Infinity + Muse= Human

Infinite: unbounded or unlimited; boundless; endless.
Muse: think or meditate in silence, as on some subject.
2.Archaic. to gaze meditatively or wonderingly. meditate on.
4. to comment thoughtfully or ruminate upon.
5. the genius or powers characteristic of a poet.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

This Thing We Call Posthuman: Katherine Hayles and the most important present-thought

Discussing Katherine Hayles' notion of the Posthuman, (with attention to 'My Mother Was a Computer' --- Final Critical response)

Katherine Hayles has produced two works on the progressing conception of the human in only a few years. While she first began with "How We Became Posthuman" her work in "My Mother Was a Computer" is something of both a restating of some of her beliefs as much as it is an update to some of them. And before I go any further on her conceptions of the Posthuman and, more specifically, on the article "My mother Was a Computer" itself, I just want to highlight an intriguing notion which flows from what I just mentioned. That is, the fact that Hayles has produced two works on the concept of the Post-Human within a relatively short period of time suggests just how fluid and full of potentiality the question of human development and progression is. It is a space of change and shifting-view points. And just as our cultural and technical worlds so often shift and give way to new ideas, new focuses and new possibilities so too do the concepts of our very selves--our conceptions of what humans are and what they may be.

To me, THAT is really awesome-- the notion that our very sense of human can stand to change and shift in a way that is very similar to the way in which our society, technologies, and ideas themselves can change.

That moment of excitement aside, let us turn to exactly what it is that Hayles deals with in "My Mother was a Computer". Firstly, it is important to understand part of the more general ideas of the Posthuman as Hayles discusses it. Essentially, her notion of the Posthuman stands in opposition to the kind of human-narrative we get from enlightenment thinking. In that mode of thinking, we viewed the human as a mind which is housed within a body . In this narrative we are the only real thinkers around and as a creature with a mind inside a body we are more so autonomous thinkers . Further, enlightenment thinking suggests that humans possess an ability to access knowledge in a primary kind of way. Now, Hayles believes that this is a story which no longer applies to us, and indeed, she suggests that as a whole the story of who we are and what we will be is susceptible to these kinds of shifts. Instead of seeing ourselves as a kind of knowledge centre and as the only thinking masters of our environment, the truth about us (according to Hayles) is that we actually exist in a space of Distributed cognition. In other words, that means we're not the only thinkers in this world, and that we are actually a species that thinks with other things, and that these other things inform us. In this view, we are not masters of our world, but we are truly affected by all other things around us. Essentially then, part of the major thread of "How We Became Posthuman" is to both attack the discourse of mastery that characterized the enlightenment, but also, to suggest that if we conceive ourselves as being part of this 'distributed cognition' we can open up brand new pathways of development for our species.

Following this, she wrote a follow up work about the notion of the Posthuman, called "My mother was a Computer" . In some ways, it is re-telling of and expansion on some of her previous ideas, but it is also (as Dr. Picard noted) a place in which the discussion on the Posthuman is moved forward and the ideas that may have since faded in importance get left behind. For example, a recent focus on materiality has allowed the human conception of the self to leave behind issues of mind-body dualism that we saw in Descartes and embrace the fact that our 'story' now is quite a different one than it used to be believed to be. We are tied, in a very real way, to a certain degree of materiality and the idea that material things (like the world around us) inform the composition of us, our minds, the way we think and the way we are. So in other words, the environment, the entities and the general world around us contribute to the way we are, and our story, AND the story of the world around us changes as a result. We change the world with our technologies, our technologies change us, but the world around us also informs our technologies. This is part of the notion of us as a part of a distributed cognition. This concept of shifting narratives, and the idea that humans are not at the centre, not the master of that narrative is an important part of what Hayles is after. We are fluid and shifting, we are one of many, and the narrative of our existence is not static, and not only informed by us.

Part of that idea of narrative change and evolution is presented at the start of the work and in the title itself. "My Mother was a Computer" suggests, as Hayles writes, that the descriptor of "Computer" was once a valid way of describing humans who did calculations. Since they certainly partook in computational activities it didn't seem to be an odd suggestion then. Now, however, the statement "My mother was a computer" sounds completely improbable to us. The reason for that, of course, is that our relationship to machines has changed, our language has adapted and the narratives that surround it have also undergone change. Now, humans cannot be computers in any way. As Hayles writes, this "marks a shift in society in which the intelligence required for calculations was primarily associated with humans" to the point in which calculation has been almost entirely shifted to machines. These kinds of shifts take place in a variety of spaces and in a plethora of ways throughout the history of technological growth, and our relationship to (and even fusion with) machinery is part of that shift. The story of the intelligent machine (which in some ways, is what humans themselves ARE) is a story which is interwoven into the human narrative.

As Hayles writes, there has been an absolute penetration of technology into the human experience within developed countries and that widespread use of all kinds of technology in our lives have given rise to this notion of the Posthuman-- something that differs from what we are-- something that is beyond or separate from the way we used to understand ourselves.

In her first work How We Became Posthuman Hayles explains a "tension" between liberal humanist ideas and the emergent sense of the Posthuman. However, five years onwards, as she herself admits the story of the idea of Posthumanism has changed-- the debates around it and the focuses she had in that book have "begun to fade into...history". In this new endeavour, she expresses that the focus now will be on the variations of Posthuman as they "continue to evolve in conjunction with intelligent machines".

One possible pathway of the Posthuman question is the view of "computation as ontology". In this view is the suggestion that "reality is continually produced and reproduced on atomic molecular and macro levels" (3) and that this kind of repetitive replication informs " cultural systems". What this view means though, is in a wider sense, we can conceive nature as more of a computational system, metaphorically, and in so doing recognize our origins not from "Mother Nature" but a "Universal Computer". Now, what is important of course is the metaphor here, and Hayles continues it by suggesting that the origin of our species might instead be the "Universal Computer" that is "the Motherboard of us all". Now, as Haraway hoped to discuss in her work on Cat's Cradle, metaphors are powerful and exceedingly important things, and are, often much more than simple linguistic plays. In this case the metaphor of our origins being likened to a Computer suggests the current state of our world as being technology driven, it suggests the slow and steady decline of the 'Nature' construct, and it "enables deeper insight new institutions into certain aspects of reality" while also "obscuring" other things (3). In other words, as she so aptly states "the computational universe simultaneously [works] as [both] means and metaphor" (4). It offers us looks at "technology", "ontology" and "cultural icon" and in so doing lays "fertile ground for re-envisioning and remaking a wide variety cultural artefacts"

And really that is the most important centre of her argument. That discussions of the Posthuman-- of technology and of a different ontology and a different view of ourselves-- can directly and indirectly act to create and shape the world around us, our society, our conceptions, and all the things that come from it. Like Haraway, part of that conception is the notion of the power of language and metaphor, and I personally do not feel that this idea is misplaced in the least. We live in a world of images, language and representation, and the idea that these metaphors can work to change our concepts in a real way holds a lot of weight with me-- and not just our concepts, but our real lives! That's sort of the key here, the idea that a change in words mirrors the effects of a change in the world-- they are intertwined and symbiotic, and the very fact that we are now considering these concepts of the post human and debating them, suggests that there have already been shifts in our culture, shifts in our understanding of ourselves, and that our selves have also been 'shifted' by the world.

This notion of the computer-- the computational-- has helped to inform different and advancing notions of the relationship between text and the "digital" subject, and as a result the way we conceptualize ourselves and the way in which we create new meanings for the world around us changes. It is fluid and it is in flux, and as Hayles attempts to explain, it expresses something of the "entanglement of the bodies of texts and digital subjects" (7). Further, technologies , especially those related to media ensure "complex transactions between bodies and texts" while the relationship between media, the new conceptions of digital subjects and the future and current narratives of "an embodied human world" are always changing and influencing one another.

All of this works to suggest the "emergent possibilities" of the Posthuman concept, and the fact that it is a concept that cannot ever be reduced . It is complex, and evolving, and the conception of the human, the literary, the media, and the very world around us are each liable to shift and change as the thoughts on the subject progress.

What is so very fascinating about all of this, and so very valuable is the following: Hayles, like Haraway, again works to suggest how powerful language and the metaphor can be, and the way in which non-material things take on a sort of 'material' status, or at least, show themselves as able to effect real-world objects. The story, the narrative, the language we utilize, and the metaphors we use all have a real effect on what humans are, what they can become, and what their society and their environment will change into. More importantly, all of the notions forwarded in "My Mother was a Computer" suggests just how important, diverse and potentially powerful the idea of the Posthuman is. The Posthuman is a notion which now directly effects the concepts and progress of human existence and everything that is involved with us. In that sense, the debates present within the notion of the Posthuman have come to act as a sort of epicentre of possibility and progression.

What comes out of the Posthuman theory when all is said and done will seem to be central to the conception of human existence -- and for that, I would call it an immediately important, and weighty concept. And it's one that seems to morph and change as quickly as humanity's own technology.

However, whereas some feel that posthumanism threatens humanity as we know it, I think I and Hayles would agree, that it simply presents new and interesting possibilities and shifts-- but not a human apocalypse of any kind.

Either way, the Posthuman is perhaps one of the most important discussions of the current age.


1. Through Hayles, I have attempted to layout an expression of the Posthuman as being at the cutting edge of not only human progression but the progression of ways in which we view the world, our environment and the role of language and metaphor. Do you feel that the concept of Posthuman is as important and potent as I presented it to be, or is it just another theory? Why do you feel the way you do?

2. Do you believe that the Posthuman notion has fully separated itself from the question of liberal humanism and that it has successfully asserted itself as a premiere philosophical question?

3. How does Posthuman theory as Hayles represents it interact with (or find relevance in) the internet? What is the relationship between the two?

Teaching Aids


The Posthuman World

Swedish Radio Host discusses some of the main concerns of Posthumanism, and it also presents some other aids of its own. This is a fantastic discussion in-and-of-itself and some of it clashes with Posthuman optmism that I present here through Hayles. The speaker has a negative view of humanity, and it makes for an interesting contrast.

Posthuman Wiki

A brief intro to the topic

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Most Apt Metaphor: Donna Haraway's Cat's Cradle and the Internet

In the effort to understand the internet as a kind of epicentre of philosophical possibilities, one can come across a number of different ideas for exactly what it means; exactly what it is and exactly the potential it has. Or, at least, that's the goal of all this effort.

As far as I'm concerned though, while Haraway's "A Game of Cat's Cradle" does not address the idea of the internet directly, --and instead chooses another line of discussion which I will parse out in more detail soon-- it still manages to offer what I would consider to be one of the best metaphors of the internet and it's potential, that I've seen. That metaphor hinges on the image of the cat's cradle. The similarities of that image and the notion of the network, as well as the potentiality for 'movement', overlap and 'space creation' are all useful as ways in which we can define and understand the internet and perhaps our society as a whole. In part, the Cat's Cradle functions as a very useful metaphor for the network idea, and it also offers a look at how we might better understand the internet and its future. That potential is contained within certain parts of the article itself, and while it is one of the main reasons the work peaks my interest, I should first more correctly define the ideas in the article that have the greatest impetus for Haraway.

The central focus of Haraway's article is a certain notion of nature and the way in which it is inherently altered and essentially defined by the various aspects of culture, specifically techboscience. "Nature" as she writes it, is the "densely packed location for ethno specific, cultural, political and scientific conversations about allowable structures...and...possible plots in the sacred secular dramas of technoscience" (Haraway). It is a kind of "commons" in which we engage in our systems, our notions and our ideas. However, her conception of nature is more than just a place or centrality, it is also "about figures, stories and images"-- somewhat less centralized tidbits that help us define our lives and beliefs.

As Haraway describes it. this trope-filled 'nature' is "a tangle of materialized figurations" and as people who live in this nature, we are all children of culture. Each of us are "Nature-tropic", turning to these images, ideas, discussions and stories "as as a...plant turns to the sun". Having said all of this, her major concern is for the role of technoscience and the possibilities that it has to 'refigure' our nature and the way in which it can create realities of images, and stories. That is, for Haraway, Technoscience is a practice of "turning tropes into worlds" and therefore, understanding it and re-thinking it, can lead to something very interesting.

Hereafter she sets off on the goal of re-imagining "key discourses about technoscience". To do this "queering the normalized categories" and "cross-stitching" possibilities is part of the project, as is troubling the usual stratagems and systems that usually define our world-- the very ones set in place by discourses of technoscience, in part.

To clarify, the goal for Haraway is to "create liveable worlds" that contain different possibilities, new space, and new theories and which recognize that there are different life experiences than those doled out by the work of science. To Haraway, the metaphors are militaristic, male dominated, and hetero-sexual. They are dichotomous. The nature that technoscience represents...the ideas that are considered as natural or naturalized in our society is limited and therefore needs to be expanded.
In a few words, Haraway is attempting to queer nature. To queer what is seen as natural. She wants to destroy the notion that certain images, lives, constructs and ways of living are 'natural' and others are not.

Using technoscience as an example of a base-dispenser of the figurative tropes and real-world policies and ideas that force our world to create dualistic, close-minded spaces, Haraway attempts to show just how language (and the images, tropes and stories that are contained within and expressed by it) can work to structure our world.

So how can it be re-shaped? How can we re-figure that which is figurative to create real change in the world in which we live? For Haraway, it starts with the notion of the Cat's Cradle. After all, Cat's Cradle is a game "made up of figures" just as our nature-world is composed of the same. Though Cat's Cradle is like a web of strings, it functions as an apt structural metaphor for the way in which relationships, ideas and spaces can be constructed. As Haraway cleverly notes "we might find some knots of interest for tying up approaches to technoscience" within it.
a feminist multicultural antiracist technoscience is what Haraway pushes toward, and importantly, such a technoscience does not respect the boundaries that have been so built up in our life. Boundaries like human/ non-human normal/ irregular, nature/culture and immaterial and material. She acknowledges that these boundaries are blurred and do not represent what is natural, but only what is. In the blurring of these binaries, Haraway describes how they intersect and overlap. For example, on page 63 she writes that storytelling is "in no way opposed to materiality" despite the fact that it is a non-physical action in the common-sense that she is trying to avoid. As she writes, "materiality is itself tropic: it makes us swerve, it trips us; it is a knot of the textual, technical, mythic oneiric, political and economic" (63). That is, materiality effects ALL of these aspects, and because storytelling is a part of materiality in Haraway's understanding, it too has a profound effect on the political, technical and economic.

And is that really so surprising? After all, politics is a kind of story.

A politician planning a campaign ad might wonder "What story can we tell about ourselves as politicians, as a political party, that will effectively endear us to the populace". Similarly, a politician conducting a smear campaign must search for stories to tell about his opponent, and perhaps they are stories related to economic, educative, or familial failures.

Cat's Cradle comes in, here, because it is itself a metaphor for overlap. A tangled web of strings and notions, and possibilities, connected and interwoven. And it is a powerful metaphor for the way that it suggests the very structure of our world, in truth. Tecnoscience likes to suggest things simply: pick, choose, name, and classify. Develop, release, edit, re-test, upgrade, make obsolete, define, refine, eliminate, produce. All are actions with clear and quick ends to ways of world-making. But the image of world-making as it stands in the Cat's Cradle metaphor is much more accurate. It demands overlap, demands the crossing of strands of ideas and the tangling of sectors, strategies, understandings and groupings. No category, no action, no material, no function exists on its own as 'natural' in this mode. Instead, each of the above are but knots, loops, strings, lines and frays in a vast and inter-spun system of string. A web. A network. A place where the movement of any one micro-idea, any one string nessecarily jostles the other. Where there is no linearity of natural/un-natural but rather a vast complexity of interlocking lines, each this way-and that-- each dependant.
Cat's Cradle suggests a dialogue too, in it's makeup, whereas the decree of boundary-driven technoscience inaccurately frames a human-societal story that is a monologue. technoscience suggests that "This is the way things are. This is usual. This is unusual. This is wrong. This Is right. This is Man. This is Woman." Cat's Cradle suggests that each and everyone of this linearities is up for complication, debate, jostling, and knotting.

This is the inherent beauty of the metaphor, and indeed, of subsequently focusing on the very notion of metaphor period. In doing the later, Haraway establishes just how fundamental the metaphor is in the act of world-building. Highlighting the military metaphor of science folk suggests a negative image, sure, and perhaps that's a successful attack on their world-building agenda in the first place. However, more pertinent I think, is that suggesting the power and prevalence of story and metaphor in society sets the stage for re-imagining the world in the Cat's Cradle kind of mode. The network mode. The overlapped, undetermined, full-of-potential, and full -of-ambiguity mode that it is.

In those ways too, the Cat's Cradle is the very representation of the battle that theory tries to fight against dominant discourses, because it represents the intertwined, tangled and otherwise inseparable goals of notions like Feminism, Anti-Racism, Anti-Ableism and so on. They all seek an end to their marginalization and to the ideas of what is and is not normal and natural, but they too are rife with complexity and competing theories, and disagreements within themselves. The theorist of each is almost like a Cat's Cradle player themselves, with their hands thoroughly stuck in the maze of lines, trying as hard as they can to create new and interesting shapes and weave their way through the challenges that such a labyrinth of strings (or ideas and structures) that society poses. Occasionally too, more than one theorist and more than one pair of hands is needed to make sense of the more difficult things of the world, just as

Cat's Cradle is not always best played alone.

In making these statements, I'm attempting to express just how useful and interesting the metaphor itself really is, in terms of its application to our world-- and to "world making" in general. In a real way, the real day-to-day makeup and interaction of our world might well be related to Cat's Cradle-- a world of complexity, overlap and overflow, of shifting shapes that create new spaces, and of tangled messes that possibly need sorting-- or maybe that do not. Our world is one of tangled relationships between spheres which are supposedly separately but are really knotted. Politics is fractional and yet knotted to a central hope. It is tied to economics, which is tied to consumers, which is tied to children and adults, who are both tied to education, which itself deals with issues of exclusion and inclusion, it is a social place and therefore needs to be asked social questions. Issues of race, privilege, ability, rights-- all of these spring up in each sector and form the very tangles that makes Cat's Cradle what it is. Our world IS tangled like this, and often, we erect structures and ideas and over-arching methods and stories to attempt to disentangle it or turn it into a more useful shape. Theorists like Haraway do some part of this, always, but for Haraway, the goal is to make us understand just how knotted these things all are.

We live in a knotted, tied-up, tangled-up world, rife with a criss-cross and a crosstich of ideas, motives, hopes and letdowns, but it is so often defined by structures that view life as simple matters of black and white. Good and bad. Right and Wrong. Natural and Unnatural.

Cat's Cradle is not that simple though.

Our world is not that simple. So remaking that story, and shifting the dominant tropes from militaristic and imperialistic ideals of conquering, discovery, dominance, classification and systemization to ideas that are more open and flexible, and that promote the possibility of blurring and overlap is of utmost importance. And in some ways, the beginning of that story of change of potential is best begun with understanding just how fundamental the Cat's Cradle metaphor really is.

As Haraway writes in concluding, " Cat's cradle is where I think the action is in science studies, feminist studies, antiracism, and cultural studies--not in the mind-numbing militarized games" of technoscience and the structure of society as it stands today under that metaphorical system. As she writes it, Cat's Cradle stands to "be a less-deadly version for moral discourse, knowledge claims, and critical practice than heroic trials of strength". It is a more apt metaphorical alternative for the reality of the world we live in, and for creating a better world to live in later.

Cat's Cradle is empowering for that reason, and understanding just how important and fundamental metaphors are for our world-making needs is just as important.

I firmly believe Haraway has hit a kind of metaphorical jackpot with a multiplicity of meanings and possibilities, in her reference to the Cat's Cradle.

A few words on the Internet

While the intent of Haraway's article has very little to do with the internet, in some ways it is just as powerful a metaphor for this part of the discussion as well. Just like the internet, the web of strings that typifies a Cat's Cradle also typifies the internet. Both are designed around countless strands of criss-crossing figures. For the internet, the very idea of the network is that multiple hubs are linked together. Together, they create shapes in the form of access points and data mines which can then be turned and coded into web pages-- Images of the world we live in. From the cat's cradle of the internet emerges all manner of things-- Blogs, videos, information, world news, stock market, all that-- and yet so much more. After all, the internet is a web and not a linearity, and in that complex structure of overlaps and possibilities the internet has the potential to create new and free space. In these spaces, different stories can be told and legitimized. Whole sections which were once viewed as un-natural can find their own spaces for expression and existence on the internet. Just for argument, for example, the LBGTT community can thrive therein, because the internet can provide a forum for its members, or for any person or idea or project or goal. The internet hosts countless mini-realms in which progressive ways of living and seeing the world are promoted and in which groups that do not fit an easy category can find a haven.

Further, Haraway discusses the notion of Material Refiguration and part of that process takes place via the internet and the way in which the internet allows us to forget about distance, body, and other physical expressions by dissolving the lines between the material and immaterial in our everyday. The blending of the real and the virtual into one another that (occurs because of the internet) is just one more expression of the potential of the network image (Cat's Cradle and the internet) has to create a new kind of world, with a new kind of story. This new kind of tale is not one that ought to be an easy line between natural and unnatural, but rather, it is a tale based on the very concept of the network-- of bridging gaps, breaking physical conceptions, and connecting all different types of people to help create all new shapes and all new puzzles to go with them.

Essentially, Cat's Cradle is one of the single most apt metaphors for the way in which society needs to be seen and the way in which it needs to change. Now, the internet may yet be the best example of the Cat's Cradle in practical application, and perhaps it can still do much more to make the kind of world that Haraway is after. The internet is certainly more a dialogue and a dynamic web than a static and linear line of hierarchies and strength trials, though, and that is what is so exciting about it.
We are in the Cat's Cradle now, and the internet is the best expression of a world where the lines are tangled and everything is blurry. We just need to wake up and realize that the discourse of naturalization, limitation, and classification is well and truly archaic, and that the slip-slide of potentiality that is the Cat's Cradle is here to stay.


1. I believe the image and metaphor of the Cat's Cradle is perhaps one of the most important metaphors today. On a contrary note, what problems can you see with the metaphor? What dangers or issues might it create?

2. Do you agree that the internet is on the leading edge of creating a new and blurry world? Or does it work to reinforce currently active power-systems? Give an example

3. Haraway's notion is that story, image and metaphor are all fundamentally important to the way society is built. This means that language is ultimately powerful. Taking the issue of language practically, for a moment:

As the internet grows and continues to connect us together, do you think the language barrier between nations and people will fade? More importantly, is that a good or a bad thing ? If we all speak the same language, does that mean that we will all be subject to the pitfalls within this language and that our chances to find new ways of seeing the world become more limited, or not?

Teaching Aids:

Cat's Cradle:
An explanation of how to play Cat's Cradle that includes pictures is important because it shows the fundamental image that Haraway is using. Notice all the different possibilities for shapes, the over-lapping lines, and the need for the hands and work of others to accomplish the goals. In many ways, the entire game is quite similar to the world we live in, and the way in which our modern day issues require more than one pair of hands to solve. It suggests potential, possibility, as well as the need for teamwork and solutions. It also suggests complexity and the image of the network.

Visualization of the Internet:

The Internet can be visualized in a plethora of ways, but the attributes that each visualization seems to share include a stunning amount of overlap and overgrowth, as well as an immensely sprawling horde of lines, dots, hubs and nodes. These represent just how intertwined and blurred the internet's information pathways are, and in that sense, it can clearly relate the internet to the Cat's Cradle, while underscoring the importance of the refiguration of world-view from one that is static and dominant, to one that is blurred and full of possibility.

How far the Network Metaphor goes:

While this article is related only to the idea that the internet and the network can be used to as a metaphor for God, the point of the inclusion is to show just how important metaphors are to our society and just how full of potential the network metaphor is. That it can possibly come close to describing a diety is, if not bizzare, at least quite interesting.

The Haraway text used:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Capitalism's New Clothes: Immaterial Labour Makes Strange Bedfellows - [ PHIL 2715 WDE Response #2]

[ On:  Coté, Mark and Jennifer Pybus. Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social

Since it began, capitalism has always been about material goods and the labour that makes them. Unearthing the raw materials used to create material products and then trading those material goods for material coin was once the major mode of capitalism. In recent years, the capital transaction has advanced to become less and less physical however. Capital was once measured by the two age-old markers of land and gold, and then came physical representations of monetary value in coins and paper. From there, we moved to credit cards, and as time has gone, the physical side of coinage and capital seems to be on its death bed, all but replaced by a series of virtual numbers inside a virtual bank account with nary a solid tie to the physical. This is part of the phenomenon that Jean Baudrillard referred to as Simulation and Simulacra (which I will provide a teaching aid for at the end of this response). Though the slow and steady departure of the physical from the monetary, is not the express concern of Cote and Pybus' article, it sets the stage for what is becoming an increasingly immaterial world. Capitalism and Labour is becoming virtual, just as the concepts of network and play have become subsumed into capitalism.

The fact is: Capitalism is changing and the shift to immaterial labour '2.0.' is the perfect expression of the shift to the virtual. First, we might ask, as a base question: Why is this shift happening? What is causing the change?

Well, as we have discussed, the network is continuing to be and become the primary mode of organization in the information age in which we live. The advancement of faster more capable internet systems and the ability to upload and download as well as communicate across the globe and engage in a plethora of leisurely activities has made it likely one of the most used pieces of technology in the world. Naturally, when people show favour to things, capitalism takes notice because the people are also the consumers. In this way, the network has grown, and grown into what is arguably a godsend to capitalists everywhere. That is, in some ways, the internet is a method through which capitalism can reach an uncountable audience, a medium through which they can sell even more products and operate even more advertisements, on ever-more-vast communication lines. All of this is what makes capitalism an unprecedented tool for capitalism (and in different ways, for the consumer as well), but again, there is yet more to the notion.

The rise of the network as an everyday tool now engorged with capital endeavours has done more than simply connect users and open them up to products, but it has also produced a new kind of labour, and a newer expression of capitalism: The drive for the individual-self in the collapsing division between private and public.

Only recently has social media exploded into popularity to provide an outlet for people to share everything about themselves, but despite it's relatively short existence, it has done powerful things. These services... Things like Facebook and MySpace are sometimes referred to as Web 2.0-- a new generation of online social systems-- have contributed to a new kind of labour: An immaterial one.

According to Cote and Pybus, the Immaterial labour brought on by web 2.0 is not the only one of its kind, and they briefly highlight initial versions of the idea .

For instance, there are other kinds of Immaterial labour if we set aside the kind derived from web 2.0 a moment. Generally speaking, these are what we might call intellectual work (which deals with Information Technology, the tech industry and the creation of cultural artefacts in a mostly digital space); there is emotional labour (in which services and care are being provided like social work, as well as other aspects) and finally there is the kind of labour that is both manufactured and thus physical, but managed over the internet. In some ways too, I might add the stock market to an idea of immaterial labour, since they are literally trading nothing physical, yet fortunes are won and lost all the same.

This all being said, we can note that immaterial labour isn't 'new' in a real sense, but that, with the advent of more advanced technologies it is increasing in scope and colonizing new areas. That is, the immaterial labours listed earlier have not disappeared, but the technologies now allow us to focus entirely on a kind of immaterial labour that is literally interested in the creation of the self. As Cote and Pybus put it, this immaterial labour version 2.0 is all about " users enthusiastically respond[ing] in the affirmative to the call, ‘become subjects!’ ( Cote and Pybus 89). It is a kind of labour that is interested wholly in the creation of the self as a kind of product.

Now, what is most fascinating about this strange idea is that it is because of the social networking systems that the entire relationship between the capitalist and the consumer is shifting in some very real ways. These shifts, as the authors note, are mandatory to understand if we hope to consider the very idea of immaterial labour as something other than "nonsensical" (89). Indeed, the shifts that we see are absolutely astounding, in the sense that the network system and the idea of social media has created a "conflation" or fusion of the past ideas of production and consumption in some ways (89).

We see this fusion in things like YouTube especially and the ways in which any 'consumer' can post videos that they created themselves for all the world to see. In this mode, they become the producer, and shirk their role of the consumer for a moment. And strangely, the more viewers (or consumers) that view the video, comment on it, and add it to favourites increase its popularity as well. When that consumer-driven popularity is high, it is only then that the traditional producer takes notice and attempts to reap the capital rewards of the popularity by signing the YouTube star to a contract or otherwise engaging with the content.

It is important to understand then, that in a very real way, the traditional notions of production and consumerism have changed. Thanks to social systems of posting content for all to see, like MySpace, YouTube, or Twitter every consumer can become a producer, and if that happens it is actually up to the other consumers to then become involved in sifting the weak content form the great content. Here, the consumer is not only vested with the power to create products, by they are also integral to finding and determining the overall monetary value of that product simply by their participation. In a very similar way, the lines between author and audience are blurred too. The mass of consumers that do watch YouTube videos can also be their own producers themselves when they make their own content too, but in an abstract sense, the web 2.0 structure allows them to be always already involved in authoring the success or failure of anyone else's content.

Now, Cote and Pybus do not focus on YouTube, as they do upon social services like MySpace and the ways in which people forge their own identities there, but the point is that web 2.0, firstly deals with the on-going production of the individual identity. Secondly, in this production of the self and the affirmation of the self as subject through our own productions, the concepts of leisure and labour are merged right alongside those of consumption and production and author and audience.

In this point of merger, we come to learn that it is not simply the network, but social relations in general that become the primary site and means for a new form of capital labour. The social work of MySpace with visitors, YouTube with views and comments, and twitter with numbers of followers all require social interaction, and again, it is those social interactions which spark capitalism today. Now, sometimes these relationships lead to lucrative material gains, but in a very real sense, the argument that is being posed her is that it is not necessarily about material labour at all! Instead, the relationships we form in these communities of dialogue are the new heart and soul of capitalism as it stands today.

If this is granted, then there can be absolutely no doubt that the internet and the network have proven themselves an indispensible ally in the continued forward march of capitalism.

Again, Intellectual work produces no material goods, but instead creates cultural artefacts like internet memes and intellectual properties, which do not physically exist.

In fact, even the capitalist modes of old are managed through this non-physical space. Technologies become the only means with which to enact an order of items, for example, and are thereby integral to the continuance of capitalism. A loss of the internet (a virtual space) can literally mean that the physical world is now unable to function.

That is how deeply capitalism is now embedded into the heart of these technologies. The real has become depended upon the virtual, the simulated.

Notions of Power

Moving on and turning back to the notion of Web 2.0 specifically, part of the discussion of the article is based on relationships of power.

As I understand it, there have historically been a few different types of power in the world.

The most important to this article is the notion that Web 2.0 allows us to enact what is known as 'biopower', but as Cote and Pybus note, we must also understand the other types of power as well (Cote Pybus 91). The notion of sovereign power is the most basic kind.

Sovereign power suggests a time in which the King was able to enact, from the top down, laws and punishments on his subjects. Here, the King's word was the only word and the punishments came straight from him and were followed to the letter. Granted this kind of notion still likely exists in the command-structures of certain companies and through certain CEOs and what have you, but it is not the most pertinent to capitalism.

To this point one of the premiere models of power is the disciplinary form. In this form, there are various institutions within society that all exert measures of control upon us (from schools, to hospitals, governments and police units). Some control is more overt than others but the fascinating point about this that, because it is institutionally based, and we have lived and worked in those institutions all our lives, we as citizens generally act in ways which are self-policing. We might say that this is out of habit and learned behaviour . While Cote and Pybus mention Foucault's Panopticon (as we did in the course) the notion is not that we are imprisoned ourselves but that, due to what society has taught us, we can scarcely act out against that system. We police ourselves because it is the only thing we know how to do. We act like capitalists because we grew up in a capitalist system, and we live and work in ways that support it (91-92).

((In fact, thinking about this now, I feel like this Panopticon-idea of self-discipline due to growing up in a certain cultural space may explain why so many World of Warcraft players so keenly undertake the processes of capitalism within that structure. That even though it's a virtual place and a place that we should therefore be free to imagine in; we seem to still engage in the very same capitalist world, in virtual, that we live in our lives. This may well be because we simply know of no other way, we are simply too engrained within the ideology to do anything other. If so, I think it still suggests how World of Warcraft fails as a Utopia project because it fails to remove us from or allow us to really, practically think beyond capitalism. Instead, it is buried six-feet deep in capitalism tendencies. --- BUT I DIGREES-- ))

All of this said, what comes next is Biopower. Foucault argues that Biopower functions at the level of life, when the body is set forward, and when life is set as something important. Biopower is also concerned with sexuality and the ways in which people live. This form of power cares about the individual and the way in which we conduct our lives. Questions of anatomy, sexual orientation, sexual reproduction and many more, not only create a notion of a society that suddenly is deeply involved in the life of its subjects, but also notes that the place of the individual is and the role of the individual is without doubt a central issue.

Concerns about Capitalism and the Individual

Yet, while it seems that a focus on the individual is a positive, life affirming situation, I find it somewhat alarming that the individual is becoming a very important commodity in the capitalist expression, and perhaps an important commodity to control as a result. The network society structure has surely forced the methods of capitalism to change, but is it for the best? Again, to most people, a focus on biopower and the individual would certainly seem to provide a far more comfortable social experience than that offered by systems of sovereignty or surveillance. But as with so many things, I do not feel that capitalism is ever satisfied with privileging anything but 'itself'. I do not think Capitalism as an ideology can simply open up a space for the individual and give it a certain importance without desiring more and more purchase of its own in that area If that is so, then it suggests that capitalism will continue to attempt to find ways to define, control and profit from that focus on the individual. If that is the case-- if the individual and his/her social relations have truly become the only major site for capital gains, then I believe the individual will soon find themselves threatened.

After all, in studying the works of Capitalism thus far we must understand that it is always seeking new means with which to grow and new mediums, products, and ideas from which to profit. The very notion of capitalism is based on efficiency, and because time is money, there is, generally speaking, no such thing as an idle capitalist. This said, the point I want to make here is that the link between capitalism and the individual (for as much as I have praised it prior to this article) really stands a chance at being a dangerous mix, in which there may not be enough 'space' between the ever-advancing goals of capitalism and the new found primacy of the individual.

However, the article also addresses the fact that biopower is providing more than just a space of importance for the individual but also that in that space, we can create ourselves in unique ways. And while the notion of uniqueness carries a degree of uncertainty that I believe capitalism may find either quite lucrative or very threatening; biopower is itself still a response to resistance.

My concern to end this though, is the echo that, even if biopower creates a niche for the individual and that individual is prized within capitalism, the problem is that the individual is still being commoditized-- whether on a conceptual or practical basis.

Because of this notion of Biopower in the 2.0 framework, I feel as though capitalism has sidled up to each and everyone of us more closely than it has ever done. And when we note that capitalism, by nature, should always do what is best for it, then I worry that this new closeness is only because Capitalism is coveting its new resource. That it is the individual person that capitalism sees as its next logical move to increase revenues while keeping tabs on what the masses want in a closer way than ever.

[*NOTE I apologize for the fact that this reponse was posted much later than I would have liked, I hope it did not create too much inconvinience]


1. Does the focus on the individual's role within capitalism concern you? Why or why not?

2. Is the blurring of the lines between consumer and producer a breakthrough in the ways we see the world? Could it stand a chance at forever altering the tenants of capitalism or is it simply a part of those tenants?

3. With the popularity of things like Facebook and Twitter and the apparent drop off in the popularity of MySpace, do you agree that social relationships are the most important field of consideration as it? What, if anything, might possibly come next?

Teaching Aids

John Baudrillard-- Simulation and Simulacra:

The Rise of the Individual (with capitalism close behind):

A perfect example of the role of the individual within the construct of capitalism and the network society came up this year with the creation of the "Bed Intruder Song". Essentially, the man doing the singing was actually on the news ranting as such after his sister was nearly raped. Following the broadcast of this interview, a group of consumers turned producers dubbed "Auto-Tune the News" took the footage and set it to a beat, and it became a massive hit song. From this, both the singer, the auto-tuners and Apple (who offered to sell the song on ITunes after much demand) all profited. Since then, it's been confirmed that the singing male was able to buy a house and move out of the projects.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

World of Warcraft: Capitalism By Any Other Name [PHIL 2715 WDE, Response #1]

[Warcraft and Utopia Critical Response]

Alexander Galloway's "Warcraft and Utopia" has an interesting notion on its mind: utopia. It is not just any utopia that Galloway concerns himself with though. For when we think about utopia we might usually define it as the word we use for a 'perfect society'-- No crime, pollution, concerns, or any worries at all. While utopia and utopian projects still refer to "the best possible way" to live and do things, It is firstly important to understand that here, Galloway bases his argument on the notion of utopia as we see it in the works of Fredrick Jameson. That is, to Galloway, utopia is a "site" in which capitalism is the central question. It is a place in which "non-capitalist ideas are worked-out, worked-through or proven not to work at all". Once we understand the notion that utopia is concerned chiefly with capitalism or an escape from capitalism, we can further understand the article.

In fact, there are three kinds of utopia to consider. The first, is a notion of utopia as a kind pre-capitalist minimalism-- a period before all the machines and the glitz and the glamour of celebrity culture and spectacle culture. There is also a notion of utopia that comes after capitalism as well, which is related to communism and the fall of the capitalist machine. Most importantly too, there is a notion of kind of utopia that is occurring now. That the way things are now is the best possible way to do things.

All of this said, there are two major things which Galloway hopes to discuss in his article and he lays them out succinctly for the reader to begin the work: 1) " the problems and challenges...of imagining life after capitalism" and 2) "networks and play" and the way in which they have "become entirely synonymous with the present mode of production and exchange" in recent decades. To the best extent I can, I shall offer comment and analysis on each of them, but I will also place a great deal of focus on the issue of capitalism as it is represented virtually. The capitalistic expressions within World of Warcraft and the way in which they help express the progress of the world toward and perhaps inescapable life of capitalism are of most interest to me. In some cases, this will clash with the arguments posed by Alexander Galloway, and at those times I will be sure to rationalize the disagreement.

Now, one of the main undercurrents to his article is the metamorphosis that the concepts of network and play have undergone. At one point the metaphor and concept of the network was thought to exist outside of, or in opposition to, the capitalist system. We might think of the workers union as being somewhat explanatory here. After all, the idea of a union at a workplace is essentially the idea of establishing a network between the workers-- a construct within which communication is possible, where experiences can be shared and where connections can be made. While the union was a very specific kind of network, it expresses some of the qualities of a network, and is at least an illustration of the disdain that classic capitalism can have, and has had for the practical applications of the network.

In another way, the notion of "play" occupies a space which is directly opposite to many of the tenants of capitalism. Work that produces commodities and which generally engages in production in an efficient fashion is the modus operandi of capitalism as we know it. Given that, the concept of engaging in an activity that creates or produces nothing but one's own pleasure --'playing', in other words-- is clearly an antithetical action when compared to the expectations of the capitalist mode. Play represents rest, downtime, and the experience of something other than work and production.

As Galloway and others attempt to argue though, the advent of more advanced digital technologies has allowed the division between network /play and capitalism to become eroded. As it stands, the concepts of network and play are no longer "threats to or departures from" capitalism, and have instead become invaded and consumed by it. They are tools and products of the system, and in certain ways have helped lead to vast amounts of capital gain, as well as having provided a few unprecedented methods in which to gain that capital. The network is now part of the capital machine, and 'play' (or entertain) is a major part of what capitalism has always sold. Today, both network and play link together in interesting ways. However, I would argue that these ways are not as utopian as Galloway seems to suggest in a few key ways.

To Galloway the video game might well be said to occupy a kind of utopian space because of the way in which it allows fundamental rules and laws to be mutable within that space. Society as we live it now can be traded (for a time) for an existence and experience that is quite different, and it therefore allows game developers (and to an extent, players) the ability to imagine other ways of living, and perhaps other potential Utopian projects. In some ways, World of Warcraft certainly has this possibility-- players are able to experience life in different ways through the game, and some of these ways may well provide certain individuals with an experience they believe is superior to the societal experience they have in the non-virtual world. As a move in this direction, Galloway goes on to suggest that World of Warcraft is a specific example of the pre-capitalist utopia-- That is, of a world before the machinations and machinery of capital systems really takes over. Now, in a narrative sense, this is true. After all, World of Warcraft sees the players existing in a time where players wield medieval weaponry and the capitalist engine has barely begun to start up. As a world of (generally) old technology, we can surely imagine that, at least superficially, the game does provide us with a chronologically pre-capitalist experience. However, Galloway goes further than this in his description.

Galloway highlights the cooperative nature of World of Warcraft as perhaps being a potential site of Utopian endeavour. In the game, players band together for common cause in events as small as two player quests and small skirmishes all the way to forty-player raids and even larger scale wars. Things become even more interesting when we note that the game supports and encourages the creation of player-run organizations known as guilds which can be composed of hundreds of similarly-minded players who have chosen to join together under an organizational name for a number of common purposes in a less-immediate sense. That is, a guild is generally a long-term commitment between players who will share a chat-channel, a means of identification and a common, long-ranging goal.

The implications of all of this kind of group-association is not necessarily that it will directly lead to some kind of anti-capitalist proletariat revolution, but that it at least enacts a kind of modelling of proletariat ideals-- A group made up of the masses which pursues common goals and has the ability to communicate with one another. From this, I suppose it is somewhat possible that beneficial relationships could be fostered and that they could indeed endeavour to procure a kind of utopia, or at least enact change , as Galloway notes;. However, I believe that the potential for that is minimal at best especially given the immense amount of capitalist expressions within World of Warcraft.

My experience playing World of Warcraft suggests something quite contrary to the utopian potential of the game as it is expressed by the use of pre-modern technologies. Simply put, I believe that while this is certainly true of the game-world, there are a plethora of built-in and implied capitalist-like mechanisms-- some of which are even embedded within the pre-modern tech itself. Take the notion of 'gear' in the game. In World of Warcraft, the primary reward for completing any delegated task, dungeon, or raid is 'gear'. In game terms, gear simply refers to items, and specifically items that can make your character 'better'. These range from armour, to weapons, scrolls and so on. Firstly, the notion of receiving both gear and coin for the work you do in any given quest is quite obviously capitalist in a sense of working for your pay. More importantly, it is not as though you can grab any axe in the game and enjoy a romp with simple pre-modern, non-capitalist goods. Instead, there is an underlying current to playing World of Warcraft (WoW) and that is the ever-present push for more gear and better gear. At all levels of play, the general drive of the WoW community is that each and every character should be forever seeking the best gear for their level. In doing so, this means that gear is swapped on and off of your character quickly as you improve from doing more 'work' and the useless, used, or old gear is sold for a pittance to A.I. controlled trade vendors so that, inevitably, you can make room in your bags for more gear. The rush for gear is so heavy that players will literally play through the same in-game content in the same area over and over until they acquire the specific gear that they seek. More than this, gear is rarely prized by players for its aesthetic or sentimental value, but only for its functional workings. The question players ask is simply this: Does this piece of equipment make me better at my role? Does this staff make me a more productive healer? Do these blades make me a better damage dealer? Does this armour make me a better protector? Simply, the question any and all WoW players will ask themselves by sheer fact of the mechanics of the game is: "does this equipment make me better at my job?", and to me, that question states World of Warcraft's inherent Capitalism and indeed, its failure as a utopian project.

Honestly, Nothing of what I described is utopian as I see it. What I see in the mad rush for gear is the very same rush to acquire products that is a tell-tale trait of capitalism. Every single player-avatar in World of Warcraft is automatically engaged in a virtual evocation of "Keeping up with the Jones'"-- If you wish to do your job well, and thus be accepted into groups and be honoured for your work within the game you simply must always strive to acquire more goods that make you better at what your designation is. Your class. What this means is that even the pre-capitalist technology is being placed into a capitalist over-structure -- Each piece worth a set amount and each piece either makes you a superior avatar to what you were before or it does not. If it does not, then it is sold for monetary gain, and if does then you apply it to your character and make him or her better until you find something else. To me, this blind rush for more is very similar to the capitalist structure that Galloway seems to suggest the game has the ability to avoid. Similarly, the rush to constantly better oneself is very similar to beauty industries, automotive companies, clothing stores and so on. That is, capitalism demands that we acquire what they are selling and that what is on offer will make us a better version of ourselves. All these industries cater to the notion that acquiring items will create a better me, and that is exactly the preposition at work in World of Warcraft.

Indeed, the technologies at use might be pre-modern or pre-capitalist-- but the mindset and function attached to them is so modern and capitalist that the pre-modern aspect is nothing but a visual token-- meaningless in the greater script of the game. This is one major example of the prevalence of capitalism in the World of Warcraft system, and I believe this fact alone makes any discussion of the technologies used in the game moot. Yet, Galloway also discusses the lack of signifiers in the game as a possible site for a non-capitalist for Utopia, and it is worth considering, even if we may have established the capitalistic leanings already.

Another way Galloway approaches the notion of Warcraft as a potential Utopian construct is from the perspective that it is a Utopia for its lack of signifiers. The real experience of its narrative world, he argues is devoid of signs. No advertising, no logos, no brand names and so on, as we know them today. For him, this is a kind of modernist dream-world, where without signifiers, the purely aesthetic experience of the diagetic world remains. However, I again take issue with this notion, and I truly believe it can be debunked in an easy and rather alarming way.

While I will agree that the world is somewhat free from advertising in the modern sense, I have already argued about how the gear system of the game is one that is interested in only the functionality of the goods and how it improves one's productivity and standing, and that for most players, the act 'getting geared' has no real concerns regarding the artfulness of the items at all. That is, aesthetics rarely matter in the acquisition of goods. Only betterment does. That flies in the of Galloway's statements that the game qualifies itself as concerned with the world is a kind of aesthetic paradise devoid of signifiers. He does note however that the that because the world's signifiers are mostly based around the user interface, this calls attention to another utopian expression. A place in which signifiers are understood as purely functional. I will grant him this as a fact about the game world, because so much of WoW is indeed obsessed with the function of the thing.

In a very real way, the masses that engage in World of Warcraft do not value a story, and instead, see only functionality. It is not what you do to get the reward, but simply that it gets done. It is not, on some level, how awesome that fire-ball spell looks that you cast when you press the number 5 which seems to concern WoW players, but rather, how much numerical damage you cause. I agree then that the fundamental world is mechanistic in nature, and all the signifiers that do exist seem to serve function over aesthetics. From the very code of the game itself to the way in which players interact with that code and what they value within and coming-from that code, it is indeed always about function: It is about how we as players might function better in this world. This is quite true of the world, and I think, quite astute of Galloway to point out the fundamental property of the signifiers of the game to be based on pure, raw function. How this can possibly express utopia though is a strange suggestion and one that I admittedly do not fully understand. Utopia, as I know it is about creating the best world to reside in, and, according to Jameson, it is a highly capitalist project that allows us to imagine other ways of existing. But the hard-code functionality of the game seems only to express the drive of pure progress and betterment and out-put... a kind of character-capitalism in a way-- where the amount of damage one does is the expression of one's success in the world, much like money is a successful marker today. This is because damage in the game means that you have the right gear for what you're supposed to do. Top the damage charts in a skirmish and you're like a successful businessman. Every kill is an expression of your worth within the system and every kill is rewarded with yet more gear. This is the basic function of the game world and is the is what Galloway would deign to call 'utopian'?

Frankly said:

I see it as yet another expression of Capitalism-- and it really goes on. Forget utopia, and think about the ways in which players sell items to others and engage in capitalist bidding wars at the game's auction house. Think about the ways in which the players use their chat-capabilities to advertise for the newest goods they seek to sell, and the ways in which even possibly proletariat constructs like Guilds are inviting people en masse regardless of cause, simply so that guild leaders can see their guild progress and gain points, and in that way, gain them rewards as well. Arena teams and groups are now demanding members who only fit a functional and numeric pre-set of requirements (like a certain amount of health on their character , or a certain numerical value of 'resilience') ...

The point I'm trying to make is that in every single aspect and expressions of the game experience-- from outside the game with its endless merchandise and pay-to-play monthly fee; to the race for better and better items inside the game, and better and better numerical killing-power as an avatar--- are based entirely upon individual progress. This is capitalism by any other name. It is progress in every damage point done, and wealth in every point of stamina or agility gained. There may well be gold and silver coinage in the game too, but the fact is that there is more than one layer of pure currency in this game-- and you whether groups seek damage, resilience, attributes, or just more warm bodies to fill their guild-ranks... Everyone is broken down into currency to someone else.

And frankly, for me, the issue ends there... It ceases to matter whether it has the potential to offer utopian possibilities when, or whether or not the capitalism it suggests IS the utopia. What matters to me, and honestly what should worry us the most as citizens is the way in which capitalism has absolutely eroded concepts of network and play. Let us not forget that WoW is a game, and in that, it is a game that has become the epitome of capitalism in so many different forms. It has taken play and turned it into production, and it has used the network to link people together so they can commoditize each other.

In all these ways World of Warcraft is a fascinating and frightening image of how far capitalism has come, how resourceful it is, and how adept it is at finding ways to demand production from its participants at every turn.

In the end, all I see when I read Galloway's article after having played World of Warcraft extensively is how determined the game is to want to make you believe that it is utopia-- that its capitalist-soaked game-world is the best type of world that could possibly be.

And though I am a gamer, the only thing I can do when I try to equate the notion of World of Warcraft as a utopia is shudder. For Capitalism, overwhelming numeracy, and overtly mechanical worlds with "no story" that are based entirely on incremental individual betterment is no utopia to me.


1. I had a very difficult time coming to grips with the notion that World of Warcraft could be an expression of Utopia. Can you think of any ways, minor or otherwise, in which a game world could be seen as the best possible expression of life, or at least, a place with which we engage in new ways to view the world?

2. How do you feel about the argument that a world which separates its signifiers from its aesthetics is a kind of utopia? What kind of utopia might it be?

3. Galloway poses the question at the end of the article as to whether World of Warcraft is labour or play. Essentially, I believe that I have characterized it as labour filled with different currencies. Which is it to you, labour or play? Why?

4. The uses of network and play have shifted into the realm of capitalism, and now, with the internet, and video games [and in World of Warcraft's case] they are front and centre and an integral part of the system. Is this a positive, negative or neutral shift, and why?

5. What are your feelings toward World of Warcraft and any other Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG). What does it say about the game when we note that there are now 12 million people who play it, world-wide?

Teaching aides

The Capital Concerns of World of Warcraft:</strong>

This video seems to perfectly fit one of the largest concerns that I believe World of Warcraft generates. The way in which a virtual world of production not only morphs into and interacts with the real world, but also the way in which the virtual space has become absolutely polluted by capitalist motivations and the mad rush for more gold, more gear, and the need to have the best gear (the best products in other words) to be somebody. The video itself is a bit of an add to try to get players to subscribe to a game guide on how to make virtual coin within the game, but it speaks to how integral and engrained the capitalist and material mindset is, within the game.

Capitalism from the inside, out:  MIw  

This is a brief trailer for a documentary on Chinese gold farming in MMORPG's within which people are seen playing these games to simply gain in-game currency en masse and sell that currency for real money to other players in the game. The practice is illegal in terms of in-game rules, but it suggests just how permeable to borders between the real and virtual are becoming and how easily capitalism slips between the divisions

The' Production of "Damage"' : Basics :</strong></strong>

This short WoW tutorial goes some ways to explaining the role-system and the group mentality in the game, as well as the way in which the amount of damage you do is, in this world, as important as the amount of bolts you rivet, papers you deliver, or tables you serve in real life. Damage in other words, is a kind of wealth in World of Warcraft, and it's integral to the game

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games: A Wikipedia overview:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Philosophy and the Internet

For the duration of the semester (until April) this blog will be re-purposed for use in Philosophy 2715: Philosophy and the Internet, a class I have recently enrolled in! I will be posting critical responses to various articles as a requirement of the class, but I am certain they will and can result in some discussion or at least, some reflection that is pertinent to this blog itself, regardless. That is, I've always been interested and willing to talk about philosophy and the internet on this blog (prior to when it was re-purposed as a creative writing blog) and so, this class and the assigned postings will in part simply function as a way for me to do that :)

ANY post After this point will be related to the 2715 class until otherwise noted, and will most likely be a critical response assignment, with the exception of maybe 1 or two personal commentary posts

For anyone who does still read this, enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Distribution: Null

“Dean!....Was it—“ “Dean Phillips!!”

“I don’t know Al!”

The TV is blaring: ...’and today’s poll is... Who was the coach of the Phildelphia...’

“Dick! I knew it was Dick Phillips! It must be... It has to be!—Or was it Steve?”

“Oh Whatever! Al! Listen, don’t forget to take the garbage out, tomorrow is garbage day”

‘and the answer is: Charles Dunham!’

“I knew that! I knew it was Dunham!

“Al, did you hear me?” she asks again...and again before taking the dog for a walk.

“Hey Ally” he calls to me “Hey Ally! Charles Dunham, Ally! I knew it!” Surely pumping his fist in lieu of his uncontested victory.

I slam my door. Placing a rather hollow rectangle of wood between my small holding and the cacophonous blasting of nonsensical noise that poured forth from our living room so often.

Every day the blasting goes...and the door is never quite up to task.

Sighing, I glance behind me. There are books everywhere. Strewn this way and that—with titles I couldn’t care to care for, but do, because that’s just how the world works.

I grab one. Set it down. Strong burgundy-bind from York. Lay it flat. Sit on black chair, and sigh again.

Flip to a random page: 212: “The Pentecost narrative of Acts 2:17, to which I have already alluded, reflects the early perception that the gift of prophecy......Including Pauline Christianity.....Excluding reflected in the Galations 3:28 reference....

The door flies open. I pull down my headphones, ready for the blaring of voices...The back and forth nozzles and clicks, cheeps and utterances... –Did I mention I had snatched a pair of headphones to erase the drones?.... It hardly matters...

“Hey Ally! Charles Dunham!”

“Mm.” I reply. It might have been taken as an acknowledgement.

“I got it Ally! Charles Dunham!”

“Yeah, cool, sounds good I said”, mumbling the message already spoken.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing, Nothing, dad I’m trying to—“ I trail off, caught up in words attacking eyes that don’t seem to make sense, and sounds into earholes that make even less.

“Trying to what?”

More words tear at my eyeballs..Black inked corneas bleed Barnabas, Baptismal...Tradition...Rabbinic...Manumission...Pricilla and Aquila

“This—Th-Thi—Paper! Essay, dad, Essay!” I, desperate, clash with nerves to speak. It’s all mumbles again, so I wave—I make expressions of grandeur to the small room around me, showcasing a floor of words, small tables, papers and the various wreckages of a struggling scholar—the hand I employed leads my father’s curious eyes around the room.

He closes the door and returns to the living room. Or somewhere.

I sigh. 249: Present research interests...That not all, or even most Muslims....The aforementioned Qu’ran verse....

I slam the book shut and shake my head free of the spider’s web of voice and idea that spill forth from a page marked with rows of tiny ink shapes that aren't mine.

‘Maybe... there’s another’....I reach to the floor for another book.

Seize one. White, flimsy. Red trim....’Canada? No—No wait’... My eyes blurr...still recovering from the earlier assault.

The door flies open

“Alex look at this place!” Wide-eyes likely scan the floor. I would have looked, but I didn’t need to, to know just how they would be. She’s in yellow. – An Arizona yellow

“You need to clean this up this is ridiculous, this is unbelievable...this is blasphemous...this is m—”
“This is Mary”

“I don’t believe we’ve met” reaching across white tablecloth and over flowery centrepiece

“Of course you haven’t met her, but she’s a mite displeased about your paper. Let me tell you”

“My what? Wiping mouth with pristine cloth.

“ Your paper" Calm voice relays

I point to my own chest, mouthful, dazed query.

Nodding follows

"The very same”

“W-what about it?”

“How can you write that without knowing me--- a clean voice. She speaks. Porcelain white.

“I’m sorry?”-blinking- “I’m sorry—I-- can you say th”—buzzing—“can you say that--” The hum is louder. ... clearing ..... Focus

"B-but that's what we do"

"What do you do?" The calm man is stern. Porcelain Mary sits.

-Sipping Water- "Oh, right...write...we write about....things"

"Things you don't know?"
"Things I don't know?"
"Things you don't know...about...Things that are beyond you, things that you cannot understand?"

-Sipping Water- “I’m sorry, could you– could you say that again?"

Humming gows louder... porcelain Mary.... washed out with trebel-floods


“ And you know it’s just another one of those things with you isn’t it...Alex!
Alex, are you even listening to me??”

I pull my headphones down and arch a cracking neck, straining to view wide-eyes peering into a clouded din of senselessness.

“I’m sorry... can you say that agai---“

The door slams shut.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mother Polska

I could imagine his eyes. Emotionless, stern, even foreign. My mother told me how his face used to hang on the right side of nearly every wall— or at least, that’s what it seemed like. She told me how it was he that had them learn what they learned. It was he who decided what cuts of meat the people would get, what jobs, what pay, what purpose they’d have.

My mother told me about a cold man. A detached man. A man who’s dark eyes and firm brows and pointed goatee were all that was really ever seen of him in his time; and yet his presence was still so defining—still so powerful. He remained, it sounded, like some sort of contradictorily-omnipotent ruler in portrait form.

It was always a story I liked to hear her tell when I was younger

“We learned his languages and his history” her Polish accent was pronounced enough, but much less apparent for me, having heard it my whole life. “Always Russia, Russia, Russia. Never Poland.” Of course her mannerisms remained audible for all, and here they were applied with force. “We had to know Russian, know the anthem, every single capital city—every victory! Every single one, I tell you! Oh, it was just terrible!”. She waved her hand towards me as she spoke, as if attempting to ward off some foul nuisance. “That Lenin!" she scoffed. His Russians even took our Christmas oranges one year!” They weren’t his Russians, per se, but there was a notable tinge of venom behind her words nonetheless, as if spitting on that once ever-present portrait would collectively deface all that wronged her then...

Vladimir Lenin, the very man who pressed the heel of Russia on the neck of my mother’s birth country, fired the first salvo of communism in Poland, and handled the creation of Poland as a nation indebted to the Russians, was certainly a man with a powerful ability.

He was also dead.

He had been long dead, too, for the course of my mother’s years in Poland but his presence was so strong as she had said it, that the man himself seemed to be a personification of all that was wrong with Poland then…of all that forced my mother from her country so many years ago.

“No. I didn’t really like it anymore. I wouldn’t go back. I’m Canadian now. This is my country” she had offered, rather matter-of-factly to me, when I asked whether she would go back, full time, if she had the chance.

You see, my mom was a young adult when she left her family behind. She was adopted instead by two well-off Germans who ran a few properties-for-rent. They were friends of the family, and now took up residence in Canada—Thunder Bay no less. They were seen as her way out of communism...Out of the suffering that those dark eyes and pointed goatee so immovably represented.

Her adopters treated her poorly when she came and lived with them—cooking old food, offering unfit clothes and even limiting water-consumption for things like showers and tea and coffee. It was strange then that despite the money they had, they used so little of it.

And despite the proposed liberations of the capitalist world, my mother was as hemmed-in as she ever was in Poland and still haunted by that spectre of limitation-- communism or not .

Yet still, my mom would never have gone back.


Could communism really be so bad? So terrible, that a residence full of grumbling German cheap-skates was preferable?

It was more than just communism at it’s core that kept her away though. It must have been!
– Of course, it was at this point in the tale that my Canadian born father routinely chimed in from his chair, whilst keeping all eyes on the hockey game:

Raising a hand as if responding to having a winning ticket called: “I saved you hunny! We both know you stayed for me, after I came riding in to rescue you!” Even though I could only see the back of his head, that small-mouth smirk of his was audible enough in his voice to know it was creeping across his face just then.

I hardly needed to look at my mother to know that she was rolling her eyes in response, either.

… But it was more than just communism that kept her away. More than suffering. And by all-ccounts more than just my dad. After all, she suffered as much or more in her early strides in Canada…

“They told me I’d be back”

“Who did?”

“The men at the airport”

--Her family could only afford to send one of their children to a better life in Canada… She was the youngest. She was it—

“I knew they were wrong. They had to be. I didn’t need their country anymore. Didn’t need their rules and limits...”

I pictured a bearded official, dark facial hair and grubby hands in uniform. I imagined sallow-coloured walls and an opressive pane of glass between the man and my mother. I pictured his snarling smile, and teeth capped with gold and silver fillings. I saw a pea-green uniform with red accents and gold edging. I imagined harsh strokes from his pen as he signed her release papers.

“Vhy in de Vorld vould you leave diz kountree for Kanada, of all place?” I could heard his condesending, heavily-accented grumble light my mother's stubborn Polish blood aflame while he slipped her the release papers through the slat at the bottom of the dirtied glass. -- My mother said nothing.

"You'll be back" he said, smiling.

...She never was...