Who Am I, Internet?

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Perhaps one of the most interesting themes we have explored as a class this semester is the theme of identity in the internet: who are we online?  Who do we become when we express ourselves on the Web?  We morph into a virtual representation of ourselves; whether or not it is reflective of our actual, “meatspace” selves is another story.  There are countless opportunities online for us as internet contributors to assume new identities; the realm of cyberspace is a land of creation and, many times, anonymity…why not assume a new identity?

                As Dustin discussed in his entry entitled “Why So Crazy?” YouTube has become a rather interesting outlet for the individual.  However, it is particularly interesting to think of YouTube and identity together: how much can the individual really alter their identity when we can see their physical being on the screen.  Dustin included a video of Chris Crocker in his post to demonstrate to the insane extent some will embrace the freedom the internet awards us; in the video, Crocker makes a complete fool of himself, and his identity is never concealed.  In this instance, he owns his identity.

                Identity is also prevalent when thinking about the online question center ChaCha! that allows people to ask any question that is boggling their minds to complete strangers who are hired solely to answer the questions that are sent in by these anonymous thinkers.  In this representation of the internet, no identity is ever formed: all is anonymous, all is categorized in two ways: the questioner and the answerer.  It is impersonal and wholly distant from any kind of substantial representation of the self.

                Perhaps one the most interesting explorations of identity takes place in the form of social networking sites of Myspace, Twitter, and most importantly, the sensation that is Facebook.  As Kaitlin discussed in her blog entry on social networking sites, Facebook has become the place to “talk about yourself.”  However, to what extent can we trust that the identity a person creates for himself online is an accurate depiction of their true identity?  It is so easy to take a Facebook just as it seems because it is difficult to dispute something as seemingly indisputable as a picture.  However, it is vital to remember Facebooks are created, which  means identities are capable of being transformed.  It truly is fascinating that the internet – an entirely intangible entity – wields the amount of power that it does in the formation and construction of identity.

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The blur between Man and Machine

With technology moving forward at an alarmingly fast rate, it would only be in human nature to want to use technology to advance our hardware. The outcome: body enhancements. Molly in Neuromancer had many enhancements with her body, as did Palmer Eldritch in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.  Along with Palmer’s modifications, Leo Bulero in the same novel received cosmetic surgery to implement a tongue weapon.  Although I have not heard of any surgical procedures to implant weapons to the body, there have been major advancements with prosthetics and optical surgery.   Dustin in his post “One Step Closer to Palmer ” goes into detail about the positive side to the body enhancements that help those in need of prosthetics.  The prosthetic limb shown in the video exemplifies the glories of technological advancements and the ability to help the lives of others while combining medicine and technology. On the other side of this is Alexie’s post,”Body Enhancements…Possible?“, about pointless enhancements such as the “Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery [that] inserts shapes such as ‘hearts, stars, euro signs, four-leaf clovers, and music notes’ into a patient’s eye (Scott, 8)”.

The optical surgery to insert shapes has no medical significance and provides a way for doctors to use their skills to enlarge their bank accounts.  The E-therapy seen in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch has a somewhat similar cosmetic appeal, as there is no real medical significance to the procedure and simply is seen as a status symbol.  We had talked about the importance of always having the newest and coolest piece of technology when is comes to cell phones and laptops, but who would have thought the same could be said for cosmetic surgery that blurs the line between technology and the body.  Cyborgs have been in books for years, but the concept of a cyborg made of mainly machine has yet to make an appearance.  In Christopher’s post, “The Opposite of a Cyborg?” he reveals the concept of a machine that has human cells growing in it.  The concept is still in prototype stages but as Christopher said, “It seems that as time and research move forward, the hybrid fusion of man and machine will only evolve to even greater levels.”  It is hard to admit how much we are dependent on technology and the continual blur between our technology and us continues to grow with each new product release.  It is very daunting to think that the new iPhone 5 rumored to release later this year may turn out to simply be an implant where the screen is a projection through out eyeball and we control it with our body as we saw in the episode of Futurama.

I guess it is safe to say that no matter where society takes us there will always be a demand for engineers to create new technology, and doctors to implant it into our bodies.  As we discussed one class period, it is impossible to think of a day where we would be forced to live without any technology. From the contacts in my eyes to the computer I am currently typing this post on, I would be nothing without technology.

Trading Spaces: Meatspace meets Cyberspace

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

When I signed up for this class, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Due to the stressful nature of YES, I picked out several writing seminars and I narrowed them down based on what fit with my other classes and what I could actually get into during the 6:00 am mad sign-up rush. As fate had it, this class became my first year writing seminar, and I have to say I couldn’t be happier, but it didn’t start out that way.

As we started the class with Neuromancer I immediately couldn’t help but wonder, “What did I get myself into?” I am fairly incompetent when it comes to technology (when I try to use my roommates printer, it’s just embarrassing) and I have always avoided science fiction at all costs. Neuromancer confused me and made me feel like I’d made a horrible decision because I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. As I struggled through this book, and the following texts, though, I formed a new appreciation for this new genre. I slowly began to see the emotional and human side in this technical world. Infused in all of the computer jargon, are feelings present in everyday life. And since the first book, there has been a constant presence of the combination of meatspace and cyberspace.

As Kaitlin shows in her post about social networking sites, we use technology (cyberspace) to represent out personal lives (meatspace). Through posting pictures and online comments, the Internet becomes a source of communication and human connection. She also argues, that cyberspace influences meatspace as well. ‘These sites define our generation,” she said, showing their impact on the world outside of the Internet. Cyberspace and meatspace both influence each other in a variety of ways.

This combination between the two worlds can also be seen in Aimee’s post Cell Phones in Our Skin? As she addressed the electronic cigarette, she showed how it combines humanistic elements with technological ones. She related the inevitability of a union between meatspace and cyberspace to Neuromancer, as she said, “I would even take it a step further and suggest that Gibson might be warning his audience that this phenomenon could take place in the future; maybe he believes that someday we won’t be able to tell the difference between cyberspace and meat space.” This comparison continues as she stated, “The blurring of cyberspace and meat space climaxes in Neuromancer when the reader is no longer able to clearly determine which realm the narrator is describing. Perhaps the electronic cigarette is the first step in the full consolidation of humans and technology.” Aimee’s post shows how these two worlds may not only be influencing one another, but might be completely fusing together. Will we ever come to a point when these two spheres are indistinguishable?

Alexie touches on the implications of this combination in her blog post FaceTime: Bringing Us Together, or Apart? She addresses how technology influences people’s social and interactional skills. “There have been many arguments that technology is a force of depersonalization; that people are beginning to have ‘cyber personalities,’ completely different from whom they are in person,” she said. This argument is followed by another possibility that FaceTime is actually reversing this trend, making people talk to each other, rather than text. This post touches on the variety of directions these new innovations can take us.

Nobody can be certain where technology will lead society, but it is this issue- a battle between meatspace and cyberspace- that has intrigued me throughout this course. At the beginning of the semester, I saw technology as fairly distant from my life. I knew I used it, but I didn’t think it influenced me in such a humanistic way. My eyes have been opened to how much cyberspace and a technological world impacts my relations with friends, with work, and with general interests. I cannot escape it. I have been oblivious to how much my life actual does rest in cyberspace. Aimee pointed out the argument that one day “we won’t be able to tell the difference between cyberspace and meat space,” but for me, maybe that day is already here.

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Modern Luddites

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

This course has focused to a large extent on the relationship between people and technology. Ultimately, the most important aspect of this is how technology changes the way that view ourselves. But to learn anything about what digital culture tells us about ourselves, we have to first consider the way which we consider the digital world. John Perry Barlow, in his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” claims his faith in the growth of the internet and especially in the way it can grow independent of government influence. He thought that things were on the right track and believed in the nature of progress. But with any progress there always comes an accompanying reactionary and conservative force, a resistance to the natural advancement of things. Now this isn’t always a negative thing, and in his You Are Not a Gadget Jaron Lanier warns against the harm that can be done if we take progress too quickly without taking the appropriate time to analyze and understand the potential consequences of the our present actions.

There will always be reservations made about extreme changes in technology which bring about a radical shift in the way the world behaves. In the post, “The car that drives itself…,” user aimeelogeman exhibits distrust in the Google Car, a car that does as the title describes. “What happens if the cameras or “scanning laser” malfunction?… “I know personally that I would never fully trust the vehicle.” It’s easy to understand how someone would be hesitant about getting in a car with no human driver, because there is a distinct feeling of a lack of control. This might also be related to why so many people are afraid of flying but not at all nervous about being in a car speeding on the highway. But just as flying is statistically much more safe than driving, a widespread car that drives itself would probably result in a dramatic decrease in accident-related deaths. After all, the vast, vast majority of fatal accidents, for both airplanes and cars, have historically been pilot/driver related (link). But the point here isn’t to debate self-driving cars, but rather to show how people can be distrustful of evolving technology.

Sometimes the break in the relationship between technology and people isn’t due to an internal mistrust, but a vague feeling of discomfort. This could easily be applied to previously mentioned post. What seemed to be emphasized was not the fact the car would inevitably fail itself; this was less important than the overall feeling that something was wrong if the human was taken out of the equation. Similarly, user rodrigin posted in “Geminoid: Freakishly Human” about a line of robots which have advanced nearer than ever to the imitation of a human. While the user does not explicitly express any opinion on the appearance of the robot in the body of the text, their description of the artificial life in the post’s title reflects the criticism that line has received for its eerie appearance. This can be understood by considering the phenomenon known as the “uncanny valley,” which describes the fact that a person’s response towards an entity will become more positive steadily as it becomes more human-like, until the likeness approaches very near-human and then the reaction drops significantly. People will be generally uncomfortable of the idea of something not human becoming too much like a human.

Another source of resentment for people in regards to technology is when a piece of software that has been designed to help us ends up doing exactly the opposite. Kbrown92 examine in their post titled “A Simple Miscommunication” a wesbite devoted to compiling (and most likely somewhat fabricating) a list of errors made by mobile phones’ autocorrect feature. Lanier describes a similar problem with this feature in word processors, and if he had seen this website before writing his manifesto would most likely have had a field day with this.

Man and machine have developed a somewhat good relationship over the past decades, but like any other it is not a perfect union, and many are cautious of the future it may take. Rudy Rucker’s Software describes a world where robots and humans have an interesting and complex connection. Many of the “boppers” are sympathetic with humans and some especially with their creator, but others wish to digitize all of humanity. Several characters, such as Sta-Hi exhibit a distrust of this process, and through this the author may be suggesting a bleak future if we let technology encroach too much on our lives, and especially on the elements which make us human. It’s safe to say, however, that regardless of whether or not it is good for us, technological progression is as inevitable as it always has been.

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Meatspace v. Cyberspace… FIFA Edition.

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

This semester (especially toward the beginning) we have discussed countless times how meatspace and cyberspace interact with each other in various ways. Having never truly thought about this topic before, I was curious to hear and read what other classmates and authors thought about cyberspace and meatspace. I liked how we consistently found tension between the two worlds and had the freedom to share with each other the ways in which we see cyberspace and meatspace violently collide.

From reading Neuromancer, we decided that the two are not mutually exclusive but rather intertwined realms that have the power to impact each other in significant ways. For example, Case’s meatspace becomes almost annoyingly ambiguous the deeper he involves himself into cyberspace as a cowboy. On a different note, Jason Lanier comments in You Are Not a Gadget: a Manifesto that cyberspace (in the form of Facebook, for example) allows users to put their identities online. As Lanier argues, this jeopardizes privacy – which I can interpret as privacy in meatspace. And lastly, but not exhaustively, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch also debates the topic of identity throughout the entire novel. Philip K. Dick’s book suggests that interaction in cyberspace can severely impact one’s meatspace, specifically in the form of bodily identity. Think Palmer Eldritch’s utterly inhuman “body,” arguably the ramifications of his mingling in a different type of cyberspace – the drug-induced realms of colonists on Mars.

But instead of talking about how they affect each other, which they certainly do, I want to know, based on my classmate’s blog posts, which world would win: cyberspace or meatspace. Since we often find ourselves on the topic of FIFA, why don’t we think of it as a soccer game. Whichever realm scores the most points, wins.

And so the battle begins…

Katie posted about her experience as one of ChaCha’s newest employees. Finishing the post, Katie comments, “For me to get this technologically centered job showed how unavoidable it is for cyberspace and the Internet to creep its way into every facet of our lives.” Point for cyberspace? I don’t think so. Katie continues, “This, at least to me, is a predictable path our future will take, but I didn’t expect so much ‘meatspace’ to enter its way into [cyberspace].”

Cyberspace: 0, Meatspace: 1

On the other hand, Sasha describes in his blog post, “25 Years Later,” the technological advancements of the laptop computer in the last, you guessed it, twenty-five years. He concludes with the bold statements, “We don’t need to go into cyberspace, because it’s already in our world… [Cyberspace] invaded our world and took it over.” Cyberspace makes a daring kick with three meatspace defenders attacking… Cyberspace shoots and scores!

Cyberspace: 1, Meatspace: 1

Finally, considering the analogy, let’s look at Tyler’s aptly named blog post, “FIFA ’11.” While he does not mention and debate meatspace and cyberspace directly, Tyler implies more than just the entertainment aspect of FIFA when he states, “[Video games] are yet another medium of technology through which we can learn unique information more conveniently, and have fun doing it.” Reading this and considering the conversation at hand, I can deduce that cyberspace has the upper hand in this context. He even claims, “I happen to play two on two, which is basically the most social [interaction] I’ll ever get. SICK.” Meatspace is getting pretty tired and doesn’t look very good anymore…

Cyberspace: 2, Meatspace: 1

Game over? For now.

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Our Virtual Selves

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

When I was signing up for a Writing Seminar for this semester, I knew I wanted to take a class where I would learn something different. I have spent my entire academic life studying the basics (Math, Social Studies, Science, etc), and wanted to expand my knowledge of something ‘off the beaten path’; something cool. So, when I saw the option to look into Representations of Digital Culture, I knew it was for me. Technology, and its affect on both individuals and entire cultures, has always fascinated me, and coming into the semester, I was ecstatic to see how the class would handle the broad issue of digital culture. Needless to say, this class has not disappointed. Not only has it introduced me to great texts I’ve never read (or heard of) and notions I’ve never considered, but it has also explored, in great depth, an issue that attracted me to the class in the first place; that is, how does technology shape who we are as people? In what ways has the emergence of a virtual world changed our culture? From the first day of class until today, that has been a principal theme, shaping our discussion of essays, books, TV shows, and movies.

Starting with Neuromancer, we saw how an individual’s life in the virtual world can both influence, and ultimately become, their life in meatspace. In the dystopian underworld that is Chiba City, people’s lives revolve around hacking into, and stealing from, cyberspace. Case is notoriously known as a ‘console cowboy’, suggesting that one’s involvement in the virtual world reflects how they are viewed in the real world, as well. Looking back on it, I think Neuromancer was the perfect text to start off the class; the novel not only set the stage for cyberpunk and introduced the contrast between a real world and a virtual world, but also paved the way for our discussion of more pertinent, real-world examples. Thus, when the discussion moved from Dixie Flatline Constructs to Facebook, we were armed with the knowledge of how to dissect any text from a technological perspective.

One of my favorite works we discussed in class was the Futarama episode, Attack of the Killer App. Despite its cartoon visuals and satirical subject matter, the notion of the iPhone (or eyePhone) being ‘within us’ holds true in today’s world. In fact, Aimee even alludes to this in Cell Phones in our Skin, as she writes that “the electronic cigarette is the first step in the full consolidation of humans in technology”, suggesting that perhaps cell phones in our skin is the next step in this progression. Yet whereas the concept of technology being within us is still years away, we cannot question that we face a pending ubiquity of technology in the world around us, even on Vanderbilt’s campus. Everywhere you walk, people’s faces are buried in their phones, BBMing and checking Facebook. In fact, one can argue that we all live concurrent lives: one real, meatspace existence, and another lifestyle rooted in technology and the virtual world. This has been touched upon by many of my classmates in blog posts, a comforting notion, as it suggests that I am not the only one riveted by technology’s influence on our identities. In Online Orgy Cult, Katie indicates that perhaps these two lives are not meant to interact, as she writes that “friends you make on Facebook are not supposed to fall into your real life. . .[and] the way people interact with one another on Facebook is not how they interact in person.” This need to keep lives separate, as Katie argues, suggests that we are not the same person across the realms of technology, meaning that social networking, texting, and iChat have created a virtual being out of all of us. Moreover, as Alexie brings up in Facetime: Bringing us Together, or Apart? technology has been a “force of depersonalization”,  as “people are beginning to have ‘cyber personalities’, completely different from whom they are in person.” Whereas people used to call each other to make plans, and talk in person (gasp!), “our youngest generation feels more comfortable texting each other than picking up the phone to make a call.” Through all the evidence presented to me from works in the class, and more importantly, from the ideas of my classmates, I have to agree with the words of Aimee, Katie, and Alexie. While technology is great, and has enhanced our ability to connect with one another, it comes with a cost. That is, technology has adversely affected many of our identities, transforming us into text messages, Myspace pages, or even a face behind a screen. Though I did have some sense of this prior to this semester, our class has allowed me to more fully grasp the idea of technological identity.

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Under control of robots?

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the topics that I found interesting was regarding the power that technology may have on our lives in the future. Technology has become an influential and necessary part of our every day lives from using Wikipedia and other online sources to find information to driving our cars to get from one place to another. I don’t think any of us could live without technology in today’s society, but as we saw in the episode of Futurama technology can turn us into zombies following its every command.

Though we didn’t really spend much time discussing it in class, the material we read probably made all of us think about the power that technology can have over us one day. Is it possible for robots to evolve and try to take over humans, as was the case in Software? Aimee, Chris, and Jordan all discussed this topic in one of their blog posts. Aimee pointed out in her blog the possible warning that Gibson may be giving his audience: “Someday we won’t be able to tell the difference between cyberspace and meat space.” This makes you think about the discussions we had about reality versus virtual reality and how it is possible to get lost in the world of virtual reality for it quite accurately mimics the world of reality. Chris raised the question regarding how we as humans should feel about the intelligence that robots have and asked, “ How long will it be until future generations of super computers exceed human ability at other tasks?” Jordan thought the same way about the development of the new X-37B space plane stating, “ This could potentially put astronauts out of business.” Though technological advancements are seen as amazing human developments, should we be worried that one day these human developments will start to replace us humans and eventually blur the line between cyberspace and meat space?