Modernist Cartography

Jorge Luis Borges’ story “Of Exactitude in Science” tells the story of a King who orders a map made of his kingdom with a 1:1 ration.  The map is made to overlay the territory.  When you consider some digital cartography projects, including PdPal, it seems as though artists working in locative media of one sort or another are engaged in a similar modernist impulse to define the territory by overlaying a map.  Through the construction of a complete map, the ambiguity of the territory recedes.  While the digital versions of Borges’ story creates a malleable document, space is converted to a document nonetheless.

Seeing this contemporary work in light of Borges’ instead of Debord, as many people prefer, it gives the work a bit more historical consistency.  The new cartography is the realization of a rather modernist impulse towards the gestamtkunstwerk. 

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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.  Coming from the background being the daughter of a Simi Valley concrete contractor, she had much of her background shaped by his teachings. 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 appearance 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 beings and intelligent machines (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 century.  Informatics has supplanted metaphysics as the method of deciphering life.

She argues by the end of chapter two that these trends are irreversible.  She remains optimistic, however, by suggesting that narrative is always malleable.  Technology will follow the market, but the desires of the market can be altered through narrative. …

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Meaningful Inefficiencies in the “Smart City”

Information communication technologies (ICTs) hold considerable promise for cities. Sometimes framed as smart cities, technologically enhanced urban spaces create efficiencies through streamlined infrastructure (because complex systems can better coordinate) and access to services (because people can be more aware of systems, i.e. real-time transit data on mobile phones).

But urban technologies do not always create efficiencies; they can also create meaningful inefficiencies in the form of social connections, and complex, nuanced understandings of place. This happens when people use technologies to achieve unpredictable outcomes: a process not typical of the smart cities paradigm. When information is contextualized and opportunities exist for data not simply to be transmitted, but for ideas to evolve through deliberative dialogue, there are meaningful inefficiencies. Social connections, deliberation, place-based story telling, and play, create nuance in how people understand local community and consequently influence how people construct meaning in an urban context.

Meaningful inefficiencies have typically been the jurisdiction of artists.

Stemming from the articulated problem that cities create sameness and social alienation, the social theorist Guy Debord in the 1960s established a theoretical framework and methodology through which to interrupt these phenomena. Debord sought to create alternative logics through which to experience the city, where a pre-defined pattern would determine how one moved, or randomness would dictate how one drifted through the urban landscape.

This sparked a genre of new media art loosely termed psychogeography, which employed technology as an intervention into existing urban patterns. Projects such as Eric Paulos and Elizabeth Goodman™ The Familiar Stranger (2002), which foreshadowed contemporary location-based social networks such as Foursquare, used Bluetooth technology on mobile phones to make people aware of those who shared geographic space.…

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Struggle over Colbert

Don’t executives at major media companies pay attention?  This parody of the Colbert Report, called Stop the Falsiness is as much an ad for the show as it is its own thing.  There is nothing here that would at all threaten Viacom’s product or in any way go against the political sensibility of the show.  It would appear that a boardroom of monkeys gathered to view the clip and took it at face value.  Won’t anybody explain to them what’s really going on here?

EFF is on the beat.  Here’s a paragraph from their description of the case.

The video, called “Stop the Falsiness,” was created by MoveOn and Brave New Films as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Colbert’s portrayal of the right-wing media and parodying MoveOn’s own reputation for earnest political activism. The short film, uploaded to YouTube in August 2006, includes clips from “The Colbert Report” as well as humorous original interviews about show host Stephen Colbert. In March of this year, Viacom — the parent company of Comedy Central — demanded that YouTube take “Stop the Falsiness” down, claiming the video infringed its copyrights.

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A Direct to Consumer Democracy?

Getting involved in something takes trust. Whether it’s attending a neighborhood cleanup, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or showing up to a community meeting, people do these things not simply out of a sense of purpose, but often because some one or some trusted organization suggested they do it. Civic engagement is typically preceded by trust in an entity (i.e. a friend, a neighborhood association, or even a government) who can vouch for the system. To invest one’s personal identity, reputation and time in something requires a clarity of purpose and confidence in the return on one’s investment that does not typically come stock with a new system. If there is a new non-profit working on environmental justice issues, before one donates money or gets involved, they will look for who the organization is affiliated with and what they’ve already done. So why should civic-minded software (civic apps) be any different?

Civic apps are systems. And while they can solve some problems pertaining to ease of use and access, they cannot easily solve the lack of trust problem. This varies with specific purpose of the app, but in general, the direct to consumer model does not always yield the best engagement. Civic apps should represent a trusted entity and not seek, at least at the start, to be that trusted entity. Surely there are great examples of rapidly grown online social networks; but when it comes to the question of local civic engagement, the challenge is to enable online social networks to meaningfully interface with the organizations and institutions that shape everyday life.…

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