Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Agentic Shift

*clicking persistently, feverishly because this stupid computer is so slow*

Not really. That was one example of Milgram's "agentic shift" from class yesterday. It was one of the more interesting sessions we've had this semester. I referred students to chunks of Postman's chapter on "The Ideology of Machines: Computer Technology." They collaborated to generate questions for their chunk, which, after fifteen or so minutes, was passed into the hands of the next group who took up the work of mustering a response. A rich discussion spun out of this simple arrangement: "computer" as it referred to a person who computes (pre-1940), voice bots and sometimes-undetectable artificial intelligence, the technopolist ideology that relishes human-as-machines models of efficiency, generally subscribing to the view that we are at our best when we are most functionally productive (no excess) and refined in our acts (without waste or deviation).

I'm still trying to get a grip on the idea of "agentic shift." I haven't read Milgram's Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974). So it's only a best guess that agentic shift is a rhetorical event. Is it more than displaced agency? Shirked responsibility? Does it flourish in the technological high tide?

I'm wondering about this especially as it seems to relate to video gaming. I want to be careful what I say because I'm not up on the latest buzz in video game studies--only know that they're here. But if agentic shift is, as Postman calls it (acknowledging Milgram), the name of the process "whereby humans transfer responsibility for an outcome from themselves to a more abstract agent," then video gaming, and maybe all encounters with technical machinery, fit. So maybe it's possible to have a group agentic shift (a collective of transference?), in which the group *thinking social software here* transfers responsibility to an abstract agent-authority: the software. Is this too much of a reach from Milgram's Yale experiments or does this simply affirm--in a modern context--what Milgram proved forty years ago?

Bookmark and Share Posted by at March 3, 2004 5:40 PM to Dry Ogre Chalking