Work done, we may now rest

We were running out of poo bags so I tipped the whole basket of Poppet things on the floor to fish out any that were left straggling.

Poppet, on the other hand, decided to help herself to various balls and toys, take them into the bedroom and work on their annihilation. I didn’t even know she’d be particularly interested in toys indoors any more, but it seems she is.

***

Meanwhile, I have been working hard on getting a PhD proposal in, and managed to hit send one hour before midnight on the day before the deadline. It’s still not perfect, but it looks a lot more like a proposal than the noodly jazz style of writing I started off with.

This is what I ended up with;

Desire Lines – Creating the Sustainable Digital City

In Finland planners are known to visit their
parks immediately after the first snowfall,
when the existing paths are not visible.
People naturally choose desire lines, which
are then clearly indicated by their footprints
and can be used to guide the routing of paths.

Earls Court Project Application 1 | Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
Cultural Strategy | June 2011

The concept of digital personhood is of a piece with an ongoing discussion within discourses about ‘what is identity’. We are individuated from others and we identify with others, and in our online groups, as in any subculture, we have ways of expressing who we are within multiple groupings. Unlike physical culture, however, we do this through the ether, using an ever mutating linguistic metre, and through a digitally specific mode of ‘sharing’ (Kleon 2012). We reblog and share everything from political information and mobilization to Lolcat macros and animated gifs rather than, for example, expressing ourselves with dress and going to a particular night club or cafe (Hebdige1979). What is unique to digital identity is it’s location online and it’s freedom from geography and from the embodied self. How that manifests in the digital realm can be as unelaborated as the daily rapport I have with my dad playing Words With Friends (without ever engaging in any kind of conversation) or as proliferated as having continuous dialogues with individuals all over the internet using more than one username each. Over a variety of IFTTT (IF This Then That) pathways, for example you can have your activity under one name show up in a stream you have under another name and host discussions of a single item through various blogging platforms with different audiences. 

One’s own set of digital identities can be confusing as can keeping up with those of our friends. I have been on Facebook long enough now that I have forgotten who I knew primarily from Livejournal, and who else they might know from there until someone from one part of my life comments on someone who feels like they are from another part of my life’s post. I can then have a small moment of having my mind blown that someone I know tangentially from a visit to New York is actually quite friendly with someone who I now know in person who lives in Kirkintilloch, and they don’t know each other through me. 

The virtual world is thus threaded together with lines of code running without much respect for geography. It’s boundaries are elsewhere. Underneath the user interface is the code – what is secret to the user manifests as strongly delineated fields where one may or may not interact. What is given and what is created are in constant flux, and are more or less transparent to us depending on whether we are conversant with, happy with given constrictions, or whether we want to cut across the field.

The coders and content creators of the past decade or so are frontierspeople as well as early adopters. What is interesting to me is that this generation of people are effectively a liminal group – they are people, for instance, who may have learned analogue recording techniques and photographic techniques before digital technology existed and had to work out how to digitize before scanners, digital cameras, and monitors, for instance, were in common use. But it is not just professional artists and developers who interest me, but simply the creativity of everyday life (de Certeau 1980) as manifest online. Oral histories from this group of individuals would constitute a unique archive. The age group I am looking at will be anywhere between 30 and 60 years old right now, and are a distinct group from digital natives largely through having engaged with rapidly emergent and changing technologies. 

The City/The City

Digital culture reveals itself in two ways. First, the ‘hardware’ and it’s real time and real space relationship with buildings, cities, countries, their economies and international relations, and secondly the ‘ghost in the machine’ – how we, ourselves, connect, express ourselves, and maintain social connection through work and leisure online. 

The ‘digital city’ wouldn’t even be possible as a metaphor, were it not for the time we spend there voluntarily. We can ‘work, rest, and play’ online. 

I will argue that the internet already hosts a multitude of cultures beyond the hegemony of Google, Mac and Amazon which posit the ‘user’ merely as ‘customer’. I will use Marx’s theory of Cultural Reproduction and the later developments thereof to show that despite big business and governmental wishes individuals will use the internet and it’s elaborations in surprising ways and to their own ends.

At it’s simplest, Marx says ‘every schoolboy knows’ that any viable culture is only viable if it contains within itself it’s means of reproduction. As in the petri dish, so in society. Further elaborations include Althusser’s ‘ideological state apparatuses’ which show how power reproduces itself, and Bordieu’s more culturally inclined ‘cultural reproduction’ (Jenks: Routledge 1993)

If the internet is a city, then by extension we can use it as a source of extended metaphoricity. Grounded as it is, we can map it, we can look at various ‘boroughs’ we can consider places we work and play there, and we can consider infrastructure – the very brickwork and plumbing it relies on, its’ highways and byways, and its’ social spaces.

We can consider how it mirrors the development of ‘the city’ with the emergence of the coffee house, for instance, and how tea mediated women’s society, and compare these to the social spaces online.

Imagining the internet as a city implies stratification, routedness over rootedness (Gilroy) social mobility, spaces for interactions, all the conveniences and advances of ‘civilized’ life, and like the advent of civilization itself, we are often inventing as we go along.

If this is a city then it has been a gold rush Wild West city but perhaps it is becoming another kind of city, a Soft City (Raban, Harvill Press 1974) a non linear city with direct lines to the past, personal memories and indeed legend itself. It is a city with underground passages, secret codes and worm holes leading us blinking back into the half light of a repurposed town hall for a meeting of Dorkbot. This, then, is a city where we can invent and reinvent ourselves, meeting others who share our interests or online modalities. 

Situated Knowledges/Digital Personhood – Groups and Identity

From the Cartesian selfhood of being human because we are neither machines nor animals, to Haraway’s cyborgs, we have traveled a long road. From the startling inception of the use of the fork at table to using our iPhone to identify a leaf on a ramble, we are human because we are somewhat animal and somewhat machine. If you read through to the end of Pepys’ diary, for instance, you will discover that he did not write his diary all the way to the time of his death, but abandoned it for want of a technology many of us take for granted – eyeglasses. 

All of human life is here, and it uses the technology in whatever way is transparent and useful to their needs. In the event of governmental or brand lockdowns other means are found. Agency flows through the structure stopping only to notice it when it’s annoying and either doesn’t work properly or there is any element of learning to be done. The general fuss whenever Facebook changes something is extraordinary when you consider how little it takes to adapt to a new iteration. 

How, then, do digital technologies mediate self expression, self curation, and perhaps even self deception? I will look at how we define ourselves as individuals separate from ‘the group’ and as part of groups, utilizing interdisciplinary methods from sociology, anthropology, linguistics and literature. Though historical analysis, action research and ethnomethodological epistemologies I propose to study how digital culture might reproduce itself, and how digital personhood is constructed through processes of forming and norming in social spaces online and how restrictions and regulations are mediated by individuals and groups.

***

I wouldn’t have thought of applying for a PhD except for two factors. One was that I was asked to submit, albeit casually (on Twitter, in fact!) As an art/social science kind of person I wouldn’t have thought of applying to something put out by a ‘Faculty of the Built Environment’ anywhere at all, and perhaps even more particularly Heriot Watt, which is a uni I would never have got into as a young thing.

The other reason is one you may be familiar with – the ongoing and increasing duress that people on the ESA are being put under. I’d thought if they sent me to work it’d be fine, because I’d be stretchered out within a couple of days anyway, but it’s not that simple. The whole thing is super stressful – if you read my recent post about half an hour spent at Reed then you will know that I can’t deal with this kind of stress very well, and it’s set to increase.

A recent Panorama docco, The Great Disability Scam investigated the companies carrying out the ‘work’ for the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) highlighting these firm’s policy of cream and park. A spokesman for the DWP said this;

…which is not how the private companies commissioned to roll out “support” are doing it.

currently too ill to work – not something they give any quarter to.

the right support– yeah, right. These companies are staffed by sales staff. They are not specialists.

when they are well enough – from April we will be treated as jobseekers, with all the proving you are seeking work and appointments that that entails.

gradually – we are being pressured into taking a self employment route which will be supported for one year if taken before April.

One of the firms employing these functionaries was ratted out by an ex employee who told Panorama  “Triage call their disabled clients LTBs (lying, thieving bastards)” It is interesting to observe that in order to dehumanize their clients enough to justify their cruelty the Triage ‘workers’ employ hate speech.

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.”
― Primo Levi

Were I to be accepted for the PhD it would take me out of this war of hatred against the vulnerable for three years. At least if I got the thing, if things are as bad in three years time I can insist on them calling me Doctor.

4 responses to “Work done, we may now rest

  1. I’ve already told you, but I’ll tell you again. I think this is brilliant, and I’m so proud of you. And if they don’t accept you, they’re fools. FOOLS, I say!

    I might call you Doctor anyway. Also, make sure you get to New York, lady, we need you here. The city needs some fanciness in it in the form of YOU.

    • That is indeed my plan. I will do UK peeps first, to get some work behind me and refine my style, then I will come to the Americas. (Well, NY and California probably)

      My friend Hazel is already calling me Doctor. And I am calling her it back. I think we all should, Dr D.

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