Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Technobiography 2

In the first entry on this topic, I wrote about the advance of technology (and my, personal, chronological advance) and the shift from increased functionality toward increased usability. This month has surely been a reinforcement of those ideas -- I think the CET and this whole group of students feels (or at least acts upon; correct me anyone if you think I'm misrepresenting you) that same difference. The study of new or digital media (and the inevitable comparisons to "old" media) requires such a focus, I think.

But for the past week or two, I've been thinking about technology rather differently, and maybe that reflects something different about technology in my life, as well, that I hadn't previously realized.

Things like the EPIC video, our discussion of social software (and the thoughts I had had about it beforehand), talking about and using RSS, some of my thoughts concerning this geoWriting program, maybe even the beginnings of the Glass Bead Game that I've been reading a little of are making me think about the potential negatives of technology.

Perhaps I'll look back on this a few years down the road and realize the ridiculous naivete of my views -- in fact, just that possibility encourages me to continue writing this. [If there is any that I've become confident of, it is in the pleasures of remembering things.]

The efficiency of technology is generally considered its greatest advantage. It allows for a "purity" of information. Many of Manovich's characteristics of new media describe ways to personalize content to the viewer (variability, programmability, etc.). RSS, Google News, del.icio.us and other aggregators of content filter the content, which is certainly necessary given the enormous amounts of it that technological advances have given us access to. But that filtering and specialization leads to some of the narrowing problems that EPIC described. I admit that it may be my lack of familiarity with it, but I'm not particularly comfortable reading my news through an RSS reader, or some other aggregator service. I prefer going to the New York Times website and see the editors' presentation of the day's news, rather than seeing a list of the most popular stories averaged across every news organization that Google can find.

More broadly, computers often, in general, lead us to be not broad enough. Consider our spending all our time in the living room staring at our individual laptops, even after we've spent all day in front of computers. I've made similar analogies with the googlemaps project: technology (amongst other things, I suppose) has allowed us to break down barriers like location, but though location can be a harmful barrier in some cases, it's also a real characteristic that it's negative to disregard entirely. Hesse is ironic (parodic, maybe) in the Glass Bead Game when describing the Castalian's absolute devotion to the Mind, free from the distractions of the world outside the Order. It's not an irony that everyone picks up on right away (I think there are some pretty interesting positive points even read completely seriously), but a point that is most certainly being made -- its subtlety is a reflection of the unobviousness of the problem.

Perhaps this reflects something that has happened (or will happen) in my use and relation to technology. I've become in recent years more interested in exploring forms of technology to keep up with what's out there, without getting completely lost in them (like games, or even serious programming). And perhaps our discussions here, all the good things I've been given to think about, will lead me to choose better uses of technology rather than worse ones, or perhaps simply to see the error of my thinking here.

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