Selections from The New Media Reader (2003) (13|193 McLuhan, 18|259 Enzensberger, 19|277 Baudrillard, 20|289 Williams, 21|301 Nelson, 22|339 Boal, 24 Weizenbaum, 27|405 Deleuze + Guattari) provoked my series of philosophical questions…
Response to NMR II
I. What is old and what is new? When we consider technology, do we understand it as part of a phenomenon both natural and well-established — the process of tool creation? Then can we also regard the social ruptures it inspires as natural, well-established… and inevitable?
Or might something different be happening today? Is the nature of contemporary technology, and the speed with which it is produced and disseminated, in a class all its own? Then can we understand the social changes associated with this technology as deliberate choices to which we collude?
II. How do we situate social processes on a continuum from 1 to 7, with 1 being “must be handled by a human” and 7 being “must be handled by a machine”?
In Likert scale-ese, the scale might look something like this:
1 = must be handled by a human
2 = much better if handled by a human
3 = slightly better if handled by a human
4 = neither better nor worse if handled by a human or a machine
5 = slightly better if handled by a machine
6 = much better if handled by a machine
7 = must be handled by a human
During the past century, we witnessed several processes migrate from 1 to 7, industrial processes such as car manufacturing and food production (from factories to agri-business). Customer service processes are currently shifting: directing telephone calls within large organizations via voicemail systems; trouble-shooting via embodied conversational agents (e.g., Microsoft Word’s infamous, animated paper clip querying whether we need help writing a letter); purchasing luxury goods via vending machines (e.g., high-end electronics, such as digital cameras and handheld game consoles, vended in airports).
Is therapy next? Is there a role for an intelligent but totally disinterested listener in the lives of some individuals who simply need to unload? Are the risks of certain people falling through the cracks simply too great to bear? And is the very contemplation of such a practice emblematic of flexible thinking and new social paradigms, or of civil degradation and a certain loss of humanity?
How does one resolve the “problem of the passivity” vis-a-vis the consumer in relation to producer? Do we collapse such distinctions by all engaging in the production process, becoming “prosumers” (Toffler, 1980)? Is such a solution scalable? Even if all produce, the rate at which they can produce, the quality of their productions, the extent to which these works circulate, are surely variable. So does Charlene’s DIY video equal Spielberg’s feature?
Media literacy has been offered as a partial solution to this conundrum, suggesting that the capacity to interpret productions helps to restore some balance of power between consumers and producers. Yet boomerang effects have been noted in relation to media consciousness-raising efforts (Bissell, 2006). What is power, if not knowledge? Should we concentrate on a different type of knowledge, or different means of delivering it?
What is the cost-benefit of addressing this power differential? Which battles are worth waging?