Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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97.09.24
justin hall
proposal to study "meaning context and media"

my studies have reflected a search for the intersections of meaning context and media. context is environmental (social, political, spiritual) signs and structures of meaning; meaning, motivating force and intangible sustenance saught or provided, often through media; media being the expression of meaning in context, or simply the expression of context itself.

my coursework at swarthmore has coalesced around these three areas. below is a list of twelve courses that have most directly informed my thinking.

meaning

Religion 32: Buddhist Social Ethics - Don Swearer
Religion 10: African American Religions - Yvonne Chireau
Sociology & Anthropology 72: Shamanism - Bruce Grant
Physics 25: In Search of Reality - John Boccio

context

Art History 61: Design of Everyday Things - T. Kaori Kitao
History 88: Social History of Consumption - Timothy Burke
History 93: Directed Reading in Cultural Studies - Timothy Burke
Psychology 48: Technology Self and Society - Ken Gergen

media

Music 3: Jazz History - John Alston
English 72: Proust Joyce and Faulkner - Philip Weinstein
English 10: Ways of Seeing - Abbe Blum
Studio Arts 8: Oil Painting - Celia Reisman

there is a broad range of departments represented here; english is the most appropriate home for this special major. i have worked over this proposal with Phil Weinstein, a professor in the english department, and i have asked him to be one of my thesis advisors. i will have six credits in the department with that thesis, and classes taken but not mentioned above: English 59: Harlem Renaissance with Charles James and English 45: Modern British Poetry, with Natalie Anderson. as well, in the spring of 1998, i would take English 14: History of the Language with Craig Williamson to fulfill a pre-1830s requirement.

the thesis will follow on my life's work to date online, as well as a synthesizing of course materials. more than an arrival at an intellectual plateau, this thesis will commence a deeper study of the challenges confronting the creation of a comprehensive modern weltanschauung.

technology has been my locus for exploration of meaning context and media; in a two credit thesis my final semester, i will employ and study technology as it relates to these ideas. our context today might be described as technological, as it serves both as a primary medium for discourse, and a dominant metaphor for change. are networked computers a miraculous mapping of the global brain or simply a scale-appropriate tool for managing a planet populated by six billion?

since january 1994, i have been an active participant in the birth of a new medium, the world wide web. i publish a large personal web site, and i have worked with many of the early makers and minds of the web world. i am excited by the potential of computers, but the new landscape is daunting. at once we are surrounded by the im-mediate promise of technology, and threatened with environmental collapse: our machines afford popular access to exploitation and accordingly change our surroundings.

some propose liberation and equanimity through the "network economy," yet tradional power structures may well be embodied in our machines. if technology is the enemy, can you critique it in a technologically-enhanced forum? the machine has encompassed our dialog, it is become indispensable; it is now become the freedom to speak.

perhaps we should use the terrific potential of our tools for our spiritual enhancement, which may in turn resolve much of the dis-ease resulting from progress. these machines could exponentially broaden the number of students and teachers; lay academicians (or monks?) with access to researching and publishing information worldwide. for that to happen, there need emerge a popular sense of potential, a popular optimism. simple enough for broad digestion, while not placating with products or answers; resonant texts that give people a sense of their power and both the challenge and confidence to ask questions and take responsibilty, to participate.

one potential for these devices, connected computers, is to make each information consumer responsible for producing their own resonant media. there is a kind of intellectual awakening that happens when someone discovers a community of interest through the wires. we may look back on years preceeding the internet as a period of domination of mass media storytelling by textual and televisual barons, and the years ahead as a sort of coming full circle to oral storytelling, where texts exist in a more liminal, less exhalted space; at once more accessible and infinitely permutated by each visitor and messenger. what potential connection exists between the old storytelling and the new electronic saturation?

to give a sense of the work i will be doing, i provide here mostly questions that await enframing. the answers will probably lie in deepening these questions.

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