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.