The digital juggernaut: Resistance isn’t futile!

Picard+as+Borg

Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, after his assimilation by the Borg.


Whenever I see people walking down the street wearing those little Bluetooth headsets, I think of the Borg.

Okay, really… first I think that they must be crazy people, because when I grew up, if you saw someone walking down the street alone talking, it meant that they weren't getting the right meds.

But then once I do notice the headset, I think Borg.

To summarize the concept of Borg quickly, I'll excerpt a passage here from the page for Borg on Wikipedia, as I trust Trekkers to vehemently enforce the accuracy of that entry — and if they don't, well, there's not a whole lot at stake here. It's science-fiction, folks. (Or is it?)

The Borg are a fictional pseudo-race of cybernetic organisms depicted in the Star Trek universe. The Borg have become a symbol in popular culture for any juggernaut against which "resistance is futile." The Borg manifest as cybernetically enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind,
linked to subspace domain. (…) They operate solely toward the
fulfilling of one purpose: to "add the biological and technological
distinctiveness of other species to their own" in pursuit of perfection. This is achieved through forced assimilation,
a process which transforms individuals and technology into Borg,
enhancing, and simultaneously controlling, individuals by implanting or
appending synthetic components.

In the Star Trek universe, assimilation by the Borg is generally
assumed to represent an enhancement of individual capabilities. But the price of
enhancement is control, the subjugation of all individual wills to a collective
mind, which runs counter to most of our cultural notions about what it
means to be human.

Continue reading “The digital juggernaut: Resistance isn’t futile!”

More signs of a Slow Media Movement… on Facebook

People keep pointing out to me the apparent "irony" of fueling a digital-media resistance movement via the Internet. Many critics of the present environment, like myself, try to be clear that we're not Luddites struggling to destroy the machines. We're just trying to slow them down a bit, perhaps keep them in their circumscribed place instead of letting them creep all over our culture.

In any case, Facebook just might have something to teach us about this nascent concept of slow media. As of press time, the "Slow Media Movement" on Facebook has nine members, including yours truly. Here's a glimpse at their mission statement, which takes aim at multi-tasking and what might be called "distractedness":

"We believe, first and foremost, that listening to music or watching
films should be deliberate acts; that the current trend of collecting
music and movies in gigantic batches of unrelated and overly compressed
digital files is not only changing our methods for interacting with
such materials, but is fundamentally changing the materials themselves;
that a far better way to enjoy music is in an intentional or deliberate
manner where the listener or viewer is relaxed and prepared, rather
than solely while on public transit or while engaging in other
activities. Does this mean we hate our iPods and iPhones and
other media devices? No! It simply means that sometimes media is best
enjoyed without dividing your attention between it and other activities."

The "Slowbies–Slow Philosophy" group is doing slightly better, with a membership of 77, though it focuses less explicitly on media. The guy who started this group was inspired by Carl Honore's book "In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed." He also sings to the glory of idleness, though he's specific about not being anti-productivity:

"In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming
age. we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the
background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being
alone with our thoughts. Boredom—-the word itself hardly existed 150
years ago—-is a modern invention. Remove all stimulation, and we
fidget, panic and look for something, anything, to do to make use of
the time. When did you last see someone just gazing out the window on a
train? Everyone is too busy reading the paper, playing video games,
listening to iPods, working on the laptop, yammering into mobile
phones."

He says that the group is part of a growing global movement against the addiction to speed that's "16 million strong in
the UK already." (He also links to a site for the International Institute of Not Doing Much, which claims more than 2000 members and sells t-shirts.) I'll have to look for the basis of that figure… Also, I wonder what the OED has to say about the origins of "boredom."

Then there's my own group, "Facebook, Stop Colonizing My Lifeworld!" My supporters only number in the single digits, too… so far. Maybe the semi-obscure, quasi-elitist Habermas reference is scaring away the masses. Or maybe all these strands of the Slow Media Movement need to be woven together, to present a more unified front, to mix a metaphor.

If you know of any more groups–Facebook or otherwise–plugging Slow Media, please post a comment and let me know!

Desert island medium

If you were stuck alone on a desert island for three days and could pick one single medium to use, which would it be? Assume that all of your material needs are met: food, drink, clothing, shelter. 

The mediums on offer include books, iPods, phone calls, texting, magazines, Facebook (not the whole Internet; just the Facebook site), newspapers and radio. Cellphones and computers, of course, merge so many different functions that we tried to unbundle those modes here, for argument's sake.

A quick classroom poll tonight yielded a surprising result. The winner, by a margin of 2-to-1, was books. Texting, phone calls and iPods all got two votes each. Magazines and Facebook each got one vote. Newspapers and radios came up friendless, at least for a 72-hour stay under these conditions.

People cited "escape" and "passing the time" as reasons to choose books, while others preferred phone calls as a means of "connecting" or getting information through two-way exchange.

Maybe print culture isn't dead after all, though books and magazines together earned support from four students while digital media as a single category garnered favor from five.

Some students pointed out the power limitations of electronic devices and suggested that their choice would veer toward print if they knew they wouldn't have three days' worth of juice.

Technophiles and technophobes

In the Mass Media & Culture class, we've been talking about different theories about and attitudes toward the role of media technologies in our culture. This week, we read some chapters from Neil Postman's book "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology." (The subtitle says it all!) In the comments posted below, students are giving their perspective on the concepts of technophilia and technophobia, in three parts: 

– Do you consider Postman to be a technophobe or a technophile? Why?

– In what ways do you agree or disagree with his views?

– Which of these terms best describes you? Give some examples.