Thursday, February 11, 2010

Free to be Confined?

In Moulthrop’s “You Say You Want A Revolution…,” the ideas of public versus private, control, closed, and open are explored. Most of the discussions of hypertext, cyberspace, and new media revolve around the concept of destroying limitations and expanding potentials. Mouthrop says the “creator” of Xanadu, Theodor Nelson, believes we are on the edge of a “technological renaissance in which the system shall set us free.” But doesn’t he consider the possibility that the system will confine us instead?

In “The Matrix,” the system is a “prison for your mind.” It has become so advanced, so adaptable, that it has surpassed humans and enslaved them inside their own heads. When showing Neo the post-apocalyptic world that (presumably) exists as a result of war between human and machine, Morpheus calls it the “desert of the real.” A desert may seem to be vastly open and infinite, like the Internet and cyberspace, but really it is a cage, enclosing you with your own thoughts and abilities. A desert is an empty, bare, labyrinth, inaccessible to all but those specially equipped and properly trained to handle it.

New media may revolutionize the way we work, publish, and think, but only for the people able to understand it/ the average person, the person firmly tied to his books and “readerly” texts, may be “hopelessly abandoned to simulation, lost in ‘the technico-luminous cinematic space of total spatio-dynamic theatre’ (Baudrillard)” (Moulthrop). All of this newfound freedom is a very daunting prospect for the not-quite-so rebellious commoner. People like rules, organization, guidelines, and hierarchy; that is why formal control structures have mostly always been a staple of human history. People may feel trapped within their increased free will, dragged along by the current of new technology, “incapable of any ‘radical’ or ‘oppositional’ action that would transform the techno-social matrix” (Moulthrop). Or worse yet, they might not even realize the changes taking place around them and become victims of the future, like the humans being used in “The Matrix.”

Some of the concepts in this article also brought up ideas of communism and elitism. It seems that men like Nelson envision a world where everyone’s ideas are out in the open, to be shared, used again, and connected. If you replace “ideas” with “money and property,” you are left with the definition of communism. And as we know, what usually happens with communism is a small group emerges that is above the rest, ruining the ideally egalitarian society. This is similar to Nelson’s “populitism,” which has the very real problems that “social/textual order will devolve not unto the many but only to only a very few; and more important, that those few will fail to recognize the terms of their splendid isolation” (Moulthrop). I’m not in any way saying that the Internet and new media are an evil institution that will only end up controlling us all, just that people shouldn’t neglect the very real dangers of a social and intellectual hierarchy emerging from this supposedly not-hierarchical technology.

1 comment:

Jamie Lynn Harris said...

Hello Leah, I am using your blog post as a jump-off for mine because I would like to explore some of the ideas that you have introduced here.

Confined to be free?

As I understand it, Stoll's (Moulthrop's) populitism works in the following ways. All have access to information in the context of hypertext and by extension cyber space. “What extra performativity depends on in the final analysis is 'imagination,' which allows one either to make a new move or change the rules of the game"; in hypertext, discourse has the potential to become capital depending on the creators/manipulators imagination. According to populitism, Cyberspace provides a new platform for late Capitalism to ensue; imagination (art) is intrinsically linked to economic production.


If we assume this theory of hypertext and by extension cyberspace holds true, the freedom to produce is only reliant on one's imagination. Yes, hypertext and cyberspace once again fall into the constraints of any capitalist economic system but unlike the factors that would prevent one from movement in the "non" cyber economy, the only factor that precludes one from movement in the cyberworld is that one's intellectual ability.

The Matrix works as an analogy to my idea. It is a system of control of human society by machines. However, once Neo understands the matrix he is able to manipulate its rules to his favor. All he needed where the intellectual tools to find movement in this virtual system.

It seems that what one can ultimately gain from/create in the system of hypertext is dependent on one's mental capability. This seems to not be a 'revolution' but a restructuring of the qualifications for being an economic producer.