Food Advertising: Empire of Illusion

Food Advertising: Empire of Illusion

Qingyi Yu

CAS 268 (ENG 267 / FMS 275): Food, Media, and Literature

“For the truth is, that life on the face of it is a chaos in which one finds oneself lost. The individual suspects as much but is terrified to encounter this frightening reality face to face, and so attempts to conceal it by drawing a curtain of fantasy over it, behind which he can make believe that everything is clear.” – José Ortega y Gasset

         “Farmers hoeing at noon, sweat down the field soon. Who knows food on a tray, thanks to their toiling day?” It is a famous Chinese ancient poem I have learnt about since little, that reveals the hardship of farmers and the preciousness of food. Although we are still using the same language to educate our generation about food, the landscape is completely changed. In the US, the average share of per capita income spent on food – proportional to our income – dramatically fell from 17.5 percent in 1960 to 9.6 percent in 2007. Thanks to the efficiency of industrial agriculture, along with the consistent shrinking of food prices adjusted for inflation, today we are purchasing more food for less money.  We are the blessed generation that live in the promised abundance, that no longer worry about the food shortage. The blooming technology and economy now enable us to pursue a life with more quality and more happiness. We don’t need to eat to survive, we are tasting the feelings, as the Coca Cola advertisement says. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oYlOBun8UI With a bottle, we are loved, and with a taste, we taste the friendship. I am so inspired by this warming short movie that I almost want to grab a bottle and feel the kindness in humanity.

         But wait a second, how the hell does Coca Cola has anything to do with love? And when does this detrimental soda becomes a way to show the care and share the happiness? If we take a deeper look into the ad and bring out more consciousness, we will realize that it is a typical lie in consumer culture, wrapped in the cliché we ask for. The illusion of happiness, constructing through massive manipulation in every advertisement, is only in service to the branding and sale. They are the unkind packaged in kindness, the capitalism with a communism appearance. Knowing the magical effect of the advertising, food industry invests huge amounts of money on advertising each year, especially the fast food industry. In 2013, a totally ad expenditure amounted to 136.53 million dollars on food and beverage, 1.68 billion on prepared foods, and 1.98 billion on confectionery and snacks is spent. Of all the brands advertised in the United States in 2013, McDonald’s was ranked fifth in terms of advertising spending with a fee of 976 million U.S. dollars, and Subway was ranked 21st with a total ad spend of 514 million U.S. dollars. Another reason that why food industry is investing more and more money on advertising is because of the “happy” result of inflation. It needs advertisements to seduce people to consume more food than needed, or should have, to use the human body as a spatial fix.

         The overexposure to the food advertisements, disturbing with our natural appetite, can be a key attribute to the epidemic of obesity and other public health concerns in the US. More importantly, the way the companies advertise, including the use of photography, graphic design (packaging), wording, certification labels and etc, can be very misleading, and the companies meant to. They deceive us into the false belief in abundance and quality. The advertising campaign between corporations confuses us and makes it extremely hard to recognize the healthy and unhealthy food. Even those who are aware of the importance of a healthy diet can be tricked into eating junks. Moreover, the ads also help food industry to hide its dark reality behind a curtain of fantasy, that feeds into the consumer’s’ comfort.

         As the agency to sell food commodities,  grocery stores play an important role in helping the construction of this illusion. Most of the time, they are in alliance with big corporations due to the economic benefit.  Through well-designed display and language, and highly targeted selling strategies, they create a palace with “diversity” that seemingly in favor of the consumers.

         Unfortunately, the fantasy will not become the truth simply by wishing it to be, and the problems can not be solved by keeping them out of the sight. Food advertising, as the other industry in consumer culture, has created an empire of illusion in front of the truth that makes us out of touch with the reality. The perfected pictures and the fake lifestyle in ads and other commercials, that promise us quality, happiness and love, is slyly destroying our lives.

Food Porn For Sale

        Food porn is now everywhere in our media, including television, websites, and social media. Food is becoming more about visual stimuli and gustatory entertainment than about nurturance and sustainability.We happily participated in this visual feast, in the belief that it is a blessing from the advanced modernity. However, it is actually nothing more than a fake substance designed to fill the hollow within self-value.

         Those glorious photographs are usually highly manipulated and quite deceptive. Many company even use completely inedible materials in ads to induce the viewer’s appetite. For example, glue is used instead of real milk to enhance the color and texture of the liquid. Fabric protectors are sprayed on pancakes so that they do not absorb the syrup while thephotography. Even the syrup on pancakes is actually oil, because it looks so much better than actual syrup. Also, plates always displayed with careful manipulation. Burgers are held up using cotton balls, toothpicks and cardboard for photography. The truth behind food advertisements may be astonishing, but most of us surely knows the manipulating aspect in our own food porn faddism that we participate in daily in the massive social media. We are fostered in this illusionary environment, feeling betrayed and frustrated. Ironically,  the insecurity and the frustration result in a self-perpetuating cycle that further drives the hunger away from reality, so we end up help to consolidate those illusions. We try not to commit it in hope it can become the reality in our heads. The ego may be deceived by the constructed images, but the authentic self would not.

         The prevailing food porn culture enables food industry to explore a new space and a more crafty way to advertise their products. Company and restaurants can collaborate with the food porn websites and evaluating and rating apps to promote their products. Many restaurants encouraged people to rate 5 stars on yelp, or post pictures of their products on instagram with hashtags to get discounts. http://www.agorapulse.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/instagram-dominos-box.jpg They can also utilize celebrities to post pictures that includes their products, and mentioning some appealing aspects. Those techniques lead our food system into a deeper illusion because they look so natural and genuine that we do not know, or hard to tell, they are actually advertisements.. However, it is us who have created an environment in which those lies are able to survive.

         The excessive visual stimuli messes with our natural appetite and increases our desire for food, inducing us to consume more unnecessary edible commodities, which in the long run only bring us more unhappiness, like obesity and depression.

Language for Sale

         No matter on the packages of the products, in the television ads, or within the food labeling system, there are massive wordplayings conducte. They are usually built upon the illusioned consumer value and belief, and then contribute to more general and universal false acknowledgments.  

         The health claims on the packages, seemly in protection of the consumer rights, becomes informational abuses towards consumers. They include emphasis on specific macronutrients and micronutrients (especially on fat, carbs, protein, and vitamins, and also calories), the natural aspect (such as no artificial flavor), labels (such as nature, organic, grass-fed), the underline of specific ingredients, and etc.

         For example, the highly processed and sugar concentrated breakfast cereal, is usually advertised as a high fiber and low fat healthy food with multiple beneficial nutrients. They emphasize the insignificant quantity of the fiber includes and the fat reduced, taking advantages of the consumers’ lack of knowledge. And the beneficial nutrients are mostly fortified into the product after processing, and will greatly affect the result of absorption. It is using the same technology that created the problem of malnutrition from the first place to pretend to solve the problem. For the vegetables, that is naturally full of fiber and almost contains zero fat, and carry abundant of nutrients, we rarely see any claim emphasizing those aspects. It is only because that the unnatural processed food is now becoming the norm of our daily diet, that food products today can fake the health by packaging in the misleading nutritional facts.

          The emphasis on specific nutritional aspect, such as low carb and high protein, is often playing with people’s misconception on nutrition. Not all the fats, carbs and sugars are bad and they are also essential in our diet. Moreover, if one is following a standard American diet, he or she is very likely already on a protein binge. However, the former three nutrients are usually conceived as impedimental to the ideal body type due to today’s social norm, they become the “bad” and “unhealthy” things we ought to avoid. Those misconceptions reveals that we now pays more attention on the appearance than the true intrinsic value. We draw a direct link between standard beauty with goodness and health, and surprisingly deeply buy into the apparent illusion we create ourselves. On the other hand, the repetition of the false nutritional belief, in food advertisements, feeds back into a further misconception.

         The emphasis on the convenience and some certain ingredients in advertising languages, is a manifestation of the efficiency-oriented and magical-thinking culture. They either convince us that we can save our time and energy through the the help providing, or comfort us that all the bad effects can be eliminated through some magical components. The externality and the hidden costs are ignored, for the fact that those convenience food are almost always detrimental for the physical and mental health. A healthy body is built upon everyday consumption of real food, rather than looking upon a small category of super elements. As a result, such language sometimes deceives people into eating even more junks and get more sick.

         Other cunning deceptive language is also frequently used in advertisements to elude people to believe in certain quality of the food products without directing addressing it, in another word, lying. The repetitive line of “part of this complete/balanced breakfast” in breakfast cereal commercials is a classic example of the ambiguity marketing language. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7-VweUqO2A The advertiser anticipate the audience to form an unconscious link between a complete and balanced breakfast with cereal. Also, like those claims say that certain nutrients may reduce the  risk level for certain diseases does not really state any relationship between the actually products and the diseases.

         Labels are now a big part of food packaging, and itself is becoming an important advertising language, with seemly more authorities and reliabilities. It has surely helped us to recognize vegan/vegetarian-friendly, allergy-friendly and healthy products more easily at some level. However, the phrasing of the regulation from USDA leave spaces for companies to mislead customers in a sneaky way. Moreover, as the text suggests, without sufficient background knowledge, customers are likely to assume the products to be superior if an ad goes into trouble of mentioning something specific. The same thing happens here. When shopping at grocery store, we may choose the ones with labels on them over others in the same category, assuming they are healthier and more environmentally friendly, which is not necessary the case. Some labels, are simply friendly marks for people with certain conditions. For example, the overused gluten-free label helped its market exploded. Many people today conceive gluten-free diet to be healthier, but in fact it is only essential for people with celiac disease.

         For food with “natural” label, FDA claims that they have not developed a definition for use of the term, but the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. This means they may contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other similar chemicals through the process. However, due to a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports survey, more than half of consumers choose products with a “natural” label because they believe that they are produced without genetically modified organism, hormones, pesticides, or artificial ingredients.  Moreover, different than we would assume, there are no difference between the regulation of “natural” and “all-natural”.

         “Organic” label is probably currently the most credible one among all. The USDA regulates organic product labels much more thoroughly than they do other product labels and, hence, foods labeled “organic” are more likely to actually be organic. Foods labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients and the other 5% must be approved on the National List provided by the USDA. They can not be produced with any conventional pesticides, forbidden synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering, etc. Nevertheless, as some experts suggest, organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones. In general, organic plant products are believed to be healthier than the rest.

         However, when comes to animal related labels, all of them become much less meaningful, including the “organic” label. They are usually minimally regulated, and thus simply becomes a greenwashing act for many corporations. If we look into the framing of organic definition for animal product, we can see a lot of word playing there. First,  animals should be raised on organic feed: crops raised without most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. But how is the “most” defined? Second, they should be traced through their life, which probably means leaving a paper trail. Third, animals should not be fed antibiotics or growth hormones. Fourth, animals should have access to the outdoors. The last one is the most unreliable and fraudulent one. It means nothing more than having the opportunity to look outside through a screened window, and many cooperation are sneakily using this label to greenwash their products. Other animal related minimally regulated includes “free range / cage free”, and “grass fed”.

Lifestyle for Sale

         Most of the ads today is highly targeted. They are in the competition of the sale of feelings, and serve as a validation for the illusory hierarchy.  We can tell from the field trip to different grocery stores that they use completely different languages, aesthetics and other approaches to appeal certain groups of people.

         The Tops Friendly Market, surrounded by a relatively poor neighborhood, is repetitively stating the low prices. It is selling the feeling of savings, even though we are not able to evaluate the actual value of the product. What it matters in the marketing is not how much people actually save, but how much do they feel they save. The companies sometimes lift the original prices than put on the on sale labels to lure consumers to purchase the item immediately. It a mean to use people as an outlet for the inflation.  In this sense, the minorities that live in a life with the anxiety of savings, are once again abused and exploited.

 

         Wegmans, as Rochester residents’ favorite grocery store,  is the master of advertising. Just like most popular culture, it targeted to a variety people from different classes. The most prominent feature is the abundant and the fancy appearance. Everything is well designed and manipulated to satisfy the consumers’ expectation. Within the bakery section, the display of the cake part has a fancy looking, while the bread part appears to be simple and natural. At the entrance, there is an advertisement says “Rochester’s favorite local cheese” with the typical smiling farmers’ image on it. It turns out to be a form of “greenwashing” since the local ones only occupy a tiny corner of the all products, and yet Wegmans is underlying this feature and hoping customers can apply the impression to the overall store. The first sight is always the fruit and vegetable section and a corner of floral selling. It sends you the message that Wegmans is a natural emphasized grocery, which is not actually the case. It is a typical corporation for mass production and a fantasy island that hides the reality, applying the similar techniques of Disney and Hollywood.

        Like the Coca Cola ads mentioned at the beginning, now advertiser try to construct a completely illusory and hollow relationship between products and feelings. Such illusion pushes the real problems of people’s relationship, self esteem or social inequality out of the sight. It provides the false promises that if you purchases certain products, you are taking care of yourselves, and that you can be loved and confident. Like fancy restaurants created the illusion of being among the top. In a sense, it is we paying the company to deceive ourself as a mean to suspense reality.

 

References

 

What motivates us to exercise?

For the last few years, I’ve been walking into the gym, putting on earphones, and exercising methodically without even thinking twice about it. One day, as I went into the gym, I looked around me, I realized that every machine was a simulation of some activity that human beings do outside: the treadmill was for running, the bike for cycling in place. The gym even had a machine for climbing stairs! The only difference was that these machines were in a constructed environment and gave you information on the exact effect of your work out on your body. This made me wonder, would I be as motivated to exercise if I didn’t have this information? Would this change the relationship between my mind, my physical body and the environment that it was in? For this reason, I decided to take it in turns to exercise at the gym and outside for a week, to understand the impact of a change in my environment both personally and ecologically. The difference that I felt in the two environments was astonishing.

 

Every time I went to the gym, I started with my routine stretches and then either ‘ran’ on the treadmill or elliptical. Here is an image of what I looked like before I started running:

All plugged in and ready to go!
All plugged in and ready to go!

While using these machines, I knew exactly what was happening in my body biologically; I knew my heart rate, the speed at which I was going, amount of calories burned and the time I was running for. Every time I saw my speed drop, I would run faster, telling myself that I only had to go for a few more minutes (because I knew exactly how much time had elapsed). I also used music to distract myself so that I didn’t have to think of how tired the exercise was making me. I had so many signs guiding my workout and so much information on what was going on in my body; yet I felt disconnected from it. I treated my body almost as if it were a part of the machine; to be worked at a constant pace; without slowing down. The signs I saw disconnected me from my body as a whole and motivated me to separate it into different, workable parts. This reminded me of the scene in the novel White Noise by Don DeLillo, where Jack and Murray were on their way to see the ‘Most Photographed Barn in America’. The presence of an overwhelming number of signs, even in this case disconnected the viewers from the barn and encouraged them to view it through the signs preceding it, as is visible from the line, “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”[1] This feeling of disconnection made me question the idea that information is always good because clearly the more I knew about how my body was working, the more disconnected I felt from it. This is what the screen showed me while I was running:

On the treadmill
On the treadmill
On the elliptical machine
On the elliptical machine

Another thing that I noticed while running in the gym was that I was always listening to music. I didn’t feel ready to run without being plugged into my phone so that I could distract my mind while my body worked. I remember the feeling when I plugged my earbuds in and put my favorite Bollywood music on. It felt so good. It felt comfortable. It felt right. I realized that I had become so accustomed to being in cyberspace while my body worked physically that being mentally absent from my physical location while exercising had become my reality. Was I becoming like Case the data thief, in William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer? I could definitely relate to the way Case felt when he plugged into cyberspace for the first time after his nervous system had been repaired. He too felt a sense of belonging in his state of virtual reality as can be seen from the lines, “And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country, transparent 3d chessboard extending to infinity.”[2]. I was surprised at how much I already had in common with a cyborg! I realized that being a cyborg could well be a state of mind; I wasn’t physically altered but I still needed to be in cyberspace to feel comfortable with exercising. I remember being dismissive towards the characters in Neuromancer and even judging them for being so dependent on technology but this experiment made me realize that I really wasn’t much different from them.

For the next stage of my experiment, I exercised outside to see how my relationship with my body changed. I didn’t listen to music and I had no access to cyberspace. I ran beside the river for a little while but it wasn’t long before I stopped. I restarted only to stop after a couple of minutes. I realized that I didn’t want to work my body hard. I wanted to play. I wanted to walk slow and take in the pastoral landscape around me; I wanted to walk around the area inquisitively and go down the slope leading down to the river. I realized how little time I spend outside despite living on the residence quad, which is a five-minute walk from the river. My reaction to being outdoors reminded me of the protagonist in the movie Avatar, Jake Sully. He’d spent most of his life in the constructed environment of the military, surrounded with machines and when he was put in an environment full of flora (although in Avatar form), he reacted to it with child-like wonder[3]. I enjoyed looking around me and being in my physical place and there was no need for me to escape into cyberspace. Time had slowed down and for the moment that was just fine. Here are some pictures from when I was ‘exercising’ outside:

Clearly not working nearly as hard ad iI would have, had I been in the gym!
Clearly not working nearly as hard as I would have, had I been in the gym!
I sat and stared at the river for a while and it felt so relaxing!
Not the best picture but I sat and stared at the river for a while and it felt so relaxing!

The feeling of time slowing down reminded me of Rebecca Solnit’s article, The Annihilation of Time and Space. In her article she talks about how “Annihilating time and space is what all technologies aspire to do: technology regards the very terms of our bodily existence as burdensome.”[4] . Once I was out of the simulated environment of the gym it was easy to see the truth in this statement: the technology that I was using to exercise was treating my body as if it was something to be maintained. To overcome the stress that I felt in my body I could plug into another machine: my phone, so that I didn’t think of stopping my strenuous bodily movements. This was something that I couldn’t do outside; I found that when I was conscious of my bodily movements and its effects on my body, I stopped sooner than I had intended to because I felt like I had run a longer distance than I actually had. This made me think of how I was ‘packaged’ in a certain way when I was at the gym, so that I could use it in the first place. As said by Adey, in his article titled Mediations, “the traveler is squeezed into his upholstered mantle in the arms of his armchair and the image of a mummified body that moves.”[5]. Although he said this with regard to passengers in airplanes I think it holds true even for people at the gym because the machines only let you move a certain way, restricting your form of exercise. Due to this packaging of my body and the fact that my physical location wasn’t changing, I didn’t know how far I’d run on the treadmill and needed the machine to tell me. However, while exercising outside, I actually moved forward with every step I took which was something that I wasn’t used to. Going to the gym had warped my perception of distance and I thought I’d moved further than I actually had. It took me some time to get used to that.

When I left to go back to my room, I felt like I was missing something. I had run until I got tired, and I felt relaxed but I realized that I was missing the sense of accomplishment that I usually felt when I went to the gym. I usually left the gym knowing the exact scientific impact of the exercise: the calories I’d burnt, the speed at which I’d run and whether or not I’d improved from my previous workout. I realized that simply feeling energized wasn’t enough; I needed validation in a way that was quantifiable and scientifically verifiable. I was looking at my body through the lens of the signs that I was used to seeing at the gym and not how I was actually feeling. This reminded me of the time in the novel White Noise when Jack went to receive his niece, Bee at the airport. While he was there he heard that the passengers from another plane had just experienced an emergency landing. When he met Bee, her first inquiry regarding the emergency landing was whether it had been covered by the media. On being told that there was no media in Iron City, she exclaimed, “They went through all that for nothing?”[6]. This shows the extent to which signs given by both communications media and technology play a role in our perception of events, even when they happen in our immediate surroundings.

As I finished up my experiment, I wondered about the ecological consequences of what I had just experienced. I had changed my behavior for a week, by removing myself from the gym, but what was its impact? I thought of the machines I used and the information that it gave me. While I got an overwhelming amount of scientific information about exactly what my work out had accomplished, I didn’t know where the machine itself had come from. Where was it built? Who built it? Where would it go after its condition deteriorated beyond repair? Was it made and dismantled within the U.S. or sent to a developing country like China, or Bangladesh, because of the cheap labor available there? This thought seemed believable, especially after watching the documentary film Manufactured Landscapes by Ed Burtynsky. In this documentary, Burtynsky talks about how approximately 50% of the e-waste produced in the U.S. is sent to China, to be ‘recycled’[7]. By working out outside, I wasn’t using any machines and so didn’t have to worry about who bore the potential toxic effects of dismantling the machinery. Despite the fact that the environment was still pastoral and therefore constructed, I wasn’t surrounded by machines and so I didn’t have to think about their source of production, maintenance and their place of disposal.

I also think that the fact that I didn’t want to work my body in nature also says something about my perception of it. I realized that I thought of nature as a place to relax, to unwind from the stress of modern life. Through this experiment I discovered that I had an unintended romantic dichotomy of modernity versus nature in my head and I needed to be in a modern, mass mediated environment in order to really work and be efficient. This reminds me of Mick Gold’s essay on the History of Nature where he explains how industrialization evoked a form of romantic nostalgia of the past in people. This can be seen from the lines, “Today, a common meaning for nature is simply an escape from the man-made world: an Eden which we look forward to regaining at the weekend or on holiday.”[8]. I didn’t have to work with nature and so it was a peaceful haven for me. I realized how problematic this ideology could be; nature wasn’t something separate from everyday life, it was a part of it, and by creating this binary in my head, I failed to acknowledge it.

While performing the experiment, I also thought of similarities between what I was doing and Chico Paco’s pilgrimages to the Matacao, in the novel Through the Arc of the Rainforest, by Karen Tei Yamashita. On his first pilgrimage he walked “1,500 miles barefoot over burning sands, cracked clay oil, slimy mud, streaming pavement and sizzling asphalt”[9] (page 45). he was connected to the earth he walked on, without any media interfering with his journey and experienced the pain the earth had to offer. There was no overcoming the body in this case. However, on his second trip, he wore shoes and was followed by journalists who were recording his journey. When I was in nature, I wanted to be in my physical surroundings and take it all in. I felt a connection to the earth, but it was in the form of romanticism and I had no idea of the history of the land, or the local ecosystem surrounding it. This loss of connection is what Gary Snyder says, in his essay Bioregional Perspectives is one of the causes for environmental destruction.

What were the consequences of extending my body and, as a result, having no sense of awareness of what was happening in my immediate environment? As Marshall McLuhan said, in Media is the Message, “Such an extension is an intensification, an amplification of an organ, sense or function, and whenever it takes place, the central nervous system appears to institute a self-protective numbing of the affected area…. becomes invisible.”[10]. A part of my nervous system had been numbed and it took me a while before I regained my perception of what running a mile felt like when I actually had to run outside. I wondered: if I constantly take myself out of the here and now, and “sacrifice the near to get to the far” (source) as put by Rebecca Solnit, will I eventually become oblivious to environmental destruction even when it’s right in front of me? Will I start to live in the “desert of the real”[11] as explained in the movie Matrix, where virtual reality becomes more real to me than my geographical location? The credibility of this thought scares me.

As I worked through this project I realized the broader implications of purposely putting myself outside for a week. Not only did I realize how little time I usually spent outdoors, I took the time to consider the environmental implications of going to the gym, something that I definitely would not have done otherwise. I learned how differently I treat my body in different environments and the effects of that on my nervous system. More importantly, I learned that globalization isn’t just a physical process of movement, it can happen in our minds too. As I moved my body on the treadmill, listening to Indian music, that was created halfway across the world from the US, I thought of the implications of globalization and hyper connectivity and what it meant for society in the near future. Will we continue to operate under the assumption that more information is necessarily good? Or will we start to think critically about its consequences? Either way, I think being self-aware of our own body is a good place to start and I’m glad for what I learnt through the experiment I undertook.

Works cited:

[1] DeLillo, Don. White Noise. Viking, Page 12, 1985. Print

[2] Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Penguin, Page 52, 1984. Print

[3] Avatar. Dir. James Cameron. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2010.

[4] Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows: Edward Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. The Annihilation of Time and Space, Page 11, New York: Viking, 2003. Print.

[5] Adey, Peter. “Mediations.” Page 205, Print.

[6] DeLillo, Don. White Noise. Viking, Page 93, 1985. Print

[7] Manufactured Landscapes. Dir. Jennifer Beichwal. Perf. Ed Burtynsky

[8] Gold, Mick. History of Nature. Page 24. Print

[9] Yamashita, Karen Tei. Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. London: Scribners, Page 23,1991. Print

[10] McLuhan, Marshall. Media is the Message. Print

[11] Matrix. Dir. Lily Wachowshi and Lana Wachowski. Warner Home Video, 1999

A Deconstruction of Society’s Perception of Veganism

I never thought I would become a vegan.  When I heard that other people were vegan, I would always think, “I couldn’t live without meat” and “cheese is too important to me”.  I thought that my love of animal products was a part of my identity.  I was the girl who loved to bite into a juicy, tender piece of steak and marvel at my father’s grilling abilities.  And as a Jersey girl, I took great pride one of my region’s most celebrated creations—pizza, and scoffed at people who said pizza from anywhere other than an “authentic” pizza joint was good.  Even when my sister became a vegetarian in middle school, I would make fun of her and try to tempt her with bacon to convert her back from the “dark side”.  But when all I could think of anytime I put a cheesy or meaty bite into my mouth, even in an altered state of mind, was where that food came from and the suffering that the animals endured, I had to make a change.   No longer could I let my sense of taste rule over my moral consciousness.  However, each time my new eating practice is revealed to other people, I began to notice how much tension I feel and the different reactions I receive.  Some people seem impressed, some are curious, some get defensive of their own eating habits, but no matter who it was or how they react, there is always a palpable tension in the conversation.  The source of this tension and discomfort is sometimes more obvious than others, but each person comes with a unique background that has led them to their current eating habits and opinions.

Shame

One of the more complex, yet obvious factors that leads to the discomfort of omnivores and even vegetarians is the shame that they feel when they are consciously reminded of the choice that they make to consume animal products.  As John Foer said in his book, Eating Animals, “Shame is the work of memory against forgetting.  Shame is what we feel when we almost entirely—yet not entirely—forget social expectations and our obligations to others in favor of our immediate gratification” (Foer 37).  Every time someone eats a piece of meat, they choose to ignore the source, the short and torturous life that the animal has likely lived, the brutal slaughter, and the gross and corrupt factory system through which it is processed. 

Sometimes omnivores and vegetarians are reminded of these facts through videos that are publicized on social media or the news, and that can be impactful.  But when a vegan is in their presence, they can see that someone else has truly taken these terrible facts into consideration and modified their lives to directly address the issues.  This can be taken in a variety of ways depending on a person’s view on the matter.  If it is a person whose values align with those of vegans, then they would feel shame because they are not living by their own values.  If it is someone who has not thought through the issues as thoroughly, a vegan may make them feel ignorant or defensive.  Either way, vegans force people to confront their own values and question them, if only briefly.  “We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness.  We are the ones of whom it will be fairy asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?” (Foer 248).

Privilege

One issue that people often use to defend their omnivorous eating habits is the fact that veganism excludes groups of people who are underprivileged and may not have access to the proper resources to lead a vegan lifestyle.  This is is very true that it is much harder for people in the developed world who are busy working and struggling just to feed themselves and their families with the cheapest and most convenient options.  Chris Rock once said, “If you’re one of the chosen few people on this earth lucky enough to get your hands on a steak, bite the shit out of it!” This is a popular view of many omnivores, as meat is hard to come by or too expensive to eat on a regular basis in many countries around the world, and even in the United States “high-quality, grass-fed” meat is expensive. 

As for dairy products, I asked one of my vegetarian friends if she ever considered going vegan and she thought that it was unnecessary because who else is going to drink the cow’s milk, their calves can’t drink all of it right? So there is this large misconception about the dairy industry that adds to the misunderstanding of veganism.  Because of these factors, many people often think of vegans as overprivileged (often white) hippies who care more about the well-being of animals more than humans, many of whom are also treated inhumanely or unjustly as workers in the food industry.  Therefore, when I identify myself as vegan, people can often make assumptions about my character that are not justified, when in fact, it is very hard for any person of privilege in the developed world to justify their need to eat animal products.  This is often the crux of the tension between me and my privileged friends, though I do admit that had I lived on campus and relied on campus food, it would be tenfold harder to maintain a vegan diet.  Nevertheless, the decision to eat animal products to many of them is mindless. A few videos I found on youtube address many of these issues and tensions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CCNUZGJOgs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GBK6NSJH_E

Race

The overwhelming whiteness of the vegan movement in the United States, especially, is another huge turnoff.  Closely linked to privilege, but not entirely, is the idea that veganism is a white space and people of other ethnicities do not have as loud of a voice or as much of a space within the community.  Because of this, “whites continue to define the rhetoric, spaces, and broader projects of agrifood transformation” (Guthman 277).  Therefore, the majority of the publicity about veganism that non-vegans see is geared toward white people, especially those who have access to an abundance of fresh local produce and vegan food sources.  When I go to Abundance Cooperative Market, which I began to do almost every other week after becoming vegan, even though it is in a racially and socio-economically mixed neighborhood, I notice that the majority of shoppers are white. 

Many reasons for the lack black vegans in the United States exist, stemming from the lasting effects that slavery still has on society, politics, and the economy.  The many youths of color who participated in a school gardening program “see their efforts more as donated labor than therapy” (Guthman 273), which helps to explain the rejection of veganism and other alternative food movements. There is a lasting tension and feeling of exclusion that black people feel that leads many to continue to prefer soul food and other foods they are comfortable with rather than opt for what is still perceived as white people’s food. However, the momentum of black vegans is growing and many see veganism as a form of empowerment. In a youtube video by a young black woman who identifies as a revolutionary, vegan food became part of her spiritual journey. In fact, she sees the rejection of society’s default of eating meat, dairy, and fast food as taking control and doing what is right for her body, animals and the environment.

Although veganism is growing in popularity and the presence of people of color is growing, this is still a huge issue since black Americans have the lowest average income level (Economic Policy Institute). Therefore, a majority of low-income neighborhoods are black and these neighborhoods tend to be food deserts, so even if there was a will for a person of color who lives in a food desert to become vegan, or lead a healthier lifestyle by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, it would be very difficult.

It is clear that race plays a huge factor in the tension existing around the vegan community. As a privileged white vegan, and knowing how I saw the vegan community before, I know that many people will probably perceive me as part of a white fad, and even as someone who is trying to deal with my white guilt in some ways.

Socio-Economic Status

Closely connected to race, is the accessibility of veganism to those of a lower socio-economic status. Many people think that it is more expensive to lead a vegan lifestyle and is therefore a mark of one’s higher socio-economic status. Whether or not this is true, depending on the one’s personal methods of shopping and cooking, what is true is that it often takes more planning, anticipation, and time. Vegans must know proper nutrition, preparation to go out and make sure that they will have enough food for the time they are out of their homes, and time to cook meals. This is a luxury that only people who are not busy with multiple low-paying jobs and taking care of kids have. Only people with some leisure time and passion for animal rights, the environment, or a particular view on health can afford. Busy, working people who are just trying to get food on their table from day to day simply do not have time for. Even if these people would like to buy healthier options, if they live in a food desert, which many low-income families do, it would be nearly impossible.

Additionally, education is a huge factor, as most public schools do not teach students about nutrition or anything about the food industry, most people of lower socio-economic standing do not even have the opportunity to learn about what they are putting into their bodies. The government has such low standards and gives the public such distorted and biased information, that even if schools gave students information and resources about diet, it is improper. School lunches are so unhealthy that the tomato sauce on pizza is counted as a vegetable for their nutritional requirements (NPR).

In order to truly think about what food means, where it comes from, and have the chance to critically think about it, one needs to make a true effort on their own or, like me, take a class at an institute of higher learning. Any form of deep, critical thinking, creativity, and art all needs time to develop and nurture. For people of lower socio-economic status, their time goes to more important things, such as working, spending time with family and loved ones, and putting food on the table.

Even as a college student, where most students see each other as equals socio-economically, one of the first questions people ask me is “isn’t it so expensive?” and “how do you afford it?”. This makes me uncomfortable since my family does mostly support me financially and are encouraging of my veganism, whereas I know many other students do not have this privilege. I play this down in front of people who I know are more critical of this and I focus on the fact that I have a lower meal plan and I live off campus, so I cook more often. Nonetheless, I’m not sure how to answer honestly because I do not really know how to compare shopping for myself as a vegan to how I shopped before, as I did not rely as heavily on eating food from my house. My socio-economic status is a definite source of discomfort and tension in the conversations about veganism.

Location

Where a person lives is a huge deal when talking about food habits, especially in the United States. With people from not only many different countries with different foods and traditions related to foods  in addition to food trends of particular regions within the United States, where a person lives is a deciding factor for many people of what they eat. Veganism goes against what many people are proud of and even consider as part of their identities. For example, lobster in Maine is a big deal, it is how people make a living, it is a significant element of the cuisine, and it is part of the state’s long-standing tradition. Lobster is so celebrated, in fact, that the Maine Lobster Festival is held every year, and in 2003 “Total paid attendance was over 80,000, due partly to a national CNN spot in June during which a Senior Editor of a certain other epicurean magazine hailed the MLF as one of the biggest food-themed festivals in the world” (Wallace 50). It is taboo not to eat lobster in Maine. I remember when I went to a wedding there as a child and I hated lobster, but it was everywhere and I had no idea what I was going to eat because I have always hated seafood. People constantly pestered me to try lobster, but because distaste for it combined with my innate stubbornness, I refused and it baffled people.

However, aside from a few regional dishes such as lobster, Kentucky fried chicken, and beef in the midwest, the population of the United States is so diverse and full of immigrants who bring their own food culture, that it is near impossible to pinpoint eating patterns of Americans (Pollan 301). There is no national cuisine or method of eating, as many other countries have developed and modified based on food specific to their region. India itself as distinct dishes in each region based on the plants that naturally grow there and are conducive to the lifestyles. I can easily distinguish a dish that is from Northern India or Southern India, and even regional specialties such as Biryani from Hyderabad. It is so engrained in their culture and traditions that Indian people often prefer it over the globalized food that is available to them. Since there is no unified American food culture, the United States is easily susceptible to fast food chains and industrial food markets. Therefore, processed food, which is cheap and readily available, has become the automatic food choice of many Americans. Since meat and dairy have a significant presence in this system, they have become consistent food staples and the societal norm. Because of this, many people believe that the current system is necessary to feed America, “High-yield farming has allowed everyone to eat. Think about that. If we go away from it, it may improve the welfare of the animal, it may even be better for the environment, but I don’t want to go back to China in 1918. I’m talking about starving people” (Foer 95). Thus, the many people who agree with this would think that opposing the current system by becoming vegan is selfish and anti-American.

Social Situations

Perhaps the greatest source of anxiety for me about being vegan is the awkwardness that comes from going out to eat with non-vegans or going to a non-vegan’s house for a meal. The last thing I want people to think is that I am high-maintenance, rude, or trying to draw attention to myself, and that is precisely what people often think of vegans who make special requests at restaurants or inform their host of their diet ahead of time. Foer puts it best,

“If you’re at the guest end, it stinks not to eat food that was prepared for you,

especially…when the grounds for refusal are ethical. But how much does it stink? It’s a

classic dilemma: How much do I value creating a socially comfortable situation, and how

much do I value acting socially responsible?” (Foer 55).

It’s hard not to have at least some conversation about being vegan, especially at a meal where it is obvious either because you brought something special for yourself to eat or something special was made specifically for you. Whether I like it or not, I’ve had more conversations about my food choices in the past month than ever before, simply because I had to eat something different from the other people present. When this comes up, I often need to explain why I became vegan and for how long, and I am forced to tell the truth, which is that I believe in animal rights. Depending on the people, I try to leave it at that, but if probing continues, I have to go into deeper explanation, which automatically sounds preachy. The stereotype of the “preachy vegan” is so rampant not only because many are activists, but even without the activism element, vegans are forced to talk about it so much and the reasoning behind it is often ethical and emotional, that it automatically sounds preachy, especially for people who are not particularly keen on the idea.

I struggle day to day with this, trying to figure out the best way to handle these situations. I want to be truthful and tell people how I feel and why I really am vegan, but I also want to avoid the inherent labels that come with it. What I am slowly starting to understand is that there is no “chill” or “low key” vegan, either you are all-in and accept whatever social awkwardness and stigma that comes with it, or not. I would love other people to follow my lead and I want to spread the word and help educate people around me by setting an example and showing them that it is not as hard as it seems. Right now I am still insecure about it and I am growing into my new identity as a vegan, so I am unsure of how exactly it is best for me to deal with these social situations.

Conclusion

I am clearly struggling a lot with my new life as a vegan. At first I said I would give it 30 days, but once that 30 days came and went, I remained a vegan. I cannot say that I will definitely be vegan forever, and I have had my slip-ups a few times already, but even then I never felt the urge to give up and return to my omnivorous, or even a vegetarian, life. Though I have tried dieting and going paleo, it was for superficial reasons so nothing lasted more than a few weeks, but going vegan is not a diet to me, it is a mindset. As a 20-year-old woman in college, I am still defining my identity and growing into what I want to be and I never before thought that becoming a vegan was something that I could, or even wanted, to do. It comes to prove to me that life is unexpected and keeping my mind open to new ideas is extremely important to my development. Yet, even with these realizations and beliefs, the social dynamic in my life is changed. No longer am I the “cool, chill girl”, but now I am the “cool, chill, vegan girl” and maintaining the “cool, chill” part is tough when discussing why I am vegan. Becoming vegan has tested me in ways that I never thought it would. I constantly find myself defending veganism, even to myself, and this has made me consider the views and backgrounds of other people in a new light, even not relating to food. No doubt there is a strong social tension surrounding veganism due to all of the factors that I discussed and more, but this tension creates space for discussion and critical thinking that is necessary to create positive change. As I was looking through videos on youtube for angles on this subject, I came across a video in which the host said, “We have truth on our side”, no matter what argument is made, it is the truth that affirms my veganism and allows me to deny all of the social pressure and overcome the many social discomforts.

Works Cited

Foer, Jonathan Safran (2009-10-14). Eating Animals. Little, Brown and Company. Kindle

Edition.

Guthman, Julie.  “”If Only They Knew” The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food.”

“New Census Data Show No Progress in Closing Stubborn Racial Income Gaps.” Economic

Policy Institute. Web. 04 May 2016.

“Pizza As A Vegetable? It Depends On the Sauce.” NPR. NPR, 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 04 May

2016.

Pollan, Michael.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.  Penguin, 2006. 

Wallace, David Foster.  “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Aug.  2004: 50-64. 

Exploitation of the “Other”+ Power in Collective Action

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Martin Niemöller
Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller’s famous quote about the Holocaust may not seem applicable to the what have learned about the industrial food system, yet it was what crossed my mind upon completing Eating Animals. Foer uses his Jewishness, a crucial part of his identity, when grappling with the ethical dilemma of eating animals. Being raised in a Jewish household and having gone to a Jewish day school I find myself doing the same when it comes to ethics. Judaism taught me everything I know about what it means to be moral, but also what it means to be “other.”

This quote deals with the implications of being a bystander and the difficulty of speaking up against injustices that we know exist, yet fail to stop. It is easy for us to say what’s wrong and what’s right, but when it comes to defending those ideals we have difficulty. We rationalize our bystander-ness through a process of othering. We exclude ourselves from the equation because we have the power to do so. It is not until we come face to face with injustice that we feel compelled to act.

The industrial food system, prays on the weak and disadvantaged within our society. The structure of our modern political system prioritizes commodities, capital, and industry over basic human rights. Marx exposes the exploitive facets of capitalism in his political critique Das Kapital. His analysis focuses on the laborer who generates surplus value that goes uncompensated by the capitalist. The capitalist’s priority is to produce surplus value and will subject his workers to terrible working conditions and unreasonable hours for the sake of turning a profit.

The workers that produce the food we eat, particularly in the meat packing industry, are treated as “animals” (I will later explore the implications of using animals as a the paradigm for the “other”). Eric Schlosser provides a detailed analysis in Fast Food Nation of the physical and mental stress caused by the inhumane working conditions in meat packing factories. However, Schlosser’s investigation is not a breakthrough or novel study of these conditions. In 1906 (110 years ago…) Upton Sinclair famously published The Jungle, an expose of factory working conditions in the United States. Yet, what concerned readers most were the health violations and unsanitary practices portrayed by Sinclair. These concerns led to the Meat Inspection Act, passed in very same year that The Jungle was published.
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This historical instance says something about the power of collective action, but also about inherent human selfishness. Readers were concerned enough about the quality of the food that they put into their bodies that a law was quickly enacted to address these concerns. But what about laws concerning the working conditions faced by the people packing the meat that they put into their bodies? Because this did not directly affect them, it was excluded from the outcry that erupted upon reading Sinclair’s expose.

Most of the laborers working in the factories studied by Sinclair were immigrants, a fact that remains to be true today of this industry. From a young age I was taught about work place hierarchies that take advantage of people who have nothing and are willing to work for nothing. My father worked for a Jewish non-profit dedicated to labor rights called the Workmen’s Circle. Often on the weekends we would attend protests for different causes related to workers rights. We always commemorated the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire- the deadliest disaster to date within a New York City factory where many Jewish immigrant workers perished due to the fact that the owners barred the doors sealing, literally, the fates of the workers inside.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Over a century later this exploitation of the weak continues to happen. Factories are organized by a system of managers that hold positions above other employees. Immigrants and women become marginalized within this system and are easily abused. “Each supervisor is like a little dictator in his or her section of the plant, largely free to boss, fire, berate, or reassign workers,” says Schlosser in his chapter titled “The Most Dangerous Job” (176). Under this structure women often face sexual harassment from their superiors and immigrants must brave abuse as well out of fear of being deported or losing their job. A scene in Food Inc. shows immigrant workers being arrested in a trailer park in Tar Heel, North Carolina. Schlosser and Pollan describe how companies like Monfort, IBP, and National Beef began to recruit Mexicans after Nafta led to a flooding of cheap American corn into the Mexican market leaving many corn farmers jobless. IBP actually created a bus service to bring immigrants to the states to work. The government “turned a blind eye” to the recruiting but began to crack down by deporting immigrants instead of disciplining the companies that recruited the immigrants in the first place. Immigrant laborers are possibly the weakest most exploited subset of the work force, and yet our culture scapegoats and places blame on this population for societal woes instead of criticizing the flawed capitalist system that generates these problems. Now the Republican presidential nominee is a candidate that wants to spend money to build a wall to keep immigrants out of our country, naively believing that creating boundaries can “Make America Great Again.”

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“They have the same attitude towards workers as they do towards the Hog… The Hog, you don’t have to worry about their comfort, they’re going to be killed. They’re not worried about the longevity of the worker because to them everything has an end” (Food Inc, 50:00)

Although Marx focuses on the exploitation of the worker, in the food industrial system other voiceless populations are subjected to abuse and neglect. This includes the animals that are slaughtered and commoditized under this system. When we speak about human rights abuses we use animals to characterize treatment that is inhumane. Clearly, Holocaust education was very important in my Jewish day school (as I have already mentioned the Holocaust, but I’m going to do it again). I remember reading Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. Wiesenthal reflects on an instance during the Holocaust where a Nazi soldier on his deathbed asks him for forgiveness. The Nazi explains to Wiesenthal how it was ingrained into the minds of the soldiers that Jews were not people, but were in fact animals. This degradation made the hatred and killing of Jews justifiable. When we use animals in our lexicon as part of the process of “othering” we are essentially sanctioning cruel treatment towards creatures that are weaker and less intelligent.

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In Eating Animals Foer compares industrial farms to historical atrocities such as the Holocaust or slavery. These comparisons may seem extreme; it’s difficult to allot equal importance to the suffering of animals when injustices against people within our own species still occur. However, such comparisons are effective. It theoretically frames our treatment of animals in a more relatable way. Instead of saying that we treat animals, as well, animals, Foer instead substitute the word machines. We treat these living creatures as expendable assets/liabilities. Before they are slaughtered, animals are genetically mutated so that they can no longer carry out the basic natural function of reproduction. Animals are cramped into dark and crowded sheds that are not cleaned or maintained. Animals are fed food that their bodies aren’t built to process as a solution for the industrial food system’s corn surplus (Pollan, 64). Entire species of animals are being wiped out for our gastronomic pleasure.

turkey-farm-sanctuary-537x359

These practices sound exactly like the description of Nazi cruelty in the Holocaust, yet through a process of cognitive dissonance we justify this treatment utilizing a series of “rational” arguments. One of such arguments is the alleged contract that animals have with farmers who can provide them a better life and death than what the wild offers. Consequently animals choose to stay on farms, knowing that they will be eaten, because they will be better off. Due to the standard practices of factory farms previously described, this contractual theory no longer holds. Another argument that is commonly espoused is that it is natural to eat animals; it is something that humans have done since the dawn of time. This traditional argument makes little sense when we consider the many practices that we have given up in the name of progress (slavery, for example). “Is it not possible that future generation will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way way we now view Nero’s entertainments of Aztec sacrifices?” questions David Foster Wallace in his article “Consider The Lobster.” Ultimately we know that there is something immoral about our treatment and subsequent eating of animals, yet we continue to do so because frankly animals do not fight back. Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless — it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another,” says Foer (267).

Thus far I have explored the production component of the industrial food system and the implication of commoditizing not only the laborers packing the meat that we consume, but also the meat itself. I would now like to turn to consumption and the exploitation of disadvantaged consumers. Food justice is a class issue and therefore by the transitive property a racial issue. Certain races are kept below the poverty line through structural violence. The U.S. food system is flooded with cheap and low quality options that become a crutch for people living in poverty who cannot afford alternatives. When you have to worry about putting food on the table it becomes increasingly difficult to take the time to look for and cook healthy meals, especially when processed junk is made to be so convenient and affordable.

This crutch becomes easily exploited and the affects are mapped out on to the bodies of those that fall victim to the convenience of processed food. Julie Guthman comments on the discourse surrounding the U.S.’s obesity epidemic within her article Neoliberalism and The Constitution of Contemporary Bodies. We attribute this “health crisis” plaguing our nation to lack of awareness and believe that through education we can prevent consumers from making unhealthy choices when it comes to food. Instead of framing obesity as a choice, Guthman points to neoliberalism as the source of the problem. Consequently, claims Guthman, neoliberalism generates the quick fix as well by commoditized dieting and weight loss solutions. Not only are low-income individuals more susceptible to obesity and other health issues correlated to weight, such as diabetes, but they are also excluded from the solution to such issues.

“This double fix of eating and dieting, in other words, is not epiphenomenal; it has become a central piece of the U.S. economy. That these variant solutions tend to map onto social class, such that the relatively rich buy themselves weight loss while the relatively poor do not, helps explain thinness and fatness but in no way controverts the overall point,” says Guthman (191)

Guthman delves further into this issue of exclusivity within our foodscape by examining how alternative movements that work to counter the consumption of processed food are coded in “whiteness.” She studies public markets that offer fresh and affordable produce and social justice organizations geared toward promoting alternative food options. Many of these institutions adopt the “if they only knew” and “color blind” principles, believing that education is enough to motivate people to jump on the alternative food train and that focusing on specific ethnic and cultural groups is not necessary. This glosses over the inherent whiteness of these spaces making alternative food options exclusionary or unappealing. Welcoming people of color does not just mean locating markets in non-white neighborhoods, but also emphasizing African American culture by incorporating culturally specific colloquial terms and cuisine. (The Rochester Public Market exemplifies an inclusive space in my opinion. The RPM is located in a diverse neighborhood. I worked with SNAP at RPM last year and conducted customer evaluations. Many customers were satisfied with the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, but also the availability of culturally specific products).

Rochester Public Market
Rochester Public Market

Ron Finely illustrates how non-exclusionary food alternatives should function with his “gangster gardener” rhetoric. Fighting or coping with the effects of the industrial food system seems to be directly proportional to the power that an individual holds within our society. Navigating this system is like a labyrinth for the weaker and more disadvantaged subsets within the United States. Despite barriers, innovative initiatives exist that aim to offer alternatives or promote awareness of the capitalist exploitation involved with food consumption. Finley lives in a food swamp in South Central, L.A. where fresh vegetables are not easily accessible. He took matters into his own hands and created an urban garden on his own property. Finley initially received push back from the government, but after positive publicity his initiative became revered. By characterizing gardening as gangster Finley not only codes alternative food initiatives in non traditional terms, but also empowers the act of gardening as rebellious and somewhat dangerous. “The drive- thrus are Killing More People than the drive-bys,” says Finley  (February, 2013)

Similarly the “Food Fight” music video utilizes rapping and popular cultural references (the Matrix) to reframe and recode food politics. New Message Media created this music video to explain how processed foods are poisoning neighborhoods through a nuanced medium. The caption title encourages viewers to share their video to teach kids who is responsible for the poisoning and how to escape. This method varies greatly from commentators such as Pollan, Schlosser, and Guthman who provide very analytical and academic analyses of the industrial food system. The “Food Fight” music video creates a cultural and kid-friendly discourse to explain ideas that have otherwise been painted as complex or highly theoretical.

These initiatives tackle the consumption end of exploitation, but initiatives exist as well to hinder or spread awareness about the production end. Farm Sanctuary combats the conceptualization of animals as abusable and dispensable commodities. They rescue animals from factory farms and give them a space to live out the rest of their lives in a comfortable and health way. Farm Sanctuary does not slaughter the animals they take in for meat and advocates for a vegan lifestyle. What was most effective about our visit to Farm Sanctuary was the inability to push the fact that animals are treated cruelly to the back of my mind. I came face to face with a truth that I already knew and was reading about in class, but could avoid. The turkeys we played with had white feathers; a genetic mutation that has been made to cater to our preference that the meat we eat looks spotless. I also remember that Belinda the cow was completely bruised, but most importantly Belinda the cow had a name. All the animals in Farm Sanctuary have names and their Facebook page will often share a picture of them along with their story. This action contests speciesism. By giving animals names and personalities they are putting them on par with humans.

Finally, worker initiatives exist as well to protect workers from being treated as commodities. One example of such initiatives is the Campaign for Fair Food by the Coalition of Immoklee Workers. This campaign aims to educate consumers about the exploitation faced by farm workers. They’ve made agreements with companies such as McDonald’s, Walmart, and Subway to establish more humane practices and fairer wages in their tomato suppliers’ operations. The CIW is now turning their attention to the major supermarkets in the United States (Trader Joes and Whole Foods have already complied). Organizations such as the CIW work to give voices to the voiceless, much like Metro Justice does here in Rochester. Metro Justice organized the large fight for 15 protests that began at the University of Rochester last year and culminated across the street from McDonald’s on Mount Hope. Protestors gathered to fight for fast food workers to make a living wage and now a year later New York State has passed legislation stating that the minimum wage will be raised to $15 within the next year.

A piñata of Ronald McDonald being beaten at the Fight for 15 Protest
A piñata of Ronald McDonald being beaten at the Fight for 15 Protest

In sum….

Many of us stand idly by because we believe that one person cannot make a difference. We feel meek and powerless going up against these giant corporate entities that are protected by the government, a political body that is supposed to be protecting us. We use a slew of justifications and rationale to placate our anxieties of the injustices that are occurring around us. It is not until we come face to face with reality that the gears begin to turn. These initiatives demonstrate that it is possible to push back. The CIW and Metro Justice specifically expose the power in collective action. Separately we are weak, exploitable, and subject to the whims of the industrial food system. When like-minded people get together to fight for what they believe, then change is possible.

 

Works Cited

“Campaign for Fair Food.” Coalition of Immokalee Workers. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2016.

Finley, Ron. “Ron Finley: A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA.” Ted.com. N.p., Feb. 2013. Web. 06 May 2016.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

Food Fight. Dir. Ben Zolno. Food Fight. New Message Media, 26 Feb. 2013. Web.

Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Movie One, 2008.

Githman, Julie. “”If They Only Knew” The Unbearable Whiteness of Alternative Food.” Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability. Ed. Alison Hope. Alkon and Julian Agyeman. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2011. N. pag. Print.

Guthman, Julie. “Neoliberalism and the Constitution of Contemporary Bodies.” The Fat Studies Reader. Ed. Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay. New York: New York Unviersity, 2009. N. pag. Print.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Print.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Wallace, David Foster. “Consider the Lobster.” Editorial. Gourmet Aug. 2004: 50-64. Print.

A Study in (Agri)Culture: How Our Contemporary Food Culture Blinds Us to Our Exploitation of Nature

Before We Begin:

I began this project with the intention of examining society’s tendency to pit people, culture, and modern civilization against nature, animals, and the environment. I had hoped to tie this phenomenon to food—in terms of how it is produced, consumed, regulated, and understood in America—and contemplate how our relationship to what we eat often reflects this constructed opposition. I soon realized, however, that such a topic, so broadly entrenched as it is in our lives (even when we narrow our focus to food), is far too expansive for a single ten-page paper. So instead I’ve decided to narrow my focus even more and look specifically at food culture. Specifically, I’m interested in how so many of our traditions involving food are based on our exploitation of nature and how these practices and beliefs simultaneously blind us to the existence of this humans vs. nature opposition.

Contemplating Culture:

Culture, or the system of beliefs, practices, and ways of life of a particular group of people, is part of us from the moment we are born. It helps us to bring meaning to the world around us, allows us to connect with others, and aids us in understanding ourselves as individuals. In every society, food is a prominent cultural entity, strongly linked to religion, celebration, comfort, and tradition. Over time food culture in all societies has changed dramatically, particularly in recent decades as our world becomes increasingly globalized, westernized, and industrialized. In societies of the past when subsistence agriculture was the norm, food was at the forefront of nearly all aspects of culture—employment, temporality, religion, morality, honor. Chinua Achebe illustrates this reality in Things Fall Apart where we see the people of Umuofia living both off and with the land. Without the specialization and technology of present day, food production was constrained by the seasons and weather, its consumption dependent on personal labor, and its value a reflection of the people that produce and consume it: “When a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm” (Achebe 17).

But in modern America, most individuals are severely cut off from the production of their food. Modernity has promised us domination over nature and it has kept its word. Today, we are urbanized and capitalist, we have the opportunity for both physical and social mobility, and the technology we possess is ever increasing (Singer 21). Most of us no longer have to participate in the cultivation of what we eat and our meals are no longer restricted by what can be grown locally or even naturally. Consequently, our cultural practices concerning food have shifted away from something symbiotic to something exploitive. Instead of honoring the earth for providing a successful harvest with an annual feast, today we feast on a regular basis, sometimes with no better cause than a football game (Achebe). Instead of dining on crops we nurtured ourselves, we rip open bags of Doritos, devour boxes of mac-n-cheese, and consume two or three hotdogs in one sitting. Yet, in many ways we are unaware of the significance of this shift and the disconnectedness it represents. Instead, we consider our relationship with food to be normal, a natural part of our contemporary culture. And so we never question the fact that we don’t know where our food comes from or how it gets to us. We consider the bounty of our grocery stores—the endless supply of cereals and soda, the constant availability of tropical fruit, and the range of meat so plentiful that we can have it on our table at least twice a day—to simply be part of who we are, a marker of our American way of life.

Such a perspective and easy acceptance of this “culture,” however, may be keeping us from seeing the truth. Most of us are blissfully ignorant of the fact that our current food system is destroying the environment, ruining our health, and cruelly torturing billions of animals each year. Evidence of the sinister nature of the food industry is everywhere, we encounter it at every single meal, but most of us never take the time to consider what the cows had to go through before they were turned into our burger or what exactly all those chemicals listed on our fruit snacks package mean. Our modern relationship with food has become naturalized as cultural, and so our curiosity is checked, leaving us to continue on as eager participants in a system that is causing serious harm to our species and our planet.

Speaking from Experience:

I was born and raised in a rural farming community in Central Oregon. Until I was ten years old I lived on a small ranch in “the country” about 10 miles outside of town. We had a six-acre pasture for our horses and alpacas. Our neighbors were farmers who grew wheat, carrots, and mint in their expansive fields. The tick of irrigation sprinklers and buzz of crop dusters were the soundtrack to my childhood. While my brother and I never participated in 4-H, many of our friends did—raising farm animals to show and sell at the annual county fair. Future Farmers of America was the biggest club at my high school and several of my peers’ senior pictures featured them holding up an elk they had successfully hunted.

We were surrounded by food production and it was all so incredibly unremarkable. Sure, we were proud of our farmer–cowboy culture, but we didn’t kid ourselves into believing it was anything particularly special or peculiar.

I maintained this perspective even after I began college. While I started to realize how disconnected my friends who grew up in cities and suburbs were from farming culture, I still didn’t give the culture itself much thought. And then I went to Thailand for a semester abroad and for the first time in my life, studied agriculture. We learned that Thailand is among the world’s heaviest users of pesticides, met with both organic and non-organic farmers, and spent a day working at one of the few “green” markets in the northeast with our host families. We also did some serious reading and in our large reading packet there was a section titled “US & International Context.” The information conveyed in this group of articles, papers, and reports completely shifted my views on food production and consequently, my understanding of my home.

It was then that I first learned about how corrupt the American food system is, the hugely negative impact that our current system has on the environment, and just how much American agricultural practice affects the rest of the world. I was shocked—How could this be the first time I was hearing this? Why had I never wondered about those chemicals being sprayed in the fields or how having such an elaborate irrigation system in the desert might disrupt the local ecosystem and wildlife? Why had I never considered the fate of the cows I drove past every day or the salmon in the hatchery we’d occasionally visit? I grew up literally surrounded by crops with a slaughterhouse down the road. But not once did I ever truly consider these things or their political, economic, and environmental implications. Why?

An Introduction:

In addition to Michael Pollan’s 2008 New York Times article, “Farmer in Chief,” the piece that stuck out to me the most from my Thailand agriculture readings was titled “Paying the Farm Bill.” This article, published by the Environmental Law Institute in their journal, The Environmental Forum, details the costs (both tangible and hidden) of the American agricultural industry. Like Pollan, the article’s author, William Eubanks, subscribes to the idea that educating the public is the most effective way to change the current food system. He even quotes Rachel Carson’s declaration in her 1962 book, Silent Spring: “The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts” (Eubanks 56). It is with this attitude that he approaches his article and reveals to his readers the treachery that is the Farm Bill:

“It is a law that affects all aspects of the ecosystem and the lives of the people who inhabit it and depend on it. In addition this legislation drives public health policy in the United States and is a predominant reason that our nation suffers from record levels of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. This statute also implements policies that result in severe malnutrition and hunger, both domestically and abroad. The law strips rural communities of their senses of identity, cultural values, and heritage. Lastly, this measure encourages overproduction, trade distortion, and depression of world market prices, which drive immigration toward the United States from the developing world. Most people will be surprised to learn that the statute is the Farm Bill” (Eubanks 56).

His approach was certainly effective in catching my attention. I care deeply about each and every issue he addresses and he’s right, I was surprised to learn that something called the Farm Bill was responsible for such far-flung atrocity. He goes on in his piece to explain the logistics of the Farm Bill—how it was originally designed to help small farmers after the Great Depression but was eventually manipulated (mostly at the hands of Earl Butz) into assisting corporate megafarms dominate the industry—as well as its specific impact on the environment, climate change, and public health (Eubanks). He even ultimately offers a solution: rewrite the Farm Bill and subsidize sustainable agriculture (Eubanks).

While I appreciate this article for introducing me to these issues and convincing me that they are something I not only should, but must, care about, I also recognize how much Eubanks leaves out of his argument. Julie Guthman, in her article “If They Only Knew,” criticizes Michael Pollan for his education-leads-to-change mentality and tendency to place responsibility on individuals rather than corporations and policymakers: “Those who employ this rhetoric will argue that such an unveiling of the American food supply would necessarily trigger desire for local, organic food, and people would be willing to pay for it” (Guthman 263). She acknowledges the reality that simply informing the public does not guarantee their participation in an alternative food movement they do not feel socially or culturally connected to and points out that “voting with your dollars” (an approach also encouraged by award winning documentary, “Food Inc.”) is not a luxury that all Americans can claim (Food Inc.). Similar criticisms can be applied to Eubanks’ perspective—it is overly simplistic and disregards the diverse spectrum of positionality found among Americans. Beyond this though, I am also unsatisfied with his explanations for why so few of us have heard about these issues.

Throughout his article Eubanks offers a few reasons for why so many of us are uninformed, including “[The Farm Bill’s] deceptive name prevents the public from recognizing its true costs” and “American taxpayers are disconnected from the programs supported by federal taxes” (Eubanks 56, 60). But personally, I think there are many more serious forces at play here working to keep us in the dark. For one, reports like his are out there and easily accessible. People like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser are working hard to provide the public with well-researched information about the true nature of our food industry. But this doesn’t change the fact that if I hadn’t been assigned to read their work for a class, I likely never would have encountered it. The truth is, the questions they answer just weren’t questions I had been asking. In communities like mine, agriculture represents our history, our livelihoods, and our way of life—what was there to question?

Discourse, Stories, and Ethnocentrism:

In his book, Eating Animals, Jonathan Foer proposes an explanation. He claims that our relationship to food is largely governed by stories—narratives that we hear from childhood on about what we, as a family, society, species, do and do not eat and why we do or do not eat those things. And these stories, he notes, are something we “cling” to, something we “depend on to define us” (Foer 5). How we understand our relationship to food, it seems, reflects how we understand ourselves. No one wants to think of themselves as hurting the environment or torturing animals so we keep these realities at a distance and out of our thoughts because to acknowledge them would mean acknowledging ourselves and our culture as cruel and irresponsible.

Foer too had a moment of “how-in-the-world-could-I-have-never-thought-of-that-before-and-why-on-earth-didn’t-someone-tell-me?” (though at a significantly younger age than my own) when a teenage babysitter explained to him how the chicken he was eating had been “hurt” (Foer 6). But while this information convinced him to become a vegetarian, it did not convince his brother, and Foer admits that he himself went back and forth in his eating habits for years. Clearly, it isn’t as simple as just hearing the truth. As Foer notes in his final chapter, when it comes to food there is a paradox, particularly when we consider how it fits into cultural traditions like Thanksgiving: “what we do to living turkeys is just about as bad as anything humans have ever done to any animal in the history of the world. Yet what we do with their dead bodies can feel so powerfully good and right” (Foer 249). For most of us, these feelings of goodness and rightness are far more powerful than the other side of the paradox and succumbing to them—choosing to forget rather than to remember, as Foer would say—is far easier as well.

In many ways, the stories that we tell ourselves about food can be considered an example of what Michel Foucault would call “dominant discourse.” As Sarah Mills explains, discourse is the set of structured and regulated utterances that circulate socially constructed “truths” that often prevent us from conceiving of alternative realities as even possible (Mills). Perhaps this is why so few of us seriously contemplate our food or why even when confronted with the ugly truth, we are unwilling to accept it. The dominant discourse declares American food culture to be normal and natural, and so it is almost impossible for us to understand it in any other way, even when we are exposed to facts to the contrary.

Perhaps, though, this lack of curiosity about our own way of life is to some extent an inclination of human nature. Anthropologists often note the tendency of people to view the world ethnocentrically—“the view that one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it” (Sumner). Ethnocentrism is something that must be intentionally avoided in anthropology because it prevents us from understanding and learning from others (a task that is better achieved from a relativistic perspective). In the context of food culture, however, I now recognize another major problem with the ethnocentric perspective: it also prevents us from understanding ourselves. Most of us, it seems are more than willing to judge the practices and beliefs of others but rarely judge our own practices and beliefs. As a result, we may never contemplate the negative impact of our own cultural practices, allowing something like our current food industry to develop largely unconsidered and unopposed.

Considering Crawdads and Childhood Nostalgia:

David Foster Wallace’s Gourmet Magazine article, “Consider the Lobster,” provides us with a useful example of a cultural practice that goes on un-contemplated by the average participant—the Maine Lobster Festival. In his piece, Wallace describes a celebration that attracts people from all over, gathering to communally consume “over 25,000 pounds of fresh-caught Maine lobster” (Wallace 50). He then goes on to prove to us just how little these festival patrons are engaging with what they are doing by truly “considering” the lobster—how and why it is prepared and consumed and posing questions that are both “complex” and “uncomfortable”: “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” (Wallace 60, 61). While Wallace ultimately claims not to judge those who participate in the Maine Lobster Festival, he does offers them (and all his readers) the chance to engage more thoroughly with what they are eating and sets an example of what food and culture awareness can look like.

In reading this, I immediately saw myself in the festival attendees. Several years ago my town hosted its first annual crawdad festival. It took place (and has ever since) in the park in the middle of the town. The day begins with a parade, followed by hours of performances by local musicians on the main stage. Local craft vendors set up tents to sell their creations, there are kids games throughout the day, and under a large canopy at one end of the park sit a dozen boiling pots full of crustaceans. A huge line forms throughout the day as people from around the state come down for the crawdad feed.

I have been to at least three of these festivals in recent years and while I didn’t consume many crawdads myself, I also didn’t consider the celebration of their consumption to be anything more than what it seemed—a fun day of community festivities. I had grown up with similar festivals all my life and the parade, live music, and local vendors made me feel both connected to my neighbors and nostalgic for the days when I was one of the children running around the park. The impact of childhood experiences, I’d venter to say, is for most of us, extremely powerful. Childhood is the time when we are most impressionable and are first introduced to Foer’s stories and Foucault’s discourse. It is also in most cases a fairly happy time, something that, when we are grown, we look back on fondly. This is a tendency that food advertisers have long taken advantage of. As Eric Schlosser notes in Fast Food Nation, “Hoping that nostalgic childhood memoires of a brand will lead to a lifetime of purchases, companies now plan ‘cradle-to-grave’ advertising strategies” (Schlosser 43). And as unintentional as it may be, the same logic applies when we consider how our parents, community, and nation fed us as kids. We become attached to a certain kind of food culture before we can be expected to criticize it and when we do reach an age at which we could reasonably engage with this culture, our attachment prevents us from doing so. So when we attend something like a crawdad or lobster festival and are reminded of happy-go-lucky days gone by, we fail to contemplate what our participation in festivals like this actually means.

Seeking Solutions:

When it comes to shifting our food culture away from destruction and towards mindfulness, it’s clear we have much to overcome. We are up against a whole host of political, economic, and social structures that reinforce the current culture and surmounting them means confronting the practices we perceive as natural and normal. Yet, doing so is clearly not impossible. There are those that have successfully torn down the veil that prevents us from seeing the negative consequences of our current food system. Jonathan Foer, Julie Guthman, and David Foster Wallace are among them. But there are also individuals like Ron Finley and the people of Farm Sanctuary who are working to promote a new food culture that respects the environment, other living things, and ultimately, our own species. Farm Sanctuary actively works to “inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living” by rescuing abused farm animals and inviting the public to learn about their individual stories and establish personal connections (Farm Sanctuary). Finley, on the other hand, has reimagined vacant lots and parkways in Los Angeles as critical spaces for “food forests” and given the African American community agency in the alternative food movement by reframing gardening as both “gangster” and an important form of political protest (Finley).

While it is important to recognize that there many structural forces (socioeconomic and otherwise) that limit the ability to mount such counterculture efforts to individuals with some level of privilege—thinking and acting outside the dominant discourse and accepted culture requires this—the efforts that do exist can give us hope. Being exposed to the perspectives and knowledge expressed by these changemakers has altered how I personally relate to food and the kind of food culture I’m willing to participate in. Perhaps such exposure will do this for others as well. And if enough of us dedicate ourselves to cultural change, perhaps we’ll someday secure a food culture we can be proud of.

 

Sources:

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1959. Print.

Eubanks, William. “Paying the Farm Bill.” The Environmental Forum. July/Aug 2010: 56-75. Print.

farmsanctuary.org. Farm Sanctuary, Inc. 2016. Web. 3 May 2016.

Finley, Ron. “A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA.” Online video clip. TED. TED Conferences LLC, Feb 2013. Web.

Foer, Jonathan. Eating Animals. New York: Black Bay Books, 2009. Print.

Food Inc. Robert Kenner. Participant Media, 2008. Film.

Guthman, Julie. “If They Only Knew.” 2008. PDF.

Mills, Sarah. Discourse. Routledge, London, 1997. Print.

Pollan, Michael. “Farmer in Chief.” The New York Times. 9 Oct 2008. Web.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. Boston: Mariner Books, 2002. Print.

Singer, Ben. Melodrama and Modernity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Press

Sumner, William. Folkways. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1906. Print.

Wallace, David Foster. “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Magazine. Aug 2004. Print.

PLASTIC: RECYCLE OR NOT TO RECYCLE,THAT IS THE QUESTION

When we look at the world around us, we constantly see an evolutionary aspect of our planet Earth and we never understand how that it even is possible. Considering that this planet has been around for billions of years (possibly longer), it is still fascinating how much it is still capable of performing for those who live on it. Yet, science has shown us how much of an impact that our carelessness has cause and the lasting damage that it is doing to earth for the past few decades.Hence, we have constantly seen a vast amount of informational ads and public service announcements that have heavily emphasized that we have a social responsibility to our planet to take care of it in a variety of ways. They constantly remind us that we only have “one Earth”. In addition to the ads, we are exposed to the campaigns that have been plastered all over the worlds that includes “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” signs that have placed near any trash can to have keep in mind of those same statements that lets the people know our one earth is precious. All the natural sources that have made up the earth are all slowly but surely depleting. As much as society wants everyone in the world to believe that this Earth is slowly dying, there are also other people in the world who actually believe that this earth is very stable and that the idea that the earth is going to die is purely a myth.

Recycle

Worrying about the planet is something that is a result of a ploy to use less natural resources. Personally, I have no idea what is the truth about what is to become of our mother earth. I will say however that the idea of resources suddenly being used up is due to growing greed that is the “corporation” that is consumed into believing that taking up this resources is necessary to the public and has us believe that we need it with the various commercializing of these products that come from these natural resources.

Going back to our use of recycled products, it should come to the conclusion that it is a choice that it made when it comes to whether or not to recycle plastic bottles due to the beliefs of individuals. With that being said, living on a college campus has opened my eyes on how others perceive the world and what they do to believe is helpful to preserve their future. From the various eco-friendly clubs and housing halls to the radical individuals who could careless, I have had my share of viewing others and the immense amount of plastic that comes in and out of this campus. As me for me, I can say that I am no ecofriendly person who is conscience of what I throw away in the trash and recycle. However, I am not an overly careless individual who never recycles. I’m an in betweener who does and doesn’t keep track of my recycling habits. So it was with that, I decided to actually become an eco-conscience civilian and actually pay attention to how much others use disposable products others use and give my own self an understanding of how much I might actually be using on a basis.

THE EXPERIMENT:

            IMG_1668 In order to really ground myself to answer this question, I used a reusable water bottle. The interesting thing about my use this is the fact that I have about 5 just sitting in my room and not having much consideration to them despite the fact that they have been given to me as a means to stop the excessive use of plastic. Even before I started my experiment, this my first instance that I stopped for a minute and really thought about this idea. Why is it that I am consciously aware of the opportunities to reduce my plastic intake and I still feel the need to buy the disposable kind? Nonetheless, I finally utilized a few of them and I drank water for four days and I would be using my reusable water bottles to do just that. As for my coffee intake I would also be using a useable coffee mug that again I never used since I’ve gotten to college and found convenient to just go and used the cups from Starbucks. As for who I would be observing, I know a variety of peers who religiously drink nothing but bottled products and are full of mixed feelings about recycling. So I asked a few them, Jany, Tiffany, and Shaquana to go about their daily use within the same four days that I would be using my reusable bottles. I had them take pictures each day to get an idea of how many bottles they go through for me to keep track and compare it to how times I would refill my bottles of water or my mug for coffee. By the end of the four days, I would have them take a survey about how much they used over the course of the four days and have them watch a video that talks about the dangers of the constant use of plastic and where it goes when not recycled. As odd it may have seemed for them, I would hope to get them to also learn about their consumption and see if they would gain anything new about themselves.

THE TRIAL:

            When I decided to do this experiment, I really did think that it would be easy for me considering that it was a bottle that I would take with me all the time. But on the first day, I was completely wrong! At the start of the day, while I did have a nice refilled bottle at the side of backpack, I unconsciously went and bought a bottled water, as if I never even had the bottle in the first place. I will admit that I was mad at myself for this, but luckily I was able to return it unopened and continued through the day. Instances like this is what would follow me my first day. As much as I was dedicated to using my reusable products, I was used to getting disposable products from a variety of areas on campus, that it has become second nature to me and that is quite scary. At the same time however, it definitely got me thinking once again about our subconscious minds and choices that we inadvertently make without realizing it. I however constantly caught myself when I would attempt to buy a bottle and I would immediately go for my own bottle in my bag. It was probably an accomplishment for me as the day went on and from that moment was when my trial went on and I can safely say that I successfully went four days without using plastic bottles.

As for my friends who used went about their day and went through their daily plastic bottle usage, it AMAZED me how much they all used within the four day trial. They sent be pics at least by the hour and I was surprisingly overwhelmed by how many went through whether it be water, soda, or Starbucks coffee. At some point, I even got a little angry because eventually some of them even threw out bottles that still had a good amount of liquid in it in the trash and completely did regarded that it could have been recycled. It really gave me perspective on how part of our society is just like this and it saddened me to know that I am one of those people. I must say that it was interesting how much plastic I could save by just using reusable water bottles and how much I could benefit from it. I don’t think about it until I am faced with it and it’s interesting that this is usually the case when one tries to make changes to their lifestyle as a means to better the world.

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THE RESEULTS:

            After the trial was over, I had them fill out a short 4 question survey that tallied out their usage of bottles and as well as their opinion of recycling just to get an understanding of their overall thoughts on the environment. ECO Survey

Although it was three people that filled it out, it was the responses to the short questions that mattered to me in this case. Of the three, only one used 10 or more with a grand total of 17 plastic bottles that varied from Starbucks or actual water bottles compared to the others who used a range of 6-10.

ECO SURVEY RESULT ECO SURVEY RESULT

However, both did express that it could actually be more on account of throwing a few out without tallying it to me In addition to this, none of them recycled their plastics all the time. They either never did or they did ever minimally often. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest considering that I was away that they were not the ecofriendly individuals that I knew. However, their responses to why they chose to not recycle varied. One said that she is “not a big fan of recycling” and the other said that they do not recycling because “the case and effects of recycling is not a real thing”. Thinking that their perception might change with a video of the damage that could happen with not recycling, I made them watch the PSA below.

 

The survey asked them to watch it and asked if it made any difference to their mentality to recycling. All of them had a relatively similar responses by saying that “It still doesn’t do much for me because I believe that the earth has been around for billions of years and if recycling was really an issue, it would have died hundreds of years ago. Recycling is a myth”. Despite that this as an experiment, I was surprised at their opinions because I have never thought about people thinking that recycling is a myth and just an idea that has been put in the minds of the world.

Nonetheless, my overall experience by participating in this experiment has made me think so much more consciously to the fact that I may or may not have a social obligation to do what I can to protect the earth and have it last as long as it can. At the same time however, we must also accept that some people in this world are skeptical to the fact that recycling is a think that is going to be the end of the planet therefore have a different idea of what is to become of our planet. Corporations have done their parts and put in many efforts to shove down our throats that we HAVE to recycle. But at the end of the day, while there is one person who is not recycling, there is also dozens of other people who are actually doing their part and saving the planet with their choice to be ecologically conscience. It really does go to show that the media does have somewhat of an impact on what we chose to do in our lives. We may not want to admit it but it is the power of social media that controls society and dictates our actions in the present and the future. Scary to think about but still important to keep in the back our minds, if they have not already gotten to that too.

Yes Woman Attempts to Fix Campus

Meliora

Introduction:

For my project I decided to imitate a hoax from Andy Bicklebaum and Mike Bonanno’s The Yes Men Fix the World. I wanted to become a ‘Yes Woman’ of sorts. I used the hoax as platform for asking administration questions that I felt have gone unanswered and that students deserved having an answer to. I knew that my prank would have to be on a much smaller scale than one attempted by the Yes Men and would not address such profound incidents. With that being said, I want to ensure my audience that I understand that the topics I used in replicating the Yes Men hoax are not of the same caliber of importance or sensitivity as the ones used in the film. The topics addressed are those of importance to college students at the University of Rochester. In The Yes Men Fix the World the men recreate their own version of The New York Times with fake headlines declaring statements like “Iraq War Ends”, “Patriot Act Repealed” and “United Nations Unanimously Passes Weapons Ban”.I created a flyer that addressed three things that student body wished would happen on campus:

“Norovirus has been eliminated!”

“Free Mel Burgers To Celebrate Re-Opening of the Mel!”

“Parking tickets reduced to $10!”

I felt that each of these issues were topics of conversation that connected the entire student body in some aspect. I wanted to see how the university reacted to my hoax and if it generated any unrest within the student body. My hoax was set to address transparency/visibility of university policies, corporate power and communication media.Unlike the Yes Men, I did not have a large group of people to hand out the flyer of 10,000 copies to post however what I did have was one friend, 100 copies of my flyer, some tape and an open mind.

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Hoax:

When was the last time that I had resorted to posting an announcement on bulletin boards? I was relying on the already constructed environments around me to provide me a space for which I could distribute information. I was not interacting with any Internet platform or email chain to get my message across but a pre-constructed environment. When I really thought about it I came to the realization that most information I obtain or send out into the world, is mediated by the use of my cell phone. Usually by text, email, or Facebook, I send and receive updates about the world around me without having to move my finger more than a few centimeters. My usual communication with the outside world is dematerialized to the extent that the information I am absorbing is not tangible, it just absorbed to become a part of  my own hallucination. Although my flyers were not back to traditional technologies of communication, moving backwards to a modern technology of communication forced me to reconnect with the physical spaces around me (bulletin boards) that are a type of ‘modern’ platform for information distribution and storage.

 I posted the flyers in around the floor that I live on in Wilder Tour, every floor’s bulletin board in Wilder, both elevator’s in Wilder, the laundry room door of Wilder, a stack was placed on top of the campus times in Wilder, each floor of Anderson, the bulletin board in Anderson, main lounge in Anderson, each floor of O’brien, both elevator’s of O’brien, each elevator in all of Riverview Apartments, the laundry room doors and stairwell doors. As I posted my flyers I paused and watched students pass by flyers with their heads buried in their phones, scrolling through cyberspace and being more interested and effected by what was going on “there” then what was right in front of them. It was almost frustrating to an extent to watch people I wanted to react to something to be too blinded by their phones to not even glance and this was not even a real announcement. I assume that there is a great deal of information that is posted on doors and bulletin boards that must go unnoticed each semester simply because its posted in spaces that eyes no longer have the time to linger on. The idea even of “lingering” is outdated. We constantly seek to be absorbed into something bigger than ourselves and like the characters of Don DeLillo’s White Noise want to evade the things we are the most scared of: being alone and death.

ELRR_Bridge_Photo_cc_cropped

I decided to extend my experiment a bit further and not use my car when I went to flyer Riverview. I walked down the sidewalk with my bag of flyers and did not use my phone to distract myself from what I was experiencing, my goal was to be “present” in the present, something that has become harder and harder for people. Seeing cars drive by me at times it felt as if somehow I was not experiencing the same degree of sophistication or somehow I was lesser by not being trapped in a accelerating box, annihilating time and space around me and making it as if my ride never happened. If I would of had my phone open my mind would have been subject to what Rebecca Solnit calls “sacrificing the near to gain the far”. Except our culture has transformed and accelerated her idea to not just overcoming the local but overcoming the far as well. You can see globalization with the swipe of a fingertip on a metal device. I was anxious on my walk and felt as if Riverview was in another state. I was having a physical reaction to my “being in the present” because I was not experiencing any form of mobility except that of my own two feet. Usually even my mind would be mobile, accessing the depths of the far to search for some sort of wonder or excitement that is no longer present in the local.

I walked over the bridge and saw the river, the skyline and the sunset that was about to take over the sky. I called Rochester, New York home but my sense of place was far from understood. I know close to nothing about what came before this campus, bridge, pavement I walked on and the nature that surrounded me was just that “nature”: something that was “other” and that I got to experience only when I got off campus, what Edward Burtynsky called a “manufactured landscape”. The naturally aesthetically pleasing scenery  the sunset gave me was break from the industrialized life I lead in the modern world.

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Reality of Hoax:

At first I didn’t get a lot of reactions because apparently the flyers seemed “too real”. This was not something I originally thought would happen when I was creating the flyers. I wanted a certain degree of believability but I may have overestimated my fellow student body’s ability to recognize a prank. I believe that a large aspect of the lack of reaction is our current society’s (especially college students) overexposure to information. If someone’s eyes happen to look up from their technology and see the flyer it is possible that the image and words on the sheet of paper could be lost in the void of information crammed into their brain. Perhaps for some the announcements had just been reconfigured into more white noise, if a toxic cloud couldn’t derail the mediated train of thought of Heinrich or Steffie in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, how could I expect the capturing of Norovirus to grab the attention of my fellow classmates?

During my flyering exhibition I spent some time gazing at all of the other announcements posted on the bulletin boards and walls. It looked messy. Not sleek or organized like my newsfeed announcements or email subject lines, it was as if the code I was reading did not quite register at first. I was seeing the entirety of the interface, not the constructed reality I was used to. The constructed reality that only display’s what is “user friendly” and easy on the mind. Analog announcements such as my flyer do not register the same way as digital ones do. The Yes Men Fix the World was released in 2009. Seven years have passed since their fake New York Times had been publicized and in that time our society become more reliant on digital interfaces relaying information to them. In that time we have become passive consumers of information because we have a false belief that more information will always mean “better”. I think that if the Yes Men attempted to do the hoax again today, even with a publication as well known as The New York times, I do not believe they would have made as large of a splash as they did in 2009. At the time mass communication was centered around publications like The New York Times and the public had not yet transitioned themselves to being a digital interface dominated society. Now there are faster streams of information and news that constantly update and a hoax or scam can be exploited in seconds. Fake headlines of that caliber could be fact checked instantly by opening a single app on a phone or even better yet, asking Siri to check for you, because now we have digital versions of our mind and body and they can surf the web faster than your physical body can.

Posting 100 flyers is not mass media and not how our current society communicates. It is local and not at the disposal to be consumed by a thousand people by the click of a button. It was almost comical to me when I recognized that as I stood and stared at the wall of postings, I was romanticizing what it used to be like when my life was not so mediated and over-informed.

You’ve been punked:

URConnections

I chose to include university parking as a topic on my flyer because it is something that connects many students on campus due to how expensive it is to have a car here. My flyer exclaimed that tickets were no longer a flat rate of $40 and had dropped to $10. Last year ticket prices surged from $20 to $40 so on top of an almost $500 parking pass fee, many students are faced with the reality of it being impossible to bring a vehicle to school. When I called parking and asked about a flyer I had seen announcing tickets were no longer $40 I was put on hold for eight minutes until finally given the answer that they did not “think” the announcement came from their office. When I inquired about why in fact the price of tickets had surged to $40 in the first place this year, I was put on hold again, disconnected, on hold for two more minutes, and then finally given the answer of “I cannot speak to why it happened but it may have to do with us wanting to be charging the same fee’s as the city of Rochester parking enforcement, its been this way since last July, here is my supervisor’s number”. It seemed like a simple question to me and something that I know affected a great deal of students on campus, but obviously there was more to it. Money. Why was the corporation our parents spend ridiculous amounts of money on not able to give straightforward answers about topics that don’t even concern education? University Parking is one of the biggest moneymakers on campus and they intend for it to stay that way.

 

buttonPledge    newTrio

I have struggled with the transparency of the school in terms of dining related services for some time. From lack of vegetarian options on campus to recycling bins having the wrong size lids, I have always felt bitter towards what the school claims they do and what the reality is. At a progressive school that claims to be eco-forward in many aspects, I wanted to see the truth behind a few of the ways U of R claims to be “green”. We learned from Allison Carruth how sustainability has been transformed into a brand asset and that being “green” is good for PR. new black. It has the ability to mark something up as good enough to not have to worry or wonder about the consequences of using it are. With that being said, I wondered if my beloved university was masking greed as progress and fooling both prospective and current students with their eco-friendly ways, or if there was a truth at the center of it all. Similarly to findings in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forsest and Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, the good of the people or the land was not being considered as what mattered most. Media and brand image is transforming our environment into a place where negative effects go unseen and therefore make them easier to “deal with”.

I reached out to Cam Schauf who is Director of Campus Dining Services and asked if it would be possible to meet so I could ask him a few questions about a final project. He was the only person I spoke to that met me face to face and had a good old-fashioned, sit down conversation. The last time I had an unmediated conversation with a faculty member where two bodies agreed to psychically meet at a certain location to speak was with Professor Nadir before the midterm. However before that, all questions or clarification I needed happened in my Gmail inbox. Having a human being in front of me that I could interact with and see blink or move in his chair gave the conversation a wholesome feeling of sorts. I couldn’t delete or edit each statement I made and neither could he. However, during the meeting I was typing his answers out on my computer trying to overcome my body’s limits for how hast I could write on a piece of paper and by having the computer open, I was connected to any notification that could pop onto my screen. Why does this matter? Because even during a sense of wonder about meeting Cam face to face, technology was still taking me out of the here and now.

My first question for Cam was if The Mel restaurant was actually reopening (continuing my hoax streak). He chuckled and said he had some flyers announcing such (internally I rejoiced) however he explained that we will never go back to a service based dining hall due to its expense. It was clear in my flyering hoax that the most excitement came from the announcement of said restaurants new opening so hearing this from Cam justified the flyer as being “too good to be true” just like Yes Men’s newspaper. My following questions were directed at the concerns of the university’s ability to be sustainable and ecofriendly: Why are receipts at Hillside still necessary? Why is there only one place to recycle trash bags? Why cant most recyclable plastics fit into the recycling bin? Answers to this type of question usually included the statement “we are examining our options” or “next year we will look to continue..”. The answers to these questions all revolved around money, either we didn’t have enough to make it happen or the university did not want to loose any more in adapting to ways. Again, I saw that the university wanted to chalk up their “progress” as good enough so mask the fact that they were just not ready to give up more money to do the right thing.

 

The last section of my fake flyer was used to stir up excitement over the end of the everlasting Norovirus that captured the minds and bodies (literally) of the majority of the senior body. I announced that it had been “captured” and it no longer poised a threat to the university. When I got caught the virus and was sent to the ER, I called Dr. Manchester, Director of UHS the following morning because I was confused as to what had happened and if the murmurs of it being Norovius were true. His response? “It is probably not Norovirus, there are no traces that it came from the school food or environment and by this point you are probably no longer contagious”. Well the outbreak began and somehow now the school had to answer all of the questions it didn’t really want to a few days prior. Every day for almost a month now, we have received “Communications Updates” from Dr. Manchester regarding how many students the virus had infected, how many people reported new symptoms, what to do if we begin to feel ill, and how to protect ourselves from getting it all together. The university wanted to ensure that it looked like it was in constant ~communication~ with students and on top of the virus.

The media created such a buzz around the Norovirus soon the outbreak was trending on Facebook, a USA Today Article was written, a satire article was written by The Odyssey and an entire Servpro team was hired to sanitize the school. Servpro’s mantra is “Like It Never Even Happened” meaning that after they come to clean up the mess, we can forget that our lives were ever impacted by a natural event and we can continue on living our fast-paced, ultra-mediated lives.

About a week and a half into receiving “Communications Updates” about Noro, I wanted to see how someone who was having to risk their safety every day to clean and sanitize really felt about the situation. At this point, Servpro was on campus with men in hazmat suits wandering around the hallways spraying who knows what on everything students could possibly infect. I asked Devon, the man who cleans our suite bathrooms every Tuesday morning, how he felt about all the people getting sick on campus he told me that the university had just given the cleaning staff masks and extra protection only two days ago. This stunted me. The week after I was hospitalized for Noro I wouldn’t touch anyone or anything without a 10 foot stick and plastic gloves and Devon was having to clean without any added protection at all? We hired Servpro and reportedly spent an estimated $30,000 per day on cleaning and supplies but a week after Noro hit campus and Servpro arrived, we finally told our facilities and cleaning staff (barfblog)?

Part of the communications emails read as follows:

” Because the Norovirus particles can live on surfaces for weeks, the most effective protection against becoming infected is proper and frequent handwashing. Here are the CDC guidelines on handwashing: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html” 

and in a more recent email:

 Continue with frequent hand washing using soap and water. This is the best way to avoid infection. No hand sanitizer is effective against Norovirus”

The school called for hand washing using soap and water over and over again. The problem? I live in a building where neither soap or paper towels is given to us. So even during a virus out break that cost estimated $30,000 a day, many students were left to fend for themselves when trying to abide by precautionary steps to avoid getting sick. Why you may ask? Money.

After calling Residential Life and trying to get someone to answer my question of why we weren’t supplied these necessities, I was told that she was unable to make a statement about that and was not entirely sure. I left my name and number and when her supervisor called me back I finally got the answer of “Well its not in the budget to do so”. Interesting.

I called UHS to ask if they had heard the news of the “captured noro” and whether or not it was true. The woman on the line paused and then put me on hold to find someone who had the answer. WHAT! How is it possible that someone working in the UHS building in the same area that these “Communications” emails were being sent from, did not know that I was pulling her leg? A disgruntled nurse came on the line and read to me, verbatim, the most recent email that had been sent to us. When she got to the part about washing hands I stopped her and told her that I live in a building where soap is not given to us. There was a long pause on the phone and she said she had no idea that there were buildings such as mine and offered me a bottle of the soap they had inside the UHS building. So our healthcare professionals had no idea that they are calling for their students to do something that in fact, they cannot do without expending their own money and resources.

Reactions and Conclusion:

[Yes Woman Attempts to Fix the World]

For some reason my movie is either too long to upload to youtube or to link the file here. In closing, my hoax provided me with great insight into how transparent a few of our university policies are. It also gave me a great appreciation for the work done to make Yes Men Fix The World. I was asking community based questions and barely getting any answers, they were addressing some of the largest companies that have made the biggest splashes on humanity and the environment. I believe that if would have taken to the internet with my hoax, it would of made a lot more of an impact on campus and the reactions would of been greater. However it was interesting to find that most of the reactions that I got from posting an analog announcement, came from mobile devices and various applications such as GroupMe and Snapchat. This just solidifies my argument that mass media and mass communication is how our current society knows how to communicate. We are programed to want to absorb the information from coded platforms that do not confuse us or make us think about that information is being left out. I thoroughly enjoyed this project and it evoked a greater, tangible, idea of how information is spread through our constantly connected and communicating society.

 

Sources

Cam Schauf, Director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations. Co-chair, University Council on Sustainability

Powell, Doug. “148 sick from noro at  New York university; over 40k to clean up”. http://barfblog.com/tags/university-of-rochester/. Web. 22 April 2016.

The Yes Men Fix the World. Dir. Andy Bicklebaum, Mike Bonanno, and Kurt Engfehr. Perf. Andy Bicklebaum and Mike Bonanno. HBO, 2009. Youtube.

Synder, Gary. “Bioregional Perspective.” The Practice of the Wild. Berkeley: Perseus, 2003, 40-48. Print.

Davis, Susan. “Touch the Magic.” Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature. By William Cronon. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. 204-17. Print.

Carruth, Allison. “The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy.” Public Culture. 26 (2014): 339-364. Web. 3 May 2016.

Delilo, Don. White Noise. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print

Democrat and Chronicle Staff. “Suspected virus at University of Rochester infects at least 95” http://college.usatoday.com/2016/04/14/suspected-virus-at-u-of-rochester-infects-at-least-95. Web. 14 April 2016.

Solnit, Rebecca. “The Annihilation of Time and Space.” New England Review. Middlebury College Publications. 2003. 5-19. Print

Yamashita, Karen Tei. Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. London: Scribners, 1991. Print.

 Manufactured Landscapes. Dir. Jennifer Baichwal. Perf. Ed Burtynsky. Zeitgeist Films, 2006. Mp4.

Snapchat and Privacy

“Welcome to a world where Google knows exactly what sort of porn you all like, and more about your interests than your spouse does. Welcome to a world where your cell phone company knows exactly where you are all the time. Welcome to the end of private conversations, because increasingly your conversations are conducted by e-mail, text, or social networking sites. And welcome to a world where all of this, and everything else that you do or is done on a computer, is saved, correlated, studied, passed around from company to company without your knowledge or consent; and where the government accesses it at will without a warrant. Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.” – Bruce Schneier in “The Internet is a surveillance state”

I misused Snapchat to perform an analysis of how it and similar social media platforms seize our information and deprive us of our privacy. I attempt to dissect our notion of information and how the impenetrable curtain of corporate greed is masked behind progress and innovation through increasingly impressive technology. I end my blog post with my thoughts about my interaction with Snapchat and how it affected me and my idea of public versus private spaces.

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INFORMATION FRENZY

We interact with information in two ways: we actively seek it, or it finds us; either way, we’re obsessed with it. This obsession, we could say, stems all the way back to the Industrial Revolution, where humanity’s transcendence into “modern” times rationalized the harnessing of science to overcome nature’s limitations. Thus began to perpetuate the ideas that the more information we have, now predominantly in that we procure through technology, the better equipped we are to remedy the world’s imminent crises and to become increasingly educated, reactive citizens in our day-to-day lives in doing so. However, both of these are not exactly true. Global warming is the easiest crisis to think of, and it, like most others, was enabled by technology – the combusting of fossil fuels. And we react without acting on social media all the time; we read and scroll past the headlines about calamities but pause to watch the latest Tasty video.

In Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability, Silva and Frith argue that digital media has “overloaded” us with information. They quote scholar Richard Lanham on the effect, “‘In an information society, the scarce commodity is not information – we are choking on that – but the human attention required to make sense of it’” (Silva, Frith 26). The stimulation caused by the increase in information made humans develop tools to manage their attention – mobile interfaces that not only cause an “explosion” in data but also alter their perception and serve as filters of public spaces (Sengupta).

BUT IS IT GOOD OR BAD?

Former high-level FBI official Timothy Ryan believes that the Boston bombers were identified by lifting thousands of images and videos off of private cameras and smartphones. While this might seem like finding a needle in a haystack, he says, “‘In every investigation, it’s better to over-collect than to under-collect. To the extent that they had a computer and used it, it [was] a treasure trove of information’” (Stenovec).  This was no ordinary sleuthing; it required data mining to look for patterns in the images taken by the people surrounding the bombed area to eventually trace the Tsarnaevs as the perpetrators. Ryan’s extolling of the method emphasizes his, and probably most of his colleagues’, conviction that information is good. In this case, it was because a tragic crime was solved, but something to think about is how data mining, in most cases, is used on the grounds of security.

It’s dramatic but apt to say that information is bad when it’s in the wrong hands. In the words of journalist Bruce Schneier:

…what we do on the Internet is being combined with other data about us. Everything we do now involves computers, and computers produce data as a natural by-product. Everything is now being saved and correlated, and many big-data companies make money by building up intimate profiles of our lives from a variety of sources.

So there lies the inherent flaw in information collection, that it’s exploited with or without our knowledge for capital gain.

There are two points to bring up here. First, information collection at this scale is unprecedented. As a mindful aside, in her discourse of the ubiquitous digital cloud, Allison Carruth highlights that it’s impossible to pin down the tangible effects of data usage because data has grown exponentially; that is, in the past, there was no record of it. Second, using social networking sites, search engines, e-mail, or the general Internet (including access via cellphones) is now commonplace, and as Schneier later points out, we can’t just stop using them because we don’t like to be “spied” on, especially since the full extent of spying is deliberately hidden from us.

SO DO I OWN MY OWN INFORMATION?

We do own our information…technically. Intellectual property laws were significantly changed in the Copyright Act of 1976 when it was no longer necessary for one to register his or her work to protect it. Anything “fixed in a tangible medium” automatically became copyrighted (Boynton). Recent laws protecting copyrighted material on the Internet have so raised the status of intellectual property that court systems and corporations often wrongly equate it with physical property. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries,” meaning that authors and inventors can profit from their intellectual property in exchange for allowing limited and eventually full public access to it. However, privacy policies for Facebook and Snapchat are nebulous as to whether the information we upload or unintentionally store on their applications is still ours or if our control over it slowly dissipates with time. Snapchat’s Terms of Service states:

Many of our Services let you create, upload, post, send, receive, and store content. When you do that, you retain whatever ownership rights in that content you had to begin with. But you grant us a license to use that content. How broad that license is depends on which Services you use and the Settings you have selected.

Facebook is a little clearer about its intentions but not by much:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

However, in the following line, Facebook says that although IP content is deleted, there may be “backup” copies for a “reasonable” period of time, inaccessible to any entity other than Facebook of course. The ability for corporations to be vague in their regulations about storing and using our information sheds light on our own powerlessness, a key motive for cyber-activist and computer programmer Aaron Swartz who started a campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) of 2011, a bill that would allow the government to censor or prevent complete access to designated websites.

WHO’S IN CONTROL?

In one of his last speeches before committing suicide, Swartz recounted the battle to defeat SOPA from start to finish. A major proponent of the Demand Progress group, Swartz seemed to believe that this was an “us versus them” issue in which the underdogs, a small community of young computer scientists and start-up entrepreneurs, faced the powerful but archaic Congressmen who had an “irrational fear that things were out of control” to prevent Internet censorship in agreement with the First Amendment (Goodman). Referring to the Congressmen as the “enemies of the freedom to connect” and challenging that “they wouldn’t find something they could pin on any of us,” Swartz highlighted that neither the right nor the left wing was to blame specifically since both were interested in the lobbying funds provided by Hollywood and other similar groups.

The idea of powerlessness is further exemplified by media theorist Douglass Ruskoff in the “surrendering” of his Facebook account. He explains, “I have always argued for engaging with technology as conscious human beings and dispensing with technologies that take that agency away. Facebook is just such a technology. It does things on our behalf when we’re not even there…it misrepresents us. It exploits our social interactions.” What we don’t realize is that the end users of these social networking applications and other digital media are the marketing and advertisement companies that want to influence the decisions we make. They pay for us, the product, and by “logging” on, we become workers. What’s scarier is that by mining our big data, the government can even predict for whom we vote, our sexual orientation, or our likelihood for civil disobedience and even terrorism (Rushkoff).

In his paper on networks, writer, computer programmer, and professor Alexander R. Galloway expresses that we’re captured (seemingly from birth), analyzed for our usefulness, and forced to participate in endless data collection:

Today organisms must communicate whether they want to or not. This is essentially why “communication” and “control” are inextricably linked. Organisms are “captured” using any number of informatics codes and rubrics. Clicks are accumulated. Behaviors are mined for meaningful data or tracked for illegal data. Even the genome is prospected for rare or otherwise useful sequences. Today, interactivity means total participation, universal capture.

WHY SNAPCHAT?

Snapchat is unique from the other major social media platforms that dominate our culture because it promises to make photos, videos, and messages disappear. The image or video is set to a timer and expires after the timer ends while the message disappears once the chat box is exited. The “erasing” aspect of the application spurs the sending (and receiving) of compromising images or messages, but users fail to realize that just because something is deleted from their phone doesn’t mean that it’s deleted forever. It’s still lurking around on some server.

Snapchat is fallible in two other ways: users can take screenshots of the messages or images they receive and leaks are possible and relatively frequent. In a leak where 200,000 pictures were released, Snapchat distanced itself from any blame, citing its users’ usage of third party apps for the reason of compromise (Lunden). In May 2014, it was the only company to receive one star out of six for how it protected its users’ data from government requests. Conducted by digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the annual survey evaluated more than two dozen companies on issues including “whether they require a warrant before handing over communications and whether they notify their users and the public about government data requests” (Smith). Snapchat’s one star was for its policy of publishing law enforcement guidelines. Around the same time, Snapchat was incriminated for misrepresenting its privacy and security practices to consumers such as transmitting their geolocation when it explicitly stated that it did not access that information (Bautista).

Snapchat recently acquired Looksery, a company that modifies pictures in real time and has begun to introduce comical lenses for its users to don before sending their snapchat. Only after rapper B.O.B. tweeted, “when you realize all the snap chat filters are really building a facial recognition database” did users begin to understand the gravity of their Snapchat usage, that the application did have some startling implications on their privacy.

MY EXPERIENCE

I chose Snapchat because it’s the fastest source of information; by looking at my friend’s Snapchat story that’s usually accompanied by a geofilter, I know what she’s doing in that moment. Snapchat stories can be glamorous because within those ten seconds, we have to give a performance whether it consists of a selfie by the beach or a party taking shots with friends.

I wanted to completely decontextualize Snapchat and strip it of its usefulness (locating our friends and seeing what they’re doing or showing everyone where we are and what we’re doing) by posting completely useless pictures and videos. Some consisted of me sleeping, brushing my teeth, going to the bathroom, or being hyperbolically philosophical. More than anything, my friends were entertained, but some questioned my sanity, asking if I was alright or needed help. I found the experience hilarious but also elucidating of some of our habits on social media (perhaps I did my own data collection as well).

I was posting personal moments in my life that people wouldn’t normally see. The video of me sleeping was filmed and posted by my friend, and I, alongside my Snapchat friends, viewed myself sleeping for the very first time in my life. Some had seen me sleeping even before I had. Writing this after recalling that moment, I was reminded of Schneier’s summary of the internet as a surveillance state, “Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we’re being tracked all the time…all of us being watched and that data being stored forever.” What was even more interesting was that even though I was posting these personal videos alongside completely silly pictures (one of an empty plastic cup), my friends were still viewing my story. Even if the information is unrelated to us or plain old stupid, we still want it.

Professor L. pointed out to me that new media and technology reshape, reorganize, and create new environments. I corroded my privacy in the environment I created on Snapchat, and my moments of solitude,  happiness, complacency, and pure boredom weren’t mine anymore. Instead, they were everybody’s, my friends and the companies whose servers my face and my voice were filtering through. In doing this experiment, I feel as if I’ve lost some sense of place because I wasn’t necessarily “living” for myself, but rather the friends for whom I needed to perform. I don’t think I can ever disconnect, though. I feel as if data is too far away for me to touch it, and it’s woven so seamlessly into our daily lives that it’s difficult to know when to disconnect and live in visible, tangible ways. Like most people my age, I’m too tied to my media even if it necessarily isn’t mine anymore.

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Sources Cited

Bautista, Christian Brazil. “Surprise! Your Incriminating Selfies on Snapchat Weren’t Deleted After All.” Digitaltrends.com. Designtechnica Corp., 9 May 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

B.O.B. (bobatl). “when you realize all the snap chat filters are really building a facial recognition database.” 16 Apr. 2016, 1:58 pm. Tweet.

Boynton, Robert S. “Righting Copyright.” Bookforum. Feb. – Mar. 2005: n.pag. Web. 3 May 2016.

Carruth, Allison. “The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy.” Public Culture. 26 (2014): 339-364. Web. 3 May 2016.

“Freedom to Connect: Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) on Victory to Save Open Internet, Fight Online Censors.” Democracy Now! N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web.

Galloway, Alexander R. “Networks.” N.p., n.d. PDF file. 3 May 2016.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” McGraw-Hill, 1964. PDF File. 3 May 2016.

Lunden, Ingrid. “Snapchat: Our Servers Were Not Breached In The ‘Snappening’ Blame 3rd Party Apps.” Techcrunch.com. AOL Inc., 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

“Terms of Service.” Snapchat.com. Snapchat, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 3 May 2016.

Rushkoff, Dennis. “Why I’m quitting Facebook.” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 25 Feb. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

Silva, Adriana De Souza E, and Jordan Frith. “Interfaces to Public Spaces.” Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability. New York: Routledge, 2012. 26-27. Print.

Schneier, Bruce. “The Internet is a surveillance state.” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

Sengupta, Somini. “Facebook Software Puts It Front and Center on Android Phones.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times Company, 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

Smith, Gerry. “Snapchat Isn’t Standing Up For Your Privacy: Report.” Huffingtonpost.com TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 16 May 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Facebook.com. Facebook, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 3 May 2016.

Stenovec, Timothy. “Former FBI Official on Crowdsourced evidence: ‘Better To Over-Collect Than To Under-Collect.” Huffingtonpost.com. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

U.S. Constitution. Art. 1, Sec 8.

A Day of Living Analogly

 

Introduction

I usually wake to an alarm on my phone. After hitting the snooze button a few times, before even getting out bed, I jack in and check for any email or Facebook notifications that came through during the night. But on this morning my phone was on a table in the living room. I would later find out it was dead the entire day, an unprecedented realization for me as I usually keep close track of how much juice my phone has left. When it does die, I wait impatiently for it to recharge. The reason my phone was not sitting by my bedside was because I planned to go the entire day without networked or digital devices – I would only use analog technologies. This plan was largely inspired by our readings towards the end of the semester, especially Allison Carruth’s The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy. As Carruth details the complex infrastructures behind “the cloud”, she cites Robert Marzec’s breakdown of the environmental impact of networked technologies: “Viewing a simple webpage generates approximately .02 grams of CO2 per second; ten times this is required to view a complex website with multiple images; a running PC generates 40 to 80 grams of CO2 per hour; a fifteen minute Google search, 7-10 grams. All of this activity adds up.” To be more precise, it adds up to 2% of international carbon emissions every year. I had never thought about the Internets environmental impact before. Earlier in her paper, Carruth discusses an essay by Anthony Doerr: “He pins his own online cravings on a digital alter ego, Z…Doerr writes of a recent vacation without Internet access and how his state of bliss comes to an abrupt end on his return because of Z’s obsession with surfing the web, reading news feeds, and chasing down information about everything from climate change to health insurance premiums.” Upon reading this, I felt drawn to the idea of taking a purposeful vacation from networked devices and digital technologies.

Preparing for My Analog Day

AnalogTo start my analog day I had to run a couple errands. As I usually rely on my phone for the time, I had to have my watch repaired and given a new battery (you probably can’t tell in the picture, but the face of my watch features Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, a film that critiques modernity and industrial societies. I found this to be coincidently appropriate for my project). As embarrassing as it is to admit, as I checked my watch throughout the day, it took me a second to read analog time. In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Molly states that she has a time readout chipped into her optic nerve. Had my phone too turned me into a cyborg of sorts distanced from a skill so basic as telling the time?

When I read that we had post images documenting our projects, as I also use my phone to take all my pictures, I thought I’d have to make photography the one caveat to my analog day. Luckily, I found a friend who was willing to loan me his Polaroid camera. A four-mile bike ride and $37.79 later, I was set with twenty exposures and was ready to “analogly” document my project. Playing with the Polaroid camera throughout the day was an absolutely joy. I hadn’t used one since I was kid, so I was giddily taking pictures of and watching as each one developed to see how it turned out. I will discuss this process in greater detail a bit later on.

Looking Back

As I went through the day, I kept thinking back on the exercise we did at the beginning of the semester – going off networked devices for two hours. In my discussion post on this exercise, I described instances of habitually reaching for the phone that was not in my pocket: “As I headed toward the kitchen [to make dinner], I habitually began to reach for my phone (I often save recipes from various Facebook pages and reference them for many of my dinners). I caught myself and remembered I would have to peruse our cookbooks instead”; “I took a walk down the street to run a quick errand. Again, I mindlessly reached for my phone on my way out. Typically when I’m walking somewhere I’ll make phone calls, respond to texts and emails, or scroll through Facebook.” During my analog day, I did not have these sorts of responses, but occasionally I would walk past my phone lying on the table and sense my own Z desiring social media.

Making Plans

But there was only one time throughout the day that I was seriously tempted to use my phone. I had planned on meeting up with Nick around 2:00 PM to prepare for our presentation on The Yes Men Fix the World. I got back to my apartment from running errands right at 2:00, but as I had no way of contacting him, I worried I had missed him. I kept looking out the windows and going outside as I waited for him to arrive. In this moment, I considered looking at my phone to see if he had texted me. Luckily I abstained, because a few minutes later he showed up. This made me think back on the way plans were made and kept in the days before cell phones. You could call the person’s landline, but what if there was no answer? You could go to their location, but what if you don’t know it or they are not there? Or what if, as in my case, they are meeting you? You would just have to wait. This experience really highlighted the effect networked devices have had on me. In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan states, “we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time…Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extensions of man – the technological simulation of consciousness”. As an extension of my consciousness, my iPhone had made it unnecessary for me to wait. Thus in its absence, I found anxiety in the unknown.

Studying Outside of Cyberspace

As Nick and I studied, I remained off networked devices. I skimmed Through the Arc of the Rainforest and reviewed the passages I had underlined. I took notes by hand. I discussed The Yes Men Fix the World based on what I could remember off the top of my head for the time being. It was such a different way of studying. I usually study by reviewing Power Points, skimming through movies to find pertinent scenes, or even Googling direct quotes from the movie. I generally use a computer to take notes as it allows avoiding my atrocious handwriting while keeping all my notes in one place. This made me consider how studying, and education in general, must have differed before pervasion of computers, or to go even further back, readily available writing utensils. Everything would have had to be written by hand or retained in one’s memory. This made me wonder how much digital technologies have affected people’s ability to retain information. Later in Understanding Media, McLuhan writes, “With the arrival of electric technology, man has extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself…It is a development that suggests a desperate suicidal auto-amputation, as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanisms”. Networked technologies certainly have their advantages; they provide access to a vast array of information as well as a fast and arguably more efficient way to document notes. In this way they provide a prosthetic to people. But with this prosthetic comes an amputation as people risk the deterioration of their retention abilities.
The Most Photographed Park in Rochester

When we finished studying, Nick, my girlfriend Clara, and I took a walk to Highland Park. As we strolled through the park, around every bend of the trail was a person with a camera or a phone taking pictures of the lilacs and magnolias. Under usual circumstances, I would have been taking pictures right along with them. Sure, I could have gotten the Polaroid camera and taken pictures without breaking the rules of my analog day, but I wanted to see what it was like to have an unmediated experience of the park – or find out if such a thing was even possible. Being one of the only people not taking pictures, only served to make the photographers that much more apparent. The whole experience reminded me of The Most Photographed Barn in America featured in White Noise. As Murray watches everyone taking pictures of the barn he observes to Jack, “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura…We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision…We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now”. Even though I wasn’t taking pictures, was I too just a part of the park’s aura? Was my vision still tainted by a collective perception? With such questions on my mind, I began to wonder if a truly unmediated experience is still possible in the digital era.

Lunch in the Commons

HighlandClara and I usually have lunch while watching an episode or two of a TV show (currently we’re alternating between Community, New Girl, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). But for my analog day, after Nick left, we packed a picnic and took our cat Dorian to a park. The park we went to is one we just happened upon. Even though it’s right down the street from our apartment, we had not known about it before. I was pleased to see that the park had a community garden. I’d wanted to grow a garden for quite some time now, but as we don’t have a yard, I’ve never had the opportunity. This discovery may just be the perfect outlet for my horticultural desires. In The Place, the Region and the Commons, Gary Snyder extols the virtues of attaining a sense of place: “Bioregional awareness teaches us in specific ways…Our relation to the natural world takes place in a place, and it must be grounded in information and experience”. He goes on to discuss how people once had such a keen sense of place, that they held intimate knowledge of regional plant life. Though I cannot claim to have ever had this level of bioregional awareness, when we found the park and the community garden, I definitely felt an increased sense of place and was excited by the prospect of discovering the horticultural skills so many people have forgotten.

Engendering Community With Analog Technology

That evening we met up with a few friends (including the friend who loaned me the Polaroid camera) at Victoire, a bar on East Avenue. Towards the end of the night, we asked a woman sitting across from us if she would take a picture of our group. She seemed so surprised when we handed her the Polaroid camera. After we got in place, the woman awkwardly positioned the camera’s viewfinder over her eye and fumbled for the button to take the picture. If we had handed her a phone, I doubt she would have given it a second thought and might have even taken several pictures for us to choose from. With the Polaroid, she just handed camera back to us and did not display any interest in seeing how the picture turned out. Have people become so inundated by digital technologies that any alternative has become foreign?

VictoireOur group gathered to watch the picture develop and passed it around to see how it turned out. If we hadn’t have had the Polaroid, I doubt we would have even taken a picture. Even if we had, everyone would have glanced at the image on the phone and not given it another thought until it was inevitably posted on Facebook with everyone tagged in it for all our cybernetic friends to see. In River of Shadows, Rebecca Solnit discusses how every technology simultaneously connects and disconnects: “Those carried along on technology’s currents were less connected to local places…It was as though they sacrificed the near to gain the far”. Posting a digital image on Facebook would have connected with a wider array of people and we might have received a few likes and comments. But in doing so, we would have lost the sense of community the Polaroid picture engendered in our group.

Listening to Vinyl and Watching Celluloid

Projector 2For the last few years, I’ve been a minor vinyl and film enthusiast, so I own a record player and a 16mm projector. Thanks to this, I was not deprived of music or film during my analog day. I listened through two records, Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs and Paul Simon’s Graceland, and I watched my print of John Wayne’s The Quiet Man (a childhood favorite). Both vinyl and film exemplify the differences between inscribed and dematerialized media that we discussed in class.

In Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces, the authors draw a correlation between cellphones and books as mobile technologies. They argue that both of these technologies act “as interfaces to public spaces”. It would be easy to draw a similar connection between vinyl/film and streaming services. Solnit discusses that manner in which motion pictures changed the relationship to time, “they made it possible to step in the same river twice, to see not just images but events that had happened in other times and other places, almost to stop living where you were and start living in other places or other times”. In Mediations, Peter Adey adds, “films pass on specific cultural messages and values to receptive audiences”. He delivers a similar sentiment on music, “Music carries considerable freight by transporting the baggage of different cultures”. These attributes can equally apply to both vinyl/film and streaming services. However, as we discussed in class, though books and cellphones are both mobile technologies, cell phones have immense social networks behind carrying many more implications than books. By the same token, the streaming of music and movies pushes their impact even further than Solnit and Adey discuss.

Record PlayerI often listen to music on Spotify. It is a useful application supplying full discographies for almost any artist imaginable. When I want to check out a musician I am unfamiliar with, I will find them Spotify and listen through their music starting from their debut album. It is a great way to observe the evolution of an artist’s career. This is how I discovered Tom Waits who has become one of my favorite artists (I now have eight of his albums on vinyl). But every time I listen to vinyl, I am struck by the way music has become engrained in social media. Carruth points out that “one’s desires to share experiences online and to access data for anywhere provide the foundation on which industries profit”. Spotify allows its users to post the music they listen to for their friends to see. But this seemingly innocuous addition to social networking, gives corporations access to more information about people and gives them one more way to profit from people’s interests. When I listen to vinyl I feel like I’m listening for myself rather than in service of corporations.

ProjectorBoth a film print and a digital copy of The Quiet Man will connect me to 1950s Ireland, where the film is based. But every time I use my 16mm projector, I’m always fascinated by the history behind each individual film print. I bought my print of The Quiet Man from a film collector at a film festival in Syracuse last year. A code on the edge of the film reveals that the print was made in 1971. The collector told me he was only selling it because it was beginning to fade, so a portion of the film was reduced to a red tint. All of this history is lost on a digital version of the film. And despite the fading, every time I screen the print I feel like I’m experiencing something unique. This too is lost in a digital format, which provides a consistent but homogenized experience. The act of projection is also an experience that cannot be replicated digitally. When I project I am connected to the film, literally and figuratively, as I carefully thread each of the film’s three reels through the projector and play them one by one. This is such juxtaposition to the act of mindlessly binge watching a TV show until Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?”

With such arguments, it would be easy to romanticize film, especially was we move further and further into digital age. But I am constantly reminded of film’s complicity. In Manufactured Landscapes Edward Burtynsky acknowledges his own complicity: the film in his camera contains silver particles that had to be mined; the gas in his car uses oil that was drilled from the earth. Similarly, the emulsion of film prints contains gelatin, which is made in part by the hooves of cows. As a vegetarian I often wonder how to reconcile this fact. Like Burtynsky, I can only ever acknowledge that everyone has their share of complicity.

Polaroids and the Limitations of Analog Technology

Failed AttemptsAs I went about documenting my project with Polaroid pictures, the first thing I noticed was the limitations of analog technology. Half of my pictures came out out of focus or blown out. I tried to get a close up of my watch’s Modern Times inspired clock face, but it was too close to maintain proper focus. As I was watching The Quiet Man, I tried to capture an image of the film projecting on my wall, but the flash on the Polaroid camera rendered it invisible. I soon realized that analog photography really requires a certain familiarity with the camera’s capabilities. For example, to be in focus with the Polaroid camera, I had to be at least 0.9 meters away from the subject. Because of this there were some images I could not capture the way I originally planned. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I only had twenty exposures available to me and each one was relatively expensive (almost $2 each). So I had to limit the number of times I attempted to capture a certain image. This could be seen as a weakness and an argument in favor of digital photography; on my phone I can take as many pictures as I want, from any distance or angle and it will come out perfectly almost every time. But I’ve always felt that limitations greatly encourage artistic expression. By working within the limitations of the Polaroid camera, I had to find creative ways to capture what I wanted to represent. And when it did come out well, I felt a greater sense of accomplishment than I ever felt after taking a digital image. earkovskypolaroids07It also gave me a greater appreciation for the artists that have done much more with the medium than I am capable of. For example, I have a book of Polaroids taken by director Andrei Tarkovsky. All of the images are beautifully composed. After seeing how much went into capturing my simple images, I better understand how much work is behind each of Tarkovsky’s pictures. Thus, while digital photography has enabled me to take pictures with greater ease and store almost an unlimited number of them, it also disconnected me from a sense of creativity and deteriorated my appreciation for the artwork of others.

Tarkovsky-Polaroid-14-550x550 tarkovsky_polaroid-17-550x550 Tarkovsky-Polaroid-3-Lake-550x550

 

(If you are interested in seeing more of Tarkovsky’s Polaroids, this website has a good selection: http://www.gwarlingo.com/2013/the-polaroids-of-andrei-tarkovsky-the-mystery-of-everyday-life/)

The Cybernetic Era of Nature

In A History of Nature, Mick Gold hypothesizes on a new construct of nature: “The new industrial revolution is electronic rather than mechanical, and is concerned with encoding information and simulating aspects of the human nervous system…Today could be characterized as the cybernetic era a nature – nature as bits of information”. During my vacation from networked devices and digital technologies, I found absolute joy in the various analog technologies I utilized, especially the Polaroid camera and the 16mm projector. Additionally, a resurgence of many analog technologies seems to be taking place – including both vinyl and film. If we are truly living in the cybernetic era of nature, could analog technologies be seen as a new vision of romanticism – an escape from cybernetic nature and a return to the physical world?

We Used to Wait for It

Early on in the semester Arcade Fire’s We Used to Wait was referenced in class. When I got home from campus, I immediately looked up the song and listened to it several times. As I went through my analog day, I kept thinking back on Arcade Fire’s lyrics. Everything I did that day required me to slow down: waiting to meet Nick with no way to contact him; taking Polaroid pictures and waiting for them to slowly develop (there is a certain irony in this as Polaroids were once the only form of instantaneous photography); threading each individual reel of The Quiet Man before they could be projected. With this I was struck by the fact that digital technologies are in large part responsible for the era of instant gratification that we live. And one line from the song rang particularly true: “Now our lives are changing fast. I hope that something pure can last.”

The Pervasiveness of Cyberspace

As I went through the day using only analog technologies, I found that I had a heightened awareness of the digital technologies surrounding me. At the jewelry store where I repaired my watch, TVs displayed the news. Everyone at Highland Park was taking picture. Victoire blasted music throughout the bar. People I was with spent time on their phones and occasionally tried to show me pictures. Even when I consciously tried to avoid digital technologies, it sometimes felt like I was in the world of White Noise, inundated by media. I wondered if, in this day and age, it is possible to entirely jack out of cyberspace.

Conclusion

Analog DayNetworked devices and social media certainly have their advantages; they provide access to an abundance of information and enable communication with distant friends and relatives. I used to tell myself that I had ridded my Facebook of the duck lips, memes, spam, and other shenanigans typically associated with social media; that I had curated a Facebook page that truly reflected my interests. But despite this claim, I still found myself scrolling past ten uninteresting posts to find one of mild interest. Much of the time I’m on my iPhone is spent on a quest that borders on OCD to clear notification. Emails from mailing lists I ended up on. Notification from Facebook pages I only half-heartedly follow. Birthdays of people I barely know outside of social media. If I didn’t have the phone, or the various applications, I would not receive the notifications and my life would not be any less enriched for it. But since I have the phone and the applications, the notifications must be viewed and removed. In this way, McLuhan’s maxim is demonstrated; the medium truly is the message. After recognizing this in myself, I really wanted to cut back on the amount of time I spend on social media. The day after my analog day, I did turn my phone back on to see if I’d missed any important messages (I hadn’t), but I continued to use it much less than I usually would. Yet as time went on, I found that my phone still had a strange allure – whether it be habitual or combatting boredom or interfacing the world around me – at times my own Z reared his ugly head and his craving for social media.