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.

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.

Prostitutes and Sex Slaves!

The most memorable part of McLuhan’s chapter The Photograph from Understanding Media is undoubtedly the quote, “[Photographs] can be bought and hugged and thumbed more easily than public prostitutes.” The subtitle to this chapter is ‘The Brothel Without Walls’ because of the analogies McLuhan makes between the sale of prostitutes and the sale of photographs of people.

Enter the nerdcore hip-hop (I bet you didn’t know that was a subgenre) band Optimus Rhyme from Seattle, Washington and their song Click-Click which appears on their album Transformed.

Their song is about the paparazzi industry / stalking. It really highlights the fact that photographs can be taken without permission very easily that McLuhan doesn’t really address. Whereas a woodcut or lithograph could also be reproduced to some extent, they took significant time to create the original, so if you were depicting a person, you would need them to sit still and cooperate. Photographs on the other hand can be taken in less than a second and very discreetly.

If modeled photographs are akin to prostitution, then paparazzi is essentially sex slavery. The subjects cannot do anything to prevent being turned into a photograph and then thumbed by people around the world.

So in that light, buying celebrity gossip magazines goes from a harmless waste of money to something rather worse. Those who buy such magazines are taking advantage of the celebrities who did not choose to appear in the photographs. Rape.

…Somewhere that escalated drastically. Is buying People Magazine as bad as rape? No, not even close. So, McLuhan’s analogy sounds nice, but doesn’t quite make sense (Shocking). All analogies fall apart somewhere, and this one is an issue of magnitude. They progress similarly, prostitution and photography, but at different levels of immorality.

Physics is Cool Too Sometimes

Hi everyone. If you didn’t see it, go check out my previous blog post really quickly. It’ll make you can be a better person in just 5 minutes.

Now back to the action. In chapter 2 of Alten’s Audio in Media, he discusses various physical properties sound has such as frequency, velocity, and wavelengths. He also introduces a few phenomena that occur as a result of these properties. One such phenomenon is the Doppler Effect which he doesn’t really explain.

To learn more about the Doppler Effect, I went over to YouTube to see if Khan Academy had a video on the Doppler Effect.

Guess what?

He do.

The video talks about how a moving source of sound causes a stationary listener to hear different frequencies of sound- higher frequency if the source is moving towards you and lower frequency if it is moving away from you.

I’m sure you’ve all heard a siren from a police car/ firetruck/ ambulance as it passes you, but if you’ve never really paid attention to it before, you can rewatch that video. Alten and the Khan Academy dood do a good job helping me understand how sound waves move and how velocity, frequency, and wavelengths are all interconnected with how we hear sound.

The Semiotics of Weightlifting

(The perfect article for this post came up in my RSS feed earlier this week, so I planned what I was going to post all week before I realized I was assigned to do an AR and not an RR… I’m just going to make this RR anyway, but y’all can find my AR over here.)

For those of you who don’t know and didn’t watch the video there, the sport of Weightlfting (one-word, capitalized) refers to the strength sport practiced in the Olympics where athletes attempt to lift as much weight over their head as possible which is not standing on a stage in a speedo and making poses to show off your muscles.

As you can see in the above video around 0:14-0:17, Lydia Valentin does a thing where she pushes her knees forwards a bit which seems a bit strange since she had just put in a lot of effort to straighten them. Here’s Ilya Ilyin doing the same thing at 0:10-0:12:

That phenomemon has been called many names: ‘scoop’, ‘transition’, ‘second pull’, or worst of all ‘double-knee bend’. This article from the Catalyst Athletics blog discusses the existence of a ‘double knee bend’.

There are coaches out there who do not like to coach their athletes to do a double-knee bend. Weightlifting is a very technical sport, so the less an athlete has to think about during their lifts, the better and the double-knee bend should be a natural movement. It’s hard to see it in real time, but it is there in this amazing video:

Even though different coaches are all trying to get their athletes to do the same basic thing, different coaching styles and different phrases used are interpreted so differently that some receivers don’t even realize the truth of the movement.

The semiotics involved in the encoding and decoding of a message can have effects upon the real world. Even though the coach has a definite image of what they want their athletes to do, he cannot just put that image into his athlete’s heads and so must rely on a transmission through speech.