Friday, August 08, 2014

Miss Elainey

To clarify what is below, the point is really simple. I refer to McLuhan a lot, but that's because he asks us to ignore the novelty of a piece of technology and to focus instead on what it does. What it does, he says, is inevitably a replacement for something already being done, an extension of one of the human senses or capabilities, the recall of a forgotten technology, and the reversal of its initial extension and replacement. I grok that two of these are hard to buy.

Just focus on the first thing: every piece of technology replaces something already underway. Humans come to a piece of technology with the same brain they've always had. What's more, technologies create their own social norms. Remember CB radio, good buddy? Hashtag memory. The individual technology creates a fetish in both the "neutral" anthropological sense and the more potent Marxist sense. McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride talks about how a new technology presents anesthesia ("New!" "Labor saving miracle" "Lose Weight without Trying!") and seduction by borrowing from art. He had in mind the yearly parade of automobiles and dishwashers. Imagine if he had seen the explosion of articles praising the "revolutionary design" and "aesthetic" of the Apple iFad.

If we can ignore the borrowed clothes of technology and suspend the anesthetic claims, we can ask, "What does this do by other means?" In other words, if you want design, go to 90th and Park Ave. in New York. The labor saving claim is true, but it's a compensation for changing the way we do things, the way we organize labor, and the expectations we have. Allowing it to be more than that is to be seduced.

From Shorpy

With me so far?

Ok, the fetish of a piece of technology grows more and more essential as that technology is social. Therefore, a single user piece of technology such as the hoe will hardly have any fetish to it. There won't be "a right way to hoe," and there most especially won't be a "right way to get ready to hoe." On the other hand, driving a buggy or a car has an enormous fetish: adjust the music, fasten the seat belt, adjust the seat, set rules for "calling shotgun," and then going out to engage in heavily codified driving behavior.

A great deal of money and advertising effort has gone into making YouTube ubiquitous. Many dollar bills are betting that the future consists of every citizen of the planet watching and computing on a telephone. The new Windows 8.1 looks like a Kindergarten cut-out board book with its big icons (perfect for a phone screen) and reduction of text to a series of enigmatic gestures of hostility (e.g. "The Store").

"Video," as understood by persons born after 1995, is a free audio/visual experience found "on the web." It is anti-artistic, in that it is a product intended for consumption and repetition, but not consideration. Video requires response -- an up or down thumb or a forwarding to a friend -- but, if you understand the dichotomy of pornography and art, it is on the pornographic side. (Briefly: pornography is taken, devoured, and used up by its viewer, and it is good to the degree that it is useful in producing an effect. The pornographic is consumed in the viewing and therefore cannot teach lessons or provoke thought, because those are inimical to the pure sensationalism of pornography. The artistic refuses to be understood. It cannot be contained by the viewer and elicits mood rather than provokes it.) Video is flash paper.

If a teacher uses a video presentation or a video presence in a remote class, then the medium's fetish works against the purpose of the class. The medium (video) eliminates a set of uses and imposes a set of interpretive mandates.

All online teaching runs head-on into the fetish and unintended reiterations of the technologies we use. What I call "the big text box" runs into a problem, too. Again, forget the claims of saving labor for the time being and bracket any questions of "ease of use" or "design," because those are all claims astride or beside the critical questions of, "What is this, outside of the classroom" and "What is the fetish already in place?"

The Professor gets a big window. In the left pane is a list of the names with online/off status indicators, and below that is a dialog box for the students to "speak." The professor's right pane splits into one box for slides and another for web pages or documents brought up on the fly. The professor then types:
The Licensing Act of 1736 indirectly led to the success
of the English novel and the creation of Shakespeare as
"the greatest playwright in English." After Walpole's Commons
passed the Licensing Act, London audiences distrusted
any plays that did get to the stage, because such plays
felt like propaganda. Furthermore, playwrights couldn't
get plays passed by the censors. However, they could make
some money by publishing their play ideas as novels.That's
just what Henry Fielding did.
There is a slide up there saying, "*John Gay's  Polly *Henry Fielding **Haymarket Theatre **Pasquin *Repertoire theaters with Shakespeare *Puppets!" However, to the shock of the true believer in online classes, student Chad interrupts with "When was Shakespeare born?" Addison takes advantage of a pause while the professor waits for students to catch up to type, "The syllabus didn't say that the first test was going to be part of our final grade. I don't think it's far."

What's happening is that the fetish of the Big Text Box is the online forum or the web comment thread. It's different from "watching a video," but it has a primitive social structure that repeats itself with depressing regularity. The rules lawyer, the "but you haven't done your job because you haven't convinced me that Jane Austen wasn't a lesbian" writer, the "you have to be nice to me; it's in the rules" special sunbeam, and, of course, the troll (the individual who goes to a place he (or she, I suppose) most hates to try to 'tell them off' or just make 'them' unhappy) -- each is standard issue in comments threads. 

In an online class, students have every reason to avoid "web comment" behavior, but they have every reason to avoid classroom disruption in in-person classes, too. For students feeling frustrated or afraid, or for students who are just plain unhappy, "exposing this BS for what it is" seems worthwhile. When an online class uses the BTB, students know the personae they must adopt.

An Hoff Othat

Illinois Republican Bobby Schilling was formerly in the House of Representatives, and he wants his old job back. For one thing, he needs the money. He's only making $100,000.00 a year, and he made $174,000.00 while in Congress. He can't manage on his current salary
". . .the folks that are living paycheck-to-paycheck, which is most Americans, including myself, is that, you know, this [an imaginary tax to fund the ACA] is not something that you want to be putting out when you've got a kid that wants to play sports or you want to take a trip for vacation. Instead, you've got to funnel your money over to Obamacare, which is something you might never have to use."
Let us bask in the glow of the 5 watt light bulb glowing before his lenses
So, health insurance is terrible, because it might mean not taking a trip for vacation -- which is a decision we paycheck-to-paycheck people often grapple with -- just where we want to go for our vacations, whether we should fly or drive, and whether we should try the Virgin Islands this year or stick to Martha's Vineyard. Why, health insurance could even cost as much as. . . as a kid playing soccer. Well! In that case, the choice is easy: little Maradona needs spikes. (It's possible that Bob there could be thinking of a daughter and an actually expensive sport, like gymnastics or tennis, but we've got to remember that he's living paycheck to paycheck, so he has to be thinking of an inexpensive sport.)

I want to point out something in Bob's favor, here. I believe him when he says he's broke. This is because of my lesser known law ("Geogre's Law" is on the Internets, but I've got more than one of 'em): Debt rises to income. Also, all people live on $18,000 a year.

Bob has no money. Bob makes a lot of money. Bob probably has nice stuff, including a nice car payment and a nice mortgage payment to make. Given his party affiliation, he probably has a tuition payment or two to make as well. He no doubt has dues and greens fees that he has to pay. He spends more per mile with his vehicle than I do, for example, because he would have a "nice" car, which means a heavy car, which means fewer miles to gallon. If he makes more money, he will likely get a private plane. No matter what, until he runs out of desires, the debts will chase his income, leaving him with a set amount with which to buy food, drinks, golfing magazines, pay-per-view sports, and Toblerones in hotels. That figure used to be $15,000, but I'm sure that it is now at least $18,000.

There! Two posts in one. Some pretty pictures, though.

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