Second Life backlash no. 3
We are pleased to announce:
“Mobile Affect, Mediality and Abu Ghraib”
Thursday, 22 February
Turfdraagsterpad 9, Room 0.04
When: wed. March 21st 2007 || start 20.30 hrs. / doors: 20.00 hrs.
Where: Melkweg, Theater, Lijnbaansgracht 234 A, Amsterdam | free entrance |
‘Locative media’ are hot: from cell phones to GPS, to other means of satellite communications. A world without the latter seems unthinkable, or perhaps even non-navigationable. Experiments with locative media within the arts have mostly focused on and taken place within an urban context.
Upgrade! Amsterdam [tag & track] offers a counterbalance and highlights projects where the technology itself is not the main feature, but rather how their usage functions within specific contexts, and generates a multitude of meanings and experiences: from Fulani nomads in Nigeria to what the migration mapping of Montagu’s Harrier brings about between ornithologists from Groningen and farmers in Mauritania.
The following lists consists of several journals, e-zines, blogs and mailinglists to consider submitting your article/book review to. I have also supplied links to the general instructions for submitting an essay. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please help expand it.
Twan did a great job presenting our blog at the first edition of Vers Geperst at Club 11 in Amsterdam. A New Media student from Utrecht from the audience contacted us afterwards to talk about the blog and New Media. Other great presentations included Michael Stevenson – the Whatever Button and Erik Borra – Open Search.
I remember feeling completely lost in my first-year philosophy course – the feeling never really goes away – and wanting some kind of map of the territory or overview . This tool maps philosophers’ influences, and while users can’t update the influences, the author suggests that could happen in the future. (Also neat, rolling over a name gives a short introduction.) A view from Foucault:
Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System and currently associate professor at NYU, is here to talk about the Googlization of Everything.
Siva’s starting point is that Google is part of our lives, and we talk about in a way that resembles the way we would talk about the Divine. Ultimately, we say, “It is a force for good.” As per the Book of Sergey and Larry, “Don’t be evil”. And in Siva’s words, the path to heaven seems lined by small, personalized advertisements. In the world of Google, moral problems are merely unsolved technological ones. But Google – the search engine – is a black box, and perhaps this is why we mere mortals must become believers.
Google has divine aims, too. Universal access to all of the world’s information? Sergey says, “It would be like the Mind of God”.
Olia Lialina’s illustrated essay “Vernacular Web 2” builds on her earlier work, which is to “collect, classify and describe the most important elements of the early Web – visual as well as acoustic – and the habits of first Web users, their ideas of harmony and order.” The earliest days of the web were unkind to traditional designers, many of whom took some time to come to grips with floating window sizes, user-selectable fonts, and the limited palette of design elements in early HTML. The result was a folk-aesthetic, where untrained eyes and sensibilities dominated the look of the net. Much of that original look is gone now, but Lialina’s work brings it back and starts to delve into what it all means — and how its progeny still can be found online today.
The first thing that gets your attention on eboman.info is the list of well known web 2.0 logos. Next to it, Eboman coupled the logos to his own interpretation of what the service is about. YouTube for example lists his low-res videos, Wikipedia contains his history (actually his story, but I’ll come back to that later), Kiko holds his performance agenda, etcetera. At the top left of his site there is a call for participation: “Upload your videos to YouTube and JumpCut and make audiovisual sampletracks with Eboman”.
It looks as if the guy understands what web 2.0 is all about. There are a million definitions of web 2.0, but some of the characteristics seem to be: the Network as a (service-) platform, user -generated and -distributed content, and network effects created by an architecture of participation (deep linking). Eboman clearly calls for participation, uses different web services for various content generated by him, and uses this domain as a starting point to them.
Problogger belongs to Darren Rowse who is a professional blogger and has started more than 20 blogs. He started this site to tell others how to make your blog more succesfull. The content of the blog is very much related to the goal: making a better blog and making money from it. All it’s articles are tips for a better and rewarding blog. (more…)
Slashdot is regarded as a highly innovative website. It has been very popular for many years and is currently holding the 33rd position in Technorati’s top 100 of popular blogs. The site has been around since 1997 and is regarded as one of the first blogs, before there even was such a thing as a blog. Slashdot is a newssite for nerds. The extended title pretty much says it all: “News for nerds. Stuff that matters.” Slashdot is widely known for the so called Slashdot-effect. As written in Wikipedia:
“The Slashdot effect is the term given to the phenomenon of a popular website linking to a smaller site, causing the smaller site to slow down or even temporarily close due to the increased traffic. The name stems from the huge influx of web traffic that results from the technology news site Slashdot linking to underpowered websites.”
Slashdot is also famous for its moderation system. The system is quite complex. I would like to expand on it a little.
<update>This project got quite a few positive responses, and many universities were interested in their own ‘profiles’. But the best was an endorsement by Virgil, who created the WikiScanner. He’s now made the Wikiscanner mashable, making this kind of research easier to do! – Michael 19.10.07</ update>
Under the banner of the Digital Methods Initiative, Erik and I have been working on a project called Repurposing the Wikiscanner. The following is an introduction to the project and the first of two case studies: this one deals with the presence of Dutch universities on Wikipedia, including how much they ‘anonymously’ contribute and the kinds of articles they edit. In the conclusion I suggest that the Wikiscanner, with some modifications, could prove a valuable tool for researching ‘local’ aspects of Wikipedia production.
The Wikiscanner ‘de-anonymizes’ edits on Wikipedia, linking IP addresses to the organizations and institutions where the edits were made. Released in August 2007, it was quickly taken up on the Web and in the media, and within days a number of high-profile cases of misconduct were revealed. These included unsavory edits by “the Al-Jazeera network, Fox News Channel, staffers of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd and the CIA” and, here in the Netherlands, a revelation that ‘the Royals’ were touching up their involvement in the Mabel affair.
This weekend Masters of Media visited Video Vortex in Brussels. Video Vortex is a recurring conference, organized by the Institute of Network Cultures and mainly focuses on the independent production and distribution of online video content. This time, the conference was concentrated on a couple questions of which one was: How are people utilizing the potential to independently produce and distribute independent video content on the Internet?
One of the speakers at the conference that tried to answer this question from a very personal point of view was the artist Peter Horvath. Peter Horvath works in video, sound, photo and new media. “Camera in hand since age 6, he inhaled darkroom fumes until his late 20’s, then began exploring time based art processes. He immersed himself in digital technologies at the birth of the Web, co-founded 6168.org, a site for net.art and adopted techniques of photo montage which he uses in his net and print based works.”
In his presentation, Peter gave a short introduction into his work and then showed a very beautiful selection. One of them, Tenderly yours (2005), stood out for me. In this work, Peter “resituates the personal, casual and ambiguous approach of French new wave cinema in a net.art narrative that explores love, loss and memory.” (more…)
“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann)
Nietzsche did not prefer men as an average being. In ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ he claims to consider men as a necessary step between the evolution of apes towards the Übermensch. In this book, Nietzsche refers to Zarathustra, a mythical Persian prophet who proclaimed to be the founder of Zoroastrism (Persian state-religion). This religion carried out a dualistic message between good and evil. According to Zarathustra, the best decision was to choose the spiritual being, which was forbidden to be portrayed. This was the one and only god (a divine Übermensch), and all the other gods were half-gods.
The concept of the Übermensch brings me to the notion of the databody, which is a body of personal data (an extensive profile) that is constructed by means of connecting databases. This body could be the next stage towards the realization of Nietzsche’s’ Übermensch. Steve Kurtz introduced the databody, which he referred to as the fascist sibling of the virtual body.
With the virtual body came its fascist sibling, the data body-a much more highly developed virtual form, and one that exists in complete service to the corporate and police state. (Steve Kurtz)
This concept and the notion of the Übermensch have fascist connotations. To clarify the notion of the databody and to relate it to men, I will be making use of a metaphor and will be referring to the image. To my opinion, the databody has more authority in making decisions that involve the government’s approval, then its human counterpart. For example, in case of an incorrect administrative data entry, a database gets corrupted (a corrupt databody) and someone could be denied to cross the border. This is why I am relegating to men as sometimes living in the shade of the databody. To conclude, the databody got rid of (bestially) emotions, which makes it less evolved than men kind, but – in Nietzsche’s sense – made a big step towards becoming an Übermensch.
In this little machinima movie, Valve shows of their new rendering style in the upcoming game Team Fortress 2. The cool thing about it is that it almost looks like a genuine Pixar short. But everything you see is rendered in real-time, which looks amazing if you ask me. The videoclip also illustrates some highly recognizable multiplayer scenario’s like having a huge map with a small amount of players, and the highly unappreciated art of camping. Enjoy :)
This weeks assignment in our Masters of Media class was to take a quote from Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s work and try to analyze a new media object using this quote. Because I personally wasn’t familiar with Nietzsche I started searching the web hoping to find an appropriate quote to use in this post. When looking for quotes I found that they weren’t hard to find in Nietzsche’s case. Nietzsche was known for his fondness for aphorism in the many critiques he wrote on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science. This distinctive style of using aphorisms intrigued me. According to The Oxford English Dictionary an aphorism is a short pithy sentences that contain a truth of general import. When reading about aphorisms I couldn’t help making a connection between these short sentences Nietzsche uses to trigger his readers and the way people collect little bits and pieces of information while surfing the Internet and using web 2.0. That’s why I chose not to take one single quote from Nietzsche butt look at the role aphorisms in general ‘could’ take in new forms of media and the Internet.
Nietzsche uses rhetorical violence to overthrow and seduce the readers of his work. Logic, according to Nietzsche, is subordinate to the rhetoric; it is part of a much broader strength field that in the human communication leads to persuasion and convincing others. For this persuasion and to convince other people with his ideas Nietzsche uses a lot of aphorisms. “The period from 1878 to 1886 can be seen as a aphoristic period.” (translated from Dutch wikipedia) I will first try to draw a picture of how an aphorism works and then I will debate how it could be used as a tool on the Internet and web 2.0.
Next to the English Dictionary translation I also found the following definition of Aphorism in a text from Murray S. Davis:
“The finest thoughts in the fewest words.”
By using an aphorism to define what an aphorism is the author gives a good insight in how aphorisms work. Originally the word descends from the Greek word aphorizein witch means ‘define’. In form, aphorisms are always terse and trenchant, demonstrating maximum comprehension in minimum expression (Davis). In other words: By using aphorisms authors try to persuade and convince their readers by using short and catchy sentences. By reading these aphorisms readers are able to quickly grasp the meaning of the point the author tries to make. Aphorisms give readers a quick and basic idea of what the author is trying to say and challenges the reader to think about the authors ‘content’.
When we look at the way information is collected on the Internet the aphorism has some aspects that could make it serve as a good tool to help internet users. Because some of an aphorisms characteristics are similar to the specific demands internet users look for in the tools that help them filter certain content. In Davis article “APHORISMS AND CLICHÉS: The Generation and Dissipation of Conceptual Charisma” he points out that a thoughtful aphorist could be seen as someone who helps out his readers by already taking the readers notes from an article. Even the best of articles are filled with superfluous words, when read a reader points out the highlights. The aphorist saves readers this trouble by already pointing out these highlights for them.
“Each aphorism swings the mind from outside to inside a topic, whereas a category of aphorisms swings it from side to side across their common topic—stimulating the mind to fill in the empty conceptual space between points of clarity.” (Davis)
The functions an aphorism could be compared with the functions of tagging or using abstracts while searching for information on the web. On a lot of Internet sites the content is being organized by using short tags or abstracts of the whole to make searching the databases and archives easier. The way tags and especially abstracts work resembles the way the aphorism could work. Although aphorisms do not have some of the specific functions that tagging has such as linking tags from different sites it could in my opinion help organise and structure some of the (especially scientific) databases on the internet. In some cases using tags to store your content might be a little superficial. The complexity of a theory could be impossible to capture in a couple of twinge words. In these cases authors normally start using abstracts to summarize their articles. “Most abstracts, however, are merely carelessly written afterthoughts rather than carefully conceived forethoughts.”(Davis) For a short introduction into an article a list of aphorisms could serve as more off a trigger than an abstract. It draws peoples attention because of the catchy way it’s formulated and the way it challenges its readers.
When we look at the role abstracts take in modern day web searching, and the large amount of people that read these abstracts, I find it strange that many authors putt seemingly little thought in these abstracts. A well written, though through, stylish aphoristic abstract could become more influential than the article it abstracts. A good example of an article abstract constructed from aphorisms could be found in Davis introduction to his text. I will now show the first three sentences to give a brief idea of how a collection of aphorisms looks:
“We chase the interesting, which continually eludes us; we are chased by boredom, which continually catches us.
The first criterion by which people judge anything they encounter, even before deciding whether it is true or false, is whether it is interesting or boring.
The truth of a theory is not even the main criterion of its acceptance, for an interesting falsehood will attract more followers than a boring truth..” (Davis, 1999)
Although this introduction does not cover the entire content of the article it does give a clear view into the authors thinking process. It challenges the reader to think about how truth is being constructed. Evoking this ‘challenge’ in my opinion can be seen as a tool capable of gasping a readers attention. When we look at the way the internet and the media is structured it seems more and more imminent to get people’s attention, or….to speak in a aphorism:
“News is only news when it’s on the news.”
The importance of drawing peoples attention is bigger than ever in our modern world of mass media. “Science dominates the world view of our high technology-based civilization, but it is the fight for attention which dominates its everyday culture”. (Franck pp.3). According to Davis “the aphoristic form is well suited to the discontinuities of postmodern society. Its shortness can help postmodern audiences fill their many small splinters of empty time. Its conciseness can make aphorisms appropriate for the “sound bites” that fill postmodern media’s brief time slots for news. Its modularity can adapt aphorisms to postmodern culture’s collage, in which items originally invented for one purpose are frequently used for another, for ‘a truth of general import’ can be easily transported between contexts.” (Davis, 1999) In a world where attention is becoming a new sort of commodity it is important to develop new tools to attract this attention. Aphorisms could serve as one of these tools.
The aphorism is known for it’s ability to challenge people into thinking about the short statement that is made within this catchy sentence. In today’s postmodern society it could be capable of serving as a trigger to seduce people into reading certain articles of texts. The aphorism, in a postmodern society that according to Franck is dominated by a fight for attention, could serve as an inspiration tool to sparkle this attention. It could provide that little bit of ‘in depth interest’ that the shallow internet environment at first glance sometimes misses.
Georg Franck, ‘Introduction to The Economy of Attention’, in: Georg Franck, Die Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit, München: Hanser 1998
Murray S.Davis, ‘Aphorisms and clichés: The Generation and Dissipation of Conceptual Charisma’, in: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol.25, pp. 245-269, Augustus1999
Dutch wikipedia on Nietzsche: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche
In response the feeble democratic situation in Myanmar, social activists, students and Buddhist monks gathered to stand up against the totalitarian regime of the Burmese government. The most important source for reports on the situation comes from the blogging community in Myanmar.
So perhaps it is not the demonstrations themselves that stirred up the international community, but the coverage fed by the local blogosphere. Local bloggers are trying to bypass the censorship filters, by using highly interpretive blog-posts:
All the monks and the people shall realize that if we do not stop the unrest resolutely, there will be no peace in the country. This battle is concerned with the revitalization of Myanmar and the success of nation-building. It is vital to the future of the nation.
If the words Myanmar and Monks are replaced with China and Students the real underlying dimension of the message becomes clear. But as the government tightens their censorship control, bloggers have to find other techniques to get their message across. In an attempt to shut down the resistance community completely the government took the liberty of shutting down one of the major ISP’s, under the motto of ‘maintenance.’ All other communications sources are either shutdown, or heavily monitored.
In what seems to be a hopeless situation, support came from the international blogging community, in the form of a global support to bring back internet, and in the long run democracy, in Myanmar. Free-Burma now has over 14.000 subscribers who support the cause against the military regime.
The collaboration in this particular case is twofold, first is the local writers who express their concerns about their country and showing the world that the Burmese situation is a major problem. Their community is seen as a big threat by the government, as it shows in their reaction to filter and shut down the internet from keeping negative publicity coming out. But by doing that, they triggered the international blogging community to start writing about the case, and defending the Burmese bloggers. By trying to control, it just spiralled out of control for the government.
It might be speculative to say that the FreeBurma initiative had something do to with this, but as it turns out, Reuters just reported that internet accessibility is restored in Myanmar, it’s only a small step forward, but as shown above, the collaborative actions of an international crowd create a snowball effect that attracts worldwide attention.
<update> I checked the internet archive for blog.google.com and saw it used to redirect to http://www.blogger.com – why the change?</update>
It is well known that Google, which depends on every link it indexes to recommend search results, has a certain ‘vulnerability’ that blogs expose. Bloggers are professional-amateur-pointers. They publish frequently, they link a lot, and then they syndicate others’ links. Affectionately put, they give link love. But does Google love them back? (Note the URL in the screenshot below)
So blog.google.com is, well, Google. Is this a Freudian glitch?
Last week I mentioned the weird relationship between blogs, Google and pingback spam, but discussion of the larger issue goes further back. The person who first put this in clear terms for me was Mary Hodder, who talked about moving from a static Web, with sites updated infrequently, toward a ‘live’ or dynamic Web. The problem for Google is that rapid linking makes their search returns erratic, most famously with Google Bombs. The search engine may do some tweaking á la PageRank, or look to assuage the effect of blogs through the NoFollow html tag. They may try to segregate the Web by putting ‘Blogs’ here and ‘Everything Else’ here. But even that gets messy, and perhaps the problem is reaching critical mass. Maybe http://blog.google.com is trying to tell http://www.google.com something.
Online multiplayer games tend to encourage communication and cooperation. Constance SteinKuehler, from the University of Wisconsin, has found that these types of games are ‘sites for socially and materially distributed cognition, complex problem solving, identity work, individual and collaborative learning’. I want to stress that within these types of games cooperation has an effect on group behaviour, the feeling of unity and self-identification.
Travian, an MMOG (massive multiplayer online game), is an strategy game with events occurring in real time. By stealing or simply buying different resources like wood, clay, iron and crops the players villages expand untill they grow out into empires. But the main essence of this game is the cooperation between the players. First, the player must choose a tribe. He or she can choose between the Tautons, Romans and Gauls based on their strategic characteristics. Once the player is part of a certain tribe and reaches a certain level, he must join an alliance. He or she can be asked to join or start one himself. Within an alliance players are strong enough to attack or defend themselves against other alliances. Each player can look at the information for all alliancemembers and use communication tools all for mutual benefit. The alliance then can work together and use their resources to build a wonder of the world which is the main goal of this game.
When groups need the same resources, competition develops. When groups can gain resources by working together, they cooperate. As with social exchange theory, the underlying assumption is that people in groups are motivated by the desire to maximize the attainment of resources, in this case for the group.(Tyler: 1)
Resources play a big part in the motivation of the players. without them they cannot build up their villages to grow out into empires. You can say that the game is ‘forcing’ players to work together to gain resources and by that working together to reach the ultimate goal, which is a wonder of the world. But why do people play this game in spite of being forced to work together?
Working together can be signifcant for someone’s self-identification. the fundamental principle following from self-categorization theory is that psychological group formation is an adaptive process. This means that it produces socially unitary and collective behavior. Factors that in a given social setting create and make salient shared group membership and shared social identity produce a mutual orientation of attraction, cooperation, and influence as members define and react to each other in terms of their common social category membership rather than as differing individuals. (Tyler: 25) This is why the categorization within the game is so important. By giving players the opportunity to choose a certain tribe, they are feeling bonded with other players who made the same choice. But what makes the feeling of unity even stronger is the fact that they can work in alliances which they organize themselves. On this level players communicate with each other through skype, chat boxes or with the messageboard built in the game itself. This makes the other players who they work with together more ‘real’. Organizing for example an attack makes the player feel like he or she is part of something big, and that his or her input makes a difference:
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say there’s something amazing about the feeling of being part of a huge online team, and knowing that your participation really makes a significant difference.(…)But in Travian, you can’t help but feel you count, even in a
500-man war. When your army hits an enemey town and you get the damage report back, it feels …substantial – in no small part because your army probably took one week or more (real time) to build, and losses on both sides definitely matter.(www.edery.org)
Because thes types of games not only use resources as motivation to force the players to cooperate, but let them organize themselves within an alliance players are motivated to continue playing. Working within a group gives them the feeling of unity and that their input matters, and is that not the ultimate goal within any type of cooperation to aim for.
Tyler, Tom R. Roderick M. Kramer. The Psychology of the Social Self. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999.
Noam Chomsky goes into the way print and electronic journalism tacitly and often willingly further the agendas of the powerful (media institutions as ABC and the New York Times). The centerpiece of the film, arguably, is a long examination into the history of the New York Times’ coverage of Indonesia’s cruelty-ridden occupation of East Timor, reportage that (as Chomsky shows us) was absolutely in lock step with the government’s unwillingness to be critical.
In this film, the NRC Handelsblad (newspaper) organizes a forum in Groningen in 1988, where Chomsky and Frits Bolkestein (conservative) debate in whether the media criticism of Chomsky is prophetical or paranoia. Chomsky claims the existence of filters within the American media. Bolkestein accused Chomsky of naïtivity and paranoia: “it’s a boys dream, it’s all conspiracy theory”.
“Canadian and American copyright Laws allow ‘fair dealing’ and ‘fair use’ of a copyrighted work for purposes such as comments, criticism, reporting, teaching, scholarship, research, scholarship, research, review and quotation”
Let me start with a story about an old joke. In 1996 Dino Igancio, a San Francisco artist, started the ‘Bert is Evil’ website on which he posted photographs confirming that Sesame Street’s Bert is evil. The images showed the muppet next to notorious people and in famous historical scenes. The photographs were meant as a joke; the muppet was inserted into actual photographs using Photoshop. After a while Ignacio stopped producing new pictures, however a community of ‘Bert is Evil’ enthusiast had already emerged which continued posting new material from all over the world on several mirror sites, including an image of Bert interacting with terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, Mostafa Kamal – a production manager of Azad Products – picked up an image of Bert from the web after scanning the web for Bin Laden pictures which were to be printed on anti-American signs, posters and T-shirts. The company printed 2000 posters; “we did not give the pictures a second look or realize what they signified until you pointed it out to us,” Kamal would explain to the Associate Press later. CNN reporters recorded the unlikely image of a mob of angry Pakistanis marching through the streets waving signs depicting Bert and Bin Laden. American public television executives spotted the CNN footage and threatened to take legal action, saying the people responsible should be ashamed of themselves; “we are exploring all legal options to stop this abuse and any similar abuses in the future.”
The story aptly illustrates how de-territorializing technologies assist distribution, mobility, reproduction, and community forming. Moreover the story is a fitting example of conflicting artistic and cultural perspectives, textual interpretation, and institutional authority. Consumer friendly software packages, such as Photoshop and the Internet, allow anyone with basic practical and creative skills to become producers, making their creations available for anyone with access to the Internet. In the last decade cyberspace has been cluttered with recycled images, texts and data; there seems to be few restrictions with regards to filtering, editing and authority – anyone with a two bit opinion, a photograph or a mere rumor can (together with mistakes in grammar, spelling, and sources) share their contents, leading to an overflow of untrustworthy information and a decline in editorial decision-making as hierarchical structures diminish. This new form of participation in media may assist grass-rooted democracies, as it allows users to actively contribute directly in the text; at the same time making it an opponent of traditional institutions, as it negatively affects market control, promotes an overload in diversity, allows for (negative) feedback, and damages a century old copyright system. The harsh remarks by the public television executives regarding legal action against those responsible for the uncontrolled act of doctoring copyrighted material and its after effect, exemplifies how this new media form of participation culture conflicts with the old media form of institutional authority. In the last decade the cultural industry endured many changes at all levels and accordingly, so did society. Let’s start with the city.
Contemporary cities are taking the shape of a spectacle as public spaces are bombarded and overloaded with images, messages, art, signs, texts and ads. Nowadays the street, the public stage of political movements, theater, playing children and social contact, are increasingly becoming virtualized with electronic screens and projections, taking away the public function of open space: “public functions become blurred by the flow of light and images drenching us in a fetish of alienating desires as we follow our necessary route through the city, from A to B” (Kluitenberg, The Network of Waves, 2006). Over the last decades our pubic space has gradually more been privatized; streets, squares and parks are more and more covered with brands and logo’s; public domains such as schools, universities, and libraries are ever more dependent on corporate sponsoring and turning in a shopping mall variant; public transport such as busses and trains are equally being privatized and transforming into mobile billboards. Furthermore, the city is converting into a pool of diversities; similar to the Internet the city is storing up an immense variety in cultural expressions and products. The uniform and the traditional costume have made room for an assortment of multiplicity; being different allows one to belong seems to be a fitting fashionable statement. However, the range of cultural expressions goes hand in hand with an overflow of dissimilar opinions, products and meanings. Not only does it become increasingly difficult to find your way, the devaluation of hierarchical control both on the Internet and in the city makes the whole thing superficial and lacking depth; of course there are places and sites that are reliable and insightful, yet they are getting more and more swallowed up by the homogenizing machine of shallowness. Whilst one might argue that diversity and egalitarian contribution lead to collective intelligence and the collapse of the cultural industry monopoly, marketing experts have already discovered that diversity is the defining issue for Generation X and that by incorporating an emphasis on diversity into their brands, they can enhance their market shares. Diversity marketing makes global expansion less costly; “rather than creating different advertising campaigns for different markets, campaigns could sell diversity itself, to all markets at once.” (Klein, No Logo, 2000)
With the commencement of affordable portable devices connected to the Internet, such as 3G cell phones, users are able to make use and contribute to the computing and communication capabilities cyberspace offers at any place and at any time. For many developing countries, where desktop and laptop computers are considered too expensive, these portable devices are a first time opportunity to be part of the global network. The rise of and increasing expansion of cell phones, Internet enabled devices, and Wifi connections facilitates an integration of cyberspace in urban areas. Virtual information is converging with the actual city, creating what Lev Manovich calls an ‘augmented space’ (Manovich, Learning from Prada, 2002). In this augmented reality the bombardment of images on and off the Internet are mixing creating new forms of disinformation and commercial spam. Moreover, the technology makes annotation and mapping of location easier and thus facilitates possibilities for users to contribute on another altitude. Theoretically it is possible that there are as many maps as there are mapmakers, making it practically impossible to find your way. Yet, it also assists new forms of privacy intrusion and an increase of surveillance, allowing authorities to track and trace anything and anyone. Whilst telecom providers store conversations and geographic coordinates, and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips are implanted to track and trace objects and people, and CCTV Cameras keep an eye on everyone, the technology we created is grabbing a hold on us and shaping reality at every level. In due course urban space will be controlling all motion of people, cars, and products everywhere.
In Simulacra and Simulation (1981) Jean Baudrillard begins with a tale about mapmakers that create a map of a powerful Empire. The level of detail in this map is so high that it integrates perfectly with the represented territory. However, as soon as the map is finished, it starts to perish. Eventually only the desert still contains some remains of the map. Baudrillard suggest we currently live in a reverse situation: not the map – the representation of the physical world, the simulacrum – is decaying, but the represented reality itself. Every corner of the world has been mapped, mediated. The western person lives in a world dominated by simulacra: films, photographs, paintings, novels, newspapers, radio and television programs, and internet. We hardly know the world from our own experience. The world as we know it primarily consists of simulacra, which gradually more and more seem to have no relation to something ‘real’. It becomes increasingly difficult to find pieces of the old, non-signified reality in it. The non-imitated reality is incorporated in a reality of imitations. The map, the model exists before reality and ultimately shapes reality, is reality itself – the precision of simulacra. Baudrillard observed a historically pattern based on the relation between the tendency people have to define and mark reality with signs – simulacra – and technological development, with which these signs can be multiplied. Imperative in this statement is that Baudrillard argues every artifact potentially can be a sign, a carrier of meaning.
Baudrillard asserts each simulacrum contains a life cycle, which can be categorized in four phases. In the first order of simulacra the image is the reflection of a basic reality; in the second order it masks and perverts a basic reality; in the third it masks the absence of a basic reality; and finally in the fourth order it bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum. The story of Bert and Bin Laden is a fitting case of reproductions leading its own life: Bert is a ‘talking’ puppet on a television show, representing a stereotyped grumpy man in the world outside the show. One could say Bert is part of the first order of simulacrum, as it is a reflection of a basic reality. The popularity of the sketches and its cross-border recognition made Bert into a celebrity appearing on T-shirts, mugs, cartoons, and in the hands of fans as a doll. Bert stood for more than just a complaining man: Bert became an icon, one that characterizes the sketches and its comical element, Bert stood for the show. Consequently Bert shifted to a second order of simulacrum, as images of Bert mask and distorts the original veracity. When in 1997 images of Bert were photoshopped for a series of “Bert is Evil” appearing on the Internet (showing the puppet with a mean expression on his face as Jack the Ripper, the assassinator of J.F. Kennedy, with Pamela Anderson, and as mentioned next to Bin Laden), Bert moved to the third order of simulacrum. Bert no longer represents the world-weary man, this original reality is dead; images of Bert mask his dearth. Finally Bert moved to the fourth order of simulacrum when his picture appeared on a series of protest posters, leading to controversy and shock. The image is what it is and nothing more: an image that refers to everything and nothing, but above all relates to itself and many contrasting interpretations. It leads to a direct effect, a sensation, a stimulation dismayed from depth. With digital technology it can be reproduced unlimited and unchanged, allowing it to lead its own life.
But there is more to in the story of the map; the map determines the territory. The assembly of images and signs has constructed its own reality, one that directs and controls all aspects of our life. Not only have the fictional characters of the sit-com Friends become closer to many people than their ‘actual’ friends, urban space is shaped by hyper-real situations and is influencing our everyday practices. Consequently one might argue that maps construct the representation of public space; is our perception of spatial organization and proximity between cities and urban spaces constructed by mapmakers? And are places loosing their relation to reality, turning into meaningless transit spaces? And are people prisoners of an enclosed space whose walls are people’s own routine? Are representations ultimately routing our cities?
In The Space of Flows (2000) Manuel Castells creates a dialectical opposition between the spatial organization of our common experience defined by cities – referred to as the ‘space of places’ – and a new logic of space structured on networks and flows of information – referred to as the ‘space of flow’. Castells proposes that the space of flows in traditional urban spaces transforms the city forms into ‘processes’. The film Koyaanisqatsi (USA: Reggio, 1982) exemplifies how metropolises are representative of circulation spaces, where people generally do not walk on the streets and prefer cars and freeways to move around, whilst being controlled by technology, architecture and corporate sponsoring. Following Castells it is possible to argue that urban public spaces have become increasingly non-places, it is a transit space that neglects social interaction, gazing and context. Although the space of flows should not be interpreted as a placeless space, places have increasingly lost their meaning in comparison to flows. A place can be described as a setting that carries meaning and has a self-contained form within boundaries of physical contiguity. These places may contribute to bringing people together as places have a capacity to encourage communication and interaction both socially and with the environment. Koyaanisqatsi shows how after the dawn of modern society characterized by advanced transportation technologies and mass production in the 19th century, people started to circulate faster through urban spaces, losing the capacity to communicate and interact with each other while in transit; modern cities are designed to control the flow of people, similar to information networks controlling the flow of processes.
In 1984 the Automatic Traffic Surveillance and Control Center came into existence when the city council and planning board of California decided to link the electronic traffic light sensors in the asphalt to a central computer. The computer was programmed to respond to Olympic Games timetable, which were held in Los Angeles, making it possible to direct the traffic flow to the stadiums during peak hours. Currently thousands of electronic measure points provide information to the central computer, which controls more then three thousand traffic lights. The computer compares the collected data to public transport schedules; if a bus is delayed, the computer will react by keeping the traffic lights green until the delay has dropped. Furthermore operators are able to alter the flow of traffic; in case of an emergency or a terror attack, the system can close off or open up specific streets. Currently improvements in consumer technologies make it possible to connect the traffic center to cell phones or mobile navigation systems. Cell phones facilitate a ubiquitous data space allowing control centers to calculate the position and traveling speed of individuals, making it possible to optimize the stream. In addition commercial navigation systems allow people to choose an alternative path; a child friendly way, an ecological route, or a picturesque road.
The city, as suggested by Baudrillard, is a scenario. Every corner, every square meter of city space is in the process of being mapped, curate, narrated, staged and being played with. However, as this map is constructed, the represented world is in decay; not only are effects of postmodernization – namely downsizing and outsourcing – causing massive unemployment and leaving cities to crumble, moreover the map and its representations are loosing their relation with reality. Multinational corporations, together with their stars, blockbusters, bestsellers and billboard charts are prescribing publics to belong to a sensation, an experience or an ideology, each with a universal way of life; ‘The American Dream’. Corporate multinationals have outgrown governmental authority. Western cities have transformed into service centers; the fabrication of products has shifted to one of advertising and sales of bulk obtained from low wage countries. Consequently the migration of labor forces from farm land to factory cities has resulted into unemployment and a festering of urban space. As institutions of confinement – school, barracks, factory, prison, hospital – are gradually disappearing, or turned into shopping malls and luxurious apartments; cities are turning into centers of control: the marketing capitals of the world. Copyrights and advertising form the basis of urban culture; corporate logos cover our streets, clothes, domains of education and healthcare, thus turning life and space in a matching corporate chimera. Advertisements do not longer promote a product, they promote a way of life; and sell an illusion. These illusions mask and distort the basic reality: ghettos, shanty towns, and possibly loss of all meaning.
Moreover these illusions control our life. The backdrop is that our society is confronted with deterritorialization, homogeneity and superficiality; former structures of authority in society were more about the individual and local identity than its dominant contemporary form. Meaningful social public places are lost in the flow of space; city design is reflecting the structure of technological networks, where data is processed through monotone routes. This ongoing transition will take new shape with the commencement of augmented space, and the possibilities it offers its public. There is now a large body of work and practice by new media artists concerning portable and wireless technologies and the cultural shaping and connotation of location. Various new media theorists, such as Drew Hemment, suggest a possible return of place from that ‘placeless place’ of cyberspace; “the exploratory movements of Locative Media lead to a convergence of geographical and data space, reversing the trend towards digital content being viewed as placeless, only encountered in the amorphous and other space of the Internet.” (Hemment, Locative Arts, 2004)
Locative Media distinguishes itself from older forms of media because of its quality to annotate and trace, with the former standing for their emancipatory potential and the latter signifying a perceived ‘Orwellian Society’. Because both annotation and tracing are symbiotic constituents of Locative Media, analyzing affect will have to include both the unfettered and authoritarian function of Locative Media. Cities are conveying publics how they may, can, sometimes how they have to, and sometimes how not to, behave and move. This can be related to the concept protocol – a universal, controlling logic that produces a horizontal network – in the sense that publics are voluntarily participating in the creation, expansion and tweaking of the pronounced norm. This process is assisted by technology, which in turn is managed by internal protocols. As urban territory is increasingly being integrated with virtualized information networks transforming into augmented space, assessing the role of Locative Media is increasingly vital. Some relevant questions to ask are:
Will Locative Media practices in augmented city space ultimately liberate or confine place?
Following the convergence of media and devices in one wireless, all-encompassing, wearable module, are we not giving privacy and ‘police monopolization’ away to an integral network of citizen and consumer surveillance?
Are Locative Media yet another form of distraction, to mask the third world entering Western society?
Are Locative Media practices the result of the global masses, modeled in order to unite, fight, emancipate and democratize?
Are annotating practices ultimately giving birth to a co-created utopia, or will it result in contradicting interpretation and loss of connotation, as authority and selectivity diminish with peer productions?
Can collective and artistic use of Locative Media give voice to silent, repressed and hidden to bring back individuality and local identity, or will they be another form of distraction limiting and confining its users?
Lately I’ve been taking a shovel to the Internet Archive, looking for material on the history of blogging. It used to be that a query for ‘blog history’ would return a number of would-be Spanish civil war buffs, but that’s changing now. More and more, attempts are made to sum up the various ins and outs of the movement that brought us permalinks and LOL cats.
This peaked in July with blogging’s 10-year anniversary. The Wall Street Journal celebrated the medium that gave “everyman a global soapbox” by interviewing Newt Gingrich, Mia Farrow and some guy from Google. All wasn’t well, though, and the anniversary brought along a quasi-interesting fight over who was first. Was the original blogger Dave Winer, as the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian contend? Or is Duncan Riley right to insist it was Justin Hall?
The problem, though, is that this is an all too narrow view of what the ‘history’ of blogging is, or should be. The focus on firsts won’t get anyone further than a timeline (surely it could at least be made reverse-chronological?). To understand how the pre-1999 grab bag of online diaries and old school weblogs produced a stable medium – their blogger.com ‘moment’ – one has to take a wider view of the software features and the community. In this regard, the best account on the Web remains Rebecca Blood’s 2000 essay, weblogs: a history and perspective. (At least until Anne posts her MA thesis, that is.)
Another idea is that every blogger will have a personal take on the medium’s development. (This is perhaps already clear in the blogospat mentioned above.) Although Rex Hammock was being ‘snarky’ when he said it, it’s not so controversial to point out that blogging has a relativist impulse, and this could be applied to its history as well.
The plot thickens even more when we start realizing that controversies about definitions and trajectories of blogging have been around since the beginning (and no, I’m not going to say when that was). Consider examples like these: Camworld’s Anatomy of a WebLog from 1999, a blogging manifesto at Bradlands, and an old Slashdot feature that states:
The weblog isn’t a new term on the Net, but it’s being used in a new way. One previous definition of weblog is an archive of activity on a web server. Another is an online diary. But in the context of the e-community, the weblog is new, and evolving rapidly, despite the fact that specialized and idiosyncratic sites have been around for some years.
And consider how each of these definitions circulated – from one blog to the next, adjusted for personal use, for mass consumption on Slashdot, or perhaps for the political leanings of a certain ‘netroots’. Finally, consider how this circulation is not so different to that of definitions of software features (HTML ‘standards’), and of definitions of the community (via ‘vintage’ blogrolls, Webrings and notification mailing lists).
Follow each of these paths, and the history of blogging may start to look useful, if less like a timeline.
To much disliking of my parents, as a kid I frequently would watch low budget television programs based on audience generated video fragments and unscripted pranks. These programs included the popular America’s Funniest Home Videos and candid camera shows such as Candid Camera. The first thing I remember about these programs is the very bad quality of the (mostly 8mm) picture, also the corny dubbing and the forced laughter spring to mind. Pretty much all the videos broadcasted on the show worked according to a simple formula, within a 10 second clip an unexpected event interrupts normality, if you’ve seen one you can guess with much certainty what will happen in the next. The popularity of these television shows has moved to the Internet, mainly YouTube; a user generated platform containing a wide variety of home-made video clips, eyewitness reports, webcam diaries and candid camera pranks. The worldwide appeal of YouTube (currently with the exception of Turkey) has made the site exceptionally attractive for early musicians. In previous posts on this blog (here and here) I have written about the promotion function of YouTube and its role as conservator of artistic production. YouTube has become a medium and platform in itself for art works and with it has given way to many marketers to exploit its function for advertising. Much has been written about the copyright infringements with concern to YouTube and its quality to provoke, harm and cause controversy. However, the aesthetics of these online videos has not received equal attention.
My first thought is to draw parallels to the old media formats, such as the previously mentioned television shows. Yet again what jumps to mind when picturing a YouTube video is the appalling picture quality. In the 80’s and 90’s user generated video content was often distinguishable from professional film because of its inferior aesthetic value. With the commencement of mass produced cheap digital camera’s and consumer friendly editing software packages one would expect the barrier between amateur and professional to vanish. Yet, YouTube seems to be a homogeneous style that mainly builds on eyewitness TV, candid camera formats and webcam diaries, moreover, the video quality is – just like its predecessor – second-rate. Mass produced lenses and technological advancements have done nothing to increase visual appeal. A logical answer is that whilst recording and editing techniques have highly developed; streaming, rendering and storage capabilities are still at an early stage of progression. YouTube converts uploaded videos into Flash, a low resolution codec, therewith making the pictures look cheap and unattractive. Currently video streaming platforms such Joox.net are experimenting with high resolution codecs such as DivX encoded films, which with their higher frame rate are considerably bigger in file size, making them more difficult to store and buffer (thus stream) with an average connection speed. However with technological improvements in storage capacities hard-drives and flash-disks have become incredibly cheap. Hopefully internet speeds, namely in developing countries, will increase too.
On the other hand video screens are becoming smaller. Physical screens are reduced in size as more and more media devices become portable. Also webplayers are smaller than the screens they are viewed on, mainly to compensate for the low resolution caused by its coding and to maintain a comfortable buffering time for its users. In the time when I was watching the above mentioned television shows, music videos were a branding tool for musicians and video artists were paid extensively for blockbuster like clips. Hard to believe budgets were spend on a 3 minute lasting slick eye-catching visual waterfall. Mark Romanek’s 1995 video for Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” is considered the most expensive ever, at an estimated $7 million. Nowadays the music industry is, as they proclaim themselves, in crisis from falling sales due to file sharing and loss of brand control. MTV, the once upon a time music channel pioneer with 24 hours around the clock videos, is pretty much only broadcasting real-life soaps, pranks, candid camera shows and video diaries. The stage for musicians and video artists has shifted to YouTube, i-Tunes, and various other networks. Consequently labels have less to spend on elaborate videos like those made by Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Romanek and Fincher, making ambitious videos an exotic species facing extinction. The dinosaur era of videos has made way to videos that will mostly be seen in miniature on computers. The result, as the Associate Press putts it, has been a major shift in the art form, as artists increasingly embrace the YouTube aesthetic with cheap, stripped-down, low-production videos. Directors have to adapt to the smaller-sized medium. “The new aesthetic is that it’s very low-budget, lo-fi, very do-it-yourself, not at all dedicated to the old style of music video which was always bigger and louder and more explosions and more money,” says Saul Austerlitz, author of Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from the Beatles to the White Stripes. “This is more a punk-rock aesthetic,” he adds. “It’s very exciting.” So now that music videos increasingly resemble video art, can we define how artistic practices influence the look of online footage?
During Video Vortex, organized by the Amsterdam based Institute for Network Cultures, filmmaker Andreas Treske talked about the alteration in viewing conditions and therewith a change in viewing experience caused by the composition, aesthetics, and cinematic rules and practices of film. As screens become smaller artists focus more on close ups to bring the viewer closer; consequently there is an emphasis on gestures and details are blurred out. The language of cinema is applicable in a reduced form. The iPhone offers viewing possibilities of full-scale films that are (still) edited for cinemas, however, engagement is lost as small screened devices are particularly used in transit. Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (coincidently my favorite film) could to some extend work quite well on a portable device. Leone made heavy use of close-ups, the emphasis on gestures, such as eye movement and accent on detail, allowed the audience to be drawn closer, engaging in a tense play of focus, blurring out the background and stressing on the root of what is at stake. However portable devices, such as the iPhone, are used ubiquitously, which is different from cinema, as cinema is framed according to a set place and time, making watching 175 minutes of Once Upon a Time in the West very difficult; engagement with the film is lost as one will also engage with the device, the surrounding, and the physical and social activity one performs (paradoxically this urban – and to a lesser extend domestic – surrounding is increasingly being filled with bigger screens). As the attention span is short, the composition of online videos is undersized and to the point. Hence with the compression of images/screen there is a compression of time and place.
It is therefore inevitable that we study new methods of impact and discover new ways relating it to video, says documentary maker Stefaan Decostere. In fact we should be thinking about an academic field of Impactology. Impact differs from effect and affect in that it is measurable and generates more impact. The OK Go video with four guys on a treadmill that plays millions of times on YouTube had a huge impact on its audience, in the sense that it was refreshingly fresh and inspired audiences to make and share their own videos. Many artists and directors are now creating videos knowing they’ll have to compete for eyeballs on YouTube. OK Go’s famous treadmill-choreographed video for “Here It Goes Again” was perfectly suited for viral distribution, but the power pop band is far from alone in its reconsidered methods. Wouter Hamel’s Don’t Ask video consisted of a compilation of YouTube videos in which his song was lip synced. The Decemberists and Modest Mouse both asked fans to fill in the background to a video shot in front of a green screen. Last year, Death Cab for Cutie sponsored professional videos for each of the 11 songs on their album “Plans.” For his album “The Information,” Beck personally created a video for every track. The silly, lo-fi videos, which ranged from puppet versions of the band to someone dancing in a bear mask and poncho, were posted on YouTube and many copies of the album included a bonus DVD (source: AP). The bombardment of images makes artists constantly busy in finding new methods of impact. Can we delay impact? Route around it? Stop it? Television does not have the impact anymore. Not only have audiences become “too smart” for the tricks played out on them, television is associated with scripted formats and this no longer appeals to audiences who seem more interested in individuals, real life characters, and unscripted spontaneity. This might explain MTV’s shift to around the clock real-life soaps, pranks and diaries. Unscripted videos are about the individuals and less about the author/director, making it suited for the individualistic mentality present in contemporary western society. The “i” in iPhone, and the “You” in YouTube pretty much stand for the take on individuality and diversity. However, one might ask, how come all this focus on diversity produces forth a pool of homogeneity; standard formats of amateur repeats?
Helen Kambouri, researcher at the Kekmokop Institute in Athens, argues there is a tendency for Greek videos to contain a repetition of semantics, where bodily movements are persistently recurring. To exemplify her observation Kambouri turns to a violent video on YouTube that gained celebrity status in Greece. The video shows a local police station in Athens where two (supposedly) illegal Albanian immigrants are being told to repeatedly slap each other, which they do. The Greek police officer giving orders, who later states to have acted out of boredom, is also the director of the video. The violent video is recorded on a mobile phone and circulated via MMS, after which a Turkish blogger posted the clip on YouTube. The film has received, mainly because of its violent premise, much attention and is amongst the top YouTube hits in Greece. Kambouri says there is a difference in the (effortless) repetition on new media channels such as the mobile phone and YouTube from the repetition of television economy, which is based on transcription. There is no linear matter of storytelling but a repetition of semantics, similarly a video of a prostitute shows a woman constantly making the same hip movement over and over again. Complex narrative has made way for simplistic emphasis on the premise; the Greek police video is an individualistic project, where a violent act is distributed publicly for the purpose of confirming the role of its maker as that of a director in charge of what is being recorded.
There are, as mentioned earlier, parallels one could draw between online videos and user generated content (e.g. home videos) via television, but one could even go back further; Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick. Often slapstick segments are short, bad quality, and repetitious. Chaplin’s films are still being aired and repeated through various media (cinema, television, VHS, DVD, online networks). Many of the slapstick films are directed and acted out by Chaplin; an individualistic project. The narrative of slapstick films are a repetition of semantics, instead of a linear story. However, the focus on contemporary videos seems to be on the unscripted nature of the sequence of events. The bigger impact of online videos on its viewers can be related to its close relation with reality; authentic is more shocking than fiction. What YouTube and sites allike demonstrate is that authenticity can be portrayed best when it is aesthetically amateur, gonzo, lo-fi, raw, rock and roll.
Patricia Pisters, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, commented on statements made concerning television’s loss of impact and YouTube’s success, by referring to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s controversial film Submission, which was screened only once on television and caused much commotion because of the huge impact, however, when it was repeated via YouTube there was hardly any fuss, it had no impact at all. Hopefully this will also be the case when Geert Wilders puts his movie about the Koran on YouTube, as he intends to do.
Christian Nold’s talk on Locative Media Autopsy at the 2008 The Mobile City conference dealt primarily with the question what Locative Media really is. Is it just a techno-fetishistic vision of gadget lovers, or should we perhaps take it more seriously to uncover its hidden uses?
Starting off, Nold talks about an interesting vision: ‘Locative Media is perhaps regarded as a strange other space, which goes beyond the top-down image of the Gods.’ Continuing: ‘I’m curious: Are we comfortable representing our cities like that?’ More specifically, what is represented in technofetishistic visualiations of locative media, and what kind of social relations are generated by this technofestishism?
According to Nold old maps sometimes provide much richer representations of what is going on, exemplary of this is a map Nold shows in which nymfs represent forests. So far, locative media has been predominantly about terms that do not encompass any social community building: gather, share, play, visualise and imagine. Perhaps it is useful to complement these terms with: collaborate, archive, educate, challenge, change behaviour and organise. Of which the latter is perhaps the most important one, with regards to for example smart mobs, Nold: ‘People are doing all sorts of stuff with mobile phones, how does this lead to social interaction?
Interesting examples of locative media enabling new forms of social relations are the Oakland Crime Spotting map, which reinterprets public data. “Normal” police crime is broken down in terms of different crimes, at different times. There are however, more complicated ways to go through data and make it publically available and usable. As an effect, cops were surprised to see data visualized in new ways, enabling new interpretations of the data. Nold: ‘If this project takes itself seriously and is an intended community project, it can start to go beyond the point of collecting new data. My question is: ‘How much crime is not being reported? Imagine if that could be represented. In order to do this, the extra step of working long-time within an area must be made.’
More examples include the Register your Fruit Tree” and “Fallen Fruit of Silver Lake” maps, which show ways to collect your fruit. Nold: ‘Through these maps you can start to think about social relationships that are caused by these project, and not just about the food. You might actually start talking to people who live in that house.’ Not a map, but very interesting in this aspect is the documentary “The power of community: how Cuba survived peak oil”. This documentary shows essential connections in the time when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost 50% of its oil imports. Because of Cuba’s agro-chemical background, many of the countries resources were rendered useless. The effects were that the average Cuban lost 30 pounds in body weight, but also the design of a community bus, which was a truck turned into a bus by adding a carrier.
Nold emphasizes that it is important to take locative media seriously, instead of being just a nice techno-fetishistic gadget. Nold: ‘Taking pictures with mobile phones is getting more serious.’ A next step in design could be designing for responsive communities and getting involved with people. An example of this from Nold’s work is his wellknown BioMapping project, but also his communal noise mapping project. For this project, Nold handed out decibel meters, which allowed the community to challenge “official” government numbers. The data so far was based on total noise levels and not on specific individual experience. Therefore the project also included adjective ratings such for sound such as: ‘silent, exetermely quiet, bassy, painful, exhausting, threatening, abrupt.’ In another project, the Silvertown affect map, the question is asked: How do you build maps that really get that local discussion going?’ Nold concludes: ‘For the BioMapping project, we turned the lie detector into something else. The context is not “are you lying”, but the physical environment. The context is very important, and for me that is where this new area of contextual media and responsive communities is going.’
Report by Twan Eikelenboom