Thursday, February 25, 2010

Liberation as a form of imprisonment

We rely on our senses to perceive the world, and we are also imprisoned by the very senses of our own. As Kant argues, we can’t perceive the world without the concept of time and space --- simply because we as humans must perceive the world within our frames of perception. Various philosophers, starting with George Berkeley, have argued for the dependency of reality on perception. Philosophers of all time have already made the argument that “reality is perception”.

As technology advances, we feel more and more empowered by the explosion of information and the availability of images, videos, texts that are just a double-click away. We are able to have vivid, three-dimensional, and dynamic images of what’s going on in the world just sitting in front of our desktops and seeing through the “Windows”. The emerging technology of virtual reality even shows us a promising future of promoting our experience to an even more vivid level so that we can be immersed in the environment. These devices aid us in perceiving the world by providing an extra layer of perceptual senses: we expand our horizon to the range of the whole Internet and enhance our ability to perceive the world with the aid of the HiFi sound system etc. However, this extra layer of perceptual devices, at the same time of aiding us in perceiving the world, also brings about the danger of preventing us from the true world. Information is highly dependent on interface: the impression we are able to get is filtered by the characteristics of our desktops. We rely on these devices, yet they imprison us as well. Senses, language, and Windows: they are the imprisonment that comes in the form of liberation.

(Sorry about the late posting.)

The fiction of reality

The readings in the course thus far keep me coming back to a question. How does media representation affect the way we draw lines around the “real and the non real”. Where is this line drawn and redrawn in the media? How does the new media or the internet, photography complicate these lines?

An important concept that seems to orbit this question is the “promise” of reality that new media engenders. For example the ubiquitousness of the internet mimics the expansive, tangential, chaotic, realm of the human mind. But at the same time the internet is only a 2 dimensional façade of reality.

For me this connects with Foucault’s statement about the mirror: “I see myself where i am not, in an unreal, virtual space, that opens up behind the surface.” The internet similarly contains the same conundrum and mirage. The world opens up behind the screen, but there is nothing there. A persona sees what is not there, in this “virtual space that opens up behind the surface.”

I also want to connect this the recent obsession with the “real” in recent media. We have the rise of reality tv, and the snowballing popularity of documentary film, journalistic photography which seems to accompany every printed news articles, mass mediated lectures, ie the Ted talks, Spoken Word poetry which features autobiographical performances. All of these new media fads are predicated on the fact that truth and reality are inherent. But at the same time reality is forced into narrative structures.

What we can focus on in this new fad is that it operates on the same “lie” or false promise of truth, because while the subjects may not be professional actors, and the material come from the raw trenches of reality, producers must edit and condense footage into a story line that is comprehendible and digestible in a short time span. Thus reality is transported from its orginal context and becomes something completely new. it is filtered through the vector of narrative constraint. In this way reality based media lies in that it hides its discursivity.

SO WHAT?! What are the implications? Why does it matter?

At the turn of the 19th century Picasso said: "Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth". Fast forward to today, where our culture's art proclaims to deliver truth. So then, if we base art on truth are we telling lies? What do we risk when we package truth into narrative arcs and sever it from its context? how does the trend toward comedy, satire, cartoons and scifi complicate this premise? does that reality makes more sense when it is squeezed into narrative and storytelling? How is this façade of reality blurring the traditional lines of real and not real?

The Interface - Friday 11am Section

There were a couple of parts within the Manovich reading for this week that were of particular interest to me. One of these sections begins on page 83 where Lev Manovich talks about how the cinematic interface is transforming into a cultural interface via video games. He starts this discussion by talking about the “cinematic sequences” within games. I find this really interesting because he’s writing this before the truly cinematic games have even been made. Games today have far more elaborate, realistic, and scripted cinematic sequences. I would even extend his argument to say that there is an impending blend between the video game and the traditional movie. In the past two years, I’ve played games like Dead Space and GTA IV that have left me feeling like I starred in a movie of my own. GTA IV even had a movie sized budget of $100 million.

I also found it fascinating how he described the “imprisonment of the body” in the section beginning on page 103. It’s an interesting thought because interfaces are freeing the mind while at the same time imprisoning the body. However, I’m not sure I fully understand this argument. I’m not quite sure how the body is more imprisoned now than it was when cinema or even printed text came around. I see a lot of parallels between the immobilization of the body to interact with a movie or a book and interacting with a HCI. The idea of a chip that places a virtual screen on our retina sounds incredibly liberating. Manovich describes this scenario as us merely “carrying our prisons with us.” This confuses me. Is the prison cyberspace? I interpreted this prison as being a physical one that we had to enter if we wanted to interact with a modern HCI.

S03. Imprisonment

I was sitting in the lounge of my co-ed fraternity last night working on my homework when an alumni from our fraternity stopped by to say hello. He joined us since the majority of the fraternity was hanging out there. After a few minutes of sitting quietly among us he said, "I haven't been in college for a while, but as far as I remember it, there were never this many computers in one room." Indeed, he had graduated in 2000 and socialized in the same social spaces as we currently were. Despite the fact that not everyone was doing homework, everyone in the room (about 25 people) had a computer. We were all in fact imprisoned by technology.
As Manovich explains, we are being imprisoned by the unreal. It physically separates us from social interactions as we find it easier to gchat our friends rather than hang out with them or to look up pictures of trees rather than going outside and taking one. It also imprisons us by creating an imagined community that we seem very happy to be a part of. Take for example Facebook, in it one can create lists of friends so that you can choose to keep in touch with specific people. It limits what we know about everyone else we are friends with. Although we have a bit more control over these lists, the advertisements on the side of my screen are catered to me. Most of the ads that come u for me tend to be related to Jason Mraz in one way or another. The internet creates a prison for me by limiting the options I have. Thus, the user and the mind become imprisoned within a screen that presents them with the unreal. With this will we ever know what is real?

My Mother and the Case of the Missing File

“As is the case with all cultural languages, only a few of these possibilities actually appear viable at any given historical moment” (Manovich, 70)

As I sat in the basement, I turned to watch my mother at the computer. A regal woman, she sits with her legs crossed, back tall, trying to hide that she is frantically looking for something on the computer. She opens a folder, scrolls, and then slowly closes the folder, hesitant, because she had for once been defeated. She attempts to click around on the screen quietly, not to alert me of her worry.

I let her have her peace but I can only watch someone struggle on a piece of technology they don't understand for so long.

"Mommy, what are you doing?"

She takes her time to tell me because she knows I'll solve it in the end.

"I am looking for a file."

I rise and walk over to her. She's so cute.

Apple+F and we are at the finder window. A few quick strokes of the keys and we see the file, nestled amount many, waiting for us.

"Jamie, my historical context, my background in printed text, made it in impossible to fathom searching in any other way, other than flipping through a table of contents by opening and closing files."

"I know, Mommy. It's okay."

S.03 - Manovich

As I read the Manovich chapter and as we discussed the interface in class, I started to think about the game (or rather, world) Second Life. Second Life purports itself as exactly that: a second, alternate life in a virtual world of possibility. According to Second Life’s Wikipedia entry, creator Philip Rosedale’s initial focus had been on the creation of hardware that would allow users to be fully immersed in the virtual world. As we know, Second Life would turn out not to be some kind of fully immersive VR game, an online, interactive virtual world populated by avatars representing their human users. This brings to mind Manovich’s image of a “twenty-first century cinema [that] involves a user represented as an avatar existing literally “inside” the narrative space” (82). When I thought about Second Life, I wondered why (other than due to the difficulty in developing the appropriate hardware) the game/world was played out in the third person rather than in first person. If the game was meant to be the second life of the user, why didn’t users view the world more in the way they view the physical world? Why didn’t it look more like a first-person shooter?

I think there are several reasons for the more “cinematic” feel of Second Life. Manovich discusses the influence of existing cultural forms on the cultural interface of the computer. “The area of computer culture where the cinematic interface is being transformed into a cultural interface most aggressively,” he says, “is computer games” (83). Second Life, like most other games, fits into his discussion of how various cinematographic techniques are employed by video games. I am more interested, however, in the idea that we in fact prefer to see ourselves in the third person, as if watching ourselves in a movie. We prefer it to seeing this virtual world from a first-person perspective. As Professor Chun discussed in class, there is a pleasure in the cinematic, in drama. In cinema, we can have closure and we can see causality. We can see the results of actions much more transparently than we can see consequences in our lives. This, I think, lends to the pleasure/desire of seeing the avatar acting in a cinematic world and viewing the avatar/self as a third person. Perhaps we feel that we can see more by being outside ourselves, that we have more power and/or knowledge in the second life because we can see connections, actions, and consequences as transparently as we often see them in the narrative of a film.

S.03 Augmented Reality

While researching modern virtual reality technology I stumbled upon this video about augmented reality: The main premise of augmented reality is to “superimpose graphics, audio and other sensory enhancements over a real-world environment in real time” (Bonsor). While reading ‘The Language of New Media’, I started to wonder how Manovich would respond to augmented reality. In defining what a screen is, he writes: “the visual culture of the modern period, from painting to cinema, is characterized by an intriguing phenomenon—the existence of another virtual space, another three dimensional world enclosed by a frame and situated inside our normal space. The frame separates two absolutely different spaces that somehow coexist” (95). To what extent can augmented reality be said to use such a screen? Augmented reality relies directly on changes in the physical world (and its effects can be seen in “real time”), and it is thus merged with real-life to a much greater extent than, say, virtual reality. Whereas one might suggest that virtual reality is hyper-real, augmented reality—as the name itself suggests—is based entirely on the assumption of the real and has its origins based firmly therein. Mankovich writes, “a screen's frame separates two spaces that have different scales—the physical and the virtual… it discourage[s] any movement on her part: Why move when she can't enter the represented virtual space anyway?” But this is not longer the case. Augmented reality is intimately dependent on the idea of the virtual and the real conforming to the same scale. The alluring thing about augmented reality is neither the virtual technology it utilizes nor the real itself—it is the fact that these merge together seamlessly. While “virtual reality allows us to travel through nonexistent three-dimensional spaces”, augmented reality allows us to do quite the opposite—to navigate familiar landscapes and inject virtual elements (such as graphics) into them. I wonder where this technology will take us in the future—is this a new type of cyberspace being mapped onto the real world?

Bonsor, Kevin. "How Augmented Reality Works." 19 February 2001. 24 February 2010.

S03. The Interface and the digitalization of the Text

While usually for MCM readings, I’m in the habit of printing out the required texts and underlining with a pen as I go through them, when I began to read Manovich’s essay on The Interface it occurred to me that would be missing the point.

In his discussion of the progression of digital media, Manovich points out that the original purpose of the computer was to function like a typewriter, processing words and then printing them out. It was created for a print based culture, and the attention Manovich gives to text’s role in its continuation got me to look a little closer.

The level to which the computer has come is fascinating, as is the idea of the hyperreal interface which disguises the actual mechanical workings of the device. At the moment I have 6 word documents open. 6 stored files, open for editing and positioned by the movements of my mouse to allow me to switch between them comfortably. I can write, I can erase and unless I save I leave no marks. It’s a lot easier than having 6 separate print works in progress in front of me. Drafting on typewriter sounds like a nightmare.

If I click on the Preview icon down on my toolbar, an illusory series of visual markers for connections to various programs, I open 5 PDF files. While Digital Media and my History Class’ syllabi were created on a computer, probably in typed in word (just as I’m doing now for this blogpost) before being converted and stored online. My copies of Friedburg and Manovich’s essays as well as the scanned in copy of our assignment for Monday look back at me, the soul of a printed page captured and proliferated far beyond the capacity of their original forms.

To consider Manovich’s essay in this sense we look at its journey from the author’s mind to my desktop. The author himself typed it and assuming he worked from handwritten notes, this is the first step in the process. It was then sent as a word document off to an editor, who made some changes and inserted it into the larger file that would become the book in which it was printed. The book was then printed, hundreds of copies of the same text each taking up 56 pages of the larger work, and then Prof. Chun or perhaps another faculty member bought the print copy and scanned it in page by page, uploaded it to the mycourses site for each of us to download.

Maybe this is why I can’t read, “Two and a half decades before the concept of digital media was born, researchers were thinking about making the sum total of human written production- books encyclopedias, technical articles, works of fiction and so on- available online (Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project),” on my computer without finding it at least slightly ironic.

Blog 3 Alexis Aurigemma

I was pleasantly suprised to read Anne Freidberg's provoking, although exeptionally long, essay on the viewpoints and perspectives of computer screens and film. I was especially captured by her passage, "Multiplicity: The Taxonomy of Variables," because of my extreme interest in filmmaking. It is fascinating how by the manner a scene is shot, it can change the meaning and message that is relayed through the screen. It reminded me of Barthes ideas on Ideology including the referent, the sign and the signifier. The way a word is spoken can change its meaning. The fact that technology allows us this liberalism in creating film allows for a larger sense of convergence. This convergence has made its way into computers. As a teenager I press the limits of my PC's capabilities every day, opening more and more windows and tabs to enhance my viewing pleasure. Simultaneously, I am able to write this blog, listen to music and check my facebook (not that I would ever do that). My question is a broad one, yet an important one: How far are we willing to push this visual stimulant and what will be the next medium it presents itself in?

Friday 11 AM Section - Post #3

Friedburg's article points out society's fascination with multiples... multiple screens, multitasking, etc. By providing examples from history, such as the history of cinema, it is clear that there has always been this drive for more; to see what else technology can provide us. And as we read more articles each week, one theme seems to pop up: time. Namely, technology's relationship with time. It is easy to become drawn in to new media and technology and to want to study the effects it has on our lives. But why are we fascinated? We are fascinated at how quickly a task can be performed, at how multiple tasks can be performed at the same time, at how technology can save us more time. Others have discussed the notions of a sense of control or a loss of freedom at the hands of technology. Perhaps the reason we feel this tension of confinement is the fact that while we use these gadgets to save time, they are at the same time, consuming so much of our time.

At the end of the chapter, Friedburg writes about a newfound determinism: "digital technology inherently implies a convergence of all media forms" (238). I can see the rationalization because it is the way technology developed: Text can be projected on a screen, which can then be projected and condensed in ever smaller sizes through say a laptop. However, I don't understand this inevitability. Just because it did progress this way, does that necessarily mean it had to? Or rather, are we so sure that digital technology is the final link, is "our engagement with a virtual window somehow assured" (239)?

Blog #3 - S03

I was a little puzzled by Manovich’s contention that “a code is rarely simply a neutral transport mechanism; usually it affects the messages transmitted with its help” (64). While I understand the ways in which the computer has become a “filter for all culture, a form through which all kinds of cultural and artistic production [are] mediated,” I struggle to see if this function is truly that disparate from forms of the past (64). To me, it seems that no matter what the form, the way in which one receives information and/or media shapes one’s interpretation and conceptualization of said information: while computer interfaces are the segues through which we receive so much of our information today, thusly making the computer’s interface the lens through which we interpret, I struggle to see how the computer interface has more influence on our conceptualization of information than, say, the novel or the cinema screen.

Manovich asserts that the computer and Internet are far more egalitarian and less hierarchical than previous forms, in that “two sources connected through a hyperlink have equal weight,” while the novel and film (traditionally) are narrative and thus prioritize certain pieces of information over others. However, when it comes to the issue of influence, I wonder if this narrativity – as well as the physical interface of the rectangular page in a neatly-bound book, or the screen in a darkened theater (both of which imply narrativity, as well as a certain positioning of the viewer/reader in relation to the text) – might “affect the messages transmitted” as much as the computer’s codes and interfaces do; thusly, it seems slightly dubious to me that the computer is truly unprecedented in its influence on our reception of information, as Manovich contends.

Video Games and Cinema

In Manovich’s The Language of New Media, the parts that really interested me were his musings about video games. As an avid gamer, I could really relate to and understand his ideas and observations. When he was talking about interactive VR worlds, he says that he feels 21st century cinema will involve “a user represented as an avatar…rendered with photorealistic 3D computer graphics, interacting with virtual characters and perhaps other users, and affecting the course of narrative events” (82). That is basically the exact description of today’s MMORPGs, or massive multiplayer online role-playing games. The character you control is called your “avatar,” the graphics are 3-D and usually pretty realistic and there are virtual characters called NPCs (non-player characters) that can assist or hinder you. And of course, you interact with other players around the world and what you do with them (talk, trade, fight) affects the outcome of your story. There is some sort of over-arching story, but where you go, what happens next, how it happens, and many other narrative aspects are largely dependent on what you make your avatar do. In this way, these games are somewhat like writerly texts, because everything you do affects something else, and few things are strictly scripted; there aren’t just preset paths for you to follow (or “read”).

Since Manovich writes that video games follow in the steps of and borrow many techniques from cinema, does the fact that games are incorporating these interactive features before movies mean that games are now ahead of cinema? And now the progression of cinema-games has flipped?

He also mentions the “lavish cinematic sequences” (83) and camera controls found in games. Since 2001, when this was written, these two features have become even more important to gaming. The way the camera moves and the degree of control over it in games is something that reviewers consider when grading a game. These cinematic “cut scenes” as they are called by gamers are often the most praised and looked-forward to parts of games. The fact that movies and games have integrated so thoroughly and successfully seems to support Manovich’s ideas about the coming together of all forms media.

Here are two cut scenes, both from Final Fantasy games (a series well-known for its cut scenes) to show their movie-like qualities (music, camera angles, etc.)

The opening of Final Fantasy X (released for Playstation 2 in 2001, coincidentally when this book was published).

The ending of Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (released in 2008 for the PSP handheld).

Friday 11 AM Section

Post 3 for Friday 11am Section

I grew up playing games like Doom. I grew up watching my father play games like Myst... OK, so that second statement isn't entirely true. Its more like “I grew up occasionally walking into the office to find my dad playing Myst.” Manovich cites both games as means by which one can see the potential and originality of new media. In my childhood “spatial journeys” I traveled down blocky corridors shooting aliens and demons and whatever else Doom-type games threw at me. When I saw my dad playing Myst, he would be swearing, struggling with where to go next or what to do to advance his narrative. When I walked in, I could give him advice and he would move on in a few minutes. Reading Manovich and reflecting back, I couldn't help but think about how one's familiarity with new media dictates or influences their experience. Though I was more accustomed to more action oriented games, I could give advice for more thought-provoking games like Myst. My father, on the other hand, just had a free CD-ROM that he figured he would try on his new computer, and found himself generally frustrated and confused.

Blog Entry 3

Friday, 11AM Section

As I was reading Mancovich I was thinking less about his ideas on the interface of new media, specifically in game design, but rather the progression of interface and how new media is the most engaging form. "In contrast to modern literature, theater, and cinema, which are built around psychological tension between characters and movement in psychological space, [new media] returns us to the ancient forms of narrative..." I think that sentence right there sums up his entire idea about the relationship of the interface and how we are at an era of engagement, we can become the heroes, enter the heterotopias, serf the web and find the answers, be whoever we want to be, do whatever we want to do. Through new media we can learn by questioning, or engage in the new writing process which instantly delivers to the audience in time thoughts and ideas via blogging or even go span the globe with the click of the mouse, visit the Great Barrier Reef or the Colosseum. With new media we can go anywhere and do anything. It engages the "user" in a way that is limitless and optional; in a way that other forms of media never could. "Movement through space allows the [user] to progress through the narrative, but it is also valuable in itself. It is a way for the [user] to explore the environment." The computer has become the perfect medium of navigable space.

The Flow of Culture: Response to Friedberg

Like all cultural movements, the current of the movement flows past all parts of culture. Be it the visual arts, music, entertainment, or personality, once a theme appears and begins to be spread, all aspects of life are infected, almost like a virus. The Romantic era, for example, saw a return of fantastical, medievalist elements in literature, an increased use of dissonance and chromaticism in music, and a revived obsession between art and expression. This movement influenced the people at the time and, through art we are able to see what kinds of lives people led. In the reverse fashion, as well, the people of the time, because of the influence art and entertainment has on them, will also facilitate the current of the movement and continue the virus’s path to mass contamination.

That’s what I thought of as I read Anne Friedberg’s The Virtual Window and its claims about multiplicity. While the Romantic era was characterized by an increased return to medieval and gothic characteristics, our current era, starting in the early 20th century, is one focused on the transformation of the individual into one of a multiplicity. And, like all other cultural movements, a recurring theme in culture is never without its affected counterparts. It’s flow and current will carry it past the personalities and lives of people, and into the art and entertainment. As Friedberg argues, multiplicity is appearing everywhere, on TV, in the movies, in art, in music.

On TV, the mere fact that there are hundreds of channels to choose from is an example of this multiplied quality of entertainment. Coupled with the remote control, the television becomes a formidable force for discovering the world and learning about everything. The ability to view a sequence of channels and shows opens up the world. One can find out about French food, exotic animals, and find out the latest happenings around the world just by pressing a single button on the remote.

In movies, as detailed by Friedberg, beginning some time around 1900, special effects involving splitting the screen to offer two or more perspectives of an image became more and more prevalent. Then came the obsession of frames within frames, then multiple screens, then Time Code, and 24, and suddenly movies were used to describe multiple stories of multiple people, moving away from the linearity of older more orthodox films.

In computers, the concept Windows created involving GUI and multiple windows open on a desktop is another clear example of the multiplicity of digital media that is now bombarding us. In a sense, the computer has become a sort of digitalized metaphor for our lives. In one big window, the screen, there is the taskbar, an organizing method to make sure we don’t get too carried away and lost under the deluge of windows and information. And there are the windows, that are limitless in the sense that a hundred windows can be opened, all on the same screen, so that we can have easy access to all of them. Like the split screens and multiple screens of film and TV, the computer offers us with multiple perspectives, bombarding us with information, but also allowing us to choose our own path, and read things our own way. This is strangely reminiscent of the writerly text. Perhaps, the very concept of television, split screen movies, and the computer are what Barthes would call the writerly text.

Finally, this transition from the singular to the multiple can be seen in the rise of the middle class, and the literature that was written after 1945. As the middle class began to grow, what Peter Drucker would call the inner compulsion began to give way to the outer will. In essence, the inner compulsion that used to drive individuals began to morph into the outer will, in effect replacing it despite the belief that the inner compulsion still existed. Ralph Ellison writes about this in the Invisible Man, as does Patrica Highsmith in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and countless other literary masterpieces.

It is interesting how all of these forms of media coincide and tell the same story. Perhaps it is only appropriate that the message is so strongly conveyed. Ironically, this is what our society has created.

S03 Manovich Response

In Lev Manovich’s chapter of the Language of New Media what really stuck with me was his slightly unorthodox comparison of humans and the Internet. More specifically the article brought an uneasiness how similarly my mind works to how the interworking of a computer function. Manovich states, “The interface imposes its own logic on [the media].” (65) Which I then paralleled to how everyday experiences impact my thoughts and actions in the future. For me it was also similar to how my Internet knows my top sites. Based on how many times I have visited a particular site, my main screen has a list of all those particular ones therefore “imposing its own logic” on my server. Manovich takes the duality of human and Internet even further by stating that “an artwork is the result of a collaboration between artist/programmer” 67. I interpreted this as “an artwork” being some one’s favorites bar or main screen and the “artist/programmer” represents the connection between human and Internet. I took this to mean that since artist and programmer are so alike in the way they act and think that they collaborate together to make a final project.

Conclusively I want to look back at the beginning of the chapter to end my thoughts. In the beginning Manovich brings up the 1982 film Blade Runner. After a brief reading of the film’s synopsis I got a Steven Spielberg A.I. vibe. However with the idea of a futuristic Artificial Intelligence in mind while continuing on my reading, I concluded that the similarities of humans and computer alongside the collaborative interactions today make the idea of artificial intelligence not that radical as it is almost in existence right now.

Manovich - The Language of New Media

-Manovich states that all digital-born art must be married to its interface. Form and content cannot be separated, they must be intentionally medium specific. For me, this raises the question, what are the interface and machine themselves specific to? I think the answer to this question is the human. The mouse or touchpad are designed specifically for the hand, the screen is placed at eye-level. Further, the code that the interface depends on is created from textual objects, already familiar to humans. Both the interface and the machine must be specific to the human body as its user and creator.

-On pages 90-91, Manovich draws on Alpers' description of Dutch Renaissance painting as a comparison to the modern computer screen and human-computer interface. Both provide symbolic clues to the culture of their times, however, while we can learn about the Dutch Renaissance 400 years after the fact, the computer screen can only teach us about ourselves now. 400 years from now we will probably not be able to access the interfaces we have now. What does this say about the current pace of technological evolution and what repercussions will it have?

-In his discussion of the screen, Manovich fails to mention the role light plays in its concept and medium. Here we must make a distinction between the screen of the cinema - onto which light is projected - and the screens of computers and television - from which light emanates. Anything on these screens will be lit from behind, as if from the image itself. This is counter to every image our brain is able to perceive in the observable and physical world: we see things when light is reflected off of them. Does this reversal of light's role in image making turn the screen itself into a heterotopia?

Emily Martin - Matt's section

S03 - Text as the most useful cultural form

While reading Manovich’s text, I was surprised to find out how much we actually did not change in our attempts to change. So many people around me tell me how it is a huge waste of time to study anything related to literature and how I will probably never be able to earn enough to sustain my living. However, Manovich explains that it is precisely text that is one of the oldest cultural forms and it still manages to preserve its place in modern technology. Clearly, one can argue that text is being progressively replaced with cinema or HCI as cultural forms, but text nevertheless remains the most natural source of information, in my opinion. Manovich also suggests that it is a form that enables the user to focus, rather than breaking the focus by offering too many things at the same time. Studying text and its theories is probably one of the most interesting and useful things I can do. Text is one of the most important forms that shape the way in which we perceive the world. For me, nothing could be more useful than to know how everything we know is constructed.

Yet, similarly to many other people, I sometimes feel increasingly lost in the hypertext. It is sometimes scary to feel that bits of information are so overwhelming that I will never be able to consume them all. That is why I sometimes feel that hypertext is not the real measure of human capabilities. It seems that it is almost a paranoid attempt to preserve the information, save it from forgetting, but what is the point of it? We are at the point when we are losing control over what we really need to consume and what not.

Cultural forms are merging to create more successful interfaces, the ones that would provide information in more comprehensive or interesting ways. However, interface tends to offer more than we are able to perceive. It offers us innumerable bits of information, but we learn most effectively from the simplest interfaces. That is why I think that text as a cultural form still has the biggest potential in the new media. No matter how hard we try to replace it with cinema or HCI, it is still the form we are most used to - the form that perhaps provides the most effective learning and the form we will always come back to. Of course, we can increase its effectiveness by adding cinematic or HCI elements, but I feel that we still need to have text as the base of an interface in order to be able to fully utilize that interface.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Heirarchy of Hyperlinks

Manovich mentions:

"the two sources connected through a hyperlink have equal weight; neither one dominates the other. Thus the acceptance of hyperlinking in the 1980s can be correlated with contemporary culture's suspicion of all hierarchies..."

Manovitch implies that, since hyperlinks have an egalitarian relationship, they lend themselves to representing nonhierarchical structures. I think that this is a logical fallacy; just because an individual hyperlink cannot directly form part of a hierarchy, this does not imply that hyperlinks have a tendency to represent nonhierarchical structures. As a counterexample, I propose search engine rankings, which are reflections of the hierarchy of the world wide web.

Hyperlinks are one-way, which imbues them with a sense of directionality. I think that this does, in fact, constitute a relationship of domination. Although directionality does not immediately imply a hierarchy, it certainly lends itself to representing hierarchical structures, since a distinguishing feature of a hierarchy is that there is a sense of "up" or "down." The page near the destination end of a hyperlink could be considered to be nearer the "top" of the hierarchy, since its content has been judged by the hyperlink's creator to be of some value. A page which is on the destination end of many hyperlinks is higher up in the hierarchy of the web, since there are many pages "below" it that link to it. Search engines take this into account and place linked-to pages higher up in their rankings, which reinforces and lends a stability to the hierarchy of the web. These linked-to pages are at higher levels in the hierarchy, not only because other web pages link to them, but also because search engines, which currently form the top of the web hierarchy, have given them the validation of a good ranking.

Blog Post #3

While reading Manovich, I was struck by his statement that “a code is rarely simply a neutral transport mechanism; usually it affects the messages transmitted with its help.” (64) Of course the notion itself is not too surprising. As Prof. Chun mentioned in class, we were all born into the prison of language; it is not hard to admit that language, as the primary tool we use to conceptualize and communicate, yet which is itself a social/cultural construct, must also to a certain degree shape our conceptualization and communication. What is fresh to me, however, is to think of the computer in such a way – as pointed out by Manovich, “the role of the digital computer shifted from being a particular technology to a filter for all culture, a form through which all kinds of cultural and artistic production were mediated.” (64) Since it is in our era that the computer has become so predominant and the use of what Manovich calls “cultural interface” is so widespread, in what ways are they making our ways of conceptualization and communication differ from people from previous eras, who are accustomed to the forms of printed text or cinema? That computer media “replaced sequential storage with random-access storage; hierarchical organization of information with a flattened hypertext” struck me as something alarming. It follows that our way of organizing information and knowledge is fundamentally changing. I immediately think of my sense of feeling lost reading Internet text, following link from link that are all connected together in a rhizomatic fashion. It is true that through the Internet I now have access to infinitely more information, but it concerns me that some quality in analyzing/organizing/thinking through the information is lost compared to when I read an integrated book. Or maybe even the nature of knowledge is in a way different in our era.

By Qian Yin

Anna Fisher session

Reading over the Manovich text this week, I was struck by how some of the technologies mentioned seemed a bit dated – the book was published in 2000, which seems at first glance like it was only a few years ago. Of course, the year 2000 is actually a decade behind us now, and it was interesting to read the article in light of the real technological advancements that have changed the very media Manovich seeks to explicate.

For example, I liked the dichotomy set up between the “flaneur” and the “explorer” – the flaneur being a social entity who prefers total immersion in a complex and dynamic social environment, and the explorer preferring simpler and more direct spatial narratives. At the time Manovich wrote this book, this dichotomy was an existing binary in the technology. Internet browsers, at the turn of the millennium, were more straightforward vessels for exploring pretty static web content. Webmail (without Gmail) was not completely mainstream at that point, and Manovich is correct in pointing out that live chat and newsgroups were mostly conducted in non-browser applications like IRC or email clients which were distinct from internet browsers. It made me wonder: how would Manovich respond to the modern internet browser, which handles all kinds of live chat and a so much of our email. What would Manovich make of Google Wave? Or, for that matter, of Facebook, which I conceive of as heaven for the flaneur. No longer is the internet browser limited to searching for static web pages and making the explorer’s preferred, spatially-defined progression through cyberspace.

With the collapse of that dichotomy, have the flaneur and the explorer learned to coexist within the same interface? I believe, and I think Manovich would agree, that the interface itself has very deeply influenced the way in which we explore the Internet. I’d argue that, with the invent of webmail and social media websites, which very few Internet users can avoid, we’re all flaneurs now.

Thoughts on Manovich

Manovich talks about the mastery of the digital and physical world with the advent of the screen; but cutting reality into a 'sign and nothingness,' and takes it even further by suggesting that the body becomes imprisoned not only conceptually, but physically as well. This negates the ability of the user to keep a psychological distance between the virtual world, and the physical. Surely in looking at a screen the immediate digital world is the sole focus of the viewer, that does not make the user a 'passive' subject that accepts all of the short comings of the virtual interface.

However, the idea of bodily imprisonment is much more evident in the case of VR. To take a 'virtual' step in the 'virtual' world, one must take a step in the physical world. This makes the subject obedient to the digital world in the sense that they are not only reponsible for the viewing of the virtual world, they are now obligated to move, speak, and react in order to experience it. Also, the disappearace of the 'fake space' between an image and the surface it rests on is an important characteristic of VR. With no backdrop for the user to rely on, they become a visual and physical slave to the virtuality of the digital world.

Thurs 1pm Section: Manovich

While reading Manovich's article, I found myself solely focused on the idea of control in respect to VR (Virtual Realities) especially in the progressive changes in modern video games. The interface of a video game still takes into account the concept of control. The user feels they control the destiny of their virtual world, but this is a common misconception. The outcome of the game, or result if you will, is already determined. Therefore, how can the user have complete control if the path and destination have already been determined?
In the most advanced video games to date, the first-person visuals allow you to create your own character in a virtual world. Although the perspective of a first-person video game doesn't necessarily change the control, but alters it. The virtual worlds in which the characters exist begin to affect and change the interface (leaving an object at a previously visited spot, or seeing an event from any angle). This makes me question whether or not every possibility has been reviewed at every possible angle or true randomness can occur in the virtual world? In essence, I want to know if the progressive changes in video games is ultimately leading to a true alternate reality where there is no form of control except in the hands of the user?

Lastly, although it's repetitive, I want to touch on the point about interface control on everyday devices. Being an iPhone user myself, I find it interesting that it's rectangular interface, or homepage if you will, is a form of control through imprisonment. I think the iPhone is a revolutionary device that allows anyone to access any information anywhere in the world, so any form of control or imprisonment, to be frank, sounds far reaching.

Friday 11AM section: Manovich, continued! (Sorry)

I hate to be a “follower,” but I will stay with the theme of these blog postings- I find it interesting to see everyone discussing and expanding upon the ideas of one another about screens and imprisonment. I want to start off my blog posting with a picture (I’m not sure I can embed this, but if not, you can click the link)--

Though it is simply a comic, it says a lot. This representation of the modern-day subject made me think about Professor Chun’s and Manovich’s statements on the imprisonment and immobility of the subject, and also about our recent discussions of control. When looking at the interface, Manovich argues, “the body must be fixed in space if the viewer is to see the image at all.” Professor Chun asserted that to watch a screen is to drive a car: to go anywhere, you must stay still. What, then, does the iPhone (or BlackBerry, etc.) entail? The character in this comic is very mobile, however he is still unprecedentedly imprisoned. What would Manovich say about our modern-day technology? Has the iPhone, basically a pocket computer, changed the way we theorized screen imprisonment? Are we freer now that we can mobilize while gazing upon a screen, or does that freedom just lead to more control?

Personally, I find the mobility of the screen to disprove Manovich’s point on the bodily imprisonment of the subject. It fully supports his concept of mental and emotional imprisonment, but breaks the physical imprisonment. However, looking back at the notion of control, this mobile freedom leads, counter intuitively, to a more intense version of control. We are entranced by the screen and feel almost forced to work for the web: we update our Facebooks, our Twitters, and God knows what else, thus making these websites work. They barely have to do anything; it is the subject that ends up producing web content. Why do we do this, though? Because we are imprisoned by our mobile screens. (I realize this may allude to Terranova a bit from MC10, but it was relevant).

Friedberg: Spatial and Temporal Mobility

In her essay, “The Multiple,” The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Anne Friedberg explores the narrative possibilities of cinema and new media and illustrates the ways in which these technologies offer viewers (or participants) complex illusions and spatial and temporal mobility. First she recounts the history of film styles and the evolutionary model of the moving image; she introduces a variety of early filmic conventions such as superimposition, stop-motion, split frame composition, and multiple screen technique. According to Friedberg, the multiple screen technique “was organized with the logic of data compression, condensing a large quantity of information into a compressed physical space” (205).

Because cinema, at this time, was a new visual medium, there was room for experimentation; many directors used this creative freedom to play with the filmic structure, challenge the fixed perspective, and test the “fracturing of time and the multiplication of the video image” (214). For example, by placing two images next to each other on screen, one could change the essence or intent of the visual display, establishing a connection between these two separate representations: these images would absolutely adopt new meanings, ones defined by the contextual relationship. The conclusions drawn from this method were “comparative and analytic,” and fundamentally altered our mode of perception. Now, with On Demand, the Internet, and graphic interface, we have the capacity to navigate across multiple sites and networks and divide our attention among various objects of interest.

Section 3 -

"From the "abstraction" of the 1910s to the "process" of the 1960s, artists have continued to invent concepts and procedures to assure the impossibility of painting some preexistent content." (Manovich 66)

Many artistic computer-technology developments have been the result of human desire to create that which does not exist. The Graphical User Interface was one such development that turned computers from typewriting calculators to self-painting canvases. This is not to say that the GUI was strictly an art-related development, but that depends on your definition of art. According to Wikipedia–the God of the collective knowledge of the human race–art is "the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions." According to this definition, the GUI is art in that it deliberately processes technologically coded informational elements and produces an interface appealing to our senses and/or emotions. Other definitions of art require that the product have no function except to act as art, which would not include the GUI.
But whether or not the GUI is art is not an issue (thanks for reading the intro paragraph though!), what is important is that computers now have the ability to create and display art in a way many humans find appealing to their senses. Computers aren't creative–they don't chose which paints to apply where, based on their personal tastes–but they are productive; they produce both the process and product of new media art.
During the Cubist and Dadaist reformations of the definition of art, artists like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp explored assemblage as a new option for the artistic process and product. They were using relatively new technologies like the photograph to create brand new compositions, most likely on a quest for the non-preexistent content Manovich references above. Similarly, in the late 1950's musicians started experimenting with using new audio recording technologies as a creative tool. In 1961, John Tenney made a song called "Collage #1 ('Blue Suede')" by editing together different parts and sounds from a recording of Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes". Now, software like Adobe Photoshop and Apple Logic have turned Picasso's, Duchamp's, and Tenney's complicated visual and musical compositions into commonplace child's play.
What now is non-preexistent? Does the GUI and computer open endless doors for creation, or instead destroy the options for desirable creativity by making everything possible? Children's jaws don't drop as easily in the movie theatre as they may have when clay-mation explosions were commonplace instead of CGI ("computer generated graphics" or graphics generated by a computer). While the medium of media art (which I would argue is related to software) continues to improve, so does the canvas (or hardware). As Apple's Final Cut Pro is upgraded to edit HD video ("high definition" video with definition that is high), hardware is improved to play HD footage, such as LED screens ("light emitting diode" screens where diodes emit light), and ultimately the overall experience is improved with new never-before had possibilities. New game consoles outdate their predecessors with promises for more realistic graphics, faster speeds, and new revolutionary features (i.e. motion sensors and virtual goggles) to help improve the overall sensual experience. In music art, programs like Apple's Logic and Digidesign's Pro Tools make it possible for musicians without formal training in any given instrument the ability to create sounds from them. Some see this as a horrible travesty, destroying all the ideals and standards of what good music is. I would argue rather that it breaks down walls limiting the definition of music, and encourages humans to find new ways to explore with the new tools we have been given. But in a world where anything can be created visually and audibly using the computer, what is the next big media revolution going to be? Stone tablets were outdated by papyrus and paper which has been outdated by video screens and eventually touchscreen GUIs. But what could possibly be more technologically artistic and sweetass than an iPad?

Willing Prisoners

For this week’s blog post I would like to talk more about, like many others have done, the screen as a prison. Instead of going into why the screen is a prison (which I think has been touched upon sufficiently, I would like to think about the idea of the viewer’s role in his own control. Having a blackberry and being a Facebook addict since 2006, I have a lot of personal experience being controlled, if you will, but also not caring. I find that many others share this sentiment in my generation, which I think is very interesting.

In his post, Kyle talked about the screen as something from which we can physically separate ourselves, but something we also constantly go back to. I fully agree with this statement since by going back to the screen, our lives are easier. E-mail is fetched for us, friend updates are given to us and we are shown what to think is important before we even think of searching for it – all of it is very addicting, but it’s also very invasive. For example, my blackberry connects all of my numbers with all of my Facebook friends who put their numbers on their profile. I personally abstain from sharing that information, but many of my friends do. It then sets their profile photos as their contact picture in my phone. Along with putting my event RSVP’s into my calendar, the device makes my life much easier. Do I care that it is looking through my Facebook? No. That’s the same answer I have when it comes to Gmail. I know it’s scanning my e-mails looking for terms to show me advertisements and news headlines tailored to my interests, but again, I don’t really care. Gmail is easy and those headlines are interesting. As Manovich states in “The Interface,” the computer is taking things, both literally and figuratively, from other forms of media (e.g. text, television and cinema) but it also takes from the human. Just as it pulls from other mediums to make our lives easier, we give it permission to “borrow… [from us to] reformulate…other media, both past and present” (p. 89) and to make our lives easier. We are the ones who are speeding up “the computerization of culture [and have been doing so] since the 1940s” (p. 85.)

From being directly controlled through cinema to a more subtle control of Facebook, blackberries and VR, we are definitely being controlled. Some are blissfully ignorant and go along thinking that they can stop using technology whenever they want to, but then there are those like myself who know that all of their status updates, photos, videos and anything else they put online are no longer their own, but now are things that anyone can see. In Kapil’s post, he talks about how control screens can free us from our every day and often mundane tasks, we love these screens for this purpose – it can control us while giving us the feeling of freedom. We love this feeling, and don’t care what we sacrifice to get it. Manovich talks about the idea of the immobile prison of the theater taking over Anne Friedberg’s idea of “a mobilized virtual gaze” (p. 107,) but now with the new mobility of current technology, we are still prisoners, but now we are willing ones. I think that Michael Wesch sums it up perfectly in his 1/31/2007 video “Web 2.0… The Machine is Us/ing Us” that “we’ll need to rethink [what we want out of and how we use] copyright, authorship, identity…governance, privacy…[and] ourselves” (4:02-4:18.)

More on Screens and Prisons

I’d like to address Kyle’s post “blog 3: more on screens and prisons” and say that I completely agree with how the Blackberry, Facebook, and Chat Roulette imprison the user because he/she cannot escape from it. While there is evidence for this imprisonment, I’d like to also consider how liberating these sources of media are. These screens pull us out of the world we are in. Standing anywhere from an airport to a cafeteria line, we can detach ourselves from the world around us and immerse into the world of the screen.
I consider this one of the major appeals of online gaming and how the strive for better visual graphics makes this out-of-world experience better. Essentially, it is a prison because of the appeal it brings and how it “traps” the user, but it can also serve as a mode of relief from reality. What I think is interesting is the idea that the screen is a prison depends on the quality of the screen itself. For example, a compelling commercial such as the Google super bowl ad, can entrance the viewers and essentially “imprison” them to the screen. Yet an Esurance ad sends everyone running away, or more literally, forces the audience to switch channels.
I guess imprisonment is a form of better marketing and a better product. I still agree with how the car and facebook can be dealing with the process of imprisonment, but it seems like sources of media are striving for this.

Personalized Sameness

I thought that the Manovich's representation of the desktop as a battlefield of dualities was very apt. I was especially intrigued by the uniqueness vs. standardization aspect of the comparisons. As different as we might want to make our desktops, it will always have the same functions as any other desktop. So although it is virtually unlimited, functionally it is confined. In this sense, it reminded me of hypertext, or rather manifestations of hypertext (Patchwork Girl for example), since although hypertext is limitless and ever changing, it is pre-coded and therefore confined.

I think that this delusion of uniqueness reflects us as individuals. We all look different and, “of course,” we are all unique. And yet, on the microscopic level, we are all the same. Our DNA is basically in the same pattern and our internal organs function in the same way. So although we are “different”, we are very much “the same.”

I also thought about the deceptive nature of desktops. You can make certain files hidden and that way you won’t be able to “see” them. It presents an interesting question about being present without occupying space. It is also possible to change the pictures of the icons on your desktop too so you can make a folder look like a photo or vice versa. I think these tie back to the idea that although you are free to edit and personalize the shell, the visual, the context and/or the code cannot be changed by the users.

Blog 3: More on Screens and Prisons

I'd like to think more deeply about the screen as a device of imprisonment and freedom, as Tristan, Daniel, and several others discuss in their posts for this week. Manovich contends that such imprisonment is related to the immobility of the viewer in looking at the screen. As Professor Chun points out, this process of imprisonment is related to the act of driving a car. The driver remains immobile, fixed in the prison of the automobile, while the images around him are constantly in flux.

Unlike Tristan and Daniel, I do not want to push back on whether screens are a form of 'imprisonment' or of freedom, but rather think more through how imprisonment might operate in the context of the screen. In class today we discussed the 'crackberry'/blackberry as a screen that users can't free themselves from, thereby blurring the distinction between work and the personal. In this case, the screen imprisons not merely by fixing the user's gaze and attention (as Tristan describes), but by producing an unquenchable desire in the user to come back to the prison of the blackberry. As in the case of Google, the blackberry then operates as a screen that we can navigate away from (by putting in our pocket), but from which we cannot escape (because desire keeps pulling us back in).

I view Facebook (and Chat Roulette for that matter) as operating in a similar way. Facebook imprisons not just through the physical immobility it necessitates, but also through the online community it creates, which the user constantly wants to get back to. The danger associated with such imprisonment, then, is not just that the user is couched next to a screen, in some way physically controlled. Rather, it has to do with the imprisonment of the mind within the world of the screen, rather than of the real.

WS Screens and the POST-

In Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media, Manovich discusses the changing role of the screen and as a result, the ways in which each medium or interface address and relate to their subjects. Tracing digital media’s influences in such apparatuses as film and television, as well as military technologies, Manovich argues that while the position of the spectator (as in the cinematic apparatus), is one docility and identification with the camera. In the televisual apparatus, the position is as a viewer with a type of freedom, whose ability to channel surf offers a changed relation to the image and screen. Interface, as Manovich argues, positions the individual as a user, the subject assuming a role of freedom and interaction with the medium previously unimaginable with the two previously mentioned modes of representation.

In Manovich’s assertions, however, I would like to question the unproblematic positioning and process of identification that Manovich assumes:

"In cinema viewing, the viewer is asked to merge completely with the screen's space" (96).

It is not only the space in which the viewer is situated that remains unproblematic for Manovich, but also the ease with which such identifications are made that I see as a potential shortcoming of Manovich’s argument. This is assuming that all spectators are positioned in the same way and occupy the same spaces -- that all processes of identification are the same. In what ways has this not been the case? I bring this up because it seems relevant to the relationship between interface and the user. If Manovich parallels the two modes of identification, then in what ways do such addresses not have the intended address? How does interface address its subjects?

Going further in his argument, on the next page, Manovich writes:

“Or, more precisely, we can say that the two spaces -- the real, physical space and the virtual, simulated space -- coincide. The virtual space, previously confined to a painting or movie screen, now completely encompasses the real space. Frontality, rectangular surface, difference in scale are all gone. The screen has vanished" (Manovich 97).

This passage is particularly provocative. Manovich makes the jump from a multiplicity of screen to their disappearance. In section, it would be interesting to discuss the status of the screen and what is at stake in such a disappearance. For Manovich, this disappearance would seem to be a part of ever-present, inescapable technologies of surveillance and modes of control. However, to what extent have those technologies been paramount to the development of the cinematic apparatus itself (and perhaps not merely to public entertainment, as Manovich would believe)? What would be the distinction (if there is one) between the screen and modes of perception (the materiality of the screen and perception) according to Manovich?

These questions lead me to the shift that both Friedberg and Manovich seem to make -- the “post-cinematic”. With this, digital media and interface are also positioned as post-televisual and even “postperspectival” (Friedberg 94). Similar to the question posed earlier, but more broadly speaking, what is at stake in the post- ? In its shift, what else is it also getting rid of? The way in which these posts- are grouped, are all of the posts- the same?

Monica G.