As happy as kings
19th May, 2007. 7:07 pm. Brooklyn Weekends
My birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and I am planning to have a couple of "Come to Brooklyn" weekends. On Saturday, June 2, and Saturday, June 9, I am having all day parties for me and Gary's friends. There will be food and booze and activities—maybe Park Slope haunted bar-hopping, maybe picnics in Prospect Park, maybe BAM or Brooklyn Botanic Garden visits. I am still organizing everything. If you are available and inclined on either date, drop me a line here or at my e-mail postman @ kimberlystanley.com.
An absolute good time is guaranteed.
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19th April, 2007. 6:41 pm. School Post
Chris said phenomenology is "a method of healing the breech between mind and body." I've spent a lot of time thinking about this idea in researching my paper on bio-nanotechnology (nanobytes designed to go into the human body.)
In class, we've talked about how the world of computers is the world is world of logic and rationality; it facilitates the world of the mind. Both Sally Pryor (Thinking of Oneself as a Computer) and McCullough refer to the tendency to get lost in the computer world; I'm sure all of us have had that experience of sitting in front of the computer for hours--usually at the expense of our bodies' needs (food, rest, going to the bathroom.)
When we watched 2001, we saw what happened when humans got to a point where their bodies got in the way of advancement. HAL could continue the mission without people; people seemed to be in the way on the spaceship Discovery because so much had to be done to keep them safe and in good health. Machines aren't that fragile. And it occurred to me while watching 2001, that at some point, if we want to keep advancing technologically, we going to have to enhance our physical bodies to handle rigors of our advancement.
It seems to me that we have been shown two scenarios in the course of this class: machines becoming more like people (Mike, HAL) or people becoming more like machines (Alphaville). But maybe the best thing to do is to neither. Maybe the best thing to do would be to take from the machine world what is good and keep what is good about being human. That's where bio-nanotechnology comes in.
Bio-nanotechnology offers us the means to strengthen our physical bodies to meet the social and technological challenges that we all face. Nanotechnology could help us to become aware of our bodies and their functions at a very precise level--giving a precise level of control over our bodies. In some ways this sounds the usual masculine, rational view, but I think it could represent an embracing of the body at an unprecedented level. I think it would be difficult to ignore your body if you are constantly being given information about it.
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15th April, 2007. 11:38 am. School Post: City of the Future
Reading about the World's Fair display of the city of the future reminded me of our discussions of the masculine versus the feminine. There's something very masculine about the design for the city of the future. It images a world were roads are straight and buildings are designed just so, and everyone is moving without hinderance toward...whatever. What this model lacks is soul or a sense of community; what is lacks the feminine. And that's the problem with the city of the future as envisioned by the vendors participating in the World's Fair of 1939: their view of the future was this cold masculine view of unattainable perfection.
The same could be said of cyberspace. We want to be certain that we aren't imposing some useless aesthetic paradigm on cyberspace that doesn't reflect or embrace its inhabitants. Organic growth (managed to a certain extent) seems better than forcing an artificial and rigid structure.
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9th April, 2007. 7:48 am. Cybernetic enchancement
My journal entry is a bit late because I fell ill over break. But as I was lying there, slightly feverish and stuffed up, I thought a lot about what it would be like if I was cyborg.
My schedule has become very full lately, and I have stretched myself too far; that's why I got sick. The will is strong, but the flesh is weak, as my granny used to say. My fever was the highest on the second day I was sick and I was miserable. There's nothing like a fever to remind you how vulnerable you are. It doesn't matter how strong your mind is if your body can't follow.
How cool would it be if cybernetics got rid of illnesses like the common cold? An implant in my arm could release nanobytes into my bloodstream which would fight off infection before it had a chance to get a hold of me.
I know that people are afraid of losing their humanity if they begin to "enhance" themselves with cybernetics. But honestly, that doesn't bother me. What is humanity anyway? I'm sure each culture has their own answer. Time has taught me that what I believe with total conviction today, I reject utterly tomorrow. So why couldn't my definition of humanity change?
It ties into this whole idea that some people (or maybe everyone) seems to have that the past was better than the present. But I think people are romanticizing things. I don't want to ever go back to a time with no toilet paper or women's rights. I mean ugh! And I'll tell you something else, if people from the past were dropped into our time, they would probably be equally amazed and horrified at what we've become.
The point I'm making is this: As we evolve as a society, the way we define ourselves evolves as well. And that is something that we should keep in mind as we march into this cybernetic future. It really doesn't matter how horrifying we might find cybernetic enhancement, what matters is how future generations regard it, and my guess is they are going think it's no big deal.
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24th March, 2007. 11:40 am. The Cyber-Feminist Manifesto
The idea that struck me the most in Donna Haraway's piece was the idea of the feminization of our society. She floated this idea that the work place (and society in general) was becoming feminized. Not in the sense that women are given equal pay or true equal rights to men, but that all of our rights have eroded. I think what she is saying is that rather than raising women's rights to that of men, that men's rights have been brought down to that of women's.
Now of course, this is not globally true, but there is something in what Haraway says here. For example, the workplace has become feminized. People do work more and they are paid less. Furthermore, their work is not valued. It's valued generically, but not specifically. They are happy someone is managing this project, but they don't care that it's me.
This trend is the result of industrialization. We are just cogs in a larger consumerism machine. We are interchangeable and therefore, not important as individuals. Ironically, we live in a culture that values individuality and pushes us to be independent and unique. So where is this individuality supposed to manifest? Not at work--where most of us spend most of our waking hours. So where? Sometimes, it seems to me that our only outlet for individuality is in what we buy. But that's crazy--I don't want to express my individuality by buying shit.
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1st March, 2007. 7:09 pm. Why so many evil computer stories?
A few days ago, we talked about why dytopian stories are so popular--in particular, why do so many of these writers and artists seem so afraid not just of the future, but of the computerized future?
My first instinct is to say that they are afraid of something they don't understand. You don't see a lot of computer people writing horror stories about computers ruining humanity, because computer people (as I am using the term here) like computers, and they don't see them as a threat. But that's not a satisfactory explanation, because one could argue, that "computer people" are too close to computers to see what is really happening. What I mean by that is, when you are close to something--when you like it, you make excuses for it, and you have a hard time seeing it objectively.
So I know it's important to hear these critical voices--voices that fear technology in some way. Even if I think they are exaggerating the impact of technology or misunderstanding it, I realize that their view is important to consider when thinking about how technology affects all of us.
Last week, Maria and I were talking in her blog
about this, and we were talking about how people's fear of technology was based on insecurity--insecurity about our place in a world of advanced technology. The great advantage of technology is that does a lot of the work for us. The great disadvantage of technology is that it does a lot of the work for us!
I've experienced this positive/negative impact on a personal level. My job is updating a web site. A few years ago, the Web Technology Department came to me about upgrading our site. They wanted to roll the site (which was handcoded) into a content management system. Of course it was logical for a variety of reasons that I won't go into. But what this meant was that my job changed: I would go from hand-coding HTML and CSS to using a graphical interface to update the sites I was responsible for. What did this mean? Well it meant that my company didn't need someone as technically knowledgeable as me to do the job. Because the content management system was doing so much of the work, it meant that I lost a certain amount of control over how the sites worked. I had a few months of vanity-driven discomfort; I started to dislike the new content management system, because it made me feel less relevant.
I think there is probably something about computers and their perfection and speed that makes people feel threatened, and I think that is why we see so many dytopsian computerized future stories.
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24th February, 2007. 9:00 pm. Class Stuff: Alphaville: Logic versus Emotion
I watched Alphaville earlier today. It made me think of our classroom conversation about The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and how I said that my problem with Mike was not that he was a machine, but that he had total power.
It seemed like Godard was trying to show that humans were superior to machines because humans feel emotions and think poetically while computers live in a world of rigid logic which limits their understanding of humans.
What struck me about the film (and my comments about Mike) was how the machine (the Alpha 60, I mean) was really incidental to the themes that Godard was exploring. In fact, the emotion vs. logic argument is an old one--one that has been hashed and rehashed over and over through human history.
I think technology has become the scapegoat for an internal conflict that has been present in all human society since the very beginning: Why are we here? Where did we come from?
AI disturbs us because on some level people think that if we can create an intelligent life form--one that is even better than us, what does that say about us and our role? And what does it imply about the one who created us?
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15th February, 2007. 4:02 pm. Class Stuff: Learning Chips
We were talking this week about the idea of the learning chip. The way I understand it, the chip would be used to upload data such as books to the short-term memory center of the brain. What happened to the knowledge after that would be up to your long term memory.
If such a thing was possible, I think it could represent a very practical way to learn certain things quickly. For example, it would be great to be able to upload a language. But what I wonder is, how quickly could you start to use that language? And what activities would you need to perform in order to ensure that the data you uploaded on the chip was integrated into your memory?
If this sort of implant was effective, it would probably change the teaching and the technical writing industries. We would have to focus on entirely new sets of usability rules. Chip information would have to be designed so that it is easily absorbed by the brain. I don't know how the brain stores memory, but it seems to me that information being uploaded directly to the brain would have to be organized differently—just like information presented in a book is organized differently than information presented in a video. And what would that brain-friendly organization look like?
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8th February, 2007. 7:59 pm. Class stuff: Is objective reporting the ideal?
A few days ago in class, we had a discussion about journalism and blogging and how the Internet has created a new public Commons.
The professor pointed out that this idea of objective journalism is relatively new—a twentieth century invention. Before, the news, which was spread mostly through newspapers, was biased. You bought and read the paper that reflected your socio-political views, and that was okay.
I find myself very frustrated with "objective" news. News is not objective. What a media outlet chooses to report upon and what they choose to ignore reveals a lot about the viewpoint of that outlet.
Maybe the best thing to do would be to create a forum where people on all sides of the issue can have their say. The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and Now are two news programs (on PBS) that practice this type of reporting, and I think it's very effective.
For example, as I was watching tonight, there was a story on irradiating produce. Both pro-irradiation and anti-irradiation supporters were given equal voice. I'm against irradiated food, but the advocates were very convincing, and as a result of this report, I am willing to hear more about the potential benefits of irradiation.
I'd love to believe that the Internet and blogs are offering similarly balanced newsfeeds, but so far, I haven't seen that. Most of the blogs that I frequent are biased toward one side of the political spectrum or the other.
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2nd February, 2007. 6:15 pm. Idioms
Back A Page
The other day, a girl in one of my classes asked me about an expression that our professor used. I was trying to explain the intricacies of "Katy, bar the door," when I realized that I couldn't. Every definition that I came up with either used another expression ("Lock the door!", "Watch out!, "Heads up!") or sounded idiotic ("...like when a surprise is coming and someone wants you to be ready, or when something a little too exciting is going on....)
I had a similar break-down once when I was trying to explain to someone the expression: "Well, he'd better come to Jesus pretty damn quick." It occurs to me that there are a lot of expressions like this. How do you explain these to people who didn't grow up in your culture, or even more difficult, to people whose first language isn't English? And how do you learn the expressions of other languages?
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