The group started out with three memebers, but within the first few weeks of the semester, Daniel dropped the course. Byrd Dunaway and I continuted our wonderful weekly discussions of identity-related issues for quite some time, but alas, in the final iteration, the Technology and Identity group consists entirely of me.
So, any comments or correspondence for the group should be directed to me - Jef Samp firstname.lastname@example.org.
We intend to explore the dynamic character of individual identity in the domain of new information technologies and related phenomena. To this end, we will examine both new facets of the traditional models of personal identity and the degree to which such models have been marginalized, eliminated or replaced in new technological environments.
"Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" Charles Ray, Art Department, UCLA
One image from Charles Ray's presentation stands out in my memory of the event - a slide photograph of a series of pipes extending from the floor in a strange rectangular pattern, converging on a collection of household objects held suspended about two feet in the air. He described it as an attempt to capture the functional essence of a coffee table - and in some sense it does. This lead me to analagous thoughts regarding the current status of Identity on the internet - when we say we "know someone" that we've only had encounters with in cyberspace, we are aware of their Identity, I think, in the same way that Charles Ray's sculpture is a table. We have a functional essence meant to stand-in for the real thing, but the fact that it is such a skeletal and impoverished model lends it an increased capacity for anonymity and deception.
"Clicking In: Digital Cinema, Virtual Sets and Infinite Reality" Lynn Hershman, Art Department, UC Davis
The first part of Lynn Hershman's talk was very productive for our group. She talked a lot about an art project she'd done where for several years she'd spent several hours a week creating a new identity. She dressed differently, put on a wig, took on a different manner of movement and speech, and went into the world to interact with people around her. This alternate identity kept a diary (with handwriting completely unlike Lynn's) and went to a psychiatrist regularly.
In real life, this sort of behaviour - the attempted maintainence of two identities is seen as bizarre, or at least bizarre enough for it to be an avant garde art project. In cyberspace, it's a way of life. MUDS and MOOS sprung up around the theme of taking on new identities for the purpose of exploration. Byrd had a lot of interesting things to say about theatrical and travel metaphors for internet communities, and this lecture resulted in several good converstations.
"The Information Economy" Hal Varian, Dean and Professor, School of Information Management and Systems
"Copyright in CyberSpace" Pam Samuelson, Professor, School of Information Management and Systems and Boalt School of LawThese lectures were very interesting, but not very germaine to the group's discussions.
"The Internet as a Populated Place" Pavel Curtis, Placeware, Inc.
This was underwhelming. I had anticipated great things after Judith Donath's talk about "populated places" on the internet and the trajectory of social interaction, but Pavel Curtis's project was less than exciting. He detailed a fairly interesting history of his time working for Xerox Parc, and then launched into his advertisement for a new piece of software his new company is putting out called placeware. I was fortunate enough to demo it, and since I've signed a non-disclosure agreement, all I can say is that I'm very disappointed. Judith showed us examples of a wide variety of new possibilites for personal representation based on very interactive and human spaces. By contrast, I found the Placeware product cold and corporate. There is no individual identity beyond a simple login-name, which is what the internet is populated with already.
"Smart Cars on Smart Roads: An End to Congestion?" Pravin Varaiya, Professor, Electrical Engineering & ComputerScienceThis was interesting, but again not central to the focus of our group.
"Tele-Robotics via the World Wide Web" Ken Goldberg, Assistant Professor, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, creator of the Tele-GardenThis was a great talk filled with anecdotes about an online community bound to a plot of land that they interact with telerobotically. Prof Goldberg talked a lot about tele-epistemology, his own inquiry into how we come to know things through our technological proxies. Further discussions with him have lead to me joining an undergraduate project he's working on this summer.
"Living in Cyberia: A Case Study of Internet Culture" Nina Wakeford, Professor, University of Shefffield, UKThis was not exciting. I stayed for the whole thing, hoping for some sort of discussion of relevant issues, but instead it was essentially an advertisement for a british cybercafe. The sociology was all about the people in the cafe rather than on-line, and the findings were less than startling - cyber cafe's are less about cyber and more about tourism. People come in to be cool, but don't generally spend a lot of time on line, because they're being charged by the hour.
Film Presentation: The Virtual Wasteland: Visions of Heaven and HellA very luddite approach to the effects of technology, the droning narraration warned us of coming apocolypses and the evils of engineering. While I sympathize with many of the points made, I feel the issues are more complex than this overly-slick production painted them to be, and I highly question the reliance on rock-stars and sci fi authors as the bulk of interviewees. I thought it was telling that the fellow that announced the film took off 5 minutes into it.
"Synthetic Pleasures"Perhaps slightly worse than Visions of Heaven and Hell, this bizarre collage of eye-candy and absurdities played more like a 21st century freakshow than any sort of documentary. Neon-clad multi-pierced night-club denizens were given more time on the screen then serious science writers. Ed Regis, a lucid popularizer of nanotechnology, was asked to comment on the future of "cybersex". Issues of nanotechnology were left to other, less qualified individuals. The film is a hedonist's paradise, a mindless celebration of the sensual side of modern technology: cybersex, smart drugs and techno pop. My mistake was walking into the theater expecting anything more.