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Monthly Archives: February 2013

 

“Since navigable can be used to represent both physical data spaces and abstract information spaces, it is only logical that it has also emerged as an important paradigm in human-computer interfaces.”

It seems that for Manovich navigable is inherently 3D, spacial in that sense. I do not disagree that navigable and 3D have a special relationship.  Navigable spaces of non-interface, ie reality, ie this room, are 3D at least in the conventional sense. But the HCI is one of the most naturally 2D space we encounter. HCI’s started with words paper, or even punch cards, then words on a screen.  And still the metaphor of the operating system is 2D.

The desktop has no depth, it lives on your screen but it doesn’t have the screens depth, which is rapidly receding anyway.

This non-place of the desktop also allows for 3d simulation and navigation, and Manovich sees this as logical. I agree, the screen with respect to movies and TV has always been a depiction of 3D space however distorted (cartoons) and navigation seems a logical move.

Drone Space

The simulation of navigable space on the PC, with all its interactivity but with none of its falsity. Simulation that compresses spacetime, by compressing space and not time—a lethal simulation.

18 inches from the battlefield

safe in Nevada

 

Today in class we briefly glanced at an article, Is Smart Making Us Dumb?  While this article opens up a whole can of worms in it of itself, it immediately made me think of my experience, and the others in my lab based on the conversations around me, playing MYST.  Now, I should preface this saying, I am not an avid video game/ computer game player.  My gaming is limited to addictinggames.com, Sims, and the Lego PS2 games.  That being said, however, after fifteen minutes of play I can generally make my way around most games.

MYST was a completely different experience.  I understood the basic gameplay, click around to get to different places on the island, pick up pages, read the books in the library, and explore the island.  However, when it came to actually performing the different tasks on the island, I was not doing so great.  It was not because I could not find the clues; my issues stemmed more from the fact that I had to memorize various patterns and reproduce them elsewhere.

Naturally as a 21st century kid, after a while, I pulled out my iPhone and started taking screen shots of the various patterns and by minute forty-five I started looking up gameplay cheats.  And around the room, I noticed others checking their phones for hints and taking screenshots too.

If we couldn’t work through the game without our smartphones, how on earth did the gamers who played MYST when it first came out?  People did it and did it without cheats!  Is this the base proof we’ve been looking for proving that our smart devices are in fact making us dumber?  That college students cannot complete, or come close completing a video game without external devices.

But then I wonder what about growing up with smart phones makes us “dumber?”  Is it the fact that information is constantly at our fingertips and we no longer have to remember anything?  Has the smartphone totally destroyed our short-term memory?  Or rather, is it the fact that we know there are cheats and shortcuts available online that stops us from concentrating fully on completing a game?  That is to say, do we no longer try as hard in daily life, because we use the smartphones as a sort of handicap?  And what does that then say about our society, that we are now using technology as a shortcut for more…technology?

 

First off, I want to begin by saying that I entirely agree with Professor Chun’s distaste(?) of hugging as a greeting. In fact, I’d take it a step further and abolish even the primitive act of the handshake – but that topic is outside the scope of this conversation. But I found this particular comment by Professor Chun to relate perfectly to what is perhaps the defining issue of our generation: drones (or ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ to keep the USAF members reading this happy). More specifically, this issue in relation to the Professor’s comment immediately reminded me of this video. (In fact, I really think that Professor Chun should show this video to the entire class because of its relevancy.) In relation to Manovich’s chapter, what happens when the navigable space becomes perfectly navigable? That’s what I think this video brings up and I think it’s a conversation that society as a whole needs to be having; and indeed, we are. Recently, the then-nominee for DCI (Director of Central Intelligence) was asked at his hearing about the domestic lethal use of drones against U.S. citizens and where and how those boundaries would be drawn. His response was completely astounding: he didn’t address the issue at all and instead spun it into an entirely different topic.

 

If we take Manovich’s theoretical discussion away from computer/3D representational models, and instead apply it to the real world, we’ve created the catalyst for an intense conversation. Manovich himself even brings up an American cultural identity where “we may connect the American ideology of democracy with its paranoid fear of hierarchy and centralized control with the flat structure of the Web.” This is almost an invitation by Manovich to engage in substantive conversation without even knowing it. If anyone will be able to perfectly approach navigating the navigable space, do we have any doubt that it would be the government? Can we not imagine a world like in the above video? Where one’s entire life from birth, has been monitored by the drone in the sky? We already have the perfect navigator drones ‘hugging’ the personal space of an unknown number of people halfway across the world; how longer can we hope to keep this space to ourselves? If we don’t even want the occasional greeting-hug, Professor Chun, how can we hope to deal with a removed, yet omnipresent UAV-hug? (Unfortunately, the above video doesn’t provide any answers.)

Considering Thrift’s argument that the world we live in today is ‘qualculative’ and ‘many millions of calculations are continually made in the background of any encounter’, it is unmistakable that we are under the reign of big data. Though we have been driven to endlessly calculate and recalculate, the task of analyzing all that amassed data is daunting and close to impossible. This situation where human perception cannot fathom the vastness of big data is similar to the notion of the sublime, where there is a greatness that is beyond the possibility of human comprehension. One therefore sees the current age as an instance of a so-called ‘technological sublime’.

In light of this, one wonders at the necessity for constantly producing and collecting data. Unlike the traditional notion of the Sublime, where nature was a cause for complete awe and a total loss of reason, we seem to be creating a condition for our own loss of reason and understanding. With capitalism in mind, however the logic for such becomes clear. Though big data is more or less universally confusing and crammed with too much information to grasp, some are more enlightened than others. In other words, the elite controlling the media are a little more enlightened than the participants as they analyze a portion of the data and metrics aggregated for their own gains. There is a thus, as Langlois points out, an unequal relationship between the media elite and the participant. Even so, what is interesting is the fact that participants are not wholly unaware of this inequality. An instance detailing this is in the case of Instagram’s failed efforts at changing a policy that would allow Instagram to own and use user’s pictures at its own discretion without informing the user of it. The outcry caused by many disgruntled users who threatened to delete their accounts is evidence of the fact that the hierarchy is not completely without a feedback loop. However, what remains interesting is that despite clear indication of a hierarchy, we still choose to offer information and date to media elites for convenience’s sake. The key question here then is, Have we become so used to the idea of convenience that we will offer up our personal information for free.

Today in class we spoke a lot about how flash-mobs bring strangers together in a way in which they all feel very comfortable and familiar. This is an interesting phenomena which has precipitated from large internet chat rooms, forums, and subcultures. In these “places,” people gather to talk about things which concern or interest them,  but sometimes meeting in the physical world is required. This is so for various reasons. In flash mobs, gathering many people in one place in the physical world draws a lot more attention than the electronic analog, and these people want to do something which people will be intrigued with. While Anonymous often keep their activity to the internet, sometimes gathering in physical protest, wearing Guy Fawkes masks, draws more attention to their message. The physical world often offers more power to a group than the electronic one, so sometimes the members of one forum or chat room or subculture find it necessary to gather themselves somewhere away from their computers. However, since they are all part of the same community or are interested in spreading some message, the people in these meetings feel as if they are among friends, even if they’ve never met them before.

Something like this once happened to me. A few years ago, Nintendo released the first multiplayer version of one of the worlds most popular game series, Dragon Quest. As a big fan of the series, I was all over this game. I learned all the most efficient paths and sought out all of the tips, tricks, and secrets. Accordingly, I participated in some online forums related to DQ, particularly those of the Nintendo World Store, located in New York city, which is close to where I live. So anyway, there was this super highly sought-after item in there game which everybody on the forums was itching to get. I found a crafty way to get this rare item from some players in Japan, and immediately let everyone on the Nintendo World Store forums know. I set a time and place when I’d be in the store telling everyone that I’d be willing to share it, and the response was pretty incredible. Everyone was excited about the meeting, and I had no idea what to expect. So the day finally came around and I headed into the city a little early. Once in the store, I didn’t really know what to do. Fortunately for me, one of the people who was particularly vocal and excited on the forum said he was an employee at the store, so I decided to seek him out. Soon after making this decision, I stumbled into conversation with some other guy in the store. Upon alluding to why I was there, his eyes lit up and asked “Wait, are you [my forum name]!?” And for the rest of the day I was treated like a celebrity. This was a very interesting experience, people I had never met before KNEW who I was (as far as they were concerned anyway) and were very excited to see me, and further, there were a good amount of people, and many of them had traveled quite a ways to be there. Not only did I feel comfortable, but I felt like a king! So there’s plenty to be said about this, but the most important thing is that, because of this experience, I clearly understand how complete strangers with a common interest can feel like the closest of friends, with some help from the internet.

It was mentioned in class that some have argued the internet is the “death of community.”

I believe this to be patently, slanderously false, and that this perception comes from an archaic perception of what “community” really means. For 99% of human history, “community” has meant and needed to mean “people who are physically close to you.” In 10,000 BCE, a neolithic hunter-gatherer group had a very set group of people with whom they could live and interact, and their choices were: get along, or die. We have moved beyond that point, and need to re-evaluate the definition of the word itself to include new forms and functions.

 

Junior high was rough for me; it’s a rough time for a lot of people. But unlike a lot of people, my closest friends were a motley crew I knew only from the boards of Gaiaonline, a hugely popular anime-themed internet forum geared toward teenagers. Mr. Grubert, SillehBoy, Hippogriff, Kamako, We looked like giants, and ‘ I c e y were my support structure, and Gaia was the home where I felt safe and free to be myself in a way I could never be at school. The fact that Mr. Grubert was, if I remember correctly, a 20-something from Australia whom I would never meet in person didn’t change the fact that I talked to him every day and we had our own hangout, a board called the Power of Friendship where the six of us filled over 600 pages with three years of discussion. Like most communities, we grew apart as we moved into separate phases of our lives; the last post on PoF was made in May of 2011. But Gaia WAS a very real community, with its own idiosyncrasies, culture, and cultural codes. We lived there, walked through the “Towns” and chilled out in the “Chatterbox” and dressed our avatars to present ourselves in a certain way. Did I miss out on community events at my Jr. High by hanging out so much online? I don’t think so. I wasn’t a hermit; I joined the school choir and got cast in school plays. I was just a part of two communities, one of which used a different sort of physical space.

 

Now I have a nuclear group of friends back in Illinois, those whom I was closest to during my senior year in high school, who are so intrinsically linked to one another that I refer to them, to others and in my head, as “my boys.” They are a geographical community of which I am a part; based around common past experience and living situation, as well as our shared interests. And up until now, our friendship has revolved around geography. When we all leave for our respective schools, we become like most of the other people I knew in high school– we exchange pleasantries over Facebook and occasionally text. But when we are all in town, it’s like a switch is flipped: we spend nearly every waking moment together, and it’s as though we never left. Meals, board games, movies, and rambling discussions into the wee hours of the morning are our usual fare.

This winter break, a peculiar thing started to occur. My boys are hardcore gamers and always have been, but I’ve never been able to play video games; I am unfortunately rather bad at them. Lately, they’ve been playing a multiplayer online game called League of Legends. On a whim I downloaded LoL and found that, although I am frustratingly terrible at this game too, I have fun with it anyway. And so a new dynamic evolved in the group. When we ran out of bad movies (Big Trouble in Little China is a classic, by the way) to watch and board games to play, usually around 1 or 2 in the morning, you could see a mental consensus being reached. And instead of hanging around trying to stretch out our exhausted physically present interactions, we would all go home, and log on to LoL. We were still hanging out. We were still present in space relative to one another, could talk to one another, play games with one another &c. Eventually, we found that we were cutting our physical time together shorter and shorter, and spent more time at our individual computers at home.

 

Were we degrading our friendship, the power of our little community, by moving our hangout space online? Resoundingly NO. We spent less physical time together, yes, but we’re talking about one hour a day out of eight or so. Those were the hours when we were most tired, and most prone to arguing and tension. If we consider the time spent playing LoL as equal to the time spent in Jake’s basement, we actually hung out more. And even more importantly, our friendship– previously confined to the physical space of our suburban neighborhood– now has another physical space where we can hang together, activities we can do together, &c.

 

tl;dr: From outside, the situation looks very bad– like we’re choosing our screens over each other. But from where I’m standing, it looks a hell of a lot like a victory.

I found interesting the point brought up today about our generation which has grown up under the mantra of “stranger danger” and yet freely participates in flash mobs with complete strangers. I do not think that the contrast is as black and white as it seems because of the nature of connections or “friends” made online. When someone receives an invitation to participate in a flash mob it is usually from someone in their extended digital sphere whether they are friends or have friends in common or attended an event together once. The underlying insinuation of these invitations is that there is something tying together these people who choose to participate in flash mobs. The “strangers” that participate in flash mobs could possibly have the same interests, the same technology, the same level of education, perhaps the same “quirkiness” or “hipsterness.” The group of people who come together for mobs would probably follow each other on Tumblr or Twitter, sites in which a personal connection is not necessary to make an online connection. All that is needed is just one common interest or similar characteristic such as the knowledge of flash mobs that exists within a certain cultural group or the specific usage of technology that exists within a certain class groups or the sense of fun or sociability that exists within a certain age group. In short, these similarities take the “strange” out of “strangers” for this generation that connects with strangers constantly online and flash mobs are simply a physical extension of these superficial connections.

Is the internet giving us more of a need for personal contact?

This was one of the ideas behind class, and it certainly is an attractive idea.  This generation is much more likely to embrace their fellows as a form of greeting than their more reserved parents.  This is not the case in all cultures in the Western world, especially when you look at places like Italy and Spain, but it certainly be said of Americans.  Keeping this in mind, it could possibly be edifying to look at the other differences between the generations.  A common difference would be the ubiquity of the internet in the lives of this generation as compared to previous generations.  While it used to be that you would have to be in the same physical area of space as your friends in order to be in contact with them (and not annoy your parents by driving up phone bills) this is no longer the case.  Now teens are constantly interacting with one another, and are always mentally close, even if they are miles apart.  Could this mental closeness lead to a greater ease of physical closeness?

I do not believe that this is the case.  The assumption that is made when you make this assertion is that people are more likely to physically embrace one another than they used to be and that this is caused by their closeness online.  I would posit, however, that they are both symptoms of greater trends towards closeness, but that they do not have the suggested causal relationship.  The article that was shown in class supports this idea.  The author mentions both that the teens are likely to hug one another even if they are just being introduced, which does not have any ties to the more developed relationships that the internet might give you.  It also mentions that this trend has been developing for decades and is not, in fact, as tied to the development of the internet as this causal relationship would have you believe.  I think that, instead, teens are developing a more social culture that places higher value on interpersonal contact and that that change has led to both the value placed on internet interaction and to the increase in physical contact.

Gregory’s essay From View to a Kill addresses the psychological effects of engaging in drone warfare. Drone operators still experience PTSD because they are constantly exposed to “high-resolution images of real-time killing”, they are immersed in the “intrinsically continuous” live video stream and they are inches from the screen (battlefield). Psychologically, drone use has important, immediate negative consequences which we must consider but I think we also need to focus on the psychological consequences of common, every-day technologies like our GPS systems. Are we loosing our sense of direction and impulse to explore? Sure, there are plenty of benefits to GPS systems and they do not need to be eliminated, but I think in the same way that medicine comes with a list of side effects and warnings that many tech gadgets also require these warnings. In Evgeny Morozov’s article Is Smart Making Us Dumb? he discusses his hope for “good smart” technologies that promote our autonomy. He describes “good smart” technology as technology that “leaves us in complete control of [a] situation and seek[s] to enhance our decision-making by providing more information.” Bad smart technologies limit our behavior and take away choice so that we loose the ability to act independently and exercise conscious deliberation. Is there a way to ensure that “good smart” technology prevails? I think given the speed at which our technology boom is occurring, it will be difficult to promote the healthy development, consumption and use of technology/information.

 

“A more humane smart-design paradigm would happily acknowledge that the task of technology is not to liberate us from problem-solving. Rather, we need to enroll smart technology in helping us with problem-solving…Truly smart technologies will remind us that we are not mere automatons who assist big data in asking and answering questions. Unless designers of smart technologies take stock of the complexity and richness of the lived human experience– with its gaps, challenges and conflicts–their inventions will be destined for the Smart Bin of history.”

 

Langlois discusses participatory media’s role in “defining degrees of meaningfulness”. I was wondering if the attempt to collect data, to tailor ads to your specific preferences and to define for you what is meaningful would decrease our ability to ignore irrelevant information and pick out the important information. Even ignoring this gleaning of information which Google, Facebook and similar sites/apps try to master through precise calculation (in this era of qualculation) to discern our tastes and preferences, does the constant pushing of information to our devices make us more (or less) effective at discerning what is or is not relevant? There is a website/book trying to address the psychological, social and physical consequences of having to consume and sort through all of this information (although technology seems to be increasingly doing this sorting for us). The informationdiet.com has an interesting video about the effects of information overconsumption and compares it to the obesity epidemic. Will the future of technology require some kind of specialist who promotes the healthy consumption of technology/information in the same way that the nutritionist of today promotes healthy food consumption?

What does privacy mean any more?

The online web offers many platforms through which we can develop new cultural practices of communication, “new ways of expressing ourselves and exchanging meanings, representations, and information.” (Television & New Media, Langlois, Ganaele) Through the use of platforms (“a device that props a speaker up and makes her or him audible and visible to others” (Langlois)) like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr we are free to communicate what we want, when we want and how we want. And though these platforms might seem to be harmless and user friendly, ultimately they are tools that have the capability to constantly moderate us and use our data for profitable means. For instance, Amazon’s recommendation “software is capable of providing culturally relevant book suggestions based on purchase patterns, and Google advertising tailors ads to the past online activity of users.” (Langlois) Thus, the premise of the cultural expression perspective is on how online communication can augment the thinking process and the process of cultural exchange aka to be used for tailoring what we view.

No longer is the use of these platforms to be used solely for the purpose of communication, now communication enacts specific assumptions about things that can make sense and about the roles, hierarchism and legitimate practices between authors/produces and readers/consumers. (Langlois) “The precision of ever-expanding storage space, such as Google Mail, is a form of distribution of communicative agency that encourages users not to erase any of their emails so that the recommendation software can offer more targeted types of advertising based on one’s entire history of email exchanges.” (Langlois) In essence we when we sign up for Google, Facebook or any other platform we are giving third-party access our private data in exchange for a way of communication.

This control by a third-party is similar to what drones are doing. They are being controlled by a third-party to monitor, detect, and or destroy someone or something based on given data. Have we given up our privacy so that we can communicate and know what is going on at all times? What happened to solely creating a platform that enables people to communicate freely without the notion that all their data will be used to control their communication?