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Study Group Page

Page history last edited by cameron.sanchez@iwc.edu 10 years, 3 months ago

Here is a page that people can use to leave questions, comments and answers for each other.  Note:  only one writer at a time can edit the page.


Key to the "voices below:


Dr. M - Times New Roman Black Bold 115%

Carrie=red..normal? (not really) Hahahaha

Kate= pink

Cameron Sanchez- normal font 12pt



"Technology education aims at students' learning about what technology helps to do and what it hinders us from doing; it is about how technology uses us, for good or ill, and about how it has used people in the past, for good or ill. It is about how technology creates new worlds, for good or ill."


                                   - most important line i read in the new postman article 




Question:  what are some of the major new media technologies that we've studied so far?  What are some of the major effects they had---according to the writers we've read?


Responses: I assume since the question says "new" media technologies, you do not mean symbols and signs or the anthropology finds of the stones for counting.  So I think that the first new media "technology" was writing.  Innis, in Media in Ancient Empires talks about the writing that was developed by Egyptians(hieroglyphics) that went above oral history to recording it on stone for more permanency.  Second, the shift from stone to papyrus, talked about in also in Innis, where he says, "permitted cursive forms suited to rapid writing." and "ceased to resemble pictures and became script."(p.24)  He explains that papyrus caused a marked increase in writing by hand and was accompanied by secularization of writing, thought, and activity, causing a "social revolution"(same page)  Third, the alphabet.  Logan in Writing and the Alphabet talks about this major effect separating the knower from the knowledge that writing permitted, and alphabet encouraged classification and codification of information.(p.61)  Each spoken word to be transcribed had to be broken down into its phonemic(sound) components and then given a unique letter.  Major effects of alphabet?  Intellectual strides were made, deductive logic, abstract science, rational philosophy(62)  The alphabet was also a precursor to number system which math equations possible.  Fourth, Mumford and the Invention of Printing, moveable types which people could move letters around to create words, slap paper on top, ink it, and recreate it faster than writing out by hand.  This led to books which allowed more information to be recorded quicker, easier access to knowledge by many different types of people, and globally shared ideas.  Also, The Trade in News (p.113) printing gave rise to a variety of periodical publications which reported events and conveyed information of a political and commercial character(113).  Led to trade and commercial activity, postal services, production and dissemination of news with leaflets, posters, etc.(114).  Someone else comment on the others?  printing press, telegraph, photography, etc...Carrie


Question:  what are the basic characteristics of a "media-ecology-type claim"?  What are some examples we've encountered so far?


Responses: A media ecology type of claim, is a claim that takes into account the concept that media environments, technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a paramount role in human interactions. A close friend of mine once made the "media ecology" type claim that "the computer fosters the purport of self-isolation and or condemnation," or in other words, the computer defines the message that is exhibited to the world. From his viewpoint, e-mails emit an isolating aura and an aura of caution and self-reluctance on the part of the sender. In contrast, another media ecology claim, "Our iPODS, as an extension of ourselves, put us in a constant state of egocentrism, where we are the star in our own world (a world that requires no interaction with others, and a world in which others can put their blinders on and create their own life stories).The great and wise Marshall McLuhan has popped up many times this semester making the claim, "The medium is the message." This is what media ecology claims all boil down to (the specific medium that we use to express ourselves, whether that is e-mail, face-to-face interactions, letters, etc; has a profound impact on the message that others receive). Media ecology claims are strong and solid. They are claims that are not made haphazardly, in contrast, they are made with a deep understanding of media environments, and the great effect they have on large masses of people. I remember earlier in the semester, Michael Lowe, made what I would think of as a media ecology type of claim, in response to Al Gore's piece, "...televsion affects the mind's logical abilities negatively as compared to print sources." This claim is that the medium (television) is the message (has a negative effect on one's mind compared with print sources). 



Question:  I still don't get the difference between Signals and Symbols.


Responses:Okay, Signals are CONCRETE.  For example, they are the same all the time like a stop sign is the same everywhere in the world.  It might have different words on it, but the shape and color are the same.  Another example of a signal is that it causes a specific reaction, like maybe the universal symbol for choking, or like in the Seinfeld movie, an exclamation point.  It always means the same thing, just like a period is always at the end of a sentence and means STOP READING THIS SENTENCE.  That is my interpretation anyway.  Try to remember the story of the monkey driving the car.  If the light turns green, he goes no matter what because green means go.


Carrie--But didn't Elaine and her boyfriend interpret the exclamation point differently?  I think the point was that he treated it as a signal, but she treated it as a symbol (of his attitude towards her, his attitude towards the idea of marriage and couplehood and parenthood, etc.).  This seems to illustrate one of the strangest and most compelling facts about human beings ---     WE CAN TREAT ANYTHING AS A SYMBOL FOR SOMETHING ELSE.  Thus "symbols" are ultimately totally arbitrary---that is, in fact, their great strength.  We can use anything as a vehicle for meaning----a facial expression, a button worn on a jacket, a casual remark, etc.  And knowing that others are capable of investing unlimited meaning in arbitrary marks, gestures, words, means we are always wondering "what did s/he MEAN by that?"  That is the ultimate human question.  And one that animals don't have to struggle with.  It forces us out of our instinctual reactions to the world and makes us live consciously and socially.  We are always having to imaginatively reconstruct the minds and thinking patterns of others to figure out "what did that just mean?"

 Okay, so am I wrong that an exclamation point isn't a signal???   I thought a signal was a thing that is concrete and means something specific.  I understand that it was interpreted differently by Elaine and her man, but I thought ultimately he was write in using it as a signal...please elaborate ...


Carrie -- my point is that you shouldn't look at it in an absolute sense.  Anything that can convey information can function as a symbol---if it's treated as one.  For instance, a red light on a traffic light is considered a signal.  But if I write a song lyric that goes "I was cruisin' towards your love when the light turned red", I would be using as a symbol something that is NORMALLY treated as a signal.  I have removed it from its normal context and made it into a metaphor for human emotions. Would it really be correct to say that I have it "wrong"?  That a stop light is NOT a symbol for human emotions?  It is if I use it that way!


So it would be inaccurate to say that whether a thing is a signal or a symbol is determined by the thing itself.  It is determined by the way it is used or treated.  In philosophical language, we would say that it's a "function", not a "substance."  If you treat something as a symbol, that automatically makes it a symbol in that instance.  If everyone in the world treats the thing only as a signal, it still has the potential of functioning as a symbol if someone decides at some point to use it that way.  This is really what literature does---it finds "symbolic possibilitis" or "symbolic uses" for the things in our lives that most normal people don't notice or see deep meaning in. 


One of the special joys of reading Freshman Comp papers is to be introduced to the most unexpected transformations of things into symbols.  Every week I read sentences like:  "He treated me like a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup----just an outside shell of candy filled with a salty heart of peanut butter."  This may not be GREAT literature, but it's the same transformation that occurs in all literary language----a "normal" thing is wrenched violently from its normal context and forced to function as a symbol for something else.  And in its own way, it's just a thrilling to see that transformation happen from the pen of young writers as it is when it comes from masters of poetry.  It's still a kind of "magic" that only humans can create---and only other humans can appreciate or even notice.


The comedy of this Seinfield episode is generated by the fact that the two people are "reading" the same thing---the exclamation point---in different ways.  To the boyfriend, it's just a punctuation signal, with a clear, singular, concrete, specific meaning limited to punctuation.  But to Elaine, it has become symbolic of his entire attitude towards her, towards being "serious", having a future with children, etc.



Symbols are a little different.  Symbols can mean different things for different people.  To put it in maybe today terms, gang signs or colors.  One gang might be offended by a particular body movement, while another uses that same body movement as a sign of unity.  I don't know if that is a very good example, but I live in Burlington, so I see that alot.  The article in our book, "The Art and Symbols of Ice Age Man" on page 5 describes symbols pretty well.  Also, on page 15, it says, "symbols are things whose special meaning allows us to conceive, express, and communicate ideas.  For example, in our society black is the symbol of death, the star-spangled banner stands for the United States, and the cross for Christianity."  Think about it like that.  A symbol stands for something.  A ring on your left finger stands for engagement or marriage(in our culture).  It is important to remember that symbols change with different cultures.  "the color black which evokes death in our culture may just as well stand for life in another culture."(p.15)  Try to think of things in your own life that are symbols and signs and maybe that will help you understand.



Question:  What is a "commodity" and what does it have to do with the telegraph?


Responses: I guess my major take on the commodity market has been more recent than the readings.  I somewhat gathered from the readings that the connection lied in the telegraph's ability to instantly transmit reports.  These reports allowed for speculation, speculation led to homoginization (sameness) of goods (in other words they became the same in all aspect, everything was alike).  It was this sameness that allowed for the future's market to grow.  An example Dr. M gave was of farming and the way that farmers have been forced to use certain seeds, crops had to be of a certain grade, ect in order to make money...


Something recent that really cemented the concept for me is the stock market crisis.  The stock market is the quinticentially speculation at work.  The fluxuating Dow is a direct result of all the information (conflicting mostly) of the state of the global economy.  Another example that might help could be the fluxuating gas prices and the news that OPEC may be cutting production because of falling oil prices.


Hope this helps.


Question:  How, supposedly, does photography reveal "the secret strangeness of everyday life---as stated in "The Genius of Photography"?




Question:  Why is Gutenberg's invention considered one of the most important in the history of civilization?  What was new about it?  What major effects did it have?


Responses: Please see my comments on the printing press.  I think it is directly related to this.


Question:  I still don't get the "Ecology" part of "Media Ecology" -- what does it mean?  How does it relate to what we're doing in this class?


Responses:The official dictionary definition of "ecology" is the science of the relationships between organisms and their environments. AND the branch of sociology that is concerned with studying the relationships between human groups and their physical and social environments.  SO.. When I think of the word "media ecology" I consider it the study of how the different forms of media that have occured over time have affected communities, society, and each one of us as an individual.  I think it relates to the work we are doing in this class because we are trying to learn (1) about the different types of media there have been (2) how the inventions of those different things changed the lives of the people and societies during the times they were created and (3) how all of the "media" that has occured since the beginning of time has shaped the way that we as humans live our lives today and create new technologies as a result.  Comments?


Here's Neil Postman, the inventor of the term "Media Ecology":


We had chosen [the phrase media ecology], since we wanted to make people more conscious of the fact that human beings live in two different kinds of environments. One is the natural environment and consists of things like air, trees, rivers, and caterpillars. The other is the media environment, which consists of language, numbers, images, holograms, and all of the other symbols, techniques, and machinery that make us what we are. . . . We put the word “media” in the front of the word “ecology” to suggest that we were not simply interested in media, but in the ways in which the interaction between media and human beings give a culture its character and, one might say, help a culture to maintain symbolic balance. If we wish to connect the ancient meaning with the modern, we might say that the word suggests that we need to keep our planetary household in order.


Here's another quote from Postman:


Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on. That is why we must be cautious about technological innovation. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible.


Question:  What was different about books---how they were made, how they were written, how they were read, how they were treated, how they were used---in the "manuscript" age (before the printing press).


Responses:  In my opinion, books were originally created to organize and store information that had been kept in the mind or spread through oral traditions.  Not many people in those times were literate, and thus scribes came about that were responsible for copying knowledge down into books.  Books became an artifact of knowledge to be studied and reviewed, reflected upon, and shown to others.  Books also became a form of art.  Since not very many people were literate enough to write them, they were very personal works to the author.  They were given deep thought and "love".  To answer the question of how they were used, it is my own opinion that they were monopolized by the Church in order to control the lower classes and illiterate.(p.73)  Please someone else comment to make this answer more thorough!!

Question:  Why is the printing press called "the first machine of mass production"?  How did this change the way people used texts?  How did it change our orientation from the past to the future?  How did it supposedly help influence the concept of "Progress"?


Responses: The printing press was not only the first mass produced machine, but by nature was mass production.  People found that now instead of only being able to copy things as fast as the hand could write, they were able to place a sheet of paper down, turn the press, and bingo-bango-bongo, a fully completed pace in a fraction of the time. 


This led to the emergence of mass produced books-all of equal quality, without the problems of scribal drift (minute changes from one scribe to the next that over several copies drastically altered the integrity of the original work).  This uniformity and speed of production allowed for cheaper books which made them more accessable to the general public.  This increased literacy and allowed people to rely on text to remember things as opposed to memorization, which in turn allowed people to utilize their brains in new ways.  This also allowed for specialization of knowledge.  It was through specialization and consulting related work in a field that many new advancements were made.


Dr M gave the example of the herbalist and his book.  By contributions in subsequent additions, the information became more precise and more accurate through many people's input.  The modern equivalent he asserted was the wiki - many hands create a more informed whole.


Excellent Lydia---Could you be even more precise in explaining the steps whereby printing allowed things like maps, pictures of plants, and texts (like, say the Bible) to become ever more "correct"? This is a very important point and it relates to the idea of the "Doctrine of Human Progress" which becomes so characteristic of the advanced Western civilization from about 1650 to 1914 (roughly the age of Isaac Newton to the start of World War I).

 Isn't the answer to that because now different people could take the book, compare it to other things they observed, and add to it or even refute it as not really true?  They could delve deeper into ideas of science, math, medicine, and look smaller and smaller and more precise?


Lydia:  you're getting warmer, but why, exactly could this same procedure not have worked in the age of hand-copied manuscripts?

That was me(carrie) in the red.  Is the answer because mostly scribes hand-copied manuscripts and they weren't really allowed to change anything even if it was wrong?  Or are you more leaning toward the answer of things like maps, texts, etc. globalized ideas and brought more people together than handwritten texts could do...

Question:  What is "abstraction"? -- why is it such an important concept in this class?  It keeps coming up over and over again.  What are some of the varied ways it has applied to the material we've covered?


My notes reference p.16 in our book to help describe abstraction.  It talks about how data was "abstracted" from notched signs. (1)they translated concrete information into abstract markings(2)they removed the data from their context(3)they separated the knowledge from the knower, presenting data in a cold and static visual form, rather than in the hot and flexible oral medium.  So I interpreted abstraction to be a way of reading the material, pulling out main points, analyzing them as to what the author meant, and what you personally could draw from the author's ideas.  Then taking those ideas and trying to put them into a different context applying it to other ideas.  I think it is important in this class because in order to truly try to understand the material you have to take the author's ideas and expand on them.  How has it applied to the material we've covered so far?  Well, in our discussion today about Sontag, I think we used abstraction to analyze WHY she felt the way she did about photography, and also to talk about the picture of the train.  We tried to understand the material before we judged it.  The same with your Obama and Palin photos. 


OK, let's work with that and talk about "abstraction" more "abstractly" -- it's the process of "pulling out" certain important information and leaving behind the rest of the information.  This makes certain patterns stand out more.  Here's a selection from the wikipedia entry on abstraction: 


Abstraction is the process or result of generalization by reducing the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, typically in order to retain only information which is relevant for a particular purpose. For example, abstracting a leather soccer ball to a ball retains only the information on general ball attributes and behaviour.


Here's an example of an abstraction process that begins at the bottom with a very particular, detailed thing.  Each step "pulls out" or "drags away" certain information, while leaving the rest behind.  Each level becomes more abstract, more general:


(1) a publication

(2) a newspaper
(3) The San Francisco Chronicle
(4) the May 18 edition of the Chronicle
(5) my copy of the May 18 edition of the Chronicle
(6) my copy of the May 18 edition of the Chronicle as it was when I first picked it up (as contrasted with my copy as it was a few days later: in my fireplace, burning)


Abstraction is perhaps THE most characteristic activity of the human mind.  It's what allows us to form "higher order concepts," "generalizations," etc.  We can use these to make sophisticated mental models of the world which allow us to explore different possibilities.

Think of the example I used to explain how the abstraction proces allowed man to conceive of the airplane as a prelude to actually inventing it

I think i get it now...the ladder paper you gave us...

Good -- and both Langer and Hayakawa believe that symbols are the key to abstraction.  Because we are "symbolic animals" we can abstract, which means we are not tied cognitively to the "here and now" to the immediate circumstances.  We can dream, imagine, travel back in time, forward to the future, imagine a different outcome, visualize change, etc.  That's only possible because we can move up and down the "abstraction ladder" and encode our variously abstract conception in symbols.  Even something as simple as a statement that says "The national GDP is projected to grow by 5% over the next 5 years" is the product of incredible abstraction.  Economists have abstracted every individual economic exchange in the entire nation and come up with a high level abstraction called GDP ("Gross Domestic Product" -- the total wealth generated by a nation).  This allows us to look at the past for how GDP responded to different factors and to build models of the future that predict how GDP will be effected by a whole variety of factors.  Having these models allows us to make better decisions NOW about what we should do next.  But if GDP had not been "abstracted" from all those messy individual transactions, none of that modeling and forecasting could have occurred.  And this is true for any field.  Physics advanced because very high level abstractions were created, things like "Mass", "Energy" "Work" "Heat".  These could be plugged into equations, which are little machines for juggling different possibilties and making models about how the world works and will work in the future.

Back to symbols.  Because they are arbitrary, Einstein can say:  "Let E= energy, Let M = Mass, let c = the speed of light."  Only if he can do that can he write:  E = mc [squared] and express an absolutely basic truth about the universe that holds in every situation.  Because he could abstract and "hold" those abstractions in arbitrary symbols, he could talk about universal things, not just particulars.

Freedom of the mind is based on escaping the immediacy and particularity of our experiences.  If you listen closely to people, you will notice that the most unhappy, unempowered people are the ones who are completely obsessed by the tiny, concrete details of their own lives.  They cannot escape their own egotism or the "tyranny of the present".  They are always in the NOW, which means they are always being dominated by the particular circumstances they find themselves in.  Mental, emotional, spiritual freedom (and empowerment) come from transcending our immediate circumstances, "abstracting" out of it and moving to new levels.  Of course we can't "stay up in the clouds" -- that can produce a different kind of "unfreedom."  The real trick is being able to move up and down the abstraction ladder, consciously, confidently, effectively----to understand where we are at all times and why and what our options are for getting more concrete and specific on the one and and more general and abstract on the other.  When he are master climbers of this ladder, we are have achieves maximum freedom --- or so I believe as an educator.




Question:  What is digital information?  How did it evolve and come to dominate our information environment?  What effects has it had?




Question:  What are differences between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom?  How can being mindful of these differences help us survive and thrive in the "information age"? Data, information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are arranged in a "ladder effect," with data being the bottom rung and wisdom being the top step (a level that is complex and difficult to achieve). Data is pure and raw information. It is "what it is" (simple information), having no significance beyond its immediate existence (it's just facts, numbers, statistics and words with no given meaning). It can exist in pretty much any form, as long as it is stored. Information, on the other hand, is data with meaning by some relational connection. So, if one were to compare data vs. information; information is data with a specific meaning attached to it. Knowledge is the next step up the thinking ladder. Knowledge is the collection of data in a way that is useful for individuals. For example, a child that memorized the capital of every state in the U.S. would have a lot of knowledge about that given subject. He has collected his data about that subject and put it in his memory for safe storage. But if that same child were asked what the capital of every country in South America was, the child would struggle as the capital of those countries wouldn't be stored knowledge. It would be new knowledge, that previously had never been processed. A step up from knowledge is understanding. Understanding is the deep process of taking stored knowledge and applying that with new garnered information. Understanding is, in a way, like learning. One takes the knowledge they previously had, compares that knowledge with new knowledge, and then forms correlations between those two sets of data. It's a learning process instead of a memorizing process. So in summary, the knowledge one previously had combines with new knowledge, creating a stronger, and more diverse knowledge base than before. The final step up the ladder is wisdom. Wisdom consists of all past knowledge combined with deep moral, ethical, and psychological understanding. It is a complex and deep process compared with the other four levels of thinking. Wisdom comes with experience, and is by defintion, the process in which individuals discern right from wrong, and then use that knowledge to develop questions that are deep, oftentimes complex, and questions in which there often is no easy answer for. The big difference between this level of thinking and all previous levels, is that this form of thinking, a computer or machine could never fathom to duplicate. It requires such a high level of thinking combind with moral and ethical judgement, which machines, at least at this time, cannot perform.


It is important to be mindful of these thinking levels, as a lot of new information is shoved our way everyday. We live in David Shenk's "data smog" world, where our minds are never fully clear. It is important that we be able to differentiate between these levels to make wise and educated decisions. Data is great and serves an important purpose, but having a solid knowledge base of previously known data combined with new information, a dynamic understanding of that new information, the ability to find correlations between the two sets of data, and being able to take that knowlege and ethically and morally examine it to formulate not-so-easy to understand questions, leads one into the realm of wisdom. With all the information that surrounds us everyday, we must be vigilant and alert to the different types of information we have been given, and then be able to critically examine that new information to decipher between data and true knowledge. If we took all information that we are garnered at face-value and projected that information as the Gospel truth, then we ourselves would never be aiming for that high level of wisdom. We would be, in contrast, isolating ourselves to the lower levels of thinking (that of harboring pure data without much knowledge).


Question:  What is the value for today's students of studying older forms of media and the changes they produced in bygone eras?  Isn't this just a question for historical specialists?  I mean who cares about papyrus scrolls carried by charoits over Roman roads in B.C. times?  We use e-mail now!

I think it is very important for students to study all forms of media because they need to have an understanding of where things come from.  This class has taught me so much information, "data" about inventions and advancements in technology that I never knew about, and as the semester has gone on, I was able to use my new "knowledge" to build an "understanding" of how the media forms through time have expanded on each other and led to the next new technology.  I feel that now that I have a deeper understanding of media, I can work on putting all of that "data" into a "wisdom" base, applying it to my own beliefs, life, choices, and my sons.  It is important to start this process not at my age of 35 but at the Kindergarten level or even younger in my opinion.  Children today are born into a data filled society that is moving so fast, and they need to be taught to stop, slow down, and process WHY, WHEN, HOW, and ultimately, WHAT NEXT?  They need to understand the abstractness of how we came to be the society that we are now, and how technology has changed us.  If all they learn now is how to use the internet, google, etc., then will they ever even be interested in learning about history?  That was one of my favorite parts of the class, and I didn't expect that.  E-mail is a tool, not an absolute.   

Question:  How does Carey's discussion of telegraphy and "transmission vs. transportation" models connect with Negroponte's discussion of "atoms vs. bits"?


Question:  What is the significance of the 'word vs. image' debate that has played such a large role in our studies this semester and came to its peak in the Postman vs. Paglia discussion?



Question:  What are the most important arguments for and against so-called "Web 2.0" or "the read-write web" characterized by such user-generated features like blogs, wikis, social-networking sites, YouTube, instant-messaging, and Google?


Question:  Does Postman (in the handout I gave to you on Wednesday) make a good case that our educational system has confused priorities when it comes to so-called "technical education"?  What about his proposals for how he thinks it should be done?





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