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INFORMATION PLEASE: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines (Chapters 4-6)

August 27, 2010

Chapters 4-6 of Information Please dive into the current and potential future relationships between digital media and globalization, citizenship and identity. Poster begins chapter four by breaking down citizenship and human rights and their relationship to one another.  He clarifies that although they reinforce one another, the natural rights of man and the rights of a citizen should be distinguished separately (68-69).  Using the platform definition of citizenship he has built, Poster explains how globalization is affecting the idea of citizenship.  “The deepening of globalizing processes strips the citizen of power…as economic processes become more globalized, the nation-state loses its ability to protect its population.” (71) As national boundaries continue to blur due to the advances of technology, to whom one declares citizenship becomes unclear. The term citizen no longer serves a political affiliation, but instead begins to find its definition in the realm of mass media and commodity consumption.  This is what Poster defines as a “netizen”, someone who shares allegiance to nature and machine – that is, their home and the Internet (78).

Relating to citizenship is the concept of identity and what that means.  Before the introduction of the Internet, identity was commonly defined as a subjective judgment of oneself, of their inner being and soul (87). Identity was what someone considered to be a good representation of who they are and what they stand for.  It wasn’t until around the year 2000 that the definition of identity began to take on a massively new roll with the phenomenon of “identity theft” (89).  This theft, which occurs via digital crimes on the internet and the use of stolen credit cards, called for a reevaluation of identity as pieces of information that define us.  Instead of being identified by our personalities, humans began being defined by their credit card numbers and birthdays.  What became known as someone’s “identity” was their personal information that allowed criminals to access their bank accounts, or to create new accounts under that person’s name.  What is interesting is that although their identity is taken, it really isn’t stolen, but merely allows for two persons to share the same identity (99). Posters analysis of identity as an intellectual state versus digitally stolen information causes one to question how machines are changing the way we define ourselves.

The last thing Poster touches on in the section of the book is how digital text is revamping what defines art and the narrative.  “The reassuring smell and touch of book pages, the anticipatory crackly of opening a new music CD…these aesthetics of media might soon become little more than memories.” (117) Hypertext, for instance, takes away from the uninterrupted serenity of reading a book by interrupts reader’s thoughts, forcing them to recognize and consider the linked cues they are prompted to click.  The idea of a narrative then becomes vague when we must consider the way digital media is linked via the World Wide Web. No longer does a book (or a piece of work) stand alone…they are all linked together in one big domain.  Open source documents allow for multiple editors and multiple editions, posing the problem of defining who the narrator is and which document is the original or completed narration. Because works are likely to be the “collaborative effort of all readers, the coherence of anything like a linear narrative may be lost.” (138) Poster evaluates the broadcasting quality that the many-to-many relationship of Internet communication has and discusses how this is redefining media itself and the ethics behind it.

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