Rainbows End has a lot going on, in several directions, much like the reality it portrays on its pages and between its lines. On the surface, I’m intrigued at Deedee’s notion of SF/Futurist categorization. Having spent a semester in Pete Sands’ Science Fiction, Utopia and Dystopia seminar last spring, I could spend a lot of time waffling and pining of what is and what is not SF/Speculative/Scifi and how that is likely an ultimately useless discussion – an approximation intended to group similar, complex texts into an exact bin for the sake of generalization. (I’m going to avoid the market slant to this conversation, that books need to be labeled to be sold efficiently and without much explanation to the potential customer.) I’d rather spend this time talking about what’s happening in a specific text.
RE‘s discussion on overlays of virtuality/reality could have something to say about an act of defining a text as being “SFnal” or “literary” or whatever label you might want to apply. In a simplification, these multiple visual/auditory/tactile realities complicate the act of simple definition – in this case what is real and what is artificial. In many instances, these boundaries seem artificial. The practical consequence of sming, for instance, is an added method of communication, which can be specifically directed to an receiver, but also intercepted if a wearable is hacked. And while the words in sming are virtual (in the sense that they hang in the air and are only visible through a technological interface), really its just another instance of a language of representation, no different than what you’re reading here and now. The problems (and similarities between book and sming, or poetry and instructions, etc) still exist: you can read what someone has written for you, but it isn’t always clear what they mean. The nuances of language are difficult no matter the delivery system. Add in the essential quality of sming – that your message is silent to others who might occupy the same space – and this complication is reinforced. To sming “well”, the author is to hide any indication that they are communicating at all. No facial expression; no body language; no hand signals. The intended lack of expression during sming causes the entirety of the message (intent, emotion, inflection, tone) to be reduced to text.
I write about this with enthusiasm, as, in my fiction writing, I’m very interested in the ability of language to convey emotion (or any complex message) through artifice, how to acknowledge artifice, and how to transcend artifice. I want my cake and to eat it, too, I suppose. In fact, my “save the world” response from class (which I’ll likely post, now that it’s referenced) deals a bit with these notions. [I’m also interested in cyborgs, hyperreality, and hybirdization, FWIW). And RE deals a bit with the transcendence of Gu’s poetry, so I don’t feel too selfish raising this point.
Finally, the collaborative processes in RE raise concerns of praxis for me, mainly what are the social effects of crowdsourcing (thank you, in part, James Surowiecki) and, less important here, the shotgun blast assemblage and x-referencing. I’m not so hot on database theory, so I’ll proceed with my reflection on the temporary communal authoring of the answer boards. The fracturing of knowledge quest into simple individual tasks is certainly Taylorist, but its effect go beyond simple productivity. It is an act of exclusion from knowledge in RE. The individual affiliate is cut off from the meaning, practical consequence, and application of the knowledge they contribute to form. And, the receptor of the “answer” is separated from the basic processes of knowledge acquisition. The result is that the seeker of the answer must trust the individual efforts of incremental knowledge from various affiliates. I want to be clear that these same issues occur for a student today, for instance, who looks to texts to discern an “answer” to any question, whether the field of study is physical or social science, humanities, mathematics, etc.
Thus, I am less concerned with aspects of accuracy, as I think that terms like “meaning”, “true” and “answer” are subjective and fuzzy. I am interested in the seeming lack of human interaction that is inherent in the “answer board” – or in hardcore academic research in the library. As a student sitting in a classroom, I think personal interaction (and there is a physical component, in my mind) is a major part of both learning and forming a community that can resist power structures. So while the crowdsourcing could be viewed as a form of archipelago anarchism, I think it lacks the important condition of personal community. That isn’t to say that successful community cannot be reached via virtual or technologically enabled methods; the answer boards, though, seem to lack an actual sense of empathic connection between affiliates, which causes them to be cut off from community (and shared knowledge), rather than enabling them to form personal connections.
I’d also be interested in looking at the overlap of real/virtual spaces in terms of Foucault’s concept of heterotopia and the hybrid nature of Rabbit