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Archive for the ‘Technology’ 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.

We Need to Work on this Idea of Cultural Fit

In Technology on September 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Below is a re-post of something I wrote for Hack the Hood last summer. Yes, I need to get better at posting what I’m writing. And, I have been writing, by the way! Culture and technology is an idea that I am growing increasingly passionate about. Read and enjoy.

Apparently, I’m a “troublemaker.” I earned that nickname in the middle of my first quarter as a graduate student in a technology program when I brought up the ethical application of technology in marginalized communities. Yep, I was the only Black man in a technology program, and in the first few weeks I received my scarlet letter, a big fat “T” tattooed onto my forehead.Then, last summer, I heard that Hack the Hood, a youth program that teaches inner city youth how to build websites for local businesses free of charge, was seeking volunteers. I threw my name in immediately. At the time, I didn’t even know what they did. The name was enough for me. It helped me realize that this “troublemaker” had allies, and that felt good.

We use the word disruption a lot in tech. Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen defines it as a product that addresses a market that was previously ignored, or a an existing market that is being addressed in an easier or cheaper way. (This doesn’t paint the full picture. As we’re seeing in Oakland, San Francisco and East Palo Alto, market disruption creates both cultural and community disruption). It takes guts to name a youth program that serves mostly young Black and Latino youth, Hack the Hood. That name and the focus of the program are inherently disruptive. Local businesses without a digital presence and inner city youth who can’t create one can be deemed nonexistent in this new age. What happens when you put the two together? When you fuse technology and the ‘hood” you quickly realize that you have to do things differently. You have to imagine a new approach and create new rules. Suddenly this process, in the context of technology, sounds familiar; this is the way innovation begins. It worked for Steven Paul Jobs. It helped Dan and Sam Houser make the world forget that Grand Theft Auto is an actual crime. Mark Zuckerberg created a social media empire out of it. So, here I am one year ago walking up to United Roots. The building is marked in the cultural colors of graffiti art (#awesome). I walk inside a computer lab, and there are fifteen youth sitting in front of iMacs. There’s an unfamiliar sound in the air, a symphony of keyboard taps and mouse clicks playing underneath that Oakland drawl. The young people are communicating about their projects. Some of them are collaborating and others are challenging each other, boasting about a raw design they just made. One of the youth, playing the unofficial role of lab DJ, is searching for oldies on YouTube, but every once in a while he hits play on a gritty Bay Area rapper that I’ve clearly aged out of. I thought to myself, “this is no tech environment that I’ve ever been a part of.”

There are staff members with locked hair, African accessories and mobile devices walking the room offering assistance. An Ethiopian American woman is coming in later to discuss an Oakland community event centered on supporting local businesses. One of the other volunteers is in the corner preparing for a presentation. He’s talking to a student about the cover design on Madden, a football video game. The environment was incredible.

I have never seen youth look so empowered and I myself have never before been so comfortable in a technology space. I have over ten years of experience working in youth development. Five years ago, I decided to pursue technology, which I’ve been doing almost exclusively over the last four years in the areas of mobile applications, journalism and academia. Every experience has left me unsatisfied. It always felt like something was missing.

The issue of cultural fit has become a popular topic in the technology field. The idea refers to a reason why some people are not hired, but to some people it implies a sort-of discriminatory practice. I like to look at the idea of cultural fit in a different way. Technological innovation is the act of re-conceptualizing cultural activities, things we already do. The phrase, a little bird just told me, for example, is the idea behind Twitter. Within this idea of cultural fit we have to start having conversations about multiculturalism because we don’t all share the same culture and we don’t all use technology the same way.

How can folks from inner city communities re-conceptualize their own culture? It’s a fascinating question; one too few people are interested in pursuing. Fortunately, last summer at Hack the Hood taught me that this is not a taboo question, that I’m not the only one asking it, and the answers can be ideas worth investing in.

Embrace the Disruption of Movies and Television

In Film, Technology, Television on August 1, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I think it’s worth admitting, now, that “television” has become one of those legacy words, like “phone,” that we use to point at a thing, without really fully describing it.  What do you mean, now, when you say “television”?  HOUSE OF CARDS and HEMLOCK GROVE?  HAUNTING MELISSA on the iPad?  Serialised (periodical) narrative?  Shot for a small screen?  Maybe.  It certainly doesn’t mean what it used to [WEDC].

 

I stumbled onto this quote by author Warren Ellis that beautifully sums up something I’ve been speaking loudly about lately. Of course, Ellis is referring to the disruption of television, but I think what he say’s extends itself to movies as well.

Prior to the last 3-5 years (give or take) we used the words television, music video, film or movie to describe the most popular forms of media entertainment. But, recent trends in new media have challenged the use of these terms. For starters, when we go to the movie we are not watching film. The term film referred to a bunch of photographs running through a light source at 24 frames per second (more or less depending on the film). Today, most theaters don’t show film at all. With some exception, the images we see in today’s movie theaters are digital. Moreover, they are visual representations of numerical data. Sure, we still use the word film to describe a movie, an occupation or a discipline but it’s a term of nostalgia. Film is dead.

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But, even the term movie doesn’t mean what it use to. Ten years ago the idea of a movie was simple. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but typically a movie would be 90 – 120 minutes. It had a clear beginning, middle and an end that followed your classic three act structure. It was shot by a film crew (there goes that word again) and distributed into the theaters by a film studio. The viewer would watch it in one sitting. After its theater run it would show up in video stores across the country (in DVD, VHS and later BD formats). Finally, within a year that same film would show up on free television and/or cable television channels like HBO or Showtime.

That was the way things were in my young adult years. In the last few years we’ve been experiencing things (I’m not quite sure what to call them) that defies category. The recent popularity of 7-15 minute film shorts streamed through YouTube, Vimeo or Short of the Week, for example, has disrupted the way we talk about movies. Now that we’ve grown accustomed to streaming our video entertainment through TV and mobile devices do these shorts qualify as movies? What is the difference between watching 2 hours and 34 minutes of Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon on Netflix via an iPad and Spider, a 9 minute short from Nash Edgerton, on the same device?

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In regards to television, is Netflix orginal, House of Cards a television show or a 728 minute movie told in 13 chapters? Is Dennis Dortch’s Black&SexyTV a television channel on YouTube or is Dortch making a movie in short intervals? I think it is brilliant that The Couple, Hello Cupid, The Number, That Guy and Roomieloverfriends are connected and each series, if you will, tells the story of different characters in this world created by Dortch, Numa Perrier, Desmond Faison and Issa Rae. If you take each show in its entirety it feels like Robert Altman’s narrative approach in Gosford Park, but the filmmakers don’t have to squeeze multiple storylines into two hours. The characters have room to breath and the audience can get comfortable with them. Are these new age examples of movies? I don’t know, but you wouldn’t be entirely wrong to suggest they are.

But, these are easy examples. Haunting Melissa, described an app-only interactive horror movie, was created by Neal Edelstein, producer of The Ring and Mulholland Drive. To mimic a person being haunted by a ghost the movie is distributed in an unpredictable release schedule. The first two episodes are free (although episode 2 requires the user to give it some social media love) and after a few views I can confirm that there are a few noticeable differences each time you watch it. What category do you place Haunting Melissa in? Isn’t it safe to say that app-only interactive horror movie is a placeholder for now?

How would you categorize The Walking Dead: The Game? Although, it clearly falls in a video game category if you take out the interactivity it’s an animated version of the television series. This fall developer Quantic Dream will be releasing Beyond: Two Souls, a video game/interactive movie starring William Dafoe, Ellen Page and Kadeem Hardison. I’ve played their previous title, Heavy Rain, and let me tell you, video game doesn’t really do it justice.

These are but a few examples of new media that has challenged the way we talk about our visual entertainment. Is it appropriate to call them movies? Interactive movies? Video games? Television shows? Movies? Web series? Honestly, I could care less. I’m not interested in answering these questions. What fascinates me is the fact that we are asking these questions to begin with. It means that no one really knows, and that means there are no masters in today’s new media. The idea of a gatekeeper is not what it used to be. The old rules no longer apply.

Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas can barely get a movie made. Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino are threatening to retire. Spike Lee is on Bloomberg’s “Smart Street” yelling at Trish Regan for challenging his decision to start a Kickstarter campaign. Lee has always demonstrated a short fuse when it comes to ignorance. He’s old school in that regard. What Regan failed to understand yesterday is shared by a lot of folks. Traditional movie making is over.

To that I say, “Good! It’s about fucking time.” I say, we embrace these new trends. Dismantle these antiquated ideas of film and television. Consider the benefits of interactivity without being influenced by the limiting ideas of a video game.  I say, we look to our mavericks: Haile Gerima, Sam Greenlee, Julie Dash, Oscar Micheaux and Spike amongst many others. They couldn’t have left us a more clear blueprint on how to navigate through this disruption. I say, we stop hero-isizing people like Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels. The most exciting black filmmakers working today are the aforementioned Rae, Dortch and Khalil Joseph. Finally, I say, we stop fussing and start working. The traditional gatekeeper may be absent at the moment, but you best believe that someone is trying to figure that part out as I write this sentence. We have a chance not to get left out this time. Go get it. And, for God’s sake bring someone with you this time.

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

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.

Watch. This. No Nearer to GOD

In Film, Technology on March 31, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Every time I disappear for an extended period of time I tend to return with a movie of some sort. Well, here I go again. I made a short movie and it’s called No Nearer to GOD. The synopsis is below and the movie is above.

Synopsis
No Nearer to GOD 

Valentin Wong is a modern day professional living in the Bay Area. Due to his job, Val spends most of his time connected to numerous mobile devices: his laptop, smart phone and tablet. Over the last few months he’s been hard at work on a project that has required him to read numerous emails, online documents, and research material. When he isn’t reading, Val is coordinating with people through various social networking sites and negotiating low level programming languages like Processing and HTML 5.

When we meet Val, his workload has caught up to him, and he is suffering from information anxiety. He is having trouble sleeping and when he does manage to rest he dreams of a mysterious woman that he can quite see. Soon Val becomes obsessed with “Her” and see’s a therapist in the hopes of discovering who she is.

Is she a figment of his imagination? A person from his past? A symbol of something he is trying to remember? Is she merely a hallucination? And, when he sees her is he awake or dreaming?

No Nearer to GOD is a short film inspired by the last chapter of James Gleick’s The Information. Titled New News Everyday, the focus of the chapter is on how we are inundated with all the information we can ask for, but for the first time this has created a condition where we struggle to make room for new information because we’re filled with so much already. Are we getting smarter? Are we getting more knowledgeable? Are we wiser? Or, is technology burying us in more information than we can handle resulting in a regression of intelligence, reflection and wisdom?

These are the questions that New News Everyday addresses and they are themes that No Nearer to GOD will explore using film styles from the L.A. Rebellion Film Movement and the French New Wave, with direct inspiration from Khalil Joseph’s short film, The Model.

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.

Kind of a Book Report – Networking the World (Mattelart, McLuhan and My People)

In Culture, Technology on January 2, 2013 at 10:35 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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While discussing Marshall McLuhan with a friend I had a thought. We – and by we I mean the people of first world countries – have moved well beyond the Modern age, the Information age and we are fast approaching something entirely different. It is a very unique moment in history. It has only happened a few times throughout the history of the world and because of that most of us are completely unaware of the degree to which things are going to change in the most dramatic of ways. Being aware of this, I thought to myself, studying it even, is very powerful. So, what do I do with that power?

After reading, Armand Mattelart’s Networking the World, what is perhaps the most academically dark piece of reading I’ve ever read, this is what I walked away from. (I believe that was Mattelart’s intention as he describes a growing dystopian world with no advice on how to resist it).

My friend and I were discussing McLuhan’s belief that television technology would bring us back to our more natural tribal state and that McLuhan believed Blacks and Native Americans would prove to be good at this. The reason is because they never let go of their tribal roots. I’ve found this idea fascinating for two reasons: 1) Blacks and Native Americans suffered the most during the Modern age. I find it interesting that the first Black President of the United States – a sign that Blacks may be adjusting to the Modern age – has come at the beginning of a brand new age, one that will see dramatic changes in how we live. 2) A study by the Kaiser Foundation in 2010 found that Blacks and Hispanics between 8-18 years of age consume for media far more than their white counter parts. McLuhan was right. 3) Standing before a new age that will depend heavily on qualities and characteristics that are culturally embedded into the everyday behavior of Blacks and Native Americans is a reason for optimism. Considering how well the Modern age went for those people they should be jumping at the opportunity to become media and techno-literate, to get ahead of this cultural change, to become masters of a techno-tribal future. I was excited about these possibilities until I read Networking the World and had a conversation with my good friend who just graduated from business school.

Having graduate from business school my friend was adamant that in order for Blacks and Native Americans to find mass success in this new age they need to move from being users of media to being creators and owners of media. In short, Blacks and Native Americans must create tech-centric businesses, own them, build them to profit and sell them in order to use that money to acquire and/or build more.

Although, what he was saying to me seemed to make perfect sense there was still this uncomfortable and nagging feeling I had. Later, I asked myself, “Is the sum total of our cultural knowledge measured by its economic viability?” The idea that this might be true seemed terribly depressing but I did understand his point.

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I thought of the Yale graduates, three non-African American men who created a website called Rap Genius, a WordPress-like website that allows users to post the meaning behind rap songs. We know that rap music is a black male dominated art form so we also know who their users are. It is unlikely that Black people are going to Rap Genius to learn about the meaning of music that comes from their own communities so one can argue that the audience for this site is not Blacks or Hispanics for that matter. One could argue that Rap Genius it is a website that makes its money on the exploitation of the musical and cultural advancements of Black people. The success of Rap Genius bears no success on the Blacks and Hispanic people who created the art form. My friend would say, and it is difficult to disagree, that Rap Genius is indicative of the need for Blacks to become masters, not users, of their own techno-tribal culture.

However, If Mattelart is correct in his statement that the saturation of media and media technology are based solely on socioeconomic control by corporate businesses and as a result “ethnocentric hegemony over global communication networks” then is a financially successful technology business the answer to liberation? What this piece of reading has made me think about is the age that we are moving towards. It is an unwritten age that is ripe with possibilities due to the seemingly limitless possibilities of our technological advancements. Is global capitalism the only lens available to us to imagine what this new age could look like?

Perhaps, my friend is looking at this new age the wrong way. McLuhan boldly stated that Native Americans and Blacks were born ahead of their time. The answer to a viable alternative to the world that Mattelart envisions could lie in the governing rules of the Native American people, rules they used to negotiate with the first European settlers. Take for example, their view of the land as an analogy of our potential view of information. Their belief that the land belonged to no one is why most were so welcoming. It wasn’t until the land was misused that they began to have a problem. I’m painting with an incredibly broad stroke, of course, but you can see where I’m going with this. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a technological age where information is free so long as that information is not exploited? This techno-tribal idea, one that seemed so infantile by the early settlers perhaps because it was so ahead of its time, could be the lens that Mattelart may be looking for.

“Abandon” the Notion that Black People Don’t Like Sci-Fi

In Film, Technology on December 21, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I wrote a few months ago about the experience of award winning playwright and screenwriter Keith Josef Adkins pitching a science fiction story starring five African American men. At the time there was no description of the plot other than that because the executive listening to the pitch quickly shot the brotha down.

Queue the very loud booing noise.

His reason: the science fiction market consists of white dudes from the ages of 13 and 49, so take yo’ black ass to a campfire somewhere and tell that story!

I made up that last part, but the pitch didn’t go so well and neither did the pitches that followed, so Mr. Adkins revealed that he was fed up and decided to circumvent Hollywood to go the web series route. As I said then, black people are taking over YouTube and yet another new series, Adkins’ The Abandon debut last night and it’s pretty good.

The filmmaking isn’t going to wow you as it was shot on a meager budget. However, the acting is good (something that is often bad in web shows) and the writing is well paced and boasts some surprising dialogue. The Abandon appears to be your standard aliens-are-taking-over-the-world type of story, but by mid-episode I quickly understood and believed the tension between the characters and was genuinely into what was happening.

It’s impressive to see that Adkins got this out so quickly as he just announced his intentions in July. It may have something to do with the fact that he kept the plot simple by letting it revolve around a group of guys on a camping trip, so most of this episode takes place in the woods.

I hear and certainly hope there are more webisodes to come. Check it out. Get hooked and support the continuing take over of YouTube by black folks. We’re coming… like these aliens in this web series, son!