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Class Themes

Since Naomi and Hadassah have already brought up the key points in Zittrain, I’d like to take another tack. As the classes I teach have begun to wrap up, I’ve been thinking a lot about the themes of the semester; for this class too, I automatically began to try listing a number of common things we’ve talked about and around in an attempt to get some form of closure. Zittrain’s reading for this week seems, in many ways, to be a summative text in the way that it draws together some of these ideas, for me:

1. The question of mastery
Something that Naomi already alluded to, and which Zittrain demonstrates tacitly, is the need to master new technologies. In more ways than one, this semester has been about pulling my (one’s?) head out of the sand in order to learn at least the basics of Web 2.0 technologies, if only for the purposes of rejecting/thwarting them or changing their intended uses.

2. The question of tools
This is something that came up earlier when we were deciding what software to use for our various projects, and even a little bit in terms of presentation styles from Michael’s examples last week–what tools you choose depends on what kind of project you have decided to make, not just in terms of nuts-and-bolts, but in terms of a fundamental argument. Something Michael said in class last term has stuck with me re: Zotero. I had never even thought of Zotero as anything but a sometimes-inaccurate tool for compiling those annoying bibliographies; Steve and Michael’s assertion that tools have a philosophy (e.g., sharing research sources easily) was something I had not thought about before. This leads to my next point…

3. The question of ethos
…which is that it is fundamentally wrong to use a tool contrary to its intended ethos. Zittrain says, “new participants [to the generative model] misunderstand or flout the ethos that makes the systems function well, and those not involved with the system find their legally protected interests challenged by it” (64-5). With apologies to our resident Philosopher, Laura, I am really challenged by the fact that ours is a class on computing technologies which could easily be turned into a class on ethics. It seems too simplistic to say money=bad, free=good; this is too often my answer, and I’m getting tired of shouting about how iPads are really the devil, etc. etc. How can we resist such broad generalisations and still be part of the functioning economic mechanism as it stands today?

4. The question of generativeness
It seems to me that based on Zittrain’s definition, generativity–“a system’s capacity to produce unanticipated changes through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences” (70)–is at the heart of the capitalistic enterprise. Isn’t this principle exactly how high capitalism developed, through the “crazy” ideas of maverick businessmen and economists who were almost necessarily coming from “broad and varied” places with the determination to put their ideas into effect, and who thus ended up changing the extant system? In that light, it seems crucial to note that late capitalism in its current avatar is scared of the kind of “stretchability” that a truly generative system needs. A light at the end of the tunnel?

5. The question of bother
This is not exactly from Zittrain… but, I see the basic attraction that a lot of new generative technologies are being put to as that of low-effort. What I mean is, it is very easy to let your machine do this, that, and the other thing for you. I’ve read studies in which brain scans show that people actually *love* their iPhones in the way that they love other real people, because it is hard not to love something that reliably makes your life simpler by allowing you to do more complicated things. I feel terribly medieval to say that I feel (as opposed to realising, logically) that things which are not hard are fundamentally not worth it. So, if it’s not hard to keep a puppy at home, if it doesn’t cause you to change your life around it in significant ways to accommodate it, it’s not worth it. Same with work (take that, graduate school!), same with other things. So, I wonder when and how the value attached to effort was eroded away? I wonder what has led to our easy reliance on god-like devices controlled by faceless “people” like Amazon or the cable companies and ISPs? If we can say that we live in economies based on certainties (you are certain to be able to call someone; certain to be able to find someone online; and so on), then what might an economy based on doubt look like?



Posted in After Class Discussion, Motivations, Reading.

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2 Responses

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  1. Janice says

    oooh! Hadassah, I was thinking the SAME thing!
    Failing forward is for me the most expansive and generative theme for this class; it has truly gotten my attention and desire, and I think that it is an element that can give us hope while we face Zittrain’s warnings.
    I remember as well as I remember how to spell my name, my parents repeating, “What is worth doing is worth doing well”, and worth putting effort behind. Another one of their for me life-generating sayings has ‘great men’ “toiling upwards through the night” while their companions and those of us seeking easy, sleep thorugh the night.

    And what successful student of anything worhtwhile has not ‘pulled all nighters’?

  2. Hadassah Damien says

    Thanks for this really thoguhtful post! My $0.02 — would an economy based on doubt have something to do with a positive attitude towards failure [another class theme btw]?

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