Alert to fanpeople: The film version of Ender’s Game is not the sprawling political epic Orson Scott Card created in the Ender series. Alert to those unfamiliar with the story: The film is, however, a lean and contemporary plunge into questions of morality mediated by technology, and in order to tease out various issues, I’m gonna spoil the heck out of both book and film.
If you’re watching hoping to have your heart yanked out and shaken, you’ll probably be disappointed. Asa Butterfield’s guileless face makes a plausible approximation of the story’s world-weary protagonist, Ender, but he struggles to bring emotion to an over-trimmed, manically paced story. Minor conflicts are presented in expository dialogue and resolved before we have a chance to parse Harrison Ford’s (aka Colonel Graff’s) cranky barks. Minor characters are sketched in a single phrase, and the world appears divided into cute children who drift inevitably into Ender’s circle, and less typically-bodied children whose essential malice leaves them beyond redemption. Hood does a decent job of not Hollywood-izing the story beyond recognition: Here is Ender, cerebral, tormented, pubescent strategic genius in a world where children’s minds are employed as the best military defense against an alien enemy. Ender is taken from his home to Battle School in space, subjected to increasingly grueling battle simulations, and, in his final moment of victory is devastated to learn that the simulations were actually the real war. Without realizing, he has annihilated the aliens’ home planet. (more…)
The film Gravity is having an especially strong run at the box office, and it seems to be having an especially powerful impact on those who have seen it. It’s certainly a beautiful movie, visually, and an unusual one, as far as big-budget Hollywood attractions go. For anyone who thinks a lot about technology, as I do, the film has some interesting, though somewhat ambiguous, messages.
Be forewarned: What follows is all spoiler.
Technology gone wrong plays a central role in Gravity. The film also resonates with a theme that’s central to the technological project: the drive to open new frontiers. This is not to say that either of those subjects is the principal concern of Gravity’s director and co-writer, Alfonso Cuarón. His interests lie elsewhere, as I’ll explain. Still, when you make a saga about human beings in space, questions of technology and frontiers are hard to avoid. (more…)
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Elysium was trashy action flick. It sacrificed any pretense of plot or character development to maximize the number of fight sequences and explosions. It’s clearly geared toward the X-Men 7/J.J. Abramscrowd. However, Elysium does accomplish a few things worth considering:
It injects a class narrative into an action movie—a genre that has been intellectually moribund in recent decades.
It offers a revolution (as opposed to reform) narrative.
It envisions a dystopia arising more from state neglect than from state control.
Facebook just enabled its new Graph Search for my profile and I wanted to share some initial reactions (beyond the 140 character variety). Facebook’s new search function allows users to mine their Facebook accounts for things like: “Friends that like eggs” or “Photos of me and my friends who live near Chuck E. Cheese’s. ” The suggested search function is pretty prominent, which serves the double role of telling you what is searchable and how to phrase your search. More than anything else, Graph Search is a stark reminder of how much information you and your friends have given to Facebook. More importantly however, it marks a significant change in how Facebook users see each other and themselves in relation to their data.. You no longer see information through people; you start to see people as affiliated with certain topics or artifacts. Graph Search is like looking at your augmented life from some floating point above the Earth. (more…)
E. Gabriella Coleman’s new book Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (2012, Princeton University Press) is an ethnography of Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS) hackers working on the Debian Linux Operating System. It is a thorough and accessible text, suitable for someone unfamiliar with open source software or coding. It would make an excellent addition to an IT and Society 101 course syllabus, or a reading group on alternative work organization. Coleman’s greatest achievement in this text, however, is not the accuracy of her depiction, but the way in which she dissects the political and economic successes of the open source community. By claiming absolute political neutrality, but organizing work in radical ways, contributors to F/OSS “sit simultaneously at the center and margins of the liberal tradition.” (p. 3) Coleman argues that while F/OSS, “is foremost a technical movement based on the principles of free speech, its historical role in transforming other arenas of life is not primarily rooted in the power of language or the discursieve articulation of a broad political vision. Instead, it effectively works as a politics of critique by providing a living conterexample…” (p. 185) (more…)
R.U.X. (Rockwell Universal Sexbots), written by Maurice Martin and directed by Sun King Davis, was first written and performed as a charity effort to raise money for HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive); it ran as a five-part serial in Arlington’s October 2011 Hope Operas. It was rewritten as a full play for DC’s 2012 Fringe Festival, where it took the award for best comedy. The show just finished up a brief encore at Fall Fringe. While this comedy has already been widely and positively reviewed by DC theater critics, it deserves a piece that engages its rather weighty themes.
The story takes place in near-future America (similar in setting to the spate of early twenty aughts robot films such as Bicentennial Man, A.I., and I, Robot), where anthropomorphic robots have become a common consumer product. Louis Rockwell Jr. (John Tweel) has just been made acting CEO of the Rockwell Universal Carebots company, after his father (Frank Mancino) fell into a coma. Louis Jr. has a new vision that would transition the company away from producing robots designed for childcare and, instead, move it into designing robots for—you guessed it—sex. After rebranding the company “Rockwell Universal Sexbots,” he hires Dr. Callie Veru (Aubri O’Connor), a young and romantically inexperienced software expert to program the robots with the capacity to fulfill human desire. To program robots to respond to human desire, however, the characters must first understand it, and this interrogation of human desire becomes the axis on which the entire plot rotates. (more…)
The theory and policy of Internet connectivity has not kept pace with the increasing diversity of network access. The full variety of access points, social practices, and meaning created by networked individuals has not been critically engaged by most authors. Jenna Burrell’s new book Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafe’s of Urban Ghana is the start of a major corrective in the social sciences’ treatment of the Internet. For “nonelite urban youth” the internet café provides an opportunity to extend one’s social network outside of the zongo (colloquial term for slum) that they grew up in, and gain access to resources and contacts they would otherwise never acquire. A majority of Burrell’s work takes place in these cafés but we are also treated to a discussion of global ewaste streams, international consortiums on the “information society” and the collective reputation and shared meaning of Ghanaians on the Internet. Burrell provides a broad, but at times penetratingly deep look at the Internet from the margins. (more…)
Lev Manovich’s 2006 article “The poetics of augmented space” published in Visual Communication (which he had apparently been working on since 2002 [edit: the article was actually first published in 2002]) is the earliest that I am aware of anyone using the term “augmented reality” in the broader sociological context of social interaction that flows between digital and physical (as opposed to the more limited computer science definition that describes it as merely the overlaying of digital information on the physical environment). (more…)
Labor and non-labor develop an identical form of productivity, based on the exercise of generic human faculties: language, memory, sociability, ethical and aesthetic inclinations, the capacity for abstraction and learning. From the point of view of “what” is done and “how” it is done, there is no substantial difference between employment and unemployment. It could be said that: unemployment is non-remunerated labor and labor, in turn, is remunerated unemployment. -Virno (Grammar of theMultitude,p. 103)
I’m deep into my second comprehensive exam, so I’m going to self-servingly post some notes on various things I’m reading. (Feedback is most welcome.) Though Paulo Virno only mentions the Web once in In Grammar of the Multitude (p. 43), the four lectures that comprise the book are of deep relevance to the political economy of social media, particularly in situating them in the broader historical trend toward post-Fordist production.
Let’s start by unpacking that phrase “post-Fordism.” Fordism refers to Henry Ford’s innovations in assembly line production in his automotive plants. The assembly line had profound social consequences in that it made the tasks of each worker so repetitive and simplified that anyone could do them. That is to say, the assembly line created a de-skilled workforce. Fordism is also generally linked to Taylorism, which refers to Fredrick Taylor’s attempts to introduce scientific rationality in the workplace through time-and-motion studies and pay-for-performance. (more…)
The following is a review of Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman’s new book Networked: The New Social Operating System (MIT Press).
Rainie and Wellman, using scores of data, argue that we live in a networked operating system characterized by networked individualism. They describe the triple revolution (networked revolution, internet revolution, and mobile revolution) that got us here, and discuss the repercussions of this triple revolution within various arenas of social life (e.g. the family, relationships, work, information spread). They conclude with an empirically informed guess at the future of the new social operating system of networked individualism, indulging augmented fantasies and dystopic potentials. Importantly, much of the book is set up as a larger argument against technologically deterministic claims about the deleterious effects of new information communication technologies (ICTs). (more…)
We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts. This blog chronicles our new, augmented reality.