December 7, 2005
The Future of English
An interesting article on the future of English majors. What do you think? What role do you imagine technology plays in the future of English and other liberal arts majors?
December 1, 2005
Real life "Star Trek" Replicators
Looking at the future of the net and the next ten years...how about "Desktop Manufacturing"? Check out this article in Salon.
November 30, 2005
It's your web...what're ya gonna do with it?
10 years ago the web was still in its infancy. Now it is an everyday part of your life. Where do you see the Internet in 10 years? Will everything be wireless everywhere in America? Will phone, tv, video games, and net converge into a single device? Will the web become centralized in a few media giants like radio and tv? Or will it increasingly become a medium of/for/about the people?
What role do you think it will play in your career as a writer?
November 14, 2005
Economics of online gaming...and beyond
Anda's Game narrativizes the growing culture of online gaming. A few years ago, an economist named Edward Castronova made a name for himself studying the economy of EverQuest (one such game). He discovered that that the "country" of EverQuest was the seventy-seventh richest in the world (based on per capita income), richer than India or China and on par with Russia.
Gamers regularly sell game items (and characters) for real money on eBay! and similar sites. The idea, dramatized in Doctorow's short story, that Anda could make money playing her game is not unrealistic.
Here are a couple sites that discuss this issue further:
Of course, Doctorow takes this a little further, building in some related online issues such as personal health and the globalization of the economy. What Doctorow describes may never happen in this direct a fashion, but his world is an accurate metaphor of our own. While we may never have online sweatshops, we obviously have many real, third world factories. Our economy and lifestyle on hinged on that of factory workers working for pennies a day in unsafe conditions. A pair of pants, sewn together for a nickel (or less), sells for $75 in the mall.
In Anda's Game, this virtual inequity creates war and threatens the very culture and fabric of the game. What does it do in the real world?
Part of the point is to recognize that it is an error to speak of the virtual as separate from the material. Both worlds are part of the same world, impacting one another.
October 11, 2005
Welcome to the Conceptual Age
Let me provide a long quote from the end of Pink's essay:
If the Industrial Age was built on people's backs, and the Information Age on people's left hemispheres, the Conceptual Age is being built on people's right hemispheres. We've progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we're progressing yet again - to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers.
But let me be clear: The future is not some Manichaean landscape in which individuals are either left-brained and extinct or right-brained and ecstatic - a land in which millionaire yoga instructors drive BMWs and programmers scrub counters at Chick-fil-A. Logical, linear, analytic thinking remains indispensable. But it's no longer enough.
To flourish in this age, we'll need to supplement our well-developed high tech abilities with aptitudes that are "high concept" and "high touch." High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to come up with inventions the world didn't know it was missing. High touch involves the capacity to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one's self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.
Let me pull out two shorter passages. First, Pink writes we're becoming "a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers." This "becoming" "involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to come up with inventions the world didn't know it was missing."
I think this is good news for professional writers. This is the career you want, n'est pas? This is what you are being prepared to do: to recognize patterns and to create discourse to intersect and affect those patterns. This is the fundamental task of rhetoric. Let me say that differently. Entering the Conceptual age means:
1. Cultural Analysis: read your situation, recognize the patterns in culture.
2. Invention: be creative--address the needs/wants, concerns, issues that you seeing brewing around you.
3. Audience awareness: empathizing with your audience, connecting with them on emotional, ethical, logical, and cultural levels.
4. Shaping your message/text to the situation: recognizing patterns-what interests people, what they find convincing, how your audience speaks, what catches their attention.
When you take together the development of your creative abilities in Creative Writing classes, your understanding of technical and professional writing genres, your growing knowledge of new media modes of communication, and your general concept of rhetorical theory, you should be off to a good start in the Pink's "Conceptual Age."
Of course, a BA just gives you a starting point. Entering the Conceptual Age does seem like it will require taking more risks that those expected of the Information worker, just as the information worker took more risks that the factory worker (and the factory worker more risks than the farmer).
September 26, 2005
Terminal Rhetoric: Memories of the Future
Note: if you haven't picked up a copy of Mark Dery's article yet, you can find one in the black, hanging files outside my office door (OM 115A).
Dery's article presents a sardonic reflection on air travel. At its heart, he writes about the disappearance of the "futuristic" world promised by TWA and international air travel in the 1960s. In its place, we have air travel as something more like travelling by bus than on a cruise ship. With two more airlines (Delta and NorthWest) headed for bankruptcy this month, the future of the industry is uncertain (though obviously we rely upon air travel, so it isn't going anywhere anytime soon).
There are two particular elements I wanted to comment on (perhaps you will as well).
1. Dery's discussion of the class warfare represented in the division between First Class and Coach. I'm guessing you've all flown at one time or another. What's your take on this? Do agree with Dery's assessment that the airlines maintain this division more to hold onto their notion of what airline travel should be than for reasons of profitibility?
2. The increasing role technology plays in regulating our lives (e.g. the computerization of piloting aircraft). Obviously in many respects this regulation is convenient and comforting, and yet I'm sure many of us reject the techno-patriarchy of a kind of robot/daddy knows best. As Dery writes, "we're being asked, more and more, to trust in technologies whose speed and complexity are leaving humans in the dust, even as that trust is eroded by firsthand acquaintance with the fickle, glitchy, virus-infected reality of computers" (301). Imagine this: you're boarding a plane and you see the pilots booting up the onboard computer. Suddenly you hear the telltale tones of the Windows OS starting up...wouldn't you turn around and get right off the plane? I don't think I'd want to take a ride on MS Plane, would you?
The point here for us in reading this is to think about information technologies in the context of flight technologies. Clearly there is the issue of hype, and in a way we've already been through the hype with the dot.com bubble in the late nineties. But there's always more hype, right?
However, I've got a broader philosophical issue to address. This idea that technology of some kind is going to save us OR damn us... It relies on the principle that technology is outside of "us." Only by being separate from us can technology come along and threaten our "interiority" (who we believe we are on the inside). I don't buy that. That doesn't mean that technologies can't be helpful or harmful or both simultaneously. Instead, it means that we need to see ourselves imbricated with our technology. There is no "inside" versus "outside." In a way, Dery demonstrates this in showing how our technology unfolds with our class prejudices and our fears already built-in.