Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Art, Time, Code

In “Interface Realisms”, Pold discusses a program called Auto-Illustrator - a crazy cousin of Photoshop that is only semi-controlled by the user. I’ve never played with it, but it sounds like fun. He brings up an interesting point though, that goes along with all the new rules, or lack of rules, regarding authorship and copyright in the realm of new media. He asks “Who is the designer? The user or the author of the code?” This is a difficult question for me to wrap my head around, because there must be programmers, artists in their own right, to create these interfaces, but users will certainly create images that the original designer couldn’t have imagined. This strange collaboration inherent in most forms of new media was exemplified in some of the websites as well.

After perusing some of the strange offshoots of the
Mez website, I found that the most coherent page I saw was a collaboration, although I’m not sure who the authors are or what exactly is going on. There is a line somewhere in the middle that says “explode the myth of individualized artistic ownership and requirements of chronological progression,” that fits with the spirit of new media, and also brings up another question about the realities of virtual dimensions. As we saw in the Cave, (fairly) real seeming 3D space can be created from code, but Lev Manovich posed another question about this space - “What about time in new media?” (at the end of the Doom and Myst section). Can we also trick the brain into experiencing a false sense of time as well as space? What if this could fool the body into aging slower, or train us to react faster? What would it feel like to experience a different pace of time? Or would we notice at all, since according to special relativity even if we were traveling at near the speed of light we’d feel the same (but everyone else would be in slow motion). It’s such an innate sense, the passing of time in discrete and measurable blocks - could computers really make us believe anything else?

Regarding code, I think that as with any language that few know fluently, it introduces a new dynamic where there is a great reliance on capable programmers. In “Speech, Writing, Code”, the sense that I get when Hayles is discussing the computer’s interpretation of code on p50 is that the writer of the code is, hierarchically speaking, below the computer. Since the machine is the one that says “No,” or “Error,” it is the programmer that must go back and change things - even though humans designed computers in the first place, we become slaves to the original design until it is altered from the inside out. Furthermore, many of these talented "code monkeys" work for large companies and are told what to create and how programs need to work, so they are also under another set of human bosses who control their paychecks. It seems unfortunate that the ones who have the patience and clever expertise in programming software are seemingly on the bottom of the ladder.

Finally, I think it’s ironic that code was developed to be beautifully logical and simple, yet when most of us look at a source (at least the first few times), it just looks like a cat walked across the keyboard. But appreciation comes with understanding, and even the teeny experience I’ve had makes me incredibly thankful for those who can code.

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