Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Reading, Thinking, Reflecting #1

(A note about many of my blog posts this semester: I have started my New Media Theory I class in my doctoral program at ODU with Dr. Shelley Rodrigo. Many of my posts will be reflections on the reading and work we are are doing. I will always note what reading I have done in case you want to find the texts yourselves. I am loving Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep!)

Chapters 1-5,
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
I am thinking about empathy right now. Empathy -- the connection to others that androids cannot feel. Rick's realization that he was caring for an android in the form of his electric sheep (42) really spun the idea of empathy for me.

His job is to kill androids, yet he cares for a type of android at his home. I wonder if the name Wilbur Mercer is linked to anything. "A mercer (occupation) is a merchant or trader," to be mercenary means working for money or gain or a soldier fighting in a foreign army. It seems weird that the person behind the empathy link that is created via the empathy box the would be named for either a trader or someone out for gain. The empathy box seems the opposite of that -- powered to bring people together.
I also wonder about the electric sheep. I was searching for images of the sheep as they appeared in Blade Runner (turns out they did not appear in the movie) and came across fractals instead ...

Electric Sheep & Fractal Universe

When I looked a little further, I saw that these fractal images (which most of us see via screensavers) are named from this book. While I have only read five chapters so far, this connection made sense to me, "The title mirrors the nature of the project: computers (androids) who have started running the screensaver begin rendering (dreaming) the fractal movies (sheep)." I can see from the conflict set up about the Nexus-6 brain and the need for bounty hunters of androids that the technology is growing beyond human control.

Which led me to some thoughts I had from our other reading ...

Chapters 1-4, New Media
"Castells theorizes the emergence of network society in terms of the transition from communal forms of existence, in which individuals are tied to others through strong social bonds that are often forged through physical proximity, to new forms of me-centered networks in which individuals position themselves to maximize their personal gains from others" (location 629, paragraph 1). I have read Gane and Beer before, and my reaction to this idea of network in my first reading was surprise at how negative this description is of the world of new media we live in. Now, rereading this after reading Sheeps, I see the direction networks are heading in a scarier way. In Sheeps, the characters are so lonely and hate living in mostly empty physical spaces. We today are pushing towards networks that forego physical space as well. Can we be as satisfied with these virtual bonds as we have been for millennia with physical bonds?

I actually have wondered about this before. I have thought I was in the minority as someone who does not find Facebook fun or energizing. I actually leave Facebook feeling drained. I have chalked this up to my natural introversion, but when I place time on Facebook next to time spent at a big party, Facebook is harder for me. I had never considered this an issue of a lack of physical bonds before, but it makes sense to me.

I also was struck by the way they discuss the concept of interface -- how we assume when we hear that word a sense of participation. But when you look closely at interface, particularly interface prior to user-generated content, you can see a control hiding behind it. Interface that gives the illusion of choice when there are really limited choices. This made me rethink the participatory culture studying I have done -- how there can be a layer of control involved and often hidden. It would be interesting to tease this out using actor-network theory maps -- look at all of the actors, even the ones hidden from first sight. Maybe the control can be found this way.

Let me end by listing the key concepts Gane and Beer have laid out so far. It is not possible for me to capture all the layers of their definitions, but let me give the basics for each.
  • Network: "an infrastructure that connects computers to each other and to a range of external devices" (location 426, paragraph 1)
  • Information: "the question of how information is created and transmitted is more important than what information in itself might mean" (location 848, paragraph 1)
  • Interface: "an in-between or transitional device" (location 1242, paragraph 2)
And here is a black-faced Suffolk ewe (Dick 43). You decide if it is real or a machine ...

Image from the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association

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 comment:

  1. I'm glad you made connections to Mercer's name. I hadn't thought of doing that; fascinating tension, eh?! Fascinating info about the screensaver! It will be interesting to see how you continue to connect back to Key Concepts throughout the course (esp. since you've read it before).