Month: September 2007
Status seeking as motivator for play?
Linda Stone’s wiki on Continuous Partial Attention
My September Project has been an abject failure, but I’ve also been logging 8 hours a day in the quiet room (with all the undergrad students working through orgo textbooks) reading. A couple of books that I’d recommend highly:
Donna Haraway’s Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse. I’ve read plenty of Haraway’s essays, but not this work, and she is such a lovely, lyrical writer, with lots of feminist history of science that I find grounding and useful. The title, a synecdoche for the book itself, refers to the subject position (a “Modest Witness” is the ideal Enlightenment gentleman, a Royal Society-esque observer who carefully and detachedly recorded outcomes in experimental philosophy. She uses this to explore the idea of the normative white/male scientific subject) and the time period (Second Millennium evokes Christian mythos of salvation and apocalypse. Haraway is all about re-examining contemporary myths and making new myths that better fit the issues and problems of the age– that’s exactly what the Cyborg was supposed to be). Haraway’s two tropes/objects to think with are the FemaleMan, pulled from Joanna Russ’s 70s feminist dystopia, which refers to the idea of the woman-as-subject as not a woman, but a “female man”, and the OncoMouse, a transgenic rodent bred for cancer research. Haraway’s prose is dense and sprawling, and not for those without training in reading literary theory, but I found puzzling out her ideas to be a very rewarding experience.
On a completely different note, I loved Fred Turner’s book on the influence of Stuart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog on the development of the “California ideology” of technology as radical liberation. Turner is primarily interested in how computers came to be viewed as tools for individual empowerment and social change, whereas in the early 60s they were seen as symbols of the Mass Society. I’d highly recommend this book for any students of cyberculture history or social history.
First, Turner does an excellent job at distinguishing between the New Left and the Counterculture, which are often conflated in 60s mythology. (The New Left, such as the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee and the Students for a Democratic Society, believed in political action through marches, protests, lobbying, voting, etc., while the Counterculture adopted a Situationist ethos of performance as cognitive dissonance). Second, Turner delves deeply into the communal movement of the post-Counterculture era, which is just fascinating and something I knew nothing about (since a) I was born in 1976 and b) the more radical epochs of American history are usually not part of the standard curricula). Third, Turner traces the legacy of Weiner’s cybernetic theory through MIT’s Rad Lab to the New Communalist movement and shows how as an ideology it had special resonance during the Cold War (to simplify a complicated argument, cybernetics implies that individual choices have major consequences for the future of human evolution– justifying Situationist tactics– and as this is also a period of time in which the extinction of the human race seemed possible and actual- which heightened the drama still more).
Stuart Brand is an excellent pivotal figure, as the man has a knack for appearing at the most pivotal moments: from the very beginning of the San Francisco hippie scene, the “Be-Ins” and the Merry Pranksters all the way to the first Hacker conference and the founding of the famed cult internet community the WELL. A fascinating subject with a talent for joining disparate philosophical communities through networking, Brand proves well worth the full archival treatment.
I’ve read plenty of other good books, but those two I thought were excellent. Some day I’ll post my exam lists and reading notes, as I’ve really benefited from PhD students who’ve done the same thing. I cannot WAIT for exams to be over so I can really delve deep into my dissertation, which has the working title L33T: Cultural geographies of online status.