Getting the message

Ubiquitous Media has regularly forced me to rethink my position and explore new ideas. It’s been challenging, but rewarding, even when I’ve had to grapple with what the heck dasein means.

It’s those arduous but otherwise agreeable theorists – the Luhmanns and the Heideggers – that have given me the most food for thought. Thinking about the nature of our interaction with technology and the types of interconnections between media are fundamental to analyses of ubiquitous media. These two theorists encapsulate these threads, contributing useful analytical frameworks to my Media 2.0 toolkit that I will be able to apply to my research on media as an ecosystem (it’s like a jungle sometimes).

Did we overlook anything? Perhaps ways that gender and race are sometimes ‘hardwired’ into technology. Lorna Roth investigates how “Shirley” colour balance cards took white skin tone as a normative reference for film and photography – shouldn’t we analyse App stores, Jibos and 3D printing in a similar way?

Nonetheless, our varied backgrounds and interests ensured that we covered plenty of ground. And I’ve been listening! It’s thanks to you that I’m wondering how Auckland Transport’s new surveillance package might discriminate against the poor, reminding myself that New Zealand’s mediascape differs from China and the Philippines, challenging my opinions on immersion, being mindful of the political and economic machines that turn in the background, and living in fear of the Robo-Craig apocalypse (more opportunities for creative application of theory please!).

“The medium is the message.” Maybe people are catching onto McLuhan. All this nude photo Cloud hacking – iCloud, Snapchat, FengKuang LaiWang – that’s got people thinking about the medium, surely? Or are we too caught up in moral panics about content and security? Shouldn’t we think about who is shaping our media and how we interact with it?

Dasein is to be, to be is to question, and I choose to question the medium.

I think I’ve got the message.

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Media. City. Life.

!Phone (Large)

This week I saw the attention of mothers divided between their phones and their children.

!Cafe (Large)

I also found myself absorbed in a book instead of chatting to my two breakfast companions, who were equally immersed in a magazine and newspaper respectively. ‘Distraction’ isn’t unique to ubiquitous new media.

!Dairy (Large)

Some traditional media seem to be more present than ever. Don’t we now assume all dairies sell Vodafone top-ups? Sandwich boards, placed into our street-level environment, are an effective reminder though.

!Telephone

Others haven’t fared as well. You have to look hard to find a phone booth these days. This one seems to be supporting its own obsoletism.

!Tablets (Large)

Tablets are the opposite of obsolete. Walk into an art gallery and I’ll bet you’ll find some dedicated to providing information about the works on display. At Wellington City Gallery there’s even an iPad that register your email address and… that’s it. I’ve heard of thin clients (Lametti) but this is thin uses.

!Plonkers

Is this the way our media environments are going? More thin clients with thin uses? More sensors and more opportunities to look like plonkers almost walking into allegedly automatic doors?

Gendered crossings

!Kate

“Cross when you see the green man.” But what about a green woman? A green figure? The green whatevers at several Wellington intersections were swapped out for green Kate Sheppards leading up to the election. The change celebrates women’s suffrage, yet it also shows how ubiquitous media interfaces can be associated with equally ubiquitous gendered assumptions, something which we have only touched on briefly in class (Nusselder 12-13).

!Tag (Large)

!Sticker (Large)!Poster

 

 

Adding a skirt to the ‘green man’ may not be the answer, but some enterprising individual in Dunedin thought it was. Tagging, street posters, stickers. I’m intrigued how these media alterations of our environment changehow we experience it.

 

Always on

!Park (Large)

 

Don’t listen to Mark Deuze. We’re not always on. Don’t listen to Heidegger either. This is being in the world, smelling the flowers, strolling in the park…

 

!Wifi (Large)… and wifi access, naturally.

Surveillance for good?

Kereru

Sometimes you just want a good news story/blog. But is there anything good about surveillance? Reduced officer misconduct is currently a popular argument in favour of police body cameras, especially after the killing of Michael Brown in Fergusson. Yet this raises valid concerns about privacy and, ironically, new questions over police accountability.

What if we’re not surveilling humans? What if we’re just bird watching?

I’m currently contributing to The Great Kereru Count, a crowdsourced initiative aimed at finding out where New Zealand wood pigeons are found. The actual surveilling that I’m doing is decidedly low-tech, a simple matter of keeping my eyes peeled, but the location data that I collect and input gets digitally mapped.

Location data can be mapped digitally in a manner that is easy to interpret visually. Source:

Location data can be mapped digitally in a manner that is easy to interpret visually. Source: Screen capture from Kereru Count Map.

Digital media encourages more widespread citizen participation and streamlines scientific analysis. Spatial ecologists like Todd Dennis are also using geolocators to remotely gather information about animal movements. These tracking devices are not particularly new, but as the technology gets smaller, cheaper, and all-round more ubiquitous, more spatial ecology work is being conducted.

My hope is that my bird watching will contribute to a better understanding of Kereru biology. Dennis’ work has already produced new information about possum behaviour and kaka distribution that will contribute towards conservation applications. In other words, spatial ecology represents the hope that movement and location data garnered from digital surveillance can contribute to something good.

This possum movement map begs the question, how easily can our movements be tracked? Source: SBS Research

So hooray, surveillance! Of course, it’s not too much of jump from a tracking device strapped to a possum to the GPS in our smartphones. But let’s not spoil the moment. Let’s talk about cats.

Yay, cats! Everyone and their dog loves cats these days. And now, thanks to the wonders of metadata, we have sites like I Know Where Your Cat Lives helpfully mapping the location of feline internet users.

Cats! Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

Cats! Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

There’s a joke in the name, by the way.

Get it?

I know where your cat lives.

Lol, cats?


Cat map 2

Whisker recognition technology doesn’t always work. Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

On the internet no one knows you’re not a cat. Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

On the internet no one knows you’re not a cat. Source: Screen capture from I Know Where Your Cat Lives

Savvy subjects or MTV dupes?: Watching the watcher watch my underwear drawer

I wasn’t going to write about surveillance this week, but sometimes a well written piece about MTV’s reality TV programming is exactly what it takes to get the intellectual juices flowing. In all honesty, Mark Andrejevic’s pop culture examples are quite an effective way of illustrating the contemporary “culture of detection” he discusses (214). Room Raiders fulfils the two criteria that Andrejevic argues make current lateral surveillance different from traditional, communal forms of peer-to-peer surveillance, a privileging of self-observed information (“my eyes” are better than “your words”) and increasing access to technologies that enable “expert” snooping by individuals (217-219, 231).

Emphasising the lateral part of contemporary surveillance, Andrejevic notes that the room raider’s “gaze is redoubled” by the “abductees”, making the “searcher’s” hunt for information both practical and performative (234). Andrejevic continuously gestures towards it but I feel it needs to be plainly stated: in a co-veillance culture in which we allow ourselves to be surveilled “because the watched are also doing the watching”, the distinction between watcher and watched collapses (239).

This is where I feel the Room Raiders comparison can be extended. At least in early episodes like the one above, the abductees not only watch the searcher on screens in the panel van, but also raid the searcher’s room, allowing them to go through the same process of assessment as the searcher. I feel that it is this aspect of the programme that best mirrors how technology can put individuals on equal footing when it comes to surveillance. Everyone’s being watched, but everyone’s a searcher too.

There are a couple of things Andredjevic fails to address in this chapter. Even if submit ourselves to lateral surveillance, are there moment when it doesn’t sit comfortably with us? We’ve already talked about this in class in relation to Facebook, when it feels weird to have someone comment on a month-old thread, watching when we didn’t expect them to be. Moreover, how do we know we’re getting the full picture when we watch? “Truthfully he’s not my type […] I strictly like Asians,” admits the “winner” at the end of the Room Raiders episode; clearly the supposedly “savvy subject” of co-veillance culture can still end up a dupe (239).

Resetting the human: The alive enough of Animal Crossing

Furbies, chortle. Can they really be the subject of any serious discussion? Yet Turkle’s discussion of the upside-down Furby experiment is intriguing. This “new ethical terrain” where “you can feel bad about yourself for how you behave with a computer program” makes me wonder, how relational and biological do the machines need to be before we start facing ethical conundrums (46)?


When Turkle talks about the ethical conundrums of resetting a “deceased” Tamagotchi (33) or a broken Furby (41-44), I can’t help but think of another virtual critter, Mr. Resetti.

Mr Resetti. Source: Animal Crossing Wiki

This rather angry mole from the Animal Crossing games scolds you for resetting your game. Encountering Mr. Resetti made me feel a bit ashamed about resetting the lives of the game’s characters.

Source: Buzzfeed

But there was a way around this. Just reset the console’s internal clock! More control, less guilt-tripping moles. Nothing to worry about, right? It was only a game (machine).


Resetting the clock was like starting anew, but with the haunting memory that I’d tread this path before. Like a reset Furby, I was dealing with “between categories: a creature that seems new but is not really new” (Turkle 33). Sometimes, I still felt a bit guilty.

Was this my upside-down Furby? The game was definitely producing an “ethical response” in me (45). Was I simply projecting onto the game like a child with a ragdoll (40)? Or was the game demonstrating it was “alive enough” (26)? That I was responding without anything saying the equivalent of Furby’s “I’m scared,” without the human shape of My Real Baby, was significant, surely? (47-48)?

Whatever the answers, I can’t help think that Turkle is too dismissive of human-machine sociality. More questions: Aren’t there some very life affirming things about being able to identify with a machine? Could the “machine moment” date back further than the Tamagotchi? Have we already accepted things like Jibo into our lives?

Coming to terms with cyberlibertarianism

Knowhere from Guardians of the Galaxy. Becasue it’s sort of related. Source: empireonline

There’s no ‘I’ in technology…

Cyberlibertarianism sounds less than ideal. The Californian Ideology’s ambition for “unfettered interactions between autonomous individuals and their software” to replace current societal structures (Golumbia 3), and its ‘individualism, individualism, individualism’ mantra sounds like it would result in a lawless backwater like Knowhere, the “no regulations” world in the Guardians of the Galaxy film (Any place where an individual can amass a collection of live sentient and non-sentient species seems somewhat concerning).

A world where it’s “too bad” if economic and political inequalities make some people better-off than others didn’t appeal when couched in Luhmann’s systematic terms, and still doesn’t when wrapped up in cyberlibertarian ideology (Golumbia 9).

How about cybergrootism instead? Source: buzzhub

… But there is an ‘I’ in iPhone

Winner points out how far removed most of us are from “technology-shaping” processes (1013-1015). In an internet-age when every (digitally-enabled) person supposedly has a say, it is sobering how limited one’s voice really is.

Can we “forcefully demand” a role in sociotechnogical decision-making? My sister and I are currently researching new smartphone purchases. She likes the Fairphone, an ‘ethical smartphone’ supporting conflict-free mining and electronics worker-unionisation.

Fairphone story

Source: Screen grab from Fairphone.com

The Fairphone not only appeals to existing ‘conscious consumers’ who place certain social and environmental standards on the products they buy, it also has the potential to create conscious consumers. The Fairphone company aims to use their smartphone as ‘a storytelling device’ , thereby exposing often dubious social practices behind smartphone manufacturing. Fairphone believes it is “building a phone to create a fairer economy”.

But has the Fairphone arrived too late to profoundly influence smartphone production and consumption? Smartphones of questionable ‘fairness’ are ubiquitous these days. Case in point, the Oneplus One. Despite ethical concerns regarding the One’s production (and awful gendered marketing), the highly customisable interface, adjustable privacy settings, and other bells and whistles are (excuse the anthropomorphisation) wooing me into buying my first smartphone.

Maybe I’m a horrible cyberlibertarian after all.

A calm/chaotic composition

Communication expresses itself

 

Band practice takes priority on a Thursday night. The current theoretical flavour of the week takes a firm back seat. But this week a casual inquiry into what my musicology-student-friend was reading for class lead me straight back to Luhmann.

 

Turns out composer Igor Stravinsky approached music in a way similar to Luhmann’s idea that communication constitutes communication. According to Stravinsky, music is “powerless to express anything” (An Autobiography 1936, 53-54). We often think of music expressing the thematic intent of the composer, but an “exact sets of correlatives” that link a musician’s mind with her notation or performance are not required. Music can still be expressive, but it only “expresses itself”, not any, not a composer’s intent (Stravinsky and Craft, Expositions and Developments 1962).

 

I guess the key thing about music or communication expressing itself is that we human beings get shunted to the side. Function systems, using their own internal communicational logic, take care of themselves. Sure, they need us around to allow communication to occur, to get the ball rolling, but ultimately it seems that they must be self-stabilising.

 

Tending towards calmness or chaos?

 

Having recognised equilibrium in biological ecosystems for the “machine fantasy of nature” it is, and subsequently raising concerns the potential for changes to power structures if society is modelled as a self-regulating system, does Adam Curtis give us a context to be concerned about self-regulating environments of calm technology?

 

Everyware and Internet-0 have been presented to us as a achievable and anticipated “machine dreams”. If calm technology constitutes a media function subsystem it is assumed that it has operational closure, and it responds to surrounding environmental subsystems without direct input. But if the environment is tending towards chaos, what prevents the calm technology system from becoming unstable? Will have to ponder that…