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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 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?

The concentration penetrating the four walls – two black, two white – seeps through the fingers of those attempting to create and discover a place they’d rather be. The thoughts tick over, one by one, and the process of evolution begins in its own finite sense.

As tapping of keys resounds from near and far, the lack of verbal interaction is somewhat startling given the demographic. Young women and men trying to ‘impress’ or at least satisfy their own sense of worth and place, physical and psychological, in the confinements of the polarised space.

Eyes scan screens and subsequently, the room, when thought flow weakens. The stagnancy of fingers is barley noted by neighbours, yet the individual feels the weight of their blood, nails, pulse and bones with such urgency. Of course, the pressure is but an internal build up of anxiety; a fear of failure, within the first stages of their ‘new life’. First impressions are hard to retract, even for the most well meaning.

Grimaced features, fractured jaws and tightly pursed lips are commonplace, as unified by a common passion, the people’s nerves and anxiety rise together, as if taking a leap so great, they fail to see the ledge on the other side. That ledge is a mere 45 minutes away, but time has never passed so slowly.

Nevertheless, the concentration is likely to draw positive results, whereby way and in the face of embarrassment, each feels as though they have achieved. For some, a sense of achievement may not have come for months, where spending, sleeping and late-night taxi rides overtook such an experience.

Middle fingers reaching out to the ‘delete’ key is notable, such force and desperation can be linked to no other.

Little glowing apples peer out from silver panels at all angels, an occasional distraction at most. Cables and connections snake across the flat surfaces of tables and screens on standby present black faces, signaling their passive state.

The distinct tapping of the long, central ‘bar’ signifies progress, and fluidity of thoughts, as words and sentences are strung out across the makeshift page.

Ironically, without being a physical spectator across one’s shoulder I am able to gage and acknowledge the flow of ideas in each, as they type at intervals; with continuity, or with great frustration, on that irreverent ‘delete’ key.

The keys with numbers seem irrelevant. If figures and equations were an integral part of such tasks, I suspect many of us would not have made the decision to be here.

I ponder over my (excessive?) use of the ‘comma’ key, as it mocks me from just right of the ‘m’ like a little brother who just can’t cut you enough slack for making him a peanut butter sandwich, instead of the one with strawberry jam he supposedly prefers. The strawberry jam is the ‘period’ key. You know it perceives greater certainty, clarity and properties of succinct prose, yet the schadenfreude embedded within that sense of narrative choice becomes too much to throw away – just like that peanut butter does when time (and relaxation) seem displaced from your side.

Gradually, fingers leave keys and turn to hair, to chins. Others come to a halt. A sense of completion reverberates across the tables as vision and attention is shifted to blank walls, wristwatches and mobile phones. Soon after follows the relief of a time limit, conclusively reaching its parameters. The room sighs in harmony and all keys are erect, stationary, still.

 

In our most recent symposium, Paul Graham’s ‘The Age of the Essay‘ came up for discussion.

What intrigued me most about this piece is Graham’s proposition that the disciplines of English literature and writing may not be synonymous. To be honest, prior to Graham’s Essay the thought had hardly crossed my mind. In high school, anything to do with, or concerns regarding writing, are matters for the English teacher.

Graham argues that the reason so many young people have become disinterested in writing (and subsequently produce poor quality or incoherent essays), is that instead of writing…

…about how a baseball team with a small budget might compete with the Yankees, or the role of color in fashion, or what constitutes a good dessert, [students are writing] about symbolism in Dickens.

No disrespect to Dickens, but I think Graham’s on to something.

I know very little about the International Baccalaureate® (IB) education philosophy or system, but I do know all students who take on the IB have the opportunity to research and write about an area that particularly interests them. As I’ve mentioned in a number of recent posts, education is so much more interesting when we are actively engaged, when it’s targeted towards our personal needs and passions, and when it is future-driven – namely, we can see how we’ll be able to apply what we’re learning in our future careers and to achieve life goals.

I’m lucky. As this blog makes pretty clear, I enjoy reading, writing, and interpreting. English was one of my favourite subjects at school and on the whole, I was pleased with the texts we were given to study. However, my pleasure in the subject certainly wained when we studied what to me was, a less-appealing text, and my interest in writing a chemistry report was verging on non-existent.

This holds true to Graham’s proposition that one’s ability to engage with, enjoy and actively develop their writing skill and discipline is fundamentally caught up with their interest in the(ir) subject.

Graham says:

The seeds of our miserable high school experiences were sown in 1892, when the National Education Association [of America] “formally recommended that literature and composition be unified in the high school course.”

To my knowledge, this proposition is globally transferable, and is certainly something I can relate to. If you want your students to look forward to writing, give them a choice of texts to study. Some kids might really enjoy watching and reflecting on action movies, others might enjoy drawing up and constructing analytical reports on climate change. Maybe you’ve got a student who is utterly obsessed with dogs, and wants to be a vet when he or she grows up. Why not work with this child to compose a task that satisfies the curriculum, and engages them, motivates them, and works with their personal curiosities? Surely this would only result in higher student attention, retention and participation. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want from and for our students?

As I’ve somewhat alluded to, as we progress through the education system, opportunities for such self-selected or self-directed tasks do increase. Not many people complete a PhD in an area of little personal interest. We are more likely to dedicate our time and efforts towards something we want to invest in. Right now, Christopher Pyne is striving – and striding – towards rewriting and (re)establishing a more uniform, national curriculum. Yet, isn’t this ‘one size fits all’ approach to education only going to lead to greater disengagement, sketchier attendance rates, and consequently (and what is surely one of two primary motivators for Pyne – the other being re-Westernising an increasingly multicultural society), poorer results?

Mr Pyne, teachers and educational leaders, take a leaf out of Logan LaPlante’s hackschooling ‘book’. Learn to work with your students rather than for a system. If they want to compose an audiovisual response to a Mahler symphony, instead of the standard intro-paras-one-two-three-conclusion essay to some politically-identified set text – and it just feels right – then I say, let them.

We need to keep personalising education, and writing, if we are to achieve better results.

Those who want to write about English literature will continue to write about English literature. And, the others? Well, you’ve got a much greater chance of students writing about something they’re interested in and handing that in, than you’ll ever have of them submitting an inspired essay about English literature, too.

I found the most recent readings for Networked Media quite tedious. They felt unnecessarily explanatory, providing me with information, rather than providing me with a springboard for further investigation. They seemed laborious and their ‘age’ was evident by way of the innovative technologies they were praising now themselves outdated or outdated. To me, the texts felt inferior to the much richer discussions we’ve been having in class.

But, I’ve realised our discussion is richer because we’ve each done the assigned readings, and have interpreted them in different ways. We are subsequently able to reflect upon them through our own personal lens, and develop individual perspectives, both of which are inherently linked to our own experiences, prior knowledge, and interests.

Despite having felt these recent readings to be mentally taxing, the notes I’ve taken from them are far from bland.

George Landow describes blogs as sets of networked documents, ‘created either to stand alone, as it largely is, or to take part in a larger web’. Furthermore, the networked nature of a blog enables an author ‘wanting to conceive of an argument in terms of networked documents can write a concise essay and link a wide range of supportive evidence’, from which readers can choose what to investigate further, with ‘auxiliary materials becom[ing] paratexts’.

I know this really just describes a blog’s foundational characteristics and its nature, but I found Landow’s concept about a blog being of equal value on its own, ‘as it largely is’, or as a ‘part in a larger web’ oddly reassuring.

He also refers to blogging as ‘the first widely available means on the Web of allowing the active reader-author envisaged by Nelson‘ and other ‘pioneers’. Landow suggests hypertexts encourage an active reader who has the opportunity to both consume and create text, ‘assum[ing] an authorial role and either attack links or add text to the text being read’. Because of this, ‘current terminology does not suffice – hypermedia technology requires more appropriate vocabulary, beyond reader and author’.

As consumers, creators of, and participants in hypermedia, ‘the object one reads [is an] entrance into the docuverse’ of hypermedia documents. With hypermedia we are able to make our mark, or ‘intrude’ on the text itself, rather than making a superficial annotation in say, pen or pencil, that we might to a page of a printed book. The boundaries of the text are wide open, and the (hyper)text is forced ‘to exist as part of a complex dialogue’. However, it is still up to the receiver of this text to engage with the other ‘speakers’ or participants in this conversation. The world wide web has ensured that no stone goes unturned, and that if you’re seeking more information, yearning for more knowledge, or another explanation, all you have to do is follow a link, or perhaps, go back a few steps and follow an alternate route, as Nelson explores.

Most importantly, Landow says that hypertexts emphasise that ‘the marginal ha[ve] as much to offer as the central, in part because it refuses to grant centrality to anything’. It is a ‘democratic’ text, alike a society that values all points of view, ideologies and conversations. Landow says hypertexts edify Richard Rorty’s philosophy of ‘keep[ing] the conversation going rather than [finding an] objective truth’, which I feel is a key component of this course.

Learning is about exploring, taking opportunities and creating possibilities. Education shouldn’t be about shutting down doors and slamming them in people’s faces when you don’t like their point of view. Yes, I like certainty and definitive resolutions, but I value deep discussion, reflection, and considering others’ perspectives just as much.

And, this is what is so great about the internet. As Paul Graham says, the beauty of the online community is that ‘Anyone can publish an essay on the Web, and it gets judged, as any writing should, by what it says, not who wrote it’.

I’d much rather you challenge me on my ideas than my appearance, but remember, everything is constantly evolving.