The world according to Alan

I saw a really fascinating advertisement yesterday, one that plays into a lot of what I have been thinking lately about technology and networking. It is an AT7T add that starts off with some background text that says “The World According to Alan.” The commercial continues on to advertise some sort of communication, networking program that allows Alan’s business network to keep working at all hours of the day. What I think is interesting about the ad is that is casts the network as Alan’s. If this works how I think it does, Alan is just another node on the circuit. So the network is his in particular but shared by all the other nodes, that are apparently all over the world.
If Alan is just another person hooked into the matrix, what makes it his world?

Aside from the appeal to strains of American individualism and the ‘this product will make you top dog’ advertising strategy, i think something else is going on here and I think it is related to the kinds of social networks that seem to be cropping up everywhere from MySpace to Last.fm to Joga.com. There is a sense of possession to these sites, MYspace has possession right in the title. And I suppose it is my space in the “extended network.” But, network implies sharing. When you make contacts they are not yours or under your control, the connection is shared, you are mutually friends and you mutual construct each other’s sites by leaving comments and such. Merely having a viewable “top 8” makes my space not wholly me, but built also from the people who show up there. My space is again like a convergence point with ties all over the network.

So, why possession? My tentative answer is that though the ties make a network, it is not an all inclusive or necessarily even varied network. Because the internet is so efficient with its searches, you can construct your network presence in such a way that you only get presented with what you ask for. For example, I have never seen a website about Pandas. I haven’t looked for one, so that makes sense; I am just not interested. But in that sense, Panda are not a part of my network, are not in the world according to me just as, I don’t know, tigers are not in the world according to Alan.

Silly examples, I know, and still only a half formulated idea, but still important to think about. Why would you ever, barring a mistaken click or misspelled address, ever have to deal with content or people on the internet that you don’t want to? As everything gets so customizable, like interest-generated news based on previous clicks, the network would seem to get smaller, more personalized, and gives us a sense of ownership over our content. All I am asking is if this is a good thing.

Photo study with Paul Berger

I just got approval today to do an independent study this summer on 20th-century photography and issues relating to the Real. Here is the proposal that got approval:

My work focuses on conceptions of the Real in post-modern, post-human, visual and digital culture, with a special emphasis on the intersection of the fantastic, imaginary, or virtual, and the everyday. I have thus far addressed these issues in the context of contemporary philosophy and theory as exhibited in both 20th-century American literature and video games. I would very much like to explore the relationship of the image and the Real in 20th-century photography, particularly in work like that of David Levinthal, Gregory Crewdson, William Eggleston, and perhaps James Casabere.

What is more, I’ll be working with Paul Berger, a well-known 20th-century photographer himself. Can you tell I am pumped?