Chapter 2: Place

Digital media were intended to favor decentralization and dislocation. Part of the convenience of media is how people can communicate across large spaces that previously complicated or prohibited such interaction. However, there is also a “bias toward non-local thinking” (Rushkoff, 44), which means that people tend to favor the big corporations and national campaigns over mom and pop businesses or community issues. While small businesses can theoretically use new media to broadcast their product/service, the biggest strength of small businesses is their relationship with the surrounding area and people, which is taken away by the very use of mass media communication.

There are advantages of being able to transcend place and connect with people via new media–people with rare diseases can find support groups, and people can post fanfiction and discuss it with like-minded individuals from across the globe. Though as good as it is to not feel alone anymore, this hardly replaces real face-to-face interactions. And though it is great to watch live videos of a protest across the Atlantic Ocean, we may become desensitized to such information that is accessible 24/7.

In order to not “be programmed,” we have to recognize digital media’s bias toward dislocation so that we can make an extra effort to preserve our ability to talk to real people in person.

Discussion Questions

  1. To what degree do you see yourself like Gina? What, if any, negative consequences have you encountered as a result of this behavior?
  2. How does digital media steer us away from local issues and toward less physically relevant ones? Are there benefits to this in some cases?
  3. How does digital media make you feel less alone? More alone? Do different media platforms make you feel more or less alienated by their nature?

Chapter 3: Choice

Because the digital realm is “biased toward choice” (Rushkoff, 55), humans are forced to make yes-or-no decisions. Think about every profile you’ve ever created, and the choices you had to make: gender, age, relationship status, etc. There is usually no way to opt out–you have to make a decision. Computer language is either 1’s or 0’s, the switch is on or off, you click here or there, etc. Things don’t just “happen” or appear–at some point, a digital programmer had to program everything a certain way, making each and every decision.

Choice is valued in American society, but it is important to recognize that making choices means there is always an opportunity cost, something we have to forgo. We have been trained to conform to the given choices, and have stopped thinking about other options not listed. The reality is that we can actually choose to not make any decisions at all, and the best way to not “be programmed” is to resist standard categorization and take ownership of the decision-making process.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some of the choices you are forced to make in everyday interaction with new media?
  2. What do you like/dislike about having more options available to you?
  3. How can we actually resist conforming to the given options. How can you choose “none of the above,” so to speak?
  4. Who makes the most decisions regarding digital media? Is it you, the user? If not, who else?

Mitchell’s Do We Still Need Skyscrapers?

Monumental architecture in the early days were magnificent displays of power but not so functional, as they “contained little usable interior space” (Mitchell 23). Over time, architects found a way to free up the interior and the concept of enormous, functional structures took off. Skyscrapers gained popularity amongst corporations because they served the demands of capitalism. A company could house all their employees in one space for the ultimate efficiency. However, there were constraints to how tall a building could be. Higher floors were more expensive and city planners often imposed limits for the sake of the rest of the city. Still, some companies fought to build the tallest towers, looking to stand out quite literally amongst the competition.

Then came the Digital Revolution and the importance of centrality and colossal towers faded. Correspondence could be achieved via phone, email or skype. File cabinets containing thousands of paper documents were replaced with hard drives and online data. Clever marketing and a monumental online presence proved that a company could be massive without owning a skyscraper. The author argues that this is not the end of skyscrapers though because even as the economic justifications fade, the rich and powerful will still want to assert themselves into the landscape of our consciousness and the skyline of the city.

Discussion Questions

  1. What other innovations are becoming empty as a result of the Digital Revolution?
  2. What do you think of Mitchell’s conclusions? What are your predictions for the future of skyscrapers?

Mitchell’s In the First Place

Mitchell reiterates that the media is the message, or as he would say “context matters”. One can attribute meaning by altering the mise-en-scene or location. Within a room, the placement of objects says something to a viewer. Objects displayed on a mantel are important or worth notice, while things in the trashcan are no longer imperative and things hidden away are private or embarrassing. Additionally, the order of things is often significant and tells us what has precedence or commonalities. Even we as people are prone to being arranged, as “cities operate as huge machines for sorting their populations and organizing opportunities for face-to-face encounter and exchange.” (Mitchell 7). Some spaces accommodate flows of people and intermingling, where others a far more restricted and require specific behaviors and languages (liturgy, law).

A city can exist without writing but the emergence of language and labels adds another dimension. Often words can serve to give the viewer a bit more information. Some things can do without labels but other objects are more ambiguous, like a book or a building. We rely on labels to steer us in the right direction and to “learn what unfamiliar things are” (Mitchell 11). While labels on the exterior of many objects are helpful to better understand the interior, in the case of technology the exterior serves to simplify its contents. We prefer devices that are straightforward and minimal, that allow us to do the things we’d like to without understanding what is happening inside. Think iPods, thermostats.

With modern inventions like the telephone, audio recording and internet, messages are often decontextualized. A song is written for an audience that the artist doesn’t thoroughly know and is released without knowing how they will perceive it. These days, the space in which the audience listens to a song or watches a video is also unpredictable. Rather than the confines of a living room, this media can be digested on the CTA, on the beach, even flying thousands of miles above. There is a sense of displacement; people are no longer tied to certain places to do specific things.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you see the structure of the city dictating your daily movements? Are there certain places you don’t know the “language”?
  2. Are there advantages to not understanding the interior of an object?
  3. Are there places or contexts that you prefer to consume media?

Gabrys Introduction

The internet and the technologies surrounding it are thought of as immaterial, like a cloud of information. But the reality is that technology can have huge, often grievous, effects on the planet. In the United States, “Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of Superfund sites” (Gabrys 1) which are sites designated in need of clean up due to contamination of hazardous substances. The production but also retirement of devices and their microchips are hugely damaging to the environment. The computer industry is one which new is best and older items have no value. No auction will ever feature a Windows 95, no collector will seek out a Motorola Razr. Frequent upgrades teach that devices are disposable. Recycling technology, while possible, is extremely complicated. Electronics often contain up to 1,000 different materials, including things like copper, plastic, solvents and silicon. We need to update the methods of recycling electronics, as well as the ways in which we think about them. The author suggests using Benjamin’s natural history method to ponder the purpose that an electronic served and why it failed. They can “provide traces of the economic, cultural, and political contexts in which they circulate” (Gabrys 7). Gabrys acknowledges every part of an electronic, as though looking at the anatomy of a living creature. This juxtaposition between the natural methods and electronic subjects is a particularly interesting aspect of Gabrys’s writing. Like nature, technology is constantly changing and evolving. It’s vital to understand this path of evolution and “chart significant patterns of consumption” (Gabrys 16). In understanding what is deemed valueless, we can form what it is that we value.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How often do you update your phone/computer/iPod/tv? Is it always out of necessity?
  2. Do you think there is merit to examining past technologies? Are they truly fossils or just junk?

Main Ideas:

  • Digital Media’s Bias Toward Dislocation
  • Small businesses use of new media
  • Connect with people via new media vs. face-to-face communication
  • Making decisions with new media
  • Opportunity cost
  • Resist standard categorization
  • Take ownership of decision-making process
  • Digital Revolution vs. Skyscrapers
  • Do we still need skyscrapers? Importance of centrality and colossal towers faded
  • Paper documents were replaced with hard drives and online data
  • Order of things
  • Emergence of language and labels
  • Sense of displacement
  • Electronic Waste
  • Devices are disposable
  • Retirement of devices is hugely damaging to the environment
  • Recycling Electronics
  • Digital Rubbish Theory

Additional Readings:

  1. Dell Reinforces E-Waste Work In Africa, Asia and Latin America
  2. College Girl Launches E-waste Venture in Hubli
  3. Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground
  4. E-Waste Recycling a Growing Business
  5. How The Media Influence Our Decisions
  6. Women in Decision-Making: The Role of the New Media for Increased Political Participation
  7. Making Social Marketing Make Sense For Small Business
  8. Social Media Leads Small Biz Marketing Efforts
  9. Reading Lev Manovich’ “The Language of New Media”

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