Archive for the ‘Chatter’ Category

Who Do You Trust?

After leading class discussion last week, I began to mull over this question of trust. “Oh,” you say, “why is trust even a question?” As an academic-sort of person, I wonder at little things now. I read through Chuck Zerby’s Devil’s Details as well as Grafton’s Footnotes: A Curious History wherein both of them trace the development of footnotes and methods of trusting scholars findings.

Dr. McClurken added an additional set of readings about an academic hoax a few years back. The comments on this post struck me with the idea of “trust networks.” Dr. McClurken had mentioned this issue that the authority behind the project duped a number of colleagues into believing in the legitimacy of the work. I have to admit that I can appreciate the unsettling of the academic waters. Projects like this kick up a bunch of muck in the water and teach us that trust can sometimes be misleading. Just as scholars could fake early footnotes with sources that were tampered with, we historians and scholars will struggle with these issues. Somehow, we become far too trusting. Yet it is impossible to fact check every footnote or each aspect of a project. Something will slip under our radar, yet the more vigilant the scholar, the better the field.

At times questioning trust causes rifts between groups. How dare you doubt x researcher? Don’t you know that he/she has a degree in such and such a field? But academic work does not necessarily equate with bias-free texts. It might even be a bit depressing to know that the scholarly field is not as trustworthy as it might seem, but aren’t we all better off for having the wool taken off our eyes? Although we should expect that our colleagues will be honest and upright, knowing that the academic career is more than a little cutthroat gives us a better lay of the land. Why yes I am dancing around this issue! If academics will question the validity of primary source materials, should we not question our trust circles even further? Watch your back, things are not as clear as they may seem.

Maybe this whole matter of trust turns academia into a spy game or a thriller of sorts, filled with dangerous scholars toating deadly footnotes meant to lull a colleague into a false sense of security. You can place more mechanisms to ensure trustworthy work, yet in the end anything can eventually be circumvented. Trust at your own risk.

As a Preamble to the Project

Before diving into the advertisement proper, I would like to give a hearty thanks to my fellow project members who have made this small project possible. Caitlin, Ashley, and Nicole put time into taking my notes and sources and creating a wonderful product, which mimics 1930s advertisements for weight-gaining supplements. As a note for process, Ashley crafted the text for the advertisement and looked closely at various examples in order to develop a proper sense of wording for the piece. Nicole spent a great deal of time selecting appropriate fonts and modifying the layout. Caitlin, being a photoshop wizard, worked most closely with the program and made wonderful use of a set of early family photos for our advertisement. Although I worked primarily on the research end of the project, their work and effort made the project concrete and tangible.
In considering where this piece goes into the master timeline seen here, I wrote an earlier blog post about this style of advertisement. We (the group members) consider a product that is not a part of the information age but exemplifies certain characteristics about advertising during that time to be worthy addition to the timeline. The ad fits best within the 1930s segment and carrying a post of its own, perhaps with a title of “Early 20th Century Advertising.” In clicking that post, viewers can readily see our work, which makes an excellent example of advertising from then. Unlike other posts that are directly related to the flow of information, this small footnote would encourage readers to think of advertising not for its message but rather as a medium itself.
The next question one might have is “Is this really part of the information age?” The advertisement here is just a bunch of flashy exclamation points and pictures. Why should weight-gaining products make into the info age? The information age is not only about the passing of ideas from one entity to the next, it is also about how one passes such information. In terms of advertising, the question one needs to ask is what other messages are being encoded into the advertisement? I perceive ads such as weight-gaining to be more than just an advertisement encouraging one to bulk up and become extra hunky. Rather, one can note that the ads represent certain norms, namely heterosexual relationships, muscles and a particular body shape being keys to attracting women, and just plain old, every male requires a relationship to function. The ad does not just promise a product that will allow the consumer to gain weight, but it also transfers biases and life perspectives.What we can see in these ads is a company attempting to shape readers in a particular way.
So was there something special about weight-gaining products that made them apt for mimicking, as opposed to say car wax or cigarettes? Weight-gaining ads were not hiding secret messages to overturn the government, nor did they present the transfer of biases and perspectives better than other products. Rather, we chose our product as a fun and interesting item that flies in the face of contemporary perspectives about body size. To speak more personally, few would take such an interest in purposefully gaining weight, unless it involved muscle growth. Thus, the product will most certainly grab the viewer’s attention as an interesting advertisement. One might even note that things such as body size and image are all matters of cultural norms and that different generations can have vastly different outlooks on being sexy and attractive.

Monday morning (Oct 24, 2011), I will be posting up the advertisement and a bibliography for the Info Age project. Sit tight!

Running Time

We recently *cough*sort of*cough* completed our timeline project, where in we traced the development of information technologies from cave paintings to telegraphs to Youtube. We used the program simile and an accompanying wordpress plugin to display the time line on our course blog . While initially I expected this project to be little more than listing events and corresponding dates, I quickly found myself diging more into secondary sources for further events and more dates. Once you find one patent battle, you start to ponder…what happened after that? What was the immediate consequence/result of x event. Timelines can grow out of control without the right trimming and before you know it you are in a jungle of events that are not equally important. Some events are simply more important than others. If you want to keep your project manageable, you have to know where to make the cuts.

I worked with the Broadcasting group. You will notice our red points and lines on the timeline as anything relating to radios and televisions, or at certain turns the rise of organizations related to such technologies. My specific task was to dig up the time line of television, throw it up on the time line, and not go crazy. For those who are not familiar with the history of television…let me tell you something. Television has a rather convoluted history with many inventors, some of who were unaware of each other, and rapid changes, as well as an international battle over who transmitted what type of broadcast for the first time. Often, according to Fishers’ book Tube: A History of the Television, newspapers would call a transmission the first one, but they would omit in the United States as an important qualifier.

Having reviewed my peers’ work, I have considered my own shortcomings. I posted a huge swath of events, but they lack images and video. If one covers the history of television, a visual medium, there should be plenty of visual aids…it’s television. In considering improvements to my section, the addition of significant celebrity appearances or particularly popular programs would make a welcome upgrade to my work. With regards to the gaps of my time line, I pondered over how one could track the history of television. There are two distinct, but obviously related, categories, namely technological developments and pop culture. Researching a communication technology should also include its uses and contents. My time line primarily tracks the physical development of the technology without a strong emphasis for what the technology conveys. You will notice that I follow Farnsworth and Zworykins quite closely as they invent new technologies, smaller pieces of the television, yet the first television show or the rise of television celebrities is hardly a footnote. The two histories weave together, yet the historian uses vastly different materials to research each one. I have a nagging suspicion that leaving out the message and only speaking to the development of the medium dismembers the history of the television. Only knowing that the Gutenberg printing press revolutionized the creation of books takes away what books were being printed? Who read them, and what was the impact of that book being circulated so widely? The Fishers’ book,does well in dividing the technology from the content, and in the form of a monograph, the division feels natural. Trying to absorb both the television show and the television technology would give anyone a headache, yet for the purpose of a time line, the division creates a lackluster product. Why? A time line should give the viewer a snapshot of what was going on at the time. Sure, there is an argument somewhere in a time line, such as what does one include in it. But, to me, the time line remains a fairly wide scoped method of viewing a history. Talking about the internet without mentioning the content of Youtube would be a gross oversight. So, what about television? The pop culture that evolved around the device is as significant, if not more so, than the device itself.

Now that I have had a few days to separate myself from the project I feel more comfortable to point out the potential flaws and consider revisions and at the end of the semester improvements for the time line. What might be most helpful now would be a survey that I can pass out to site visitors in order to find best avenues for improving the project.

Morning Musing on Madness

 

The Madness of technological development, is it brand new? At what specific moment did Chewbacca punch the Millenium Falcon into hyperspace? What if we have always been rapidly moving through technology? I’m sorry, did your mind just get blown? Well, don’t feel bad so did mine.

Brian Winston in his introduction to Media Technology and Society notes, “the storm of progress blows so hard as to obscure our vision of what is actually happening. What is hyperbolised as a revolutionary train of events can be seen as a far more evolutionary and less transforming process.” If anyone is ever interested in the development of communication and technology in the United States but perhaps do not have the time to read a full fledged book on the matter, let me suggest Gregory Downey’s short piece on the topic. The brevity of the book encapsulates the persistent whirlwind feel. Each chapter in Downey speaks to the historical moment as well as its social implication yet finishes with a bridge to today’s technology, a short musing.

In selecting Winston’s introduction and Downey’s short work, Dr. McClurken also prompted a question and offered a tentative answer. Winston questions the newness or revolutionary aspects to our information age when he notes that each technology was not born in a vacuum but rather had predecessors and early conceptual origins. The author makes a case for historical laws that mark the success or failure of certain technologies.

According to Winston, we somehow lose all sense of what occurred in the not so distant past with our technology (15). We all have collective amnesia that television stormed onto the scene and changed life or that radio became an essential technology, carrying all the same new ideas and problems as any other piece of technology. Both Winston and Downey demand a rethinking of the developments in technological history.

Are we existing in some new whirlwind of events that hurdles us ever faster to some new era of Information flow/overload? I am not so certain. I wonder where discussions this morning (Thursday, Sept 8 ) will take us. As a (let’s face it) experimental seminar, I am eager to see how our first class discussion goes. Thus far we have talked about brass tacks, which haven’t been fully hammered down just yet, and tools required for this semester. So, here’s where we start the actual water slide.

Get in the pool.

Photo by James Pichora!

 

 

Sources for today:

  • Brian Winston Media Technology and Society
  • Gregory J. Downey Technology and Communication in American History

Step Into My Infotorium

Welcome to this new fangled space where I intend on dissecting readings, reflecting on class meetings, and wonder about where technology has taken us. What’s that technology doesn’t shape us? We shape it? Maybe. I think if the debate of “who is in control language or us” still continues, then the jury has yet to make a decision on technology’s influence on our day to day lives.

In welcoming you, I also will introduce myself at this present moment. I am a super senior at the University of Mary Washington, who welcomed graduating late for taking Dr. McClurken’s History of the Info Age. While I have brushed shoulders with the likes of Jim Groom and Gardner Campbell, I do not possess a wealth of knowledge on information technology or how we got here today. From my eyes, the internet started with long dial tones and ridiculously high fees and has become more central to my existence every year. It’s a tool…oh and maybe an addiction…or perhaps my life support? While I access technology and ponder its applications in my daily life and interactions, I do not take the time to consider the historical impact and the footsteps that have led us all here to this moment. Technological immersion. “Google” it. It’s not official until it’s “Facebook official.” These ideas and concepts exist so closely to ourselves that we are soon unable unwilling to critically analyze what has happened and indeed happening.

Dr. McClurken’s course promises to be a fresh wind in the doldrums of the information sea. We will ask questions, investigate, scratch our heads, wonder “what if?”, and tell a story about this Information Age, whatever that might be. For the moment, I intend on raising my sails and allowing the new winds to guide me to my treasure. I am taking this class not just to analyze and understand the events but also myself. I am a product of a world of growing connections with a neural network that handles chunks of data that come forth in a flood. So while many of the posts you will see here will be reflections on my reading, you will also encounter my more personal reflections on technology. Perhaps this blog will center around a core set of concepts such as the development of written signs and their transmission through file sharing or the technical side of the development of the internet. As of now, I can only promise to keep writing and hope it all works out in the end!

I leave you all with this video by the great Michael Wesch which I saw during his presentation at Faculty Academy this past May.

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