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Canon Politics

 “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go”

That’s a chant from the 1980s. Student protests on California campuses (at Stanford, most famously) brought national attention to the problems of Euro-centric bias in the literary canon, precipitating radical shifts in curriculum design. I’ve been thinking about the historical significance of that moment for a number of reasons. There have various cultural, political and economic shifts since the 1980s, and yet some challenges remain similar to the ones those Stanford students faced.

Here I muse – and invite your thoughts — on cross-cultural shifts, historical shifts, and challenges of canon-formation as the sites of canon-struggles migrate beyond the literary arenas of the 1980s protests.

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Opening the black box in consumer culture

Consumer culture maintains an inculcated ignorance of manufacturing and an alienated discomfort with the products that populate our lives. Our conception of manufacturing lingers in a capitalist mythology of the industrial revolution. This vision is irreconcilable with the modes of production familiar to information and service workers. At a time when self-imposed ecological disaster and increasingly apparent social inequities demand a revolution in our relationship to “stuff,” we are left without the means to understand contemporary object-making. So, we turn to science-fiction and futurism—imagining utopias resulting from technological innovation—to envision new relationships to the material world. But do these images and rhetoric make up more than futurist utopian fantasies? Do they drive development of the future technologies and paradigms of production? I’m beginning to see it this way.

Furthermore, I’m finding that in researching tools for mass-customization, even Star Trek, hokey as it is, is a real touchpoint for tech developers. Here’s how some of them imagine the ideal person-product relationship. It appears on command, no materials-acquisition needed, as a result of a massive sub-servient computer. Hmm.