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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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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:

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.33.25 pm

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.

Nearing the pointy end of the course I suppose it’s only to be expected that the readings begin to tackle more complex aspects of networked media. This half-week’s readings by Lev Manovich and Bill Seaman taken from a 2007 text on Database Aesthetics, approach databases in ways I’d probably never have considered without their prompting.

Manovich’s ‘Database As A Symbolic Form’ discusses the place of databases in new media, in juxtaposition with the role of narrative in cinema. Manovich writes that the user’s experience of new media databases is basic:

‘a collection of items on which the user can perform various operations: view navigate, and search’ p. 39

New media objects are a collection of individual items (or terms) of equal significance. Examples of database presentations in new media may take the form of multimedia encyclopaedias, collections of recipes, photos or quotes, or multimedia works of cultural content such as virtual museums where the user can access, browse and click through items under different categories such as works by a particular artist, from a designated country, or perhaps chronologically.

I found a pleasing link between this illustration of databases in new media, and the Pinterest niki project we’ve just completed. Pinterest is, in my understanding, a near perfect depiction of the new media database phenomenon. Choose a category, scroll through selected pins and re-pin those you choose into self-designated groups or themes.

Manovich confirms the database structure as being central to new media and the internet age:

‘As defined by original HTML, a Web page is a sequential list of separate elements: text blocks, images, digital video clips and links to other pages.’ p. 41

Fundamentally, what the database form presents the user with is choice. Websites are ever-growing, are continually open for editing with additions possible at any stage of its existence. Consider Wikipedia, for example. Even disregarding that it’s primary function is that of an encyclopaedia, it is one of the most accurate, up to date sources of factual information because it is so alive. As soon as one of its entrants is pronounced dead, Wikipedia will have it covered. Any major world event will be documented, checked, corrected and updated all in realtime. Manovich says this contributes to the ‘anti narrative logic of the Web’ (p. 41), because

‘If new elements are being added over time, the result is a collection, not a story.’ p. 41

Subsequently, new media generally don’t present with the narrative arc so central to more traditional media. Databases are disorderly, fragmented by design. In contrast, narratives are linear and have a cause and effect trajectory.

To extrapolate on this binary, consider the design of any website.

After typing in a URL or obtaining the address via the most basic database structure, a search engine, you arrive at a home page. Presented with categorical choices, you click on the link most likely to direct you to the content you seek. Alternately, if the website’s creator thinks their database is suitably large, you may have the option of conducting an internal search of the site, to locate your information without sifting through a plethora of categories with multiple branches, and sub-branches within. This function acts as an index does, essentially providing you with a ‘page number’ on which you’ll find the desired result.

I suspect the ways in which this functions differently to a traditional narrative structure requires no further explanation.

However, Manovich notes that ‘not all new media objects are explicitly databases’ (p. 41). Computer games are experienced as narratives, with cause and effect rhythms and usually a conclusive end point. Yet the way the game is designed is around ‘hidden logic[s]’ (p. 41) – algorithms – which the player then executes to win the game. Consequently, each decision the player makes opens up the subsequent layer of relative choices, and the next and the next, which suggests a database structure rather than that of a pre-constructed narrative.

Considering websites as databases enabled me to connect this half-week’s content to prior class symposiums and readings on hypertexts and networked science. Each idea reinforces we are all a sum of our parts and it is the ways in which we link these separates together that equips us to function as we are.

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?

Chris Anderson’s theory of The Long Tail first appeared at Wired (of which he is Editor-in-Chief) in 2004. Subsequently expanded and published as a book in 2006, the theory’s fundamental premise is that online markets have allowed for greater diversity and inclusion of niches in the distribution of products such as music, movies and books.

Anderson says online distribution and retail reflects today’s ‘world of abundance’ and that it has profoundly increased our exposure to lesser-mainstream goods.

Physical retail outlets such as DVD (or video) rental stores, record/CD/DVD shops, and bookstores have to work on the economic premise of their products’ likelihood of return on investment (ROI). Simply, this means the physical space their products take up on their shelves is restricted and dependent upon their chance of selling, thus ensuring they were worthy of stocking and space. If an item sits on a shelf and isn’t sold, it is wasting space that could be used to temporarily house another item more likely to sell and earn a profit for the store. It is principally predicting the economic viability of each product, based on its likelihood to sell or regularly turn in a profit (in the case of rental stores).

Entertainment in a physical world, such as described above, also has implications for movie theatres. The relatively frequent high number of cinemas in reasonably-sized metropolitan areas is evident, and each cinema needs to find local audiences in order to make their screenings economically worthwhile. Managers must also take into account the limited number of hours a day they are likely to attract customers, and schedule their screenings and staffing requirements accordingly. All this results in an entertainment economy revolving highly around mainstream hits, as they are the most likely to produce a more impressive ROI.

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Anderson explains the primary difference between physical retail outlets and those that are purely digital services is that for the latter, both ‘hits and misses’ are equally viable financially. This stems from the fact that neither take up any physical space, meaning they are on equal economic footing and misses are ‘just another sale, with the same margin as a hit’.

What Anderson’s research has shown is when the demand for niche products is served, there is actually less interest in the hits. However, whichever online platform is selling or leasing the products – Amazon, iTunes, Netflix – they still receive an equal profit regardless of what the customer purchases. The only difference is the customer is more likely to be satisfied with their product, and I would extrapolate on this to say that subsequently, they are more likely to return for additional goods in the future.

Ultimately, Anderson calls this the ‘infinite shelf-space effect’ where subscription services (Netflix, Spotify) and digital downloading services (iTunes, Amazon) are able to offer more personalised products to customers through ‘stocking’ an unlimited number of choices.

The other important aspect of the digital entertainment industry is that through tracking patterns of user’s purchases, clicks (viewings) and interests in/of products, the service is able to ‘recommend’ additional products the user may also enjoy. I personally find it both helpful and overwhelming when viewing a book on Amazon to note just below ‘my’ book (the one which I have searched for/am interested in), a whole range of other books I might be interested in, thanks to what other customers interested in ‘my’ book also purchased.

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Similarly, to purchase products one creates an account which tracks your data and keeps a history of your views and purchases.

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Obviously this is commonplace in any online marketplace, and each operates through establishing a network of user preferences, similarities between customers, and analytical software and systems.

A key point Anderson makes however, is that digital stores are still highly dependent on the ‘hits’ or mainstream products to attract consumers in the first place. He writes:

Great Long Tail businesses can… guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown.

The benefits of Long Tail businesses, as Anderson asserts, are numerous for both the entertainment industry and individuals. Customers are able to access (or are involuntarily offered) customised recommendations based on their browsing patterns through what Anderson calls an ‘increased signal-to-noise ratio’ – based on good recommendations – with the potential for introducing customers to alternate products and encouraging exploration into new fields connected through their customised network.

Businesses utilise recommendations as an efficient and effective form of marketing that also drives users towards lesser-known products which, in turn, are able to find an audience.

Anderson says the benefits for the entertainment industry are immense, with customisation leading potential to create a far larger market overall. Recommendations can ‘drive demand down the Long Tail’;

And the cultural benefit of all of this is much more diversity, reversing the blanding effects of a century of distribution scarcity and ending the tyranny of the hit.

Michael Joyce is widely thought of as the grandfather of hypertext fiction. In 1987, he published what is recognised as the first major narrative of this genre, afternoon: a story, which he created with Jay Bolter using the software and hypertext application, Storyboard.

In his work, Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization, George Landow quotes Joyce:

I wanted…to write a novel that would change in successive readings and…make those changing versions according to the connections that I had for some time naturally discovered in the process of writing and that I wanted my readers to share. (Landow, 2006, p. 216)

To me, this still seems like a pretty novel (excuse the pun) idea. I generally assume fiction to be prescriptive, with a primary narrative leading sub-plots and coming to what could largely be agreed as being a valid resolution or conclusion. Before commencing these recent readings on hypertexts, the idea a ‘reader’ could actively participate in the creation of the story they’re ingesting, in real-time, seemed to be something restricted to childish ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. While I admit to having fond memories of such stories, they do still present with finite endings.

Landow notes the concept of plot dates back to Aristotle who said:

‘to be beautiful… every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a certain definite magnitude’. (Landow, 2006, p. 218)

Hypertexts, however, he notes, challenge this idea, and all narratives and literary forms based upon the principle of linearity. Furthermore, J. Yellowlees Douglas identifies (and Nelson’s pretzel structure demonstrates), that hypertexts offer readers the opportunity to generate a version of the text the authors themselves have neither anticipated nor seen. Douglas writes:

A work of hypertext fiction can act as a blueprint for a series of potential interactions, and your movements through it, a dance choreographed by an absent author who has anticipates the questions, needs, and whims of imaginary readers’ (Douglas, 2000, p. 23)

I quite like this rather artistic explanation, and have subsequently had little vignettes of dancers on pointe running through my mind. However, I suppose this places the author in the backseat, and makes them a kind of (less annoying) backseat driver of sorts. They’re suggesting directions for you to follow, or at least providing you with potential routes, but ultimately, it is up to you as the reader, to sit in the driver’s seat and handle the gears. In hypertexts though, the backseat driver has also equipped you with the knowledge and opportunities to make regular U-turns if you so choose.

Yet, as you’d expect, some backseat drivers do pipe up more than others, and persist to varying degrees.

Landow discusses this and suggests hypertext narratives exist across four ‘axes’ through which the text’s creator can offer his or her readers varied degrees of agency:

  1. Reader choice, intervention, and empowerment
  2. Inclusion of extra linguistic texts (images, motion, sound)
  3. Complexity of network structure
  4. Degrees of multiplicity and variation in literary elements, such as plot, characterisation, setting, and so forth

While identifying these spectrums, Landow suggests that one point or end of this range is not necessarily better than, nor superior to, any other. Maybe you really would like to be told how to get from A to B in less time, you’d like to check out the back streets, or perhaps, take a scenic route. If you’re lucky, your backseat driver might even step in and take the wheel for a while, relieving your tired hands to tap away at your phone in the passenger’s seat and catch up on the latest in other hypermedia networks.

And, although you’d sort of been heading for a sleepy seaside town, you find a nice lookout by an unexpected lighthouse somewhere along your journey. And, you decide that maybe you’ll park your car and stay here a night and take in the stars so foreign to a city-body like you. To paraphrase Landow, if this lexis provides you with an experience of formal and thematic closure, then so be it. The beauty of life – and hypertext fiction – is that tomorrow is another day, where you can explore unchartered grown, or return to familiar territory. It’s up to you.

Cape Schanck lighthouse (Photo: Yi Zhao / Flickr)

Cape Schanck lighthouse (Photo: Yi Zhao / Flickr)

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.