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Category Archives: Fran’s section

Rereading Tiziana Terranova’s “Free Labor,” I’m struck by how her arguments might be applied to the transformation of the music industry. As we’ve discussed in section, the transition from records to discs to downloads to “freemium” streaming services may reflect a shift in cultural values, but more importantly reflects an increasing influence of the digital economy. Streaming services embody many of the traits that Terranova notes: as commodities, streamed songs are immaterial, valued in their meaning, and are released & presented in a way that allows for  “new products (songs) to succeed each other at anxiety-inducing pace.” Further, as demonstrated by Kanye West’s latest studio release, streamable content is updatable -> another common trait of commodities in the digital economy. In this way, these commodities emphasize the process over the final product. I’m particularly curious to see if/how Terranova’s notion of Free Labor in the digital economy interacts with ideas of “leaks” in the music industry, that is, songs unofficially posted online (often low in quality) before their legal release. How do leaks rely on free labor? Are leaks helpful to artists in any way? How does the digital economy enable/discourage leaks? Is music leaking an example of Barbrook’s anarcho-communist digital gift-economy?

Manovich’s Five Principles of New Media offers a definition for a new objectivity in the digital age that can apply to any potential object. His observations make sense in applying the principles of representation to a film to a video codec, the independently modular object oriented program that exists in video games as makes up the world of Myst and Warcraft, the automation of art in electronic music production, the variability a photograph can take online through the modifications that are made with each share, and the influence computers have in the ways we understand ideas such as hypertext influencing the ideas itself. Thereby, one can understand how the analog, singular, rational, invariable, and autonomous human can be made to fit this model as a New Media object that follows the same conventions as other objects. In essence, I would like to argue against the old convention of technology stifling human interaction by combining Gregory and Manovich’s claims to suggest that by objectifying humanity as a new media object, the individual and space becomes more intimate and interconnected.

The drone is a digital medium that acts upon the real world to promises that the autonomy, representation, and precision of the digital age to be applied to warfare. However, consider traditional warfare beyond the romanticized idea of the personal duel between a hero and advisory. Warfare is an abstraction of humanity, where the days of Machiavelli talked in cold statistics in the same light as the military general from Dr. Strangelove describes the numbers game of lives lost in a nuclear war. Analog technology of warfare also serves to further abstraction: the machine gun has the ability to abstract a beach full of soldiers in the same way the Hydrogen Bomb can abstract cities and civilians by the millions. However, drone warfare fundamentally breaks the mold by promising precision warfare to the public where the target becomes more intimate as the subject on a computer screen. Consider if each soldier who stormed Normandy beach was given a trial by the Nazi machine gunner prior to his shot; drone warfare places the soldier in a new position of observation of spaces, where the top down view of the camera lets the soldier formulate evidence, have a trial, and execute an execution for the target.

While all 5 elements of Manovich’s Principles can be made to fit the trials of drone warfare, a focus on the disconnect of the 5th element of transcoding can demonstrate the collapse of space in a new intimacy of new media. While new media is often portrayed as being the tool to open up spaces of new worlds through abstractions, drone warfare flips this notion on the pivot of transcoding. The influence of the cultural and computer layer is a dichotomy that is often misunderstood as going one way: our culture dictates what our computers will do and our society will apply itself to the treatment of objects and subjects under current precedence. Yet, when it comes to warfare, the drone forces the end user to come face to face with his target and makes him defy the culture of a separation and patriotism to the war targets, where a conscious decision is forced upon each kill, making each death a personal experience.

Perhaps this is just an artifact of the early state of new media based warfare that is offered by the hunter killer drones? The future that is depicted in the Call of Duty franchise offers weaponry that reintroduces numerical representation and automation to the concept of killing in a numbers game. After a 15-person kill steak, a computer tablet appears with the map displayed to the user and red dots now representing other online players that he may tap and select to neutralize the enemy. The future may hold computers that are able to distinguish enemies and display each individual red targets on a screen, tracked in real time, and neutralized with a touch of the monitor. It will be then that computers will once again influence our concept of warfare to that of abstractions; or, will each red dot be accompanied by a file of aggregate data, photos, and their entire digitized life story that will only make each kill tougher and cause the onset of PTSD to develop more rapidly? Overall, the uncertainty of the future of warfare demonstrates that we as a society are at the mercy of computer layer of influence on our culture.

As I was sitting in the auditorium waiting for the screening of the film, I was unfamiliar with what the title was conveying and the story I was preparing to experience. That was, until I heard the first notes of the song Superstar that took me back to the oldies radio and cassette tapes my parents would listen to in the car or on the second hand boom box we used to own. Although I did not recognize the band’s name, nor the musicians who were caricatured through the dolls, I could not ignore the nostalgia and attachment to that voice. Despite the poor quality of the grainy, hissing, and clipping audio/visuals, Karen’s voice still pierced through unlocking memories I had back when cassette tapes were still being used in my household.

It is upon the second screening, however, of the digital copy of the film that I immediately understood where Hilderbrand was coming from in his longing for his worn out VHS copy when he presented with the authentic film. Hilderbrand in his Grainy Days and Mondays stresses the significance of archive as not just a tool of storage, but as a medium of which memories and experience can be recorded on top of the archive itself. This is an artifact most associated with analog formats, but, as Hito Steyerl stresses, can also be attributed to the digital age, in direct defiance of the promises of technology, through the speed of sharing in exchange for quality of the original image. To tie back to Karen’s story, the authenticity that derives from her music in the film has as much to do with her voice as does the format and distortions of the long passed era. Tape hiss and magnetic artifacts are a part of the period of the Carpenters. Hilderbrand describes the unique characteristics that video tape distortion has that can be differentiated from other forms of change (such as video compression that comes with an online transfer and the film maker’s screen recording) that can clearly convey age and focus that adds to the authenticity of the film.

This type of auditory nostalgia is taken advantage of by the band Sonic Youth in their cover of Superstar as the purposely harshen and age their own performance. With the liberal use of feedback and distortion techniques, the band paint a portrait of Karen’s Superstar that has aged with posthumous understanding of her sickness, mental state, and pain, rather than remaining a static artifact of a glossy past. Personally, I find listening to the chilling and uneasy cover by Sonic Youth more authentic of Karen Carpenter and her experience than the contrived studio recordings which had set goals of conveying a fantasy of the all American band. Both Sonic Youth and Todd Haynes are able to give fans a peak to the authentic Karen, one that is uncovered by a distorted reproduction of her image that chips away from the original polish to reveal the underlying person who was playing the character of Karen Carpenter to the point of complete exhaustion.

The story of #711391 within the film I Love Alaska is simultaneously the story of #711391’s exposure through their search terms and an exposure of the capture system of AOL along with internet search providers in general. The 2006 AOL data leak destroys the illusion of our personal computers being a one-way window that brings to the user information while remaining safe behind the thick glass of a CRT monitor. This understanding can be seen today as a peak at other student’s computers at Brown University reveals a significant number of $2000 Mac computers having band aides over their webcam as their tool of privacy (while forgetting to place a band aide on their phone camera to protect their privacy there). Yet, despite this effort there is much more at stake to be exposed from the input of the keyboard than a webcam will ever reveal. This concept is understood in the form of the embarrassing fear that a search through one’s own browsing history can reveal private and intimate interests that are archived by one’s own portable machine, for their convenience.

In the age of constant capture and big data, the risks and fear of exposure become not that of a rouge director picking your story of infidelity and sexual inquiry out of the hat of a million others, but the risk of the automation and formalization of this practice. The late Justice Scalia understands the risk of exposure and privacy in his dynamic definition, where the thermal cameras are not legal until everyone has them, which is a real possibility in being built into future cellphones as another useless feature to then become fair game.

What becomes of the future when data can be aggregated, synthesized, and investigated with ease by advanced computational technology? It is in this future that we will have to be reevaluated once more for the value and definitions of privacy. For example, the Aol data leak has logged searches for an inquiry on “suicide by natural gas”. What does one make of this search? Should police be notified and have the authority to intervene when these keywords are searched? What of a data algorithm that assign a user as high risk when comparing their such trends to others of similar risk? These questions show that the definition of privacy is challenged by new media with each iteration of more sophisticated method of capture and surveillance. I Love Alaska conveys through the monotone narrator the individual subject as captured by a computer; an assortment of inquiries and search engine conversations that can be strung into a narrative. While today, the narrative can only be sewn by humans, such as directors Engelberts and Plug, within the near future we can see narratives being built by formulas and algorithms synthesized by a comparison to other users. In theory, an algorithm can understand a case of infidelity, suicide, or illegal activity before the user completely commits to taking on these actions and, thereby, allowing for preemptive justice to take place.

According to Agre, humans communicate through the language of action, which has grammar that can be understood and captured. This understanding of capture is what opens the door of a control society as opposed to a more traditional society based upon discipline. Capture is not only powered by the modern age of computer data and cameras, but is a tool with more basic roots in exposure through light, the human gaze, and hierarchies that relay control, all of which operate by observing the grammar of action. However, through an understanding of the human grammar of action by those being observed can a disruption and challenging of surveillance be achieved. Rather than attempting to hide from the capture that is omnipotent and all encompassing, actions can be made in defiance of capture through the mechanism itself.

In regards to the history of racism that is prevalent in our nation, the transformation from one’s race of being an objective quality to subjective can be done through speaking and declaring one’s own autonomy, rather than have their history be written by the society at large. As exemplified by Simone Brown, the gaze itself is a form of capture and surveillance, where only those who can be considered subjects can capture while objects are not allowed to do so. Capture is possible regardless of power for acting in defiance to authority; it is exemplified through the effectiveness of disobedience that is connected from the slave ship suicide to the boycotts and demonstrations of the civil rights movement. It is the acknowledgement that a group of people who are treated as objects can define themselves and observe their enslavers in the same way they use surveillance and capture to enslave. Today, the act of surveillances is as much a tool of the masses as it is for authority: videos of police brutality can be used to demonstrate and expose to the world an underlying mechanism of racism that exists in America. While catching an officer in the act of racialized violence is no guarantee of justice, it is an important method of communicating to those in power that they are also being watch and will be accountable under the gaze of society as a whole. Whether or not society acts, however, is a conclusion made outside the scope of capture and exposure.

The Inner Life of a Cell reveals an ecosystem that exists in a microscopic level of observation within the body that is a combination of the autonomous foreign bacteria and the human cells itself. However, the body prefers the autonomy of the bacteria to provide in a mutually beneficial way over the body regulating entirely a network of human cells, as the alien bacteria outnumbers the self at a ratio of 100 to 1. This level of automation and forgetting are the goals of Bush’s Memex and Barthes’ system of starring texts, where the next step of remembering is achieved by not only communicating what is written down as the text itself, but by the connections to other texts (the Memex) and the connections within the text (starring). What Hypertext represents in digital media is unlocking new abilities to forget beyond the written as a system of a higher order.

What makes Hypertext different than the written word, such as the research paper or notes? Barthes would argue that the key difference is the separation of the “signifiers” from the “signified”, that hypertext offers an infinite number of ways of understanding and synthesizing a source material into new ideas, which can be traced through the connections themselves. The goals of hypertext can be seen as a dismantling of the written idea to be re-understood as connections that produce a new narrative. For example, consider the Memex that creates a narrative of connections between texts rather than being a library of information: the connections are acknowledged as the goal of the reader whose main product and goal, which was once limited to being locked within the mind, is now saved on a machine and can be automatically recalled. By contrast, the research paper exists as a flat version of the Memex, where the connections are presented as permanent sources that are locked as a presentation of a single path of ideas. This is an effective way of sharpening an idea to be presented and communicated with others, but as a self-resource it is limited to a refined set of connections that will not yield any new information. In essence there is more information to be explored and synthesized through the connections built across text, and that is a vision that digital media serves as an avenue to apply.

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.

Big data provides us with insights on a subject scale we never thought was possible with efficiency we never imagined. By harnessing and processing this huge volume of complex and detailed information, we are able to investigate behaviors and trends on scales greater than the common understanding. We are able to learn about ourselves with greater efficiency and technical detail. We are able to access superhuman amounts of information. What’s the catch?

We lose the individual in the mass of information. The details that are often most important in what we would like to know about people, like their personal details and background; why they are included/excluded in the set of information, what may be misleading about their inclusion/exclusion?

In considering the dehumanization and depersonalization of big data, OkCupid’s dating research site OkTrends provides interesting and paradoxical insight. OkTrend’s stated purpose is the following: “OkTrends is original research and insights fromOkCupid. We’ve compiled our observations and statistics from hundreds of millions of OkCupid user interactions, all to explore the data side of the online world.” Drawing from its users’ online dating profiles and survey information, OkCupid tries to understand the nuances of love and courtship in the context of other factors. One study explores the preferences of race of a partner depending on users’ own race and gender. Another cross-analyzes users who would consider sleeping with someone on the first date with users who enjoy the taste of beer (beer-drinkers are at least 40% more likely to consider sleeping with someone on the first date).

It is extremely interesting to observe OkTrend’s insights on love and dating when Big Data notoriously neglects the individual experience. As Mayer-Schonberger explains, “The effect on individuals may be the biggest shock of all. Specific area expertise matters less in a world where probability and correlation are paramount. In the movie Moneybag, baseball scouts were upstaged by statisticians when gut instinct gave way to sophisticated analytics” (Mayer-Schonberger, 16). Big Data brings perspective to a scale so grand, most individuals have no skills at interpreting the information. We imagine that trends and behaviors in regard to something as amorphous as love could not possibly be consistent at a scale so large. However, OkTrends proves us wrong. Such things are absolutely calculable, correlate-able, predictable. It is in fact our humanness, at such a small scale, that prevents us from seeing this as possible/true.

Cramer describes the post-digital as a combination of old and new media, used in a somewhat new way. In previous discussions of post-digital media, I have often heard the example of the typewriter used. Typewriters are trending (or at least were a few years ago) despite there being newer and significantly more efficient machines that perform the same task, like computers. The post-digital acknowledges this truth, but proceeds to use the typewriter anyway, demonstrating great privilege and a somewhat ironic awareness of the modern world. While focusing on the merging of old and new media, the post-digital culture is a highly individualized culture that supports not conforming to the status quo and encourages individuals to create their own version or combination of analog and digital.

One of the really interesting concepts Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier bring up in Big Data is the idea of the continued usage of data. They write, “Data was no longer regarded as static or stale, whose usefulness was finished once the purpose for which it was collected was achieved… rather data became a raw material…used to become… a fountain of innovation and new services” (5). When reading Cramer’s piece What is Post Digital, I couldn’t help but think about the continued usefulness of analog, outdated, and seemingly antique items. The first example that comes to mind is the Polaroid camera, which were very popular when I was growing up. Over the course of my adolescent/teenage years, the popularity of the Polaroid faded, as it soon became replaced with digital cameras. However, in the past few years, there had been this resurgence of the Polaroid- nostalgia for the past, and a rejection of the digital. In the same way that seemingly outdated or dead data can always be reused and reinterpreted and turned anew, these post digital objects like the Polaroid find a way to retain their relevance through a new type of meaning. For me, this begs the question of what post-digital object will resurge next, and on the other side, when our phones, laptops, and technology of today will become outdated. Which of them will reemerge? Which of them will have a continued purpose?