Week 7: A Little Bit about Bitcoin

Greenfield, chapter 5: “Cryptocurrency: The computational guarantee of value;” chapter 6: “Blockchain beyond Bitcoin: a trellis for posthuman institutions” Sterling, “Stop Saying Smart Cities”: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/stupid-cities/553052/ The Aura of Familiarity, “II. Apricot Lane”

As Greenfield essentially stated, if cryptocurrencies and blockchains are going to be powerful tools in a world of digital currency – laypeople should know what these things are and how to use them. I agree, given the fact that I had no idea what a Bitcoin was until my friend tried to explain it to me a year ago (and I still did not get it…). Quite excitedly, Greenfield discusses Bitcoin and blockchain and the ways in which they fix the pitfalls of ledgers, mints, and double spending. Greenfield explains what a Bitcoin is without all of the jargon (thank you) and what the disadvantages are to being involved in the whole Bitcoin system. To me (and Greenfield), it is digital money that can only be spent in certain places that accept digital money (except when you get lucky enough to find a Bitcoin ATM, but you would have to be lotto lucky). Other issues associated with Bitcoin involve security issues, energy usage and heat waste. Ah, but with the most definite death of Bitcoin, according to Greenfield – let there be light (or dark…) – there is still the concept of the blockchain…

What happened to putting paper money under your mattress? I am sure some baby boomers are thinking that as they ask themselves what a Bitcoin is and if it has the current president’s face on it.

Week 6: Digital Fabrication in the Museum World

Relatively recently, additive manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing) has become commonplace in the cultural heritage sector, but I often have individuals ask me, “What is the point of 3D printing?” Is it not just a pretty object (and sometimes not so pretty object if one prints with an inexpensive 3D printer and the filament is not cleaned properly)? I wondered the same thing before I became involved in 3D modeling and, to a lesser degree, 3D printing. I stopped wondering as soon as I was able to hold a Native American object at the Tampa Bay History Center (I was employed there for a bit) without worrying about dropping it or degrading it.

There are many museums that are using 3D printed replicas of ancient artifacts to allow the public to experience an object in a tactile manner. Have you ever wanted to roll your fingers over a life-size version of Aphrodite or hold a piece of pottery that was once used by the Inca over 500 years ago? Well, I have (but I am a bit strange…). Now, you can. Museums, such as the Peabody, the MET, Yamagata, and TBHC (just to name a few of many) are realizing the value of displaying replicas rather than real objects. Once an artifact reaches the public, it has the potential to be stolen, broken, handled inappropriately, and ultimately gone forever. Also, once an artifact is out of a controlled environment, it has the potential for degradation as a result of weathering. I would hope that a museum would not put a “priceless” artifact in an uncontrolled environment, but it is a possibility. 3D printing mitigates all of these factors.

What is the downside to having museum objects 3D printed and displayed? Well, are you really getting the full visual experience from an object that isn’t necessarily the object? Should an artifact sit in a storeroom for all eternity (or until the museum shuts down or the object is “given” to another museum). It seems an injustice to the public and the object, but what is more important – mitigating the chances of losing an ancient artifact forever or never getting to experience its wonder and beauty first-hand? I do not really know the answer to that question. But, if a museum decides to display 3D printed replicas of artifacts than they should have a good 3D model of the original online for you to view.

Week 5: Augmented Reality – I Am Here, But I Am Not Here…

Christine Bergmann engaging in VR at USF

I am here, but I am not here…the augmented world, the virtual world, and the real world. Are virtual and augmented worlds not reality for some individuals? What is at the intersection of these worlds? Humans. When I think about the terms “AR” and “VR” – a flash of LARPers (i.e. Live Action Role-Playing) and D&D (i.e. Dungeons and Dragons) players on a crowded field outside comes to my mind. AR and VR have just given humans a new platform in the real world in which individuals can escape reality while still being planted exactly in the place in which they are trying to alter or escape.

But, AR and VR are not just for game players looking to escape the day-to-day humdrum of reality. They can be used to immerse oneself in places of the past (the cultural heritage component). According to Greenfield (2017), AR was originally made for military personnel, engineers, and firefighters (to name a few), but this tanked and did not catch fire (yes, puns) until the advent of the smartphone (ah, the all encompassing smartphone…). Additionally, VR gained popularity with the advent of fairly (I use this term loosely) lightweight headsets. The smartphone and VR headset gave users the ability to travel to distant historical places using a piece of technology composed of oxides. I remember the first time that I put on a VR headset. I was very aware of putting on the headset in a four-walled workspace in Tampa, Florida, but as soon as I started to enter the Palace of Versailles in Paris, France – I forgot that I was at work and became King Louis XIV. It was at that moment that I realized the power (and by “power” – I mean influence) of VR.

However, much like most technological applications – improvement was, and is, needed for AR and VR. Holding a phone in front of one’s face for a period of time is not good for the hand (s) (I can imagine this would present a problem for someone with rheumatoid arthritis) and a bulky headset minimizes the experience of pretending you are somewhere else. The aforementioned are mere physical repercussions of VR and AR, but what about the social, neurological and dependency issues that can arise? Just because we have the ability to create new and exciting technology does not necessarily mean that we need to use it or that it is advantageous for us.

Greenfield, Adam. 2017. Augmented reality: An interactive Overlay on the World. In Radical Technologies. The Design of Everyday Life. Verso, Brooklyn, NY.

Week 4: Human Agency and Technology

As technology rapidly becomes more and more complex and “smart” what does this mean for human agency? What is the “internet of things” and how does it relate to a human’s ability to express their individual power? According to Jorgensen (2016:48) the “internet of things” is “the emerging cluster of objects, standards, and digital applications”.

Technological objects, such as a programmable thermostat or a fridge that will make recommendations for an individual’s next meal, are becoming commonplace on the market (well, maybe not so much the “smart” fridge in the eyes of consumers). These technological advancements seem to make life easier for endusers, but engineers and developers are making the assumption that consumers do not want to think or act for themselves; they are removing their agency. For example, the Fitbit takes the form of a wrist watch that not only tells time, but also tells the wearer when to get up and move around. Are we so divorced from ourselves (or busy) that we can not even figure out when we should move? Do we really need a Jetson’s fridge to tell us what we should buy at the grocery store? Humans should be cognizant of what they should or shouldn’t be doing without a hunk of metal dictating their lives.

At the epicenter of all of these new gadgets is the smartphone. The smartphone connects humans with humans (e.g. Facebook), humans with technology (e.g. a phone), and technology with other technology (e.g. using the phone to turn on the lights in your house), but does it connect us with ourselves? Is it giving us the ability to express our individuality or is it somehow creating our individuality? Interestingly enough, technology is made by people and for people but has somehow managed to minimize, if not eliminate, our agency. Bottom line – we should be enthusiastic regarding new technological applications but skeptical of them taking over and controlling, our lives.

Jorgenson, “The Internet of Things” in Schreibman, et al., A New Companion to Digital Humanities: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781118680605