Blog #7: Reading Things

For the first six blog prompts, I have taken charge of selecting the readings and focus of discussion. I’ve asked you to blog about the relationship between objects and writing, the sources and nature of cuteness, the uncanny lure of dead things, the histories we read in old things, how we sort tools from weapons, and what we might learn from thinking about smart things.

Now it’s your turn.


Photo of two birds on a high wire, one of them flying in with an insect in its beak for the other to eat.
Image credit: “It’s your turn” by coniferconifer on Flickr.

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Blog Post #6: A Beautiful Mind?

These past two blog prompts, Sharp Things and Smart Things, juxtaposed with the overlying intention to connect the relationship between humans and objects have me deeply contemplating the process of human thought. Do we indeed control our own thoughts or do history, culture, education, and the media program our thoughts? In hopes to adequately express my reasoning (or questioning), I must first expose my synopsis of the two blog prompts essays in correlation to the weekly readings. I will try to link them all with a possible enlightening yet probably radical view, hence displaying my own perplexing thought. Personal note: My goal is to convey my perplexed train of thought but because of my indifference to the complex subject, I fear that I may do so erroneously.

John Cline intriguingly lures his audience to associate two diverse objects, the machete and iPhone, as both a tool and a weapon in his essay, “What Is a Machete, Anyway?” He cleverly frames the essay around the comparison of the machete in attempt to disguise the dangerous manipulation a smartphone imposes. Despite the humor and very little reference to the iPhone, Cline leaves his audience critically thinking about hazardous objects that we previously only viewed as a useful device to stay current with phone numbers, email, text, social media, etc.

” Saws Can Sing For Us” by Jacob Chisenhall


When reading the essay, one’s mind drifts to other sharp things initially made as an aiding tool that could also be used to hurt or kill someone. The picture above is of handsaws, which are commonly used for cutting, but in this case, they are used for creating music. Similar to Cline’s example of the machete, handsaws also have been portrayed and used as a weapon yet the above picture establishes a harmless and even an enjoyable use for a “dangerous” tool.

In contrast to Cline’s inference, Carla Diana imposes a more friendly perception to technology in her essay, “The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends.” She frames her essay around the idea of our brains cultivating relationships with smart objects and thus presenting a tangible awareness of how humans and objects are indeed connected. Although Diana also presents a dichotomy between objects and humans by divulging her frustrations about an object’s programming, she indicates how we quickly pardon our frustrations in order to continue our people-object relationship by giving it living characteristic, such as “quirky.”

What truly makes an inanimate object dangerous? We have established that objects themselves are not dangerous until they are in the hands of a human. For example, a machete lying on a table is simply that: machete lying on a table. Only in the presence of a living creature is when it becomes dangerous, whether it is intentional (by picking it up and slashing at another being) or unintentional (by bumping against the table and causing the machete to fall, which could possibly severe a foot on the way down to the floor).

However, deep cogitation is provoked to contemplate potential digital weapons, such as the iPhone. Is this a gadget containing necessary tools to prevail in society or are we manipulated into thinking so? Can the human mind be programmed? If so, this idea implies that the iPhone is more than just a tool created by a beautiful mind but it has an underlying purpose: control.

Advances in technology are justified by the progress made in the medical field yet conspiracy theorists question the true intentions by those who hold power and influence over the economy. These people of power are referred to in this blog post as “tycoons” and “the elite” because these oligarchs possess most of the economy’s wealth and consequently have the power to influence and manipulate. However, even before revolution of electronic and digital technology, an accepted theory on how individuals are first molded lies within the education system.

Programming the Mind through Education

Formal education through schools, colleges and universities continues the systematic indoctrination where the ‘correct’ views and interpretations of science, history, and society result in exam passes and the ability to ‘get on’ in life.

— Ivan Fraser and Mark Beeston, The Brotherhood and the Manipulation of Society

In order to succeed in moving forward and become “productive members of society,” we must first pass all the tests. These tests are continuously evaluated and used as a measurement in order to progress onto the next level. Additionally, these tests are organized from a general knowledge every single person should know before moving forward, regardless of culture, language, ability (or disability), experience, etc.

This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited.

— Carl Jung, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious

Most importantly, only select individuals compose these tests; therefore, they reflect a narrowed view and interpretation of subjects and societal norms. In other words, we learn from others (i.e. teachers, professors, administration, experts) but are we actually formulating our own subjective thoughts or are we merely conceptualizing that we control our thoughts but simply adapting to what society wants us to? What does it truly mean to be knowledgeable, well informed, or even an expert when we are subjugated to a statistical number used to devise an assessment in which calculates all human thought the same exact way? Therefore, I ask, is it implausible to be deemed an individual with distinct, unique thoughts when we are ultimately just programmed by our education?

Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do no organize the people—they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.

— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Politicians, corporate executives, bankers, and media tycoons are successful in obtaining a position of influence in society whereby people are “subordinate to the prime motivation of profit.” These tycoons are oppressors and have a primary “interest in maintaining the status quo at all costs, ” which in turn “exert an irrepressible influence over every aspect of our lives, our thoughts and opinions.” In hopes to “live long and prosper,” we blindly accept this oppression since we have been programmed and manipulated through education, mass media, employment, religion, healthcare, etc.  And ironically, we, the consumers and our need for things (Professor C), are the tool/object to which tycoons use to drive America’s capitalistic society.

Programming through Mass Media

For obvious reasons, this idea almost speaks for itself. As a result of its vast reach, media is the most manipulating system whereby influences the conscious and subconscious mind. Mass media, which includes television, movies, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, records, video games and the Internet, is a powerful force in manipulating “the organized habits and opinions of the masses.” Ultimately, it is an unseen mechanism to cultivate minds into “a single and cohesive world view, engendering a ‘standardization of human thought.’”

In less than 20 years, media ownership has dwindled down from 50 companies to a mere 5, which includes AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Walt Disney, Vivendi Universal, and Sony.  This realization is disturbing because this means that the music we listen to, shows and movies we watch, the stories we read, games we play, and internet searches we perform are all fashioned from the viewpoint of only 5 companies…FIVE. These meager five companies are categorized as the “elite” because they own “all of the possible outlets” to reach the public. As aforementioned, the drive behind these elite (tycoons) is to influence and use people as objects in order to sell products.

The technique of psychotherapy, widely practiced and accepted as a means of curing psychological disorders, are also methods of controlling people. They can be used sustematically to influence attitudes and behavior. Systematic desensitization is a method used to dissolve anxiety so the patient (public) is not longer troubled by a specific fear…People adapt to frightening situations is they are exposed to them enough.

Steven Jacobson, Mind Control in the United States

The attempt to alter the public’s view or perception on a subject becomes not only easier but also more deliberate, allowing more access to tap into our “primal needs and instincts in order to generate an emotional and irrational response.” Overall, the elite’s desirable outcome is for mass conformity, acceptance, and accumulation of state-of-art entertainment, which is achieved through desensitization. Desensitization is a technique whereby the media elite softens the public on a specific topic for several years before introducing a sometimes-radical concept. The public then greets the concept “with general indifference and is passively accepted.”

Are we advancing towards the micro-chipped concept portrayed in the motion picture, In Time? According to Ivan Fraser and Mark Beeston’s research, the answer is, “yes” and that the consumer population has been gradually softened since the 1970s to willingly receive this technology. For example, pets are electronically tagged in case they are lost, requirement of ID’s are “as common as a handshake,” ‘pay at the pump’ systems at almost all gas stations, and bar-coded cards are an experimental way supermarkets and drug stores can track and tally consumer purchases.

Even more shocking is the 1994 tycoon-funded research for the Intel Corporation to investigate about possibilities for an under-the-skin microchip used for identification and track financial transactions. The cherry-on-top, however, is the existing development of a bar-coding system that contains three sets of six numbers to which can be “installed” painlessly and within one half of a second on the skin. This technology was developed by IBM and is currently used on cattle.

In conclusion, I pose one final question…which object should we fear the most, the obviously dangerous tool or the subliminal tool used for manipulating us into viewing the former as dangerous?


Not Quite Star Wars (yet)


Blame it on an over-active imagination (or too many cartoons as a kid), but I’ve always had a mild obsession with the potential of artificial intelligence. Much like Carla Diana, I spent much of my childhood fantasizing about the chance to interact with futuristic robot friends that walked, talked, functioned in my absence, and most importantly, comprehended what I told them and had valuable things to say in return. However, unlike the C3PO-esque droids of my imagination, I instead found myself surrounded by robots that were boasted as being “smart”, but yet could usually only fulfill a specific, singular function. R.O.B., Poochie, RoboReptile… these were all excellent toys, but nothing in comparison to the idealistic robots and androids that existed in my head.

Much like myself, Diana’s woes in “Dreams of Intelligent Robot Friends” stems from the fact that despite the face, blinking lights, and high tech properties, the limits to the quality and quantity of interactions one may have with objects like Karotz still leaves much to be desired. In retrospect, it seems that the defining factors that these toys “lack” are the ability to emulate human interactions, specifically a two-way channel of information exchanging. But where does this intrinsic value for human-like qualities lie? What is it that we define current “intelligent objects” by, and to what extent do current standards apply to the “ideal” concept of these robots?

Focusing on these questions made me consider one of the most relevant “smart” objects in recent history: Siri. Apple’s personal assistant,is often regarded as a modern cultural icon, often colloquially referred to as a “she” in everyday conversations.( In regards to Diana’s article, I would argue that defining characteristic of interpersonal connections with “smart objects” is their proficiency for expressing information such in a way that can be interpreted as having a “personality”. Specifically, Diana’s suggestion of “With the right predisposition, the appropriate context for a social exchange, and enough key info to grab onto, you and a stranger can hit it off right away”, perfectly explains why interactions with this technology can produce a sense of connection on personal, and even emotional levels. Simply put, we value Siri over something like Karotz because “her” ability to decipher interactions and potentially respond with both results and adequate emotional cognition quite literally makes us feel more “understood”.


To elaborate further, I’d like to cite a very personal, very nerdy example: Shortly after my first iPhone purchase, I jokingly asked, “Siri, where is the rebel base?” and was responded with a clunky robotic voice saying “Dantooine…They’re on Dantooine”. I was floored. I literally screamed “I love this fucking phone!” out loud. And while catching a point of reference is an admittedly shallow reason to love something, I think this scenario purely encapsulates how and why artificial intelligence can be so personally fulfilling. It stems the same strange psychology that causes Roombas to make cleaning more enjoyable, or when we can feel oddly remorseful that siri is “offended” by our profanity. They’re essentially human interactions, just emulated differently.

It’s indisputable that humans share many emotional ties with their objects, and though we are far from objects that act as sentient beings, perhaps even just the opportunity for more, emotionally stimulating interactions with them, can be incredibly rewarding in itself.

'Tell me more about your programmer.'

Blog #6: Crossed Circuits

At Least We Care

In a study conducted in 2013, a team sought to find out if humans show empathy towards robots. Amar Toor’s article, “The robots are coming, but will we love them,” recaps that study. A group of people were given four videos to watch: a human coddling a robot, a human coddling another human; a human mistreating a robot, and a human mistreating another human.

Third Video. The affect is strange.

The results were that those being tested produced the same neurological patterns consistent with each similar type of scenario. That meant they empathized with the robot when it was being mistreated the same way they did with the human subject .

To what degree was the empathy similar? Who knows. But that test proved that we, or those tested, show empathy, no matter how little, towards robots. But why show any empathy at all? It seems that this is one of those psychological phenomena or neurological ticks that humans have.

“It can only be attributable to human error” – Hal 9000

I highly doubt that our empathy readings spike when Leonard from sales loses it and smashes his computer to bits (maybe we empathize for him, but for the computer, no). I think this tick has a lot to do with our ability to transpose ourselves with robots, especially the ones that resemble us, a little. If it moves like us and speaks our language, both verbal and nonverbal, then we may see ourselves in it; like some ancient hex was placed on us to where we can’t distinguish the line that separates ourselves and others like us. But that goes with almost anything that resembles us: dolls, action figures, and so on. Of course those examples may be geared toward children’s fancies, but the fact remains.

If the empathy test was done on something “smart” would we react the same? If a robot vacuum (the ones shaped like CD players) was smashed repeatedly and violently with a mallet it may not elicit similar readings as if we witnessed George Jetson bludgeon Rosie the Robot until her circuit-board was showing. The two objects perform essentially the same task: cleaning; but Rosie has humans characteristics, the robot vacuum doesn’t. I don’t think we have an option whether or not we show empathy to the former, but the latter, we’ll just buy a new one.

Closing The Gap

Although Rosie the Robot may be a automaton clear of the “uncanny valley” we wouldn’t sacrifice our dog for her.

Uncanny Valley in a single image
Uncanny Valley in a single image

While robots and androids fake human consciousness and characteristics, plants and animals actually have one, or are thought to have one, because they operate, and have been operating, without human actors. A parrot repeats just as much as we tell them to but their mimicry is different than Siri’s. A dog sits because it has background knowledge; a robotic dog, like the Poo-Chi, sits because it was programmed to react to that command.

I don’t think we feel real empathy towards robots and “smart” objects. I think it’s just our brains firing unauthorized signals to clue us in on some primordial alert that we haven’t yet evolved from. We can hold full conversations with Watson, Hal 9000, Gerty, the Iron Giant, or any other real or imagined object of human imitation, but, still, that would be like talking to  wall in an empty room.


Mufson, Beckett. “Could You Empathize With A Robot? | The Creators Project.” The Creators Project. The Creators Project, 25 July 2014. Web. 03 Oct. 2014.

Toor, Amar. “The Robots Are Coming, but Will We Love Them?” The Verge. The Verge, 26 Apr. 2013. Web. 03 Oct. 2014.

Wolchover, Natalie. “Why CGI Humans Are Creepy, and What Scientists Are Doing about It.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 03 Oct. 2014.

SIRI, you complete me.


A pretext to the iPhone

Apple– they’ve made a name for themselves, selling simply designed and visually striking smart technology.  The new operating system for Apple mobile devices, iOS 8 with SIRI, aims to take intelligent mobile technology to a very personal level.

Copy from the iOS 8 site points out that the product will help “you do the everyday things, and the not-so-everyday things, in ways that are intuitive, simple, and fun. And it’s loaded with useful features you’ll wonder how you ever did without.”

I will wonder, “How did I ever live without you, iPhone.”  That’s a bold claim.

Apple creates a buzz around their products that underscores this sentiment.



Russell Belk states in his article, The Extended Self in the Digital World, “The Internet and many digital devices free us from the constraints of time and place and create other, virtual, times and places.”  While the devices have their own kind of “intelligence,” the effect they have on their owners is profound­.

The Apple copy regarding SIRI, the AI function on the iPhone and iPad is particularly interesting, claiming that SIRI “understands what you say.  It knows what you mean.”  The latter part of the clause goes beyond simply translating voice-to-text, to a place of near-sentience.  The subtext of the language on the Apple website suggests that an iPhone can be like a personal assistant, something not too far away from a human helper, a human companion that can do lots of things.

The iPhone (or any similar technology) has agency, contributing to a furthering of extended self that bleeds deep into the world of the digital.  While many of our possessions that have temporal physical features, many of our possessions today come in a digital format: music, pictures, records and important documents, contact lists, personal journals, bookmarked websites, research logs, and more.

An iPhone is like a portal to these virtual possessions.

The sharing and social media components of smartphone technology also have implications on the extended self.  Belk states, “many new possessions and technologies…create different ways through which we can meet, interact with, and extend our aggregate selves through other people while experiencing a transcendent sense that we are part of something bigger than us alone (Belk 494).   The desire to connect with other people is part of human nature.  The social media juggernaut Facebook, much like corporate radio, have realized what Matt Silverman records in his interview with author Douglas Rushkoff: “the people paying are marketers. That makes them the customers. And it means [users] are the product being delivered to those customers.”

Newcomers to the social media onslaught, Ello, make the case for a social media network that doesn’t treat the user and the user’s privacy as a commodity, creating a “manifesto,” of which the terminal line reads, “you are not a product.”  The creators would agree with the Adorno and Horkheimer’s correlation to the Marxist idea of commodity fetishism from their chapter on “Culture Industry” from Dialectic of Enlightenment, in which they state, “The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises.”

Social media often promises connection to a community of people, an aggregated sense of self when, in fact, studies show social media increases the sense of isolation.

In our attempt to aggregate this self through technology, we risk becoming a commodity ourselves.

At this juncture, the question of “smart things” and their relationship as it comes to bear on our human existence seems to open a can of worms, leaving more questions than answers, having opened many doors.  The future is wide open and changes are developing so rapidly, that making predictions about the status of the self, of smart things, and the spaces between, would be impossible.

Works Cited

Belk, Russell.  “Extended Self in a Digital World”. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, No. 3 (October 2013), pp 477-500. The University of Chicago Press.  02 October 2013. Web.

“The Ello Manifesto”.  Ello.  Web. 03 October 2014.

“iOS 8”.  Apple.  02 October 2014. Web.

Silverman, Matt. “Users For Sale: Has Digital Illiteracy Turned Us Into Social Commodities?”  Mashable.  30 June 2011. 02 October 2014. Web.

Wikipedia contributors. “Culture industry.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

Image Credits

Zach Morris Telephone

Wonka Meme

Futurama Meme

Blog Post #6 The Sense of Self in Smart things

Humans often feel empathy towards inanimate objects—I used to pity a lonely couch when people would come to the house and people sat on other furniture and I used to feel sorry for the forgotten stuffed animal in the corner of my room. So, that sense of duty or responsibility I had towards comforting that left out stuffed animal and that isolated couch were not dependent upon my perception of those things as being “smart”. There was no technology involved in those objects, yet as an emotional human being, I felt the need to take care of these things and include them to make them feel of use. However, I don’t feel that same sense of empathy towards my cell phone or my laptop; maybe I grew out of placing empathy on things which do not in turn have empathy when I turned twelve. But it’s different to think that if my phone were in the shape of a puppy, or if I still had my iDog, I would feel compassion towards these objects.



They are in fact, “objects” which have been anthropomorphized and given the shape of something which represents life. In Carla Diana’s article, “The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends”, she states that “we indulge the illusion that an interactive product is a living character, such as a pet or friend, silly as we know it is”. If our technological things could interact with us and converse with us, it might be entirely strange and abominable, or it may be useful and intriguing. The concept of objects being ascribed humanlike reaction, voices, and thoughts reminds me of spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her, in which a man falls in love with a smart device—his highly advanced computer operating system. Here is a Clip From “Her” where the Computer expresses her “feelings” .This film explores the complex dependencies and human relationships we contrive with our devices. However, the film implies that technology is so enticing and advanced that it is easy to become captivated, carried away, obsessed and infatuated with these sophisticated devices. Even so, these things may appear human and may be able to help us, but they can never BE us. They are missing that essential thing which comes only from nature—the soul.