Galloway and Thacker on Video Games

Skeptical of any "democratic" or "liberatory" elements to networks, Galloway and Thacker write:

In this sense, forms of informatic play should be interrogated not as a liberation from the rigid constraints of systems of exchange and production but as the very pillars that prop those systems up. The more video games appear on the surface to emancipate the player, raising his or her status as an active participant in the aesthetic moment, the more they enfold the player into codified and routinized models of behavior. [...] Just as the school, in Foucault, was merely preschool for the learned behavior necessary for a laboring life of the factory floor, so games from State of Emergency to Dope Wars are training tools for life inside the protocological network, where flexibility, systemic problem solving, quick reflexes, and indeed play itself are as highly valued and commodified as sitting still and hushin up were for the disciplinary societies of modernity. (The Exploit 115)

I'm down with the critique of school--John Taylor Gatto's Against School is one of my favorite essays to teach. And, thanks to Foucault, we know that discursive disciplinary practices produce their own counter-discursive practices.

But here's my question here--and this is authentic--what is wrong with "flexibility, systemic problem solving, quick reflexes, and play"? This is in many ways my one sentence rebuttal to Gallaway and Thacker, whose insights into the underlying hierarchical nature of networks is a lively and interesting read. What are you looking for? Is there any form of social organization that you wouldn't critique? And perhaps their honest answer would be no--that the very purpose of critique is to always push for something better, or to cast attention on the unattended. But I'm with Jim Gee on this one: unlike the silent conformity demanded by "school," video games teach skills and ethics valuable for social life. Perhaps they define flexibility differently than I (they do at one point argue that "we are tired of being flexible" (98).

There's more I'd like to write about this short but interesting book (particularly their sensitive reading and misapplication of Levinas's concept of the Face), but I've got two conference papers to write and a pile of papers to grade.

Hope everyone else's semester is ending well.


Made My Day

A student wrote me this note while submitting his final paper for my upper-division expository class:

This was by far the hardest paper I had to write in my collegiate career. I'm not complaining, I really enjoyed writing it but the difficult part was stopping. I felt that I could explain my story in book form. I felt like I needed to commit more time to it because it needed so much thought and proccesing which made it hard. Your class has been my favorite since I started college and I thank you.

That made my day. "The difficult part was the stopping." Thank you, too.


Toward Kair-erotically Thinking Techno-Determinism

I spent the morning today doing some reading/writing on my Computers and Writing presentation, which will deal explicitly with how social media played a role in diagnosing and dealing with my daughter's cancer. One article that I read today was John Potts' "Who's Afraid of Technological Determinism? Another Look at Medium Theory." I like this article for its compact summary of Marshall McLuhan, and for its guilt-free recognition that technologies can have intrinsic properties and structuring effects on consciousness. Summarizing the woks of Havelock, McLuhan, Goddy, Watt, Ong, Eisenstein, Kittler, and Meyrowitz, Potts identifies one constant proposition: "as media technologies change, profound cultural effects ensue. These effects operate on both the level of the individual psyche and the social formation as a whole. The effects may be observed in the long historical span of inventions from literacy to interactive multimedia."

Human thinking of thought comes to resemble the media we use to capture, express and exchange that thinking on thought. At one point in time, humans created television; I might call this thinking "being-chronoslogically." But let's recognize that, at this moment, it is equally true that television creates humans, which would be thinking "becoming-kairoserotically. Chronological and Kairotic. History and Phenomenology. Logos and Eros. Kairos, phenomenology, and eros are the web (presented colloquially as transience, interactivity, plurality respectively in my dissertation). This is precisely why rhetoric, and more particularly Levinas, are central to my understanding of what the web could help us be-come.

Whether the relation between technology and subjectivity/sociality is a good thing is another discussion altogether. My reading today consisted of a number of cultural studies / neo-marxist / critical / materialist objections to the "social" media dominating today's communicative and cultural landscape. In short: the Web 2.0 honeymoon is over. Its a bit depressing, but requires our attention. I won't give it that attention right here, right now (but I will try to in the coming days). I will argue in a few weeks at C&W, these important analyses of the Internet's relation to capitalism and hegemonic power fail to account for the affective dimensions of the social web. Nor do they take into account the possibility that such affective and ethical relations could come to challenge their ontological-materialist-technological grounds. These critical theorists read "the medium is the message" quite literally--they track who owns and economically benefits from the medium at hand. I have Levinasian objections to this, but I will save those too for another post.

For this post, I'll follow Potts' suggestion that a little technodeterminism might not be such a bad thing if we want to reveal "the most profound and long-term cultural effects of those media." I say so provided we attempt to balance the "inherent properties of technologies" against economic, political, and social [and I wish I could here explicate this as Levinasian] considerations of media. We have to be responsible for the whole bag. Of course, I will recognize that the precise "inherent" properties of any medium are indeterminate--and we are talking in a speculative hermeneutic riddled with desire. This complexity does not make it a futile, irrelevant or dangerous task. Well, perhaps a dangerous one. But given that things so often become within the realm of possibility we imagine for them, it makes it all the more important a task. An essential task. Heidegger critiqued of Marx: "before a change in the world comes a conception of change in the world." Let's use technological determinacy as a vehicle for initiating-continuing-popularizing the construction of such a change.

Returning to my initial quote from Potts, perspective and scopes are the keys here ("the long historical span of inventions"). Materialist critiques focus on interpreting a now with a (linear) eye to the future. As one such theorist, David Golumbia offers in response to posthuman notions of transcendental change: "the more things change, the more they stay the same." His pessimism is routed in a narrow view of recent history (say 200 years) that documents how corporate and capitalist interests continually usurp individual choice into hegemonic, centralized institutions of power. From such a perspective, individuals are currently contributing (via free content) to their own subjugation, and the forms of power subjugating them are becoming increasingly invisible. Such a history becomes linear in the sense that there is little chance to break free (except, perhaps, for unplugging all our computers and reading all the Right [and by that, of course, I mean Left] books--sorry, couldn't help one cynical jab).

Against this pessimism, media theory would project a future from meager traces of the now and an interpretation of then. Its optimism is grounded in a long-look at human history documenting how media technology transforms social, political, and economic life. Most of those transformations are, in the long run, for the better for everyone involved. These transformations, however, did not take five, ten, or even twenty years. They took centuries. I would like to argue that this is thinking history (chronos) kairotically--to think of history as producing a present that generates the past, rather than thinking how the past caused the present. Either case, I would argue, is within view of infinite spectral futures that incessantly haunt us (that is, whether we are functions of the past or its originators, we are always, already haunted from the future, from the judge beyond the horizon of the time that unfolds).

And I would conclude by stressing that the future is as indeterminate as the absolute inherent properties of technologies. We will have to fight for any future we wish to come to be. The kairos for a potential chronos always begins now, in the stories we tell ourselves we are to Be-come.