Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wednesday Section Blog #3: Body/Screen or Input/Output- Discipline or Control?

There is a problem in the study of digital media and it results from technological progress. Unlike Film Studies, the rate at which digital technologies unfold results in not only technology but the academic literature and theory that surrounds it to be in a constant state of obsolescence. This constant progression can be seen as purely negative or equally as positive--emergent technologies and forms present an active frontier for critical engagement and study. No matter how one perceives technological development one cannot favor one perspective or the other when engaging academic work such as Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media. Published in 2001 one cannot ignore the moments in Manovich's text that seem obsolete, particularly his long digressions into VRML (these sometimes read even as celebrations grouping him with those "VRML evangelists" he speaks of).
Despite this, the text clearly anticipates that which has yet to be seen. I think this is perhaps why Manovich in his chapter "The Interface," leaves the question of the body and the machine to the end. Manovich begins the section "The Screen and the Body" with an example of Peter Greenaway's film The Draughtsman's Contract, for which he states:
Throughout the film we repeatedly see the draughtsman's face through the grid, which looks like prison bars. it is as if the subject who attempts to catch the world, immobilizing and fixing it within the represntational apparatus (here perspectival drawing), is trapped by the apparatus himself. The subject is imprisoned. (104)

Manovich makes it clear how in the cinematic medium, the spectator and her body, like the "subject of the apparatus," are forced into an imprisonment. Even early VR technology seems to imprison the spectator despite that their body is not completely immobile and the scale of perspectives between real and virtual space are equal. Rather than freeing this stage in representation renders the body into an input device, "the body was reduced to nothing less--and nothing more--than a giant mouse, or more precisely, a giant joystick" (110).

It was impossible for Manovich to fully anticipate new technological developments such as the Wiimote which features an accelerometer and IR to break some of the restrictions of the wired or even wireless input devices seen in modern computing. In addition motion-capture technology promised by Microsoft's Project Natal does away with any restrictions of an input device truly using the body as "a giant joystick." Are these technologies "freeing" or are the simply a more elaborate trap to keep the body fixed in-front of the screen?

One interesting point Tristan brought up in his blog post was Manovich's terrifying prediction that VR technology "may be reduced to a chip implanted in the retina....the retina and the screen will merge" (114). I think it is right that his prophetic vision describes (though with great doubt) what Tristan identified as "Augmented Reality" (AR). AR is moving beyond mere predictions as projects such as iphone applications are now making this dream technology a 'reality.' Interestingly Tristan described these technologies while "limiting," as liberating. While I do not necessarily disagree or agree with him I would like to question this idea of liberation.

I think AR technology begs many questions only some which I would like to lay out. The first of which concerns liberation. Surely AR would liberate the body and eye free in their movement, yet still it restricts the field of vision to a frame, to the screen. In addition, as Manovich discusses throughout his chapter, technological forms both shape and are shaped by ideological forces. I think it is important to remain skeptical of the ideology behind AR. Is AR a freeing or liberating technology or is it merely a product of the ideology of control?
The other question concerns materiality. AR seems to answer the an impossibility of both cinema and any computer representation. It plays with, distorts, but ultimately derives its image from the material world. As Manovich who was born in a Soviet state and who seems to be interested in digital art projects that engage with the question of materiality, would he see this technology as beneficial and positive or as enslaving or deluding?

Finally I would like ask if these new forms of input (Controllers with accelerometers, IR, the body through motion capture) and output (AR, even though still mediated by the screen) are in any way linked to what we now can recognize as "control society." If film and even early computing are seen as imprisoning for the body, in a sense serving a disciplinary function, then are these new technologies reflections of a new society not based on discipline but rather control?
I hope we can address some of these issues in class.

No comments: