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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Documentary is a genre of film that is probably pretty underappreciated by people within the grand scheme of things. When was the last time you were dying to see a documentary for instance? Probably around 2003, When Super Size Me was a huge thing and you wanted to see Morgan Spurlock spew his way through a month’s worth of McDonalds. And there is absolutely no chance that you were dying to see this film at the cinema, like a traditional film. You caught in on DVD or pirated it. My point here is that nobody has ever been particularly interested in viewing a documentary as a traditional cinematic experience (which I find a bit of a shame but maybe that’s because I’m a film nerd) and so it makes sense that the genre would progress and integrate itself really closely into new levels of interactivity as well as carving itself out a new temporality that redefines how we experience these documentaries

A guy name Robert J Flaherty essentially invented the modern narrative documentary as we know it back in 1922 with his film Nanook of the North. Quite honestly it’s a bit boring to watch today but still deeply interesting because it’s such a seamless blend of reality and fictional story elements that it presents a really unique perspective on life as a native in the Canadian wilderness. He produced this film as an ethnographic exploration of a particular culture and lifestyle that was easily accessible to audiences of the time that liked to sit in wonder in the movie theatre. There are a few important things to note about viewing a documentary traditionally like this. Firstly we’re aware it has already happened – this is after the fact. Secondly (and while this may be still subconscious) we’re much more aware of the constructed nature of a film we watch in the theatre, it had end titles for instance that say DIRECTED BY SO AND SO. Thirdly it’s a very solitary experience watching a film in a theatre or on DVD, even when you tell your friends about it it’s still after the fact, there’s no immediacy. It’s a one way street; you’re absorbing somebody else’s vision.

Anna Munster describes how the dawn of YouTube videos has led to an increased virility to internet content and “a drawing out, a contouring of [the video’s] duration as presentness” (2013, P.103). She goes on to describe how the ‘present-ness’ of online videos such as these allow for “a collective capacity to affect and be affected” (2013, P.103). Now sure a theatre full of people watching a documentary could be affected but take the KONY 2012 documentary thing that took off 2 years ago. In a theatre people would have been like “that’s interesting” but on the internet, through YouTube. The virility of this documentary allowed for a groundswell (of admittedly garbage) activism even though it adhered to the traditional mechanisms of documentary filmmaking and didn’t have the ‘nowness’ of a homemade video it actually found a ‘now ness’ through the sharing and the contagiousness of it.

Beyond just virility documentaries have found new levels of affect by embracing elements such as interactivity. The ‘film experience’ Bear 71 is an incredible example of this. I thought it was going to be just another rubbish film but you’re in actual fact dropped into this artistically designed approximation of the Canadian wilderness and you can hunt down wildlife and look at actual camera footage that has been captured of these creatures. It’s a really interesting experience and there’s something about the interactivity that adds a sense of immediacy to the whole thing. You’re taking part in the documentary, making part of it your own rather than being fed information in a completely pre-formed manner.

Regular old docos aren’t going away any time soon. But filmmakers are going to catch on to the power of virility and interactivity in getting a message or an idea across. Film can finally start to be an omnidirectional platform for discussion and learning.

REFS:

Munster, Anna (2013) ‘Going Viral: Contagion as Networked Affect, Networked Refrain’ in An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 99-123

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Ubiquity is a really interesting concept to explore in the field of media studies just because you don’t realise how truly ubiquitous and interconnected our internet based world is until you stop to dwell on it a bit. Traditionally, desktop computing was the way of the world. There were rigid rules to the exploration of the internet because the computer was a direct portal with a specific entry point usually a ridiculous CRT monitor that hurt your eyes.

Ubiquity describes where we are at today. This whole idea of ‘Ubiquitous Computing’ is based on the concept that the CRT of old is no longer the only way in which the internet and connectivity can be accessed. Suddenly a whole host of items in your everyday life has access to the internet and connectivity abilities of some description. Phones, fridges, cars, tablets are also personal items that can get you connected then you can go even bigger with things like billboards, buses, trains and even traffic lights really are all connected online through some means. There are billions of these things that are connecting or transmitting data constantly creating what is popularly known by some as an ‘internet of things’. Ubiquity is basically the polar opposite of virtual reality, it brings the digital into the real and integrates it, while virtual reality concerns itself with making an approximation of the real in the digital (Weiser).

Keller Easterling suggests that increasing ubiquity of computers means it’s easy to write off the agency and active-ness of the physical world that already exists. Many people already consider phones and tablets to be objects of information exchange but Easterling encourages us to think about physical structures and how they too can be active structures in a world. It’s not  the physical structures themselves, but the way in which they are arranged to produce and foster meaning and communication. He’s right about not really being aware of the activeness of arrangements, and it’s interesting it has taken an increase in ubiquitous computing to realise how truly influential our physical landscape is. We really have to rethink our relationships to the physical world now, just because everything is so interconnected and responsive. Relationships between not just things, but people are going to change as we’re drawn closer together. I also started to think about something like ripple effects, like what happens when we click something here and a billboard changes over there? It’s a really basic and crude example but the ways in which affect now works are quite incredible and far reaching.

One of the most spectacular ways we can rethink our relationship to the world in this increasingly ubiquitous era is consideration of the ambient commons. David Bollier poses this idea that ubiquitous platforms encourage an understanding that our brain’s thinking patterns are largely operated externally. The networks and relationships that surround us directly affect the ways in which our mind operates. He uses the example of being in another kitchen and being confused as to where everything is. There’s strong ties then to location and memory menaing that our bodies become a part of the ‘computational loop’ of meaning creation. This sort of thing is exacerbated by digital devices, its not a one way interaction, it’s a web of interaction. Using a phone affects my temporality, my memory and the way in which I communicate and make decisions.

I don’t know if I’ve made sense of this all correctly but theres a TV show called Black Mirror that I love and I’d just like to end on one of its episodes calledThe Entire History of You. In this episode, Iris cams record and allow the users to rewind footage of their life and interact with detail in the world around them. It’s a reality overlay that effects temporality and really illustrates well some of the concerns surrounding the ways in which human relationships could change with an even bigger increase in ubiquity in computing technology.

REFERENCES:

http://bollier.org/blog/how-will-we-reclaim-and-shape-ambient-commons

http://www.e-flux.com/journal/an-internet-of-things/

http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/UbiHome.html

Micro Politics concerns itself with the lateral collaboration across new media platforms. Increasingly we’re seeing these open collaborative spaces in new media challenge the traditional hierarchy of creative practice and distribution that has been pretty strictly adhered to for a significant amount of time. These communication revolutions challenge the ways in which we interact and share content with each other, and thus read to something of an economic revolution where those who had previously been ‘gatekeepers’ of content and discourse find themselves resituated in the media landscape. Jeremy Rifkin delves into this idea of change by discussing how great economic revolutions in history work. He suggests that they’re based on a change in energy distribution, and that such changes like the dawn of centralised electrical power for instance “result in profound transformations in society”.

In this case electricity and the development of increasingly complicated internet networks has led to interconnected networks of communities and people who can share their creativity and whatever else they like really. Michael Bauwens establishes this idea of open design communities that “outcooperate and outcompete” single corporations. He poses that the political concerns of corporations and business are currently extremely focused upon the eventual scarcity and depletion of resources. Open design communities however are based on principles of renewal and it ends up naturally designing itself for sustainability rather than for its planned obsolescence. New ideas and content are continually filtering around, being shared and built upon mostly because they’re built on what Bauwens calls “sustainable designs”. I wasn’t 100% sure what he meant by this term but I took it to mean that the ideas could be freely transformed, creative-commons style where you have someone say upload a song and then you modify it or build upon it in some way. Thus creating a sustainable always fresh product that is still recollective of what it once was. Of course with the new media platforms of sharing though things like torrents and dropbox style storage systems they don’t necessarily have to be commercial business products, this was just the example Bauwen’s used to illustrate these new sharing principles.

I was trawling through ways of relating this stuff to some more specific examples to help make sense of it all and was extremely drawn to the the sharing of 3D printing schematics and the resulting ecosystems of sharing and creative influence that has sprung up in that little community. Not a lot of people have 3D printers because of the price point but those who do have been incredibly tempted by the ability to print whatever they like, so long as there’s a plan for it. One of the most popular sites for sharing is Thingiverse which has tonnes of different things to print. Meanwhile communities have sprung up in already existant subcultures like the piracy community where ‘physiables’ schematics based on user generated and blatantly copied commercial material are shared freely. Tested did a really interesting article on what this new sharing and exchange in the 3D printing community meant for the communities and businesses based around the 3D model and tabletop gaming industries. Typically, minatures from these companies can be quite pricy, yet sharing of the schematics for user copied versions of copyrighted designs has now become common practice.  So there are new issues with copyright laws which don’t apply to physical objects in the traditional sense because of patents. The writer Alex Castle gets most interesting however when he talks about how people could literally invent their own games and worlds now and have these free figures be shared around the world. Then, eventually these games would replace the mainstream, corporation controlled ones.

How amazing a thought is that? That’s really what consideration of micro politics is all about, or at least partially. It’s a consideration of how the dichotomy between content owners and creators is changing towards a flatter structure that everyone has a say in, not just some guys in suits at the top of the pile.

REFS:

http://www.tested.com/art/makers/452866-how-home-3d-printers-are-disrupting-miniature-gaming/

http://openthoughtsmarter.blogs.uoc.edu/openness-a-necessary-revolution-into-a-smarter-world/

http://www.worldfinancialreview.com/?p=1547