From Metaphysics to Metadata – #3. Interface and Choice: Types and Implications of Metadata

On: September 6, 2010
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About Nicola Bozzi
I was born in Catanzaro, Italy but I was raised in Milan. I studied Arts and Multimedia at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, where I achieved a BA and then an MA in Cinema and Video. I have collaborated with magazines like Zero (www.zero.eu) and Exhibart (www.exhibart.com), writing art and cinema reviews. I was part of the Check-in Architecture editorial staff (checkinarchitecture.blogspot.com , youtube.com/user/checkinarchitecture) and I now work for yskira.com, an online architecture magazine.

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http://www.almostnothing.org    

This is the third part of my thesis From Metaphysics to Metadata. Aesthetics and Politics of Interface. Check back to read the first part and the second part.

ABSTRACT [Or download the full PDF: NicolaBozzi_MP2MD_Figures]

In this chapter I define four main types of metadata and four stereotypical figures to exemplify each of them respectively: structural metadata (the Nerd), textural metadata (the Hipster), body metadata (the Comedian), and metadata of scale (the Gangster). The former two are characterized by higher levels of choice and agency, the latter two are instead metadata beyond choice, labels one is subjected to rather than active tools for participation in infrastructure and interface.

The Nerd‘s metadata is mostly structural because it refers to expertise and labels mostly valued in infrastructural environments, such as universities or technology development departments. The Nerd’s familiarity with codes and his/her dual hacker/libertarian attitude towards knowledge and the market makes him/her an emerging figure and an actor in the design of filtering interfaces in institutions and technology. The Nerd also exemplifies what has been called the “Californian Ideology” and the Third Wave economy, both deeply involved in globalization and in the increasing synergy between the market and university institutions.

The Hipster uses textural metadata like interests, hobbies, and clothing to create a sophisticated social persona, particularly senstitive to culturally appealing niche markets. The Hipster’s agency is more limited to interface, as his/her subcultural taste affects the market from the bottom up. Also, hipster migrations are a crucial factor in the gentrification of urban neighborhoods, often used by the institutions as a tool to provide specific areas with labels such as “creative district”. If the Nerd interacts with infrastructure via knowledge and technology, the Hipster interacts with interface via taste and style, working as a factor in the shaping and profiling of cities by cultural parameters.

The Comedian exemplifies body metadata because he/she uses stereotype as a tool to generate laughter. Since physical features, especially ethnic, have a highly stereotypical potential, the Comedian taps into it and combines such metadata with varying levels of consciousness. Some comedians (like Chris Rock) critically reflect on it, others (like Carlos Mencia) fully embrace the compromising logic of metadata and de facto support racial profiling as a controversial social practice. In this section I analyze both negative and virtuous examples in the use of body metadata.

The Gangster is maybe the most complex figure, since metadata of scale draws textural images from a shared global imagery of North American inspiration (the symbols and codes developed by Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Mara Salvatrucha, Mara Dieciocho and popularized by the media) and reterritorializes them on different localities (Australia, the Netherlands, Barcelona, El Salvador, the Internet) with different social implications. The aesthetic connections drawn by metadata of scale can create worldwide or local communities, but the horizontal practice of combination of their symbols (“I am a Crip” instead of “I am an Africa-American” – or maybe Surinamese-Dutch, in the case of the Netherlands Crips) often leads to associations without direction, bonding without a project. In this section I refer to specific literature and documentaries to outline this scenario.

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