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Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 5 months ago


9/15/08 Patti responding to Brian


I wanted to comment on Brian's take on Technicolor. Brian seeks to shift the terms of debate from race to class: "Hill analyzes the effect government programs, ethnic content sites, community technology centers, and minorities access to capital have on the technology gap.

To me it seems like this is far more a class issue than a race issue. Technology can be one of the tools used to help poorer communities prosper regardless of the unfortunate fact that minorities are still economically less prosperous than whites in this country. I guess there is a fine line between being discriminatory and helpful. It just seems presumtuous and counterproductive to equate minority with poor when adressing this issue."


Here's my response to Brian:

I too believe that the problem of a digital divide is more about class than race although the common thread is the fact that minorities are more often in a lower socio-economic class.


Amanda's response to Patti and Brian:

I beleive that race is a socially constructed concept, therefore I never use it. I believe that class is also socially constructed, a seasonal word. I do see the difference lying more in class due to accessibility. Not to say low class people are not granted technological access, but to conversely say high class people are granted access, plus, it's the best. Bentley, Honda, car, drivable...quality difference.



Craig responding to Brian and Tomeka

Brian opened my eyes to something i had not thought about...the issue of class as opposed to race in Technicolor. I think he hit the nail on the head, and it relates to what Tomeka said about how Banks seems to be clumping all African Americans into the same batch...Both Tomeka and Brian have very valid points here. I agree the digital divide seems to be more a matter of socio economics than race in most instances; however, there does seem to be some racism in the Technicolor article by Hoffman about immigrant workers in the silicon valley...


Temporary Access: Craig's response


In “Temporary Access,” by Amitava Kumar, Indian H1B visa workers were the subject of yet another disappointing tale of the American technology industry. There was a definite parallel between this article and Hossfeld’s “Their Logic Against Them”. It is no wonder Senator Phil Gramm was quoted as lobbying for the increase of H1B workers visas into this country, as it seems once again cheap labor is boosting the American economy and putting more wealth into the pockets of Silicon Valley investors. The story reminded me of tales I’ve heard of immigrants being exploited during the industrial revolution. I think the comparison to migrant workers was definitely on target. It also seems as though the old Indian caste system is at play here. In the article, Kumar discusses how the chain of command works in this system: many times, high level Indian executives bring H1B tech workers to this country and treat them as second class citizens. The article showed how there is a substantial exploitation happening in the Silicon Valley and in the technical workforce at large that rarely breaks news in this country. It is an alarming scenario that needs to receive more press if American citizens are to help the situation by pushing for reform. When no one knows what’s going on, it is difficult to react.


DIY...but not all by yourself!


"Punk rock was driven by a DIY--"do it yourself"--attitude...the same attitude applied to making 'zines--you just Xeroxed it and got it out there," filmaker Vivek Bald explains in his interview with Technicolor editors Thuy Linh N. Tu and Alondra Nelson. We might sigh and wonder how and when the ethic of "do it yourself," a given in contexts driven by "sheer necessity," became a slogan and strategic attitude, but we must also marvel at the role technology plays in Bald's reflections on films he made using obsolescent gear, films that follow communities in action. The immigrant workers in Bald's film Taxi-vala appropriate cbs by circuit-bending them--literally tuning their cb networks by microtones and between bands, to subfrequencies safe from disruption. This balance of freedom and control derives from a delicate tuning of technology that is itself facilitative of a community "tuning in" to/on itself. However, such refinements, when taken out of community-formation contexts and into enclosed development projects, can go too far. Bald's documentary case-study captures a moment in time, and the microtonal measure seems to have given way to new movements marked by drivers using cell phones to find "free time" on tightly regulated, bought-and-sold airwaves. The problem, Bald explains, is that "with cell phones, interactions become very individualized, one person to another, in a way that undermines the more communal space of CB, where a number of people can listen and participate at the same time" (94). In this case, the scale tips towards control in more than one sense. The cell-phone user takes the the NIche hypothesis supporting the microtonal artistry of circuit-bending cbs to it's limit, where control over his/her very own private bandwidth in fact diminishes the freedom to tinker with technology and the freedom to form communities using technology. Just because more (and new forms) of control is feasible, doesn't mean it is desirable or necessary. Lessig's history of telecommunications networks shows that if too much intelligence is built into a technology, it shuts down interactivity and therefore creativity.


When we reach this point in a cycle of innovation/obsolesence, Evan Watkins and others argue that "outdated" tools and tech can acquire new value for certain communities.

Evan Watkin's notion of the "throwaway" and the present and political exigence of the process by which technologies, positions, and even groups of people get written into "obsolescence" gives support to the notion that something can be done with the

"obslolete," including old tech of course but also including yesterday's cast-off ideas, theories, and pedagogies.


Beginning with Marx's "capitalism produces change" axiom, Watkins works to show that degree to which politicians, academics, technicians, and artists alike participate with much zeal in what he calls the "capitalization of newness" at concrete and ideological levels. He develops the neologism "technoideological coding" to argue that, because the latest and greatest innovation is only available to those in a socio-economic position to afford and put that innovation to use, and because capitalisms axioms of newness

require the great labor of writing today's innovation into the dustbin as soon as tomorrow, innovations and population both behave as bodies of information that write themselves or are constantly written into different positions, and the differential is obsolescence/innovation. Floating value doesn't just drift, the circulation of information that produces newness does so buy producing arguments and images of obsolescence in order to produce value on the new. Watkins amplifies this process to suggest that there is political force in actively writing the old into new and alternative uses, because socio-economic disadvantage involves this effort as part of survival.


The argument begins to make sense to rhet/comp's historical attitude of shame towards its past (amplified rather polemically in Geoff Sirc's book Composition as Happening) when Watkins shows how some of the most provocative recent academic arguments (he does a lot of work on Harroway's "Cyborg" piece) also play out along "that's old, that's Fordism, etc, that's modern" and therefore no longer effective" premise buttressing the capitalization of newness. He follows this example with an account of how Reaganites and then Bush administrators appropriated the rhetoric of postmodernism that many academics relied on to build all manner of radical pedagogies. Does this mean we must abandon particular means of persuasion just because they've been co-opted? To do so would be to participate in an uncritical way in the capitalization of newness which of course we do participate in. Interestingly, Watkins seems to suggest that a particular discourse, an ideology, a theory, an artefact (and we could add, a communicative practice), a medium, etc can only acquire oppositional political force in obsolescence! Watkins makes an analogy to Gil Scott-Heron’s revolution, which will not be televised--unless television itself were actively “patched, repaired, reshaped, rapidly distributed, and deployed toward some other kinds of ends altogether” and thereby made to “join the “survivals” of obsolete technologies (39-40). This image directly calls to mind the Community Music projects documented in Bald's other film, Mutiny. Community Music both an idea and the name of a specific initiative and pedagogy that inspired the Asian Dub Foundation (ADF) gets mention in the portion of the interview treating this film. So what does ADF sound like? This reviewer, approaching this community through the lens of their aesthetics, in a record review, makes an interesting connection to the DIY anarcho-punk band/collective Crass.


Works Cited:

Watkins, E. (1998). Everyday exchanges: Marketwork and capitalist common sense. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Watkins, E. Throwaways

Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life, Alondra Nelson, Thuy Linh N. Tu and Alicia Headlam Hines

Lessig, L. The Future of Ideas

"What is Sustain-ability" by Phil aka Roshi7



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