Neutrality vs. Power Bias: A Power Analysis of Linguistic Change on the Internet

[Some unusual territory for me: An amateur linguistic analysis of some recent trends on the internet.]

The internet, glorified in the abstract like much of modern technology, is often idealized as a universal medium of communication that promotes globalization, convenient and cheap education, community cohesion, and a host of other social goods. John Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claimed

“cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications… We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth… a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs… We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge… The only law that we recognize is the Golden Rule” (Barlow).  

The assumption being made in this veneration, is that humanity, if somehow able to achieve perfect communication, will naturally recoil from all evils- that communicative unity can only bring about good. A powerful counter-example can be found in Orwell’s 1984, in which an all-powerful totalitarian central government enslaves the minds of its citizens by enforcing universal patterns of speech. “Newspeak” it is termed, and it “was intended to make all other forms of thought impossible… a heretical thought- a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc [the totalitarian government]- would be literally unthinkable” (Orwell 300). Certainly, in this case, the universal communication established in the fictional Oceania is not for the good. It illustrates that communication, no matter how universal, is ultimately modified by the dynamics of power, for better, worse, or neither.

This principle is not limited to fictional exemplification: it is embodied in the very creation of the internet. An analysis of the development of the internet, from ARPANET in 1969 to the dominance of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, leads us to abandon any traditional narrative of a communication network novel in its neutrality, in favor of an internet that, while explicitly striving for neutrality, is deeply seated in an English language bias … Continue Suffering

Why Video Games are a Danger to Art(ists)

No doubt you are expecting this to be an impassioned polemic piece (read: rant) about how video games threaten our society and our oh-so-inviolate morals. Though incorrect, given the climate of rhetoric on video games and “interactive entertainment” you would be hardly remiss in making such an assumption. Years ago, in 2010, Roger Ebert, the renowned movie critic, made a controversial blog post on a similar topic, and for his opposition to video games as art he was bombarded with comments upon comments, the most of which were of the same tone as the very first: “Roger- you just don’t get it.”

Such a line-drawing, “them vs. us” mentality is common in this debate, as is the refusal to engage in serious conversation. Video game fans and developers seek legitimacy for their creative medium, art “fans” seek to guard their Canon and dismiss video games as children’s entertainment- compromise would be fatal to either. Whatever camp you may fall into, I do not seek to sway you here: only to caution that part of you which demands expression. If you are an artist or writer, you know of what I speak; If you are not, merely think of the last time you truly loved something, when you felt like finally, something in this world was truly for you, when something was right, just right and that was the end of it. I aim to caution that, if you play games, this part of you is being slowly enfeebled, not from malnourishment, but, in fact, from overindulgence.

What drives us all to creativity and expression is the search for personal validation and perfection. Like a lovelorn Narcissus, we stumble around the world, desperately looking for a reflection of our own perfection. What good video games offer us is a way to cheat to such perfection. No matter the potency of your feeling, the work (writing, painting, reading, watching, understanding, talking) is difficult and the results often inaccurate. The painter tears his canvas, the writer has a block, the reader cannot penetrate the density of language, the movie-goer is cheated … Continue Suffering