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robertogreco : decontextualization   6

Utopian Overreach — Real Life
"Digital wellness offers self-help as self-reliance

In July 2018, I ran a workshop called What Is Your Utopia at SpaceUs Roslindale, an MIT DesignX project that turned empty shopfronts into artist studios. The goal was to not only to demonstrate how utopian thinking can help us imagine new ways to address problems but also to show how anyone’s vision of an ideal world would inevitably impose their personal values as universals. Though the participants’ utopias were wide-ranging — from a completely pastoral society to a high-tech urbanized world to a libertarian commune — they came to see how they would quickly fall apart over such questions as “Who rules in your utopia, and how are they selected?” and “Does the society in your utopia hinge on equality, or is it something else?” A universalized mode of living and being almost always leaves someone out, always producing “losers.”

This lesson applies equally to the form of utopian thinking that is perhaps most prevalent today: digital utopianism. It is premised on the belief that technology-oriented solutions — whether it’s “smart” cities, or autonomous-vehicle systems, or drone-delivery schemes, or “connecting the world” — can fulfill a utopian ideal and provide uniform benefits for everyone. Popular science writers and technologists often deploy implicitly utopian thinking to promote their ideas, as if it were a deus ex machina to remove technologies from the sociopolitical context in which they are used.

The digital-wellness movement, though it seems to counter the grandiose schemes of the tech industry, shares a similar aspiration of fixing people for their own good, prescribing a specific one-size-fits all relationship with technology as a way to build an ideal society. This movement is typified by former Google employee Tristan Harris’s Center for Humane Technology, books like Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and Catharine Price’s How to Break Up With Your Phone, and software such as the Before Launcher and Google’s new suite of experiments aimed at “balancing life and tech,” including a counter that tells you how many times you’ve unlocked your phone in a day.

What these interventions all have in common is how they frame our problems with technology as a matter between the individual and a specific device or app rather than the social, moral, and infrastructural relations that ultimately bind them together. They posit that apps in and of themselves compel our attention irresistibly through “dark patterns” of malevolent design, as if other people were not intrinsically involved in what we generally use phones to do. For example, in a Vox article, Recode’s Shirin Ghaffary claims that “if tech execs really wanted to help people with smartphone dependence, they would change their products to be inherently less addictive.”

In such accounts, technology is anthropomorphized and depicted as a separate entity with power and agency that comes at humans’ expense. Accordingly, digital wellness preaches the possibility of self-improvement through reclaiming our agency over devices. It holds that we can singlehandedly resist “technology” through individual, unilateral action once the secrets of manipulative design are explained to us. Rather than addressing the complexity of our relations with each other, institutions, social conditions, or anything else that communication technology plays into, digital wellness offers self-help as self-reliance while leaving the broader, underlying conditions unaddressed.

Newport’s digital minimalism, for instance, suggests spending time away from screens and devices, as well as “dumbing down” your phone by deleting social media, so that you can reduce screen time and “move on with the business of living your real-world life.” That may sound straightforward enough, but it takes for granted a clean separation of “worlds,” as though the demands of our lives don’t deeply involve digital communication and perpetual connectivity. Newport posits a utopia where you can live in the “real” world, with “real” relationships and a subservient technology that can “support — not subvert — your efforts to live well.” But what counts as “real”? And in an era when digital technology is used as means of employer control over employees, who has sufficient autonomy to insist on their own definition and refuse the subservience that’s mediated by phones, if not necessarily caused by them?

The digital-wellness movement associates what is “real” with what is “human,” positing a “perfect user,” as this earlier Real Life essay suggests, who engages in self-discipline and assumes responsibility for the nature of their entanglement with technology. Those with sufficient self-mastery to use technology appropriately are deemed more human than the phone zombies who succumb to tech’s predations. Media theorist Mark Poster predicted this sort of concern in his 2001 book What’s the Matter With the Internet?, where he suggests that information machines will “put into question humanity as an instrumental agent.” The digital-wellness movement tends to presume that the usefulness of technology comes at the expense of human capability, as if these were inherently zero-sum rather than potentially complementary. So it responds to the question of human agency by decontextualizing technology use and depicting it as being a matter of the individual’s unilateral will.

In protesting the functions that we’ve “offloaded” to devices, the digital-wellness movement evokes a utopia in which everyone experiences the same human-machine relation: Humans and technology are entirely separate, machines fundamentally rob humans of their agency, and humans reassert their humanity by claiming agency back. Though this sounds critical of tech-company overreach, it actually reflects the same underlying view it means to resist. Both tech companies and digital-wellness advocates posit an individual who can operate independent of society — a rational, free, and self-regulating subject. But where tech companies tend to claim their products liberate users from social entanglement, digital wellness suggests that users liberate themselves by rejecting those same products. Newport’s minimalist digital utopia and Zuckerberg’s all-enveloping digital utopia end up serving the same figure of the liberal humanist subject. In both cases, what differentiates the human from the nonhuman is the capability for agency.

But “human” has never had a truly universal definition. Feminist theorist Karen Barad, in Meeting the Universe Halfway, offers two different arguments for rejecting a universalist humanism: The first is the postmodernist claim that the human subject does not exist outside its entanglement in social practices. The second, informed by her training as a quantum physicist, points to how anthropocentric conceptual frameworks and measurement apparatuses posit a scientist who purportedly transcends the natural world and its nonhuman inhabitants.

Perhaps the strongest critique of humanism comes from postcolonial theory. Aimé Césaire notes in Discourse on Colonialism that not a single “defender of the human person” — from the preacher to the academic — showed any sign of outrage when colonialists tried to subjugate the world in the name of religion or for the “just demands of the human collectivity,” from which colonized people were excluded, simply categorized as savage beings in need of civilizing. The humanist underpinnings of the digital utopia — distinguishing who counts as a real person — draw on a perspective that is effectively colonialist.

Digital colonialism has new technologies merely replicating and strengthening existing power structures — which are already largely informed by colonialism. The concentration of much of the internet into the hands of a few tech companies have meant that digital surveillance and control have also been centralized. This has prompted some artists and academics to seek the decolonization of digital technology; Morehshin Allahyari’s 3D sculptures, for example, claims cultural works as a challenge to tech companies’ extractive practices.

Just as technology’s impacts and benefits are unevenly distributed, on both an individual and a cultural level, so is the nature of the agency humans have over it. Some groups draw on privilege they have beyond online spaces to exert control within them, while others depend on online connection to a different degree because of the exclusions they experience. Consider what early internet communities provided for people who do not have the same chance to make kin IRL, the “geeks, freaks, and queers who embraced the internet as a savior,” as theorist danah boyd has pointed out. Such divergent experiences with technology break down the idea of a universal digital anxiety. The anxieties, fantasies, and possibilities technology evokes are contextual; they vary according to the power relations among individuals, groups, and institutions within a given circumstance, because of the multitude of power, privilege, race, and other sociocultural dynamics that exist in relation to these technologies. The digital wellness utopia flattens all that into a single concern, reflecting the anxieties of one particular group — the demographic that includes Silicon Valley technologists.

Poster suggests that the “sensible” approach to thinking about technology would be not to lament “the destruction of nature by the irresponsible deployment of machines or the loss of human reality into machines or even the cultural ‘misshaping’ of the human by its descent into the instrumental” but rather to consider the nature of the cyborg — what he calls the “humachine.” The figure of the cyborg has been a fantastically important tool in reimagining social and technical relations, from Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg… [more]
wellness  individualism  technology  colonialism  liberalism  alifibrahim  2019  self-help  self-reliance  humanism  digital  digitalwellness  minimalism  reallife  self-mastery  internet  web  online  mobile  phones  decontextualization  employment  control  autonomy  privilege  karenbarad  utopia  universalism  morethanhuman  aimécesaire  collectivity  collectivism  civilization  marginalization  inequality  posthumanism  posthuman  yukhui  cybernetics  ideology  philagre  freedom  shiringhaffary  catharineprice  calnewport  launcher  google  tristanharris  facebook  markzuckerberg  addiction  spaceusroslindale  mitdesignx  equality  onesizefitsall  socialmedia  morehshinallahyari  decolonization  art 
8 weeks ago by robertogreco
Christopher Emdin SXSWedu 2017 Keynote - YouTube
"Merging theory and practice, connecting contemporary issues to historical ones, and providing a deep analysis on the current state of education, Dr. Emdin ushers in a new way of looking at improving schools and schooling. Drawing from themes in his New York Times Bestselling book, and the latest album from rap group A Tribe Called Quest, Emdin offers insight into the structures of contemporary schools, and highlights major issues like the absence of diversity among teachers, the ways educators of color are silenced in schools, the absence of student voice in designing teaching and learning, and a way forward in addressing these issues."
christopheremdin  education  2017  sxswedu2017  schools  diversity  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  studentvoice  listening  socialjustice  service  atribecalledquest  dinka  culture  adjustment  maladjustment  ptsd  psychology  voice  transcontextualism  johndewey  doctorseuss  traditions  children  race  racism  trauma  trayvonmartin  violence  schooling  schooltoprisonpipeline  technology  edtech  pedagogy  disenfranchisement  technosolutionism  commoncore  soul  liberation  conversation  paulofreire  credentialism  stem  coding  economics  expectations  engagement  neweconomy  equity  justice  humility  quantification  oppression  whitesupremacy  cosmopolitanism  hiphoped  youthculture  hiphop  youth  teens  appropriation  monetization  servicelearning  purpose  context  decontextualization  tfa  courage  inequality  inequity  normalization  community  curriculum  canon  complexity  chaos  nuance  teachforamerica  transcontextualization 
march 2017 by robertogreco
TCHZL - El sin contexto.
"Leyendo el libro este de Ulrich en donde mantiene pláticas en distintas ocasiones con el artquitecto Ai Weiwei, me encontré con el comentario: “…creé el primer espacio artístico en 1997 en Pekín, en los China Art Archives and Warehouse (CAAW), y lo hice porque en Pekín no existía ningún espacio adecuado para exponer arte contemporáneo.

Entonces de ahí el problema del museo, el museo, el lugar museo ¿Qué es el museo? Es él. El museo es. Es un lugar tal donde se hace ¿qué? El museo. Nos hace o lo hicimos y lo deshacemos. Dentro hay algo o es un afuera, ¿se entra al museo o se sale de la ciudad? Es contexto interno como el vacío inexistende de las donas de Krispy. El problema del museo. EL PROBLEMA DEL MUSEO.

DECONTEXTO.
DESCONTEXTO.
INCONTEXTO.
CONTEXTO.

¿DECONTEXTO?
¿DESCONTEXTO?
¿INCONTEXTO?
¿CONTEXTO?

Es el museo el trabajo humano por generar el vacío. Es un vacío que entonces es nada pero también, como ya suele decirse, es todo. El museo es absoluto y no comparte con algo de fuera. Se entra o se sale al museo, como quieran, si se entra uno deja de estar donde estaba para refugiarse del afuera que es todo lo demas que se limita a no compartir este adentro con el museo, y ya se ha entrado. Si se sale entonces se escapa de lo que lo contiene a uno allá adentro, se limita por no ilimitarse uno afuera del adentro ¿correcto?

Lo que se saca/mete al museo le pertenece y no es de alguien, es de nadie y entonces, como suele decirse, es de todos. Eso que esta ahí en el museo que somos todos, se observa, se critica, se escrutina y se aprende se aprehende. Esta en el museo porque decidió estar allá o tal vez porque alguien lo decidió poner ahí, a fin de cuentas ambos, todos y ninguno ahí se encontraron en la nada y el todo para compartir este sincontexto y preguntarse si es o no es algo y entonces, nada.

Entra/sal del museo y al algo que ya no es nada y te olvidas del museo, del sincontexto, del contexto del todo y de nada. Ya sal/entra al museo y regresa donde todos somos parte de todo lo que nada quiere ser y asi podemos una vez mas observar que quiere el museo que sepamos ver."
2015  hansulrichobrist  aiweiwei  context  museums  architecture  caaw  beijing  place  refuge  decontextualization 
january 2015 by robertogreco
eye | feature : All you need is love: pictures, words and worship [Great piece on Sister Corita Kent]
"Corita’s cultural contribution spanned several decades. Although she described herself as an artist rather than a design professional, her 1960s work spanned both fields. Graphic strategies such as lettering and layout were central to her artistic voice. At the same time, she had no qualms about accepting commissions for magazine covers, book jackets, album sleeves, ads and posters, although even here she should be seen less as a jobbing designer than as an artist with a distinctive and easily recognisable graphic sensibility. As Harvey Cox said, “The world of signs and sales slogans and plastic containers was not, for her, an empty wasteland. It was the dough out of which she baked the bread of life.” 12 At its best, her work proposed a symbolic template that blurred the boundaries between art, design and communication, between a life of worship and the everyday life of her time."
sistercorita  art  vernacular  life  everyday  glvo  design  communication  graphicdesign  graphics  typography  advertising  signs  symbols  via:britta  teaching  printmaking  serigraphs  accessibility  urban  urbanism  decontextualization  photography  noticing  seeing  seeingtheworld  fieldtrips  unschooling  deschooling  education  immaculateheartcollege  eames  viewfinders  process  julieault  2000  1960s  martinbeck  society  perspective  activism  coritakent 
may 2011 by robertogreco

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