I wrote my paper on the sense of touch within modern technology, specifically the touchscreen, and one main aspect of that is the way we’re always touching technology in order to control it without ever being touched back. Although I didn’t have a chance to bring in this example for my paper, Apple’s smartwatch seems to be one exception to this limitation: it’s one of the few pieces of technology that does actually touch us back. The product page advertises its ability to give users a tap on the wrist when it’s time to leave for their next appointment, to remind them to stand when they’ve been sitting too long, or when mail arrives from certain people. The directions feature for the maps app provides more specific information by giving different combinations of taps when the user reaches an intersection depending on whether they need to turn right or left. There is also an interpersonal aspect in the ability to send a specific series of taps to another Apple Watch user.
I’m not sure about all the implications of these sorts of changes or how they will continue to develop, but I definitely think it’s interesting that the sense of touch is being used by technology to convey information in a way that it never really has before.
I looked a lot at the way touch interfaces function for my paper, but one thing I didn’t get to think about too much is the way other types of interfaces function as media and the way they interact with our culture. Other than touch, voice definitely seems like the most significant way we interact with technology. But I connected our use of touch to the individualist nature of our culture, and I think this same aspect has the potential to prevent widespread use of voice, just because any interaction in the presence of other people will automatically include them.
Another interesting angle to look at these interfaces from is the way they’re gendered. I noted in my paper that technology in general seems to be gendered female and that this has something to do with the masculinized, controlling position of the user, but I think this relationship takes on additional significance when we think about it specifically in terms of voice. It’s notable that most voice assistants have their own explicitly female character that is even named — such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa — and while the Google Now voice assistant doesn’t have a name, its default voice is still female. This is made even clearer in numerous YouTube videos of people asking these machines somewhat sexual questions and receiving answers.
I wanted to share these Nintendo DS commercials, centered around the tagline “touching is good,” that I looked at for my paper. The first three in particular are notable in the way they overtly sexualize the screen and the type of touch that’s associated with it — David Parisi’s article “Fingerbombing, or ‘Touching is Good’: The Cultural Construction of Technologized Touch” (available online from the library catalog) is excellent for thinking of these — but some of the others are interesting as well.
Toward the end of the class we started to talk more about the way bodies themselves are media and the way they are read, and connecting it to recent news stories about Caitlyn Jenner. I think this idea of reading of the body as a medium based on different signifiers is quite interesting in this context and is something that would be worth thinking about more.
One related issue that didn’t seem to come up but that I think is interesting to add to this discussion is the way people need so badly to be able to interpret bodies in this way, and that they particularly need to classify them into two categories based on socially constructed notions of “biological sex.” This comes up in the practice of operating on intersex children to bring them in line with societal standards and, for that matter, in any attempts to classify people based on their body parts – and for many people, the fear that their visual ability to read bodies is jeopardized, they turn to invisible markers, like chromosomes, in hopes of achieving simple categorization, although they again attempt to ignore intersex variations in these attempts. It would be interesting to think more about the reasons behind this need to categorize and the discomfort when categorization fails.
I wanted to share this Autostraddle article about their conflict with The Real L Word that I came across while researching the show for my presentation. I wasn’t able to fit it into my presentation directly, but basically a character on The Real L Word was involved in an Autostraddle photoshoot as a model and the producers of the show wanted to film it. Despite not being the biggest fans of the show, Autostraddle agreed to allow the filming on the condition that they were credited in the show, but Showtime proceeded to remove any mention of Autostraddle before it aired. It seems like there is something exceptionally ironic in the way a reality television show has gone out of its way to remove reality from its content and obscure the name of a website. It also reminds me of the discussion about how reality television defuse the impulse for action, since the removal also removes a link between watching the show and accessing a website with political content that might lead to further action.
Audiences are an issue that I keep coming back to in relation to The Real L Word. I continue to be curious about who actually watched the show, and who the producers expected to watch it when they decided to make it.
It seems to occupy this weird place in between trying to appeal to the type of privileged queer viewer featured in the show and a wider straight audience. In my experience, most shows featuring marginalized people are about presenting those people to the dominant culture, and informing/educating the general audience about the marginalized group (whether in a positive way or otherwise) is usually a part of their content. The Real L Word seemed odd in that it did very little educating: it was just about the enjoyment we’re supposed to get from watching these people, but it provided very little guidance on who is supposed to enjoy watching them and why they are supposed to enjoy it.
I recently came across two news articles that I thought were relevant to some of the things we’d talked about in class. I already mentioned these in my presentation write-up, but I wanted to also share them with the rest of the class here.
The first is the recent announcement that CBS is developing a new Star Trek TV series for their online subscription streaming service (yes, they have a subscription streaming service!). The second is a news story from August 31st that talks about how Apple is considering producing original content. Both of these really seem to emphasize how popular online-only original television content is becoming and how many companies are trying to profit off it these days, though I wonder how many different companies people will be willing to pay $10/month to before piracy starts to seem like a more convenient option.