20 May 2012

Rossellini-Blackboard-Aesthetic-Agency

Italian neorealism engages me. 

I watched Rossellini's Rome Open City recently and afterwards a documentary about it. In it, Isabella Rossellini said of her father that he had learned from his father to be careful with the aesthetic.  “He [Rossellini] must have seen that in the regime. I think the Fascists as did the Nazis had a great aesthetic. The uniforms, the architecture, everything was so shiny and beautiful to look at and yet it became so dangerous. So I think he became quite leery of aesthetic.”

Blackboard's has an impoverished aesthetic and maybe that's a good thing. It doesn't try to seduce or distract you. It doesn't conceal a clandestine motive. On the other hand, it's not transparent. Like all technological systems, there's a lot going on behind the scenes, which then gets represented to the user via the interface. Blackboard is a manifestation of computations that represent things we're suppose to do with Blackboard. Digital technologies are about agency. It trumps the aesthetic.  

There's a politic in all this, because a small subset of people (young white guys usually) create the computations that prescribe our agency. There's a politic too in the assumed efficiencies created by a Blackboard-like technology. Both are informed by neoliberal ideology and its rhetoric of market-driven values and individual freedoms. Problem is, like Fascism, Neoliberalism advantages the privileged few, something that's quite evident even in the politically innocuous ramblings on the Web. The vast majority of voices dominating the space are white and male.

Am I the only one who notices that and think it's also dangerous?