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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:

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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.

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.

In today’s Networked Media class, we had the opportunity to share our ‘niki’ entries, and read and provide feedback to other groups on their entries.

Nearing the end of the summer course, today marked the conclusion of the work on our second niki, for which my group (with Bryan and Venessa) focused on Pinterest.

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I’ve posted vaguely about Pinterest in the past, but if you’re ever looking for a mind-soothing relaxant without wanting to pop a pill, make the effort to take a bath or heat up some milk, Pinterest is your go to remedy.

Pinterest is essentially a virtual pin board and an avenue for exploring the world through collecting visual stimuli that take your fancy. Pinterest is kind of like Instagram in that its primary media is photographs, but Pinterest offers a greater scope for personal expression. For instance, I have six Pinboards on my profile, which I add to irregularly and usually in blocks. Unlike other social networks, I tend to use Pinterest only a couple of times a week – when I’m in need of said, quick brain-cure. It’s like flicking through your favourite magazine yet one that you can actually tailor specifically to your interests. A la other social networks, you choose who you follow, or even which boards you follow, and voila, hello Pinspiration!

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In another life, I was/will be an interior designer. For years and years I’ve adored trawling the web for oh-so-desirable interiors, and looking through (sadly buying few) ridiculously pricey coffee table books on home design and spatial erotica. ‘Interior porn’ is rampant online and I eat that shit up like there’s no tomorrow. Perhaps it stems from being dragged – weekly – to auctions as a child, along with house inspections and open gardens for the pure visual spectacle. But however it began, I’m so glad to have a simple pleasure in which I can indulge with just the click of a button or a trip to the bookshop, (except maybe when I’m Procrastipinning, something so hard to cease once you’ve found yourself in a New York loft or by the sea in Postiano, Italy).

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For our niki, my group decided to focus on a different aspect of the ever-growing social network; the business end. We came up with a speculative panel discussion between the business team behind Pinterest and retailers interested in utilising the platform to market their products.

Pinterest is actually such an intuitive marketing platform that almost inherently has Pinners become a part of the brand’s marketing team by liking and repining the retailers pins. If you’re interested in our speculative responses and more reasons to get pinning, check out our Pinterest niki page.

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Last night I saw the recent Spike Jones film, Her. I’d heard and read raving reviews so had pretty high expectations for this drama/rom-com/sci-fi amalgamation and I’m also a big fan of many of the actors (ScarJo especially). I’d also read that Woody Allen had a been a big influence on the script, making me all the more intrigued to see it.

Upon reflection, my thoughts on the film overall are mixed. It was too long and the purposes of some scenes were somewhat murky. But what struck me was how much the film reflects and draws directly on so much of what I’m learning about in Networked Media.

Firstly, Theodore’s world is one structured by and through digital enhancement. Despite the film being categorised partly as science fiction, I’d suggest that perhaps it is more inline with what I’ve come to understand as design fiction, where the world has been furthered through a multiplicity of developments that have lead to real, imaginable social changes. While the technologies available to Theodore and his peers seem, at present, innovative and futuristic, it’s quite imaginable they may come to fruition in the not too distant future.

The interaction Theodore has – and the relationship he develops – with his AI-OS (Artificial Intelligence Operating System), Samantha, is an example of the tangible realities that could eventuate from progressions in technology and design.

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However, what struck me as being particularly relevant to this week’s Laszlo-Barabasi readings, was the ever-expanding nature of Samantha, who unlike Theodore, has unlimited capacity and connections to thousands of other humans and OSs, without having to risk losing or severing those she has already formed.

Laszlo-Barabasi (2003) discusses the fundamentals of understanding hubs in network science. He suggests Pareto’s 80/20 rule as being like Murphy’s Law of management. The rule states that in most cases, four-fifths of peoples’ (or stations’/particles’/single enterprises’) efforts are largely irrelevant. For example, it could be said that 80 per cent of a company’s profits are produced by only 20 per cent of its employees, or 80 per cent of decisions are made during 20 per cent of meeting time. To contextualise this in terms of network science and the web, Laszlo-Barabassi says 80 per cent of links on the web point to only 15 per cent of webpages.

He then explains the process by which a power law was discovered to express this distribution of webpages on a log plot. Much to my surprise, I actually understood what he was talking about in terms of histograms, log plots, power laws and other mathematical expressions, thanks to VCE Further Mathematics. Laszlo-Barabasi explains:

‘Power laws formulate in mathematical terms the notion that a few large events carry most of the action.’ p. 72

For us, this means many small events (or webpages) coexist with a few larger webpages. These larger webpages could thus be seen as hubs, and Laszlo-Barabasi found that this power law applied to many other disciplines and situations such as Hollywood (see my Six Degrees post re: Kevin Bacon) and physics. Basically, ‘hubs are the consequence of power laws [which] remove[d] networks from the realm of the random’ (p. 78).

However, Strogatz and Watts assumed the networks in which these hubs exist were static, or fixed. What Laszlo-Barabasi and colleagues discovered (in trying to explain the relevance of power laws) were two new rules that came to define a ‘scale-free’ network, the first of which is growth.

Like Theodore’s AI-OS, Samantha real networks incorporate growth. They are constantly acquiring new connections, establishing additional relationships and links to both new and already-existing content. Samantha has the ability to be engaged in multiple conversations – and intimate relationships – at once, and her potential to grow only increases as more links are formed.

Laszlo-Barabasi’s second rule is that of preferential attachment, something we could apply to Samantha’s treatment of and relationship with Theodore. The rule suggests we have an unconscious bias to link to nodes we know ‘which are inevitably the more connected nodes of the web’ (p. 85).

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Preferential attachment says that while our individual choices are highly unpredictable – as is Samantha’s strong ‘preference’ for Theodore – as a group, we follow strict patterns. Like Hollywood and Samantha, the web is far from democratic, and not everyone, or every webpage, is equal. And Laszlo-Barabasi says:

‘Network evolution is governed by the subtle yet unforgiving law of preferential attachment.’ p. 86

As is the case with Samantha and her fellow OSs, there are other factors such as ageing and ‘system upgrading’ processes that affect network topology which can be incorporated into a theoretical construct of evolving networks.

But, ‘[n]o matter how large and complex a network becomes, as long as preferential attachment and growth are present it will maintain its hub-dominated scale-free topology.’ p. 91

Sadly, for Theodore, this means Samantha has the potential to leave the ‘human realm’, as she grows and sustains more relationships. But luckily for us, this predicament does (at least for the moment) only exist in the world of design fiction and thus, our networks will continue to expand, and exist within our reach.

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I’m sure you’ve all heard someone talk about six degrees of separation.  Essentially, the premise of the idea – once thought to be only a myth – is that everyone on the planet is connected in just a few steps. Six, to be exact.

As unlikely as this may seem, in the not too distant past scientists established a new discipline of network science, to focus on the very nature of such connections and how people – and other groups – act according to others’ behaviour, and the implications of such interactions in the real world.

The science of networks was primarily born out of the work of Professor Steve Strogatz of Cornell University and Duncan Watts of Columbia University. Watts was a graduate student of Strogatz at Cornell and the pair were interested in how individual behaviour aggregated to collective behaviour.

Strogatz and Watts recognised that physics is the science of particles and individual behaviour, and interactions up the scale of single atoms, and chemistry is the discipline of the interaction between these atoms. Working upwards along this spectrum, next comes molecular biology, then medical science, ecology, epidemiology, sociology, and economics. However, there was no study yet that specifically considered what the pair were fascinated by – how an initial disruption to a system or ‘network’ of sorts makes subsequent disruptions more likely. This pointed to a inadequate understanding of interdependencies in systems, and collective behaviour in general.

‘a network is nothing more than a collection of objects connected to each other in some fashion’ Watts, 2003, p. 27

Strogatz and Watts identified the power plant networks across the United States as the world’s largest machine. An organisation that grew itself to meet growing demands of industry and production, there were 5000 power plants across the country and yet ‘only a few hops’ between one plant and another. Similarly, neurons in the brain are only a few synapses away from another neuron and thus, what really were huge networks of interconnected individuals were actually worlds connected by invisible links which made such apparent big worlds, in fact small.

Another Professor, Albert Laszlo-Barabasi of Northeastern University also found promise in network science. He began to study the possibilities networks offered as a way of predicting the future based on the hypothesis that events are never isolated and that they depend on each other. This too became a study of understanding the interactions within a network and in the mid 1990s, the world wide web became a vital source through which network science could be furthered and understood.

Laszlo-Barabasi first thought the structure of the web would be completely random but soon discovered links weren’t evenly spread across a bell curve. A few webpages had thousands of links and thus, were identified as ‘hubs’. Further research enabled Laszlo-Barabasi to understand that removing small nodes of a network will shrink a network but the implications overall were minimal. However, if a hub was removed, the system would collapse and fall apart. It was this finding that became a hub of its own for other researchers who were exploring the power of six degrees. As Watts writes, if the science of networks is to succeed it must become:

‘a manifestation of its own subject matter, a network of scientists collectively solving problems that cannot be solved by any single individual or even any single discipline’ p. 29

This framework of understanding can be applied to society and it could be argued that network science is actually ‘a sociological research project with a storied history’ (Watts, 2003, p. 37) and the foundation of the 21st century. Watts argues that the language for talking about networks has lent the concept real analytical power and has led scientists and humanity to see the globe as a dynamic network, constantly evolving and changing in time, driven by the activities or decisions of its components.

Network science is now thought of as an interdisciplinary field with applications in fields as diverse as genetics, mathematics, telecommunication and digital technology. It is used to predict disease epidemics (via airports) and is also part of the solution to prevent its global spread through the sharing of antivirals across a global network. The US Navy is said to have used predictive networks in the capture of Saddam Hussein and biologists are using predictive networks to identify genes that put patients at risk for cancer.

And of course, there is the obvious rise and rise of social networking that has literally changed the way we interact, as well as seek, source and utilise new knowledge and information.

My fellow Networked Media student, Kim, says Facebook has reduced the degrees of separation from six to four point seven four (4.74). It’s true though that when I add a friend on Facebook or accept a Friend Request, I’m genuinely surprised if we have no mutual friends. The science of networks says this is because we all tend to know people like ourselves, making the world very small but very clustered. But a single random link can have an enormous effect and shrink path lengths between people and groups in a instant. All of us know someone who has moved away for work, family, school, study or pleasure, and it is this random connection that brings the world together.

The world doesn’t gradually get smaller – it jumps off a cliff. And it is these jumps that help us to form relationships with people thousands of kilometres away because technology and network science has made physical distance almost redundant.

Here’s the documentary I watched to gain insight into the whole six degrees theory.

And if you’re up for a fun, practical way of furthering your understanding of the power of networks, check out the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, The Oracle of Bacon, developed by Brett Tjaden and Patrick Reynolds. It seems bacon really is at the heart of everything in this world.

In yesterday’s symposium we discussed narrative structure and hypertexts.

One the whole, reading is considered to be a relaxing pastime. If I sit down with a piece of creative writing or fiction, it’s pretty likely I’m seeking out a relatively passive, pleasurable experience. Generally, I want to read these types of texts when I’m after an escape, wanting to calm down or am/want to be feeling particularly lazy/blissful/at peace. Sure, sometimes I read as a distraction or when I’m procrastinating, but if I’m really needing to actively engage with a text, I’m more likely to approach it with a different mindset and with a pen (or laptop) close by.

What came up yesterday, (and as my classmate, Daniel, expresses), is that some of the ideas proposed where the more traditional ‘reader’ is instead offered to be a ‘reader-author’ – gaining agency within the fictional context – might in some cases, disrupt that peace one feels when sitting down with a more traditional narrative. When an author gives you a beginning, middle and end, you’re provided with some certainly that a conflict will resolve, or there will be some sort of logical conclusion to the drama within. Sitting down to a text with no definitive conclusion means having to be alert enough to make decisions about which path to take, and when I’m in the mood for relaxing that’d feel overwhelming.

I also have a tendency to put off making decisions until the last possible moment. For example, I received an email just two days ago asking me to ‘Please enrol in [next semester’s] courses at your earliest convenience’ as enrolment opened last November. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about what I’d like to/need to enrol in, quite the contrary. It’s more along the lines of ah, there are so many interesting subjects on offer how ever will I choose? 

In some circumstances restrictions are actually bloody helpful. Choosing subjects, working out what to wear, even choosing what book to read next. We’re living in a world with endless opportunities which don’t get me wrong, is great. I know how lucky I am to be in a position where I have so many educational and life possibilities and I am truly grateful to have such a privilege. I’m acutely aware of how many 20-something females around the world are deprived of all these chances, where the prospect of reading any kind of text, is simply (and sadly) just a dream.

But, for me sometimes being relieved of decision-making is just that – a relief.

So, I think on the whole I’ll be sticking to pre-prescribed texts, but perhaps when I’m feeling adventurous or so inclined, I will choose to be a reader-author. It seems like a pretty open invitation.