I wanted to examine Lanham in a little more visual and concept-based manner than vlogging allows – using Walter Benjamin’s method of presenting “moments,” little snippets of experience, seemed a good way to go to demonstrate a few of the links that occurred as I was reading.
The chapter on fonts really feels like so much of the early 90’s media studies. I had one teacher who would give automatic extra credit if you turned in your papers in comic sans. Half the class boycotted free points “on principle.” Fonts are srs bzness.
I do get Lanham’s delight in some ways – as a kid, Microsoft Word provided a very different way to envision text than our DOS machines. And for a few minutes, playing with different fonts was entertaining. Still is.
And the text we use definitely does change perceptions.
With new textual types come new languages.
Language, as information, has material qualities. Perhaps, then, it is no wonder Lanham celebrates capitalism – he thinks that everyone has some access to information and material needs alike. (Everyone can afford something from IKEA!)
“This purported immateriality [of information] endows bits with considerable advantages: they are immune from the economics and logistics of analog media, and from the corruption, degradation, and decay that necessarily results from the handling of material carriers of information, resulting in a worldwide shift ‘from atom to bits’ as captured by Negroponte. This is problematic: however immaterial it might appear, information cannot exist outside of given instantiations in material forms.”
Jean-François Blanchette, “A Material History of Bits”
Even though you can’t drop it on your foot like Lanham’s stuff.
“But when you interpret nature as information, stuff and fluff change places.”
“As an aside, let me point out here that ‘information’ itself, as used today — including as by Lanham in the above sentence — is a highly misleading concept. Information is an old term. You can trace it back to fourteenth–century England, when it principally meant convictions and understandings, mostly of a religious nature, and primarily imparted by God. The root of course is the word “form”, and so information meant a kind of shaping of mind. Over the centuries, the word became more secular and more loosely used to mean any kind of knowledge amenable to being passed on. Around 1945, however, primarily through the work of Claude Shannon, the word information took on its main contemporary guise as a number of bits passing from machine to machine. It had become part of communications theory, only peripherally involving humans at all.”
~Michael H. Goldhaber, “How (Not) to Study the Attention Economy”
Microsoft’s Software Archives
In many ways, Lanham was a frustrating read for me. I found the tone abrasive, and somewhat dismissive of his opponents. In particular though, I was frustrated by the lack of warrants in many arguments, which often made entire passages feel…
I get it, Lanham. You’re an emeritus and get to do your thing. But warrants –> attention.
“Attention,” write Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun in their 1996 book Rules of the Net, “is the hard currency of cyberspace.” They’re dead on. As the Net becomes an increasingly strong presence in the overall economy, the flow of attention will not only anticipate the flow of money, but eventually replace it altogether.
~Michael H. Goldhaber, “Attention Shoppers!”
Clearly the underlying message here is that I disagree with Lanham’s underlying beliefs about economy functions. While Lanham constantly denounces his own expertise on the economy, he’s seen himself expert enough to come to a very certain, and very important, conclusion about the desirability of capitalism in an economy – whether that economy operate on a capital of dollars or a capital of attention. And that conclusion, the one implicitly serving as the foundation for all Lanham’s other conclusions, needs to be seriously examined.
This is a response post to the question of how Lanham is using the word “play” in his chapter. It gets a bit convoluted with some of the distinctions I’m attempting here (not unlike Lanham’s using of the word play in many different ways), but I hope it at least provides a better response to the question than my rushed attempt at the end of class last time.