Just Skip to the End

“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.”

-Alan Kay


Although the internet did exist when I was born, it’s usage has changed quite a bit since its early days. What was once a text-only space filled by some of the proud few who actually owned a computer is now a graphics-based sprawl of sites catering to any and all demographics that exist. While blogs at one time were basically repositories of interesting hyperlinks to follow, now they take the form of journals, self-help guides, and wikis.

As our favorite guy, Marshall McLuhan, said, “All media are extensions of some human faculty.” But media don’t just extend us, they change us and how we view the world too. Author Nicholas Carr is acutely aware that media can change a person. Among his writings, his article Is Google Making Us Stupid? addresses the changes he feels in himself from immersion into the Internet.

Carr is not the only person to claim that using the Internet has made it more difficult to read long texts. I myself have experienced the same phenomenon. However, the loss of the quiet contemplative reading that Carr loves, although traditional to us now, really is still a big step ahead of the worldwide analphabetism of which we so recently rid ourselves. Reading books may seem to us to be a central part of American life, but it is really a modern addition to Western culture. Only well after Gutenberg’s 1450 C.E. invention of the moveable type printing press was widespread literacy able to come about; before then, the only people who could read were some of the incredibly wealthy, men of the cloth, and the few others who went to school for some reason. So, even though Carr brings up that Socrates, “Bemoaned the development of writing,” he didn’t mention that that writing would not be used by most of the world for another few hundreds of years after Socrates.

Socrates Louvre

“Watch out for them darn newfangled letters!” -Socrates

And why did Socrates dread the rise of written language? In Plato’s Phaedrus, he is reported as having said (Socrates couldn’t write), “If men learn [to read], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks… Men will be filled not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”

I suppose it is a little difficult to compare the memories of us compared to dead people (they can’t remember anything now!), but Greek orators like Demosthenes were used to delivering long speeches without notes and poets would have recited epic poems like The Illiad over the course of multiple days. So, maybe it is true that we don’t remember as well as we used to.

Demosthenes is remembered for being the origin of the phrase 'marble mouth'

Demosthenes is remembered for being the origin of the phrase ‘marble mouth’

Harold Innis could have told us that too. Adjusted to a space-biased medium like writing, we have lost connection to our time-biases to the past. We’ve favored being able to transport our messages widely. On the other hand, while being able to jot notes down has caused us to practice our memorization less, we can now read notes from across time and space. Even if I might know less of the oral tradition of my tribe, with writing, I can know some of the tradition of my culture, some of the French culture, some Mexican, some Rwandan, etc…

It’s important for us to remember that the internet is in fact a big truck. We can use it to transport massive quantities of information across long distances and we can use it to store information for later. This is a rare case where I agree more with McLuhan’s methods than Innis’. Hot and Cool as McLuhan defines them do form a dichotomy, but Innis’ time-biased and space-biased do not. Innis’ categorization forms a continuum from the most time-biased medium (maybe carving a message into the side of a mountain or tree) to the most space biased medium (radio waves that can travel vast distances almost instantly, but then never return).

Note that oration is not the epitome of time-biased media.

The internet, like most media, falls in the middle. If we had to say to which side it lays closer, we’d probably choose space-biased. However, with websites like http://literature.org/ and https://www.wikipedia.org/, the internet catalogs data indefinitely and may be accessed by any generation. I’d call that a time bias.


Is The Internet Making Us Stupid?


So, is Carr on to something? Is the internet making us stupid? Or are we just giving in to our laziness? Long, scholarly articles are on the internet. Entire epic poems are on the internet. Entire textbooks are on the internet. Yet, we choose to follow after clickbait. That’s not the internet’s fault, that’s our fault. Every generation has a tendency to criticize the next. Society isn’t getting worse and worse, it’s becoming completely different.

The internet isn’t making us stupid, it is making it easier for us to choose to be stupid! Writing in the modern world offers the same choice. Should we take the time to write something meaningful that will stand the test of time, of shall we bitch and moan into our diaries? Why put the effort in to write a thoughtful essay when you know you can pass the class with much less? Technology is a tool and we can find ways to make it useful. If we choose to pass-over the opportunities presented to us and lay shame on the young ones who use them, then the cycle continues. History repeats itself.

TLDR; Did you actually read this? Or did you just skim through as you skipped to the end?

If you skipped to the end, you may have allowed the internet to condition you into being stupid. If you were able to resist, then you’ve helped me show that the this powerful, new technology is just what we make of it.

Mandatory Life

In the first few chapters of his book, Coming of Age in Second Life, Boellstorff argues that life lived through a computer is no less real than an offline life, and so we shouldn’t distinguish between ‘real life’ and ‘virtual life’. Instead, he thinks we should say that ‘real life’ is made up of our ‘actual lives’ and our ‘virtual lives’. Boellstorff expresses the idea that living life in Second Life is just as good as in our ‘First Life

Second Life

Second Life

One can build a house, shop for clothes, meet new people, even get married in Second Life just like you can without Second Life! How cool is that? With all the versatility of Second Life, it must be at least as awesome as actual life, but you can also fly.

The issue with saying that virtual life is just as good as actual life is that it really isn’t true.

Anyone who said they valued their virtual life as much as their actual life is either crazy or didn’t think that through very thoroughly. Would you really spend the time to build your avatar a house if you didn’t have your own home to live in? Would you really buy your avatar food if you hadn’t eaten in two days?

You need to live your actual life to be able to live in your virtual life, but not the converse. One can thrive in their actual life without even having a virtual life. In this article from the Art of Manliness Blog, which we’ve discussed before on the Cool Math Blog, it is argued that learning how to unplug ourselves from the electronic devices that take up so much of our attention can help us thrive in our actual lives. Becoming a basement dweller can only help your avatar live, but being a well-rounded human being can help both you and your avatar.

Does Second Life need to go away forever? No, but we need to see it for what it is-a fake life– a distraction from our actual lives in the real world. If we can use Second Life as a way to keep in touch with our friends and family who live far away or to promote our business or even just as a game to entertain us, we can still thrive and make the real world a better place.

The Reality of Fantasy

In Alexander R Galloway’s article Social Realism in Gaming, he argues that polygon count is a less-than-accurate way to characterize realism in video games. In his words, a game achieves realism by,

“constructing a one-to-one relationship between the affective desires of gamers and the real social contexts in which they live.”

His argument throws out games he classifies as fantastical, since most would agree that fantasy is the opposite of reality.

However, I would like to pose a counterpoint to his argument. Reading this article 12 years after it was written, I don’t recognize most of the games he mentions… The Madden NFL and Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchises are still known, but the games that make up the core of his argument have not left a history for those of us who were too young for them back then. The games like NARC, Toywar, and Under Ash, may have injected gamers into the worlds they inhabited, but they failed to leave a mark on history.

The games that really stick with people are the ones they can immerse themselves in. Like the protagonist in the video at top who can more easily exist in the text-based [How do you like that, McLuhan?] worlds of Zork or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he defines his reality based on what he can metaphorically surround himself with. Series like Donkey Kong, Final Fantasy, or Sonic the Hedgehog are still alive and well whereas more ‘realistic’ games like first person shooters are even tending towards the fantastical with games like HALO and Call of Duty: Ghosts.

In a similar medium, how many people have you heard of who liked M*A*S*H so much they went out and learned Korean? And how many people have you heard about who liked Star Trek so much they went out and learned Klingon? I can tell you that the fantasy game Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time left such a big impression on its fans that one made an entire rap album narrating it.

Media can reflect the physical world, but the physical world also reflects what we take from media and the most impact comes from media with legacy. Whether it be Star Wars, Super Mario, or Game of Thrones, whatever can bring its viewers/participants in deeper, will last longer.

In Memoriam

For my video editing assignment, I was really interested in the French Realism style of not editing my video. I like how it shows how monotonous and common life is for all of us. French Realism shows that normal people like you and I can be protagonists in a story and we are in fact the protagonists in the stories of our own lives.

Seeing the video clip in class of the woman kneading meatloaf for 3 minutes and listening to everyone in the room squirm made me think back to when we listened to the full 4’33” by John Cage and could feel how uncomfortable it made us.

We are so accustomed to the American Continuity in all of our television and movies that we even try to emulate it in our everyday lives. We play music to give our lives soundtracks and post pithy one-liners on social media so we can feel as cool as a movie hero. We are so immersed in American Continuity, that listening to nothing for 4 and a half minutes or watching someone just cook without Gordon Ramsey yelling is almost unbearable.

This realization disturbed me. We try so hard to make our lives like what we see in television and movies that we cannot appreciate what we have and how we can make ourselves and our lives the best they can actually be. Therefore, I chose to make a video accompaniment to 4’33” for my project.

I don’t own the rights to the song 4’33”, so you’ll need to open it on your own at the same time.

Another McLuhan Post…

 

What makes McLuhan so easy to analyze is that again and again we are reading a chapter from McLuhan’s Understanding Media, and once again, he is rejecting the concept of linearity which he thinks characterizes the written word. Making wide claims with little to no supporting evidence, he does manage to pull out an interesting train of thought with respect to what we have read of Geuens.


Here’s an example of linear rapping

In the chapter Movies; The Reel World McLuhan claims that Russians, unlike literate people, cannot internalize linear cause and effect themes. This made me think of Geuens’ distinction between American or French video editing and Soviet video editing. One of the biggest distinctions between Soviet editing and the other two was how soviet films did not center on any specific person and instead told the story of a group of anonymous people.


If you liked the last video, here’s a relatively non-linear example

Although it mostly makes sense with respect to Geuens’ work, McLuhan actually made a strong claim that makes sense! I don’t know if McLuhan intentionally engineered an example of non-linear written words since one needs to read both texts to fully understand what they say, or if he just does a very good job of accidentally disproving that the medium is the message, but either way, it is very interesting.

Intention is Important

Are you serious?

Are you serious?

In Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image, he details how to analyze photographs to find meaning in a difficult medium. Taking the time to interpret the linguistic, denotational, and conotational aspects of an image separately and holistically gives you a full understanding of what it is that the image is meant to convey.

I agree with Barthes wholeheartedly so far, but where his claims fall off is where he admits he is cutting corners: he is only discussing advertising images… Advertising images are easier to analyze since every part of them is totally intentional, but then how does this method of analysis apply to other photographs? Professionally composed photographs will fit into the same category as advertising. Hopefully, when you pay someone to take your wedding photos, they think about what the background, poses, and point of view might signify before taking any old photograph of the couple.

On the other hand, most spur of the moment or amateur photographs (which I will henceforth refer to as snapshots) won’t have the amount of planning put into them as professional pictures. Check out the image of me meeting MC Lars again and pay closer attention.

Are you serious?

Now answer me these questions three:
1. Why is one of the guys in a regular black shirt and the other in a black with skeleton designed shirt?
2. Why did the photographer choose to take the photograph from a position closer to the weirdo-beardo?
3. Why did the composers opt to place a glass partway visible at the bottom of the frame?

Here’s some topically relevant music to help you think:

Ready for the answers??
1.They are good looking shirts.
2. Because there was a bar in her way.
3. Because they didn’t want to hold it during the photograph.

I know this is a proof by example, but this shows that in snapshots, you can’t put as much emphasis into little details as you can in professionally composed photos. Unfortunately, figuring out what is and isn’t significant is nigh impossible in snapshots.

Not Necessarily Bathrooms

photomontage

My photomontage is meant to be a commentary on the amount of time we as a society spend indoors rather than outside. Time spent outside by Americans is amazingly low despite the health benefits for people of all ages.

My montage consists of the mirror from my bathroom, some ivy and a tree from my yard, and myself looking confused about what is happening. My text, “Inside or Out” is less visible than I would have liked, but I wanted it to be that color to evoke the thought of plants.

Statistical Stereotypes

In Dave Chapelle’s video White People Can’t Dance, he jokes that white people can in fact dance, but only when listening to electric guitar. He does so to fight against the stereotypes that separate different races. However, I don’t think that is the point of stereotypes. Stereotypes come from some observations, even if those observations are skewed. Stereotypes of white people as being unable to dance probably come from the fact that traditionally ‘white’ music like country music has a very structured dance scheme that you either know or don’t- you can’t really improvise. Furthermore, ‘white’ dances are more about moving one’s body relative to the ground rather than relative to the rest of the body. Hall would argue that now that those stereotypes exist, they define white people’s continued inability to dance.

On the other hand, even in Chapelle’s sketch, the ‘white dancing’ was really bad. So what if instead of saying “white people can’t dance”, we said, “most white people can’t dance”? That fits my observations of reality without pigeonholing every white person ever. So how about another one…”white people can’t jump”? Jumping is one of the most highly correlated skills associated with athletic performance and we all have seen the predominant skin colors of professional basketball and football teams.


I personally can not dance, but I am good at jumping and yet I don’t get the least upset when someone says that white guys can’t jump. I know that what they are really saying is that most white guys don’t got hops, but I know that I am a statistical aberration from the norm.

Generalizations are rarely true across all individuals outside of mathematics, but statistics reign supreme in all walks of life. Say what you mean and mean what you say: don’t make generalizations of ALL people when you mean that there is a trend and go take a statistics class.

A New Perspective on Groceries

For this creative lab, I decided to take some photographs of the Whole Foods in Walnut Creek where I work. I wanted to show some views of the store that many people wouldn’t usually see and thus, point of view was the main guideline that I considered when using my camera.

Whole Foods Before Hours

Whole Foods Before Hours

In this first photograph, I used point of view by lowering the camera almost to the ground to make the store loom large. I also kept the rule of thirds in mind horizontally with the colors and vertically using the tree and the arch. There is still some ‘head room’ over the building, even though it doesn’t really have a head. Finally, there are lots of rectangles with some semicircles in the picture that make the architecture look nice.

My favorite kind of parking lot.

Empty Parking Lot. No customers.

This second photo it taken from the other side of the parking lot. It emphasizes the difference the point of view can make on a photograph. If you’ve ever shopped at the Whole Foods in Walnut Creek, you know how crowded this lot is all day, so showing it this empty is a novel view. This photo uses scale to give depth to the photograph. Again, the colors divide the photograph into thirds and the lines from the parking spaces in the foreground lead the eye to look at all the empty space like I intended.

The Aisles from Above

The Aisles from Above

This last photograph is taken from the back offices which have a window that looks out into the store. Although it is the photo that satisfies the fewest of the 10 guidelines for photo composition, it is my favorite. This picture definitely does not keep it simple. There is so much to see in here-aisles, lights, and products on the shelves- but I like that because it reflects on how much goes in to the operation of a grocery store that you probably don’t ever think about despite going in to one probably at least once per week. I guess we can see some shapes appearing in the picture, but the leading lines all lead out of the frame and makes it seem like there is a lot that you are missing out on seeing.