Internet – Lit Review – Turkle

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York: Basic, 2011

It would be foolish to refute the core premise of Sherry Turkle’s third installment in her series on computers and people: technology – specifically, robots and computers – have taken on agency in their relationships to humans. Her anecdotal approach threads a compelling argument through selections from her psychoanalytic research that includes over 450 subjects, of all ages. In Turkle’s estimation, computers have become what occupies us, keeping us always tethered and networked, rather than remaining our occupational instruments. Likewise, her staunch humanism views the advent of robotics that go beyond artificial intelligence by performing social functions like caring and emotion as a pivotal “robotic moment” for our lives, and for our concepts of life as such. The stakes of being-human, on her account, are changing, and not necessarily for the better. Continue reading

Hamlet Vs Kodech

Internet – Lit Reviews – Kittler, Lanier, Jenkins

Here follow annotations on interesting texts that take on the challenge of framing the internet – or aspects thereof – as a cultural object. As this series moves into review, it should not be assumed that these groupings represent a coherent curriculum, but their juxtaposition does provide some opportunities for comparison and contrast among popular theoretical positions on the topic. First, we address some optimisms and pessimisms about the state of internetted and machinic subjectivity. Our cases are from Friedrich Kittler, Jaron Lanier, and Henry Jenkins. Continue reading

Internet – Synthesis – Methods and Approaches

While composing the preliminary reviews of literature that surround this post (it being posted retrospectively – something pops up here about the instability of blog-time, no doubt) certain tendencies and distinctions among the many approaches to internet studies have cemented. As the time comes to distinguish my own approach and its component pieces from the existing ones, both those which contribute to it and those from which it makes more sense to distance ourselves, a synthesis of those reviews comes into form. Tracing those groups in the literature that hang together, marking the details and purposes and focus of the ongoing project, and then arguing for the validity of a fresh approach and method, this post will form a temporary holding point en route to the field statement’s proposal and procedure. But we begin just by restating the themes of the semester so far.
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Internet – on Labor

At a relaxed dinner with a good friend recently, we discussed the difficulty of finding a job in Detroit over the last few years. We spoke about the population’s available, marketable skills, and compared the price of land/rent to the type of organizations with the capital to buy it up. Then, we touched on a curious potential outcome of the current grim circumstances. In ten or fifteen years, we posited, when the city has grown again and its workforce is active again, a primary economic driver could well be the Silicone titans. This unusual placement of internet-driven internet drivers would seem out of place in the Motor City, except for a few key factors. First, technology industries require massive investments of capital for infrastructure and of labor for support in addition to the engineers and designers who are their most visible participants. Second, the data in the United States flows through Detroit, necessitating more of those support staff as that stream grows. And finally, the low cost of land and utilities, and the propensity of large IT firms to model their operations on 19th and 20th century factories, means that the companies have incentive to move to such an area already. Some small moves in this direction could trigger large changes to the economic situation there. Continue reading

Internet – Synthesis – On Newness

The question of what, after all, is so new about the internet has run through the introductory and summary posts in this series. It is a divisive question. Some proclaim the revolutionary, worldchanging emergence of the internet a wholly unique phenomenon. Others describe its continuity with older forms of media, communication, technology, or ideas. And each vein has its proponents and detractors of the internet’s cultural effects, which seem ubiquitously manifest, though not unequivocally ethically or morally valenced. Since we are concerned, here, with not just cultural effects but also cultural conditions for today’s internet, though, we cannot neatly reduce our approach to any of these positions.

Each position here assumes that the internet is an historical phenomenon -- as opposed to an event, for example -- and that it has an ethical valence, if not necessarily a political one.
Ethical valences for interpretation of the internet as an historical phenomenon
Instead, we can find another way of asking the question – a way that rests implicitly in the same discussions and arguments about newness. That is, we can ask, what is historically significant about the internet? This minor switch allows us to explore slightly different avenues than those commonly traversed by humanities and social-sciences research. Instead of “new media,” in particular, we can focus more precisely on the internet as such. Further, by stripping the newness from our central questioning, we avoid freighting our inquiry with ontological assumptions. In so doing, we are better able to determine what is new and what is old, in greater detail.

So, we are faced with a series of comparisons and contrasts.

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Yep, that's all electronics.

Internet – on Waste

A simple question sometimes opens unexpected complications. In this case, what counts for the garbage of the internet?

(tl;dr: It can be tempting to swerve into digressions here about wastes of time or wastes of attention a la cat videos. Sorry – instead, this post focuses instead on the production, distribution, circulation, use and deprecation of those media artifacts, their platforms, and the machines on which we view them.)

One way to approach the question is to ask how we measure the energy efficiency of the internet. The factors that influence that measurement include the rate of electricity consumed by mobile devices and their chargers, personal computers, modems and routers, servers, and data centers. Most significantly, the energy required to cool those machines can stagger the mind. A proper study of this use must also account for the amount of energy invested in the production of the same machines.  Efficient consumption of resources serves the interests of the largest discrete consumers and of the utility providers who make the resources available to aggregate consumers, but without discriminating between economic and ecological criteria. For example, GreenPeace’s recent “Dirty Data” report, which embroiled Facebook and other companies in P.R. and legal battles, argues that large IT firms, especially data centers, continue to consume energy in 19th- and 20th- century industrial factory patterns, rather than embracing “clean” energy as wholeheartedly as efficiency. While new facilities constructed over the past few years by Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft certainly deserve their accolades for efficient design. Efficiency, however, only provides one lens onto the original question of garbage or waste. Continue reading

Internet – Geography, and Africa Introduced

We expect no clean equivalence between infrastructure, labor, capital, and internet development. Still, we know that the growth of a robust modern internet takes vast amounts of time, skilled labor, and knowledge — all elements of advanced capital. So, when we consider the rise of today’s African internet, we must ask, first, who builds it — and then, where its infrastructure overlaps or clashes with existing geographical patterns. Heavily visual organization and logic help think through these issues of backbone, traffic, and investment. Their combination leads to some interesting insight to the specific challenges facing the continuation of Africa’s internet-building. Continue reading

Internet – On the Markets

We turn now from contextual summaries of broad topics to more specific analyses of focused problems. The case in point this week is the curious interplay of market and economic themes in discourses and studies of the internet. There are several fascinating phenomena associated with the rise of the internet as a platform for trade as well as communication and computation. These, however, have roots that run deeper than their own emergence, in the economic and historical conditions that undergird the internet’s development. As trade and commerce proliferate online, they mimic (at least at first) the structure and behavior of their non-internet predecessors, which themselves must shift or extend their positions to accomodate this competition. As internet markets continue to grow and find their own forms, their effects on their non-internetted counterparts deepens. And as financial instruments and economic models become more closely attuned to internet machinations, it becomes easier – from a cultural or social standpoint – to overlook the most obvious historical and global correlations to this situation.


A silly image for a spammy post on

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Internet – On the Histories

This series digresses here to review and consider internet history. This includes, of course, the well-documented series of events and interactions and innovations and and and … that led to what we see when we go online these days. It also includes the conditions under which those events and interactions and innovations and so on took place, to inform ongoing research into internet development in other parts of the contemporary world. And, these posts stemming from the skeptical position of cultural scholarship, it also questions who gets to write the history of the internet, and with what sources. This line of questioning leads us back, cautiously, to the major themes of the semester.

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Internet – Technical Literature

This week, I delved a little more deeply into the technical architecture of the Internet, to finish laying the groundwork for the rest of the semester. After this week’s post, these technical reviews will form the framework for ongoing research. But for now, it’s worth our while to lay out the rest of our key terms and concepts regarding the technology and processes that undergird the modern internet.

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