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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

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

Ideas surrounding surveillance pervade strongly within our society. With the advent of the internet and all the complications and possibilities it brought in terms of communication, access and expression also came the possibility that the information we used being used by those in power or the providers of access. Websites like Google store thousands of billions of bits of user data creating detailed and diverse user profiles that customise their products and experiences. The Government too has access to a lot of this sort of personal user data with the US government being the most famous recent example of how leadership could use an arm of their organisation (the NSA) to monitor not just their own citizens but the citizens of many nations internationally. The weirdest thing about this new dimension of always on, always aggregating internet surveillance I’ve found is that there’s a good deal of ambivalence as to the surveillance activity actually happening. My own brother, when I brought this topic up just said to me “What does it matter? It’s for security, I don’t do anything illegal”. It’s an interesting point of view that I think is tempting to agree with but as Evgeny Morozov points out, It actually matters a great deal.

Morozov’s article is an extensive breakdown of why the concept of privacy matters today. One of his most resonate points is the one that directly addresses people like my brother – that the debate surrounding privacy must be politicised. My brother might say “But I don’t care about politics” but this isn’t the point here, it’s not about which side you’re on. This debate is in fact about bringing concerns of privacy into a wider scope articulating the political consequences regardless of their direct effect on our lives. To put it in a super blunt way – it’s not all about us and protecting our own butts from the law, its thinking about the greater political ramifications of influence that collecting private data may have.

Morozov after this tends to get a pit provocative in his views regarding privacy. They kickstart the debate by bringing back consideration of the political but seem a little antagonistic in their wording. He says we need to “sabotage the system” and reconsider “our fixed preconceptions about how our digital services work and interconnect”.  This sort of ‘throw out everything we know’ tone doesn’t matter so much when he brings it back to this idea of democracy being more important than the matters of privacy in terms of public debate. Other authors like Daniel Solove, while still helpful in their explanations of how things like the NSA scandal are relevant to privacy, do not focus enough on the bigger picture for the layman to care. I mean the aggregation effect for instance is interesting but why should the average and (mostly) law abiding citizen care about the compilation of data to create an image of himself?

There’s a film from a few years back (12 now WHAT? 2002 was 12 years ago?), based on a science fiction novel by Phillip K. Dick called Minority Report. This film has all this stuff about precognition but that’s not important to this debate about surveillance. The film does however paint a vivid picture of a realistic extension of modern surveilling technologies. Ads are customised to Tom Cruise’s character as he walks past them in the train station and his iris is scanned as a mechanism of ‘ticketing’ on board the train itself. Here’s where Morozov’s consideration of the political becomes relevant again. The police use this to control crime, to chase suspects and in this case an innocent one. Ads and transport information are providing aggrevated information to the police for the purpose of subtle control. It’s not the fact that he’s committed a crime, it’s the fact that they can use all this information to assume control and impart the belief that someone may have committed a crime. I think that’s where my brother and others who don’t care are going wrong. They’re missing the point that they don’t have to necessarily have committed a crime for surveillance to be a concern. If they like their freedom, they should care.

 

REFS:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131125092647-2259773-why-metadata-matters-the-nsa-and-the-future-of-privacy

http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/520426/the-real-privacy-problem/

 

 

Yep, so after spending a little while trying to wrap my head around what all these words like vectors and frames meant in the context of our media consumption everything started to click. So obviously there are the really common debates between frames like that in the music industry or the journalistic practice but I’d like to go to my age old favourite topic of discussion the movies.

Movies have a very similar framing divide that pits the “capitalist” studios against the sharing and caring “pirates”. Film and TV piracy is reaching record highs lately, just see the season 4 premiere of Game of Thrones, which saw at one time more than 120,000 people seeding the show on torrent websites and that doesn’t even begin to include illegal streams and further copies of those copies. Millions of people watched this show at once and it’s all because of this process of framing. Piracy is framed as something that is mostly ‘okay’ for the general public, this framing is defined and generated by the general public only however (you’re not gonna see HBO being cool with Game of Thrones being pirated). Actually I’m going to stop here for a second and say this is where frames get confusing and start to interrelate. Because the chief executive of HBO did in fact come out and ‘support’ piracy, stating that it didn’t affect the shows revenue. Gregory Bateson seems to be the one referring to this idea of frames being contradictory or paradoxical as it is here. It does no good to think of the debate of piracy as these hard and fast frames that have no communication between each other.

The framing of modern film and tv piracy is social, psychological (in that it involves a lot of group validation) and temporal. It’s a product of its time in that right now demand for the instant is stronger than it’s ever been. This is where the vectors come in attempting to perhaps negotiate the relationship between the pirate and corporate scenes of film distribution. Netflix is a popular example of the corporate controlled vector trying to negotiate between frames. It offers much of the instantaneous popularity of illegal downloading while still allowing copyright holders to receive payment through monthly membership fees. People are willing to give it a shot however, because it offers a service similar to the one they can get for free, without the complications of illegality and the convenience of watching content instantly on any device without any tricky file conversion. The Netflix app is everywhere! Not that I would know, it’s not available here in Australia.  

Lakoff and Johnson however go even simpler than my little illustration here. Or maybe its more in depth depending on how you think of it. But they describe frames as not just patterns of thought but as “structures of feeling” that literally allow us to create and understand our reality. They use the example of chairs (P.116) to illustrate how the image of the chair has an intentionality that allows us to implicitly know what it is just by the images it conjures up. So yeah frames are broader than just sort of sides in an argument, nearly everything is part of frame

Frames bring together a range of experiences and in the process giving things like going to the movies or going to a restaurant a ‘reality’. They are a way of negotiating our own experiences.  

 References:

Time Warner, Inc. CEO admits Game of Thrones piracy is good for HBO

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1999) ‘The Efficacious Cognitive
Unconscious’ in Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to
Western Thought, New York: Basic Books: 115-117

The development of technological systems like computers is leading to many changes for society. The one that has fascinated me the most is the ramifications of automation and what it means for our relationship to reality.

The rise of robots as both analogue and replacement for humans is a complicated area. Straight away I’m reminded of this a bit awful movie from a few years back Surrogates. It stars Bruce Willis who plays a cop or something in  a world where everyone just stays at home in a chair while they remotely operate an attractive and physically unhindered robot of themselves (Here’s the trailer). Besides the questions this raises regarding why someone would want their robot to look like Bruce Willis it helps to illustrate what Sarah Gardner and to a certain extent Ben Eltham wrote about in their articles. Eltham discusses the profound social implications and the explosive politics of automation. He posits that with automation we’re switching from a labour focused industry to a capital focused industry and that the real winners of this change are going to be a small selection of millionaires. It’ll significantly change the relationship between employers and labour because the traditional labour will be non-existent, and these multimillionaire media conglomerates will have even more vertical control of their businesses. Top to bottom control will mean that humans will have to reconfigure their relationships to identity and their relationships to society.

Beyond just money our jobs define us in the modern world as a significant part of our identity. Eltham mentions our social circles, our goals and human relationships are all defined by our place and line of work. I don’t think this has to be approached with as much scepticism as Eltham brings to it though, humans have constantly redefined their relationships to each other over time and while it’s impossible to predict with accuracy what automation will do to us I think we’ll work out ways to give ourselves purpose and maintain our human relationships. Probably in a ‘Surrogates esque’ fashion where machines come to define us and act as analogue representations of our personalities, wants and desires. Sarah Gardner’s article shows us a potential version of these surrogates that’s coming in our future. Robots with behaviour based intelligence that can be controlled by humans but learn of their own accord. The article briefly mentions that this process of automation only really poss a threat for now to those who are uneducated and in skills based industries. I’m more concerned however in what this means for conversation and communication. The robots Gardner mentions can be programmed ‘drunk and one handed’ and if we don’t need to explain or train any more what kidn of cultural damage will we be doing to ourselves long term.

Now, I don’t know if I’m reading the work of Paul Dourish correctly but he covers a whole history of human computer interaction. One of the most interesting tidbits out of his writing was that all computer advancements have stemmed from an “expansion of human skills and abilities” (P.17). He suggests that tangible and social computing are based on the same social principles. Automation, especially through human analogues (and even moreso ones we control) exploits our ‘regular’ daily human interaction and adds a new medium through which these relationships are negotiated.

So what happens when we have nothing to do because automation? Well Surrogates (side note: I never thought I’d be using this a bit garbage movie as an example of anything, luck it has good ideas)suggests that people will just take their attractive robots and party and have sex with each other so that could be it. If Eltham is right however, the future looks bleak. Gardner lends us a little bit of hope though, we might be in control more than we think, acting as a check and even building these robots. Of course this could definitely change, especially for the uneducated. For the short term everyone’s job is safe.

REFS:

Dourish, Paul (2004) ‘A History of Interaction’, in Where the Action Is: The
Foundations of Embodied Interaction, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 1-23.

Eltham, Ben (2014) ‘Robots want to take your job’, New Matilda, February
13, <https://newmatilda.com/2014/02/13/robots-want-take-your-job&gt;

Gardner, Sarah (2013) ’A Robot for Every Job’, Marketplace.org, February
18, <http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/robots-ate-my-job/robot-every-job&gt;

This week is all about the transference of memory and the way they are stored, interacted with and shared (among other things) in our world today. Wendy Hui KYong Chun is a good place to start thinking about the relationship between human memory and technology. The ontology of computer technologies (mainly storage technologies) is “defined by memory” (P.188). These tools are focused on the preservation or the recording of details, just like our brains record moments in time. There some who have argued that such explicit recording has been good for society. Vannevar Bush wrote in As we may think of a device known as the memex (similar to an early computer system) and how this device helped represent a need to mechanise our records and in turn help our society move on to more complex needs by avoiding an “overtaxing of [our] limited memory”  with storage of simple equations and well-trodden ideas(Chun, P.190). I think there’s a certain amount to be said for the optimism of Bush’s ideas here however I firmly believe, out my own experiences that human knowledge builds upon the solid and what is already known. How can we be expected to defy the rules and break new boundaries in discovery if the rules only exist in an externally stored capacity? Chun actually exemplifies one of the major worries of this by discussing the degenerative nature of computer memory (P.192). It’s an interesting point in that what happens if we are to lose all the memories (or more broadly data) that are contained on our technological platforms? I’d probably go even further though and counter Chun on why this might not be a problem. Human memory fades just like technological memory, it’s subject to ‘viruses’ just like computers (in this case diseases like alzheimers etc.) or simply lost among the masses of other files. After thinking about this parallel it led me to reconsider writing off Bush’s argument for external storage so quickly. Arguably even, we have better methods for controlling loss prevention of data that is external than we do on data that exists only in our heads. We can build more hard drives and transfer data, however there is no cure for diseases like alzheimers.

Through this process some have argued that there’s a certain loss of humanity. Bernard Stiegler argues that objects, including technology, can be memory bearing. The constant relationship with what Stiegler calls ‘mnemotechnological ‘ devices has led to them becoming ‘cognitive’ technologies in which “we are confiding a greater and greater part of our memory”. In doing so we’re complicating the relationship between us and technology. Just how close are we? This dilemma, this loss of humanity recalls the movie Blade Runner which involves a premise centring on the ambiguous humanity of humanoids. In that film one of the humanoids (called replicants) states to the human cop Deckard “I think therefore, I am” a quote from famous philosopher Descartes. It perhaps sums up the dilemma of the film and Stiegler quite succinctly. What is human? Because if it’s just a bunch of memories we’re well on the way to giving some humanity to machines.

REFS:

Kyong-Chun, Wendy Hui (2011) ‘The Enduring Ephemeral, or The Future
is a Memory’ in Huhtamo, Errki and Parikka, Jussi (eds.) Media Archaeology:
Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Berkeley: University of California
Press: 184-203

Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.) ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first
thinker of the proletarianisation’ http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis