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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Women and men, both, are forever trying to achieve what emerged in the 1880s as the work-leisure balance. Each of us are constantly juggling commitments: friends, family, career, ambition, hobbies, inner-drive, chores, household tasks, running errands and answering emails.

Technology has made these processes more seamless and more demanding. As other peoples’ availability and accessibility increases, the same is thought of and applied to us.

For students, a further dimension is added into the equation when school/tertiary/further study becomes another immersion and pleasure with deadlines, readings and out-of-hours time required to complete and pass each course. You’ll of course then have to earn a living and manage the other aspects of life simultaneously. And while there are the old 9 to 5, or 8-8-8 expressions, the reality of the world today is that flexibility and adaptability are keys to success, achievement and sanity.

I’m pretty terrible with flexibility, I like routine. But I’m slowly and steadily trying to stretch and thoughtfully strain those tired muscles and help them to regain some youthful flexibility.

While we’re on the topic of flexibility, have you ever wondered how those amazing women you see on stage manage their dual roles as mother-actress/dancer/musician/performer?

On top of the complexities other workers, commuters and you and I have to face, those drawn to the stage and screen must also integrate rehearsals, shows, touring and long days and nights into their ‘routine’.

I recently spoke to a few notable women who find themselves in this position (no pun intended) and wrote about it for artsHub. Check it out for some insight into living the days and loving the nights, and how to be constantly ‘on’ and present.

The final reading for Networked Media is Steve Dietz’s Ten Dreams of Technology. Dietz works with museums to architect digitally based cultural programming and is currently the Director of New Media Initiatives at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ten Dreams of Technology is a speculative piece about what the future holds for the intersection of art and technology. Dietz says each of his ‘dreams’ (or themes) has a future ‘even if we do not yet know what it is and despite the certainty with which it is predicted’. This seems to summarise so much of the Networked Media course – less focused on conclusions, finite answers; more about opening doorways and exploring possibilities of what could emerge.

Dietz’s collection of ‘dreams’ are a manifestation of artists’ questions and artworks which he describes as being admirably ‘compelling’. His dreams are as follows:

  • The Dream of Symbiosis
  • The Dream of Emergence
  • The Dream of Immersion
  • The Dream of World Peace
  • The Dream of Transparency
  • The Dream of Flows
  • The Dream of Open Work
  • The Dream of the Other
  • The Dream of New Art
  • Hacking the Dream

The Dream of New Art is possibly the most obvious of these dreams, given the potential of the online world and what it may offer the art world (alongside almost every other field). Dietz writes that ‘as moving images eventually created cinema’, internet-based art encourages exploration and the creation of a whole new art form.

In explaining The Dream of Symbiosis, Dietz refers to Norbert Wiener’s concept of Cybernetics, where the human and the machine learn from their interaction with the other, and could thus evolve to a high level of functioning.

Dietz also quotes J.C.R. Licklider (1960) – a contemporary of Wiener – who said the coupling of human brains and computer machines will form a partnership with the ability to:

‘think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today’.

These schools of thought resonate with the work of Ray Kurzweil on Artificial Intelligence, and Spike Jones’ Her.

The Dream of Immersion is evident in the works of Char Davis, to whom envelopment is at the core of her works. Dietz also suggests virtual reality as a technological manifestation of viewer immersion, a development of Myron Krueger’s ‘responsive environments’ and ‘artificial reality’.

I particularly liked The Dream of World Peace. This ‘dream’ is based on the rhetoric that:

‘the ability to communicate quickly and easily leads to greater understanding, which then leads to greater tolerance and the certainty of harmony’ .

Whether that is idealistic, ignorant or hopeful, I’m not sure. Perhaps all three, yet it is a dream I suspect offers great universal potential for progress and resolve.

On The Dream of Open Work, Dietz cites Umberto Eco (1987):

‘every reception of a work of art is both an interpretation and a performance of it, because in every reception the work takes on a fresh perspective’.

While the ideas are far from the same, this nonetheless reminded me of Elliot’s question whether narratives exist only after we recognise them internally. I suppose it suggests the power of our cultural, personal and varied histories in influencing how we perceive, comprehend and interpret works of art.

I’d suggest the ways in which Dietz acknowledges the innovation of the digital age summarises so much of what we’ve discussed over the past six weeks:

‘One of the strongests shifts of emphasis in the digital age has been on the production side and on the movement from creating finished works of art to creating systems for the production of art.’

His use of the word ‘systems’ and focus on production, creativity and openness accounts for many of the ideas Networked Media has unveiled and propelled me into examining.

Finally, I found great pleasure in Dietz’s use of the term ‘hacking’. I’ve recently written a lot about hacking and hackschooling, and Logan LaPlante‘s TEDx talk. Dietz writes:

‘Artists were among the earliest and most active participants to recognize the potential of the Internet – certainly long before most institutions and corporations.’

Artists use the online world as a networking tool as well as a source and vehicle for creativity, or ‘to hack its capabilities for alternative purposes’. The whole hacking philosophy is so often portrayed in the media in such a negative light, and yet the work of hacking pioneers such as the late Aaron Swartz, and LaPlante himself are motivated through the search for the greater good. Hacking might be devious in some cases, but we must refrain from generalising in this area. The digital age has given us the opportunity to hack networks in the pursuit of maximising their potential.

Richard Stallman said hackers explore the limits of what is possible, thereby doing something exciting and meaningful. And isn’t this what life is ultimately about?

Dietz’s ‘dreams’ expose the potential the digital age offers the evolving art world. But I think we could extrapolate these possibilities into other fields when examining their potential in a constantly evolving world. The future demands we approach with open minds, eyes and ears, and engage with networks, technologies and other human beings to stimulate ourselves into making a positive contribution to the world of future generations. Just how, is up to us.

And here’s an amazing example of the symbiosis of traditional art and technology:

There are so many reasons to talk about mental health and wellbeing.

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Our world is facing anything and everything at once. Big universal issues of poverty, malnutrition, economic crises, disease, unemployment, climate change and outbreaks of war. And communities are suffering overflows of waste, insufficient maternal and child healthcare, inflated petrol prices and supermarket wastage.

I find it incredible that every single person – or dog, cat, ant or any other living, breathing species – is unique. Everyone has their own history, experiences and story to tell. Each person is their own mixture of their parents, friends, extended family, education, culture and religion. It really takes my breath away knowing that each person I speak to, interact or make eye contact with, as well as every person I just pass someone on the street, is one of a kind. And anyone you have heard of, referenced, imagined or backstabbed is, too.

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I’m no saint. Sure, I’ve spoken a bad word about someone behind their back, joked about a person’s shoes being too big, their hair unkempt (although let’s face it, I’m the number one perpetrator of that ‘crime’), and criticised someone’s decisions based on my personal principles. But that’s just it. My judgements, assumptions and assertions are my own, stemming from my personal, social, familial and cultural background. I’m trying to to judge less, and accept and appreciate more. Because if someone is acting safely, in a manner that could be widely considered as socially, ethically and morally just, then really, who are we to judge?

The times are tough and tedious and I think you’d be searching far and wide to find someone who wasn’t in need of a helping hand in one way or another. Maybe your grandmother needs someone to take her grocery shopping because she can’t carry all the bags back to the car/bus/tram. A friend might want a wingman for a first date on Valentine’s Day. Or maybe your loving, caring mother or father might appreciate a phone call from their long, lost daughter or son who they haven’t seen in weeks, despite you living just a couple of suburbs away, across the river.

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I say this because everyone deserves a life – a life where they feel appreciated and loved for who they are, no matter their race, religion, sexual identity, gender, socio-economic status, whether they live in a house, a yurt or they choose a nomadic lifestyle. If someone has committed a crime, they deserve a chance to redeem themselves if they are willing to work towards a better and more sustainable life in which they will contribute positively to society.

And so often, it’s about the words we choose. Naming and shaming does nobody any good. Not one of us is perfect; no one has everything. Social media perpetuates this constant feeling of inferiority, FOMO, hints to us that we’re insignificant in a burgeoning network and sea of faces. But as I said, in each (legitimate) profile picture, is a whole person. A person with unique feelings, thoughts and experiences from which we can learn, and influence in the best ways we know how.

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Alongside all the heavy weights pulling on the world, everyone also has their own troubles and challenges. While I’d love to be able to resolve global conflicts, find a cure for dementia or cancer, or provide a home for all those seeking asylum across the globe, I’m aware of trying to ground myself in reality. That’s not to say one person cannot make an impact, instigate change or contribute to solving any one of an array of international issues. But if that’s a bit overwhelming, maybe we can start closer to home.

Everyone can find themselves in a sticky situation where they’re left feeling vulnerable and alone. For some, this is rare, and these people are lucky. For others, helplessness and struggle seem to be daily battles occurring within the depths of their stomach, their heart, their mind. These people do have a bright future ahead of them. They might just need a leg up over the bushes to see it.

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A huge percentage of the world’s population are facing or coming to terms with mental ill health. Mental health is a precursor for a life where one is appropriately stretched and tested, and is gratified and celebrated in return.

We need to let these people know that while despair can be debilitating, it too, shall pass.

Thankfully, there are thousands and thousands of people across the world who are striving everyday to communicate this message to those who need it. And if you don’t need it now, chances are you or someone you love will need a little shot of hope somewhere down the track.

So many industries and sectors are working their butts off to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and appreciated. Every month, awareness is growing, as are available support groups, networks and healthcare professionals. You might not need that kind of support, and that’s okay too. Sometimes your greatest support can be your puppy, your partner, or even a note pad and pen.

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I second the responses of Thu-Huong Ha, who in December, asked the question, How should we talk about mental health?. Drawing on wisdom from TED speakers, she highlighted the importance of sensitivity, being considerate, and respect when talking about the health of our minds. I suggest this is the same respect and thought we give others who’ve broken a bone and cannot participate in a shopping spree, or those who’ve been diagnosed with a condition that’ll put them out of work for weeks or months at a time.

We do not give up on these physically scarred individuals. Because everyone who is scarred, is also healing. They are one and the same. Healing is a process which only time can propel. But with the right treatment, ointment, love and care, we can all heal, whatever our wound, and in turn, help others to do the same.

Nobody else can tell your story. And it’s okay to ask for help to relocate your voice, your legs and your lungs, so that you can.

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Support Services Australia:

headspace

beyondblue

Black Dog Institute

Butterfly Foundation

twenty10

Lifeline

Kids Helpline

Relationships Australia

International:

Mental Health America

Mind (UK)

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

Canadian Mental Health Association

Or please use Google to find the most direct and appropriate service for you.

The attendance at today’s symposium was rather dismal. Seems like actor-network theory is a hard task for many of us, so much so that our tutor brought glucose in the form of homemade fudge to fuel our tired brains. Yes, it is Monday, but having spent the majority of the last week and the whole weekend doing work for Broadcast Media, we’re all in need of a good night’s sleep.

To begin our discussion, we watched the same Youtube video I watched at home when trying to establishing a grasp on the methodology. A number of participants voiced their concern of simply not seeing the point of ANT, especially in regards to any kind of practical application it may have.

Our tutor, Elliot, emphasised the importance of ANT as being generative, a mode of mapping out the fundamental connections between things to they can be better understood. In and of itself, ANT doesn’t try to do anything, rather, it is a lens by which to view connections.

ANT considers the ability of A to affect B – the ability of one actor to act upon another. An actor can also be an organisation or a group of individuals who on some level are considered to be a collective.

We discussed semiotics – the study of signs, signifiers and symbols – and Latour’s position on the discipline. Essentially, Latour is not a fan. Semiotics isn’t important to ANT as ANT is more simply about the mapping of connections, rather than their meaning.

I also find some application of semiotics difficult, particularly in the context of study texts, as we did at school. Too often we were asked the purpose or meaning of choosing one word over another, or employing a certain literary ‘device’. This happened continuously when we were studying poetry which really bothered me because as a writer myself, sometimes I write something purely because I like how it sounds or its aesthetic, rather than to inject a hidden meaning into my prose. Of course, this only applies in certain cases, but trying to evoke meaning out of something that has none deeper than sensual pleasure seems to undermine its significance.

After listening to others’ questions and tried explanations of ANT, I asked whether the framework might just be about not jumping to conclusions or making too many assumptions without considering all factors or ‘actors’ that may influence these connections. While this is very simplistic and merely formative, Elliot was pretty happy with my summation, which in turn, left me feeling like I had a greater grasp of ANT overall.

To finish up, while discussing our final niki on Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google, in class, someone brought up the website Let Me Google That For You. I’d never heard of it before but will be sure make use of it – in jest – the next time someone asks me a daft question they’d resolve much faster through asking Dr Google themselves.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 4.15.41 pmWithout saying too much (and there’s not much to say anyhow), you’re basically provided with a visual guide on how to conduct a Google search. But I suggest you take and use it with caution, just in case your hint comes across as being a little too sarcastic or passive-aggressive.

I feel like so much has happened this week. I’m constantly looking to Twitter, the newspaper, Facebook, television, tuning into the radio and those around me, in an attempt to keep up with everything going on.

My schedule seems to have been more hectic than usual. Work for university seems to have blown in my face en masse, despite me remaining relatively up to date throughout the semester. This week has seen numerous group meetings, time spent in the edit suites crafting and perfecting a short broadcast program, numerous blogs, readings and symposium conversations, time researching new theories and concepts on networks, technology and Ray Kurzweil amongst others.

Today, my Broadcast Media television group reshot some footage for our current affairs segment at N2 Extreme Gelato in the 40 degree heat, where the menu included tofu and Kopiko creme gelati for the week’s Chinese New Year theme.

ImageI spent my Thursday at my internship collating information on how different not-for-profits organise their media coverage, discussing events and updating brand and logo charts.

I am often overwhelmed by the weekend newspapers and having recently approached them differently, which actually involves getting on with other things before I’ve read the entire editions back to front. While this has enabled me to be more productive and somewhat less restricted, today, I found myself still trying to finish off last Saturday’s magazines while this week’s ones were on the dinning room table. The perils of so much information and diverse interests.

This week also brought us a number of media controversies and notable world events (or non-events). There was the attack on ABC from numerous Coalition and associated identities and Abbott’s announcement of an ‘efficiency study’ into the network and the SBS.

SPC Ardmona became a company in even more dire straits while local Liberal MP Sharman Stone stood up to her party and the nation’s leader in defence of the rights of her people.

The winner of America’s 15th season of The Biggest Loser spurred a worldwide controversy over the program’s lack of ethics, and disrespect for individuals’ health and overall wellbeing in favour of sensationalistic and damaging television. Fortunately, much of the health and wellness industry has spoken out against the show, but I still saw too many tweets and comments by mainstream news organisations and high profile individuals who saw Rachel’s extreme ‘makeover’ as ‘inspirational’, and led to me posting this:

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This came on the back of a contentious ‘body image issue’ of Fairfax Media’s Sunday Life magazine. For a good read in response to the issue, check out Madeline Beveridge’s letter to the publishers.

The Pakistani government and the Taliban didn’t and then did meet, and an evacuation of the besieged Syrian city of Homs finally began.

The creative industry and beyond were shocked by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Daily Telegraph sank to new journalistic lows – which I have chosen not to link to as they/it/he deserve no further coverage of such a distasteful nature.

And of course, Sochi happened, although whether the region was ready or not is another point up for discussion. While many athletes and journalists had photographic proof of their arduous arrival and accommodation, Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, retaliated and claimed he could be certain all such reports were false as Russia had ‘surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day’. Apparently Mr Kozak was pulled away before he could make any other spying admissions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.30 pm Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.39 pmFinally, Google came out in support of all people and the Winter Olympics with a lovely Google doodle to mark the games’ opening, which also appeared on Google’s Russian homepage.

unnamedSo that’s just a snippet of what’s making news in my world this week. Here’s hoping for more progress, equality, peace and awareness in the week to come.

Actor-network theory – ANT. Wow.

I think I’m going to need a while to sit and consider Bruno Latour’s ANT concept, and then revisit it time and time again to gain a more comprehensive understanding. However, after some academic research and the help of some handy Youtube tutorials ‘in plain English‘, here’s what I’ve come to ingest thus far.

ANT is commonly misunderstood (something of which I’m not surprised given its complexity). It is a theory (though not concerned with ‘why’ or ‘how’) based on free association between actors – or actants – who can be human, non-human, and/or non-individual entities.

Technological determinism assumes technical changes occur as through technical elements of a technical network. In parallel, social determinism favours social categories as instigators of change. ANT disregards both determinisms, seeing them as flawed.

Latour says ANT ‘wishes to build social theory out of networks’ and asserts a socio-technical approach where most things considered ‘technical’ are also socially-informed in the same way social networks are being technically-influenced.

In ANT, an actor ‘is something that acts or to which activity is granted by others [and] can be anything provided it is granted to be the source of an action’. All actants are equal and cannot be considered purely technical nor social. Furthermore, each actant is in themselves a network, consisting of various elements.

‘ANT makes use of some of the simplest properties of nets and then add to it an actor that does some work; the addition of such an ontological ingredient deeply modifies it.’

ANT lets go of the following oppositions:

  • Far/close: networks rid us of ‘the tyranny of distance’ or proximity. For example, you can be sitting next to someone on Platform One waiting for your next train to Hurstbridge and be on the phone to your housemate at home. Physically, you are in closer proximity to the person by your side yet network theory positions you as being more closely connected to your friend, a number of kilometres away, at home.
  • Small scale/large scale: Latour says no network is bigger than another, they are simply longer or more intensely connected. This point is something I’ll have to consider at greater length as to me, at this present time, it questions many of my assumptions (inherently influenced by media and the like) that networks can be big or small.
  • Inside/outside: Latour also states ‘a network is a positive notion which does not need negativity to be understood’ as it is ‘all boundary’ where the only question can be whether a connection exists between two elements.
  • And, priori order relation: this somewhat contradicts my preceding simplistic, superficial understandings regarding social networks (the connotations of which Latour notes and seeks to dislodge). However, I understand that while nodes are of differing sizes, networks aren’t simple structures of hierarchy. They are of changeable scales, where their type, number and topography of connections can grow, shrink and evolve throughout time.

ANT seems to be pretty democratic. It is fair and refrains from privileging any actant over another. Actors are conceived as ‘flows’, circulating objects whose continuity must be obtained by other actions and trials. They are ‘infinite[ly] pliab[le]’ and ‘absolute[ly] free’.

To further complicate things, Latour says the only explanation for ANT comes from networks’ essential property of ‘become[ing] more explainable as [the networks] go and depending on what they do to one another’.

‘Each network by growing in ‘binds’ so to speak the explanatory resources around it and there is no way they can be detached from its growth… Every network surround[s] itself with its own frame of reference, its own definition of growth, of referring, of framing, of explaining.’

In conclusion, ANT focuses on adding, connecting, and travelling, and mapping relations between what is material and what is conceptual.

Nine thirty on a Wednesday morning. The city bustles with trains, trams and pedestrians commuting to work, school or study. The sun shines down on Melbourne town and offers up the fresh possibilities of a new day.

The students trickle in; 9.27, 9.29, 9.35, and so on. Slowly, slowly, the little classroom on level two fills as seats are taken around two tables pushed together, forming a square in the centre of the room.

Not all symposium leaders are present, but the discussion begins nonetheless. The cohort are distinctly quiet this day. Are the readings too complex? Are they too far removed from our ways of thinking? Or are we simply just too damn tired to raise our voices?

Eyes are held awake – literally, by the strength of a thumb and pointer finger. Stretch, skin, keep those eyelids concertinaed, stuck near their eyebrow friends.

Someone speaks of Deleuze. My notes say he doesn’t like the way language has developed. He moves towards factoring option into language.

Another one speaks. Understanding seems profound, yet upon later consultation, its instigator admits to only a partial grasp of the concepts buried within.

We move to Manovich – digital media theorist and artist. A theory and practice, coinciding quite strongly.

And then Elliot suggests: narratives can only be recognised internally, cognitively.

Really?

It’s certainly something to consider. Are stories prewritten, there for consumption? Or are we all actors in their creation as our open eyes scan pages, ears listen, brain and mind comprehend?

We proceed to games. Modern games primarily present a diegetic environment, sometimes with a narrative emerging. Is this like the Sims?, I wonder.

Linear games have a highly systematised narrative and the game becomes about the narrative itself. We discuss EVE Online:

‘a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMORPG) that takes place approximately 20,000 years after our times in a galaxy on the far end of the universe…EVE is a single “shard” world [meaning] everyone who joins EVE becomes a part of the same world and the same community…In EVE you are free to choose your own destiny, [free from restrictions of] predefined character classes or professions.’

So EVE presents us with a second life as similar or far from our own as we please. In EVE, players may find a new sense of agency, or purpose. We are free to construct a narrative internally, and execute it within the ‘confines’ of the virtual world.

Conversation peaks and wavers again. Ten fifteen, more bodies in the room. By 10:30, symposium done, group work begun.

And we consider another future where, much like in Her, computers are intelligent, and we learn from one another. Our relationship becomes reciprocal. Just how far off this world is, only time will tell.