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It is not that hopeless, after all!

Once upon a time, there is a promised land where people could come and do whatever they want, or be whoever they wish to be. However, at the time that the rumor about this land was spreading, the access to it was very limited. Yet, in today world, this promised land could easily be entered and left as ease. The land name is The Internet. As more people get access to the Internet, many have found out that: maybe it’s not the promised land after all.

The Internet, when first invented, is thought of as a cyberspace where anonymity could help lift the person out of his/her offline life–and live a happily ever after online one. It is a space that promised equality, a space where offline identity could not be revealed if its owner chose to hide it. Yet, reality has proven that this promise could no longer sustain in today world.

As technology evolves, people have become far more connected than ever before. The distinction between an online and offline identity is getting blurred. Younger generations show an immersion between the two identities. As a result, the bad things, that we try to leave behind before getting to the promised land, are also carried on to this land. That means, now we have racism, homophobia, or bullying. Dr. Lisa Nakamura in the video below outlines a few types of online racism:

The promise of anonymity is no longer sustainable because online users rely on visual indicators (e.g. usernames, avatars, pictures) to tell them how to act online. Moreover, as more individuals have become tech-savvy. They have more knowledge of the web; thus, this knowledge enables them to actually find out people’s offline identities. Cases like the unmasking of Reddit’s Violentacrez or Alaxandra Wallace‘s Asians in the library show that online behaviors lead to real offline consequences.

However, it’s not all that bad. Besides all the negative things, there are good things. Many individuals and organizations are using online outlets to express, and try to spread awareness. For example, It Gets Better project aims to help LGBT individuals to know that they are not alone, and that they should not let themselves being bullied. One interest thing is that in Dr. Lisa Nakamura’s video above; she mentions people actively act out racisms online to bully other individuals. Yet, there are individuals that actually do that to achieve the opposite: spread awareness of the -isms, and voice their opinions on different social issues. An example of this is Canadian native Youtuber Peter Chao. Other famous Youtubers are famous for making social commentaries by acting out different stereotypical traits of their own races (E.g. KevJumba’s Girls are like M&M’s).

What should we do now that even the promised land, where we thought we could escape all the bad feelings for being us, couldn’t shelter us anymore? Well, like I have mentioned in my other blog posts. It all started with education. Teaching someone to read or write is not the hard part. Teaching that individual to love everyone equally without prejudices is the NOT easy one! I will leave my blog post with this:

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Is the Hunger Games just another movie, again?

To those who are looking for a review of the movie, the Hunger Games, will be disappointed because this blog is about something else entirely. In this post, I will be discussing about what so called Art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin Walter talks about the evolution of art from hieroglyphs, paintings, lithography, photography, to film. He also discusses about the loss of aura in these work of art. To him, the loss of aura happens because the work of art has lost its authority. “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (Benjamin). The reception toward an original piece of painting is (to Benjamin) more highly valued than the one toward films. In film, “individual reactions are predetermined by the mass audience response they are about the produce” (Benjamin). Therefore, according to Benjamin, a painting is contemplated by an individual, but an individual is contemplated by the film they watch.

For that reason, the mechanical reproduction of art, thus, is meant for the capitalistic gain of a few instead of the enjoyment of the masses. In today culture, this idea is well represented by the release of numerous movies every week. Not to mention, every summer is a race for blockbuster movies by big entertainment companies. Everything is calculated for the maximum gain. Those big companies make full use of the existing media ecology to test, create awareness, get attention, and create hype to their movies. Some has done a better job than others. For example, the movie Avatar is an example of how 20th Century Fox use various media outlets to promote the film. Different photos from the movie were “leaked” before the official trailer came out. This generated discussions from online communities. The movie producers released different versions for the trailer to add in the discussion. They even allowed the press to see 16 minutes from the movie before the official release date. Today press is no long just print. News, reviews, and anticipations are over the Internet from blogs, social networking sites, to online discussion pages. Not stopping there, 20th Century Fox also partnered with Coca Cola to have marketing campaign to promote the movie. Thus, people who do not have Internet connection and/or do not read newspaper now could see the presence of the about-to-be-released movie everywhere. The extensive use of every possible media outlet together with an actually good movie brought back $2 billion to its producers. Avatar is a movie that did satisfy the hype its producers created. However, not all movies could achieve the same thing. A few examples could be: The Green Lantern or Sucker Punch. Both were hyped up very well but the undeniable disappointment from the moviegoers tells a better story than all the flattering critics.

Even though Avatar was such a big success, people have already moved on to other big blockbusters. They always anticipate for a “better” one, a “bigger” one. I think this is the point Benjamin tries to say: would people anticipate or compare The Starry Night by Picasso to another painting? The feeling one individual developed for an original art piece is more valuable because its aura cannot be reproduced.

So, what can we do? Many people suggest supporting independent moviemakers. But why is it so hard? Why is hard for many artists to stay true to the art they love? Or is it possible for them to be big? I think there are possibilities for an art piece to reserve its aura even in this mechanical reproduction age. Many artists have already used the advanced technologies to their gain: videos on Youtube, blogs on different flat forms. The question after reading Benjamin Walter is how to reflect back on art when it has become “unoriginal?” This question could be answered through these youtube videos; viral blog posts etc. where people release their full imagination and frustration from the existing system. They do unorthodox things. The fact they have gained followers and subscribers mean that maybe the system is changing. It won’t go away, but there will be more room for both the “authenticity” and “unauthencity” to co-exist. Yet, for now, the Hunger Games will soon be just another big office movie.

Transmission – Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru’s Transmission is, in my opinion, a very entertaining book to read although that it has touched upon different subject matters such as effects of technology on society or cultural clashes between Eastern and Western countries (e.g. India vs. America). If you have not read it, then you can find the summary of the book here. For those that have read the book, I would like to focus this blog on only one aspect: how technology has made an impact on society.

The story began with Arjun Mehta found himself a “dream” job in America: being able to work in Silicon Valley. Arjun is a guy that is very good with computer. In fact, he is a well-known figure for the underground hackers world. Through the book, you can see that Arjun, and many like him (e.g. people that working with computers like guys in the anti-virus team), seems to be very distancing in relationships with people around them. They feel themselves being rewired differently from others in the society. They have their own “codes.” They tried hard to not make face-to-face contact with each other. They cannot feel themselves at ease with the world around them, as it is not as orderly organized than the one inside their computers. Karl Marx predicted this problem of social alienation in the 19th century as a result of capitalism. As people are distanced themselves from the end products, they become autonomous. They are controlled by the ones in power. Arjun Mehta left his country to pursue the “American dream.” However, in America, he realized that despite of having a great talent for the computer, he was still cheap labor to the capitalistic world. Although he was not living the life he had imagined, the “American poverty” to him was still a better idea than coming back to become a disgrace to his family in India.

Through the events in the book, you could see Thomas Friedman’s flat world notion plays around. With a better communication system, information travels with a faster rate. Arjun called home whenever he needed support. But toward the end after releasing virus  Leela, he blamed this communication system for being to readily as it would mean his family could know of what he did in instant. As the world is flat, the economic is also more globalized. The markets are inter-linked. They are connected in a way that if one country has a problem, many others would be affected. After being released, Leela the virus traveled faster than the speed of light to deteriorates many computer systems around the world just in a short period of time. This created chaos and uncertainties (or could be preferred to as “noises”) as people lost control in their daily activities. Moreover, with the advance of technology and the readiness of the information infrastructure, they have taken away Arjun’s control over the situation. He could not anticipate the consequences that virus Leela would bring. He could not predict that virus Leela would shut down businesses, systems, and bring him legal problems (not to mention problems to his beloved Indian starlet Leela Zahir—the one he named the virus after). Moreover, he could not also predict the metamorphosis rate of the virus. In this book, to me, virus Leela is not an accident nor a byproduct of the system as suggested in Parikka’s Digital Contagions. But, Parikka  was right that the virus has become more dangerous, more malicious as it gets out of its writer’s control.

Although the ending was not what I expected; yet, Transmission has showed how technology has become a big role in everyone’s life nowadays. It changes the way we see, think, or feel the world. It connects the people in society through an interconnected system but it also alienates people from keeping touch with their real world. As a biological virus that would kill people in a physical way, a computer virus (or a digital virus in general) would “kill” people in a mental way. Guy suffered from losing his identity because of the system being shuffled and damaged by virus Leela. Arjun disappeared after being associated as a cyber terrorist. For technology to be part of our lives, the threat of cyber terrorism is real and threatening to many. Unlike a biological virus that we could develop vaccinations for, we might not be able to have “vaccinations” for computer viruses. Computer viruses cannot be eradicated forever for different reasons. For it to be a system or a human reason, the fear of losing your own personal data (or even identity since we are all a number in the system) has also become a part of life like the technology that brought this fear to life.

Computer Stress