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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

About that Cultural Fit: Hack the Hood Knocks Out it’s Second Annual Bootcamp!

In Culture, Technology on September 17, 2014 at 7:46 am

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Reprinted from Oakland Local, August, 18th 2014. Written by Pendarvis Harshaw. And, who’s that good lookin’ dude on the bottom of the picture?

On August 14, 2014, Oakland’s Hack The Hood celebrated the conclusion of a six-week summer program for 23 young people who all learned how to create websites for local businesses as a way to begin to train for tech careers.

The graduation ceremony was held in Oakland’s uptown neighborhood, in the new Impact HUB Oakland building. On the screen behind the stage, images of websites for local businesses were shown. The free promotion wasn’t about the locally-owned shoe store, or about the small business that specializes in dessert-making, as much as it was about the creators of the websites.

People like Arletha Grayson, a 17-year-old mother who recently graduated high school, and Teresa Flores, a student at a college in Southern California and a daughter to a hardworking mother who immigrated to the United States. These are just two of the individuals who’ve gained an expertise in web design this summer.

Hack The Hood is a technical training program, birthed out of the collaboration of a number of community organizations (Center for Media Change / Oakland Local, HUB Oakland, United Roots), and backed with funding from Google and many other funders, including The City of Oakland.

This is the second year for the organization, which runs a summer bootcamp focused on Oakland youth. Many of the young people, ages 16-20, are guided to Hack The Hood by organizations known for working with youth: College Track, Youth Uprising, United Way and Lao Family Community Development, to name a few.

This summer, the young people worked in the program five days a week, 9 – 5 every day except for Friday (when they were dismissed at 2 p.m.). Work consisted of learning the Weebly web design platform and creating websites that fit local business owners’ desires and needs.

Every once in a while, work consisted of getting out of the office for on-site visits to Google, Facebook and Weebly. “We’re not taking them there to kick it,” said Damon Packwood, Program Manager for Hack The Hood. “We want them to understand what the industry is like, and make assessments.”

Packwood continued to say that students were instructed to ask themselves critical questions during these research trips: “What is this company like? Could you work there? What if you could make something of your own?”

Packwood, one of four instructional staff members, worked alongside a team of tech-savvy volunteer mentors to aid the young people’s advancement into the world of technology development.

“Technology is re-conceptualizing culture,” said Packwood. He made it a point to stress this to the young people, many of them who came from “disadvantaged backgrounds,” be it financial hurdles, broken homes or parents who recently immigrated and struggle with language barriers.

“There’s a significant part of culture that isn’t being re-conceptualized,” Packwood said, highlighting the young members of Hack The Hood’s graduating class as valuable, because of their cultural ties, energy and talent.

At the graduation ceremony, before students were honored for their expertise in web development, they enjoyed finger foods and light refreshments near the main stage of HUB Oakland’s building. A handful of students gave speeches about their personal paths, while others shared an overview of what Hack The Hood was all about.

The event concluded with a group photo. As the students postured themselves on stage, the projected images of their websites were no longer displayed on a white wall; instead the light was now shown across their smiling faces.

For more info on ongoing programs, or to sign up or volunteer, contact info@hackthehood.org, or visit http://hackthehood.org.

How to Photograph Street Art

In Culture, Digital Photography on August 22, 2013 at 4:46 am

Reprinted from Mission Art Project blog. MAP, for short, is my thesis project. 

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Day 1: Test Shoot

Lily and I did some test shots in Oakland last weekend. This was our second attempt. The first time we took a few pictures of a mural across the street from the university. We went in with nothing but a camera and good intentions. As you can guest, the mural shoot didn’t go very well, but we used it as a learning opportunity, took a lot of notes and a few weeks later I wrote up strict guidelines: “What equipment to bring when capturing artwork.”

1 tape measure, 1 roll of masking tape, 1 camera flash (attachment), 1 lens guard (attachment), 1 portable microphone, 1 microphone windscreen (audio equipment is unique to our project), 1 digital camera (can’t forget that), 2 lenses (standard zoom and 50mm lens), 1 tripod (6-7 feet?), 1 stick of chalk, 1 notepad, 1 ladder (if applicable), 1 platform (if applicable) and a stack of business cards because taking pictures of a persons building will arouse suspicion. Business cards will help you look legit.

Next I came up with guidelines on “How to capture artwork.”

1. Scout the art piece first

  • Plan the shoot in advance.
  • Pay attention to the lighting and the time of day.
  • Prepare to take pictures when the lighting is good but beware of too much light
  • Use the flash when necessary.
  • Anticipate challenges. Write them down or take photos of potential obstructions.

2. Measure the vertical distance b/w the art piece and the camera before your first shot.

  • Maintain this distance if you’re taking pictures in sections.
  • Ideally, the distance should be long enough where you don’t have to angle the camera to capture the intended image.

3. Mark the spot of the camera/tripod location w/ chalk or masking tape.

  • Keep the horizontal line as straight as possible while taking pictures in sections. This will make the image quality consistent, and it will help limit image manipulation in Photoshop.
  • There might be a camera feature to make this process easier.

4. Draw a horizontal line parallel to the art piece w/ chalk or preferably masking tape.

  • The camera should not go above of below the horizontal line.
  • Don’t worry about measuring the distance b/w sections, as it will be too cumbersome. This will get sorted out in post-production.

5. Write down the lens measurements and the vertical distance.

  • The camera could be repositioned for a number of reasons (traffic, wind, people on the street, you may want to take a break). This will make it easier to get back to your position and it will save you time.

6. Always position the camera at the dead center of the artwork

  • Using the tape measure Measure the length of the art piece.
  • Position the camera at its mid-level (i.e., if the art piece is 6 feet the camera should be adjusted to 3 feet).

7. For large pieces, take photos in sections.

  • You will put the sections together in post-production.

8. Film the art piece for 60 seconds.

  • For each shot, take your photographs and film it for 60 seconds.
  • Keep the camera straight.

9. Take a picture of the entire piece in one shot, if possible.

  • Using a 50mm lens to capture an art piece in one shot is always preferable.
  • The image quality on a 50mm lenses are excellent.

10. Don’t do any of this alone.

  • Bring a partner with you.
  • Establish roles ahead of time.

By following these guidelines results of our last shoot was night and day. We captured much better images and because we had a nice blueprint on how to do it we did one extra mural before we went home. But, it wasn’t all roses. We did have three takeaways from Sunday’s shoot.

Day 1: Test Shoot

Day 1: Test Shoot

One, the mural we shot is across the street from a supermarket. During the week the supermarket isn’t very busy but Sundays are when everyone does their shopping. So, the street traffic was much higher than it was the first day I visited. Another this. I didn’t realize that the mural was next door to the storage house of the grocery store. It isn’t very noticeable during the week but on a busy day people were coming in and out of the place every 15 minutes. What did we learn? The day you scout should ideally be the day you shoot.

Two, when capturing the second mural — a long, beautiful piece behind an Oakland gym — we realized a problem on the 4th section. The angle of the shot was off. We realized that the ground dipped a little. Essentially, we were walking uphill and every time we moved the camera our shot was off. What did we learn? Measure from the highest point of the artwork to the bottom. The angle of the ground may change but the top mostly stays the same. You will still have to adjust your shot but your reference point will be more reliable. Be prepared to do some cropping in post-production.

Three, at some point during the second art piece we realized that we didn’t need to measure distance and height. When we looked at the artwork more closely we noticed that a pair of eyes were painted at the center of the wall. Of course, we thought, a good artists will be cognizant of the center of their canvas. Also, the artwork was done in a parking lot so there were white dividers on the ground to indicate parking sections. We used the dividers the way we would use tape measure and chalk. Finally, the piece was done on a brick wall, so instead of measuring the artwork we started counting the bricks. If a section seemed higher than the other counting the bricks gave us a clear way to measure the difference in height. What did we learn? When possible, use your environment.

Shadow and Act Comes Up With Some Great Ideas for Movies

In Culture, Film on July 16, 2013 at 2:29 am

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There’s this column over at S&A that I absolutely love. To encourage people to go out and create some really interesting black films they often post a little known but interesting story. I love these types of stories. When I was young my parents would tell me stories of black Americans or Africans that were never told in school. Our stories amaze me even more as an adult. The amount of untold stories we have is crazy.

So, I really like this column and I love the idea of throwing these ideas out there in the hope that someone will get inspired and pursue a movie out of one of them. I’m going to contribute by posting some of my favorites below with links to the original articles.

Was The Man Behind ‘The Lone Ranger’s’ Mask A Black Man?

Apparently, there is a ton of evidence to suggest that the man who inspired The Lone Ranger was a Deputy U.S. Marshall named Bass Reeves. Get this. Reeves was said to have captured close to 3,000 fugitives (he killed only 14). He was a former slave who lived in the Seminole and Creek Indian territory of what is now Oklahoma. Due to his close relationships with the Indians he had a partner who helped him track down bounties. And, most of his fugitives were shipped to a prison in Detroit. The Lone Ranger originated on a Detroit radio station.

Read more at the link. This Bass Reeves fella sounds like the truth. Whether he’s the inspiration for the Lone Ranger or not, he would make for one hell of a movie.

Consider The Black Count (The Real Count Of Monte Cristo) for Your Next Film Project

This one messed me up. I’m a huge fan of The Count of Monte Cristo. Stories inspired by it are placed high on my “need to watch list.” So, when I read that both Count and The Three Musketeers was based, in part, on the life of a half Haitian, half Frenchman I flipped.

Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie was born as a slave in Haiti, but he made his way to Paris, learned to be “a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy,” enlisted in the army and gradually rose through its ranks. By the age of 32, he was the commander-in-chief of the French army at the height of the French Revolution. Pailleterie, who adopted his mothers name (Dumas) when he enlisted, had three children and one of them was named Alexandre Dumas. Dumas, the son, would go on to be a world famous author.

So, how come no one has ever heard of this? Oh, it gets so much more interesting.

Doris Payne – International Jewel Thief & Black Woman

In the 1940’s Doris Payne became a diamond thief to help take care of her mother when she was a teenager. Payne, who has since been caught and is serving time in jail, stole jewelry in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Japan. Over a 60-year career, she traveled all over the world and stole over two million dollars worth of jewelry.

There is a documentary about this woman called “The Life and Times of Doris Payne” but I’m sure we can all agree that a feature film or an FX television series would be far more interesting.

Consider Investigating The Fascinating Life Of Sarah Rector For Your Next Film…

This story is so incredible I had to read it twice to truly understand what was going on. Sarah Vector was a former slave who became one of the richest girls in America in 1914. Vector was born amongst the Creek Indians. In 1887, the government awarded Creek Indian minors a few acres of land. She qualified as one of those minors. Of course, the land wasn’t expected to be worth anything, but in 1913 oil was discovered. Little Sarah Vector was only 10 years old. You won’t believe what happen when people found out.

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These are a few of my favorites but they’ve also posted stories on black female cartoonist Jackie Ormes, the Haitian Revolution and more. Hopefully, Tambay we’ll keep these stories coming.

Real Oakland Folks: Michael Orange

In Culture, RealOakFolks on June 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm

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Bilen and I did a profile on Michael Orange back in April for Oakland Local as a part of our RealOakFolks project. You know, the one that we swore we could do twice a month while she worked seven days a week building her business and I worked as a full time multimedia graduate student. Then there’s the whole marriage thing. That’s sort of important too.

Needless to say, we did get this profile done but I neglected to post it up on Danger Brain until now. Interviewing Michael was awesome. His views on Oakland’s reconstruction, gentrification and community was so honest and concise that regretfully we had to edit some of it out. I hope one day he lets me put this entire interview out there. He brought the heat on a lot of topics. People forget this brotha has been at the literal center of Oakland during this transition. However, until the day come you’ll have to settle for Michael waxing about the Broaklyn Film & Theater Company.

Broaklyn Film & Theater Company presents the stories of historically ethnically rich communities, particularly amidst heightened social displacement via gentrification and redevelopment. We are impassioned by a belief that through story, we may transcend traditional barriers such as geography, race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic class.

Watch. This. I’m a Thesis Candidate!

In Culture, Technology on June 25, 2013 at 12:03 am

I might disappear for a while but it’s always for a good reason. I officially became a thesis candidate in May and as of last week I submitted my thesis proposal. I’m in a unique masters degree program. Earning your MA is dependent on completing a group project. So, with the help of the other three people I’m working with, I have a year to produce an interactive project. Our thesis question is:

How do you transcode street art into the digital realm so it is accessible, comprehensible, identifiable and accepted in public and private space?

It’s a little crazy how we came up with the idea. Marta Nassalska (one of my thesis partners) and I were in the Mission shooting a documentary on Developing Environments, an apartment building full of artists. We were ten minutes away from doing our first interview when I started looking around at the street art. I have a lot of history with the Mission. That neighborhood has been an integral part of my life so all of these memories starting rushing in. I told Marta, “let’s scrap this idea and do a documentary on the Mission street art scene.” She didn’t like doing a quick switch but she did like the idea. Fast forward a month and we decided to come up with a different iteration of that idea. It’s a lot more interactive. We’re focusing on mobile devices. And, that’s all I’m going to give you for now.

We did a launch trailer. Check it out below:

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Music:

“Be” – Common – Be

Watch. This. 1:19

In Culture, Film on March 31, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I had to do a mock promo video for a mock counter-culture-centric website. Funny, this video means absolutely nothing as the site will never be made but, it’s honestly one of my favorite videos.

None of this footage is mine, mind you. It’s all wild stuff I found on YouTube (Yak Films, Odd Future music videos and concert footage, Adidas Promotional skateboarding videos, and random footage of the Mongols motorcycle club and the underground racing scene in Oakland).

I think this just speaks to a deranged part of me that doesn’t get a chance to play very often.

Maybe.
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Music:

“Geek Down” – J Dilla – Donuts

Kind of a Book Report – The Information Bomb (Virilio, his colleagues and T.M.I.)

In Culture, Technology on March 31, 2013 at 11:03 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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It is important to note that despite Paul Virilio’s hyperbole in his discussion of humanity’s relationship with technology he does not endorse the trends that he describes. Virilio is simply expressing what he has observed. I am encouraged by the idea that Virilio vehemently decries such dystopian thinking, but make no mistake; his book is about this type of thinking.

My issue with Virilio and his pessimistic image of the future is the same issue I have with many of his academic kinfolk. They dominate the discussion of what new technology can do, and their ideas feed on each other. You can connect McLuhan, Mattelart, Virilio, Anderson, et al, just as easy as component cables from a media box to a television. Together they create a sort-of logic (bomb?) virus that spreads to other people who replicate these ideas or pull out pieces to apply to their own dystopian pontifications. Together they comprise their own network, a network of dangerous ideas that go unchallenged by other ideas that come from different logic models.

What people like Virilio predict seems inevitable to someone who has no other way of seeing the world. This is why I am suspicious of such predictions. I find it interesting that on average people feel uncomfortable when engaged in a discussion of such ideas. People who don’t use the same methods to make decisions or to form opinions don’t come to the conclusions of Virilio and his contemporaries. People who don’t use the same academic disciplines as a lens for understanding the world don’t arrive at the same place.

The dominant idea becomes the one spoken from the person who has somehow dominated the ideas of another. Virilio, perhaps unintentionally justifies, this in his discussion of speed and power. He believes – or, he is reporting — that the fastest thing becomes the more powerful thing. After reading this, I was reminded of the railroad and how progressive it was as a technological innovation over the horse and carriage. However, this innovation came at the expense of near genocide of Native American people.

The idea that faster is better is a dangerous idea, one that runs counter to the way we are learning that the world works. Environmental scientists, for example, are learning that the world works in concert. Everything has a role.

Whether he believes that this should be or not is unimportant. He is known as a man who came up with an idea that has spread. He has been categorized as a person that sits at the table of thinkers like Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Marx. These men share more similarities than differences. If their ideas are so impenetrable they deserve to be challenged by other more exotic ideas. When the logical progression of such ideas are leading us to a dark and gloomy future shouldn’t we question its relevancy? If this way of thinking was born from the creation of an old technology then is it losing its relevancy? Are these the cries of a dying breed?

Regretfully, I have more questions than answers. Information Bomb is a short book but its content is quite vast. I look forward to giving it another read and wish that I had more time to play with the boundaries of such ideas.

Kind of a Book Report – Reading Gaming (Galloway, Glory, and Games)

In Culture, video games on January 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

I stumbled upon this excellent video by Matthias Stork, a Cinema and Media Studies student from UCLA that reminded me of  this Kind of a Book Report I wrote about Alexander Galloway’s Reading Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture and the experiences that made me recognize the connection between video games and cinema. I’ve written a lot of posts expressing this idea here on Danger Brain. However, I must admit, Stork does a better job in eighteen minutes than what I’ve been trying to do over the last two years. His secret? He used a visual medium to talk about another visual medium.

Duh, Damon!

While discussing French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Alexander Galloway states “Derrida uses the concept of play to explain the nature of something else, namely, the structure of language.” I’m familiar with this idea. Although it has always been expressed in a different ways the idea that video games are somehow a language is something that has always resonated with me.

I remember exactly how– and when —  it started. I was at home in the living room. My family and I were living in the “brick homes.” Other people called them the projects but since the bricks were townhouses lodged between “The Swamp” (real projects buildings) and the Geneva Towers we called them the brick homes to indicate that they were brick walls separating us from the real hood. Truth is, they were all hood but that is where I was when it happen. I was watching a movie in the living room on Argonaut St. in the brick homes of the Sunnydale district.

I loved watching movies as most high school kids do. It’s the only place you can legally go to hang out with your friends besides the mall, which is where all of the movie theaters are at now. Going to the movies was an attempt to go and play. I went to the movies with friends to laugh at a good comedy, to be thrilled by a good action movie or freaked out by a horror flick. The movie experience was an extension of the playground experience, which we had grown out of. However, one day I watched a movie that didn’t feel like play.

Glory was the first movie that left me awestruck. The 1989 film about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry depicted the trials of the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company. This was a history that I absolutely did not understand at that age. I remember reading a line or two in a history book that black people fought in the Civil War but there was never any real detail, never any explanation. Glory was a 118-minute story of the freed slaves that volunteered to fight in the Civil War amongst white men who didn’t too much care for them but were fighting for them anyway. That was awesome.

Traits like courage, honor, duty and sacrifice were very difficult to identify in my neighborhood. For a young black man to see this type of history while living in one of San Francisco’s most marginalized communities was a powerful experience.

By the end of the movie I was crying my eyes out. I wasn’t being entertained. On that day, I was aware that the movie was teaching me and to be taught meant to be spoken to. Therefore, the moving images of a motion picture must be a form of communication. I learned that movies were a language somehow and they always have something to say. According to Derrida, “as soon as it comes into being and into language, play erases itself as such.” Watching Glory was the last day that I looked at movies as an act of play.

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I went to the university to study that language. My first few years were fantastic! I went to class all day listening to Edward Branigan’s crazy film lectures. I studied David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson during the early evenings where I learned that the invention of film began as a playful wager when Leland Stanford hired Eadweard Muybridge to film a horse galloping. At night I hung out with my smelly roommates playing a silly little video game called Street Fighter.

Then one day video games started to look different. I remember exactly when it happened. I was staying in Santa Barbara for the holidays by myself when my brother called to tell me about a game called Resident Evil for a new console named The PlayStation. By the way he described it over the phone Resident Evil sounded like a movie. That couldn’t be right, I thought, he was talking about a silly little video game.

I was bored and curious so I went to Blockbuster and rented an entire PlayStation system and three games: Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid. I didn’t know at the time that I was playing three games that would long be considered the best games every made. However, by the time I returned those games to Blockbuster I was convinced that video games were saying something and that they would become the next great artistic medium.

Although this was an infantilized idea it grew as I got older, the systems got more sophisticated and the games started taking more risks. Today, I absolutely believe that video games are a form of literacy that requires the use of a controller, being able to navigate three dimensional space, understanding heads up displays (HUDs) or interfaces as explained in Galloway’s discussion of Final Fantasy X.

Although they borrow in many ways from film (or to quote Marshall McLuhan they have absorbed the previous medium), to play a video game is to involve your entire body. The experience isn’t like passively watching a movie. A person has to be involved in a synergistic relationship with the computer. They have to dance with the algorithms.

Take for example, the difference between watching the classic Night of the Living Dead and playing (the classic) Resident Evil. Watching Ben defend that doomed home is thrilling. However, playing Resident Evil takes this experience to another level. A player is a participant of the thrill. In one segment of the game, they have to figure out how to get from one end of a zombie filled corridor to the other with limited ammo. It is an experience in visual entertainment, inventory management and hand eye coordination all at once. Experiencing the suspense of a horror film triggers places in our brain that we find enjoyable. However, using my example from Resident Evil, the players brain is being stimulated in three separate ways simultaneously. That, my friend, is the reason why my friends and I label a good video game… “crack.”

It is a remarkable example of McLuhan’s belief that the way we communicate would closely resemble tribal forms of communication. Playing a video game requires the use of your ears, eyes, hands and different places in your brain.

Reading Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture was a real treat because, as mentioned by Lev Manovich’s in his praise of the book, Galloway is a media scholar. Through my own personal experiences as a moviegoer, a gamer and a film student it gave me a better language to describe my own instinctual beliefs and it made it clear to me that this play we are experiencing in a game of Assassins Creed or Journey has two significant effects on us. It can not only teach in the same way that a movie taught me history, but it is also an inevitable transition to something far more significant, that is, once it ceases to be viewed as an act of play.

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.

Kind of a Book Report – Selective Writings (Jean Baudrillard, Hipsters and the Walking Simulacra)

In Culture, Technology on January 8, 2013 at 12:46 am

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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Is he paying homage or making fun of me?

Jean Baudrillard’s theory of a hyperreality is so bold and his writing style so seductive that Selective Writings is really difficult to put down. However, his ideas present such a different way of looking at the world that a week or two just isn’t enough time to adequately write a critique of it. Yes, I read it in a week. I know. Bad idea.

Honestly, I wouldn’t know where to begin this book. It feels like it is written more to inspire conversation, to introduce a new lens to use when thinking about society in the 21st century. Baudrillard doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to definitively prove his theories. As a result, some of his theories are not explained well enough to lock down his hyperbolic claims making them difficult to swallow. For example, I was fascinated by and a little confused with his use of the term “code” in reference to the images we see on television but the idea wasn’t clear to me.

He is no doubt an interesting theorist and I fear that discussing his work at face value would see me tripping over a number of things that I didn’t quite understand. However, there was one idea that resonated with an aspect of culture that I’ve been following lately: hipsters.

Baudrillard’s idea of the simulacra, the idea that hyperreality creates a world of self reference is indicative of the hipster movement. Actually, that is exactly what the criticism of hipster-ism has been. For clarity, a hipster is eloquently described by Christy Wampole of the New York Times as an:

[U]rban harlequin [who] appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.

This is an opinion shared by a lot of people who have observed and written about hipsters. It is not uncommon to hear people casually clowning a hipster passerby. I’ve done it many times myself. Hipster culture is annoying. Its central theme is to borrow from any cultural item (clothes, colloquialisms, etc.) and use it as if ones self is a collage of everything. The result is that hipsters often look like they’re dressed for a Halloween party and they talk like they are aware of many things but understand very little.

Remixing or re-using cultural items of another age are not entirely uncommon. My generation, for example, is known for using the jazz and blues era in our (hip hop) music. The difference, however, is that hipster culture (according to its critics) does not offer anything new and in the absence of providing anything to culture it mocks everyone else’s.

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Queue Mrs. Wampole once again. She believes that hipster culture is the result of our societal proclivity towards irony, a result of the new technological age.

Life in the Internet age has undoubtedly helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish. An ethos can be disseminated quickly and widely through this medium. Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.

While reading her article I couldn’t help but think about Baudrillard’s idea of the world consisting of self-referential signs. The hipster style could be described the same way. In fact, the only thing missing from her biting critique of hipster culture is the lack of any mention of Baudrillard as his theories align themselves perfectly with this cultural phenomena, one that no one seems to understand but most people hate.

It is certainly fodder for Baudrillard’s claims but Wampole does provide some interesting and potential counter ideas particularly of his dangerous belief that no one dominates in the world of hyperreality (That idea was even difficult for me to swallow and this is where his loose writing style and complex ideas made me feel a tad lost in the brief introduction to his work). She ends her article stating that “people may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry.”

I wonder what Baudrillard would say about that.