The middle panel of our second day focused on “Space.” It featured Jonathan Sterne, Henry Lowood, and Tara McPherson. Unfortunately only Jonathan’s talk has been preserved as a podcast; you can hear or download the audio of his talk here (34 min; 32 MB MP3).
Jonathan Sterne is Chair of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, and author of the award-winning, brain-expanding book The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. His talk (which begins at minute 3:05 of the podcast) was entitled, and this is a direct quote, “A Plea for Infrastructure, with Apologies to Harold Innis: I’m Sorry for Macking Your Title, But You Were Still Wrong About That Stuff in ‘A Plea for Time.’” I liked him immediately. The talk ranged from collapsing bridges to Jonathan’s work on the prehistory and history of the MP3 format to ideologies of “liveness” and corporate liberalism in 1950s television, and ended, powerfully and provocatively I thought, by asking if democracy and access are really the best criteria by which to judge communication infrastructure. What if we made justice and care our yardstick for measuring communication systems, even at the cost of open access for all?
Henry Lowood is co-director of the Stanford Humanities Library and a leading historian of video games and interactive simulations. He spoke about the history of Silicon Valley and the “new” Silicon Valley created as the rise of the computer game industry transformed the region from a center of electronics production into a cultural capital, the “New Hollywood” of the digital age.
Tara McPherson is an associate professor of gender studies and critical studies at the University of Southern California, the author of Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender and Nostalgia in the Imagined South, and co-editor of Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture. She used the work of designers Charles and Ray Eames as a way of connecting–this knocked me out–structures of organizing information and computer code to post-Civil Rights Movement racial logic. It is impossible to see the network at the same time as the node, Tara argued, and this bifurcated vision, she said, helps underwrite modern racism. “Today’s hollow pretense of multiculturalism,” she suggested, “was prefigured by the modular forms of information technology.”
Heady stuff! I’m sorry the audio for Henry and Tara’s talks is lost, but I have no doubt we will have equally fascinating conversations at the 2009 symposium next week.