damonpackwood

Kind of a Book Report – Me++ (Mitchell, Access Management and Marginalized People)

In Culture, Technology, video games on January 15, 2013 at 10:54 pm

I read some good books last fall and I wrote about two pages on each of them. They were grad school assignments but they have a more blogger vibe about them then a full academically sound paper which wasn’t the purpose of the assignments. Since they relate to some of my last few posts I think it’s a good idea that I throw them on Danger Brain. Maybe it’ll help to shed light on where these ideas are coming from and why. There are a few of them, so  just like I did for the well liked Blogaboutech Mixtape series (which is long overdue for a new entry. I know.) I’m giving this series a name. After all, it’s… Kind of a Book Report. 

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I wager that Me++ The Cyborg Self and the Networked City was very fun to read in 2004, but in 2012 it reads almost like a crash course in “What the World Might Look Like in 2035” to a guy who is about to walk into a time machine. Even a casual viewer of science fiction or a mildly techno-savvy individual can see these things coming. In some cases, they have already materialized just as William Gibson foretold with his famous quote: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” After reading Me++, I imagined author William J. Mitchell as a broken hologram in the future repeating that quote over and over again.

That doesn’t mean that Me++ isn’t full of interesting and incredible detailed opinions of just how our world is going to change.

The most notable is what author William J. Mitchell establishes very early on, that our reliance on technology is turning us into cyborgs. I believed that he heavily implies that we already are, but friends of mine who have read the book say otherwise. Either way, Mitchell asserts this point early on then proceeded to beat his readers over the head with it for thirteen densely technological chapters, a challenge for anyone who isn’t as well versed in technology as he is. I considered myself to be pretty knowledgeable before I read Me++, and midway through the book I began to feel uncomfortable with the space that a person like myself would take up in Mitchells’ future.

My personal favorite tidbit from the book was Chapter 5: Shedding Atoms and his discussion of virtual cities.

To find something out, or to get something done in a city, you now have a choice. You can navigate the bricks-and-mortar half in the time-honored way, or increasingly, you can switch to its electronic twin.

I have a small fascination with the use and the effects of virtual cities. Columnist Chris Donlan wrote a piece for Eurogamer where he talks about his experience playing LA Noire, a sand box game that takes place in a recreated Los Angeles during the 1940’s. Donlan was surprised that his father knew his way around and even gave him directions on where to go while he drove around in his virtual car. Further, he reacted to the game environment the way a person would react to a photograph.

When I was working in education I used to experiment on my students with a video game called Assassins Creed II that takes place during the Italian Renaissance. The design of the game allows the user to navigate through a very convincing recreation of Venice, Florence, Forlì, San Gimignano, and the Tuscan countryside (the sequel uses Rome as its setting). I always believed inner city youth — those that come from socioeconomic backgrounds that see little importance in such things for numerous and hopefully obvious reasons — would be more engaged using a “virtual camera” as opposed to an old book with pictures. I was correct. There was more engagement using a video game.

Mitchell doesn’t necessarily supply the reader with anything they can use in an urban academic setting but I appreciated it as source material. However, like I mentioned above this does make me uncomfortable, as Mitchell is both explicit and implicit in his views of marginalized people.

Me++ illustrates what the future will look like but it is written from the viewpoint of – as he called it – an access manager. An access manager is someone who has access to the net and will therefore manage it for those seek to profit from it. William Mitchell strikes me as an access manager describing a world that is bending to accommodate people like him, a world that he is well equipped to navigate. This is when I started to ask myself what is the point of all of this technological innovation? Is this progression, or is this regression? Is this for the benefit of the masses or for the few? The author references Karl Marx who “repeatedly argued, humankind never, in the end rejects more effective means to satisfy its material needs.”

I believe there are plenty of human beings that reject more effective means to satisfy material needs, but the winner gets to writes history. Also, the winner is usually the one with the most resources. I wonder what Mitchells’ future has in store for people who don’t have the resources to keep up, contribute or reject?

For the privileged and powerful, this densely and inextricably interconnected world can be a dangerous and frightening place. It must be controlled through total surveillance, comprehensive access management, preemptive arrests and strikes, and electronically administered high-tech violence.

This quote is ironic. If technological innovation is an issue of material needs than that implies that the elite drives it. After all, I never woke up one morning with the idea of making my alarm clock obsolete by putting one into my phone or my iPad. There are management tools that can make an employee more efficient so he can do the work of two other employees. Does this benefit the employee or the employer? In some cases both, but inevitably it is a benefit of the employer, the privileged, and the powerful elite.

Mitchell goes on to say that the marginalized and alienated will eventually turn to acts of foreign terrorism to retaliate against the assimilation or eradication of their cultural values. He is referring to people who live elsewhere, but I wonder what that says about the very same marginalized and alienated people who live in America. This is what made me uncomfortable while I was reading William Mitchells excellent book on how the world will most likely look in the very near future. It is written using the Google Glasses of a person who is getting his ducks in order, a person whose viewpoints of the marginalized… are marginal.

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