Administrative Note: The administration has decided that before using WildcatSync for data, students must attend a FERPA briefing as to the appropriate use of college data, privacy issues, and other concerns. There are two dates available to clear this hurdle: Thursday, 5 October during common hour in Wall 231 and 10 Oct during common hour at a place to be determined. Let’s talk more about this.
It is only when I type something in your language that you refer to me as having communication (Horst and Miller 2012, 103)
While we’ve already talked about how the digital and social media allows people to explore their own identity, and I’ve hinted as to how the digital is used to make new communities, we can see the social function of the digital clearly when we in looking at this through the lens of disability studies. Noted media anthropologist Faye Ginsburg concludes that “interactive digital technologies can provide unanticipated and powerful platforms that allow those with disabilities to communicate to a broad range of publics” (2012, 104). On the one hand, the digital allows communities to be formed by providing people with disabilities (estimated at 15% of the American population) the opportunity to connect with one another, when numbers, time, and space separate individuals into islands in the seas of the abled. Social media like Facebook (and in this case, YouTube) allow people who have difficulty sustaining face-to-face conversations find other ways to communicate. On the other hand, it also gives people who are not disabled a chance to communicate or gain insight into people who are not like themselves, as Amanda Baggs does in her 2007 video. Ginsburg refers to this as “counterdiscursive sites of representation for cultural actors who rarely have had opportunities to enter the public (or counterpublic) sphere (2012, 105).
One arena that provided connections for isolated people, at least in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, is Second Life, the platform that Ginsburg discusses where Amanda and others built their community. I’m attaching this trailer now because today Second Life is less of a cultural phenomenon than it was back then.
Second Life provides a more immediate experience for building community, where people can interact in settings that they choose and design; it even had its own currency, which encouraged people to make Second Life more welcoming and exciting (getting closer to the speculative worlds of cyberpunk); with the advent of virtual reality, Second Life may be coming back for a third life.
From ‘don’t stare’ to ‘look at me’: Visual Activism in the Digital
Ginsburg cites Garland-Thomson’s idea of visual activism to describe the impact of the digital on the disabled, where “people with disabilities are increasingly putting themselves in the public eye, saying ‘look at me’ instead of ‘don’t stare’ (2012, 107). This is precisely what Amanda Baggs did on YouTube, and what has impacted not only ‘new media’ but ‘old media’ as well, as in this 2008 Super Bowl Pepsi ad (in the pre-Jenner marketing years):
Ginsburg also refers to this as the mediation of disability to variety of publics, and goes even further in her discussion of ‘mediated kinship,’ and concludes that “these mediated spaces of public intimacy are crucial for building a social fund of knowledge more inclusive of the fact of disability” (2012, 109).
Ginsburg also notes that the digital (or Web 2.0, or whatever you want to call it) is not nirvana in that there are possibilities for new inequalities to emerge as a result of abilism. She begins to talk about this in terms of ‘accessible design.’ This has become an important field in the digital economy, and I bring this up to point out how inequality can be transferred from the social to the technological.