Monday, January 16, 2012

Language and the Internet - new challenges

Today's Technology, Knowledge and Society Conference started at UCLA with a Plenary speech by Henry Jenkins. Formerly of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Henry now teaches and researches  in the Journalism School at the University of Southern California. He has, let's be honest, a mixed reputation and yet wonderful success as a person with a clear connection to what's going on. (To quote Marvin Gaye).

At one level his work is absolutely stellar in documenting trends and concerns about technology while at another level it has been criticised as being almost devoid on theory, knowledge of theory or critique. In fact, anything that would detract from Henry's style of technoboosterism has been seen as his Achilles Heel.

The surprise this morning was to hear Henry discuss the current situation with his forthcoming book - which will be out of date when it appears later this year. He referred to "rotting information:" That is the book versus the immediacy of the digital space: nice.

One of the points he made was that digital tools make information / knowledge "spreadable." He immediatley went ont to say that the word is not very good, and then to say: "We wanted to change the language and put the language in crisis." (by using the inprecision of the world "spreadable.")

I like this. Not only does it acknowledge something we know more clearly than ever as the Internet shifts and grows around us - that language is not helping to describe what is happening -  but that "the best language from cultural studies and critical studies" can help resolve this gap. Furthermore, Jenkins suggetsed that in the Web2.0 era, there is a reapproachment between cultural studies, critical studies and technology-Internet studies.

This is important - especially because in my own self serving way - Henry referred to E. P. Thompson's use of moral economy, in The Making of the English Working Class. Welll, I used this extensively in Uprising to describe the context in which we now live - a new moral economy, where proletarianization occurs. The unregulated space of the internet offers and creates a new moral economy.

It is always nice to see one's work ahead of the pack. We are egos after all... more importantly, it is exciting to see someone of Henry's stature referring to moral economy as a means of generating language that will make sense in our discussion of the Internet.

My plenary speech tomorrow talks about the limits on our language and how that impacts public ability to discuss the use of the Internet to mobilize predator drones to kill people who don't like us.

I'll blog that tomorrow.