The transformation of play and sex in cyberspace

Elena Bertozzi’s academic research submitted in 2003 for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy belongs to the class of the most enjoyable dissertations you could read, if you ever read one. Bertozzi, currently an associate professor of game design and development at Quinnipiac University, published it in 2012 under the title: “The Clitoris and the Joystick: Play, Pleasure, and Power in Cyberspace.” It’s also available below as a free ebook – republished here with her permission.

The book discusses the increasing relevance of play – the digital kind – in our society, especially that women, more than ever, compete in online games. We might believe that the organic body, with its natural restrictions (gender-imposed or otherwise) becomes irrelevant in a cyberculture fundamentally based on binary digits, however Bertozzi’s findings prove that the reality couldn’t be more different. She shows how fixed gender roles of game players continue to persist, if not fortified, in cyberspace. Furthermore, her book puts on display the contemporary culture’s view of women through the common virtual representation of the female body. Then she elaborates on why, despite the opportunities provided by technology, such representation of women thus far has been detrimental to their identity.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

First, a simple description defining play:

Play cannot be easy. It has little value (is no fun!) if it is easy. The point of play is that it is a struggle, but a struggle that can be won….Play is like orgasm in the sense that it involves a certain kind of repeated activity which causes tension to build and build and is then released. The player doesn’t want the release to come too quickly because the building of the tension is in and of itself the pleasure of the game.

But identifying play is not always straightforward:

We live in the Information Age where goods have been replaced by information. When a ‘worker’ is producing information, rather than goods, the process no longer feels like “work” because there is no end product. The worker’s relationship to the process of working shifts as easily as the s/he can switch between a spreadsheet window and a solitaire program on the computer desktop.

In pre-digital paradigms, an adult was someone who produced. The passage from childhood to adulthood was marked by leaving behind the world of play and embarking on a life centered on work. All of these distinctions are slipping. If an adult in our culture is not reproducing and his/her work does not result in the creation of products, then there starts to be a lack of distinction between work and play. If both work and play involve sitting at a computer moving information from one place to the other, then the only distinction between the two activities is that one is leasurable and the other is not. Appropriately, this blurring of boundaries appears within the games themselves. There are numerous “God Games” on the market which require the player to manage resources and guide the fates of the subjects which live or die according to the whims of the player (yes, this sounds a lot like work). Other games, such as the SIMS games require the player to design an avatar and construct a “life” which includes all of the mundane and ordinary responsibilities of the organic self, but in a digital matrix.

Likewise, the line between play and sex has become blurred:

If the function of sex is seen as more pleasure-seeking than reproductive, sex moves closer to play than to work.


The author highlights the androcentric bias, that has long existed in porn, in the digital game industry:

The designers and developers of most digital games are male as a visit to either E3 (the international business conference for the interactive entertainment industry) or the Computer Game Developers Conference makes evident. Although almost as many women as men play games on computers, women tend to play digital versions of analog games such as card, board and trivia games. The market for complex games such as first person shooters (Doom), Role Playing Games (Final Fantasy), action/adventure games (Deus X) and sports games is still largely male.

Historically, the interface/controller for many digital games was a “Joystick.” A joystick is an erect plastic object which is thrust in different directions, closely gripped and milked, and ultimately fired, each burst of gunfire or launching of projectiles simulating the ejaculatory act. What a name! What a way to symbolically designate the element of power and control involved in the act of playing these games! It is no wonder that men and boys spend hours with this technology. Joysticks are less common now because console games require more buttons and meansof interacting with the game.

Male-centric pornography distorts men’s expectations of real-life sexual pleasures:

[Males] are the dominant gender in cyberworlds and thus cyberworlds have been constructed to satisfy their fantasies. Males can lose themselves in cyberworlds because they feel perfectly comfortable there. They know the rules, because they made them. The Augusta Golf Club explicitly forbids women from joining the club, but there are other ways of enforcing the “Girls Keep Out” rule.

Currently there is an enormous range of sexual content available that appeals primarily to males. These sites do not house “real” women, but simulacra of women. These simulacra are eternally available, eternally penetrable, eternally willing to gratify every male need and have no needs of their own. If men choose to play with these simulacra, it is not necessarily a bad thing. In the age of AIDS and other sexually associated dangers, the cold clean world of digital sex has its benefits.

However this creation of male masturbatory fantasy cyberworlds is not without risks for males as well. If a man habituates himself to sexual pleasure through a digital interface (one hand on the keyboard and the other on his own analog joystick) what happens to his ability to engage in sex with a human partner? Just as the microwave eliminated the taste for and appreciation of unprocessed food for millions of Americans, digitally interfaced sex could create a whole class of Americans for whom sex IS electronically mediated pleasure.


What does online pornography mean for the digital female?

Some state that web pornography empowers women because it gives women control over the commercialization of the female body and because women can control the point of sale. These arguments may be true, but they are not grounds for optimism. If women are creating pornography, they are generally not creating it for other women.

The economic motor that powers the porn industry is making money by objectifying women, not empowering them….Examples of the trivialization and reduction of the female in cyberspace abound. Naked News (, for example, is a web site at which very professional looking women read the real news on any given day. These are women who aspire to serious journalism and desire careers as newscasters. On this particular site, however, as the women read the news they remove all of their clothes. It is almost a surreal experience to watch women reporting on the deaths of real people, recounting real events while they perform a striptease. This is an incredibly effective way of communicating the message that no matter how intelligent, professional and capable women can be, they are still just meat and what REALLY matters is what they look like without their clothes on. Thus the point of the site is not just to see women stripping, but to watch women publicly humiliate themselves and their sex for money.

Technological reconstruction of the female selfhood:

The role of woman as reproducer of the species is affected by the increased technologization of the reproductive process as well as by an overall decline in the inclination of citizens in highly technological societies to reproduce at all. The process of having a baby in the industrial world now entails a daunting series of tests and procedures. In vitro fertilization, artificial insemination and other technological interventions into the birth process reduce the mystique or “miracle” of birth to a process which currently only requires an organic female body because complete technological replacement of the reproductive process hasn’t been developed yet. Films like The Matrix and many others foresee a future in which babies grow in pods and are hatched like eggs.

Given that much of the construction of female selfhood is related to the female potential for reproduction (whether actually realized in the act of reproducing or not) it is interesting to examine “female” role models after this aspect is removed.

What then remains for women, if the role of the mother is not represented?…It is interesting to conjecture on the appeal of digitally represented sexuality in contrast to sexual behavior between organic bodies. The appeal of the hyperreal at the expense of organic experience is an issue that begs for quantitative measurement. We know that males use online pornography extensively, but we don’t know how this affects their sexual behavior offline. Digital sex is easily controlled, clean and eternally accessible.

Does extensive experience with the pleasures of hypersex make it less likely for males to seek out organic sexual partners? Certainly the publicity surrounding the marketing of the Real Dolls™ suggests that the hyperreal is so appealing that some are compelled to make the hyperreal real by creating organic embodiments of the digital
female fetish object.

But the hypperreal creates the illusion that the digitally perfect versions of “human” existence on the screen can cross over into the organic body. It is now “normal” for perfectly healthy teenage and young adult women to undergo plastic surgery to attain the perfectly round, gravity defying breasts that characterize digital beauties.
Advertisements advocating the injection of the toxic compound Botox™ into women’s faces began to appear in women’s magazines following approval by the FDA in November of 2002. The desire for a line-free, characterless, expressionless face (Botox™ works by paralyzing the muscles of the face) to match those of digitally generated models justifies actual poisoning of the body. This disregard for the “fleshy envelope” extends beyond females.

Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball provides the player with a fantasy island of perfectly formed women (animated, interactive Real Dolls™). The player’s role in the game is primarily to watch: watch the girls jump in their tiny bikinis, watch them roll in the sand, watch them move rhythmically up and down on their bicycle seats. The camera’s eye prefers to linger on the breasts and buttocks of the girls as they move through the gameworld. It is clearly a game to be played with one hand while the other is on the player’s own personal joystick. This game creates a male function is to move among and manipulate the female avatars in order to maximize his own pleasure. BMX XXX (released fall 2002) is interactive soft porn. The alleged purpose of the game (bike racing) is just a flimsy premise to allow the player access to the cut scenes of actual strippers and interactive lap dancing. Female embodiment in
this game is reduced entirely to a fetish sex object symbolically penetrated by objects including: hot dogs, poles holding bicycle seats and the boot of the pimp.

Women are not in charge of their own representations and are thus even more successfully objectified than in traditional media. As a male-dominated playworld, cyberspace has become a place where the depiction of the “female” is largely as that of an object which exists purely to be “fucked.”

Through this kind of sexual behaviour/play males can be trapped in a loop wherein the needs of the self are the only needs that matter. The dark side of interactivity is that it allows the user to create the maximally selfish environment from which there is no escape. Once you have habituated yourself to sexual situations in which the
“partner” exists purely to please you and the pleasee has no obligation/desire/ability to please in return, then the pleasee becomes incapable of sex with an (unpredictable) human being.

Bertozzi warns:

Technologically mediated play (and sex), rather than being phenomenon that bring people together, can progressively isolate players into masturbatory fantasies fueled by commodities which must be paid for.

The Gestell [German term for “what lies beneath technology”] seeks to dis-empower players through the construction of rigid gender roles which separate the female and the male into binary self-destructive/ other-destructive existences. Resistance, destruction and creation are enabled by the very technology that is enslaving.

Click here to download the full book “The Clitoris and the Joystick: Play, Pleasure, and Power in Cyberspace (free, in PDF).

Let’s be honest: 5 reasons why you miss print books

1. You don’t enjoy a similar sense of achievement after you finish reading a “huge” ebook

On your favorite gadget, after you read the last sentence in a 2,000-plus-page book, like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, you conclude your digital reading experience with, well, a swipe of the finger. Now, compare that to the self-congratulatory satisfaction you feel as you smack the bulky book shut, and hug it close to your chest with joy.

Marilyn Monroe reading the last page of Ulysses

2. You can’t show off an ebook collection

Traditional books have long been status symbols. In the mid-1700s, the mere ownership of a book was a sign that you’re wealthy and educated. With an increase in production and affordability, a higher social status became associated with the possession of a home library with a large book collection, or the ownership of expensive volumes, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica. The 19th-century British politician and bookwork William Ewart Gladstone most probably wouldn’t have found a Kindle to be a good place to store his proud possession of 32,000-book collection. Next time your fingers are smudging up your touch screen flipping the virtual pages of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, you’ll yearn for the day when its physical counterpart poked out of your bag to be met with looks of admiration from your friends. You’ll yearn for the day when you had guests in your living room inquiring about one of the”smart” books that you kept on an eye-level bookshelf. But you weren’t necessarily using Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Derrida’s Of Grammatology to show off. They all once served as conversation starters.

3. You can’t smell an old ebook

After a particularly long day at work, you go home and walk straight towards your secret stash to grab one. So secret, you never share it with even your closest friends. You hold it in admiration and wonder what really draws you to it. Is it the powerful “trip” that expands your consciousness? Or a much-needed escape from reality? You know the answer and it’s both. You hurriedly throw yourself on the couch, crack it open and bury your nose in it to take a long, deep breath. You wouldn’t want to be seen doing this in public. Some people say the smell is obnoxious, but they’ll never understand bibliophiles like you. Now you’re about to embark on a trip “On the Road” with Jack Kerouac.

4. You can’t associate a sentimental value with an ebook

Regardless of their content, print books, being tangible objects, evoke feelings. That could range from love and nostalgia to bitterness and anger. For example, in the final scene of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, the imprisoned murderer has a copy of the New Testament under his pillow. It was given to him by his beloved Sonya. “Till now he had not opened it.” Although he rejects religion, when he holds the book, it reminds him of his strong love bond with her. For a contrasting example, in a song full of harsh words, Bob Dylan acrimoniously tells his ex-lover, whose mouth blows “idiot wind” every time she speaks: I can’t even touch the books you’ve read.

5. You can’t burn an ebook

Hopefully you’re not a book burner but those who are, as long as they’re not destroying irreplaceable works, achieve little. It has long been known that it’s difficult to completely censor anything, in the real world or cyberspace. In fact modern-day book burners unintentionally do more good than harm. Watching that public ritual of flames reducing books to ashes has the shocking effect of reminding us that our freedom to read and write must be continually fought for. Banning, censoring or even shredding books don’t have the same effect. Moreover, literary bonfires are opportunities to see learn about your adversary, who might be a group of angry racists, religious fundamentalists, government officials or self-appointed guardians of morality. Because it’s a hate-filled campaign to intimidate, their cause is already weakened by the time they’re publicly identified. Also, if it weren’t for book-burning, how else we would’ve known about great literature like The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, or The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie?!

Tarantino to Boko Haram: Get on Facebook for Rebranding


Dear Boko Haram,

You have the most ridiculous name of a terrorist organization in the world. Although it’s your unofficial name, your official one is not much better either: The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad. You’ve been known in the media by Boko Haram for more than a decade, which means, at least in the mind of most of news readers, “Western Education is Forbidden.” Not only are the two words from different languages, Hausa and Arabic, also no one knows the exact meaning of the first. You probably meant by the Hausa word “Boko” all things Western culture.

You could use some education to learn how to find on the Internet better potential names. With some research, you’d learn that when you’re starting a terrorist organization, you should opt for a name that makes people shudder at its mention. It should also make a clear statement of how armed, dangerous and explosive you are, like Irish National Liberation Army, Red Hand Commando or Islamic Jihad (Arabic for “holy war”). There isn’t a shortage in good examples that boldly claim that violence and mayhem is the modus operandi: Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

You might prefer an even more belligerent name that shows that your followers are ready-to-blow-themselves-up brave like al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Additionally, some groups prefer animals in their names (make sure it’s a ferocious one!) like Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (well, at least they’re not “doves”). Compare your “Boko Harm” to others with grand claims of heavenly support like Hezbollah, meaning “Party of God,” and Jundallah, “Soldiers of God.”

Is your “heroic struggle” really against just education or culture from the West? I sometimes wonder why would a deadly and ruthless group of Nigerian extremists be content with that label? It lacks any powerful words like movement, army, forces, defenders or brotherhood. With such a soft, wimpy name, you’d think your target is schoolgirls. Oh, wait, actually you’ve been doing a lot of that recently.

If you’re still out of ideas, learn to use Facebook and you’re guaranteed to find many radicals and supporters around the world willing to collaborate on your rebranding efforts. Just don’t sign up using the name Faceboko Haram, you won’t be taken seriously. Finally, you could contact me and you won’t regret it. I’m a well-known film director and in my movie Kill Bill, I coined the name “The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.” Although it’s slightly long, it checks all the boxes for a great name.

By the way, don’t seek help from your fellow jihadists at “Al-Qaeda” (it means “the base”!). With a name like that, they need help themselves.

With love,
Quentin Tarantino


Note: The above letter is fictional, but the facts in it are not.

Turning numbers & mathematical symbols into digital art

An Interview with Louis J. Boston II (Boston Math Designs)
By Cyberculture Gallery 

Louis J. Boston II of Pittsburgh, PA, converts Pi, binary codes, prime numbers and other mathematical concepts into illustrated works of digital art. Math, science and technology inspire him, as well as the daily bell chimes of a castle near his suburban house.

The Art of Pi

The Art of Pi – Every 10th Decimal

1. Why did you choose digital technology as your medium?

For my occupation in telecommunications, I had already been using MS Office programs for about 20 years. Tie this in with my finding internet sites concerning mathematical anomalies, while doing unrelated internet searches, and I quite literally started to put 1+1+1 together to create digital artwork.

What’s really ironic to me is that I am not even really able to draw two stick figures by hand. However, common office software tools (MS Office programs, MS Paint) and other digital art software programs such as GIMP have all allowed me to become a visual artist.

2. Why does your art focus on mathematical concepts? Do you create art depicting other ideas?

Around June 2013, out of boredom, I was fooling around with a consecutive set of number anomalies that I had bumped into while doing an internet search. After doing a bit of number stacking onto a MS Word document, I noticed that the stacked number anomalies ended up forming a kind of pyramidal structure. To guide all of the numbers into a set order, I switched to using an Excel spreadsheet. At that point the pyramid shape (of stacked numbers) gradually started to transmute into a Taj Mahal-type of visual structure. To further help the differentiation between the number sets, I started using different colors to visually separate them. The end result was the creation of my first artwork piece: “Taj Majal”.

Taj Majal

Taj Majal 

By profession, I am not a mathematician. While most of my art is usually math related, I also work on abstract artwork that is based on geometrical shapes & figures. Additionally, I do like fiddling with science and tech-related concepts as well: (Example: Wall of Water).

Wall of Water - H20 Molecular Structure

Wall of Water – H20 Molecular Structure

3. What motivates you to turn mathematical concepts like Pi, infinity and binary numbers to digital art?

Soon after creating Taj Majal, something in my mind clicked, and my imagination opened up to an entire universe of visual possibilities. Upon searching the Internet for other mathematical topics of interest, I came across Pi, followed by Prime Numbers, infinity symbols, Euclidean and Pythagorean geometry, binary codes, and on, and on, and upward. My list of mathematical topics still continues to expand.

My first mathematical topic of choice was to work on Pi, and this led me to focus on Pi as both a dual symbol, and as a never-ending line of numbers. The end result became my first digital art series, The Art of Pi, and was soon followed by my creating additional digital art series: Prime Numbers As Invisible, Infinity Concepts, and Shifting Vectors.

I also decided to try experimenting with circular shapes, and the final result became my digital artwork, Through The Door Is The Infinite Pyramid.

Reset Of The Infinite Hourglass

Reset Of The Infinite Hourglass 

4. Is there a common thread among all the mathematical concepts you choose to represent in your art?

Infinity seems to be a common thread that becomes illustrated in my artwork, whether as an ongoing line of numbers, number anomalies, circular loops, or any mathematically expressed standard that ties into the infinite. Hence, Pi, Prime Numbers and geometrical shapes have all been featured in my artwork series.

5. What inspires you and what is your creative process like?

Although living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (home to engineers, robotics, and the like) is quite inspiring, one of my favorite inspirational inventors is Nikola Tesla. The Westinghouse Corporate Castle (Wilmerding, Pennsylvania) is where Tesla first worked, for about a year, and also where Tesla engineered some of his first patents for the wide scale use of AC power. The castle happens to be straight down the hill from my house. When I am home, on any given hour I can hear its bell chimes ring. Considering Tesla’s influence on the world, I find hearing the bell chimes from the castle to be quite inspiring.

My creative process always starts off with the aim to illustrate a math, science or technology-related topic, and then selecting a software program to visually “sketch it out.” When using such programs as Word, Excel, MS Paint, GIMP, etc., I usually end up jumping around from one software program to another to create the full digital art rendering. In the end, I usually stick with something like GIMP for the final artwork creation.

When it comes to my having a favorite artist inspiration, I could just as easily be influenced by LITE-BRITE, © 2014 Hasbro, as I could by such artists as M.C. Escher, Vincent Van Gogh or Salvador Dalí, who are among some of my favorite artists.

6. Your digital art is available for sale as prints on physical products, does that run in contrast to the philosophy of a digital artist?

Personally, I refuse to adhere to such philosophical credo. For me this would be like saying that, yes, I will sing gospel music to praise the Lord, but I won’t record it for re-sale. It’s not that there is anything wrong with anyone wanting to only sing gospel music and not sell it; it’s just that I refuse to let my artistic expressions be limited to using only one type of medium.

Further, you should also consider that Giclée (fine art printing via inkjet printers) can make digital reproductions of original two-dimensional artwork, photographs, or computer-generated art. Giclée has now become one of the norms for illustrating fine art works. So now the resulting irony
is that even fine art works can be converted into digital art formats (and printed for sale).

Consider this as well: As an original art source, analog music recordings can be converted into various digital media, (CD’s DVD’s, online downloads via, MP3, MP4, WAV files, etc.). As an original art source, digital art can also be converted into various media for additional artistic expression. My own additional media choices for digital art include: 3D Acrylic laser etchings, paper matte posters, acrylic media posters, glass, ceramic tiles, computer sleeves, cell phones cases, t-shirts, billboards, coffee cup mugs, watches, clocks, apps, and so on.

Trinus Pi Orbus

Trinus Pi Orbus 

7. Congratulations on being among the finalists for Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Data 2014, under the category of Art + Technology. Why do you believe your “Art of Pi” made it to the finals?

Thank you! It has been a very dubious honor to have been selected as a finalist by the Pittsburgh Technology Council. To make this honor even greater, today I also found out that my commemorative poster design (for the Data 2014 event) has been selected as one of the commemorative posters for their art display.

With regard to why my digital art series, The Art of Pi, made it to the Data 2014 finals, a few local gallery owners and art event directors (in the Pittsburgh metro area) have told me that my artwork is the perfect blending between art, science, math and technology.

All images copyright ©2013-2014 Louis J. Boston II. All rights reserved. Copying and/or distributing these images without permission is strictly prohibited.


As of May 1, 2014, Trinus Pi Orbis has been featured on the American Mathematical Society website.

Click here to vote his artwork (Boston Math Designs – The Art of Pi)  for the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Data 2014 event under the category of Art + Technology.

You can view more of Louis’ artwork at Fine Art America or purchase his products at Zazzle.


Five Trends Reveal How Print Media Is Evolving in the Digital Age

This article was initially published in The Writers’ College Times

“Is there a future for newspapers?” “Can the magazine industry survive?” “Is print journalism dead?” For two decades, these headlines have been popping up in the news. It’s true that, with the ongoing digital tsunami, many newspapers and magazines will continue to decline in circulation and some have had to shut down, but predicting their total demise is an exaggeration that ignores many factors: the different markets they cater to, the demands of their target audiences, and, most importantly, how they adapt to new technologies. Here are the top five trends that prove that print media is capable of successfully evolving.

Image via

1. Graphic design: You almost forget it’s not a web page

From its inception, web design tried to duplicate the experience of reading printed paper, which is evident in words like “web page,” “browsing” and “bookmarks.” Web design matured over the years and became an art form in its own right. Today, graphic designers and illustrators in the print industry are aware that the majority of readers spend much of their time immersed in things digital. So recently, in an ironic twist, their work has been drawing inspiration from the web.This is aimed at making the transition between screens and tangible papers less jarring, which could help sustain the appeal of print. Examples range from subtle visual clues, like popular web colours and fonts, to the hard-to-miss infographics and tag clouds.

Infographics Graphic Design Magazine Web Page Design
Idealog (September-October, 2012, p. 13)           M2 (November, 2012, p. 31)

2. QR codes: A bridge between offline and online media

Why bother with typing a long website address on your smartphone’s tiny keyboard? Now you can simply open an app and point the camera towards the aptly named Quick Response (QR) code to scan it, which in turn loads that particular landing page. The code scanner apps, available for free, also carry out other actions, for example, viewing a Google Maps location, calling a phone number or sending an email.

QR Code Print PagesQR Codes Magazine
NZ Herald (October 29, 2012)                                     AA Directions (Summer 2012, p. 8)

3. Augmented reality: Animation floating up from print pages

Jay Wright, a business development director for a global leader in mobile technology, describes augmented reality (AR) as follows: “It’s the real world—only better.” AR provides a digitally enhanced view of a physical object by overlaying information on a smartphone screen or a head-up display (such as Google Glass). A static image on a page could instantly turn into a video; an illustration could morph into a three-dimensional model. Unlike QR codes, AR is still nascent but there are signs it won’t be a novelty for long.

Augmented Reality MagazineAR Augmented Reality Print
TopGear (April, 2013, p. 10 & 100)

4. Social media: Beyond a “traditional” website

Once upon a time, a publication having a companion website meant the publisher is trendy and in possession of a solid online strategy. But with the changing digital landscape, nowadays subscribers would be dismayed not to find their favourite publication on social networks. They want to become its Facebook fan, follow its Twitter account, and share its images on Pinterest or Flickr. Erik Qualman, American author and expert on this topic advises, “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.”

Social Media Magazine
Reader’s Digest (December, 2013, p. 18 & 19)

Magazine Social Buttons
New Zealand Geographic (January-February, 2014, p. 8)

5. Back issues: The once-overlooked gold mine of content

With subscription, many publications currently offer, as an added bonus, access to all their back issue archives. Subscribers can browse, search, and sometimes order, any previous issue from years or even decades earlier.

Previous Back Issue Archives
New Zealand Geographic (January-February, 2014, p. 109)

Considering these ways that the print format is evolving, the two camps of journalism, online and print, shouldn’t be seen as rivals. After all, with help of future technology, they might one day merge and transform into a third format that we’re yet to see.



Recent phenomenon? Online dating circa 1899

If you heard a story about someone who never met his girlfriend but eagerly “connects” with her every day and hopes to meet her one day in real life, you might think it’s one of those typical relationships that form on the Internet. You wouldn’t think that it could be an 1899 ragtime song (“Hello! Ma Baby”), which was also the first to mention the then-recent invention of the telephone.

“Hello! Ma Baby” (song and lyrics below) is a reminder that, in many ways, the world, after more than a hundred years, hasn’t changed that much, even in the realm of technologically-facilitated relationships. After all, online relationships still mainly rely on the telephone network, like everything else you access on the Internet.

Today, you don’t have to wait for a telephone exchange (“Central”) to connect, however those manually-operated switches were probably more efficient than our ISPs – at least you talk to humans (“switchboard operators”). Not only that, but also with those locally-known operators, you occasionally would’ve been able to have a talk about your latest “online” fling.


Hello! Ma Baby
Lyrics and Music by Ida Emerson and Joseph E. Howard (1899)

I’ve got a little baby, but she’s out of sight,
I talk to her across the telephone;
I’ve never seen ma honey, but she’s mine, all right;
So take my tip, and leave this gal alone!
Ev’ry single morning, you will hear me yell,
“Hey Central ! fix me up along the line.”
He connects me with ma honey
Then I ring the bell,
And this is what I say to Baby Mine:

“Hello ! ma Baby,
Hello ! ma honey,
Hello ! ma ragtime gal,
Send me a kiss by wire,
Baby, my heart’s on fire!
If you refuse me,
Honey, you’ll lose me,
Then you’ll be left alone;
Oh baby, telephone
And tell me I’m your own,
Hello! hello! hello there!”
(repeat chorus)

This morning, through the phone,
She said her name was Bess.
And now I kind of know where I am at;
I’m satisfied because I’ve got my babe’s address,
Here, pasted in the lining of my hat.
I am mighty scared,
‘Cause if the wires get crossed,
‘Twill separate me from ma baby mine,
Then some other guy will win her,
And my game is lost,
And so each day I shout along the line:

“Hello! ma Baby,
Hello! ma honey,
Hello! ma ragtime gal,
Send me a kiss by wire,
Baby, my heart’s on fire!
If you refuse me,
Honey, you’ll lose me,
Then you’ll be left alone;
Oh baby, telephone
And tell me I’m your own,
Hello! hello! hello there! “

Galileo, Goethe and Google Glass

Find any book on the history of science and as you browse chapters narrating scientific progress in the 17th century, you’ll learn that Galileo, in 1609, was the first person to point a telescope at the heavens, enabling him to prove beyond any doubt that the Sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the Solar System. You’ll also learn that the telescope was one of the earliest inventions to result in the revolutionising of science, a process that would forever change the human perspective on the Universe. But you most probably will not find mention of the views of those who strongly opposed the use ofsuch instrument. Naked-eye astronomers, whose ancient method of star gazing was fast becoming obsolete with the advent of telescopes, were not the only ones who were troubled. Galileo’s discoveries brought the telescope, and for that matter, scientific instruments in general, to the centre of a philosophical debate around the relationship between humans and nature.

Art by Ben Goossens

First, philosophers worried that recently invented optical instruments, like telescopes and microscopes, separate us from nature: while they enable us to see more, they deprive us of a natural sensory experience, intervening between us and the physical object. Second, they argued that viewing the world through an instrument means focusing on but a tiny segment of it, which magnifies the insignificant, erases context, and possibly leads to a distorted understanding of the cosmos. Among the most prominent philosophers who decried the use of such instruments was the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), best known for his tragic play Faust. He distrusted all optical tools: “Microscopes and telescopes really only serve to confuse the unaided human senses.” He believed that the natural world is distorted when viewed through microscopes, field-glasses (binoculars) or telescopes. The only apparatus he trusted was the human eye.

You might wonder: was this an overreaction by a few individuals who were simply unfamiliar with the new technology? Or did they foresee technological development leading humans into a disturbing and unpredictable future? It’s impossible to know what they foresaw, but optical instruments turned out to be just the beginning. With each new machine, gadget or widget, another barrier was raised between humans from the natural world. Not only were the warnings of the likes of Goethe legitimate, they’re also more relevant today than ever. Ironically, these thinkers were mistaken to assume that humans would always try to refrain from detachment from the natural world. That “natural world” is what we define in contemporary language as “reality.” Ordinary experience of the natural world, or reality, no longer seems to fulfil our needs. We use technology today to create a “virtual reality,” or to enhance reality into an “augmented reality.” We’re even occasionally subjected to “hyperreality,” where we can’t tell the difference anymore.

Virtual reality refers to 3-D immersive environments for purposes such as flight training, battlefield training, surgery practice, and gaming (e.g. World of Warcraft). A virtual world is inhabited by avatars manipulated by real-world users (e.g. Second Life). This type of simulation can take you on a virtual field trip to another country or even a different century, where you can enact events outside the boundaries of real time.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, refers to a digitally enhanced view of the physical environment. It fuses the virtual and the real together. Reality is extended (augmented) by, for instance, overlaying information on your smartphone screen as you view an object through the phone’s camera. Another example is when you point your smartphone towards a historical building and the screen displays information related to that building, such as old photographs of it or tips for a self-guided walking tour. Similarly,the head-mounted Google Glass provides an augmented experience to the wearer by providing them with a constant stream of real-time information as they go about their day.

Unlike virtual and augmented realities, hyperreality is not easy to define. It refers to a condition prevalent in postmodern society where one is unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy. Technology plays a critical role in creating the illusion ofhyperreal places such as the themed hotels and casinos of Las Vegas, and theme parks like Disneyland. These places rival the real life outside, so much so that their constructed realities become more desirable or addictive to many people. The artificial beauty of the indoor lake in West Edmonton Mall is designed to surpass a natural one. Italian philosopher Umberto Eco elaborates: “Disneyland tells us that technology can give us more reality than nature can.” Hyperreality goes beyond such environments, extending into everyday mundane objects. Plastic Christmas trees, for instance, are preferred by the majority of Americans over the real ones. Young men who watch long hours of pornography tend to believe that it’s an accurate portrayal of real-life sex. Some even grow to favour pornography because “the real thing” is not as exciting as what they see on the screen.

Today, we deconstruct the “natural world” of the 17th and 18th century debates into space, time and matter (or matter’s equivalent in energy). This trinity makes up the very fabric of our physical reality. The different words carry the same meaning (i.e. the Universe), but our attitude towards it has changed. Today, we see space, time and matter as limitations to be challenged, and to that end, we don’t mind technological tools intervening between us and the natural world. Heck, we don’t even mind, if it serves our purposes, replacing the experience of the real world with a virtual one. That’s where cyberspace offers endless opportunities. In the words of a Harvard Business Review blogger, “[t]he most obvious opportunities involve shifting from the reality of time, space, and matter to the virtuality of no-time, no-space, and no-matter, including playing computer games, exploring virtual worlds, probing real-world simulations, connecting via social media, or even just surfing the World Wide Web.”  Virtual reality is not limited to 3-D environments. The Internet as a whole, with its online communities, social networks and chatrooms is another form of virtual reality. It annihilates space and time limitations to information access and telecommunications. It allows people to work and play any time, and from any place. Digital books and digital music are examples of how cyberspace provides an alternative to the physical world. 3-D printers promise a future where we can reimagine matter and customize it to our own personal whims.

To observe the skies, we no longer need the telescope. We no longer even need the actual sky. Instead, we have cyberspace and software tools like Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope and Google Sky (part of Google Earth). Through cyberspace, we transcend the natural world and overcome its time and space constraints; we can view a simulation of the sky, real-time satellite imagery or even historical maps of the sky. We can find out how the sky looked when the Apollo 11 moon landing happened or what the sky will look like next Thursday night when we go stargazing. If Goethe, who once decried telescopes and microscopes, could be brought to life today, he certainly wouldn’t hesitate to reject, for the same reasons, cyberspace, Google Glass or Google Sky.

Three centuries ago, as optical instruments were proving critical to scientific progress, the philosophical opponents probably thought they’d lost their case. After all, Galileo’s telescope and his discoveries are widely known to us, but Goethe’s warnings have been relegated to the historical dustbin. We realise that our development as a species would be impossible without tools and technology, but the debate is far from being settled. Although we don’t categorically reject the use of new technology as Goethe and contemporaries once did, there’s no doubt we’ll continue debating their role in our increasingly detached and distorted view of the world.

To sleep, perchance to die

“Your friend will die,” said the native Congolese man in his best English translation of what the medicine man had just said. He delivered the news to Arthur and Joseph at the foot of the bed where Henry was lying asleep. Shock and horror overwhelmed them. It was 1887, and the three British friends were in the middle of Africa, far from civilization. The local medicine man was their last resort. Their friend had been deteriorating day after day, gradually losing all his strength and sleeping almost all the time. Arthur felt guilty and second-guessed the collective decision to reject their ancestors’’ traditional coming-of-age journey across Europe and instead take their “grand tour” in Africa. After exploring central Africa for six months, they settled in a cabin by the Congo River.

One serene day, Henry went for a walk in the bush. After some time, his friends heard loud knocking on the cabin door, and opened it to see him panting, carrying his shirt in his left hand. He had bite marks all over his shoulders, arms and back. “What happened to you?” Joseph asked. “I just saw it – the Tsetse fly. Remember the fly that was mentioned in Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines? I was attacked by a bunch of them. They were huge.” Henry paused for a moment, then continued anxiously, “According to Rider Haggard the fly is ‘fatal to all animals except donkeys and men.’ I hope I’ll be alright.” But the English writer was wrong. The sleeping sickness contracted from the fly would put him into a coma and eventually end his life.

Bloggers don’t have it easy: ‘surprised nobody has commented’

Dan R. wrote an intriguing post on the evolution of the web, from 1997 to 2013, titled “A Visual History Of The Web Told Through Webby Winners.” On April 2, 2013, it was was published on ReadWrite, one of the most popular technology blogs in the world. He knew it would arouse interest. It did. That must’ve been apparent from how it trended on social networks. He waited for feedback at the bottom of the page from the throngs of readers. But the expected barrage of comments never happened. He was fed up and a few days later commented on his own work, implicitly reprimanding his readers, saying: “Surprised nobody has commented. I was expecting, at least, a “oh man, the Web was soooo slow in 1997.”

Art by Sarolta Bán

His readers were not totally heartless. They sympathized with him and upvoted his comment a whopping three times (upvotes in a blog comment service are the equivalent of the iconic Facebook Thumbs-up). Nevertheless, nobody cared to leave a response. It would take two full months before someone wrote this four-worded overenthusiastic comment: “Geocities. I remember Geocities.”


Dan is not the only blogger to ever wonder why nobody responds to his posts. With hundreds of millions of blogs out there, there’ll always be countless webpages with empty comment sections at the bottom – forever waiting for some reaction or mere acknowledgement.

Carry on with your life. I won’t be offended if you don’t leave me a comment below.