Pattern vs. Presence

In N. Katherine Hayles book How We Became Posthuman, she suggests that one of the cultural struggles emerging in the post-human discourse is the shift between two structuring binaries: presence / absence and pattern / randomness.  She argues that the floating signifier theorized by Lacan, one based on the anxiety-ridden divide between presence and absence is being overshadowed by what she calls a flickering signifier.  The flickering signifier is characterized by the pattern / randomness binary.  In other words, linguistic meaning is comprised primarily through the formation of patterns (information on networks, code, the apperance of intelligence in machines).  These things are not necessarily present, but they form patterns to suggest presence.  Before going any further, I should describe what she means by post-human:- the privileging of information patterns over material instantiation;- the notion that consciousness is the primary factor in determing human life;- understanding the body as prosthesis;- the conflation of human being and intelligent machine (ala cybernetics). So, patterns of information determines human life.  At least, Hayles argues, this has become a primary narrative in science and culture over the last half…

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Urban Informatics

A special issue of Information, Communication and Society just hit the stands and it’s worth a mention here. Yeah, yeah, I have an article in it, but more importantly, it’s a fantastic collection of work on the topic of “Urban Informatics: Software, Cities, and the New Cartographies of Knowing Capitalism.” Here’s the table of contents: Mike Crang & Stephen Graham, “Sentient Cities: ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space”Rowland Atkinson & Paul Willis, “Charting the ludochrome: the mediation of urban and simulated space and the rise of the flaneur electronique”David Beer, “Tune out: music, soundscapes and the urban mise-en-scene”Michael Hardey, “The city in the age of Web 2.0: a new synergistic relationship between place and people”Eric Gordon, “Mapping digital networks: from cyberspace to Google”Simon Parker, Emma Uprchard & Roger Burrows, “Class places and place classes: geodemographics and the spatialization of class”Andy C. Pratt, Rosalind Gill & Volker Spelthann, “Work and the city in the e-society: a critical investigation of the sociospatially situated character of economic production in the digital content industries in the UK”Nicholas Pleace, “Workless people and the surveillant mashups: social policy and data sharing in…

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Malls as Entertainment

In Columbus, Ohio, Gordon Group Holdings is developing a hybrid mall / internet space called Epicenter.  This space, scheduled to open in 2006 at the Polaris Fashion Place, will combine the convenience of online shopping with the consumer desire to feel, touch and try on.  It looks like a mall, but something is different.  In this situation, visitors carry with them a little device called a "BuyPod" where they scan the items they’d like to purchase.  Subsequently,the item is available for pickup that day or is shipped from the warehouse.  According to John D. Morris, a senior retail analyst at Harris Nesbitt, "Today’s consumer demands convenience with specificity, instant gratification and minimal effort.  We’re a time-starved, demand-driven society" (NY Times, May 23, 2005). One of the goals of this hybrid space is to reduce sales staff.  If consumers are comfortable with browsing on their own while online, then why can’t they browse on their own in geographic space?  It’s  the Internet-plus.  Retailers are clamoring for a solution to their labor problems.  And this would dispose of all those pesky service-sector jobs.  If this model proves successful,…

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Culture and Technology

Friedrich Kittler argues that "culture cannot be had without technology, and technology cannot be had without culture" ("The Perspective of Print").  This seems like a fairly simply idea, but Kittler makes it complex.  What he’s trying to get at here is that they these two discourses (technology and culture) are always already the same thing.  Technology doesn’t emerge from culture (as a response to cultural needs and desires), nor does culture emerge from technology (as Internet culture or gaming culture that corrupts the minds of youth); rather, culture is a kind of technology (or system) and it is simply manifested through machines. In Geoffrey Winthrop-Young’s article called "Silicon Sociology, or, Two Kings on Hegel’s Throne? Kittler, Luhmann, and the Posthuman Merger of German Media Theory", he explains Kittler’s position this way: This does not mean that computers are artificial human brains, or that they digitally ape specifically human ways of thinking.  Rather, they optimize certain patterns of information processing that were also imposed on human beings but subsequently were mistaken to be innately human qualities.  Where subjects were, there programs shall be…

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Educational Technology

Call for proposals for an Educause conference in San Diego.  I’m a little bit weary of these ed software conferences, but I just might send a proposal.  They’re due September 12th.

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User-Illusion

User-illusion, a term dreamt up by the good people at Xerox PARC desribes the manifestation of metaphors in the experience of interface.  For instance, desktop, rooms, shopping cart, etc, are illusory metaphors that make the interface legible.  I wonder if calling the experience of metaphors illusory is accurate.  It would imply that there is a possibility of experiencing interface outside of metaphor, that there is such a thing as "authentic user experience."  It has become increasingly clear to me lately that all interaction with space is mediated through interface.  There is a framework (cultural, logical) that everyuser carries into every interaction.  User-illusion suggests that interaction is possible without interface.  It seems high time that we abandon the notion of illusion in describing interface; every interaction is mediated, but not every interaction is illusory.  By altering perception or background or design, I can manipulate a user’s experience. This is true with video games just as its true with the neighborhood park. 

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City as Social Network

I recently posted this series of prompts to the iDC discussion list. Following Google’s acquisition of Feedburner, I want to consider how the threats to privacy that became apparent in that context extend to physical communities (neighborhood, organization, city) that are enabled/bolstered/fortified by social web media. Many community groups and neighborhood organizations are using digital networking technologies to foster community interaction (http://www.ibrattleboro.com/). And of course, what is widely known as citizen journalism plays into this as well “ placebloggers and Community Media organizations tend towards hyperlocal networked content (http://www.cctvcambridge.org/) with an aim towards reinforcing existing geographical connections. The processes that bind non-geographical communities in networks are similar to those that are binding geographical communities “ shared interests, practices, goals, etc.   However, unlike traditional online communities that have a basis in anonymity, digitally annotated physical communities often rely on the full disclosure of identity for their functionality.  For instance, when it comes to neighborhood issues “ it is important to know one™s real name and location. And as city governments are seeking ways to adopt web 2.0 technologies into their existing citizen management…

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Immersive Planning

Methods of engaging communities in urban planning decisions have remained relatively stagnant. Groups of people are assembled into community centers, school cafeterias, and libraries and are asked to provide input on the professional discourse of architects and planners. They are shown drawings, computer generated renderings, even 3D models and are then “listened to” as a means of informing the process. While these practices are designed to elicit useful, one-time feedback, they are not designed to build real understanding, or to provide the framework from which to build trust between the constituents, designers and stakeholders. Cities, towns, neighborhoods, and blocks are lived spaces. Design facilitates social interaction, individual perceptions and cultural production – but it is not an end in itself. The strategy of “Immersive Planning,” on the other hand, begins from the assumption that community engagement through shared, collaborative experiences of space provides the necessary framework from which people can meaningfully engage in the urban planning process. Inviting communities to participate in the transformation of their lived spaces is not simply about assisting in the design; but also, and more importantly, it…

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The Healing Power of Randomness

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an ambivalent narrative.  The patterns of minds are mapped, but they are ultimately disrupted by an intentional randomness.  In fact, randomness is the method the characters use to "confuse" the computer as it erases their memories.   It is through the awareness of how patterns function and the creation of alternative non-narratives that technologies are altered. 

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Visible Evidence

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Montreal after attending the Visible Evidence conference.  It’s been years since I’ve attended this conference, and I’m glad to be back in the fold.  It’s really a quite sophisticated gathering in many respects.  While the discourse on new media leaves something to be desired, the participants are dealing with many of the issues that confront people working in new media: indexicality, reality, ethics, archives, etc.  I found the sincerety of the discourse at the conference to be refreshing.  More than many conferences, it seems as though there is a common project between academics, filmmakers and artists.  The role of documentation in a culture obsessed with documentation is a theme that demands many voices, and I commend the openness of the disciplines involved for accepting that multiplicity. Over the past several days, I discovered new connections in my own work as well.  First, I realized that the paper I gave was too concerned with criticizing art work for not acknowledging connections.  I don’t want to be one of those people who criticize because they have no other…

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