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Crossing the Digital Divide

In Crossing the Digital Divide, Barbara Jean Monroe discusses how the digital divide might be narrowed. I read the section, Storytime on the Reservation” that discussed how children all created narratives differently, and told different stories. I found myself questioning a few different aspects of this narrative study. Even though the town in question was described as largely inhabited by minorities, Monroe seems to imply that each family is on equal playing fields financially and in terms of social and political power. As a result, Monroe attributes any defining characteristics in the narrative to the ethnic background of the student. Granted, she discusses how the narratives can provide insight into the social epistemology of each student and their family. And I could see how this is logically gained, but without more compelling statistics to support her claims, Monroe just seems to be making generalizations about an ethnic group. On a larger scale, Monroe seems to generalize that the minorities in this community represent the minorities across the nation. The community, in its diversity and geographic location make it unique in itself. It is probably not the best place to create a sampling of epistemologies that represent all.

From our class discussion, I got to thinking more about the metaphor for the digital divide. I still like my idea of a pizza as a metaphor. Allow me to reexplain it for this blog. The pizza, divided into slices, is a supreme pizza, Now on most supreme pizzas, the toppings are not evenly distributed, and land differently on each slice. If each slice of pizza represents a group of people and the toppings represent various technologies, then the pizza can represent technology distribution throughout the world. Now even though one topping (technology) is not necessarily superior to another, people still have strong opinions of the best toppings. These toppings make certain slices seem more valuable, and make the slices wih few or none of these topping seem inferior. The response might be to look down on these “inferior topping” slices (probably mostly olives and onions) or to try to force the dominant toppings on a slice even if the persons who represent the slice do not want the extra toppings or don’t know what to do with them.

So that’s my metaphor. It’s no rainbow, but I think it works well. I have been thinking more about the idea of a “digital divide” as a metaphor. Isn’t that metaphor already flawed since it champions digital technologies? Even though scholars try to use this metaphor to point out the inequality in technology access, the metaphor itself undersells all technologies that are not digital. Even though it isn’t as catchy, I wonder if something like “Technology access disparity” would be a better term. It seems less colonizing than the digital divide metaphor. Furthermore, we can move away from the notion of needing to bridge or close the digital divide. To do so I think would mean to many that everyone uses the digital technologies. It doesn’t account for those who do not see a use for these technologies and want to adhere to their own cultural practices. Unless digital technologies can be made localized into useful spaces for the communities receiving them, they will only Westernize other cultures. But addressing technology access disparity is almost like making sure a river flows everywhere. Just because the river is there does not mean that the people living near it have to swim, fish, or canoe in the river. But if they want to, they can. It is available for when they decide that it can be beneficial within their own culture IF it ever is beneficial.

December 5, 2009 Posted by | Eng 467 | Leave a comment

Mouse pad rhetoric

For the Papa Johns customer appreciation day, I was given a free mouse pad. The images on the mouse pad suggest a very specific identity for the company. First of all, the dominant colors on the mouse pad are red and yellow. As we discussed earlier in the year, these are food colors. Even more specific, I would say that they are pizza colors. The color choices are interesting since the Papa Johns logo is green, red, and white, so the dominant scheme doesn’t match the company identifiers. I think that this was necessary to tie Papa Johns to hunger since there is not a pizza image on the mouse pad.Without the image of the food being sold, color was a good way to make customers think about the product at a glance without read the mouse pad text. Though the text is mainly contact information and a phrase that says “Just a click of the mouse, Papa’s in the house.”

The text noted brings me to the second major theme of the mouse pad: a trendy attitude towards Papa Johns pizza. The text provided tries to be hip, possible appealing to a younger crowd. A deliver vehicle is shown for the company, though rather than the standard delivery vehicle, it is a yellow Z28. Yellow again for an association with hunger, and a cool vehicle to make the image of the company cool by proxy. The founder of Papa Johns is imposed in close proximity to the car, red shirt (food) and smiles outward, his gaze towards the audience. The association here is strong. The vehicle will bring Papa Johns pizza to your home, and yet through the gaze of Papa John, he is already in your home. He is a good person to have in your home, he is associated with hunger and his car makes him seem cool. But furthermore, it seems to suggest that he is down-to-earth and will be delivering the pizza due to his proximity.

The mouse pad effectively molds the company into a place that can cure hunger, is cool and trendy, but familiar and close to its roots. Not bad for a mouse pad!

November 25, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Sarah Palin rhetoric

There was a recent controversy over a cover for Newsweek magazine where Sarah Palin was featured in tight running clothes and has a flag draped limply from her arm. The headline reads, ” How do you solve a problem like Sarah? She’s bad news for the GOP and for everyone else.” Palin argues that this cover is sexist. The photo was originally featured in Runners World magazine as a part of their runner of the month expose. So is the photo sexist?It has not been photoshopped that we know of, so Newsweek argues argues that they just chose the photo because it was interesting. I think it  is arguably sexist, but it could also arguably be the same spirit of blasting a political figure with a photo out of context.

The photo is framed under a different context from Runner’s World. Rather than a fitting headline likely showing Palin’s example of good fitness practices, Newsweek has a headline critiquing Palin’s competence as a politician. With this framing, the photo does make Palin appear to only be a pretty face. She is posed with her hands on her hips in a provocative manner, her shirt is red (arguably a passion color) and if form fitting. Though runners frequently wear form fitting clothing, with the headline provided and the American flag on her arm, Palin appears as an irresponsible politician. She is not shown in an office, but a room with a view. This makes her appear to be at a vacation place rather than in a place of business.

I am especiall interested in the flag. Rather than hanging, the fact that she is holding it makes her seem irresponsible. Holding a flag or draping it over her person seems to carry a rhetoric of entitlement. The only ones I can think of that wear the flag are Olympic medalists or deceased soldiers in their coffins.

I would say that the picture does preposition Palin rhetorically before the audience has the chance to read the article that discusses her negative effects on the GOP and politics. The photo would likely strengthen the article because even if readers knew nothing about Palin, they would still likely begin the article with a lower opinion of her.

Funny, because this picture did not make any big buzz when it was in Runners World, but here the context is purposely upset. If it isn’t sexist, then at the very least it is definitely misleading.

November 25, 2009 Posted by | 1, Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Chapter 9 Postmodernism, Indie Media, and Popular Culture

I have been thinking a lot about how parody as a postmodern tactic can cause audiences to take a critical look at some of the readily accepted norms and mores presented to them. My initial reaction in thinking about parody is that it may have outgrown its original purpose. Perhaps parody is such a common occurrence that its potency is diminished and rather than seeing the parody for the issue presented, it is instead seen as a venue for comedy rather than informative comedy.

I think there could be some ground to this. For example, I doubt that many people watch the Colbert Report to gain actually useful insights into the political world. Colbert (though very funny) promotes such a strong character that parodies a right-wing pundit, that the valuse in watching seems to be seeing him be overtly ridiculous. But the more I got to thinking about it (and in doing some reading for my 467 class) we take lessons from parody in more places that political news shows. South Park went through a huge revamp after season 4, moving plot line focus from Kenny dieing in every episode to the protagonists engaging current social and political issues. Their heavy parodying of issues such as scientology and the aftermath of the Obama/McCain election enable audiences to look at issues in a reframed context. I suppose that that is important too in parody, that what is presented isn’t a single counterpoint, but rather a single one that can be shown. Either way, I think that post-modern attitude that parody tries to convey is creating an informed and questioning audience member.

I also thought hyperreality was kind of interesting because I didn’t realize that I too would more readily accept something as reality if it is presented with amateurish reporting and camera motion. I think though that even if we could assume that what we were seeing was “real,” what is being shown would still be subjective to the bias of the videographer and the reporter who frame the event through their words, tone, and portrayal of the event taking place. I am reminded of a report of Bush telling a foreign leader that God wanted him to fight the war in Iraq. A photo was provided of Bush cupping his ear and looking into space. The report framed Bush as insane, when they could have framed him completely different. I do not recall which leader Bush spoke to, but in some cultures, it is customary to fight a battle as a part of God’s work or at the behest of God. Bush could merely have been appealing to that leader and their culture. The photo was also likely placed out of context and supported the illusion that the reporter wanted to impress upon the audience.

November 18, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Convergence Culture

In Convergence Cultures, Henry Jenkins discusses how old and new medias are interacting and finding new use within our culture. As new and old medias mix and groups find new uses for these medias, it is only natural that culture will be affected as well. Jenkins discusses examples of this in his book.

 

I thought that Jenkins had some good ideas about the future of transmedia story-telling using the Matrix. No I won’t babble on in this blog about the Matrix, mainly because I believe that this film and its corresponding media are not the first in new media to present a transmedia narrative. Jenkins pointed out of course that transmedia narration or storytelling is not a new concept as stories such as the Odyssey have been told and retold through print, but also stained-glass windows, tapestries, and paintings. But if we are going to give a new media credit for being the main trunk off of which the branches of transmedia have grown, I think that videogames are another example worth considering. Video games represent Jenkins’ idea of growing a world for a narrative to take place. Consider Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VII shares roots in previous Final Fantasy games not because it uses the same protagonists and antagonists or has the same geographic world, but because it builds on previous traditions and knowledge established by games in the franchise. For example, people who play the Final Fantasy games know that the crystal or crystals (when there are multiple there are four) are sources of life, the behemoth is a strong monster, and if you have less than 1,000 hit point, you should avoid Cactaurs. But with even less subtlety, Final Fantasy VII has grown its world again and again. Final Fantasy VII has spawned three additional video games, not necessarily sequels or prequels, an anime, books, a full length CGI movie, and other forms which have built the world. I think that video games are different in comparison to films such as the Matrix or Star Wars in that the core of the franchise or world built, Final Fantasy VII, requires characters to traverse the world completely before completing the game. Before finishing the game every nook and cranny designed into the game will likely be explored, every NPC of the world will be spoken to multiple times, and every antagonist will have been given a thorough thrashing. So while a film may start with a small in-depth look at a geographic are of a world and then build to a look at the larger world, a video game may begin with a look at the larger world and then use the idea of a transmedia to grow the world into a deeper more layered place by looking at specific locations and cultures.

I really enjoy the idea of transmedia, but do offer some criticism for critics like Roger Ebert who said that persons such as “Johnny Popcorn” will not care to engage in such a fragmented experience. I say that Ebert should consider that most of the main trunks of these medias can be enjoyed without understanding all of the branches that hang off of it. A transmedia experience does give audiences who want a more in-depth experience an opportunity to explore and understand that world on their own terms. It is a choice, not a necessity.

 

Postmodernism seems to be at the hear of use for converging medias, at least in the ways in which consumers assign meaning to the finished product. When Jenkins was talking about spinning, I couldn’t help but think of framing. In the Bush/Kerry debate where Bush has the infamous outburst, one media was used to frame another media. Even if it was a television media framing the television produced clip, extra meaning was added with the framing. To some, Bush showed his passion for an issue and that as president he would do what he believed rather than be bullied and hindered by rules. Others believed he showed impatience and a temper by ignoring these rules. Either way, the framing added altered the depiction of what was shown. Would Jenkins consider medias to be converging or spinning taking place when he discussed Jon Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire? In reflecting on that passage, I remembered seeing that exact incident. I read carefully in anticipation in seeing how Jenkins used his agency as a published author with his own book to frame the event. He described it truthfully as I remember it, but this left me with something else. Had Jenkins framed the incident in any sort of biased way, he would have lost that agency with me, and the rest of his book (granted that would only leave the conclusion) would have been viewed under an eye of extreme scrutiny. It kind of brings to light that the use of these technologies to form communities and make a difference can be done across new medias without a great deal of agency, but if not done correctly, agency will be lost, and the audience along with it.

November 18, 2009 Posted by | Eng 467 | Leave a comment

Digitizing Race and the Matrix

In Digitizing Race, Lisa Nakamura begins by discussing the ways in which visual culture studies have evolved to include a variety of disciplines, yet fail to include important emerging fields such as social networking online, the rhetoric of these online social spaces, and race and gender within digital culture. Nakamura uses examples of instant messaging, surveys, Web sites, and modern film as examples for critique of visual culture.

As I was with the other reading, I was pleased with Nakamura’s discussion of race using the Matrix trilogy and Minority Report as artifacts on which to base the discussion. Her use of the films showed that representation of race in the films can serve as a mirror reflection or allegory to the problems faced in our own society. Nakamura did a good job of showing how whiteness is interpreted within the futuristic society that the Matrix is set in. I had a few thoughts of my own when thinking about Nakamura’s critique. Nakamura points out that whiteness is embedded in the construct of power in the matrix, referring to the matrix itself, as well as the machine city, while Zion, the last free city of humans is largely represented by minority groups.

In thinking about this, it seems that the movie trilogy shows whiteness as being a construct of technology. With a few key exceptions, all white persons in the movie have a strong dependence on technology. Most of the white persons seen in the movie are still connected to the matrix and thus highly dependent on the system to maintain their current reality, as well as the health of their dormant bodies. But as Nakamura shows, all of those who oppress in the movie are white, including the agents and the architect. Whiteness can therefore be characterized by a strong dependency on technology to separate itself from other groups, as well as a strong need or desire to control. All who are white within the matrix have amassed a vast amount of power, whether intentional and maliciously, or through happenstance and for good reason. Programs not controlled by the matrix such as the Merovingian, ghosts, and werewolves have large amounts of political, social, and political power within the realm of the matrix. Despite the diversity of their classification, they are all white and exhibit the characteristics of whiteness. Each of the programs, being programs, is dependent of the technology to maintain themselves, but also seek to control others around them by coercion or force. Even Neo, while he can be classified as multiracial, draws all of his prestige and power from his ability to control the machines and programs around him. He relies on the “white method” of securing power. He is able to do this well, but does not have ultimate control over the matrix. If there is a link between technology and whiteness? Is Neo denied full control because of his multiracialism?

I will correct Nakamura on one point she made. She draws a sharp contrast to Link, an operator on the Neo’s ship and the woman in white at the computer console in Zion. “While it has been a familiar trope for cyberpunk narratives to deploy pastiches of historical and sartorial styles to depict an unevenly developed and dystopic technological future, this scene superimposes the two contrastingly racialized visual styles of the interface to invoke the crucial difference in this film: that between white culture and black culture” (Nakamura 99).  I don’t think that this serves as a critique of race in the movie since a few things are being overlooked. For example, there is a black person in the exact screen shot shown, thus that privileged place of technology is not exclusively reserved for those who are white. However, this space also exists within the construct, a small human controlled area within the matrix. The person in white is unlikely actually clothed in such fine garments, but rather is showing a residual image of her self. But Nakamura’s comment does call into question the rhetoric of the space. The construct, much like the room where Neo meets the Architect, is completely white. The construct, as a part of the Matrix, is a piece of the subjugating technology that is under the control of the white people in power. However, the residents of Zion are able to control this technology as well. But why do we not see a change to the physical appearance of the construct? Is the construct, representing so-called higher technology unable to be assimilated by the people of Zion?  Or, is it fair to say that much like when Agent Smith tries to forcefully clone himself onto minority figures such as Neo and Morpheus, the people in the construct are able to exist alongside of the technology without changing it to match their own culture?

Nakamura quotes Herman Gray as noting that “Marginalized and subordinated communities have creatively transformed and used popular cultural artifacts such as music, costumes, parades, traditions, and festivals to transgress their particular locations, to express their visions, and invent themselves” (185). If the construct is representative of the Internet, then perhaps it has already been designated as a place devoid of any identity, like the construct. In this way, even though minorities are able to engage the Internet, they are still unable to make the technology their own. It is still too closely associated with whiteness.

The rejection of forceful assimilation by the non-white characters is a good demonstration of Nakamura’s suggestion that the non-white characters in the film, specifically black characters, contain a “mojo” that is intended to be appealing to audiences as a trait that makes the humans human, and thus cannot be overwritten. It is this mojo that sets human characters apart from the computer characters. The construct and the space where the Architect resides are devoid of any such mojo, perhaps a critique on white culture. In a sense, it is only the non-white characters who are truly human, while all others devoid of culture and content with their assimilation under white culture, which is actually depicted as being devoid of any culture at all.

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Eng 467 | Leave a comment

Modules in video games

I tried to sit down and think about video games and how modules affect them. Immediately I came up with the pixel, which makes up everything we see in video games, from the text to the characters. Each pixel is a module. This was more apparent in the earlier days of video games. While we could go as far back as Pong, I like to think of the original Mario Bros. game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The image of Mario as composed by these pixels has actually become relatively well-known. In fact, most video gamers would recognize the pixellated Mario on the same level as they would the Mario in the newest Mario games. Really, these pixels end up representing not only Mario, but nostalgia, a classic, and history in video games.
Another well-known game that revolves around modules is Sim City for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The game revolves around city planning, specifying zones as residential, commercial, and industrial, and helping them flourish. Each zone makes up a module, but is composed of nine modules (not counting the pixels making up the picture). The modules, when grown can fuse together to make a greater module with larger population and economic capacities. It is essential to understand how each module affects one another to make a successful city. For example, a residential module right next to an industrial zone will not be able to fuse together and maximize the limited space for building, and will also cause citizens to complain about pollution.

Eight modules placed together in a ring are referred to as a donut. Donuts are seen as individual modules as well since the even number allows for maximum growth potential if similar zones are placed. And the empty module in the middle can be occupied with a fire or police department, to protect the modules circling it from crime and fire.

It is a game made up of modules and about modules!

November 9, 2009 Posted by | 1, Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Weather channel

I was watching the weather channel the other day (because I apparently have that kind of time) and noticed how the image presented incorporated a lot of the design elements that we have discusses lately. Watching the storm tracker, the entire screen is framed by my TV set. Within that frame is another frame which contains a box to show the area of the world we are viewing. The image shown uses color to represent the type to geographic landscape. For example, green is used for forested or relatively flat terrain, while brown us used for mountainous terrain. Layers have a strong presence here. The bottom most layer would be a map of the United States and the ocean. Super imposed over that is a layer showing topography and lines dividing up the individual states. Imposed over this layer is the images of storms and their movements. My showing all of these layers, we can see how the terrain is affecting the movement of the storms as they accumulate, disperse, and traverse the country.

 

Even when the map zooms out and shows the globe, a grid divides the map and the storm systems by latitude and longitude. Withing each section of the grid is essentially a module, so we can measure the speed and size of a storm system. It is easier to measure by module or at least to comprehend rather than do it by sight in a close up view. Over the ocean this would be particularly difficult to do since it is all blue and does not have any specific topographic identifiers except for lighter shades of blue near the land. Working together, this mixture or layers, colors, grids, and modules is able to help us understand the weather. I guess this is a good example of data layers and how much they can show without the audience having to heavily think about it.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Figure/ground, framing, and grids

For this reading, I will focus on framing and will also jump back a little bit to hierarchy as it relates to framing. If we think of Web interfaces as a type of frame, than we have another dynamic to consider when designing for the Web. The Web has changed the way we must think of framing. Where print publications have their most rudimentary frame in the page itself (granted the page is framed on more than one way) the Web complicates the way that information is framed. Designers cannot guarantee that all of their audience will be working with a certain sized monitor, which frames the page. Even if the page was viewed on the same sized monitor, the audience have the option to scroll, essentially reframing the information shown. The reframing has hierarchy to it. Viewers expect that the designer put the most important information within the frame that will be viewed first.

 

The way that the audience views the page will be different as well. While the traditional z pattern reading will still be employed, audiences on the Web typically scan the page in general, looking for a link or a headline that seems interesting or important. It is less likely that the readers will read everything on a page than it would be on a print document. Headlines and good labels to establish hierarchy and modules of information will be of utmost importance to increase the readability of a Web site. But headlines and labels also a form of framing too. In Graphic Design several methods of combining image and text are shown, each ending with a different framing of the image. But what about bodies of text? Can words not also frame text? True, the GD says that an image on its own is open to interpretation, but can words also be open to interpretation? Wouldn’t a picture also serve as framing for another picture? If I displayed two images of Hiroshima, the day before the bomb was dropped and the day after, wouldn’t I be framing the context of each picture? Something to consider.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Grids, layers, hierarchy, transparency, modularity, patterns

I think that this reading illustrated how many elements of design can be broken down into these exact elements. I know that I could not think of one single publication produced at University Marketing and Communications that did not have several, if not all of these elements as building blocks that resulted in a final product. For example, most projects are completed in InDesign with work in Photoshop as well. Each of these programs utilizes grids for layout and making changes. Often, the grids are turned off, but even in InDesign, the element of the grid is still there in the form of guides at the top and bottom of the page. The document is laid out in modules, specified within the grid. Boxes are created for text and images, so that items can be moved as one unit if the structure of the document needs to be reevaluated or new material is provided. Transparency and patterns can be used as imagery to contribute to the identity of the piece. For example, on the viewbook, the University seal is prominent on the front but is transparent in contrast to the text that is placed above it. Hierarchy takes many forms in each of the publications. In the transparency example placed above, the transparency of the seal may suggest that the text which is over it is the first thing viewed, and it might be, but the size of the seal, though transparent, identifies the publication as an Illinois State publication. Kind of a changing hierarchy at play. The size of the text is an obvious way to establish hierarchy. Major headlines might be large, and sub categories within that headline might be smaller than the main headline but larger than the body text. Bolding an item might suggest that it is of more importance in a document. I suppose in conclusion my point is that each of the principles/elements are present in document design, whether is something we create in Word, InDesign, or write with a pen.

 

Now that I said pen, let me give a coupe of examples of the above elements. If it is a letter on loose leaf paper, the lines are a grid of sorts, but also serve as individual modules. Also, indenting for a paragraph can mark modules. The page has a specific hierarchy too. Users know that in the Western world that they are using a Z scan on the page, and will begin and end where the Dear XXXXX, and Sincerely XXXXX are respectively.

Understanding that these principles permeate all design allow us to consider the audience more and make responsible design decisions.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment