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Monthly Archives: April 2016

I loved our conversation on post digital yesterday during section. My mind immediately went to the concept of privilege and the manner in which it manifested within the project of the post digital. As we discussed this topic and everyone offered anecdotes of the post digital and explained how it functioned in their own mindset, I began to understand that the position of privilege is not inherent to an engagement in the post digital and rather the concept was a much broader one that pointed to the pervasive nature of technology in a general sense in society. It becomes a way in which to analyze this pervasiveness and assess the post digital as somewhat of an inevitable result given the thick nature of technology throughout one’s daily life. That being said I also questioned the role of autonomy in the designation of the post digital, essentially again to understand this concept as an active result or a passive one. Again, hearing feedback from the group I again came to the conclusion that this is more of a subjective circumstance that varies in its manifestations. Very interesting to think about certainly at the conclusion of the semester.

I don’t mean that title to be as click-baity as it is (which, for what it’s worth, is not a phenomenon of the internet so much as it seems, although the internet as certainly democratized and perfected the need for intriguing headlines).

“The ease and speed of the digital photo resist itself…” In this way, objects produced digitally seem to lack the “aura” of old-media objects.

“Claire Bishop observes that ‘[t]oday, no exhibition is complete without some form of bulky, obsolete technology…'”

How much of this argument rests on the fickle pedestal of contemporary artists? Is that pedestal enough to make a compelling argument about the state of our modern culture? Does something fusing the digital with the desire for pre-digital (e.g. instagram) count? It seems to for the larger argument about rejection of techno-positive improvements. But is that REALLY the same as deciding to use a type-writer instead of a computer? It neglects to neglect the convenience afforded to new tech. It only produces some “aura” which seems to be worth less and less because of its inauthenticity (think of the #NoFilter hash-tag on instagram) .

I wonder if the first couple to lie about having met online realized that they were doing something revolutionary. Although maybe this has more to do with the internet as inauthentic (that word again) than the internet as ubiquitous, or the desire to reject its improvements. In some ways we are clearly still entering the digital era as people become more comfortable with this. Ostensibly it can/should be seen as purely rational – have an algorithm or two assist with one of life’s greatest challenges (finding a partner) – but in practice, and culturally, it still is often seen as an indication of failure without assistance. This is particularly, if not only, true for heterosexual couples, where, as with most things romantic/sexual, the LBGTQ+ community is more forward thinking.

This is all to say, that I’m curious if the dishonesty about the digital counts as post digital. Not just the decision to reject it in practice, or the desire to make our tech more retro, but the use of tech, and the denial of it.

“With cordial thanks to Wendy Hui Kyong Chun” :).

Professor Srinivasan used a phrase last week that I found especially interesting in the context of a presentation on ontology. About mid-way through the presentation, he introduced “splinter the internet” as a working label to talk about his current body of projects. Elsewhere in the presentation he defined his work as efforts to “re-situate the internet in relation to local communities” and as means to foster “linguistic diversity… like a complex ecosystem” in relation to oncology’s rigid protocols. What interested me so much about “splinter” was it’s effect in action, its ability to immediately scatter and to give new texture to my ideas as they were forming. Whether intended or not, within a discussion on “empowering knowledge-making within local communities”, there seemed no more apt an example.

In my reading of Cramer’s piece on the meaning of post-digital, I was particularly struck by this passage:

‘Post-digital’ describes a perspective on digital information technology which no longer focuses on technical innovation or improvement, but instead rejects the kind of techno-positivist innovation narratives exemplified by media such as Wired magazine, Ray Kurzweil’s Google-sponsored ‘singularity’ movement and of course Silicon Valley.

For me, this is the most useful description of post-digital thought he presents. It frames post-digital not as against technology itself, but against the hype of technology. So much of the discourse around the internet and digital technologies presents new products as revolutionary or world-changing, yet so much of Silicon Valley is incredible banal. Facebook, for example, loves to tout its Safety Check system or the rainbow profile picture tool it released for the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. Yet for every engineer who gets to work on things like these (which are themselves of dubious value), there is a team working on how to better serve you ads. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are constantly touted as the next revolution in human achievement, yet the vast majority of engineers working on those problems are working on how to best get you to buy something. The Amazon Echo is branded as a constant digital companion, but its primary purpose is to make it as easy as possible to buy things (from Amazon).

Furthermore, these techno-utopias are also hyperreal. Apps like Google Now tout themselves as not just giving you what you want, but giving you what you didn’t know you wanted, before you didn’t want it. As Professor Chun put it in Monday’s lecture, the use of machine learning to track and predict all of our online interactions creates a sort of tyranny of the collective, where the actions of those who share your past interactions are assumed to also share your future interactions, foreclosing the possibilities of alternative action. There’s a hyperreality at play in the companies themselves, as well. Venture capitalists don’t care how good your ideas are; they just want to see how well you can sell them to others, how good you are at making your hype seem real. If they like how you pitch, they’ll give you obscene amounts of money, and in the late capitalist economy, that might be the realest thing there is.

The notion that big data moves from technology from description to prescription was particularly salient to me coming out of lecture on Tuesday. Computers are no longer describing our world, but actively shaping what it becomes. This idea is particularly impactful when compared to our discussions of race and sexuality. Since computers internalize current biases, any predictive capability will reflect our prejudices. ‘Prescription’ also has a normative connotation; we see computer predictions as generating what ought to happen in the future, not just what is likely. This difference is very significant, because it implies that we value the output of big data calculations. Even if an event is unlikely, if a compute predicts it, we are likely to follow the technological predictions because we see them as morally good. For example, we do not know if the global warming prediction models are true, but we value computer output, so we are likely to behave as if they are. I wonder whether this conflations between should occur and ought occur has serious consequences our society, especially given that we systematically overlook the fact that computers are performing biased calculations.

There’s an interesting intersection of big data and personal data in the field of personal informatics. Each year, more people invest in wearable technology – FitBits, smart watches, and other digital trackers. The data monitored by these various devices is deeply personal. The majority of an individual’s life can be encoded in this data.

In and of itself, this data can be considered big data. With so many sensors collecting so much data, each device has its own stash of big data. However, this data is also personal – more personal than shopping habits or other online activities. Included in this data are heart rates, blood sugar, and other vitals. It’s not the sort of data that should necessarily be in the hands of impersonal corporations.

I mean to call into question the continually growing collection of personal data by consumer corporations. This collection uses the customers of the company, who believe that they are making a one-off purchase of a product, as laborers who collect data every waking moment of their life.

In the new, post-digital world digital media no longer means new media and nostalgia plays an important role when old media begins to be used like new media. I think it is interesting to think about, then, when people are nostalgic for the old Internet, for the early Internet. What does it mean in the post-digital world when people are nostalgic for the online communities that were only possible 20 years ago?

There is no doubt in my mind that the world described in Florian Cramers piece “What is Post-Digital” is accurate depicted by the label ‘post-digital’, but what I’m interested to explore is the implication of such a society that has reached this point, yet still believes it is in a ‘digital’ age. Take, for example, the number of startups in Silicon Valley that promise the next, best, and greatest, who are always building from the newest technology (with no respect to backwards compatibility, or reference to usability for older models in many cases). We see the latest versions of Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, etc. leap forward at once with the new iOS or Samsung versions, sporting new fonts, features, interfaces supposedly “improving usability and satisfaction”. I think this reflects the mindset of companies obsessed with staying new, hip, trendy, and relevant- reflecting this rush of new technology, production, and the need to ‘keep up’. I would argue that in some regards, technology is continuing to accelerate in complexity, scale, reach and ability. However, I would say that much of these changes are only available to a certain elite at any immediate outset, and that the delay in their reaching a more general public is grounds on which to perhaps release in slower, more stable increments. In a slightly different fashion (although still centered around Snapchat), I was recently reading an article as to how companies marketing all seems to direct to the latest and the greatest, building hype through immediate pervasive apps like snapchat. The author of said article made the point that here I think Cramer would make- that these companies should rather be using the media advertising that best fits their target market (eg. don’t put adult diaper ads on snapchat, but rather leave them for newspapers, facebook personalization for older persons, or television channels). Beyond using the best tool for the job, I believe that the movement to create material goods and apply more control over them has a great deal to do with their perceived permanence- that technology is so incredibly ephemeral in its rampant acceleration that the human lust for ‘immortalization’ drives us away from its creation. It may also tap into our enjoyment for the simultaneous experience, the real, but that’s another post.

No, I am not writing this blog post on a typewriter, but I do have the next best thing: a mechanical keyboard. The CHERRY MX mechanical blue switches produce a loud and annoying click to everyone in ear shot, with the exception of the typist themselves , as the audible clicks are a part of what makes this keyboard a better tool for more accurate, comfortable typing. To anyone who isn’t a pro PC gamer (or a hardware enthusiast, which I fall into) the mechanical keyboard is a strange device to be using when there is a seemingly good keyboard attached to the laptop itself placing users in the same category as the hipster in the park, who is simply using the tool that is best suited for their needs (which in my case is writing reams of history research papers).

As an audio enthusiast, I understand the important of a proper digital-analog converter (DAC) in turning my collections of binary stored on a SSD, to an electric current that drive my large headphones with a goal of being as far away from the digital as possible while simultaneously relying on the digital to deliver the promise of authentic music.

These two juxtaposed anecdotes to me is what post-digital seeks to define: an understanding of analog and digital being two sides of the same coin that have existed, as Cramer emphasizes, since man counted numbers on their fingers. The digital is the grounding of the analog, and the friction that we feel in transition is why we seek the idea of the “analog” being a more human form of communication that exists out there. To a pro-gamer and pro typist, the mechanical keyboard promises the user that they will connect to their own words through the tactile and the auditory, not just visually guessing as with touch screens and standard membrane keyboards. In a similar way, the audio enthusiast wishes to hear the music that comes out of their headphones to have the correct touch and quality without any artifacts of the digital transitions.

In essence, to be truly post-digital is to understand the transitions between the analog that makes up our world and the digital that allows us to express the world around us. to try to contextualize one without the other is as pointless as unnecessary, as the dichotomy is what exists around us to to effectively communicate from one brain to another, a ADAC (analog to digital to analog conversion) is necessary. Just as with any conversion, something can an will be lost in the conversion process. Language itself as digital medium is as much as a constraint as freedom: we all sometimes feel a feeling that cannot be expressed in words, and words that fail to transmit the right idea as it gets interpreted by another brain. If language itself is not the perfect medium, how can we expect the computer to be savior of the human condition? While the internet makes our ideas more free to move, we can get constrained further by our computers themselves. Overall, it is the ADAC that we find the most effective in optimizing our thoughts that the individual will gravitate to, no ADAC is perfect, as much as hipsters will say one format is superior and the mainstream will another, the proper ADAC to use is ultimately what is the best bridge the gap of one particular mind to another.

Everything that we considered in Digital Media has caused me to think in a deeper way about dozens of topics that I had never thought that in depth about.  Looking back I began to form a lot of thoughts that I wish I could have answers to.  I thought a really good question for everyone to think about is whether people think that technology and media are going to continue evolving in the way it has been and how that can possibly be a good or bad thing?  Digital media overwhelmingly showed me how the limits of technology and media are being pushed every day and I cant even begin to imagine how digital media is going to look 10 years from now!