Digital Media Revisited

Review by Barry Mauer

Digital Media Revisited, edited by Gunnar Liestøl, Andrew Morrison, Terje Rasmussen. MIT Press, 2003

[1] Digital Media Revisited details some of the most recent issues to arise in studies of digital media, focusing especially on the study of digital media at the university level in the humanities and about ways of adapting humanities practices to include digital media. Major topics include Education and Interdisciplinarity, Design and Aesthetics, Rhetoric and Interpretation, and Social Theory and Ethics. For anyone who has not kept up to date on these issues, Digital Media Revisited is a reminder of how rapidly this field has changed even in the past three years. It also apprises us that three years from now the field will have undergone rapid changes again.

[2] In July of 2000, I attended the Incubation: trAce International Conference in Nottingham, UK, and was amazed at the quality and quantity of work on digital media studies in Europe, particularly from researchers in Denmark and Norway. The stellar efforts of writers from those countries are on display here; in this volume of nineteen essays, twelve of the contributors have some connections to academic institutions in Denmark and Norway

Chapter I: Education and Interdisciplinarity

[3] 1. The opening essay, by Jay Bolter, provides a convenient "state of the discipline" sketch showing the relationship between academia and new media. In general, Bolter argues, there is a disconnect between most academics' theory and practice. Much academic ink is spilled over new media, but few new genres of academic writing making use of new media have appeared. Most academic work online could just as easily appear in print; there is nothing inherently "digital" about the forms used for most academic research. Bolter gives some credit to Gregory Ulmer for opening new directions for academic research. He credits teachers and artists with greater creativity in their approach to new media, and with the postructuralists for greater creativity in relation to their media — print (which can serve as example and analogy for exploration in digital media), but he does not extrapolate from these examples.

[4] Bolter's essay contains a key passage:

Very few scholars have exploited the possibilities of multilinear rhetoric. On the other hand, there are many developing genres on the web (the Webcam, the home page, the fan site, the marketing and sales site, the corporate public relations site, the Web radio station, and so on) but these are popular and business forms, not scholarly forms. (20)

Bolter concludes by calling for "a hybrid, a fusion of the critical stance of cultural theory with the constructive attitude of the visual designer." (30) What about the idea of fusing cultural theory with some of the genres Bolter lists above, something Ulmer has been doing for some time?

[5] 2. George Landow's essay, "The Paradigm is More Important than the Purchase" goes over familiar ground, arguing that digital media offers much more than just a way to archive materials using traditional print methods. His description of the program at the National University of Singapore, where he now teaches, is overly long for my taste but does offer valuable advice for revising the curriculum to accommodate digital media and explains how these revisions can lead to new interdisciplinary approaches. One of his projects, titled "The Effects of Information Technology Upon Literature and the Arts" is especially interesting. The web site for this project "offers information and then asks a series of questions" including:

Again, the site provides information but then prompts the student to do something with it — a 'something' that very often requires the resources found in another discipline and another area of the program." (55)

[6] I am tempted to use this strategy myself in the Texts and Technology PhD courses I teach at UCF, particularly as a way of exploiting the powerful archiving and networking capabilities of the World Wide Web.

[7] 3. Jon Lanestedt's "The Challenge of Digital Learning Environments in Higher Education" concerns efforts to standardize the infrastructure that supports digital learning environments. He argues that this work should involve humanities faculty who should, "take part directly, by experimenting with, performing tests on, and exploring real media in use as an integral part of their development, guided by theory." (84)

[8] 4. Gregory Ulmer's "The Internet and Its Double" argues that the "pedagogical tone" of electracy (Ulmer's word which is analogous to literacy's relation to print) should be that of the performance of a "remake." The bulk of his essay defines his terms and explains and justifies this intriguing move. His tour-de-force proposal takes us through Artaud, Kant, Freud, Heidegger, Jakobson, Propp, Lacan, Derrida, Bataille, Kristeva, and others to render a version of his pedagogical genre, the mystory.

[9] His tour-de-force proposal takes us through Artaud, Kant, Freud, Heidegger, Jakobson, Propp, Lacan, Derrida, Bataille, Kristeva, and others to render a version of his pedagogical genre, the mystory.

[10] Ulmer's chapter focuses on the linguistic categories of "voice" and "mood" and speculates on their proper register within electracy. Ulmer proposes the "middle" (or reflective) voice. His analogy for this voice is the Heimlich maneuver. Ulmer stretches the term to include the Unheimlich, Freud's concept of the uncanny. Ulmer notes that this is a heuretic (generative) move rather than merely a hermeneutic one. These terms traverse the "pop cycle" "(the set of institution/discourses: Family, School, Entertainment, Career-Discipline)."

[11] Ulmer uses an "interbody" metaphor rather than an interface metaphor to theorize homepage design, which he refers to as "the virtual person that I am online." (96) Ulmer posits the "bar scene" from Entertainment as the site of the heterogenous, the place where the hero sets out on a journey of (self) discovery. He maps the Disciplinary discourse of Lacan onto this bar scene, noting Lacan's discussion of the "bar" between the self and the Unconscious. Both the instructor and student face this bar with ambivalence. Although Ulmer notes that the gap of knowledge between truth and knowledge may not be closed, he notes that this gap makes possible an "inferential orientation (which) directs me, albeit asymptotically, toward learning." (102) He proposes "that the computer is the prosthesis that makes it possible for groups meeting in a virtual bar to write with the unconscious." (102) The "magic tool" the instructor gives to the student is the middle voice. Ulmer writes: "I give the magic tool by finding it," by which he means performing his own mystory and showing students how to perform one for themselves.

[12] Through a discussion of Bataille and Derrida's notion of the Gift, Ulmer emerges with the proposition that "Gift is to electracy what communication is to literacy." (103) Whereas communication creates distinctions, the gift "crosses all lines." (103) Thus, "for the lesson to be received, I must not communicate it (its effect is unreceivable in the economy of exchange; it must not be defined)." (104) The key to giving this gift, paradoxically, is to give it without any hope of return; instead, the gift creates an event structured by the aleatory, one that produces surprise. The instructor, in other words, stages her own learning process.

[13] The remainder of the essay discusses the approaches to "mourning and sacrifice," the "abject," and "imaging," key themes in Ulmer's recent work. Abjection is to online writing what the "self" or "individual" is to literacy;" The theory suggests that when we speak and write we are chewing, devouring, choking on, and regurgitating the inassimilable pieces of our identity (our introjected others)." Examples of abject writing can be found in the avant-garde arts, Ulmer notes.

[14] Ulmer's essay has a plot, a mystery to be more specific: his search for a scene that represents his mood. Ulmer discovers this scene through a series of chance encounters made possible by puns, and he reveals this scene to us at the end of his essay. I won't spoil the surprise for you by revealing it here.

[15] 5. Andrew Morrison's essay, "From Oracy to Electracies: Hypernarrative, Place, and Multimodal Discourses in Learning," is another standout essay in this volume. It begins with a discussion of the HyperLand project at the University of Zimbabwe, a project that uses " hypernarrative as part of a hyperpedagogy." (116)

[16] The project took place in the context of a university with no computer projectors and with routine street battles between students and riot police. It engages Ulmer's notion of chora or place as an alternative to topos within research. "Chora," Morrison notes, "refers to the way in which we may approach place as making, generating and critiquing." (145) The place of Zimbabwe is used here as a component of the pedagogical hypertext. Morrison's project takes on added significance with the advent of GPS-based hypertext technologies, a site of digital media applications as yet barely explored by researchers.

Chapter II: Design and Aesthetics

[17] 6. Maribeth Back's "The Reading Senses" deals with the poetics of multimedia, a topic usually overlooked in contemporary media studies. Back discusses the schema that audiences use to process multisensory information and the ways in which media producers might design for these schemata. For example, Back cites the work of Schank and Abelson (166-7) about the ways humans experience new stories based on memories of old stories. Back adds that multimedia producers often address audiences' perceptual processes by "stacking schema," or what Mark Turner calls 'projection,' the placing of one-well-understood narrative into a new situation." (167)

[18] Back's work covers some familiar ground in its treatment of multimedia texts. For example, she points to the ways that sound designers eschew "real sounds" in favor of schematic sound effects. Real sounds, she argues, are often unintelligible to audiences, whereas sound effects are perceived as more "characteristic" of the real thing than the real thing itself. As Back points out, sound designers in film production have recognized this lesson for some time.

[19] Much of the challenge facing multimedia producers and critics, Back argues, involves the development of a vocabulary to describe various nonvisual symbols and their effects and meanings. Back's essay makes a valuable contribution to this effort.

[20] 7. Peter Børgh Andersen's "Acting Machines" argues convincingly for the humanities' role in the design of good computer systems. Computers, Andersen argues, dissolve the boundaries normally associated with certain disciplines. Because they cross boundaries in terms of their functions and effects, computers should lead us to rethink our traditional disciplinary boundaries while maintaining valuable disciplinary ways of working and thinking. Computer system designers, usually engineers, must design systems for various domains, such as banks or news journals. Knowledge of these domains, Andersen argues, is crucial to the success of the systems.

[21] Andersen's own project is the design of multimedia maritime instrumentation. This project presents a major challenge; when using integrated computer systems, the ship's engineers must be prepared for the complete failure of the system. Prior to the introduction of computers on board ships, the failure of one instrument did not affect the other instruments. Today the collapse of a part of an integrated system can lead to catastrophic failure. How can designers best deal with this problem? Andersen suggests that acting out scenarios is one good approach to dealing with design problems. Good design solutions, Andersen argues, make use of transparency, meaning that a user can get "inside" a system and understand how it works. He or she can see the design of the system as itself an interface, a causal and intentional system that requires the input of both the hard sciences and the humanities.

[22] 8. Ragnhild Tronstad's "Performing the MUD Adventure" is one of the most fascinating essays in this collection. In it he addresses the possibilities of interacting with multi-user dungeons. Tronstad's contribution is to conceptualize MUDs as a field for adventure games, rather than solely as social or educational environments. Game theory is still in its infancy, Tronstad writes, as it gains autonomy from studies of literature, drama, and film. Tronstad identifies the shift to autonomy for game studies as analogous to that of theater studies a hundred years ago. At that time, theater studies identified the object of study "to be the theatrical performance and not the dramatic text." (216) Tronstad's own theoretical framework melds "theatricality, performance, and performatives." (217)

[23] Tronstad cites Roger Caillois' Man, Play, and Games for a classification of game types. These include games of competition, games of chance, games of simulation, and games of vertigo (which includes "games like mountain climbing, skiing, and tightrope walking.") (217) All four of these game types can be found within adventure-oriented MUDs, but the dominant category in MUDS, Tronstad points out, is simulation, "without which none of the examples mentioned above could take place." (218)

[24] Tronstad makes very interesting use of Russian theorist Nicolas Evreinoff's theories of theatricality in his essay. "Theatricality is here understood as the deliberate transforming of everyday life. According to Evreinoff," Tronstad writes, "theatricality is present when we pretend (or dream about) being someone else or when we imagine the world to be different." (218) This definition obviously encompasses an enormously varied set of activities, but it provides a fascinating starting-point for discussion.

[25] Tronstad points out that Evreinoff opposed the naturalistic theater championed by his contemporary, Stanislavski. Instead of bringing ordinary life into theater as the naturalists were doing, Evreinoff argued, we should be turning everyday life into theater. He argued that theater presented a contract for spectator and player, one in which "make believe" was accepted as convention.

[26] MUDs are textual representations of places people and things. As such they depend on the imagination of the participants. Tronstad looks at MUDs as fictional worlds in which the participant imagines interacting. Interaction within these fictional worlds is dependent upon conventions, or the rules of the game, rather than upon a mutual desire of the participants to maintain the coherence of the fictional world.

[27] Tronstad argues that one needs a hermeneutic perspective to understand how MUD participants interpret their activities. He cites the work of Paul Ricoeur as relevant to the issue, but adds that Ricoeur's work was developed for a different medium and that "interpretation serves a different purpose when applied to texts." (226) Tronstad uses performative theory to resolve the difficulties of using Ricoeur's approach to understand questing. Ricoeur's definition of a text is "a proposed world which I could inhabit and wherein I could project one of my ownmost possibilities." (226) Tronstad divides the concept of "text" in MUDs into quests and quest areas. The quest is a space within the MUD for the possible adventures to occur. The fact that there are multiple ways to solve the quest raises the possibility of there being several "works" within the MUD.

[28] Tronstad concludes his far-reaching discussion of games and the multidisciplinary approaches he uses to understanding them with a call for the establishment of game studies as a separate discipline. Such a move would have as its goal "game-specific concepts and references as part of a common inquiry." (231) Tronstad has a point, considering that the gaming industry in the United States now accounts for more consumer spending than the movie industry, and this at a time when gaming is in its infancy relative to the cinema. The study of the gaming domain as its own discipline may be warranted for the same reasons that film studies was warranted as a response to the power of film. Tronstad's essay is a valuable contribution to the effort.

[29] 9. Lars Qvortrup's essay "Digital Poetics: The Poetical Potentials of Projection and Interaction" is another stellar contribution to this volume. He begins with a distinction between "poetics," which is the "way in which artists articulate an artistic idea or aim in their specific manner," and "aesthetics," which is about the artistic idea itself. (239) Qvortrup's essay deals with the issues of projection and interaction within digital poetics.

[30] Qvortrup points to the period between 1917 when Duchamp's piece The Fountain (a urinal) was rejected from an art show and 1964 when Duchamp authorized reproductions of it for museums, as one in which Kantian aesthetics ended to be replaced with the concept of "'interference' between art and design in which design objects could become artworks simply through renaming." (240) Qvortrup sees Duchamp as having formulated, through his readymades and kinetic works, a digital art poetics before the existence of the computer.

[31] Qvortrup leads us through a brief guided tour of aesthetic history, from Aristotle through Duchamp in the following section, his point being that it has moved away from anthropocentric and metaphysical notions in the 20th century. Qvortrup cites Niklas Lumann's work, which points to the ways in which aesthetic judgments are "always a provisional outcome of the development of the self-referential art system." (244) Duchamp initiated an aesthetics in which "artistic form creation is not observed in reference to an ontological or transcendental standard." (245) Rather, "its starting point is difference ... A decision is made that radically changes an object from being a design object to becoming an art object" (245) In the 20th century, art is seen as creating its own self-generating principles and order is seen as "pattern creation, [which] is created in art by starting aesthetic games and by discovering those unexpected and unforeseeable patterns that emerge when already known elements are invested in new games." (246)

[32] Qvortrup argues that both design and art form matter according to intention and that "their meeting point is poetics." (247) Qvortrup uses Charles Sanders Peirce's classification of signs to discuss the digital signs we find on computer screens. Buttons and links are indexes because they perform a function for the user, images and sounds are icons "because of their similarity to someone or something" (249) and letters and words function as symbols. The digital artist recontextualizes these various signs in order to change their meaning.

[33] Qvortrup describes a number of fascinating digital artworks that employ the poetics of "complex systems of material interferences and of textual inferences" (251) and of artworks that are kinetic and elicit interaction rather than interpretation. Qvortrup notes that, "It is an important consequence of the way in which interactive artworks function that one has to reinterpret the interpretation process." (257) Rather than view the artwork as an auratic transmission, "one must contribute to the artistic form creation." (257)

[34] 10. Stian Grøgaard's difficult essay "Low Tech-High Concept: Digital Media, Art, and the State of the Arts" puts into questions many of the assumptions guiding theory and practice around digital media art. Grøgaard keeps his eye on the uncanny relationship of scholarship to art practice throughout his essay.

[35] Grøgaard explores the history of the terms "invention," pointing to its origin in Latin rhetoric, and to "innovation." Both terms referred to gathering something pre-existing, "a given to be found" (269) rather than a creation of pure novelty. He winds up with a discussion of Ulmer as someone who returns to the ancient notions of invention in rhetoric. Grøgaard quotes Ulmer's view that, "Electronic learning is more like discovery than proof" (274) though he faults Ulmer for relying on the familiar terms "poeisis/making as the only way to avoid idealist alternatives." (274) He continues his critique of Ulmer with his claim that Ulmer puts too much hope in the "deskilling" and "automation" of scholarship to match the movement towards deskilling and automation in the arts. (277)

[36] Grøgaard takes the title of his essay from a report "on BBC World [that] labeled the terror act as 'low tech, high concept.'" (282-3) Grøgaard refers to the relation of "obsolete" art forms such as painting to high tech as a way to explain the lasting role of such media.

Chapter III: Rhetoric and Interpretation

[37] 11. Anders Fagerjord's "Rhetorical Convergence: Studying Web Media," looks at news media websites to problematize the notions of "convergence" and "remediation," terms that are employed frequently to discuss digital multimedia. Convergence, Fagerjord, points out, covers three related processes: "network convergence, service convergence, and corporate convergence." (297) Remediation, a term proposed by Bolter and Grusin to describe the ways in which new media repackage older media, fails to describe the news sites Fagerjord studies here, according to Fagerjord. News web sites, Fagerjord argues, are not just repackaged versions of television programs, but a different media. Fagerjord points to the following difficulties with the term "remediation":

The key to Bolter and Grusin's theory of remediation is the double logic of hypermedia and immediacy. To subscribe to this theory, we must be convinced that there are no more logics than these two, that the two are really different, and that they are connected. (303)

Fagerjord is not convinced and he offers good reasons. He points out that Bolter and Grusin's concern with the relationship of old media to new leaves untouched "the fact that new, digital media communicate meaning, as old media also do." (305) Fagerjord deals with this problem by proposing the term "rhetorical convergence," which emphasizes "how different styles and sign systems are combined into complex texts and thus also complex signification and reader selections and processes of semiosis." (307) The rhetoric Fagerjord refers to, he writes, "are as much conventions of practice as products of technology." (314) In web news sites, for example, these rhetorics are a kind of "compromise among form, technology, economy, and social practices." (314)

[38] Fagerjord suggests a rough equation for representing a medium's rhetoric:

Topic + Intended Effect + Audience's Social Setting + Audience's Use of Media + Economy + Technology + Traditions and Conventions = Rhetoric. (315)

A change in any one variable, Fagerjord adds, will change the rest of the equation.

[39] Fagerjord concludes his essay by pondering the ways in which digital rhetoric, concepts, and technologies all seem to be converging and diverging, often depending on how you understand these terms and what parts of the problem one looks at. Fagerjord's priority, however, is to look at "the convergence of symbols, of rhetoric." (321)

[40] 12. The object of study in Eva Liestøl's "Computer Games and the Ludic Structure of Interpretation" is Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition (1996). Liestøl raises the issue of whether standard interpretation is appropriate for discussing computer games and whether we can "read" games the way we read texts such as literature and film. She describes her run-through of Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition in detail, pointing out that she found a number of "strange phenomena that we were not quite able to comprehend." (339). Nevertheless, "this lack of understanding and inability to interpret did not seem to prevent us from performing the basic actions necessary to win the game." (339) Yet Liestøl finds enough structure in the experience to compare it to "myths, folk tales, and legends." (340) The specific structure Liestøl identifies as most prominent in Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition is the labyrinth.

[41] Liestøl's perspective on the labyrinth is informed by feminism, making it the first essay in this volume to treat feminism in any depth. The labyrinth, Liestøl argues, produces angst, which "emanates from the secret cavity in the female body where the births occur." (341-2) She traces the development of the labyrinth myth through folklore and artworks. The final battle in Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition is a fight to the death between the hero (Duke Nukem) the character representing the player, and the Alien Queen, whose offspring the protagonist battles throughout the game.

[42] Liestøl's insight that games like Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition offer a kind of muscular adventure leads to her meditation on the social factors that led to the Boy Scouts. Liestøl notes that the Boy Scouts' founder, Baden-Powell, believed that "the modern city lacked the necessary challenges that would make boys into strong, independent, and brave men." (345) The adventure offered by video games is a response to "the safety and regulation of everyday life," one that offers dangerous challenges." (346) In other words, games like Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition are about "character building" of a particularly masculine sort. The game also offers a view of machine-as-woman run amok, a theme that Liestøl finds repeated in various texts since 1900.

[43] Liestøl quotes Caillois' Man, Play, and Games for its conclusion that "civilization and its content may be characterized by its games." (351) Her conclusion is that traditional hermeneutics, and the humanities in general, have much to offer those of us seeking knowledge about computer video games. Her strategy is to re-activate the texts throughout history that make Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition intelligible. Liestøl recognizes that the game is not the same kind of artifact as these other texts, and she enumerates the differences, but she finds in Gadamer a way to bring together hermeneutics with the experience of games, noting how"Gadamer applies play as a metaphor to characterize the structure and process of interpretation and understanding." (353) There are two levels of play at stake here, Liestøl argues, that of the game itself and that of a detached self reflecting upon the game. Liestøl finds in Gadamer a methodology that offers "useful perspectives ... despite the fact that such an approach to hermeneutics was not originally conceptualized for such 'ludic interpretation.'" (354)

[44] 13. Mary Flanagan's "Next Level: Women's Digital Activism Through Gaming," picks up the thread started by Liestøl in the previous essay. Flanagan situates the task of understanding gaming phenomena against the "rhetoric of a cybersociety that looks at technology as an engine for liberation." (359) Flanagan's purpose here is to "explore noncommercial computer games created by women" in order to see how women have changed the field. Flanagan is herself a game producer and labels the group of women gamemaker-artists she studies "cyberfeminists." (360)

[45] Flanagan sees gaming as a political arena in which we might hope to produce social change. In her efforts to politicize gaming, she is at times overly didactic for my taste, but she offers some helpful reflection too. She cites Donna Haraway's suggestion that women should identify themselves as "cyborgs" rather than as "goddesses" in their efforts to "invert traditional power struggles and hierarchies." (361) The remainder of Flanagan's essay provides descriptions and critiques of various games by women authors. She characterizes these games as dealing with "memory, landscapes, and bodies." (373)

[46] The most interesting of the games Flanagan discusses are those dealing with self-discovery. Here Flanagan points to the Surrealists and to Fluxus as precedents because they sought understanding of themselves and the world through games, particularly games involving chance and in "consciously performing 'unconscious acts.'" (374) Some of the game designers Flanagan discusses appropriate gaming conventions from more famous games in order "to make popular their insightful critiques of contemporary practices." (380)

[47] 14. Gunnar Liestøl's "'Gameplay': From Sythesis to Analysis (And Vice Versa)" looks at the emergence of "meaningware" supplementing hardware and software in digital media. This shift, Liestøl argues, makes the humanities more of a player in what was almost exclusively a computer science field. The humanities is limited, however, in its abilities to meet the challenges posed by digital media, Liestøl argues, because of its "traditional one-directional relationship of analysis." (390) To address this problem, Liestøl proposes a model of synthetic-analytic work that accounts for both production and interpretation.

[48] Liestøl seeks new concepts for understanding digital media (particularly games) from within the "developer's discourse." (396) He means to add the developer's discourse to that of established theories and concepts from within the humanities. He leads us through a description of the game development process and the vocabulary that developers use during the process, focusing on the key term "gameplay." (397-404) Gameplay, which was written as two words in earlier definitions, was defined by one writer, Chris Crawford, as a combination of "pace and cognitive demands." (399) Pace, Liestøl writes, is related to the "object-activity of the system, whereas cognitive effort may be seen as the related to the subject-activity of the user." (401) Liestøl argues that these concepts have limited value because they are too quantitative; he suggests we look at the "real, imaginary, and symbolic actions and manifestations [Wilden 1997] in the play between object-activity and subject-activity." (402) Liestøl does not provide a theoretical framework, however, for understanding the difference between subject and object, or whether they can be altered or reversed, in his formulations.

[49] Liestøl raises the question of whether we can move confidently from analytic methods to synthetic ones, or "from interpretation to construction." (407) He views rhetoric as a model for this kind of move, since it can be both descriptive and prescriptive. If the issue at hand is not one of "truth" but rather of genre, including "as yet unknown genres," then one might properly take a heuretic approach, drawing upon Ulmer's examples. Liestøl sees this heuretic effort as an answer to Bolter's concerns (outlined in chapter 1) that we "close the circle of theory and practice" by means of a hybrid of theory and practice, which would "simultaneously contain the basic operations of synthesis and analysis." (411) Liestøl provides a framework, but does not provide any specifics about what this hybrid might be.

[50] 15. Espen Aarseth's "We All Want to Change the World: The Ideology of Innovation in Digital Media," begins with an epigram by Bertolt Brecht: "The struggle against ideology has become a new ideology." Aarseth points out that "the role of ideology in the evolution of technology is usually portrayed as negative and one-dimensional." (415) Even the term "new," Aarseth argues "works to seduce us with its connoted promise of improvement and innovation." (415) Yet, Aarseth writes, our distrust of ideology may "blind us to other aspects of the relationship between technology and ideology." (415) Aarseth uses the term "ideology" here "in its Althusserian sense, not as a set of explicit dogmata, but as a subconscious, tacit, collective worldview, transparent to its holders." (418)

[51] Aarseth looks at three terms — interactivity, hypertext, and virtuality — that have both "ideological and technical meanings." (416) He problematizes the object of study in digital media, pointing out that it is no one thing and proceeds by no one method. He adds a layer to the communication model to explain the distinction between "new" and "old" media. In old media, there are two layers, discourse and channel. In new media, the third layer, existing in between the other two, is "application." (419-20) Application covers what is normally called "software," which is different from the physical channel and the discourse that passes through the channel. The application may be very different for different users, although the discourse is the "same." Aarseth points to the example of a blind person using a voice recognition program to communicate with a seeing person who uses a text program. The chat room in which this communication takes place is, according to Aarseth, an "intermedium, in which different or similar media interface with each other." (421)

[52] Aarseth keenly observes that the "discourse/application/channel" model is not unique to digital media, nor did it originate with digital technology. He points to "oracular systems, like the ancient Chinese text I Ching" as prime examples of communication systems that have a "manipulative component" in which the "user's/player's engagement with the rule level determines the sign process." (421)

[53] Aarseth points out how difficult it is to apply the term "invention" accurately with regards to communication technologies. One example Aarseth mentions is email, which appeared as the result of a relatively minor innovation to a message-leaving system on ARPANET. Willful attempts to "invent" new communications technologies, such as WAP, generally have failed to catch on against unexpected innovations such as SMS. (423)

[54] Aarseth levels the same charge of uncertainty against another overused term: "interactive." (424-6) According to Aarseth, the term "contains no clear analytical concept." (424) He asks who gains by the continued "efforts still being made to rescue the term and fill it with conceptual meaning." (425) The term has fueled marketing and development for a long time, with no clear consensus on what it means. It bestows legitimacy to research and criticism, but has a "pseudoscientific" status. (426)

[55] Another term in Aarseth's sights is "hypertext." (426-9) He asks "whether hypertext is anything other than an ideology," since no definitions offered so far make clear that it is a technology nor whether it can exist on paper. (426) The term hypertext, according to Aarseth, is "hyped" as some kind of "better" way to read and write. (427) Aarseth blames the myth of progress, that things are always getting better, for inflating the hype of the terms he discusses, including his last example, "virtuality." (429-31)

[56] Virtuality, however, has some actual conceptual value, according to Aarseth, despite its overuse. Aarseth gives us his definition:

The distinguishing quality of the virtual world is that the system lets the participant-observer play an active role in which he of she can experiment and test the system and discover the rules and structural qualities in the process. (431)

Such virtual worlds are really new, according to Aarseth, and nothing prevents them from being fully-realized mature works, though they have not yet reached the levels of achievement set by literature and film. He adds that virtuality poses the most serious competition to narrative as a means of communication that we have seen in a while. Aarseth distinguishes between games of simulation (based on virtuality) and narrative by arguing that simulation provides us a better way to understand and interpret reality than narrative does. (435) Thus hermeneutics should refocus its gaze on simulation, both as a way of understanding virtual systems and as a way of constructing them, a position shared by other authors in this volume.

[57] Aarseth concludes his essay by arguing that

the relationship between innovation and ideology should not be seen as a dichotomy but as symbiosis, in which the "hype' (the overdone rhetorical product of an ideology) is an essential (but not sufficient) element in building new technologies and media. (436)

The "hyped" terms Aarseth derides throughout his essay turn out to be, in the end, "among the necessary building blocks of technology, which they prefigure, inspire, and sell." (436) As long as we don't mistake these terms as being somehow "scientific ones, there is nothing wrong with them." (436) Aarseth's work seems particularly important as we seek to create programs of academic study and even new production programs within universities because of his call for us to rethink our own efforts as "entrepreneurial, ideological, and the like," (436) and he offers a challenge to the "struggle against ideology" attitude dominant in many of our institutions that Brecht had identified as yet another ideology.

Chapter IV: Social Theory and Ethics

[58] 16. Terje Rasmussen's "On Distributed Society: The Internet as a Guide to Sociological Understanding of Communication," reflects on far-reaching implications of the computer. He writes, "one important function of the Internet may be to inform our 'formulative thinking' about society itself." (443) The Internet, Rasmussen argues, parallels social changes in that both the Internet and society are becoming structurally "distributed." (444) Rasmussen examines the "history of networking"(445) and communication theory to explore the parallels between the Internet and society in greater detail. In particular, Rasmussen sees parallels between the ideas of Niklas Luhmann, a sociologist, and those of the architects of the Internet.

[59] Rasmussen writes, "Luhmann ... show[s] that communication always produces social systems of various kinds (interactions, organizations, function systems), which produce and reproduce themselves through sequences of communication." (445) Social systems, in other words, reproduce themselves "autopoetically." (446) Social systems (and their communication systems) are always at risk. Recent communication theory, such as that of Paul Baran, who worked for the RAND Corporation during the cold war, sees risk of total disaster as the norm and not the exception in social communication. The purpose of the Internet was to make improbable communication (such as might occur during a nuclear disaster) more probable through packet switching and distributed networks. (452-3)

[60] Rasmussen draws the following analogy between the Internet and society:

The Internet suggests as global society of societies of outdifferentiated systems (networks) and a system of systems of systems that are no longer normatively integrated into one overarching structure but interlinked through gateways. (462)

"Systems theory," Rasmussen writes, "is a promising way to go for a sociological understanding of the Internet and society." (462) Rasmussen adds that, "One of the reasons that the Internet may serve as an adequate model of society is precisely that is has developed in response to the general, functional differentiation of society." (463) Of course, as Rasmussen points out, the Internet is not a simple mirror of society. It "favors certain communication patterns and discourages others." (464)

[61] Lately I have become interested in the data we have lost, including thousands of languages likely to go extinct in the 21st century, during this period of transition to electronic media. Rasmussen's essay raises the issue of broken communication, but his chapter here only skims the surface of this massive problem.

[62] 17. Roger Silverstone's "Proper Distance: Towards an Ethics for Cyberspace," begins with an epigram by Levinas about the responsibility raised "in approaching the Other." (469) Silverstone explains, "we learn through this recognition of the irreducible otherness of the world to accept our responsibility for our place in the world and for the other who occupies that world alongside us, whom we will never, ever, know quite entirely." (472)

[63] Silverstone calls his work here "a chapter on media ethics." (469) He addresses the question of whether it is possible to have a "moral life ... in electronic space." (470) Silverstone believes such a moral life is possible and he finds his ethical values in what he calls "proper distance." (472) The proper distance Silverstone proposes is one of close proximity, a proximity that involves responsibility. (474) He cites philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who, according to Silverstone, "traces modernity's progressive refusal of the intimate and the individually responsible." (474) Whereas Bauman sees technology as anathema to proximity, Silverstone rejects this "technologically determinant" position. (475)

[64] First, Silverstone points out that proximity neither leads automatically to recognition nor to responsibility but can lead to "blank resistance, or, alternatively, incorporation." (475) According to Silverstone, Levinas offers a sense of proximity that "preserves separation of myself and the other, a separation that ensures the possibility of both respect and responsibility for the other." (475) This proximity is best expressed through touch, Silverstone suggests, because touch, more than any other sense, reveals the paradox of connection and separateness, and through it the possibility (or impossibility) of "an ethical or moral life." (475)

[65] Silverstone discusses the differences in social and physical space between premodern and modern societies. In premodern societies, "the differences between neighbors and strangers or aliens were rigidly enforced and accepted ... Modernity undermines that clarity, certainty, an defensibility between strangers and neighbors." (477) The stranger is ambiguous and we can never be sure if we are also ambiguous to her. The modern world of great mobility makes the stranger the neighbor, "and we are all neighbors to one another now." (478)

[66] Different kinds of ambiguity arise from modernity, according to Silverstone. Ambiguity 1 combines the need for social distance and physical closeness. In cyberspace, which presents us with ambiguity 2, the opposite is true; we encounter physical distance with the need for social closeness. Both sets of ambiguities cause ambivalence, according to Silverstone, and requires a moral responses.

[67] The moral response Silverstone stakes out "does not depend on identification with the other, as neighbor, but on a recognition that I have as much responsibility for the stranger, that other who is either, physically or metaphysically, far from me, as I do for my neighbor." (480) This morality is not based on the reciprocal (i.e. the "do unto others ... " moral) but rather on a recognition that "my responsibility precedes me." (480) The Internet, Silverstone writes, is metaphysical. In this metaphysical space, the self is a "face": not a real one but a mediated one.

[68] Silverstone addresses the question of whether the Internet is somehow "morally superior" to broadcast media. (482) In his view, the question presumes that technologies are moral, a claim he rejects. Rather, Silverstone claims that people use technology to try to delegate or transfer their own moral responsibilities. He reviews an array of theories dealing with notions of online community, including theories by Stone, Baym, Wellman and Gulia, but he believes that each one falls short of defining ethical responsibility for the other in these communities.

[69] Silverstone concludes with a note about anthropology's view of community as rooted in place. He cites Marc Augé's work as a way to discuss "nonplaces in contemporary society," (487) suggesting that we "be wary of the Internet's claims for place, for its 'placefulness.'" Silverstone also suggests we replace the "solipsistic and narcissistic" aspects of identity with "infinity and humility." (488) We "must address the problem of how we can behave responsibly in our dealings with mediated others." (488)

[70] While Silverstone clarifies a number of important issues, he provides few concrete examples of ir/responsible behavior or of the types of proximity issues he refers to here abstractly. Since his chapter makes use of the theories of anthropologists and ethnographers, perhaps he can supplement this work with another one discussing case studies, taking us through a tour of some neighbors and strangers (or is that strange neighbors?) both on and off the Internet. I would like to see whether the particularities of such cases resemble the ethical cases posed by existentialist authors who dealt with similar themes.

[71] 18. Ingunn Moser and John Law's "Making Voices: New Media Technologies, Disabilities, and Articulation," raises the question of what it means to be a person in light of disabilities and the changing ways in which personhood is defined in relation to new media, as seen from a sociological point of view.

[72] They focus their attention on a new technology from Norway called Rolltalk that permits multiply disabled people to perform a great number of functions by means of a single switch. They offer "short stories about disability and Rolltalk" as well as "theoretical commentary" about how Rolltalk "helps to constitute and articulate certain forms of subjectivity." (494)

[73] The Rolltalk user has a computer and screen, and moves through a series of menus, with embedded submenus; it is organized hierarchically, like a tree with branches, the authors point out. Each level is divided into themes represented by icons.

[74] The Rolltalk is a prosthesis (for verbal articulation, and so on), but it can be given a "personality." Voices can have accents, for instance. The authors' thesis, however, is that "personality" does not emerge from such obvious surface effects as accents, but rather from the centering and localizing effects of the hierarchical menu on the Rolltalk desktop, which positions the user as "being strongly centered, articulated as a centered and discretionary subject by the Rolltalk hierarchy of menus." (499) The field of vision allowed by each menu level, though, limits the scope for subjectivity.

[75] Yet the authors expand our commonly held sense of subjectivity by pointing out that "having a voice" does not necessarily mean using words. Rather, it can mean the ability "to articulating a desire" and "be a relatively autonomous person able to make discretionary decisions." (501) Another point the authors make is that subjectivity is not fixed and stable, but rather "fluid." (508) For instance, the authors contend that Rolltalk users can decide to constitute their subjectivity not by interacting with the Rolltalk, but by listening to music and participating in the music, a form of resistance to the centering subjectivity created by the Rolltalk menu.

[76] The authors end with a meditation on subjectivity in relation to their stories and theories. They also present a "double challenge; to understand and to remake those technologies and the subjectivities that they carry and to create the interdisciplinary tools that are needed if we want to understand these more or less ubiquitous processes." (513)

[77] 19. Mark Poster's "The Good, the Bad, and the Virtual: Ethics in the Age of Entertainment," claims that the virtual is neither good nor bad. He argues that the standards of ethics in "real life," or perhaps some of them, may not apply in the virtual world. (523) Poster recaps great moments in ethical philosophy in order to consider where our present day ethics come from and whether they are appropriate to our increasingly virtual lives.

[78] Poster next recaps the story of "netiquette" on the web and its failure to spread to the hundreds of millions of new users who were online by the end of the 1990s. Still, Poster argues, broadcast media is immeasurably worse than the Internet, ethically speaking, since "the capitalist profit motive encourages gross, sensationalist strategies of information conveyance." (529) He contends that the broadcast media's discussion of Net ethics is "absurd," (529) yet he cites it for evidence of the collapse of public/private distinctions, since it is this collapse that raises the most hackles. Poster points to particular cases, such as a sex-change operation performed in sight of a Webcam, to show how certain activities that were acceptable in distant contexts may become hotly contested in others because of their proximity to us via the media.

[79] Poster claims that identity has always been an ethical problem, but that it is a more pressing one on the Internet. He writes: "The interface of the computer, coupled with the ease of communicating through the network, renders identity in question in every case. Messages sent through the Net are always suspect." (533) For those who worry about the ethics of anonymous conversations, however, Poster has a reply; such worries "presuppose the moral superiority of face-to-face relations, and they imply that online dialogues may be evaluated by the same criteria." (534) Poster defines an ethical imperative for the virtual realm as follows: "act so that you will to continue to maintain the identities you have constructed with others." (535)

[80] Poster's ethical imperative raises more questions than it answers. For instance, what is identity? At what point does one identity become another? Does changing one's hair color and changing one's gender amount to the same ethical violation? Also, what if one establishes an identity as a "shape-shifter"? Wouldn't it be ethical, using Poster's logic, for the shape-shifter to continue to change identities and unethical for the shape-shifter to remain the "same"?

[81] Poster also points to the pornography, racism, and deceptive images on the Net as moral challenges. He writes: "With this newfound ease of presenting disturbing materials accessible worldwide, perhaps a new level of moral restraint is required." (537) This is an old argument, going back to ancient Greece, about whether the philosophers or the poets should hold sway. Plato argued that the philosophers sought the truth and were thus ethical people. In his view the poets made stuff up; they were being deceptive. The boundaries between truth and fiction are fuzzy at various points, however. For instance, we generally accept that a fictional story can reveal a deeper truth about the human condition, and we recognize that a "true" story can be told in a deceptive manner.

[82] Poster concludes by rejecting transcendental ethical principles and opting for a "Nietzschean perspective." (540) He sees a parallel between Nietzsche's "moral elite ... [which] seeks the pain of being lost, uncertain, without direction" (540) and the Internet, which "enacts a massive deterritorialization of cultural values and by doing so links or reterritorializes the ethical and political." (542) Though Poster's point about the deterritorializing capabilities of the Internet may be true in some cases, he misses the profoundly solipsistic qualities of many interactions on the Net. In other words, rather than face any kind of pain, such as the kind that Nietzsche advocated for his elite, many people seek solace in the company of those who (so they think) share the same values as they already hold. This solipsism may turn out to be one of the most profound ethical problems of the 21st Century.