Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reading, Thinking, and Reflecting #2

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Chapters 6-10
I am still enjoying reading this book. Dick has set up parallel story lines that I know must cross in significant ways as I finish the book, and I am curious how that will happen. A version of Rachael Rosen showing up at John's apartment was the first link, but now with the android faux police headquarters appearing, it seems certain that the idea of separating android from human will only tangle up more. I did wonder how the (as we were to discover) android police were able to run the bone density test so quickly on the victim in Rick's car; that test had been said to take a very long time at Rosen. Maybe androids are more adept at pinpointing other androids? Which is intriguing -- how the humans are worrying so much about correct identification, while the androids are either better at it or care less for accuracy.

Harrison Ford as Rick Decker in Blade RunnerImage from the Alt Film Guide
One more point about DADoES: my husband is reading this along with me -- he told me when he saw the book that he had always wanted to read it because he loved Blade Runner. When I could not find a picture of the electric sheep for my last post, I asked him if there were electric animals in the movie, and he said not really. I therefore was waiting to see what he thought when he read how important they are to the book (I know the movie is loosely based only, but it is still intriguing for me to consider what they used and didn't): he was struck by how this element was removed to focus on the bounty hunter action. It got us talking about how Rick does not have a wife in the movie, and we thought about how he could be driven in his job just by his own desires versus the unhappy wife wanting a live animal.
I do think though that the ambiguity of the live versus real animals adds a layer of complexity to the android versus human issue. If they cannot tell an electric cat from a live one, how can they possibly think they can do this with more developed technology for people androids?

New Media, Chapters 5-8
My reading of Gane and Beer did not link as much to DADoES this week as last, but I feel the connections will start again as I finish DADoES. So, what I want to focus on here are Gane and Beer's conclusions. First, let me lay out the concepts from this reading with quotes I feel connect these three in particular to the conclusions of the book:
  • Archive: "archives are no longer housed simply in buildings such as libraries and museums, but are now increasingly generated and maintained by lay users in virtual environments" (location 1893, paragraph 1)
  • Interactivity: "in spite of the almost ubiquitous presence of this concept in commentaries on new media it is not always clear what makes media interactive or what is meant by the term interactivity. Interactivity is a concept that tends to be used to bypass descriptions of the workings of media technologies" (location 1917, paragraph 1)
  • Simulation: "simulated media environments are now so ubiquitous that they are taken for granted rather than placed under critical scrutiny. There has also been a subtle shift in the focus on contemporary media theory, which now rarely looks at simulation simply in itself" (location 2252, paragraph 1)
Two things jump out at me from these passages. First is that these new media terms have become oft-used vocabulary without users feeling the need to explain them. The idea that this then hides what is being described by the terms versus describing is a fascinating oxymoron -- using a descriptor to thwart description. Second is the point that these terms, even as they are being used in such an undefined way, are shifting in their meanings through the development of new media theory. I love the term "zombie category" (location 2640, paragraph 2), and archive is a perfect example of how a term can fight off such conceptual death.

The concept of archive was one I played with this past summer in Productive Theory with Dr. Phelps because I was so intrigued by the reinvention of it through digital means. If you care to read my concept definition, here it is. The idea of an archive moving from a strictly controlled collection to a wide open accumulation is both scary and exciting -- scary because of the overload we all face when trying to navigate the accumulation and exciting because of the different stories being told. One of the things I do as a teacher in a laptop school is help students understand that every action they take online becomes part of their digital archive of themselves -- a digital archive others might use as well. We keep our students in private environments for schoolwork in lower and middle school, then we open them to public environments in upper school with the idea that they understand how to be a part of this larger world. However, they are already often a part of this larger world for their own uses much earlier than we bring them there, so the conversation is so important to have all along.

Beer, Nicholas Gane and David. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg, 2008. E-book.
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Del Rey, 1968. Print.


  1. I don't know how much you know about P.K. Dick, but it might be helpful to know these books were written very quickly on a lot of speed. Also, he's pretty uninterested in the hard science side of science fiction. So don't expect either the science or plotting to end tied up neatly in a logical bow.

  2. I had to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep this year! Thought it was really good and I'm glad you're enjoying it :)

  3. One thing I like about the two versions of the text being so different is that it gets at some of the discussion about what/how/why content/narrative in different media/modalities. In short, it all connects back to the course. :-)
    I too loved "zombie category." But then, if we go with the whole language is slippery period theory, is all language "zombie"? GREAT job connecting back to earlier work.