Sunday, 27 September 2009

Reality Checkpoint

Cambridge is the academic Disneyland, that much we know by now. It is screaming for its Ballard to write Super-Cambridge or something as apt to map the perverse libidinal economies (connected to the very monetary economies) which circulate here.

One of the fascinating points, or lines in Cambridge is the so called reality checkpoint.
It has got a long history, partly documented already on Wikipedia as well but it captures so well on an affective level as well the fine divisions found in Cambridge. After crossing Parker's Piece, heading towards the centre, you are warned of the approaching bubble disconnected from the real world (again: Academic Disneyland). Quite often the original 1970s context for reality checkpoint pointed towards the difference between Cambridge undergrads and the "normal folk" of Cambridge, but as apt is the fact that it apparently was first scratched on the lamp post by CCAT -- now Anglia Ruskin -- student(s). Makes me proud of our university. At least a spirit of radicality, hope we could strengthen that still. And I always add that the other university might have their Nobel Prize winners etc., but I will any day such a winner, and raise that with a Pink Floyd member (David Gilmour and Syd Barrett studied at our predecessor). Oh, would that be the day if we had a "David Gilmour chair in sonic media", or a "Syd Barrett chair in experimental media studies."

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

On Network Politics -- notes to self and the unknown reader

Our network politics networking-project kicks off officially October 1st, and we are in the midst of organizing some of the activities and themes which will form the backbone of the project. The project will feature both online-presence and activities, as well as events taking place in Cambridge and New York. We had yesterday the interesting idea of using the Request for Comments-format (RFC) as a media theoretical method of sorts, that kicks off from the initial question of "what is network politics?" and then proceeds through the RFC method - forking into new questions, streams, agendas. As the project is about networking, we find its important to map the field and crucial agendas, not just yet hope to provide final solutions. This is why the RFC idea (to quote from Wikipedia!) is intriguing: "Through the Internet Society, engineers and computer scientists may publish discourse in the form of an RFC, either for peer review or simply to convey new concepts, information, or (occasionally) engineering humor. The IETF adopts some of the proposals published as RFCs as Internet Standards." To adopt that to media theoretical and practical aims to facilitate discussion is an idea worthwhile to have a shot at, and to use it to develop concept-labs/networks for conveying new concepts, information...

Anyhow, I need to start writing some notes to self in terms of possible ways to go with the agenda, of what could be relevant in terms of topics to be covered somehow:

- politics of new networks and code platforms such as Twitter. E.g. Greg Elmer has been actively involved in this research. What kind of modes of organization, action and for example campaigning for political agencies such forms offer? This stream perhaps focuses on the question of how such technologies might deterritorialize the political landscape and praxis.

- Politics of networks as politics of invisibility: what kinds of forms of politics there are out there that are not even recognized as politics? This is a multilayered question, and relates both to perception of politics as well as the tactics of politics in the age of surveillance, visibility and software. Firstly, how should we address certain forms of tactical media, net art, etc. as forms of politics (and what are the tools to develop such understanding). Secondly, take Galloway and Thacker: "Future avant-garde practices will be those of nonexistence." Network politics can take as its form also becoming-invisible, becoming-nonexistent in order to avoid both the politics of representation as well as the techniques of trackings, surveillance and control. All of this relates to thinking of modes of activism, as well.

- Biopolitics of network culture that is characterized by "immaterial projects, including ideas, images, affects and relationships" (Hardt and Negri); how do such forms of production take form through social media as a standardisation and distribution of specific forms of relations, sociability, affects, and community? There is a wide range of excellent work already on this stream, from Tiziana Terranova's Network Culture-book (2004) to the forthcoming The Internet as Playground and Factory-conference in New York. (For a taste of what's coming, see e.g. McKenzie Wark's video interview on the topic.)

- The need for new tools for academic interaction -- tools which do not only quantifiably ease distribution and storage of research etc., but qualitatively enact a change in how academic institutions work in the age of late capitalism. Gary Hall's Digitize This Book! is a good point of entry to these debates, and what we hope to address somehow (e.g. through methods such as RFC potentially) is how the modes of relating to other scholars and production of information can be rethought in the context of network culture. Taking aboard Jodi Dean's excellent "warnings" in her "Communicative Capitalism"-article, this mode of academic interaction should not fall prey to any automated sociability that is offered as part of the assumption of goodness of all communication in network culture, but it should critically inspect ideas of open source, multimodal forms of academic debate and possibilities of network technologies to facilitate not just more-of-the-same but visions of 21st century arts and humanities agenda (which are not detached from science and tech.)

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Tabula Rasa of Neoliberalism

Meditations after watching Doll House (and in the midst of the emerging genre of avatar/surrogate-films such as The Gamer, Surrogate, etc.):

Memories are valuable to any corporate/neoliberalist logic as pathways to subjectification. Subjectification works through capturing memory, and the Lockean idea of tabula rasa as the ground for subjectivity-through-experience is more of a pragmatic than ontological assumption. Contemporary capitalism works through creations of worlds, argues Maurizio Lazzarato, and Doll House exemplifies in this sense not (only) a world of high tech virtual realities, but the functioning of Leibnizian neoliberalism. It's about the refrains that stick to your mind, and create habits that pave the way for consumerist etc. behavior. Mind and body are hence synced. The other link to neoliberalism comes through Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: through shock that reduces to a childlike status the mind/society becomes open to reprogramming (thanks to Joss Hands for the reminder re. Klein.)

Lazzarato and his reading of Tarde is in many aspects an apt opening to such worlds as Doll House's. Subjectivity as an automate would be the perfect tuning of behaviors for a certain goal -- something clearly visible in the idea of being able to program people for specific tasks, and for such tasks only. (cf. Lazzarato's Les Révolutions du capitalisme). But this is not the whole truth. Memories leak, also through the tabula rasa. This is what Doll House is about; how memories while being captured, still leak, and how memory is less a storage space that can be filled and emptied according to will than a dynamism that cannot be detached from the body. Hence, memory becomes a dynamic engine with different layers suddenly converging and diverging. In Bergsonian terms, its the duration of lived memories that persists despite the quantified "memory bytes programmable" that seem to ground the fantasy of drone people á la 21st century.

Memory is much more material and dirty than anything that could be wiped away. It sticks. (An obvious direction would be to write this through Freud's memory machine metaphor, and talk about the dynamic materialism inherent in any process of imprinting/wiping.)

Where goes then the line between living and dead labour?

Agency is not one, nor is it even two as with doppelgangers, twins, or any other classic film doubling of minds/bodies. Its multiple, much more akin to a logic of infinite variation that characterizes digital technologies than an optical metaphor. But such avatars are not only projections stemming from the human, so to speak. They feed back. This seems to be something at the core of some of the media examples emerging now. There is a much more interesting feedback loop between bodies and avatars, minds and surrogates than only a projection of fantasmas. Bodies resonate with their spectral variations, and such spectral variations can return. (No return of the repressed through.)

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Embedded video in print media

BBC Breakfast Show this morning reminded me of something I have been lazily following, i.e. some new ways of embedded video to print media. As shown in this Wired-article, this is a quite clumsy system where the digital screen was embedded inside the magazine making it quite thick and lacking from the usual portability of print media. It was not the ePaper dreams that actually might make video quite a functional part of magazines, etc.

As a tool for advertisers, the ability to embed short spots as video onto pages was discussed from the view point of attention management, contextualised in the overcrowding of perception space where the implicit question seemed to be where to find more space to cram adverts. I remember when interviewing the media artist Marita Liulia years ago her flagging her eagerness to participate in any project that would develop shelters from such attention catchers...

Interestingly, some of the people commentating the embedded video took it as a granted fact that we have a desire to actually want to see adverts; something that struck me at least as absurd. A woman commentating this from the viewpoint of print media pointed out how the Internet is filled with video adverts (really?) and everyone who wants to see them goes there. But are we not actually most of the time avoiding such videos that stick to the screen often more persistently than your average malware? This begs the question: how much would actually an audiovisual video that automatically starts playing when you turn the page irritate, disturb and eventually put off the magazine reader instead of being just the normal add-on that you can live with, like with still advert images? Attention management, folks, again; it cannot be on your face, but a more subtle way of negotiating catching the perception without making it the main feature. Sorry, but I feel this just does not work.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Trust, Identity, Security seminar at Anglia Ruskin

David Skinner pulled together with Claire Preston a very nice event at Anglia on Thursday on Trust, Identity and Security. Even if my particular area relating to software and security was not that much covered, the themes interlinked well with some stuff I have been thinking. In terms of such notions of social "glue" as trust, Marek Kohn kicked off with a very general take on the social basis of trust --- although having said "social basis" I need to flag that I was left a bit cold with the too individualized/atomized image of trust that he painted. Too much of the presentation focused on trust outside its historical and institutional settings, using examples that implied it more as a psychological/rationalized/cognitive theme. I disagree with this quite strongly, and was hoping for a discussion more focused on the affective/non-cognitive politics and management of trust in terms of network culture.

In short, my point: a) trust is something guaranteed as a temporal relation in modernity by institutions, b) such institutions have been forced to change and their ability to guarantee the secured future has suffered during what different commentators would call late-capitalism, postmodernity, or for example network culture. This applies to social relations, production and legitimacy of knowledge, economic relations, and huge amount of other key factors. c) Instead of a cognitive relation, institutions have already historically worked on trust as a management of affective states, to put it a bit too broadly. What I mean is that trust works on automation most of the time -- its not a cognitive relation of weighting wins and losses. Its an affective relation that involves the management of futurity as something present; a creation of a condition where future seems as if already present and controllable.

In the other session, presentions by for example David Skinner and Greg Elmer touched interestingly also the topic of futurity. David's talk was on the UK police DNA Database, and very spot on in terms of control through information; not only a creation of "traces" through DNA collection etc., but also through active creation of profiled, targeted "problem groups" -- which happens to be very racially loaded practice. The already existing amount of profiles on the database is very much geared towards collecting from the black communities and through "preemptive profiling", very problematic self-realizing groupings are created. Preempting as a political tool is a good idea/concept that Greg Elmer has been developing (also together with Andy Opel in their book on the topic.) In his video talk, Greg talked about both the concept as one of management of futures, and also on the ongoing online collaboration to create a documentary on the topic. What is preemption? Its about shooting first, asking later -- a practice enabled by a range of non-lethal weapons such as tasers; but also more discursively a mode of governing the present through reacting to "inevitable futures" (where risks are treated as if inevitable events, and hence in need of preemptive actions.) This is the logic of the Bush regime in a way, but not limited to a set of tools by the ex-US Government (and also having clear connections with e.g. Richard Grusin's notion of premediation).

The day ended with Sean Cubitt's different angle to the topic of databases and security. He gave a brilliant genealogy of management of colors and perception through the histories of the raster screen. The same mode of cutting and organizing perception into discreet units that governs the raster screen approach is apparent according to Cubitt also in the database mode of governing through creating units that are inter-exchangeable etc. In a way, I was after Skinner's presentation thinking about how modes of racism and racial profile have moved from the visual regime of e.g. orientalism to the informatics of databases and hence non-visual media, but actually Cubitt made me rethink and realize the possible connections between visual and database media. The technicality inherent in modes of management of perception are already hinting towards the logic of computational databases, seems Cubitt to argue and I have to admit his points were quite convincing even if I am not usually the first person to argue for the centrality of the visual in media cultures (esp. technical).

Sunday, 6 September 2009

An aberrant text on social media -- to note the launch of Cool Mediators platform

Lesson 1 of social media culture: sociability is not inherent, its produced. All the discourse about naturality of belonging, participation, sociability should be taken as a product, not the starting point. In historical perspective things immediately turn out trickier. One could even say that the current "social turn" (referring to Web 2.0, social media, and all that) is even a bit surprising, understanding how recently crowds were deemed as dangerous, mindless and threatening. The hive mind was more of an index of dangers to democracy (both pre and post WWII). Swarms, human animality of irrational social groupings (the animality in us), collectives and such, were not automatically sources of creativity, hive minds of late capitalist sorts, but articulated together as a threat of Western civilization. Of course, the earliest examples of a much more positive stance towards e.g. emergence were to be found already in the 1910s research into insect worlds; for example the ant researcher's Wheeler's work is exemplary. Yet, the idea of mindless drone animality as represented as late as in the 1950s horror movies was an effective way of framing the non-human in us as dangerous. It seems like there would be a long way from such dangerous animalities to the productive, communicative, distributed animality of social media culture. Its the animality in current high tech media culture -- social media. Naturally Kropotkin knew this already a while ago, and his book from 100 years back Mutual Aid should be a key reference point in any genealogy of social media.

The realization that sociability must be produced and maintained is behind some ideas that try to consolidate possibilities of participation and novel communities; hence, I want to flag the launch of a cross-media platform project to catalyze discussions, a social media tool for academics, activists, etc. I would assume, knowing something about the creators Tania Goryucheva and Eric Kluitenberg's interests. It is planned as a tool to facilitate communication between online and offline communities, and equipped with tools that will probably turn out handy for the critical social media generation; web casting, automated archiving, etc. Might be of good relevance to our starting Network Politics project.

Launch at the De Balie, Amsterdam, September 10, 20.30, and online: .