Category Archives: CommLab

Brooklyn Review Webdesign

Getting to work on the Brookyln Review redesign was my first time handcoding a web site using HTML and CSS. The last time I ran handcoded websites CSS was but a glimmer in some web developer’s eye and webrings ruled the day.

As expected, the most difficult part of the process was creating columns that exist side-by-side using float. Eventually, I was able to get it but I’m not sure quite how. I never realized quite how useful Firebug’s ‘inspect element’ feature is until I needed help identifying which ‘boxes’ I had created and where!

Check out the current site and my prototype redesign.

Response to Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

It was interesting to me to describe film as a return of the hieroglyph, and that in the absence of “ritual”, modern art has taken on social and physical functions. This seems to relate to Foster’s portrayal of media as mere information nuggets in “The Machine Stops” rather than as traditional “art”. Also consistent with Foster’s text is the notion of consumption of reproduced art as a separate experience from witnessing the authentic work complete with “aura”. In Foster’s text, Vashanti sees no need for direct experience or for witnessing such an “aura”, having already read witness accounts and having seen two-dimensional pictures depicting places and events. Foster clearly argues that this mode of experience is inferior through his weak, desensitized characters, although such a judgment seems less clear in the Benjamin text.

I would argue that the basic premise that art in the age of reproduction must necessarily be politicized in the absence of ritualistic purpose may be untrue. Due to the fact that any reader/viewer can now be an author, it seems that the represented viewpoints and purposes for building art would be too diverse, malformed, and contradictory to be consistently politicized. It seems that Benjamin’s idea that “the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character” in literature and film supports this idea. Even though Benjamin only suggests that the proletariat can participate in film through their consequential appearance in Soviet film, we have superseded that expectation and now all viewers can become creators via YouTube and accessible video equipment. Since the production of these communicative arts such as literature and film truly do belong to everyone it seems to me that the everyday individual may lack either the intent or skill required to produce politicized work.

The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops is a satirical warning against overindulgence in technology at the expense of physical experience, complex human interaction, and self-reliance.

Perhaps confusingly at first, the technology-addicted and meek residents of The Machine Stops seem to praise “ideas” above all else. Today, we regard ideas as generally virtuous things, the products of active, independent and creative thinking. In Foster’s text, ideas seem to refer more to pieces of information – factoids, opinions, and complaints from others that help shape citizens’ perceptions and feelings for them — hardly the products of critical thinking.

In Foster’s alternate future, these “ideas” are considered beneficial while the products of direct physical and sensory experience are disregarded. It seems that these direct experiences cannot inform what precisely to think or feel, requiring rather the individual to interpret and read one’s own feelings, a task that must be considered quite laborious by the citizens of Foster’s world.

Indeed, the popular lecturer implies that “first-hand ideas” or direct observation must be avoided in favor of championing the opinions/perspectives of others. Such a philosophy clearly minimizes the role of self-reliance and personal judgements and advocates conformity and acceptance of the status quo.

I found the text both amusing and disturbing, as many of the descriptions of a potentially interactionless human life seem familiar and consistent with our collective present day existence — which is a remarkable feat as it has been over 100 years since the text was written. The “ideas” of Fosters text exist today in the form of our Twitter tweets, our Facebook status messages, our YouTube comments, our reality television and our celebrity gossip magazines — while correspondingly, interacting in person continues to cede ground to the brevity and convenience of email, IM, and video chat. We run on treadmills and suffer from obesity epidemics because physical exercise seems repulsive, inconvenient and difficult for us. In Foster’s text, Vashanti complains that “there is no time” and that experiences taking more than 10 minutes are “a disastrous waste of time” — similarly, we complain today that there’s just no time to exercise.

The final lesson of Foster’s text is, of course, the destruction of civilization — as the decreasingly competent citizens are unable to maintain the Machine that provides their daily needs for them. The lesson is familiar but particularly well-illustrated: that it is both a disservice and dangerous to forget the strength (as well as the joy) that can be gained from direct, physical observation and experience in the shadow of technology’s supreme convenience.