The Ideological Underpinnings of Progress: New Media’s Past and Future, Week 3

September 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

So Fall term is clip-clopping along and boy oh boy, why is it nearly October. It’s been a busy few weeks, what with moving to NYC and decorating our apartment and teaching a brand new class and adopting a puppy and going on the job market (sorry there’s no link for that, just imagine taking several wrong turns while hiking in the mountains and finding yourself standing at the mouth of a 10-inch wide crevasse carved into the side of a rock face, and you know there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the other side, and you haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon, but your backpack is too wide to fit inside, and all of your water is in your backpack, so now what). But it could be worse, I could be a Facebook investor!

But I digress. Last week I asked my students to think about the ideological underpinnings of the notion of progress, which is typically presented as a natural and necessary aspect of human nature. Like the Manifest Destiny, for our souls! In order to facilitate this conversation, we read Kirkpatrick Sale’s “Five Facets of a Myth” as well as selections from Robert Nisbit’s History of the Idea of Progress. Both authors acknowledge that the idea of progress is historically contingent –i.e. it didn’t just appear fully-formed out of nowhere, the concept was naturalized over time, because of white people– but each approaches the topic from a decidedly different angle. The cartoon breakdown is that Nisbet gives progress a qualified thumbs up, while Sale smashes a personal computer in front of a live studio audience.

This week, we’ll be talking about the inadvertent (and very much intentional) social and political implications of progress — the dark side of progress, if yous will. It is going to be depressing!


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