D. Fox Harrell & Phantasmal Media

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This week, I was very excited to visit Amherst College for the Five College Digital Humanities Speaker Series lecture by D. Fox Harrell. I had been disappointed that I was going to miss the lecture due to class, so being able to go made my day!

The Five College Digital Humanities Speaker Series has been a great experience over the past year, as an accessible way for scholars of all educational levels to be introduced to the theoretical aspects of digital humanities. I had a vague idea of what ‘Digital Selves in Phantasmal Media” was going to be about – social media, identity, video games, etc.

At first, I had difficulty distinguishing the difference between a phantasm and a meme (by its initial definition – not the fun graphics kind.) However, his explanation with the “ladies” sign cleared up my confusion – memes are the units of information/concepts of culture hat inform or behavior, while phantasms are the placement of the meme onto a visual image. Phantasms are sort of like the result of a real-life coding situation: the back-end is our cultural values and traditions, while the front-end is

Why are phantasms important to the digital world? Well, much of our identities (if not all of our identities) on the Internet or in other computational media are constructed through phantasmal means. Identity is a complex sociological concept in the physical world – think WEB DuBois’s concept of “double consciousness” – and so the same type of issue exponentionally develops when you try bring that to th internet. As we’ve discussed in class, it’s one thing for us to go onto the Internet in hopes to conceal an identity. But as Harrell pointed out, our social identities are implemented across platforms, and so when we move onto social media or video games, we bring the issues of identity with us. One cannot truly “leave your identity behind” online – the algorithms we use to shop, talk, and play on the Internet embody and perpetuate inherent values and traditions of the culture and society in which they were created.

Chimeria

I’ve now played through Chimeria a few a times –once in the walkthrough of Gatekeeper Harrell gave us during the lecture, and then a few times with the social media version on the ICE lab website. It still feels like traditional computational media to me – whether that’s lack of experience with games or the limitations of game development, I’m not sure. But there’s a definitely a sense from playing Gatekeeper that the game and the game mechanics are invested in you as a user – that the system is learning from your actions, and it more accurately represents interactions than I have ever seen in media.

I am fascinated by the term cultural computing. I think that Harrell’s work is a valuable addition to the scholarship of cultural media, and will greatly contribute to the development of computational media in social circles. Narratives, gaming, and digital media have sorted our identities into pieces. What is parsed together on technical levels is an encoding of social structures – the phantasms we recognize and interpret on a daily basis. Harrell’s research combines ideas of cultural meaning with computational media – and I can’t wait to see where it takes our understanding of the digital world.cept of “double consciousness” – and so the same type of issue exponentially develops when you try bring that to th internet. As we’ve discussed in class, it’s one thing for us to go onto the Internet in hopes to conceal an identity. But as Harrell pointed out, our social identities are implemented across platforms, and so when we move onto social media or video games, we bring the issues of identity with us. One cannot truly “leave your identity behind” online – the algorithms we use to shop, talk, and play on the Internet embody and perpetuate inherent values and traditions of the culture and society in which they were created.

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