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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actor-network theory – ANT. Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANT lets go of the following oppositions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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?