Friday, May 28, 2010

New media, old ideas.

So I feel like I've been getting lost in kind of an interconnected web of ideas as I've been talking with fellow writers about their topics and how they all relate in so many different ways. But It's becoming very interesting, and I've had some very helpful comments and feedback. And I'm starting to hone in on something. Much of these interconnected discussions have been about the conflicts that are raised by new media: regarding its effects on politics, academia, social interactions, and individual identity. But what I would like to suggest is that these conflicts are not new. The digital medium is just that: another medium of expression and communication that we are painting our pre-existing human nature onto. It's making changes in the way the world works, but it's not changing our core nature, or making us less human or less engaged with reality.

The metaphysical implications of virtual reality were explored before the internet became truly universal (1993, in that hyperlink), and a non-physical world has for ages been something that humans used to introspect and define themselves. The Iroquois and the Maya used it. Borges' magician in the circular ruins used it, and in doing so, discovered his inherent nature (for better or worse). Like the magician, the protagonist of recent-cultural-phenomenon blockbuster "Avatar" lived in a different world while his body slept, and as a result, arrived at certain conclusions regarding his identity. Maybe we should go and watch this movie with these kinds of things in mind or something. Anybody have plans tonight?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The mayan spiritual world and the digital world.

So l've been looking back at Borges and I'm pretty sure the Circular Ruins was inspired by Mayan spirituality. I did some more research on what David Byrne was saying about the topic. I found an interesting ethnographic study about the significance of dreams, a central topic of the Circular Ruins. The Mayans believed they had something called a way, which is a sort of alter-ego. It is manifested as a sort of spirit animal. The word way also translates as sleep. Mayan Kings would go to wayib, or sacred places of dreaming (like the circular ruins of the story) to connect with their way. Dreams were important source of finding truth to the Mayans, and still are to their descendants. They are considered to be very real in a sense. Many cultures find it easy to connect a supernatural world with the real. Does involvement in digital worlds or online communities today fulfill a desire to connect with something outside of our tangible, physical world?

Also connecting the Mayans' spiritual with our digital, I find the concept of way to be reminiscent of the avatar in today's digital world. We all create a sort of identity online that is more or less based on ourselves, or sometimes represents an idealized version of ourselves.. The internet generation is not the first to come up with this concept. The avatar or online profile provides us with a way to examine who we are and what we want. We've all had to fill out these things and perhaps introspect a little in doing so. How much do we tailor our online identity to fit the way we want to present ourselves? And how do those ideas and digital interactions contribute to who we ultimately become?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The whole world is online

This weekend I spent an absolutely inordinate amount of time on Google Earth. I'm not just talking about the Google Maps online, but the Earth application that you can download from Google. What's cool about this program is that you can freely zoom around the world in 3D . It maps photographic satellite imagery onto a 3D rendering of the earth's topography, allowing for a really detailed and thorough exploration of just about anywhere. The program has a lot of powerful and cool features, including a flight simulator. I was completely absorbed in this thing for hours. But why was it more fascinating to me than just a video game? Because it enabled me to explore the real world. I had the whole globe at my fingertips. I could go anywhere in mere seconds. I explored not only exotic places like the mountains of Hawaii and Nepal, but more familiar places where I lived or went on excursions. It was an entirely digital, online experience but it connected me with the real world.

Crystal ski area near Mt. Rainier, one of my favorite places

I realized that Google Earth fills in a huge gap between the real world and the digital world. One of the most interesting features is that there are little photo icons scattered across the landscape. When you click on one of them, it displays a user-uploaded photo that was taken at that location and hosted at, a social photo-sharing site. This feature adds so much depth to the experience and more thoroughly connects this digital world with the real world. On Google Earth, I found a small canyon near Moab that I explored last month, and seeing that there were no photos of it, I immediately signed up on Panoramio to upload the photos I took there and put them on the map. It was exiting to think about being a part of this online, collaborative documentation of the earth. I guess this makes the way we look at the digital world a lot closer to how we look at the real world.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Something about Borges

I've been reading some stories by Borges and I'm going to write a paper relating his writing to modern day perceptions of reality and new media. In some way.

Some of my thoughts:
In "the Circular Ruins" there are possibly different degrees of "realness", and in light of modern technology it presents us with questions about whether more real, tangible things are of greater value. The character in the story creates a man in his dreams that becomes real in a perceptible sense, but is concerned with the creation being sad about his unrealness. When we create or acquire things like music, images and programs on computers, they are are less tangible and in a sense less real, but our perception of this kind of thing as valid property has changed, as evidenced by intellectual property laws and things like that. In the Web 2.0 era, digital matter has perhaps become even less tangible, with more network-based programs and cloud computing, the data is in a much less tangible place than the CPUs or disks we might have in our homes. The servers and networks we are connected to are invisible to us. We don't know where they are, and for the most part we have no idea how they work. As far as we can tell, the exist in a separate dimension from the real space that we inhabit.

I'm curious about how this generation is adjusting to this shift of consciousness and becoming increasingly entrenched in a different, less tangible world (not unlike the character in the story, whose life and work becomes increasingly invested in dreams as he sleeps). Is it worse to be entrenched in this digital world? Does digital property have the same value? In a brief moment, I could download an "album" of music out of thin air onto my laptop which is physically connected to nothing, whereas my father at my age had to go to a record shop and buy a physical record album. Does the record or even a CD have more value than an mp3? Digital sales have shown us that to many of the "digital natives" generation, it doesn't really. There's also a lot to consider about the nature of digital relationships.

So there are a lot of questions here but no answers. How do I feel about the "digital world"? Well, I'm kind of ambivalent. Personally, I'm trying not to live in the digital world so much. It's way too easy to waste time. But I can see the value and the power of it. I'm not opposed to using social networking and related technology. There's not really anything less real or less valid about ideas or artwork shared online.

(So, I did a google image search on "circular ruins" to find a cool picture, and came across the photo above on the blog of none other than the awesome David Byrne. It's a Mayan ruin from his travels to the Yucatan. He talks about this very story and how it relates to Mayan culture. I need to go back and check this out)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

First Post

So I have been told it is a good idea to narrate the process of writing and learning.
This way I can evaluate myself and participate in the interactive dialog of new media. Because collaborative efforts are the true path to literary success.