Trains blare their horns louder in the mornings than in the evenings. At least that’s what it sounded like the two time I lived next to train tracks in two different American cities. The first time was at some on-campus apartment housing in Houston where trains passed throughout the day, sometimes up to six. A few years later, I lived directly next to the main train tracks in Corvallis, a small Oregon town. Here the train passed four times a day, once around 6 am, then at 2 pm, later at around 7 pm and again at about 10 pm. I knew this because the bar next to our house served $1 shots whenever the train passed, and on particularly tough days we’d sprint over in whatever we were wearing and down some tequila before heading back home and resuming whatever miserable conversation we were having at the time. The train also became my running partner if I timed it right. I’d emerge from the house in time with the whistle signaling its approach and run alongside the conductor’s car for the three blocks before the sidewalk ended and they continued along their journey. I’d try to maintain that pace for the next 3 miles, hurtling across 3 lane streets at times. I start with all this because although we are temporally distant from the time of swing’s emergence, I recognized in reading Joel Dinerstein’s Swinging the Machine that the train still has managed to allow for some of my actions, dips into spontaneous drunkenness and increased running speeds. Continue reading

Decentering Technology’s Role In Harmony

Reflection on Scripts, Grooves and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era by Lisa Gitelman

Despite the way humans keep fucking up, I’m a firm believer that we can still course correct. In my opinion, what can help us get to a place where such work is possible is by admitting that for the most part we have dedicated our gift as a species for technological innovation to mostly fit within a capitalist system. I thought this throughout my reading of the first half of Lisa Gitelman’s  Scripts, Grooves and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era as I made my way through chapters that argue against the contemporary opinion that the internet and related digital technologies will be the key to facilitating greater democratic access to information and discourse, showing how those opinions have precedent in similar late 19th century conversations about Edison’s phonographs.

from 'The Aviatior' (Miramax Films, 2004)
from ‘The Aviatior’ (Miramax Films, 2004)

Continue reading “Decentering Technology’s Role In Harmony”

When You Can’t Hear Heroes

Response to Sean Zdenek’s [Reading] [Sounds]

If Sean Zdenek sought for his book to make us all more thoughtful about the rhetorical power of captioning, he succeeded in converting me at least. One idea mentioned early on in Zdenek’s text is that captioning seems to have as its target audience the broadcast companies that ensure they’re made available to fulfill a legal requirement. As a result of a focus on this audience, captions regularly fail to provide hard-of-hearing or deaf viewers with a means to access the aural world of video, especially in the case of non-speech sounds. I decided to assess whether a few recently released movie trailers for mega budget genre films spent any of the money in their marketing campaign in order to create accessible content for deaf and hard-of-hearing fans on the Youtube versions of the trailer.

For this micro case study analysis, I limited myself to only Youtube as a platform due their auto-captioning technology providing at the very least a default option for these studios. I then did a general search in Youtube for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer’; ‘Assassin’s Creed trailer’; ‘Logan trailer;’ and ‘Doctor Strange trailer.’ Logan and Assassin’s Creed’s trailers were both uploaded by the official 20th Century Fox account, and the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Doctor Strange trailers were uploaded by the official Marvel Entertainment account. Additionally, each trailer was also uploaded by Movieclips Trailers, an account owned and managed by the ticket-selling company Fandango. Each video also had additional uploads by miscellaneous users that for the most part reposted the trailer as shown by Movieclips Trailers or the film studio accounts. Continue reading “When You Can’t Hear Heroes”

Live from Belize with the Samaritans!!!

I can see Belize in water emerging from fountains around Syracuse campus; how its varied brilliance and pressure compare to the waves of the Caribbean Sea, considering whether its temperature would lead to coral bleaching, or its pH to fish species’ extinction. Without the use of a passport, I am always crossing borders, my mind boarding and deplaning from Philip Goldson airport with a pace that leaves me harried much of the time, and yet I keep returning through increasingly circuitous routes to a case study in the form of a nation that is my home country but no longer my home. Sometimes I am concerned that this national filter makes me less able to be a proper scholar since I am able to stare at anything long enough that my sight connects the object back to a country that I am trying to maintain central to my life, a country wherein I rarely felt like a suitable citizen.

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For me, objectivity is always out of reach (and I think for most too), but I think with an understanding of the futility of objectivity, comes the benefit of empathy and self-identification with potentially any exhibit under study. Identifying my own country’s difficulty with maintaining nationhood, I was disturbed by much of the history of the Samaritans in Jim Ridolfo’s Digital Samaritans. The way that the Samaritans have struggled since the late Ottoman period reflects much of the struggle occurring in global South countries like Belize where a people’s conditions and way of being are largely determined by more politically and economically powerful cultures and nations that view these relatively smaller communities as groups that must remold themselves at any given instant to suit whoever the current winning side is. Continue reading “Live from Belize with the Samaritans!!!”

Why Are We Doing This Again?

 

Finding nothing of ourselves

there was nothing about us at all

—Olive Senior, “Colonial Girls School”

In the house I currently live in with four other dudes, there are two white boards on which we leave written notes to each other. On the smaller, there is a short note I wrote in my scrawl last week listing foods my roommates should feel free to eat, and within that are two other notes written by one of my roommates, offering Snickers he had bought yesterday. What strikes me about these notes are the poor quality of both of our handwriting despite the drastically different identities my roommate and I inhabit. Other than being cisgenedered heterosexual men, my roommate and I have led very divergent lives. I grew up in an upper middle class Mestisx family in Belize and he, a white man, grew up in a working poor neighborhood in upstate New York. I have been in school forever whereas my roommate finished high school and then immediately started working in a series of factory jobs. And despite the fact that I put pen to paper everyday whereas my roommate does manual labor with glass and machinery all day, my penmanship has seemingly not benefited from all the previously described privileges nor the regularity of my practice, according to any of the measures described in Tamara Plakins Thornton’s Handwriting In America: A Cultural History. This led me to reflect on the period in which I took penmanship classes as a means of trying to situate myself into another conversation about United States history.

my handwriting in blue. roommate's in green and orange-red.
my handwriting in blue. roommate’s in green and orange-red.

Continue reading “Why Are We Doing This Again?”

How Did We Lose A Revolution?

Reading Response to Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press As An Agent of Change

Throughout all these readings, one through-line for me has been human’s ability to make technologies invisible, to make revolutionary artifacts and systems of knowing mere wallpaper in front of which we create other technologies. Elizabeth Eisenstein’s text The Printing Press As An Agent of Change contains a deluge of information that overwhelmed me in its thoroughness and curiosity about the many ways that the introduction of the printing press changed the world, or did it? See, one of the aspects of Einstein’s text I was most impressed by is her lack of allegiance to any narrative about how the printing press changed the world.

In general, Eisenstein’s text claims the history of the printing press’ impact on society is difficult to determine because it impacted areas so unevenly and at different rates that it is difficult to isolate what was owing to the press’ invention at any particular point in time. Biased by their varying fields of interests, Eisenstein states that scholars have tended to oversimplify printing’s history and flatten out the response of people to create particular narratives. Repeatedly through the first two chapters she notes trending changes that have occurred in the wake of print’s creation only to find several exceptions to those trends. Despite the difficulties in finding a clear narrative though, Einstein states that by paying attention to the communication revolution enacted by print, we can better recognize the motives of people rather than ascribe them to whatever reasons are laying around. Continue reading “How Did We Lose A Revolution?”

No Closer to Understanding Whales

“A whale can injure another whale with its sonar. A whale can speak to another whale across sixty miles of ocean. A whale is as intelligent as we are, just in a way we can’t quite measure or understand. Because we’re these incredibly blunt instruments” (Vandermeer, Jeff, Acceptance, 81).

When I encountered this passage in Jeff Vandermeer’s conclusion to his ecological sci-fi trilogy The Southern Reach, it allowed this week’s readings to click in ways that they previously hadn’t once I realized the source of the nagging feeling in my lower back. Throughout his trilogy, Vandermeer explores how ineffectual any of our existing technologies have been at improving life for humans and non-humans, and in this quoted moment from Acceptance, it became apparent to me that this may not necessarily have to do with our technologies innately being blunt instruments, but that the motives to innovate remain fairly singular and determined by a microscopic minority of humans who prefer blunt instruments.

The readings this week both point out to the incredible imagination and ambition of Western scientists in the early to mid 20th century, but also the relatively limited scope of what they conceive of technology, and their optimism bordering on naïveté regarding its application. In light of Angela M. Haas’s article on ‘Wampum as Hypertext’, it becomes even clearer to me that in addition to all the many ways I have come to learn that hegemonic constructs choke the world, another that I’ve been ignorant to until this time is how Western hegemony has narrowed our conceptions of advancements in technology, reducing our innovations to merely creating new iterations of the same blunt instruments. We have continued to expand our technologies, preventing them from entering entropy, but what are we ultimately achieving through these advances beyond increases in efficiency and aesthetic variation? Well aware that this is a basic question, I also add: how can we, like Sequoyah, create a technology that does something different and operates from new ontological frameworks without unconsciously borrowing from hegemonic powers?

Continue reading “No Closer to Understanding Whales”

If One Made Writing, What Can We Do?

 

Response to Ellen Cushman’s The Cherokee Syllabary Intro to Chapter 4

When we talk about the craft of writing, we’re usually referring to how its reworked, expanded, contracted, crossed out, and amended on a page, in order to convey meaning in ways that feels satisfactory to the writer for whatever their imagine the writing’s purposes to be. Reading The Cherokee Syllabary however has expanded my notions of writing craft as well as the way I previously perceived the emergence of writing as a technology. Sequoyah’s work in creating the Cherokee Syllabary recalls the activity of Theuth described in Plato’s Phaedrus, but here that work takes on a political element absent in the Egyptian god’s divinely powered craft.

Often when people imagine Native American resistance they conjure up images of violent retaliation or solemn protests most regularly shown in stark black and white history book illustrations. Sequoyah disrupts that narrative by using writing, a technological system, to simultaneously unite and enhance the diversity of means the Cherokee people were able to communicate and develop their culture in the face of stolen geographic spaces. Exceptional to me about Sequoyah’s work was his amazing perseverance in spite of his lack of support from family and friends in crafting a writing system from trial and error despite a lack of traditional literary or linguistic education (Cushman 34). This trial and error component of his crafting of the syllabary makes me question the source of a technological system like writing. Continue reading “If One Made Writing, What Can We Do?”

Intent Has Nothing To Do with It

I already thought that this whole writing thing likely didn’t have its origins in wonderfully performed plays or some divine force prior to reading Denise Schmandt-Besserat’s How Writing Came About even despite my lack of familiarity with much linguistic history theory. Perhaps I’m too distrustful of humanity since I didn’t expect much less of us than to have writing, this beautiful wondrous communication technology responsible for all the art and communications I’ve experienced, have as its origin story a situation where people wanted to more efficiently count goods without having to continue dedicating warehouses to an ever-expanding system of tokens. However, the implications of the argument made by Schmandt-Besserat leave me feeling a sense of unease as a result of some of the factors that led to tokens’ increasingly complex system and the eventual formation of writing. Namely, I couldn’t move beyond the idea that increasing concerns for centralized spaces of redistribution, and therefore taxation to maintain and build new state buildings and infrastructure, largely factored into the evolution of abstract counting and then writing.

According to the archaeological research of Schamndt-Besserat, trade actually played very little into the developing of counting technology. Early on, exchange of goods happened face to face. A person with a sheep met a person with some rice, and they exchanged their goods without any need to measure out the fairness of the transaction against an external standard other than perhaps the work required to nurture the animal or grow the crop. We also learn from the tokens that the creation and exchange of manufactured goods such as perfumes and oil were not what drove tokens’ increased complexity, but rather the state’s taxation of both farmed and manufactured goods requiring that people begin to account for them in order to have on record the transactions they made (Location 1907-1908). And here, I’m going to give these ancient states the benefit of the doubt and believe that they were not acting with any malicious intent in spurring tokens’ greater complexity, but were simply trying to ensure they got the goods necessary for redistribution as well as provisions for state officials working to keep oil lamps on. And how would such malicious intent even be possible since tokens evolved over 700 years? Yet, and a lot of the rest of this is now just conjecture, that increasing need to account for things had to have some impact on the way people conceived of both ownership as well their sense of individuality, and over millennium since has perhaps facilitated the transformation of many languages into communication systems that renders people from one another. Continue reading “Intent Has Nothing To Do with It”

RhetTech Log: Finding The Ambience in Urban Design

 

 

“Rhetoric is intimate with the environments in which it emerges. intimacy is not solely human-based.” (152)

“For ambient rhetoric, connection is already given as possibility by the world itself.” (103)

 

Q: What fields concerning technology, in addition to music and writing, may we benefit from in employing an ambient rhetoric framework?

 

Ambient Rhetoric is primarily interested in reorienting the way in which we [scholars] traditionally conceive of rhetoric, and disrupt several of the binaries that have become cornerstones of rhetorical teaching. Among those binaries, Ambient Rhetoric highlights in chapter 5 the subject object divide in the act of persuasion. Through exploring notions of agency and language-making from Kenneth Burke, Debra Hawhee and Heidegger, Thomas Rickert makes the case that persuasive control ultimately rest not in the hands of the rhetor in an attempt to persuade an audience, but that all agents within the ambient environment operate alongside each other to allow for persuasion to occur. What most excited me about this chapter was its utility in discussing relationships between states and its citizenry that are generally accepted as both hierarchical and static, relying on underlying assumptions of subject-object between states and citizens. Specifically, I found persuasion within an ambient rhetoric context a productive means of exploring contemporary urban design since it ideally considers “place, language and body into coadaptive, vital and buoyant interaction,” (107) much like ambient rhetoric.

In Unpleasant Design, a book I originally heard about on the wonderful 99% Invisible podcast, the contributors [urban designers and artists, sociologists, and architects] explore different means by which states have reformed urban spaces to make them unpleasant to [mis]use in a manner other than what is intended by the state. A prominent example discussed throughout the book being the installation of arm rests on public benches in order to deter people from sleeping on those benches, a design solution that most effects marginal groups such as the homeless. Examining this scenario from a traditional rhetorical perspective, we can recognize the linear subject-object manner that the state sees as their role in controlling the use of urban space. In the case of the public benches, the state as subject sees that the presence of homeless people in public spaces negatively impacts the space, perhaps by deterring other people and decreasing the commercial activity occurring within those spaces. Continue reading “RhetTech Log: Finding The Ambience in Urban Design”