Monday, June 16, 2008

We make the road by walking

Amy mentioned Walter Ong and I was intrigued. Googled him while we were talking and found the full text (on the Fielding Library eBrary database) of Ong's seminal work on Orality and Literacy: Technologizing the Word. It really fits with some things I've been reading. Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind and Marshall McLuhans work on the Gutenberg Galaxy both referenced by Ong. He also referenced a work by Julian Jaynes that I read in the 70's and I am starting to hear more an more again. So stuff starts coming together.

I also connected this work to one of the most recent books I have been analyzing, Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody" The Power of Organizing without Organizations"
He talks about the time when the printing press was being developed and the occupation of scribe that basically disappeared. The printing press was such an empowering thing because it brought down the various costs of production for the printed word. The first big thing was the Bible and Luther's Proclamation. Now many people could own the Bible and even take it with them. They weren't limited to having the Bible read and interpreted to them, they could read it themselves. Very empowering. Luther's proclamations similarly cause an enormous upheaval but wouldn't have if printed media hadn't been available and the scribes, who were Church functionaries, were responsible for recording and distributing the ideas.
Shirkey also talks about one Bishop at the time who authored a long defense of the scribe profession but then had it printed on a press for distribution.
Scribing didn't die off completely but became an art form which is where Shirky reads from McLuhan.
Humans are social creature and are designed to work in groups.
Mostly Shirkey is talking about how the costs of organizing limited organizations in the types of tasks they took on, running a railroad, managing a corporation etc. One of the most costly in terms of energy expended was organized communication, and the task had to justify the expenditure. Now that the cost of communication has dropped to near zero people can organize to do lots of stuff that was never considered important enough to be taken on by traditional organizations. This has enabled humans to engage in group activity on a scale never possible before and we are doing it.

Back to Walter Ong.
Ong talks about oral cultures and the secondary orality of technology enhanced communication.
"It is 'primary' by contrast with the 'secondary orality' of present-day high-technology culture, in which a new orality is sustained by telephone, radio, television, and other electronic devices that depend for their existence and functioning on writing and print. " (Ong 1982)

The new generation of web based tools is now supporting the rediscovery of orality with enriched multimedia and oral culture. Much of the earlier activity on web-based social networks was heavily dependent on text. Listservs and Bulletin Boards were exclusively text and many required a degree of technological sophistication to use.

The advent of wikis simplified the process somewhat and many more people began developing private online spaces and communication channels. These still required the ability to write some HTML code. Even the first web logs required the ability to cut and paste code using an HTML editor. The development of the WYSIWYG editor opened the online experience to many who did not have the skill to manipulate HTML. The inclusion of static images and photographs soon followed and added another dimension to private online channels.
The automation of many of the functions of blogs lead to a wide adoption and they became a very popular form of self-expression and communication. Now web based photo sharing services like Flickr and video sharing services like YouTube have become very prominent.
One modern set of web-based tools that promise to revive orality in a comparatively pure form is the podcast. These are digital audio recordings that are uploaded to the web for listeners to download to personal digital media players, commonly known as MP3 players. The term podcast gets its origins from the very popular Apple Computer device the iPod. Podcasting is ubiquitous and used for many purposes. It usually connotes a spoken word component and many universities now make entire series of lectures available on a podcast. ITunes is the Apple Computers service that manages podcast for Apple and ITunes University has developed with many lectures from many disciplines freely available for anyone with a device and an internet connection. Many students find this very useful for reviewing lectures and studying. It is very helpful for professors because students can review the lecture, pausing and rewinding over the sections that they want to review. If the student still has questions they can approach the professor for specific personal assistance.
Although the podcast is information received through an auditor channel and the experience is oral, it is still missing the essential elements that might be transmitted in a face to face setting. The podcast is certainly dependent on text, a highly specialized text of computer code that lies behind every feature of the web. The relationship between text and oral performance in this instance does not bears any of the same characteristics of the relationship between an oral performance and the printed text, such as the script of a play or even a musical score. In the case of computer languages there is no correspondence between a particular section of the computer 'text' and the performance.


Reflection on the “Mind/Artificial Intelligence” example of the shift in Informatics of Domination, Haraway.

Must admit that Haraway was a tough read for me. Scanning didn't work and I couldn't get into the flow of her writing and my understanding of the discipline of feminism is woefully inadequate. Theresa Senfts notes were quite helpful.
Reflection upon an example of this shift in the ‘Informatics of Domination’?
One example that Haraway gave as evidence of a shift in the informatics of domination was the shift from 'mind' to 'artificial intelligence'.

Wikipedia tells me that informatics "includes the science of information, the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems. Informatics studies the structure, behavior, and interactions of natural and artificial systems that store, process and communicate information. It also develops its own conceptual and theoretical foundations. Since computers, individuals and organizations all process information, informatics has computational, cognitive and social aspects, including study of the social impact of information technologies."

I suspect that the point that Haraway was making was that the study of the social impact of information technology must include the ways in which IT can be used to control and persecute people.

The mind is a construct that explains the functioning human consciousness; thinking, learning, remembering, appreciating, and communicating. The human mind has always been evolving especially with the development of language and language tools.
Ong quoted Julian Jaynes work. The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the bicameral mind. Jaynes thesis was that early man had a bicameral mind, maybe represented by the left and right hemispheres of the modern human brain. Each mind performed discrete functions and one mind was tuned to hear an external conversation attributed as the “voices of the gods”. Essentially your brain functioned in two contexts, as a set of processes given over to the functioning of the individual and a set of processes to keep each individual tuned to the collective mind. Individual consciousness was an a consequence of adaptation to allow that allowed for higher order development of the self reflective, functional brain. Jaynes suggested that the development of consciousness led to atrophy of the collective brain although there are vestigial elements remain represented by such things as premonition, pre-cognition, déjà vu, mystical revelations etc. These vestigial elements are more often seen as anomalies or outright psychiatric disorders. There is evidence that the collective mind still exists although humanity's ability to perceive it has diminished. The tone of Jaynes suggests that something essential to humanity was lost in the shift to individual consciousness.

Many spiritual perspectives talk about the illusion of individuality, and recommend practices and meditations designed to attune the individual to the collective mind usually represented as deity or the “mind of God. They talk about separateness and the sense of being alone in the universe is put forward as a dread affliction that can be remedied by spiritual connection.

The illusion of individuality pervades western intellectual tradition and all learning seen as primarily an individual function with occasional references to setting, context, peer groups, all collective units. The language of the OECD document is shot through with references to learning and cognitive development as individual enterprises, multiple intelligences refers to social intelligence as an element of the individual but not the collective consciousness. We know that we is greater than me and that there is a synergy available when learning in a group context. The work of Lave and Wenger with respect to communities of practice indicates that there can be a communal body of knowledge that is more that simply the sum of all knowledge of the individuals in the group. There is something about learning in groups that has a potentiating effect for learning and may be a necessary condition. Yet all of our effort is directed toward individual accomplishments, concern with individual intellect not group intelligence. Most teachers still view collaboration as cheating.

Computer connected to the WWW is the most obvious. Anders Sandberg calls cyborgs borganisms. Part of the fascination and horror of the cyborganism is the sublimation of individuality. Being subsumed by a collective has always triggered bad associations especially in some cultures that have had horrible experiences with some tragic perversions of religious cults, socialism or communism. Similarly in the the corporate American has sold a lot of soap by promoting a view of any collective activity as suspicious. The myth of the rugged individual is still a dominant theme. Technology and the WWW have made it possible to freely and easily participate in collective knowledge and meaning making without having to surrender your physical being or private identity. People start talking stupid you just move along.

Me, borganism

In thinking about the topic posted for today to list the hybrids that exist within me I find that my cyber existence and my meat space existence are merging. There has been a shift from mind to AI as Haraway puts it although I don't know if I experience this as a domination as much as a liberation.

I created a mind-map and posted to the shared map space. In the map I tried to visualize the ways that I have incorporated technology into my being. I thought about the everyday technology that I use, the virtual space that I occupy and the mid-range technology that I use between the two.

For example I can use my cell phone to call my mother or I can use it to call my podcasting service Gcast and record a podcast that appears on my web site. I can use my digital camera to record the visit of a new infant family member. I can print that to hard copy, display it on my screen saver or upload it to Flickr to share with the world. I love the outdoors and wilderness trecking. When canoing wilderness rivers, there are no street signs or anybody to ask for directions. I am skilled in the use of a compass and topographic maps but I love my GPS. So I take a canoe trip, take lots of digital pictures and post them to my Flicker site along with a description, and a push pin on a Google map. I enter the coordinates on Google Maps from the record in the hand-held GPS unit that I used to navigate the river. I'm just fooling around but the coordinates that I enter into Google maps are now part of the collective intelligence about that little piece of the world that I thought was so lovely. I added a piece to the hive mind, I made a contribution. As Skirkey points out , humans were designed to do that and it must be why I get such a kick out of it. There is no commercial pay off for the minutes or hours I spend.

The people in my computer are every bit as real as the people I interact with F2F. There are some real advantages to the cyber connection.

* Much broader circle of contacts
* exposure to larger set of ideas
* much broader choice of communities and interests
* diversity of ideas
* lack of barriers and interferences that operate in real time meat space.

Sandberg, A. We, Borg. . Retrieved May 8, 2008, from

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