Friday, May 25, 2007

Ben's Reading Responses

“The Informatics of Higher Education”

Bousquet’s “The Informatics of Higher Education” deals largely with the issue of unregulated/under-regulated “on-demand” labor in higher education institutions.

The whole idea of “on-demand labor”--labor that comes about only when it is needed by a manager--was particularly fascinating to me. I had never before thought of students (more so graduate than undergraduate) as “on-demand” laborers (or of students as laborers at all), but the more I read the more obvious the notion became. What effect would there be on higher education if we began calling students workers, or if students organized and fought for labor rights?

“Women in the Web”

King’s “Women in the Web” is a “workplace narrative,” in which she talks about a variety of subjects pertaining to her “Feminism and Writing Technologies” class.

I found her discussion of the reasons for her renaming her class to be very interesting. Female students were turned off by the title of the course because it contained the word “technology,” a traditionally male or male-dominated field. It isn’t that women do not like technology, or wouldn’t enjoy a tech-based course, it was just that the wording tended to discourage them from enrolling it the class. As I read this, I wondered: what other courses/fields not only in college, but in modern life suffer from this same feature/stereotype, both inside and outside academic circles?

"Prospects for a Materialist Informatics"

In Nakamura’s interview with Harraway, the parts that I found most fascinating had to do with labor and cyberspace.

Haraway talked about the “digital divide,” how certain people/cultures don’t have access to the internet, and that it is seen as “bad.” She argues that this is the wrong way to look at it, though, because these people are then forced to “live in relationship to standards that they don’t and can’t fit” (156). Having become so used to the internet, to having internet access all the time, I was sort of taken aback when I remembered/realized that many people don’t have access to the internet--how hard would it be to live or try to “fit in” in America without the internet?

The other part of the interview I liked was the discussion towards to end about “speedup” in both the workplace and in school, and how to resist it. It was interesting that Haraway’s solution was to “do less,” to resist the “do more” culture we live in, and I wonder if it is possible for one to actually do that today. Also, I think Haraway’s question--“how do we ask our students to read less, write less, think more?”--is a very important one. There has been a de-emphasis on thought in our society--we are conditioned to complete tasks assigned to us by others, not to think up our own tasks, to take our own steps to accomplish our goals. Haraway’s solution--resistance--is a good one, but how could such a major shift in thought take place?

"Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy"

Lately, I have been very involved with the "open source movement," swapping out the pre-installed programs on my Mac laptop with any open source ones I find. I do this because of the benefits such programs offer (benefits Terranova points out, such as the speed with which problems/bugs are fixed), but also because I try to avoid supporting big business as often as possible.

Terranova, however, opened my eyes to the reality behind open source ("The question for Netscape now is how to tame the freeware beast so that profits are secured," [114]). Thinking about the open source sites I have visited, I realized that most are clearly trying to find ways to maximize their profit--no matter how meager it is--whether through small fees for extra features or support, or by requesting donations to keep them running. The most notable recent example of this--of, as Terranova calls it, "incorporation"--would be the Dell/Ubuntu (a Linux OS) partnership.

Through the reading, I have gained a better idea of some of the negative effects of capitalism on the parts of the internet that start out as something great, or, in the case of open source, something that really benefits the collective mind. Is there any way to slow the capitalism train down? Or will big business always be one step ahead, always manage to have enough horsepower, to ensure that it will always be able to incorporate that which it desires?

1 comment:

Matt said...

I really would like to second what Ben has said. Ultimately, the internet as an experiment, will be utilized by the capitalists, much like Che Guevera t-shirts that are made in sweatshops and the replica of Little Red Book sold in China to foreigners. While many social activists are engaging in pioneering new forms of e-activism, the ruling class will eventually find some way to incorporate these techniques to further their economic exploitation of workers and consumers alike.

However, I think that the reality is that obviously the owning class will do whatever they can to co-opt new techniques and this gives us more reason to be innovative to get to the roots of the problem. This also tells us the limitation of hacking and other forms of e-activism and we should take control over our community and challenge the power structure through direct action and physical activities.