April 6th, 2011

Title: The Electric Dilemma: Electricity’s Role in Widening the Gulf Between the Modern and Non-Modern Worlds

Abstract: The development of electrical inventions during the second Industrial Revolution influenced cultural perceptions of the modern and non-modern worlds, albeit rather negatively. As electricity became increasingly embedded in cityscapes, it contributed to a type of spiritual and metaphysical belief that pervaded throughout the next couple of centuries. Many believed that the power of electricity was somewhat transcendental and that its effects were more than simply tangible. Most importantly, electricity became a growing source of social power among the bourgeoisie, who clearly lived in what was considered a “modern” society. Undoubtedly transformative, electricity widened the gulf between the modern and non-modern worlds by creating post-modern urban environments that promoted the image of the modern world and emphasized the disorder that was attributed to the non-modern. Over time, however, various literary and cinematic works have worked to correct these misguided perceptions and have even suggested that electricity culturally inhibits both the modern and non-modern worlds. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, for instance, have referred to various forms of electricity in a rather demeaning tone, thus implying that the promises electricity offers to modern world are misleading. Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, on the other hand, is an examination of the deleterious effects of electricity in an underdeveloped world.

Talking Points for Presentation: Electricity’s Influence on Cultural Perception (Culture and Technology), The Development of Electricity and its Remaking of Society (Remaking Society)

Language and Communication

April 2nd, 2011

John Eisenberg’s take on the relationship between technology and human thought is a complex analysis that explores whether there is any way in which man can express his own thought without remaining attached to the technology of his time. As Eisenberg notes, communication technology shapes thinking; therefore, we are often confined to the boundaries of our own technology every time we try to express our thoughts or attempt to understand cultures “whose conventions for communicating are unfamiliar to us.” In a sense, Eisenberg seems to imply that our grasp of the world around is limited by the communicative techniques we use. We are comfortable with methods of communication that already exist and do little to find other means of expression. David Abram delves in the matter even further and discusses how language has been treated as a living experience. Tribes, for instance, have often celebrated language as a universal means of communication that can connect humans with animals. Language, Abram notes, is dependent on perception, which in turn is reliant on our interaction with “the flesh of the world.” Yet, there have been questions regarding how that perception allows a person to shift from a nonparticipatory world to a participatory one. It appears that we have become exclusive amongst ourselves in terms of whom and what we interact with; as a result, we have come to limit our perception of nature and the environment around us.

In truth, language is a technic that will always develop. The common concern is that this sort of development will always limit our perception of the world and our interaction with others. Because thought can only be expressed through communication, we are limited by the communicative methods we’ve learned over time. Clearly, as Eisenberg and Abrams seem to suggest, the questions over whether or not we can break free of this tradition remain unsolved. Language is more than just a “living experience” as Abram calls it; rather, it is a sort of conformity that we adhere to on a daily basis. No matter how much we try to express ourselves in other ways, we often find ourselves turning to language as the most effective tool of interaction.


March 3rd, 2011

All Of The Lights – Kanye West

Music has been the most essential technic in my life. Posted above is a sample of the type of music I listen to on a daily basis. Although music nowadays is a product of technology, it still draws its inspiration from the human mind. Even though I am not a musician (I used to be one when I was younger), I often express myself through music by selecting songs that match my mood. It allows me to be in touch with my inner self, interact with my subconscious, and ultimately be at peace with myself. In other words, music allows me to break free from reality. It turns my attention away from all the stress that comes with being a typical college student and allows me to focus on myself. To me, music is more than just a means of entertainment – It fills an emotional void. Oftentimes, I have found myself turning to my iPod or my iTunes for a quick “therapy” session. Music gives me emotional strength when I need it the most because it is something I can always relate to. The feeling of being immersed in sound can be lonesome but satisfying. I always feel a certain degree of detachment from my surrounding environment when I turn on my iPod, but this particular escape from reality gives me time for some reflection. My mood usually varies according to the songs that are played. Despite the fact that I have the option of changing songs at any time, I never do because I have this tendency to allow music to dictate my state of mind and because I like the feeling of being spontaneously absorbed in melodies.

Technology in the 21st Century

February 7th, 2011

Society’s infatuation with robotics has lasted for several decades, and the interest in creating lifelike robots, or humanoids, has increased tremendously in the past few years. Japan, for example, has made significant strides in the field of robotics, and the United States is not too far behind.

Last year, The New York Times published an article regarding the growing presence of robots in our daily lives. I found this article particularly interesting.

“Students, Meet Your New Teacher, Mr. Robot”

According to the article, “In a handful of laboratories around the world, computer scientists are developing robots like this one: highly programmed machines that can engage people and teach them simple skills, including household tasks, vocabulary or, as in the case of the boy, playing, elementary imitation and taking turns.” Personally, I don’t know whether this idea is a good concept. Any ideas?

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

November 21st, 2010

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” depicts an ordinary diner illuminated by extreme lighting. Though the depiction is that of a commonplace setting, the light places attention on the four figures within the building. As such, this particular emphasis places focus on the interior of the diner itself rather than the area outside it. In contrast to the diner, the sidewalk outside is desolate: There is no one else nearby. The animation of the painting comes from within the diner, though the figures themselves do not engage in any raucous or rowdy activity. One man is seated by himself, while a rather youthful couple appears to converse with the waiter behind the counter. In addition, the placement of the figures suggests a certain remoteness about them. The man to the left of the waiter seems uninterested in the conversation around him; furthermore, the posture of the couple reflects a degree of conservativeness about them.

Interestingly enough, it is the lighting of the diner that gives the entire painting its liveliness. Despite the dismal portrayal of the characters, the luminosity seems to offset the gloominess of the situation by extending beyond the diner itself. It intensifies the vacant block that surrounds the diner, thereby implying that this particular man-made light holds a certain significance that defies the darkness of nighttime. Regardless of what the characters are doing in the painting, the light dramatizes the situation in a way that appeals to the audience’s sensibility. In fact, the lighting serves as an uplifting aspect that attempts to create something positive out of a bleak scene.

Symbolically speaking, the painting reflects the power of technology. Here, light has penetrated every corner of the society that is depicted in it. None of the characters can escape its reach, and none seem to resist it. They simply go about their way, as if this man-made light is simply another commonplace invention that they are accustomed to living with. There is a certain disregard for the light that surrounds them, suggesting that the characters, like society today, has little respect for the wonders of electrical light. Only the audience or the viewer can truly appreciate the lighting in this scene.

PowerPoint Presentation: Electricity

November 15th, 2010

The Great Gatsby

November 14th, 2010

One particular striking representation in The Great Gatsby that a technocritic can definitely focus on is the depiction of the valley of ashes in Chapter 2. The description of the valley embodies the very nature of industrialism and is symbolic of the socioeconomic gap between West Egg and the rest of New York . In the beginning of the chapter, Fitzgerald notes,

“This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. ”

The valley is clearly a product of industrialization that has begun to take place during Nick’s time. The rise of technological advancements has given birth to a new and more lavish standard of living, yet it has come with a cost. The ashes seem to represent the blood and sweat of lower-class or middle class workers, whose labor has allowed the wealthy to become even wealthier. Furthermore, the valley draws a huge distinct line between the relatively well-off town of West Egg and New York City. Evidently, those who reside in West Egg are isolated from the realities of industrialization (which can be found in the city itself). One can even go so far as to say that those who live in West Egg are sheltered and rather ignorant of the society around them. They are simply products of their technology: None of them has actually taken part in giving rise to the industrial movement of their time. The most ignorant character of them all is Tom Buchanan – an incredibly arrogant racist who constantly feels the need to flaunt his social status to others. As a product of a rather affluent society, Tom believes he is especially entitled to a degree of power (which is rather tyrannical in nature). Ironically, the reader learns that Tom must always pass through the valley of ashes in order to see his lover Myrtle, who lives on the other side of the valley. The symbolism here is noteworthy. Myrtle represents the lower-class and, like the workers whose blood and sweat are represented through the valley of ashes, is abused by someone of higher class (Tom).

The Jungle

November 6th, 2010

“There were weeks at a time when Jurgis went home after such a day as this with not more than two hours’ work to his credit–which meant about thirty- five cents. There were many days when the total was less than half an hour, and others when there was none at all. The general average was six hours a day, which meant for Jurgis about six dollars a week; and this six hours of work would be done after standing on the killing bed till one o’clock, or perhaps even three or four o’clock, in the afternoon. Like as not there would come a rush of cattle at the very end of the day, which the men would have to dispose of before they went home, often working by electric light till nine or ten, or even twelve or one o’clock, and without a single instant for a bite of supper. The men were at the mercy of the cattle. Perhaps the buyers would be holding off for better prices–if they could scare the shippers into thinking that they meant to buy nothing that day, they could get their own terms. For some reason the cost of fodder for cattle in the yards was much above the market price–and you were not allowed to bring your own fodder! Then, too, a number of cars were apt to arrive late in the day, now that the roads were blocked with snow, and the packers would buy their cattle that night, to get them cheaper, and then would come into play their ironclad rule, that all cattle must be killed the same day they were bought. There was no use kicking about this–there had been one delegation after another to see the packers about it, only to be told that it was the rule, and that there was not the slightest chance of its ever being altered. And so on Christmas Eve Jurgis worked till nearly one o’clock in the morning, and on Christmas Day he was on the killing bed at seven o’clock.” – Chapter 8, The Jungle

The above quote comes from Chapter 8 of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The story revolves around the hardships that Jurgis Rudkus faces in trying to support his entire family. Here, Sinclair discusses Rudkus’ plight at a cattle/beef factory, noting that “the men were at the mercy of the cattle.” Rudkus is forced to work long hours and has little control over how much he can earn at the factory. His earnings, in effect, are completely dependent on the market prices of the cattle. Despite the fact that his family has found work in order to support everyone as well, their living conditions never improve. In fact, they are conned into buying a dilapidated home and soon find themselves trying to survive both financially and physically. The quote above ultimately epitomizes the family’s hopeless endeavor. Though work is found, the working conditions are horrible. In a sense, Sinclair’s description of Rudkus’ working conditions is a direct criticism of the industrial era in America. In spite of the advancements in technology, life for the middle class, it seems, only deteriorates more and more. Rudkus’ belief that he can pursue the “American Dream” is shattered when he decides to find work in Packingtown – one of the most corrupt areas of Chicago. What is incredibly disturbing is the atrocious and savage description of Rudkus’ constant attempts to climb up the social ladder (he finds himself only to be thrown back into the industrial pits of hell). It appears that his determination to do well in America can only get him so far – There are many factors and variables that are out of his control. The mere fact that he has to work long hours to earn a couple cents is a testament of his struggle to break free of the poverty that has been plaguing his family for so long.

Victor Frankenstein

October 31st, 2010

Victor Frankenstein is a conflicted character who struggles to maintain control over his own creation. As a scientist, Frankenstein believes that he holds the key to discovering the secret of life. He attempts to understand every aspect of it, believing he can cheat the basic laws of life by reanimating the dead. When he successfully creates a monster out of dead body parts, he is disgusted by his creation. Though he makes every effort to separate himself from the monster, he is constantly haunted by it. The monster comes to displace its anger towards mankind on Frankenstein and murders everyone dear to him. Despite the fact that it attempts to reconcile its differences with its creator, the monster comes to despise mankind even more and loses all faith in itself.

To label Frankenstein a “mechanical artist” is risky. Though he is clearly well-versed in the study of “mechanics” (that is – he is skilled in developing machinery), he is far from an artist. In fact, nothing about Frankenstein’s creation is artistic. The description of the monster is anything but aesthetically appealing, and it even repulses Frankenstein himself. Clearly, Frankenstein is unable to appreciate his work and abandons it (something an artist should never do and rarely does). Furthermore, in his search to understand the secret of life and defy the laws of death, he never comes to fully value the beauty of it. He merely understands life from a scientific point of view and sees the re-creation of life as merely a scientific feat. Upon creating the monster, he refuses to accept it as his own. Though the monster makes it clear that it is simply looking for a companion, Frankenstein rejects it and even destroys his second creation.

As such, Frankenstein can best be described as simply a creator (nothing more). He sees life for what it is, but he never comes to appreciate its very essence. In searching for the secret of life, he creates a technology that trumps our traditional understandings of the cycle of life. At the same time, he fails to appreciate his work and believes that he has created something that lacks any purpose. To call him an artist in any sense is deceiving – Frankenstein never understands what art is.

A Clockwork Society

October 24th, 2010

Society in Relations to Mechanisms of a Clock

When defined as a noun, clockwork is generally “a mechanism with spring or toothed gearwheels, used to drive a mechanical clock, toy, or other device.” Similarly, society is composed of hundreds and thousands of intricate apparatuses that, when combined together, produce some sort of uniform effect. This effect is a particular governing doctrine or principle that dictates mankind’s social behavior. On the other hand, when defined as an adjective, clockwork refers to the quality of being repetitive or regular. This, too, fittingly describes society. Though society has progressed with time, it has always been inherently bound by it. Clocks themselves are constant reminders of how highly attached society is to running on a schedule.

The Prague Astronomical Clock

The Prague Astronomical Clock is the perfect representation of the importance of time in society. Built in the fifteenth century, the clock shows time on both the 24 hour dial and “Old Bohemian time” (the number of hours since sunset). Several interesting figures adorn it – one is a figure of Death and the others resemble the 12 apostles and the zodiacs. Evidently, the figures reflect the cycle of life. The emphasis on the ostentatious designs express how valuable time is to society.

The Clock of Life

In the above photo, Slay, a company that cashes real estate notes, interestingly portrays life as something quite routine. Each number on the clock represents a particular stage in life. Both the minute hand and hour hand dictate this “cycle of life” and determine the point at which man is expected to have fulfilled whatever description is listed under the number. The explanation above the illustration reads, “Each hour on the clock represents a 6 year period of one’s life. Life begins at 6 A.M. and ends at 6 P.M., thus completing the 12 hour cycle.” It suggests that society may, in fact, be bounded by a regimental scheme that no one can possibly escape. Though complex in nature, society, like the mechanisms of a clock, functions according to a pattern. Although it will advance with time, every basic and essential function or event that occurs is cyclical. This, in turn, suggests that the fate of every man/ woman society may already be predetermined. Metaphorically, the illustration may also imply that mankind will constantly conform to the predominant ideology of its time: There is no sense of individualism (this is evident by the very fact that it assumes every man has done whatever is listed under each number by the time he reaches that age).

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