Post-Modernist Gender-views of the Internet – no seriously

Posted to my unit bulletin board in relation to readings about post-modernism
and gender issues in the online world;

Personally, I found some of these readings to be a little dry in their supposed
analysis of certain aspects of the emerging world.

"There seems to be no reason why the environment that humans have created
should not reflect their inner selves" says the author of ‘Postmodernism:
People, Computers, and the Internet’; this is a gimme! Of course the things
we create will (always) reflect our inner selves, what else could they possibly
reflect? Admittedly we create things which are intended to reflect our surroundings,
other people, etc etc, but in doing so, everything we do reflects ourselves
in some way. If you want to really ‘do your head in’ about what we can and cannot
do, and about where things might be going, check out http://www.singinst.org/what-singularity.html

The fact that this text went from 3100 words to 1700 when all the block quotes
were removed was somewhat offensive – nearly half the ‘work’ was directly
someone else’s, and most of those quotes don’t even really serve to support
the text anyway, they just provide an interesting pseudo-modern-art feel to
the essay. I didn’t really feel like I came away with much from that essay at
all, in fact I got more from this article about buying donuts and coffee; http://www.kottke.org/03/07/030717business_les.html
– seriously, it’s a good read.

Elizabeth Lawley’s paper, on the other hand, had promise, but flopped for me
as well. She had the opportunitiy to really explore sexless (in the male/female
sense) existence, the nature of de-sexed (again, male/female) existence and
a variety of other interesting issues, but instead chose to walk the well trodden
‘females being oppressed’ path. Her own argument was that in the online world,
women don’t need to be discriminated against, and she is dead right – online,
women are most definitely equal to men, and if they really want to be, they
can be a man as well. I absolutely, 100% agree that in the online world, women
really have a chance to be on a directly equal footing to men, completely aside
from any discrimination and pre-comceptions we might carry from the physical
world, but it’s a case of get moving, get doing, it’s not going to do it it’s
self.

A couple years ago, I used to frequent chat rooms a bit; a very common introduction
might go something like;

User1: hey, howzit goin?

User2: good – u?

User1: not bad – hey, a/s/l?

User2: 14/f/perth – u?

User1: oh ok, 16/m/adelaide

The a/s/l stands for age, sex, location – it was a common question which allowed
you, an one line, to wrap people in a physical context which meant you could
visualise this person you were conversing with – it gave you a ‘face’ for the
‘name’. From what I have seen, this trend is disappearing – people don’t bother
now, because it really doesn’t matter. If, in another forum of some sort, I get
asked anything along those lines, I politely ignore it – it really makes no
difference to my conversations online at the end of the day. Women who are feeling
opressed, disadvantaged, downtrodden – whatever, feel free to take advantage
of this. Get out there and make a name for yourself – if you’ve got something
to say that people want to hear, then you will find there are a lot of ears (eyes?)
out there ready to listen.

Sorry, getting off track here a little.

I do think that gender and race-centric analyses and deconstructions of the
net are valuable, because, as with all other x-centric approaches, they provide
a different perspective, a different angle, and will often expose completely
different information. Without taking the time to look at things from all perspectives,
we will no doubt miss out on important facts about how the net is affecting
us all.

Basically, I think to a large extent that the future of the Internet will
bring about more equality, where men, women and CHILDREN will interact on equal
terms, based purely on their ability to interact. It’s interesting to note that
a lot of the young people today are actually quite terrible at interacting textually
(or even verbally) outside their own, very insular circles. I think this will
change, because those circles will be cross-continental and entirely international,
so we are going to need to know how to get along with each other. This may be
a long way off, but it’s coming.

Don’t get me wrong – discrimination will still be rife, but it will be a new
type of discrimination; discrimination of the mind. Those who are more intelligent
and more able to express themselves online, and indeed more able to control
their virtual world, will look down on those who can’t, or choose not to. Sadly,
I think this is just part of human nature (en masse, not necessarily for every
single person). Humans seem to swarm around those who are most capable, most
able and most in control of any situation – it’s probably traceable to a basic
survival instinct. At the moment, we flock to political power, to money, to
sporting prowess and beauty – the last 2 are traits of a physical world which
are not really transferrable to the digital world. political power and money
don’t translate that well to cyberspace either – political power in the traditional
sense is too top-down to make sense in a dynamic, shifting environment like
the web, where an individual has the ability to voice their opinion to millions
– on this landscape the politics are bottom-up, small groups form, and then
they get bigger as they gain support, groups are not imposed down on a group
of people by selecting from a very limited number of options at the top.

Then we come to the show stopper, even given current technologies; at the end
of the day, we are still ruled by "the meat" (Pat Cadigan, as cited
by Lawley). We still have physical bodies, which need to exist somewhere, and
are thus subject to laws, politics and society in the area that they currently
reside. This is another of the ‘problems’ which technology is addressing, but
for a little while yet, I think we are stuck with it. In the mean time, I suppose
all we can do is to continue to assess the progress (or lack thereof) that we
are making, and try to guide things in a direction which will turn out well
for everyone.

These comments are mainly based on these readings, although I must admit that
they have tended to wander quite a bit!

CSS2 Selectors

I am using CSS2 selectors in the style sheet for the new Dented Reality website to try and avoid some of the problems in layout/sizing that I was having between Mozilla (Netscape), Opera and IE6. I haven’t tested on IE5.x yet, but according to some of the “css hacksites I have been looking at, I will need to include another hack to make it work on that.

So far, so good.

This whole site is now presented using XHTML and CSS, with no (layout) tables at all. If you view the source, you will see that the code is quite clean as well – I have laid out the source in a manner which makes it more friendly to people using text-only browsers like Lynx, or to people with no style sheet support in general. I have put the content first, and then worked from there, towards the less-important navigation elements etc.

Why Analyse The Internet and How Should We Go About It?

Posted to the bulletin board of my NET12 class

"The line between ‘technical’ and ‘social’ is not a clear one, and never can be." So said the ‘wizards’ of LambdaMOO, one of the most sucessful MOO environments in the early days of the Internet when they realised that they couldn’t make purely technical decisions, without affecting the social interactions happening within their network.

This realisation is the core of why I believe that it is critical to analyse the impact of the Internet, rather than just accepting it and ‘going with the flow’. Extrapolating from this statement, it starts to become clear that modifications to this technology will affect the social aspects of the network as well. Given that a large proportion of a lot of people’s lives are moving online (and all indications point to this being an increasing trend), it is important that we know how both the technical and social evolution will affect us all.

We are now all living in a world which will, presumably, "continue to exclude ordinary citizens from key choices about the design and development of new technologies, including information systems."[*] If we don’t stand up and have a say in this new world, it will evolve around us, probably to the tune of corporate songs. "Here computer professionals could exercise much-needed leadership" says Winner, asking said computer professionals to "involve the public in activities of inquiry, exploration, dialogue, and debate", but why would they? Why would a computer professional choose to involve the public when they might potentially speak against the intentions of that professional (or his/her company)? According to the Cluetrain Manifesto, this situation will be remedied in the future because "Companies attempting to ‘position’ themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about" and "Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships". The authors are saying that companies of the future will be much more closely involved with their markets, and so it will actually be in everyone’s best interest to make sure the ‘net evolves into something useful for us all (even if it’s a matter of helping the consumer, so that they can become better at consuming products – it still helps the consumer [hopefully!]).

Whether this will actually happen or not (and whether it will happen in time to stop the Internet from becoming a corporate play-toy) is another issue. In the meantime, we need to be educated enough to make valid decisions and statements about where we would like to go with this thing, and what we would like it to become. Personally, I think the following 2 points sum up what will happen in the future;

  1. Corporations/consumption will drive hardware development (infrastructure)
  2. People will drive software developments (what we do with the infrastructure)

This is already seen all over the place when the infrastructure is set up to do one thing, but through the magic of software development, we get it to do another thing (Napster/KaZaa/eDonkey/eMule anyone?)

To some extent we are already liberating ourselves from corporate shackles, but we are still constrained by what is commercially feasible in the hardware realm. Software is a lot easier to produce for free — all it takes is time and skill. You can develop and distribute software using the machine you already have, and the network you are already connected to. You can pull in a group of people from all over the world and collaboratively develop a program which would never see the light of day if it relied on corporate backing – it doesn’t matter if it’s going to turn a profit if that is never the intention. Blogging itself would never have gotten as far as it has, as quickly as it has, if it relied purely on market-share and profits – Blogger.com is still free! This sort of flexibility will help us shape the future, but real people, without commercial interests, need to be involved in the development of the Internet, otherwise who knows where it will go? Maybe all sites will go the way of requiring advertising, mouse cursors will automatically gravitate towards banners and links will be hi-jacked by whoever can pay the most, thus rendering all linking useless. The present needs to be studied to ensure the future is at least workable, if not pleasant ๐Ÿ™‚

As to how we go about studying this subject and which approach we should use; I don’t believe that there is one definitive approach which should be taken. In the words of any decent Information Architect, "It Depends". Basically depending on what facet of the information we are analysing, we should adopt an appropriate approach. Looking at the way that people interact on a mass scale regarding current world events? Political economy looks like a decent approach to take. Analysing the implications of technology-based decisions on the future of the Internet? How about some technological determinism? The appropriate approach for the particular information you are seeking should be adopted, if not a blend of a few of them. The Internet is a blend of technical, social, political, personal, ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’ considerations — it is basically a reflection of modern society, so to look at it from any one angle will only ever give a partial picture.

Would you study society by looking purely at government-level political considerations? Of course not. Would would look only at the impacts of cars and roads when considering the future of humanity? Of course not. The Internet is much, much more than just a simple tool in the belt of people’s normal life. I see the Internet as offering a new platform for life, replicating most of the things we can think of in the physical world, and introducing a lot of new possibilities and problems, such as distributed, many-to-many communications, ‘smart mobs‘ and the voice that blogs are giving to relative no-bodies in today’s networked world. We need to approach the study of this new environment in a similar way we would study a new planet – from all possible angles, using all possible information.

What do you think? Post your opinions in the comments if you like.

Beau’s Amazing Stew

This is the recipe which I ended up inventing when I wanted to try out my great new pot, a ScanPan Dutch Oven. I wanted to cook some sort of soup/stew concoction, and this is what I ended up with;

Ingredients:

  • 400g Oyster Blade Steak
  • 400g Diced Steak
  • 1 Can Green Beans
  • 1 Can Baby/Julienne Carrots
  • 1 Can Peas and Corn
  • 250g Pasta Shells
  • 1 Large Brown Onion
  • 3 Rashers Bacon
  • 4 Corgettes
  • 4 Sticks Celery
  • 2 Medium Potatos
  • 1L Liquid Beef Stock
  • Cummin
  • Bouquet Garni
  • Tobasco Sauce
  • Soy Sauce

Preparation:

Boil water and cook Pasta Shells as normal, with some salt to hold in the flavour. Don’t throw out the water – it will go in the stew. It is a good idea to start the water heating, then start everything else, it should finish at about the right time like this.

Slice up the onion, dice the Oyster Blade Steak and combine both with the Diced Steak and some oil in the bottom of the pot. Cook on high heat until the meat is starting to brown, but not too much. Add the bacon, sliced into strips, and cook quickly. Once cooked, pour in the Liquid Beef Stock and add the potatos, cut into smallish cubes. Bring to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes.

Add Beans, Carrots, Peas and Corn, including their liquid to the pot, continue to cook. Add the pasta into the pot, including its water (if there is too much, drain a little off as required). Also add in sliced Corgettes and Celery. Add sauce and herbs to taste, then simmer for approximately 30 minutes.

That’s it! A lot has gone in, but you should now have the equivalent of about 8 meals worth of stew, and it tastes great!

Quote of the Day

Quoting myself now… how sad. I wrote this in an email to DV, and I thought it summed up my opinion of some assignments at University nicely;

[Some assignments are just] an exercise in stringing together references into a roughly coherent text which conforms to their required format.

Assumptions in Technology and Society

I’ve just been taking another look at NET12 Assignment 2 and it looks like it will be
an interesting one. Based on the comments of the unit tutor, this is sounding like one of
those assignments where the actual content of the essay isn’t as important as the style,
structure and supporting information (i.e. external references etc). I hate
this sort of assigment. It really goes against the way that I work, since I tend to like
to produce original works which are compiled largely of my own ideas and thoughts, and the
content is the important thing, the rest of the elements are just there to support that
message… oh well, welcome back to undergraduate studies.

The topic that my 1000 word essay is on is;

There are many competing stories about the nature and function of the Internet.
What are some of the key assumptions about technology and society informing these
oppositional views of the ‘Net?

so it should be a little interesting at least, but there really is a lot of room for
discussion in that topic, but with only 1000 words, not a lot of it is going to happen.

Due at the end of next week – I guess I’d better catch up with my other readings etc and
then get started on this thing…

No Teeth != No Pain

Well, I am now minus 4 wisdom teeth, but it hasn’t meant that the pain they were causing has gone away, indeed – it hurts a lot more right now than it did before. The only good thing is that I know in a couple days it won’t hurt any more, and then I’ll be firmly on the road to my mouth sorting itself out.

I had all 4 teeth pulled under local anaesthetic, so I got to see the whole thing going on. I also got to feel and hear some of what was going on, so that was interesting. I was actually a little surprised, because there was more pushing (down towards my gums) than there was pulling (as in tugging on the teeth). I don’t know exactly why, but I am guessing that it’s from the dentist cutting back my gums to get a clean shot at the teeth. Wondering what 4 wisdom teeth look like? That’s them down there!

4 little wisdom teeth

XooMLe-Lite?

I’ve been playing around with the idea of creating a “lite” version of XooMLe, which would have less information passed back in the resulting XML, making it easier to work with for simple projects, and probably quite a bit quicker as well. The system would be based on the current one, but for the search, things would be cut down, so it might just be that I end up making a /search-lite/ method available via the normal XooMLe server.

If this happens, it will probably be a chance for me to clean up the code on the entire project, and then I might also release the code so that you can “install” your own XooMLe server ๐Ÿ™‚ Information will be posted here if that’s the case, and I’ll also post to the XooMLe-News mailing list (sign up on the XooMLe Project Page).

Anyone else hanging out for an even simpler version of the XML results? I am thinking of having something like this;

{sample removed}

Comments? Suggestions? Please use the comments link below (to the right).