The Folklore of Electronic Man<br />Technology as a Form of Language<br />McLuhan Galaxy Barcelona 2011<br />Eduardo Maris...
Technology<br />
Learn<br />
Grammar<br />
Three Things<br />What<br />How<br />Why<br />
I<br />What?<br />
“Cardinal Newman said of Napoleon, “He understood the grammar of gunpowder.” Napoleon had paid some attention to other med...
Delivery Technologies<br />
Protocols<br />
Social Norms<br />
Formulation of Expressions<br />
Grammar<br />
Formal Rules<br />
Shared Meanings<br />
Appropriateness<br />
Cope<br />
Domesticate<br />
II<br />How?<br />
Two Things<br />
Trial/Error<br />
Testing Expressions<br />
Measuring Effects<br />
Apprenticeship<br />
Others<br />
Expectations<br />
Nudges<br />
Complex<br />
Hybrid<br />
Multiple<br />
Language-Games<br />
Forms of Life<br />
Communications Breakdown<br />
Chronicling Failures<br />
Chronicling Nudges<br />
Digital Media<br />
Slips<br />
Boundaries<br />
Should I friend my<br />parents/children on FB?<br />
Should I friend my<br />teachers/students on FB?<br />My boss/employees?<br />
Private/Public<br />
Expression of Emotions<br />
Meaning of Relationships<br />
Social Precedent<br />
Experimentation<br />
Learning From Others<br />
Mental Model<br />
Grammar<br />
III<br />Why?<br />
Internet Folklore<br />
Language Expands<br />
Cultural Stakeholders<br />
More People<br />
Aura<br />
Technological<br />Reproducibility<br />
Political Significance<br />
Revolutionary<br />
More People<br />
Expand Language<br />
New Expressions<br />
Digital Reproducibility<br />
Reconfiguration of the Aura<br />
Getting Away With It<br />
Three Implications<br />
I<br />TechnologyEducation<br />
II<br />Technological Anthropology<br />
III<br />Democratic Competence Gap<br />
We’re Leaving People Behind<br />
Attitude<br />
Present Day Somnambulism<br />
Thank You<br />Eduardo Marisca<br /><br /><br />@piscosour<br />
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The Folklore of Electronic Man: Technology as a Form of Language


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This presentation explores a latent concept in Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: that technological forms encompass a given grammar that regulates its possible expressions. Using Ludwig Wittgenstein’s description of language-games and examples from online communities, it explores how these grammars operate and are assimilated by technology users, through an apprenticeship model and a process of trial-and-error. It then goes on to build on Walter Benjamin’s notion of art and “aura” to explore how digital technology has the potential to acknowledge wider audiences as cultural stakeholders with read/write capabilities. It concludes by evaluating how a renewed understanding of how we educate people around technology is necessary to fully incorporate them as participating agents within the folklore of electronic man.

Presented in the McLuhan Galaxy conference in Barcelona, May 2011.

Published in: Technology, News & Politics
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  • I was listening to my favourite podcast on the flight here
  • And they were talking about Lev Vygostky, and I don’t really know much about Vygotsky’s work
  • But a description of how children learnt to interact came to my attention, andVygotsky considering children learn by talking first to others, and then develop an inner voice by talking to themselves about what they’re doing.
  • This struck me as a particularly relevant image for what I want to discuss today, about technology…
  • …and how we learn to use it
  • Technology as a tool
  • Marshall McLuhan explored a different interpretation of technology and media as extensions as opposed to simple tools
  • Technology as extensions of ourselves that modify our sensorial perception
  • As such, all forms of technology encompass a form of grammar as well
  • Three things I want to explore today: what it means to consider technology as a form of grammar or language, how this grammar operates, and why such a perspective is helpful
  • Quote from Understand Media, chapter 1.
  • Delivery technologies as the physical objects or logical platforms which support our communication.
  • Analytical but not functional distinction. Social protocols regulate the usage of various media. Not always user-driven: context, economy, government all influence the formulation of a protocol.
  • Protocols encompass the social norms that govern the use of any given technology
  • A serie of rules which regulate what expressions are valid and which aren’t
  • In other words, a grammar, or what I’m identifying as a grammar to follow along McLuhan’s trail.
  • Grammars such as these comprise both formal rules for the validity of expressions
  • But also encompass shared meanings for expressions and terms within that grammar
  • Including notions of appropriateness: when is it appropriate to use one medium versus another, for which social interactions?
  • This grammar is the way in which we cope with the “traumatic” effect of new media on our senses
  • Structuring the use of a new technology as a language allows us to domesticate it by using the languages we have to assimilate the experiences we’re unfamiliar with
  • Two salient qualities from this to consider
  • Assimilating a new grammar is experimental and iterative, open process. Trial and error.
  • We find ourselves continuously testing new expressions
  • And measuring how others react to our expressions to adjust our future interactions
  • Another salient quality is an apprenticeship model where we learn by interacting with more proficient individuals
  • We learn from others, which makes technology learning essentially social, even when we consider technologies to be socially alienating (think coding conventions)
  • By interacting with others we learn about their expectations and are able to convey our own
  • We learn to course-correct through gentle and not so gentle nudges
  • This constant rehashing is a complex navigation…
  • … because all technology grammars are hybrids. We assimilate the new from the viewpoint of the old (i.e. radio vs. tv, yahoo vs. google)
  • And in our time more than ever, grammars are multiple: we’re transmediatic media citizens, existing simultaneously across multiple channels and grammars
  • To illustrate how we introduce ourselves into languages we can ask this man. Ludwig Wittgenstein.
  • Wittgenstein described languages as games we play, with valid operations and rules we use to play with others.
  • At the same time, language-games represented forms of life, as meanings are ingrained in our use of words, and charged with emotions, values, etc.
  • Illustrate that with Failbook, a website which compiles Facebook gaffes and jokes from captured status messages.
  • Failbook compiles cases where communication failed for some reason, but this highlighting of things going wrong works because we all understand there are rules that have been broken.
  • By chronicling failures in our everyday use of Facebook
  • …we’re also chronicling nudges which show we collectively we adjust our grammar for the use of FB
  • Exhibit A. Very literal.
  • In giving us personal broadcast channels, digital media is establishing new rules for interpersonal communication, unregulated (strictly speaking)
  • This is also inviting us to commit a lot more slips, and these slips, just like in psychoanalysis, are interesting in themselves
  • Exhibit B. Boundary issues.
  • Exhibit C. More boundary issues, private/public.
  • Our traditional understanding of social boundaries has shifted. The George Constanza “Worlds Collide” theory.
  • Seriously troubling questions start to come up. What’s appropriate?
  • These gaffes in our behaviour and troubling questions point to the more fundamental, underlying issue of fading private/public boundaries and our readapting to it.
  • Exhibit D. One of my favourites.
  • We’re also experimenting with the expression of emotions, directly related to…
  • … shifts in our understanding of the significance of relationships.
  • We understand the joke to this screenshots because we see these FAILs ourselves
  • So they establish a social precedent on what is appropriate and inappropriatebehaviour, in this case, on FB
  • We run into these gaffes and nudges ourselves as we experiment with what’s allowed and expected from us in using these technologies
  • We thus continuously learn from others, validated by their likes or invalidated by panicking phone calls asking us to take down some picture from last night
  • Out of those interactions we construct a functioning mental model which we refine as we go along
  • In other words, we build our own, portable version of a grammar
  • This is the way in which we’re constructing internet folklore, ever more quickly.
  • Our language is continuously expanding as new expressions are being created all over the world, within shared grammars and expectations across continents
  • The big shift here is the widening of cultural stakeholdership, or who gets to participate from this…
  • …as more people are able to talk to more people, without having to keep asking for permission
  • It is useful here to turn our attention to the work of Walter Benjamin around art and technological reproducibility
  • For Benjamin, massive reproduction displaces the aura of the work of art, the exhibition value of knowing something is unique in generating a specific aesthetic experience
  • Technological reproducibility as that afforded by the printing press collapse a work’s aura but release it at the same time
  • Through its mass reproduction, a work of art can attain political significance
  • Art can then become revolutionary in that it can reach massive populations as opposed to cultured elites only
  • In other words, when more people get to talk to more people without asking for permission, interesting things start to happen
  • Our language expands faster
  • And new expressions begin to emerge
  • Digital reproducibility takes this several steps further by eliminating material constraints
  • What we experience is a reconfiguration of the aura, or a widening of the capacity to expand our range of valid expressions. Introducing new expressions stops being a matter of genius…
  • …and starts being about what you can get away with
  • There are three implications I’d like to quickly gloss over
  • The first one is that, mostly, we’re getting technology education wrong whenever we’re focusing on the tool-value as opposed to the language-value of a technology. Learning how to use the tool is not the same as developing a competence in “speaking the language” of a technology. This is crucial, especially in large technology education projects (i.e. OLPC in Peru)
  • The second one is related to technological anthropology. How are we chronicling these cultural interactions? How are we preserving internet folklore for the future, and what is worth preserving? How do we navigate all this information?
  • The third one is the most interesting to me. As the digital divide widens, it gets even wider when we start to acknowledge that we’re not fully developing the competence required for underprivileged kids to become future citizens. As future political interactions become more and more interdependent with digital networks and various technologies, those who are furthest left behind are at the same time those who should most be a part of the conversation.
  • It all comes down to the fact that we’re leaving people behind and we really have no idea how to make them catch up.
  • But unless we can change our attitude towards technology and what it means for us…
  • We will, as McLuhan pointed out, be unable to wake up from our present day somnambulism only to find our culture wiped out just like the medieval monks did in front of the printing press, and just like Don Draper was wiped out when the world turned digital.
  • Thank you very much.
  • The Folklore of Electronic Man: Technology as a Form of Language

    1. 1. The Folklore of Electronic Man<br />Technology as a Form of Language<br />McLuhan Galaxy Barcelona 2011<br />Eduardo Marisca<br />PUCP | Ashoka<br />
    2. 2.
    3. 3.
    4. 4.
    5. 5. Technology<br />
    6. 6. Learn<br />
    7. 7.
    8. 8.
    9. 9.
    10. 10. Grammar<br />
    11. 11. Three Things<br />What<br />How<br />Why<br />
    12. 12.
    13. 13. I<br />What?<br />
    14. 14. “Cardinal Newman said of Napoleon, “He understood the grammar of gunpowder.” Napoleon had paid some attention to other media as well, especially the semaphore telegraph that gave him a great advantage over his enemies. He is on record for saying that “Three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”<br />Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to master the grammar of print and typography. He was thus able to read off the message of coming change in France and America as if he were reading aloud from a text that had been handed to him. In fact, the nineteenth century in France and America was just such an open book to de Tocqueville because he had learned the grammar of print. So he, also, knew when that grammar did not apply.”<br />
    15. 15.
    16. 16. Delivery Technologies<br />
    17. 17. Protocols<br />
    18. 18. Social Norms<br />
    19. 19. Formulation of Expressions<br />
    20. 20. Grammar<br />
    21. 21. Formal Rules<br />
    22. 22. Shared Meanings<br />
    23. 23. Appropriateness<br />
    24. 24. Cope<br />
    25. 25. Domesticate<br />
    26. 26.
    27. 27. II<br />How?<br />
    28. 28. Two Things<br />
    29. 29. Trial/Error<br />
    30. 30. Testing Expressions<br />
    31. 31. Measuring Effects<br />
    32. 32. Apprenticeship<br />
    33. 33. Others<br />
    34. 34. Expectations<br />
    35. 35. Nudges<br />
    36. 36. Complex<br />
    37. 37. Hybrid<br />
    38. 38. Multiple<br />
    39. 39.
    40. 40. Language-Games<br />
    41. 41. Forms of Life<br />
    42. 42.
    43. 43. Communications Breakdown<br />
    44. 44. Chronicling Failures<br />
    45. 45. Chronicling Nudges<br />
    46. 46.
    47. 47. Digital Media<br />
    48. 48. Slips<br />
    49. 49.
    50. 50.
    51. 51. Boundaries<br />
    52. 52. Should I friend my<br />parents/children on FB?<br />
    53. 53. Should I friend my<br />teachers/students on FB?<br />My boss/employees?<br />
    54. 54. Private/Public<br />
    55. 55.
    56. 56. Expression of Emotions<br />
    57. 57. Meaning of Relationships<br />
    58. 58.
    59. 59. Social Precedent<br />
    60. 60. Experimentation<br />
    61. 61. Learning From Others<br />
    62. 62. Mental Model<br />
    63. 63. Grammar<br />
    64. 64.
    65. 65. III<br />Why?<br />
    66. 66. Internet Folklore<br />
    67. 67. Language Expands<br />
    68. 68. Cultural Stakeholders<br />
    69. 69. More People<br />
    70. 70.
    71. 71. Aura<br />
    72. 72. Technological<br />Reproducibility<br />
    73. 73. Political Significance<br />
    74. 74. Revolutionary<br />
    75. 75. More People<br />
    76. 76. Expand Language<br />
    77. 77. New Expressions<br />
    78. 78. Digital Reproducibility<br />
    79. 79. Reconfiguration of the Aura<br />
    80. 80. Getting Away With It<br />
    81. 81. Three Implications<br />
    82. 82. I<br />TechnologyEducation<br />
    83. 83. II<br />Technological Anthropology<br />
    84. 84. III<br />Democratic Competence Gap<br />
    85. 85. We’re Leaving People Behind<br />
    86. 86. Attitude<br />
    87. 87. Present Day Somnambulism<br />
    88. 88. Thank You<br />Eduardo Marisca<br /><br /><br />@piscosour<br />