Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tour Disconnect

While in Paris, I went on many bus tours. I purchased a few two day passes so I could cover multiple areas and neighborhoods. By the end of my trip, I was partially able to recite the scripts or at least the music tracks that they included. Regardless, I was very shocked when I went on tour to discover what was told and what wasn’t told. For instance, while going by the Madeline, the bus tour did not mention Josephine Baker’s funeral. I thought this was an important part because it was “Josephine Baker’s funeral on April 15, 1975, formed a spectacular finale to her unique career. The French government gave her a state funeral at the city’s impressive Madeline church, the first American woman it had ever honored in this way.” (Stovall 286). Another interesting fact was that the bus tours didn’t really add anything without the French stamp. This was to be expected, but I thought that the tours would somehow mention the importance of the African Americans in Paris.

The only areas that I found information about African Americans in Paris, were on African American tours. These tours could be a bit pricey, but they were very educational. I took two official tours. The first tour was with about seven other Americans. The second was a personal tour, it was just myself and the tour guide. In between those tours, I had a separate meeting with a tour guide that worked for a company that specializes in Black tours and we discussed African American life in Paris. Also, I bought a few books that had tour routes inside. These tours and books provided wonderful insight, however they I wish there was some nominal connection between the commercial and the culturally specific.

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Image from Ricki Stevenson’s Black Paris Tours

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The Tour Group from Ricki Stevenson’s Black Paris Tours.

 

Change of the Seasons

When in Paris, I went to many jazz clubs. I visited jazz clubs because many African Americans went to jazz clubs in the 1920s to perform. It was the scene. African Americans gave Paris the gift of jazz. So, I believed that when I went to Paris, I would see many African Americans and many people of color.

But that was not the case. In many of the situations, when I visited the Parisian jazz clubs, many of the people were not black. There were Parisians, Germans, people from Geneva (oh my), but not people of color. I was very surprised that this was a consistency in Paris. I really didn’t see that many people of color in Paris at all except for my mediated African American Tours.

This is an interesting thought because of the notion of jazz and Paris. To add to the idea of jazz in Paris, a racial and religious divide was created. According to Asukile, jazz was condemned:
“This type of condemnation of jazz as essentially immoral and destructive by some white Americans was the backdrop to a national debate that made [Joel Augustus] Rogers’ ‘Jazz at Home’  even more important. During the 1920s many white Americans would have vehemently disagreed with Rogers identifying the future of jazz with democracy. Rogers opened ‘Jazz at Home’ with the following statement: ‘Jazz is a marvel of parado: too fundamentally human, at least as modern humanity goes, to be typically racial, too international to be characteristically national, too much abroad in the world to have a special home.’(Asukile 24).

I think this approach is interesting because, while abroad, I thought that I would experience jazz as an international aspect, but instead it was extremely branded, even in the “authentic” jazz clubs that I went to. As a sign of the times I thought that this definition would change with it. And I guess it did in some ways, specifically the racial identity of jazz. Regardless, the music was fabulous and the food was phenomenal.

Takeaway: The takeaway is that jazz is seemingly becoming hard to describe. The books and music charts hint that jazz is racially one way. However, the audience seems to pull it in another way. I just wanted to make note of my observation of the color contrast in the jazz club and it’s shift from being one race to another. I’m not sure if this is gentrification of music or not? And if so what does this mean? Is it good that new people are appreciating this music? Or is it bad that people are polarizing the music?

What Should We Call it?

So I am currently trying to define the time period. Initially, I wanted to look at the Exodus from 1900s to 1950. However, I recently realized that that information would suite future research. However, I noticed that the majority of my information address DuBois and the Interwar time frame. The catch is that the DuBois Paris Exhibit is of another time frame than the Interwar period.

The main takeaway is that the 1900s and the 1920s are interesting time periods for African Americans coming to Paris. On one end, African Americans are breaking barriers and on the other African Americans are discovering their liberation. I think I will address the official time period(s) that I am studying as the 1900s and the 1920s simply because of the growth in liberation. In the future, I can work on connecting these time frames.

Musée du Quai Branly Blog Post

One opinion of primitivism comes from Charles Ratton who collected primitive works of art. However, instead of using the images as a tool for inferiority, he aimed to fetishize the primitive way of life.

“He realised that these arts that we inaccurately term ‘primitive’ obey the same laws and are deserving of the same esteem as the classical arts and those of Asia, the latter being known and appreciated themselves for scarcely forty years. He decided to devote himself entirely to them.” —Charles Ratton about himself. (Art Daily). He attempted to grant further agency to primitive work.

However, when I visited the Musée du Quai Branly and the Ratton exhibit, I was very shocked. I did not read the collection as a way of granting agency to a section of art. Instead, I felt as though it was overtly the racial standard of beauty. For instance, the main advertisement for the exhibit had a nude woman with white skin fondly holding a primitive piece of art.

This image is interesting in many ways. Instead of writing all of the ways, I will just stick to the idea of black bodies not owning their own bodies. For instance, this concept reminded me of Smith’s mention of “photographs that eugenicists and biological racialists used to codify bodies in racial terms” (Smith 61). These images are a tad disturbing because in some cases they are mimicked by primitive art. For further illustration, there is a haunting image in Smith’s book where a woman is partially naked and appears to be sad (Smith 48). The woman’s body appears to be stretched. Yet, it appears that her image, her physical body correlates with primitive art. The same primitive are that is being adored by the partially nude Caucasian woman in the poster for the Ratton exhibit. I am still trying to make connections about the similarities of primitive art, and biological racialists images, and ownership displayed in this poster.

Jazz Bibliography

Beginning Bibliography for Studying Jazz and its Cultural Roots and Directions

Ake, David Andrew. Jazz Cultures. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Berliner, Paul. Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Blumenthal, Bob. Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America’s Music. New York: Collins, 2007.
Giddins, Gary, and Scott Knowles DeVeaux. Jazz. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.
Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Round Midnight Blog Post

When I watched this movie, I was intrigued by the fandom of the character Francis Borler. His instant crave for the music of Dale Turner.  In the movie Borler would stay outside of jazz clubs to listen Turner. He would sometimes compromise father daughter time in order to be with the musician. Even though the movie was so much more than the fandom and fame of the jazz artists, that aspect of the film really haunted my memory.

When I was in Paris, I remember that a tour guide told me that the French are attracted to the Black music because they believe that it can’t be taught. In addition the guide said people think that the African American music comes from the soul. I am not sure what my thoughts are surrounding this issue, but I do believe that there is an interesting French an African American relationship.

One possible reasoning could be that during the 1900’s there were so may instances that effected the African American cultural memory. There were myths created and perpetuated and in some cases the African Americans became a forbidden fruit. Now this attraction is not rare when studying cultures, I am just about the ramifications of making the African American musician a form of fetish. Hopefully, I can think about this some more.

Pierre Bourdieu Take 1

So this is my initial take on Pierre Bourdieu’s theories with regards to this research paper. So, I look forward to comments about my approach.

Habitus:

Habitus  is intended to transcend a series of deep-seated dichotomies structuring ways of thinking about the social world.” (Grenfell and Maton 49).

Habitus is shaped by interactions within concrete social networks” (Grenfell and Crossley 93).

habitus with reference to inner-consciousness and practice” (Grenfell and Moore 110).

With regards to my research, habitus can be compared to double consciousness, in that habitus explains double consciousness. So if double consciousness is approached with reference to the African American race, then habitus would be the explanation for the accessibility of double consciousness. Meaning, we already have the identity and the struggles of said identity, but habitus takes it to the next level. It takes this idea to another sphere in that it gives further agency to the idea and creates other roadblocks.

Capital:

“Mapping social space allows us to allocate individuals to classes. For example, we may be inclined to group together all individuals who have a high volume of capitaland whose wealth is primarily cultural. Bourdieu is at pains to argue, however, that such classes are only ‘theoretical’; what he calls ‘classes on paper’. They are not real groups. Indiciuals who are proximate  social space do not necessarily identify with one another or act collectively, wich is what ‘real classes’ involve for Bourdieu” (Grenfell and Crossley 92).

“Bourdieu (1985d, 1992f), apparently drawing from Satre’ (2004) later work, takes a different view. Individuals who share a position in social space are just individuals. To exist as a class they must ‘form’ as such, acting and identifying collectively/” (Grenfell and Crossley 93).

Capital is the residue of the spheres. Meaning after all is said and done with deciphering the levels of consciousness and the network, then capital can be assessed. Capital cannot be assessed until habitus and double consciousness are parsed out. Therefore, capital is I guess the ramification of the double consciousness and further determines one place in the universe and what actions are performed. Therefore, the collective is only as strong as it’s consciousness.

Symbolic:

“symbolic capitals as types of assets that bring social and cultural advantage or disadvantage” (Grenfell and Moore 104).

“Each field of symbolic capital reproduced the system of unequal relations in the economic field (relations of class and power) and , in doing so, reproduces the fundamental structure of social inequality” (Grenfell and Moore 104).

Through the node of symbolic capital, people are separated into the people that “have” and the people that “have not”. The distinction is important to my paper because this is one of the biggest reasons for the Exodus to Paris for the African American culture. In the US, symbolic capital reduced their race to specific categories with stereotypes. Some of these stereotypes and ways of capital were prescribed (Mamie, Jezebel, Sambo). These prescribed stereotypes were automatically associated with race and therefore created distinction to what could be consumed. In the world of consumption, in the US people could only consume products that aligned with their constructed meta-symbolic status.

(Please note that this is my first assessment that I’ve written about these concepts with regards to my paper, therefore my assessment might be fuzzy.)

Reference:

Grenfell, Michael. Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts. Stocksfield [England: Acumen, 2008. Print.

Cosmopolitanism

The idea of the quintessential cosmopolitan, is very interesting and a double standard depending on the time period.

On one side of the coin, it seems like a positive idea about the self. Arguing that we are all connected by the way of the universe. “In Perpetual Peace (1795) Kant, along with many other Enlightenment thinkers, adopts a cosmopolitan perspective when he argues that individuals have rights as ‘citizens of the earth’ rather than as citizens of particular states” (Friedel 5). This notion seems very encouraging. It seems encouraging because it supports a notion of creating a whole instead of separate parts.

Friedel also mentions that “A cosmopolitan position implies an overarching concern for humanity that requires an acknowledgement of the important particularities of local identity claims…cosmopolitanism respects difference while asserting a common ground of equality that mediates between the particular and the universal” (Friedel 6). This idea is interesting because of the sense of being universal. But, who is included in the universe? Is everyone included in the connection? Is there a hierarchy?

Nwankwo raises a few points and concerns. According to Nwankwo, “The person of African descent’s citizenship in his or her specific nation of residents has been denied negated, and generally troubled. Positing national identity and cosmopolitan subjectivity as polar opposites presumes that national identity is available to all individuals. Our understanding of cosmopolitanism must consider that, for some…national identity may be desired but inaccessible, and consequently  that cosmopolitanism, while not necessarily the object of desire may be conceptualized as a means to the end of gaining access to national identity…and/or as the basis of a substitute national identity in itself…” (Nwankwo 12). Therefore, cosmopolitanism creates a division. 

Cosmopolitanism is important to this research because of the notion that African Americans went to Paris to become cosmopolitans. In Europe in the early 1900’s cosmopolitanism m is perceived to be open to all. However, in the United States, during that same period, cosmopolitanism was not granted to everyone.

References:

Friedel, Tania. Racial Discourse and Cosmopolitanism in Twentieth-century African American Writing. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Nwankwo, Ifeoma K. Black Cosmopolitanism: Racial Consciousness and Transnational Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Americas. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Print.

Reaction to “Library of Congress Reports 75% of Silent Films Lost Forever” article

This article mentions the tug of war between cultural memory in the movie realm. This is interesting because it begs the question of what is remembered and why?

For this independent study, I’ve constantly questioned the relevance of cultural memory. However, this article proves that cultural memory has value because of the ability to choose what is remembered and what is lost in the sands of time.

Getting to the topic of cultural memory and the African American Exodus to Paris, this sifting through the sands of time is extremely prevalent. What images and stories are retold and who decides? Also, what bearing does the choice have on the culture? Do the negative aspects of a culture have the right to be forgotten?

While I was in Paris, I took many “Black Tours” of Paris. Each tour highlighted the oral tradition of the African American culture. During one tour, I asked the tour guide, about the tour script and how the guide decides what is important and what is not? I’m sure within every story ever told, the storytellers miss aspects of the story.

This question ended up in a long conversation about privacy and the African American culture and shaping stories. The takeaway from the conversation was that there is a constant struggle between cultural memory and double consciousness.

The idea of double consciousness was initiated by W.E.B. Du Bois. In this theory African Americans go through life with two personalities. One personality is the true self and the other is a mask to gain acceptance in society. Therefore, double consciousness provides a scrambled idea of identity. This identity struggle bleeds into cultural memory because of the construction of the memory.

This makes me question if double consciousness plays a role in all of history in general regardless of race? If so, how are historians or researchers supposed to approach their research? 

Reference:

http://mashable.com/2013/12/04/silent-films-lost-forever/
http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/duboisopedia/doku.php?id=about:double_consciousness

Final Paper – Sara Anderson

The question of how virtual communities are structured requires a look into several different disciplines, such as psychology, anthropology, economics, law, computer science, and more. There are fundamental questions based on these disciplines that need to be addressed for a more full perspective on how people organize themselves into these virtual communities. Some of these questions are how the communities are technologically facilitated by our progressing technology, how these communities are economically and legally structured, and what changes when our interactions are mediated by this technology. A thorough examination of these inquiries requires an understanding of how software and hardware come together as the foundation of these communities, how traditional legal and economic concerns translate to a virtual environment, and how what constitutes a person’s identity in virtual worlds. By analyzing case studies and making some comparisons to our non-digital communities, some interesting patterns develop that begin to describe how people organize themselves in virtual worlds. This more specified research should be undertaken after laying out a broad background of information related to virtual worlds including the theories of posthumanism and cybernetics, as well as a discussion of virtuality and defining characteristics of games and play.

Katherine Hayles engages the concept of human intelligence as it co-exists with machine intelligence in How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. She argues against the assumption that posthumanism necessarily implies non-organic cybernetic, claiming that posthumanism’s “defining characteristics involve the construction of subjectivity, not the presence of non-biological components,” thus making it clear that cybernetics is only one aspect of the posthuman (4). This is not to say that cybernetics is not a significant aspect, as the author confirms in saying that “a common theme is the union of the human with the intelligent machine” (2). Virtual communities alter traditional boundaries of communication because of their technological basis, and therefore posthumanism provides a lens through which to examine the interactions that take place there.

Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other also addresses some posthuman issues, focusing on the psychological implications of human interaction with technology and the human aspect of technological development. Alone Together is an anthropological look at how people interact with machines. It is this perspective that informs the statement, “We are shaped by our tools. And now, the computer, a machine on the border of becoming a mind, was changing and shaping us” (6). The first half of the book focuses on human interactions with robots, while the second half looks more at people’s digital lives and virtual worlds. She looks at these interactions to see how people’s expectations of others and their representations of themselves are changing. Throughout the book, Turkle analyzes instances of robotic interaction and participation in virtual worlds. One primary focus is the purpose of the interaction. She mentions that “We are on the verge of seeking the company and counsel of sociable robots as a natural part of life. Before we cross this threshold, we should ask why we are doing so” (29). She analyzes what input people give intelligent machines and robots to give themselves the illusion of willful feedback. The author makes a point to link the idea of humans growing emotionally closer to robots to the idea that people paradoxically alienate each other partially due to networking technologies. She calls these “fearful symmetries” (154). Her focus on this cannot be overstated, it is fundamental to the assumptions she makes in the book about how people psychologically want to engage in what she calls the “digital fantasy” (31).

Turkle ties her theses together very closely. For example, she looks back at robotics in the second half of the book when she states that “Nurturance was the killer app for robotics. Tending the robots incited our engagement. There is a parallel for the networked life. Always on and (now) always with us, we tend the Net, and the Net teaches us to need it” (142). She provides many examples, but most people can identify with the feeling of being constantly connected. Related most closely to virtual communities is how people present themselves online, and how they collaborat and structured their relationships in virtual worlds. She speaks to that when she says, “When part of your life is lived in virtual places—it can be Second Life, a computer game, a social networking site—a vexed relationship develops between what is true and what is “true here,” and “true in simulation” (141). Directly related to that is her statement that “the life mix is the mash-up of what you have on- and offline. Now, we ask not of our satisfactions in life but in our life mix. We have moved from multitasking to multi-lifing” (148). She is very focused on the psychological and cultural reasons for engaging in a kind of virtual life.

Studying interactions in online gaming communities from the perspectives of posthumanism, psychology, and anthropology provides insight into the participants’ potential motivations. Scholarly research on games and play, on the other hand, provides a foundation for this motivation. Alexander Galloway’s Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture references many classic sources to describe games and play. He contrasts Huizinga and Caillois’s definitions of “play,” highlighting the agreed upon points that “’It appears to be an activity that is (1) free, (2) separate, (3) uncertain, (4) unproductive, (5) regulated, and (6) fictive’” (20). This ties in with his mention of Philip Agre’s grammars of action concept, which he succinctly describes as a way to “describe how human activities are coded for machinic parsing using linguistic and structural metaphors,” and claims that video games create their own grammars of action (4). These fields provide a strong foundation for the study of virtual communities because of their focus on the intersection of human behavior and communications technology.

There is an incredible amount of broad background research available on virtual worlds, and it generally focuses on how people interact with technology, but it is also important to focus on the technology that facilitates these worlds. It may not seem very relevant on the surface, but virtual worlds have a physical foundation, they are not a distinct phenomenon. Virtual communities are real social interactions enabled by and mediated through technology, which is why their physicality merits analysis. Lev Manovich’s book, Software Takes Command and Alexander Galloway’s Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture both provide solid analyses. Galloway, a professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, looks at “gaming” as “the entire apparatus of the video game” (2). The apparatus as he describes it includes the system or computer the game is played on, the game itself, which is the software, and the player, who he refers to as the “operator” (2). His first essay, “Gamic Action, Four Movements,” sets up games as an “action-based medium” where the actions are done both by the machine and the user. In some ways, the relationship he observes could be described as cybernetic. Galloway also makes use of the term “diegetic” from literature and film for his analysis. He uses the term to discuss actions that can be taken in a game that are external to the characters and the plot (8-7). Galloway provides several examples of diegetic functions versus non-diegetic functions. One action that is mentioned many times is the non-diegetic act of pausing a game. The action is external to the content of the virtual world, and is an action that is only available to the player. Acts of configuration undertaken outside the world of the game, cheats, and hacks are additional examples Galloway provides.

Manovich, on the other hand, examines software more closely. His overarching claim is that software has become inextricably linked to our culture, yet it is constantly taken for granted. While there is a lack of documentation on the evolution of software, Manovich makes some previously underexplored connections between development ideas from the 60’s and 70’s and software that is widely used today. His perspective on software is informed by his experience as a “programmer, computer animator and designer, media artist, and as a teacher” (20). The general approach he takes in his book is from the angle of “software studies,” which is a very interdisciplinary field that combines aspects of game studies, code studies, computer science, and several others. Manovich describes the primary effort of software studies is to “investigate the role of software in contemporary culture, and the cultural and social forces that are shaping the development of software itself” (11). Software of all kinds is an incredibly pervasive aspect of our social and financial interactions, and so the author discusses many of the commercial applications of software in his book. Stated simplistically, once people begin to make use of new communication technologies, new software is developed to capitalize on that interest. As related to gaming, many developers make their profit through the initial investment in the software as well as any expansions that may become available.

Another idea that Manovich focuses on is that computers do not represent a new medium in their own right, but are a “metamedium.” His description of a metamedium is that “It can represent most other media while augmenting them with many new properties,” bringing user and machine into dialogue (101). He specifies this definition, claiming that a metamedium is “simultaneously a set of different media and a system for generating new media tools and new types of media” (102). One particularly fascinating aspect of a metamedium as described by Manovich is that they are not simply “simulations of prior physical media,” but have branched out into something different (329). An idea related to his discussion of computers as a metamedium is the concept of cultural software. Manovich states that “at the end of the twentieth century humans have added a fundamentally new dimension to everything that counts as ‘culture.’ This dimension is software in general, and application software for creating and accessing content in particular” (32). Of course virtual worlds are created and maintained by code (software), but there is a social aspect to my interest as well that this begins to address. One example the author quotes from Wikipedia is a reference to Web 2.0, as follows; “’A Web 2.0 site allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumers) of user-generated content in a virtual community…’” (37).  This is primarily in reference to Facebook, blogs, wikis, and other types of social media, but it applies to the social aspect of other virtual worlds as well.

These books delve into the connections between the machine, the software, and the user. Studying virtual worlds from this foundation up perspective offers a unique view on the social interactions that are afforded by current technology. Social realism in games is one significant avenue of research branching out from this perspective, because it forces a comparison between how people relate offline to how they interact in virtual worlds. One striking theory Galloway presents relating to social realism is that “Video games render social realities into playable form” (17). This is closely related to his concept of “congruence requirement,” which establishes the claim that games do not push realism out, but pull gamers in by offering a fictive extension of their own social experience. Galloway addresses the challenges game developers face when he claims that, as opposed to a realist filmmaker, “if one is a realist game designer, the challenge is not only to capture the social realities of the disenfranchised but also to inject the game back into the correct social milieu of available players where it rings true” (84). This emphasizes why discussion of virtual social interaction should be broken down into its basic components. What the gamer experiences is founded on software designed by a developer and played on hardware that develops nearly exponentially.

While the infrastructure supporting virtual worlds is a very important aspect of the research available on virtual communities, the question of what actually constitutes a community within virtual worlds is closer to the heart of the question about how people interact within these worlds. This question is addressed by a number of fields independently and in conjunction with one another. A primary one is cultural anthropology. Most researchers with this approach the question through traditional field research. Some recurrent methods from this approach are interviews and participant observation. Of course the environment of this research is non-traditional, but it important to note that research tactics for virtual communities and cultures overlap with those for traditional ones.

Howard Rheingold has contributed a significant amount to the body of work on what constitutes virtual communities. His book, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, addresses many differences from, similarities to, and overlaps with traditional communities. Rheingold defines virtual communities in the introduction, saying they “are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace” (5). This is a fairly straightforward definition, and it places quite a bit of importance on how the participants feel connected to each other in a way that relates directly to how people interact offline as well. Rheingold follows up his definition with examples from his life, such as this claim that “my virtual communities also inhabit my life. I’ve been colonized, my sense of family at the most fundamental level has been virtualized” (10). Some of his comparisons between virtual and traditional communities are based on how they create value, and the things individuals may exchange in virtual communities, stating that “Reciprocity is a key element of any market-based culture, but the arrangement I’m describing feels to me more like a kind of gift economy in which people do things for one another out of a spirit of building something between them, rather than a spreadsheet-calculated quid pro quo” (57). Another comparison to a traditional idea of society he makes is that “People in virtual communities use words on screens to exchange pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk” (3). His argument seems to be that and community is made up of individuals interacting and that virtual communities simply are based in a different medium.

The similarities are a good point of reference for identifying certain qualities of virtual communities, but the differences from traditional communities are what really begin to define them. In fact, Rheingold states that part of the purpose of the book is to look into “the ways virtual communities are likely to change our experience of the real world as individuals and communities” (4). One strikingly distinctive aspect mentioned about virtual communities is the idea of a groupmind. Rheingold states that cross referencing information through his online community gives him the feeling of “tapping into this multibrained organism of collective expertise” (110). He also makes a very straightforward claim relating to his own experience, saying that “The places I visit in my mind, and the people I communicate with from one moment to the next, are entirely different from the content of my thoughts or the state of my circle of friends before I started dabbling in virtual communities” (10). Despite all the similarities to traditional communities, virtual communities offer more and different allowances for communication and sharing, and being a part of one or more is a different experience than interacting in person.

Rheingold also discusses a more specific kind of virtual community in which it is fairly common to observe how people work together to achieve a goal, gaming communities. His particular example is the multi-user dungeon. These are rather old, but the concepts relate to current massive multiplayer online games. They are fascinating environments to observe human behavior online. Rheingold claims that “MUDs are living laboratories for studying the first-level impacts of virtual communities – the impacts on our psyches, on our thoughts and feelings as individuals” (146). A lot can be gained by conducting research in these “living laboratories,” such as the ability to “analyze the second-level impacts of phenomena like MUDs on our real life relationships and communities lead to fundamental questions about social values in an age when so many of our human relationships are mediated by communications technology” (146). This shows that communications is yet another approach that has an interest in the question of how people’s interactions change when mediated by technology.

Once again, value is built when he describes how people tend to feel about their avatars, or the characters they create for gaming communities. He says, “More than just your imaginary character is at stake. [Its] fate will influence the virtual lives of other characters who represent real friends in the material world” (145). He also gets down to the most basic fundamentals of what virtual worlds are, human interactions mediated by technology, when he says they are “imaginary worlds in computer databases where people improvise words and programming languages to improvise melodramas, build worlds and all the objects in them, solve puzzles, unvent amusements and tools, compete for prestige and power, gain wisdom, seek revenge, indulge greed and lust and violent impulses” (145). One of the questions brought up by this particular type of virtual community is whether or not the participants “have a life.” The author compares fandom to the communication addiction evidenced by some online gamers, saying that “The phenomenon of fandom is evidence that not everyone can have a life as “having a life” is defined by the mainstream, and some people just go out and try to build an alternate life” (167). A fascinating claim related to how people build alternate lives in virtual worlds is that “latent selves are liberated by technology” (170).

The book also addresses how people form virtual communities by saying that “The technology that makes virtual communities possible has the potential to bring enormous leverage to ordinary citizens at relatively little cost.[…]. But the technology will not in itself fulfill that potential; this latent technical power must be used intelligently and deliberately by an informed population” (4). Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green also suggest that communities form deliberately, around shared interests as well as content, in their book, Spreadable Media. The authors offer traditional social networking sites as examples, but their best example was YouTube, which focuses almost entirely on content. While more comprehensive virtual worlds are not explicitly for sharing created content, they do provide a place where people can engage in shared interests. Also, as Lessig mentioned, some participants build on the code of the virtual world, and others create videos using images from games like World of Warcraft.

Spreadable Media also takes an economic perspective on how people form and participate in virtual communities. The authors tackle this issue through their assessment of cultural participation. The title itself references the difference between “sticky” media and “spreadable” media. “Stickiness” refers to a content provider or advertiser reaching out to an audience, whereas if something is “spreadable,” it is more malleable and promotes open-ended participation from users. This is a very basic distinction, and the authors don’t put the ideas opposite one another. Instead, they suggest that aspects of both are at work in how content is distributed in our culture. They have this to say about cultural participation, “we think audiences do important work beyond what is being narrowly defined as ‘production’ here – that some of these processes marked as ‘less active’ involve substantial labor that potentially provides value according to both commercial and noncommercial logic” (171). Addressing the other side of the argument, the authors cite a Forrester survey for the whose subjects are U.S. adults online, and they found that “52 percent were ‘actual creators’ of so-called user-generated content, Van Dijk and Nieborg conclude, ‘The active participation and creation of digital content seems to be much less relevant than the crowds they attract. […] Mass creativity, by and large, is consumptive behavior by a different name’” (171). The authors seem to present a more nuanced perspective in their assessment of people contributing to culture through their virtual community.

One example toward the beginning of the book is the singer, Susan Boyle’s “Britain’s got Talent” video. They discuss the implications of the video being shared to such an extent, saying that “The spread of Susan Boyle demonstrates how content not designed to circulate beyond a contained market or timed for rapid growth distribution can gain much greater visibility than ever before” (31). Looking at sharing from a broader perspective, the authors claim that “In this networked culture, we cannot identify a single cause for why people spread material. People make a series of socially embedded decisions when they choose to spread any media text” (29). This ties in with some of the ideas they discussed about “viral media.” The authors called for a reconsideration of the term “viral” and the accompanying assumptions, particularly how human agency tends to be overlooked. Calling something “viral” implies that it is self replicating, but the context can change the meaning. The authors touch on this, claiming that “As people listen, read, or view shared content they think not only – often, not even primarily – about what the producers might have meant but about what the person who shared it was trying to communicate” (30).

The authors of Spreadable Media focus quite a bit on the motivations behind various human interactions and how media plays into that. To this point, the authors quote Douglas Rushkoff, who says that “Content is just a medium for interaction between people” (216). They emphasize the ability of the consumer to take on a broader and more discerning role because of the access to these communication technologies. The authors reference John Fiske, who states that “If the cultural commodities or texts do not contain resources out of which the people can make their own meanings of their social relations and identities, they will be rejected and will fail in the marketplace” (217). They place importance on the favor of the consumer, but they make it clear that the actions don’t have to be earth shattering to have a place, stating that “many of the choices people make in spreading content, just as described, are not grand and sweeping gestures but rather simple, everyday actions such as ‘liking’ a Facebook status update” (216). The hybrid engagement in these actions has a delicate balance based on how usable they are for the consumer and how beneficial they are to advertisers and content providers.

Rheingold also discusses hybrid uses of networking technology, saying that “Virtual communities are places where people meet, and they also are tools; the place-like aspects and tool-like aspects only partially overlap” (56). To Howard Rheingold, the actions a consumer can take to spread certain types of media create new kinds of social responsibility. He describes how this would look practically, saying “If, in my wanderings through information space, I come across items that don’t interest me but I know would interest one of my worldwide affinity group of online friends, I send the appropriate friend a pointer or simply forward the entire text” (57). This implies a social contract inherent in virtual worlds, both similar to and distinct from “real life.”  Rheingold describes the social contract, saying it is “supported by a blend of strong-tie and weak-tie relationships among people who have a mixture of motives and ephemeral affiliations” (57). He brings the focus back around to value building when he states that accessing the network “is about more than simple fact-finding. It is also about the pleasure of making conversation and creating value in the process” (61). Virtual communities are built on a very broad foundation of available actions online, sharing information and other media is one very important aspect of this foundation.

Not only is participation described in varying levels of intensity, there are any number of reasons for people to create and/ or spread media. One that is fairly common and vital in virtual communities is fan-made media. The authors describe it as something that “is shared among a community with common passions. […] fans understand their works as a contribution to the community as a whole. Fandom nurtures writers and artists, putting the deepest emphasis on that material which most clearly reflects the community’s core values” (220). While this didn’t directly follow up the idea of fan-made media, it is applicable that the authors mention people “do not simply pass along static texts; they transform the material through active production process or through their own critiques and commentary, so that it better serves their own social and expressive needs” (311).

Part of the reason the definition of virtual communities needs to be reigned in is that some communities may be viewed as a crossover. Rheingold doesn’t only discuss black and white similarities and differences, but aspects that represent a crossover of the communities. One fascinating concept he mentions is a type of virtual governance, but not of a virtual community. The example he gives is as follows, “Santa Monica’s system has an active conference to discuss the problems of the city’s homeless that involves heavy input from homeless Santa Monica citizens who use public terminals” (10-11). I read a more recent article about a similar thing featuring the city of Tallinn, Estonia. Some key points from the article are that “Officials say they had to create an “e-government.” The reason for this as explained by  Jaan Priisalu, director general of the Estonian Information Systems is that “’We are a small nation, and at the same time we have to develop a government that has same functionality as the big countries’.”

Being part of any community means adhering to social norms, and very often there are legal implications to belonging to a community as well. To begin to understand how people work together toward a common goal and how they organize themselves in virtual spaces it is important to examine the legal strictures that add structure to the community. Governance in virtual worlds has some fundamental similarities to traditional forms of government, but some unique concerns crop up from virtual environments. In fact, any kind of virtual government that has the support of a tradition governing body is a kind of hybrid government. An example of this is that in virtual communities, issues of intellectual property and copyright are quite prominent because of how easy it is to copy digital media. However, governance over piracy is given to traditional governments. Additionally, there are numerous cases that deal with virtual items, fraud, and more. Studying these and their outcomes sheds light on how people’s social structures and regulations extend into digital territory.

Greg Lastowka examines intellectual property law as well as the intersection of law and technology in his book, Virtual Justice. Like Rheingold, he begins the book with a definition of virtual worlds, defining them as “Internet-based simulated environments that feature software-animated objects and events” (9). This contrasts to some extent with Rheingold’s definition, which focuses on social interactions as opposed to simulation. Another description Lestowka offers of virtual worlds is that they are different from other forms of media because they necessitate active engagement, through a customized avatar in some cases. Lastowka then sets up the relevance and importance of virtual worlds, claiming that “The social and interactive complexity of virtual worlds can be substantial, making users feel like they are truly ‘present’ somewhere else” (9). Directly related to this is his claim that “because virtual worlds are places, they are also sites of culture” (10). The need for legal structure comes from social complexity and culture.

Virtual Justice, of course, is not a full catalog of cases where the law intercedes (or refuses to intercede) in legal conflicts in virtual worlds, but Lastowka does offer quite a few examples to stimulate discussion. One of the first cases he mentions is Bragg v. Linden Research, a dispute over land ownership in Second Life. Linden attempted to reserve the right to deny Mark Bragg access to Second Life and confiscated virtual property that was worth real money. The dispute was over virtual property, but the legal arguments centered on whether Linden Research could enforce their terms of service. Other examples are gold farmers having their accounts closed, virtual Ponzi schemes, and people being defrauded when purchasing virtual items. There was even a man who killed his friend over a very expensive item he stole and then sold. Lastowka brings these issues together under the umbrella of the legal right to retain acquired property, virtual or not.

Lastowka goes into gold farming specifically as a variant on virtual property disputes. He succinctly defines the practice, saying it is “when virtual currency is harvested expressly for resale to other players” (22). The issue he presents based on this is as follows:

If we recognize a legal right to the possession of virtual property, does this necessarily entail a right to sell one’s virtual property to others? What if the owner of that virtual world— and the majority of the community that uses it— object to the practice of gold farming? Can real economies be kept separate, either practically or legally, from virtual economies? (24)

He follows up his discussion of virtual property with an introduction to Michael Walzer’s ideas about “spheres of justice” in society (103). He addresses the problem of inconsistency is the legal system that makes the intersection of law in virtual worlds an issue in the first place. He states that “the gulf between law and games is not due to the triviality of games, but due to the fact that games constitute a rival regime of social ordering. The rules of games are inherently in tension with the rules of law” (105). Lastowka makes this case by discussing several sports whose rules have been deferred to by the legal system because the intersection “was too difficult a problem for courts to police” (112). In response to this practice, he makes argument that “Before law can defer to game rules— if it is to defer to game rules at all— we must have some sense of when and how game rules are present in virtual worlds” (118). However, he mentions several instances of the companies that control various virtual worlds shying away from controlling player behavior just as much as the legal system does. The problem with this, in Lastowka’s words, is that “When we defer to the “rules” of EVE Online under the aegis that it is ‘only a game,’ we permit the establishment of a very real and anarchic online frontier” (121).

In a similar vein, Lawrence Lessig’s book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy is written from the perspective of a professor of law. He describes two types of culture that are typically thought of to be at odds with each other, Read/Only (RO) and Read/Write (RW). Lessig argues that we need to consider a hybrid culture that doesn’t discount the passive consumption of RO culture and doesn’t restrict the creative and collaborative aspects of RW culture. He suggests different ways to develop copyright law so it can be beneficial to all parties. His claim that this is necessary rests on his argument that current copyright laws are criminalizing those who engage in RW culture, primarily teenagers. He also discusses hybrid economies present in virtual worlds. Second life is one of the case studies for a hybrid business model. It combines aspects of the “Read/Write” culture discussed throughout the book with the “Read/Only” aspect of user consumption. It is mentioned in the section on hybrid economies as well, because Linden Lab is making use of freely shared creative work contributed to their virtual world to make money. Linden Lab has been encouraging the users of second life to be as RW as they want to be. They have the mindset that the things their members do help to add value to the virtual world. Lessig delineates the ways members contribute: by helping each other, adding aesthetic value, contributing code, building institutions, and self-governing (215-217). Neualtenburg, the first democratic republic in Second Life, is a case study that grabs the attention. Lessig states that “the city builds this community through a mix of architecture, culture, law, as politics” and was “designed to be a ‘nexus for progressive social experimentation’” (217). He compares the virtual community to a traditional one, saying that, “as with any community, the more people contribute, and see others contribute, the richer everyone feels” (217). This type of community organization is similar to World of Warcraft, in which the gameplay encourages and almost necessitates cooperation.              

While the foundation of technology and the structure of law and economics are vital to analyze, the identities of the individuals that comprise the community are just as important. Greg Lastowka mentions a study by Turkle, T. L. Taylor, and Tom Boellstorff indicating that people use virtual worlds to experiment with the boundaries of their identities, because an avatar is never totally separate from its associated user. I inferred from this conclusion that people, on some level, may take injustices to their avatar very personally. One example of this is the Mr. Bungle case from “A Rape in Cyberspace.” This example doesn’t have to do with the legal implications Lastowka focused on as much as the concept of identification with an avatar. Privacy is also an identity issue based on how much information a user supplies about themselves while constructing an online identity. John Palfrey and Urs Gasser look at issues of privacy for what they term “digital natives” in their book Born Digital. They claim that people born and raised around networking technologies share much more information that would usually be considered prudent (25). They consider some of the reasons people feel compelled to share information, and they claim that it comes down to what a person perceives they’re getting out of the sharing. One provocateur mentioned is reciprocity.

Palfrey and Gasser’s Born Digital focuses on how people born in the digital age raised with “digital literacy” organize their lives (37). The book is written in a style that is accessible to any interested reader, but has its roots in law, technology, and sociology. Their first chapter focuses on how identities can be built and managed online. The groundwork is laid by separating types of identities. Personal identity is described as encompassing “personal characteristics, interests, and activities in real space – at least in part” (19). This is the kind of thing that can be consciously changed if a person desires to do so. Social identity is more to do with a person’s relationships to other people, family and friends. The authors make it a point that social identity used to be a thing you could change by moving far enough away, but that has changed. One inescapable thing about being digital is the trail you leave, even if you’re careful. The authors describe the inability to get away from this trail while still being able to recreate oneself to some extent online as a paradox. Because there are many ways to be part of a read/write culture, there are many ways to express identity. They say that “these ways of expressing identity often seem more foreign to parents and teachers than they really are” (21).  People attribute some differences in communication and identity to generational gaps, but the authors argue that things haven’t changed as much as people think. People can still alter their personal identities, it’s the social identity that is becoming more accessible, and therefore more firm. The paradox is inherent in that people can present themselves differently online if they choose, and their social relationships fall under a different category to some extent if they are entirely mediated by technology.

Celia Pearce’s article, “Communities of Play: The Social Construction of Identity in Persistent Online Game Worlds” is written from an anthropological perspective. In her research she says she “employed techniques of visual anthropology (primarily screenshot documentation), conducted in-game interviews, and studied supplemental communications (such as forums and e-mail lists)” (1). She focused on the online variation of the Myst series, Uru. Unlike the original games, this online world didn’t have a fist person perspective, users created avatars. Pearce says that “the role of a human explorer, for the first time, they could see themselves inside the beloved Myst world” (2). She discusses the “formation of individual avatar identity through emergent social processes” throughout the article (5). One of her observations that meshed particularly well with other research I’ve found is that online social identity “mirrors some contemporary theories of anthropology that build on non-western concepts of the relationship between the individual and the group” (4). The game that she based her study on was only around for a little under a year. Her study continued on to the future endeavors of some of those users. Pearce claims that “The shared trauma of the server shutdown served as a catalyst for fortifying the group identity, which evolved into a sort of fictive ethnicity. This shared group identity created both the necessity and the substrate for migrating their individual avatar identities into to other virtual worlds” (2). One of the splinter groups she mentions ended up in Second Life, which she describes as “an unthemed user created virtual world” in which “a sub-set of [Uru players] had begun to create a near-exact replica of areas of Uru” (3). These gamers came together after their virtual world had been discontinued and manipulated their environment to what they were familiar with, continuing their social interactions with the virtual community of which they became a part.

Others authors to look into for continuing research on virtual communities are Clay Shirky, Benedict Anderson, Edward Castranova, and Constance Steinkuehler among other suggestions. Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler is economically oriented, but it looks at the broader implications of the evolution of networking technologies. Benkler comments on the “emergence of a new information environment, one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy of the twentieth century,” similarly to Born Digital (2). Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams is less scholarly, but it has quite a bit to say about what individuals contribute to a body of knowledge in a participatory culture. Clay Shirky has a body of work to reference on the topic, including Here Comes Everybody, which looks at how people adopt behaviors in response to the presence of a new technology. For an expanded legal perspective, Benjamin Duranske’s Virtual Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds is one potential source. Understanding how digital communications technologies facilitate virtual communities and how these communities are structured, as well as how they are evolving is an expanding avenue of research. Its applications are broad, and there are many additional sources to consult on this topic. There is potential here for further research on social organization in game spaces in particular. However, sources identified here will definitely aid in this research.

Works Cited

Galloway, Alexander R. Gaming: Essays On Algorithmic Culture. 1st ed. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York, NY: NYU Press, 2013.

Lastowka, Greg. Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2008.

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Palfrey, John G., and Urs Gasser. Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. New York: Basic, 2008. Print.

Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub., 1993. Print.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011.

Zengotita, Thomas de. Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live in It. New York and London: Bloomsbury USA, 2005.

Extended Bibliography

Duranske, Benjamin. Virtual Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds. American Bar Association, 2008.

Castronova, Edward. Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2006.

Aufderheide, Patricia, and Peter Jaszi. Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2011.

Berkman Center, Harvard University. “Fair Use Online.” Fair Use Online. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/fairuse/.

Murray, Janet H. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998.

Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2012.

Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Portfolio, 2006. N. pag. Print.

Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

AO- Week 3: Maintaining A Consistent Brand

In her CCT thesis project “Mediating the Museum: Investigating Institutional Goals in Physical and Digital Space” (2012), Alicia M. Dillon examines how three major museums have approached the internet as a tool for expanding their missions: The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital and Malraux’s and Crimp’s commentaries on contemporary museums, Dillon asserts that – compared with physical spaces – “the museum website is an equally potent space for communicating a museum’s message” (9). Citing Bolter and Grusin’s theory on remediation, Dillon’s research takes “a close look at both the walls of the museum, the online space, as well as their shared object (the work of art) to highlight the complications of the art museum’s dual architecture in the 21st century” (10). Ultimately, Dillon argues that “understanding the [physical and virtual] spaces as equal but distinct is imperative for art museum’s ability to maximize their public image” (10).

The case study of the Hirshhorn Museum was most interesting to my research because the museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution. Although the Hirshhorn has not yet elected to participate in the Google Art Project, several other museums within the Smithsonian have contributed to the project (The American Art Museum, and The Freer and Sackler Galleries). As Dillon points out in her thesis:

“The Hirshhorn is assigned symbolic power through both the Smithsonian Institution as well as its location on the National Mall. This is extended to its online URL through the <.si> extension. Its <.edu> extension signifies the institution’s primarily educational narrative.” (115)

The messages communicated by the architecture of the museum’s virtual space complement the architecture of the museum’s physical space to create seamless brand-continuity. A similar statement could be made about The American Art Museum and The Freer and Sackler Galleries. I am intrigued by the impact participation in the Google Art Project might have on each museum’s brand. Art objects shared with audiences through the project no longer reside in an <.si.edu> extension, but rather at a <.com> – owned by one of the world’s largest corporations, no less. What are the implications of this structural shift on the message being communicated? Does the Google Art Project have a mission of its own? If so, how does the project’s mission confirm or complicate the mission of each partnering institution? Does partnering with Google impact the museum’s brand? What does the museum sacrifice by using the Google Art Project rather than creating its own platform to share its art objects with global audiences? What benefits to partnering museums receive? These are all questions to be revisited in my final project.

 

For further research

For my final post before our papers, I’d like to take a cursory look at a lot more of the sources informing my topic that I intend to include in my conclusion as suggestions for further research. One of my sources is Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler. This book is economically oriented, but it looks at the broader implications of the evolution of networking technologies. Benkler comments on the “emergence of a new information environment, one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy of the twentieth century”, which related well to my last post on Born Digital (2).

I also read Celia Pearce’s article, “Communities of Play: The Social Construction of Identity in Persistent Online Game Worlds”. She wrote from an anthropological perspective, saying that she “employed techniques of visual anthropology (primarily screenshot documentation), conducted in-game interviews, and studied supplemental communications (such as forums and e-mail lists)” (1). She focused on the online variation of the Myst series, Uru. Unlike the original games, this online world didn’t have a fist person perspective, users created avatars. Pearce says that “the role of a human explorer, for the first time, they could see themselves inside the beloved Myst world” (2). She discusses the “formation of individual avatar identity through emergent social processes” throughout the article (5). One of her observations that meshed particularly well with other research I’ve found is that online social identity “mirrors some contemporary theories of anthropology that build on non-western concepts of the relationship between the individual and the group” (4).

The game that she based her study on was only around for a little under a year. Her study continued on to the future endeavors of some of those users. Pearce claims that “The shared trauma of the server shutdown served as a catalyst for fortifying the group identity, which evolved into a sort of fictive ethnicity. This shared group identity created both the necessity and the substrate for migrating their individual avatar identities into to other virtual worlds” (2). One of the splinter groups she mentions ended up in Second Life, which she describes as “an unthemed user created virtual world” in which “a sub-set of [Uru players] had begun to create a near-exact replica of areas of Uru” (3).

Others authors I found were Clay Shirky, Benedict Anderson, and Constance Steinkuehler among other suggestions. I will go into more detail about their focuses in my paper, but there is quite a bit of information for me to sift through.

 

Virtual Identity

One question I have not yet addressed that I may still want to touch on in my final paper is the issue of identity in virtual worlds. While there are many background sources on this, I’m referencing the first chapter of Palfrey and Gasser’s Born Digital. The focus of their book is how people born in the digital age raised with “digital literacy” organize their lives (37). The book is written in a style that is accessible to any interested reader, but has its roots in law, technology, and sociology. Their first chapter focuses on how identities can be built and managed online.

The groundwork is laid by separating types of identities. Personal identity is described as encompassing “personal characteristics, interests, and activities in real space – at least in part” (19). This is the kind of thing that can be consciously changed if a person desires to do so. Social identity is more to do with a person’s relationships to other people, family and friends. The authors make it a point that social identity used to be a thing you could change by moving far enough away, but that changed. One thing about being digital is the trail you leave, even if you’re careful.

The authors describe the inability to get away from this trail while still being able to recreate oneself to some extent online as a paradox. Because there are many ways to be part of a read/write culture, there are many ways to express identity. They say that “these ways of expressing identity often seem more foreign to parents and teachers than they really are” (21).  People attribute some differences in communication and identity to generational gaps, but the authors argue that things haven’t changed as much as people think. People can still alter their personal identities, it’s the social identity that is becoming more accessible, and therefore more firm. The paradox is inherent in that people can present themselves differently online if they choose, and their social relationships fall under a different category to some extent if they are entirely mediated by technology.

They also look at issues of privacy, since some “digital natives” share much more information that would usually be considered prudent (25). They consider some of the reasons people feel compelled to share information, and they claim that it comes down to what a person perceives they’re getting out of the sharing. One provocateur mentioned is reciprocity.

Benjamin

In “The World of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” by Walter Benjamin, he speaks about the aspect of aura – the aura of an artwork is the tradition.  According to Benjamin, the aura of an artwork is the “tradition.” Tradition, not used in the popular context, refers to the unique circumstances surrounding the artwork. The aura of an artwork could be largely based upon the time the actual painting was produced or the experience of the audience of a live theater performance. Benjamin states, “…that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.” Benjamin is claiming that a mechanical reproduction of an object, such as a postcard of the Mona Lisa, no longer bears its aura because it is no longer tied to its origins.

How does remixing affect the aura of a work of art?  Different kinds of remixes affect a work of art in different ways.  Generally, the aura is simply changed, but it may diminish in effectiveness depending upon the way it is remixed.

An example which may help to better expand the understanding of this loss of aura is the difference between seeing a play and watching a movie, both of which may have the same script and even use the same props and costumes, yet the aura is not evident in the same manner when one approaches the film. Even if an audience were to attend the same play multiple times, they would not have the same experience every time.  Live theater arguable portrays the most aura because of this.

If one goes to see a film, they do not see a different performance each time, it is an exact copy. The aura also changes as the actors are performing to a different audience: In cinema, the actors are performing for a camera, not the live audience the theater actors are entertaining. This changes the actors’ approaches to their performances.

A side effect of this may be cinema actors turning themselves into commodities — our beloved celebrities.  When art becomes a commodity, this is when the presence of aura generally diminishes.  People are no longer analyzing the art as art, but as a form of payment or something they want for monetary reasons.

As Shakespeare’s plays were ever changing, Benjamin would argue that the aura surrounding them cannot

 


 Comments:

It’s good to think through the issues that Benjamin noticed in the 1930s and now extrapolate to our hybrid digital-analog culture and other modes of reproducibility. (See the chain of readings and arguments in Week 6 of the Cultural Hybridity course: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/CCTP725/CCTP725-syllabus.html.

“Aura” has been a contested idea from Benjamin. It’s a very Romantic concept (assumes unique, “authentic” origins for artists and artworks, a work having been touched by the hand of the maker like a saint’s relic). Yes, our sense of “authenticity” is different in time-based media and artefacts (a play vs. a movie or TV version), but we are now used to everything being mediated. But Benjamin’s approach still pays off for thinking through the question of the technical means of reproducibility and resulting cultural/social distribution and reception of cultural works. Use his questions and problems but applied to digital culture: you can rewrite it as: “The work of art in the era of its digital reproducibility.” What does that open up?

Beware using the term “commodity” generally. All cultural goods–artworks, texts, movies, media–are part of an economy, and cultural goods rely on symbolic value (see Pierre Bourdieu on this important issue).

For other background on remix questions, here’s the link to the abstract of my chapter on remix and dialogism that will appear in the Routledge Companion to Remix Studies.

–MI

 

 

Improvising Digital Culture

In “Improvising Digital Culture,” Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky) and Vijay Iyer discuss two contrasting positions concerning the definition of improvisation, primarily in context to digital media.  Although the two do use music (the saxophone) as a point of reference during various parts of the discussion.

Iyer argues that improvisation should be regards as “identical with what we call experience.”  He further explains that through this definition there is not a difference between what we experience as humans and improvisation.  We are always improvising. He also explains that some improvisation can be considered good or bad, like saving someone from danger or harming someone. Iyer says, “In other words, you might say that there are degrees, layers or levels to what we call “improvisation.” There’s a primal level at which we learn how to just be in the world, and then there’s another level at which we’re responding to conditions that are thrust upon us.”

My question concerning Iyer’s work: Is there any point at which something is not an improvisation? Is an actor reciting lines from a play improvising?  It seems as if there is some point where improvisation is not entirely a part of our life. While I do agree many parts of our lives are complete improvisation, I question acts such as following orders or reading something word for word as improvisation.  Does doing something someone has already predetermined create something other than improvisation?

Paul Miller stated that digital media is “not necessarily about the process per se, it’s about never saying that there’s something that’s finished.  Once something’s digital, essentially you’re looking at versions.  Anything can be edited, transformed, and completely made into new things.” This interpretation of improvisation is more embraceable as it seems a bit more definable.

The following link will lead readers to a clip of the Improvised Shakespeare Company:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rWPE2X-8Mg

The Improvised Shakespeare Company has been in existence since 2005 and performs every Friday night in Chicago. I think this is an interesting example of Miller’s interpretation of improvisation.  The actors are creating new work based upon something old: in this case, it is the style and speech of Shakespeare. This is a contrast from working solely from Shakespeare’s scripts. Which leave little room for improvisation.  While there is still a bit of space built into the script for improvisation, but not an extensive build up.

I will look into the history of Shakespeare improv and other stand up improv in Thursday’s post.

Bibliography

Iyer, Vijay, and Paul D. Miller. “Improvising Digital Culture.” Criticalimprov.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2013.

Obbvideos. “The Improvised Shakespeare Company.” YouTube. YouTube, 23 July 2010. Web. 28 May 2013.

“The Improvised Shakespeare Company: About.” The Improvised Shakespeare Company: About. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2013.