Hegemony is designed into objects
- The object is discursive.
- Designers must engage semiosis.
- Ideologies hide in tech writing.
- *The UX* is *the sales pitch*.
- Hypertext is no escape.
Consider how a device or program carries or even enforces a hegemony or ideology. The object is discursive. It makes an argument, it makes a claim, it is grounded in particular warrants. The ideology is encoded in the object, which makes the values designed into the object invisible but decipherable. Feenberg calls this the technical code – cultural hegemony design into the object.
We can see how these values get encoded if we take a design perspective. Your design brief is to Devise a new application to, say, navigate through an airport. The brief itself encodes the values implied in the design: a traveller, in a new space, who needs or wants independent assistance in moving through it. Why does one need this? To move safely? Quickly? Unthinkingly? through. The user has a smartphone, carries it, uses it. Is this an appeal to convenience? That’s telling. An appeal to efficiency? Telling again.
Now consider an alternative brief: an app to navigate through Tehran. Or one to help explore the Notting Hill-Maida Vale-Paddington districts of London. Or rather than an app, consider that the design brief calls for a 16 page booklet – with local advertising designed into “appropriate” pages. The appeals to convenience and efficiency are now more openly at the call of commerce.
With each shift, the values change, the ideology shifts. The object makes a different claim, grounded in different warrants.
One manner with which to approach such questions is through Andrew Feenberg’s concept of “technical code” that he describes as the “background of unexamined cultural assumptions literally designed into the technology itself.” This background of assumptions is a crucial mix of values, ideas, concepts and cultural norms that are essentially part of the technology itself both in terms of material form and application. A given piece of technology, such as a Palm Pilot, for instance, is thus more than a handy new tool but rather a discursive and ideological object that speaks to the cultural, economic and political voices that went into its creation. What does the Palm Pilot “say”? For one it is a testimony to the changing nature and experience of space and time in the twenty-first century where the boundaries between work and leisure time have blurred into one constantly connected present. Second, it speaks also of the dominant values of our postmodern, post-industrial information society where mobility, access, media convergence, information and time management are paramount for a socially and economically successful life. Accordingly, the Palm Pilot and a host of other technologies effectively confirm the values and mind-sets of the dominant social order, which in the case of most Western societies can be represented by global capitalism. For Feenberg, this means that the technical code can be linked to what is known as the hegemonic forces within a society, which is another way of describing these dominant values that determine, often “invisibly,” how we live out our day-to-day lives.
The UX is never neutral. It rarely (never?) places the agency of the user’s needs and desires at the center of attention. The UX defines the user’s needs in its own terms: the command to consume.
Capitalist social and technical requirements are thus condensed in a “technological rationality” or a “regime of truth” which brings the construction and interpretation of technical systems into conformity with the requirements of a system of domination. I will call this phenomenon the social code of technology or, more briefly, the technical code of capitalism. Capitalist hegemony, on this account, is an effect of its code.
technical code and hegemony
To some, Feenberg may seem to be overstating his case, especially through the use of such loaded terms as “conformity” and “domination.” Most of us, I think, would balk at the notion that we are controlled by our technologies or that we are all just pawns in a world ruled by evil capitalists. However, it is important to consider how Feenberg is using such terms and also how concepts such as “power” and “capitalism” are being framed within his argument. Similar to another philosopher, Michael Foucault, concepts such as power, capitalism, conformity and domination are not necessarily being employed as negative terms but rather as descriptive indicators of how the world works. Consider, for example, the concept of “power”as used to describe human relationships. To a large degree the manner in which we define and understand our relationships with one another is based on a balance of power: a mother has power over her child in a manner that she can control the child’s circumstances in order to make sure that the child avoids injury, learns important skills and so forth. One could describe teacher-student or doctor-patient relationships on a similar basis. Even a simple friendship is structured by power relationships in which one friend may take on certain “roles” that grant him a measure of “authority” over activities and exchanges. In terms of technology, similar mechanisms are at work insomuch that “social purposes are ’embodied’ in the technology” and are, thus, more than just the practical results of a neutral tool:
The embodiment of specific purposes is achieved through the “fit” of the technology and its social environment. The technical ideas combined in the technology are neutral, but the study of any specific technology can trace in it the impress of a mesh of social determinations which preconstruct a whole domain of social activity aimed at definite social goals.
Hypertext doesn’t (can’t) escape encoding. That’s clear to see (from today’s distance) in The Englebart Demo of NLS (youtube). A commercial hegemony is encoded into the NLS from the beginning.
What then are the technical codes of hypertext and more specifically what does the history of hypertext tell us about the meaning and potential direction of such codes? Think back to the topics covered in this chapter’s brief historical overview:
- The oral/literate distinction and the manner in which hypertext is often linked to certain characteristics of the oral tradition as well as compared to the revolutionary impact of the first printing press.
- The tendency to situate the creative use of hypertext within the experimental traditions of modem and postmodem literature.
- Vannevar Bush and the memex.
- The visions of pioneers such as Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart and Andries van Dam.
- Equally pioneering applications such as Intermedia, Storyspace, HyperCard and Mosaic.
- The use of hypertext by publishers, educators and creative writers and how such individuals describe and characterize such use.
In the first case hypertext as a technology is often linked to a particular historical trajectory that for the most part is progressive in nature. In other words, hypertext represents an important evolutionary development that is not only more appropriate for current conditions but also represents a marked improvement over previous technologies and practices….
Hypertext cannot be the revolutionary mode we want to cast it as. The augmentation of human intellect is still focused on a hegemony of commerce that defeats itself. It’s a bootstrap.
Kitzmann, Hypertext Handbook, p 26-28. Also in Slate.
- Collaborative Literary Creation and Control – – (hypertext collaboration copyright )
- The Impact of Computer Usage on Academic Performance: Evidence from a Randomized Trial at the United States Military Academy – Disclaimer: The study did not look at students using computers as party of the class. It looked at their presence w/o instruction or direction from instructors. "Average final exam scores among students assigned to classrooms that allowed computers were 18 percent of a standard deviation lower than exam scores of students in classrooms that prohibited computers. Through the use of two separate treatment arms, we uncover evidence that this negative effect occurs in classrooms where laptops and tablets are permitted without restriction and in classrooms where students are only permitted to use tablets that must remain flat on the desk surface." – (classroompractice )
- We Have Personalization Backwards – "But the biggest advantage of a tutor is not that they personalize the task, it’s that they personalize the explanation. " – (de automated_learning )
- Authoring, Audience, Authority: Lessons from Student Contributions to the DRC Wiki – Interesting to see that urbane students have the same issues with wikis and DH concepts as the more parochial students I work with. But why o why ask students to follow wikipedia guidelines of NPOV? Why recreate wikipedia? Write wiki entries from local interests for local interests. – (dh wikis collaborativewriting digital_pedagogy )
- Wiki Wednesday: Revising, Drafting, and Editing with Wikis – Too little has changed in the last five years. – (dh wikis collaborativewriting )
- The Secret History of Hypertext – The Atlantic – History has left out some figures? Who would have expected. The Atlantic is only rediscovering these historical figures of hypertext because the scholars have published books for The Atlantic. – (hypertext historiography webdesign links linking ontology )
- [toread] “Illegible” David Carson cannot *not* communicate (Joe Clark) – – (design typography breaking_the_book )
- Storyspace 3: index to articles – The Eclectic Light Company – Story space is back, and so are tutorials and notes. – (DH Storyspace tinderbox hypertext en3177 )
- The Labyrinth Unbound: Weblogs as Literature, Himmer – – (en3177 blogging )
- E-Portfolios Are Not the Fitbit of Higher Education – I'm forever dubious of e-portfolios, esp as they tend to be forever trumpeted by those who don't use them. Students: get your own domain, keep a blog and a wiki, set your own terms. "e-portfolios come to represent the Fitbits of higher education, then we will have utterly failed our students." – (efolios assessment corporateculture corporatecrawl )
First, a synopsis. Keeping links separate from the content has been a long-standing idea but rarely practiced on the web. As the web came into being, we started to add links to content in such a way that understanding the content becomes dependent on following the links. This is signaled by how we tend to embed links into the syntactic flow of sentences. So in my opening statement, I signal two directions for understanding by linking the phrase latest post about FedWiki. First, you can read on without reading Mike’s post and (probably) will be able to follow what’s coming next. But the link also signals that you’ll want to refer to the post I linked to if you really want to understand what I’m going on about.
Technically, the link is a deixis. It points to something not present that is necessary to complete the meaning or to extend the meaning. In this case, it points to something I don’t own. It’s Mike’s blog post, and it’s worth reading. The issue at hand is how I have embedded it into my own content.
This is the way we have learned to link, the way we have taught people how to link. “Embed those links, gang. Make them follow the sentence, but also write so that readers do not have to follow the links to understand you.” I’ll leave it to you to search for the web writing advice on linking, both hackneyed and sophisticated.
Wrong. As Pound wrote, “Wrong from the start – No, hardly, but, … ” (Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, if you’re interested.)
Mike reminds us, by re-considering Bush and Englebart and Nelson, that we can re-think this idea of linking in the text.
[L]inks as imagined by the heirs of Bush — Engelbart, Nelson, Van Dam — formed a layer of annotation on documents that were by and large a separate entity.
Links as conceived by Bush are separate from the document: annotations, trails, value added, paratextual … By being links, they specify that they lead to other material outside the immediate text, not material that is integral to the text we’re reading. That’s what the link means: this is an annotation, a supplement to what I am offering here.
This doesn’t necessarily make links merely suppplemental. There’s no merely about it – any more than the paratexts of novels or articles are merely extra. But it does place links on an independent layer. I want to explore this idea of independent in more detail some other time, but for now I’ll say that the document can circulate without the links an still be understood. The links add but the document doesn’t depend on them. By the same token, the links can circulate on their own and, very likely, mean something, if not the same thing as they do when circulated with the document. Paratexts.
For all the wonder behind the embedded link as links to sources, as Mike points out, the link doesn’t point to anything the author doesn’t already know. So, while the writer might point to a source, we’re still confined, even in the linked text, to what the author knows rather than bringing in something the author was unaware of, or something the author just doesn’t want to mention.
So you can link your history of the Polaroid ID-2 camera up to suit the engineering people, or to suit the history of corporate boycotts people, but you can’t set it up the links serve both without overlinking the crap out of it.
Upshot: For all the breadth the web and hypertext promises, it is still limited by single authors getting their stuff out there as their single perspective. To develop multiple perspectives in a single documenbt using links to other content would overload the text and send Carr into even more neuro-cognitive apoplexy. For the rest of us, it would just be really really hard to read. (That reference to Carr is an old-fashioned link: an allusion. It serves a rhetorical function in my post, arguing that what I’m talking about is not what Carr is talking about.)
The thing is, we’re not talking about just links here. It’s about the entire system of which the link is only one element.
To recap, even with links, the document will present “only one valid set of relationships, inscribed by the author.” Ok, so now we get to the core:
Federated wiki deals with this issue by keeping links within the document but letting every person have as many copies of that document as they like, with whatever links they want on each. It’s a simple solution but in practice it works quite well.
Think about that a moment. It means one person can fork and consequently work with three or four or howevermany versions of a document. There may be little point in keeping exact copies (but who knows). There may be a big point in keeping an original (as in the sense of the first version to be distributed). But it’s the other versions that make things happen.
I’m not talking extreme differences so much as potential versions of a document that can still be identified as that document.Mike’s version with his annotations. Ward’s version with some of his annotations. My version with some of Mike’s annotations and some of Ward’s, and some of my own. I don’t actually need to maintain three copies. The fedwiki does that. I fork Ward’s or Mike’s version to my fedwiki and adds what I want, move paragraphs around, add other stuff to create my own version. If I need to, I can see who added what. If the new version is going to depart too far from the one in circulation, I start a new document.
Here’s how it might look, and is starting to look:
In the newer style, content is kept fairly short, and fairly link-less. But at the bottom of the articles we annotate by linking to other content with short explanations of each link. … People seeing your links can choose accept or reject them. Good and useful connections can propagate along with the page…. as federated wiki pages move through a system they are improved, and that’s true. But the more common scenario is that as they move through a system they are connected.
As Mike suggests, it’s the federation that makes this style of linking valuable, with links accruing as the article circulates through the neighborhood. The design of the fedwiki page facilitates accrual. Each paragraph is a dragable object, which lets writers create an annotated link that can be placed into the stream of an article at any point. A few fedwiki style guide suggestions also help. Links to external content are created using single brackets, and the fedwiki style guide suggests these links designate the kind of content being linked to (blog, video, academic article). Links to existing fedwiki pages are created with double brackets and the exiting page can be forked to the user’s fedwiki. If the writer changes a page, the page is forked by the system so that a writer starts with a copy – her own copy – that is still connected to the other copies in circulation by way of the flags in the upper left hand corner of the page.
What we develop is a neighborhood.
Fedwiki starts look like a new genre, differentiated from other online text genres such as blogs, listservs, sms exchanges – and the more traditional wiki. The orignal wikis asks visitors to contribute to the common document. Fedwiki asks users to fork what they will and create a variation for their own purposes, as well as contribute to the neighborhood. This also means that using fedwiki involves a different set of social negotiations than traditional wikis. That is the subject for another time.
Fedwiki becomes a genre that operates not using multiple authors to create a common document but a chorus of voices each creating a version. Fedwiki starts to look like the place where those authors do their work.
Chorus stems from chora, and chora [khôra] is a potent term in my field of rhetoric, meaning, variously, the discovery of ideas, the space outside the walls of the city where ideas are born, or as a place of “emerging possibility”. Wikipedia will probably tell you all you want to hear. But if you want the most recent hubbub, try a paper by Michael Souders, “Khôra, invention, deconstruction and the space of complete surprise” [PDF].
- Almost There … Virtually Connecting | Enhancing the virtual event experience – Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue and a host of others are experimenting with google Hangouts at conferences as a way of connecting the stay-at-homes with the conference attendees. Unscripted, w/o a net. – (DH a&e Hangouts DE )
- Wikifying Annotations – Mike imagines a world where notes and annotations are wikified and hence shareable in Pinboard. How about a link in the Pinboard note to a FedWiki page? Does that work? (http://sfw.mcmorgan.org) Gimme my memex! If we can't have flying cars, least we can have intertwingled tools. – (dh workflow notetaking notes annotation )
- Michael Joyce on early Hypertext Fiction – – (DH hypertext litcrit digital_literature )
- RiTa Gallery – A set of generative prose and imagetexts written using RiTa, an open source procedural language generator. Two reasons to include here: to show how even good poetry can be hijacked in to formula (Exra bot), to suggest that YoU ToO can lEarn to pROGram, and because the collection includes a generative piss-take of Harry Potter at http://robclouth.com/harrypotter/ – (DH procedural_rhetoric generative_prose generative_poetry RITA Processing )
- Why Technology Will Never Fix Education – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education – Please, let this realign admins and IT departments pushing online ed to a reality. Please please please. – (de mooc lms online )
- In Defense of Links, Part One: Nick Carr, hypertext and delinkification — Wordyard – Critique of Carr's assertion about links as distraction. "Links, like words, need to be used judiciously." First part of three posts on significance of links. Followed in 2015 by his Failed Promise of Deep Links. – (hypertext reading web links fedwiki linking )
- The Failed Promise of Deep Links — Backchannel — Medium – "Today, though, Web links are mostly navigation and footnotes. Instead of sharing linked trails of knowledge that we’ve blazed, we leave piles of data around that service providers mine for value." But we can turn it around. – (ia fedwiki hypertext design )
- Silicon Valley Innovation: Stanford Law Student Crowdsources Her Graduation Speech – Wired Campus – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education – Not all that innovative, as commencement speeches tend to be formulaic anyway, and hardly inclusive with only 85 self-selected contributors. it does widen the available means of persuasion, a little. but it perhaps it's a choir preaching to a choir. I used to create a similar effect by grabbing lines of commonplaces from student themes to create an ur-theme that impressed a lot but said little. – (rhetoric hype )
- Adblockers are immoral – No, they aren't. Ad hominem takes on a new meaning. Really, this is your best argument? A good reminder to reinstall that ad blocker you were thinking about. – (advertising rhetoric ad_hominem )
- Audience Invoked vs Audience Addressed in Pinker’s The Sense of Style | David Durian – "Ultimately, it seems the case that, although the text does have mismatch issues between audience invoked and audience imagined, it has still proven to be a successful text, none the less. In terms of its status as "popular linguistics" text, it actually appears to conform pretty strongly to the genre conventions of that genre, at least, if earlier works such as Pinker's The Language Instinct and Tannen's You Just Don't Understand are used as a gauge for success. " – (rhetoric stylebook review linguistics )
- Good Riddance to the Common Core Tests! | Diane Ravitch’s blog – Critisicm is getting out there and getting heard. – (commoncore pedagogy )
- Landow – “Moving beyong the hammer; or why the paradigm is more important than the purchase – – (DH hypertext )