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.

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.

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.

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.

Writing About Phonographs

Hey everyone! Just a few days left to help out in the fight against lung disease- asthma, lung cancer, COPD, etc… If you want to pitch in a few dollars or are just not sure what I’m talking about at all, go check out my post from last week.


McLuhan is back and this time he’s writing about phonographs. A ‘hot’ medium, though I would argue also a time biased medium, the phonograph gave us the ability to record sounds for the future just as books had once given us the ability to record words. McLuhan takes the stance that they, “diminished individual vocal activity, much as the car had reduced pedestrian activity.

Some comparison is made in his piece about how radios and phonographs were different, but I think there is more to be said. McLuhan praised the radio as having brought people back together despite it being a hot medium, but now considers the phonograph to take away from creativity by repeating yesterday’s news. Perhaps the operation of radios has changed a bit since McLuhan wrote Understanding Media, but what I hear on the radio nowadays is mostly recorded sounds. Music is recorded, commercials are recorded, even some of the radio announcers are recorded. I know this hasn’t always been the case, since radio was invented before audio recording, but I reckon it has been true for a while now.

Although we haven’t gotten to read McLuhan’s take on television yet, it has been hinted that he was a fan of what is such a cool medium. How could he be a supporter of television? Most television programs are prerecorded! Something is fishy about this McLuhan guy, and I’m not talking about his nationality. His categorization of hot and cool makes sense, but how he chooses which media to be the good guys and which to be the bad guys is rather unpredictable.

Transmitting my Analysis

The transmission model at its most basic is: Sender ➙ Message ➙ Receiver. So far, the prevailing opinion of Grossman, Hall, Sachs, and Comm-125 at SMC has been to push this model to the side for being to simplistic and not doing a good job of covering the scope of communication. Grossman finds it unfair to give the rights of the meaning of a message to any one sender, but I would argue that this dismissal of the transmission model fails to take into account the depth possible from the more complex transmission model presented in Hall’s image on his page 510.

No, I didn't infringe any copyrights

Shannon & Weaver Model of Transmission

This model is stronger than it appears at first. Let’s consider my message in this blog post (of which I am the sole author). I, the sender, am encoding it into html, it is passing through the channel of the internet (and my poor coding html-skillz), decoded by your computer, and finally received by you with hopefully the same message. This seems to be the standard way to use the transmission model. But wait! Let’s take a step back and try again…

How about I, the sender, have an analysis of this week’s reading in my head, then I encode it into a written form, it passes through various channels into your mind, where you decode what you read and receive some message.

How is that different or more simplistic than what Grossman and Hall described? Shannon’s model not only works for interpersonal communication, but can be expanded to fit mass communication or network communication, can be used for discussion in a communications course about the meaning of messages, and most importantly is extremely useful for coding theory for those of us who care about how messages are transmitted along with how they are interpreted.