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Category Archives: Lakshmi’s section

For the first time since starting Brown and the MCM program I’m feeling compelled to ask the questions, why are we studying this? It’s not because of some disillusionment with semiotics or critical theory that I’m questioning what has been so compelling for me the past two years, but rather because MCM230 was the first course in which I felt I had to negotiate “real life” and theory. I’m also not saying that theory isn’t “real life,” but I do think it’s easy to get caught up in the critical analysis of something and forget that it is actually a real thing, like Facebook or Myst. Digital Media seemed practical in a way other courses maybe haven’t been. The everyday-ness/ubiquity of the texts and objects we studied felt satisfying because we were calling into question actions and interactions that we completely take for granted in our everyday, digital lifestyles. So have I answered the “why” of MCM? Nope, not at all. But I at least think the appearance of that question in my conscious is a useful first step. Because ultimately, why would I study something that has no use? I’m feeling very preoccupied in other aspects of my life with the productiveness of things I do, so figuring out exactly how MCM is productive seems like an important goal right now, especially as I’m about to complete the first half of my time here at Brown. Two years left to find the answer to that question…

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Cramer writes: “The term ‘post-digital’ can be used to describe either a contemporary disenchantment with digital information systems and media gadgets, or a period in which our fascination with these systems and gadgets has become historical‚ just like the dot-com age ultimately became historical in the 2013 novels of Thomas Pynchon and Dave Eggers.”

I thought this was a really interesting comparison—both between Bleeding Edge and The Circle (which, I’d argue, address hugely different digital moments, a difference which we could maybe delineate as the one lying between web 1.0 and web 2.0) as well as between a “fascination with these systems and gadgets” and the dot-com age. The so-called dot-com age, I think, had a clear endpoint: a literal collapse, a historical and economically quantifiable burst of the bubble.

I’d argue that the sort of becoming-historical of a widespread fascination with media gadgets described by Cramer is much fuzzier and more difficult to pin down. While I do think it’s true that much post-internet art has, as Cramer writes, begun to take the internet in stride, treating it not as a crazy, foreign, fascinating Other but as a naturalized thing, I also feel like we continue to ogle at the internet in various ways all the time: the amount of wide-eyed tech think-pieces published every day online is, I think, not something to dismiss.

Maybe what’s changed, then, is that the tools we now use to address and critically examine the digital are themselves digital—that our contemporary brand of fascination is no longer that of looking in from without, but is, instead, self-reflexive: we mostly talk about the internet on the internet. Perhaps what’s “historical” or obsolete about Pynchon and Eggers’ tech-focused novels isn’t the two recent moments in which they’re set, but rather the analog medium in which they present those digital moments.

I’m still trying to puzzle out Nishant Shah’s notions of exposure and exposé as described in Exposed Net Porn, and whether either of those terms are inherently linked to hegemonic power as he seems to suggest. Exposure concerns circulation and proliferation of images without one’s knowledge or against one’s will – exposé is that with a judgment cast, a narrative added with the goal of blaming, shaming and taming a body. Can exposure be understood as a purely technical phenomenon, as, for instance, Facebook algorithms choose which images to reproduce onto one’s feed? In contrast, exposé could be the addition of the human element of judgment, of deliberately detrimental commentary. Shah specifies that the victims of exposé are already willingly in the public domain, and possess agency to produce and disseminate images. Exposé is not forcing victims into the public domain, but rather robbing their agency to produce and disseminate their own images, rewriting the narrative of that dissemination to criticize victims’ participating in the public sphere at all.

My question, then, is this: can you call expository actions against powerful organizations, like those revelations made by the work of Edward Snowden and Anonymous, exposé? Is exposé inherently linked to some hierarchy of punisher and punished, or can it be reversed – can the citizen shame & tame sly corporations and weird religious organizations? If so, the regulations that arise from the moment of exposé, as wrongdoing is identified and incriminated, could do some good in the name of governmental transparency and free speech. Which isn’t to say that exposé’s dark side, as seen in the experiences of revenge porn victims and many more, shouldn’t be paid close attention to; but perhaps a *conscious uncoupling* of exposé from its slanderous connotations could be a productive way of understanding calling power structures out on their failures.

Post Digital, as I am most familiar with – beyond the readings of this week – is post-digital in the contemporary art context, usually known as Post Internet. It is the idea that art can be made without being about the internet, but rather having accepted the internet as part of one’s everyone consumption and production. In a way, the existence of the term Post Internet seems to suggest that the internet is done developing? The question I have for this weeks reading is if we’re truly in a state of Post Internet Art / or rather post-digital, what does this then say about digital technology and it’s anticipated progression?

 

Florian Cramer’s article “What is post-digital?” resonated with me a lot. I plan to continue studying visual art in the future, and I have to admit that like the art students Cramer mentions, I feel very drawn to what Cramer calls old media (before his radical claim that there is no such thing as new and old media). A little over a year ago, some friends and I were inspired by the Dispose project (http://dispose.co/) to start using disposable cameras again to document our lives. Though I always purchased prints along with the CD that came with the developed film, several of my friends did not, so the physicality of using “real” film was partially lost — only noticeable in the graininess and odd light exposure. There is something about the delayed results that somehow makes the photos more meaningful. Perhaps because in the digital world everything is so fast paced. Though I do a bunch of filmmaking as well, I generally stay away from making other kinds of digital art because I appreciate the physicality of “old media.” I think that using the right tools and medium for your message — like the “roving typist” — has become a more widespread practice because we have begun to enter the post-digital era (in the “post-colonialist” sense that Cramer describes). As we become more used to “new media,” we become less mystified by it and can, therefore, judge more clearly whether it is a useful tool in the situation or not. I was intrigued by Cramer’s ideas about agency. I don’t know that feeling more agency when using “old media” is necessarily false agency because I think that the increased control of the individual maker doesn’t lie in the medium but in the visibility that the medium provides. New media is much more traceable and “observable” than old media — regardless of whether you want it to be. You can limit the exposure that a painting gets, but once you post something to Instagram, you can’t know who or how many people will see it.

When looking at the concept of post-digital, the phrase “hipster” gets brought up in Cramer’s analysis. Hipster culture itself wields a hilarious objective of attempting to avoid the main-stream.

If we tie this to the concept of post-digital, where being a part of the main stream is no longer cool, then constantly trying to be a part of the counter culture creates a culture of counter culture, which is itself main stream, which people try to deviate from. This creates a constant loop.

If the goal of post-digital is to oppose the “clean” utopian ideal of the digitization of our society and revert to other societal constructs, then where does our future lie? What will be the next truly dynamic construct that we embrace?

This week I found the information on Big Data very unifying for all the topics we have covered. The fact that what matters is people LIKE you in Big Data, shows the importance of establishing networks. You are not even establishing your own node! Big Data links people you haven’t met / don’t know / whose TASTES are similar to you. The production of content by Netflix makes me uncomfortable and reveals how really wonderfully creepy in the digital media is; at what point do we go from being happy subscribers to mindless puppets? I also found the segment on how it’s hard to tell diff between what VIRAL and what’s HABITUAL very important. This allowed me to divide a lot of information and clear up some hesitations I had when approaching new media. This lead me to think of the age-old humanities question “What Is Truth?.” I just am amazing who much I’ve learned and how that question can be explored in digital media. I like the question “to what question is big data the answer?” Many of these questions can be solves by rationality and through other means. Does this fall of Big Data mean something optimistic for our existence in the digital age?

In his essay “Exposed Net Porn: Penetrating Regulation, Bodies and Sexuality in the Age of the Internet,” Nishant Shah establishes that the relationship between the social, moral, and legal understanding of digital pornography should be built upon the conditions of exposure. He defines that exposure can take the form of both the means of leakage and the exposé. If society only keeps focusing on the content of digital pornography, it is not tackling the important questions of rights and regulation. The documentary Citizenfour not only explains that the NSA and other United States Government agencies are regularly exposing and storing information and digital content, but also seeks to present how the process of exposure affects people across the globe. One must focus on the means of exposure to understand the implications of these actions.

Something that is private resists exposure. In Citizenfour, Jacob Appelbaum states that “what we used to call liberty and freedom, we now call privacy” (Poitras). The importance of privacy is directly related to the means of exposure as leakage. Shah explains that the first type of exposure is active and correlates with the inevitable “leakage” of information. He writes that “the camera and the digital network work in tandem to create nodes of exposure that defy and challenge individual rights and aspirations” (Shah). This is addressed in the opening scene of Citizenfour, when a voiceover reads Edward Snowden’s letter to Laura Poitras: Snowden describes the United States Government agencies as “a system whose reach is unlimited, but whose safeguards are not” (Poitras). The inevitable leakage of information places our “physical bodies in conditions of vulnerability and precariousness” (Chun). By analyzing the means of leakage, we can establish that privacy does not come from the content of digital files. Privacy comes from the ability and inability to circulate these digital files. The more power that the agencies have to circulate and distribute our digital files, the less private our lives become.

Exposure is also related to identity, a key aspect of social life. The second type of exposure, exposure as exposé, seeks to control bodies and information. Shah describes exposé as “a judgment, as a sentence that incriminates, identifies, blames, shames and seeks to tame the bodies that are already willingly in the public domain” (Shah). This type of exposure actually defines our perception of digital objects and shapes our judgement in our day to day lives. Shah uses the example that revenge porn reinforces the idea that women and other sexual minorities have no right to show their bodies and must be kept hidden. This shaming highlights a notion that can be poisonous to a society and contribute to struggle. How does exposé exist outside of revenge porn? One can relate the judgement exposé instills to how the United States Government agencies target information transferred to foreign counties and pays closer scrutiny to this. This can enforce the notion that foreigners and outsiders are different and dangerous. This thought can then penetrate the American consciousness and be detrimental to the relationships with individuals from other countries. In Citizenfour, Edward Snowden reveals that there are hundreds of surveillance drones in other countries. He explains that these drone feeds are accessible, but there is no context of who and what the drone is meant to be spying on. The contextless feed reveals how judgement that these different places should be under surveillance because they are dangerous can be imposed on these images from other countries though exposé.

To understand the politics and practices of digital media, one must look at the means of exposure. For example, arguments for a big question such as the definition of freedom can be found in the process of exposure; The notion of freedom has been changed to the ability to resist exposure and to maintain information private. We must also look at the different ideas exposure as exposé reenforces or subverts. The closer scrutiny placed on international information reveals a panic in the American consciousness that foreigners are dangerous, different and ultimately evil. The close relationship between morals, politics, and collective consciousness can be explored by examining the way information is exposed.

Works Cited

1. “Imagined Networks, Global Connections,” Wendy Chun.

2. “Exposed Net Porn: Penetrating Regulation, Bodies and Sexuality in the Age of the Internet,” Nishant Shah .

3. “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras.

After reading Cramer’s paper on the term “post digital”, I was left thinking about the symbolic shift in who controls new and old media. I found Cramer’s point that digital media has essentially shifted from being a very populist, DIY, and egalitarian space to one controlled mostly by corporations and large, powerful entities to be very poignant and related to a lot of the papers we’ve read this year. It definitely made me think of the idealized version of the internet that many activists for internet privacy and freedom seem to be holding on to and whether places like this still exist in an accessible way online. I found it particularly interesting that, as Cramer claims, many people have abandoned new media for now near obsolete old media because it has now been abandoned by many of the groups that hold a lot of power on the internet and has thus become a free and open space. A lot of old media like independent zines, as Cramer claims, also seem to be used for the symbolic meaning that has been attached to many of these mediums as DIY or independent. I certainly found this one explanation for the widespread adoption of old media very interesting and something that I hadn’t consciously thought about but can now recognize in a lot of places.

It’s also interesting how this symbolic connection that we have with forms of old media and independence, trendiness, and anti corporate sentiments has become widely adopted by corporations as a means of selling their products. Similar to the way cultural free labor is exploited by corporations, the vintage or rustic old media aesthetic as a symbol for freedom or uniqueness has been entirely coopted by corporations and is now aggressively sold back to the public with a mask of its original symbolism. This is just something I found really interesting about the reading this week.