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Technology: What is it doing to Communication?

April 12, 2010

Tutorial Proposal

The changes that technology has been bringing to this country have been varied and numerous. Everyone seems to be accepting them with open arms. Yet, have people thought about what direction it is taking us in? More and more information is going online: books, newspapers, magazines, etc. Many people own phones with a wide range of functions, and now electronic readers are popping up in the world market. It seems that less is in print and an increased amount is virtual. Is this acceptable to everyone? These changes have created a difference in the way people communicate. There is less face-to-face conversation, as even friends in the same room are texting other people instead of interacting. Could this lead to social dysfunction among our younger generations?

I plan on looking deeper into these issues to not only understand them better, but to perhaps discover how something could be done that would shift these changes for the better. To do this I will focus on several areas. First, I am going to outline the evolution of technology from the beginning of print to the Internet. To do this I will include the sociological effects of the advances in technology. Next I want to discuss the new ways that people have of getting in touch with one another. For example cell phones, Internet messaging, and social networks to name the most prominent. This will lead to a description of how language is not only changing but also breaking down. The paper will deal with the ramifications of this deconstruction. These include a new shorthand version of vocabulary, decreased attention spans, the ability to avoid direct confrontation, and never having the chance to develop real interpersonal skills. A question that really needs to be answered is; does the decline of the written word tie in with the weakening of communication? Although it seems that it is easier than ever to get in touch with anyone at any time, is this strengthening bonds between people, or just satisfying man’s want for instant gratification? Also, there is a portion of our society who may not be able to jump on the technology bandwagon because of their economic station. This could leave a whole group out in the cold. It is one thing to buy a fifty-cent newspaper, a whole other to buy a six hundred dollar electronic device to then download the newspaper (for a low cost).

Project

To further illustrate my ideas I intend on creating a website as an ironic way to demonstrate the crumbling connections between people in the real world versus relationships in the digital world. For instance, I thought something I could include, but not be limited to, would be a hypothetical letter writing business. For a low cost, a person could buy him or herself a handwritten letter as a more personal way of saying what they would normally say in an email. It would be their choice to supply the words for the letter, or they could simply give the name, address, and topic and leave it up to the writer. With my website I want to prove how impersonal our system has become. Maybe it will help people realize that sometimes certain ways of communicating are worth taking a little extra time to do.

I also intend to create a website on the history of telecommunications, therefore providing a visual of the technology timeline that I will be mentioning in my thesis. This website will highlight many technologies, but will go more in depth about the radio, the telephone, and computers.

Conclusion

Is the slow death of print an omen that we should take heed of? Technology definitely has the potential to lead us in wonderful directions, but it should not be separating us from each other in the process. I believe that we have started becoming too independent, and are forgetting how important communication really is.

The Advent of Telecommunications
And Their Effect on Society

Print

Gomez, Jeff. Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age. London: Macmillan, 2008.

“While print is not dead, it is undoubtedly sickening…More and more people are turning away from traditional methods of reading, turning instead to their computers and the internet for information and entertainment. Whether this comes in the form of getting news online, reading a blog, or contributing to a wiki, the general population is shifting away from print consumption, heading instead to increasingly digital lives.” (p. 3)

“Most kids today ‘curl up’ with nothing but battery-operated plastic screens. For them, these aren’t even gadgets, but instead are everyday objects that form an essential part of their young lives.” (p. 21)

“Five hundred years ago, when books were first introduced, they were greeted with the same level of skepticism that digital reading is facing today. Gutenberg’s bibles, as much as we revere them now, were not welcomed with open arms or eager hands.” (p. 43)

“…the notions of space and times have been almost totally erased: all communication is instant and all information is just a mouseclick away. (p. 71)

Print is Dead is basically about how print needs to start getting a move on into the modern age. Books are one of the few things that really haven’t changed over the centuries. Gomez was not saying that books are worthless, but is trying to separate peoples’ love of reading from the idea that they love the books themselves. To Gomez, the book is really just a container for stories and knowledge. He believes that the next generations will be less likely to go to the library or a bookstore when they are so involved with technological devices. That is why the book is a call for change, it is more important to get people reading at all then worry about whether it is books or ebooks they are reading.
Parts of Gomez’s argument are thin, as he seems to imply that the only reason people don’t want to let go of printed books is sentimentality. He also discusses how if books go digital people can take pieces of them and pass them around. It seems kind of strange that he is making it seem as if people will one day not have the time or patience to read a full book. At the same time, a writer who wants to be successful cannot ignore that fact that part of his audience will expect more than just printed novels. The separation of the readers and the writers has become smaller and smaller. Reading is becoming more of a social experience, and therefore society and the book has to begin to adapt to that.

Wheale, Nigel. Writing and Society: Literacy, print and politics in Britain 1590-1660. London:  Routledge, 1999.

“The urban literate and the rural unliterate lived in the same society, but in what sense did they share the same culture? There were crucial abilities which differentiated people by status in early modern England. Grammar-school boys with a working knowledge of Latin possessed one of the most valued skills which could enhance their life-chances, enabling them to progress in education and employment…Bizarre as it now seems, possession of a classical language was in effect a defining skill in this pre-industrial society, without which a male would find it more difficult to rise in status and esteem.” (p. 85)

Writing and Society explored the ties between social status and literacy, while also discussing censorship, the publishing industry, and female literacy. Wheale brings up the issue of education for the different classes and its effects and accessibility. He describes the ranks of people that could be found in the English social hierarchy, and also shows the variations in literacy between men and women in each of these groups. He also adds in some case studies about individual authors including John Taylor and Dorothy Hazzard.
I found this book very helpful in my research about the beginning of print and its sociological effects. Not only was literacy at first mostly for the rich, but it was very determinate on what gender one was. It was not until later that lower classes and women were reading let alone educated. Wheale tries show that literacy had both freeing effects, but also kept some people from having freedom. Literacy could actually allow some people to be elevated in status.

Winship, George Parker. Gutenberg to Plantin: An Outline of the Early History of Printing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926.

“The year 1480 marked the change from the period when each printer did everything for himself, to that in which specialization began and the initial steps were taken toward differentiation into organized industries.” (p. 19)

“There was no let-up in the spreading prosperity, and the printers met the demands upon them by developing their business into specialties – wholesale manufacture and supplies, book-selling and publishing.” (p. 23)

This is a very brief account of the history of printing. Winship did a terrific job summarizing so much information into such a condensed form. It did get a little confusing at times, perhaps because Winship was trying to get a lot into a little book. He discussed print as an establishment and traced its growth through the ages. He even went a little into the politics of print and censorship.
Although this book did not hold as much relevant information to my research as was expected, it did give some insight into the printing press and its influence on society. For example, in Germany, the amount of money in circulation became larger around the fifteenth century, and this allowed people to have some extra money and time. More books were sold and more children were sent to school. Ways of making books cheaper and more quickly had to be found, and that led to the creation of typography. The idea of the printing press leading to more people being able to read and write is one that many people have written about, and although Winship’s book was informative, it did not focus as much on the effects of print on society as I would have liked.

Radio

Eskenazi, Gerald. I Hid it Under the Sheets: Growing Up with Radio. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2005.

“I never saw a punch thrown, or a glass shatter, or a blood-smeared shirt as I listened on the radio. Nor did I know Barbara Stanwyck’s hairstyle as she overacted in Sorry, Wrong Number on Lux Radio Theatre…Instead I imagined it all.” (p. 2)

“There was something conspiratorial about the relationship he [Jean Shepherd] had with his listeners, and I found him delightfully subversive…Shepherd would ask his listeners to kick on their bright lights as they drove to acknowledge they were part of the broadcast audience.” (p. 37)

I Hid it Under the Sheets is mainly about what it was like to grow up before television. Eskenazi shows us what his life was like as a boy and how is childhood was effected by the radio. Through his eyes it is not difficult to understand why radio had an impact in shaping America. There weren’t really any other forms of media competing with it (the only one being the newspaper). The radio managed to connect people even though they weren’t actually talking to each other through it. The radio was a big part of people’s lives, and because certain shows came on only at certain times, people had to schedule things around it.
This was a book that was helpful to my research into the history of telecommunications. The radio was a very influential media, much more than it is today. Eskenazi describes how it also broadened minds because although he couldn’t see the action, he was able to imagine it. A moving image really wasn’t even necessary. Instead the listener made their own images to fit the words. Some radio personalities even were able to have relationships with the listeners – not in a traditional sense. The radio was really able to create a community. The communication may have been one sided, but that does not mean it shouldn’t be counted. Things that were said on the radio could make quite an impression.

Lazarsfeld, Paul F. Radio and the Printed Page. New York, NY: Arno Press, 1971.

“Technological improvements change our cultural life not by their mere existence but because they are used for cultural purposes. Making such use of radio means not only putting on desirable programs but also making sure that they are listened to.” (p. 95)

“Technological innovations have, it is true, a tendency of their own to engender social change. But so far as radio is concerned all signs point to the unlikelihood of its having, in its own right, profound social consequences in the near future.” (p. 332)

Radio and the Printed Page devotes itself to the effects of the radio on the reading of newspapers and books. The decision by the end definitely seems to be that the radio is not likely to have any huge social consequences (at least on the amount of reading that people do). Lazarsfeld proves that listening increases in people lower on the culture scale, yet this increase is not in serious programming. Much of what is this book probably could have been assumed using common sense. It seems natural that people who do not necessarily enjoy reading, might prefer listening to the radio. Yet, the discussion of why people would prefer radio to print still manages to stay interesting because of the author’s writing style.
Although it included a lot of information I probably could have guessed was true, this book was still very relevant to my research. The discussion of whether one form of media will replace another is nothing unfamiliar. The history of telecommunication is the transition of one technology for another – with some being left behind, while others remain strong. This books proves that there is room for both reading and listening in our society, and that each has a significant influence.

Walker, Jesse. Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2001.

“Freedom to choose simply means more options: more radio formats, more TV channels, more film studios, more publishers. Market forces have already produced much media diversity, and were it not for the barriers erected by the FCC (among others), those forces would produce even more. Radio, in particular, is already very diverse, with more than eleven thousand AM and FM stations in the United States and dozens of formats for listeners to choose from. But for the most part, this is diversity without depth: an ether carved into a thousand niches, each only an inch deep.” (p. 10)

There are two main groups when it comes to the radio – those who listen, and those who speak. Walker’s book is about the people who speak. He opens by mentioning radio today, “boring and homogeneous”, and then goes on to describe what it once was. When radio first became popular there was a lot of room for experimentation. Young men could start their own stations and discover new uses for it when it had originally been created for point-to-point communications (by people who used it legally). Quickly though, radio became a competition between the “pirates” and the nationally based networks which were supported by advertisers.
To complete my research on how the radio effected society I knew that I need to have both perspectives. I was not disappointed by Walker’s book. The state of radio today has become fairly disappointing, and in an age of ipods with thousands of songs (that can mix themselves) and customizable online radio with very limited commercials, there is not a lot of need to tune in anymore. If there was something special out there, that probably wouldn’t be the case. Walker did not try to cover the entire history of radio, but he captures the spirit of what it was, and celebrate the alternative radio.

Telegraph

Lax, Stephen. Media and Communication Technologies: A Critical Introduction. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

“We will see that almost all technological advances in communications have generated similar excitement and idealism. Although the expectations of the impact of the first Atlantic Telegraph cable seem, in hindsight, wildly over-optimistic, dashed as they were by the failure of the technology, it would be equally misplaced to dismiss the anticipation as simply naïve and romantic.” (p. 13)

“We have seen, for example, how the press, poets, and other writers celebrated the arrival of the telegraph, or radio, for its potential to bring enlightenment to every corner of the world, and the same rhetoric can be read today in relation to the internet or social networking websites.” (p. 199)

“It is often claimed that the rates of technological change are now greater than we have ever known, and this is likely to be true in a quantitative sense on more-or-less any measure, given that new technological developments depend heavily for their success on previous technologies.” (p. 216)

Beginning with summaries of several communications technologies that have been created, Lax also deals with the rise of computers and the web, then onto convergence of all of these. His explanations of each technology are easy to understand, and he adds descriptions of the social, economic, and political contexts that lead to the rise of these technologies. I was especially interested in his chapter on the telegraph. He included an entry on the earliest telegraphs (semaphore telegraphs) that began in the 18th century and then segways into it’s relative – the radio. Lastly, the final chapter of the book is entitled, “An Information Society?”, and this is where Lax discusses what all of the new communications technologies might mean for our society.

Transition to Digital Media

Liu, Ziming. Paper to Digital: Documents in the Information Age. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

“Deeply rooted in the context of ‘seeing is believing’ of the printed world, people’s confidence tends to be directly linked to visibility, that is, people are confident in things that are tangible rather than intangible.” (p. 40)

“Far from rendering old technologies obsolete, the introduction of new technologies has often stimulated dynamic interactions between old and new technologies.” (p. 147)

“Historically, the role of paper as a transferring medium has changed. Before the Industrial society, paper-based medium was the only effective medium of records and messages. In the Information society, the role of paper in the distribution of information is complementary and supportive. Today, paper serves many functions such as transferring materialized symbols across space, but there is little reason to assume that information will continue to be primarily distributed by paper.” (p. 148)

Paper to Digital does not dwell on the exact process that our society has gone through to get into the digital age. Instead of focusing on the history aspect, Liu accents the user, their expectations, what confidence society puts in paper versus the internet, etc. There has been a shift in what is appreciated. Instead of conversation and longevity, people are finding value in change and speed. One of the topics that Liu especially details is the idea of how a reader views the credibility of information in a digital form. There is so much information out there now, and there have been many impacts of this increased density. It has become almost impossible to tell the difference between the original and its copy. Peoples’ confidence is really linked to visibility and tangibility (seeing is believing).
This book was helpful in my research because it really focused on the human element in the transition from paper to digital. It was not just another book preaching about the end of paper, instead it discussed the benefits of both paper documents and digital documents, and how there is the need for each of these in the future. This information will be very useful when I discuss past telecommunications and how society has moved from the printing press to the internet.

Present Communication Technologies

The Internet

Auletta, Ken. Googled: The End of the World as We Know it. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2009.

“The sense of being connected to something larger is central to its culture.” (p. 282)

“Nevertheless, a chasm yawns between the needs of business and the culture that has grown up around the Internet. Users may love Youtube or Facebook or Google News, but will they pay for them? Schmidt said he is dubious that ‘social network traffic will ever be as lucrative as business, professional, and educational traffic. When you go to a bar you may buy a drink, but you’re fundamentally there for social interaction.’ Advertising, he believes, will become an annoying distraction.” (p. 302)

Googled outlines the birth and growth of Google. It started as a simple search system and has been expanding ever since. Although it is only eleven years old, it has had an incredible amount of influence both on how we as a society operate, and on how businesses operate. Google has been a “wave maker”. It has taken down barriers to finding information that is available on the Internet. It is one of the main sources in the modern day that people go to to search for facts and data. It has even transformed the way people use the knowledge that they discover. It has been a model service provider and employer.
Auletta does not concentrate only on the short history of Google. He also discusses the changes it has caused and its effects on current and old forms of media. This book was relevant as it described Google as it relates to modern society. Also, what communication has done or will do to influence the its future. It is basically attempting to be a digital personal assistant, yet it lacks a social context. Besides, sometimes it provides too much information. While it has the ability to connect people, it can also be too crowded and overwhelming, not providing direct and efficient enough paths from point A to B.

Boutin, Paul. “Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Makes Blogs Look so 2004.” Wired Magazine Issue 16.11. 20 Oct. 2008. 3 April 2010. <http://www.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/magazine/16-11/st_essay#ixzz0jCeuCvT0&gt;

“The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bildge.” (p. 1)

“Today, a search for, say, Barack Obama’s latest speech will deliver a Wikipedia page, a Fox News article, and a few entries from  professionally run sites like Politico.com. The odds of your clever entry appearing high on the list? Basically zero.” (p.1)

This article discusses the amazing amount of blogs there are on the internet. Boutin personally thinks that it is pointless to begin a blog the way things are now because anyone can have one. Many professionally run blogging websites have been created and those are pushing personal sites aside. Plus, in comparison to social multimedia sites, blogs look almost old fashioned already. Boutin seems to sing the praises of twitter and how the limit on characters forces people to be more clever and insightful.

Despite the fact that I do not completely agree with Boutin’s point of view, I thought that this article was important in that it is yet another which is discussing the overload of information that gets thrown at people each day. If everyone has a blog, who is actually reading the blogs? There cannot be enough time to read or find the blogs that are worthwhile. Therefore there is tons of one-sided communication going on. Although I do not believe at all that blogs are dead or dying, it is important to note that speaking out through a blog will probably not be enough.

Hawk, Byron, David M. Rieder, and Ollie Oviedo. Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools (Electronic Mediations). Minnesota: University Of Minnesota Press, 2008.

“Cell Phones exist as a liminal tool that collapses a distinction between public and private.” (p. 95)

“It is distributed computing, allowing users to interface with not just a single computer or server but a constantly changing network, or ecology, of computers, servers, and small technologies.” (p. 107)

“Some claim that the Internet’s role, as the primary engine driving the ecological arrangement of today’s new media, is simply to produce a proliferation and cyberbalkanization of “daily me” news feeds and fragmented communities, while others argue that Internet content is often reduced to the amplification of cultural noise and effectless content in what might be termed a new stage of ‘communication capitalism.'” (p. 22)

The main idea of this book is to take a look at the relationships that are forming between culture and technology. Many writers contributed their essays on different kinds of small technological devices (cell phones, ipods, etc.). Each tries to define how society interacts with these objects, and how the environment is effected. Most seem to be of the opinion that the technologies are helping to create and mold culture as opposed to harming it.

In Jenny Rice’s essay, “Overhearing: The Intimate Life of Cell Phones” she discusses how simple it is for individuals to coordinate their actions. Still, she warns that it is not just the people on the phone (the caller and callee) in the conversation, they have to remember that there are people around them. It brings up the idea of a “zone of public intimacy” where places that were once only public can hold private communications in the midst of crowds. “I am a DJ, I am What I Say: The Rise of Podcasting” by Paul Cesarini explains what exactly a podcast is, how simple it is to use, and how it allows everyone the chance to be a radio station. The technology has granted new freedoms to express personal or political views, with little retribution as people choose to listen to it or not. Cesarini also speaks of Universities issuing iPods to incoming freshmen with which they can gain access to course lectures, audio eBooks, and the school’s calendar of events.

Many of the essays brought up how communication is intertwined with many small technological devices. With only a few exceptions, the writer’s seemed to agree that these tools have made communication easier and quicker. Social arrangements are changing, and they are not connected to certain places, times, or technologies. Several times it is questioned whether technology may be having a destructive effect on face-to-face relationships, especially when it comes to family. Yet, new ways of communicating are constantly being created: blogs, wikis, social networking portals. Based on this book, everyone seems to be waiting to see what happens, unsure of whether all of these small technological devices are bring people together, or just allowing people to talk at one another without really listening or caring.

Cell Phones

Caron, Andre H. and Caronia, Letizia. “Moving Cultures: Mobile Communication in Everyday Life.” Montreal, Canada: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2007.

“The invention and adoption of writing, printing, photography, and telephony and the shift to the digital age are just a few examples of solutions to the apparently insurmountable problem of overcoming the limits and constraints of face-to-face communication.” (p. 3)

“Among young people, for example, the ‘off’ position has been deleted from their cultural model of the mobile phone. From a phenomenological point of view, it simple no longer exists. Answering almost anywhere, anytime, has become vital…” (p. 41)

Focusing on the cellular phone, Caron and Caronia take a look at the way teenagers interact with technology. They discuss the new social scenarios that have arisen, and how life is affected daily in many different ways. They bring up the fact that sometimes there are a lot more participants in communication than is realized. For instance there are the ghost participants that may join a conversation. An example of a ghost participant is the person who makes a call, interrupting two people who are already speaking. The cell phone has become necessary to many adolescents. Youth have adopted and are using this technology and harnessed its assets by integrating them into everyday life. New webs of social contacts have been opened. The cell phone has changed the way society thinks about public and private space. It allows people to almost be in several places at once, and has made it possible to communicate at any time. The ability to be free of time and space constraints has led to discussion of “the death of silence”. Moving Cultures takes the reader from the rationalization for buying a cell phone, to its actual uses, including the uses that weren’t intentional. Text messaging was considered a secondary function, yet now it is used by teens more often than voice call. Cell phones have changed communication habits and lifestyle, they help construct identities and relationships, and they make conversation simple and fast. Yet, the authors bring up the fact that there is still isolation, and that the family dynamic is sometimes challenged.

Crystal, David. Txting: The Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

“Psychologists, sociologists, health specialists, journalists, and educators have had plenty to say; but hardly any reports provide details of what exactly happens to language when people create texts. As a result, a huge popular mythology has grown up in which exaggerated and distorted accounts of what youngsters believed to do when they text has fuelled prophecies of impending linguistic disaster.” (p. 7)

“Text messaging seems to have increased our expectation that we are mutually accessible.” (p. 30)

Crystal begins by explaining the original intended use for texting and then continues on through to what makes it unusual and why it has become such a big phenomenon. His point of view is that texting is not having a negative effect on language at all, actually he claims that it helps a lot more than it hinders. It gives a new dimension to language, while still needing to be somewhat understandable. Although many worry that teens will start using “texting language” in places where they shouldn’t, Crystal is convinced that this will happen rarely if at all. He doesn’t even see texting as novel, instead showing how it has just taken things slightly further than they have been taken before. Texting has become a major part of life for many people. Some of the main reasons are that it is not only cheap, but is more direct, and can be less interruptive than other means of contact while still being quick and discreet. One of the few problems that Crystal mentions several times is the intrusion of texting on other things, such as class. Instead of worrying so much that texting is damaging the way we communicate, or effecting our literacy, the focus should be teaching people when it is appropriate to use this form of contact.

Changes in Language

Adams, Rachel. “Experts Divided Over Internet Changes to Language.” Science and Technology. Voice of America News. 16 Jan 2010. 8 Apr 2010.

“University-level research papers, she says, are now being peppered with casual phrases like “you know” and words like “guy” informal usages that were absent almost a decade ago.  She attributes the change to instant and casual communication.” (p. 1)

“…the new technology has not fundamentally changed existing language but added immensely to the vocabulary.” (p. 2)

The debate over whether or not language is being effected by the Internet is going to be included in my thesis, and Adams includes insights into both sides of this debate in her article. An English professor at Columbia University notice a dangerous trend in the misuse of language in papers, and the increased use of casual phrases. Text messaging and emailing encourage people to use shorthand forms of words, and allow people wiggle room when it comes to formality. Professor Johnson thinks that this negatively effects teens because they carry it over into their schoolwork. Yet, others claim that there is not a very big impact of the Internet on language. Instead it is just adding to the language. Email does not require proper spelling and grammar, but people know the difference between an email and a term paper. Still, I think that this is an important issue, and I tend to agree with the professor. Either way it unfortunately falls to educators to attempt to encourage students to continue expanding their vocabulary in ways which will help them in the future, not ways that will help them fit all they need to say in one text message.

Baron, Dennis. “Do You Speak American . What Lies Ahead?” PBS. 2005. 8 Apr. 2010. .

“We all master several different varieties of our language, standard and less so, that we deploy depending upon social contexts.” (p. 1)

“Language standards — ideas about correct spelling, usage, grammar, and style — emerge by consensus within communities of language users.” (p. 3)

Baron writes about how language relates to its social setting. It changes depending on influences from the group on is in. It really expresses a group identity. People can actually have several ways of speaking depending on who else they are talking to. He also discusses the way that even though the United States is extremely diverse, the common language continues to be English, with other countries learning it and Americans not bothering to learn anything else. Baron also tries to answer some common questions about language, such as whether literacy rates are too low, or if email is ruining the language. This is really where it relates to my thesis the most. Part of my paper will be discussing whether talking via technological devices can negatively effect the communication skills of younger generations. Baron brings up the literacy scares America has had in the past, and the solutions that have been presented. Sadly, not all of these solutions have been effective and there is still need for something to be done.

Battistella, Edwin L. Bad Language: Are Some Words Better than Others?. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press, 2005.

“Dictionaries provide the most obvious illustration of the way that language changes. As new editions of dictionaries are published, they document new words that arise…They document new meanings of existing words…the change in the meaning of the verb print from mechanical to electronic reproduction of text and images.” (p. 5)

“We modify our grammatical style to match our audience. We speak informally with friends and family, more formally in school and at work, and excruciatingly correctly on some occasions. In most situations however, formality is tempered by the need for effective communication. This often means putting aside prescriptions about correctness in favor or current usage.” (p.41)

Edwin Battistella uses this book to examine grammar and style, and that is just the beginning. Not only does Battistella cover cursing and slang, but even political correctness. Usually people think of these things as breaking the rules of good English. This is the opinion that needs to be changed. Language should really be viewed as being composed of many different forms used by speakers for different purposes. What really are the rules of language? Instead of focusing on strict guidelines, we should look more into the structure and context of the language. Language has a lot of variability. Good and bad language can’t really be defined in absolute terms. One era’s language is should not be judged by the same standards as another’s. “Good” language usually reflects the desires of society for uniformity and conformity.
Reading about language is an aid for my research because how people communicate with each other is very dependent upon how certain things are said. Depending on who one is talking to, misconceptions can arise based simple on miscommunications. Battistella points out that there are many myths about how language worlds. The way people are treated and educated are based upon the effects of these myths. Part of my thesis is concentrating on how language changes and how it is defined. Battistella raises many important points on attitudes towards grammar, contested vocabulary, and social forces that determine what is good and what is bad.

Braun, Linda W. Teens, Technology, and Literacy: Or, why Bad Grammar Isn’t Always Bad. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007.

“While using informal language associated with technology and not worrying about misspellings is indeed an aspect of IM conversations, it’s a result of the style of conversation inherent to the medium and should not be an indictment of the literacy skills of the people doing the communicating.” (p. 17)

“Giving teens the chance to find others who have similar interests helps guarantee that they are comfortable with who they are…if a teen can locate others online with the same interests…then that teen knows that he or she is not alone.” (p. 78)

Through this book Braun tries to express how technology affects the literacy of teenagers. It is aimed at the people who work with them and it attempts to educate these people on steps that should be taken to retain connections with teens in this digital age. Braun discusses instant messaging, texting, blogs, wikis, and podcasting. Conveniently all of these are also forms of communication. I will be able to use this book in my argument about changes in vocabulary and also in my discussion of current forms of communication. Braun’s view on literacy is clearly that the changes occurring are mostly positive ones. She claims that teens are reading and writing more using modern communications. Also, that they are forced to find new ways to express how they feel and what they are thinking. Depending on what form of conversing they are using formalities are definitely dropped sometimes, but for the most part teens seem to know when this is inappropriate. Although teachers and other adults worry that technology is ruining grammar, Braun insists that it is just the opposite. Adults may just have a hard time understanding how much teens are actually learning through these modern mediums. Teens must be more succinct in texting, but also because more people have access to what they are writing it gives it a whole new meaning and can lead to better writing and communication in the long run.

Crystal, David. “Internet Language.” The Pragmatics Encyclopedia. London: Routledge, 2010. p. 234-36.

“Computer-mediated communication maintains the emphasis on interaction, but the criteria which define the nature of face-to-face conversation do not apply, and the technology permits and motivates new kinds of interaction.” (p. 234)

“People often seem to post messages not in a spirit of real communication but just to demonstrate their electronic presence to other members of a group – to ‘leave their mark’ for the world to see” (p. 236)

This article describes computer-mediated communication and how it differs from face-to-face conversation. A big variance is that CMC allows for ambiguity and anonymity. There is a large range of situations now where people can hide there age, gender, and even personality. Someone who usually is introverted and quiet may feel uninhibited when able to interact with people who do not know their usual nature, cannot even see them, and may actually never meet them in person. The risks of this are briefly alluded to as well. This topic naturally blends into a discussion of the notions of truth on the Internet. Obviously this technology makes it easy to act under a false persona, so it is therefore not too difficult to lie about other things. Another big difference from face-to-face conversation is that CMC may not happen in precisely real time. Even a few seconds lag time can change the whole flow of conversation. Lastly, in a group discussion or forum situation, someone can read what is written without ever interacting. In a face-to-face conversation it might be noticed if someone was to remain mute, but intently listening, while online no one ever needs to know.

Janson, Tore. Speak: A Short History of Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

“What makes our languages so completely different from the means of communication that are used by other mammals is their degree of complexity, their variability, and their adaptability.” (p. 6)

“It is not that literature cannot exist without writing. There are abundant examples of poems transmitted orally, including very long epic tales. But this requires that at least a few people in each generation can devote themselves to the task of memorizing and performing the material.” (p. 17)

Despite being titled “A Short History”, Janson manages to get a large amount of information into a small book. Describing the role that language has played in history and what exactly a language is is not an easy task. Besides, Janson begins with discussing the first humans and later what could be happening in two million years. Included in this book are answers to the following questions and many more: how languages are born and how they die, what are the fundamental features of a language, and what the future of language is.
This book will aid in my research as it delves into the social aspect of language. Several times Janson reveals that for a long time, in many different societies, only the elite and privileged did the reading and writing. Also that it is not that literature cannot exist without writing, but that if there is not some way to record it than all traces of a language may be lost. While this is obviously not going to be the case with english, it is still important to address the concept of losing a language. Also, how languages change over time and adapt with the society. Janson does not discuss how the internet will effect language, but his book really made me think about whether the internet will increase the ease of communicating despite the language variable. As Janson says in his book, there are several major languages and thousands of smaller ones, but we are moving more towards a few “large” languages. Will the internet only speed up this process? I believe so.

Social Implications of Technology/Communication Changes

Feenberg, Andrew and Barney, Darin, (Eds.). Community in the Digital Age: Philosophy and Practice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2004.

“…our evaluation of the internet should be guided not by the distinction between the real and the virtual but that between human interaction and commerce.” (p. 12)

“The idea of virtual community is indeed a powerful myth playing on the genuine desire we have to control our lives and be a part of a larger social whole that provides emotional and intellectual support.” (p. 24)

“Life consists of fighting off boredom by being a spectator of everything interesting in the universe and of communicating with everyone else so inclined.” (p. 74)

Right from the title it is obvious that this book is about how community is effected by technology. Several writers contributed with their opinions on the impact of the Internet on society and daily life. Filled with short essays, the one negative of the book was that I felt the writers had to condense their thoughts to a very small amount of space. For instance, the discussion of what exactly a community is defined as. Still, each writer managed to describe different sides of the Internet debate. There were many discussions about the differences between virtual communities, and the real communities that we actually live in.

The main reason to go online was communication. A community is really a social entity and a commitment to shared values, history, identity, etc. Computer networks are there to connect people, not just computers. The telephone allowed one to one communication, the radio one to many, but the computer even gave the opportunity to have small groups talking together, many to many. New forms of expression have been created, and new ways of speaking to each other introduced. There are of course negatives presented as well. Sometimes this medium of communication involves a lack of trust with passive participants lurking and eavesdropping, or the ease with which people can disguise themselves. Yet, the Internet has become a gateway to easy and quick communication. It has completely changed the idea of time, space, and freedom. People will always need each other, and the computer and Internet make this a simple task to accomplish.

Hoggart, Richard. Mass Media in a Mass Society: Myth and Reality. London: Continuum, 2004. 140-47.

“The paradox is that words today are both neglected in principle and hugely paid court to in fact. They are daily despoiled but secretly admired; they cannot be left alone by the whole congregation of advertising and P.R. people and their related cohorts. As a result; as a result that is of the uses to which they put language, they end – almost begin – by corrupting it…” (p. 141)

“As to critical literacy and its place in schools, a good starting point is an observation by the American philosopher of education, John Dewey: ‘What the best and wisest parents wants for his own child…the community must want for all its children.’ How true, and how very unlike English practice.” (p. 191)

This book tries to make it plain that mass communications are having both positive and negative effects on peoples’ lives. All sorts of information is available in the world today, and each day this amount grows and expands. The book is really questioning whether this access to data is actually leading to greater understanding, or if there is too much for anyone to really absorb anything. The only way to get knowledge through information is if it is organized and assessed.
A big connection that this book has to the research that I am doing is that Hoggart discusses the corruption that is occurring in language. He dedicates a chapter to language and meanings which is especially helpful. One of the main channels through which the media of communication works is words. Yet, words are sometimes very neglected even though they are used now almost more than ever. Hoggart discusses the soundbite as well which is something that I want to discuss in my paper. He uses the word “soundbite” to mean new sayings that may come to have the status of apophthegms and single, hyphenated or twinned words. A last thing that his book covers which applies to my research is a discussion on critical literacy. I large part of my paper is going to involve the debate over whether or not the next generations will be able to communicate well. There is a big difference between writing a blog and participating in a face-to-face interview.

Opie, John. “Virtual America: Sleepwalking through Paradise.” Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

“As virtual reality becomes increasingly attractive as our primary home, our traditional ties to physical geography slip away from us ever more rapidly.” (156)

“This new condition lacks the stability of traditional hands-on societies, where the physical features of the immediate landscapes largely determine how people live and work.” (177)

Opie’s book focused mostly on place, what it is, what it means, and what could happen if there was placelessness. His premise was that American’s are in danger of sleepwalking through their lives. He uses the relationships that people have with technology as it evolves and compares it to their relationship with the environment. There is a disconnection from the reality of what the world is like, and the television and Internet have only made this more of a problem. Opie claims that there are three natures, the first is the natural world, the second is the metropolitan infrastructure, and the third in virtual reality. The idea of place comes in mainly with the dream of better lives and worlds that leads to an indifference to our homes. The virtual world has helped people be almost knocked out of reality, leading to a dullness of the senses and a lack of meaning in our natural environment. This will be very relevant in my discussion of the effects of technology on society. The Internet and other newer technologies have changed the definition and the idea of what time and place are.

 

Postman, Neil. “Informing Ourselves to Death.” German Informatics Society. 11 Oct 1990. Stuttgart. 29 Mar 2010. <http://w2.eff.org/Net_culture/Criticisms/informing_ourselves_to_death.paper&gt;

“I have heard many experts in computer technology speak about the advantages that computers will bring. With one exception – namely, Joseph Weizenbaum – I have never heard anyone speak seriously and comprehensively about the disadvantages of computer technology, which strikes me as odd, and makes me wonder if the profession is hiding something important.” (p. 1)

“Nothing could be more misleading than the idea that computer technology introduced the age of information. The printing press began that age, and we have not been free of it since.” (p. 5)

“The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most needed to confront – spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future.” (p. 6)

“Through the computer, the heralds say, we will make education better, religion better, politics better, our minds better – best of all ourselves better. This is, of course, nonsense.” (p. 6)

This fascinating article presented some challenging questions to the reader, for example, does technology create more than it destroys? Although inventions like the computer allow people endless amounts of information, the merely manipulate it and generate more of it without showing what is actually important. Instead of simple producing information, it should start with thinking about what the use of it will be. Even though this article is now twenty years old, Postman’s views are still accurate. People still don’t know what to do with all of the information they have available to them. A point that Postman discussed that applied very much to my research was along this same vein. Now that almost everyone has their own computer, there are quick and easy ways to do everything from paying bills and shopping, to playing games and watching movies. With all this information available, almost everything can be done from home. The danger of this is that it makes community life unnecessary. I do not believe that Postman is saying that technological innovations are bad. He is just trying to instill in everyone that individuals have to be taught how to use the information they are given, and that there are parts of technology we are not taking advantage of, while allowing the other parts to have negative effects.

Rheingold, Howard. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2002.

“Like every previous leap in technological power, the new convergence of wireless computation and social communication will enable people to improve life and liberty in some ways and to degrade it in others. The same technology has the potential to be used as both a weapon of social control and a means of resistance. Even the beneficial effects will have side effects.” (p. xviii)

“Through SMS teens hate, gossip, meditate, and express longing, even when the writer lacks the courage for a call or in situations where other communication channels are inappropriate. The text message is the backdoor of communication.” (p. 16)

“The liberating news about virtual communities is that you don’t have to be a professional writer; artist; or television journalist in order to express yourself to others. Everyone can be a publisher or a broadcaster now. Many-to-many communications media have proved to be popular and democratic.” (p. 121)

Rheingold did not keep the context of the book to the United States alone, instead he told the story through other stories of traveling. He stays mostly in the present but occasionally gives glimpses of possible futures. He begins by stating that mobile communications are already changing the way people do basically everything. This will help some existing institutions and ways of life while hindering others.He greatly discusses technology, but keeps it in a social context.Throughout his book Rheingold praises the changes that technology is bringing, but at the same time he allows for the negatives as well (especially the higher possibilities of surveillance).
This book was extremely helpful, as it addressed many of the points that I am researching. Rheingold describes wireless networks in great detail and talks about how they allow people to communicate in new ways and in situations where collective action was not possible before. Social networks are greatly enhanced. He does not completely focus on the internet alone though, he also brings up the cell phone and texting. Even the idea of time being different for younger generations because they can get all their information in seconds, and can share each other’s lives and actions in real time. This book was full of information on communication in the present day and how it is effected by virtual reality and the fact that we are always connected now.

Siegel, Lee. Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2008.

“The simple fact is that sometimes you don’t want the quiet conformities induced by “community”; sometimes you simply want to be alone, yet together with other people at the same time.” (p. 16)

“In the case of the Internet, the question is whether we let this remarkably promising opportunity – which, as we’ll see, has until now largely been developed in service to commerce and capital – shape us to its needs or put it in the service of our own.” (p. 19)

“…that there would soon come a time when anyone with something to say, no matter how vulgar, abusive, or even slanderous, would be able to transmit it in print to millions of people? Anonymously. And with impunity.” (p. 132)

This book discusses how the Internet and other new technologies affect society. Siegel’s view is that these things change the ways we look at the world and even ourselves. It is really a critique of the Internet and the kind of role it plays in our lives every day. It gave details on how this digital age allows people to live in a half reality.
I felt this book gave insight into my research as it has information about how people communicate with each other virtually. Points are raised about the difference between being connected with people in the real world versus connections in the digital world. One part of the book that made an impact on me was when Siegel describes a scene in a Starbucks where there are lots of people, but silence as they are all plugged into their electronic devices. Siegel presents this as isolation and disconnectedness between the people. At the same time though they are technically socializing, just in the modern ways (social networks for example). Although Siegel raises a lot of questions, such as wondering if online relationships will have consequences on friendships in the real world, he isn’t able to answer all of them. Siegel also delves how much information is now out in the world. With the advent and rising popularity of blogs, it becomes more difficult to separate the truth from the rumors.

Interactivity: What is it?

December 10, 2009

The evolution of the art world is difficult to keep up with. Its developments seem to stay one step ahead of any attempt to decipher its nature and value. Avant-garde forms of art have been made possible by new technologies such as the internet. Interactive art is one of these. This kind of artwork is sometimes questioned due to the level of contact the viewer has with it. To clear up this confusion interactive art needs to be broken down and examined.

There are several types of art that fall under the category of “interactive”. A problem is that it has become the norm to use the word interactive to mean anything from shopping on the internet to playing computer games. The truth is that only a small part of computer-based art is interactive. Technically any activity can be labeled interactive, because they require the participant to act in some way. Therefore the fact that people can interact with computers to make and appreciate art seems less astounding when it is realized that making and appreciating art is interactive in any environment. This means that interactive art needs a more refined definition besides society’s current idea of what interaction means.

In computer science the standard definition of interactive media is the media which allows users to control the sequence in which they access content. (Dinkla) This is a closer fit to something called hypertext, where there usually is a menu that allows users to use content that is actually combined into the content itself. To state that clearer: there is not a difference in layout or design between the menu and the content. This complicated definition just tells us one thing – it is not at all likely it can help isolate works of arts that are interactive in any new or exciting sense. Instead this should probably be thought of as only partially interactive media. A game, for example, would be more strongly interactive.

“In a way interactive art builds on the traditions of participational art forms by allowing the viewer to intervene in the action. However, in most works this interaction is not meant as an attack against the established art audience. Instead, it meets the needs of a media educated public. The implications of interactive art, though, go even further: this art also reflects the role played by computer technology.” (Dinkla) This can get confusing because interactive are actually involves the same technology it comments upon, showing that there is a lack of distance.

Interactive art is a clear demonstration that the role of artist in their artwork is changing. In an artwork by Camille Utterback, the viewer stands in front of her work. Yet instead of just simply looking at it and thinking about it, as traditionally was done when presented with a piece of art, one is supposed to interact with it. Camille Utterback is a digital artist who uses cameras, projectors, and custom software in her installations. When someone views one of her pieces he or she are expected to participate in it by moving in front of the sensors. This motion will be shown on the screen by abstract strokes of color. “In these artworks, cameras track the movements of people standing in front of them, computer software translates these movements into abstract imagery according to a defined set or rules, and a projector throws the ever-evolving digital painting onto a screen in front of the viewers.” (Tweney)

The idea of interactive art brings up the old issue of a divide between art and design. Is the maker of a piece of interactive art a designer? Or are they an artist? Design does play a very large role in this type of art. For example, a designer would definitely be involved in planning the interface for a hypertect architecture. (Huhtamo) Even if this software code is perfect and beautifully designed, it in itself is not a work of art. An artwork needs to have something in addition so that it rises above to a higher level, and of course, evokes an emotion. The presence of the artist should be able to be inferred. There are still not very many interactive pieces that even give the user the impression that they are the only creator. Yet, there are probably some artist who won’t mind “disappearing behind their sites, transforming themselves into invisible figures of the webmaster, while some will ‘die’ as the activity around the site proliferates; some will do their best to impose their presence in the manner of the countless private home ages, but with a product that makes a difference”. (Huhtamo)

Interactive art may not be a brand new idea, but it is constantly changing. It is difficult to answer the questions about it, as there are an abundance of them. The artist is trying to involve their viewer in a much more interactive way than just looking. By putting the viewer in control, interactive art has a liberating potential. Pre-existing ideas can be examined and taken apart. Interactive art operates in a way that allows the viewer to experience something completely different – looking at the world of art, the artist, and even the viewer himself, from a whole new viewpoint.

Dinkla, Soke. “The History of the Interface of Interactive Art”. Ken Feingold. 1994. 9 Dec 2009.

Huhtamo, Erkki. “Seven Ways of Misunderstanding Interactive Art”. University of Lapland. 22 Feb 2008. 9 Dec 2009.

Tweney, Dylan F. “Interactive Art Pushes Boundaries of Viewer, Artist”. Wired Magazine. 21 Oct 2009. 9 Dec 2009.

Confused Yet?

November 16, 2009

Modernism, Postmodernism, and a Dash of “High” and “Low” Art

Art movements always seem to involve a little bit of controversy. This is suitable considering art is supposed to evoke an emotion, so odds are that occasionally the emotion is bound to be a negative one. Modern and Postmodern styles cover a lot of ground, from the 1930s to the present, and the artists involved are diverse in their thinking and in their presentation. Postmodernism has challenged the modernist distinction between “high” art and “low” art by actually combining them in their work. Some artists and their artwork will be discussed in order to explore these relationships and to shine a light on some of the debate that surrounds postmodernism in particular.

Postmodernism began late in the twentieth century and it has opposed the Modernist concentration on purity of form and technique. Instead, it’s goal was to get rid of the divisions between popular culture, media, and art. When studying Postmodernism, one can see influences from varied past movements. “For the postmodernist, art was a cluster of images and materials to be manipulated. The fragmentation of modern life was not a bad thins, in fact it was liberating. Artists sought to redefine art and “the artist” in a way that emphasized multiplicity of style and viewpoint.” (Koscianski) There was a surge of artists who appropriated images and symbols to create more eclectic art. These were probably attempts at an ironic portrayal of redefining originality. Just two examples of art movements that are associated with Postmodernism are minimalism and conceptualism.

Conceptualism was a movement promoting the idea that art is not a material object, but a concept. As you will begin to see, the movements related to Postmodernism are overlapping. “The ‘idea’ that a work represents is considered its essential component, and the ‘finished product’, if it exists at all, is regarded essentially as a form of documentation.” (Contemp.) Minimalism, on the other hand, is basically a style of abstract painting or sculpture that is very simple is its form. Its most coherent form emerged in New York during the 1960s (Jelovich). It comes from minimal geometric forms. One of the first painters to be associated with this type of art was Frank Stella. He had a series of pinstripe paintings, and these were a great contrast to the emotional and energy-filled paintings done by Abstract Expressionists. Despite the Postmodern idea that they were combining high and low art, this piece is not fitting with the low art idea. Low art is usually looking to shock the viewer, and is a promotion of the artist’s ego. It commonly is easier for the viewer to understand. Whereas high art not only looks at art with fresh, new eyes, but it challenges the viewer’s thinking and requires more from the viewer than low art does.

Double V Pinstripe

This is why Stella’s “Double V Pinstripe” seems to be more associated with high art. Not only was his a new take on painting, making a huge impact when debuted at his 1959 art show, but he purged this piece of any emotion. The viewer is able to stand separate from the piece and look at the relationship between the different parts of the work, and of each parts relationship to the whole. It fits with high art because it causes the viewer to hesitate and look at it. It has a lasting impact, it changes the idea of what art can be.

To really understand this all, modern art needs to be brought into the picture. There is not an agreed upon idea of what exactly modern art is, but the closest definition is probably that it is artists rejecting previous Renaissance-based traditions in favor of new forms of artistic experimentation. New materials and techniques were used, and new ideas of how art should reflect the perceived world evolved. Even what the function of an artist should be was taken into account. Some actually don’t agree that we are in a stage after modernism. This would make the art of Postmodernism “produced not so much in disregard or contradictory to Modern art, but rather an extension or possibly a subgenre of that” (Jelovich). Some art movements that are classified under Modernism are argued to really be Postmodern, and vice versa. The Modernist era was definitely a break from the progress of art toward a universal vision of truth and beauty, instead the artists were attempting to create works of significant form. Postmodernism “did not emerge as a cohesive movement relying, like modernism, on narrow theoretical principles and a single approved style, but in general it called for greater individuality, complexity, and eccentricity, while also demanding acknowledgment of historical precedent and continuity” (Modern).

Mustache Lobsters

An example of low art is “Mustache Lobsters” by Jeff Koons. Although this work is probably complex in its own way. It seems more of a demonstration of an artist making something just because they can. Koons work has always been along a theme of consumption. Supposedly his work is cleverly simple, but the clever part seems to be missing in this piece. A collage it is, and interesting it isn’t. It craves attention, as low art tends to, and only looks to impress. We look, we frown in slight confusion, shake our heads, and move past it, leaving it forgotten.

It is not only difficult to distinguish between Modernism and Postmodernism, but also between high and low art. The lines have gotten increasingly blurred and now there are only a select few who have definite opinions on the matter. The rest of us have to try to figure it out as we go, backed up almost exclusively by the our opinions and those of others. Art truly is in the eye of the beholder.

“Contemporary Art Movements.” Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art. Cork, Ireland: 2008. Web. .

“Modern Art and Architecture”. History.com. 2009. 16 Nov 2009.

Jelovich, Nathan. “Postmodern Art and the Difficulty to Define.” Ezine Articles. 24 Apr 2007. Web. 16 Nov 2009. .

Koscianski, Leonard. “What is Critical Postmodern Art?.” Tamara: Journal of Critical Postmodern Behavioral Science (2002): n. pag. Web. 16 Nov 2009. .

Is it Worth the Nail it’s Hung Up On?

November 3, 2009

Artwork
A piece of art can be described as valuable, but it is difficult to know how this is determined and what it means. Value is not tangible, is not always enduring, and varies depending on the who the viewer is. Art is supposed to evoke an emotion, but even if it does, it may still not be described as being worth anything. In order for an artwork to have value, it must have significance, must be beautiful, and does not necessarily have to be rare.

To have substance, a piece must have some kind of real or essential meaning. Some art is produced purely because of greed and that usually shows through. Some art is made for purposes that are negative, and this should make them worth less than pieces created as a way to express feelings or to spread beauty. Art should be created without thought of how much money it will bring in. It is supposed to reach out and captivate people. It should make them question things, have no boundaries, and constantly evolve. Art should be allowed to be free, and not be tied down by how much money will be paid for it. Yet, how free is too free? Art should not be completely meaningless, because if it lacks significance than it lacks worth. It should not have been made if there was no emotion or meaning behind it. Good art needs to have something that moves the viewer, makes them take notice (Strickland, 2).

A lot of people have begun to identify contemporary art with tactics made of shock, awe, and circus (Regine, 1). Prices that pieces of art go for are ridiculous, and sometimes the artwork that sells at these high costs are looked at in confusion. Still no one stands up and questions their worth. Is this simply because the artist is well known and respected? For instance, Jeff Koons is an artist and a sculptor. Most of his work is conceptual and includes a piece that is just three basketballs suspended in a fish tank. Somehow though, his work is sold for millions and his is a high profile name. His work, while perhaps having meaning and being worth lots of money, does not have any real value. “Jeff recognizes that works of art in a capitalist culture inevitable are reduced to the condition of commodity. What Jeff did was say, ‘Let’s short-circuit the process. Let’s begin with the commodity.” (Thomas, 2) When art lacks true meaning and becomes nothing more than a raw material that can be bought and sold, it loses everything that is supposed to make it art. It becomes nothing more than a worthless object.

A common misconception is that for art to be beautiful it must be happy or colorful. Art does not have to be beautiful in the traditional sense. A piece can be dark, even disturbing, and still have a sense of beauty about it. It is now more about forcing the viewer to struggle with seeing the world as it really is. “Art is not a cosmetic to prettify reality or provide escapist pleasure but a hammer to smash our complacency” (Strickland, 1). Somehow there is beauty in ugliness, because the pure emotion that it evokes is beautiful. When the viewer walks away from an artwork with the impact of it still ringing inside, that is beautiful, and therefore the art is valuable. Art is dedicated to beauty, and an artist’s talents and understanding let it into the world. It makes the viewer see and feel in different ways.

To have value there does not have to only be one copy of an artwork. Sometime this is the case, with statues usually there is only one. In the present time though there is easy access to copies of photographs and paintings. Does this make the original less valuable? Some artists used to (and may still) destroy their negatives or lithographs so that copies could not be made. The idea being that the less pieces there are, the more valuable they will be. Obviously if there is high demand for a piece of art, and there is only one, it will be more valuable. In this case though, again value is being confused with money. The true value of an artwork should not be changed by how many of it exist. If there are many copies, then more people can appreciate the beauty and value of the piece.

Art Prices

One man may look at a painting and deem it worthless, while another may love it so much he buys so he can look at it every day. Just because someone does not like an artwork does not take away from its true value. Art’s role is to provoke, to raise questions that the viewer must find answers for within themselves. This is where the value lies, the meaning that is taken away from the artwork by the viewer. Even if it was not what the artist intended, if art fulfills its real purpose, it is truly valuable.

Regine, Matt. “Art, Price, and Value – Contemporary Art and the Market”. We Make Money Not Art. 11 Jan 2009. 3 Nov 2009.

Strickland, Carol. “Does Beauty Still Belong in Art?” The Christian Science Monitor. 20 Dec 2007. 3 Nov 2009.

Thomas, Kelly Devine. “The Selling of Jeff Koons”. ARTNews. May 2005. 3 Nov 2009.

Who knew the Printed Word Could Change the World?

October 19, 2009

Although the internet has become an integral part of many people’s daily lives, there is something that came long before it that was of even more importance. The invention of the printing press started a chain of events that the world would not be the same without. Perhaps without it something else may have been invented later, but the printing press was invented, and it did have an impact, one that we can still see today.

Over the centuries there was gradual progress at attempting to multiply impressions. Finally, in the fifteenth century, a German inventor named Johann Gutenberg created moveable type, ink for printing, alloy for making type face, and adjustable molds (Lacy, 730). The printing press was born. With its invention more people had access to the written word. Books became cheaper so that everyone could own them. The creation of this moveable type was able to aid in ending the narrow minded lifestyle of people at that time. The technology allowed “works of classical antiquity, renaissance humanism, and scientific inquiry” (Ruud, 378) to reach a higher number of people. Now monasteries and universities were not the only places where people were able to learn things. This invention caused a cultural explosion.

Moveable Type

Before the printing press was invented scholars had not had nearly as many diagrams, words, and images right in front of them. Suddenly all the theories and ideas that people were having were turning up in print so everyone could read them. People were forced to start cataloging information and putting different pieces together. “The long present urge to classify began to achieve unprecedented results on a scale never before possible. Not merely quantitative, the shift changed the very notion of knowledge from that of reconstituting past wisdom to one of projecting cumulative incremental growth into the future” (Rosaldo, 510). Newspapers began to be published and the presses that had once seemed fast became slow and difficult. Presses began to be powered by steam and then electric power (Ruud, 379). Jobs were gained through this invention in different printing industries, and readership continued to increase. In a sense, In a way, the printing press is at the root of a cultural revolution. It’s creation was similar to knocking over the first of many dominoes. The line of them leading up to today and still falling into the future.

The influence of the printing press may seem small in comparison to the internet. Almost everyone in the United States now has at least one computer in their home, sometimes even a personal laptop in addition to it. The internet is used worldwide, and it connects people globally. Yet how did the internet come about? Although the internet had been around since the early 80s, the world wide web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee. He claimed that “the dream behind the web is of a common informations space in which we communicated by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of that dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror of the ways in which we work and play and socialize” (DiMaggio, 312). This basically means that the internet was created so that information would be easier to exchange. Yet wasn’t the printing press invented for a similar reason? Not only was it easier for the written word to be spread around, but it was cheaper so that everyone could see it. The ideas behind these world changing things were essentially the same. Each caused major shifts in the means of communication.

Print Shop

There are two general categories that internet methods can be broken into. The first is communication. This means emailing, online chatting, etc. Accessing, retrieving, and using information is the second. This does not seem very momentous, but there are implications for social change. The same is true for the printing press. Looking back at its birth, it seems a simplistic idea. Of course something had to be created to put the spoken word onto paper, but who knew where things could go from there. Isn’t the written word a form of communication? It seems as if the invention of the printing press was actually an agent which led to eventually to this day and age of the internet. Where would the internet be without printed word? Newspapers and books have begun to move onto the web, but there wouldn’t be newspapers and books without the printing press. There is a need for information, and the printing press answered this need. Naturally, that was not enough to fulfill the need, so the internet was born. Yet, there may be something just beginning to stir in the back of an inventor’s mind that will be an even better way of communicating and exchanging information. Traditional barriers have continued to be broken down with the written word and now the digital word. These are just the foundation for what will come next.

I do believe that the printing press was more influential to the world. Its invention started something that cannot be stopped. The internet is part of this revolution and social need is what is driving it. The ability to spread information faster and easier has still not satisfied everyone. Society wants more, and without the printed word, who knows what we would be lacking.

DiMaggio, Paul. “Social Implications of the Internet”. Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 27, pp. 307-336. Annual Reviews. 2001.

Lacy, Lucile P. “Modern Printing Processes”. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science. Vol. 47, No. 6, pp. 730-736. Northwestern University. Apr. 1957.

Rosaldo, Renato. “Review: The Cultural Impact of the Printed Word”. Comparative Studies in Society and History. Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 508-513. Cambridge University Press.

Ruud, Charles A. “The Printing Press as an Agent of Political Change in Early Twentieth-Century Russia”. Russian Review. Vo. 40, No. 4, pp. 378-395. Blackwell Publishing.

The Great Debate

September 29, 2009

ABSTRACT

The Book of Kells is centuries old, yet discussions about it continue today, including the question of whether this ancient manuscript is art or design. This article will explain my opinion on the matter. Although I will discuss both sides, the Book of Kells is clearly an example of early design. Hopefully my argument will at least open your mind to the possibility that this is so.

Image from Book of Kells

Image from Book of Kells

As a manuscript that illustrates the gospels, The Book of Kells is a precious artifact that has had quite a life. Passed down through the ages it has come to rest at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. This fascinating piece holds page after page of intricate and colorful work. The big question is whether this work is art or design, and to discover this the reasons behind its creation must be made known.


When contemplating the difference between art and design, there are a lot of places where there are clear cut diversions, as it is common to be able to easily pick out one from the other. Occasionally though, there are also points at which it is difficult to tell the two apart. Design is known to be very deliberate and carefully measured. A designer has to keep certain functional details in mind so that the goals of a project are met. Design usually entails a certain amount of planning in order to accurately execute it and get the result wanted. Art does not have to adhere to any of these guidelines, as the artist is basically making it up as they go along. Sometimes an artist does try to get a message across through their work, or inspire an emotion in their viewers.


An artist does not need to have a purpose, while a designer always has one. An artist is working more for themselves, while a designer is putting the reason for designing first while keeping in mind who the piece is being designed for. The previous statements are the obvious variations between art and design. How is it then that designers can be artists and artists can be designers? The line becomes very blurred at times. Naturally these definitions of art and design prove that a lot of art is design. If some art has a purpose, and design is something that has a purpose, there is no denying what that means.


Trinity College: Where the Book of Kells is housed

Trinity College: Where the Book of Kells is housed

The origin of the Book of Kells has been debated, and as of yet there is no official agreement. It was at one point stolen, probably for its jewel-encrusted cover, then left in the dirt, where it was eventually discovered (Mayvaert, 7). It was then taken by the Roman Catholic Church, and later returned to its present home in Ireland. This manuscript is beautiful both in its text and its illustrations. Every page has an insane amount of detail. “The Kells illuminators were exuberantly creative, drawing from the rich context of Irish religious imagery and Celtic artistic tradition.” (Fleming, 438) Through the use of calligraphy and the rich illuminations the Book of Kells instills itself into the viewers’ memory. At first this may prove that this is a piece of art, as it definitely inspires emotions in anyone who observes it. The great debate does not stop there, because there is much more to it.


First of all, the Book of Kells was not just a creation from thin air. There was a purpose for making it. Most design projects have a set of instructions, and there is no doubt in my mind that the there was some planning involved before any ink was laid on the first vellum page. The monks, or scribes who designed each page were thinking about the people they were creating the manuscript for. They were probably doing what designers have to do, separating themselves from the piece and keeping most of their aesthetic opinions on the back burner. Although artists do have to do work for commission occasionally, usually the commissioner has seen the artist’s other work and liked it, and are not having them create a whole new style. With design, the questions the designer asks themselves are more about solving a problem, while art is more about the asking of questions.


So what is the purpose of the Book of Kells, if this is the basis for calling it design? It was meant to be used as a bible, perhaps to be read aloud because the text is much larger than the small, intricate details of the illustrations.  Perhaps the book was used to pull in people who were more drawn to pictures than words. The images are powerful and moving, but they are not there to just be pretty.  This book has no contemporary rival for its artistic design and calligraphy (Dunn, 1). The texts it was depicting were extremely sacred. If the monks had wanted to make art, it doesn’t really make sense for them to take such a holy text and illustrate it. This was a very complicated and time consuming process. “Just as warrior elites had beautifully decorated ornamentation on their clothing and weaponry, the word of God was given beautiful illumination to illustrate how important it was to Irish society.” (Jewett-Warner, 1)


Art is not just about beauty, it is about evoking an emotion. Design can be beautiful too, and this is demonstrated by the Book of Kells. This manuscript’s every page is a piece of design, as each page was created with the purpose of spreading the beauty of Christianity to the world.

What the cover looked similar too

What the cover looked similar too


Dunn, Joseph. “Book of Kells”. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 27 Sept. 2009. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08614b.htm&gt;.

Fleming, Martha H. “Review of – The Book of Kells: Its Function and Audience by Carol Farr”. Church History. Vol. 68, No. 2, pp. 438-440. Cambridge University Press. Jun 1999. <http://ww.jstor.org/stable/3170878&gt;

Jewett-Warner, Ruth. “The World of the Book of Kells”. Medieval Europe, U.C. Berkeley. <http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:_Cl9Tl30ph0J:www.wclibrary.info/kells/worldofbok.pdf+book+of+kells+-+vikings&hl=en&gl=us&sig=AFQjCNFik-nkqHftoh8NzRZ1rS1l1l7fGg&gt;

Mayvaert, Paul. “The Book of Kells and Iona”. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 1, pp. 6-19. College Art Association. Mar 1989. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3051211&gt;