New media and the changing role of the user

McLuhan quotes Joyce’s words “My consumers are they not my producers?” — a line that brought me right back to our discussion of the Dynabook vision from last week. Allowing users to produce rather than just consume has become a foundational principle of much of the technology we use today. I thought McLuhan’s comparison between the opportunities for production afforded by new media and the consumption-based model of the printing press was really interesting. Perhaps this is a way to understand the deep and lasting impact of the digital revolution. Just as we now talk about the Gutenberg revolution allowing unprecedented numbers to access knowledge, perhaps the core of our digital revolution is the way it allows so many more people to not just consume existing information but also to create new knowledge themselves. And not only new knowledge but new tools as well. As I suggested last week, I think the App store model embodies this phenomenon. Final thought: if producing is so important, does that mean consumption doesn’t matter anymore? Does it matter if no one reads this blog, so long as I write it?

I heart my computer

In the design of our future media and systems, we should not shrink from this emotional aspect as a legitimate part of our fantic (see p. 317) design.” (p.306)

The attention Nelson draws to our emotional connections with technology seems (like so much of what we are reading in this seminar) eerily prescient. It made me think of two ways that these connections affect our own world.

First, the importance of design as well as function in the devices we use. Recall the palpable glee we all felt that first day of class, when we were handed our Ipads. That was partly giddy expectation about how we would use the machine. But it was also (I think) a sense of wonder about the beauty of the object itself. We have Steve Jobs to thank for emphasizing the importance of design in our machines–some of the most entertaining scenes in Walter Isaacson’s biography of him feature Jobs terrorizing his underlings because they are interfering with his design vision, e.g. pointing out that it would be much easier to make ear-buds out of multiple pieces, like everyone else does, rather than crafting them in one unified piece.

Second, and even more worthy of discussion, is the possibility that we might feel the same kinds of emotions towards machine as we do towards other humans–and (get ready for it) that they might be able to reciprocate. I wish I had seen the movie “Her.” But even though I haven’t, I still want to talk about this intriguing story in which a man falls in love with his operating system. This raises all kinds of fascinating questions about the relationship between humans and computers, and ultimately the relationship between our bodies and our minds/emotions.

Want to take this a step further? Ask Siri what she thinks about “Her” — and see if you get the same responses as these folks in the New York Times.