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A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"

Ebon Fisher wrote:

>Should we also assume that poor people, teenage violence, corporate
>corruption, broken school systems, and other stuff "out there" is all
>beyond the privileged glow of technological fascination? Are those
>problems solved by programming our newsbots to filter out that news?

Pattie Mae responded:

>Geez! I don't think we ever claimed to be solving the world's problems
>with the technology we're developing! All we are doing is experimenting
>with different ways in which technology can be integrated into our
>everyday lives.

Robert Adrian added:

>That seems to be a big "our" ... whose "everyday lives" did you have in
>mind exactly? I mean, there aren't that many "everyday lives" that have
>the possibility of integrating technology -  the rest of us "everyday
>lifers" just get casually integrated into the technology ... like it or


I taught at the Media Lab for 2 years when it began, and even then I
noticed a gleeful "reduction of context" at work. Many professors and
students were in denial, I think, that the instrument they were dealing
with was cultural and political. This not only showed a lack of compassion
and sophistication, but it resulted in some hilarious batches of wobbly,
bug-plagued software.

One very nice graduate student with whom I used to burn the midnight oil
was attempting to build "the ultimate interface" which would allow each
user to customize EVERY ASPECT of the GUI. I could not convince him that
computers were going to become a form of pop culture and necessitated a
few "hooks" - fixed and recognizable reference points. Like a shared
language or religion they demanded a shared iconography and just enough
protocols to help structure a common dialogue. The reason for this is that
we process information in a social network, not just as solitary
individuals. The fellow had no idea what I was talking about. Such
sociological babble was not de rigueur at the time. Psychology was OK - to
a limit.  Needless to say, the poor fellow got bogged down in code. 

Hopefully a few healthy ranters have circulated the Media Lab since then.
I've heard from a friend that it may be including the Center for Advanced
Visual Studies into its stolid, grey building. The CAVS had a history of
obsession with "the big picture," claiming roots in the Bauhaus, via Gyorgy
Kepes. The CAVS might help broaden the perspective of the Lab, but it also
had its "fine arts" blinders. Neither "art" nor "technology" are viable
disciplines without a dose of cultural ecology.

The arts and humanities were bolstered at MIT towards the end of the
Vietnam War when a consensus emerged that too many of its specialists were
unquestioningly contributing pieces to a puzzle which ultimately went into
blowing thousands of American, Vietnamese, and Cambodian people into
billions of tiny bits. The Media Lab grew out of the architecture program
which directly benefitted from such a consciousness. It's a cruel twist of
fate if the place should return to naive specialization.

I agree with Robert Adrian's comment about the presumptuous "our". Many of
the recent FleshFactor contributors have mistaken their own personal
psychology for the whole human condition. Even worse, the human factor is
treated as if it's an unchanging set of suburban American couch potatoes.
Writing from Northern Ireland I am especially perplexed by that view.

It's honest to admit we cannot single-handedly solve "the world's
problems". But I believe that every academic should at least be aware of
how their contributions add to the bigger puzzle, and show some leadership
in the flow of cultural "agents" known as VALUES. We owe it to our students
and the next generation who look to us as role-models. Society, after all,
is the ultimate information-processing system.

-Ebon Fisher   <alula@interport.net>

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