Monday, May 3, 2010

Panopticon Irony

Panopticon Irony
by Jonathan Chou

Technology as a whole has seen the modernization and reinterpretation of countless tools and concepts conceived by thinkers of the past. Take the abacus that became the calculator, the calculator that became the computer. Take Da Vinci’s flying machine that became the airplane and the helicopter. Many of the things society takes for granted as recent innovations are in fact technological reapplications of ideas thought up long ago. Perhaps one of the most relevant and commonly used of these reapplications is that of Michel Foucault’s Panopticon. As Foucault details in his essay, “Panopticism” from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the Panopticon has served as a model for “hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons” (205), and now, in contemporary society, technology has allowed for the expansion of its applications, inspiring modes of thought like Phil Agre’s “capture” theory, obsession about the boundary of the public and private spheres, and more physical applications like increased security in prisons, more effective contamination wards, more effective ways to educate. One such reapplication of the Panopticon that stood out among the rest because of its increasing popularity as a new media object is the fairly recent surge of blogging. In many ways, blogging is a new, modern interpretation of the Panopticon on the internet, allowing for technology to serve as a confining, imprisoning force just as much as a liberating force. More specifically, I’ll be investigating Blogger through this class’s (MCM 0230) application of Blogger to collect weekly blogposts.

First however, the basis to this comparison must first be detailed. The Panopticon was conceived at the end of the 18th century by Jeremy Bentham in response to the threat of a potential plague, theorized primarily to be used as a building in which the contaminated could be quarantined and isolated. Soon after the idea was published, the Panopticon became recognized for its countless uses and served as a model for, as mentioned above, prisons, schools, hospitals, and other such institutions. In order to facilitate this investigation, an introduction of the structure of the Panopticon will be presented simultaneously with a comparison of the Panopticon, as it was explained in 1785, with the Panopticon, as it can be seen in the class’s use of Blogger. To begin, the basic structure of the Panopticon involves an annular building which surrounds a solitary tower from which all sides of the building can be seen. The building itself contains isolated cells where the occupants of the Panopticon are contained. The Panopticon is built in such a way that each captive can be seen constantly yet are unable to see the supervisor, situated in the tower. For the class’s Blogger, this structure is obviously mimicked metaphorically by taking the form of a blog in which the original creator of the blog, the one who invites and manages the blog, can be seen as the supervisor, standing in the middle of the Panopticon. This supervisor is able to see the occupants, who are the invitees and posters on the blog, and their every action, which manifests itself as a blog post. In the beginning of the Foucault excerpt, Foucault details the system in which the contaminated city is surveyed by what he calls syndics, surveyors of a section of the city. In the case of the class’s Blogger, the TA’s who go about grading and reading the posts are synonymous to these syndics. Interestingly, according to Foucault, these syndics were to be sentenced to death if they left their appointed streets. One of the key characteristics of the Panopticon that Foucault presents is the transparency of the Panopticon – “any member of society will have the right to come and see with his own eyes how the schools, hospitals, factories, prisons function” (207). Like the real Panopticon, Blogger is an open space that allows anyone who wishes to look into the Panopticon to enter and read the occupants’ posts. In fact, the blog that the class uses not only preserves the posts of all occupants, but also the posts of past occupants, creating a new type of Panopticon that spans not only the entirety of the class, but also time.

In terms of conceptual applications, Blogger takes on almost all attributes of the Panopticon. Perhaps, the first aspect that should be explained because of its importance in laying a base for other conclusions is the visibility granted to occupants on the Panopticon. As Foucault explains it, “visibility is a trap” (200). Unlike orthodox prison structures, the Panopticon is fully lit and there are no corners of the cell space that the supervisor cannot see. Like the architectural Panopticon, Blogger serves to mimic this idea of visibility by impressing upon the bloggers a sense of privacy and freedom. Bloggers are free to formulate ideas, and personalize their account, but the truth is that everything that is posted can and will be seen by the creator of the blog, if not by the syndics who can be assumed to have special priveliges. True, it is possible to edit a post, but even that can be seen and monitored. As Matthew G. Kirshenbaum presents in his essay “Every Contact Leaves a Trace” from Mechanisms: New Media nad the Forensic Imagination that every choice made through technology leaves some trace, some evidence that can eventually be used. Indeed, it is possible to see the time when each blog is posted, or edited. Here is evidence:
Hi Jonathan,
I will consider whatever you send me last before 5pm to be the final draft.
Best,
Matt
(3:21 PM)
It is impossible to submit this essay after 5 pm simply because every action carries evidence of when it was done, and possibly, given the technology and access, where it was done from. However, it is impossible for the blogger to feel the presence of the supervisor, just as the occupants of the original version of the Panopticon are not able to see the supervisor either – “He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (200). Foucault goes on to posit the mindset of the occupants, saying that the power the Panopticon promotes is one that is self-sustaining. The belief that they are always being watched by “the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon” (201) forces the occupants of the Panopticon to act in a certain way, tailoring their decisions and actions so as to minimize the possibility that they will be noticed by the supervisor. Applying this idea to Blogger, bloggers are unable to detect the presence of the supervisor, or the syndics, who may or may not be reading every word that is posted on the blog, censoring it for purposes that will be investigated later on.

Thus, if Blogger, and more specifically the blogging website used for MCM 0230, can be seen as a modern application of the Panopticon, then the same effects and implications the Panopticon introduces are also relevant to Blogger and the blogging website. The first effect that Foucault posits for the Panopticon is its ability to “observe performances, to map aptitudes, to assess characters, to draw up rigorous classifications” (203). With the use of a Panopticon, “it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behavior, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application” (202) because of its ability to induce a sense of visibility in the occupants, reinforcing their own captivity. This means, for blogging, that there need not be a strict sense of what kind of posts must be produced because bloggers will naturally produce the best posts they can in order to avoid detection. More important than this, however, is the effect of a Panopticon-esque blog-posting system on the dissemination of information and education. Because of the isolated, controlled nature, any blogger can be picked out of the rest, any blog post can be erased by the original creator and syndics, tailoring what is open to the public to read and absorb into whatever the creator desires to be shared. In this way, if the idea of the Panopticon can truly be applied to blogging, then blogging becomes a way for the creators to control the bloggers “because it is possible to intervene at any moment and because the constant pressure acts even before the offences, mistakes or crimes have been committed” (206). This constant pressure being the pressure not only to conform to what the supervisor will not notice as an anomaly, but as well as the pressure of the supervisor being able to see all, and change all. Essentially, what this accomplishes is the destruction of any type of rebellion – “there is no danger of a plot, an attempt at collective escape, the planning of new crimes for the future, bad reciprocal influences… if they are schoolchildren, there is no copying, no noise, no chatter, no waste of time” (200-201), and, especially, no posts that undermine the very structure of blogging.

Thus, Blogger, and the blog MCM 0230 uses, becomes a prison. More specifically, a prison of thought, and time. The idea of the Panopticon has seen widespread use in contemporary society and indeed, perhaps any educational facility needs to resemble a Panopticon in order to function efficiently. Without a structure that is able to stop nonconformists, society would cease to function correctly.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Section 03 Late Post: Gaming Conversation with Sophie

I had a lovely conversation with Sophie after a Wednesday section eons ago about gaming. Sophie prefers casual gaming to hardcore gaming. She said she has had limited experience with gaming in general but when she was a little girl, she played hardcore games at her friend's house.

Sophie stated that the main reason she didn't enjoy hardcore gaming is because the concept of her avatar "dying" bothered her greatly. This seems to strengthened the Dibbell cybersex reading that we did in that the physical human user has an emotional connection to what occurs in the digital interface.

Section 03 Late Post How does one measure cultural value?

"Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited" (Terranova 37)

The free labor model of websites such as Youtube and Myspace which rely on users to freely submit content are described of as exploitation by Terranova (obviously speaking to an audience that would be well versed in Marxist theory); these content developers are not financially compensated for their work. Terranova asks why do these users continue to work for free with her answer being that users produce free labor because it gives them some sort of pleasure.

Free labor also occurs on the internet because of an alternate economy to the economy of capital: the cultural economy. Although the users of myspace might not have a monetary reward for their content they receive the ability to say "Check Out My Myspace Page   www.myspace/aoifjeoaijfeoifja". The reward for having free content on these sites is a certain cultural prestige. Because there is no monetary value to such cultural capital, how does one measure the cultural value of such user content?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Facebook: The Social Psychology of Capture and Surveillance

By Andrew Lenoir, David Paesani, Jelena Jelusic

To adequately dissect the global Facebook phenomena, it is important to note, not only what power it has over its users, but also the need it fills to justify their continued patronage. Through discussion of Foucault’s Panopticon model and Agre’s Capture model of control, the structure and function of Facebook will be engaged, exposing it for what it is and what it means for all those that use it.

Facebook falls into the realm of visual and linguistic metaphors, as discussed by Foucault and Agre respectively. In the Panopticon, the guards establish their power over the prisoners by creating the illusion that someone is always watching from the shuttered tower at the prison’s center. Similarly, when one joins Facebook, and any photograph of them is uploaded, the user is immediately tagged in the picture. Photographs can be taken willingly, or uploaded from another user’s camera or camera phone without the subject’s knowledge or permission. These little details of the user’s day to day life appear as picture updates on the user’s friend’s newsfeeds. The same issue occurs when one friend writes on another’s wall, allowing anyone on their newsfeed to see a snippet of conversation. Updates to one’s profile, whether about changing music taste, or the ending and beginning of relationships similarly become public knowledge amongst a user’s friend base. However there is also the similarity with Agre’s capture model in that the “guard” subject is not one set person or group of people. If a user is friends with his family members, they may know what he got up to on Saturday night when he was supposed to be studying. If it is a user’s future employer, some recorded behavior or opinion, in either photograph, status update or wallpost, may be later count against their employment.

When Foucault explains the system of surveillance, he offers the model of the town governed according to the principles of surveillance: “...the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies...” (198) The system of surveillance relies on the existence of a single authority that collects and possesses all the information (there is only one central tower of the Panopticon). However, in case of Facebook, the surveillance principle is not its only means of functioning because there is no clear single authority that has exclusive right over the information distributed. Instead there is the autonomous, and generally unbiased newsfeed home page, which automatically updates all news from the user’s friends and centralizes the information. The capture model, on the other hand, offers a decentralized and heterogenous model for circulation of information. These two are not mutually exclusive. Though the newsfeed offers a central site for information, users decide what objects of news are worth looking into and what friends they want to check on. On Facebook, every user observes a certain number of other users, but never everyone and he never becomes the only observer. In this way, every user functions as a local center for the storage and exchange of information. Every user’s news feed is the tower of the Panopticon, and every user is a decentralized, autonomous guard choosing where to look.

Surveillance means observing in space and often functions by “invading” the space of the observed. Agre offers structural metaphors, where activity is captured as it falls into preexistent categories within an institutional setting. Unlike the panopticon model’s reliance on a physical space, Facebook is abstract- already a characteristic that distinguishes it from the surveillance model. The freedom of Facebook boils down into preexistent categories of action (poking someone, joining groups, writing on someone's wall, chatting etc) and they always remain within the institutional setting of the website. The activity of a user on Facebook is captured within these categories rather than surveyed like in the metaphor of the Panopticon.

While this surrender of privacy is inherently troubling, the fact that millions of people have willingly surrendered it to gain access to Facebook shows the model is working. Facebook, by its very nature forces the user to examine and recreate himself by the very act of joining. Questions that would ordinarily require some level of intimacy: religious views; political views; relationship status; are all answered in the initial set up of one’s profile. The user picks his own photograph to represent himself, he chooses what bands and books he thinks will look good on his list of favorites. Facebook allows one to construct oneself as he’d like to be, and then interact with others through that fa├žade. Facebook allows for the construction of a new “me” made up of what “I” am not. It is the same sort of freedom provided by program’s like “SecondLife”, however all the users are directly tied to the real world and their real friends. The users of Facebook have signed a social contract, linking this idealized “profile avatar” of themselves within Facebook back to their real identities. The phrase, “That picture cannot wind up on Facebook, ” has become highly-prevalent in common discourse, both out of fear of other’s seeing (and potential real world consequences, i.e.- Parents see pictures of you drinking) but also of damaging one’s profiles good name. Much in the way the Panopticon causes its prisoners to internalize their guard’s gaze, turning themselves into model inmates, the potential of one’s actions being witnessed on facebook, complicated by the fact that there is no set guard, but rather “everyone” watching, forces the user to internalize a similar gaze, modifying their behavior.

Where as the Surveillance model of control has a connection back to the state, the capture model connects to a higher ideal, in this case the human need for interaction and relationship. By providing games to play, such as MafiaWars and Farmville, Facebook provides new means for users to interact and expands its own role in interpersonal connection. Facebook has become completely ingrained into how this generation socializes: it is a hyperreal that reaffirms personal popularity and the belief that one has “friends”, despite the fact its impossible to actively consider more than 150 people at a time. Each user has agreed to a social contract surrendering their control. By giving every user access to anything posted by their potential friends (or even friends of friends), Facebook has also provided an ever watching, all recording bank of information for their users’ access.

DormLife Frequently Asked Questions



Dormlife Frequently Asked Questions

In reference to Agre’s concept of ‘the capture model’, how would Dormlife alter the behavior of its users?

One of the conditions for Agre’s ‘capture model’ is that a large amount of information is “captured”. Computer programs then filter through this information to look for certain identity markers of the subjects. This identity can then be targeted for economic niches, “the organization of personal information as the commodity” (738). Dormlife would work in the same way in that it would surmise the identity of a user through a collection of data about location, events at those locations and the media associated with those locations. It would then use that identity to best cater certain advertisements to the users that are deemed relevant to the user’s lifestyle. In this way, the ‘capture model’ of Dormlife reinforces the behavior of its users; it spits back out to the user products that it believes will speak to the user as a subject. It also introduces the subject to products that fit with his or her identity thus introducing the user to new products to incorporate into this behavior. The capture model works to reinforce and speak to already existing behaviors.

How does Dormlife address issues of identity security and privacy?

Dormlife focuses primarily on location. You find people through location, and their Dormlife location doesn't betray their privacy any more than a real location could. To see a user’s profile and their currently living situation or any of the information or media they add to Dormlife, you must ‘knock on their door’ or find them through roommates that you are friends with (if the set to allow this latter option). Just like in the real world, you can go up to strangers’ doors and knock, so (also just like in the real world) privacy is dependent on the intelligence and caution of the user.

The user is in control of how their information is displayed. Anytime they post anything, they will be given the options to make the information available to everyone, make it available to only ‘roomies,’ or select a custom group of people who can see. There is one exception: the room journal is always visible to anyone who has lived in that location. When choosing who can see the content, you may also choose how you sign the content. Dormlife provides two signature options: sign as your room number and year, or sign as anonymous (which simply doesn't provide any information, not even “anonymous’, just the content). You may sign the content with you name, but Dormlife will not; Dormlife only shows your name inside your dormroom webpage. The user always has the ability to delete what they have added to any part of the site.

With so much potential anonymity, users may fear the possibility of identity theft. Dormlife would need to have some relationship with the institutions it hopes to focus on. Dormlife would need some verification system which may rock the socks off some student privacy advocates; if a website can ask for confirmation down to the specifics of which room you live in, the world has ended as anti-”the man” hippies and whiny criminals who have something hide know it. It is not possible to trust college students, their universities and a website made by college students with the responsibility of confirming student room assignment in a way that is not dangerous for the student? Perhaps not, but if the student says they want their institution to tell Dormlife where they live–for the sake of the honesty and thus the effectiveness of the site–and if the institution agrees to work along, why should theorists highlight the possibility that it might be used improperly? (Because that is their job...) Just remember the following: computers “can only compute with what it captures” (749), meaning that like with any social networking site, the user and in this case, the academic institution, get to decide what information they are willing to risk to a website. Dormlife can only capture the information that is submitted to it.


Societies are defined by their location and inhabitants. Facebook and MySpace are profile-centric social networking sites, where the main focus of the society is its inhabitants. Facebook initially seemed to have some formal focus on location, as every user was required to be registered at a school. This eventually broadened to allow high school, and then eventually Facebook networks became almost unlimited including any city or place of work (and by allowing users to not have a network). Facebook used to provide a network webpage for each network, but eventually ended this. Facebook now seems to be it’s own world, with the different user pages being different locations. With the profile being such a focus of the Facebook site, privacy is obviously important to consider. Facebook, as it name implies, allows users to browse through people in the form of profiles of information. In contrast, Dormlife centers information on the location in which an event occurs. Because the focus is not individual people but instead the spaces that they inhabit, privacy most likely would be less of an issue than with a social networking site such as Facebook. The purpose of Dormlife is not to reveal personal information about oneself such as in Facebook; the purpose is to create a digital community through physical spaces. 

Jack Horkings
Farah Shaer
Jamie Lynn Harris 

iPad

In the introduction to Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins argues against the understanding of convergence as merely a technological phenomenon, stressing instead that convergence represents a very important cultural shift in the relationship between the consumer and media content. The active, participatory consumer who crafts individual entertainment experiences by making connections across dispersed media outlets has replaced the old conception of the passive consumer. Convergence culture reflects a shift from industrial capitalism, in which consumers were viewed as a monolithic demographic to which mechanically reproduced and unpersonalized commodities could be marketed. As Donna Haraway explains in A Cyborg Manifesto, in post-industrial society "the home, workplace, market, public arena, the body itself--all can be dispersed and interfaced in nearly infinite, polymorphous ways" (163). Haraway's image of the cyborg, which is always a fractured, partial identity, pushes back against the essentialist image of the consumer in industrial society. What Jenkins' convergence culture and Haraway's cyborg point toward is a new flow-based mode of subjectivity that sets the stage for a rhetoric of personalization through its focus on difference and change over static identity. With the introduction of the iPad, Apple takes advantage of the rhetoric of personalization to channel the user's desire for a distinct new media experience into the act of consumption. More than Apple's previous new media devices, the iPad intensifies the enclosure of the consumer within an Apple-centric closed system of media convergence, one in which the consumer's needs for various media content are met through Apple.


In the April 2010 Wired article "How the Tablet Will Change the World", Steven Levy writes that "the iPad offers a streamlined yet powerful intuitive experience that’s psychically in tune with our mobile, attention-challenged, super-connected new century" (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/03/ff_tablet_levy/). What appears as Apple's catering to convergence culture in a form that "streamlines" the participatory experience for iPad users is actually an ideological restructuring of user subjectivity, an ideology driven solely by the capitalist profit motive in which the user is always and above all a consumer of and through Apple. Behind a rhetoric of efficiency, ease, and choice, Apple has in fact created a structure in which it is the entity through which all media and information can or must be accessed. As Levy notes, the "rigidly enforced standards of aesthetics will ensure that the iPad remains an easy-to-navigate no-clutter zone," a feature that seems wholly to the benefit of the user, but in fact plays into Apple's consumption paradigm. The strict aesthetics of the iPad, with its icons arranged in orderly rows across the screen allows for very little of the personalization afforded by the desktop of a computer. Whatever desire a user may have for personalization or individualization must be satisfied through the act of consumption through the App Store, of selecting and purchasing apps with which to outfit one's iPad. Apps are only available through the App store, and all developers and publishers must have their apps cleared by Apple. The App Store is the final and arguably the most crucial component in an Apple-centric closed system, one in which the need to go beyond Apple is preempted or denied. Users not only get their apps solely through the app store, but they must also surf the web on Apple's Safari browser, can only access web media that is QuickTime compatible, and must use the iPad's iPod to listen to music or watch movies.


In a sense, it is possible to argue that Jenkins foresaw this type of corporation-centric convergence, writing that convergence "is both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process" (18). Jenkins saw corporate convergence in "new media conglomerates" like Warner Bros., which "have controlling interests across the entire entrainment industry" (16). Apple's model, however, is new and totalizing in that it also acts at the level of the device with which consumers access their media content. By starting with the media technology, with the success and ubiquity of the iTunes and App stores it is easy to forget that Apple was first and foremost a electronics developer, and then expanding to the regulating of media content, Apple was able to create a closed system unlike any other. Through the iPad, Apple complicates Jenkins' argument that "convergence does not occur through media appliances, however sophisticated they may become" (3). While the Apple-centric style of convergence does not occur solely through the iPad, the device nevertheless plays an instrumental role in Apple's consumption ideology as this "media appliance" allows Apple to shape a specific form of convergence culture. Furthermore, through the iPad Apple problematizes Jenkin's argument that "delivery systems are simply and only technologies," opposed to "cultural systems" (14). By restricting access to software and thereby creating a monopoly on "delivery", Apple incorporates the delivery technology as an element of capitalist ideology.

Apple's restrictions on software appear to intentionally circumvent the bottom-up, collective trend in theories of new media after the company initially used them to market their products. As closed and totalizing as Apple's closed system may be, however, it is important to remember Jenkins' "convergence refers to a process, not an endpoint" (16). Quoting Pool, Jenkins asserts that "convergence does not mean ultimate stability or unity [but rather] operates as a constant force for unification but always in dynamic tension with change" (11). American culture is in a state of transition, similar to the one Jenkin's posits, in which media conglomerates battle confusedly for what markets and delivery technologies (it is interesting to note this media war also coincides with what Haraway terms "boundary wars"). If Apple's current war with Adobe is any indication other new media corporations--if not consumers--may soon wake up and break down the walls of Apple's self-centric structure, allowing for new and different systems of convergence to emerge.

The Wii

Ryan Sammartino
Kapil Mishra
Conor Biller

In her article “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web,” Tara McPherson discusses the unique experiences of the Internet, many of which apply directly to the Wii and suggest parallel experiences between them. McPherson claims that the Web’s cursor is “a tangible sign of presence implying movement” (McPherson, 201). The slightest move of one’s hand can move him limitless distances through cyberspace. The Wii’s remote mimics this dynamic, but also expands on it: Wii users literally point to where they want to go, using the motion sensing technology of the game to wirelessly control their movement through it. With the stroke of the remote, one’s location changes in the Wii world, giving the remote the power of “liveness” shared by the Internet (McPherson, 201). As McPherson says, the Web’s liveness “foregrounds volition and mobility, creating a liveness of demand...a sense of causality” (McPherson, 202). Flicking the Wii or clicking its buttons can take the user to an endless variety of worlds, immediately and at the user’s whim. Like with the Internet and mouse, the user has complete control because of the remote: control of where they go or what they experience, a control which McPherson terms “volitional mobility” (McPherson, 202).
The user’s choice to navigate the screen occurs through an immediate process. The motion of the remote control instantaneously affects the motion of the cursor, causing rapid gratification during game play. Jenkins, in “Games, the New Lively Art,” remarks that when observing the immediacy of game play, one should look “not in terms of how convincing the representation of the character and the fictional world is but rather in terms of the character’s ‘capacity’ to respond to our impulses and desires.” The Wii characters are essentially replicating the user’s movements, as a swinging of the arm translates to the swinging of a racquet. In addition to this visual gratification, the controller vibrates at appropriate times (i.e. ball hits the racquet) to create an accompanying physical gratification. The game console, however, strips away the aesthetics and sharpness of the fictional world to compensate for its attention to interaction. The remote control functions as an extension of the arm, serving as the vital connection to the character and game play. One might wonder if it’s worth taking away the visual appeal, but Jenkins points out that it is the “expansion of the player’s capacity which accounts for the emotional intensity of most games.” While a conventional game controller typically measures a character’s strength by how frequently the user pushes button X, Wii’s innovative design requires a faster motion by the user’s arm. The user’s freedom to move his arm in any direction leads to the same freedoms and movements for the character.
However, within the confines of the Wii, the user’s control by arm movement is just that—control by arm movement. The Wii remote’s interactivity does not extend any further. Whereas Jenkins focuses on a character’s ability to respond to the user’s full range of desires and commands, the Wii limits the characters primarily to the user’s ability to gesture. What cannot be gestured cannot be accomplished. For example, in Wii Tennis, the system’s popular tennis “simulation,” the player has full control of the strokes of his racquet. He can slice, he can use topspin, he can pull the ball wide or he can drive it straight. And while the versatility of the racquet via the Wii remote offers the illusion of actual tennis, character limitations keep that illusion grounded. Because of the nature of the Wii remote, the player is entirely stripped of his freedom of movement. So while the “emotional intensity” Jenkins discusses is certainly present in the often hyper-competitive Wii Tennis, the Wii’s programming directs character movement and therefore restricts a significant portion of user control. The overlying idea is that the user overlooks this limitation because of the specific and powerful control he possesses over the racquet.
The structure and form of the Wii intervenes in the user’s otherwise-complete control over their player in the game, but it also intervenes in the broader narrative of their gaming experience, hindering their volitional mobility in subtle but not invisible ways. The Wii’s design and form prevents the user from having complete bodily control over the remote, and it also prevents them from having complete control over the path and progression of their use of the Wii. This problematizes the parallels between the Wii and Tara McPherson’s reading of the Internet as a realm of user freedom and choice.
McPherson claims the Web “can be multidirectional and also simultaneous, both forward and backward at once” (McPherson, 203). In other words, there is no true limit or necessary direction to the path an Internet user must take while experiencing the Web. Once the Internet user enters an address, he or she can enter another with the same ease: the user can go forward endlessly via the address bar, mobile in any direction desired. The Wii, however, is neither simultaneous nor dimensional. Even though both the Web and Wii offer a myriad of experiences, they do not overlap within the Wii, and cannot be accessed from one to the other. For example, suppose a Wii user wishes to leave Wii Sports and experience the Wii Shop Channel. He must first return to the homescreen, then find and select the Wii Shop Channel. On the other hand, Web users need only type a new web address to mobilize themselves in the exact direction they have chosen. The Wii’s interface and design impede the user’s volitional mobility by tethering users to the homescreen.

The Liveness of Desire

Written by Ann Ford, Karynn Ikeda, Sophie Savryn

The iPod is an object of desire: a personal device, a fetish object, essential for the music consumer. Users desire the iPod and its promise of mobility and freedom, but the iPod is also a vessel through which they can then express future desires. Desire begins as a force outside of the user that he or she plugs into but is then reworked through the user's interaction with it. According to Tara McPherson in her article "Reload: Liveness, Mobility and the Web", the modality of volitional mobility is used to describe that desire plays an active role in navigating the Web. Mobility is a key aspect linking the iPod to the Web. Yet, the iPod complicates the modality of scan-and-search by holding onto the older modality of flow. The iPod's disjuncture of space and time separates it from the web.

The web is different than that of television primarily through the difference in navigation. McPherson differentiates between “flow” and the “scan-and-search” as two modalities of experiencing media. Flow is the feeling that one freely coasts through one's interaction with media objects. McPherson illustrates the concept of “flow” through the experience of watching television. We immerse ourselves in a television program that constitutes a continuous and unified trajectory. The “scan-and-search,” alternately, exposes Web users to different segments of data simultaneously, and thus they employ a scan-and-search method of viewing so as not to miss anything. McPherson states: “This is not just channel-surfing: it feels like we’re wedding space and time, linking research and entertainment into similar patterns of mobility” (204). Unlike TV, in which the choice to change the channel is the extent of one's ability to navigate the medium, the modalities of the Web allow for the manipulation of space and time, amplifying the effect of the user's desire on one's experience.

The iPod, like the Web, has disrupted the experience of “flow,” a modality that resembles listening to music on the CD player or the walkman. Prior to the iPod, one primarily listened to a cohesive album that constituted a musical narrative. The navigation of the iPod depends upon the modality of volitional mobility, in that the user must choose music and navigate through one's library to construct a personalized listening experience. Additionally, the Shuffle feature on the iPod, which randomly selects the next song from the user's music library, enables one to listen to an eternal mix tape, again resisting the traditional coherent narrative of the album. Instead, users listen to individual songs similar to the way in which they see individual web segments, allowing for a scan-and-search method of spanning countless genres and periods of music. Ultimately the experience of listening to the iPod depends upon a mobility of the user through the iTunes library, desire prompting action.

However, the iPod also incorporates an experience of flow into scan-and-search that makes it unique from both the Web and television. Similar to the flow modality associated with TV, simultaneity is not possible with the iPod; one can only listen to a single song at a time, similar to the division of channels on a television. The agency essential to the Web is reduced in the iPod. A common thread between TV and the Web is the desire to not miss information. Yet, the iPod resists the anxiety inherent in both the scan-and-search modality and the flow modality with respect to missing: "Whereas this fear of missing something in the realm of television may cause the user to stay tuned to one channel, not to miss a narrative turn, this fear of missing in the Web propels us elsewhere, on to the next chunk" (204). One's music exists permanently in the archive of the iTunes library and then downloaded into the iPod itself, therefore the desire to navigate through the iPod is not based on anxiety. The songs cannot be missed because they are already embedded within the iPod's hard drive. The desire to navigate, then, exists free of anxiety. Thus, the mobility that creates the sense of "liveness" in the iPod is attributed to the immediate desire of the user to listen to music whenever and wherever, rather than the object itself embodying "liveness", such as live broadcasts on TV or the instant updates of the Web.

The iPod further demonstrates a schism from McPherson's description of liveness by countering her point that the user is “wedding space and time,” with the Web. Physically, the media object takes up such little space yet manages to hold within itself so much time: hours upon hours of music fit into a very tiny nano or iPod shuffle. This small size enables mobility, creating the wherever of the iPod. The whenever of the iPod is structured a little differently. The act of "plugging in" to the iPod expresses a desire to dissociate space from time, willing one separate from the other: one hopes to mentally escape the physical space one is in, or to pass time when it seems to linger. Both scenarios disengage the user from the now: the current space or the current time. To listen to the iPod whenever means that one must sacrifice the time of present when this when occurs. The volitional mobility that accounts for the "wedding" of space and time on the Web instead divorces the two in the iPod. Though the Web and TV stress that "liveness" corresponds to real time, the iPod's liveness allows one to move through real time by fracturing it.

Through volitional mobility, the iPod becomes the ultimate expression of the user's desire. Desire prompts our navigation from song to song, but unlike television and the Web, this desire to act is not motivated by a fear that the user will miss the next thing. The iPod distinguishes itself from its parent media, TV and the Web, in that its mobility, which contributes to its "liveness", is not based on how one navigates the device, but rather depends upon the user's desire to be mobile. This desire to move away from the parent media is both in the physical device - to use it the listener must be away from the computer - and in the theory - moving away from flow and scan-and-search to carve out its own modality: a volitional liveness that allows navigation to transcend the device itself, swapping real time for iPod time and escaping space through the iPod.

Tara McPherson, “Reload: Liveness, Mobility and the Web,” The Visual Culture Reader, 2nd Edition, Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 2002), 458-470.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dormlife

Dormlife is a location-based social network that allows you to connect with present, past, and future residents of your dorm. You can’t travel into the future, but once the future gets here–and your time in the dorm has passed–you can still follow what’s going on...if you’re some lame creep. WARNING: If you find yourself saying I wish it worked more like Facebook! it is possible that the creators intended for certain inconveniences to emphasize the relationship between Dormlife and the real-world locations it digitizes.