Connecting to or filtering the interactive world?

Sunday, January 19th, 2014 by contromal

Archive has always meant something dusty and catalogued to me. It involved scavenging through the stacks or scrolling through microfiche. Jussi Parikka’s “What is Media Archaeology” challenges its readers to alter their conceptions of the archive as a physical assemblage of the strange and unknown experienced through catalogue. Instead, the author asks the researcher to participate in a more experiential type of archival work. Parikka muses “Perhaps the future archaeologist does not start her excavations by going to an archive filled with books and documents, but opens up a PC from the 1980s, inspects its circuit board, and starts forensics work on the hard drive” (loc 2037). The development of media directly influences an individual’s access to knowledge and how he or she interfaces with it. The scholarly world has (obviously) changed dramatically with regards to information management. In the 1600s, a few hundred books, consolidated into one physical location, demanded scholarly respect. Beyond these written resources, aspiring and renowned physicians alike expanded their ability to interact with the strange by cultivating a collection of, observation of, and experimentation on shrunken heads, animals’ skeletons, paintings, plants, or other strange objects. As Parikka points out, media archaeology has in many ways mimicked this type of archive. But the dangers of this type of study “lies in being drawn into writing about ‘curiosities’ for their own sake, instead of asking the simple and critical question ‘why’: why is this particular technology important, and what is the argument behind this research into this curiosity of media history?” (loc 1560).

As a person not incredibly technologically savvy, but incredibly interested in how man interacts with material objects, this question “why” becomes particularly important. This question helps me from (in Alice in Wonderland fashion) barreling down a rabbit-hole of technological description. From “why,” I can theorize about what the creators of gaming systems, GPS, and the telegraph hoped to achieve and reflect upon what their desires revealed about the consumer in the context of these technologies. I might speculate that the logic behind technology results directly from a human desire for connectedness or communication or expression. Our technological world allows me to Skype with my father dressed in a super-imposed pirate hat, consult a community-composed and edited encyclopedia, or decide if my new dentist’s building is in too sketchy of an area to patronize. In short, technology, as I experience it, connects me with people, geographic locations, and knowledge.

Google’s new ocular developments, Google Glass and Google Contacts, indicate a newly developing trajectory for technology focused on how we visually interact with the world. This obsession with the eyes reminds me of the existing ear phenomenon. Perhaps, I should explain. Whether they are riding buses, running with dogs, or walking from one class to the next, the average American controls the way he/she perceives at least the auditory component of the world. I could not help but consider Google Glass/Google Contacts in relation to a headphones commercial featuring basketball star Kevin Garnett (http://www.ispot.tv/ad/76dI/beats-studio-featuring-kevin-garnett-song-by-aloe-blacc). Garnett replaces the jeering and booing of a crowd with Aloe Blacc’s song “The Man.” The commercial concludes by addressing the audience, “HEAR WHAT YOU WANT.” This advertisement indicates a different view of the media based technology, than I had previously considered. I had always assumed that the intent, the “why,” of technology was to foster a sense of community, bringing individuals closer together, bonding families and exposing different peoples to different modes of thoughts. However, as technologies become increasingly available to the individual, I cannot help but wonder if the trend will shift. Instead of an individual layering technology upon everyday life, perhaps the individual will primarily use technology to block out undesirable elements and filter experience. Will an individual’s focus be on the dissociated self, removed from its surroundings, instead of the self in relation to community? If we can choose to “hear what [we] want,” is the next step “see what you want”? What does that world look like and how does it alter how humans will continue to interact with each other?

Renée F

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