"ïn the midst of a fabulous array of historically unprecedented and utterly mind-boggling stimuli ... Whatever."
October 25, 2009 12:21 AM   Subscribe

"They were all continually trying to figure out where we are, where we might be going, and the possible downsides and dangers of new technologies so we can use the new technologies to serve human purposes. In other words, it was my kind of crowd". Michael Wesch presents; The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube, and the Politics of Authenticity to the 2009 Personal Democracy Forum at Jazz at Lincoln Center (fittingly SLYT)

In the talk he briefly touches on and adds some update to his An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube; previously on th'blue.

The gathering may have been the highest concentration of amazingly creative and concerned global citizens I have ever been around. Hallway conversations were different than your typical conversations. Instead of lots of people saying, 'You know, somebody should ...' there were lots of people saying, 'So I did this, this, and this, and now Im working on doing this, this, and this and we should collaborate ...' In other words, it was a bunch of people blessed with what I once heard Yochai Benkler and Henry Jenkins call critical optimism.
-Michael Wesch, on the experience of the Personal Democracy Forum.

Marshall McLuhan said in 1967 that today's child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules.“

-increases in this 'information:access' gap as a trend have only increased since then... What large institutions can afford to roll out technology wise to students in a broad manner is limited; individual students are accustomed to easily adapting to high-technology gadgets, they speak digital fluently, they are digital natives.

You may also find interesting this video created by digital ethnologist Michael Wesch and his 200 students enrolled in ANTH 200: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, in Spring of 2007- it speaks on this gap (in a very watchable-visual way)

There seems to always be consistently a lot of input added at his Digital Ethnography
@ Kansas State University
blog on mediated cultures

Of further note is his creative and integrated approach to using netvibes as a tool in his digital tool kit.

Ps. Anyone up for consolidating all the "humanities" under the over-arch of Archaeology&Anthropology?- like triceratops encircling their young!
posted by infinite intimation (18 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I was at that conference, and this was one of the two best talks I saw the whole time I was there. Very awesome. Worth your time.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 12:47 AM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Everybody DOES need a hug. I really enjoyed this, thanks! Great post.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:12 AM on October 25, 2009

I think they really did a disservice to their speakers by having a very bright placard right under their faces that says PERSONAL DEMOCRACY with a big check mark. This is the first time I've ever thought "great talk! Poor podium design."
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:15 AM on October 25, 2009

Ps. Anyone up for consolidating all the "humanities" under the over-arch of Archaeology&Anthropology?

You will never get the Philosophy departments to agree to this.
posted by joedan at 2:42 AM on October 25, 2009

Classics scholars won't go for it either.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:50 AM on October 25, 2009

I think hell will freeze over a thousand words for snow before you'll see linguists agree to that one.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:14 AM on October 25, 2009

Historians will point out that this sort of thing has happened before, with little success.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:31 AM on October 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Shakespearean scholars will briefly consider the prospect of their assimilation into an overarching domain of Archaeology&Anthropology. Some will see the benefit. Others will see the cost. A joint statement will be made that says "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams."
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:41 AM on October 25, 2009

Allow me to hypothesize a very cynical take on these people, based entirely on the text of the FPP.

Setting self aggrandizement aside for a moment, lets look at what they're saying. That they are the most creative and concerned people in the world, because they are constantly thinking about technology and how it impacts societies. But if they are so creative why do they allow technology to happen, so they can ponder it? Wouldn't it make more sense to create technology themselves? If they are spending all that time pondering it, it stands to reason that they would also be creating it. And if they're not, it's because they can't. Therefore they are in fact not the most creative people. In fact, in this hypothesis they are intellectual parasites, telling just-so stories about the works created by others.

Fortunately, that hypothesis won't appeal to any Mefites , who as we all knew are not very cynical at all.


Also, isn't the "digital natives" b.s. a bit played out? All teachers entering the workforce over the past few years and into the future would have grown up around computers. I hate that term.
posted by delmoi at 4:43 AM on October 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

According to Wikipedia the study of Law, Dance, and Painting are all subfields of the humanities. I don't see how those really fit into anthropology or archeology, both of which are Social Sciences, rather then humanities. (at least I'm assuming archeology is a social science, wikipedia doesn't say)
posted by delmoi at 4:47 AM on October 25, 2009

delmoi, the topic of his speech is exactly what you mention. It's worth going beyond the text of the FPP to the video at least.
posted by Houstonian at 5:55 AM on October 25, 2009

came across this quote (via rw3) recently:
"In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity."

— Aldous Huxley, c. 1927 (via Lawrence Lessig)
seems apropos, like the new forms of social engagement that wesch et al. are exploring would appear to counter the (at least artistic) passivity that huxley and postman deplored. i guess what everybody's wondering now tho is whether that can/will translate into new forms of political and economic engagement, say in response to environmental and cultural decay...

btw, just wanted to note this post occupies the (virtual) space between paul volker and mac tonnies :P

posted by kliuless at 8:00 AM on October 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

sorry, see i really meant just making anthropology a little bigger as a tent... and said archaeology because it alighted with "ünder the over-arch of"

I know how unlikely it would be to see this type of symbiosis. All I mean to be saying is that that's a nice tent to be in, if one must be in a big tent.

see, now I would think those are the very people who will get a chance to do some new amazing things in collaboration with Anthropologists; what can write literature... besides (hu)man (and mans ancestors at typewriters. Apparently.)
What can create treatises of thousands of pages... on their THOUGHTS, besides humans.
AND lastly; who can ANALYZE the above-mentioned creators ... besides us.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:57 AM on October 25, 2009

"What has that got to do with the price of rice, right? And why is that woe to us? Because you people, and sixty-two million other Americans are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books! Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers! Because the only truth you know is whatever you get over this 'tube'. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the gospel. The ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddamned force in the whole godless world! And woe to us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people!"
Network, 1976
posted by Sys Rq at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

delmoi; I don't think you are "wrong"; you make valid points, but must we are all just create product, or technology... isn't there a human responsibility to occasionally ask-- (talk, discuss, converse, weigh options, or pause for reflection) --asking; SHOULD we just make that product, or change some element of our ways (consumption, manufacturing methods, openness of the license requirements, EULA, Copyright etc.)... the phrase Critical Optimism that Professor Wesch uses here, I think is important. Recognizing that the glass is half full... yet asking, ís anything wrong in this image?- Could we give a third of that glass to someone who is dying of thirst and still live well, etc.

You comment brings a quote from Matthew Arnold's essay on culture and anarchy to mind
"...culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our STOCK notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically." -Matthew Arnold
posted by infinite intimation at 11:51 AM on October 25, 2009

Delmoi, I agree with you, but isn't this just part of a larger trend of self-aggrandizement in the culture around technology? Google prides itself on hiring "smart people", but in practice only engineers and scientists are in this category. Open source software claims to be more democratic, but unless you have a computer science degree and able to "scratch your own itch", you are effectively barred from participating. Wikipedia is controlled by a small number of editors -- mainly white, male, computer geeks -- that override edits made by users who are outside of that small circle.

Underneath the rhetoric, what we're actually seeing is a transfer of power to a new elite strata of society with access to technology and the education to make use of it, and new forms of exclusion and control for the rest.

It's not just that technology is failing to live up to it's promises of freedom and democracy - what's most disturbing is that all the lofty (and self-aggrandizing) rhetoric is used as ideological cover story to conceal this creation of a new elite.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:26 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Really enjoyed the video, thanks.

I agree that social science is too segregated, but I think any umbrella is going to have a difficult time fitting everyone underneath and keeping them happy.

Wesch's class should spend some time analyzing this site too.
posted by ropeladder at 3:36 PM on October 25, 2009

@delmoi: I don't think that it's pondering that these people are doing, so much as it is understanding how existing tools work, and how best to use them. They do this through academic conversations. Are you saying that the only productive members of the technology industry are the programmers? If you're going to make a general statement about all of the people represented in the OP, then I'll go ahead and make a general statement about programmers.

Computer programmers are navel gazing assholes who usually mistake selfish naivety for "logic", and will belittle anyone doesn't have a real degree, or can't code. They're petty idiots who have a talent for working with machines and no understanding of how to deal with people. In addition to being uncommonly predisposed to being Libertarians (and, by extension, sociopaths) they're easily led and manipulated so long as they're paid enough and their egos are flattered. A world run by their type would be a very poor one indeed.

Do you think that's true? No? Maybe making a general statement about computer programmers (or the cultural critics in the OP) isn't the best course of action then.

I don't see how turning a critical eye towards new media technology and how best to use it is a bad thing, nor something worthy of such open derision. When you make something so monumental (both in terms of size and potential), like youtube it's worth taking a harder look at than just dismissing it as a place to watch funny videos.
posted by codacorolla at 7:48 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

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