Just about every one of our contributing authors has written a piece that challenges or refutes the claims made by tech journalists, industry pundits, or fellow academics. Part of the problem is technological determinism- the notion that technology has a unidirectional impact on society. (i.e. Google makes us stupid, cell phones make us lonely.) Popular discussions of digital technologies take on a very particular flavor of technological determinism, wherein the author makes the claim that social activity on/in/through Friendster/New MySpace/ Google+/ Snapchat/ Bing is inherently separate from the physical world. Nathan Jurgenson has given a name to this fallacy: digital dualism. Ever since Nathan posted Digital dualism versus augmented reality I have been preoccupied with a singular question: where did this thinking come from? Its too pervasive and readily accepted as truth to be a trendy idea or even a generational divide. Every one of Cyborgology’s regular contributors (and some of our guest authors) hear digital dualist rhetoric coming from their students. The so-called “digital natives” lament their peer’s neglect of the “the real world.” Digital dualism’s roots run deep and can be found at the very core of modern thought. Indeed, digital dualism seems to predate the very technologies that it inaccurately portrays.
Entries in cyborgology (22)
I am on deadline for a journal article so, naturally, I thought I would take a few minutes to do something completely unrelated. My short essay "Time Traveling in Troy, NY" has gotten some traffic and I am noticing that some readers (specifically some of the users of lifeinbkln.com) have understandably mistaken my pessimism for alloofness or detachment. As one of the lifeinbkln commentors said, "His perch high on the hill, at RPI, is a good symbol of his attitude towards what's going on down below. He never connects to anyone, it's all literally 'above it all.'" I can certainly see how someone would get that from the article, but I never wanted to convey such a notion. Rather- I am intensely hopeful that cities like Troy are the future for innovative political, social, and technological change.
I agree with fellow Capital Region resident James Howard Kunstler when he says,
Today these places [the small and medium size towns in the upper Hudson and Mohawk river valleys] stand gutted, half-vacant, idle, hopeless. Paradoxically, they may be the kinds of places that have the strongest chance of surviving the challenges of the Long Emergency. It won't be esay. But they have the potential of coming back to life at the scale that new economic realities will require. And as populations decamp the suburbs and the metroplexes, these are places that might attract them.
Kunsler and others have argued that the Long Emergency mentioned above is coming to pass. The consequences of peak oil and global financial meltdown are wreaking havoc on the sociotechnical systems that shape our built environment. The quote above is particularly precient because it was written 2005, several years before the global financial collapse that halted major suburban construction projects and the financial milieau that allowed for their physical existance. In many ways, Kunstler is dead-on. I think Troy is benefiting immensely from out-of-control rent prices and the need for a cheaper, more grounded lifestyle.
The problem I alluded to in my original piece, and what is probably the source of readers' criticism, is decision-makers uneven acknowledgement of this reality. The Hedley project still exists and still dictates the actions of government and private enterprise. There is not nearly enough concern or effort being put into shoring up the resources we already have. Perhaps the solution is financial: how do banks and municipalities make as much money off of restoring old buildings as they currently do from building new ones? Perhaps the soltuion is rhetorical: cast those that look to build new as wall street fat cats detached from the realities of Real People. Maybe we need a little bit of both?
And finally, on the subject of Real People, one Cyborgology commenter noted: "More stuff appears to be going on, in a cultural sense; more small, hip, culturally-aware businesses have opened up since the earlier 2000s; the experimental electronic music scene has come into its own a bit more." This can also (and probably should) be read as gentrification. The poor are being priced out of downtown, and those parts of Troy to the north and south that do not have Business Improvement Districts are severely lacking in resources. The blatant segregation, while not new, is getting uglier and much more apparent. I must admit that I benefit from this gentrification, and I love the wine bars, coffee shops, and other local businesses that make downtown Troy so much fun. But Troy needs to do better. It needs to --and indeed can-- be a model for city revitalization that does not include marginalizing the poor.
If my original post appears despondent, it is because I fear that this opportunity will be lost. I fear that well-meaning activists and public officials will be duped by the same progress narratives that gutted Troy just a few decades ago. That white progressive elites will build up little enclaves of boutique shops and artists' lofts and never work to make the current residents of Troy the beneficiaries of local prosperity. Again, I say this with full acknowledgement that I am guilty of supporting this kind of redevelopment. When I say "we" in my post, I am certainly not including all residents of Troy. It is only when inequality is abolished that we can all truly have safe streets and vibrant towns.
The price of 3D printers is plummeting. Like all complicated pieces of technology it is quickly moving from large, confusing, and expensive to small, simple and cheap. This year has been full of consumer-level 3D printers that are cheaper than some professional grade photo printers. Right now, these little things are capable of making plastic do-dads that are, admittedly, of lesser quality than some dollar store toys. But just like a magic trick, you’re not paying for the physical thing, you’re paying for the ability to do the trick. Design an object in a modeling software suite like SketchUp, convert it into some kind of printer-friendly format, and -so long as it is smaller than a bread box and made out of plastic- you can build whatever you want. 3D printers give an individual the ability to transform bits into atoms. In some ways it is a radical democratization of the means of production. For a fraction of the price of a car, someone can gain the ability to fabricate a relatively wide range of material objects. What are the implications for this new ability? What does it say about the relationship of atoms and bits?
Who decided the Minority Report computer was the goal of 21st century interfaces? Why does anyone think its a good idea? Could you imagine doing a spreadsheet on that thing? And why the hell are they using physical media to transport information? What is so alluring, exactly, about this gigantic computer that requires two (two!) Nintendo Powergloves to operate and can only receive data (apparently) through physical media drives the size of VHS tapes? The resolution looks awful and, since the screens are transparent, I can only assume your computer always has to be up against a blank wall. But none of those things are nearly as important as the human element it ignores. The computer has no soul. Its a sterile interface meant to catch murders (or frame people as such), not share family photos. The obsession with the Minority Report computer is a betrayal of everything that is human about computers.
My first PC was a frankenstein PC running Windows 3.1. I played Sim City and argued with people in AOL chat rooms. My first mac was a bondi blue iMac that ran OS 9, more AOL, and an awfulStar Trek: Voyager-themed first-person shooter. I was 13. In the intervening years, I’ve had several macs and PCs, all of which have seen their fair share of upgrades and OS updates. Even my current computer, which is less than a year old, has seen a full OS upgrade. I am one of those people that like radical changes to graphic user interfaces (GUIs). These changes are a guilty pleasure of mine. Some people watch trashy television, I sign up for a Facebook developer account so I can get timeline before my friends. I know I’m fetishizing the new: it goes against my politics and my professional decorum. I have considered switching to Linux for no other reason than the limitless possibilities of tweaking the GUI. It is no surprise then, that I have already downloaded the Windows 8 release candidate and I am installing it on a virtual machine as I write this paragraph. What is it about GUIs that evoke such strong emotions? While I practically revel in a new icon set, others are dragged into the future kicking and screaming. What is it about GUIs that arouse such strong feelings?