Access, Surveillance and Other Absurdities

The past few classes of CultureNet have really got me thinking. Learning about the Community Access Program, reading the conclusion of the Slack and Wise Primer, media discussions in Communications 112 and hearing Dr. Sharla Sava’s talk about surveillance have totally altered the way I look at society and our relationship with technology. As a person who enjoys a good science fiction novel, I definitely feel like I am living in one now. It feels kind of surreal.

The idea of access to technology, specifically the internet, has come up several times over the term in a couple of my classes. I wrote a paper about it in Communications; I have to admit doubts originally that internet access was something that people “needed” to have access to, at least not like food, shelter, clothing and health care. But when prompted by the ideas from Postman that there “winners and losers” every time a technology was introduced, I actually changed my perspective. I thought back to my own experiences when I was working for Provincial Health and was taking free computer classes offered by the government. At the time the kitchen and laundry services were getting outsourced, and my class was filled with people desperate to gain computer knowledge before being laid off. Many of the people didn’t know how to turn the computer on. I was frustrated. Then I realized that these people were going to be completely screwed trying to find another job. They had many barriers, such as language, education and (primarily) financial. It made me feel anxious and my stomach hurt.

The talk Dr. Sharla Sava gave on surveillance was spectacular. It always blows my mind when something so familiar to me is disseminated, analyzed and given language. Every time I open my Facebook it now makes me laugh, awkwardly. The whole act is so weird, like I am marketing myself and making advertisements about my life (as if any of it is interesting and glamorous). Learning about media in Communications has added to the whole absurdity of it. I always felt like my punk rock sensibilities would keep me safe from becoming a sell out poser, but I am just kidding myself.

The last few chapters of the Slack and Wise Primer really made me think about the effects of technology on people. I happened to be reading about biofuels in Time Magazine, which is a great example of what Slack and Wise are touching on. People want “clean” alternative energy, but the impact that has on farmers and therefore food costs has the potential to cause global crisis. Now when I think about it I think the issue is so skewed; we focus so much on how we can continue to live the same way and not make any changes in our comfortable lives while waiting for some scientist to come up with a new technology that allows us to do so in an economically viable way that will also assuage our minor guilt. The solution to the oil situation is don’t drive your car so much, not biofuels. When time says biofuels are a scam I have to think about Postman’s winners and losers. But doesn’t every technology have positive and negative effects, or unintended effects or revenge effects? I guess it s easier to pick on the new guy on the block than the older guys who are established.

Overall I think that the four months I have spent in CultureNet have been the most interesting I have had in a while. I am very glad I quit my cubicle job to participate in this program; it is so great to be gaining the ability to clearly discuss these issues that I had previously identified but was unable to analyze or vocalize effectively. I drive my friends nuts with my constant enthusiastic media and technology analysis. It really is fascinating though; I highly recommend it.

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