Katie McGowan
Aesthetics of Interactive Design: David Parisi
Response Paper: July 3, 200

Peters traces the history of the term “information” – and reflects on four critical stages of its development – from hylomorphism, to empiricism, to statistics, and finally, to modern computing.  “A term that does not like history”, information has gradually changed meaning, and has greatly affected societies’ concepts of embodiment of form, meaning, and communication (Peters 10).   At the crux of the word, comes simply the roots of these terms – in and form – both which Peters examines at some length in relationship to modern philosophical thought.  Munster, on the other hand, examines how modern computing aesthetics need to be examined on the account and speed with which information is “constantly updating and transforming itself” (151).  One can draw parallels to both authors on account of their concern for the embodiment of communicative form, known as “information”.

During the late Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas introduced information as a means towards ordering the universe, or in other words, giving form to (informing) the matter that surrounds us with identity (Peters 10).   Known as hylomorphism, this concept was drastically different than current means of understanding “information”.    In this case, information gives life to, or animates, matter and objects outside of ourselves.  But during the 16 th and 17th Centuries, thinkers such as Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Locke shifted the discussion of the external universe of forms toward that of the forms within ones mind.

“Cogito ergo sum”, coined by Descartes, translated as “I think, therefore, I am” helped shift the discourse from the external existence of objects outside of oneself – internally.   Now more than ever, as Munster claims, “the machine is more intimately… an arranger of our perceptual apparatus”, and we are tasked with examining Cartesian philosophy of embodied forms, in which the act of thinking has been so influenced by the digital form (151).  She claims while we ourselves, through digital connectivity and closer proximity, are becoming more socially and politically dependant of others – we are similarly accessing this connection in solitude.

But Peters traces how we went from this external/internal world paradigm.  As the world became a world of nation-states, as bureaucracies developed, modern Western thinkers like Hume began to move away from the external noise of the world towards one where the mind became the focus for order.   Known as empiricism, the discourse on information shifted from forming or shaping objects and matter towards making sense of our perceptual senses, or ones own consciousness (13). Furthermore, as information became more of a way of making sense of our own internal worlds, through empiricism, statistics became a way of making sense of the political world surrounding us.

During the same period, Emmanuel Kant’s Critique, introduced aesthetics as “the science of the beautiful”, expanding the Platonic definition of aesthetics as forms and mimesis to include “the logical and the perceptual” (Fishwick 4).   So, aesthetics and information become, over time, an interconnected relation to form, logic, and perception, making computer aesthetics, or information aesthetics, central to the discourse on human interaction and sensual perception.

“Statistics offer a kind of gnosis, a mystic transcendence of
individuality, a tasting of the forbidden fruit of knowledge.” (Peters 15)

Information, during this important historical shift, “refers to the possible experience of no body” (Peters 15).  As computers become the direct result of statistics and the formation of modern-nation states, the more disembodied becomes our interpersonal communication, which is replaced by an embodied medium that takes on an ethological quality (Peters 15, Munster 152).  As the Industrial Revolution began to shift tasks towards machines, the mind became further alienated from information.  This human-to-information alienation continued as the computer machine developed.  The Industrial Revolution saw a direct aesthetic mimesis of the human mind through information technology and development of machines.   Vannevar Bush presciently saw the scientific application of the computing machine as means of collecting, storing, and sharing the human experience in ways that would significantly advance the progress of society and nation-states.   To Bush, with logic, math, databasing, and codes, the “memex” machine would act as “an enlarged intimate supplement to his [man’s] memory” (45). At the same time, computer information removed itself from all aspects of sensory perceptions or feelings, and merely became “a network with discrete interconnected nodes” (Murray 9). Such anthropomorphic attribution to a machine begs the question brought forth by writers like Munster, Manovich, and Vesna – who are we in light of a newly embodied medium and how do we relate to it?

Licklider laid claim to an interdependent relationship between the man and machine, or symbiosis, where one cannot function without the other (74).  The “symbiotic” relationship works towards the benefit and utilizes the strengths of each other.  A computer will perform the complicated algorithms and logic that would take days for a human to solve, and a human will function as the decision maker, motivated by an end goal (77).   Over time, Licklider predicted, it would be impossible to separate the two, and does not seem at all inaccurate a prediction, as I type on my computer for my online course before e-mailing it to my professor.  Other than the obvious (a class using computers to talk about interactive technology), would the class enrollment be the same were the online option not available to the students, some of which are located all across the country?

While the capacity for increasing this network of information grew, as Licklider and Bush predicted, computers began to expand out from science and technology towards humanities and the arts (Murray 10).  Such engagement from these communities has led towards both design and interactive oriented programs that reflect the aesthetics of both old and new mediums, ones that have both made the transition from forms more acceptable and worth examining through aesthetics.

When reflecting on the Visible Human Project, Vesna sees how technology can significantly improve the understanding of human anatomy.   But she also sees how this emphasis on “information” gathering further disembodies us from the sensual aesthetic of feeling and understanding our own bodies (7).   Humans are no longer feeling or beings with consciousness, but stored and sorted information, in the modern computerized sense that Peters refers to and Bush and Licklider advocate.  Everything that identifies “me” is codified, stored, accessed, and detached from emotional human experience.

The human relationship to information and knowledge has shifted from a curated and subjective narrative (like a museum whose contents are stored in the ether) towards one that erodes the form into its more basic objective and less connected paradigm (Vesna 29, Manovich 49).  Like the problem faced by empiricists and statisticians, computers seek ways to make order and meaning out of the vast amounts of information readily accessible to human thought, a place where the interactive aesthetic of the computer becomes extremely significant. Aesthetic attempts to build a psychological narrative adjunct to information on the computer are attributed to human dissatisfaction with the computer’s encyclopedic essence (Manovich 54).

No longer does the Vannevar Bush form of computing for scientific gain hold all the water. Enter humanists and artists, who begin to explore and expose ways in which the psychological and aesthetic relationship between human and computer are formalized.  For example, Munster sees Graham Harwood’s Uncomfortable Proximities as releasing “momentary flashes of astonishment, discomfort, and squeamishness by mobilizing the capacities of digital technologies to forge extreme juxtapositions, unbearable proximities and unspeakable intimacies” (155), thereby challenging digital mediums as being strictly neutral spaces to hold information (157).   Harwood and other digital artists, like Carnivore PE, are repoliticizing and rearranging alienated distances between information spaces and their participants (Munster 156).

While Harwood attempts to expose uncomfortable distances between a participant and a digital medium, Krueger seeks to build more virtual landscapes that establish working relationships between what the participant and digital piece.   Krueger’s virtual worlds invoke what he describes as “dialogue…a personal amplifier…an environment… a game” and “an experimental parable” which can be used towards improving cognition and learning, participating in art, psychotherapy, among other relationships (386 – 389).   Krueger seeks the aesthetic benefits of interactive digital environments in which “the computer should perceive as much as possible… the participant’s behavior” in order for a meaningful “responsive environment” (379).  These aesthetic benefits, however, are more often seen today for commercial, not artistic, purposes, and have resulted in a critical introspection towards a creation of work that has cultural and meaningful implications (378).  Still, artificial intelligence, like Google’s AdSense programs, prove how computing technology’s ability to perceive behavior is not always meaningful or culturally advantageous, only promoting consumer culture, and disembodied communication with algorithm technologies.

Despite the structure of computers privileging database and algorithmic form, humans seek cinematic and narrative landscapes (Manovich 46).  Interactive designers understand this paradigm, by creating human-computer interfaces that reflect and mimic human desire and processes.   From the basic word processing functions of typing an essay, to more “direct manipulation” programming that Shneiderman speaks of, like Photoshop or a computer game, interfaces are constantly revising and rewriting forms that use aesthetics to connect to humans (485). These interface programs employ aesthetic conventions like, “presence, engagement, and immersion which facilitate human sensory connection to otherwise invisible information, or information that has minimal sensory qualities” (Fishwick 8).

Expanding on Fishwick, three components of aesthetics – modality, culture, and quality –he applies to computers.  In that order, these components mean the “ways in which we interface and interact with objects… specific artists, art movements, and genres” and finally hold “qualities such as mimesis, symmetry, complexity, parsimony, minimalism, and beauty” (Fishwick 13).  So, whether it is a concern for the historical foundation of the term “information”, as Peters examines, the ways in which artists are using the digital medium as influenced by art movements – as Vesna, Manovich, and Munster describe – or the forms with which interactive technologies mimic or relate to humans, as Krueger saw in the virtual environments, each examines these relationships to new media through a historical aesthetic lens.   The humanists and artists in a new media sphere are beginning to examine the world that technology minded thinkers like Bush, Licklider, and Krueger predicted.  In doing so, new mediums and aesthetics are being formed, and classical concepts like embodiment, form, information, art and beauty are being transformed.

Works Cited

“Cogito ergo sum.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 25 Jun 2009, 05:27 UTC. 25 Jun 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cogito_ergo_sum&oldid=298504641&gt;.

Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think” The New Media Reader. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003) 35 – 47.

Fishwick, Paul. “An Introduction to Aesthetic Computing.” cisnet.mit.edu

Krueger, Myron W. “Responsive Environments” The New Media Reader Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003) 379 – 389.

Licklider, J.C.R. “Man-Computer Symbiosis” The New Media Reader Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003) 73 – 82.

Manovich, Lev. “Database as Symbolic Form.” Vesna, Victoria ed. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

Munster, Anna. Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006).

Peters, John Durham. “Information: Notes Towards a Critical History.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 1988 12; 9-23.

Shneiderman, Ben. “Direct Manipulation: A Step Beyond Programming Languages” The New Media Reader Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003) 485 – 498.

Vesna, Victoria.  “Seeing the World in a Grain of Sand.” Vesna, Victoria ed. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

As designed by Jeremy Bentham in 1791

As designed by Jeremy Bentham in 1791

If one examines modern day popular press’ position on the effects of current technology on knowledge (or intelligence), one will find an ontological struggle occurring between two dominant systems of thinking – that of the technocrats, technofundamentalists, or cyber-utopianists, whose belief systems rely primarily on scientific and mathematical inquiry, and that of post-Marxists critical analysts, who examine historical, economic, and political implications of technology.  Most recently this debate was popularized in an article in The Atlantic Monthly, where writer Nicholas Carr bemoaned the positivist thinking that a search engine like Google is knowledge at our fingertips, in his article “Is Google Making us Stupid?”  As a reaction to this popular article, WIRED magazine released a response bemoaning the bemoaners as “reflexive anti-intellectualism,” “cancerous irrationalism,” and “moronic” (Wolman, ¶10).  Clearly, Carr’s article struck a chord with the self-described ‘egghead’ rag and opens a great debate over not who is right, but how each position reflects a metanarrative about knowledge, power, and its relation to technology as examined by writers like Lyotard, Foucault, Hayles, Benjamin, and so on. The debate over Google search engine’s long-term affects on society is also a debate of who wields power over knowledge and what that power is beginning to look like in a post-Industrial Internet society.

According to Carr, the Internet alters the ways we read and think. The economics and architecture of the Internet means we constantly are performing quick scans versus in depth readings.  He cites behavioral psychologist Maryanne Wolf who says, ‘we are not only what we read…we are how we read’, and is concerned about the Internet’s preference for quick and efficient information gathering at the cost of deep textual analysis and attention spans. Carr cites a neuroscientist who claims our brains have the ability to adapt and ‘reprogram’ quickly, where our brains have the capacity to think like our technologies – what sociologist David Bell calls ‘intellectual technologies’.   According to Lyotard, “technical devices originated as prosthetic aids for the human organs or as physiological systems whose function it is to receive data or condition the context” (44).   Hayles states in How We Became PostHuman, “We become the codes we punch…the computer molds the human even as the human builds the computer” (46 – 7).   Carr echoes this prosthetic brain question when quoting the creators of Google in a 2004 interview ‘certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off” (¶27).  Clearly, such a belief system is endemic to Internet positivists like Google’s founders and at the heart of Carr’s ontological query.

But what of the effects of this prosthetic brain on our own human brains and thought processes, Carr asks.  In what ways does the surrender of personal inquiry and exploration via the modern conveniences of the Internet’s vast network of search engines surrender our own forms of autonomy?  According to Walter Benjamin, “the representation of human beings by means of an apparatus has made possible a highly productive use of the human being’s self-alienation” (32).  Such shifts in the way we think are not new phenomenon, says Carr.  When humans began using the clock on a wide-scale basis, we began to change our internal habits of eating and sleeping based around the times of the clock (¶15).  Lewis Mumford states in Technics and Civilization, how the clock under monastic obligation gave “human enterprise the regular collective beat and rhythm of the machine; for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men” (14).  Carr echoes McLuhan’s “Medium is the Message”, but not in a positivist “global village” light.  Rather, Carr sees the Internet medium as an absorbent of most mediums, but in the likeness of its own image, full of distracting hyperlinks, ad banners, and “other digital gewgaws” which dilute our attention and concentration (¶19).   These distractions, argues Carr, inhibit our personal performance for the benefit of the machine’s performance, and are inherent in the long history of industrial manufacturing.  In the instance of the Internet and Google’s search engines, it is our minds that are up for grabs on the auction block.

Carr sees a direct relationship between Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “Principles of Scientific Efficiency” that could “bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a utopia of perfect efficiency” and the current methodologies around Internet technology, (¶23).  Such models of efficiency in production and industry are well documented and theorized.  Lyotard examines these models of  “optimal performance” where one is “maximizing output (the information or modifications obtained) and minimizing input (the energy expended in the process)” (44).  Within Lyotard’s framework of “language games” (40) where many ways of denoting and connoting “proof” emerge, truth is replaced with providing efficient methods, and in such a shift, technology becomes a performative measure and therefore deemed to be ‘good’ (44).  When optimal speed of performance is deemed positive and is historically entrenched in modern Industrial society, it is easy to see how such an argument supports Wolman’s thesis in WIRED’s “The Critics Need a Reboot”.

David Wolman is a regular contributing writer to WIRED, a magazine dedicated to popular technological and computer innovation.  As a response to the Carr article, Wolman’s vitriolic disdain for Carr’s concerns draws the line in the sand clearly between those who praise and those who question the Internet’s benefits. By arguing of a “collective brainpower” inherent in Wikis and the like, Wolman is engaging in what Lyotard calls “sociopolitical legitimacy,” in which the people’s opinion creates consensus and eventually “proofs” (¶6, 30).  Clearly favoring scientific and mathematic inquiry over others, Wolman concludes, “we need… a renewed commitment to reason and scientific rigor so that people can distinguish knowledge from garbage” (¶7).  Assuming the “garbage” Wolman refers to is Carr’s essay, or the essay’s concern about knowledge, the ontological seeds have been planted – knowledge and what it entails remains up for debate.  It also leaves in question the implications of such “collective brainpower” that Wolman refers to.  Do these systems of knowledge transmission reflect systems of power and control, or is the Internet as we know it truly a semiotic democracy?

Foucault examines how the classical age brought forth the objectification of the body and the target of power (136).  Carr’s argument brings into question whether the Internet Age’s target of power and objectification is the mind.   As an object of control, the mind then is reduced to an economy, “an efficiency of movements” (Foucault 137).  Carr points to this tension between the economics of the mind and that of the Internet.  He argues, “The faster we surf across the Web — the more links we click and pages we view — the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements” (¶31).

Lyotard echoes this economic shift in learning systems when he prophetically claims how a computerized society will equivocally affect the ways we learn as did modern innovations in transportation and media technologies (4).   Knowledge, as an economic commodity system, “has become the principle force of production” and “will continue to be, a major – perhaps the major – stake in the worldwide competition for power” (5).   The relationship between knowledge and power then is “indispensable” in their relationship to systems of production.  Google’s ability to increase production of knowledge through scientific and mathematic experimentation and algorithms creates a system of power, control, and knowledge in the image of its creators.   Carr, rather than asking “does Google make us stupid?” may want to ask a version of what Lyotard asks: Does Google “decide what knowledge is and who knows what needs to be decided?” (8).

If one sees the Internet then as a mechanics of control and power relationships, then Foucault examines the disciplinary and disempowering affects of isolation on humans within a panoptic Institution.  Arguably, if Foucault was alive today, he would likely claim the Internet is a system of control and discipline perfected.  As a perfect disciplinary tool, the Internet and Google’s control over much of the content, is a hyperextension of the industrial factories, a partitioned and analytical space, cellular, functional, and coded, one which “might isolate and map” individuals (143 – 4).  Its machinery’s aim is “to establish presences and absences, to know where and how to locate individuals, to set up useful communications, to interrupt others, to be able at each moment to supervise the conduct of each individual, to assess it, to judge it, to calculate its qualities” (143).  Such a prescient thought is clearly exemplified in today’s Internet, with the use of Google’s behavioral algorithms, GSP and ISP tracking of one’s location, to follow our every search move, while we privately “work” in our homes on our personal computers.

While the computer has been portrayed as a tool of leisure, the ability for companies like Google to track our every move by using their browser essentially lends our movements as free labor input into their system of behavior analysis, which in turn shape our spaces. Google has the capacity to reduce complexity of the vast network of information through its search filters while improving upon itself by better understanding “the adaptation of individual aspirations to its own ends,” the mutual benefit of increased power for Google’s searching capacities and the individuals increased speed at which they may access the information they are searching, increasing performativity and reducing the time at which Google gains access to our browsing information. The speed at which the Internet operates “is a power component of the system” (Lyotard 61).

“It was more the desire for wealth than the desire for knowledge that initially forced upon technology the imperative of performance improvement and product realization” (Lyotard 45).

“Power is not only good performativity, but also effective verification and good verdicts. It is self-legitimating, in the same way a system organized around performance maximization seems to be… The performativity of an utterance… increases proportionally to the amount of information about its referent one has at one’s disposal.  Thus the growth of power, and its self-legitimation, are now taking the route of data storage and accessibility, and the operativity of information” (47).

Google’s paid advertisements invoke a preferential system based on the economics of wealth and control.  So, the ways in which the scientific algorithms are an attempt to fairly distribute information via complex scientific and mathematic systems, the arguments in their defense become more of a “game of scientific language… of the rich” where “an equation between wealth, efficiency, and truth is thus established” (Lyotard 45).  Furthermore, the ways in which Google’s science and corporate control through paid ad spaces benefit each other are when “a portion of the sale is recycled into a research fund dedicated to further performance improvement.  It is at this precise moment that science becomes a force of production, in other words, a moment in the circulation of capital” (45). In turn, as the production of thought and ideas become more entrenched in Google’s research and experimentation in Artificial Intelligence through behavioral algorithms, a permanent link is created between our thought and the political economic agendas of those who wield financial and informational control over our computing systems.

“The perfect disciplinary apparatus would make it possible for a single gaze to see everything constantly” – Foucault Discipline & Punish, pp. 173

The Internet then becomes a perfect training tool.  Whether we like it or not, it has absorbed all medias, as Carr has explained, and we are in many instances forced to refer to its functions.  In using the Internet as a primary tool, we need to train ourselves in its mechanics and all it’s details.  As Carr and many media theorists have stated, tools of thought do not come naturally to humans.  Dating as far back as writing, reading, and typing, humans must learn how to interpret symbols into distinct thought processes and forms.  The same method is necessary in order to navigate the Internet.

In our training, we engage in a complex panoptic institution of hierarchical observation, one in which “eyes that must see without being seen; using techniques of subjection and methods of exploitation” and in effect,  “a new knowledge of man”  (Foucault 171).  The architecture of the Internet “render visible those who are inside it…transform individuals…, to carry the effects of power right to them, to make it possible to know them, to alter them” (Foucault 172).  Through complex networks of information, socializations, and the capacity for the companies that provide these systems ability to monitor this behavior, we can be altered, and in effect, conditioned.   In Foucault’s perspective, such disciplinary tools have traditionally results in obedient and moral citizens – “a political utopia” (174).  As subjects of the Internet, knowing that we are constantly monitored by these systems in turn regulates our behavior and subjects us to certain norms (Foucault 187).  Such power though, is anonymous, rather than literal.  It is hard to argue concretely without sounding in some way anti-technological that Google’s intentions are purely antagonistic, but nor is it hard to argue that Google is, by sheer numbers, “the Internet’s high church” (Carr ¶25) and therefore must be examined as an institution of immense power.  In its ability to anonymously survey our browsing habits, “those on whom it is exercised tend to be more strongly individualized” (Foucault 193).   Such individualization is clear when we examine the vast economies of personal computers, social networks whose titles provide layers of meaning to the names “MySpace,” “YouTube,” “iTunes,” “Wii,” and so on. According to Lyotard, such “administrative procedures should make individuals ‘want’ what the system needs in order to perform well” (62).  By giving us what we “want” through individualization via isolated and controlled environments, we are supporting the performance and economies of the Internet.  We are choice laden actors within these environments, and in choosing them, we “assume responsibility for the constraints of power, inscribe in [ourselves] the power relation in which [we] simultaneously play both roles; [we] become the principle of [our] own subjection” (Foucault 203).

This is the nature of the Panopticon, in which the Internet is its perfect contemporary example, because it reduces the number of surveillors and increases the number of those surveilled, leading to “‘power of mind over mind’” (Foucault 206).  Within a panoptic Internet system, our autonomy is both prescribed to us and similarly taken away and abstracted, enacting what Lyotard calls “a vanguard machine dragging humanity after it, dehumanizing it in order to rehumanize it at a different level of normative capacity” (63).

Lyotard’s postmodern reflection on knowledge provides a silver lining from Foucault’s historical and structural analysis of institutional systems of power and control.  That of rehumanization, logical positivism, entropy, metanarratives, language games and paralogies provide perspectives on how computerized systems can function to humanize and support knowledge within a postindustrial society.   Negentropy is the idea that performance is stable and predictable if all variables are known and follows patterns of logic, physics, and mechanics – an argument thus far supported by Foucault and Carr.  However, Brillouin argues that “perfect control over a system, which is supposed to improve its performance, is inconsistent with respect to the law of contradiction: it in fact lowers the performance level it claims to raise” (55).  This can mean two things in relation to the Internet and Google: 1) To support Carr’s arguments – that the high performativity of the Internet lowers the performativity of that which it claims to raise  (human intelligence), or 2) To support Wolman’s argument: the Internet will never perfectly control knowledge or intelligence, will not replace entirely current medias of knowledge like books, but perhaps could renew (in a contradictory fashion – think DIY) old systems of media.

Says Lyotard in conclusion:

“The line to follow for computerization to take…is quite simple: give the public free access to the memory and data banks.  Language games would then be games of perfect information at any given moment.  But they would also be non-zero-sum games, and by virtue of that fact discussion would never risk fixating in a position of minimax equilibrium because it had exhausted its stakes.  For the stakes would be knowledge (or information).. and the reserve of knowledge – language’s reserve of possible utterances – is inexhaustible”  (67).

If the Internet is a disciplinary tool of perfected observation of which we are clearly aware, then the mind is undergoing, in a sense, self-inflicted containment and imprisonment; subject to the panopticism of normalized technologies – the Internet, personal computers, Google’s search engines, social networks, and so on.  Rather than arguing whether such technologies effects on our intelligence are “good” or “bad” – Lyotard and Foucault allow us to examine the nature and history of normalized machines meant to support the functions of everyday life, the economies of thought production, and the discourses of the institutions, their subjects’ and audiences’ relations to the former.

Rather than questioning his own intellectual freedom or autonomy in challenging the positivist claims of the “good” the Internet brings to us, Carr appeals to grand narratives and key players of the past history of thought and technology – Aristotle, Socrates, Neitzshe, Guttenberg – to legitimate his argument.  By accepting the “good” of Google’s Artificial Intelligence, as Wolman does, where we allow the machine to think for us in order to gain more individualized attention, via algorithms, search surveillance, social networks and the like, we must ask ourselves not “Does Google make us Stupid?” but whether Google renegotiates rights to free human inquiry for the purposes of scientific efficiency and the general good of the state – in effect, “Does Google (re)Make us?”


Benjamin, Walter.  The Work of Art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press, 2008.

Carr, Nicholas. Jul/Aug 2008. The Atlantic Monthly. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” v. 302 no1 56-8, 60, 62-3.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How we Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, ??. (from Course Packet)
Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison.  New York: Vintage Books, 1979.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois.  The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1979.
Wolman, David. 18 Aug. 2008. “The Critics Need a Reboot. The Internet Hasn’t Led us into the New Dark Age”. WIRED Magazine, accessed on 12/15/08 <http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/16-09/st_essay&gt;

Online Queer &Transgender Vlog Communities and the Commercial Implications of YouTube’s “Don’t Be Evil” Policies

by Catherine McGowan
The New School
M.A. Media Studies Program
Understanding Media Studies
Prof. Shannon Mattern
TA Todd Kesselman

Bloggers, video bloggers, and “user co-creators” and the communities they represent have only recently been examined ethnographically, qualitatively, and empirically (Lange 2007; Regan and Revels 2007; Lenhart and Fox 2006; Faulkner and Melican, 2007). Video blogging ( “vlogging”) is a relatively nascent phenomenon of social networking and blogging where little scholarship exists – sometimes only as a sidenote. Nevertheless, scholarship about blogs, popular subcultures, and Internet communities are part of a larger interdisciplinary discourse. This discourse is complicated by the ever-changing nature of the Internet, its accessibility, and development of new platforms at an ever-increasing pace.  Even so, the rapidity of change and the flux at which the Internet operates should not discourage or inhibit research, because of the very nature and content the Internet provides, specifically when it involves identities and communities on the fringes. Arguably, digital ethnography, as examined by Murthy, engages feminist and critical theories of dialogic and discursive methods that make the examination of video blogs essential to feminist (or postfeminist) and critical scholarship (2008: 846).

This literature review attempts to understand what previous scholarship has contributed to video blogging studies and where there is room for more inquiry, within the context of YouTube vloggers identified as queer and transgendered (“trans”), although these identifiers are not one in the same.  By focusing on a politically and socially marginalized community (communities), we can examine ways in which the structure of YouTube inhibits and/or promotes community, identity, and resistance to homophobia among trans-youth vloggers.

Additionally, this review begins to explore further questions:  How are power dynamics between textual reader (viewers), writers (vloggers), and institutional owners (YouTube) complicated when it involves trans-identified youth producing content?    In what ways are vloggers in control of their own content and in what ways are they exploited?  How can these trans-vloggers regain agency and resist “haters” via new modes of creation or possibly new institutions of exchange (Lange 2007: 41)?


Currently, there are over 50 million blogs, with 100 million videos being uploaded on YouTube daily, over 13 hours a minute (Faulkner and Melican 2007: 51; Rosen 2008: 52).  According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project (PIP), 15% of the respondent bloggers video blogged (Lenhart and Fox 15).  If the research holds true today, two years later, then there are approximately 7.5 million vloggers, roughly the population of the entire city of London. Nevertheless – this estimate remains a questionable guess.

Even in two years since the PIP studied bloggers, a lot of the data seems irrelevant and not reflective of current trends in video blogging.  For example, in 2006 LiveJournal was rated the most popular blogging tool of those surveyed, however, new networks for video bloggers, like YouTube or WordPress did not make it on the list (Lenhart and Fox 14).

Theoretical Approach: Researching Online Vlogs – Theories, Questions, and Implications

Henry Jenkins argues in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers that “theory production is simply one subcultural or institutional practice among many” (2006: 13).  He asks whether an academic approach to studying fan culture, popular culture, and subcultures can adequately understand and describe these groups in an affective way (2006: 27).   Applied to vlogging, communities are in constant communication, of exchanging ideas, and engaging in dialogues.  These dialogues are in their nature participatory and invite often a dialogue among insular or largely exposed groups.

Jenkins’ studies employ dialogic methodologies that engage and incorporate fans’ responses into his work(2006: 31). He talks about “intervention analysis” approaches to research, where academics can act as amplifiers to a communities problem/issue and provide an intermediary function between institutions not in current communication with the other (2006: 33). The potential for video diaries or blogs to exchange the anthropological method of “reflexivity” with “reflection” through video narratives acting as “prosthetic extensions” of ourselves further challenges an entrenched dichotomy between researcher and “subject” and provides a mirror tool into our own desires and the imagined desire of the narrators ( Holliday 2004: 50, 52 – 5).

Vaidhyanathan points to a “dearth of cross-disciplinary scholarly work that might expose each side of campus to the most interesting minds on the other” and stresses, that within an interdisciplinary framework of Critical Information Studies (see attached Mind-Map), scholars can reach a wide audience and begin a larger conversation about the issue at hand via ‘code-switching’ (jargon light prose) (2006: 301).

Postfeminist theorists also struggle with creating a theoretical framework or canon, due to its own historically ambiguous and contradictory works (Gerhard 2005:39). Rather than being an obstacle, McRobbie sees these contradictions as opportunities where feminism “must face up to the consequences of its own claims to representation and power and not be so surprised when young women students decline the invitation to identify as a ‘we’ with their feminist teachers and scholars (2007: 30). Projansky calls this moment a “both/and” approach to postfeminism as opposed to an “us/them”, where within postfeminism exists inherent contradictions, “simultaneously feminist and antifeminist, liberating and repressive, productive and obstructive of progressive social change” (2007: 68).

Similarly then, an analysis of trans-identified youth vloggers on YouTube cannot claim a universality for multiple reasons. If one were to do so, such research would fall into the second-wave feminist concept of “collectivity”, where racially, ethnically, and sexually divergent voices are trivialized for a political purpose called “sisterhood” (Sanders 2007: 84).  Second, a claim of universal meaning runs the risk of objectifying the vlogger’s text as a written object subject to voyeurism and exhibitionism (Gurak and Antonijevik 2008: 64).  Third, Murthy warns against the ethical ambiguities of conducting online research, and more so of marginalized groups (2008: 841).    Such complications, again, should attempt to be resolved (or not resolved but examined), so these communities are not further marginalized by institutional agendas, but resolved in a sometimes contradictory or at least temporal way, or what Vaidhyanathan calls “multiple complimentary methodologies” (2006: 293).

Some Implications of Queer Video Blogging on YouTube/Google

During a recent “Intelligence Squared” debate over whether Google violates it’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto, Critical Information Studies scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan pointed out the “Seven Deadly Sins” of Google, including the “sloth” sin, where, he states,
Google makes money off of our work. We blog, we put our … cats on skateboards and record them for videos. We do all of this work, and then Google harvests our work, runs all of this content through its computers, spits it back out at us, with almost no actual value added and what they end up getting is a tremendous amount of money, based on free-riding (Donovan 25).

What are the implications of Google using queer content for financial gain, and what are these examples?  One example would be Michael Buckley’s Entertainment Show, “What the Buck?!”, on YouTube.  Michael Buckley is part of YouTube’s relatively new Partnership Program, where famous “Tubers” get financial compensation for adsharing (Buckley 2008). Sponsored YouTubers become active leaders in the YouTube community, often performing acceptable forms of constructed identity. Michael Buckley’s weekly videos are recaps of that week’s celebrity and TV gossip, news, and parodies, compliments of the flamboyant and never serious, stereotypically affluent gay white male – a result of what Gerhard calls “queer visibility” where there is an “increasing recognition of lesbians and gay men as recognizable comedic and dramatic ‘types’ (2005: 42).  Whereas, another YouTube celebrity, Chris Crocker of “Leave Britney Alone!” fame, who self-identifies as transgendered, claims he was not invited into the Partnership program (Crocker 2008).  Such complicated narratives of internet rivalries and discrimination are unclear and subjective, however, the decision of YouTube to favor one queer voice over another brings to fore an important question about Google’s policies – is Google favoring more normative, non-confrontational, socially acceptable, and financially advantageous queer identities over ones which are less so?

Esther Dyson would think not.   Described by Murthy as  a “utopian ‘cyber-guru’”, Dyson argued in a more Internet “techofundamentalist” rhetoric at the Intelligence Squared debate, describing Google as a means to “erode the power of institutions over people, while giving to individuals the power to run their own lives” (Murthy 841; Donovan 20).  But, when a company like Google controls over 63% of global Internet searches in addition to owning multiple formats of online social networks including YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, and Orkut (Rosen 2008: 52), it bears to continue asking this question.
Other theorists would warn against the proliferation of Google’s content control.  Clay Shirky in his July 2008 TED Talk, reminds us to be aware of the institutional aspects of social networks, and their socio-economic effects.  By providing an institution meant to share, collect, and distribute content, social networks (like Flickr and YouTube) are creating hierarchically managed institutions – complete with management, legal counsel, and us, the content producers, where we (the public) are relegated at the bottom rungs of decisions and agency (Shirky 2005). In the context of the trans-queer community and what The Advocate coined the “Homophobosphere” – “haters”, homophobes, and intolerance will exist as long as free speech does (Lange 2007: 43;Doig 2008: 7 ¶ 7).  But what’s missing yet is a discussion on how Google’s willingness to “bring its own open culture to foreign countries while still taking into account local laws, customs and attitudes” (Rosen 2008: 53).  What is the implication of  Google’s censorship on young transgendered Tubers based on homophobic governmental institutions, as was the case in Turkey (Rosen 2008: 51)?  By censoring some material that is unacceptable to certain states, while financially rewarding others, what message does that send to vloggers?

According to Lange, it becomes advantageous for vloggers to create content that is institutionally preferential in order to gain attention and financial compensation for their work. She goes onto ask about the participatory complications of monetizing sociality and whether that should be or is the purpose of content providers (2007: 45).  If YouTubers are getting paid for preferred airtime, suddenly we run the risk of creating socialized financial incentives that encourage a particular type of behavior. Because users are provided preferred airtime on YouTube, the site no longer becomes a ‘semiotic democracy’ (Vaidhyanathan 305), but rather preferential.

So what?  That’s capitalism, some would argue. Such lack of visibility or preferential treatment has been a common practice among major record labels that decide who gets airtime – often financially and culturally dominating independently produced and distributed music and ideas (Feigenbaum 2007: 140).  When talking about the implications of  social networks, Surowecki says that the “more tightly linked we are, the harder it is to remain independent,” which becomes further complicated by how these networks are controlled, how they socialize, and whose voices they favor (2008).  As a “postfeminist” – and I would argue queer discourse – it is important to look at the implications of corporate preferential treatment of social content that is removed for its queer (meta)textuality.

Jenkins would argue that media’s future relies on an “uneasy truce” between commercial interests and “grassroots intermediaries, where a message gains visibility only if it is deemed relevant”.  He encourages people to continue blogging because the sheer numbers will help “redefine the public perception of new media and to expand their influence” (2006: 180-1).  Additionally, more positivist thoughts would argue that the invitation to participate in video blogs, and by creating shows which demand an audience, vloggers demonstrate their relationship and identification with a larger community, where fans can be active participants in the community (Faulkner and Melican 2007: 62).

But, positivist thinking about community building and engagement comes with a price, says Lange (2007: 47).  When Faulkner and Melican conclude that vloggers are “more than simply interesting…they represent a potential market” it seems the price is a way to commodify a potentially politically and transformative community into a consumer community (2007: 63).

Such commodification of content is not new to independent content producers like vloggers. Feigenbaum quotes zine writer Stacy Thompson who wonders if there’s a political potential to “feminist punk agendas” when producing within corporate venues (2007:146). By creating products of political discourses within the context of corporate owned media, specifically social networks and YouTube, Feigenbaum rightly asks whether real transformative political work can be accomplished.   By providing the example of Le Tigre’s (former band leader of Bikini Kill and riot grrl matriarch Kathleen Hannah) major label record deal, Feigenbaum states that “the band’s corporate backing forces those who consume and engage with its punk feminism to renegotiate the linkages between economic production and political articulations” (2007:148).  Nevertheless, Feigenbaum points to the continuing ingenuity of young feminists interested in building community “without signing corporate labels or selling shampoo” (2007:148).

Identity and Community Formation (or Destruction) Among Trans-Identified Vloggers: A Postfeminist Analysis

“While growing up transgender can still be a very isolating experience, the world seems a bit smaller to trans kids thanks to the vlogs” – “TransTube” The Advocate (2007)

Blogs are a way to understand human desire, community, and places in time.  With the Internet’s relative new and quickly developing medium, comes loaded with nonverbal behavior, community development, and a breakdown of social and geographic barriers.    Blogs begin to represent a new medium where massive amounts of personal information are being shared publicly, shifting and ambiguously redefining boundaries of personal and private, where singular and group identities are formed (Gurak and Antonijevik 2008: 62 – 64).

While the potential positive nature of bringing the personal to the public sphere, as many argue is the case for trans-youth finding community via the web, not all people agree that “Web-mediated feminist activism” is a positive thing, stating that web interaction reduces activism to the bedroom site of cultural production and collective action is proportionately reduced as bedroom production increases (Eliscu, 96; Kennedy 2007; Feigenbaum 145).  In fact, it can become potentially damaging or unproductive when the community has no outlet outside of the web environment (MacDougal 2005: 579).
Faulkner and Melican examine concepts of the imagined self in relation to the content producers audience by interviewing vloggers internationally (2007: 52). Despite the 2006 PIP’s findings that over 50% of bloggers produced content for personal reasons, Faulkner and Melican assert evidence of “increasing amounts of online content posted with the express intent of advancing the poster’s entrepreneurial interests and/or their careers in creative fields” – otherwise known as “proteurs” (2007: 53). Proteurs see online videos as a way to build an audience often thinking self-consciously about their produced material, what Ong calls a “secondary orality” where we are “group-minded self-consciously and programmatically” (1982: 66).   Such group oriented affects on community need to be examined to better understand the dialogue between vloggers and their perceived audiences.

Room for Growth and Research Analysis

Many important works were left out of the literature review, due to lack of time and practice.  More attention to important queer and gender theories is needed, including Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, Michael Foucault’s History of Sexuality,  would help better define identity theory and politics of queers within the framework of media.
Attached is a Mind Map as suggested by Shannon Mattern in “Literature Review Tips”.  This Mind Map traces the important works cited in Vaidhyanathan’s comprehensive bibliography of important works in Critical Information Studies, which is where I would like to further explore some key concepts.


Doig, W. (2008). “Homo•phobo•sphere”. Advocate, (1002), 28-31.
Eliscu, J. (2007). “Kids coming out on YouTube”. Rolling Stone, (1037; 1037), 96-96.
Faulkner, S., & J Melican. (2007). “Getting Noticed, Showing-Off, Being Overheard: Amateurs, Authors and Artists Inventing and Reinventing Themselves in Online Communities”. AnthroSource, Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, Retreived on November 15, 2008 from http://www.anthrosource.net, 51-65.
Gerhad, J. (2005) “Sex and the City: Carrie Bradshaw’s queer postfeminisms”. Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1. Routeledge.
Holliday, R. (2004) “Reflecting the Self” Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination. Knowles, K. and P. Sweetman (Eds.). London: Routelege.
Gurak, L. J., & S. Antonijevic. (2008 September). “The psychology of blogging: You, me, and everyone in between”. American Behavioral Scientist (vol. 52, no. 1), 60 – 68.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Fans, bloggers, and gamers : Exploring participatory culture. New York: New York University Press.
Kennedy, S., (2007). “TransTube”, The Advocate. http://www.advocate.com/issue_story_ektid42754.asp
LANGE, P. G. (2007). “Searching for the ‘You’ in ‘YouTube’: An analysis of online response ability” Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, Retreived on November 15, 2008 from http://www.anthrosource.net
Lenhart, A., & S. Fox. (2006) Bloggers: A portrait of the Internet’s new storytellers. July 19, 2006. Pew Internet & American Life Project
Macdougall, R. (2005 December). “Identity, electronic ethos, and blogs: A technologic analysis of symbolic exchange on the new news medium”, American Behavioural Scientist, v. 49(4).
McRobbie, A. (2007) “Postfeminism and Popular Culture: Bridget Jones and the New Gender Regime”. Interrogating postfeminism : Gender and the politics of popular culture(2007). Tasker Y., Negra D. (Eds.), . Durham: Duke University Press, 27 – 39.
Murthy, D. (2008). “Digital ethnography: An examination of the use of new technologies for social research” Sociology vol. 42(5), 837 – 855.
Ong, W. (1982) “Orality, Literacy, and Modern Media”, Orality and literacy: the technologizing of the word. New York: Methuen.
Projansky, S. (2007) Mass Magazine Cover Girls: Some Reflections on Postfeminist Girls and Postfeminism’s Daughters. Interrogating postfeminism : Gender and the politics of popular culture. In Tasker Y., Negra D. (Eds.), . Durham: Duke University Press, 40 – 71.
Rosen, J. (2008, November 30). “Google’s Gatekeepers: Nicole Wong and her colleagues decide what the world can see on YouTube.  Are they also determining the limits of free speech?” New York Times Magazine.
Vaidhyanathan, S. (2006). Afterword: Critical information studies. Cultural Studies, 20(2), 292-315.

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On September 26, 2006, Facebook became available to anyone with an e-mail address over the age of 13.  Currently, Facebook has over 120 million users worldwide.  According to the AP, voter turnout this year was over 136 million (Borenstein).   This year’s election saw the highest voter turnout in decades.  While this cannot be entirely attributed to Facebook or social-networking alone, the style and methods of campaigning will not think twice about the ways in which social networks engage participation in the political process.

One of the most widely used social-networking services, Facebook encourages communication through things like “status updates”, “superpokes”, “groups”, “causes” and so on.  Among these social-networking options, organizations and political campaigns have taken the lead in using the Facebook site to develop extensive campaigns of politics-not-as-usual via social networking.  I believe the Obama Facebook campaign understood two major concepts about monitorial citizenship, which helped make the Obama race to the White House successful; the elimination of the “punditocracy” and the understanding of and interest in youth culture via intelligently designed social networks (Facebook and social-networked websites, text messaging, phone banking, & visual graphics – to name a few).

First, while many of us look to news media – including paper, internet, magazine, tv, radio, and other forms of traditional media – for input and ideas for sharing thoughts and creating opinions about a current political campaign – traditional media has faced a lot of criticism of the last 8 years, especially when it comes to election results.  With the emergence of such criticism, as well as the increasing accessability to open-source tools like blogging, non-traditional outlets have redefined the ways we engage with sources of news authority.  The rapid production of news additionally accelerates our ability to digest multiple medias at once.  We may be reading news on our Blackberries while listening to a podcast from Slate.com, or we may be reading our Facebook page for links to sources our friends are reading.  Rather than overwhelming ourselves with the multitude of media sources outside our realm of readership ability (no matter how astute we may be), we look to recommendations from friends and colleagues on what to read.

These form of reader recommendations occur in a number of ways.  One example is the ways in which many websites allow you to “Share” an article on Facebook, Myspace, Digg, and other networks.  By sharing these articles, you can post it on one of these links, add comments or feedback, or e-mail them to your address book.  Another way to share information might be through a status update on Gmail or AOL.  By posting a link to an article in your chat status, you are not only encouraging your friends to read this article, but engage in discussion about it.   The more “plugged in” we are to media, the more increasingly we are sharing, discussing, and engaging in media.  It seems somewhat intuitive then that as the political climate increases during an historic election period, that whoever dominated this form of sharing would get more “air time” than the other candidate.

Working in Marketing and Communications in a non-profit, I can say first-hand that personal recommendations is a number one seller no matter what you are campaigning for.  Political campaigning, although it’s purpose and ideals are less superficial than this year’s fashion, is one big and expensive sales pitch.  To be able to sell an ideology based on personal recommendations over external references (ads, news, pundits, etc.) is the key to success on a campaign.  Social networking for the first time allows this kind of abstract concept (personal, complex, and intimate networks of friends and relations) to be removed out of abstraction and into concrete, computerized, measurable and constructive tools for civic participation.   By understanding this, the Obama campaign was ahead of the traditional campaign politics of looking at election results of four years ago only.

The Obama campaign similarly understood the need to connect, quite literally, with youth culture, black culture, and other traditionally disenfranchised sectors of voter populations.  However they did, they did so successfully, but one can guess that tools like text messaging, social networks, and good web design helped.   According to the Pew Research Center, 57% of adults ages 18 – 29 consider cell phones a necessity, the highest percentage of any age group reported on (Taylor, Funk & Clark).   The same report shows a significant shift in Computer necessity over TV necessities for ages 49 and younger and those who are in their 50s and up (Taylor, Funk & Clark).  Such a priority shift was engaged by the Obama campaign, making the traditional forms of media a sideline in their efforts to capture a wide voter turnout.

Borenstein, Seth. “Voter Turnout best in generations, maybe a century”, The Associated PressU. November 5, 2008.  November 23, 2008. [http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5i34ao3tow5yhj2v7v24HM_wbT8JQD948LJRG0]

“Facebook.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Nov 2008, 21:21 UTC. 23 Nov 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Facebook&oldid=253267758&gt;.

Taylor, Paul, Cary Funk, and April Clark. Pew Social & Demographic Trends. December 14, 2006. Pew Research Center. November 23, 2008 [http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/?chartid=210]

Taylor, Paul, Cary Funk, and April Clark.  Pew Social & Demographic Trends. December 14, 2006. Pew Research Center. November 23, 2008 [http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/323/luxury-or-necessity]

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The Shows of Bravo

Bravo executive Lauren Zalaznick’s reformatting of Bravo’s programming to reality-based docudramas and competition shows (featured in The New York Times Magazine November 4th issue) presents some insight into some key Carpignano concepts regarding what he calls “televisuality”.  Carpignano has developed a theory of TV aesthetics supported by the theories of Cavell, Weber, and Foucault, which look at issues of time, space, and vision to discuss TV, rather than the content.  Using these concepts like monitoring, habitation, flow, presence, and formatting to examine “the Affluencer”, provides us some insight into these concepts in practice.

First, Carpignano describes monitoring as a continuous space, where inside and outside are connected, where our vision is reproduced by the camera.  In such monitoring, no revealing or discovery happens.  In “The Affluencer”, Zalaznick tells us that a whole genre set up as the “unexpected dramatic twist” is called the ‘reveal’ (2).   Perhaps the ‘reveal’ has similar root in discovery for the viewer, but the formula or engineered ‘reveal’ that takes place on Bravo reality shows bares little resemblance to Carpignano’s concept of revealing.  Monitoring is active, according to Carpingnano, because the viewer is invited into and acknowledged by the TV program.  In the case of Bravo’s reality programming, that can take place in many forms – in our identification with, or opposition to the actual characters, or our participation in (and production) of feedback in the form of surveys, votes, and online interaction.  These kinds of interactions, Carpignano claims, problematizes the notion of audience, and creates, what Weber calls “ambivalent space,” or “space without orientation” (Carpignano).   Or as the article states, “Bravo’s shows have a knack for flattering the viewers sense of their own good tastes (Dominus 2).

Carpignano summarized the history of programming decisions in early TV, by discussing how formats were created in the likeness of and ideology of the programmers themselves – white affluent straight men.   Interestingly, the Times title, “The Affluencer” is a double entendre, as it represents both a demographic of Bravo’s marketed and desirable audience and the biography of Lauren Zalaznick.  While one would say her programming decisions are more informed, and a product of postmodernism, the “affluencer” audience is similar to Zalaznick’s personal history – that being “most educated”, “upscale” and “savvy”.   A Brown graduate of semiotics, Zalaznick sees her programming more than the promotion of consumerism, but “social anthropology” (Dominus 6), but what Carpignano would term “social engineering”, where viewing and consumer habits are developed as a direct result of the ingrained advertising and product promotions.

Bravo’s use of regular folks to engage the audience helps us perform as ourselves, creating a dialogue between the programs, where unscripted results and the orchestration of chance are all part of the format of reality TV, according to Carpignano.   Bravo’s programming has gone further than audience engagement and attachment though, because the reality TV setting allows the viewer “to feel a little bit superior” to the spectacle of the program – be it the chefs eliminated in “Top Chef” and our enjoyment of their dismissal despite their hard work, or our engagement with the metatext of the industry of reality TV (Dominus 7, 11).

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I would like to think that my intellectual and creative education began in Montessori School, where I can still remember the vivid colors, sounds, and touch of the many activities that surrounded me – the Light Bright and beaded counting instruments, the self structured independence and self-paced development methods, the music classes and art projects – all remain vivid memories which apply to my current interest in multimedia.

Growing up in a musical tradition, I played jazz and classical trombone and considered a career as a trombonist. I am most moved by performance and music I have played and experienced in a live setting.  Live performances have always had that sense of elation and allure for me, but none more so than a large orchestration or intimate jazz atmosphere.  Why I chose not to pursue music performance is another autobiography in itself, but I took with me the value of experiencing performance, listening, dancing, and creating feeling and emotion through different sounds.

Beginning in high school, I began to explore my intellectual and creative self, through feminism, riot grrrl DIY culture, and zine writing and distribution.  I absorbed the writings of third-wave feminists who discussed their experience as young women living in my generation, rather than the distant proclamations of second wave provacateurs like Gloria Steinem.  I wrote prose, designed magazine layouts, and engaged in a nascent style of critical analysis by engaging in discussions on race, sexuality, privilege, and gender.  Books like Rock She Wrote, Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation & Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, inspired me to pursue an education in an all woman’s environment, where I felt I would be able to thrive academically, creatively, and personally.

Throughout college, I engaged in coursework that provoked me, took subjects I knew would be challenging, but ultimately sought context for my personal story, within a global environment.    I began immediately with anthropology and government courses, but didn’t realize these studies would lead me to philosophy, U.S. history, post-colonial literature, museum studies, the history of photography, Native American Contemporary Art, economic and development theory, among others.  In addition, I managed to take some art courses, in Photography, Drawing, and Graphic Design, which helped me see the world through perspective, attention to detail, composition – a completely new plane than my strict academic coursework.  While seemingly different areas of study, as I took each course, I felt this interdisciplinary approach enriched my understanding more intensely than before, and was my inspiration in seeking a theoretical and practice approach to media studies.

I was most profoundly impacted by intersections of media, politics, art, and American history.  Some of these images I encountered during my undergraduate studies completely engaged these sensibilities.

The first was an image I encountered in anthropology coursework and also in a History of Photography class, of Edward Curtis’ Hopi Dancers (Curtis).  I was fascinated with his attempt to create a vision of “Indianness” which had political, social and cultural implications.  Nevertheless, his photographs remain beautiful portraits of people whose generations of families now living have attempted to identify and repatriate these objects and family photos.  While the dancers were misrepresented, Curtis’ work remains controversial and widely discussed among art scholars, Native American scholars, and anthropologists.  The ability to enjoy aesthetic without context is a romantic concept to me, but the Curtis work demonstrated how I no longer was able to think without a critical lens.

Decades later, artists like Robert Frank and Cindy Sherman, among others, were reshaping the American landscape with their own critical lenses.  Robert Frank’s travels throughout moments in Americana are captured here, in Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey, where he takes a critical eye of American patriotism (Frank).

Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits during the late 1900’s took this Americana into the sphere of the personal and captured seemingly everyday moments for women and offset them with strangeness (Sherman).

Through these images and compositions, I began a deliberate search for multi-media projects that had a political message while maintaining a certain aesthetic.

As a creative person, I have always been drawn to portraiture – and this interest has taken me beyond photography towards new kinds of media portraiture – through radio narratives, video blogging, and storytelling.  I spent a semester abroad on the coast of Kenya collecting the narratives of a village and their relationship to a community operated museum, it’s history and it’s curator, through recordings, video, and ethnographic research. I hope to continue exploring these intersections creatively – in studying the special relationships of cultural institutions to their communities, better understanding the culture creators (or curators) and their intent, listening to narratives, and analyzing or creating portraits of individuals.

As a professional, I have found my perfect niche at StoryCorps, where the personal narrative becomes public through the medium of radio, where traditional methods of oral history and ethnography are popularized, and where voice and the act of experiencing listening and an intimate conversation can have ripple effects on ourselves, both as social beings and also as a family member or friend.  I have listened to thousands of individuals, organizations, and even far away countries tell me their desire to tell their story through personal narratives.  Radio is a field I plan to stay in, and the ability to work in radio in any format appeals to me.  One day I can see myself as a radio producer, station manager, or sound designer.  Eventually, I want to take my creative field and pursue a second masters in Arts and Cultural policy, so I may be able to secure the field of radio, media, and cultural expression as a public institution.

Throughout my coursework at the New School, I hope to engage in inquiries about New Media, Communication theory, media policy and reform, media management and social change, specifically, those with a queer or feminist content and discourse – whether it’s from a feminist interpretation of the AMC series Mad Men or Sarah Palin and gender’s political role in the media to the practice of management techniques which encourage free thought that facilitates social change.  By adding this perspective to the media discourse, I also would like to gain more experience with photography, sound and web design, and radio work.

Some questions I have been asking a lot to myself lately, but plan to pursue with papers and research are:  Is YouTube revolutionary?; how does vlogging intersect the ‘personal’ narrative with a public one?; how does media bashing affect the constitutional rights to free press?; how does sound, speech, and voice influence an audience?; what about sound in a public setting and it’s affect on learning, community, and recreating landscape?; where are there transgressive media moments and acts and who is performing them?; which media management theories are being used, what’s their history, and are they effective?; in what ways is media (re)defining gender, class, sexuality, and race (using specific examples or genres) through language?; how are museums incorporating multi-media into their environments and what seems to work?  Most of these questions have arrived in my readings, including literature, theory, film, and television.  I never have felt able to address these appropriately or come to a conclusion without extensive reading and practice.   Throughout my studies I hope to achieve these intersections and answer these questions.


The Purdue OWL. 26 Aug. 2008. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. 5 October 2008 <http://owl.english.purdue.edu&gt;.

Curtis, Edward Sheriff. Watching the Dancers – Hopi. 1906. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA. 5 October 2008 < http://www.edwardcurtis.com/vintage/9983.html&gt;.

Frank, Robert. Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey. 1955 – 1956. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. 5 October 2008. <http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/all/parade_hoboken_new_jersey_robert_frank&gt;.

Sherman, Cindy. Untitled Film Still – #3. 1977. The MoMA, New York, NY. 5 October 2008 < http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/1997/sherman/untitled03.html&gt;.

Yesterday I spent time at the Farmer’s Market in Union Square.  I am currently reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen, and somehow appropriately the NY Times Magazine this weekend is focusing another issue to the food crisis, including testimonials from “locavores” and food activists .  As a meat eater, I have not only noticed the taste difference between organic grass-fed meat (much better) but also how eating ethically raised meat makes me feel as a conscious consumer (very good).  By purchasing local fare, I am contributing to the farm-forward economy, reducing my carbon footprint, and supporting local farms which use natural methods of raising produce and animals with sunlight energy and natural feed versus over processed and chemically fertilized feed.  While I will probably never become a vegetarian, I am eating less and less meat, and the quality of meat I am eating contains more nutrition and less fatty and unhealthy bi-products.  This justifies the price tag because I am choosing to eat meat as a special treat to myself, once or twice a week for white meat, and once or twice a month for red meats, versus the average 2 – 3 times a day of the average consumer.   Does that make me a food activist or a food elitist?  Probably a little bit of both – but that is not the point.  The point is, as an educated consumer, it is my responsibility to eat ethically and consciously, because I have the means to purchase ethically grown and raised food.  As each consumer learns more about the “Local” movement, carbon footprints, and organic raised foods, in relation to the economy and energy crisis, the more we are all going to become advocates of conscious consumerism.

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Custom Made White Bone used for gowns, wedding dresses, corsets.

Custom Made White Bone used for gowns, wedding dresses, corsets.

Recently, on my long labor day trips to the garment district, I found a sewing machine repairman in the yellow pages.  My trek took me to the basement of namesake designers Vogue, Valentino, and others who I’m guessing have many offices, propped with its own machine repairman – who also happens to make custom boning, and manages (supposedly) through ads on the yellow pages, and word of mouth.  I have decided to help him out and advertise on craigslist his services.  Let me know if you’re interested.  He repairs, sells, and (re)sales new and old machines that have been tossed by the finest.   This includes millinery machines.  He also makes custom foots for your own stitching.  Very handy for designers!  In order to make this sound less like an ad I will divert you to my craigslist postings.

A view from the basement somewhere in the garment district.

A view from the basement somewhere in the garment district.

Not much to say here – other than I have created my first ruffle!  I found this fabric on sale and fell in love with the candy-stripe circa early-80’s feel and decided to continue the theme with a little ruffle.  I may look like a child wearing it – but then again – you haven’t seen my candy cane holiday ruffled shirt!!   I will let you know on it’s ongoing progress and of course – final product!