Monday, January 23, 2012

Slouching toward Doctorates...

This week I finished reading New Media: Key Concepts by Nicholas Gane and David Beer and continued along in my reading of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick. While the first half of New Media: Key Concepts focused upon network, information and interface, the last chapters tackle archive, interactivity, and simulation (followed by a concluding chapter tying it all together).

The idea of archival was of particular interest to me because of how drastically I’ve seen this concept evolve over my short life span. I was really struck by the opening quote of the chapter, which comes from Brouwer and Mulder:
“We do not live in a society that uses digital archives, we live in an information society that is a digital archive? (qtd in Gane and Beer 71).
What I love about this quote is how much it acknowledges that our reality is very much shaped by the way we use digital archives in our society. I even considered how much my own understanding of society through digital archives shaped my reading of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

What is of most interest to me about the idea of archival as it relates to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the analog archival systems used by the police system within the world Phillip K. Dick has created. While Rick and his peers zoom around In hovercars, talk to each other using the vidphones, and are capable of creating false humans and animals, the police use *paper* of all things to give Rick and other bounty hunters assignments. There is little discussion of where these assignments come from or how their stored in any kind of official police database. As a result, the reader, and perhaps Rick as well, are left to really wonder who represents the “real” police when Rick has the “cops” called on him while he’s attempting to question a suspected android named Luta. This cop has no knowledge of him as a bounty hunter, or any recollection of his boss, because he operates outside Rick’s police department, in a parallel one that denies the existence of the one Rick devotes himself to.

Reading this text for the first time, I began to question who I should believe was “real” when Rick found himself in this situation. It occurred to me: how do we know that Rick’s orders really came from anyone in authority? There seems to be no way for Rick to verify his assignment with anyone in the agency beyond his boss because the assignment is simply a sheet of paper. The lack of dependence on some form of technology in this situation, honestly does create more tension in the plot for me.

Of course, while I would like to think that it’s the product of Phillip K. Dick’s design, I do think it’s more indicative of his time period. The fact remains that this text, as foreseeing as it may be, was written before 1970. The author had no way of knowing of the role digital devices might inhabit in our business practices today. I see the truth in this when I consider the vidphone, in particular. While I want to imagine a Skype like entity for the vidphone, the fact remains that these devices are described as having “receivers”—it seems one physically has to pick up the phone and talk into it, while looking on screen. The author didn’t anticipate our built-in speakers and microphones. I wonder—if the vidphone had been a hands free device with a built in mic and set of speakers, would Miss Luft and the office been about to hear Inspector Bryant when Rick called in desperation? I find it interesting to consider how technologies that have become our reality might have altered the reality Rick was left to exist within.

As another example: written today, Rick might have downloaded his assignment from some police resource using his Blackberry, his iPad, or at the very least Netbook. I wonder if reading that assignments came from these more authoritative sources would have altered my reading—or at least my suspicion that Rick was not who he thought he was.

Again, I find it really interesting how my understanding of reality through digital archives shapes this reading. I think we are becoming increasingly dependent on these archives to help us in storing memories, but also in creating them. Gane and Beer indicate the role of our archives in shaping our reality when they say:
“For today, user-generated archives of photographs, music, videos and texts are literally everywhere, and while taking up less physical space in our lives are at the same time structuring our personal memories and identities to an even greater extent” (82).
I think Facebook, particularly with its new timeline, is a great example of this structuring of our memories and identities. Individuals use this space of the social media not to record who they are, but to make arguments about their persona. They carefully collect pieces of information to record and ones to leave out based upon who they want to be perceived as, rather than the wholeness of their being.

In my own usage of Facebook, I’ve seen memories not stored, but falsified and created through the use of Facebook. I’ll be commenting on this fact at Computers and Writing this year, in a presentation called “Hey Peeps, Remember When . . .’ : Social Media and Shared Experiences for Geographically Scattered Cohorts.” Within the 2010 Cohort of ODU’s English PhD program, there’s quite a bit of activity on Facebook aimed at creating community despite the fact that our cohort is spread across the country. In our first year, while there are often events in Norfolk for the on-campus students, there were few occasions when we’re all able to join together for purpose of just enjoying one another’s company. It was hard to make memories together. Or was it? The lovely Megan Mize began uploading random images to Facebook and tagging her comrades in them with a caption that always began “Hey Peeps, remember when…” Soon, many of us joined in and continued to expand our memory book with additional false memories. For example, the students of Classical Rhetoric, were most recently seen lounging in Athens, as pictured above.

Silly right? Perhaps. However, these memories, despite their fictional nature are important to our cohort. They give us moments together that we need to build trust and collegiality with one another, which are so vital to our ability to provide support and encouragement as we plow through the reality that is doctoral work, which, let’s be honest doesn’t seem unlike the Mercer climb to the top of the hill. Maybe this should be our next memory image:
hikers climbing a mountain at sunset
Source:  Pebble's Blog
Gane, Nicholas and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg, 2008. Print.
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Del Rey, 1975. Print.


  1. I absolutely love the connection between your shared "histories" and the Mercer machine...what does that say about the need for community in constructing history/archiving? Must their be an audience in archiving (beyond the author)?

  2. Hey Cheri, I really liked reading your post. I don't know why it never really occurred to me that they were using paper in DADES instead of some fancy electronic device. I wonder why PKD didn't invent some other medium. It made me think of this quote from Shelley's 539 class: “In the future new media will not be new any more. Media will not matter. There will be infinite possibilities to create and distribute images. These images will float screen to screen, " Jeanne Verdoux (qtd. in New Media Design p.43). It seems that images and words words should be able to do that in PKD's world. Also, I think the fake pictures about the doctoral students are hilarious! Does someone actually take the time to photoshop your faces into famous places? If so, I think I'll be needing that link. I'd love to see our rhetoric class lounging about in fantastic places of the world.

  3. Hey Amanda--typically we don't bother to photoshop our faces. In fact, sometimes we're pictured as non-humans. There was only one time when we went the photoshop route and that was during Mat Reynold's brief stint with Facebook, wherein I photoshopped Mat's head onto a picture of Bastian riding Falkor...but I'm fairly certain he would un-friend me IRL if I let that picture surface on the interwebs at large. :)