“Ritual technology”

Who would have thought that at a random exhibition on rice farming in a faraway land I would stumble upon what was going to be one of my favourite quotes?

This presents what French anthropologist Georges Condominas calls ‘ritual technology’ (1986) within which ritual and technology cannot be separated in order to produce the expected yield. Each tool and energy input are inextricably integrated into each task that withdrawal of either would generally result to a reduced production output.

As soon as I returned, I looked up the original source. Here is the passage.

When we look at people’s cultures from the inside, it is seen that they — ritual and technology — cannot be separated. To take once more the example of the Mnong Gar, religious activities associated with plant cultivation are indissolubly integrated into agricultural tasks. […]

Previously, I referred to these rituals under the category ritual technology (Condominas 1980). But I do realize that the expression may not be very appropriate because what I talk about really covers only an aspect of a bigger category — the notion of work.

(Condominas, G., 1986, ‘Ritual technology in Mnong Gar swidden agriculture’, in I. Norlund et al. eds., Rice Societies: Asian Problems and Prospects, pp.28-29)

Once again, you know what they say: serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.

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Being human, becoming human, and ceasing being human

Was reading about a recently released PS4 game called Detroit: Become Human, and was going to add it to my list of games ‘too close to the bone’. But then it struck me that there is another, even bigger category that would accommodate this new game perfectly – i.e. popular cultural products that question what it means to be human. In my mind, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) and The Wizard of Oz (1939) fall right into that category, so we are not talking only about the digital here.

At one point my social media timelines were peppered with the word ‘singularity’. I recall it was around the time when the films Her (2013) and Lucy (2014) came out. Sooooo, my compulsion for list-making kicks in! I am going to write down only the ones that I have seen (although not fully in some cases). I am sure there are more comprehensive, even ranked lists out there – like the time when a friend and I were talking about The Great Wall (2016) and The Last Samurai (2003) and we found there was a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to the “white saviour narrative” in films – but I will add on here as I find more myself. That would be more fun for me.

What distinguishes human beings from non-human beings? Could a non-human being become human? Would they want to, as frequently imagined in popular culture? Is there a moment where a human stops being human – with extensive technological interventions into body and mind, for example? Would one person become another with such interventions? Below are a few examples of posing these questions, intentionally or unwittingly.

  • Adventures of Pinocchio (1883)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • Robocop (1987)
  • Alien Nation (1988)
  • The Quality of Life, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1992)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • Bicentennial Man (1999)
  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
  • I, Robot (2004)
  • Avatar (2009)
  • Dollhouse (2009 to 2010)
  • Her (2013)
  • Lucy (2014)
  • Humans (2015 to present)
  • Criminal (2016)
  • Detroit: Become Human (2018)

As long as there is wi-fi [3]

Rough translation: This is the [traditional Japanese Qinghai wave] pattern on my hubby’s handkerchief, which my son saw and said, “Wow, full of wi-fi!” Children seem to see things differently.

S: Perhaps this is evidence that there was wi-fi in those days.

Fostering interview researchers in an interview society

Challenging, no doubt, but one good thing is that there is never a shortage of resources for classroom discussions.

Fox News interview with Reza Aslan (July 2013)


Fairytale prisoner by choice: The photographic eye of Melania Trump
(Kate Imbach, Medium, 16 April 2017)

Trump gave an ‘impromptu’ interview to the NY Times. Did it grill him hard enough? (Keith Wagstaff, Mashable, 29 December 2017) — in reaction to Excerpts from Trump’s interview with The Times (The New York Times, 28 December 2017)

Uma deserves better (Anne Helen Petersen, 4 February 2018) — in reaction to This is why Uma Thurman is angry (Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 3 February 2018)

Y’s picks this month

Not literally this month, but you know what I mean!

Rotten Apples
Like Rotten Tomatoes with a post-Weinstein twist.

Unpaywall
A new and legal browser extension to locate open-access versions of paywalled research papers instantly.

Library Extension
A Chrome extension that helps you find books at your local library while you shop for them online.

Fltgraph [플라이트그래프]
A crowd-powered travel metasearch engine that can help you pick a ticket as per your budget, not destination. 🙂 Comparable, in a sense, to Skyscanner’s ‘Still undecided? Explore our map’ service.

On sportsing

It feels like in this household we make regular reference to this cartoon by VectorBelly.

And this time we went on.

First, Trevor Noah on American sportsing. I am certain this is not an exaggeration. This is the whole premise of Moneyball (2011)! By the way, his accounts of South African sports culture are also equally hilarious.

Next, Michael McIntyre on rugby versus football.

We then ended with the famous “This is not soccer” moment. 😀

Digital natives, I bow to you. [2]

Last night I was video chatting with my mum and one of my sisters. My 24-month-old niece was with them and busy navigating YouTube on my mum’s phone while we were chatting through Skype on my sister’s phone. I was desperately trying to win my niece’s attention, waving and saying “Hi, your big auntie here” non-stop in a pantomime manner.

She proved to be too cool to respond to this imposition though. She cast a brief look and simply minimised the Skype app away. With one aloof tap. My mum and sister ROFL’ed. Me? I was jaw-droppingly impressed and feeling a little rejected at the same time. 😦

We hear a lot about the digital mastery of children and young people. I follow the latest developments in the field with interest. Among what I enjoyed reading most recently are Sonia Livingston’s comments on the YouTube Kids scandal and David M. Perry’s “How to teach a cyborg“. 

In the meantime, Livingstone recommends keeping an eye on children’s YouTube binges. “It depends on the age and resilience or vulnerability of the child, of course, but the best advice is occasionally to share an interest with your child on YouTube,” she says. “Don’t always look over their shoulder, or check up on them secretly,” but watch with them to see how they go about using the app and how they react to what they view. And make sure to turn on restricted mode for some basic protections.

Because while it’s Google’s responsibility to do better, at this rate, your toddler may well be a teenager by the time Silicon Valley admits it’s time to hire human moderators to make up for algorithmic failures.

Having an understanding based on second-hand accounts, however, means that certain things will always be difficult to imagine. For example, it didn’t come to my mind until the second sister told me that in order to fulfil the Santa role successfully this time, she had to make sure there were no shopping traces on the phone and the tablet in the lead up to Christmas. !!!!!

My authentic pie

I wrapped up 2017 with baking. Creating something in the kitchen is not my strong suit, but with an unparalleled sweet tooth, I did a little bit of baking when I finally moved out of the campus halls of residence and had my own kitchen in 2009. It has been a while since that phase.

At that time I discovered many grownup-sounding desserts (e.g. green tea muffins, prune brownies, and a Guinness cake with Bailey’s cream), but in the end, the ultimate fail-proof recipe was for a tarte aux pommes. And that’s what I picked this time around.

While waiting for it to be ready, I suddenly started to think about a talk I attended on 14 December: Algorithmic Authenticity by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun. It was a fascinating talk from beginning to end, but the particular bit that came back to me was her comment on how we as a society are obsessed with the currency of being authentic and believe/claim that we know when we see something that is not. What is interesting is that given this combination there now is a formula for appearing authentic. To paraphrase her words, the formula is to present a slightly less than best possible version. 😀

I thought it was spot-on. Her discussion was focused on the 2016 US presidential election, but the phenomenon is certainly not limited to it. Think about all those “no-makeup makeup” tutorials on YouTube, for example!

Against this backdrop, here is my authentic pie just before going into the oven.

2 apples + 1 egg yolk + 100g cream + 100g sugar.

190 degrees, 30 minutes.