- Oct 2017
For my annotations, I preferred to focus on three main themes in Rheingold's 'Net Smart'.
Distraction and how to address it.
The history of disruptive media and its role in Western culture
The epidemic of media stratification; how the Internet has amplified how we organize and surround ourselves with sources that confirm our opinions and biases. This theme is central in my discussion of the article 'How Terrorists Recruit Online (and how to stop it).
Dewey and Lippmann had a well-documented public feud over the role of citizens in democracy.
Here are two articles a about their frequent debates:
Dewey, unlike Lippmann, believed in the underlying principle that humans were capable of discernment and if they were taught the skills to correctly identify inaccurate media sources, then we would have better journalism because citizens demanded it. This theme of human agency in media is a dominant one throughout this section.
meditation in the classroom
This study conducted by four psychologists of three different Italian Universities shows the effects of mindfulness meditation on 7 and 8 year olds in Italian primary school. Here's what they say:
we found a specific positive effect of the mindfulness-meditation training in reducing attention problems and also positive effects of both trainings in reducing children’s internalizing problems. However, subjectively, no child in either group reported less depressive symptoms after the trainings. The findings were interpreted as suggestive of a positive effect of mindfulness-meditation on several children’s psychological well-being dimensions and were also discussed in light of the discrepancy between teacher and children’s reports.
The study was shown to, "improve children's cognitive, emotional, and social abilities...", particularly with children who had a healthy mental state.
"What we're experiencing," says Carr, "is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest."
Rheingold includes a large swath of Nicholas Carr's quotes on this page and next, which I'm not sure is helping his larger point. I happen to agree with some of Carr's arguments including this one. While I do believe its overstated, I think that his point that with there being so much content just 'out there' on the Internet, its hard to wade through the sludge for correct information, particularly if you don't have well-developed digital literacy skills.
This is another area where media stratification comes into play. The Internet has exacerbated the issue of confirmation bias in current events, because of its democratized nature. Everyone can publish content on the web, and because of that then anyone can find a source that aligns perfectly with their beliefs and biases, whether they're grounded in fact or not.
This is a huge contributor to the rise of the alt-right over the past year and a half. The publication of conspiracy theories, of abhorrent racist content, of confederate rage that make up alt-right circles on the Internet was a major news story during America's most recent election. Carr's point about the Internet forcing us to become 'hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest' means that people naturally flock to sources that confirm biases they already hold.
The fact is that this invention will produce for-getfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimu-lus of external marks that are alien to themselves.
Again, the theme of people fearing the potential consequences of disruptive media that has become absolutely essential to the flow of modern day life. This quote from Plato demonstrates that even the wisest among us sometimes can't see past their own nose. Yes, Plato correctly predicted that writing and literacy would lead to a decrease in memorization and a de-emphasis on the intellectual oral tradition. But if not for disruptive media, we would all be lounging in the Athenian agora like Plato, believing the sun revolved around the Earth.
Often times, the zenith of disruptive media brings with it exaggerated hysteria over the potential ill-effects of what it will do to our current forms of media. But these doomsday predictions never seem to come to pass. The television didn't kill the radio. Email didn't kill face-to-face human interaction, and neither did the telephone. Writing didn't kill knowledge. Many of these Luddites forget human agency, the ability of humans to balance media consumption and manage the emerging new forms of media with classic forms.
Rheingold begins this section called '(Using) the Internet Makes Us Stupid (or Not)' in order to promote restraint and emphasize the forgotten element in all of these negative predictions for disruptive media: choice.
, I'll zoom in on the long debate that sociologists have had about the effects of trains, telephones, or televi-sions on the quality of human social connection in large social groups, or "society" in the aggregate.
One of Rheingold’s central rhetorical devices for building ethos in this introductory chapter is to highlight the now-laughable negative reactions to technology that has become irreplaceable to our daily lives. This article from Vaughn Bell in Slate is useful in amplifying Rheingold’s point, that the new digital forms of media are just the latest in a long tradition of disruptive media sources. Bell writes, “Worries about information overload are as old as information itself, with each generation reimagining the dangerous impacts of technology on mind and brain.”.In it, he mentions a long litany of naysayers against technologies like the printing press, the radio, and the television. Obviously all of these technologies have fostered human progress more than it has hindered it. I think this is the position Rheingold would take as well, that cries that the Internet is making us dumb or that social media is ruining our politics are huge overreactions to small kinks in a technology that’s benefits vastly outweigh its costs.
Is Google Making Us Stupid? - the Atlantic (this is an article that Rheingold references several times) https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/
Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016? - NPR http://www.npr.org/2016/11/08/500686320/did-social-media-ruin-election-2016
Unproductive for the goal oriented • Unhealthy for everybody • Fatal for a growing number • Addictive for some • An invitation to bad parenting • Sodally alienating • A cause for a dangerous loss of solitude
This list of potential consequences of media-related distraction that Rheingold gives us also happen to create conditions for how ISIS recruits online, according to this Brookings article
Digital isolation is a key component in the ‘Discovery’ phase of terrorist recruitment that J.M. Berger lays out and also identified as a consequence in Rheingold’s assessment. Now of course, it’s not as if every time you get distracted from your homework and take a BuzzFeed quiz you’re a target for terrorist recruitment. It requires a concerted effort to learn more about ISIS in order for the organization to pick up on a recruit’s interest. The idea is that the more distracted you become by delving into ISIS-friendly spaces on the Internet, the more you become a potential target of ISIS recruiters. This is also an example of media stratification. The way that terrorists radicalize targets is by surrounding them with a digital community in the ‘Create micro-community’ stage of recruitment, further segregating the potential recruit into pro-ISIS circles. This experience of ISIS recruitment shows the extremes of media-triggered distraction.
- Sep 2017
This is the video of the test that was described, along with the essay ‘Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events’ describing the phenomenon, written by two Harvard psychology researchers David Simon and Christopher Charibus. When the viewers focus on the white team passing the basketball, they experience both change blindness and inattentional blindness. They define change blindness as the lack of detection of large changes in objects or scenes and inattentional blindness as paying so little attention to an object that you cease to notice it entirely.
Their conclusion is that, “we perceive and remember only those objects and details that receive focused attention.”, and without us committing our sustained focused attention on a specific object or event (like looking for a moonwalking gorilla in the middle of a basketball game), then we fail to register it entirely.
This demonstrates the incredible power of distraction. When we are distracted, not only do we find it more difficult to quickly switch back to the task we were doing previously, but by severing our sustained focus on something to check the new notification on our iPhone, we potentially miss really obvious connections. All the more reason to “pay attention to attention”, as Rheingold says.
When you are online, how often do you control your own focus-and how frequently do you allow it to be captured by peripheral stimuli?
As Rheingold points out in the paragraph below, some distraction is ingrained in evolutionary human instinct, like, "jumping at a loud noise or applying the brakes at the sight of a dog in the road...". But this distraction is not what he describes as 'peripheral stimuli'. This stimulus is rooted not in productivity nor rest, but in distraction. A cell phone buzz from a Twitter like or a SnapChat eagerly waiting to be responded to, is a constant sap on our attention.
As he points out later, the human brain can only hold seven (give or take two) thoughts at one time. The near-constant presence of our smartphones and digital devices represent distraction that disrupts our focus on productive tasks. Even as I type this annotation, I'm also thinking about the playlist I'm listening to on Spotify and the three new notifications from GroupMe awaiting my attention. Rheingold takes the view that a smartphone is an incredibly powerful and useful tool, but just like any tool, there's a proper way to use it optimally. This optimization of digital tools includes not just the notification settings of the actual device to manage distraction, but also human agency. Putting your device in another room, or turning it off for an hour is one way we can improve our attention. Mindfulness and equipping a digital mindset is another. Rheingold's overarching goal in 'Net Smart' is to acknowledge the benefits of the Internet age and improve our digital lives without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
e development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.
This quote is how Rheingold introduces one of his central themes: distraction, its evolving role in our constantly connected world, and how to deal with it productively.
But this quote also provides an avenue to a topic that Rheingold briefly touches on later that I think is at the core of the intersection of our current political and digital discussions. That is, what is the impact of media stratification on our society? In all manner of our current dialogues, from the 2016 election, to opinions on climate change, even to the strategies of 21st century terrorist recruitment, how do we as digital citizens fight through the noise of partisan, unaccredited content to find truth? In many instances, especially in cases where someone may not possess the digital skills necessary to adequately judge the veracity of sources, we end up falling into traps of only trusting media outlets that confirm the opinions we already believe to be true. Huxley, and by extension Rheingold, points to humanity's bent towards distraction as the main source of this media stratification and increasing digital isolation into circles that continually reinforce whatever beliefs are held up as true.
Dehanene is a professor at the College de France where he specializes in cognitive psychology. He received his bachelor's degree in Mathematics, completed a PhD in cognitive psychology, and conducted post-Doc research in the field of nueronal modelling studies -- understanding how the brain processes information.
In the video below, Dehaene gives a talk about how the brain learns to read and learn, particularly with early childhood education.
Mohegan oral tradition holds that "the People" came &om the East, over a desert, and then crossed "the great fresh water:'
Not only is the land imbued with spiritual significance, but the water is as well. Mohegan cosmology holds that the first humans crossed ‘the great fresh water’ to settle Mohegan lands. Water is an important part of their cultural identity. This is why building the DAPL is so careless and so devastating to the Sioux people. Not only does it violate treaties, not only could it potentially damage their water supply, but in a cruel imitation, it mimics a Native American conception of the creation of humanity. Could there be any more of a symbol of Western greed than an oil pipeline thoughtlessly constructed over the Sioux people's water supply?
The designs are not only aesthetically pleasing but also deeply culturally significant. The artistic renderings displayed on the basket are representations of both rhe abundant natural landscape and the Mohegan cosmology. As the Mohegan elder Gladys Tantaquidgeon explains, "To the Mohegan, designs and life are more than simple representations of narure. There is a spiritual force that Rows through all things, and if these symbols are true representations of that force, this spirit should be expressed in the designs:
The way that many Westerners use land is for almost purely exploitative reasons. In a capitalist economic system,land represents untapped resources which in turn represents profits not being made. Westerners, by and large, ravage resources and funnel it into this capitalist system where greed and cutthroat competition makes you the most money. If someone were to analyze an oil rig in the same way Fitzgerald analyzes a Mohegan basket, they would discover that one of our cultural values is a total lack of appreciation and respect for nature. Even though steps are being made by Americans and Westernized people to place a much larger emphasis on the protection of the Earth, our mines and drills and pollutants and factories paint a much different picture of abuse and exploitation of the planet's resources.
Native conceptions of land and how it should be used are totally different. Land is not a resource to be exploited. It inhabits the world of physical objects, but, as Gladys Tantaquidgeon said, the land is also elevated to a spiritual realm of utmost significance. In the same way that we analyze a Mohegan basket, we can also examine the land as a physical object that is reflective of Mohegan cultural values, and really all Native cultures including the Sioux tribe.
How does the inclusion of forms previowly not considered texts change conceptions of literacy and com· municative practices? How do we begin to read a basket's narrative:
This is the core of material culture analysis: examining an object that may not have been considered worthy of analysis because it’s seemingly just a chair, or an arrowhead, or a basket. The failure to study Ashanti stools with the same intensity and dedication that a historian might review a Roman official’s personal correspondence points to a historical ignorance towards the importance of cultural significance in analysis. The magic of material cultural analysis is that it allows us to examine the emphasis that a culture places on things.
When societies of the future write and communicate about the importance of the iPhone in the United State’s culture during the 2010’s, they may begin by explaining the technical details of precisely how the iPhone is engineered, or a physical description of its minimalist design aesthetic, but any study of the iPhone that doesn’t include the psychological impacts of being always connected, the zeitgeist of dating apps, and the way that the iPhone, an object, changed the way Americans work, play, and relate to one another would be incomplete. In previous eras of historical analysis, the iPhone may not have been studied this way, but anyone living in America today can tell you that as a matter of historical significance, this object we all carry in our pockets today can explain our current culture better than almost anything else.
More information about Ashanti stools here: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/africa-ap/v/sika-dwa-kofi-golden-stool
The iPhone Project: Multimodal Object Analysis http://represent.danieltlamb.net/multimodal-object-analysis/
Over the course of almost a full year, protestors gathered at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to rally against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which, if constructed, would cross into Sioux lands and potentially cause irreversible damage to the reservation’s water supply. The fight against the pipeline was waged on two fronts, the reservation and the courtroom. The physical world and the world of words.
On a broader scale, the showdown at Standing Rock is just another example of a much deeper, older fight between Western and Native culture. A fight that started when Christopher Columbus landed his ships in the Bahamas, claimed it as property of Spain, killed and enslaved Native Americans, and began a process of Westerners stealing land and resources from Indigenous populations that continues into today.
The superiority Western people feel they have over Native people boils down to a critical misunderstanding of Native culture. Western culture and history is recorded as the achievements of rich white men. Native culture has a more communal, holistic approach to recording history, an approach that historically has been categorized as ‘primitive’, or with the racially charged term ‘savage’. Material culture analysis levels the playing field of historical analysis and allows us to examine a culture not just through written records, but through objects of immense cultural significance, objects that give insight into how a culture views the greatest polarities of life. Jules David Prown, the grandfather of material culture analysis, gave us a few examples of these polarities, like life vs. death, acceptance vs. rejection, and security vs. danger. I would like to suggest a few more that I think are helpful in thinking about the cultural divide between Native culture and Western culture: duality vs. nonduality, Capitalism vs. resources, advanced vs. primitive, and individuality vs. community.
This cultural divide, and our conceptions of where these two cultures side on these polarities, is the bedrock upon which Christopher Columbus committed Genocide, upon which Andrew Jackson ravaged lands, and upon which our government built a pipeline across what wasn’t ours. This is why material cultural analysis is so crucially important. The failure of Westerners to understand Native culture and see it as equal to our own, instead of inferior is the crux of one of our Nation’s greatest sins.
The Mohegan word for painting, wuskuswang, is the same word used for writ· ing, inducting painted baskets in a long textual tradition that includes decora· tive birch bark etching, beadwork, wampum belts, and the written word. Th
The Mohegans link the world of objects and the world of words in a way that is foreign to Westerners. We have rhetorical forms of communication that are visual, like a moving painting, written, like an academic essay, and spoken, like a rousing call to action. Typically, these categories are fairly static. We don’t often mix visual rhetoric with written analysis, except in fringe forms like a photo essay.
The Mohegans have no such distinctions. Their culture infuses communal activities, like basket-weaving, with written, visual, and spoken rhetoric, in a way that makes the finished product a truly all-encompassing record of their shared societal values and customs. This practice is foreign to many Westerners and people who are used to analyzing Western rhetoric, and is why material cultural analysis is so useful. It allows historians to examine a culture like the Mohegans through a lens that is not rich, white and male. As we see at Standing Rock, the failure to examine other perspectives that don’t cleanly fit into our standards of historical record result in devastating results for populations that aren’t rich, white and male.
Few late nineteenth-century northeastern Native baskets were signed by their makers
This is an example of Western individuality that isn’t as present in Native culture. The basket is a shared cultural document, the work of an entire village or population. They craft it together, they literally sing it into existence together. Western historical records, particularly physical objects are typically one individual’s possession or creation.This is not the case in Mohegan culture and represents an interesting polarity between Western and Native culture: individuality vs. community.
Our country was founded on the premise of individuality. The American Dream is centered on individuality. The power of one person to start a business, create a product, build a home. When the entire framework of our reality is built upon individuality it can be exceedingly difficult to imagine and understand a culture who operates as a cohesive whole in creating historical and cultural objects.
t was performed by women to the accompani· ment of stories and songs, which in tum become part of the basket, joining together two traditions, oral and textual.
The Mohegan culture fuses together the world of words, through oral tradition, and the world of objects, through communal basket weaving. This is demonstrative of a culture that embraces non-dual thinking, pushing past the binary culture so many Westerners embrace. The basket is a touchstone for all aspects of their culture and should be studied as a prime export of the Mohegan’s values and history.
Here are some examples of Mohegan songs: https://www.moheganlanguage.com//Listen.aspx?CategoryID=1
The first song is one that might have been sung during the weaving of the basket, the second is a lullaby, and the third is a song women sung while harvesting food. The lyrics of the third song say “Thank you God for the corn, thank you God for the beans, thank you God for the squash, thank you God for the Earth.”
he decoding of the text of a basket requires shifting from a Western to a Native perspective and situating both the basket and its text within a speci6.c tribal context. Size, form, style, and varying degrees of decoration all play a role in the making of the meaning and function. M
Moving from a Western to a Native perspective is not an easy prospect. It requires us to not just examine an object differently or use different research and analytical methods; it requires us to examine our role in all of it and confront our own biases.
Haltman writes this in Introduction to American Artifacts, “Composing and revising an objective-as-possible description frees one to move from a narrow focus on the object itself to a focus on the relationship between the object and oneself as its perceiver.”
If we don’t, then we end up knowing a lot about the object, but not actually knowing the object and the truth it represents. We end up being ignorant to that culture and its values, its philosophy, its activities, and its practices. This sort of ignorance serves to diminish the humanity of cultures that are different from our own and can have disturbing results. Cultural ignorance is complicit in cultural destruction.
Baskets, which were and still are ceremonial and utilitarian objects used for transportation and storage of items, prayer ceremonies, and traditional games, function as com-62. Wong, Sendi11g My Heart Back. The Mohegans • 53 municarive devices. In sum, by touching every aspect of daily Native life, both past and present, basketry is imbued with cultural and spiritual power. 6
In Western culture, we tend to be dualistic people. We like to separate and categorize things. An object has one purpose, and that is to be used. We use baskets as baskets, nothing more. Native cultures embrace a more non dualistic view of the world, in which a possession can inhabit both a utilitarian space, the world of of objects, but also function as a vessel for expressing shared cultural values
This is emblematic of a larger schism between Western and Native people over the nature of duality and nonduality. Native cultures are adept at having an object serve multiple purposes. There isn’t an obsession over specific duties and functions for specific things. This is a firmly Western idea of objects, and is one of the main contributors to our materialistic, consumer culture that we inhabit today. Native cultures would never own a lemon squeezer, or a garlic press, because these are things that only serve one very specific thing. They have no power to communicate a narrative or share a cultural value.
Background on Mohegans: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mohegan
The Mohegans occupied most of the upper Thames valley in what is now Connecticut, U.S. They later seized land from other tribes in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The traditional Mohegan economy was based on the cultivation of corn (maize) and on hunting and fishing. Colonial settlements gradually displaced the Mohegan, and their numbers dwindled from imported diseases and other hardships. Many of them joined other native settlements.
Article on Modern Day (1990) Mohegans: http://articles.latimes.com/1990-11-11/news/vw-5965_1_mohegan-museum
The name Tantaquidgeon was a family name among the Mohegans long before the Mayflower came to New England shores. The name means going fast. Gladys Tantaquidgeon's aunt, Fidelia Fielding, who died in 1908, was the last speaker of the ancient Mohegan language. Gladys' father, John Tantaquidgeon, who lived from 1865 to 1949, was the last Mohegan basket maker.
- Aug 2017
Jules David Prown is the Paul Mellon Professor Emeritus of Art History at Yale University, and developer of the “Prownian Method” in which is included “Prownian Analysis”. Prownian Analysis is a means of identifying, and examining objects through detailed physical description, guessing at uses of the object, and treating the object as a fiction as a way of relating the object to more broad concepts. By applying Prownian Analysis to the examination of an object, the examiner should end with a rich description of the object, as well as a vivid idea of why the object was produced, and for whom.
What questions are most fruitful to ask in one's work with an object and how might one best go about asking them?
How do we go about studying material culture through the Prownian method?
students wi!J find value principally in learning from the models that these readings offer of how such interpretation can be carried out.
This is to be viewed as more or less a practical guide, a manual for entering into the practice of understanding material culture.
These are the objects we as historians in the field of Material Culture seek to understand. Our investigations-analysis followed by interpretation-necessarily begin in the material realm with the objects themselves but gain analytic hold and open upon interpretation only through vigorous attention
Material culture begins in the tangible, physical realm, in the purpose of not just examining the artifact itself, but also to understand the culture surrounding it through the way they used artifacts and the value and worth they imbued it with.
It seems to depend on a linkage-formal, iconographic, functional-between the object and some fundamental human experience, whether engagement with the physical world, inter-action with other individuals, sense of self (often expressed anthropo-morphically), common human emotions, or significant life events
Prown's explanation of how to choose an object that is worthy of undergoing material cultural analysis.
How does an object or artifact relate to the greatest polarities of our life, like pain and comfort, or freedom and constraint? This is the sort of question that people who analyze material culture ask.
Prown juxtaposes the binary, philosophical bedrock of a culture that objects often are able to express, with physical traits of objects themselves, such as smooth and rough, light and dark. His argument is that an object's physical characteristics are linked to a culture's greatest values and beliefs, and that the study of the link from Physical to Metaphysical is material cultural analysis.
aterial, spatial, and temporal.
All aspects of an object's physicality.
Matenal culture begins with a world of objects bur takes place in a world of words. While we work 14With" material objects, i.e. refer "to" rhem, the medium in which we work as cultural historians is language.
When we examine material culture, we don't then express our analysis in our own culture's form of material culture, we express it in rhetoric.
The key to good description is a rich, nuanced vocabulary. Technically accurate language (nominative, for the most part) plays an important role in this, but ultimately not the most important role which is reserved, per-haps somewhat counter-inruitively, to descriptive modifiers (adjectives) and, most crucially, to terms expressive of the dynamics of mterrelation (verbs, adverbs, prepositions).
It's interesting that in an essay about material culture, Haltman spends so much time elaborating about words and writing; the realm of words, not the realm of objects.
Composing and revising an objective-as-possible description frees one to move from a narrow focus on the object itself to a focus on the rela-tionship between the object and oneself as its perceiver
As we write, we are forced to examine our own cultural biases and the full implications that those biases might have on clouding our analysis.
Having addressed an object intellectually, and experienced it actually or empathetically with our senses, one turns, generally not without a cer-tain pleasure and relief, to matters more subjective. How does the object make one feel?
After we describe the object in all forms, "material, spatial, and temporal." and examine our own biases, we can then proceed to subjectivity; 'how does this make me feel?', 'what does it do to me?'
Whereas the transition from description to deduction flows so easily we need to slow it down, subsequent moves from deduction to speculation, because they involv~ven require--creativity, can pose a greater challenge. But interpretive hypotheses, or questions about meaning, will flow just as organically out of our process of deduction provided that we open our imag-ination ro embrace, beyond its material facticity, an object's thematic reso-nance.
Description to deduction, deduction to questions, questions to speculation.
this sequencing of the stages of interpretive analysis ought not to be resisted as a straightjacket but instead exploited as the logical result of a decades-long pedagogic experi-ment carried out in numerous academic settings where it has been subject to adjusttnent and modification. The method as thus configured works because it works.
These stages of the analysis of material culture are done in this particular order because it effectively extrapolates true the cultural impact of an object
Material culture, in this view of it, is consequently less an e."Cp/anator)' than an exp/oratory practice
Engage with it, and see what happens. It is not meant to be a cookie-cutter exercise