Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blog #8: ‘The future is now.’ – Well… (Week 11)

Let us not forget that ‘Escape from New York’ is set in 1997.

In 1981 when that particular film was made, the prospect of what life would be like in 1997 was distant, exciting and alien. In the real world, Hanson’s equally catchy and annoying ‘MMMBop’ was released that year. 1997 doesn’t seem so futuristic now, does it?

The truth is that “the future” doesn’t exist. I mean, not technically. Usually, we tend to separate our idea of time into three; that of “the past”, “the present” and “the future”, but only one of the three actually exists: the present. However some would even argue that time moves in such a way that it’s impossible to determine an actual “present”. For instance if you start thinking now about snapping your fingers, the beginning of your thought is in the past, and the potential to snap your fingers is in the future, so where is the present? The present happens, and is gone so quickly, that you could almost say it never happened at all.

And this is why we have CHRONOPHOBIA: the fear of time passing, and time itself. Time is unbiased, unwavering and uncontrollable. It continually pushes forward without reprieve; with the rhythmic ticking of a clock constantly reminding us of the inescapabilty and immanency of our death. Or at least that’s how the chronophobics see it.

This is just a long-winded way of saying that I watched the ‘Xbox One’ reveal today and they kept saying that the device was “future-proofed” and I was all like “what does that even mean?” How does Microsoft know what the future holds? Do they know something we don’t? The answer is of course a resounding yes. I mean the future is all about better technology, right?

Anon, ‘Chronophobia’, viewed 22 May 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronophobia

Anon, ‘Escape From New York’, viewed 22 May 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_from_New_York

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Blog #7: Blogging and Science (Week 10)

Everybody has an opinion. This is both good and bad. Good in the sense that we have freedom of speech and can use tools such as blogs to voice our interests and/or concerns, but bad in the way it promotes the idea that every single person is a special snowflake who has something important to say. The cold truth is that some people just aren’t interesting. Yes I know this sounds harsh, but if ONE more person posts on Facebook that they’ve just started a blog and they’d love for me to give it a read, I am going to lose my shit ‘Scanners’-style. Oh terrific, another pretentious hipster living in the Inner-West musing on existential quandaries. FUCKING GREAT.

I started a blog once. Halfway through my first post I thought to myself: “Why should anybody care about what I have to say?” … and then I stopped. At that moment I realised that a good blog needs to be backed by real life experience, with the desire of adding something new to the conversation. This is where science can come in. Blogging can provide an invaluable tool for the sharing of information, but it isn’t yet being used to its full potential.

In regards to the topic of science, Gavin from RealClimate.org states that “blogs can be of tremendous value in bringing up more context and dispelling the various misapprehensions that exist,” but that as a whole science-blogging is underutilised and not yet equivalent to the peer-to-peer review process. Pisani believes that if scientists were more open to sharing data (perhaps even through blogging) it would result in “more and faster progress” which could help create more cures in a shorter amount of time.

So hopefully in the future we see more science, and less Instagram’d photos of soy decaf lattés.

Gavin 2011, ‘From blog to Science,’ viewed 15 May 2013, http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/from-blog-to-science/

Pisani, E 2011, ‘Medical Science will Benefit from the Research of Crowds,’ viewed 15 May 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing

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Blog #6: Socialised Evolution (Week 9)

Get this. Apparently the government can “turn off” the internet. I mean, not like a light, but if they really, really wanted to they could do it.

This idea seems unfathomable. We often picture the internet as being this ethereal, invincible ecosystem which seems to float around us like air, when really it’s just copper wires (or optic fibre for the lucky few) and servers. These are very much physical objects which need to be maintained by people, and without which the internet would cease to exist. But because modern society relies so heavily on the internet functioning, if it were to fail catastrophically the entire modern world would fall into chaos. If someone hacking a Twitter account and falsely stating that the White House had been blown up can cause billions of dollars to disappear from the stock market, imagine what the internet disappearing would do.

We are, then, beholden to our governments. If they control the internet, they control us. As Rushkoff states, “The Internet as built will always be subject to top-down government control and domination by the biggest corporations,” so he suggests creating a “fork” in the web-sphere which would give control of the internet back to the people. This would, however, require a brand new infrastructure (which would of course be prohibitively expensive), but could theoretically facilitate the restoration of true peer-to-peer commerce through a newly networked social media landscape.

Anonymous likes to think they have control over the internet. But if their governments didn’t dig those trenches and plant those wires, and if those corporations didn’t shoot those satellites into orbit, then there would be no internet. Activism would have to be done the old fashioned way with rallies, protests, posters and signs… Good ol’ fashioned elbow grease.

We are now conditioned to fight our fights behind the anonymity of a computer screen.

Rushkoff, D 2011, ‘The Evolution Will Be Socialised’, viewed 8th May 2013, http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-evolution-will-be-socialized

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Blog #5: Don’t Underestimate Us (Week 8)

Viva la Revolución!” … Yeah, I hate that phrase too. Do I hate it because I lack passion? Maybe. However if I was forced to pinpoint a singular reason, I would attribute this animosity to the simple yet important fact that because I live so comfortably in Australia, with my standard of living being so high, I simply do not care about politics. No matter who comes into power, my sense of well-being will most likely stay exactly the same. Because of this, I can’t ever see myself picking up a weapon and taking part in a bloody revolution, for instance. Does social media provide the answer for disinterested and cynical people like me? Is it helping us to become more politically engaged?

Yes. When the Labor government changed the rules for receiving Youth Allowance I created a Facebook page to bitch and complain like the over-privileged white person I am. But for more important, widespread issues, we see the power of the internet work wonders for social change.  In regards to the uprising in Egypt in 2011, Usher states that “social media was to some extent a way for people to organize in Egypt, and it was a way to get the word about the unrest out to a wider audience.” In this instance, social media was not only able to get everyone together, but it also informed the rest of the world as to what was happening.

The ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous has also used the power of the internet to instigate social change, including several attacks launched against the Israeli government in 2012. Leaderless organisations, Brafman and Beckstrom write, have the ability to challenge and defeat established institutions. “The rules of the game have changed,” they say. Let’s hope they never change back.

Brafman, O & Beckstrom, R 2010, ‘The Power of Leaderless Organisations’, viewed 1st May 2013, http://www.nationaljournal.com/njonline/the-power-of-leaderless-organizations-20100911

Usher, N 2011, ‘How Egypt’s Uprising is Helping Redefine the Idea of a Media Event,” viewed 1st May 2013, http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/02/how-egypts-uprising-is-helping-redefine-the-idea-of-a-media-event/

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Blog #4: Data, and the gullibility of the brain (Week 6)

How good, really, is our brain at retaining data? For instance, can you remember how much money you spent yesterday? Can you remember how many days it rained last week? Unless you’re Rainman, I’d say that the vast majority of people couldn’t correctly answer simple data-related questions such as these. Wolf states that we “make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork,” which is a flawed system which will invariably result in mistakes. Computers, on the other hand, are able to collect and collate data in a totally impartial and objective way, which adds more credence to the data itself.

“The brain is a gullible machine,” says Lehrer. This is true in many ways. For instance, he mentions an experiment where a group of people had to buy the same energy drink, half of whom purchased it at a discount, and then solve some puzzles. The people who bought the drink at a discount fared worse, because they felt the drink was less potent. This simply wasn’t true. The nature of how we acquire an item will change how our brain perceives it. I remember as a kid that my mum would buy bags of chocolate from Go-Lo. They were proper brands (Snickers, Twix or whatever) but because I knew they came from Go-Lo they always seemed to taste worse. CALL ME A SNOB.

Because of this, blind taste tests always interest me. In the same article, Lehrer describes a blind taste test of various wines. Often, people would say they liked the cheaper wines better. I’m sure, however, if they knew the prices beforehand, they would have preferred the more expensive wines. Our brain can be kind of dumb sometimes.

Lehrer, J 2010, ‘The Frontal Cortex: Self-Tracking’, viewed 17th April 2013, http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2010/05/03/self-tracking/

Wolf, G 2010, ‘The Data-Driven Life’, viewed 17th April 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02self-measurement-t.html?_r=0

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Blog #3: The Vocabulary of Vision (Week 5)

I want to begin this week’s blog by pretentiously asking “what does it really mean to see?” Normally, questions such as this annoy me, as I never usually understand why people ask complex questions regarding problems with seemingly simple answers. “What does it mean to see?” … “Using your eyes, idiot.” This is of course an immature, ill-reasoned response. Someone who is blind, for instance, may not be able to use their eyes, but this just means that they see and experience the world in a different way. The key word here is “different.” Just because the way a blind person sees the world isn’t the same as someone with 20/20 vision doesn’t mean that their reality isn’t just as real.

So where does virtual and augmented reality fit into all this? I see it as simply a different way of seeing. Havens describes AR technologies such as Google Glass as being a “shortcut” (very much in a positive sense) and a “profound” one at that. It can provide unparalleled technological immediacy to our interactions with the world around us, and possibly change the nature of communication. This is a just possibility, however. To me, Google Glass looks like nothing more than a GoPro with internet access.

A far more important technological advancement, in my eyes at least (pardon the pun), is that of the invention of a bionic eye which could potentially grant normal sight to those with blindness. These bionic eyes are very much machines, working with chips and algorithms, so would a person with two bionic eyes be experiencing augmented reality or reality? This just goes to show how mutable the concept of reality really is.

Gannon, M 2012, ‘An Artificial Eye That Can See?’, viewed 10th April 2013, http://www.livescience.com/22373-an-artificial-eye-that-can-see.html

Havens, J 2013, ‘The Impending Social Consequences of Augmented Reality’, viewed 10th April 2013, http://mashable.com/2013/02/08/augmented-reality-future/

 

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Blog #2: Control of the mind (Week 4)

The human brain has always fascinated me. When you see one in the flesh, it looks like nothing more than slimy, pinky-grey glob, when in essence it is one of the most complex single objects in the known universe; confounding to this day scientists who attempt to uncover its countless mysteries. Our brain is the epicentre of our being. It controls how we perceive the world, and crucially, our consciousness and sense of self. Noë believes that we “make consciousness dynamically, in our exchange with the world around us,” which is an interesting thought because I’m sure that most of us would like to think that we have full control over our brain and, in turn, our consciousness.

On a personal level however, our brain (please excuse the pun) seems to have a mind of its own. I am quite good at remembering faces, but, rather frustratingly, am not so good at remembering names (almost as if my brain is toying with me). In this regard memory is certainly a fickle thing. Andrew talked in the lecture about how sensing certain things can bring back memories. For instance if I ever smell chlorine, I remember in vivid detail the swimming lessons I took when I was a child. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I forget the password to my email.

Our brain, our mind, our consciousness (whatever you want to call it) is a mutable thing. It can change. You can improve your memory by teaching yourself memorisation techniques, for instance. BUT, external forces are also able to change how you think. Pamoukaghlian writes that “today, the horrifying landscapes that Orwell imagined are all scientifically plausible,” which is probably why I am as cynical as I am. I don’t want the media (whether it be news sources or advertisers) getting into my head and telling me how to think.

I need to believe that I can think for myself.

Noë, A 2010, ‘Does Thinking Happen in the Brain?’, viewed 27th March 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/12/10/131945848/does-thinking-happen-in-the-brain

Pamoukaghlian, V 2011, ‘Mind Games – Science’s Attempt at Thought Control’, viewed 27th March 2013, http://brainblogger.com/2011/12/28/mind-games-sciences-attempts-at-thought-control/

 

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Blog #1: The consequences of our unquenchable thirst for speed (Week 2)

I found the most interesting aspect of the Murphie reading to be Virilio’s notions on the technologies of speed; that as a society our insatiable need to increase the speed of all aspects of our life is greatly affecting our sense of space. Virilio, in a way, is trying to warn us about the continual creation of more and more complex technologies, because as technology becomes more advanced our chances of losing control of it begin to increase. He states that “we have invented machines whose systems are so fast and so complex that they operate beyond human capacity. We program our own disappearance” (Murphie & Potts 2002, p. 37).

In the 21st century speed is everything. Every year Apple updates their roster of products touting FASTER, THINNER and LIGHTER designs. Always faster. Always thinner. Always more powerful. Because I don’t have the time to wait 20 seconds for my laptop to boot up. It needs to start RIGHT NOW.

Google Search now brings up webpages with each subsequent word you add to the search bar, so you can find what you’re looking for before you even know what it is that you want.

Virilio’s (admittedly dark) take on technology reminds me a lot of chaos theory, a school of thought in the world of mathematics which tries to understand changes and variables in complex systems. Take, for instance, the story of Jurassic Park. The scientists thought they had their creation under control, but as Dr. Ian Malcolm so elegantly puts it: “Life, uh, finds a way.

And with supercomputers like IBM’s Jeopardy-beast ‘Watson’ putting the intellect of some of the world’s smartest people to shame, it becomes easier to understand why academics such as Virilio are apprehensive about modern society’s obsession with speed. We seem to be getting closer and closer to the inevitable robot apocalypse.

Murphie, A and Potts, J (2002), ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology, London: Palgrave: 37-38

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