loneliness of the craters, but I was feeling like it was maybe time to hook up with someone again, because it had been a couple months. At parties, I was starting to get real lonely, even when there were other people around me, and it’s worse when you leave. Then there’s that silence when you’re driving home alone in the upcar and there’s nothing but the feed telling you, This is the music you heard. This is the music you missed. This is what is new. Listen. And it would be good to have someone to download with. It would be good to have someone in the upcar with you, flying home with the lights underneath you, and the green faces of mothers that you can see halfway through the windows of dropping vans.
As we flew across the surface of the moon, I couldn’t sleep. Link was playing with the seat like an asshole. He was moving it forward and backward. Marty had dropped his bird, these fake birds that were the big spit and lots of people had them, and Marty’s bird was floating off, because there was hardly any gravity, and whenever he leaned out to get his bird, Link would slam his seat back like meg hard and it would go bam on Marty’s face, and they would start laughing. Marty would be all, “Unit! Just wait one—” and Link would be, “Go for it. Try! Try it!” and Marty would be like, “Unit! You are so—!” And then they would be all big laughing and I felt like a complete bonesprocket for trying to sleep when there was fun. I kept hoping the waitress lady would say something and make them shut up for a minute, but as soon as we got out of Earth’s gravitational zone she had gone all gaga over the duty-free.
I didn’t want to be sleepy and like all stupid, but I had been drinking pretty hard the night before and had been in mal and I was feeling kind of like shit. So it was not a good way to start this whole trip to the moon, with the seat thumping on Marty’s face, and him going, “Unit! I’m trying to get my bird!”
Link was saying, “Go for it.”
Marty went, “Linkwhacker! Shit! You’re like doing all this meg damage to my knees and my face!”
“Kiss the chair. Pucker up.”
They both started laughing again. “Okay,” said Marty. “Okay, just tell me which of my frickin’ organs you’re going to smash this time.”
“Keep your tray in the upright position.”
“Like what organ? Just tell me.”
“Those aren’t organs.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your face is not an organ.”
“My face is too an organ. It’s alive.”
“Omigod, is there enough oxygen?” said our friend Calista. “Because are you having some kind of neuron death?”
“I’m trying to sleep,” Loga complained. She yawned. “I’m flat-lining. Meg.”
Then there was this wham and Marty was all, “Oh, shit,” holding on to his face, and I sat up and was like completely there was no hope of sleeping with these morons doing rumpus on my armrest.
The waitress came by and Link stopped and smiled at her and she was like, What a nice young man. That was because he purchased like a slopbucket of cologne from the duty-free.