That was a fascinating overview, Dr. R!
I'm intrigued by the mixture of de-humanizing as well as elevation of skill that goes into a Western "admiration" of technological advances / embodiments — even when spun positively as in, to grab a recent example, Big Hero 6. The embodiment aspect seems crucial to me as a source of anxiety and power. The friendly, caretaking, nanny-ishness and the setting of Sanfranyoko seem (and I've only seen trailers, so I may be very wrong) to speak to a concern about loss of distinct national identity as well as individual identity in megacities even as the quality of life and safety is improved. That, perhaps, our agency will be lost?
Does Iwabuchi's idea of cultural odor tie in productively to the techno-orientalist conversation, I wonder? The fragrance of a geisha + the odorlessness of a cyborg?
Your comments about labor practices and the treatment of Oriental workers as machine like reminded me of the movie I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay. Admittedly, a confection of movie with Rain, but some striking moments nonetheless.
Technoculture masking issues in society is something that I have been thinking about quite a bit myself and I think the point you make about turning to private companies to solve issues having an effect of furthering inequality is an interesting one. As someone who relies on public transportation quite a bit in a city that struggles to expand their network I have personal concerns tied to this. Public transit at it's core is a problem about networks. There need to be as many different interconnected lines going everywhere in a city for them to become useful. Here is Norfolk they have been trying to get a Light Rail system going but right now it only has one line that just runs back and forth. People have already begun to write the whole project off because they don't see it as useful for them instead of realizing that the way it becomes useful is to expand and allow it to go more places in the city.
All of this is just for me to say that if instead of expanding the public network we push people into using private tools like Uber and Lyft do we not just end up with a weak network that could have been something more useful? All those people that could have been connected are now let loose to figure things out for themselves and to hope that a car is available when they need one.
You said "adopting/adapting of another text is a new performance" and the new library cataloging standards (Resource Description & Access) are aligned with this notion of an original and then a remixing/reposting. For example, the work is Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, and all performances of it, whether parody, YouTube, translation, comic book, movie, book edition, website, etc. are all tied to the original expression, not treated as discrete records. The intent is to show derivation and reperformance, and also to show movement and transliteration of a work.
They haven't gone quite so far as thinking about the author as being different each time, but the fact that there are new editions published of original works, with new prefaces by the author is a way of getting at this concept.
If these automated responses mixed with faculty comments are rhetorical, what is the ethos of the procedural and algorithmic rhetoric? This comment suggests it’s in part an ethos of compliance, even servility, to the demands of policymakers and politicians. When students receive these email messages, what do they perceive the ethos of the rhetoric to be? And when policymakers and politicians receive reports on the effectiveness of such interventions, what will they perceive the ethos of the interventions to be? Will each group recognize the ethos of compliance? Will they perceive an ethos of care for student well-being?
I agree with your sentiments that AI cannot respond with warmth, compassion, or care, only a cheap semblance of it. However, I would argue that these responses are rhetorical. The system uses a procedural and algorithmic rhetoric that has a purpose, an audience, and a subject. Unfortunately, these are only tangentially related to the student in crisis. The student is the exigence that drives the rhetoric. The purpose is to prove the institution made attempts to assist the student, to justify other data points regarding retention and degree completion to the audience: policymakers, boards, politicians.
Interesting question! I never thought about the offering of the options to the faculty members as the initial post. I think I see that as more of the "action potential," the opportunity for a communication chain to begin, much like in neuroscience when the nerve impulse starts off cell to cell communication. To me, the canned statements in the software represent constraints to the procedural rhetoric that restrict user agency, and, I would argue, rhetorical effectiveness.
I agree with you that students know these are canned responses and that ultimately they undermine meaningful relationships. We are not to that point yet, since the system is new, and not very many students have received multiple messages so that they know they are repetitive. When I was in K-12, we implemented a system for comments on report cards. Again, there were canned options to choose from, and again, faculty were required to leave comments each quarter for students. It became a joke for the students: "Hey, John, which one did you get? Shows improvement?" and "Hey, Mrs. Brown, all I got was 'Works hard?' When will I get 'A joy to teach?'" It is a gross underestimation of students' rhetorical savviness to assume that they will believe these efforts are ingenuous on the part of the institution. But then, that isn't quite the point of the system is it? The activity generated is an end of itself. This posting/reposting gains credibility as it travels, as proof not of its authenticity or its value, but as an aggregation of data. These data aren't a measure of influence or interest, like a viral blog post, but instead a measure of rote, machine-driven actions attempting to masquerade as them.
I wish to re-perform my previous response. Peter Jackson called and excommunicated me from the Fellowship, and he even said I probably can’t visit New Zealand, either. But what interests me about the comment on curating re-performance is the embodiment of the performance. Because the performance occurs in different material conditions — whether a new post on Tumblr, a different institutional page on Facebook, a canned email message reposting authentic faculty comments — the material conditions join the curator/author/performer to create a different identity.
This post touches on the question of whether machines can act as rhetors.
Once a flag is raised, the automated system sends an email to the student – attributed to and ostensibly from the faculty member who raised the flag – without human intervention.
I attended a panel session earlier this week titled Robots Everywhere! Is It Good For Us? The panelists were scholars and artists researching and exploring ways that humans and robots can and will interact. One researcher, PhD student Heather Knight (a.k.a. Marilyn Monrobot) at The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon, is working to help robots learn human social behaviors and interact verbally and mechanically in humorous, socially-appropriate ways. Specifically, Knight is using comedy and acting to help robots learn social cues and program appropriate responses.
When her robot told a joke during the panel, we in the audience laughed. The robot was not able to respond to the audience with a related joke; such a response would require an understanding of the complex social situation and a way of acting appropriately. Knight is working to make such reactions a reality — she’s teaching the robot “charisma.” Until that learning occurs, however, surely we would do better to remove automated messaging that is intended to represent a warm, caring response — a response that neither complex robots nor simple machines is capable of providing — to a student in crisis. Beyond the issue of authorship is the obvious message students receive, as noted by Rodrigo above: I am important enough to warrant an automatically generated email message from my school.
That’s hardly meaningful intervention, nor is it rhetorical. It’s surely among the worst possible kinds of reblogging in use.
I love the idea of talking about early alert/retention programs as a form of reblogging. First, the fact that many of those systems even have formulaic input options as well (aka, a faculty can only "alert" based on pre-set options). Is that the initial post? Or is the system's offering of that option the initial post?
Second, the idea that these are used to help with retention when there is TONS of scholarship that discusses that it is a student's connections/relationships to the school and individuals at the school that help with retention. Our students know these are machine generated messages; these impersonal emails do not foster relationships or connections. At least many reblogged materials get the little 1-3 phrases/sentences of context of what/how/why the reblogger shared the content. That personalized touch shows the person behind/vetting the replication. And unless a faculty member does use that space to provide personalized feedback (which would still be funky w/in the context/tone of the machine generated email environment) the message will probably fail its purpose. And if I'm taking the time to write that contextualizing message, why not write the email myself (unless, of course, the institution requires the early alert process…a whole other issue).
Your response got me thinking about how we are both hinting at further ways to "complicate authorship" with the idea of reperforming/remixing/rebloging the self. If we agree that this adopting/adapting of another text is a new performance then the author would be slightly different each time, even if it is the same person.
Also, and I'm chuckling I get to say this, it's Sean Bean as Boromir. :-)