While I can see a possible discussion of this piece involving terms like “cyborg,” “prosthetic communication,” “difference,” and “otherness,” I believe a more concise and therefore more profitable analysis has already been conducted by unpretentious people. Please review the tenets of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.
Archive for the ‘Class’ Category
For the lazy: the following post will exhort you to read this. Do it. Now. Or at the earliest possible convenience.
In his widely-known discussion of online ‘rape,’ Julian Dibbell shows how the crisis brought about by Mr Bungle’s use of ‘voodoo’ in LambdaMOO galvanized the community into a heated debate about appropriate modes of intervention and sanction. The fall-out from that singular event radically transformed the structure of LambdaMOO, ushering in universal suffrage, an arbitration system, and the facility to eject troublesome visitors … for Dibbell, this incident ‘turned a database into a society.’ David Bell, An Introduction to Cybercultures
Bell briefly mentions this a few times in our readings, the above being his deepest cut at it. This is a shame, because the work he refers to is probably the most compelling thing I’ve read in any way relating to media studies. It is simply excellent in a general way, and this excellence is in no way harmed by the lack of media studies jargon or the “uncertainization” of things like “rape” through the use of “quotations.”
Why aren’t we reading things like Julian Dibbell’s A Rape in Cyberspace in class?
I’m confident this is either the best or the worst project proposal in the class:
I want to write a hypertext about hypertext.
I don’t really know whether or not this is an Independent Critical Project or an Independent Multimedia Project; I suspect my project will end up blurring the boundaries between the two, much as hypertextuality blurs the boundaries between reader and author, signifier and signified, writing and reading, and a whole host of other dualisms. Or, my project will vacillate between the two, until it finally matures into a recognizable genre anywhere from a week to an hour before it is due. This project, much like hypertext, is still in its infancy, and trying to trim either concept to fit into a rigid box of a definition limits both the hypertextuality of hypertext itself and the hypertextuality of my project, which as I mentioned will be a hypertext. Ideally this project proposal would itself be a hypertext, handed in either as a website or as a series of paper scraps linked together with string, but its not, because I’m still blurring the boundary between the Critical and Multimedia Project in this proposal.
Imagine that the next paragraph is a video of me reciting the next paragraph.
I want to take fragments from all the readings on hypertext / cybertext / mediation et al that we have done and will continue to do, and tie them together in both a straight-forward and totally random fashion, thereby allowing the reader to choose what, if anything, hypertextuality is. From a pedagogical standpoint, this hypertextual hypertextuality will enable a reader to experience the basic principles of hypertext even while they are learning the theory. Also probable, from a pedagogical standpoint, is that the hypertext about hypertext will enable the reader to dis-learn the principles of hypertext even as they un-read the story, growing more and more confused as to where they are in the hypertext and what hypertext is. In fact, there may be multiple, layered, and alternating readings of hypertext possible in my hypertext, so that a second or third reading will un-learn that which was gleaned from the previous readings, and ultimately nothing is as it seems. It may even be possible to construct narratives that have nothing to do with either the theory of hypertext or the reading of hypertext, but I don’t yet know if that will be the case, as I haven’t yet constructed this hypertext yet. All will become clearer to me when I do.
Please don’t read the next paragraph, in order to simulate that part of the hypertext which you did not read.
Originally, I wanted to write a hypertextual novel, but then we actually started to read hypertextual novels, and the novelty of the idea evaporated. I also did not want to write a critical essay about hypertext itself, because that would involve either a lot of swearing or a lot of boredom. But every thesis is the synthesis of a previous thesis and its antithesis, or so says Hegel, so I naturally put the two together to from this new idea of a Critical Multimedia Project on the hypertextuality of hypertext, a nebulous cloud of hypertext theory that a person could read in any order, any number of times, and come out with a new understanding of hypertext theory each time. Likewise, I hope this project will not be completely boring, or completely novel, but will instead be a kind of novel boredom, a new kind of boredom that is faintly amusing or interesting, but really not. I hope you, as the primary reader of my hypertext, will appreciate my blurring of the boundaries between interest and disinterest. It shouldn’t not be uninteresting at the very least.
Please now read the above paragraphs in reverse order, and then participate in the text by writing comments.
I emailed this a bit ago, but just in case you check here first:
Greetings from Chicago, where I’ve been talking about blogs for the last two days. And it occurs to me that I should let you know, just FYI, that even when I’m not commenting, I am frequently out there reading YOUR blogs. Those of you who are posting regularly are doing fabulously.
Others of you… might want to post something. Seriously. Frequently. You’ve got some catching up to do. Consult your syllabus if you need confirmation of that.
I’m just saying. Hope you’re all having a great weekend.
Oh, and PS: It’s a good idea to keep up with the comment-yard a bit, pulling the weeds before they get out of control. Some of you might consider doing a bit of gardening…
So we are all bound to describe new media in terms of the old, are we? A hypertext is like an electronic book, is it? Books now come with electrons, do they? They are imbued with the power of electrons, you say? Well, you know, that is crystal clear and it’s about time, its been awhile since we’ve shifted paradigms  and revolutionized The Way We Think . After all, its already been ten years since I attained functional literacy, and I am just jonesing for some changes in the way I interact with texts. I, for one, welcome our new Hypertextual Overlords.
But this Hypertextual Revolution will not be televised, not because it’s punk, but because this is not a revolution, and it still wouldn’t be a revolution even if media studies professors took over a small Caribbean Island and proclaimed a hypertextual republic. Bolter and Gruson, for all the confusion that followed when they tried to develop it further, got it half-right when they said we think of new media in terms of the old. But you know what, media studies gurus? You are not immune to this disease. You have it worse than the rest of us. Everytime I hear about the coming media revolution, I hear twice as much about how electronic books compare to printed books. Excuse me? And sometimes, as in footnote two, I get them both in the same sentence, and I am indebted to Landow for his conciseness, and will remember this sentence for as long as we talk about hypertext. Let’s also talk about this chestnut:
A hypertext version of a note differs from that in a printed book in several ways. (He goes on to name two, the second of which is…) Once opened and either superimposed upon the main text or placed alongside it, it appears as an independent, if connected, document in its own right and not as some sort of subsidiary, supporting, possibly parasitic text. [Landow, Hypertext 2.0, pg.6]
Well, look a little closer, you lunatic, and you’ll note your theoretical note does not appear to jive with that peer-reviewed treasure trove of useful knowledge the rest of us call common sanity. A note is a child of an idea, sucking at the teat of a mother document. Doesn’t matter if its online, at the foot of a printed page, or attached to the face of a refrigerator with a rainbow magnet. Even a note like “NEED MORE STRING BEANS!!!” is subsidiary to the refrigerator, which lacks beans, in the same fashion that my linear note to page 6 of Hypertext 2.0 – “THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!!” – is subsidiary to Hypertext 2.0, which lacks sense. If I was more scholarly and subtle, and in a position of editorial power, my note would have been less crude:
Editor’s note: Landow’s arguments in favor of the revolutionizing potential of Hypertext, while totally bat shit fucking loco, still serve to illuminate the bent of critical theory in this area, which is similarly crazy and without compelling empirical merit of any kind. However, the fact that so many people are drinking the kool-aid hints at the possibility that maybe they are on to something.
But it still would have been a note, not an independent document. An independent document is a work substantial enough to be a free-standing work, no matter the medium, and would you believe me if I told you that both printed works and hypertexts can reference independent documents? No? Well, would you believe Landow? He writes this, immediately after the above nugget on notes:
Although I have since converted endnotes containing bibliographic information to in-text citations, the first edition of Hypertext had a note containing the following information: “Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974) 5-6.” A hypertext equivalent of this note could include the same information, or, more likely, take the form of the quoted passage, a longer section or chapter, or the entire text of Barthes’s work. Furthermore, in the various hypertext versions of this book, that passage in turn links to other statements by Barthes of similar import, comments by students of Barthes, and passages by Derrida and Foucault that also concern this notion of the networked text. [Landow, Hypertext 2.0, pg.6]
I can’t believe you’re doing this to me, Landow. You are killing me. Reading this almost gave me the Bends. Hypertexts are hyper because they can incorporate a quoted passage? My god Landow, you quoted a passage from S/Z on page 5! Do you have Alzheimer’s? Did you have a stroke between page 5 and 6? Did you also forget that excerpt from Foucault you plastered on the first page? And while I’m asking rhetorical questions, I can’t forget to ask how the note “Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974) 5-6.” in any way makes S/Z subsidiary or parasitical to Hypertext 2.0. If I were to follow your citation to my bookshelf, 4 feet from my chair, and pull out my copy of S/Z, and set it down next to my photocopied passages from Hypertext 2.0, would S/Z latch on to Hypertext 2.0 like a lamprey? If I set down Barthes’ S/Z on top of a copy of Balzac’s Sarrasine, does that imply a hierarchical or subsidiary relationship? Or, if I were to put the text of Sarrasine into S/Z, quote it in its entire, would that make S/Z, god forbid, a hypertext?
I have seen the future, and it was published in 1974 and is still in print!
Believe me when I tell you, you can do all these things in print, you do not need electronic books, quantum computing, arcane magic, or media theory. You can set two books down on a table, each one making reference to the other, and read them just as well as you could on parallel screens. In fact, with the latest advances in pencil and highlighter technology, writing in the margins and emphasizing passages in printed mediums has never been easier! But Landow prattles on:
As a reader, you must decide whether to return to my argument, pursue some of the connections I suggest by links, or, using other capacities of the system, search for connections I have not suggested. [Landow, Hypertext 2.0, pg.6]
Yet another miracle not possible without hypertext! Or is it? I am going to try a bold experiment: having stopped at page 6 to write and publish this screed, I, the reader, will make a decision and elect not to return to Landow’s horseshit, and instead will search for connections he has not suggested, such as going to bed and trying my best to forget I ever read this terrible, terrible essay. I am confident I will be able to do this, even though Hypertext 2.0 is not, strictly speaking, a hypertext.
 “A paradigm shift, I suggest, has begun to take place.” (pg .2, Landow, Hypertext 2.0)
 “Almost all parties to this paradigm shift, which marks a revolution in human thought, see electronic writing as a direct response to the strengths and weaknesses of the printed book.” (pg .2, Landow, Hypertext 2.0)
“As soon as optical and acoustical data can be put into some kind of media storage, people no longer need their memory.” Kittler, 110
I am about to get hypothetical here, I mean really far out, but see if you can follow me on this one. If we, and here I mean the royal we, were to construct a new medium of transportation – one with an internal combustion engine turning gears, a crankshaft, and ultimately a set of tires which reciprocate by dragging the entire chassis of the medium, along with its occupants, forward at a potentially incredible speed – would this result in the death of the old medium? Put simply, if we had what I will term here a car, would we no longer need to walk?
I will submit to you that we would still in fact walk around, we would not actually forget how to walk, but it would be a secondary walking, a walking thought of in terms of a car. How many hypothetical times have you been hypothetically walking places in the hypothetical future because you did not have a hypothetical car and thought to yourself, if I had a car, I would be there by now? The chances are good it would happen many times, unless you always had access to a car, in which case you would only walk to and from your car, or in places your car could not go, and then you would be even more beholden to the medium of the car, and lo, this would be bad.
This would be bad because in transitioning to this new medium I call the car, we would lose all the characteristics of society that predate the car. We have been primarily walkers ever since we have been human; perhaps even before. This walking has shaped our behavior, our cultural institutions, and our way of life, and losing our overwhelming and pathetic dependence on our limited powers of mobility will paradoxically limit our mobility, because without walking all the time we won’t quite know what to do with ourselves, since without walking we would no longer truly be human. Instead, we will become a part of the car, an auxiliary cog whose sole purpose is to start and drive the car, and the car will become the cultural warden of our new high-velocity prison of a culture.
Hear my words, locomotion studies majors, and tremble, for our hypothetical destructor is at hand!
Furthermore, in this bleak post-technologic future world of optical fiber networks, atom bombs and black US Army helicopters flying to and fro, blasting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries over loudspeakers, there will be data storage, inexhaustible data storage, not just of words but of voices and pictures and hard-core triple xxx pornography. And because all this will be stored in something other than our brains, we will lose the ability to remember things, because rote memorization, which we have been doing since the dawn of time, is both inescapably human and totally dependent on there being no other ways to help us remember things. Instead, we will forget to remember things, we will forget what we’ve read or seen or heard because its stored somewhere else, and then we will forget where it is stored. After that, it will only be a matter of time until we forget we have stored anything at all! Soon we will forget how to speak, to write, to read and to walk, because we are no longer using that which God has universally granted us in all the oral Creation myths that have recently been tape-recorded in Macedonia and subsequently filed away in data storage; namely, our memories and feet.
This process has already begun, for to return to my hypothetical car analogy, how many times in the car-filled future have you found yourself looking for your hypothetical set of car keys? You see? People never forgot where they put their car keys back when there were no cars, because they were always memorizing things and walking! How can I make this any clearer? Your infernal Volkswagens, iPods and gigabit ethernet connections will be the death of our society! Don’t you see? We have become Death, the destroyer of mediums! I saw a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor and survive!
“But when on the meadows of Grantchester, the meadows of all English lyrics from the romantics to Pink Floyd, he (Alan Turing) came across the idea of the universal discrete machine, the student’s dream was realized and transformed.” Kittler, pg. 116-117
I am currently thinking very nasty things about Friedrich Kittler, but I do think its cool he knows Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma.
Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s Remediation is copyrighted 1999, and it shows. Many of the paradigms/memes/(insert post-modern new-age voodoo speak here) Bolter and Grusin diagnose as representative of “hypermedia” (to shanghai a phrase) date, along with most of the pictures, from the first month of 1998 and are well over 7 years old. I have no doubt that what they describe as being standard practice on the CNN site was correct at the time, especially back in the internet Dark Ages when the insufferable BLINK tag saw widespread use, but the common understanding of the web has not been “television only better” (pg. 9) since at least the Y2K bug. In truth, I really don’t think it ever was.
Rather, it has been “newspaper only better.” The web, obviously, is a written medium, even more so in its earlier days, when consumer connections were defined in terms of baud. For all Bolter and Grusin salivate over the “hypermediacy” of newscasts on the web, it should be noted that Napster, which facilitated the downloading of audio, did not arrive on the scene until very late 1999. Audio compresses to something like a tenth of VHS-resolution video, and I’m talking about now, five years later; video codecs have advanced leaps and bounds since 2000, which also neatly demonstrates the difference in their perceived practicality between now and 1998. Using Napster on a modem, you’d search for some songs, quene up ten from peers substantially faster that you, pray that none of the connections, especially yours, dropped in the next hour or two, and then you’d leave. Now, I don’t want to accuse Bolter and Grusin of being ivory-tower eggheads, but they must have been on a pretty fat university pipe back in 1998 to enjoy any kind of immediacy with their CNN video-streaming and voracious webcam browsing. I think it may, may, have colored their analysis. Just maybe.
Another bit of history: FastTrack and Gnutella, two networks born out of the Napster collapse in 2001, were the first popular networks to introduce segmented downloads. Segmentation allowed you to download from multiple hosts simultaneously, greatly increasing download speed. Of course, to use it, you’d have to have a connection with the capacity to handle multiple connections, which usually meant at least the now-extinct ISDN (my how fast the web changes), and certainly did not include a modem dialing through a 28.8 analog telephone exchange, which is what I, along with over the half the web-enabled country, had at the time.
So audio, back then, was pushing the envelope of what the web could handle. Why then, would CNN provide streaming video, among other connection-stressing media? I will try to say it judiciously; I suspect that, at the time, CNN did not know what the hell they were doing. The breakaway hits of the early web, such as Google and Yahoo!, understood the value of text and, where text wouldn’t do, tasteful blankness. The average load time a competent web designer aims for is eight seconds, after which the average browser begins to wonder if the site isn’t down. For all their talk about immediacy, Bolter and Grusin don’t seem to understand that graphically-intensive pages timing out halfway or not loading at all are not immediate at all; even the vexation is delayed.
CNN eventually came to understand this strange phenomenon of “load times” and “bandwidth” sometime around 2002, when they noticed a small percentage of users, possibly all media studies professors evaluating CNN’s hypermediacy, were sucking up all their site’s resources downloading video. In other words, corporate, academic, and early-broadband adopters were making their site slower for their bread-and-butter dial-up users. Look here. Rather than pour more money into a losing infrastructure battle, CNN cut off the free video, turning it into a subscription service. Yet CNN kept growing as a news site, and only just recently they’ve brought back short video clips, which supplement rather than compete with written pieces. What is telling is that even now, seven years after Bolter and Grusin were browsing the wild wild web on their T3 or better connection, with broadband users outnumbering dial-up users in the US, most sites are built around a print-media paradigm. Just look at blogs. They have exploded in the past two years, and despite being media-lite and text-heavy, are still piledriving webhosts to ground with server load. If this was a video blog, I’d currently be forking over my book budget to pay for the hosting – assuming, of course, anyone is reading this.
Most illustrative of my point is the way in which Bolter and Grusin published their own work; it’s a book! The least immediate media of all, Remediation the book went through at least a year of editing and publishing before it could even start to be digested by the public. By the time it came out all the screenshots, including that of CNN.com, were two years obsolete, and were more interesting as historic curiosities than a reflection of what CNN.com was in the then and now, just when the dot.com bubble was bursting and the web began to mature.
It may be that, 50 years from now, when we’re all hooked up to our VR inter-stellar-web terminals on the moon and telecommuting to work on Mars via holographic representation, our computer-enhanced cyborg scholars will look back at the passages of Remediation dealing with the internet and go, “Hey, those Bolter and Grusin folks were really on to something with hypermediacy.” But really, they will just have gotten lucky.