Archive for the Tech Category

Ethics, hacking, and AIDS oh my!

Posted in AIDS, Foucault, Galloway, KL, Tech, Why/how on April 7, 2008 by untimelymediations

While I found the entirety of Galloway’s Protocol pleasurable, I found my interest most peaked in one of the final chapters on hacking and viruses.  Even more specifically, when Galloway discusses the ethics of hacking and relates the upsurge of computer viruses to the AIDS epidemic, I was intrigued because I had never read anything like that (sure, my knowledge of hacking is a bit slim and that could account for the oversight).  For this week’s post, then, I want to discuss how ethics, control, and biopower are interrelated.

Ethics/Hacking:
After reading Jill’s post, I, too, am impressed that Galloway spends significant time laying out the why/how intricacies of the internet as we know it today.  Impressively, he wrote for an audience like myself (some techy knowledge under my belt), and also those with extreme fluency in the matter.  Before Protocol, I didn’t know there was a “hackers code of ethics.”  Following a lengthy discussion of code of ethics, Galloway mentions that, “hackers don’t care about rules, feelings, or opinions. They care about what is true and what is possible.  And in the logical world of computers, if it is possible then it is real.  Can you break into a computer, not should you” (168).  While hacking could be seen as a point of non-resistance, from a Foucauldian standpoint, I’d have to agree with Galloway that we’re simply seeing a different/another form of control.  However, what is most interesting about hacking and control is that the hackers seem to relinquish their bodily control to the machine.  Even though they write the code that wreaks havoc, it is the transference of power from the individual (hacker) to the machine (i.e. damaging code replicating itself in other computers) in which we clearly see the moment of control being illustrated.  Further, rather than trying to push through the control of the protocol, “hackers are created by protocol […] hackers are protocological actors par excellence” (158).  Hacking cannot and would not exist without protocol.

AIDS/Computer Viruses:

“Computer viruses appeared in a moment in history where the integrity and security of bodies, both human and technological, was considered extremely important.  Social anxieties surrounding both AIDS and the war on drugs testify to this” (179).

This quote suggests that bodies and computers are certainly interconnected through disease, subject to the same type of collapse.  (Again, I had never seen these connections before, so I might sound n00b-ish.)  During the AIDS epidemic and confusion, no one had [much] knowledge on its origins, treatment, or prevention, and we can see the same parallels to computer viruses.  At the time, hacking hadn’t “hit it big” yet, and just like AIDS, the population that it infected was unaware of its powers.  That is what’s most fascinating to me about this moment is that both the technological and the biological were experiencing the same sorts of attacks on their “bodies.”  Further, “bodies,” and ultimately biopower, has become even misconstrued (i.e. selling bodies on eBay).

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porn, property, punditry

Posted in Galloway, html, hypertext, MM, signification, Tech, theory on April 7, 2008 by untimelymediations

Does anyone else have a hard time reading protocological without misreading it as proctological?  I know some people think we academics have our heads up our asses, but that’s not quite the same thing.

 

Moving on.

 

I’d like to trouble some of Galloway’s claims about DNS.  Galloway argues that DNS is “the most heroic of human projects; it is the actual construction of a single, exhaustive index for all things.  It is the encyclopedia of mankind, a map that has a one-to-one relationship with its territory” (50).    DNS, Galloway claims, compels order in place of arbitrariness:  “DNS is like many other protocols in that, in its mad dash toward universality, it produces sameness or consistency where originally there existed arbitrariness”.

 

In fact, DNS does the opposite, I think: it encourages the proliferation of meaning and the destabilization of signification through its use of top-level domains (see p. 49).  A single signifier can be used across different top-level domains, thus severing the (already tenuous link) between the signifier and signified.  Consider, for example, the signifier “White House.”  As a domain name, it connects to at least three differing sites depending with which top-level domain it is associated:

 

  • www.whitehouse.com: infamously, this site was once a pornographic website, but it has since served both a forum for political discussion and as the online presence of a real estate developer’s firm.
  • www.whitehouse.org: this site parodies the current presidential administration and its policies.
  • www.whitehouse.gov: this is the official website of the office of the United States presidency and the executive agencies it oversees.

 

Thus, where “White House” might be an otherwise moderately stable signifier, its incorporation into DNS destabilizes its meaning and proliferates signification across domains.  Indexicality is therefore not the measure of DNS but its antithesis; the “sign” represented by a domain name and its corresponding website is sundered into a bewildering multiplicity of signifieds tied to a single signifier.  This is complicated further still in the case of whitehouse.com, whose content has changed over the years as different owners have possessed the domain.  The signified itself—i.e., the website content—becomes an unstable site of unpredictable and indeterminate value.  Will it be punditry, property, or porn today?  Who can say?

Time Management

Posted in Deleuze, Exteriorization, Foucault, Hardt, KL, Leroi-Gourhan, Memory, stiegler, Tech on March 24, 2008 by untimelymediations

I want to start off this post with a couple small comments on my post from last week.  Yes, I’m using some of my space here, not because I felt a bit narcissistic leaving a comment for myself, but for the obvious intersections of the two texts. Stiegler states that, “Leroi-Gourhan shows how all the elements quite anciently come into play for the emergence of a general system of a certain function that remains unique: the human, that is, technology ‘exuded’ by the skeleton” (145).   Is Stiegler saying that humans are the only species to exude the body through technology?  Short answer: yes.  Long answer: Gesture and Speech.  Anyway, I particularly enjoy imagery of the latter part of that sentence, and I wanted to quote it.  “Exuding” is a fascinating term, one that I’ve never actually used in my academic writing, but that I now find rather important to my larger project.

Another point Stiegler makes is that, “With the advent of exteriorization, the body of the living individual is no longer only a body; it can only function with its tools” (148, emphases mine). My personal project on externalized memory relies on this argument exactly, precisely because our personal memory is now a tool.  Recollection, then, only becomes possible by returning to externalized places; a brain is not just a brain, but rather functions only by relying upon these tools.   Here again, we are exuding the skeleton.

Now, onto this week’s post.  I attended the Michael Hardt seminar this afternoon, during which one of the participants mentioned the increased speed at which our economy functions.  We then had a discussion on immaterial labor’s inability to be contained within work time—that creativity cannot be forced, that it just ‘comes’ to someone (as an example, Hardt referred to the Google and Microsoft’s campuses).  However, I am concerned that there is an economical contradiction—if the speed at which one produces immaterial labor (ideas, creativity) is central to the production of capital, how are, say, the Google and Microsoft campuses effective?  Even if one never leaves one of these places, the individual who is constantly ‘at work’ (physically at their place of employment) does not become faster at producing ideas—they are simply more available.

I then began to think how this idea of work time/non-work time and speed/efficiency could be connected to Stiegler.  Hardt quickly recapped some Deleuze and Foucault by stating that they note a shift from a disciplinary society (Foucault) into a control society (Deleuze).  For Foucault, this disciplinary society is more of an archipelago – one is jumping from one sense of discipline to another.  When leaves one island, one is no longer under its disciplinary powers, but is now disciplined by the new island.  That being said, one never escapes any disciplinary powers, since they are simply replaced by another form of discipline.  Therefore, I believe Jeff answered my earlier questioning of the efficaciousness of work campuses by stating the following:

Rather, “control” here names a purely instrumental or “conceptual” (rather than particular or practical) force that forms the conditions of possibility for systematic integration of moments of spontaneity or difference; i.e., the “control” of “technosociety” is not a series of structures that rigidly dictate what may take place, but rather a force field that actively and flexibly responds to these outbreaks in a way that continues the maintenance (and evolution) of the present system. Thus, in a sense then, the system “itself” is premised on spontaneity and invention as its driving force, rather than being “vulnerable” to such instances as acts or forces of resistance.

The campuses work because they are created for spontaneity.  If one doesn’t physically ever leave work – which presumably one never has to on those campuses – then these companies are responding perfectly to the resistance of individuals who wish to separate immaterial labor’s work-time from their non-work time.  Speed, here, is not the issue, but rather the availability for spontaneity becomes the motive.  (And I guess I really didn’t talk about Stiegler all that much, but I couldn’t help but make connections to this afternoon’s seminar.)

technic: all writing

Posted in MM, pedagogy, sophists, stiegler, Tech, theory on March 24, 2008 by untimelymediations

I’m troubled by a distinction that Steigler makes between technology and technoscience, and I can’t figure out why.  Steigler offers us the following definition of technology:

Technology is therefore the discourse describing and explaining the evolution of specialized procedures and techniques, arts and trades—either the discourse of certain types of procedures and techniques, or that of the totality of techniques inasmuch as they form a system: technology is in this case the discourse of the evolution of that system. (94)

On one hand, I find this definition compelling, as it broadens the definition of technology quite considerably—at the very least, beyond the lazy definition we often settle for, the one that’s come to mean something like “a thing with wires and cables and buttons and crap—maybe with a screen or display of some kind.”  What Steigler’s expanded understanding technology calls attention to is the way all techniques/technics are part of a historical evolution—I’m careful here not to say “progress,” with its implied teleologies—an evolution of which the current digital phase is but the most visible manifestation in our time.

           

Thinking technics in this way open up opportunities, then, to make “technology” (in Steigler’s sense) more rhetorically productive: what are the technics available to us, and how do different technics and technologies yield different rhetorical potentials?  As Rice is fond of pointing out, assumptions that books, print, pencils and chalkboards—among all other non-digital or non-electronic writing tools—are not technological are short-sighted  and ahistorical; Steigler offers a way around this by reincorporating past technics into the discourse of technological evolution.

           

However, on the other hand, Steigler also offers a technoscience “in which technics and science become inseparable, in which rationality is confined to usefulness”.  For Steigler, this represents a conflict of purposes, “an inversion, even a perversion, of the initial epistemological model of philosophy by which theory, the essence of science, is defined by its independence from useful finalities, that is, anthropocentric ones” (my emphasis); thus, in technoscience technics and science collide precisely where they might collude: in furthering human aims.  Rather, Steigler identifies this as an epistemic conflict between two differing ideologies of the purpose of knowledge: technics are about using knowledge, making it materially productive, while science (as Steigler explains) is posited on the notion of knowledge qua knowledge—not applied, concretized, or materialized.

           

Steigler continues from here to ask whether “technology, which for a long time has been synonymous with progress, is no longer necessarily perceived as such, or rather, if it is no longer obvious that progress is tantamount to benefit for the human race” (95).  If the answer is negative—that technology is no longer associated with human progress, a position Steigler gives some weight to—then “technics would be an end unto itself”.

           

I think Steigler leaves this as something of a troubled proposition, and it is one to which I don’t have a reply.  What I would like to do, however, is to point to a couple of questions that Steigler here raises for our work in this study:

  • While it hasn’t been a main focal point of our discussion thus far, I think Steigler points to an epistemic crisis in composition work.  On one hand, while we do conduct research—i.e., we generate knowledge—compositionists do so with an eye on “useful finality:” how to use our research to help improve student writing and our own pedagogy.  If we accept this characterization, however, we implicitly set up a contrast between theory (“the essence of science”) and composition work as technics/technoscience (“an inversion, even a perversion . . . of philosophy”).  So, my question here might be this: Is Steigler’s distinction here useful for describing what composition studies does and what its role is in the university?  What are the stakes—disciplinarily or otherwise—of accepting or rejecting either of these descriptions?  Can composition come to terms with itself as being fundamentally a study of technology in Steigler’s strong sense, and how can our pedagogical aims be developed to fit such a sense of the field?
  • On a less fraught note, and really just to highlight a minor detail, the opposition between means and ends here is one that we seem to have been skirting all semester, but that is now coming into sharper focus.  This distinction might even be key to explaining the anti-Sophistic positions from way back in January.  Socrates’s and Plato’s big complaint about sophistry might be precisely that it is all about ends—and not philosophy’s end of ethical and moral perfection; rather, sophistry taught how to make language and knowledge useful, to serve (again) Steigler’s “useful finalities” in whatever way possible.  On one hand, this does seem to maintain the distinction Steigler describes: sophistry serves materially useful, if anthropocentric, ends, while Platonic philosophy asserts that the value of knowledge is precisely immaterial—that matter, in fact, stands in the way of true knowledge—and that its only end is its own fulfillment.  But doesn’t knowledge always serve someone’s ends?  That is, even if philosophy is knowledge divested from the civic and material realms, it still serves the end of moral perfection—that is, it is still implicated in the technologic sphere.  To what extent can theories of social constructivism point to ways that philosophy is technological—and thus perhaps destabilize the opposition Steigler establishes between techne and science?

Radial Raheem

Posted in Aristophanes, hypertext, Jaeger, Leroi-Gourhan, MM, paideia, Plato, rhetoric, Tech on March 17, 2008 by untimelymediations

Couldn’t decide what picture to use, so you get both.  First, invertebrate porn:

Starfish porn!

Second, Radial Raheem:

Radial Raheem

Yes, I know it’s “Radio Raheem,” but give a guy break, eh?  Onto the post:

I’m stealing a page from Lacey’s playbook and offering two minicomments rather than a single sustained response. I’m also using the “research fatigue” card since I spent my break getting little sleep and typing up 80 pages of notes and 10 pages of introduction for the M.A. only to find that, in fact, I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to write about. This isn’t an excuse, per se, so much as a warning for possible incoherence in what follows.

I) Intellectuals vs. Technicians.

We’ve spilled a lot of ink . . . pixels . . .whatever . . . this semester trying to pin down what constitutes “sophistic rhetoric” and how critics have reacted to, adapted, co-opted, condemned, or otherwise responded to its promises of threats (depending, of course, on who we’re reading). Of course, the only we keep coming back to as the source of all this angst is Plato, who condemns sophistry on a number of counts. At times, it’s been easy to demonize Plato for just “not getting it,” and for insisting on an idealized ontology that appears to have little guidance for how to actually conduct one’s self and manage social problems.

However, I think Leroi-Gourhan helps to counteract this urge to demonization. As ALe-G writes, “in all historical periods and in all nations, even when their activities are closely integrated in the religious system, artisans were relegated to the back of the stage” (172). ALe-G argues that this is a typically “human” move, to denigrate those that work at the material level while valorizing those whose social function is dependent on intellectual or knowledge work. “Society’s discrimination in favor if the ‘intellectual’ as against the ‘technician,’ which still persists today,” ALe-G explains, “reflects an anthropoid scale of values on which technical activity comes lower down than language, and working with the most tangible elements of reality lower down than working with symbols”.

Yet much of what we’ve seen and read about sophistic Greece would seem to challenge ALe-G’s comments here. While they seem an apt description of Plato (whose Ideal Forms removed the intellect further still from the body), the notion of Jaeger’s paideia—the shaping of the Greek culture as reflected in the training of the Greek citizen—seems entirely bound up with rhetoric and rhetorical training. Is ALe-G off his chump here? Or does the age of the sophists represent an anomaly? Perhaps the artisan-intellectual shift is more periodic than constant: if we take Aristophanes’s The Clouds to be a reactionary response to sophistry, perhaps we can then see Isocrates’s work as a shift back to rhetoric-friendly times?

II) Radial vs. Linear Thought

I’m intrigued by ALe-G’s comments about the radial trajectory of archaic thought. As ALe-G describes it, “the thinking of pre-alphabetic antiquity was radial, like the body of the sea urchin or the starfish” (211). Radial thought provokes him to cosmological metaphor: “It was a time when the vault of heaven and the earth were joined together within a network of unlimited connections, a golden age of pre-scientific knowledge to which our memory still seems to hark back nostalgically today”.

It’s not difficult to prompt the comparison between the “network of unlimited connection” that ALe-G writes of and the networked Web we know and love today. What might be valuable to think through, though, is the way ALe-G ties the archaic network to “pre-scientific” thought. If scientific thought is thought dependent on the scientific method (as I understand it to be here), then we might point to a certain linear teleology implied in the method: whatever the result, the scientific method is still designed to move from hypothesis to conclusion. Perhaps this also implies a linear mode of expression as well? On the other hand, science also invites reiteration as means of testing one’s conclusions; in this sense, science is less bound to linearity than it is to recursive thought.

I’m not exactly sure I have a point to make here, but I’ve always found the contrast between radial and linear textuality interesting, so I want to make something of this passage but I’m not clear what. Maybe there’s something to be said for the body as a cue for material, radial textuality; ALe-G seems to be suggesting that as intellectual came to be more and more divested from material experience, writing, contemporaneously, became more and more linear. So what might a bodily-derived writing experience be like had it evolved without science’s linearizing influence? Might we point to something like Rotman’s gesturo-haptic writing?

Hands full with Leroi-Gourhan

Posted in Exteriorization, Hands, KL, Leroi-Gourhan, Memory, Science, Tech, theory on March 17, 2008 by untimelymediations

hands.jpg

After completing Andre Leroi-Gourhan’s Gesture and Speech, I admit that I do not know where to begin with all fascinating archeological, technological, and sociolinguistic information he presented.  Therefore, I’ve decided to break this post up into small, bite-sized chunks to discuss what I find most applicable to my research that I have taken from this text.

Extending the body with the development of hands

What I immediately find most fascinating in Leroi-Gourhan’s work is his early argument that Homo sapiens’ hands developed as aides in speech, rather than as tools with which to eat.  By quoting the Treatise on the Creation of Man, Leroi-Gourhan argues that, “Yet it is above all for the sake of speech that nature has added hands to our body.  If man had been deprived of hands, his facial parts, like those of the quadrupeds, would have been fashioned to enable him to feed himself” (35).  After reading Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals a few years back, I would never have made this connection, as it is my understanding that Darwin instead argues that our faces and the expressions on them become the vessels of speech.  The similar, sometimes even identical, affective responses amongst all mammals indicate that our hands are not the sources for speech or expression, but rather our faces.  As a hardcore Darwinian, I have a difficult time straying away from his argument in Expression to believe Leroi-Gourhan’s argument in this week’s text.  However, after I continued reading Gesture and Speech I found myself more convinced with his argument that the development of hands is not limited to speech, but is indicative of technological advances to expand the body.   To speak and function by utilizing various extensions of our bodies is precisely his argument when discussing the development of the hands.

Extending the brain with the development of exteriorization

Today, we are dramatically externalized, so much so that our physical memories are under worked and reliant upon outside sources.  However, Leroi-Grourhan views externalization as a “logical stage of evolution,” as noted in the following:

“These machines […] reflect a logical stage in human evolution.  As with hand
tools the process whereby all implements came gradually to be concentrated outside the human body is again perfectly clear: Actions of the teeth shift to the hand, which handles the portable tool; then the tool shifts still further away, and a part of the gesture is transferred from the arm to the hand-operated machine” (245).

By looking at Leroi-Gourhan’s argument for extending our bodies, it appears that technologies have always encouraged the expanding of the brain in one fashion or another (his hand stand – ark ark ark – clearly illustrates the desire to expand the body).  Currently, we are experiencing the ability to “store” our brains: “evolution has entered a new stage, that of the exteriorization of the brain, and from a strictly technological point of view the mutation has already been achieved” (252).  Compared to the reformation of the skull to hold our physical brains, this mutation of which he speaks occurred rather immediately.  Consequently, we are externalizing the self with more frequency and relying upon a stored, technologized memory.  It should be noted that while Leroi-Gourhan refers to encyclopedias and punch-card indexes, he was indeed able to see where externalization is heading.

One might argue that with the prevalence of externalized memory, a collective memory is replacing our individual memory.  However, I believe that it is the reverse that is occurring: because a collective memory is no longer necessary, our memory is strictly individualized. Real memory of specific, collective, survival behaviors that were passed on through a group are no longer necessary for the species to endure.  We simply store the information that we need and seek out only what we deem important.  Perhaps, then, the next step in externalized evolution is maintaining a certain technical savvy-ness—if one does not have the means (economic, knowledge or otherwise) to externalize, you will not evolve.

Stop Making Sense

Posted in Deleuze, KL, Sense, Tech on February 25, 2008 by untimelymediations

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“As there is no surface, the inside and the outside, the container and the contained, no longer have a precise limit; they plunge into a universal depth or turn in the circle of a present which gets to be more contracted as it is filled” (87).

Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense is an interesting point of departure for shifting our conversation towards technology. What cannot be ignored – although this may be my personal research bias kicking in – is the continuing development of Deleuze’s theories of the non-present. More specifically, we can link his argument directly to the internet (in what appears to be the most obvious and broad connection). However, in looking to the internet, Deleuze’s discussions of the non-present-present and subsisting expression are crucial characterizations on how we interpret time and virtual spaces.

In the third series, Deleuze notes that, “sense is that which is expressed” (20). What I find most interesting about this characterization actually comes from Zizek’s Plague of Fantasies (for once I am referencing a future reading!). Throughout, Zizek insists that technologies (insert broad reference to the internet -here-) allow users to sense an expression of something that is neither here nor there. Online, no one actually knows where something is located (insert broad reference to Through the Looking Glass -here-). I believe this would agree with Deleuze’s supposition that, “what is expressed does not exist outside its expression. This is why we cannot say that sense exists, but rather it inheres or subsists” (21). In the same way that users ‘sense expression’ from the computer, there is nothing there guaranteeing its existence. Sense, in terms of internet technologies, is located in the stability of its constant expression—we can repeatedly visit the same websites in which certain senses subsist. Although, in typical Deleuzean fashion, he throws off my whole argument by later admitting that, “to be actualized is to be expressed” (110). This statement then begs question where/how/when are technologies actualized? If expression is both actualized and sensed, what isn’t it?

Particularly pertinent to my research is the continuing development of his theories of time. As he did earlier in Cinema 2, Deleuze maintains that the present does not exist, that it is simultaneously divided into past and future. He states that there are not “three parts of single temporality” but instead two,

“each one of which is complete and excludes the other: on the one hand, the always limited present, which measures the action of bodies as causes and the state of their mixtures in depth (Chronos); on the other, the essentially unlimited past and future, which gather incorporeal events, at the surface, as effects (Aion) (61).

The always limited, or non-present as I am calling it here, is actually only a representation, a simulacrum signified by the past and the future moments. As “one goes from the future and past as unlimited,” the present is infinitely divided between these two. Technologically speaking, when we jump around online, conversely we are dealing with an always present-present—we return to specific sites because we know what will be there. (And here’s where my paper picks up so I’ll stop this response, and I’m certainly returning to this text as new/additional support for my argument…)