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February 15, 2007


Mark Sabec

As I was watching this video, I couldn't help but think of the digital divide--the haves and have-nots of the modern world. The video *is* mesmerizing, but it doesn't offer up any solutions or even suggestions for the future. Rather, it is a summary of what has happened on the Internet thus far. Throughout our course, we've talked about the ramifications of copyright, trademark, and 1st Amendment infringements online, but what specific consequences does this digital revolution portend for those who don't use computers? In many ways, people without access to technology face barriers in development by being restricted to working in the natural world, while those with access have a multitude of new options when it comes to creativity. I'm wondering if a video like this could be used to better educate everyday citizens. After all, the world is not comprised only of lawyers, developers, executives, and students. We almost need to find something to educate even the so-called professionals on where Web 2.0 is taking us. So I'm pleased to see a video like this receive so much popularity. I wish more similar videos would pop up on television in the news to at least attempt to bring people closer to a common understanding of where we stand right now and where we're going.

Here is a somewhat amusing video that attempts, however poorly, just what exactly is the digital divide: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Fs0k2WZDLfE

Dana Powers

No doubt. But if the claim is that lots of people don't have computers, then why would they even care about this video. Or any video on youtube?

East Palo Alto was the focus of the "digital divide" debate back in 2000. There has also been a big debate about San Francisco's municipal wifi contract with Earthlink and Google because it, again, does little to address the problem of "why do i care about wifi if i dont even have a computer?" Here are some bits to consider: http://www.andrechan.com/DigitalDivide/

On the other hand, I've been hanging out at the SF public library downtown and there are quite a number of computer terminals that anyone can use. The wait can be long, and time is usually limited, but it is free and available.

And finally, if this is really just a distributional concern, then the other argument digital dividers have to deal with is why we should provide indigent computer access instead of more/better food, shelter and healthcare. The typical response is that government should not spend public monies on projects which only benefit the haves/undivided (i.e., municipal wifi). Instead, if the government decides it wants to spend on computing infrastructure, it should be tailored to address inherent distributional access problems. But extending this logic to private projects is a stretch.

Elizabeth Audrey

Prof. Michael Wesch’s profound and captivating video proclaims the massive paradigm shift that characterizes this digital age in which we live. The technologically generated music playing in the background of the video enhances the effect of the visual imagery and brings home its point that technology has infused all aspects of our lives. In fact, the fast pace of the film sequencing highlights one of the greatest advantages of technology – the speed with which it allows us to communicate and perform various tasks. Near the end of his short film, Wesch emphatically asserts that we’ll need to rethink authorship, aesthetics, copyright, identity, governance, ethics, privacy, love – and ourselves. Undoubtedly, technological innovations constantly question and challenge our understandings of these categories, and this course has been particularly concerned with how the notions of copyright, authorship, and privacy are shifted and transformed in cyberspace.

Many aspects of the video suggest that technology has positively impacted society. Text appearing before the screen declares that “Web 2.0 is linking people,” which conveys the sense that the Internet is forging communities and enabling social interactions. Nevertheless, the title of the video led me to question my initially optimistic impression about the impact of technology. Wesch names his cinematic work “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us.” This ambiguous title suggests two meanings: it equates people with machines, and at the same time, insinuates that machines exploit people. Certainly, our lives have become enmeshed in computer bits, defined by and inseparable from technology. But what does it mean to say that the Machine is using us? References to the “Machine” emerge several times in the film itself. For instance, the viewer sees the text, “we are teaching the Machine … Each time we forge a link… we teach it an idea.” These references to the computer – the Machine – imply that it is imbued with life. Rather than simply following the order of the code, the Machine has the ability to learn. Is the Machine using us to gain information from which to learn? When Wesch says “The Machine is Us,” to what is he referring? Is the tone of the video positive or negative with regard to the digital age? Does Wesch embrace the possibilities of technology or warn about its plausible ramifications for society in altering our categorical framework?

There is yet another aspect of the film that puzzles me. The viewer is confronted by the typed statement, “In other words, form and content became inseparable in HTML.” Then, shortly thereafter, Wesch offers that, “Digital text can do better. Form and content can be separated.” What is the distinction between HTML and digital text?

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