Thursday, March 15, 2001

What is the difference between Agency and Power?
Yes, I know there's supposed to be one - Janet Murray (1997) has a definition of agency in Hamlet on the Holodeck: "Agency is the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices. We expect to feel agency on the computer when we double-click on a file and see it open before us, or when we enter numbers in a spreadsheet and see the totals readjust." It does not, however, distinguish Agency and Power. She uses the word power in her definition and explains agency as power - power to take action. It feels like a circular definition, or a need to give a new name to something - an act of euphemism, making the thrill of controlling events on the computer more acceptable.

"The interactor is not the author of the digital narrative, although the interactor can experience one of the most exiting aspects of artistic creation - the thrill of exerting power over enticing and plastic materials. This is not authorship but agency." I'd say - it's not authorship, but it's still power and control. Power and control are not nice words. They come into our vocabulary loaded with connotations of marxism thought. The idea that being able to influence your surroundings as being pleasant because it makes you feel powerful has echoes of "Power to the People" and other silenced catch-phrases. To say that you have agency can be uttered in the most conservative of lecturing halls. Control is as stigmatizing - to be a control-freak, to desire, even take pleasure from being in control; there is something sick, egocentric, neurotic about it.

But if there is a reason for using the word agency about the power and control the computer-user has over the text which is not cosmetic - I can't find it.

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