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Nigel Thrift writes about the rise of mass calculation, and the societal shifts that have occurred as a result. He coins the term “qualculation” to describe the “new calculative sense” that rises from this shift (Thrift, 592). For Gregory’s article on drones and their operators, this seems to be an important issue. A large portion of Gregory’s description of drone warfare has to do with the “kill-chain,” and the calculations required to hone in on a target in real-time. Drone operators are trained to perform calculations in the instant, continuously weighing and evaluating the risk level of firing a missile. In a certain way, drone warfare makes its human operators think like computers by turning the act of evaluation into an act of summing many minute calculations.

Thrift’s concept of qualculation is also useful when thinking about social media. Nathan Jurgenson notes the increasing phenomenon of “documentary vision,” where “we come to see what we do as always a potential document, imploding the present with the past.” Jurgenson writes about Instagram and its faux-vintage filters, but the concept is readily applicable to other media. Since I started using Vine, I’ve begun to look around me for things that might lend themselves to seamless capture in a six-second video loop. Seeing the world in this way is enabled by performing mental calculations on the micro-level. Thrift even foresees this cultural phenomenon: “the general population seems to be in the grip of a mania for ‘remembering forwards’ by recording their lives which, in part, seems to be an echo of this desire to identify, as well as a new way of dreaming” (Thrift, 593).

Is documentary vision a new way of dreaming? Does it enmesh the “virtual” with the “physical”? Here it’s useful to think about navigable space, as it seems like documentary vision is symptomatic of the blend of navigable space into physical existence. Manovich cites many art projects that conceptualize navigable space, and I’d like to offer another here. Chris Mlik’s interactive video for Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” lets users type in their home address and then uses data from Google Maps (both satellite and street view) to stage the video both on the user’s screen and on representations of physical space intimately familiar to the user. As a piece of artwork, this video plays on the boundary between virtual and physical, navigable space and the space we inhabit. With the rise of documentary vision and the increasing view of our world as something-to-be-documented, does this also mean that we’ve begun to think of our world as something-to-be-moved through, something-to-be-explored-by-looking? Has physical space become navigable, or has it always been so?

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