Reflections and Ruminations

The readings this week really hit home with me. As someone invested in the exploring the relationship between media sources and knowledge production regarding war, I found both of these pieces incredibly helpful to re-framing thinking about information politics in the digital era.

Robertson and Travaglia provide us with the thematic gesture of this quarter of trying to find the connections between old and new. In this process, we’re drawn back to thinking about how the “new” builds on the old, the negative side of which is that we obscure the political nature of the structures on which the new has been fashioned. van Dijck and Poell’s piece then gives some depth to this narrative, weaving together dimensions of mass media theory and social media theory to show this exact relationship. Both of these texts point to the flowing, as opposed to ruptured, nature of shifts in information media.

While at times the van Dijck and Poell article seemed like a safari through the various scholarly approaches to mass media theory and social media theory (I found reading it in my head through the voice of Steve Irwin a somewhat rewarding project), I truly did appreciate the insights it gave to studying information media and social media in a more nuanced way. The authors approached the subject from both directions of the discourse surrounding social media (control and freedom) to really try to explore why these apparently oppositional approaches are relevant discussions, wrestling them into conversing with each other. I found this extremely helpful to propelling my own research interests in probing the informational atmosphere regarding war and militarism in the US. The point I got stuck on in moving forward my previous research revolved around this type of translation from “mass media” to new media – what is the relevance of television news today? This article pushed me to think beyond the media platform itself in order to shift the framework around how major news networks interact with social media to navigate discussion. This points towards a more nuanced understanding of how news networks view social media epistemologically, as well as to be able to start building a cross-media understanding of how public debate is framed through information networks. This opens up a number of doors for more nuanced study of the interplay between institutions, media platforms, and audiences/users in shaping the nature of debate regarding issues of war and protest.

This article gives agency to both sides of social media, placing it as an intermediary (which obviously can be more or less even of a playing field given the topic of discussion). This then places the burden of research involving information media on not just understanding one side or the other, but in examining the interplay between institutions and users, between social media and mass media. However, they also caution us about the dangers of framing research this way, citing the dangers in assuming that social media represent an organic and holistic “voice of the people.” This comes in their adherence against falling into the trap of the datafication of “the masses” through social media, stating that (in Louise Amoore’s words) “real-time data flows may say less about us, but more about ‘what can be inferred about who we might be’” (11). Not only does this provide a warning against the current epistemological weight of social media data, but it also connects back to our discussions of algorithmic culture and Robertson and Traviglia’s point that by studying data collection practices it becomes clear that “it is science and not society that we are seeing through such instruments.” Overall, these two articles seemed to pull together many strands of this course, as well as ones happening concurrently in Media Historiographies, surrounding social media, data, and the topic of old and new.

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Reflections and Ruminations

Wondering About Words

Upon reflecting on the manifestos for this week, I ended up thinking about the centrality of text/writing in conveying information. As manifestos, each project attempts to subvert ideas regarding dominant ideologies/epistemologies in a multitude of fields. Whether explicitly or implicitly, each manifesto brings to the forefront questions of form in regards to knowledge production, particularly in thinking about incorporating human and computer epistemologies into an integrated approach.

However, despite efforts to re-imagine the dynamics of discourse into a form more attuned to the digital age, what struck me as interesting was the centrality of the written/spoken word to all of the pieces. While the form of each text was experienced in drastically different ways, the only one to engage with the word outside of its visual textuality was the FemTechNet manifesto. By experimenting with the aural dynamics of the cyber voice, FemTechNet’s manifesto played with ideas of the collective yet anonymous voice (“we are”) that is often embodied in the collective/collaborative grassroots project. However, it is usually not experienced outside of the disembodied voice of the written text, lending it a somewhat detached feeling from the humanistic affect it attempts to purport. Utilizing the oral form brings voice and texture to the disembodied voice we all read while experiencing text online. However, there’s an odd distancing effect given by the cyborg effect – there is an experienced dissonance of aural closeness that points towards humanity performed by a cyborg voice that is distinctly non-human as well as a disjuncture between the collective, humanist/subversive thought spoken in a singular disconnected outlet.

This seems to embody the spirit of glitch art as proposed in its manifesto, looking to the importance of interruption – “Flow cannot be understood without interruption, nor function without glitching. This is why glitch studies is necessary.” By experiencing this dissonance, the FemTechNet manifesto seems to offer a moment of exploration of experiences between human interaction, en vivo and online. By providing this perceived dissonance and continuity, it allows for an exploration of the distinctions between individual and collective, man and machine. The Vectors manifesto seems to explore this area as well, attempting to bring together the worlds of human thought and computer thought in their dynamic model. While these different approaches to exploring this “interruption” between human and machine “thought”/expression, a couple of things seem to be points of further exploration. Particularly in the Vectors manifesto, I find the project’s goal to combine human and machine thought slightly problematic as perpetuating this difference maintains the narrative that computers/technology exist in a realm parallel to their human origins. However, maybe this is the point in the interruption – to explore the distinctions and contours of this conversation, to examine the flows of discourse.

What also struck me, and perhaps this is me participating in the same practice of which I’m being critical, is the continued centrality of the spoken/written word to convey meaning even as technologies make it easier to create and share multimedia forms. As personal declarations of intent, manifestos have a necessity to declare clearly and succinctly how they are attempting to subvert problematic dominant ideologies. It’s interesting to me that the best way in which to do this remains the word. One would think that proposing manifestos antithetical to the word would be at the heart of subverting dominant modes of thinking and knowledge production. Wouldn’t collaboration amongst broader audiences subsume a need to communicate in a more universal language? Doesn’t the use of English assume a certain audience? A certain level of competency in order to comprehend and participate? I’m not proposing that I have a solution to the confines of language, but I find it striking that manifestos that aim to question the ideologies of linearity and modes of production continue to cling to language as the primary mode of expression. Are we confined to thinking in text form? Is this universal, or a production of the West with its roots in textual tradition? Are there ways to subvert the text beyond an interactive rearrangement of words or aural rendering of a text? Can a manifesto be communicated in an image, a video, a work of art, a song? Is there a hierarchy of mode of expression? Can we subvert it?

Wondering About Words

Ramblings and Glitches in Oral Traditions

This week, as I took in the readings I was simultaneously in the Collaboratory messing with Crimson Hexagon, trying to get it to work for my purposes, trying desperately to get a dataset that was most interesting to my needs, trying to exclude the tweets I didn’t want, getting annoyed with my search for verses of the Qur’an online, because no matter how many times I thought I had figured out to get just quoted verses, or I had taken precautions to avoid the bigots spouting  racist diatribe against Islam, or those responding to them, I kept finding tweets that didn’t fit my needs.

And then of course, I keep stressing out and pulling out my hair as I’m trying to zero in on the overall point of this exercise— yes, I have a research question (more like several) that are fueling my overall efforts, but I keep worrying about how much I keep manipulating my own perception of the data in order to see what I wanted to see.

“In short, failure is a phenomenon to overcome, while a glitch is incorporated further into technological or interpretive processes.” (27)

I want to see glitches.  But the failures keep piling up.  A glitch, as Menkman says, “refers to a not yet defined break from a procedural flow.” (27)  And this is exactly what I want to find.  Where is the break in the flow from oral or aural text to written to digital to short-without-context tweets.  I want to see the shift in experience of the Qur’an on social media, on Twitter specifically, perhaps Facebook, or even youtube.  I want to see what happens when certain verses make it to the online platform while others don’t.  When certain translations make it and others don’t.  When certain voices dominate.  When the essence of the Qur’an and its esoteric meaning/flow is disrupted, but somehow reaches a much larger audience than ever before at greater speed and regularity.    But I can’t help but think, perhaps this idea of glitch doesn’t quite work with oral traditions.  Perhaps oral traditions don’t really care about glitch.

The stuff I’m reading right now, about the compilation of the Qur’an, hadith, and Arabic poetic traditions seems to think so.  The readings criticize the Western focus on accuracy, seeing this as being irrelevant.  For religious texts, this may sound ludicrous.  And it kind of is, I suppose.  But maybe not so much.  Menkman writes “The first encounter with a glitch comes hand in hand with a feeling of shock, with being lost and in awe. The glitch is a powerful interruption that shifts an object away from its flow and ordinary discourse, towards the ruins of destructed meaning.” (29)  When looking at the Arabic poetic tradition, there are constant glitches or even failures according to this terminology, in that little was written down, and therefore the poems themselves would be retold, “rewritten,” re-mediated even, sometimes even “improved” upon, sometimes made worse, catered towards different locales, and therefore became living things.  The glitch that would disrupt this normal flow of things then, is when the primarily oral tradition comes into a head on collision with the dominant written culture, or the need for written culture, so that the oral tradition won’t die out.  Could I say then, that the glitch in the data I’m looking at is that it has been re-contextualized and re-mediated so much that the oral tradition of Qur’anic recitation itself has been infringed upon, disrupted to a certain extent.  People are learning the proper recitation (tajwid) through youtube videos and websites rather than with a teacher.  People are reading the Qur’an, or at least taking in bits and pieces of daily inspiration through twitter accounts and chopped up verses that sound nice.  Is modernity itself the glitch in the oral traditions of Islam?  Perhaps I’m going way too off the deep end here… I feel like I’m rambling.

“A glitch is the most puzzling, difficultt to define and enchanting noise artifact; it reveals itself to perception as accident, chaos or laceration and gives a glimpse into normally obfuscated machine language. Rather than creating the illusion of a transparent, well-working interface to information, the glitch captures the machine revealing itself.” (29-30)

 

According to the quote above, maybe modernity and social media aren’t the problem.  Maybe the Qur’an via Twitter is actually allowing the “machine [to reveal] itself.”

 

My project (and career in academia) is still coming together, or falling apart depending on  how you read this rambling piece, but perhaps the fogginess in my own thoughts is merely setting the stage for clarity:

 

“Noise turns to glitch when it passes a momentary tipping point, at which it could  tip away into a failure, or instead force new knowledge about the glitch’s techné, and actual and presumed media flows, onto the viewer.” (31)

 

I’m thinking this quote means there is a real purpose, perhaps even potentially incredibly interesting end to my project.  Or perhaps, and excuse my language, I’m just writing convoluted and unecssary bullshit and I need to shape up.

Ramblings and Glitches in Oral Traditions