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“One of the fundamental challenges in young people’s mental health care is based in the assumption that youth equates with health. ‘So unless the person is really obviously disabled, really obviously injured… there’s an assumption that person’s entirely well.’

I was shocked. I’d never connected these dots. Health and youth are so inherently linked. And a disruption in the link adds a new, complex dimension to the prevention, identification, intervention and treatment of young people with mental health challenges.”

At Connect 2014, a national youth mental health conference organised by Young and Well CRC (where I am currently an intern), I was given the opportunity to interview a man at the forefront of Australia – and the world’s – mental health sector.

Professor Ian Hickie is pretty much a guru. He works in research at the Brain and Mind Institute, and is involved in the development of evidence-based services that can change the way young people and their communities approach mental health care. Professor Hickie attends all the conferences, meetings and interviews he can, to help spread the word on what we can actually do to make progress and help scores of young people nationwide.

In his formal addresses and the time I spent with him one-on-one, Professor Hickie communicated a sense of hope regarding the future of Australia’s young people and their relationship with themselves, their health, their carers, and their world. He offered many insights into the potential for social media, apps and digital technology to become keystones in mental health care, and spoke of the challenges health care professionals are facing in relation to these changes.

Young people are healthy, aren’t they? We’re nimble, we’re free, we’re thrill-seeking, happy. If we fall down, we get back up. Resilient creatures, we are. Or so the story goes. So when something challenges that status-quo, sometimes we and those around us don’t know how to react.

I learned so much at Connect 2014, and would do the experience a disservice to try and reproduce even some of it here. But my interview with Professor Hickie, published on Young and Well CRC’s website, will give you a glimpse of what I was a part of, where we’re at with young people’s mental health care, and where to go from here.

If you want to follow (or relive) Connect 2014 in its entirety, you can also view the Storify summaries.

“We have so many opportunities to transform health care to a model where the individual is at the centre, and the clinician is a consultant – is complementary – but not in control.

Together we can develop a system of care that will respond, educate and serve all young people in meaningful and respectful ways. And that will really change our mental health.”

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:

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 the developed world, we’re hyperaware of the prominent role technology plays in our lives.

The term ‘technology’ is complex and Murphie and Potts (2003) suggest it has now been generalised to the point of abstraction, as ‘an overarching system that we inhabit’ (p. 4). In any case, technology is dynamic, as is culture. Culture – another term with many intricacies and social attachments – might be seen as a reflection of a society’s views, values and ideas. Yet as Murphie and Potts note, ‘the internet is at once a technological, a cultural, a political and an economic phenomenon’ (p. 9).

This is because technology and culture are interdependent and two major schools of thought have emerged out of the many discussions and theories on their relationship.

Technological determinism

‘…treats technologies in isolation, as if they come into existence of their own accord and proceed to mould societies in their image’ (Murphie & Potts, 2003, p. 17).

Commonly known as the view of Marshall McLuhan, technological determinism is both a popular attitude and theoretical position in which technology is seen as the agent of change. Coined by social scientist Thorstein Veblen in the 1920s, technological determinism sees technology as an independent factor with its own properties, course of development and consequences, and technological change as autonomous and removed from social pressures. Furthermore, technological determinism suggests the successful implementation of technical innovation can generate a whole new type of society.

Thought of as a prophet of digital networking, McLuhan’s basic premise is that all technologies are extensions of human capacities. His infamous statement ‘the medium is the message’ suggests the cultural significance of media lies not in their content, but in the way they alter our perception of the world. While still defining history by technological change, Josh Myrowitz added that the key to a medium’s cultural effect is in the way it conveys information. He suggests that the Victorian era culture – print culture – was a time of secrets, which now has become a culture of exposure where society is perhaps more excited by the act of exposure than the secrets actually exposed. This, of course, has been perpetuated by digital networking and technological change.

Cultural materialism

Alternatively, cultural materialism situates technologies in their social and culture context. A pioneer in this school of thought is Raymond Williams, who suggests McLuhan’s ‘reductionist’ version of cultural history is ‘an attempted cancellation of all other questions about it [technology] and its uses’ (cited in Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 18).

Williams looks for the particular circumstances into which technologies are introduced and at the political and economic decision-making behind new technologies.

MacKenzie and Wajcman (1988) agree, saying ‘a new device merely opens a door; it does not compel one to enter’ (cited in Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 20). They identify the relationship between technology and society as not simply cause and effect, but rather an ‘intertwining’ of the two.

Personally, I quite identify with Stephen Hill, who in his 1989 publication The Tragedy of Technology writes:

‘Technological change… is not, by itself, productive of social change. Instead, the direction of change is a product of the particular alignment between the technological possibilities and the society and culture that exists.’

The preexisting culture would take into account patterns of ownership, class relations, gender relations, the role of advertising and public relations, and the flux of social attitudes and beliefs, each contributing to the way in which technologies are developed, introduced, used and even resisted.

Murphie and Potts (2003) also make reference to ‘technophobia’, an anxiety towards new technologies which Mark Bosnan estimates affects up to a third of the industrialised world. I think this is a critical point as the extent to which and ways technologies are welcomed by different groups and individuals is inherently related to the age, stage of life and state of mind one is in when new technologies are introduced.

The other critical point within the first chapter of the Murphie and Potts publication is the question of whether technology in itself, is neutral.

They note ‘Technologies operate and are operated upon, in a complex social field’ (p. 22), each bringing great possibilities for both destruction, and innovation and progress. However, to further question technology’s neutrality, the authors propose the example of gun control.

The conservative argument that ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, is a political position proposing that gun technology itself is neutral; that it is the way it is used – either responsibly or irresponsibly – that counts. The counterargument is that the gun’s very presence alters (and I’d add, escalates) a situation.

Finally, Murphie and Potts consider ‘machinic’ thought as a certain technological ‘flow’ we become a part of.

Technologies are as much relations between cultural and physical forces as they are objects [which] means that technologies can be studied not only in terms of their specific form, but also in terms of their function and their various contexts (p. 31).

‘Flows’ have emerged and sustained themselves throughout history in accordance with new technologies. But Murphie and Potts say that it is in our contemporary world that ‘our thought and culture have finally aligned themselves with flow… that which technology does best’ (p. 32).

While this is just the bare bones of theoretical understandings of technology and its relationship to culture, I’m certain each school of thought has its own merits and downfalls, as do individual technologies. However, I’d suggest one only has to travel – perhaps not as far as you’d think – to experience the difference living in a culture less-goverened by technology, has upon one’s way of life.

In this week’s symposium, our tutor referred to ‘traditional media’ as ‘heritage media’.

I’d never heard the term used in this context and it really stood out as something quite shocking. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I’m a print girl, true and through. I read books, tangible newspapers and magazines in hand as much as possible. But I’m also a constant consumer of news and other texts online and via my phone.

We discussed the conservative argument for free market economics which might say heritage media has an inherent ‘checks and balance’ system for quality. Theoretically, this would ensure the ‘best’ stories would go to print or air. Yet what tends to happen reflects more of a populist approach as, largely, it is the content deemed to appeal to the masses that is published and produced.

Online there is (infinite) space for diversity of content, opinion, language, perspective and debate. By coincidence, in my webscrawling today I came across a 2006 publication of Harvard Law professor, Yochai BenklerThe Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

As a side note – I love that as I’ve started formally studying more topics or subjects I am genuinely interested in, the time I spend online for pleasure is actually resonating with that guided learning.

Benkler’s work is one such example. He discusses how the internet has restructured public discourse, giving individuals greater freedom and autonomy, encouraging participation, engagement as a scale-free network. He suggests the internet provides ‘avenues of discourse around the bottle-necks of older media, whether these are held by authoritarian governments or by media owners’ (p. 271). This point is particularly pertinent in light of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Coalition’s latest tirade against (or ‘efficiency review’ of) the ABC and SBS. Of course, this is in addition to two publishing houses (or rather, two millionaires) dominating Australia’s print industry, providing the public with ‘news’ that is about as ‘fair and balanced’ as Fox News.

Benkler says ‘filtering, accreditation, and synthesis mechanisms [are a] part of network behavior’ (p. 271) and that peer production ‘is providing some of the most important fuctionalities of the media. These efforts provide a watchdog, a source of salient observations regarding matters of public concern, and a platform for discussing the alternatives open to a polity’ (p. 272).

‘In the networked information environment, everyone is free to observe, report, question, and debate, not only in principle, but in actual capability.’ (p. 272)

Perhaps most importantly, is that in today’s online, networked world, anyone can become what New York Univerrsity journalism professor, Jay Rosen, calls a ‘citizen journalist‘.

‘…the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.’

Citizen journalism, the internet and networked science are shifting power away from leaders, managers and millionaires, and are democratising the media landscape and the society in which they exist. While I will hold on to heritage media, I am incredibly grateful for the proliferation of online networks that constantly offer me new pages to view, opinions to read and thoughts to think. But still, I’m pretty excited for The Saturday Paper. Aren’t you?

Her-Spike-Jonze-image

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.

Her-Movie-siri-operating-system-ftr

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.

her-movie-photo-6

This weekend I flew to Sydney to celebrate an aunt’s special birthday. I stayed at my grandmother’s and in the guest room, this photograph was on display.

Image

The first thing I noticed was my late grandfather almost cropped out of the picture, whom we all miss dearly. But this image really captures how I – and my peers – have grown with and through the development of digital technology. Here I am, a youngster with a mouse comfortably in hand, navigating an early Macintosh computer. The old desktop looks pretty darn ancient, clunky and bulky but is evidence of how far technology has come in only a matter of years.

Coincidently, this weekend the Mac turned 30. In 1984, the original Macintosh gave power to the people and laid the foundations of a legacy of innovation, intuition and constant evolution. As the late Steve Jobs said at the time:

“We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people — as remarkable as the telephone.”

Over time, Apple became one of the world’s largest enterprises, a digital pioneer known for its user-friendly interfaces, high resolution graphics, and consistent ability to develop, create and distribute life changing products.

I’ve had two Macs of my own, but have used numerous versions of the Macintosh through school, my parents, friends and public institutions. Needless to say, I love my MacBook Pro (even though I recently spent a good couple of hundred on getting its capacity upgraded).

As a Gen Y baby, I am incredibly dependent on computers, phones and other portable devices. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine a world in which they don’t exist because as the above photo shows, it has always just been there. As part of a broadcasting subject I am taking this summer, my group and I are exploring what it was like for members of previous generations growing up without these technologies, and it is interesting to note the similarities and the differences in our experiences. 

We all have memories of times at the beach, playing with siblings, friends and family. Yet, I’ve found it so fascinating (and heartening) to hear real stories about kids entertaining themselves without technology. As we sat around as a family on Friday night, almost every person – myself certainly included – spent some time flicking around on their phone. Now people stand out if they are not actively engaged online, in constant reception of friends’ news and check ins. Personally, I’m in two minds about my reliance on (or addiction to?) my phone and computer. Sometimes I wish I could turn back time and live without such constant access, updates and commentary because my FOMO, anxieties and procrastination keep me staring at a backlit screen when it’s really time for sleep/study/getting outside and into the physical world.

But that’s a whole other can of worms for another day. Today I wish the Mac many happy returns, and if you’re so inclined, check out the 30 year tribute Apple has published in honour of the big 3 – 0. Happy browsing.