DTC 560 Blog 1/12

research connections

Because the network is everting, we no longer seek out media–it finds us, notifies us, and asks us to consume it. In the same way that we now tend to view the network differently, now as a “part of the world” instead of a “world apart” (Jones para. 2), we are faced with this new paradigm of how media work and mean as they are so ubiquitous. Jones mentions the observations of Hayles, Greenfeld, and Jurgenson, who have elaborated on how we are developing a new “consensual imagination about the role of the network in relation to the physical and social world” (para. 3). As media continue to both inform and form our physical reality, the pace of communication also increases, and access becomes a different animal as well (if it can be believed that more people today own a cell phone than a toilet).

The network eversion reminds me of the explosion of access to information which came with the advent of cheap (or fairly cheap) printing in early modern England. In this way, current debates in the digital humanities may be connected with my literary research into english print and visual culture. How society coped with new media technologies in the past and how it envisioned more ubiquitous access to information and storytelling at another such technological leap may tell us something about the changes we are experiencing now, and possibly those we are to expect. In addition, Scholarship in the history of the book has only recently begun to focus on the persistence of what we might call “older media” (oral tradition and scribal practice) alongside new, cheap printing techniques in Europe. For decades, even centuries, these practices existed together. We may do well to connect the advent of printing and the eversion of the network by examining the ways in which non-digital, non-network communication thrives and persists in our culture today. I aim to engage in research of this sort by examining similar forms which combine image and text in discrete packages for quick digestion and remix: namely, one of my goals is to work with emblems, iconography, and memes.

At the same time, which printed media were valued in early modern England, and subsequently preserved and studied, has always been related to status and assumptions about what constitutes historical importance. As a historiography of the common people has developed over the last several decades, in response to many centuries of what is sometimes called “great man” history, it has become more common to see scholars study the importance of cheap, popular prints in early modern Europe. I see connections here between what is valued as “default” in our consumption of digital media and the establishment of our networks–a dissonance not unlike what MacPherson calls “lenticular logics.” If we follow the “book life cycle” set forth by Robert Darnton (author->publisher->printer->shipper->bookseller->reader->author), we find many such logics in the “coding” of that system which has approved and disseminated ideas across an increasingly literate populace. Much of the work of book history is thus tied up with identifying ideological and market forces which were perhaps just as hidden to the reader in their time as UNIX code, and no less influential. I am not positive about how to connect these two studies usefully, but I believe it is worth pursuing further.

3 thoughts on “DTC 560 Blog 1/12

  1. I agree with your analysis and the questions you pose. Part of my skepticism in coming into DH revolves around one of your observations- that digital technologies aren’t as revolutionary as we think. All of us know that language itself is a powerful technology, as is the advancement of written language, then mass printing on paper, radio, TV, and now the internet and Web 2.0. I think Socrates was just as concerned with written language as oligarchs were of widespread literacy as the powers-that-be today might be concerned with widespread technological literacy. Because of this, I think studying and understanding what the digital is and can be is important enough to get over my skepticism towards romanticizing what “digital tech” is today so far as society seems to- as a first.

    I agree that there has to be much to learn from the past about what technological advancements have done. My concern is that while today’s rapid advancements aren’t new, I suspect they are unprecedented in scope or magnitude. In reading for this week, I read the letter that Tim Berners-Lee and 19 other internet pioneers/scholars wrote to four senators with the power to stop Chairman Pai and the FCC vote to repeal net neutrality (https://techcrunch.com/2017/12/11/internet-pioneers-plead-with-congress-to-preserve-net-neutrality/). I suppose the first printing presses were the same- very specific things could be printed, which probably contributed to much of the Western colonization that shaped the world as we know it today. I wonder how things will be different, if they will be, with digital/communications technologies today. Some of my skepticism persists because a large part of me doubts it will be any different. I think we are playing the same game, only with higher stakes.


  2. kachristen

    Richard (and Landon) agreed that digital technology is not revolutionary — the narrative that says it is needs to be unpacked (I do this in my “Does Information Really want to be Free article) the point is not so much that it is new, right, but that it has allowed a certain set of narratives (and counter narratives) to flourish and has elided and erased others. We see some of the same moral panics around social media as with early literature (See Always Already New https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/always-already-new).

    I think your questions can be refined to link the value and valuing of certain forms of text and authorship that happen across, over and between networks to engage with political and social forms of remix–especially when we think of the contours of what counts as remix (and what is cultural appropriation) and how these are linked via entrenched notions of capital and consumerism that erase histories of exploitation.


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