Discussion Points: 11-10-10

1. Boorstin says that we, “live in a world where fantasy is more real than reality,” (37), that we create simulations of experiences because we can’t experience them ourselves, then we have the audacity to believe that our simulations are superior to the actual experiences. How would Boorstin approach the advent of the internet? Can the internet, in some way, serve as a tool to “disillusion ourselves,” (6) by gaining access to the knowledge that original experiences are superior to the simulations of them that we create?

2. Is there a way to reconcile the difference between “man-made and God-made events,” (11) or, “celebrities” and “heroes” (61)? In other words, can we remove the artificial fervor that people add to events and people (which make them pseudo-events or celebrities) and understand them on the basis of their actual weight? For instance, can we construct a scale that accurately places Alexander the Great, John Milton, Lady Gaga, and LonelyGirl15 in order of their actual impact on the world? Or has the internet (and other media) already broken the scale, such that “actual impact” has become a completely relative term?

3. Setting aside the distinction between authenticity and fabrication, Boorstin claims that, “the celebrity is created by the media,” (61). Yet, on Youtube, millions of people have viewed web-cam videos made by some guy/girl in his/her room, and on Twitter, we can see topics that are trending based on what users think is newsworthy. To what extent have new media taken the mechanisms of “old” media (journalists, news-anchors, advertisers, writers, producers, etc.) out of this equation for making a celebrity? To what extent are these mechanisms still present/necessary to elevate news and people to fame?

4. Laurel talks about how–through computers–we can interact within, “worlds in which we can extent, amplify, and enrich our own capacities to think, feel, and act,” (113). In what ways has the internet become an extension of our imagination as, “laboratory of the spirit,” (112)?

5. How can we reconcile Laurel’s world-view with Boorstin’s?


Twitter can’t handle World Cup fever.

Today, Landon Donovan shot the game-winning, tournament-advancing, heart-stopping goal in the 91st minute of USA’s final game of phase one of the World Cup against Algeria. Within seconds, twitter’s 20 million+ users were met with the increasingly common “fail whale,” the site’s safeguarding response to the onslaught of “GOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLL” and “YOU CAN PUT IT ON THE BOAAAAAARD” and “#USA #USA #USA #USA” outbursts. On June 14, when Japan scored against Cameroon to break a seemingly endless stalemate, twitter reached its all-time highest “tweets-per-second” rate (which they shorten to TPS) at 2,940. How many tweets-per-second do you think Donovan’s goal notched?

As I sat and stared at the whale, I wondered what the purpose of “livetweeting” really is. Why would anyone want constant status updates on a specific event that can be followed with such ease and efficiency on espn.com, fifa.com, or any one of the millions (billions?) of sports sites out there? Why would someone constantly refresh the same page, over and over again, just to read someone’s second-hand account of a specific incident, when they could just watch the game on ESPN3?

I quickly realized how naive I was being. Of course—these mad twitterers were already watching the game online. They not only wanted to witness the twitter-shattering goal, but they wanted to experience it secondhand, through its various retellings and re-formations told by thousands of twitterers-per-second.

In his pivotal essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin writes:

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.

Do you think that “livetweeting” lacks “presence in time in space”? Or does it create the digital space in which it exists, spinning pages upon pages filled with reproductions of a specific event? Do these various reproductions enhance the event which they evolve from, or do they undermine it (watch this)?

A Student Seminar

Seminar Leaders: Andrew Smith ’11 (Math), Patrick Phelan ’11 (English)
Faculty Advisor: Gus Stadler (English)
Seminar Participants: Daniel Connochie (Psychology), Jacob Horn ’13 (Classics), LinKai Jiang ’11 (Philosophy), Katie Monroe ’13 (Anthropology with a Gender & Sexuality Concentration), Robin Riskin ’12 (English with an Africana Concentration)

This seminar seeks to explore what it means to be a celebrity and the cultural half-life of fame in the age of condensing Warhol’s “fifteen minutes” into a single viral moment. We will examine constructions of “digital fame” through theoretical, historical, and practical lenses. We will begin by developing a framework of modern fame, or fame and its existence since the beginning of television. From there, we plan to examine digital renown from three distinct approaches. A broader spectrum of content, a monolithic audience, and an instantaneously aggregating communal opinion have effectively multiplied and widened the avenues to fame.

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