Monday, April 18, 2016

Core Post 5

Given that a couple weeks ago, I identified Margaret Morse's "An Ontology of Everyday Distraction" as my favorite article of the semester, I was fascinated by the questions Tara raises in her article this week (at one point, she cites Morse) regarding the promise and illusion of volition and mobility in television's convergence with the internet. Tara explains how corporate media sites provide "experiential lures," both in the medium's essence (processing as transformation) and strategy (how portal sites constrict the surfer's movement). I'm reminded not only of how Facebook ostensibly provides links to web content everywhere, but merely opens a nested Facebook browser rather than the user's preferred browser; also of the example Tara provides of search engines being limited databases that mask their curatorial algorithms (in the same way that Facebook curates my newsfeed). Her article is a great articulation of why surfing the web can be so addictive and feel empowering when in fact hours may go by that have very little effect on the world off the computer.

In another class, I'm reading Lev Manovich's 2006 article, "The Politics of Augmented Space," and there is definitely a synergy between his ideas regarding the way physical space is overlaid by digital data (including examples, many of which we've discussed in TV Theory, such as surveillance, GPS maps, screens in public spaces, wearable technology, and "smart home" apps). Manovich questions whether this "layer" of data is merely invisible or if it actually transforms life by merging space and information in new ways.

All of these articles also acutely remind me of the television broadcast I showed a clip from last week, Adam Curtis' "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace" (2011), which investigates the Silicon Valley dream of a non-hierarchical network as a fantasy of political liberation, promoting individual engagement but diverting volition and ideas of personal transformation into a world ruled by corporate interests. Tara writes of users "expressing themselves" in reviews that provide Amazon with free content (similarly, we've talked about Yelp in class); Curtis highlights Carmen Hermosillo's influential 1994 online essay, "Pandora's Vox: On Community in Cyberspace," that interrogates the commodification of the individual.

Curtis concludes by tracing wide feelings of political helplessness through recent stock market crashes, political revolutions such as the Arab Spring that have organized on the web but resulted in troubling chaos, and the popular Selfish Gene theory that undermines social action. Such examples highlight the conflict between utopian digital dreams and the realities of political mobility and transformation, but it's a complex relationship that requires further study and analysis. Tara's conclusion, that our digital experiences highlight a strong desire for movement and change, is encouraging to consider.


  1. Thanks Doug for your post! I also really enjoyed Tara's article today in regards to volition an mobility. It put me in the mind of Raymond WIlliam's notion of flow, but in the context of web surfing. In a sense, there is a planned method of sending a user from one link to the next, and before you know it, you spent hours on the internet. It's honestly the reason why I don't watch TV as much, lol. Also in reference to the Augmented space article, it seems that with wearable and portable technologies it is becoming less a question of technology augmenting reality and more reality augmenting technology. I question if users are spending more time moving through links and jumping from platform to platform more than ever. Anyways, thanks for the post!

    1. Ray - I like your integration of flow and websurfing. It seems to me that you're right - the internet has redefined concepts of flow and viewership/interactivity. Without getting too technodeterministic (though I'm about to borrow from another Manovich article), websites are designed to pull you in and keep you engaged - whether it's the "autofollow" of YouTube & Netflix, Tumblr's infinite scroll, or the rabbit hole of Wikipedia hyperlinks. Web flow is about infinite (or seemingly infinite) choice and maneuverability, which masks algorithms designed to keep you on specific tracks (stay on our website or click over to our affiliates but don't click away)! It's a digital update of TV flow. Very cool.

    2. Great post, Doug and very thought-provoking comment, Ray. I too wonder how reality is infiltrating technology as reality becomes more technological. I personally find it harder and harder to remain immersed in technology as I become more and more accustomed to interacting with technology and reality simultaneously. The relationship of reality to the digital seems particularly cogent as the industry grapples with how to address VR and AR.

  2. Thanks for your post, Doug. I really appreciated how you addressed the false sense of productivity we have when surfing the web. Coincidently, right before reading your post I was on Facebook, discharging my energies about all that has been happening in Brazil with this political crisis and movement for impeachment. I was sharing posts of testimonials from women that were tortured during the dictatorship, and articles about the ridiculous reasons politicians were giving to support the impeachment. It did feel empowering. But at the same time, I know not more than 10 people, maybe will read those things. And even less might feel convinced by them. But anyway, somehow being active online makes us feel better, and keep our hopes a little bit higher.