Monday, September 22, 2008

Beginning Stages of My Intellectual Autobiography

An issue (and some would say problem) that interests me in the field of media studies greatly examines the nature of technological influences on language and our lives in multiple dimensions, namely the New Media technology discourses that stem from the web and have now become ingrained in everyday language, both online and interpersonally. With the evolution of technology (the internet [and within this sites such as social networks like Facebook and Myspace; and Wikipedia], cell phones, GPS devices, etc.) our interactions and relationships to each other have changed.

Technology has in a way created new words in our vocabulary and new language in our discussions and discourses. For example, one will now say "just Facebook me with the information!" or "I'll just have to Google that later." I am fairly guilty of contributing to this evolution (or perhaps devolution?) of language, just as much I'm sure as we all are.

In my undergraduate work at UCSB I wrote a paper titled The Invention and Evolution of Internet Discourse which focused on reexamining our lives around questions regarding authorship, rhetorics, identity, and our selves. I will be drawing on much of what I said in that paper to define the problem I believe New Media has created in our institution of language, most importantly within the words of "13375p34k" (or "leet speak", short for elite speak) and online chat room abbreviations (LOL, OMG, etc.).

Initially, my professor Dr. Bhaskar Sarkar at UCSB introduced me to many of the theorists, linguists and thinkers who influenced my ideas in the aforementioned paper and in my education in general. I am intrigued by the work of Michel Foucault and his definitions of discourse, namely that it matters not only what is said but also what is not said. Basically, what is left out is just as important as what is being articulated, which is interesting when we think about the space that once existed but has now been omitted in words such as "webpage" or "hyperlink" (formerly two different words in each instance). Not only has a space been omitted, but a new word has thus evolved out of this "mash-up" (the term "mash-up" was also not entirely in such widespread use as it has been recently since the evolution of technology. Music from artists like Girl Talk and websites like Digg rely on the use of new media and technology to create new products and ideas out of preexisting ones, an essential smashing together of ideas).

An online video from Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University Michael Wesch also brings up very interesting points surrounding "the machine" (also called "the apparatus" by other theorists) which can be seen in his video here and was very influential in my undergrad and hopefully now my graduate education.

Ben H. Bagdikin, New Media theorist and author of the book The New Media Monopoly (Massachusetts, Beacon Press, 2004) has the idea of "the machine with its own language" and the average person's relationship to this new language: he points out that many computer users today speak or use the phrase "www" or "dot com" without understanding the actual meanings of these terms. His book was written four years prior to today, and that basic understanding of terms has probably evolved within the average interacting human. However, his points stir reflection in our daily automatic reliance on these media and the effects they have on our language.

He was also one of the first persons to predict the eventual death of printed word and words on paper, which can be seen slightly in the sharp drop of newspaper distribution over the last several years.

Hopefully this reflection will allow to begin the writing of my intellectual autobiography! It was certainly an entertaining exercise.


Princess Leah said...

Garrison Keiler (I know, I know) read a poem on NPR the other day. Either the title or the first line (or both) was 'Windows is shutting down'. Very clever poem about the torturing of language via technology.

Princess Leah said...

Oh, should talk to David some time about the notion of what isn't said. Being British he is a master of not saying things and in hearing what isn't said. Sometimes he has to not say things very loudly for me to hear them...