Elihu Katz Colloquium: Aaron Trammell, University of California, Irvine

Analogic: The Cultural Politics of Digital Resistance
Aaron Trammell
13 Nov 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
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This event will be held on Zoom. The link to join will be emailed to the Annenberg community on the day of the event.

About the Talk

In the electoral recounts following the 2000 U.S. election, inconsistencies plagued the Florida vote. Poorly designed "butterfly" ballots and hanging chads led to a recount, a supreme court decision, and an array of voting reforms aimed at updating the country's civic infrastructure — and, in many cases, the country's voting machines. Now, twenty years later, we can grasp the implications of these decisions.

Many of the country's updated "digital" machines have been shown to be vulnerable and hackable. Due to these vulnerabilities, a movement called SMART (Secure, Marked & Audited by Hand, Accessible & Accurate, Registration for all eligible voters, Transparent) advocates specifically for paper ballots. We are now living in a time where some have become so frightened by the vulnerabilities of the digital that we look backward for protection.

This is analogic! A play on the terms “analog” and “logic,” analogic is a cultural and political logic that valorizes analog technology in response to the ubiquity of digital technology in our everyday lives. As a logic, analogic is itself a kind of digital subjectivity. It emerges with and in response to the digital turn, and it is a strategic form of reasoning used to navigate the enmeshment of digital technology within our society. In order to explain what analogic is, this presentation will show four cases to help define its key characteristics: Trammell presents the paper ballot movement to show how analogic thinking proffers a sense of security; he describes the habits and particularities of record collectors to show how analogic suggests fidelity; analogics of efficiency lead him to explore practices of in-person trading on Wall Street, and finally Trammell looks to the hobby trend of board game cafés and competitive and collective gaming to show how embodiment emerges as a key characteristic of analogic.

About the Speaker

Aaron Trammell is an assistant professor of Informatics at UC Irvine. He graduated from the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information in 2015 and spent a year at the USC Annenberg School as a postdoctoral researcher.

For Trammell, serious scholarship yields important real-world results. His work explores the military ideologies at the center of many games (both analog and digital) — and how those games shape identity. “There is a patriarchal logic in games that influences how we see ourselves,” he says. “This has ramifications for women, people of color and other minorities.” By opening up the design process to diverse communities, Trammell hopes to expand opportunities in tech and to build better and more relevant experiences for gamers, who increasingly rely on gaming technology for job training and skills-based learning.

Trammell’s research reveals the inherent — and often subtle — biases in games. Role playing, he notes, has its roots in military strategy, which historically prioritized traits like masculinity and whiteness. The result: Many prospective game designers feel excluded, while potential players confront scenarios that foster misogynist, racist and homophobic thought. “To give people at all levels of gaming the tools and techniques for succeeding, we need to recognize the invisible lines of power embedded in those games,” Trammell says. “My work sheds light on what can make a game a hostile space, paving the way for positive change.”

The key to Trammell’s work is an emphasis on the power of imagination. “Once we learn history, we can take steps to alter its trajectory,” he says. “Then we have the freedom to envision something different: worlds — inside games and outside — that are based on principles of inclusion.” Trammell sees the Department of Informatics as the ideal place for this reimagining. “The department is renowned for its ability to participate in both theoretical and technical discourse around information and computing, on a high level,” he says. “When it comes to blending these things together so seamlessly, no one else even comes close.”

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