Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Month: July 2007 (page 1 of 3)

Review of “National Identities and Communications Technologies” by Mark Poster

nationalidentityIn this article Poster examines the process of globalization through the lens of culture. He is specifically interested in examining how cultural globalization and digital mediums intersect with the nation-state’s competencies.

Decentralized networks have existed in some fashion or another for decades, but the Internet is more developed than the telephone or any other analogue system because it avoids circuit-switched technologies and private ownership. Whereas the telephone was limited in the number of people that could be simultaneously broadcast to, the Internet is designed for mass communication and is insensitive to the loss of particular nodes. As a facet of the digital environment all information on the ‘net has the advantage “virtually costless copying, storing, editing, and distribution” (235).

A central element of Poster’s argument is his distinction between analogue and digital cultural artifacts – analogue artifacts exist in a particular jurisdiction and, as a result of being material constructs, are inherently challenging to duplicate. In contrast, digital artifacts are inherently designed to be shared. Digitized items’ duplicability causes them to escape the laws that traditionally protect cultural items – culture is currently undergoing a shift from the status of being precious, rare, and protected to the status of being precious, common, and naturally unprotected by their digital form. Moreover, the ease of transferring digital cultural items across jurisdictions limits the nation-state’s ability to stem the flow of culture, subsequently preventing the nation-state from developing a localized national culture. Poster notes that on the Internet,

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Genealogy and the ‘Net

genealogyI’ve recently had the pleasure of reading some of Foucault’s Society Must be Defended. Over the course of the book Foucault will be radically changing his early positions, and I hope to note and discuss these changes as I come across them. This said, I’ve recently finished the first lecture and wanted to reflect on the power of genealogies, the fragmented character of the ‘net, and synthesize that with Wu and Goldsmith’s account of the Internet and Foucault’s own thoughts on power as repression. There’s a lot to do, but I think that it might be very profitable to at least toy around with this for a bit.


There is a tendency to try and capture knowledge in unitary architectures. Foucault equates this to trying to develop a unifying concept to explain the behaviour of each droplet of water that explodes from around a sperm whale when it breeches. In the very process of establishing a complex formula to receive this information, the act itself is lost.

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Review of “In the national interest” by Allen Buchanan

usturkishprideBuchanan’s intent is to demonstrate that it is contradictory to simultaneously hold human rights and the “Permissible Exclusivity Thesis” in mutually high regard. In this review I jaunt through the article, first explicating the Obligatory Exclusivity Thesis (OET), then the Permissible Exclusivity Thesis (PET), and then the several ways of justifying the latter thesis. I finalize the explication by discussing how, having demonstrated the inconsistency of holding PET and human rights, that this can lead to a reconceptualization of domestic politics – they must become cosmopolitan, they must the millennium’s shared plurality into account.

Obligatory exclusivity thesis: A state’s foreign policy always ought to be determined exclusively by the national interest. (110)

Based on OET, national policy guides all foreign actions – this means that human rights are of no consequence to a nation that does regard human rights as an element of their national interest. That said, such an extreme position would commit anyone holding it to a pretty tight corner. In light of this, Buchanan suggests another formulation of the OET that allows us to at least consider rights. The weakened thesis is called the Permissible Exclusivity Test:

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Review of “Making Technology Democratic” by Richard E. Scolve

rebootamericaOne of the central issues facing democratic societies is that technology is outpacing the regulatory powers of politics and ethics. Ethicists are involved towards the end of product design – they are used to evaluate how to ‘spin’ ethical implications rather than developing normative frameworks that ensure that only ethical technologies are developed. Ethics, in this situation, identify something that is good, rather than something that is right. Politics act as a terminal regulatory point – while they legislate laws that are intended to guide the kinds of technological research, as politics are subjugated to money their ability to legitimately influence research diminishes

Scolve, writing in the mid-90s, recognized that a series of challenges stood before technologically inclined societies. In particular, he was concerned that if new technologies’ social effectswere not taken accounted for productivity would likely increase and be supplemented with corresponding declines in “political engagement, attenuation of community bonds, experiential divorce from nature, individuals purposelessness, and expanding disparities of wealth” (87). In the face of these damaging political effects we must broaden technological agendas to account for technologies’ possible effects on social and political fields – we must ultimately situate long-term democratic publicity ahead of fulfilling short-term economic objectives.

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