Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Oct 16 The Hallelujah Effect: Communications, Media, and The Culture of the Cover

Galloway, “We are All Goldfarmers” 
Goodman, SonicWarfare

Babich, “Covering Leonard Cohen” 
Han, Demediatization” in In the Swarm


  1. The recommended reading that struck me the most was Bogost's "Hyper-Employment of the Exhausting Work of the Technology User."

    I found this article most interesting because it countered my previous point of view that the use of technologies such as email, Google, or Facebook detracts from one's work instead of adding to it. While I consider emailing my family an interesting news story, researching a random person or place on Google, or checking my Newsfeed on Facebook as a means of procrastinating from my real work, Bogost points out that, especially in the context of work, these seemingly mindless tasks actually add to our workloads--making us committed to more jobs than just the one that pays the bills.

    For my on campus job, for instance, even after I clock out, I am still expected to respond to emails or slack messages instantly, and have my phone on at all times in case I need to be called back into the office. Although I could choose to turn off my phone and ignore these messages, as Bogost rightfully explains, I will be the only one to suffer--I will get lectured from my manager or miss out on some important information. Not only do we not get compensated for all this extra work, but we also get taxed when it comes to our time.

    This concept extends to social media, as we do small amounts of work for Twitter and Instagram every time we use it, which is an idea I have never considered before. These companies are able to exist because of our contributions, but what do we have to show for it? A few likes and a couple of retweets? To describe the exhausting work technology users experience, even when they are not aware of it, I turn to Goodman's analysis of Sonic Warfare: "Sound can be deployed to produce discomfort, express a threat, or create an ambience of fear or dread--produce a bad vibe." I believe that ever-looming presence of technology is like Goodman's definition of sound in the sense that it creates noise; a constant radio static that cannot be turned off even when we want to do a different job (or, if you will, "change the channel."

    As much as technology makes our jobs easier, therefore, it also adds to our workload and the anxiety that comes with increased labor. This idea directly opposes Heidegger's goal to have a "free relationship with technology." We are not free because technology controls us. The consequence of this, according to Bogost, is that "we will not have any memory of leisure to distract us." One of the crucial needs of the human beings is time to ourselves to relax, do the things we enjoy, and recharge our mental batteries. If technology takes this leisure time away from us, then what will be left to distinguish us from the machines we use?

    1. This reading immediately reminded me of a French law that was passed this year that gave workers the right to unplug from their emails, allowing them to ignore work emails after hours. While this is of course beneficial to workers, it nonetheless struck me that in order to have a "free relationship with technology," some of the burden lies not on our individual willingness to spend less time on Facebook, etc., but also on the state to pry us free of work emails. The possibility of a political platform whose planks include restrictions on our work emails shows just how ingrained technology has become in our day-to-day lives through hyperemployment.

      To build on the Goodman point, the analogy of sound is also very literal as we are constantly bombarded with notifications. The brief, high-pitched "ding!" of Facebook Messenger and iPhones immediately distracts us from whatever task we were occupied with as our minds shift to thinking about who sent what. Now we can't even study without being bothered by these notifications, because we need to interact with them to log into Fordham accounts.

      There is also one aspect I would like to add to hyperemployment that Bogost touches upon: our social media activity. He mentions how engrossed we are in this work-away-from-work, but it is not only the notifications that keep us hooked, but the social pressures as well. We have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. not just for leisure, but because of social coercion and pressure to be part of a network, to show we care about our friends' lives by dropping a like or nice comment.

      Hyperemployment and our Matrix-esque connection to the internet is vaguely similar to Marx's dystopian notion of the automaton from Chapter 15 of Captial: no longer are we in control of our products, rather, we are mere "conscious organs" of a vast machine whose sole purpose is to produce profit and self-perpetuate.

    2. These are very fine observations, Emily and Paul!!
      I especially appreciate the fact that both of you allude to Goodman when it comes to the question of 'notifications' and 'static.'

      Related to a similar convergence, might also be Dallas Smythe's older essay which is a little tougher going than Ian Bogost's similarly finely observed Atlantic essay on Hyperemployment.


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Temporality of Truth

    In his essay, Demediatization, Byung-Chul Han describes the temporality of digital media as being inherently present. The multilateral, or omni-lateral, aspect of digital media in which we are all simultaneous active producers and consumers erases the intermediate phase of preproduction and transmission, making the journalist as opinion setter utterly obsolete.

    The current media climate is both present and transparent. As in, everything is immediately disseminated and transmitted universally without delay, censor, or an aspect of privacy. Han believes that this is extremely detrimental both politically and artistically, because art and politics must exist on a different temporal plane, one which is not immediate, public, and present but private, and mediary. I do not believe that Han is criticizing representational democracy, but is saying that political discourse must have the ability to discuss and consider the future and future implications without suffering political ramifications for this discourse.

    The immediacy and presentness of digital media deconstructs Heidegger’s notion of an obscured and hidden truth which is revealed and brought forth by technology. Digital media makes this process impossible. Since all discourse is trapped in the present, we are unable to plan or look (either politically or artistically) toward the future. This reveals a critical aspect of the temporality and ontology of Heidegger’s truth. Truth exists temporally in the future. It is perpetually ontic and existent in the future, waiting to be revealed and brought forth by human technology. Yet modern technology, as modern digital media, removes any mediary time frame. Information and energy exists omni-laterally in the immediate present, making any long term temporal orientation impossible.

    1. Thanks Matt, for this well framed response. You touch on a set of issues that all of us are living through as Han seeks to engage them.
      But I am not sure Han's handy summary, as you present it on his behalf, regarding Heidegger on truth in his tech essay, as "obscured and hidden truth which is revealed and brought forth by technology" is ultimately an accurate statement.At the same time, this characterization works as a hook for Han to hang his argument on. And he needs to do that given the terms of his argument -- yet any hook that is decisive can also be a weakness.
      Thanks for this and there is so much to discuss!

  4. In response to Galloway’s We Are the Gold Farmers:

    I agreed with most of Galloway’s argument, particularly involving the negative effects of a market-system created through video games; however, his second question, “why do games have races and classes” severely distracted me from s more critical point he was trying to make – especially regarding the whatever. I do agree with most of the concerns he highlighted surrounding the game World of Warcraft, but his case for StarCraft appears quite flawed, and brings to light the complexities in making the assertion that race in games parallels “certain offline retrograde notions of naturally or physiologically determined and unchangeable races.” This assertion may hold true in the fantasy genre – a genre with roots regarding racial stereotypes – but remains weak when held up to a genre such as science fiction, and a game such as StarCraft or Mass Effect.

    StarCraft is a science fiction real-time-strategy game (RTS), with roots extended all the way down to chess; however, race is more representative of answering a question akin to “what would happen if the chess pieces were to play against the one’s from Draughts (checkers),” and class is more representative of solving how a chess bishop would respond to a king from draughts. In addition, absolute balance is intended primarily for professional play – at the amateur level unbalance can easily be found. For example, if two individuals with the same style of play (e.g., attacking early in the game) were to select two separate races, one would most likely have an advantage; and if this scenario were played out amongst amateurs, the advantage would be exponentially greater. The term “race” in StarCraft most likely finds its troubles in the area of semantics – which Galloway recognizes, but denies it exemption from the earlier assertion. An RTS and an RPG are two very different types of games, and both require different applications of race and class, which made his argument a little too complex to tackle in one section; however, we can see the difference race has in an RPG when science fiction replaces fantasy.

    In Mass Effect, a science fiction role-playing-game (RPG) set in the future, race represents the different alien species you encounter. One of which, asari, is a mono-gendered race that regards breeding within the race as inferior to breeding with another species, or race, because it fails to advance their genetics or species as a whole. They even refer to a child born within the species using a negatively-charged/offensive term.

    I would have liked Galloway to focus in more on the issues being created and sold via games produced by large corporation – instead of opening up a can-of-worms with a discussion on race/class in games. Yes, issues are seen clearly in World of Warcraft through the gold farmers, as well as the selling of already progressed characters; however, there exists many more examples to highlight the process of selling a product, which then creates problems that require the purchasing of another product, to avoid the expenditure of labor or exposure of advertisements.

    At the core of the problem is not the video game itself, but the corporation and shareholders behind it. The first video game I ever played was free, and was intended that way – Doom (1993).  However, many games today are beginning to rely on a pay-to-win model. That is, through micro-transactions, purchasing content to be used within the game, the player gains a significant advantage through reducing the labor required. Next to this model lies the free-to-play system, in which the game costs the consumer nothing upfront, but then forces them to view advertisements, or complete micro-transactions in order to progress. In essence, these games create a problem via their product in which spending more money, or subjecting oneself to advertisements, can alleviate.

    1. It should also be mentioned that these models appear to be the most popular in games played through mobile devices; therefore, anyone with a smartphone, wanting to play a game to pass the time - especially during a dreadful commute via NYC transit - are likely to be subjected to the additional cost.

  5. Smythe, Bogost, and Galloway, through each from slightly different perspectives and times, discuss the evolution of implicit, and necessarily exploitative, economic participation in (what I call) the attention industry. From a materialist / Marxist angle, Smythe traces how in the 70’s mass-communications era advertising was the primary economic mode producing capital. The information provided by television, radio, newspapers, etc, he claims, served the primary function of ensuring that the audience would pay attention to their advertisements. Consequentially, the societal increase in ‘leisure time’ during this same period, actually led to more time consuming mass media and accruing consumer pressures, hence blurring the line between leisure and work time - between entertainment and unwilling economic participation.

    The other authors, Bogost and Galloway, observe phenomena similar in function, but more insidious in nature, happening in today’s digital society. Similarly to how people unwittingly contributed to the audience-advertising industry while watching TV, people now make similar, economically exploitable, contributions of information while using digital technology while under the pretense of leisure. As the 1970’s mass-communications era led to a broad societal condition of having to cope with overwhelming consumer pressures, today the condition is one of constant inundation, alienation (surpassing that of Marx’s worker) and ultimately resignation.

    Though I share the general conclusions of these different accounts, I am reluctant to agree with their fundamentally leftist premise – that all behavior is necessarily pre-determined by economic forces and or power structure outside of an individual’s control. Each author (but Smythe primarily, as he is the unabashed Marxist) fails to provide an account of how autonomy, or conscious objection, and even basic economics, could possibly factor into the larger societal sweep of technology and capitalism’s domination over man. Instead, they generalize collections of individuals as passive, bureaucratic, racially defined cogs that are meekly at the behest of the superstructure’s whims. Galloway, for example, takes the time to criticize the digital stereotyping of Eddie Murphy, a black man, playing a donkey in Shrek, yet he neglects to mention how the scenario came about as a willing decision by Murphy, an actor by trade, who used said role to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself. Likewise with Smythe’s sweeping and conspiratorial indictment of mass-communications. I agree that the effects of attention harvesting and practically subliminal mass-scale advertising are insidious, damaging and exploitative, but would you rather not have a newspaper?

  6. In response to the concept of the "Whatever Singularity" referenced by Galloway.

    I found Galloway's discussion of the "whatever singularity" as an alternative mode of being, mainly one concerned with neither relation to the common or the particular, but rather with being-as-it-is, as pertinent to Babich's (or your, although like Adorno I have no response to the question : "What is your intended audience" in this specific case), conceptualization of so-called unique musical artists such as Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and others of that ilk. I am brought to the question: does a truly "unique" artist, one who breaks to some considerable extent from musical tradition, forge an identity somewhat akin to a "whatever singularity"? If so, what does our historical obsession with these apparently "unique" artists say about our (the consumers) relationship to the "whatever", and what does it say about their (the producer's) relationship to this concept.

    I would argue that, yes, a "unique" artist finds their value and cultural significance in the fact that they become unrepresentable with regard to anything common OR particular. Precisely because their music is "new" and cannot be related to, (or is considerably less relatable to) traditional examples of musicality that their music comes to be celebrated as a "whatever singularity", or as something with "being-as-it-is" rather than being as it relates to something else or being as classified.

    The fact that these boundary-pushing "whatever artists" become so immensely popular then raises interesting questions when considered alongside the Frankfurt School's constant assertion that the consumer only consumes what he is fed. The question is thus: do these "whatever artists" gain a following because there is some innate truth to this concept of the "whatever being" Do we have a natural predilection towards the unique and the boundary-pushing, and eventually towards the "being-as-it-is" that Agamben supposes can support a conflict-free Messianic society? Or, rather darkly, in the tradition of Adorno, does this popularity simply mean that the unique has already been co-opted by the corrupting forces of capitalism; commodified into regularity and stripped of its "whatever" characteristics. When Chance the Rapper, the harbinger of the new age of freely produced independent music, free from the filthy hands of the profit system, performed at the Grammys, did this commodification become apparent? Perhaps, as Galloway believes, even the margin has become monetized.

  7. What I noticed consistently when reading Adorno's "On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening" was usage of typically Marxist terminology in reference to the production of music. He discusses the shift in music's use values to exchange values, as popular music is produced (and reproduced) for mass consumption. Any kind of impulsivity, subjectivity, or individualism, which were once adverse to materialism, are now a part of it. From a perspective focused on radio, the standard channel for music broadcasting, Adorno has a specific focus on popular music. While of course pop dominates on radio today, the radio itself is losing its sway in music tastes with the advent of not only digital forms of music, but streaming services that often force the user to identify their own preferences. I wonder if it is now possible for the individual to exist in this context if they are producing and releasing free music. However, any self-produced music available on YouTube, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc. is ultimately serving, if not the artist, the profitability of the companies themselves and likely remains well within capitalism's bounds. The same question applies to the listener as well; when it comes to digital platforms that provide access to music for free, can the listener be reduced to the purchaser? Smythe's piece takes issue with the idea that Marxist theories largely neglect media's economic participation, and instead categorize media as a way of cultivating ideology. While the actual content of media, especially music, is subjected to changes, the way it is consumed also changes rapidly, and the two appear to effect one another within the "consciousness industry," as Smythe calls it.

  8. From Mass Communication to Mass Time Consumption

    Dallas Smythe’s discussion of different Marxist approaches to analyzing mass communications complements Bogost’s article on hyperemployment in the age of technology. Bogost primarily points out that our smartphones and the obligation and near ball-and-chain that email has become hyperemploy us, inundating us with requests and information constantly. They give us more jobs than we are paid to do, and I would argue also produce newfound social expectations of us.

    Our smartphones have lent us a new way to judge our success, from how many followers we have on Twitter to how many likes we have on an Instagram picture, and these new platforms on which we are judged act as yet another way to employ us for completely unpaid work. Bogost’s article revealed to me the fact that email and social media have created an entire new realm of additional opportunities for us to either succeed or fail. Whereas we could once divide our work life and personal life, balance the two, and feel successful, it seems now there is a third realm separate from our work and our personal life, but that vies to indicate our success in both. If we post pictures out with friends or perhaps on a plane for a work trip, it produces an image of success in our work and personal lives, and also increases our success on the platform of social media; on the surface we appear to be thriving and living a holistic life. Keeping up this appearance of a great life on top of having to actually attend to our needs in the workplace and in our social lives becomes an additional job that adds to our stress and need to achieve. Our real life success can become an apparent failure if we do not reflect this success by posting about it online. This job of creating an appearance on social media, as Bogost points out, it is unpaid labor imposed upon us by social pressures.

    Dallas Smythe’s work adds depth to this observation by Bogost, when he discusses our division of waking time. As capitalism increased, many hypothesized that so too would workers’ free time. However, Smythe asserts that in the time workers are not being paid for their labor—their “off-work” time—the capitalist system has imposed other duties on workers, particularly through advertising in mass communications. Due to the advertisement of brand name products, workers now spend their leisure time using branded products of the capitalist system, such as using cars to pleasure drive. Furthermore, advertisements require us to constantly make a decision on their terms. Even if we do not act on an advertisement, the system still imposes itself into our lives by requiring us to make a decision on whether or not to purchase the item that is advertised. As Bogost asserts, for those who use smartphones for alarm clocks, they are the first and last thing we see and touch at night and in the morning.

    As advertisements bombard our apps and internet searches, employing cookies to focus on our demonstrated purchasing interests from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we are inundated with the capitalist system forcing us to make decisions on whether to purchase their branded products. While Bogost asserts that email and advertisements have hyperemployed us, Smythe adds the depth that this makes us pawns of the capitalist system, as even when we believe to be in leisure we are using goods made by our own exploitation through capitalism. Both Bogost and Smythe seem to assert that technology and mass communications in the capitalist system commandeer our time, constantly busy us, and hide under the veil that we have more free time by the ease of communication through technology or by shortening our time at work. If we fail to look past this veil, our entire lives will be consumed by the technology, mass communications, and advertisements of capitalism.