Friday, October 17, 2008

Gadgets on the Go

At the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, I was on the panel for "Going Mobile: Global Flows of Media and the American American Experience with Portable Technology," which was sponsored by the Science and Technology Caucus. One of my co-panelists was Rayvon Fouché, who discussed the One Laptop Per Child Initiative and argued that it was not "at heart a technology program," based partly on his personal experience as a user who watched the Champaign-Urbana user group disband after one meeting and as a faculty sponsor who hosted a forum with Langdon Winnner and those who one might assume to be technology boosters criticizing the XO laptop from MIT. As Fouché noted, he found himself "struggling with the idea that a form of learning is culturally agnostic" and yet was interested in how technologies migrate based on his study of turntablism. He discussed his own close reading of OLPC myths from the group's wiki and the ways that the machine was rejected by his own six-year-old son. He asserted that the developing world was not one "monomythic unit' and that the rhetoric of the "digital divide" should be examined and critiqued, based on its one-way dynamic. He cited the work of Alondra Nelson and Ron Eglash to interrogate why this is imagined solely as a one-way exchange between cultures and why it assumes that race is a liability. In the OLPC case, of course, there was considerable "push back" from the developing world, which included resistance from Nigeria, which chose to pursue acquisition of the Classmate desktop, which came equipped with three-dollar XP, thanks to Microsoft.

Our panel also included Ted Striphas's talk on "Kindle and the Labor of Reading," which has been published online here. Striphas continues to solicit public comment on the work, which is being incorporated into his forthcoming book about the "late age of print."

My talk was about alternate reality games, particularly the urban games of Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost, and it asserted two seemingly contradictory propositions from the outset: 1) the more we are mobile, the more we are situated, and 2) the more communication is personal, the more it is public. As I explained, the first claim owes much to the work of Paul Dourish on embodied computing and the complex relationship of space and place, while the latter claim reflects the research of Mimi Ito on the "personal," "portable," and "pedestrian." Slides are here.

Our respondent was Siva Vaidhyanathan, who just published a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Barack Obama called "What's So Bad About Being 'Professorial'?"

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