In spite of apocalyptic predictions, 2013 is upon us. In honor of the new year, I present the (second annual) Year in Digital Humanities: the most notable stories in technology from 2012 and what it means for scholars in the Humanities.
What it means for digital humanists: Besides a lesson in bad design, the logo snafu proved that when students mobilize via social media, the University must take notice. Unfortunately such mass mobilizations tend to occur over aesthetics more than politics:
"It's good that UC is listening to us," said Connor Landgraf, student body president at UC Berkeley. "Hopefully they'll start listening to students on other issues, as well, such as tuition increases."
When asked for the most important commentaries on new technology and society, one often thinks of cyberpunk classics such as Blade Runner, The Matrix, The Terminator, and so on. Indeed, it is well accepted that the best social commentary on technology lies in the genre of science fiction. Building off the tradition set forth by Mary Shelley’s Franksenstein, Aldous Huzley’s Brave New World and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, new movements in science fiction have commented on developing and future technologies such as computers, the Internet, artificial intelligence and prosthetics with a critical and often distopic eye.
Lockhart Gardner took a case involving the online currency bitcoin; used Twitter to upend British libel laws; handled a military case involving drone warfare; litigated crimes featuring violent video games and a “date rape” app; and dealt with various leaked-image disasters (a corporation fighting a viral video, an Anthony Weiner-like dirty photograph).
Integral to this perspective is our understanding that the current tide of technological transformation, while important and powerful, is actually a continuation of waves of change that have taken place throughout history. Looking, for example, at the history of the automobile, television, or the telephone -- not just the devices but the institutions they became -- we see profound benefits as well as substantial costs. (Technorealism)
Despite the guarantee of free access to information enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the number of countries engaging in some kind of internet censorship continues to grow rapidly around the world. The issue of internet censorship is now central in policy, communication, and technology debates. It has also become of interest to scholars in the humanities and social sciences who think seriously about the relationship between culture, politics, and the internet.
But in order to build a rich conversation about the causes and consequences of internet censorship, we must first understand how internet censorship works, especially on a technical level. This two-part post lays out a (simplified) explanation of internet censorship technologies. The first of these gives a broad overview of how the internet works, while the next post builds on these foundations to explain how various censorship techniques can block information on the internet.
How the Internet Works
To understand how internet censorship works, as well as how to circumvent such obstacles, we must first get a grip on how the internet works. Consider this over-simplified model of just what happens when you view a webpage.
When you log onto the internet at your home, office, school, library or internet café, you are connecting through an Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as Comcast or AT&T. The ISP then assigns your individual computer an IP Address, which is similar to a postal address in that it is used to identify you and transport information. Anyone who learns your IP address can find out what city you’re in, and other institutions such as your ISP, internet café, library or business can find out more, such as which building you are in and even which computer you are using. Government agencies, to the extent that they have access to said institutions, may know these details as well.
- Your computer sends the domain name "townsendlab.berkeley.edu" to a selected DNS server, which returns a message containing the IP address for the server that hosts the Townsend Humanities Lab (currently, 188.8.131.52).
- The browser then sends a request to your ISP for a connection to that IP address.
- The request goes through a series of routers, each one forwarding a copy of the request to a router closer to the destination, until it reaches a router that finds the specific computer needed.
- The message from the Web site to you travels through other devices (computers or routers). Each such device along a path can be referred to as a "hop"; the number of hops is the number of computers or routers your message comes in contact with along its way and is often between 5 and 30.
- This computer sends information back to you, allowing your browser to send the full URL and receive the data to display the page. Et Voila!
For as long as we’ve had universities, it appears we’ve had crises of universities. And perhaps now more than ever, it seems that the death of the university (as we currently know it) is just around the corner. Regardless of the stated intent of universities to produce good citizens with a critical eye towards extant social relations, it now appears that universities are serving to reproduce social privilege instead of providing a level playing field. With nearly every university feeling the resource crunch – and social sciences and humanities at public institutions suffering the most –higher education is increasingly geared towards neoliberal paradigms, employability, and a functional relationship with learning. The university has come into question, both within and without.
What is to be done? – The question on everyone’s mind. It seems clear enough what kind of University we don’t want, but there has been much less elaboration about the university we are for, that which we should promote and to which we should be committed.
There has been considerable discussion about long-distance learning, but other technological impacts have been arguably more far-reaching and profound. This distinguished panel will lead a discussion of "the university we are for," focusing especially on the impacts new technologies are having on pedagogy and institutional structure, on research and engagement in and across the academy.
The entire discussion is available online. And with so much buzz surrounding the seemingly-infinite potential of new technologies on education, it was refreshing to hear a debate over the solid possibilities and limitations that the digital era can bring to the university.