Friday, February 29, 2008

Pseudo Experience

McPherson’s paper “Reload” was particularly interesting to me. One of the things that she emphasizes is the idea that the Web (and more specifically, the Web browser, and even more specifically, some websites) provides an experience with a sense of control that in itself is a pseudo experience. McPherson refers to this experience as “liveness” and when surfing the net, we have a sense of control through movement.

The cursor, or the pointer, is a “tangible sign of presence implying movement” and “seems to embody our trajectory, an expression of our movement and our will.” McPherson goes on to say that this movement only feeds our obsession with immediate gratification. When surfing the Web, we are constantly bombarded with articles, links, and pages dedicated to things of a “current” and “breaking news” kind of nature. We also complain when a page takes too long to download (“nine seconds??? I have to be at work in three seconds!!!”) but as McPherson says, “even the waiting of download time locks us in the present as a perpetually unfolding now.”

“…Web references the unyielding speed of the present, linking presence and temporality in a frenetic, scrolling now. We hit refresh. We feel time move. We wait for downloads. We still feel time move, if barely. Processors hum, marking motion.”

However, McPherson notes the Web’s sometimes “marked inability to keep up with the present, recycling older stories in order to take advantage of the vast databases which underwrite the Web, old content repackaged as newness.” I myself have definitely experience this. Just recently, I was reading the New York Times online and clicked on what I thought was a new story about the climate conditions for the Olympics in Beijing, but it was actually a several month old story that I had already read. This recycling of old news by way of accessing “vast databases” of archived information brings to mind Bush’s idea of how our archives should be properly used, a way of moving forward by being able to access older ideas and build upon them (“a record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.”). But I don’t think this is the way in which Bush envisioned the information being “consulted;” instead it is being reused and not to a point where it is truly useful. McPherson goes on to say that “what is crucial is not so much the fact of liveness as the feel of it.” Does repackaging these old stories help us move forward? Are we really moving forward as long as we “feel” it?

Word

Fuller’s piece resonated with me in large part because it addressed the visual layout, “innocuous” aesthetics, and semiotics behind the construction of the most popular word processor. Ever since Windows 95, I have felt somewhat imprisoned by Microsoft Word’s asceticism (proclaiming, “Here is the whitest page and the most imposing emptiness of a flat background, all bathed in the dead glow of the monitor”), as though its end is to discipline and assimilate me into a “default” writing environment, as well as its simultaneous barrage of icons, options, sounds, and that “Mr. Paperclip” jerk, all always present even if not all on-screen (proclaiming, “Here we are, the tools you never knew you needed, so that you can make countless superfluous transformations to your boring text”). What are the immediate consequences of this? For one, an unpleasant environment (as though flatland alone isn’t bad enough). Furthermore, MSWord’s layout relegates the typed text to the status of “just another series of images on the screen,” as does the fact that the open document is just another “window.” Additionally, the layout forces the user/writer to adapt her mode of working to suit comfortably the processor’s static form. This directly hyperrealizes the act of writing itself. Ultimately, these problems trouble the way one conceives of and approaches writing on a computer.

Of course, functions like deletion or copy/paste make things easier to the user. They undoubtedly help to put forth a new kind of writing consciousness different from the one effected by the paper & pen model. They have rewritten the act of writing. I don’t think, however, that this necessarily results in better or faster writing. Even here, advantages are questionable and certainly not revolutionizing.

To directly relate this to Fuller’s piece (the text is ironically situated in a grey mass that levels it with the superfluous surrounding icons and options [in this case links screaming “HotSpot—Leipzig”] even more obviously than MSWord does), Fuller reflects the personal qualms I mentioned by noting, for example, that Microsoft “overcompensates… rather than tries to develop [MSWord’s] potential” (6). Although he is referencing an outdated version here, the newer versions are just as liable for this kind of criticism. 

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Internet and Navigable Space

As discussed in class and in the reading by Manovich, the Internet and computer programs in generally are constantly represented as some form of navigable space. In films like Tron and novels like Neuromancer we see computers as containing a secret world made up of physical space that affects the way the computer functions. Why does this interpretation seem so permeating? The idea that something can contain so much information and media without actually taking up any space at all is somewhat mind-boggling. The contents of the computers do not truly take up any space in themselves. Everything can be reduced to code, to text, which takes up no space other than the digital space on a page, which itself is coded for. It becomes very confusing. Therefore computers are posited as actual physical spaces in order to reconcile this dilemma of perception. It is a lot easier to think about the Internet as some great expanse containing sites that we travel to, rather than something that exists only in code.

            This ties back into the assertions of MacPherson’s article about mobility and the web. The Internet is represented as a navigable space because we like the idea that we choose where we are going, and that our travel through the Internet is an act of freedom. The reality is much different. We are not moving anywhere, and we are quite limited in “where” we choose to go. Perhaps this is the reason why games such as Doom and Myst were so popular when they initially came out. These games realized the navigable world behind the screen that many people had been searching for this whole time. They proposed the idea the computers could contain navigable space and that the user could move through this space (relatively, and less so in Myst) freely. These games opened up a type of interaction with the computer that had not previously existed. They brought the illusion of moving through space on a computer to more literal terms.

Why Kittler is Wrong

I strongly disagree with Kittler's argument that software doesn't exist without its hardware counterpart. Programming has existed since before hardware to run it on has (consider the mathematician Ada Lovelace, known as the 'first programmer'.) I argue that computer programs are simply a completely logical description of an algorithm, or a set of tasks. A piece of software written to be executed on computer hardware could just as easily be followed by a human. The fact that the 'tower of languages' exists and 'hides information' from users is inconsequential-- code can be written, interpreted, and by humans at any of the 'levels'. I will give examples of averaging three numbers in both assembly language and Java (Assembly is all the way at the bottom of the tower and Java is way up high):

Assembly Example for Averaging 3 Integers

.data
avg: .word #integer average
i1: .word 20 # first input
i2: .word 13 # second input
i3: .word 10 # third input
num = 3 # nb of nums

.text
__start:
lw $s1,i1
lw $s2,i2
lw $s3,i3
add $s0,$s1,$s2
add $s0,$s0,$s3
div $s0,$s0,num

sw $s0,avg
done


Java Example for Averaging 3 Integers

public class AveragingNumbers
{
public static void main(String [] args)
{
double average = (20 + 13 + 10)/3;
}
}



Whether or not you understood these examples doesn't matter -- you could learn how to read and execute these simple programs in your mind in 15 minutes.

So then if a human can read and execute the instructions given above, then why doesn't the software exist?

Florian Cramer has perhaps a more elegant (though very much related) argument against Kittler's:

The Perl code of the Dada poem can be read and executed even without running it on machines. So my argument is quite contrary to Friedrich Kittler's media theory according to which there is either no software at all or at least no software without the hardware it runs on:4 If any algorithm can be executed mentally, as it was common before computers were invented, then of course software can exist and run without hardware. - A good example are programming handbooks. Although they chiefly consist of printed computer code, this code gets rarely ever executed on machines, but provides examples which readers follow intellectually, following the code listings step by step and computing them in their minds.

Concepts, Notations, Software, Art

art and virtual space

In the Navigable Space article Manovich talks about how software designers use art and architecture as inspiration for their creations of virtual 3-D space. "Given that new media are most often experienced, like paintings, via a rectangular frame, virtual architects can study how painters organize their spaces within the constraints of a rectangle." (Manovich) This is a very interesting point to make. I feel that usually the space created by virtual architects is very rigid, and mathematic. Not extremely abstract, like many of painters he mentions (de Kooning, Pollock) It is the way that these painters fill that rectangle that is important. I never thought of a video game as a painting. Millions of pixels creating this image in incremental frames. It is a completely different way of viewing this space. Manovich also talks about some of Le Corbusier's work, and how one navigates through space. Corbusier's whole deal was that a building had to be easily moved through, with no distractions, ramps instead of stairs, no ornamentation, well lit. However Manovich then talks about the installation artist Kabakov who holds a totally different view of space as Corbusier. Kabakov is quoted saying "the reaction of the viewer during her movement through the installation is the main concern of the designer... the loss of the viewer's attention is the end of the installation." Corbusier feels that his clients interaction with his art is going to be an unfocused thing. They are going to be caught up in their own lives and even forget about the architecture, that is why he makes it easy to move through. Kabakov wants his viewer's attention and focus, not for ease or speed, but so they take in the whole piece. Which of these is better for the virtual navigable space? It depends I feel on the purpose of the space. A video game is a simulation of reality, like Charles Baudelaire's flaneur, we want to escape our world, but still have a sense of security. We want to delve into this other reality and forget our lives for a few. Depending on the game, one would prefer to move quickly not noticing lines of text or little details. However some games like Myst rely on these minor interactions of the "hand" and certain objects that draw the gamers attention. If you loose focus you are going to be wandering around for a while aimlessly. The important thing to note about this portion of the text is how influential art has been on the creation of navigable space. And how artists and designers play with this idea of space, and objects in space to further understand our own conception of it.

hey, digital cults, alright.

In reading Snow Crash this week, I was preoccupied with placing myself in a world like the one described—a futuristic setting with a dual existence in reality and the Metaverse. While some of Stephenson's conceptions seemed outlandish and far-fetched at first, I found most of them easier to buy into as his preternatural ability developed to trace society in 1992 through to the future in when Snow Crash is set. (Example: “…the Metaverse is wide open and undefended, like airports in the days before bombs and metal detectors, like elementary schools in the days before maniacs with assault rifles.” p 351) I don’t believe Stephenson to be psychically predicting anything with this novel, but I did pose myself a series of questions in an attempt to imagine myself in this reality.

What would my personal avatar be like?

How could you develop an avatar to express emotion?

How can religious faith be expressed in numbers?

What level of technological proficiency will be basic common knowledge?

How could I reconcile two self-identities?

What would the difference be between human memory and computer memory?

What will be the Government’s role in digital/Metaverse regulation?

Though a lot of these questions hold no real weight in my self-identification now, they are interesting to think about as you read through Snow Crash and relate its reality to our own.

Where can I get Vitaly Chernobyl’s record?

Dasein?

The first semester of my freshman year I wrote a couple of research essays about computers and the internet, and came across several of this class's readings in the process. That was back in the innocent days before I knew what semiotics and postmodernism were. I remember reading "It Looks Like You're Writing A Letter" and some other stuff in Fuller's Behind the Blip. I was kind of bothered by the line

“the radicality of Word lies instead in its absolute refusal of 'Dasein'—the instantaneous being-there and fused-at-once-with-tool-and-act supposedly experienced by craftsmen”

It seems rather to miss the point. McPherson and Manovich have a better conception of things (particularly McPherson--Manovich's technical art stuff really doesn't convince me, though I guess I'm not much for visual art)--the new technology is a virtual space into which we project our consciousness. William Gibson talks about the "consensual hallucination" of cyberspace, but it's not just the internet as public meeting-place--things like Microsoft Word as a bundle of functions have evolved into something much more intricate. If the computer is our new, virtual world, Word is simply that world's typewriter, almost a bit outdated except that we haven't come up with something better yet. Barthes has it that when we encounter another text--which will by nature be an amalgam of others--we function as our own amalgam of various texts, and pool together like drops of mercury. Pleasing visual metaphors aside, I see no reason why 'Dasein' is being absolutely refused by the new media--rather, we still haven't quite figured out how craftsmanship works in the digital world.

Freedom in video games

Well, I'm glad we finally got to video games, my area of expertise.
I was frustrated by Myst not only because of the slow movement and long loading times but because, as other people have mentioned, it's incredibly restrictive. In fact, in almost every way, it' s no different from yesterday's text adventure games. This game, and every other, can only give feedback for things the programmers foresaw users might want to do. So if you want to punch the professor or whoever for telling you to adjust the frequency again, you're out of luck.

Advertisements for these sorts of games will mention vast worlds and limitless choices, but in every case it's an illusion; you've got to hew to the plot. It's unfortunate, because no other medium forces its "user" to experience it in a single way, but everyone who plays a particular game will remember it in just about the same way. Frequently, it seems like the player is fighting against the game itself, not against the enemies.

I guess this sort of thing is more pronounced in games like Myst, where the player expects a certain degree of interactivity. No one's frustrated by their inability to interact with a specific object in Doom, for example, because Doom is straightforward and honest about what you can and can't do.

Dos: Shoot enemies, activate switches, pick up ammo and health.
Don'ts: Everything else.

On another note, I came across a couple of perfect examples of the "media parasitism" we've encountered and spoken about several times. Neither of these sites features original material, but each provokes a completely different reaction from the original and, in fact, from the other. And, I think it's safe to say, both are superior to the source material.

Liveness, Mobility, and Myst

Myst and the Web have almost nothing in common. McPherson states that the Web attempts to create liveness (much like television does) and mobility. Myst attempts to immerse the player in aliveness, with mobility as one enabling factor. In a way, they both embody McPherson's idea of "lean-back interactivity," providing small moments of interactivity made to feel like spaces of control and volition.

Cinematic cutscenes in Myst lend limited liveness to the game and its narrative. Portions of the game that aren't full-motion video simulating live action are made live--or alive, rather--only by the user's actions. Other character speak directly to the screen--directly to the player. The omnipotent Hand is the only piece the player sees of the way he, as the protagonist, is represented in the game. The hand acts as proxy for the player's body, mind, and free will, whose actions are subject to many restrictions. The only way for the player to customize his presence (visible to himself) in the game is to choose one of eight colors for his hand and a gradation of transparency. It seems that choosing, say, a blue hand, or one that is completely transparent, would remove one furthest from the game. But that self-transparency is what immerses the player, alive in absence.

No matter how transparent one's navigational Hand is in the game, its actions rely completely, again, on the context of the software. Most of the time, clicking to signal that one wants to interact with the game, the hand will wave a little, floating onscreen, or knock and tap around on a surface, effecting no change to the conditions in the game. Thus, any agency suggested by immersion and aliveness is severely limited.

freedom is as freedom does.

Freedom is a big deal on the Internet today. In her article “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web,” Tara McPherson details the way in which web sites do their best to give web surfers freedom. “If early television promised to bring us the world, on the Web, our own volition in relation to this travel gets foregrounded. Microsoft asks, 'Where do you want to go today?'” The implication is that we Internet travelers could go anywhere we choose. We can blaze unique trails through the web of hyperlinks, experiencing websites as no one else ever has before. These days, with the explosion of Web 2.0 sites, we can even create and destroy the content of the web as we see fit.

Or can we? McPherson calls this freedom an “illusion.” Our abilities are much more limited then the web site designers would like us to believe. We are only able to go places and change content that they allow us to. For example, we are not free to get rid of the advertisements that run alongside the pages we “create” on Facebook. We do not have complete control over the layout of our blogs on Blogger; we can choose where we'd like the “Blog Archive” to appear, but we cannot remove it entirely. In creating our blog posts, we can only use basic HTML tags. If we want to add more interactive features to our blog (animations, pop-up windows, etc), we are out of luck; Javascript and Java applets are out of the question.

So it appears that we must be skeptical when a web site is presented as a place of limitless user freedom. In reality, our “freedom” is under their control.

Narrative, Audio, Space

Manovich's discussion of the narrative space of games and the nature of computer graphics reminded me of a game I saw recently, Everyday Shooter. Its an abstract to-down shooter game; think Asteriods on hallucinogens (with bright colors, trippy music and synesthesia to boot!). The game's minimal aesthetics and reliance on simple forms and bright colors are reminiscent of modern and contemporary art, entailing a welcome escape from photo-realism and absolute representation. Interestingly, in the game, which is fundamentally 2D, rather than space being the primary form of narrative as is the case for the games Manovich examines, the length and content of the levels is determined by the musical accompaniment. Each level is as long as the song which plays behind it.

The possibility of an audio based narrative in digital media opens up a whole new narratology undiscussed by Manovich, albeit one less ubiquitous and "new" media-y.

The Futility of "Cyber-Space" as an Actual Space

(Note: Doom... GOD. The game was published in like, what, 1993? I understand that Doom is probably the single most famous (or infamous) computer game in history, but GEEZ. If I could get a dollar for every Doom reference I've seen...)

Anyway.

"If the World Wide Web and the original VRML are any indications, we are not moving any closer toward systematic space..."

Honestly, I don't think we will. The argument can be made (one which Manovich touches upon) that technology was, and still is, not up to spec, but I don't think that we will ever reach the point where "cyberspace cowboys" navigate the web like "a new Wild West." Here's why:

We're too used to the interface. The distinction and categorization of navigable space vs. aggregate space has already been made. "Chatrooms" are simply isolated internet conversations. A "homepage" is still nothing but a series of hyperlinks. Think back to the old delusions of the revolution of "Video Phones." Although the argument can be made that video chat exists, it is most certainly not the norm; we have, thus far, stuck to the voice-only format of the telephone. We've been using the browser interface for almost 20 years now. According to Moore's Law, the exponential growth in computing power between then and now should have been more than enough (note that in Neuromancer, discussion can be heard of "Three-Megabyte" flash drives - considering that over 1.25 terabytes of data is sitting in my room right now, I think we've beaten expectations in that respect); so why haven't we made the jump?

The one exception I can think of at the moment are MMOs - Massively Multiplayer Online games. There aren't just just MMORPGs, mind you (WOW fans, eat your heart out); I'm talking about various games which use navigable space: Internet Poker is a bit of a stretch, but there are internet-linkable sports games, strategy games, - ironically enough, even space games (See EVE Online). You don't even need a computer for many games out there; the mini-computers known otherwise as your Xbox 360 and PS3 have online and computing capabilites rivaling even that of the most powerful desktop.

(Funny story: there actually was an online version of Myst, called Uru Live. It has since failed to garner a financially viable user base. The game goes offline on April 4, 2008.)

INTERACTIVITY/USING

This week has made me think a lot about the love people have towards technology. Throughout high school, when considering career options, I always assumed that during my lifetime there would be some kind of apocalypse rendering all technology useless, therefore making my skill set to be a necessity amongst the tribes of future (such as a doctor, and an engineer), and this often downplayed my desire to work with computers and multimedia. As bizarre as I may sound right now, this was a legitimate fear of mine.

But now I'm beginning to think that there is no possible way humans could ever go back to a time without technology. Our desire for it has become too great. Upon viewing Tron as a child, I instantly longed for the world inside the computer (as I'm sure Gibson did, seeing as Tron came out in '82 and Neuromancer '84). Games such as Myst definitely have a way of making us become enveloped in the digital world, whether we desire it or not.

And yet cyberspace can not and should not ever exist as a digital world. Using the Internet would be inefficient, and the world would be impossibly huge to contain all the data that exists on the Internet. Outside of gaming and entertainment, I don't think virtual reality could never exist as a functional tool.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we will always long for cyberspace because we can never have it, and this desire will continue our need for technology no matter what the circumstances are.
I was very impressed by the visual interface of Myst. I'd never played it before and was really expecting some rudimentary pixelated albeit charming thing like Oregon Trail. Although it was very visually appealing, I think that ultimately the beauty of it got in the way of it being a game. I was annoyed that it was a game, since the actual game part was much less enjoyable than the narrative exposition. It made me think about how almost all video and computer games now are 3d, as if being 3d is better, and how I'm not at all impressed or excited about it. 3d nowdays seems to be really popular, with children's animated movies having been all but replaced by the likes of Ratatouille. Yet the only games I'm ever really find comfort in are like, snake, super mario bros, simple things. I was thinking about the desire of having an interface cover up all the scary and confusing incomprehensible code underneath it. What does it mean when you have no interest in better disguising, more realistic thus less intrusive interfaces?

On Space and Freedom

Professor Chun said something in class on Wednesday that I found particularly interesting: new media "spaces" are not experienced as maps, but rather as tours. As a relatively experienced videogame-player (albeit not always a very good one), this seemed incredibly true to me. One of my favorite things to do in videogames is explore; to have the ability to do almost anything you want, when you want to. Obviously there are games that this doesn’t work with; games like Halo and other cinematic first-person shooters often follow distinct plotlines, and it wouldn’t really make sense to "explore," as you’re basically reenacting a set plot. In this sense, these games are tours; you can move about freely and "do what you want," but to progress through the game, you need to do the right thing. You’re being led on a set path, rather than forging your own.

However, I argue that all games follow a set path, no matter what the developers claim. Manovich quotes Myst developer Robyn Miller in his essay on navigable space: "We are creating environment to just wander around inside of. People have been calling it a game for lack of anything better, and we’ve called it a game at times. But that’s not what it really is; it’s a world." And it is a world, in some sense. But not as much as Miller would like to believe; although you can "wander around inside of it," and even have variable outcomes based on your actions, you’re still following a set path with a definitive ending.

We could examine other games. If anyone remembers the release of Fable for the Xbox, it was heralded as "complete freedom" where you could be as good or as evil as you wanted with your character. What resulted was a good game, but severely limited by a set path you had to follow (also, it only took 10 hours to beat). I recall reading someone’s review on a message board that had a line that emphasized the lack of freedom: "you can do whatever you want, as long as you follow the fucking path."

The Sims might also be seen as a world of freedom. You control a person and all aspects of their life – they eat, work, sleep and bathe on your command. But it is still restricted to the game design; you can’t play with objects in the game in ways that haven’t been programmed. The closest we may get to a new media space that is truly free is Second Life, where you really can do just about anything – as long as it obeys the rules set by the game.

But this suggests an issue with reality; do we live in a map-like space, or a tour-like space? If we say that games like The Sims, and even more so, Second Life, are tour-like because they're limited by rules, then so is our own life. We are limited by laws, expectations, and requirements, and especially by simple laws of nature. What really constitutes freedom in any of these cases?

As an added note, I think it’s interesting that the difference is illustrated by a map versus a tour. After all, when you look at a map, you’re most often looking for a path from one point to another, whether you’re hiking through the mountains or driving to a friend’s house. And how is that much different from a tour?

Also, was anyone else bothered by the frustrating navigation style and long loading times in Myst IV? I mean, it was innovative for the time of the original, but static positions connected by paths are terribly annoying to navigate through when you compare them to modern 3D navigation schemes.

Adam Smith on the Internet

McPherson presents the rather terrifying idea that corporate content providers uncomfortable with the vast freedom of the internet attempted to flex their controlling muscles by co-opting and limiting a user’s experience on the internet, citing the examples of MSNBC and AOL. I recall when my grandma subscribed to MSN as her ISP and email provider, but the web browser they had her install wasn’t even internet explorer. There was no address bar to be found. They seemed so reluctant to allow her to experience what it was she was actually paying for. Everyone used to have AOL, and now it’s (as far as I can tell) horribly outdated and unfashionable, even, to have AOL: a controlling limiting gateway to the internet. Almost like the invisible hand of the free market, these ridiculous aspirations of the power hungry higher ups are stifled by a collective notion and pressure. While my grandma may not have understood her disadvantage, plenty of knowledgeable people fought on her behalf with complaints to MSN and AOL, and these companies are forced to progress and allow users to achieve what they know is possible and allowed by the internet.

I remember when I used to make terrible websites with stolen clipart and animated gifs demonstrating my vast portfolio of Pokemon cards and was thrilled to learn how to code frames in html. My dad, one of the few people who cared to visit my site, often complained of the limitations and frustrating aspects of frames: by opening new html pages within an internal frame, thereby pulling the rug out from beneath the mobility of links and clicking, one could not bookmark what one saw. This was a tactic I remember MSN employing: you could access the internet, but often it was trapped in their frame, ugly sidebars prevailing all over the place. This often led to infinite loops, too: If, for example, the MSN page allowed you to navigate to Google within a frame, and once you were done searching you navigated back to your homepage, msn.com, that would open within the frame and existing nav bars, including a new, duplicate set of frames and nav bars. Just like when a model poses on a magazine cover with a copy of that exact magazine in her hands, creating image within image, etc. (Almost like a mirror-effect in a funhouse. What might this be saying about Lacan’s mirror stage!?) Anyway, due to some equalizing, just, freemarket factor of the internet (maybe protocol?) frames have been lambasted to death and have become a severe no-no for any self-respecting web designer.

Anyway, maybe the internet is better at taking care of itself than people give it credit for? In terms of McPherson’s observation about transformation but no change, it seems to me that on a finite, individual level that can be problematic, but on the infinite scale of the internet this cannot be a problem. In a way, the internet defies the first law of Thermodynamics. Web sites can be Created AND Destroyed.

The Data Dandy and gargoyles

While reading Manovich's “Navigable Space”, one particular section caught my eye in its similarity to a type of character and place in Neal Stephenson's “Snow Crash”. Manovich talks about the flaneur and the explorer as types of new media users then quotes Geert Lovink, “The Net is to the electronic dandy what the metropolitan street was for the historical dandy.” This bears a striking resemblance to the Street created by Neal Stephenson. The Street is basically the manifestation of the virtual world where users congregate and move, meeting other users, buying, selling, living. It IS the internet and we, the users, are the “dandies”, just strolling through, being a part of it, engaging with it. Another interesting thing is the similarities between the data dandy in Manovich's article (“A perfect aesthete, the Data Dandy loves to display his private and totally irrelevant collection of data to other Net users.”) to the gargoyles in “Snow Crash”. After all, isn't that exactly what the gargoyles do? They collect as much information as possible, no matter how relevant or irrelevant, and makes it available on the internet. They are like the Data Dandy in that they are a non-identity; they are only comprised of what they do, which is constant recording and surveillance. This is even illustrated by the amount of equipment they wear, that they are covered with so much equipment that they perhaps, don't even look like human anymore and therefore, are called gargoyles.

Myst

As my first experience with Myst, lab this week was frustrating to say the least. However, it was not merely the fact that I didn't know what to do, or how to solve the puzzles (or even how to find or get to the puzzles) and thus, was not making much progress; it was also the limits and controls over how I could navigate the world that frustrated me. I found myself wanting to click on certain things, pick them up, inspect them, or walk to certain places, but these were not any of the choices I could make in the game. While it seemed like I had a lot of freedom to move about and explore in the game, I could really only do so in the ways specified by the program. There were only certain objects that would have any effect if I clicked on them; there were only certain places I could stand, sections of the space that I could go to. I felt like I had all these choices, and thus all this freedom, yet, as we have discussed in section/class, my choices were actually fairly controlled and limited. Even though, as the user, I was controlling my experience and my progress, the game itself controlled the ways in which I could control my experience.


I had a great time reading the Manovich article. The most intriguing part for me about it was the relationship he pointed out between physical media, in the form of visual art, and digital media. This point stuck out to me mostly because of its direct correlation to the visual art class I am in right now. We just finished studying the early sketches of both Georges Seurat and Alberto Giacometti. Our project for the unit was to create a charcoal drawing in which you only use value to define shapes, not lines. This concept is sort of hard to grasp, in the sense that “everything is everything.” (Not in the cheesy Lauren Hill sense, hah.) To quote Manovich, these painters tried “a dense field that occasionally hardens into something that we can read as an object,” (p.55) This is similar in the digital world in that there is an impossibility of representing things and spaces as separate entities. I’m really interested to see the future of digital space. Besides 19th and 20th century art, what will be the next thing to influence space in the digital world?
haptic and optic perception in myst and installations

I enjoyed Manovich's 'Navigable Space' article. The idea of haptic perception vs. optic perception seems key for understanding different spaces. I thought about this division while I was playing Myst in lab this week. Clearly the world in Myst is built up from many individual sections of space and separate things. This is hard to ignore since you have to wait a second or two for the next section to load or to zoom in on a specific useful object. As a result, movement and exploration through this virtual space do not feel very continuous. However, the game does a good job of creating the illusion of continuous space. As you look around in the game there are many details to create this illusion. You can look into the distance and recognize other areas you've explored and the game even adds some blurriness to your sight depending on what you're focusing on to give an added sense of depth.

One of my favorite parts of this article was the section on installation art and Kabakov's methods for creating engaging installations. Manovich ties this discussion back into the haptic/optic division: "Kabakov 'directs' the viewer to keep alternating between focusing her attention on particular details and the installation as a whole. He describes these two kinds of spatial attention... as follows: 'wandering, total ('summarnaia') orientation in space--and active, well-aimed 'taking in of the partial, the small, the unexpected." I'd never thought about spatial perception in this way or articulated this divsion but certain installations definitely guide you towards using both types of perception. I think the pieces that can pull this off, and really make the viewer experience the piece in both ways, are often the ones that are able to immerse the viewer and make it feel like its own separate world to explore. I think part of the reason this is a successful strategy, at least for me, is that this dual perception is how I take in a lot of the world. I tried to be aware of how I navigate space this week and it was interesting to notice the combination of haptic and optic. Upon entering a room, I'll often get a feel for the overall space an how it's filled. I will also, of cousre, focus on individual parts of that space and objects that grab my interest or seem useful to me.

Linear Myst

I'm also one of the kids who first experienced Myst as a child, 10 years old, at a family friend's house. But my attraction to the game has never been for the puzzles, for the intellectual stimulation, or for the mysteries of the island. The frustration of staring at an impossible (for a ten-year-old, and still impossible-seeming) puzzle for an hour, and not being able to progress, and the frustration of wandering around the island, over and over again, in circles, madly clicking on everything, waiting for the scenes to load, always have detracted from what I find to be the real pleasure of the game: The movie-like experience. Myst, at it's best, is a movie where you control the pace of the action. With an online walkthrough in hand, you can progress smoothly though the puzzles, enjoy the plotlines, and have a satisfactory narrative experience without getting bogged down in the problem-solving.

So that's just what my partner and I did in the lab, after 30 minutes of frustration. We grabbed the "Revelation Walkthrough" from fisicx.com, and blasted through as much of the plot as we could in the remaining half-hour. We restored the electricity, and saw the waterfall turbines come back to life with a roar, we were knocked out by a green flash/explosion, and got to use the astronomer's chair to look at the stars.

Cheating Myst makes the experience linear (you just follow the instructions, in order), but oh-so-much-more enjoyable.

from interactive television to the internet

McPherson's essay got me thinking about why so many features of television have made their way to the internet while internet features on television seem to be fading away. Increased interactivity through things like pay-per-view and home shopping networks paved the way for DVR's and internet TV, but these all seem to be left by the wayside as viewers begin to spend more time in front of their computer screens than their television screens. As a previous post noted, McPherson's essay is a few years old and we now seem to have the faster connections and better graphics capabilities to allow other websites, the progeny of Pseudo and DEN, to provide similar television programs and other "interactive" content on our computers much more easily. But even as the market for things like internet TV is becoming ever more popular in the United States, I am interested in finding out a little more about these technologies in other countries. TiVo ended sales the UK in 2003 because business had declined, but now they have announced that they will begin providing service in Australia sometime in 2008. It might be interesting to discuss in section how "interactive" and "lean forward" technologies as well as content relate to the internet and television and specifically how the relationship between these two media, in terms of the markets for interactive technologies and programming, has changed over the past several years, both in the US and elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How much autonomy do we want?

Having experienced MYST and the discussion over autonomy on web surfing, I start to wonder if people really want complete freedom and full control over Internet space. MYST was designed to give people a lot of control and freedom over first person’s action, however, I felt annoyed by the freedom I was given, the possibilities of every movement and its insignificance toward the whole plot. Examples as opening of the drawer, coming in and out of the plant house…etc. I wish the game could be more direct which leads me through the story. Same idea applies to the web surfing, too much freedom could confuse people easily of where they want to go and what they want to see. Search engines such as Google and Yahoo established this framework which directs us to the next step. This framework keeps us on the right direction while giving us enough choice and freedom.

User participation in the neo-Fordist economy

After describing her three modes of Web experience, McPherson goes on to explain that these experiences are in fact largely illusory. One illusion she discusses is the feeling of actively participating in the production side of the neo-Fordist economy. McPherson writes, “Rather than being subjected to capital, the worker is now incorporated into capital, made to feel responsible for the corporation’s success” (207). It’s unclear whether McPherson is referring only to employees of a company, but her assertion can be applied elsewhere. Consider online enterprises such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. These are the types of businesses profiled by Time magazine in their 2006 Person of the Year, “You.” These companies all rely on user-generated content. All of these websites have employees like any other business, but it is the customers who are contributing most of the material.


This much we already knew. What’s interesting is when we consider McPherson’s comment about being made to feel responsible for a corporation’s success. It’s one thing for employees to feel this way, but now even average customers sincerely feel like producers as well as consumers of a single product, even if that product is owned by News Corp. After spending time on websites like Facebook, one begins to feel like part of the team. I’ve sometimes felt that the successes of Facebook as a business (more users, more profit, etc.) are somehow a tiny victory for me. And what’s brilliant—and maybe just a little scary—is that Facebook et al don’t need advertising to tell me to feel this way; rather, the feeling of participation and responsibility is inherent in the structure of the website and business. This seems to add a bit of a twist to McPherson’s argument about these experiences being illusory, since by adding content to a Web 2.0 site like these, one really is making a unique and substantive contribution to the business.

2002? that's ancient history

After reading the first page of any given assigned reading, I inevitably need to look up the year the author was writing... it really drives home just how quickly things are changing on the internet. Today it's hard to imagine the internet without video sharing sites but McPherson in Reload, only six years ago, is basing her entire argument on an internet where video was still relatively fringe despite what hype she says TV executives were running about it. McPherson argues that TV and the web are fundamentally separate media because of mobility scan and search and transformation; and that somehow they had to apply to video on the web. However in practice the most popular video on the web is in fact material from TV. Interestingly, the navigable space of the internet is merely what happens between these segments of non-participatory entertainment. It would seem that participatory entertainment/narrative currently falls more into the video game area of online material, and that mildly participatory, mildly online TV 'experiences' are simply less popular? That is to say, participatory beyond just the commenting system on video sharing sites. The idea of the worker being incorporated into capital rather than subjected to capital definitely has come in to play though. I guess my point is that it's difficult to interpret a theorist in the context the theory was written without some parts seeming ridiculous because of one's own context, and it's especially interested when dealing with a media that changes contexts so quickly.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

impressions of myst

When I was six or seven, I beat the original Myst for the first time. My memory of playing that particular game is very vivid, and the feelings that I get when I imagine the worlds I was sent to explore are so heavy and clearly defined that they outweigh almost any memory of any real place from that period of my life. I wasn’t able to beat the entire game without any help: the three puzzles which I was unable to solve are burned clearly into my memory as frustrating failures. One involved playing piano. Being completely musically incapable, I had to have my friend’s older sister to decode some notes for me. The world of Myst became my virtual playground with puzzles more complex than monkey bars and landscapes more awe inspiring than play structures.
Needless to say, playing Myst IV was a very nostalgic experience for me. Interestingly enough, however, what I found most nostalgic about playing the game was simply watching the animation of the Cyan company logo swoop down across a white landscape of cones and prisms before forming into a letter C surrounding a gold orb. This image brought back the many, many times I had sat in anticipation, staring at this image and linking it to all of the wonders of the world locked inside its software. Looking, back I am surprised at the degree to which the logos of software companies seemed to define the experience of the game to me. I saw Cyan as a kind of god, broadcasting the glory of Myst to my home computer. Likewise, my enjoyment of Dreamwork’s The Neverhood lead me to a quasi worship of the moon and the acorn. It is in places like Dreamworks, where little boys threw acorns from the moon, I thought, that worlds like The Neverhood are possible. I wonder if, to some extent, I still revere these corporate idols who produce my media, but simply am not as acutely aware of the fantasy they are spinning in my head.
Another thing I noticed during the loading screen was that Cyan is now subtitled with the word “worlds” implying that Cyan is a producer of worlds. Indeed, I would be doubtful of this description had not Cyan succeeded in planting worlds as vivid as the one we live in deep in my memory. I find this posting to be too much involved with my personal experience. However, it is useful to have a forum to unpack my childhood memories of new media interaction.

contentment with illusion revisted

This is an amendment to the post I wrote earlier:

I’d like to try to crystallize my thoughts a little more. What I mean is that because of computers, we have become accustomed to calling simulations reality. By that I mean that we consider a document in MS Word a document before we’ve printed it out. And I’m wondering if this tendency to consider things that take form only in our computer interface “real” objects allows us to see other things that “seem” to exist (ie: continuity) in our interface as reality as well.

The power...of...Writing.

There was once a time when the ability to write was something that sacred. There was a time when people lost life or limb for a simple word, a time when reading was such a divider in our world and perhaps it does still separate some people from others. It’s so interesting how this community puts so much into the ability of reading and writing, yet now it seems some people are losing the ability, through the computers that were intended to improve our ability to write. With such tools as spell check, thesaurus and others people in the community aren’t really using as much brain power as once before to write. Computers are taking the job over; our machines are beginning to take over the tasks and thusly becoming a superior. We build machines to help us, yet somehow we’re allowing the machines to replace our own though processes, dumbing ourselves down. Often times, in sci-fi movies we think of superior beings as floating entities, finding no use for their bodies, because of their massive brain power and intelligence. We definitely set the standards too high; us humans will never get to that point of intelligence if continue to just let machines handle all the difficult things. Perhaps, instead of simply teaching the machine to think better, we should begin to teach ourselves as well. If not our machines will continue to grow, and humans will become the obsolete race and maybe we all will find ourselves stuck in some reality called “the matrix.”

why are we content with illusion?

I was struck by Manovich’s discussion of aggregate vs. systematic space, and in section I’d like to discuss the tensions between the two, especially concerning its reflection of contemporary society. There seem to be several points that don’t quite mesh––which I guess is a sign of fragmentation in itself.

Computer games, it is safe to say, are an example of aggregate space. Myst certainly proved this point––you cannot even move through it except as a set of discrete spaces in which you can “stand.” But the space, when you are not interacting with it, certainly looks quite convincingly connected. And we seem to be content with this illusion of continuity. Manovich says as much. “If we are to apply the evolutionary paradigm… to the history of virtual computer space, we must conclude that it has not yet reached its Renaissance stage” (257). But then he continues, “If the WWW and the original VRML are any indications, we are not moving any closer toward systematic space: instead, we are embracing aggregate space as the new norm” (257).

However, we are not actually embracing aggregate space. We believe that because of the web, the world and everyone in it are more connected than ever before. We feel that because computers are multi-media machines, different art forms are more connected than ever before. Different perspectives, information––in short, The Individual and The World. Haraway suggested that a cyborg world would be all about breaking down boundaries. The interface is supposed to create a seamless connection between the user, and the computer.

So the question I have, I suppose, is why are we not rushing to create a less controlled society in which things actually are systematic rather than aggregate? Rather than only seeming so? And because new media already does what pre-Renaissance art did not (it simulates continuity), does this content with illusion come from our habituation to new media?

"Why don't they ever bring back or remake good shows, like 'BJ and the Bear?'"

I think a lot of the drawing power of TV is based on the fact that it lacks a sense of “control” or perceived control, what with the rigid scheduling and structured output of seasons and arcs and so on. There’s something to be said about the longing and wait one must go through in order to finally get to see the season finale/premier of their favorite show. I can’t really argue with the idea that the Internet is a far richer experience, in terms of the amount of information and entertainment it provides, but TV – in its various forms – isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I find it strange to think that a lot of people are still attached to a seemingly ancient mode of passing along information or just random content, especially considering that the Internet is so widely used and accessible. Broadcast companies do provide webisodes and exclusive content on their websites, but this feels more like a supplement to their normal programming. Episodes are thrown on the web only after their aired on TV, and even then, the streams aren’t perfect and may disappear after a short time. This kind of frustration exists with television, yet less as a deterrent and more as a tease that keeps you coming back for more. I feel like the fact that you have more “control” or a fluid experience with the Internet is in fact true, but this doesn’t mean that TV is less superior, the two just seem to be providing a different experience.

Ideology of personalization

In Lecture on Monday, one of the definitions of ideology (Althusser’s) was a “representation of the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence, a necessary way of relating to the real.” (this is a rough citation from lecture). On this note, many of the articles this week seem to point out a common ideology of personalization and individuality about new media. Tara McPherson shows this personalization as a both a corporate marketing tool and a real part of the experience of surfing the web. She describes the web experience as a the feeling of individual choice in navigating ever-present spaces. Yet McPherson also notes that Microsoft appropriates this feeling when it asks “Where do you want to go today?” (203). In fact, all three of her principles: volitional mobility, scan and search, and transformation, all are partially dependent on an "free individual" ideology. Manovich, whose concept of navigable space seems very similar to McPherson’s first two principle of volitional mobility and scan and search, delves into this ideology more explicitly. In computer games, Manovich says that “the dominance of spatial exploration exemplifies the classical mythology in which the individual discovers his identity and builds character by moving thorough space.” (271) He also characterizes web browsers, which are un-coincidentally named “navigator” and “internet explorer” as privileging “a single user navigating through and unknown territory rather than a member of a group…”(273) These articles really opened up to me the extent to which computers posit their users as individuals: the personal computer, my documents, etc. Could this be an ideology in the Althusser definition, in that “customization” helps people relate to their machines? Mcpherson says herself that “The web as a mediator between human and machine…” (201)

It would be interesting in section to discuss how this trend in new media that was referenced in several articles relates to the larger push towards customization in advertising and the media in general. Is the move towards, for example, TV commercials which address spectators individually and separate them from the masses, and niche markets in magazines part of the same trend? Is it simply a continuation of a traditional mythology of individual exploration as Manovich suggests? Or, is the prevalence of this ideology outside of new media a sign of the influence of software structure and ideology on society as a whole?

Convergence, c. 2008

In Part I of “Reload,” McPherson discusses the corporate “rhetoric of convergence” surrounding television and internet in the late ’90’s, when media execs proposed the idea of “lean back interactivity”: the Web user is presented with an array of options, just enough that he is sated by the illusion of empowerment, but not so many that he is overwhelmed or confused. But McPherson argues that “‘choice, ‘presence,’ ‘movement,’ ‘possibility’” are actually so native to “the forms of the Web” itself that redemption from corporate control is possible.

Today I happened upon Adobe’s promotional “Broadcast and Media Solutions” Web site for Flash. Apparently, “lean back interactivity” is obsolete. Welcome to “lean-forward.”

The “Next-generation TV” page begins with an alert to the shahs of broadcasting: “Your viewers are restless.” It seems that we are becoming more difficult to control, but, fear not, we can be appeased with “‘lean-forward interactive experiences” that can “take advertising and even existing content models – sitcoms, weather reports, news, dramas, documentaries, even commercials — and enhance or extend them.” Better yet, some lean-forward interfaces will “put the viewer in the story as an active participant” or cater to us “based on personal preference.” It seems that, sooner rather later, we will actually be able to “click and buy Jennifer Anniston’s sweater while watching an episode of Friends,” as McPherson scoffs. Except not Jennifer Anniston’s sweater – maybe Katherine Heigl’s lipstick. Or Tyra Banks’ earrings.

Adobe gives some interesting examples of its technology in action, one of which is HBOvoyeur.com, a new project by the television giant. HBOvoyeur is a multimedia brand/public artwork/Web site that situates us, the user, at a window in our New York City apartment with a pair of binoculars. We open the blinds and peer out into the not-quite-accurately-depicted city (some people at HBO have been reading their Manovich), choosing from any of five different NYC addresses. The image zooms toward our chosen destination and the walls of the buildings evaporate and we watch fictional narratives unfold as silent films. We peer, quite literally, “behind closed doors.” “See what people do when they think no one is watching,” HBO purrs, enticingly, in its publicity materials.

I watched the “W. 41st Street” narrative, a six-part episode (if episode is the right word) about a serial killer who always paints a portrait of his next victim and mails the painting to law enforcement. We can see into the killer’s apartment and the neighboring one, from which three (FBI?) agents are spying on him. (Spoiler alert!) At the story’s end, after having dispatched the spies, the killer turns his binoculars in our direction, presumably becoming aware that we have seen everything. He deserts his apartment, gun in hand, to get us. When the story ended, I discovered, to my surprise, that my nose was two inches from my computer screen. I was literally leaning forward.

It’s hard for me to hold anything against HBO, with its well-deserved reputation for unparalleled storytelling – apparently, the Sopranos team had something to do with HBOVoyeur. The site serves as a commentary on of-the-moment concerns surrounding the Internet, and a very thoughtful one at that. I plan to watch the rest of the stories in the future. But I imagine that pretty soon, we will find ourselves experiencing episodes of more, if not all, of our favorite TV shows in this hypertextual (hypervisual?) manner. Instead of tuning into ABC on our televisions each Thursday night for Grey’s Anatomy, we will go to ABC.com and be placed in a virtual Seattle Grace Hospital. We will navigate the halls and watch snippets of narrative in whatever order we please, buying as we go. Moreover, the possibilities for "lean-forward" experiences increase exponentially when we consider "reality TV." In the near future, we will enact our “volitional mobility” under the aegis of corporate media broadcasting itself. And remember, none of this is possible without the (proprietary) magic of Adobe® Flash® technology!

Conscious Control

This week has reminded me of a conversation I had with my older brother over winter break. We essentially discussed the illusion of control in our everyday lives (how we got to this topic off something as bland as who was going to make the salad for dinner, I do not remember) and how that relates to the internet and television. Television, not through texting or input, gives us the illusion of control by giving us something appropriately named “remote control.” Just the connotations that come to mind by using the word control in this sense brings questions to mind that do we actually control the media on TV or does it control us? I would argue that the TV controls us, but confuses us by giving us those limited number of choices of what to watch as many other people have already stated. Also, we always know in our minds that if we don’t find anything good on TV, we can just boycott it altogether and shut it off, yet why do we find ourselves channel surfing for long periods of time, not consciously thinking about what we are doing? In order to have complete autonomy, we need to train ourselves to be conscious and make conscious decisions about everything we are doing, only then will all outcomes and answers open up to us, for us to have complete control and autonomy over our desires.

Now when we take this kind of idea and apply it to computer games such as Doom and Myst, the two examples Manovich used in his article, it is interesting that I find Doom relinquishes the autonomy that Myst can give to the player. Doom eventually turns into the player reacting on quick instincts and thinking in order to get out, whereas Myst would embody the conscious decision-making process about all moves and puzzles better. In order to liberate ourselves, we need to become conscious and open up all possibilities instead of resigning to the false autonomy of the TV and internet.

"And what do you think we should do, MILDRED?" ---

In this semi-anonymous forum space, I'm going to be honest and admit that I had a hard time following Fuller's and Kittler's arguments. I did, however, enjoy Tara McPherson's essay on the Internet and television. 

Right off the bat, when McPherson discussed television execs' ideas to make TV more scintillating through "little snippets of interactivity to enhance the broadcast experience" I immediately thought of the scene in Ray Bradbury's famous novel "Fahrenheit 451." The broadcast network/the government because now it's all one entity, promotes a special programming event in which the characters in the show directly ask Mildred, the protagonist's wife, for her input on what they, the characters in the show, should do next. After the show ends, Guy (her husband) points out that the actors weren't actually asking Mildred specifically, but that the name Mildred had been inserted into the script, and the actors directed to address the line to the camera to make it seem like they were talking to her. 

We haven't quite reached this weird sci-fi junction yet, but as Julia and Gem pointed out, we are being seduced by little snippets of interactivity like text message or telephone voting that satisfy viewers' desire for control, or at least make the viewer FEEL that s/he is in control, when really, as Deleuze and Galloway argue, we're not liberated. We're just on a longer leash. 

Human Desire in Software

One point that came up in lecture this week was on how software keeps users from dealing with more complex problems so that the users only experiences signals from the complex noise of code. This concept that the producers of software think that there is a human desire for simplicity in technology is played out through the illusion of chocie and control within this limited system. Tara McPherson’s article “Reload: Livenes, Mobility, and the Web” brings forth the idea that human’s need a certain degree of hope of transformation in order to deal with our current existence within the digital age. Yet is she completely correct in saying that we, as users, need the internet’s illusion of transformation through the click, browsing or is this not necessary for a sense of current subjectivity? Have we been trained by software to have these desires or are they intrinsic to human nature? TO further complicate this McPherson talks about an older medium, television, that has previously trained us. McPherson is optimistic about technology activating human desire, but I cannot get past the programmers behind the software who make the decision to activate specific desires. This brings me back to the last point of section last week: where is there a space for resistance? Mathew Fuller in “It looks like you’re writing a letter” writes how word parasites, corrals and rides our desire for autonomous control. Here lies my question: if programs leech out our desire for autonomy through the illusion of control and choice, then how can an argument be made for these programs activating our actual human desires? 

No Station for Old Viewers

I'm not sure if I'm completely grasping McPherson's argument. I'm unclear if she is saying that the Internet is as restrictive as broadcast television. On page 202 she expounds on a quote from Bob Stam, stating, "If television, in the words of Bob Stam, obliges the telespectator 'to follow a predetermined sequence' exhibiting 'a certain syntagmatic orthodoxy,' the Web appears to break down the preordained sequencing of TV, allowing the user to fashion her own syntagmas, moving from link to link with a certain illusion of volition." It sounds as if she believes the 'freedom' that the user has on the Internet is stifled, and almost disappointing, and comparable to the 'freedom' a television viewer has. I think she fails to give credit to the amount of user generated content on the web - this whole idea of "Web 2.0", which provides the user with far more freedom than broadcast television ever could. Any teenager with a camera and some good (or bad) ideas can develop a fan base online. The medium of the Internet is far more 'free' than television because of the seemingly limitless number of channels (websites) from which one can broadcast.

She also hangs on the example of larger websites, such as MSNBC and AOL.com. On page 206 she states, "For instance, both MSNBC and AOL work as portal sites which make it hard to leave their confines, functioning as the kind of locked-in channel television executives have long dreamed about." She makes it sound like there is something about these websites that actually makes it more difficult to leave - to browse away from - which seems a little ridiculous. The attractiveness of the interface or content (I guess the interface is content) is what maintains users connectivity to their website. The quality of content is also what keeps viewers tuned in to certain stations at certain times. However, when a television viewer has 100 channels and nothing on, he will remain bored of that medium. When an Internet user feels as though he has exhausted all digital resources (which is sort of impossible...), he can always create and contribute. The 'liveness' of sites like MSNBC is also under scrutiny. While she may have a point in the case of MSNBC, I don't think she's rightfully attributing it to the Internet as a medium. It should be blamed on MSNBC's size as a media corporation. I think this "illusion" of "liveness" isn't an illusion in some cases. Aggregates of content (like digg, google/yahoo news and others) can link to breaking news stories released on many different sites, which are often local news sources who have the small size and agility to release stories more "live" than ever before.

The stigma of Internet "users" and television "viewers" is also an important one. McPherson may argue that the "users" of the Internet are, in fact, more passively "viewing" the content of the Internet with the illusion of activity. However, I believe that these "users" are far more active than their couch potato counterpart - far more active than McPherson seems to give credit.

Surfing Just Sounds Cooler

Along with choice and control, or lack thereof, when it comes to television and the internet, I think responsibility is another feeling that comes into play. When we’re sitting around vegging out, it doesn’t matter what we watch, or how many channels we flip through – we don’t have any real effect on what is going to be shown on television (gimmicky online polls and texting aside). You are responsible for nothing, and can just (try to) enjoy whatever you can find.

Online it's a totally different story. There is power in perceived anonymity, and people will read what you have to say. This can be dangerous (Megan Meier was mentioned earlier) or totally harmless depending on what you write, or who you choose to be. Even if you’re just an observer, reading news and looking around, there are still little electronic footprints made wherever you go, and these can always resurface. The internet ‘remembers’ where you’ve been, but TV doesn’t care.
I feel my last post was slightly incomplete.  I feel I should also bring up the fact that while the web is incorporating television, television is also incorporating weblike features with ondemand and tivo features that let you control when and how you watch whatever it is you are watching.  Even radio is evolving with the emergence of Sirius and other satellite radio companies.  Once again though radio stations now stream on the web, this has not somehow made regular radio obsolete.  In cars TVs and radios come standard, and granted their are cars with on board computers, but I have not yet seen one, so they must enjoy much less popularity.  I feel all these medias are evolving and while they are all becoming more similar, it may be quite some time before they merge entirely into one unified unit.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Do We Want Control?


Though agreeably the web does offer more control, there must be a reason why television is still in popular use. Sure, there are more and newer programs and that is an obvious factor, there is no loading time, (but there are commercials), and the image is usually bigger and clearer on television than on computer. These reasons aside, i believe there is a larger reason television still enjoys so much popularity. I believe people don't always want to be in control, they love the randomness and boundaries of having someone decide what is going to happen for them. People love roller coasters and other amusement park rides just for this reason, they have no control, they simply must relinquish their desire to control where they are going and let the ride move them as it (or its designer) will. Though in many situations people look for more control, I don't think it is a general rule that people like being in charge of every aspect of their own lives. We as a species I believe are entertained and intrigued by having to deal with the unexpected and even the routine things that are out of our control. There's something to be said for the absolute passivity of television, the going with whatever is on and just having to do absolutely nothing. No start-ups, no web searches, no loading, no clicking and typing, just power on and watch. 
I do realize the web offers a much more interactive and malleable format, that is to say you can watch exactly what you want to when you want to (for the most part), but due to this need for interactivity, i don't see programs on the web doing away with television within our life time. Maybe I'm just naive and disagreeable, but it seems to me that each medium has advantages and disadvantages, television didn't do away with radio, and I believe that the internet will never completely do away with television.   I won't say either is better, and I don't want to have to decide.

Perceived Control

When reading McPherson’s “Liveness, Mobility, and the Web,” I thought about my own experiences with the television and with the web and compared them. Although she states, “this is not to imply . . . that the Web is indeed “better.” Rather, TV and the Web do reference each other,” (200) I definitely believe that the web is far more superior. I’m aware of the limitations of the web, but I believe that it gives the user what it wants – the feeling of choice and control (imaginary or not).
Not only does the web offer everything a television does (like “webisodes” on broadcasting websites like NBC, ABC, etc), but it also brings more to the table. One word to sum up why I think consumers like the web better than the television would be “control.” The words McPherson brings into her essay are “choice,” “presence,” “movement,” and “possibility," but I believe all four of those words can be categorized as CONTROL. TV doesn’t give that sense of control and creativity to the user: “with the Web, we feel we create the sequences rather than being programmed into them.”
The web is personalized. You make it what you want, you use it for what you want. You experience what you want from it. You feel like you can change things and maybe even make a difference. You’re in control of how certain websites look, what web browser you use, and what email site you use. Meanwhile, tou have control of accessing the information – you can access it on your own time and aren’t constrained by a TV schedule. Thus, you receive what McPherson calls “immediate gratification,” assuming you don’t have dial-up connection. Immediate gratification is possibly the most important difference between television and the web. People (consumers) want to feel like they are in control, and the web supplies us with that, even if it’s not actually there.
McPherson’s sensation called “volitional mobility,” also gives us a sense of control. People want to feel like they are changing or impacting something. While we can’t really make changes when we sit on our couch and watch TV, we can surely make changes on the Internet, giving our feedback and asking questions about a talk show. The cursor represents our movement and our presence on the screen; it almost symbolizes our connection to the machine; it reinforces our perceived control in cyberspace. Television can not supply the user with this sense of control. People lose themselves when watching the TV; on the Internet, you believe that you are part of a community, have your own identity and are aware of yourself.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bravo, TV!

In the McPherson reading this week, I was particularly interested in the author’s discussion of causality and the internet. On page 202, she writes, “…unlike television which parades its presence before us, the Web structures a sense of causality in relation to liveness, a liveness which we navigate and move through, often structuring a feeling that our own desire drives the movement.” As I read this passage, my roommate was watching a Project Runway rerun in the background, and one of its promotional clips advertised the possibility of text messaging a vote for your favorite designer. It occurred to me then that this principle (audience participation a la American Idol) is a television example of McPherson’s “volitional mobility.” When we choose a singer/designer/model that we would like to win and vote online or by phone, we are engaging with television in the same way that McPherson suggests we surf the Net. By clicking on a link, I am directing my browser to a new page, but I did not forge the path to this page; it was predetermined by the site’s author or constructor. Similarly, I don’t really think that my text message is going to decide the outcome of American Idol; I think that the network decides, and then allows me the illusion of participation. McPherson refers to this as the “experience of choice (or its illusion) within the constraints of Web space and Web time.” This would seem to imply to me that McPherson’s text is completing its cycle- our “passive” television-watching informed the development of internet interactivity, which is now transforming our engagement with television. I am reminded of Leyla Harrison, an X-Files fanfiction writer, whose 2001 death prompted X-Files writers to create a character in her name, based loosely on her fanfiction interests. The scope of “Web space” seems to be expanding as “Web time” collapses; our media seem to be vying for our attention and participation. This article also highlighted for me the extent to which Web browsing (and now, it seems, also TV-watching) has become a forum for individuals to be alone together. McPherson writes that “There’s a sense of presence with strangers,” and, indeed, our sensation of mutability and change derives from the fact that other people are constantly transforming cyberspace. Like “socializing” in a chatroom, texting the Bravo network or creating a body of fanfiction has become television’s response to Bob Stam’s diagnosis of TV as adhering to “a certain syntagmatic orthodoxy” of disconnectedness.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

While reading the Deleuze article I become interested in the idea that with freedom comes added control and even new dangers. The whole idea of a transformation into a 'society of control' was very intriguing to me and something I'd never thought about before. It makes sense that it's a completely new kind of control: less about physical barriers and confinement. It's a control that exists all around us. People have brought up all kinds of examples. This bit from the Deleuze article grabbed my attention: "...in the crisis of the hospital as environment of enclosure, neighborhood clinics, hospices, and day care could at first express new freedom, but they could particpate as well in mechanisms of control that are equal to the harshest of confinements." (Page 4) I was talking about this with a friend and he mentioned a pretty interesting article he'd come across in another class. It's about 'supervised injection sites', which are clinics set up in some cities in the U.S. and Canada with the goal of making injection drugs safer for drug users in the area. The article talks about how although these sites have valid goals and some positive results, there are many negative aspects too. It describes SISs as "one element of socio-spatial 'exclusion' of marginalised populations" and as "powerful surveillance and discipline sites." According to the article, these sites are used to push drug user populations away from certain areas of the city and make them less visible to the general public. It's an interesting example of something that initially looks like an added freedom and a positive change but is also about control in many ways.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rhizome/Rhizomatic Network: Conflicting Ideologies

This week's reading called for this somewhat lengthy rumination.

Deleuze says that after WWII, society lost its disciplinary and sovereign property. That is, it ceased to enclose people for the specific goal of production as the power structures of the centralized and decentralized networks eroded. What Deleuze implies is the emergence of a distributed social network, a milieu “that propagates through rhythm, not rebirth” (Galloway 34). Sites of enclosure—schools, factories, familes—are in a relationship of crisis to this newly emergent global network, rhizomatic, anti-hierarchical and without a center, because they are in a process of transformation in order to suit it. However, there is a distinction to be made between the true rhizome as it is described by Deleuze and Guattari and what I will refer to as the “rhizomatic network” that society is now embedded in.

Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome has an anti-memory because it does not rely on an ontological representational model, and so it does not reproduce mimetically. This elicits the pertinent question: what is the agent that differentiates, that propagates differentiation, in the rhizome? Although it stands in opposition to reproduction, it still operates by ceaseless repetition—can repetition (and metonymy) be designated as its paradoxical origin?

While the rhizome has no clear sites of power, can’t these sites appear based on, say, simply the use of language to name and to designate (which stands in opposition to the rhizome’s anti-memory and which is vested in a human subjectivity that operates not on rhizomatic but on representational models)? Language as a “General” (Galloway 34) informant or site of meaning in this sense is counterpoised to the true rhizome. Language penetrates the rhizomatic network, on the other hand. And infiltrating and malevolent kind of power and meaning is bestowed upon the corporation, as Deleuze notes. The rhizomatic network still rests on an ontology (though it’s reformulated from that of the disciplinary and sovereign societies) and on a representational model. The network reproduces mimetically—the school, family, etc. is reformulated to be based on the values of the corporation.

The rhizomatic network seems like what would be an approximation of the true rhizome (because of it dispersion and decenteredness) had language and representation not marked it. Is it even possible to posit that this network, ideologically opposed to the rhizome, will one day become a rhizome? The network is a tightly coiled serpent, rich with meaning. A drastic shift in social consciousness, to say the least, would only begin to uncoil it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Anyone could have written this post.

Galloway's explication of DNS really piqued my interest in the rest of his article. His initial description of DNS calls it the system "responsible for translating Internet addresses from names to numbers," hosted on "a single computer, called a name server," (47). From this, DNS sounds a lot like a centralized network, with input from the user travelling from the user's host server to DNS and back. If this is so (or even if I am misconstruing the way DNS works), what is the value of encapsulating centralized and decentralized systems within a rhizomatic whole?

On the subject of rhizome, and on page 47, Galloway shows the example of rhizome.org being interchangeable with its IP address: "rhizome.org <--> 206.252.131.211". Click on the IP link and tell me Galloway doesn't have a sense of humor.

Galloway

I thought it really very interesting when Galloway talks about protocol and how it affects the hierarchy and coding within the internet.

“The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, describes the DNS system as the ‘one centralized Achilles’ heel by which [the Web] can all be brought down or controlled.’
“If hypothetically some controlling authority wished to ban China from the Internet (e.g., during an outbreak of hostilities), they could do so very easily through a simple modification of the information contained in the root servers at the top of the inverted tree. Within twenty-four hours, China would vanish from the Internet.
“As DNS renegade and Name Space founder Paul Garrin writes: ‘With the stroke of a delete key, whole countries can be blacked out from the rest of the net. With the ‘.’ [root file] centralized, this is easily done…Control the ‘.’ And you control access.’”
(Galloway, page 10)

It’s fascinating that such a powerful community as the Internet has such a pivotal “Achilles’ heel” that leaves virtually any information vulnerable to a higher authority. How unbelievable is it that all information concerning an entire nation as large as China can be removed from the entire Internet in the space of a mere 24 hours. It’s also interesting to note the reason why such a thing is possible with Internet protocol.

“These regulations always operate at the level of coding…protocols are highly formal.”
(Galloway, page 7)

This formality of protocol at the base level of coding allows for such a simple deletion of something like a period. When reading this, I instantly thought of my experience trying to use the most current OurTunes. Yes, yes, yes. I know. It’s illegal, but I still use it. Anyway, with the Itunes 7 update, OurTunes became defunct and the programmers for OurTunes were predominantly college students who didn’t have the time to get around the update’s new rules. Finally, someone took up the cause and figured out how to download music from other people’s libraries, from what I believe is a sort of mirror program. Ecstatic to find a working OurTunes again, I immediately tried to get it to work. Unfortunately, this version is not quite as user-friendly as the older versions and I mistook the area where you designate how you want the files named for a search bar. Needless to say, my files downloaded as some pretty funky things. This is what is originally in the file name place: %R_%a-%t.%e-mpeg. When re-entering the information, I forgot to add the period after the “%t” and the files downloaded as corrupt files. No kidding, they file names weren’t formatted properly. Anyway, it really is unbelievable how something like a “.” can affect protocol and coding.

accessibility as usability

I believe that accessibility is the final aspect of usability, and that there should not be laws governing web accessibility. Those laws could hinder the cause of wider web accessibility rather than help it. The current minefield of (mis)information, rules and half-cocked legislation is frightening developers, and should not over-ride the platform for greater creative flexibility. Education and advocacy would be far more successful in the long-term than legislation. The web will become more accessible when users stop tolerating inaccessible sites. For example, look at the miserable attempt to curtail spam by law. These companies keep sending unsolicited email through every loophole they found, and that is only because there are people respond to it. Once they stop responding to these Emails, the spam business model will die out.

deleuze.

I thought it was interesting the way that Deleuze refered to Guattari's electronic card systems, that one would be able to leave one's apartment, etc etc., when I instead think of my electronic card (my Brown ID) as letting me in to places. I think maybe this has something to do with the way Deleuze is thinking, a lot about enclosure, being enclosed, and that the greatest horror of this system of the electronic card would be gettin trapped inside a place instead of being unable to get into it. Wouldn't you rather be some place than no place?

It got me thinking that I kinda wished Deleuze had gotten more into talking about exclusions in his essay. I found all of what he had to say extremely interesting, and I would just be curious to see what he would have to say about exclusion as opposed to enclosure.

Maybe we can say, this is one of the problems of modernity--exclusion. I don't know if I'm contradicting what Deleuze is saying or something, but it seems to me that exclusion is a new control, one of the new ways of enclosing people. We work all our lives for fears of exclusion, from like, you know, high school to making sure we're in the right economic class (I guess that's what Deleuze meant by "no longer man enclosed, but man in debt"?) Also people are getting more paranoid about security and personal safety, I feel like there's been a change in the way think about open public spaces. Even when we are in public spaces, we still tend to be held back by invisible forms of enclosing ourselves, by letting our fears, hold us back from openly interacting with other humans, even if they are strangers.

This kind of goes with a line in Deleuze that struck me the most, that the factory was a body that enclosed, but the corporation is a "spirit, a gas." I think that's really interesting, that we are being held back or enclosed or controlled nowadays less by physical constraints, the physical weights, the burdensome machinery of the factory, but rather by intangible, imaginary shackles. We work in offices now where the worst of our problems will probably have to do with a piece of paper, and yet it seems that there is something so much worse now about paperwork than the fatal dangers of heavy machinery.

The idea of the Internet as a source of control is a very interesting one. The classic example is that of searching Tiananmen Square on the Chinese version of google. Nothing related to the protests that occurred there will appear. Here is a comparison of google.com and google.cn that illustrates this http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2006-01-27-n42.html It is obvious that the Internet can be used for control, but the scope of the Internet’s control is limited. The Internet is not a utopia of freedom, but it is almost infinitely malleable when one knows the proper methods. Essentially, what I am referring to is hacking. Thought the Internet does not make all information relatively available to everyone it still holds the promise that all information can be accessed with a bit of intelligence and finesse. I’m certain that images of the Tiananmen Square protest have been uncovered on the Internet somewhere in China by someone. Every source of control will have its dissidents; the Internet especially.

            It’s this exact characteristic of the Internet that prompted my surprise at discovering that the Internet was essentially a military invention. Truthfully, I don’t know a great deal about hacking or the technical aspects of privacy on the Internet, but from what I have gathered it seems information is always vulnerable if the right minds are put to work finding it. Ultimately, this is true for all sources of information and communication, but the Internet seems to extend this ability to everyone. The promise of the Internet is not that of infinite freedom, but perhaps it could be that of infinite accessibility. 

convenience and effort

Prior to reading Galloway's article, I hadn't really thought much about the actual structure of the internet, so learning about protocol and the hierarchy of servers, etc. was rather illuminating. One of my first reactions to this reading was to reflect upon the ways in which I use the internet, apparently giving away my personal information a little too freely in buying things online and even with my e-mail. I realized however, that when I really think about it, the convenience factor of the activities through which this information is distributed weighs more for me than would the piece of mind I might achieve by avoiding them. I do this same sort of thing when I go to the grocery store or to the pharmacy. I have a Safeway Club card and a CVS card and I guess I don't really care if they are adding to their profile on me every time I buy anything, as long as I can save a few bucks in doing so. As Mr. Wingtips mentioned in his post, convenience and patience play a major role in our interactions with the internet, and of course in many other aspects of our everyday lives.

Similarly, if we are willing to put forth a little more effort, it isn't too hard to get around some of the controls and protocols set upon us. In a few sections of the article by Galloway and in several of the posts on this blog, I found hope that loopholes can be found within the systems that structure our lives and that we might still enter the back door even when the front has been locked. This also reminded me of finding one such loophole myself, in downloading music from iTunes. Even though some songs downloaded from the standard iTunes still have locks against sharing and editing, these can be bypassed by burning the songs to a cd and then importing the songs from the cd. So again, I suppose it comes down to a matter of weighing convenience and effort when using the internet and other technologies to do what we want to do. I think that most people who really want to do something will find a way to do it.

no one has ever written this post before

At one point in his book on protocol, Alexander Galloway takes a moment to impress upon the reader the importance of one particular protocol: DNS (Domain Name System). DNS is the distributed system that transforms the web addresses that we humans type into our web browsers into IP addresses, the four numbers that designate the physical location of the information requested. What impresses Galloway about this system is its scope. Every single web domain, regardless of content or place, has a number that DNS can retrieve for you. In his words, “it is the actual construction of a single, exhaustive index for all things. It is the encyclopedia of mankind...” (50)

But I believe that Galloway goes too far in his praise of DNS. He declares the protocol to be “the most heroic of human projects...DNS is not simply a translation language, it is language” (50). An impressive method of organizing information, yes. But DNS is not language. Language is more than just a table of one-to-one correspondences. If it was, human speech would be limited to a set of predetermined phrases. However, I can write a sentence that has never been written before (such as “the perplexed purple penguin drove John Bolton to the movie theater last night”) and any native English speakers will comprehend. This is because languages are infinitely productive. DNS, however impressive its vocabulary may be, is not.

Control Societies and Science Fiction

I was particularly stuck by Deleuze’s brief article on the topic of control societies, and how his conception of the future of society compares with the views of science fiction authors.

After reading the article, and gaining further understanding from Professor Chun’s lecture, I’m under the impression that the effects of a control society on major groups/networks within the society all follow a similar theme. Where in disciplinary societies there was threat of punishment as the measure of control over society, control societies do not even require threat. Rather, the control is in data, in knowledge of all aspects of society. In disciplinary societies, crime is deterred by the threat of punishment; in control societies, crime is prevented by all-seeing cameras, automatic alarms, automatically locking safes and cash registers, fingerprinting databases, and networks with data on all known criminals. In disciplinary societies, work is required by locking workers in factories and office buildings, and firing those that do not comply. In control societies, work is meant to be fun, and be a part on one’s life – something that never really ends. Everything you do is work; you keep up on recent articles by those in your profession; you eat breakfast lunch and dinner with coworkers (even in the office, like at Facebook); you spend free time with coworkers discussing work; you stress about work before you go to bed. In disciplinary societies, school is required by herding kids into schools and punishing truants. In control societies, school is much like work – it encompasses the entirety of your life. And the control is maintained by the people that it is meant to control, by instantly accessible data about how not attending school, or not becoming a CEO, will reduce your potential income tenfold, so you’ll never look like the famous people you always see on TV.

All of this is kind of a rewording of Deleuze’s article and Professor Chun’s lecture. I know. The thing that I find interesting about all of this – aside from the fact that control can, and will, be entirely maintained by the people who are being controlled – is that science fiction novels that focus on societal control don’t seem to picture the future as a control society, as in Deleuze’s vision.

The Matrix emphasizes apparent freedom masking control, with appears on the surface to be a control society, but is not. The apparent freedom is just that – apparent – and even those that free themselves are still only living in apparent freedom (this is referencing the latter two Matrices, that is, until Neo frees everyone. Sorry if I ruined the ending.)

Books like We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and 1984 by George Orwell envision a world with complete control over people; though people may convince themselves that they are free or happy – and they may be happy – there is no freedom in these stories. Similarly, the laughably bad film Equilibrium envisions a world of complete control, with no real freedom. The comic-book-turned-film V for Vendetta also has this vision.

However, books that aren’t entirely concerned with the future of control often have better depictions of Deleuze’s control society. Neuromancer takes place in a world where there is a free flow of data and knowledge, where everyone if free but control is imposed. Snow Crash takes place in a similar world, as does another of Stevenson’s novels, Diamond Age. Margaret Atwood also pictures a world like this in the novel Oryx and Crake.

The really interesting thing about all of these novels is where the control society progresses from the present. All imagine a world where nations are no longer really sovereign, and where companies and corporations essentially rule their own nation-states. Work, school and punishment all converge in these nation-states; the company really is your life.