aoir: "Access Denied: Critical Considerations of Internet Space and the Digital Divide"

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My notes from the Saturday Friday afternoon session. This was a great session, with interesting stuff on metaphors for the Internet. (Paging Dr. Weinberger...)

Annette Markham (who comes highly recommended by Jill Walker) on "Metaphors Shaping the Reality of the Internet: Tools, Place, and Way of Being"

Argues that the way we talk about the Internet (or ICT, CMC, pick your word) influences the shape those technologies take. Not a new argument, but presents a framework for making sense of IT, and the implication that has for issues related to access.

The metaphors we hear tell us what something is, and how it can/should be responded to. They provide a strong frame of reference, and shape the way we think about and interact with technologyy.

(I wonder if she's read David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined?

Take-away line: "Through our use of metaphors and language we are creating a box, and pretty soon we'll be stuck in the box, trying to think outside of it."

(She's reading from her computer notes, which we can't see. :/ )

We understand most technologies as tools (for magnification, amplication). Within this frame of reference, the Internet can extend reach, collapse distance. When you examine discourse surrounding the Interent, certain types of discourse become more apparent: Internet as conduit. Internet as prosthesis. Internet as container. These are more of a "root level" metaphor. (e.g. information superhighway is Internet as conduit). [So where does "Internet as place" fit? Container, I guess?]

Internet as prosthesis is invoked when we talk about extending ourselves, our reach with the 'net.

Conduits are means of transport from one place to another. What exactly we call it is not as important as the emphasis. Pipes, highways, etc is a focus on conduit.
And yes, technically, the Internet is a medium that transports information. But the focus, when we think of/talk about conduits (more than other things) leads to a predominance of transmission as the defining characteristic.

Internet as container, as something that holds something else. Emphasizes the "shape" of "that which holds stuff." Access and entry points, it can be open or closed, empty or full. Different framework for understanding and interaction. Primary in this frame of reference is "Internet as Thing" as opposed to "Internet as Process."

These conceptualizations by their natures limit the way we are able to think. we go. "Internet as place."

Place-oriented metaphors such as community, frontier, "sociocultural space" highlight certain features again. You can't perceive the Internet as a place unless you perceive boundaries, entry/exit points, and sense of presence. You must perceive a shape of the place for this to be meaningful. And there must be other in order to define presence. (Hmmmm. Not sure I buy that. Is "acknowledgment of other" necessary to define place or sense of personal presence?? If I'm in a virtual forest and there's no one there to interact with me, do I exist?)

Talks about libraries, and how we understand them. We understand scale, we understand the browsing process, the importance of proximity of items.

Internet lets us create "electronic libraries." We "make our libraries digital." But there's a disjuncture between the electronic implementation and the physical. We see the library as a place, but our students see the electronic library as a conduit instead. Type in a keyword, get 17 hits. [Note to self: Need to go back and re-read Meyrowitz's No Sense of Place.]

Moving towards a "way of being" metaphor.

[Where is this paper? I want to see the paper, rather than trying to process all this audibly. I'm more of a visual learner...]

If policymakers think of Internet as "place," then all it takes to address the digital divide is to "build or open doors."

Questioner (who used to work with McLuhan) says McLuhan would say that the Internet is a medium, but reject the view of the Internet as a conduit. He's pontificating, rather than questioning, so I'm tuning out. Markham is responding--let's analyze "medium" as a metaphro. What's being privileged? What's hidden/absent? In communication we've used the SMCR/feedback metaphor for decades. In the discipline, criticism has led to a recognition that that model does not recognize meaning -- but even though we know communication is more complex, we still use the model. And it focuses us on the medium, rather than on the meaning.

If we focus instead on other metaphors, besides just "the medium," we start to see different things, different facets.

Another questioner quotes Mark Poster, who said "the internet is n't a tool like a hammer, it's a tool like Germany" Asks about the need to disentangle metaphors.

Markham asks him to clarify. He asks if the Internet is somewhat like the rise of the nation/state. Does it change our sense of self? Markham responds that it's a great question, but not one that can be answered in the time available. (That makes it sound like she's ducking, but she's not. Just acknowledging how complex a question it is. Clearly she's intrigued.)


Next guy also is not using visuals. Hadn't realized how much visuals really help me with making sense of presentations.

He's reading from his paper, which I hate. He's using all the big polysyllabic words that work well in written form but are counterproductive when talking to an audience.

I give up. Will listen, but can't blog this.

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Saturday afternoon session? Can you get me Monday's closing prices for the NASDAQ too?

Ooops. Thanks, Kevin. :)

Wow--these conference reports have been great. I wish I'd attended!

I'm intrigued by the "place" metaphor that keeps coming up, and I like the implicit suggestion of the Internet (if one can even speak of the 'net a homogeneous thing) as a process. In the "Blogosphere" paper I'm writing, I'm trying to think about blogs temporally, but that seems to work against most of the prominent metaphors used for describing the Net (conduit, prosthesis, container all have spatial implications).

Also, perhaps I'm misreading, but when you comment that "if policymakers think of Internet as 'place,' then all it takes to address the digital divide is to 'build or open doors,'" I take it you're skeptical of such claims?

Chuck, I'm really just reporting the stuff that Markham was saying. My comments/ideas are interspersed occasionally, but as parenthetical or bracketed comments.

However, I do tend to agree with Markham that the "Internet as place" and "Internet as superhighway" metaphors are reductionist in a way that oversimplifies the issue of access and the "digital divide."

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This page contains a single entry published on October 17, 2003 2:59 PM.

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