The preponderance of “porn”

Today, I was just chilling on the internet and a friend pointed out that a trending subreddit was “things cut in half porn” (r/ThingsCutInHalfPorn). My mind instantly went to an old (2003) manga by Shintaro Kago: “The Desperate Sadness of a Cross-Section.” Yes, if you decide to look it up, you should know that Kago Shintaro is well known for his guro manga (guro = ero-guro = erotic grotesque, but guro also has a connotation of gore now in Western consumption of manga and anime and games) and it’s very absurdist and kinda freaky and okay so this one in particular involves a woman who is cut in half by some freak accident (space lasers?) and so no one loves her and she has to love herself. Yes, it’s porny.

Anyway. So this popped into my mind and I tried to find an appropriate image to reference and I thought about linking it to the aforementioned subreddit, only to find that they have an “NSFW posts are not allowed” rule. Which is kind of silly, if you think about it, because the subreddit title includes the word “porn.” It’s also part of a series of subreddits known as the “SFW Porn Network,” which presumably includes various high quality pictures of things that are safe for work. Because the internet is for porn, but apparently porn means “things that are nice to look at.”

But when did this happen? As is customary for English majors, even ex-English majors who are now in vaguely not-humanities fields (I’ll give you the humanities when you pry it from my cold dead hands), all roads lead to the OED. The OED has two definitions each for “porn” and “pornography,” and it is “porn” that I am interested in after all.

2. fig. As the second element in compounds: denoting written or visual material that emphasizes the sensuous or sensational aspects of a non-sexual subject, appealing to its audience in a manner likened to the titillating effect of pornography.

“porn, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 13 May 2014.

So. This usage dates back to 1973, apparently, when someone decided to use the phrasing “horror-porn” in the Journal of Popular Culture. “Pornography” itself only dates back to the early 19th century, and has, since the mid-20th, been used to indicate stimulating non-erotic material, though with a lower frequency than “porn.”

In my mind, I associate the full word “pornography” with a clinical or dismissive attitude, whereas “porn” connotes at least some sort of enthusiasm for the subject. I remember sharing the phrase “sky porn” with a friend like some sort of delicate chocolate; we still sometimes send each other pretty pictures of the sky. Still, something about that usage is vaguely titillating. As if we knew that the word was tainted by association, uncomfortably sensual.

I think I can’t be offended by the use of “porn” to describe things that are a treat to the senses. Even if it strikes me as funny when this usage explicitly excludes things that are often considered quintessentially pornographic.

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Emulating reality

When we think of emulation, we usually think of the emulation of software that exists only as a digital artifact. But something recently brought to my attention challenges this predominant narrative of software and emulation. In the world of digital preservation, it’s a fairly obvious point that the digital is not any less real, any less material, and this example only highlights that.

So, the topic in question: I found an old blog post (from 2009) celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing. This post describes a project to emulate some of the original code from the command module and lunar module. It’s mostly really just something cool on the web, but more than that, there’s a reason why I’m writing a(n admittedly short) blog post about this: this is a clear case of emulation applied to something that was undeniably “real-world.” What could it even mean to emulate the code from the lunar module? What draws someone to do that? I guess you have to be fascinated with the Apollo Program, and also really into old code. Or something. But how can you emulate this code and forget that three people were inside the module that this code represents? How can you emulate this code and forget that two people used this code to set foot on the moon?

It’s a reminder that even when we are talking about emulation of games (link to a thought-provoking and vaguely relevant blog post), we’re talking about a constellation of things that real people played in real space. And sure, maybe emulation isn’t responsible for representing that aspect of the experience, but we are.

On Digital Humanities and community

A funny thing about Digital Humanities is that whenever two or more DH people (I know the accepted phrasing is Digital Humanist but like, lol no) get together, they have to agree on what DH means for them. Quite often it’s a strategic term, deployed more to establish an in-group and an out-group, than a real marker of a community of practice.

Although, that’s an interesting digression: understanding DH as a Wengerian Community of Practice, with peripheral identities and marginal identities and trajectories of participation. But as interesting as that path is to follow, I think I’ll wait a bit to pursue it.

Returning to the main topic of discussion: “DH.” The construction of DH as a discipline is quite strange to me, because of this phenomenon. I talked about fields and disciplines earlier on this blog, but I’d argue that DH isn’t really a field either. If disciplines are identified by shared methods and fields identified by shared objects of study, DH is identified by…a social network. There is a set of people who use the term in describing what they do, and this set of people meets in a variety of venues. DH is a particularly patchwork network, moreover, so these venues don’t necessarily overlap. I’ve been to a few DH conferences/events/thingamajigs in my time, and while there are certain people I’ve seen repeatedly, the vast majority travel in their little packs that don’t necessarily overlap with my pack (which for two years was the Boston-area DH group, based out of my home lab).

In sixth grade there was a system for class changes: the administration assigned each student to a “pod” of 4-6 people with an identical schedule. At this stage in my education history, there wasn’t anything too complex so scheduling this was not a problem. It helped us get used to our schedules, and also helped us feel a sense of stability when, for the first time, we were moving rooms every class period.

The DH community is kind of like this: there are pods based around projects and places, and these pods move through the currents of the community.

I’ve had the fortune, or the misfortune, to leap away from my pod and find myself in a new place with new projects and people. So, going to the first gathering of the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium was an enlightening experience. I’ll write more about that another day (no promises), but suffice it to say I met people and learned about projects, and I’m looking forward to see where this pod is going.

In which your author revises her opinion of Suchman

Technologies can be understood as materials whose stability relies upon the continuous reproduction of their meaning and usefulness in practice.

– Suchman (1993), “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use.”

I’ve had similar thoughts and read similar thoughts strewn over papers before but this is a perfect crystallization of the nature of technology. I think this has to go on my mythical quote board, to pull out whenever someone questions why I care about smashing up materiality and practice and context and performance into a great big ball of “research material.” It’s why, although I focus on games, I also look at literature and scanlation (lol yeah really) and “new media” in general.

But I’ll be honest, this works just as well to explain myths, or methods, or anything used by people to make meaning. Which makes me wonder: what if technologies are tools for meaning-making? As in, understand technology as anything that a person uses in order to add meaning? I know this is sloppy, but I feel like it kind of has to be in order to capture the human elements of this. I’m suggesting we look at myths and methods (just to be consistent here) as technologies in the production of meaning.

tl;dr: Suchman got this one right on the nose, and I’m grateful for it.

On friendship and technology; or, FRIEND COMPUTER!

I’ve been reading Nunberg’s edited volume, The Future of the Book, for class, and so have been wading through a fair bit of anti-techno-utopian rhetoric. Normally, that’s cool, because I’m no techno-utopian. But the way in which I am not techno-utopian is that I recognize the continuities and remediations (thanks, Bolter and Grusin) in new media forms. So I don’t like the rhetoric that relies on assuming that new media fundamentally alter the ways that we connect to one another.

So, that said. I appreciate when people put effort into exploring how people will be people through a variety of media forms. And recently, Maureen O’Connor, writing for NYMag’s The Cut blog, penned a great post about friendship in the digital age and group texting and dress rehearsing nudes.

I have to admit, I think The Cut does a consistently thorough and thoughtful treatment of elements of modern culture from the perspective of style and fashion. But this post in particular came at a good time for my mental universe, just as I was grappling with a rhetoric of rupture and social revolution. It’s about how a group of childhood (maybe young adulthood is better?) friends came together through texting. It’s about how two friends share their insecurities by texting pictures to one another. And it’s nothing utopian or too idealistic, but it shows how people manage to keep a sense of social interaction because that’s the point of all this.

My personal experiences certainly bear this argument out. I keep up with my best friend from college through a daily barrage (I mean this in the best way possible) of texts and gchats. Hell, I started my tumblr because I wanted to continue the casual ritual we had of sharing our outfits before going about our respective days (we had basically a suite situation with two separate rooms and a connecting bathroom). I know other people look at it now, occasionally, and I doubt she does so regularly, but she is still my audience for those posts. (Hi!)

I’ve had a blog of some sort or another since 2003. For me, writing on blogs is always a quasi-meditative task, with a nameless, faceless audience. I take pleasure in this distance, sometimes. I know that part of my process is just writing things out, and if people happen to comment and leave their thoughts on my writings, then I can incorporate those and be an even better writer. But this is different from friendship. Friendship requires a sense of reciprocity, or at least of mutual recognition. (Feel free to substitute any kind of positive human relationship for “friendship” there.) The faceless nonexistent audience that I imagine when writing a blog post, the echo chamber of my own metaphorical shower stall, that is emphatically not the kind of engagement that O’Connor is describing. And that’s kind of a great thing. All kinds of engagement are possible, we just have to make it so. Not our technologies, ourselves.

In closing, O’Connor offers an insightful (and hilarious) meditation on the freedoms of a child-like perspective:

Some may find the constant chatter and creep toward co-dependence childish — but the art of friendship has always been one that children perform more naturally than adults. (Other things children do better than adults: imagination, texting, wonderment, recovering from the shame of shitting in your pants.)

Maybe allowing ourselves to explore—new technologies, new forms, new social networks—brings us closer to that wonderment that makes magic happen.

Also, the “Friend computer” is a reference to Paranoia, a hilariously enjoyable role-playing game.