March 14, 2008


Chapter 9 “Axioms of Free Cooperation: Contesting Online Collaboration” in Zero
Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture by Geert Lovink

“The Participatory Challenge” by Trebor Schultz in Curating Immateriality: The Work of
the Curator in the Age of Network Systems edited by Joasia Krysa

“Axioms of Free Cooperation: Contesting Online Collaboration”
212: The author states that “Cooperation is the very foundation of all work in society. It is just a matter of how we make it visible.” So, does a person have to be aware that they are collaborating and contributing to be a part of participatory design?

212: “Online work can be ineffective and slow.”
Should slow technology always be associated with ineffectiveness? Thinking of ichat: it
is fast, but it lacks other things that may result in a better collaboration. Would you be willing to sacrifice a little quickness for nuance? What the authors refer to as “The high
art of collaboration”

221: What are some examples of “situated software”?

“The Participatory Challenge”
201: Would you be willing to pay for something that you can find for free if you had a relationship with the person that was asking for compensation?

192: “The high times of the individual, solitary artist genius are over.” I can see collaborations in design and art, but what about architecture and other related fields?

After reading these articles, I was directed back to the Option Shift Control Symposium investigations. One question that resonated then and certainly after reading these articles is what is leading to our — graphic designers — focus on collaboration and participation in design? These articles discuss a few different possibilities. In “Axioms of Free Cooperation: Contesting Online Collaboration” the author discusses that new media artists are forced to collaborate with others because they are unable to complete all of the different types of work required to complete a project. I relate this to design in the push towards new media. In many cases we are being asked to do the work of writers, designers, and programmers. We want to learn all these things in order to have greater ownership, but in order to accomplish things we are looking to our peers for collaborative support. Another hypothesis is that the increase of online participation is leading us to the focus. Many people have debated whether or not online participation is a trend, but it seems to becoming clear that it is more than that and really resulting from and causing changes in behaviors. “Today, people do not merely browse the web. Instead they give away information, expertise, and advice without monetary compensation also remix each other’s content..” (Scholz, 189) Although, it is difficult to write critically about culture that is developing and evolving so quickly, it is important to try. “The more people work online, the more important it is to understand that the technical architecture of the tools we use in shaping our experiences.” (Lovink, 214)

An issue that I have been thinking about is what exactly is participatory design? In “Axioms of Free Cooperation: Contesting Online Collaboration” the authors predict that, “Soon we will see collaborations that are more genuine.…We don’t just customize, use, and purchase commodities online. We pitch in our resources and thoughts and feelings.” (Lovink, 221) This seems to state that a person must be aware that they are contributing something valuable in order to be considered participatory. This would exclude customization, ethnographic research, and focus groups from being under the participatory umbrella. “The distinction between collaboration and non-collaboration becomes increasingly difficult to make.”(Lovink, 216). A major issue that the article discusses is differentiating collaboration from non-collaboration in to that what degree someone freely decides to interact. Thinking in terms of labor and top-down structures, the types of collaborations that result by force do not necessarily yield the best results. The author uses the term, jokingly, of “friendly fascism.” (Lovink, 219) It is my assumption that people must have a sense of control and ownership to effectively collaborate and get as much as they give.

Touching again on peoples changing behaviors online, it is interesting how the thinking regarding copyright is changing. In my opinion, there are more interesting topics than copyright surrounding this issue of shared content. Why do people want to share? Is it an altruistic behavior or do people look for some type of compensation? With the example of MIT’s open source classes, I think the latter applies. Yes, the syllabus and content are free, thus there is not direct monetary gain, but it does suite an agenda. MIT must present themselves at the forefront of this movement and allowing for open source courses does just that. The author asks, “Who would choose to pay for information that is available for free elsewhere?” (Scholz, 196) I do think that people are willing to pay for things. Trusted online relationships mean a lot and that transfers to acquisitional behaviors. People are willing to pay for things if they trust the seller. It is about sustaining relationships.

I was happy to see the discussion of technology supporting existing social interactions. I think the author is correct in stating, “Cooperation-enhancing tools like blogs or wikis are important but without a true need of a social group these tools will not go far.” (Scholz, 202).
It is no longer just a question of what we can do with technology, but why. Online tools can support and facilitate relationships, but not without an existing shared goal or interest. This of course leads to the issue of dwindling civic participation. If people are only interested in collaborating within specific areas of interest, what happens to healthy debate? Far more can be accomplished if you are not simply preaching to the choir. The question is how to combine this growing trend of participation with diverse audiences.

There is an existing dogma that off-line interactions are always more meaningful than the online counterpart. As we continue to research this topic, I’m hopeful that design can aid in making online interactions better.

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Collaboration: Scholz & Lovink

The utopia of collaboration that Scholz describes sounds possible for the online world [note: collaboration in the online world is the focus of these questions & blog]. He presents good examples and the cover of last month’s Wired—“Free! Why $0.00 is the future of business” —support’s his argument that extreme sharing networks are moving towards a free exchange of work and ideas online. In both the Scholz and the Lovink articles those individuals who desire to hold onto their work are portrayed as old-fashioned, foolish and selfish—“the high times of the individual, solitary artist genius are over” (p. 192) and “others feel threatened by such openness. They prefer to hold things close to their chest, as they fear to lose out in the rumble of exchanges” (p. 221). However, I think there are two arguments that may support those opposed to the online collaborative gift economy.

First, is the more pragmatic issue, an example is mentioned by a quote in the Lovink piece, “ It is often the case in art/technology based collaborative works that collaborators who appear to have more technical experience, and who often consequently contribute in a more ‘practical’ way, find it leads to their relegation later in the relationship as simply being a technician who facilitates production for the other ‘thinking’ collaborators” (Lloyd Sharp, p. 215). It makes sense that the person who is seen with the technical experience may begin to reject requests for collaboration because he/she would like to be seen as having a different role. Though everyone is contributing freely, the community cannot get away from the social dynamics of “the couple” where one usually becomes privileged over the other. My question is: will people continue to participate in a community when he/she feels another party is being privileged? Anna Muster warns us not to think of the collaborative environment with the “couple” as a model. But just because you choose not to look at something in a certain way does not mean that it isn’t actually occurring in that manner. Is it possible to have a collaborative environment without any privileging?

Second, I see an issue with the idea that the online environment is the solution for presenting works that younger artists wouldn’t see beyond a museum’s walls. “Artist-contributed archives of cultural data can inspire younger generations by exposing hem to artwork that they would not find behind the gates of the museum or gallery” (p. 197). Does this take away some responsibility of the museum to present a variety of works? And, are there any issues of quality? If there are any determinants for the quality of artwork (though maybe this is too subjective), would these be visible in an online environment? The advantage to museums is that people get to experience the artwork physically and in a physical community. Once, artwork in the online world is considered an alternative to the art in the offline world, issues of class also come into play. Scholz also mentions that the museum is no longer a suitable venue, “venues for new media practitioners are not predominantly festivals or museums but virtually distributed communities” (p. 199). If the virtually distributed communities are seen as preferable to a museum, it is most likely that schools with less money will cut trips to the museum. Will that kind of experience then, only be reserved for the wealthier young artists?

Finally, Lovink strongly asserts that, “One thing is clear: social movements do not emerge out of the Web. Their beginnings lay somewhere else, not in the act of online communication” (p. 218). He thinks that technology only aids our communication. Without taking a technological determinist stance, do you think this always has to be the case? Is it possible to inspire a social moment on the Internet? Lovink could not present examples but I’m still not sure if there is no possibility.

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February 29, 2008

Interface: Lev Manovich / Matthew Fuller

Fuller says that the notion of interface allows us to analyze how reinforcing patterns, ideology, structure, and material link together. Interface allows us to see how one process pass from the domain of one axiom into another, how processes are configured (p. 103). I thought this idea of “linking” was interesting because it has a specific meaning on the computer interface which is somewhat different from the way Fuller uses it here. Fuller’s idea of linking points to the idea of “amorphous passage”, the idea that two very different things can be brought together in a formless manner, or at least the connection does not obviously belong to a particular structure. I think the “links” on a computer interface present a somewhat different meaning because they are not so “amorphous”. Unless they are within the same site, they abruptly take someone to one visual environment to a very different visual setting. So, in this sense, I wonder about how the linking in computer pages can actually be disruptive because of their obviousness. If some websites are capable of seamlessly taking a person from one category of information to another without highlighting the link is this even desirable?

This debate also translates in music with “cadences”. Especially in classical & romantic classical music, the cadence helped people realize when the music was going to move on to another section or mood and this was seen as valuable because this allows the audience to be a part of the progression. However, many classical composers found the idea of cadences restrictive. Why does the audience need to be aware of the links? Is this distracting from the overall mood and form of the piece? I feel like Fuller’s vision of the interface of a place for connecting processes, patterns, ideology, etc. with unstructured links is similar to the idea breaking away from traditional cadences. However, the actual hyper-links on many web pages actually relate to the a traditional publicly aware transition.

Also, I was confused by Fuller’s discussion of metaphor. Analogy & metaphor studies show that when given the choice to either use metaphor or interpret literal combinations, people overwhelmingly chose metaphor rather than literal uses and interpretations. Therefore, I didn’t understand Fuller’s slight on the makers of Sherlock that a ‘realistic’ “image of a syringe or a violin…. Were beyond them” (p. 101). He seemed to be harping on minor details about differences of various graphic images and whether or not they truly translate into the action they perform with the interface. This doesn’t seem to be the purpose or point of having these images to begin with however. The purpose is to give people some connection into an unfamiliar interface with cultural cues that make them feel more comfortable. His assertion that “metaphor is to be understood simply as a variant action upon an object or process, and not as something inherently necessary to interface design” (p.101) to me seems unnatural. A preferred communication method, thought maybe not “necessary” would seem very much beneficial. Metaphors are never really “necessary” but they accomplish a lot quickly – they are efficient communicative devices. But maybe I am missing the point here. Can someone help me understand what he is trying to get at with the metaphor discussion?

Keeping with the theme of metaphor, I also thought Manovich’s discussion of the body’s imprisonment by the screen really interesting – especially when he points out all the different levels of imprisonment that can be considered (people having to sit for photographs, the disembodied Gaze, the static eye, etc.). In the case of photography, the subject has to remain immobile and in the case of cinema the audience has to remain immobile. Manovich claims that VR creates a break with this tradition because the body is able to move within a physical space in order to experience movement in virtual space. I think N. K Hayles would think differently about this (though the moblogging reading kind of addresses these issues as well). However, not all VR is developed in this way and also does this really move the body from imprisonment? Is physical movement of the body all that is required to constitute freedom?

Posted by Norris at 06:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Marty Lane

“Emancipation and Melancholy” in Blogosphere: The New Political Arena by Michael Keren

Chapter 1 “Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse” in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture by Geert Lovink

emancipation, diaries, blogosphere, diy journalism, discourse, virtual public arena, melancholy, personal narrative, public image, hegemony, mass media, nihilist, moronic cynicism, participatory media, pancake people, snarky, public sphere, motivation, bottoms-up technology, community

These articles are exploring the online trend of blogging, through user motivations and cultural implications. In “Emancipation and Melancholy” the author begins by depicting an all too familiar conversation from a blog: people complain and bicker and ignore constructive comments, or calls to action. This leads to the authors thesis: “ What are we experiencing here — a new political arena in which serious concerns about “the real suffering of real people in the real world” are communicated and acted upon or rather a gathering place for the “low and pathetic”?” Regardless of the answer to that question, the author recognizes that blogging is a “new medium of information gathering and sharing.” Many bloggers are essentially curating a news based webspace. They pull from mainstream media sources and add personal commentary. However, the information exchange between blogs and mass media is not one way. Blogs have had impact on mainstream media, politics, and culture which can be seen with the examples provided by the author, such as the Trent Lott case and the Howard Dean campaign. At this point, the author states more specific questions about the relationship between blogs and politics, “What are the political implications of the exposure of large numbers of people to unprecedented amount of news selected for them, by trusted virtual figures? Can the view of the press as a watchdog of democracy be applied to the blogosphere despite the lack of journalistic standards and traditions among bloggers? How does the blurring of the private/public divide, while intensifying the digital divide, affect global political discourse? And how do we value structures emerging in blogosphere differ from those prevailing in offline communities?”

The author refers back to older traditional forms of writing, like autobiographical novels as a source for critical investigation. Blogging allows for any one with access to a computer to become an author, an influence, a critic. This is fundamentally different from previous models which limited those behaviors to a select few members of society. “This is often seen by bloggers as a sign of emancipation, that is, liberation from the authority…” The author states that this leveling of the playing field results in a rejuvenated public sphere, by allowing marginalized voices to come forward. Habermas stated that the public sphere had suffered because of the development of mass media. People who used to get information from community landmarks, began to get that same information from newspapers and other media sources resulting in a breaing apart of dialogue. However, Jenkins argues “The current diversification of communication channels…is politically important because it expands the range of voices that can be heard in a national debate, ensuring that no one voice can speak with unquestioned authority.” This is a great ongoing debate and the author points out that it’s important to not just investigate the blog itself, but really the value emerging from within.

Looking beyond emancipation, the author brings up the issue of melancholy, and states that “an analysis of a political process led by any advance guard cannot be based on the way it depicts itself but on the norms apparent in its thought and action, and those emerging in blogosphere are often norms of withdrawl, not of enlightenment.” I think the author is not using melancholy as a way to describe all bloggers, but is making a connection to the general behaviors, “journalism without journalist…It replaces action by talk, truth by chatter, obligation by gesture, and reality by illusion.” Bloggers are engaging in behaviors that may be motivated by — or resulting in — isolation, disengagement, and disinterest in their current life.

“In Blogging, the Nihilist Impluse” the author looks at blogging through the user culture and the technology itself. “Blogs have changed the world in various ways; the point, however, is to interpret them. What I am after is the nihilist structure of blogs as software and culture. The explicit aim is not to classify bloggers as digital nihilists, instead, I am searching for a creative nihilism that openly questions the hegemony of mass media.” The author states that blogs have mostly been considered as oppositional to news media, but he is interested in the content being cultivated. “We should not simply reduce blogs to their problematic relationship with the news industry. Mere empowerment does not automatically lead to worthy content.” I agree with the author that it is important to consider quality, not just quantity of blogs and comments. I find a critical aspect of blogs to be the level of activity generated in the comments, but even more the relevance of those comments.

“Techno determinism” makes an appearance as the author discusses that blogging didn’t emerge from culture, but rather from technological advances in software that allowed people to easily update web pages. This software allows bloggers to write quickly and update often, which has created a new speed at which things happen. No time to cite sources or do actual research, some bloggers post personal or private assumptions, stories, and judgements in a public sphere. This juxtaposition of diaries and journalism is very interesting. The author references “the Utopian blog philosophy” which states that mass media and other top-down structures are over. “ Closed top-down organizations no longer work, knowledge can not be managed, and today’s work is collaborative and networked.” The author questions whether this is actually the case or not. I would tend to agree, even if there are leveled playing fields and more equal opportunities to publicly write, whatever the content may be, there are still certain dominant modes of thinking —just because information is out there, doesn’t mean that will be respected. Cynical, yes.

Both articles account the development and popularization of blogs to the events following September 11, 2001. I had never realized that connection before, but it makes sense. People had the need to communicate with others, equals, about the events and not just tune into mass media. Part of the grieving process is trying to put the pieces together. The participatory annotation of blogging allows for just that.

As the author states in “Emancipation and Melancholy” blogging is a new medium that is based on participatory behaviors, especially those of gathering and sharing. This can be tied back to some earlier ideas in seminar about Manovich’s ideas of a database. Our role as designers is shifting, from making and designing information, to organizing and allowing for interesting accessibility and interaction. Blogging, like the database, is another case example of that shift. The author makes some sweeping generalizations about bloggers and despite his peppered disclaimers and disconnected conclusion, I still found the overall tone of the article to be slightly condescending to the trend. Perhaps it was the focus on the olitical blogs that was the cause. I am interested to read on into the next chapters to see where the discussion goes regarding the tension of public vs. private and emancipation and melancholy.

In “Blogging the Nihilist Impulse” the author is discussing many of the same topics as the previous article, only using different terminology. Exploring the nihilist impulse closely resembles that of melancholy. Both result in — or are caused by — a disconnect from something else. It is important to judge if the conversations going on in blogs are really pertaining to what the blog is intended to be about, or if the conversation is wandering. The author states that blogs are not recognized by academics as publications, but I wonder if this will change over time? I certainly hope it does, as there are already many blogs that I would like to cite in academic research. Although, as I write this, I am wondering if it really has more to do with the author of the blog and less to do with the format?

Last semester, I wrote a little about news organizations citing each other as sources ,and the problems that arise out of that cyclical process. It is interesting that the authors bring up the idea that curating or annotating — basic blog behaviors — really become news in and of itself.

I found Florian Cramer’s comments on blogging hierarchy fascinating. It had never occurred to me that the way a blog is set up automatically puts priority on some authors over others. Comparing this with old email lists in which all of the information is presented equally. Obviously, there are design reasons for placing hierarchy on the original blog post and not the comments, but it is interesting to consider those implications of hierarchy. I can see this shifting a bit on the Design Observer. The design still retains heirarchy, but some commentors have built up a reputation for themselves so that they are (or may be) considered an equal authority to the original author’s post.

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Marty Lane

Chapter 2 “The Interface” in The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich

“The Impossibility of Interface” in Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture
of Software by Matthew Fuller

1. Regarding hyperlinking (Manovich, 76 – 77): I am curious about hyperlinking resulting in distraction and fragmentation. I have often thought that distraction was the result, and that hyperlinking rarely served to reinforce an argument in a contained way. With the development of networks and hyperlinks, is it possible that the pendulum should swing back to a higher level of containment? I’m thinking in particular of web sites that discuss issues that users need a certain level of trust or safety. If sites are constantly linking out, with no hierarchy, how does the user know if the site is valid and trust worthy?

2. Regarding perception (Manovich, 88): The author states, “As a result, the world and our perception of it are fused together.” I’m curious about this, because what we have been discussing for the past two semesters is that there is no real outside of something’s representation. Therefore, isn’t our perception of the word all we know of it?

In “The Impossibility of Interface”, Fuller is looking at how software interfaces are similar to different interfaces we see in culture. Using Brenda Laurel’s definition of the interface, “ An interface is a contact surface. It reflects the physical properties of the interactors, the functions to be performed, and the balance of power and control”, he is exploring interfaces that are integrated into culture, created of disparate parts, and that allow for co-creation.

In “The Interface”, Manovich essentially provides a detailed timeline showing the evolution of the interface. He uses the term cultural interface to mean, “ a human-computer-culture interface—the ways in which computers present and allow us to interact with cultural data.” In the second half of the chapter he discusses the use of the screen and the possible need to move away from that idea.

This semester, New Information Environments, has provided me with many challenges. Coming from a background in print design, the concepts, aesthetics, and technology of new media is all new to me. I am trying to challenge myself and question this semester’s topic with everything I do. These two articles provided me with very timely perspectives on the idea of an interface. In studio, I have been interested in exploring technologies that are more integrated into our lives. I have begun to question why we automatically associate a web site as a rectangular format that appears on a screen with vertical scrolling behaviors. According to Manovich, this association has been building for a long time, linking to Renaissance painting, and can be seen in the early web designs of the 1990’s that resemble the vertical rectangular format drawn from magazine layouts (Manovich, 70). Manovich even ties the “scrolling down” behavior back to papyrus rolls of ancient cultures (Manovich, 75).

Both of these articles discuss the issue of personal freedom in relation to new media. When one first thinks of freedom and new media, a positive association is often made. Thinking of McLuhan and the idealistic vision of a global village in which people of different cultures have access to the same information — thus creating a larger world view or allowing for new relationships. However, if you think of how an interface effects the physicality and behaviors of your life, negative associations may begin to emerge. Are you constantly dependent on your computer?

In studio, we are exploring online learning communities, and it critical to remember that we are designing the conditions for multiple people to engage with each other, not to engage with the computer. Fuller references Donald Norman and states that “The focus should be on “interacting with the task, not the computer” (Fuller, 109)” Technology can best be served as a mediation tool for people.

Two of the freedoms that the authors touched on are mobility and aesthetic representations. Looking again back to the Renaissance, Manovich makes an interesting statement that the more mobile art became the more immobile the viewers were. When church ceilings are painted, and the art is immobile, it allows for the viewer to move around in the space. In contrast, a painting in a frame on a wall, which is mobile and can be moved from location to location, creates limited mobility for the viewer — only the front and slight 45 degree angles. This is an interesting correlation to computer interfaces. We are becoming increasingly tied to technology, thus our desks. Keeping this idea of freedom in mind, projects like the Nokia 888 watch become very interesting. Focusing on technology that adapts to the user’s mobility it frees people from their desks, even their offices. It also frees designers from thinking of dynamic media as only occurring in a rectangle on a screen.

Regarding aesthetic representations and metaphor, the points brought up by Fuller are interesting. As designers, we are often in a complex situation of finding ways to abstractly represent things. We consider the usability and representation, questioning why users understand that existing representation, and looking for new solutions all at the same time. I do think that metaphor plays a big role in this, but memory does as well. Users are becoming more and more advanced and we as designers can begin to use that sophistication to our advantage. Maybe we want to represent something in a totally new way — maybe the magnifying glass is not the best way to show a zooming feature. Can’t we rely on a user to make mnemonic associations? If a user interacts with an interface, they will become accustomed to that particular visual and interactive language, thus learning the representations and logic used.

It is an interesting time in technology and interface design. It seems that the trends are going away from interfaces all together and more towards integrated, intuitive technologies. Looking to the Nokia 888 project and the touch screen presented at TED conference as examples of alternates to our current idea of an interface.


Posted by Lane at 02:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Week 7: Interface

The Impossibility of Interface
I really appreciated the discussion of metaphor here, and the idea that we understand how to navigate software through our understanding of something else. But I wonder: will we ever arrive at the point when we can abandon these metaphors completely and create new forms, drawing from our universal experiences? Can you imagine the interface without metaphor? What would take its place?

The Language of New Media: Chapter 2, The Interface

If the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis is applied directly to the interface of design software (with which we are intimately familiar), does it necessarily mean that different products yield different results? Do you think it's possible for the same object or artifact to emerge from different programs? Is a drawing produced in Illustrator so different from a drawing produced in Freehand? If there's no interactivity in the resulting movie, can we tell the different between an animation made in After Effects vs Flash? How do industry standards factor into this equation?

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Mobile Readings

Goggin’s research centers around the idea that social and cultural functions of new technologies (such as camera phones) are distinct from the preceding technologies within the same genre. He addresses this by discussing the changes in social and cultural functions of the camera phone vs. the stand-alone or analogue camera counterparts (p. 145). I thought this was such an interesting idea because so often people will look at a new technology and immediately evaluate it according to the standards of a similar technology. However, Goggin points out that the uses for the new technology might be quite different and should be evaluated otherwise. His point with the camera phone was that the attraction is to the “now” and availability, not to the quality of the photograph. Therefore, people use the camera phone for random things of interest and not to document a vacation. When reading this, I thought of how I took a picture of a child stroller provided available for parents to use at the mall. Hanging underneath the stroller was a small bag that had written across the top “do not put child in bag”. This seemed so ridiculous (had someone actually done this so they felt the need to have a warning?) that I took a picture with my phone. This seems a perfect instance for the use of a camera phone and not a likely opportunity to use a stand-alone digital camera. The quality is not important – only the availability. “They took photos of ‘things that they happened upon that were interesting’, whereas the capturing of travel photos was down the bottom of the list” (p. 145). I wonder though if this too is specific to culture? And why, if happening upon things that were interesting, quality wouldn’t be so important. This would seem to be contradictory in cases of the citizen-journalists. In the case of real iconic photos, like John Kennedy junior saluting his father, do we still depend on photographers who are ready for a shot and not the camera phones? Will a camera phone picture ever become iconic? Or, will the technology advance so much that eventually the social and cultural functions of camera phones change again? This is my main question, are many of these investigations about the social and cultural functions of new technologies too premature? How do we know when is the correct time to start making generalizations?

I’d like to know what people think in regards to viewing the world through a smaller frame? Is the camera phone really creating a new way of seeing things?

I’m also curious about the idea of the moblogging. Goggin describes it as a “type of moving theatre”, at least with the case of the Cab Blog. I was trying to think if there were instances where people devote so much time and attention to developing an art form (or theatre) without any kind of monetary compensation. In the case of Neylan, he not only created the moblog but also developed positive modifications like the bracket that steadied the camera. Would this be considered a gift economy for the arts?

What I thought was interesting in regards to the text messaging was the great attention some company’s paid to studying their customers and these were the successful companies. For instance, the example of the Hong Kong companies’ response to the unique “characteristics of the overseas Filipino workers resident in their county (p. 86)” (like allowing subscribers to transfer money via text to relatives and friends in the Philippines) is a big reason why the new technology was so successful. My question is: Is this the kind of targeted and segregated marketing what will be necessary for all future technologies to be accepted or thrive in a new community? Is this something that the technology demands or are consumers becoming more and more demanding?

Finally, I was wondering about the idea of doing a “history” of a technology. Goggin mentions that he should consider doing a further investigation into the cultures where the technology is not as successful? Is investigating the non-users of a technology necessary for a true history?

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Week 6: Mobile Phone

Txt Msg: the rise and rise of messaging cultures

Will the level/popularity of SMS in the US ever meet or exceed that of other countries? Will something else come along that catches on more fervently in the meantime?

The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines
Could a "coup d'text" or any other sort of major social event in the US occur (or be stimulated) by text? Is this feasible or fathomable here?

On mobile photography: camera phones, moblogging and new visual cultures
Now that posting images to the web from a mobile is old hat and blogging via phone is ultra accessible due to sites like Twitter, what's next? How can we leverage ever-increasing camera resolutions and employ the mobility of photography in new ways?


How does the orientation of the traditional cell phone screen change the way we see/conceive/use photography? Most screens are vertical, unlike the horizontal format of traditional cameras (and digital cameras). Some phones, like the Sidekick and iPhone, are starting to accommodate horizontal images and information formats. Is this the start of a new trend? A push towards more screen real-estate?

Continue reading "Week 6: Mobile Phone"
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February 28, 2008

Week6 :: Interface

Discussion Questions

Article #1 :: The impossibility of Interface

On page 109, 9th line down, the author says: Thus, what he [Poole] calls their "realism” is not predicated on their being “authentic” but on internal consistency. How do you view this relationship between authenticity and consistency in our work as graphic designers?

Article #2 :: The Language of New Media :: The interface

On page 79, starting on the fourth line down, the author says: Indeed, today millions of computer users communicate with each other through the same computer interface. And in contrast to cinema where most “users” are able to understand cinematic language but not speak it, all computer users can speak the language of the interface. They are active users of the interface, employing it to perform many tasks: send e-mail, organize files, run various applications, and so on. In this case the author seems to make a case for everyone communicating thru a same interface, but if we think about the russian dolls, could we see interface as nested within each other? Could we argue that not all of the interfaces used by people to communicate are the same, but rather nested with one another and brought together by the message that is shared? What do you think?

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Week5 :: Mobile Phone

Discussion Questions

Article #1 :: Txt msg: the rise and rise of messaging cultures

On page 75, 18th line from the bottom up, the author says: The irony of the perceived affordability is,... that relatively low-income users elect to pay significant proportions of their income on texting and cellphone, compared to other household goods. What does this indicated of our current cultural values? How to you understand the relationship between self-representation and the living of such representation? Does it not seem strange to you that people are more interested in extending who they are than actually experiencing it?

Article #2 :: On mobile photography: camera phones, moblogging, and new visual cultures

On page 159, 9th line from the bottom up, the author says: Blogging is all about communication - we are interested in other people’s lives, but at the same time we want to share our own experiences and thoughts with others. Do you think that the two generalizations spoken here stand ground in your way of thinking about them? Are you really interested in learning about others lives, and at the same time, do you want others to know of your life? How do you view the camera in your phone in relation to these ideas?

Article #3 :: The Cell Phone and the Crowd :: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines

On page 306, 21st line from the bottom up, the author says: In this way she remains anonymous to her readers, the vast majority of whom like wise remain unknown to her. Going back to many conversations since last semester, here we face again the idea of anonymity as being part (essential) to the digital way of being. How do you feel about this? Do you go around having random conversations with people that you do not know? Let’s suppose you did go out and try to have these, what would be your reaction to this kind of physical interaction?

Continue reading "Week5 :: Mobile Phone"
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February 24, 2008

Blogging: Keren & Lovink

Some of Keren and Lovink’s main points seem very similar in regards to blogs and absence. The blogsosphere is melancholic, according to Keren because any emotions or relation to real life is “incidental”. “it replaces action by talk, truth by chatter, obligation by gesture, and reality by illusion” (p. 14). Lovink also points to the decline in the ‘Belief in the Message’. According to him, blogs should be interpreted as “decadent artifacts that remotely dismantle the mighty and seductive power of the broadcast media” (p. 17).

Though both authors did extensive research during their blog investigations I still feel like many of their assertions are somewhat unfounded. It seems they conflate the idea of online interaction with blogs and then point to a problem when blogs don’t instigate action. I think there can be some flaws with these assumptions.

Comparing blogs to the “public sphere” as described by Aristotle is not an accurate comparison. The other articles we’ve read in class do a better job of discussing other forms of online political interaction, such as chat rooms and message boards. These have a closer (although still not perfect) relationship to an actual community of dialogue and interaction. These (online message boards) of course, are often based around one issue or interest that takes away from the idea of a public “salon”. But even some well-respected blogs will have a worthwhile dialogue. Usually, these aren’t the “diaries” that discuss the mundane aspects of a person’s day but instead bring up a relevant topic to the community. The host blogger states the situation, his/her opinion, and then asks if there are other thoughts from people in the community.

The articles, somewhat address the idea that some blogs may have a worthwhile dialogue but their argument remains that this dialogue is irrelevant because there are no end results in the actual world. And then Keren states that this realization is what causes the melancholy in the blog culture that eventually seeps into “melancholy we encounter in the real-word” (p. 17). However, this is another problem with the argument that the melancholy and the lack of action is inherent to the blog genre (if it is a genre). Both articles reference types of influence blogs have had in “real-world” but say this action is only in response to other action or that it works to “decay” other action. But maybe this is only a problem with the format of blogs as they are currently constructed? Perhaps in the future, communities or government groups will set up blogs / chatroom / message boards (would probably have to be some kind of combination) where the end result is built in. By the end of such and such date we have to come to a consensus about what kind of action will be taken and then will assign projects for members of the blog community. This doesn’t seem so far fetched. Many surveys are already done online which is a type of action.

Also, I think it’s interesting that both authors seem to agree that writing and reporting about things online is so far removed from real world salon discussion and journalism. Reporting on something in the newspaper is not so much more active than reporting on a blog. They also say that, people who blog don’t have time to research stories and therefore their reporting is of a lower quality. But this is assuming that all bloggers would be reporting on all stories. The way many citizen journalism cites work currently, bloggers report on stories that they feel passionate about and therefore devote a lot of time to. Many of these sites are a combination of formally trained journalists who work with the bloggers or citizen journalists to develop stories with passionate extensive research (from the bloggers) with ethical, fact-checking and formal writing practices (trained journalists). The journalist’s testimonials regarding these sites often say that the bloggers devote a lot of time to particular stories that the journalists are not able to.

Back to Keren’s insinuation at the end of the article that the online blog culture may be contributing to the symptoms of melancholy encountered in the real world is a really curious statement to make at the end of his chapter. He doesn’t bring any evidence (unless it is in following chapters) to suggest this connection and he also doesn’t account for the fact that the reverse could be true. Perhaps the melancholy is not inherent in the blog format or blog culture but is the result of what people are feeling in the “real world”. If anything, this notion would make more sense.

Kelly Martin

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February 15, 2008

Response to Reading 5

"Emancipation and Melancholy" in Blogosphere: The New Political Arena
by Michael Keren

Chapter 1 "Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse" in Zero Comments: Blogging
and Critical Internet Culture by Geert Lovink

First of all, I love the point that both articles make in describing the blogosphere as an antidote or shift from the "hegemony of the mass media." I agree that this represents an important response by the general Internet public, an assurance that their voice will at least be available to be seen, even if nobody actually reads it. In this way, blogging helps people feel important, validated, represented. In their most constructive sense, blogs can act as a digital town hall, or as Keren describes it, the rebirth of Habermas' public sphere.

Along these lines, if blogs are a link in the evolutionary chain (or perhaps even a hybrid) of the individual's voice in original public sphere and the squelching of that voice by mass media, I wonder what lies beyond the blog. Lovink touches on this a bit at the end of his article, when he mentions the "fear of fragmentation and segregation" that may occur at the end of a blog's life cycle—or perhaps he's talking about the life cycle of the entire blogosphere.

I also appreciate Lovink's reincarnation of the original meaning of 'nihilism,' i.e. "a state of supreme liberation," specifically in reference (or deference) to "Big Media." I wasn't really sure how "nihilism" would factor into his argument when I first began reading. While I agree that this idea describes the role of blogs in general, I hesitate to say that blogs will ever be free of "Big Media." This will not happen as long as they live by "Big Media," particularly the blogs discussed by Lovink. He references blogs that thrive on responding to and manipulating information and images from major news media sources. This may be healthy criticism of major media (and about time, too), but to me it is dependent—one might even say co-dependent.

These articles seemed to have a similar tone of voice and tackle similar topics, but they also have a somewhat detached, academic perspective on blogging that makes me think that they have possibly never participated in, regularly read or created a blog themselves. There are a few thought-provoking points in the midst of both writers' criticisms, however. For example, I have been thinking about the point about commenting on blogs and whether or not something can be considered a blog when the commenting feature is deactivated. The answer to this question may be along the lines of the proverbial tree falling in the woods with nobody there to hear it, and a blog with no comments seems to negate Lovink's description of blogs as 'conversations.' Is the point of a blog to elicit response? Or can it just be a one-sided conversation? How does one know that anyone else is reading it if there's no response?

This brings me to another point that I found valuable in the discussion of life-writing and different categories of bloggers. I suppose those who blog in the diary category probably carry on regardless of whether or not anyone responds. But most of them probably don't exclude the possibility of response, either—so there's always potential for a 'conversation,' even if it never materializes.

But conversations often do materialize, and that is why I must disagree with another one of Keren's points: that blogs are communities without a social base. Yes, many blogs fit that category, but the most successful blogs manage to succeed because of their social base. Whether or not the participants know each other face-to-face or in the virtual realm, the community that forms around a given blog is often based on social interactions that happen between participants in real life, in chats, or on other blogs. The social fabric of the group fuels the blog and helps secure its freshness and future.

However, like most social circles, blogs shift and change. Some members leave, new ones enter. So while I do wonder what's next, I also believe blogs will be with us for awhile. The popularity of blogs in developing countries is very interesting, and it seems that this international participation will secure the momentum of blogs for awhile. We are seeing some new formats emerging, like the "collective blogging" of sites/social programs like Twitter, which has already started to substitute as both blogs and RSS feeds for many of its avid users. Twitter makes use of mobile technology and leverages group participation, but is still based on the idea that one issues a comment or statement and that there is potential for response—or at least the satisfaction that someone (somewhere) is reading what one has to say.

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Week 4: Bodies and Spaces

Ok guys, sorry for the hermetic articles. I hope you continue to consider the body in your work and question the dominance of vision over other senses in general. The body is a province we quickly forget about in graphic design. Just because you cant see it doesn't mean it isn't there. WYSINWYG. Every experience is an embodied one. Building your awareness of the bodily aspect of interaction with graphic media is an opportunity to see it on more levels than you would otherwise. It's about gaining insight and perspective on something that you cant see any other way. Its also about questioning your own value systems and discovering innovative alternatives to designing things.


Glad to hear some of the material resonated with your imaging course. What do you mean information is inseparable from you? Could you add to /revise this to provide more detail? You made a parallel between Davis' statement and your work last semester, you were subverting technology from within?

As I mentioned in class, one can make alignments between vision and object (vs.) people and tactility. I remembered a good example of this from the Derrida documentary. I'll upload and email.


Excellent point about metamorphosis (and metamorphoses). The issue of how something is made is a traditional value of design. The means, materiality feel of a work encode it with design significance in ways rarely appreciated in a content driven appreciation of media. How does this sensibility for change that Hayles talks about resonate in new media design today or how could it? There is a very particular aesthetic to new media ("aesthetic referring to all things sensual that cannot be reduced to looking). This aesthetic can and should refer to "the made" in ways we haven't considered. The algorithm poses a new way of working I think. A new conceptual approach to space and extension (2 and 3 d space design). The algorithm is very much the new media of new media in the way that the sentence was the old media of old media. How else do we manage the real possibility of constant variation.This constancy of option is really key.

I feel for those marooned avatars too, standing dumfounded, their little arms dangling outward, waiting for the user to type keys on their behalf. The avatar is an interesting figure in relation to the idea of online communities. In many ways it is opposed to community is it not? Of course the poor avatar will have abandonment issues. You bring up the great "molding" quote and follow it with a nice list of references to the computer/body interaction. The concept of the post human is important to keep in mind in relation to challenging preconceptions about how new media "ought" to behave (who is behaving, it or us?). It offers a more critical assessment of the state of things than the optimists, by themselves, can offer. The post-human is actually a more inclusive term than it suggests. It is not so much the end of the human as the opportunity to see life more in relation to "our" fellow animals and in relation to an increasingly spirtualized world of technology and science.

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February 12, 2008

the body & space

“Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers” by N. Katherine Hayles in
Electronic Culture edited by Timothy Druckery
Chapter 2 “Embodying Virtual Reality: Tactility and Self-Movement in the Work of Char
Davies” in Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media by Mark B. N. Hansen


functionality, post-human, presence/absence, pattern/randomness, information theory,
informatics, flickering signifiers, tools, narratives, text, code, senses, abstraction, embodiment,
mixed reality, perspective, world skin, proprioceptive

In “Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers” the author’s main points are the shift of signification,
information narratives, and the post-human. Early on, she states a loose thesis, “Even
though information provides the basis for much of contemporary society, it is never present
in itself.” She states that in information theory, the information is separated from the
physical form, in essence; presence vs. pattern. As new technologies emerge, we see new
types of signification develop. The systems that we are used to are shifting and creating
new ways of interacting with text. The author goes on to examine pattern and randomness
in information. She presents an idea that we are very familiar with: information is
detected through pattern. Of course, we also know that randomness is in fact a pattern,
but only with repetition. If there is randomness without repetition there is no information.

We can physically effect information patterns in the way we interact with computers. This
supports the author’s thesis question about signifiers changing with technology. We are
accustomed to signification, a one-to-one relationship, which exists with our interaction
with the keyboard: A = A. The signification process becomes more complex when we being
to manipulate the overall text. “When I discover that my computerized text has been
garbled because I pressed the wrong function key, I experience firsthand the intrusion of
randomness and pattern.” This is a type of complex signification. These actions also lead
to a user understanding the difference in the process of writing on a computer and the
absence of a physical form.

To investigate this dichotomy of presence and absence, the author compares the human
body to a book, and positions both up against newer technologies. “Unlike radio and television
which receive and transmit signals but do not permanently store messages, books
carry their information in their bodies. Like the human body, the book is a form of information
transmission and storage that its encoding in a durable material substrate. Once
encoding in the material base has taken place, it cannot easily be change.”

At this point in the article, the author more clearly states her thesis, “ The contemporary
pressure toward dematerialization, understood as an epistemic shift toward pattern/randomness
and away from presence/absence, affects human and textual bodies on two levels
at once, as a change in the body (the material substrate) and a change in the message
(the codes of representation).” The author continues to discuss how new technologies
create new processes of signification, what she calls flickering signifiers, in which unexpected
relationships are made. She discuss how narratives that jump around or lack focus,
are a result of the flickering signification influence. This can be seen in some of the writing
of Italo Calvino and William Burroughs, “for the changing modes of signification affect the
codes as well as the subjects of representation.” All of this information about new technologies
leading to new ways of reading text, is brought up by the author to show the shift
to what she calls the “post-human.” Just as humans have always been differentiated from
animals by the tools we use, she makes the same correlation to technology. The tools that
we build, in this case computers, are now shaping our behavior. And because of this, she
concludes: “I believe that our best hope to intervene constructively in this development is
to put an interpretive spin on it that pens up the possibilities of seeing pattern and presence
as complementary rather than antagonistic. Information, like humanity, cannot exist
apart from the embodiment that brings it not being as a material entity in the world; and
embodiment is always instantiated, local, and specific.”

In “Embodying Virtual Reality: Tactility and Self-Movement in the Work of Char
Davies”, the author is challenging the “overemphasis” on vision in virtual reality. Focusing
on Char Davies’s projects, the author shows how virtual reality can be more than a visual
sensory experience, that it can be one of tactility and proprioception. It is surprising that
this focus on vision is still such a dominant force in virtual reality. The idea of a mixed reality
seems much more interesting me than a virtual one. The tension that is created when a
person uses their body —not just a joy stick, but actual bodily functions like breathing — to
interact in a virtual world is interesting.

Lyotard, Benjamin, Derrida, Haraway, Barthes, Virilio, Lacan, Calvino, Burroughs, OH MY! In
“Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers” the author’s mention of the text as a labyrinth is
pretty accurate. She definitely provides many sources in this chapter, perhaps too many.
I found myself struggling to keep each point clear and in context. Some of the ideas the
author touched on early in the article, of pattern recognition in information, are things
that we explored visually in Scott’s class with scatter plots. It was nice to have a visual in
my mind while reading about the different variables in information recognition. In comparing
bodies to books, I realize that I do not want to separate myself, my form, from my
information, nor do I think it is possible. My information defines me, so I would agree with
the authors statement that information is never present in itself. My knowledge or information
is inseparable from me.

While reading “Embodying Virtual Reality: Tactility and Self-Movement in the Work of Char
Davies” I was able to more critically think about why all virtual reality games look so generic.
Most people do not question how they look or function, because that is always how they
have been. I’m fascinated with Char Davies, not necessarily because of her Osmose project,
but more by her artist’s statement, “As an artist, I … have two choices: I can either unplug and
never go near a computer again or I can choose to remain engaged, seeking to subvert the
technology from within, using it to communicate and alternative worldviews…” This is what
I began to explore last semester in studio. Also, the argument of priority always being placed
on vision rather than other sensory experiences is an interesting one. Obviously, the internet
as a whole follows this model, but some web sites are starting to push this preconceived
idea a bit further. The web site,, challenges users by not allowing them
to click things. It forces a user to change their physical behaviors and question their typical
behavior. This site’s interactions are really dictated by the physicality of the user. While still
focusing just on a “joystick” or mouse, it begins to question typical interaction which is what
Char Davis is ultimately doing as well.

Marty Lane

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The Body & Space

Hayles argues in Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers, that the contemporary move toward dematerialization (the electronic and digital world) is a move aware from presence and affects human and textual bodies in two ways at once 1) as a change in the body (material) and in the message (codes). According to Hayles, the signifier as characterized by Saussure is flat and unitary in its structure. She then coins the phrase “flickering signifier” to describe the creations of information technologies because their tendency toward “unexpected metamorphoses, attenuations, and dispersions” (p. 263). Unlike an oral articulation or a written word, signifiers are only the top layer of a complex system of interrelated processes. We may see the lights on the video screed but for the computer the relevant signifiers are magnetic tracks on discs. She claims that these distinctions are not simply ornamental but enter profoundly into how they signify and calls for a theory of semiotics that accounts for this “flickering”.

Hayles’ discussion of the flickering signifier reminds me of the discussion we had a few weeks ago in seminar when we were trying to determine how something is made makes a difference overall – especially if a viewer can’t distinguish a difference in the outcome. It seemed like we were leaning toward the idea that it did make a difference however I’m not sure if we mentioned one of the reasons being the possibility for change. This is the idea that being created out of layered signifiers presents the possibility for metaporphoses (something we recognize even more readily with digital media).

An interesting point about literature and code that Hayles reminds us about is that code is not so easily understandable with the passing of time. Although they can still produce documents using these versions, they are increasingly marooned on an island in time, unable to send readable files or to read files from anyone else. This seems even more disturbing for those poor avatars who might eventually be left “marooned” in an inactive world. I thought about this when I was investigating other virtual environments that are becoming less and less popular with the success of Second Life and from Marty’s comments about leaving a social community. I wonder if people feel any worse about abandoning an avatar or persona in a social world than they would about abandoning word processing programs?

Hayles also address the idea of the “posthuman” and the issue of erasing the body in the digital world. These issues relate well to the Hansen piece on Char Davies and the divide (or lack of) between the biological and virtual/cybernetics. When Hayles describes a VR simulation she also points out that “the computer molds the human even as the human builds the computer”. Hansen says that Davie’s works are about experiential possibilities that demonstrate the feeling of your own bodily self-movement. This is important because as he points out, the visual is privileged in virtual reality (or whatever we are calling it). He mentions Ken Hillis’ criticism of the ocularcentrism. A big part of the attraction to the Wii is extension of physical movement, death is maybe the most prevalent theme in games and we’ve mentioned before in class how people’s sexual persona is amplified in Second Life. The recent popularity of Larping (as we mentioned a few weeks ago) is also interesting in this discussion. Since there is no audience the participants act out their fictional characters for their own enjoyment. What prompted this move from online role-playing to physical meetings? Maybe this wish for a physical setting is partly because of a dissatisfaction with the way these worlds have been engineered and this is what Davies addresses in her work. Like Hillis’ discussion of the ARL world composed of “light and almost entirely reliant on vision” (xxvi). The VE’s seem to neglect the other senses like “aural icons”.

I’m hoping to write about a reverse of this situation with the popularity of downloading music and the dying art of album covers (and music videos). In this digital arena the aural is priveledged and the visual does not have the iconic association with the music that it used to.

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February 06, 2008

Week 3: Gaming

Marty’s comments and questions are nicely put. The subtlety of control mentioned in Galloway mirrors many ways that we talk about design work but in a slightly more insidious way. We tend to neutralize our intentions for control, when there’s nothing neutral about it. Neutral is a rhetorical positioning not a physical one. This discussion resonates with Activity Theory’s distinction between “actions” and “operations” The position of the avatar, something we have spoken about some already, is fascinating in relation to issues of identification. Being and not being the character at the same time is a classic mirror stage example. The added nuance of what many thinkers call “performativity” is also important. That these activities are “performed” and thus carry, in earnest, the notion of insincerity with them also resonates with our discussion of affect as a prevailing cultural condition. How do processes of technological mediation “bring us to tears” (the Lady Di funeral discussion last term)? How do we understand that bringing as a “command performance” that we would not have felt in private?

Aside from some line length/leading issues, I appreciated Alberto’s recognition of the complexity of games. It is a digital genre (like software to Manovich) that is grossly in need of critical discussion and in the meantime relies heavily on prevailing cultural understandings. You bring up the difference between critically analyzing games and the joy of playing them. I think it is important to be able to do both, separately if necessary. If we ignore one, we loose a perspective. The more perspectives we have the better our work will be. You also introduce the issue of online learning environments, which is an important and complex issue. The university strives to increase learning experiences in a “technologically rich” environment. We should discuss this. There is of course the whole rhetoric of improvement to wade through. Somehow instead of being one factor in the mix this trope seems to animate much of the entire prospect of online learning. With improvement there are always complications. We should alloy discussions of “its better” with more sophisticated understandings of how it may be just “different.”

So Robert reports a desire to smash his monitor amidst various tidbits of pubescent fantasy. Among it all is a small comment about the reading, an interest in sublimation and the role of games as sites of same. His sage comment on mustard gas defecating poodles is memorable although the impact lessened by repetitive use of the same expletive. I didn’t get the liberating or controlling comparison at the end. Buying a gun at a pawnshop seemed at odds with the trajectory of the sublimation discussion. Buy a stapler.

To Rebecca’s comments, the notion of flexibility that Galloway outlines is meant to contextualize the idea in relation to cultural and ideological circumstances, specifically Deleuze’s notion of control and the freeway metaphor. We in design for example do not tend to go to this trouble, we take the idea of flexibility for granted as a positive outcome in most cases. If it is used contextually, it is valued contextually, not as part of larger, i.e. cultural condition. Like other aspects of our discussion flexibility is unmarked, it poses little to know problem or if it does the problem is about function or context (a flexible identity system is more useful in one case but not in another). Galloway wishes to isolate flexibility as something deserving critical scrutiny in its own right. One could see a parallel between attentions to flexibility and “algothmic culture” as a whole.

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Week 2: Community

To continue from the intro readings into the community readings:

Just a comment: The problem with the word "community" is its strength and weakness is the same thing. It is expeditious to refer to a complex of material/immaterial factors as "community" but also inherently imprecise. Design is about precision. Toward precision, or at least more of it, what happens when you plot the term in the TD vs. CM spectrum? Clearly the term is "biased" to cultural materialism. It actually doesn’t translate well to the Potts chapters, which emphasize “materialism”, a step away from the inherently ephemeral nature of community. The problem with the term in this case is that it operates, quite effectively, to evade medium specificity. Community emphasizes the commonality of "live" interactions not the differences inherent between one medium and another. It implies that community has "always been." These implications have a way of blurring differences, something designers might actually want to capitalize on, rather than obscure. This is one way a designer might want to position their expertise away from the efforts of the community; crafting media sensitive messages that secondarily serve the interests of community.

As for the issue of the individual and carrying this thread forward in relation to Mart's comments, how does the online community not only facilitate the individual's relationship to the group but how is this process effected through miming existing methods? How must it create new methods to manage this interaction? How do these new methods (given their newness) actually alter or reshape existing understandings of the individual/group interaction? How does this alteration reshape our conceptions of individuality itself? Once again, devil's advocating the tech. determinism position in relation to community's biases toward cultural determinism.

Samyul brings up an interest in the mediator of online communities. I would prefer media-tor, he or she who IS media, rather than he or she who mediates. Mediating is often a lesser thing than ‘that which is mediated’ (i.e. community). I’m wary of the degrees of separation created between a maker and made when the emphasis placed on abstractions is increased. Is community a ‘greater good’ or is it a phantom? By emphasizing abstractions such as community, user, audience or various “ideal spectators” we discussed last term, an increase in functionality is not a foregone conclusion. In many ways it animates other phantoms, like designer intent and “the design community.” Both of these deflect an emphasis on the concrete “thingness” of any design artifact.

I appreciated Rebecca’s disinclination to recognize community online (in her experience). I might encourage you to look more carefully however before you give up. I might expand your perspective from “online” or social networking sites (SNS) to the more general “networked digital technologies.” Such sites as Facebook for example may be a turn off but they depend on levels of cultural acceptability in order to survive. Layers you may in fact identify with. These include the comfort of disclosing personal information online, such as a credit card number. Email is another huge precedent for SNS as are the ubiquity of digital cameras. A vast swath of the population had to have developed a comfort/identification with email before a site like Facebook could possibly emerge. What role does the cell phone play? Both cell phones and email are digital technologies coterminous with all things online. Given their saturation, how do digital network technologies directly impact the character of live exchanges (both in content and form) Do we recognize these shifts, do we naturalize them in fact? I agree that contemporary events of war and the track record of the current president may be factors for increasing voter turn out beyond the advantages of online community building.

Posted by Will Temple at 05:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 05, 2008

Response to Reading 3

"Abstraction in the Video Game" by Mark J.P. Wolf in The Video Game Theory Reader edited by Mark J. P. Wolf and Bernard Perron

"Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality" by Sherry Turkle in Electronic Culture edited by Timothy Druckery

"Allegories of Control" in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture by Alexander Galloway

video games
texture mapping

Abstraction in the Video Game

My favorite quote from this reading was McCloud's "We don't just observe the cartoon, we become it." Wolf follows with his point that "Abstraction, then, can become an aid to identification, rather than something that alienates." This is an interesting concept when one considers the popularity of realism in video games these days—sometimes when I see an advertisement for a video game, I often think it's a movie preview at first. But then I consider the long-standing popularity of games like Pong, Tetris and Pacman, and McCloud's and Wolf's comment about abstraction makes so much sense. I think this tug-of-war between the "universal" and "accessible" aspects of imaging plays out across the general graphic design conversation. On a related note, Wolf cites Worringer's comment that the desire for abstraction and the desire for empathy "are two fundamental aesthetic impulses that are mutually exclusive." Ever since I read these comments, I have been considering how they apply to the design I see around me and the way I consider design. I'm not sure I agree with that statement. The modernists—consummate abstractionists—wanted to create shapes and symbols that everyone could understand. I think this desire for a "universal language" (of symbol, color, shape, etc) is indicative of a high level of empathy for a wide range of users. Perhaps this is a different meaning of 'empathy' than Worringer intends, but I think it's a legitimate consideration.

Wolf's comment about games referencing conventions from other audiovisual media (like movies) as well as characteristics of previous games brings up an interesting point about the evolution of media (and technology). Members of our generation can cope with the 12-button controller because of the "primitive" 3-button controller with which they grew up; they understood how it worked and have gradually adapted to the current 12-button state. We can use a floor mat, a keyboard, a "magic wand" (wii) and a guitar as a controller—so what's next? What will those who grow up with the 12-button controller, the guitar, the floor mat and the "wand" be able to understand that we cannot currently conceive? What will they invent? How can we get beyond the conventions we know and understand to create new types of interactions? I think the Wii starts to do this by eliminating so many of the buttons that are have been multiplying on game controllers since the days of Mario. However, I'm eager to see some new developments in not only game design, but the way interfaces in general can be re-imagined, the way we can use what we already know—and the actions we take for granted—to create something totally new and unique, to have a major leap forward.

Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality

For me, the meat of Turkle's discussion was the point that MUDs stimulate conversations about broader social and cultural issues. Thus, "the networked computer serves as an "evocative object" for thinking about community." This is the whole focus of our studio this semester, and the real strength and potential of online communities. In fact, the learning communities that we are all investigating in our studio work incorporate conversations that lead back to larger themes. However, my question in this arena—particularly as it applies to gaming—is the extent to which the people who actually "spend their leisure time debating pacifism, the nature of good government, and the relationships between representations and reality" realize the significance of these conversations, or if they still only remain of interest to scholars in this field. Would there be a difference in making the participants aware (if not aware already)? How might that impact their participation?

Allegories of Control

I was interested in the discussion of physical versus "immaterial" forms of control, and what this means in an age where the definitions of "signature" and "document" (as the examples cited in the article) have changed so drastically from their traditional (pre-computer) use.

The fluidity and flexibility Galloway discusses leads to a comment about "universal standardization" as "another crucial principle of informatic control"—and an interesting counterpoint to (or continuation of, depending on one's perspective) Wolf's aforementioned discussion of realism and representation.

Galloway's writing also connects back to Turkle, too, in his discussion of The Sims as a "political critique." I loved this commentary: "There is no need for the critic to unpack the game later. The boredom, the sterility, the uselessness, and the futility of contemporary life appear precisely through those things that represent them best..."

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Response to gaming articles

“Allegories of Control” in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture by Alexander Galloway
“Abstraction in the Video Game” by Mark J.P. Wolf in The Video Game Theory Reader edited by Mark J. P. Wolf and Bernard Perron
“Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality” by Sherry Turkle in
Electronic Culture edited by Timothy Druckery

algorithm, ideology, control, linear and non-linear narratives, history, gaming, rules, real, authorship, identity, boundaries, ownership, anonymity, invisibility, multiplicity, post-modern, self, physicality, representation, abstraction, empathy, anthropomorphic, intuitive, character

These articles approach the gaming world from different angles; control, identity, and formal aesthetics. In “Allegories of Control”, the author is trying to un pack the theoretical links between gaming and culture. He is looking for ways to critically investigate gaming and possible implications with culture. The author focuses on the issue on control, and uses Deleuze’s definition that, “A control is not a discipline. In making freeways, for example, you don’t enclose people but instead multiply the means of control. I am not saying that this is a the freeway’s exclusive purpose, but that people can drive infinitely and “freely” without being at all confined yet while being perfectly controlled.” This point, according to the author, is key to understanding the element of control in relation to gaming and the transition from “confinement and enclosure toward a seemingly infinite extension of controlled mobility.” The author presents film and video games as opposites in relation to control. In film, the issue of control is avoided. Characters, police and criminals, act in ways that have no regard for real consequence in order to develop other story lines. For example, you may have a movie about police officers in Los Angeles, but they do not act in a way that is reflective of their controlled state, but this allows for the meta narrative of friendship, for example, to emerge. Video games function exactly opposite — control is key. A player has to learn the controlled variables, the algorithm, in order to play the game. They can not break the rules or there will be consequence — their game will end. In order to succeed at the game, they must operate in conjunction with the controls.

This article brings up the issues of ideological motives of games. In games such as Civilization, where cultures and religions are represented it is important to be critical of how they are represented and why. The author brings up the issue of being detached from history. What does it imply to show a certain race as always athletic without providing some historical context as to why that stereotype may exist? Despite the importance of this issue, the author states that ideological motives are not what is important in this article. He wants to focus on how control in the coding or algorithms affects a users experience.

Onto issues of identity in gaming, the article “Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality” focuses on the representation of the self in virtual reality. The author is interested in that fuzzy area where ones online self and physical self intersect. In a virtual reality, one can present themselves in anyway that they want and they can push this representation as far as they decide. The user controls what people know about them or their presented self. Some users create avatars that are as close to their physical self as possible, while others use it as an experience to live vicariously through another representation. In the second case, this creates two identities, one online and one off, thus the idea of a second self. Technology is not just a medium, it is a mediator, it allows people to communicate and a way to think through things. The author provides compelling examples of how virtual reality and gaming can be used in therapeutic ways to enable people an opportunity to gain perspective through virtual behaviors. A counterpoint, is that people can use games to do dangerous things and as I said before, live vicariously through others. Its interesting to consider the different motivations behind both uses.

In “Abstraction in the Video Game” the author is exploring the historical development of abstraction in gaming. It focuses less on the issues that the previous articles discussed in relation to identity, control, and narrative and more on the formal qualities of the format. Video games began looking very abstract, but only because of technological limitations, not the artists choice. As time developed, there has been a pendulum swing from abstraction to realistic representation and back again. However, the overall shift has continually been to have forms that are more representative of the physical world. The author also presents the evolution of physicality gaming . Originally, when video games were first put into arcades, with games like ping-pong and foosball, the didn’t fit in with the physical nature of the other games. Nintendo has been exploring this issue for some time with games like Duck Hunt, and has recently created a very successful product, the Wii, that incorporates inuititive physcial behaviors into the game.

The move towards realistic representation is not due only to technological advances, but also the market’s desires. According to the author, people play games for two aesthetic reasons: abstraction and empathy. The author states that it is easier for some one to “enter another world” if it resembles something they are used to.

In “Allegories of Control”, I am fascinated with the authors explanation of control by comparing it to freeways. I see a connection to the panopticon, the idea that one acts as if they are always being watched. Even though we participate in activities everyday that seem to be dictated by free-will, we are really living and acting under various controls. This applies well to the games such as Sims — it appears that you can act freely, but only within controls. What is interesting is that video games can teach “structure of thought” by internalizing the program’s rules.(92) I can see how this model can be applied to other teaching methods, and probably is already. The author also touches how with gaming users can understand meaning and doing in the same setting.

In “Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality”, the idea that someone can have a second self because of an avatar that they choose to represent themselves online leads me to think about how we choose to represent our selves in different physical contexts. Perhaps we have more than just a second self, we have multiple contextual selves that are contingent on our scenario. One quote that has really clicked with me in this article is, “You are the character and you are not the character both at the same time, and you are what you pretend to be” I think this is really interesting and why I have really been thinking about the wording of “real” and “not real” — online or not you are always who you present yourself to be as an extension of yourself.

In “ Abstraction in Video Games” the author discusses how abstraction in form and function can advance or inhibit usability. The authors state that abstraction can lead to the games being less intuitive, but I question if that is really a problem with abstraction rather than appropriateness. I think there are ways to abstract things while still allowing for good usability. It is a contextual problem. It’s interesting how the author makes the connection between Lacan’s mirror phase and video game character control; how people use characters to represent their physical form and learn the necessary hand-eye coordination to control it. My use of the word “it” brings me to an interesting thought. Are you your avatar or are you controlling a character? I would say that it is dependent on the users goals, use, and thinking while playing the game. I’m not sure that the point of view while playing even really matters.

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February 01, 2008

Reading Response 3-Tegtmeyer

‘Abstraction in the Video Game’ by Mark J.P. Wolf in The Video Game
Theory Reader edited by Mark J. P. Wolf and Bernard Perron

-texture mapping
-graphic complexity
-game elements
-implied player
-surrogate-based player

'Allegories of Control’ in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture
by Alexander Galloway

-disciplinary societies
-societies of control
-universal standardization-ideological critique (traditional allegory)
-protocological critique (control allegory)

‘Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality’
by Sherry Turkle in Electronic Culture edited by Timothy Druckery

-role-palying games
-virtual worlds

Continue reading "Reading Response 3-Tegtmeyer"
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January 31, 2008

Response to Reading 2

The Benefits of Society Online: Political Participation
Chapter 4 from Digital Citizenship, edited by Mossberger, Tolbert and McNeal

Community, Affect, & the Virtual: The Politics of Cyberspace
by J. Macgregor Wise

Communication, Community, Consumption: An Ethnographic Exploration of an Online City
by David Silver

- moral
- normative
- proximate
- fluid/foraging

grounded/non-grounded cities
social cohesion
participatory design
disciplinary society
chaos theory
electrical revolution
digital sublime
flame war
kill file

The Benefits of Society Online: Political Participation

This article is a rather repetitive discussion comparing internet-facilitated modes of communication (such as chat rooms, email, and online news) and traditional methods (the salon, telegram, broadcast media and newspapers). I took two main points from this article (which I probably could have hypothesized before reading it).

First of all, the lack of (or declining) political participation is not the fault of the media directly, but more a cause-effect issue related to the media. Because of the mass-media coverage (specifically television and radio, but later internet/online coverage) and changes in legislation around campaign expenditures, campaigns and/or candidates have gradually stopped canvassing and making direct contact with their constituents to the same extent that they used to (pre-mass media, pre-internet). The direct contact that occurs during canvassing, for example, helps people feel important, helps them feel connected to the issues at hand. Without that kind of connection, television coverage of a presidential election is just like any other piece of news: it's something detached from them, something that happened to someone else.

Secondly, internet-mediated communications about politics appeal to younger groups who are traditionally less likely or inclined to participate (but who may have more access to the internet/technology). Therefore, there has been a boost in voting turnout from this demographic. A boost, yes, but how can we continue to improve this trend? Is there a way to encourage more people to participate and care enough to get involved? Can online interactions simulate the face-to-face connection of canvassing? The 2008 presidential election is the first presidential campaign in which the candidates have had a significant online presence, appearing not only on their own official websites and a flood of "fansites," supporter sites, and blogs but also putting stock in established online communities such as Facebook and Myspace. I'm interested to see the results and if this action will lead to a significant boost in interest AND participation from younger voters.

Community, Affect and the Virtual

I agree with the author's premise that there is a loss of community in the Western world. He writes that "people should be able to help shape the basic social circumstances of their lives." But do they want to? This relates directly to the to the Mossberger article about political participation. The "virtual promises something different to the actual that it produces, and always contains in it the potential for something other than the actual." I am interested in the idea that the virtual world can prompt action in the physical realm.

In the online environment we now see people not only passively "lurking" and actively participating, but there is a new group of users who are working to continually add to and improve their own communities. The popularity and proliferation of open-source softwares and acceptance of third-party applications has revitalized the general internet community. Facebook is a prime example, as its endorsement and inclusion of a host of free, third-party applications revolutionized previous idea of 'internet community.' Facebook members not only participate in traditional ways, but can now alter the way people interact with the interface, give them new options, games, and ways of communicating with other members. The sort of trust that sites like Facebook and Flickr have in third parties is quite refreshing compared to the corporatization/commercialization of most major or well-known sites in the late 90's to early 2000's.

But even with these new possibilities in mind, is the virtual experience enough of a 'shared experience' to rebuild America's languishing social cohesion? I wonder if we are creating more complex, integrated global communities and international collectives at the expense of interacting with our physical community on a local level. I believe we can leverage the actions and activities and experiences of a virtual environment to improve the collective culture in physical space. To me, for this reason, online communities are real, "actual," communities.

If this article is about terminologies of cybercommunities, I must criticize the author's use of the word "actual" (meaning "physical"). Virtual space is a type of actual space. It is not the opposite of actual space, and the people who communicate with each other in virtual space are ACTUAL people. What needs to be differentiated is the type of space in which they interact, which is why I prefer the term "physical" over "actual."

Perhaps the College of design could benefit from an online community to enhance our community in physical space. I currently see the College as a normative community: students across all disciplines have a variety of shared experience (we've all stayed up far too late worrying about and/or working on a project for Studio). The class structure itself ensures that almost every student has Studio at the exact same time on the same days of the week. But there is very little interaction between disciplines, or even between students of the same discipline who are in different years. For this reason, I believe the COD is currently a cognitive community—we are all here to learn about design—but we do not interact. We're a design culture, not a design community.

It seems to me that many communities online are proximate. The pseudo-anonymous (and disembodied) nature of the environment makes it difficult to maintain specific roles (unless one is an administrator in a group, BBS or blog, for example) and stereotypes generally work to bring people together than work as a divisive force. "The goth girl" can easily find other "goth girls" and start a whole "goth girl group" if she wants; she is no longer an isolated stereotype but a thriving internet culture that binds together and finds each other so they can become their own community. In this way, many online communities are "communities of exclusion" because they are made of disparate parts (possibly rejected from other communities) that come together to form their own community.

Communication, Community, Consumption

The BEV is another good example of disparate parts, but they seem hesitant to describe themselves as a community. Instead, they understood themselves more as "...separate factions pushed together. And warring."

Though I agree with Silver's thesis that "communication" and "community" are not the same thing and that the type of community is dependent upon different types of interaction, we must also consider the date of this article and the community under debate. BEV started in 1993, the early days of the "public internet," which is to say that a few people beyond programmers, engineers and computer scientists were beginning to dabble with it. The rules of online environments—and the number of people using them—have changed so drastically since then that it is difficult to consider the scenario of the characters from the BEV by today's standards, even considering that it is an historical reference.

The interesting point of this article for me was the discussion of commodification, which was just beginning to happen in public spaces on the internet. Not only were the communities monetized through various advertising strategies, but the users themselves became commodified: counted, tabulated, separated into demographic categories. This "corporate/consumerist territorialization of cyberspace" compromises authenticity and—as when advertisers manipulated content of televised quiz shows and lost the faith of their audiences in the resulting scandal. However, this trend seems to be coming full-circle in a way, as users become more savvy to ad-blocking software and workarounds to avoid advertising. The content and quality of the interactions still matters most to the advanced users of online communities.

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January 30, 2008

Week 1: Intro Readings

I think it is interesting how we invoke the human so much in our writing about new media. I wonder what this is about. Presumably there have always been humans talking about things. We haven’t always felt the need to invoke ourselves in the process. Is not the human assumed? Are humans less assumed now? Is there less human going around to require its mentioning? Is this a reminder? Are we, thanks to automation, forgetting who we are and need to pepper our writing and speech with "human" this and that to maintain perspective? How does the rhetoric of “human” serve us, whatever we are?

I disagree with Kelly M-K that Manovich is largely determinist but it may take a longer read of is book to get that. In his introduction he outlines his primary interest in culture. Culture is the constant in his writings and of central concern in his theses. The Eno quote is simple and to the point. Raymond Williams would likely disagree. From the tech and culture reading and its discussion of technological determinism (TD) vs. cultural materialism (CM), I think it is important to try on these different costumes for a while and see how they hang. They are opposite ends of a spectrum and as such are necessary evils in extreme. For the sake of plurality and difference and discernment, its a good idea to map ideas you come across against this spectrum. Neither one is better than the other or deserving of more scorn. I think there are certain design problems that demand a TD approach and others a CD one. Suggestions anyone? We will see by and through these different modes in combination whether we like it or not. Its good to know where we come from and stand in order to build arguments, hear those of others, etc. I encourage mapping where you stand and then reversing the terms. Is marriage technological, are transistors cultural? Are we invested in these categories? Do certain things just have to be "cultural" to make sense? Why?

What of Mackenzie and Wajcman's notion of culture and technology as entwined Rebecca? Entwining sounds like a process of binding, of restriction and concealment. Is this what designers do Marty? When difference is erased does that not create more obscurity? How might design, in its hybridizing of technology and culture not in fact render more obscure the component parts? Isn’t design supposed to clarify?

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January 26, 2008

Reading Response 2-Tegtmeyer

'Community, Affect, & the Virtual: The Politics of Cyberspace'
by J. Macgregor Wise

Types of communities by Komito:
moral community: key here is the idea of affect and seen through the importance of commitment to the community and trust; individuals share a common ethical system that constrains interactions among members EXAMPLE: virtual community emerges from the Internet
when communities are shut down, they don't lament the lose of the people, but rather the loss of identity and affect

normative community: based on shard values and experiences, but not on actual interaction; it's a cognitive community, not affective or moral

proximate community: the idea of community in a particular space. EXAMPLE: online villages, virtual cities

community: Raymond Williams defines it as actual groups of people, used to persuade a society to accept new forms of technology

2 main political positions on the Net are:
Communitarian: see the Net as potential for resurgence of community, goodwill and democracy
Libertarians: argue that the net is the domain of “the rational individual and a bastion of the civil rights arising from this episteme” and
freedom of speech is primary. (belief in McLuhan) (pg. 118)

affect: not the same as emotion, it refers to intensity, determines how invigorated people feel at any moment of their lives, their level of energy and passion (pg. 119)

virtual: the space of emergence of the new, the unthought, the unrealized, virtual is not actual; the virtual contains potential for something other than the actual (pg.123)

sublime: might function to organize a virtual public; underlies this enthusiasm for technology, one of the most powerful human emotions, in the moment
of sublime one is without words and in AWE (pg. 126)

'Communication, Community, Consumption: An Ethnographic Exploration of an Online City'
by David Silver

Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV): online community that the author studies for 6 years, a community network of emails, websites, newsgroups

4 Models have been developed by academics and journalists to understand online communities:
-the Net as a public sphere
-portals for consumption

flame-wars: Flame-wars are an example of how the community works through setting behavior norms, values, and rules; they negotiate and self-define their communities, WIP stage (pg. 338)

'The Benefits of Society Online: Political Participation'
Chapter Four from Digital Citizenship edited by Mossberger, Tolbert and McNeal

political participation
deliberative democracy
mass communication vs interpersonal communication
online political activities

Three possible explanations for the connection between online media and political participation:
1-"deliberative democracy" media does not have a direct relationship with political participation, provides topics that stimulate social discourse
2-mobilization efforts of parties and interest groups (sending and receiving emails in support or opposition)
3-information costs, the public needs more information fast (time and money) Internet supports this

Continue reading "Reading Response 2-Tegtmeyer"
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January 25, 2008

summary/response to community readings

“The Benefits of Society Online: Political Participation” in Digital Citizenship: The Internet, Society, and Participation edited by Mossberger, Tolbert, and McNeal
“Community, Affect, and the Virtual: The Politics of Cyberspace” by J. Macgregor Wise in
Virtual Publics edited by Beth Kolko
“Communication, Community, Consumption: An Ethnographic Exploration of an Online City” by David Silver in Virtual Politics edited by Beth Kolko

deliberative democracy, social discourse, mobilization, information costs, participation, community, democratic, represent, affect, virtual, real, possible, chaos theory, ethnography, digital public sphere, communication, capital, network, motivations

All three of these articles are discussing issues surrounding online communities. In “The Benefits of Society Online: Political Participation” the author is questioning if and to what degree online behaviors and interactions affect offline civic participation. In “Community, Affect, and the Virtual: The Politics of Cyberspace” the question is if online communities can live up to offline communities, and if they can improve or replace disintegrating communities of cities. In “Communication, Community, Consumption: An Ethnographic Exploration of an Online City” the author is researching what exactly defines an online community by comparing it to a community network. He questions if communication always equates that a community exists.

In “The Benefits of Society Online: Political Participation” the authors discuss how different motivations lead to different types of communication and interaction in the virtual and explore if those communications lead to off-line behaviors. The authors do three studies to investigate these ideas. The first: “Do political chat rooms foster participation by creating opportunities for dialogue and debate, consistent with theories of deliberative democracy?” The conclusion made is that, ideally, chat rooms should echo conversations that a person would have at a local restaurant or bar, based on the notion that an individual is already motivated to take part in political discussions. The authors make an assumption that political ideologies result from conversations and then lead to civic behaviors. This assumption would imply that interacting with others in a chat room would lead to increased political participation. The second question the authors discuss is “Does e-mail mobilization mimic other forms of mobilization that have been found to increase turnout and participation?” Here the real question is if an online behavior can have the same result as an offline behavior? The authors show many examples of e-mail allowing candidates with less financial backing to run successful campaigns, like Jesse Ventura. The conclusion they make is that e-mail does greatly impact voting. However, some of their examples, MOVEON.ORG, and the conclusion, “The research demonstrates that contact either from a party or a candidate can make a considerable difference in voter turnout.” has little to do with e-mail as a specific medium functioning as a mobilization tool. The final question that the author raises is: “ Do the convenience and flexibility of online news increase turnout by reducing the costs of becoming politically informed?” People are increasingly overwhelmed by information in the digital era. Even when turning to a major news source —because of limited time— people are overloaded with information. The authors state the two top reasons for people to go online for political news are frustration with traditional media and convenience. The authors conclude, weakly, “that the internet may enhance citizen information about candidates and elections, and in turn stimulate increased participation.”

In “Community, Affect, and the Virtual: The Politics of Cyberspace” the author is exploring if online communities can live up to actual communities and if online communities can replace the sense of community that has been lost. For years, people have made idealistic assumptions of what the Internet can provide and the author is attempting to figure out what is behind all of them. He categorizes online communities into 4 types: moral, normative, proximate, and fluid. An interesting point that the author discusses if these online sites can create community or if they only enhance existing ones. “Though these sites seek to represent communities (groups of people), can they create community (the quality of the relationship)?

In “Communication, Community, Consumption: An Ethnographic Exploration of an Online City” the authors is touching on some of the same issues brought up by the previous article, but explores the definition of community a bit more. The author is comparing virtual communities with community networks. He questions if the online city, Blacksburg Electronic Village or BEV is functioning as a public sphere, communion space, or consumption resource.

I think “The Benefits of Society Online: Political Participation” makes some good points, but it seems a little dated. In our current campaign all 3 leading Democratic candidates have web sites, facebook or myspace accounts, podcasts, blogs, etc. I think that the news media is predicting more Democrats to come out and vote than in previous years, so It seems to be proven by this election, that online behaviors can mobilize voters and increase civic participation in the same ways that offline behaviors can, if not better. I appreciate the questions that the author raised in “Community, Affect, and the Virtual: The Politics of Cyberspace”. I think it’s critical to analyze the type of interaction that is occurring online and if there is real meaning there. I’m not making a generalized statement for either side, but it’s important to look for shared values and interests and not just quantities of site members. I was glad to see the term virtual explained in another way than RL vs NRL (real-life vs non real-life) like we saw last semester. I never understood what people meant by non-real life, as if what I do online has no implications in the physical world. The clarification that is real, but not actual is a good one. Something that is important in online communities, that the author only touched on, is that an individual must be able to see how they are a part of the community, to see how they fit within the group. I need some clarification on how the author sees affect being different online vs non-online. And in addressing the authors question of, “Though these sites seek to represent communities (groups of people), can they create community (the quality of the relationship)?” It is important to think of what truly creates community — the “quality” of the interactions is too subjective to interpret. As we learned from Dori’s workshop, what defines a community is a shared interest, a charter, and the ability of individuals to see themselves as part of the group. Each individual will have a different expectation for “quality” interactions. After reading the last article, “Communication, Community, Consumption: An Ethnographic Exploration of an Online City” I questioned whether the BEV was an online community at all. It seems to be more of a tool for an already existing community. As we discovered during Dori’s workshop, some online sites that appear to be communities are actually not. They may either be a tool or they may be set up by a capital based organization to gather information on potential consumers. It seems like the term community is vastly overused when referring to groups of people interacting online. This article begins to touch on these points, especially when they discuss that communication does not always equal community. I’m unclear if the author views the BEV as a community or not.

Marty Lane

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The three readings for this week all investigate whether or not the Internet would allows people to reconnect with one another, to open a forum for public discourse and better foster democratic participation. Each author is careful about making blanket predictions in regards to this question. This is because despite the predictions that all communication technologies would eventually increase democratic participation, the opposite has been true. In fact, democratic participation has significantly decreased in the United States. Similarly, the author’s do not support the alternate predictions that the Internet actually causes more isolation and fragmentation within communities. Each article looks at this discussion of community from a slightly different angle and with various methods. Tolbert & McNeal conduct an empirical quantitative study where they look at whether or not online activities are positively related to participation in election voting. Silver conducts an ethnographic exploration of a specific community network in order to explore the “ways in which users use the network and make meanings of their, use, interactions, and contributions.” And Wise uses a theoretical and historical method to discuss “the debate over affect, whether one can match the intensity of real-life experience in a virtual realm” (this question changes by the end of the essay).

Tolbert & McNeal point out that though the media is blamed for low voter turnout – essentially for what they are “doing”, it is actually the political parties and interest groups have “stopped going” that has hurt participation. Because the media does spread a political candidates message, politicians have limited their efforts in party recruitment. However, by the end of their study, Tolbert & McNeal found that the Internet fosters participation in three ways:

"By offering information to help make informed decisions and promote discussion, by supplying outlets such as chat rooms that permit individuals to meet and discuss politics, and by providing interest groups, candidates, and parties a means for revitalizing the mobilization efforts of earlier eras through e-mail" (p. 89).

The quantitative study developed by Tolbert & McNeal is very admirable because they reference other research studies when making all o their claims – presenting opposing views and available evidence to current questions about digital media. One place of reasoning I thought suspect however was when they referenced a survey where only 6 percent of voters said they choose the news that reflects their values instead of being subjected to a variety of viewpoints. Tolbert & McNeal write that this contradicts those scholars who argue that the Internet has a detrimental effect on democracy and that the Internet is not limiting the topics and viewpoints that citizens encounter. I find this argument flawed because the question on the survey is flawed. It would be better to ask those taking the survey their views on specific issues indicating their views on general/important issues and then compare that with the news sites they say they visit. It would likely demonstrate that people do visit sites with values they agree with. Other studies have shown that the Internet may not limit the topics but that it also doesn’t increase viewpoints.

Wise points out the shift in theory from Foucault to Deleuze in the discussion of affect and community and the virtual. Where Foucault argues that we are still under a disciplinary society, Deleuze write that new regimes of power are rising and that “we are moving toward… a control society, in which power has dispersed” (p. 122). Deleuze points out that it is also important to understand the organization of social maps through the Internet, the distribution of intensities and the “territorialization of cyberspace” (p. 1233). Eventually, Wise describes affect not as a singularity but something that shapes events (but is not the event itself). He provides the example of the technological or electronic sublime describing it as an attractor that draws us toward technologies and guides our investments in them. Now he claims the digital sublime has the same affect. He finishes the article by stating; “The debate over the authenticity of the democratic ideal online is a debate over the capture of affect and the singularities that structure the social real” (p. 130). He states the political task of the virtual community is to create a place that isn’t controlled, is just and convivial.

In Silver’s ethnographic study he summarizes academic and journalists four dominant paradigms for better understanding online communities: the Net as public sphere, cyber-communion, peacekeeping, and portals of consumption. Silver adds to these four, “How do the users view the communities to which they belong?” The themes that Silver arrives at through investigating these paradigms include: flame wars, an online public sphere (with low level of participation that prevents excellence), cyber-communion, maintaining the peace and consumption. Perhaps consumption is one of the most important themes that is not addresses as much by the other two articles. As Silver points out, “the more accurate metaphor than the online town hall would be the online shopping mall” (p. 348). Perhaps this is the real downfall to all communication technologies is that eventually largely become online spheres of consumption. Mass media in the United States has always had to support itself through advertising and that is often blamed for the many of its flaws. Now that people can purchase the goods directly from the media source itself it is no wonder that many do argue that the Internet actually hurts community.

However, this is also why I really enjoyed the Tolbert & McNeal article. Perhaps simply because it was more optimistic but I feel they did a better job of providing both the advantages and disadvantages to the possibilities of connecting through the Internet. I felt like sometimes Silver was trying to generalize his findings from a single community to all kinds of virtual communities and I think that his logic fails. The BEV is not representative of all online connectivity - perhaps this is because it wasn’t created entirely by the participants.

Kelly N Martin

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January 23, 2008

Reading Response 1-Tegtmeyer

'Culture' and ‘Technology’: Introduction and Chapter One
by Andrew Murphie and John Potts

Technology: Simpson definition: that constellation of knowledge, processes, skills and products whose aim is to control and transform. Pacey definition: ordered systems that involve people and organizations, living things and machines.

Technique: refers to a specific method or skill

Culture: Brian Eno definition: incorporates human activities such as art, music, and building, while also relating to the everyday acts of survival and bodily functions

Technology Determinism: belief that technology is the agent of social change-linked to the idea of progress, considers technology as an independent factor, own properties, developments, consequences; lacks any considerations towards ownership, control, political and economic decisions that go into tech development

Cultural Materialism: opposite of Technology Determinism in that it is more specific to the social need and political/economic decisions made in the development of technology; there is a "social necessity" to which inventors of any one period respond to.

Neutral Technology: belief that technology creates a precondition for cultural change; one factor among several

The Language of New Media: pgs. 27-48: Principles of New Media &
pgs 218-236: The Database
By Lev Manovich

Analog to Digital Process Terms
-continuous: the axis or dimension that is measured has no apparent indivisible unit from which it is composed
-digitization: converting continuous data into a numerical representation
-resolution: frequency of sampling
-discrete: data occurring in distinct units, people, pages, pixels
-quantified: assigned a numerical value

Modularity: fractal structure of new media

Automation: removes the human from part of the process

Variability: an attribute of new media; objects can exist in several versions

Transcode: to translate into another format

Database: a structured collection of data organized for fast retrieval by a computer; represents the world as a list of items and it refuses to order this list

Narrative: creates a cause and effect of unordered items (events)

Syntagmatic (in praesentia-real): combination of signs which space has to support

Paradigmatic (in absentia-imagined): similar unit associated in theory form groups within various relationships can be found

Algorithm: set of rules, systems

Continue reading "Reading Response 1-Tegtmeyer"
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January 21, 2008

Response to Reading 1

Culture and Technology: "Introduction: 'Culture' and 'Technology'" and "Theoretical Frameworks;" Andrew Murphie and John Potts

The Language of New Media: "Principals of New Media" and "The Database;" Lev Manovich

"Intellectual technologies"
Marshall McLuhan
global village
"media assets"
new media
old media
culture industry
Jon Ippolito
software/software theory
mental model
data structure(s)
John Whitney

It makes sense to read these chapters starting with the introduction to "Technology and Culture" and ending with the "Databases" chapter in Manovich's book. However, as luck and photocopies would have it, I happened to start with the first chapter of "Technology and Culture," proceeded to both chapters of Manovich, and finally ended with the introduction.

The first chapter of "Technology and Culture" not only defines technological determinism (and interestingly connects it to pre-industrial times), but also presents several other similar, competing, and opposing theories. While it identifies McLuhan as the consummate technological determinist, the array of other theories helps identify one's own perspective(s) as well as those of other cultural theorists, such as Manovich. Going into the Manovich readings, I expected to face hardline technological determinism, but instead met a blend of determinism and a more neutral stance —for example, when he writes, "Magnetic tape used in video does not bring any substantial changes" (Manovich 234). McLuhan would certainly argue that yes, the magnetic tape of the VHS format is culturally significant, and the level of quality and lack of immediate searchability of the VHS format dictated a certain cultural attitude or trait at the period in time when it was in mainstream use. (I also thought Manovich’s historic connections and pre-industrial reference was interesting not only to explain the ‘new media’ concept of variability, but also as a textual connection to the first chapter of “Technology and Culture.”)

However, Manovich’s discussion of technological evolution is still largely determinist, from his explanation of how “new media” is created to the issues of searching for and finding specific information or artifacts and the transition from analog customs, collections and forms into various databases. His discussion of data structures (in the form of CD-Roms and web databases) and algorithms (such as those found in computer games) are part of what he refers to as the “computerization of culture (Manovich 223)” wherein the computer acts as a “filter” that translates input information into a new product/output, which “becomes the logic of culture at large” (Manovich 236). In other words, the processes in which computers engage directly affect—and are affected by—the way humans perceive and use information. This is also evident in Manovich’s discussion of the database and narrative. If we, by nature, create and communicate through narratives, and computers ‘naturally’ create and communicate through databases, we start to see narrative potential in the database and/or adapt to the database model for our own purposes (learning how to effectively use a search engine, for example). Learning how to interact with the database also changes our definition of narrative: in this context, narrative essentially becomes non-linear. Any of the items could be selected next based on a series of choices, thoughts, clicks. The narrative of the database, unlike that of the novel, also lacks a distinct beginning or end—but does that make it infinite? Is it possible for one to exhaust all of the possibilities and combinations within the database narrative? The fact that Manovich describes the chain of “reality ‡ media ‡ data ‡ database” as a “new cultural algorithm” also reflects technological determinism in its “chicken or egg” cycle between reality, culture, and the inevitable database.

Finally, I read the introduction to “Technology and Culture” as an asynchronous epilogue to the Manovich reading. Brian Eno’s quote about the definition of culture stuck out particularly in light of the Manovich reading. To paraphrase, Eno describes ‘culture’ as that which is not necessary for survival but instead what we choose to do (Murphie and Potts, 9). A sweeping definition, to be sure, but it causes one to reconsider the ‘culture’ of Manovich’s writing. Is the digital, “new media culture” we have cultivated now necessary for survival? It depends who one asks, and in what context. For MGD students at NC State University, this “culture” is now vital to our survival as students, practitioners, and educators. Yes, on a basic level we could continue to survive without it, but our lives—and the definition of our livelihood—would be fundamentally different. I guess that makes me a technological determinist, too, by default.

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Culture and Technology / The Language of New Media

Alberto Rigau
GD 573 _ Spring 08
Prof Will Temple
Technology Seminar

Reflection: Culture and Technology / The Language of New Media

Before you read this, please note that many of the terms, personalities and philosophical implications discussed in the Culture and Technology reading were alien to me. I write this reflection from a more matter of fact approach, for it was hard to delve into those presented ideas.

Summary :: The Language of New Media :: Historical, technical and explanatory. It was great sense of all the possibilities and realms that the term new media can encompass to some people. I will have to say, I am a bit biased towards the article (in an agreeing kind of way) since I see similarly on many of the topics presented by the author. In more than one instance I would think something about a topic, write a note on the margin, only to find that the author had thought of it too and answered me a page or two later. As the narrative order of the chapters go, he uses a bit of history (or context) to frame the structure of the chapter as see talks about the meaning of new media and the impact of the database.

Summary :: Culture and Technology :: In an interesting twist from the previous reads, this chapter dealt with the whole issue of technology from a more “ideological” manner, and again, I did not understand many of the points that were trying to be made. I totally concur with the dichotomy presented of those who see technology as shaping culture and others that see culture framing technology. I have to say that if I were to offer my opinion on this topic, I have to say that I believe that in the relation of technology and culture, they both affect (influence, shape, change) each other. I see technology as a product of culture, but also culture as a product of technology.

Response :: Reflecting about these two texts (or what I got out of them) made me realize an important fact: I may be media and technology savvy, but that does not mean that I have thought, reflected or tried to see beyond any of the two topics as more than the objects that make up the terminology. Ok, maybe I went a bit too far of the statement, but that is the effect that readings such as these can have in me. I did four years in a communication school, and now I can look back and realize how biased the school was (and probably still is) towards the positive effects of media on people. The school devotes so much time to the training and molding of us (students) into professionals that I now think it is overlooking some important details. It had space for ethical conversations and I even participated in many conversations about the implications of our work and our professional self on the audiences that we were addressing, but I now wonder the implications of our work as it deals with representation. My work, as a media producer, will shape other people’s idea of representation of themselves, and that will probably, somehow, come back to me and re-shape me. Ok, in better English, I had not contemplated before that my work could affect someone else, and in return, that “new” someone could affect me back. Maybe these readings should have not sparked such thoughts, but I can’t wait for class discussion to see what my other class mates made of them.

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Manovich / Murphie & Potts

“Principles of New Media” & “The Database” in The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich
“Introduction: Culture and Technology” and “Theoretical Frameworks” in Culture and
by Andrew Murphie and John Potts

analog, digital, continuous data, discrete data, hyper media, automation, transcoding,
variability, database, narrative, algorithm, interactive narratives, linear narratives,
technology, culture, technique, technological determinism, cultural materialism, neutrality

In “Principles of New Media” Lev Manovich attempts to outline the key differences between old and new media. He breaks the comparison into 5 parts: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. Manovich explains that all new media is created of digital code, or numerical representations, and can be altered formally through mathematical functions or algorithmic manipulation. “In short, media becomes programmable.” Manovich discusses two types of data: continuous, in which “the axis or dimension that is measured has no apparent indivisible unit from which it is composed” and discrete, “data occurring in distinct units.” Most modern media consists of discrete data and Manovich makes a connection to literary theorist, such as Roland Barthes.
“In assuming that any form of communication requires a discrete representation, semoticians took human language as the prototypical example of a communication system.”
This comparison works for most of modern media, but Manovich points out that when you consider photography, which is continuous, the model does not apply. Photography does function as a communication tool, but is not composed of discrete parts.

New media is modular, “a new media object consists of independent parts, each of
which consists of smaller independent parts, and so on, down to the level of the smallest “atoms” — pixels, 3D points, or text characters.” A good example of this is the internet which is completely modular, created wholly from independent parts. As new media is capable of automation, a mass amount of data has been created — web pages automatically generate new pages and new information. This ability of new media has changed how people study it, create it and live with it, “ By the end of the twentieth century, the problem was no longer how to create a new media object; the new problem was how to find an object that already exists somewhere.”

A key difference between old and new media, is new media’s capability to be variable. Here, Manvoich provides another interesting link to literary theory, “To make an analogy with the grammar of a language as described in Noam Chomsky’s early linguistic theory, we can compare hypermedia structure that specifies connections between nodes with the deep structure of a sentence; a particular hypermedia text can then be compared with a particular sentence in a natural langue.” This is touching on the how the internet employs hyperlinks to connect discrete data. Each user has the potential to have a different experience and to create different narratives. Manovich questions whether or not we need such power. “As a pioneer of interactive filmmaking Grahame Weinbren argues, in relation to interactive media, making a choice involves a moral responsibility. By passing on these choices to the user, the author also passes on the responsibility to represent the world and the human condition in it.”

The last point that Manovich makes when comparing old and new media is that of transcoding, which means to translate something into another format. Manovich discusses the dichotomy that is exists in new media as it is created by “computer layers” and “cultural layers” that will always effect each other. This hybridity leads to the “Database” section where he discusses “how a database, originally a computer technology to organize and access data, is becoming a new cultural form in its own right.” In the database section, Manovich discusses the possibility of a database to function as a narrative. Despite new media consisting of discrete data and disparate parts, a narrative structure can be formed by connecting different nodal points.

In Culture and Technology, the authors are seeking to explain and explore the intersection of technology and culture by showing opposing theories of specific issues. They are not interested in explaining how technology works but how technology functions within culture. In the introduction, they set out to define what they mean by technology, technique, and culture. The definition of technology has changed over time and the authors state that for the definition to be accurate it must “encompass both concrete forms and abstraction.” They provide the definition by Lorenzo Simpson, “ that constellation of knowledge, processes, skills, and products whose aim is to control and transform.” Importantly they note that technology must be considered more than a collection of machines.
Technique is described as the skill needed to accomplish a task. The authors refer to William Barrett who “emphasizes the centrality of technique to culture/technology relations. He thinks that all technology is intimately involved with the techniques by which we use it…” The use of technology is contingent on humans understanding how to use it — even if in a very basic way. The authors agree to define culture as “what people do, beyond the basic necessities of survival and bodily function.”

The issues that I am going to focus on in chapter one are that of technological determinism, cultural materialism, and the neutrality of technology. The authors present opposing sides to each issue. “Technological determinism refers to the belief that technology is the agent of social change”, and importantly, “technological change is treated as if autonomous: removed from social pressures, it follows a logic or imperative of its own.” Different theorist use technological determinism both as a means to look to the future and a way to analyze the past. Alvin Toffler was a theorist who represented the fear of technology, and coined terms like “future shock.” Elizabeth Einstein studied the printing press and the effects that technology had on European culture as a whole. The authors go on to reference Marshall McLuhan who’s “basic premise is that all technologies are extensions of human capacities.” McLuhan defines all history by changes resulting from technology. McLuhan states that modern media leveled the playing field for marginalized groups. Still referencing technological determinism, the authors bring up Jean Baudrillard, who like McLuhan looks to technology to define culture, but is far less optimistic. Baudrillard states that real communication is lost when communicating via new media, and that “the obsession with communication for its own sake eradicates the message.”

In opposition to technological determinism is cultural materialism “which is concerned to situate those technologies, at all times, in their social and cultural context.” Raymond WIlliams prescribed to these ideals and was in opposition to McLuhan, “such a narrow focus on the technology and its intrinsic properties constituted ‘an attempted cancellation of all other questions about it and its uses’.” A key difference between the two is that McLuhan has a more reductionsist look, while Williams “emphasizes social need and political intention as significant factors involved in technological development.”

A fascinating issue that the authors bring up is whether or not technology can be neutral. One theorist that talks about this issue is Langdon Winner. He states that it is important to not only consider the cultural context of a technology, but also the technology itself — fusing technological determinism and cultural materialism. His view makes “it difficult to maintain the notion that technologies are neutral, that it is simply the way they are used that matters.” The authors make a connection to the gun lobby, and their argument that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is a perfect example for exploring neutrality. One could say that the gun is neutral, that only the people using it effect a situation, however, the counter point, is that by the guns mere existence, the environment and the people in it are changed.

In The Language of New Media text I appreciated the authors incorporation of literary theory. I have been struggling with the idea that as designers we look to literary theory for enlightenment. The way that the authors explained discrete data as comparable to sentence components made the connection very clear. I think that is a critical thing for me to get past. I do question a few things that they brought up regarding variability. Especially the issue of separating content or data from the interface. Is that really a good thing? Shouldn’t form be linked to content and come as a result of a specific type of content?

Just as I have a difficult time identifying strictly with modernists or post-modernists, I have a hard time solely identifying with technological determinism or cultural materialism. I was relieved when the authors finally brought up Langdon Winner, who seems to embody my thoughts on the issues. I firmly believe that culture and technology are intrinsically linked and that one does not lead the other, but together they make change and provide methods to analyze the future. I keep thinking of the concepts brought up by Dori Tunstall’s lecture about the issues of appropriate technologies in emerging communities. There it is not merely the technology or merely the culture that determines the outcome — it is a hybridity of the two. The authors reinforced that point, when they spoke of how China originally had the technology of the printing press, but the government didn’t support it. The invention occurred in Europe and change the culture forever.

The example the authors provided of the gun lobby claiming that technology is neutral immediately made me think of an article of the Design Observer blog about ipod crime. The article was attempting to provide a correlation between ipod sales and mugging rates in urban areas. The argument being that technology (or design) is not neutral, that it is not only the motivations of the muggers but the qualities of the technology (and design) itself that result in these crimes.

Marty Lane

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January 18, 2008

Manovich / Murphie & Potts

The Language of New Media – Lev Manovich
“Principals of New Media”
“The Database”

Manovich begins his book by claiming that “we are in the middle of a new media revolution” (p. 19) where culture is shifting to computer-mediated forms of production, distribution, and communication. He further asserts that , "the identity of media has changed even more dramatically than that of the computer." (p. 27). Therefore Manovich’s thesis for the book attempts to explain how the shift to computer-based media changes the nature of image. In the first chapter of the book, Manovich describes five principles of new media: (which summarize the differences between old (analog) and new (digital) media) 1) numerical representation, 2) modularity 3) automation 4) variability 5) transcoding.

First all new media are “composed of digital code; they are numerical representations”. This means that new media objects can be described formally and subject to algorithmic manipulation (media becomes programmable). Secondly, all new media objects have a modular structure or they consists of discrete elements which maintain their independence when combined into larger objects. For example, a web page as a whole is modular – every element can be accessed on its own (p. 31). This is important because it means deleting parts of anew media object “does not render it meaningless.” The modular structure makes deletion and substitution easy.

The last three principles are dependent on the numerical coding of media and the modular structure of a media object (first two principles), according to Manovich. The third principle, “the automation of many operations involved in media creation, manipulation and access” has the result of allowing human intentionality to be removed from the creative process “at least in part” (p. 32). Examples for automation include: computer games, search engines, image editing, etc.

The fourth principle is variability. New media objects are not “something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions” (p. 36). Examples of variability include: customization and scalability. The fifth principle, and the “most substantial consequence of the computerization of media” (p. 45) is transcoding or translating something into another format. The structure of computerized media “now follows the established conventions of the computer’s organization of data” (p. 45). New media can be thought of consisting of two layers – the “cultural layer” (encyclopedia, short story) and the “computer layer” (process and data packets). The logic of a computer then can be expected to significantly influence the cultural logic of media (p. 46).

Here, I agree with Manovich that the transcoding is the most substantial consequence. I had not thought about this before, but the idea that the computer might have so much influence on culture and image makes a lot of sense. It seems most often assumed that the computer is a tool to transmit the culture and that it does not have the reverse influence on the culture. However, it is easy to come up with examples where our culture has made decisions solely based on it being more compatible in the culture of the computer.

Databases, which Manovich calls the "new symbolic form of the computer age" (p. 219), appear as "collections of items on which the user can perform various operations - view, navigate, search” (p. 219). The database presents the world as a list of items which it does not put in order. In contrast, narrative "creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events)." (p. 225) While database and narrative seem to be opposed to one another in the beginning of the chapter, it eventually becomes clear that linear narrative is just one method of accessing data among other possibilities. Manovich redefines the process of narrative as, “the 'user' of a narrative is traversing a database, following links between its records as established by the database's creator. An interactive narrative can then be understood as the sum of multiple trajectories through a database." (p. 227)

Culture and Technology – Andrew Murphie & John Potts
Introduction & Chapter 1

Murphie & Potts argue that the “pervasive influence of technology makes the culture/technology issue pertinent” to many puruits and disciplines. They say that because technology changes so quickly that any theoretical engagement must be supple and not monolithic. Therefore, they try to draw on the most appropriate (even if diverse) theoretical approaches to offer the “most illuminating perspectives” on technology and culture (p. 2). In the introduction to their book, they first define the key terms of “technology”, “technique” and “culture”, drawing from how the terms have been defined historically. Then in the first chapter, they begin to discuss theoretical frameworks concerning the debate between the technological determinist position and the cultural materialist. They break down the numerous theorists they discuss into the categories of technological determinism, technologies of media, Baudrillard and the technologies of simulacra, cultural materialism, is technology neutral?, poststructuralist thought, ‘machinic’ thought and Virilio and the technologies of speed.

For me this section was really helpful because it is nice to have so many theorists compared in a relatively short explanation. In the CRDM program, we have read and are currently reading primary source material from almost every theorist mentioned in this overview. Having this overview helps me clear up some of the connections and theorist’s main contributions to the debate of technological determinism and cultural materialism. I will probably use this chapter in preparation for my exams because it provides such a comprehensive summary. It also is a good place to get a taste for a theorists we might not know much about already.

Kelly Martin

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November 12, 2007

"A World Without Boundaries" The Body Shop's Trans/National Geographics

A World Without Boundaries The Body Shop's Trans/National Geographics
Caren Kaplan

by Matt Muñoz and Marty Lane

diasporic subject, representation, boundarylessness, postmodern, postcolonial, "politics of location", globalization, hegemony, global feminism, context, subject position, homogenize, deconstruct

Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, believes in "a world without boundaries." For Anita, this world liberates trade from the shackles of the middleman, allowing her company to trade directly with the indigenous harvesters of raw ingredients, through a "philanthropic" program she calls Trade Not Aid. (pg 45) Such liberation also emphasizes personal freedoms through consumption. If today's Euro-American cultures yearn for a boundarylessness that may ultimately contribute to the destabilization of the nation-state, then Kaplan urges cultural critics to carefully historicize and contextualize this link.

Continue reading ""A World Without Boundaries" The Body Shop's Trans/National Geographics"
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November 09, 2007 Place, Nation, and Imagi-Nation in Cyberspace

Kelly Cunningham & Rebecca Tegtmeyer
Will Temple-Seminar
Article Reading: November 9, 2007 Place, Nation, and Imagi-Nation in Cyberspace
by Pradeep Jeganathan, 1998


web space:
a subset of cyberspace accessible by a URL through a web browser

linked by a network of computers

lived place:
areas or zones lived by persons enmeshed in power and politics

Continue reading " Place, Nation, and Imagi-Nation in Cyberspace"
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McDonald's in Beijing - Yuxiang Yan


brand experience
consumer culture
cultural product
fast food
family values
middle class


Yan's article reveals many surprising cultural comparisons between the quotidian, "fast food" status of McDonald's in the US and its Chinese counterparts, specifically focusing on the flagship restaurant in Beijing. Instead of imposing "American" practices on the Chinese versions of their restaurant, McDonald's has worked to localize their Beijing stores, integrating them into the communities and allowing them to become social centers.

Yan's article reveals many surprising cultural comparisons between the quotidian, "fast food" status of McDonald's in the US and its Chinese counterparts, specifically focusing on the flagship restaurant in Beijing. Instead of imposing "American" practices on the Chinese versions of their restaurant, McDonald's has worked to localize their Beijing stores, integrating them into the communities and allowing them to become social centers. As Yan writes, the “McDonald’s experience in Beijing is a classic case of the ‘localization’ of transnational systems” (p. 72).

The question really becomes, is the McDonald’s in Beijing an American experience when the social uses of the establishment are so different in America? Whereas American’s do not think of McDonald’s restaurants as a healthy or fulfilling experience they do consider them a necessity of modern life because of the “savings they offer in money and time” (p. 53). In contrast, McDonald’s restaurants in Beijing have taken the “fast” out of fast food. Instead the restaurants have been transformed into “middle-class family establishments where people can enjoy their leisure time and experience a Chinese version of American culture” (p. 72). And this localization was the original intent of the of the McDonald’s management in Beijing. Other differences unique to the Chinese McDonald’s restaurants include: building relationships with individuals, often through the “Aunt McDonalds who act as very accommodating hosts/receptionists; the focus on children as primary customers that even sign the “Book of Little Honorary Guests”, the emphasis on family (the slogan: “Get together at McDonald’s; enjoy the happiness of family life”).

The popularity of the Chinese McDonald’s is also attributed to uniform standards of the restaurant. Since the quality of the menu is fairly equal among items and because the choices are fewer (than offered in most Chinese restaurants), Chinese appreciate the experience as a moment of equality. Another pull is the cleanliness of the eating environment and the freshness of the food. According to Yan’s informants, Chinese people previously had two choices when eating out Chinese-style: “to pay a lot for a fancy restaurant where the food is clean and safe, or to risk their life in a place where they have no idea what went on in the kitchen” (p. 71). Though some Chinese restaurants try to match the fast-food style of McDonald’s, in regards to hygiene these restaurants have failed to meet customer expectations. Another observer explains, “it is easy to build the ‘hardware’ of a fast food industry, namely, the restaurants; but the ‘software’ (service and management) cannot be adopted overnight” (p. 71).

Besides the localized marketing of McDonald’s and the attention to equality and hygiene, the fact that the restaurants are so accepted by the Chinese people (even when many don’t like the food) is because it symbolizes the success of the current life in China. Though a capitalist transnational enterprise, for the Chinese people it represents “Americana and the promise of modernization”. For example when a mother was asked why she found it acceptable to pay high prices for a foreign restaurant she said she wanted her daughter to learn modern skills and eat modern food so she would be successful and know how to “enjoy a modern way of life” (p. 65).

In order for McDonald’s to have the success they achieved in the United States (since they success depends on expansion and large numbers) they must be “transformed into the ritual of daily necessity and even into images of daily decency” (Sidney Mintz as quoted by Yan). So localization is necessary as well as maintaining the image of the American way of life.

Around 1992 the “fast food war” peaked in China and now with the combination of modern methods of preparation with traditional Chinese cuisine, the Chinese now have control over foreign fast food chains. However, McDonald’s is still taken as a model of management and food hygiene. The purpose of this study was “to demonstrate that people should pay more attention to the responses of local people before drawing grand conclusions about the impact of transnational corporations” (p. 75). Instead of a focus on “westernization”, the idea of “globalization” posits that the merging global culture is diverse because local cultures are not simply sponges of an outside culture. They “yield new emergent social entities, new adaptive forms brought into being” (p. 75). The interaction is two-way instead of an entirely top-down model.

Valentina Miosuro
Kelly Murdoch-Kitt
Kelly Norris

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“The Comercial Construction of New Nations”

by Robert Foster

Key Words: advertising • mass consumption • material culture • national culture • Papua New Guinea

Foster This article considers the instrumental role of commodity marketing and mass consumption in producing nationality as a dimension of personal and collective identities. It asks: if nation-ness and nationality no longer necessarily refer to political identities, then to what sort of imagined communities, if any, do they refer? It addresses this question in part through a discussion of commercial images from Papua New Guinea, one of the 'new nations' of the South Pacific.

Our response:
Foster mentions a New Yorker cartoon which the caption reads: ‘Ladies and gentlemen,
our national commercial.’ This sets up the essay. In the US they started every day with the national anthem. Now that is no longer the case as television is transmitted 24 hours a day. We have moved from a a culture where viewers were addressed as citizens are now addressed as consumers . This reminds us of how we used to say the national anthem before class every morning. Sam used to as well and was indoctrinated by the teachers to believe that all North Koreans were evil people. This was in the 80’s during the Cold War. Now in schools in the US they students watch Channel One that runs advertisements. When I was in high school I witnessed this shift as a freshman.
This point of this article is that nationality is not really driven by politics anymore but is now driven by consumer culture. We had a discussion about how commercials and television shows like McGuiver in Korea (and the US) had a huge impact on the culture. Korean kids would pretend to be the hero of the show, dress like him and even make fake Swiss Army knives. Teachers would cut the long hair that emulated McGuiver’s haircut off of students as punishment. This had a huge effect on youth culture and products. McGuiver became a symbol of freedom of America to the young students. He symbolized America. He was like a brand of America.
In India for examples McDonalds has franchises but they don’t serve meat. As a Korean living in America, the notion of going to eat at a fast food restaurant means being Americanized. This brings us to the word in the chapter Diasporo.. In Korea through the military culture, young people were all Americanized in some way by the products delivered and sold in the PX. Military consumer items were sold and coveted.
Most of the article discusses the cola advertisements in Papua New Guini. They offer several ads to be read. Most show pictures of the people in native people in traditional dress which shows that nationality is built up through consumption practices.
Sam and Robert

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November 05, 2007

Shooting the Mother: Fetal Photography and the Politics of Disappearance

Shooting the Mother: Fetal Photography and the Politics of Disappearance
by Carol A. Stabile

Matt Muñoz and Kelly Murdoch-Kitt

abortion, anthropomorphism, autonomy, cyborg, embryo, fetus, personhood, pregnancy, sonogram, sonography, reproductive politics, reproductive technologies, viability

Stabile discusses media's role in the emergence of fetal autonomy and the "divorcing" of the fetus from mother. Her article outlines an excellent example of technological advances (the ability to capture detailed photographic images of something as small as a human embryo) leading to new cultural perspectives (the idea of fetal "personhood" and legal rights for the fetus as an individual, separate from its mother). In fact, many of the media examples cited in her article, such as "Life" magazine's photo essays, have been instrumental in creating the current, politically polarized divide around the topic of reproductive rights.

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November 02, 2007

Fetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction by Rosalind Pollack Petchesky

SUMMARY abortion...a woman's right to choose...abortion is killing...the fetus is not yet alive... you kill a fetus and you kill a part of choice...We have all heard, experienced or have been exposed to these words or phrases. The social, cultural and political spheres are full of them. This article explores the power of the visual culture that surrounds the abortion issue, specifically exploring the origins and development of the current representational system, the cultural implications, how these influence intra-human relations and how the viewing of these media venues affect the clinical experience.

The visual movement for abortion, whether pro or con, was dictated by technology. Certain technological developments had to occur for us to see what a fetus looked like. Photography (medical photography as x-rays and ultrasounds) had to exist for us to see what a fetus looked like. Petchesky begins her discussion by introducing a conversation and description of the film The Silent Scream. This movie marked a dramatic shift in the contest over abortion imagery. It was the first time that the well-known still photos of a fetus were translated into motion. This step affected society at many levels. The author goes into a detailed description of the movie and what it represents. During the exploration, one of the most interesting aspects is the way in which imagery of this kind is thought to generate a bond with soon-to-be mothers. In the case of unwanted pregnancies, it is crucial for doctors to show the image to these women, for it will increase the likely-hood of not having an abortion. Ultrasound medical imaging and it's social implications were also analyzed. There are three levels of meaning attached to ultrasound images: a level of evidence, a level of surveillance and a level of fantasy. At this point, the article arises the important issue of the fetal documentary consistently leaving the mothers absent from the representations. There is a question about their role in this process as a representational media. The end of this article goes into a more technical discussion, detailing the legal, social and cultural implications of fetuses and their representations.

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I: A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century

By Donna Haraway

II: Terms







III: Summary

Haraway’s piece, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century” combines theories of feminism, materialism and postmodernism in order to create a “political myth” (p. 149). The central metaphor within this myth is the “cyborg” which Haraway defines four ways as a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of lived social reality and creature of fiction (p. 149). It represents the rejection of boundaries even those boundaries of animal and human and human and machine. Though Haraway hints that the cyborg is a monster (because of its birth from the military and industrial capitalism) she says that it still shows promise for feminism—“illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins” (p. 151). The manifesto is compiled of six sections; the remaining five are described further:

Fractured Identities

In “fractured identities” Haraway argues against identity politics explaining how the cyborg fits within the feminist political discussion. She says that “there is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women” (p. 155) and that this is a socially constructed category. She blames this construction of gender, race, and class-consciousness on the “contradictory social realities of patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism” (p. 155). MacKinnon’s radical theory of feminine experience is also challenged in this section. Haraway argues that MacKinnon’s theory succeeded in producing what patriarchy couldn’t—“the non-existence of women, except as products of men’s desire” (p. 159).

The Informatics of Domination

In this section, Haraway outlines what she sees as the major "rearrangements in world-wide social relations tied to science and technology” (p. 161). She explains these rearrangements or the informatics of domination as another blurring of boundaries in which biotechnologies become indistinguishable from communications technologies. She says this is because both are structured like networks, and both rely on "the transmission of code" in order to function (p. 164). Also, communication technologies depend on electronics and so “mind, body, and tool are on very intimate terms” (p. 165).

The ‘Homework of Economy’ Outside ‘The Home’

Here, Haraway posits that the 'New Industrial Revolution' is producing a new worldwide working class. This working class is different because women are increasingly becoming the majority of the labor force and “work is being redefined as both literally female and feminized [as well as poverty], whether performed by men or women” (p. 166). Haraway also attributes an increase in ‘privatization’ to new technologies. These new communication technologies (i.e. video games and miniaturized televisions) will ultimately lead to the “eradication of ‘public life’ for everyone” (p. 168). However, Haraway points optimistically to the fact that many “scientific and technical workers in Silicon Valley do not want to work on military science” (p. 169) and suggests that this could lead to progressive politics among the professional working class (where, as stated earlier, women are numerous).

Women in the Integrated Circuit

"Women in the Integrated Circuit" describes how feminist politics, like the cyborg work within a series of networks. “The task is to survive in the diaspora” (p. 170). Haraway uses the metaphor of the "integrated circuit" to point out that categories like "home", "state" and "church" now function more like networked communications forms, rather than the separated, institutions they once were under older forms of capitalism.

Cyborgs: A Myth of Political Identity

In the last section of the manifesto, Haraway restates two earlier arguments and introduces a final third. The first argument states how totalizing theory (like MacKinnon’s) misses most of reality and therefore a mistake. The second argument is that taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means connecting with other and with all of our “parts” (p. 181). Her third argument states that the “cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves” (p. 181). She also discusses how writing is the technology of cyborgs and that cyborg politics is the struggle AGAINST perfect communication. “Cyborgs insist on noise and advocate pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine” (p. 176). Finally, though Haraway realizes that both creation and destruction will be a part of the cyborg future she asserts she would “rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (p. 181).

IV: Samyul Kim, Robert Ruehlman, Kelly Martin

Kelly wrote the above summary which is clear and concise. I couldn't improve it, but will team up with Sam to add a few comments about how it relates to design:

We were inspired by Haraway's optimistic statement that the convergence of technologies and humans should be embraced, and that as designers we can take a positive role in shaping that future through multiple sustainable practices, instead of using our talents to work in the cyborg birthplace of the military industrial complex. As designers, we take responsibilities to work for ethical design and to build the relationship within different classes in society. We are all feminized as designers working today, I believe because for one, there is no more NEA, our profession is changing rapidly, corporations have more power than ever to exploit us unless we become cyborgs ourselves. I found it enlightening. Did you see her next book? It's all about my favorite subject, dogs, or the companion animal cyborgs that chose to adopt our own technologies for their survival 120,000 years ago. They use livestock guarding dogs for ethical wildlife management in places where wolves are re-introduced. Those are cyborgs. I realize that I am a feminist because I have been feminized in the past by employers, with no autonomy I know I can only fight the man by embracing my mind and my computer. Let's start by getting Hillary elected, so we can get some universal healthcare up in here! Maybe I'll contribute to her blog to show my support... it's at least a step in the right direction... I'm not asking for a bionic arm or anything, just some security that my premium won't be $300 a month when I graduate... and that's cheap.

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November 01, 2007


anchorage, reframing, meaning, propaganda, connote, representation, aura, image, reference, distortion, exploit, diverts, transformation, context, signify, social space

Janelle S. Taylor is addressing the implications surrounding the use of images of the fetus in public spaces, in her article The Public Fetus and the Family Car: From Abortion Politics to a Volvo Advertisement. As a framework to discuss these implications, she is using the Volvo ad that appeared in Harper's magazine in February 1991, in which the image of a fetus was used. In the ad, a sonogram image of a fetus was used with a traditional advertising image of a Volvo and the text "Is something inside telling you to buy a Volvo?" Taylor states, "In this essay, I offer a critical reading of this advertisement, situating it as an instance of the deployment of the image of the fetus in public culture. I argue that, although by employing the ultrasound image the advertisement draws upon and makes reference to anti-abortion materials, it simultaneously distorts the logic according to which similar images are used in those materials - and in so doing, both exploits and diverts the explosiveness of this highly divisive social conflict." (pg 67)

Like any advertisement, there are several ways in which viewers can decode the intended message. What is interesting with the Volvo ad is that by using the sonogram image it implies some very complicated social debates. The first - and probably intended - message in the ad is one of safety. By using the image of the fetus in conjunction with the text, "Is something inside telling you to buy a Volvo?" it makes one think, if I want my baby to be safe, I need to buy a Volvo. However, the idea that a fetus is something that needs protecting like a child is one that is politically loaded and according to Taylor "is itself a highly political cultural artifact, emerging from the anti-abortion uses of the image of the fetus in the context of the contemporary abortion debate." (pg 67)

To adequately explore the use of the image of the fetus, Taylor makes a distinction between personal and public uses of fetus imagery. The personal use may be one in which the mother-to-be uses the sonogram like she would a family portrait. The public use Taylor refers to is when these scientific images are used in a non-scientific context, which can mostly be seen in anti-abortion campaigns. Because the public typically only sees these scientific images of the fetus in anti-abortion propaganda, Taylor states that this results in the Volvo ad being seen as possibly linked to the same ideals pushed by anti-abortion efforts. "This sort of public deployment of ultrasound imagery, in particular, implicitly refers to the first major use of ultrasound imagery outside of the clinical setting, according to the logic of "pro-life" uses of photographic fetal images, in the 1984 anti-abortion "educational" videotape The Silent Scream." (pg 69) According to Faye Ginsburg, "The idea that knowledge of fetal life, and especially confrontation with the visual image of the fetus, will "convert" a woman to the pro-life position has been a central theme in both local and national right-to-life activism."(pg 69)

Taylor goes on to discuss the role of aura and trauma in the viewing of public images of the fetus. She states that the photographic tactics used by pro-life campaigns typically employ methods of conveying aura and trauma in a photo's signification. Aura is created by the use of warm, fuzzy tones with soft lighting in the image of the fetus, thus creating a link to that of a portrait of a baby. These photos are typically used in photo albums and framed by families. Taylor uses the term aura in the same way that Walter Benjamin did - to convey as sense of authenticity. It is a way for anti-abortion activists to provide a connection between people and images of the fetus. Using the ideas of authenticity, people will look at the image of the fetus and even though it is not their fetus, they will feel like it is. "The image of the "public fetus" is intended to create an "aura" around every actual fetus..." (pg. 72) In contrast to aura, which is used to create a warm and fuzzy connection to the image of the fetus, the use of "war images" or trauma images are used to silence any other discourse surrounding the abortion issues. Taylor states that the way that the anti-abortion activists use the gory dismembered fetuses in a sense silences all other opposition. "It is not that all language is suspended, but rather that the "shock" of the image is meant to underwrite a very political agenda, and silence all other discourses." (pg. 74)

Taylor continues on by identifying the strength pulled from the denotative power of the photograph in whatever manner it is used (pg. 74). This is a real problem in all photography, as it is accepted by the viewer as the accurate representation of the way something is. In the case of the Volvo ad, Taylor points out that we do not see the pregnant woman, her body is on the page, but her face and identity have been stripped away. She has become only the transport carrier of the child (pg. 74).

Taylor identifies that the ultrasound image is only applicable to a specific class of people, in a specific way. You must be "family-oriented, well educated, and think in terms of investments,"(pg. 75). I must point out, all advertising is specific to a certain group or social class. Language, and economic spheres play an important role, as well as geography. In this sense, I think the ad is speaking to a specific group. I don't feel this is unique, but perhaps the way it is conducted is excessive and exploitative when compared to an ad for Wal-Mart that identifies Hispanic women as their demographic of choice. The use of medical "language" in a certain way can only be read by someone who has experienced that level of care, and medical aid in their life. Someone who has not ever been to a hospital, or is a low-income mother, may not even know about pre-natal care. Taylor also identifies that medical technology, like photography reads as objective, and is not up for question. It is fact, cut and dry, with no need for debate. Volvo uses this tactic to make the viewer think "I need a Volvo, that is what is safe," (pg. 75) The advertisement is using the fuzzy, grainy and "real-ness" of the ultrasound in order to sell the concept of "Volvo-safety" as fact, (pg. 76).

The last point Taylor covers is what Barthes calls "Anchorage" - which is the function of the text, as it draws out the intention, and directs the reader to what the ad is really getting at, the heart of the message. The anchorage works because the image is objective, and vague. This works with the text to create a strange mix or direct, and indirect advertising language. Meant to disorient the viewer and manipulate the viewer into a well-positioned perspective. In the case of the Volvo ad, you become parent or medical professional, (pg. 76). The anchorage directs the fuzzy meaning of the image to one specific outcome, that would be open-ended without the text (pg. 77). Taylor wraps the article up by pointing out that this Volvo ad is a great example of how a company will use an explosive social issue to sell a product to a consumer. They used shock-value, emotional leverage, and the connotations that surround a fetal image to draw in the viewer (pg. 80). This ad exploits and trivializes the social issue in order to sell a product. (pg. 80)

This article is interesting because it takes an advertisement we would normally ignore and by-pass, and deconstructs it. It's fascinating how much you can actually read into an advertisement if you try. Taylor identifies the real threat of advertising and its potential for manipulating important social issues and the public. As graphic designers we must address this issue, and not exploit it. Photographs have the power to detach the subject of the image from the context it was removed from, the extra "stuff" that surrounds it, but was not captured by the lens. With the image of the fetus, this photographic or graphic framing is critical to the social implications. By presenting the fetus in this floaty slightly upright way, it completely negates the presence of the mother. It creates a situation that presents a car, the Volvo, as safer than a mother's own body. It disconnects the mother from child, which is also a tactic seen in anti-abortion protests. You will see many images of fetuses, both used to create aura and trauma, but you will never see the photos of a mother who died in a back alley abortion.

This article also brings up some issues that show why it is critical for a graphic designer to understand their content and context. I doubt that the advertising team at Volvo planned on creating an ad that was linked with anti-abortion activism - that would have narrowed their audience dramatically. As designers, we must be aware of what we are producing, beyond form and think of the ethical implications in what we are creating. Even if on a purely communicative level, we must understand our content, context, and audience to assure that we are succeeding in our jobs.

Marty Lane
Gretchen Rinnert

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Semiotics, Structuralism and Television by Ellen Seiter

structuralism / post-structuralism
sign / signifier / signified
iconic / index / indexical
syntagm / paradigm
langue / parole / text

This article is a grand summary of the work completed by Charles Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, French philosopher Roland Barthes, and Structuralist theory and how it relates to the experience of watching and understanding television. Seiter steps us through the theories we studied at the beginning of the semester. Here is a general overview:

Semiotics is the study of everything that is used for communication: words, images, and sounds. It asks how meaning is created, not what the meaning is (page 31). Charles Peirce coined the term, but he was not alone in his research of Semiotics, as a Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure was lecturing and publishing material on the same subject matter.

Seiter draws attention to how closely related Semiotics and Structuralism are, and that they seem to overlap, Semiotics is a field of study and structuralism is a method of analysis (page 32.) Structuralism stresses each element within a cultural system. Seier takes us throught the definitions of Signs, as the smallest unit of language and how it is composed of two theoretical parts, the signifier, and the signified. The Signifier is the image, object and / or sound and the signified is the concept it represents. She explains how Saussure identified that the cerbal relationship of words is abitrary, although the signified meaning is very important. An interesting, and relevant point is that all signs are cultural constructs that take on meaning, through use, repetition and collective understanding. mass media effects culture in enormous ways, as it informs, dilutes, and manipulates the language we speak and communicate (page 34).

Seiter introduces the work of Umberto Eco, and his definition of Sign as "everything that , on the grounds of a previously established social convention, can be taken as something standing for something else."(page 35) Through social conventions and and cultural appropriation that signs form a variety of meanings and have varied interpretations (page 35). Eco was adapting the work of Charles Peirce, accounting for all signs, including pictorial ones, and he did this by identifying the iconic sign and indexical signs. The iconic sign resembles what it represents, like a drawing that illustrates a flower, while simplified, you still read it as a "flower". The indexical sign is different, you must have learned what it references. so the image of the word "rose" is only interpreted as a flower if the reader has learned the language, understands the alphabet. Otherwise it is just an abstract symbol using lines and shapes. The indexical sign rely's on material connection between signifier and signified (page 36).

Seiter identifies that Television uses both iconic and indexical images simultaneously (page 36) and to understand these images we must understand the many conventions of representation (page 37). We develop convential expectations of television as we are exposed to it consistently through our development from toddlers to adulthood. We come to expect scale, perspective, camera angles, color, lighting, lens length, and subject to camera distance (page 37).

Seiter then compares Barthes theories of connotation and denotation to television. Connotations fix the meaning of a sign, but in the context of television, nothing is fixed, and meaning changes with repeated use, as well as altered by the location of broadcast and reception. Seiter uses hair color on television actresses to explain connotation, and it’s ever changing role. She compares the hair color of Farrah Fawcett on Charlie’s Angles to Madonna in music videos decades later. They symbolize very different roles of women: glamour, beauty, feminism and power. (page 40).
All television images are historical, changeable and culturally specific (page 41).

Seiter introduces Christian Metz semiotic analysis of cinema the 5 channels of communication for TV and cinema: Image, written language, voice, music and sound effects (page 43). Seiter makes the point that television in general has a tendency to use all the five channels simultaneously (page 45). The US has specific codes that it uses and produces: symmetrical composition, color compatibility and high key lighting. These are conventions we use in this culture, but its taught as a necessary standard to keep simplicity and consistency in television production (page 43).

Seiter then draws our attention towards broadcast media, and mass media. The pairing of world and images becomes extremely important in commercials, sporting events, and news programs as the words we see reflect and reiterate the verbal messages we receive (page 44). Seiter points us to Barthes theories on mass communication, and how verbal speech closes down the meaning of the image. Through pairing of images, text, video footage, and diagrams we see how television closes down the open-ended interpretations of video content (page44). Broadcast news attempts to control and focus our attention to their intended purpose.

Seiter references the arguments of John Ellis and Rick Altman on the importance of auditory information that television employs (page 44). There are many strategies that television uses to incorporate sound: voice over, laugh tracks, sound effects, and soundtracks. More recently television has used popular music to relate or code for many new things on television shows. For Example on the show, Grey’s Anatomy, the soundtrack is accomplishing two things, moving the plot along through motions, and the concept of time passing by, but also to incorporate popular music. The show uses music to positioned itself within a specific cultural group. Using popular music can attract young viewers. Another example, is using a specific soundtracks to positions a television show specific time period. For example, the new NBC show Journey Man ( a show about time travel) uses music to establish what time period the show is taking place in. By using popular 80’s music the show relates to the viewer what the date is. So by using a Goo Goo Dolls song we know the date is around 1996, because that is when we remember hearing the song on the radio. CSI (a CBS crime drama) uses music to establish its subject matter. Recently it used techno music to code for cutting edge technology.

Another important point Seiter makes, is that Saussurean linguistics are principles based on static models of the sign, it ignores change (page 49.) This seems like an incredible problem, as parole changes over time.

Seiter continues on to focus on the structrualist approach, studying things synchronically, and they way a cultural system produces a set of text or signs. Their analysis often produces a worldview, and organizes principles accordingly (page 50). Seiter then applys Robert Hodges and David Tripps analysis of cartoons as an excellent example of complex semiotic and structuralism analysis of television programming (page 50).

Seiter wraps up the article by looking at discourse, as the stuff that surrounds the story, the conversation, the television show or the cinema feature. Discourse is the stronger implications of transfer or exchange between members of a cultural community (page 62).

Gretchen Rinnert
Alberto Rigau

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The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

] Summary [

Thomas Kuhn argued that science proceeds not primarily by patient decretion of facts, but by revolutionary interpretative shifts in which one scientific "paradigm" displaces another. This article is an expansion of this idea and an elaboration of closely related topics that affect it. Structurally, the paper is very scientific in nature, so if you are used to papers like that, this one will be kind of a breeze. Scientific revolutions, in this paper taken to be those non-cumulative developmental episodes in which an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an incompatible new one, are presented as key to the development on science. The article goes into the discussion of how political revolutions and scientific revolutions have parallelisms from one to another, discussion that leads to the talk of paradigms, and a debate over paradigm choice. The article makes a point that when paradigms enter, as they must, into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group in the debate uses its own paradigm to argue in that paradigm's defense. Examples are then given by Kuhn of paradigms that have been replaced by others in the past, and talks about the importance of this, the idea of discovery a new creations, and about how paradigms are essential to the idea of science. These topics are covered with examples like Einstein, Newton and others, themes which took a deep and heavy rhetoric at times.

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October 26, 2007

Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture: Robert Venturi

II. Key words

architectural ambiguity
vestigial elements
orthodox Modernism
urban planning

Mies van der Rohe
Le Corbusier
Louis Kahn

III. Summary

This collection of excerpts is from the book Venturi wrote for the Museum of Modern Art as part of a book series curated by the museum in the 1960's. The objective of the series was to explore and promote ideas that were too complex or involved for exhibit, and were therefore written independently of any physical museum exhibitions.

Though Venturi's original utilizes many photographic examples to support his arguments, the points he makes in "Complexity and Contradiction" are probably too involved and discursive to explain in a museum or gallery context. Even so, his key points (upon which he elaborates in the main text) are generally outlined in "Nonstraightforward Architecture: A Gentle Manifesto." This opening comment advocates embracing "contradiction and complexity" in order to create valid, vital works. Venturi also touches on the concept that richness can contrast with clarity, and urges architects to leave the tenets of traditional Modernism behind in pursuit of "truth in its totality," a sort of organic messiness that he perceives as more real and useful than overly planned, hyper-logical Modernist constructions.

"Complexity and Contradiction vs. Simplification or Picturesqueness" criticizes "orthodox Modern architects" and their treatment of (and attitudes toward) complexity. Venturi feels that diversity in architecture represents a type of sophistication that is lost in the works of the Modernists. It is in this section that he discusses Mies' famous dictum, "less is more," which he criticizes for its exclusion of complexity for purposes of expression, though he admits that their "selectiveness of content and language" is both a strength and weakness in Mies' buildings. However, he continues, this type of simplicity does not always work, because it often results in an architectural "blandness." Here, he is also careful to make a distinction between "simplicity" and "simpleness" before retorting that "less is a bore."

In his discussion of "Contradictory Levels," Venturi explains that challenging the observer actually enhances his/her experience with the architecture because the work becomes "more vivid." He talks about "complex architecture" as a "both-and" scenario (rather than strictly "either-or," which is not inclusive). "Both-and" architecture promotes hierarchy within it, which leads to contrasts, layers and levels of meanings. Additionally, Venturi seems to appreciate the double meanings that can result from traditional forms of architecture or architectural elements, which derive one meaning from their original/historical context and those associations, and the new meaning from its contemporary function or context. Some examples of this type of architectural recycling include old palazzos transformed into embassies or museum, or old city walls that become boulevards around downtown in later centuries.

Systems, laws and order are the prime focus of "Accommodation and the Limitations of Order: The Conventional Element." While "there are no fixed laws in architecture," Venturi explains that architects must decide what will work in a particular building or project. This rule also applies on a larger scale when considering neighborhoods, even cities. In this way, the "complexities and contradictions" at the heart of this book should manifest themselves in the architectural program as a reflection of those complexities and contradictions inherent in daily living. Several ideologies of prominent architects are compared and contrasted within this chapter: Mies: "create order out of the desperate confusion of our time;" Kahn: "by order I do not mean orderliness," and Le Corbusier, "There is no work of art without a system." Though Venturi's opinions seem to be more in line with Kahn's statement, he credits the idea of order in some ways, suggesting that "order must exist before it can be broken." In order to create the "anomalies and uncertainties" that "give validity to architecture," the architecture must be reacting against something. So while "there are no fixed laws," architecture benefits from some sense of order or a system so that it can react. Because systems cannot accommodate every circumstance, architecture should strive to defy order or create a new order. The altering or breaking of order enhances the deeper meanings of the architecture.

On a larger scale, Venturi explains the "inverted scale of values" built into the system of research and development that is promoted by business and government. This system supports industrial and scientific experiments but ignores architectural research as a valuable investment. Therefore, the architects' "budgets, techniques and programs for his buildings must relate more to 1866." This lack of priority for architecture has resulted in a number of "honky tonk elements" in our constructed environments. These will always be part of the landscape, so we must learn to embrace them and work with them as opposed to trying to delete or ignore them. In the realm of the "honky tonk," we must rely on architects and planners, who "can make us see the same things in a different way." To that end, in the ongoing battle of standardization and variety, Venturi encourages architects to consider how they can use principles of standardization "in an unstandard way."

Finally, we reach "The Obligation Towards the Difficult Whole." Venturi believes that variety in the cityscape and individual buildings creates a certain type of tension that not only promotes many levels of interpretation but also forms a sophisticated unity. He gives examples of certain works that are "complete" even though they are technically unfinished, such as the series of sculptures Michelangelo left unfinished at the end of his life. These "contradictory or circumstantial" parts can make a work more dynamic because they rely on the principle of inclusion: they are open to interpretation, sometimes loose, more expressive, not rules-based. He suggests that architecture should look to and learn from Pop Art's "contradictions of scale and context" instead of relying upon "the easy Gestalt unities of the urban renewal projects of the establishment."

Looking at graphic design, there are no "laws," but there are certain ideas about systems, rules and form. However, it seems that many of Venturi's principles work effectively in a graphic design context: variety, inclusion, and tension are all key components to successful and compelling works. While graphic design projects generally have a much shorter life span than architectural works, it is interesting to consider the graphic landscape in reference to the city landscape. As Venturi discussed these ideas in relation to both the singular building and the dynamic, living city, we can also think about our design work as individual entities as well as parts of a whole by considering how they fit in with both contemporary and historic examples of graphic design. Certainly his idea of repurposing historical or traditional elements also applies to graphic design—postmodernism would not exist without this concept.

IV. Kelly Murdoch-Kitt & Kelly Norris Martin

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Excerpt From Symbolic Exchange and Death

Excerpt From
Modernism to Post Modernism, An Anthology:
Symbolic Exchange and Death

1976, 1993

Summary by: Kelly Cunningham, Marty Lane, Matt Muñoz

codes, signification, active response, simulation, hyperrealism, spectacle, surrealism, representation, reproduction, superstructure, infrastructure


The Three Orders of Simulacra

In this essay, Baudrillard ushers in the new era of simulacra. This new state brings with it new metrics of value and what we as a Western culture constitute as "real". One of the seminal concepts of the essay is the context surrounding this development. "There are three orders of simulacra, running parallel to the successive mutations of the law of value since the Renaissance:
The counterfeit is the dominant schema in the classical period, from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution.
Production is the dominant schema in the industrial era.
Simulation is the dominant schema in the current code-governed phase.
The first-order simulacrum operates on the natural law of value, the second-order simulacrum on the market law of value, and the the third-order simulacrum on the structural law of value." (pg 444)

We no longer value an object through comparing an "original and its counterfeit" (pg 445), or through valuing the labor, factory time and supplies that produced it. Instead, we value objects (signs) on their "equivalence and indifference." (pg 445) Goods and services are valued against each other as signs, not against the value of the real. (pg 438) This current cultural "mode of domination" divorces the object from its producers, stripping the laborers of the power to enact revolution. (pg 442) Without the awareness of production and its exploitive nature, we fall into a disconnected state of acceptance in a cycle of exchange defined by valuing based off of simulation. The connection from the object to its source is gone. We use credit cards without understanding the gold standard. We select perfectly round, clean and unmarred oranges from the scrubbed and well lit produce section of the grocery store without thinking of the fruit as it hung on the tree. We actively seek the oranges that fit our notions of a prototype while comparing them to each other. We live in a world of simulation, where the "real" is often a reproduction of a notion that never existed outside of the construct of a sign.

The Digital World as Simulation

In the new digital world, Baudrillard states that the we have moved from away from the "reactionary conditioning" brought upon us by the "hard sell advertising and the political propaganda of the thirties" to one that is more participatory. (pg 452) The shift from a single general equivalent (modern) to a plurality of opposed equivalencies (postmodern) results in a more active subject, one that responds, participates, and is actively involved. (pg 453) This participatory subject lives in an environment founded on simulation, " A whole imaginary based on contact, a sensory mimicry and a tactile mysticism, basically an ecology in its entirety, comes to be grafted on to this universe of operational simulation, multi-simulation and multi-response. " (pg 453) This imaginary results in the death of the spectacle - there will no longer be components that make up theater - only "total theater", only total experience. "The end of the spectacle brings with it the collapse of reality into hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium such as advertising or photography." (pg 454)


The hyperreal is a term describing an object who became "real for its own sake." It is no longer a representation, but exists on its own. Hyperrealism "effaces the contradiction of the real and the imaginary", both are allowed. (pg 454) The classical definition of real as something that is able to be copied, reproduced. "At the end of this process of reproducibility, the real is not only that which can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: the hyperreal." (pg 456) Baudrillard states that today, almost all realities have " already incorporated the hyperrealist dimension of simulation so that we are now living entirely within the 'aesthetic' hallucination of reality." (pg. 456) We are essentially living in hyperreal reality.

Personal Analysis

Marty's response:
I found the overall concepts of Baudrillard to be interesting and understandable, while his writing is anything but. Using sentences like "Here comes the great Culture of tactile communication, under the sign of techno-lumino-kinetic space and total spatio-dynamic theater!" seems a little over produced to me. Or how about, "Tropisms, mimicry, and empathy: the ecological evangelism of open systems." The way that I was able to get a grasp on what Baudrillard was talking about was from other sources that examine his work. Reading his direct writings proved to be very frustrating, even the third time around. The idea of simulation being something that is difficult to differentiate from the real is interesting when pertaining to memory. As we discussed briefly in seminar, it is hard to define what really happened at an event when you continually look back on photographic representations of the event. In some cases, if not all, the memories that you create are all based in those simulations of reality, thus they become your reality. I believe this is what Baudrillard is getting at.

In Practices of Looking, the authors discuss Baudrillard's stance on how we view and make judgements on somethings exterior or surface. They state that according to Baudrillard, we can no longer look beyond the surface layer for something more complex, that there is no sub-layer, that we only have access to the surface. This concept is hard for me to grasp especially when relating to people or the self. Maybe the link to the self was not what Baudrillard intended, but consider that it does apply, what does this imply for society? And how we view each other and ourselves?

I find Baudrillard's concept very applicable is in the online world. People often have a disconnect when thinking of themselves in online environments. They post pictures of themselves that they normally would never share, they speak in a way that they normally never would, acting in all of these ways that they view as having no link to themselves. But, according to Baudrillard, they do. They are in fact creating a new hyperreality that eventually supersedes the reality. They are known online as what they have created, with no link back to anything else.

Kelly's Response:
I read Baudrillard in multiple passes. The lyrical quality of the text, the stream of idea repeated through various modes of explanations resonates in small instances. The words are sequenced in heavy strings; there are patterns in the strands. I hear what for me is the simulated voice of Baudrillard with raised voice, yelling the words as I read them. My mental simulacrum of Baudrillard keeps me from watching his lectures on video, I prefer the unreal. It gives me access to the meaning in the text, via this voice that I assign to him. In another pass I glean from these descriptions, a postmodern message. The postmodern era is haunted by the past as much as it is fueled by it. If there is a moderate postmodern stance, it is in this range that I fall. I believe in the simulation, its power and its threat. However, I also still see a global economy tied to issues of class and means of production. Not everyone can afford the unreal. The internet tantalizes young brides to be in impoverished rural China with the hyperreality of the American Dream Wedding, those same women harvest rice in fields and attempt to straddle the two epochs with uncomfortable grace. I am also just beginning my foray into these thoughts. Perhaps future time I can measure where I am now against my own digital record of what transpired in between, and find a more definite position in a spectrum of thinkers.

In addition, here are some instances of power and beauty mined from the article, that I found compelling. Perhaps these would be good starts for further writing or conversations on rainy days in a coffee/book shop in Berkeley:

The beautiful yet violent and repulsive notion of watching one's own death via video on a screen (pg 457)
The use of genetics as control over the 'social body' and the 'naturalizing' of genetic code information (pg 450)
Generic man vs. genetic man ... and the future of knowing more about genetic 'a priori'. (pg 451)
"Down with all hypotheses that have allowed belief in a real world." - Nietzsche (pg 452)
"...we are now living entirely within the aesthetic hallucination of reality." (pg 456)
"...So art is everywhere, since artifice lies at the heart of reality." (pg 458)

Matt's Response:
I also found Baudrillard's writing a bit difficult. I needed to look up many references, making it difficult to flow through his thoughts. His main points, mentioned earlier, enable critical modes of value measuring, touch on particular design fields (like experience design) and provide a deeper understanding of principles founding the current era. I'm very much an amateur when it comes to understanding modernism, postmodernism, Marxism and culture workings in general. This wasn't the most accessible reading to begin the journey, but it certainly was enlightening.

Similar to Kelly's response, I too found particular moments of clarity and power.
"Down with all hypotheses that have allowed belief in a real world." - Nietzsche (pg 452)
"Everywhere we see the same 'genesis of simulacra': the commutability of the beautiful and the ugly in fashion, of the left and the right in politics, of the true and the false in every media message, the useful and the useless at the level of objects, nature and culture at every level of signification. All the great humanist criteria of value, the whole civilization of moral, aesthetic and practical criteria of value, the whole civilization of moral, aesthetic and practical judgement are effaced in our system of images and signs. Everything becomes undecidable, the characteristic effect of the dominations of the code, which everywhere rest on the principle of neutralization, of the indifference. This is the generalized brothel of capital, a brothel not for prostitution, but for substitution and commutation." (pg 440)

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October 19, 2007

The marriage between Art and Commerce

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Michele Wong & Valentina Miosuro
All Consuming Images. Stuart Ewen
The marriage between Art and Commerce

In the years between 1890 and 1920’s In Europe and In the United States industries implemented great qualitative changes, such as targeting national and international markets, and advertising more and more. Ewen states that the process of industrialization and shift in methods of production greatly affected culture at that time.
A pioneer in the development of multipurpose styling divisions was Walter Rathenau, head of Allgemeine Elektricitas-Gesellschaft (AEG).
Rathenau believed that a new industrial aesthetic could be “a means of alleviating the devastation that industrialization had wrought on such basic area as labor, production, housing, and human relations”. Rathenau commissioned architect and designer Peter Behrens to design products, the building the products were manufactured into, and advertising. This was the beginning of the “corporate image” that we know today.

“Beauty has always paid better than any other commodity, and always will.” D.H. Burnham
Style as a business device became widespread in the late 19th and early 20th Century.
Advertising was a sign of the interest in working on both consumption and production. This led to a combination of consciously styled products and representations of happy customers using products.
“Advertising as the ignition system of the economy, the dynamo of mass dissatisfaction and the creator of illusions in a most materialistic world.”
Ernesto Elmo Calkings, of the Calkins & Holden advertising agency, was one of the first to offer a variety of services including image management and aesthetic counseling.
The term “Consumer engineering” was coined to described the complex coordinated merchandising efforts. In this context, beauty was seen a new business tool. Beauty was also preferred over function, as the latter was considered unappealing.
General Motors and General Electrics were the first large corporations to recognize the effectiveness of these new strategies and implement them.

Ewen moves on to talking about apparatus of representation in the Image and Desire section. He mentions two types of apparatuses. The first one—apparatus of representation—employed simultaneously with a scientific apparatus. According to Harry Dexter Kitson, the role of the scientific apparatus is to analyze mass psychology—how images are received by the consumer and how they impact the latter' mind (47). Kitson elaborates about the connection between understanding user's mind and the idea of desire and appeal. Ewen proceeds by connecting style with the unconscious and psychoanalysis to efficiency of businesses. He uses Sheldon and Aren's "instrumental discussion of the sense of touch" to exemplify the latter approach. He also finds significant cues from Freud's "ruminations on civilization and its discontents" and applies them to a technique for product merchandizing—" how rejection and acceptance is motivated by the unconscious"(49). He goes on by stressing the importance of considering tactile senses versus textual elements when designing products. Ewen quotes Harold Van Doren who says that design elements and their application can create emotional reaction in the beholder (50). Another major idea mentioned in this excerpt is that of Jean Abel who says that modern design is governed by the idea of simplification and control. Ewen also briefly talks about the designers' choice of approach—scientific methods versus intuitive "methods" and emphasizes the emergence of "styling and 'style obsolescence' as forefront methods used to stimulate markets and to maintain the stimulation" (51). Finally this chapter ends with a very clear distinction between/definiton of the two classes of goods—those we use such as cars and those we use up such as toothpaste and how consumer engineering must monitor that we use up things we hardly use.

Ewen's excerpt on the marriage between art and commerce makes me probe upon the role of style and beauty in design. As a designer, can I use form making as a way to generate sales and profit? Is that why businesses need designers—because we have taste or the ability to make "things" look pretty? As a designer, I think of the power of beauty and still as activating senses in the user/participant/consumer; beauty and style to create conditions for experiences; to invite, to motivate participation. I do not think of sales because sales is not my priority. But then I ask myself what form does beauty take? I think beauty in design should be considered at every stage; in every element incorporated in the design; The positive and the negative space should be beautiful; the language used—visual or textual or temporal or cultural should be beautiful AND significant.

Ewen's inclusion of the idea of understanding the consumer's mind seems a little limited to me. By understanding the consumer's mind, I think Ewen is referring to understanding by using scientific apparatus to perform user testing. Is user testing enough to understand them? Shouldn't designers work more closely with the users and co-create? (as believed by many of us here in our program)

The mention of appealing to the tactile senses immediately makes me primariy think of interaction design and experiential learning—learning kinesthetically; through the sense. It reinforces Howard Gardner's idea of multiple intelligence and how some people learn best from their senses. I think that is very interesting.

The idea of giving everyone access to design (Abel 50) while illuminating design's universal laws and principles seem contradictory to me. It reminds me of [some] designers need for control. How much do we give up? Are we really giving up? Why are we still grounded in principles and rules? Why are they called rules. In studio, we had a conversation about calling those rules traditions. Can a change in language allow for design to be less controlled because of its connotation. Rules as being fixed and tradition as being more malleable?

I always enjoy reading articles that seem to frame the beginning of advertisement and design (or at least what we as a society and we as designers consider the two to be today)
I cannot help but feel uncomfortable while reading of services like “aesthetic counseling” and “image management”. I think, WHAT??? aesthetic counseling??? what is that? How does one go about advising solely on aesthetic? What does that conversation look like? Does the expert talk about culture, signifier and signified? Or is the conversation solely about color, choice of typography, size, etc? I am so against the notion that design is about rules, that there are principles to follow, that there is a standard all designers abide by. Or furthermore, I am for form and function. Form is content in a context. Content is communicated through form in a context.
I feel passionately about this, as I see that some designers seem to still live in the early 20th Century.
That design starts with the project brief, failing to recognize the complexity in the act of communication. (I think all communication is visual) To use design as the new business tool. Just like beauty was the new business tool then. Not much seems to have changed.
No, I’m not against things like “the MFA is the new MBA”, or “design thinking”, or “design for all”.
What I am against is the notion that design is its own entity, and the act of designing is the process of pushing things around until someone deems them to be “good”, “beautiful”, “aesthetically pleasing”, etc.

Enough with the rambling. What I never considered until I came to grad school is how crucial are all of the factors that make up the context in which things happen, or in which responses are sparked.
It makes sense in a time where it became all about mass production, assembly lines, international markets that advertising, a tool to communicate to the masses, took off.

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Marking Time with Nike: The Illusion of the Durable

visual sociology
Cartesian geometry
Cartesian space
temps perdu
phatic device
ersatz nostalgia

Etienne-Jules Marey
Paul Virilio

In "Marking Time with Nike: The Illusion of the Durable," Lury posits that the Nike global brand changes the relationship between the “perceiver and the perceived” as well as the relationship between the “object and the image” (p. 523). By this, she means that people are not only influenced by the visual two-dimensional nature of the Nike logo but also that the two-dimensional logo controls its translation into the three-dimensional product. The logo is successful because people then buy this two-dimensional product. Consumers remain loyal to the Brand because it facilitates phatic communication—communication for the purpose of social interaction instead of transmission of information. Nike creates the illusion of emotional connection and experience.

According to Lury, Nike creates this social relationship with consumers by resonating with their bodily affective memory and cultural history, the mechanics of motion and the conception of speed and movement as represented by technical artists (p. 500). Lury explains these accomplishments by analyzing various logos, slogans, marks and phrases. A few examples include: a comparison between Marey’s photographic studies of movement, where dots and stripes were put on human limbs to indicate motion; the “Just do it” slogan that urges one to focus on the present; the here and now, the Jumpman that is frozen in time and the Bo Jackson shoe that creates a memorable caricature. Lury argues Nike’s symbols are iconic—presentational and not discursive and this enables complex actions. The observer becomes an active audience and this makes the marketing strategy more memorable (even if the audience no longer plays the sport p. 523).

Lury's discussion of Michael Jordan and Spike Lee's cross-endorsement of Nike products makes an interesting point: Jordan and Lee mutually influenced each other's careers, and also helped boost sales and awareness of the Nike products. On the other hand, Nike helped promote Lee and Jordan; their involvement transcended mere celebrity endorsements. They are essentially immortalized in the products, particularly Jordan in the Jumpman logo. Without his Nike affiliation, Jordan would still be remembered as a great athlete, but Nike elevated him to iconic status, even during the height of his career.

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October 15, 2007

The Art of Billboard Utilizing by Peter King

Marty Lane & Rebecca Tegtmeyer
Will Temple-Seminar
Article Reading: October 19, 2007

The Art of Billboard Utilizing by Peter King


environmental awareness, active movements, massive, solitary, direct action, graffiti, medium, commercial media, the public, advertisements, motivation, refacing, expose, manipulative, message, de-glamorized


"Graffiti has traditionally been a cheap and effective medium of self-expression for those who do not have access to the commercial media. The added dimension of using billboards is that ads can be turned against themselves, so that advertisers fund their own "demotions" (anti-promotions). (pg. 199)


Peter King introduces us to "The Art of Billboard Utilizing" by describing the conditions in Australia that led to individuals working together to convey messages in public space. King states that in the last decade, Australians have become more aware and bothered by the visual clutter created by advertising, and have started to collaborate in order to counter this "indiscriminate rape of the visual environment by outdoor advertising." (pg. 199) In October 1973, three individual activists - an artist, an advertising student, and an ex-smoker who was concerned with juvenile smokers - started working together in order to have more of a solidified force and impact. Prior to joining forces, each activist "had been expressing their views through direct action by adding graffiti to billboards." (pg. 199) They continued with this tactic, but decided to focus primarily on unhealthy advertising - targeting ads that promoted products that were detrimental to people's health or conveyed messages in unhealthy ways. They began signing all of their graffiti alterations with the initials BUGA UP (Billboard Utilizing Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions). "Whenever possible, BUGA UP graffiti was artistic and witty, capturing the imagination and sympathy of the public." (pg. 199)

The community in Sydney Australia was so supportive of BUGA UP, that an act that was previously illegal had become a revenue generating company. "Media outlets were keen to offer free publicity for what they considered to be a couple of harmless eccentrics-although as time went on advertisers began to threaten withdrawal of business if glorification to BUGA UP continued." (pg. 199) Private citizens were explaining BUGA UP's motivations and requesting funding for the activists. King states that all of the money went into a "fighting fund" to help the graffitists of BUGA UP pay any legal fees as a result of their actions, although few used the money.

In the article, King provides tips for tackling a billboard manipulation to effectively carry out the intended message. "The objective is to expose the manipulative process used in the ad with a minimum of alteration." (pg. 200) King points out that it is important to use wit, and be playful rather than use fear in order to get the publics attention. He also states the importance of having the altered message be viewable from a distance. King supports the actions by providing detailed instructions, tools to use and methods to avoid arrest.

The activity of the BUGA UP graffitists brought about questions regarding the law and vandalism and whether the activities were causing harm or good for society. These incidents were tried in several cases. The BUGA UP members saw this as an opportunity to bring forth their messages even more. According to King, "by pleading not guilty, the graffitists reaffirm their belief that their actions are morally justified, although the law may not be able to distinguish their actions from vandalism." (pg. 203) There were successful outcomes from defending the actions of the BUGA UP group in the court of law. One of which was the "defense of necessity", which claims that the actions carried out by the activists did in fact prevent further harm to society. Defenses such as these attracted the attention of the media, thus raising awareness in the public sphere of the graffitists' intentions. This attention raised further concern over the "inadequacy of a legal system designed to protect property, not people." (pg. 203) This issue caused industries to reconsider their use of imagery and the rights of their consumers.

King points out that the impact created by the activities of BUGA UP was slow to advance, but it "has shown that the visibility and provocative nature of billboard utilization is an extremely important social catalyst" (pg. 203).


BUGA UP, which was operating in the 1970's, was creating discussions around topics that are still being intensely explored today. Current art and design organizations such as GRL (Graffiti Research Lab) have been questioning what is advertising and what is graffiti and what differentiates the two. In one of GRL's projects they created a laser-cut "mask" to place over digital advertising screens in New York in order to change the original message. They resurface the ads in a new way but maintain the same goals as BUGA UP. It is interesting to see how this argument is being explored and challenged by designers in public space.

This article reinforces the power of advertising and images in creating messages in a public space. As designers, we need to be aware of this impact and begin to "think twice" about the images and text we chose to work with when communicating a message. The work of the BUGA UP group empowers and inspires designers to further question the influence of advertising and how we can act on these issues.

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October 09, 2007

The beginnings of American Television

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The Culture Industry

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The culture industry: enlightenment as mass deception, Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer

II. Culture Industry, Gesamtkunstwerk, Anathema, Spontaneity, System of non-culture (stylized barbarity), Propaganda

Adorno and Horkheimer, like other theorists of the Frankfurt school, say that society is in a state of false consciousness produced by its interaction with and assimilation into popular culture. The false consciousness created by culture is perpetuated by capitalist modes of production. Adorno and Horkheimer refer to this as the "culture industry.” For them, popular culture (i.e. film, TV, radio, etc.) tells people they must be dedicated consumers in order to be a part of society (“something is provided for all so that none may escape”) and then convinces them that this is what they asked for to begin with—essentially acting as propaganda. Instead of producing that which they claim serves the needs and desires of the audience, Adorno and Horkheimer claim that the culture industry creates products that instead work to standardize the needs of the consumers, manipulating the consumer to believe that he or she likes or desires the product. They believe that popular culture has become mediocre and identical; in the hands of this "pop culture," society loses its ability to “nourish true freedom and individuality." They write, “Culture now impresses the same stamp on everything.” Society does not realize the deceptive qualities of the culture industry because it claims only to give people what they want. This is “no more than hot air,” according to Adorno and Horkheimer, pointing out the false claim that when a Beethoven symphony is crudely adapted for a film sound-track it is “done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public." Adorno and Horkheimer claim that, like its content, popular culture creates a homogeneous audience and eventually society cannot distinguish between the real world and the world created by the culture industry because of its huge success and omnipresence. The real world and culture industry become inextricably intertwined.

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October 07, 2007

"Mass Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Social Action"

mass media, medium, mass communication, context, ownership, taste, propaganda, audience, mass art, monopolization, counter-propaganda, indoctrination, dysfunctional

"It is our tentative judgment that the social role played by the very existence of the mass media has been commonly overestimated."

Americans, as well as the international community, are consuming media at enormous levels. We watch movies, read the newspaper, surf the web, watch television, use our cell phones and read magazines, and the list keeps growing. With this extreme amount of continuous media exposure hostile critics have emerged over the last century that target mass media as causing damaging social and psychological impact on our culture. The authors take a different stance. They focus attention on the reasons why critics attack mass media. Mass media has taken over the time of Americans, and we seem to spend countless hours entranced by the many media products we own. We loose our selves, goals, and focus in these products, persuaded to be entertained, rather than active and engaged human beings.

The authors point out the lack of focus on the ownership and structuring of mass media, and how that can serve or hinder the social functions of mass media. They outline three social functions that mass media facilitates:

First, there is the conferral function of mass media as it relates to public issues, persons and social movements and agendas. This means that when a mass media institution, like CNN subjectively backs the position of one politician, it reflects on both parties in a favorable manner. The politician is seen as respected, and worthy of the public's time and consideration. While CNN continues it's status as a well-regarded source of accurate and honest information. This aspect of mass media legitimizes the social functions, policies and ideology within a culture, and strengthens the relationships of all involved.

The next social function of mass media is the enforced application of social norms and cultural values through the media. This function addresses the issues of exposing deviation, but more importantly it "closes the gap between private attitudes and behaviors and the public morality and appearances" (page 17). Mass media draws attention to deviant and different behavior in away that people cannot turn away from. They must take a stand for or against issues, as it almost requires viewers to make a decision. They are encouraged to have an opinion and not be passive viewers.

The most largely unnoticed social consequence is "Narcotizing Dysfunction," which is the idea that the people engaged with mass media begin to become politically and culturally apathetic as communications begin to hide the true nature of public issues. This mass apathy is the result of information overload through active participation but passive action outside the media forum.

The authors turn our attention towards ownership and the resulting structure of mass media. Privately owned enterprises control media, and advertisers are paying these privately owned entities. Because the advertisers pay, they control what is being sent into the airways and broadcast to the public. This leads to a very important point, mass media does not provide the consumer with a critical outlook. They eliminate key information, and heard the masses like cattle towards conformists ideals.

Some critics state that mass media has also had negative impact on culture by cultivating lower standards and taste in society. The authors make an important point by stating that the total number of people exposed to communication contents has been vastly increased. They state that the only way to really understand mass media's effect on public taste is to perform research. Research that would "determine if mass media and mass tastes are necessarily linked in a vicious circle of deteriorating standards or if appropriate action on the part of the directors of mass media could initiate a virtuous circle of cumulatively improving tasted among their audience."(page 20) The authors also state that our standards in the past for art was produced by a small group of talented individuals for a small select audience. Is this really applicable to a global community where so many different sets of values exist?

The last social role of mass media is to move society towards specific social objectives. Historically we have seen this occur through propaganda, monopolization, counter-propaganda, etc. According to the authors, in order for propaganda via mass media to occur, one of three conditions must occur, "monopolization, canalization rather than change of basic values, and supplementary face-to-face contact." (page 21) The authors state that monopolization occurs when there is no counterpoint to the information being disseminated. They propose that propaganda can result in a neutral outcome, because the opposing sides essentially cancel each other out. They use the example of political commercials from Democrats and Republicans. Canalization is important in the success or failure of propaganda, in that the media has been largely unsuccessful in completely changing peoples beliefs or behaviors. Propaganda only works when the viewer is asked to be slightly molded to a somewhat new idea. The third condition, "supplementation through face-to-face contacts" has been proven to be successful in the Nazi regime. The authors state that it was not the mass media of communication alone, it was the role that it played in bringing people together around these ideologies of the dominant culture that made the Nazis successful. They state that because the "machinery of mass persuasion ", such as radios, were placed mostly in public spheres it brought people together to further discuss the ideas.

The authors conclude the article by stating that "The mass media proves most effective when they operate in a situation of virtual 'psychological monopoly', or when the objective is one of canalizing rather than modifying basic attitudes or when they operate in conjunction with face-to-face contacts." "But these three conditions are rarely satisfied." (page 23) Thus, "the present role of media is largely confined to the peripheral social concerns and the media do not exhibit the degree of social power commonly attributed to them." (page 23)

Marty's response:
There are two points that the authors brought up that I find interesting. One is "The Narcotizing Dysfunction", because I would like to explore ways as a designer to intervene with this behavior. If people are continually tuning into mass media in order to be informed, how can the media respond in a way that motivates people? I think it is a major problem with mass media today, because of the way that the systems operate. It is often more beneficial for the media outlets to prey on peoples fears and anxieties to sell a story and increase ratings, rather than provide a service. One of the most important roles of the media is to communicate—this goal needs to be reassessed as a major priority.

The second idea of interest to me was when the authors addressed the issues of taste and standards for certain audiences. They discuss how soap operas have attempted to raise their level of taste and culture by including classical music and how mainstream shows have attempted to bring up current social events. The authors state that these attempts have been largely unsuccessful and that people will not suddenly become interested in something because it was integrated into a context that they are accustomed to. I think it is interesting to point out the television show Murphy Brown. Our text book discusses this as well, but Murphy Brown was successful in changing the standards of the show. They were able to bring up current political events and to create dialogue with an audience that may normally not think about politics. This is an interesting case study—how can this model be applied again?

Gretchen's response:
The authors wrote on page 19 that since media is devoted to entertainment, we must consider the effects it has had on popular taste. I'd like to know if taste was ever good among the masses. Taste is defined by ones class, and social standing. The authors do point out that in sociological and historical terms, this doesn't really matter. Later in the article the authors state that the total number of people exposed to communication contents has vastly increased. I believe this is a very important thing to remember. Society for the first time in history has been linked by global media sources that have converged. People are being exposed to education, literature music and other worldly experiences.

Gretchen Rinnert
Marty Lane

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September 28, 2007

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Walter Benjamin

Kelly Cunningham
Robert Ruehlman
Samyul Kim

Cult Value
Exhibition Value


Mechanical Reproduction and Art
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" was written by cultural critic Walter Benjamin in 1936. Cited often in multiple disciplines, the essay discusses the paradigm shift in art that occurred as works produced gained a global audience through the mechanical reproduction of images and mass manufactured artifacts.

The essay calls to mind the invention of the printing press and its relationship to the distribution of literary knowledge before shifting to the image. Tracing history from the woodcut to the lithograph to photography and film, Benjaman sets the stage for a new era of image production that positioned the technology not just as methods of reproduction, but as ways of producing art and artifact in their own right. If a sculpture was photographed, not only was the work captured and reproduced in an image significant, but the photograph itself was now an object to study. In addition, replicas of the sculpture could be made for admiration in the home, or anywhere the viewer desired.

Benjaman uses the term "aura" to describe the presence that a work of art has in a specific place and time. The aura is the experience of being near the original work and the wonder that is inspired by its uniqueness. For example, to stand in awe beneath the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel, even as it is changed by wear and time, is to experience its aura. The notion of authenticity, that the work is a unique original, is also connected to the aura. When a work is reproduced, Benjaman states, "…that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art." (pg 221) This occurs in two ways; the method used to reproduce the work and the divorce of the work from its site specific nature. The work, through reproduction, can be experienced in a setting and at a time that the viewer determines. Although Benjaman focuses on photography and film, these two concepts foreshadow the existence of the World Wide Web and the immediate gratification that it affords.

Emancipation from Ritual
One of the seminal quotes in the essay is as follows:
"…for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual."

Works of art are defined not just by the existence of an artifact, but also by the process of their creation and their intention. Artifacts now considered art that were originally intended as mystic or religious objects illustrate this point well. The religious object was created at a specific time, place and context. Steeped in tradition, it is connected to ritual and the practices of the creators and the audience it was created for. The reproduction of such an artifact disconnects it from this sense of ritual.

As methods of reproduction become more widely used, art is created with reproduction in mind. The place and time that the work is created for, the physical presence that it has in that space becomes less connected the ritual of its creation and its sacred reserve for those privileged with proximity. The image of the work, and reproductions of it steal some of that aura and make it widely available. In the case of photography, the need to classify the authenticity of the work is diminished as well. The concept of an original, one of a kind, as a requirement for art, is dissolved.

In the time following this essay, we know that the original is still prized, such as in the case of famous photographers' negatives and prints they made themselves, but not nearly as much as a Roman sculpture of Aphrodite, where authenticity still holds sway by the notion that there is only one actual object.

The Value of Art
Benjaman discusses the reception into and value of art in a culture on two levels; cult value and exhibition value. An object that is said to possess cult value needs only to exist at a place and time. A work can remain hidden from view, such as those in a private collection seen by very few, but the knowledge of its existence and the myth surrounding it keeps its cultural value. In the age of reproducibility, a work may be produced for the possibility of releasing it to the masses, designed for travel and circulation and divorced from the notion that it will remain in a fixed position, dependent on that place. This is not to say that site specific work cannot have exhibition value. Photography and film have liberated even the most fleeting work such as Andy Goldsworthy's temporary sculptures, an given them a place in mass distribution. Of course, in that example lies both. Andy Goldsworthy publicizes his concern with the magic and ritual of his work, but allows the filmographer to document it for global exhibition. Benjaman points out the paradigm shift that occurred between these two polar values photography and film were emerging as new technologies.

Photograph as Artifact
In photography, the exhibition of works displaces the cult value. The cult of remembrance of dead family members is the last refuge for the cult value of the photograph. It is the last time the aura emanates fro the photograph. Atget was important because he completely discarded the idea of capturing aura. He took photos of deserted Paris streets in a style that evoked a crime-scene photo. To him they become significant in establishing historical occurrences as evidence of politics and culture.

There were disputes in the 19th century as to the value of photography versus art. The dispute was the symptom of a historical transformation. Photography and the age of mechanization separated art from its basis in cult. Though there was debate about whether or not photography was or was not art, the primary question of whether the invention of photography had transformed art forever was not raised. With the invention of the film aesthetic theorists were more confused and charged in their debate. Some thought film to be almost supernatural and believed only the most high-minded should be allowed to be caught on film. Reinhardt's A Midsummer Nights Dream elevated the film to art because of the way the filmmakers created a representation of the landscape of the natural world.

Film as Stage
The stage actor is still in the realm of the cult, but the camera presents the screen actor, and his performance does not represent the whole. He is instead subjected to what the author calls optical tests (I would call them scenes). The audiences’ identification is with the camera, or our eye, so we take that position. This is contrary to the values of the cult.

The actor must play to the public before the camera rather that representing something else. The actor goes through a metamorphosis; he feels an inexplicable emptiness as if he is in exile. For the first time we are asked to operate as a whole living person, yet forgo our aura. Aura is presence and cannot be replicated. Because of the way film is produced the actor cannot identify with the character of the role. The film makes it possible to subvert “beautiful semblance,” a space that so far had been the primary place that art thrived in.

A film has a strong relationship with the mechanical equipment. The illusion of film is the result of special procedures; the shooting by camera equipment, lighting machinery, staff assistants and studio editing. A cameraman in the film produces a work of art through entering and representing the real world with mechanical equipment. While the painter maintains in one's work a certain distance from reality, the cameraman engages intensely into context of reality. The painter has a programmed rule to make the scene, in contrast, the cameraman has to function within flexible new rules in constantly changing scenes.The film brings the artistic value and its value for science through the speeding up and down of the reel and the close-up on the object. By close-ups in the film explore hidden details of familiar objects. The various camera angles reveal entirely new structural formations of the subject and unexpected field of action.

In Closing
Mechanical reproduction alters and revamps the response of the masses toward art. The mixture of visual and emotional enjoyment in film supplements and in some cases replaces the response toward conventional painting. The notion of authenticity is changed by the presence of multiples. The ability to change the setting and conditions under which work is viewed alters the aura, or awe inspired by seeing an original work in its intended time and place. Benjaman's essay marks the paradigm shift in the creation and reception of art into society as it is separated from its place as a ritual object, and instead through the issues surrounding mechanical reproduction, becomes immersed fully in politics.

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Photography – scientific & pseudo-scientific

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Photography – scientific & pseudo-scientific
Didi-Huberman Geroges

Key Terms

The invention of photography coincided with an important historical period. Photography had not even been promoted from beta status and it has already undermined any other kind of representative technique. People thought about it as an absolute truth of the visual world, which led to its rapid development and acceptance. This article focuses on the relationship between the positivist (scientific) push of the forces in which photography developed and the experimental (pseudo-scientific) stage in which it later found itself in. This contrast is interesting, for it runs parallel to the development of photography. As more people began to experiment with the medium, new curiosities arose, which led the exploration of the uncharted possibilities of it. The article is divided in a couple of sections that plot this transition.

The 'true retina of the scientist' plots the early stages of the medium where it was conceived as a reproducer of the absolute truth. (It is interesting to note here, that the same as the mirror phase, photography caused a rift between the absolute truth and the ideal of the visual world).

The near and the far talks about how the camera was able to free the visual eye from the microscopic and the telescopic (the only visible references, up to that time, that dealt with the concept of amplification or reduction).

Movement was a very interesting section to read since it talks about when photography was able to photograph at 1/750 speed (and now we go to 1/3000 of a second). Analyzing movement was one of the goals of those exploring with the photographic medium. At first, the theme had to be studied over a series of individual images paired together to produce movement. As plate technology improved, multiple images could be burned into just one image. This then brought the process into questions of destructurising, since in this multi instance image, the body disappeared, 'as if the truth of movement devoured its appearance and form'.

Body and Soul touched into the magical notions that photography brought about. People thought that photography could record emotions, essence and insides of people. This is a curious read, even though it seems illogical today.

The article finally ends with a section titled From the diaphanous to the beyond, which as the title indicates, talks about how a delicate process such as producing a photograph (in its early age, not digitally as today) ended up achieving power even in the religiousphere (with which it did not have a good relationship at the beginning.)

In conclusion, the article charts how 'the intervention of photography into the field of knowledge… rendered our idea of reality even more complex'.

Alberto’s Reaction
Having a degree in photography makes it hard to react to this article because it is giving a historical narration of what happened with the medium as it began to be accepted into the academic and research oriented disciplines and circles. I did love the quote at the beginning of the paper where photography is described as "industry's imbecile revenge upon art". Too bad there was no more than a superficial touch on this subject, for it did peak my interest. As designers, this article can help us understand better the development of visual recording media and how it was thought by the people who had this techniques at their disposals.

Valentina’s Reaction
Photography as a topic of discussion is becoming more and more interesting to me.
What I find interesting is how we understand and believe photography to be reality, specifically in the context of how we learn, where and from what.
I have never been to India, yet I feel as though I have an understanding of what my experience of going there would be like if I were to go. I have seen images in textbooks, movies, tv news, internet, etc.
The context of a textbook somehow puts a stamp of approval and loudly declares that something is proven and true. However, I have never questioned that context. I have been a passive member of academia, agreeing to sit down and listen to faculty, read the “recommended” readings (approved by the professor… therefore they must be “good”, right? will I ever question them? how are they framed?) doing the required homework, understanding that the grade will reveal to me how much I have learned. Even in just the context of academia, a student is bombarded with images that have the objective to teach him/her differences and meanings. If I were to consider my case as an example, someone who has been in school for twenty years now, I can start recognizing how much of my learning has been based on images. All of it.
Geography, history, art history, religion, design, typography, and so on. All of the teaching was based on imagery that supported the text. So, my image of Egypt will forever be of an ancient society (even today), my understanding of scale of art texts is skewed by the framing of a textbook format, my reaction to certain religions that are non-Christian are based on the typical images of fanatics, and always in negative contrast to Christians. So in conclusion, this week’s read made me think of photography in educational settings, its influence not only on what is taught, but also how… and the fact that we are “trained” to believe it. Ever since I could remember photography has been presented and approved to me by academic institutions.

Alberto Rigau
Valentina Miosuro

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The work of culture in the age of cybernetic systems

Keywords: icon and metaphor, cybernetics, authenticity and reproduction, art as art, montage, appropriation, reproduction, simulation, simulacra, simulacrum, perception, ideological versus transformative, text, printed versus “digital”, illusion of control, identity, fetishism, cyborgs, copyright, authorship, identity Download file
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John Berger. The Moment of Cubism. 1969.

Key Words:
Avant garde

Thesis: 'Cubism changed the nature of the relationship between the painted image and reality and by doing so expressed a new relationship between man and reality.' Its moment was 'a moment when the promises of the future were more substantial than the present'.

Cubism was a European art movement from 1907-1914 (WWI begins in 1914) that mainly involved painters, but also some poets, sculptors and later designers participated. The Cubist style can be seen in the early works of Suprematism, Constructivism, Futurism, Vorticism, and the de Stijl movement. However, Cubism cannot be called a style or a policy; none of the members ever wrote a manifesto or followed the same motivations. They were not even aware of the importance of their work at the time. To them it was a spontaneous act, in a moment of history. They saw promise in the future, "a new epoch was being born, in which man (all mankind in fact) was undergoing a transformation more radical than any other know within historical times" (Kahnweiler)

Berger discusses Cubism in its philosophic context rather than the social, economic, or scientific. In Europe, all aspects of life were changing, such as: the founding of modern physics, physiology, and sociology; the increasing use of electricity, the invention of radio and cinema; the beginning of mass production; the publishing of mass-circulation newspapers; the new structural possibilities of steel and aluminum construction. It seemed that the future was bright, no matter how you looked at it.

These advances in thinking and technology extended the individuals power over time and space, thus also changing their perception of it. Events were not as they used to be, relegated to being only absent or present. As a result, the world became more secular; people were able to extend themselves beyond the immediacy of everyday life, without relying on a God to explain it, although people still believed in a God.

People felt like they were a part of the world, rather than being placed in it. This also affected how they measured themselves, in respect to their position in a social context. A unity began to emerge but unfortunately came crashing down once WWI began. "Men fought within themselves about the meaning of events, identity, hope. This was the negative possibility implicit in the new relation of the self to the world. The life they had experienced became chaos within them. They became lost within themselves." (79)

"Cubism changed the nature of the relationship between the painted image and reality, and by doing so expressed a new relationship between man and reality." (80) Berger explains this departure from the history of painting where reality was depicted in art by comparing it to the similar break made by the Renaissance movement from medieval art. He highlights aspects that help to appreciate the nature of the change, which Cubism represents:

At first, Renaissance artists imitated nature in their work, from the perspective of a supreme observer, where nature revolved around them. This reality they depicted held power such as a mirrors do, their work had the "ability to reflect and contain." (81) Later Cubism began to summarize the artist's experience in nature. This model is one of personal account; nature is not considered to impart knowledge upon the artist. Nature is there for the picking. The metaphorical function of painting developed further, to that of a theater stage. Artist’s focused on truths that were not perceivable in real life; this was a new form of subjectivity emerging, not rooted in nature, their subject was internalized.

Berger switches back to describing Cubism and compares it to the qualities in Renaissance works outlines above. He uses the metaphor of a diagram: the symbolic representation of invisible processes. This idea of a diagram is different than the mirror in that it can capture what is not visible. It is different than the theater stage because it does not have to have climaxes, "it can revel in the continuous." It aims to show general truth.

Cubists expressed their perception of the relation between man and nature through:

The use of space.
No one form establishes how the whole can be interpreted. Cubist works will present the sides, top, and bottom of a subject all at once. The subject is not the construction; the construction is the depiction of the relationship between the viewer and subject.

Treatment of form.
Their attempt was to arrive at complex representations of realty, not simplify it into geometric shapes. They represented the interactions between objects rather than the object as a complete separate form from other objects. Their art represents many types of interactions in different contexts; the possibilities were expressed rather than static entities.


The article is referencing a period of art that took place a century ago, but it is very relevant to the world we face today. Cubism was a short period of art that took place between 1907 and 1914, in a world full of change and promise, as well as atrocities not so different than we face today. New technologies were sweeping the developing world, from transportation and travel, to communication and human rights. People were full of optimism and hope in a new future (page 76). There was a moment of "convergence" when the new technologies merged. The definition of convergence is: the degree or point at which lines, objects, etc., converge. ("convergence." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 26 Sep. 2007. .) The author defines convergence as the moment when times are changing and numerous developments within a period of time occur. Technologies merge, and combine, and then burst out in an array of multiplicity, taking new shape and forms (page 73).

We are seeing this type of convergence today, throughout our culture. We have seen the birth of radio, television, cable, and video. With the emergence of the World Wide Web we have seen (some more recently than others) the invention of digital videos, and photography, the integration of cell phones as new media devices, video chat, and an assortment of new technologies that allow us to access the same information in a variety of ways. This explosion of media is convergence, in 2007. Henry Jenkins, an MIT professor, address these issues in his book Convergence Culture. And I feel this two pieces of literature share that in common, the concept / moment that occurs in a culture experiencing new technologies, new political controls, new ideas about mankind, and our place in the world. Currently we live in a culture that is questioning our role in the world, and the impact of our environmental footprint. We are beginning to question how we maintain and minimize this presence. We are also dealing with advances in communication technology that affects every aspect of our lives.

The article was focused on how cubism was a reflection of how humankind had begun to interpret their identity within the changing world. How their relationship to society and God had become very different. Man was now able to extend him, managing time and space, only God had been envisioned to command these principles before (page 75). I found it interesting how Cubism was the change or shift from the early paradigm that saw art as "the mirror." Cubism sought to change the relationship between the painted image and reality, by revealing a new relationship between man and reality (page 80).

I appreciated how the author gave the viewer historical precedents, and timetables to relate to. The author refereed to examples of renaissance artists, comparing and contrasting their experience, ideology and work was different, and similar to the Cubist painters. The author also pointed out the importance inn the French Revolution, and "how it made it impossible to continue only recognizing constructed order, instead of recognizing the natural chaos of the world." (page 82)

Steve Harjula
Gretchen Rinnert

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September 27, 2007

The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems by Bill Nichols

suspended disbelief
sui generis

Walter Benjamin
Jean Baudillard
Sherry Turkle
Norbert Wiener

Bill Nichols' article carries forward the work of Walter Benjamin's essay, "The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936). He examines cybernetic systems and their effect on social representation of identity. He defines a metaphor to question the power of control in these systems and how the law upholds the social values.

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September 22, 2007


Identifying the Criminal
Author: Phillips, Sandra

Samyul Kim
Valentina Miosuro

Bertillon's system
Criminal Type

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September 21, 2007

Pre-Text and Text in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

by: Lucie Arbuthnot and Gail Seneca
Published: 1990

Kelly Cunningham
Marty Lane

misogyny, dominant culture, psychoanalytical, value, power, feminist text, appropriate, connectedness, viewer, pre-text, text, code, gaze, male gaze, feminist discourse

"In this essay, we chronicle our search to understand our pleasure in this film. We argue that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes can be read as a feminist text." "We hope that our analysis of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will suggest ways to discover feminist pleasures within films of the dominant culture, and indicate the kinds of films which might be most conducive to feminist reading." (pg. 112)

The article was written as a feminist analysis of the 1953 Howard Hawkes film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the film, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell star as showgirls who take a cruise together to find romantic partners. The film ends with a double wedding ceremony after both women successfully make a match. The authors selected this movie not for its storybook ending, rather as a film they enjoy that they believed warranted further exploration from a feminist perspective.

The authors prepared their analysis by first watching the film multiple times, then viewed films made intentionally from a feminist perspective for comparison. Lastly, they sought to look for the source of their "viewing pleasure" by pinpointing what made Gentlemen Prefer Blondes remarkable and satisfying.

They choose to focus on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes because the "the women not only resist male objectification, but who also cherish deeply their connections with each other. The friendship between two strong women, Monroe and Russell, invites the female viewer to join them, through identification, in valuing other women and ourselves." (pg. 113)

In order for the authors to analyze Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, they wanted to first provide some reference to other Hollywood representations of strong women. The authors focused on Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Katherine Hepburn. When looking at films staring Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, the authors point out that the audience projects their desires onto the characters. They present a hollow vessel for the viewer to fill with their expectations. If the viewing audience reacted to the characters by identifying with them from a feminist perspective, the plots of the movies often turn the focus back to the male viewer and his enticement. For example, when Dietrich dresses as a man and kisses another woman in a club scene in Morocco, the audience is left to decide for themselves the depth of her character's intentions and whether or not its a gesture of showmanship, recognition of female companionship, lesbianism or all of the above. In Hepburn's roles, the authors note a personal professional drive coupled with an emotional shallowness. This seems to suggest that a woman cannot possess both qualities. They also point out that Hepburn's characters are often singled out as unique specimens, and not representative of femininity overall. The authors find the same eventual flaw in all of Dietrich's, Garbo's, and Hepburn's films, "In destroying male pleasure, however, these films also destroy our pleasure. They deny us voyeuristic pleasure, the pleasure of losing ourselves in a narrative, and most centrally the pleasure of identification with a positive female image." (pg. 115) The observation is made that the films often revolved around female bids for attention from men and very little emphasis is placed on nurturing relationships between women, which is a crucial part of our society.

The authors then turn back to the critical viewing of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The concept of text and pre-text are introduced by the authors to describe the two narratives that are occurring in the film. The pre-text is presented as the "mainstream" story line - "Two voluptuous showgirls (...) on a transatlantic sea voyage, during which they seek husbands and capture the attention of every male on board. Their quest finally culminates in a double wedding ceremony." (pg. 116) The text of the film is divided into two themes by the authors, "The themes are the women's resistance to objectification by men, and the women's connection with each other." (pg. 116) The authors claim that the main story line is so continually interrupted by the underlying issues of feminism, that the main story actually becomes the pre-text in the film narrative.

The authors divide the feminist text into two umbrella categories, "resistance to male objectification" and "the women's connection to each other." They describe the female actors resistance to male objectification in terms of look, stance, use of space, activity, costume, and camera and lighting. They continue to describe the women's connection to each other in terms of look, touch, use of space, Hawks's directorial choices, and musical as genre.

Under the category "resistance to male objectification", the authors refer to the male gaze as a way that the characters subtly subvert the norm. "Socially it is the prerogative of men to gaze at women and the requirement of women to avert our eyes in submission, The initiation of the gaze signals superiority over the subordinate." (pg 116) In the film, however, the women return the gaze, actively seeking and searching on their own terms. This act subvert social norms and empowers the character, and the feminine audience seeing the film through their eyes.

Bridging both the pre-text and text, the positive and supportive relationship between Russell and Monroe embodies "the women's connection to each other". The authors state that "Commercial films rarely depict important friendships between women; when they do, the friendships are marred or rendered incredible by the film's polarization of the two women into opposite and competing camps." (pg. 120) Their friendship exceeds their common search for a partner and their work, they share many levels of emotional and situational commitment in a loving way. The friendship as an underlying theme is where the positive experience and enjoyment in the film stems from for the authors. Summing it up, the authors write, "It is the tension between male objectification of women, and women's resistance to that objectification, that opens Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to a feminist reading. It is the clear and celebrated connection between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell which, for us, transforms Gentlemen Prefer Blondes into a profoundly feminist text."

The authors summarize their article by stating that the focus of feminist film criticism should be more about women than men and that "it should begin to focus more centrally on our own experiences as female viewers than on the male viewer's experience." (pg. 123) Their article "centers on our own pleasure in the film, not on the ways in which the film affords pleasure, or denies pleasure, to men. For us, it is insufficient simply to expose and destroy male voyeuristic pleasure in film; the task, as we see it, is rather to use film to revision our connections with women." (pg. 123)

Personal Responses
Kelly's Response
At the close of the article, I found the authors' mention of the struggle to develop a feminist voice in the humanities interesting, "Feminist discourse within the social sciences has been muffled by the din of male paradigms. Feminist discourse in the humanities can be heard because no controlling male paradigms exist to silence it." (pg. 124) I found this to be a great connection to the reading and Foucault's binary pairs and Structuralist theory. Without two sides, both offered the opportunity to make their case, no argument can progress. There can be dominance, but no absolutes. In order for discourse and change, the balance of power must always at least have the opportunity to develop. The balance of power in the male/female dichotomy will arguably always exist so the feminist perspective offers this opportunity.

The ways that the article suggests the director's use of look, stance, use of space, activity, costume, and camera and lighting contributes to the reading of the film gives the producers of still images those same tools to work with. Before beginning a photoshoot, perhaps in storyboarding phases, why not return to these as a checklist to produce the desired effect. In the same vein of the film, these can also be used to empower women in the frame.

Lastly, using the author's framework of analysis, I believe "Desperate Housewives" is an excellent candidate for the same scrutiny. The show is based around the friendship between women. A cult success, I wonder if the same appeal applies. It would be an interesting visual study to chart viewer ratings against plot lines that either give emphasis to these women to women bonds, or take them away.

Marty's Response
The authors present a very interesting response to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that I can mostly relate to and appreciate. However, in the beginning of the article, they are discussing Audrey Hepburn's films and state that, "The crux of our dissatisfaction with Hepburn is her lack of connection with other women, and therefore with us and other feminist viewers." (pg. 115) This statement seems to be oversimplified - do we not have the depth as feminist viewers to relate to a quirky, independent character simply because she does not have a sisterly tie to another woman in the film?

I find the relationship between the pre-text and text the authors discuss to be a concept that can be applied to many mediums. While reading this article, I was continually thinking about different episodes of the HBO series, Sex and the City. The authors present the ideas of look, touch, use of space, etc to demonstrate how Monroe and Russel are connected to each other in a more substantial way that with the men. One by one, I found direct applications of these examples to Sex and The City, with the most glaring example in an episode featuring a wedding. One of the characters has finally met her match, and is having an over the top New York wedding, but the scene that the directors choose to focus on, is not one of bride and groom, rather a still shot of the four female characters all gazing at each other. Perhaps it is time for a feminist analysis of the series?

Some of the ideas presented by the article can be directly applied to graphic design and more specifically advertising. The issues of look and stance of female subjects can be manipulated to convey power over men or vice versa. It is important that we as designers are aware of what these subtleties can convey in messages.

KC Note: Marty and I scripted our personal responses to the article independently, yet both selected samples from current television culture as ripe for feminist analysis. For whatever its worth, I found it interesting.

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The Opositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators by Bell Hooks

Oppositional Gaze
Racism; Race
Phallocentric (Male) Gaze

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Woman is an Island: Femininity and Colonization

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Woman is an island: Femininity and Colonization

mass culture

Capitalism needs imbalance or something other than itself, according to Williamson. In her “Woman is an island” essay, she illustrates how difference and otherness is represented in mass culture, naming “woman” as the main vehicle for this representation (p. 101). She explains that Western political, social and economic life is based on “values of competition and profit, producing lack of control, lack of choice and alienation” (p. 106). However, in order for Western society to offer an image of freedom and fulfillment, it claims a different set of values in its private and family life (caring, sharing, freedom, choice, personal development), values regarded as “entirely inappropriate for the sphere of political, social and economic life” (p. 106). Williamson calls women the “guardians of personal life” and says that as long as women are carrying the non-exploitive values individually then they do not have to be put into operation socially — hence the title of the article (p. 110).

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September 20, 2007

Classified Subjects—Photography and Anthropology: the Technology of Power


the science of human beings; especially : the study of human beings and their ancestors through time and space and in relation to physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture

the comparative study of the human body and its measurements

the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation

the study and systematic recording of human cultures; also : a descriptive work produced from such research

a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

consisting of dissimilar or diverse ingredients or constituents; mixed

the theory that the human race has descended from a single pair of individuals or a single ancestral type

To make shallow cuts in (the skin), as when vaccinating, to create a design on (the skin) by means of shallow cuts that are sometimes rubbed with a colorant or irritant to enhance the resulting scar tissue.

anything presented to the sight or view, esp. something of a striking or impressive kind. OR a public show or display, on a large scale

Foucault’s “Carceral network”

Leni Riefenstahl
Walter Benjamin
Irving Penn
Malcolm Kirk

The paradigm of anthropological photography dates back to 1869, when ethnographic photography was first used as a way to document people from different cultures in order to study them. Travelers, doctors, scientists and government officials were encouraged to participate in anthropometry, documenting cultural differences through photographs of the human body. These officials helped establish rules and lay groundwork for field of anthropology and established the photographic precedent. Thus, the field of anthropology was started by white, Western Europeans; anthropology not only imposed their points of view on other cultures, but also reinforced the Western European sense of superiority and their idea that other cultures are “inferior” to them. At its early stages, anthropology was instrumental in colonialism and racism.

Soon after the start of ethnography, anthropologists posed the theory that all humans descended from common pairs of ancestors. This idea (which much later lead to the abolition movement) gave rise to the idea that inequality in the world stems from a staggered fall from Eden. In other words, non-white races fell farther and degenerated more that the European whites. Europeans believed that the “other” races could be taught to become enlightened beings. “Race” was thought of as a set of hereditary physical characteristics. To Europeans, Europe was the center of the world; anthropology introduced “race” as a method to compare and contrast Europeans with other cultures. Europe’s dominant culture was complicit in this invention of race and the objectification of the body through photographic images.

Anthropology contributed to and was dependent on the European colonial movement. Visual “proof” is very compelling: photographs served as scientific documentation that these people were different and the officials interpreted these differences as inferior. These interpretations lead to feelings of superiority and the rise of colonialism-imperialism. This connects to a Marxist idea: because one is white, one has power; because one has power, one is white. Power over other lesser cultures was “progress.” Foucault stated that the body is production, and therefore the body has economic value. To him, the body was highly politicized as these pictures are surveillance and serve to objectify the subject. The “standard” for anthropometric photography took a human out of his/her cultural context, placed him/her in front of a gridded background and specifically investigated physical features, such as skin color. The result was that early anthropologists observed the “culture” only from what was depicted in these images.

The close examination of the photographic subjects relates to Foucault’s concept of the “carceral network” (hospitals, asylums, and prisons), institutions that allowed people to “capture,” hold, and observe the body. In this context, the institutions provide an opportunity for the “normalized view” (i.e. dominant ideology) to teach people how to see differences and anomalies in this context. The human body is directly correlated to politics and power, and the photo becomes a way to “hold” a body for this type of superficial scrutiny.

Green writes that “ethnophotography has consistently been criticised for its misrepresentation and distortion of ‘primitive’ societies.” This distortion comes from the impulse for people to photograph that which seems the most visually stimulating, dramatic, different. He makes an example of Leni Riefenstahl’s photographic work in the 1970’s, when she documented the Nuba, an African tribe. Susan Sontag and other critics compared Riefenstahl’s photographs of the Nuba to her earlier work in Nazi propaganda. Because Fascism “finds no virtue in any intricacy or subtlety of culture,” Sontag argued that Riefenstahl’s photographs of the Nuba people were spectacles, that she objectified them (through focusing on the most dramatically different and exotic elements of their physicality and customs) and depicted them as “prey to the will of an all powerful force,” just as she had done in her Nazi propagandist films. Benjamin’s statement that “fascism is the aestheticisation of politics,” reinforces the tie between Riefenstahl’s propagandist films and her later photographic work of African cultures.

Fascism and primitivism share the political principles of a utopian aesthetic. Contemporary photographers such as Penn and Kirk share a similar focus on the “culturalized” body. They have transitioned from concepts of race to ethnicity, but still see the subject as object. They still depend on the dichotomy of the self and the “other,” the non-Western and the Western. They still offer culture as a spectacle, connecting to the aforementioned fascist ideology.

When designers make images, they must keep in mind their power in creating them and the danger in trying to summarize a subject. As designers “put the pieces together” to create a designed artifact, photography is a big piece of the puzzle and must be handled with care. In its early stages, anthropology stripped “cultural understanding” down to the physical form of the person and the external view of them; not until later did anthropology evolve to focus more deeply on the context of these individuals, their lives and practices. Designers hold a great degree of control in making images, text, and various media, and must realize that one cannot know or assume everything about a culture from one photograph. We must always remain mindful of what what left out of the frame, and what has not been captured by the photograph.

This article is very interesting, but I think its critique of Leni Riefenstahl’s photographic work, specifically of the Nuba Tribe is reaching. As well as Susan Sontag’s critique. I personally see no difference between her images, and images we see in National Geographic. If she hadn’t worked for the Nazi Regime in Germany would her later work have received so much criticism? All photography objectifies its subject. All elements within the frame become part of the form, and the controlled meaning of the image maker (the photographer). Her images were far different from the photography produced by early anthropologist. The people were not removed from their living environment, and as far as we know the images were not concocted or positioned by the photographer. The work of photojournalists has been consistently about finding the most intriguing, aesthetically appealing image that represents real life, and real events.

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt
Robert Ruehlman

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September 15, 2007


"The problem of ideology. Marxism without guarantees."
by Stuart Hall


western marxism
false consciousness
base/structure metaphor
psychoanalytic theories
market exchange


Stuart Hall wants to address the debate of ideology as a general problem of theory. He wants to "identify the most telling weaknesses and limitations in the classical marxist formulations about ideology; and to assess what has been gained, what deserves to be lost, and what needs to be retained - and perhaps rethought - in the light of the critiques." (pg. 25) Hall states that it is the western interpretation of ideology that has created much of the debate and problems. Hall's strategy is to not emphasis the theory as the problem of ideology, he instead believes "the problem of ideology is to give an account, within materialistic theory, of how social ideas arise." (pg. 26)

Hall defines ideology as "the mental frameworks - the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and systems of representation - which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works." (pg. 26)

Marx mostly uses the word ideology as linked to manifestations of bourgeois thought, but more specifically to the negative and historic features. "They were contesting the anti-materialist philosophy which underpinned the dominance of those ideas." (pg. 28) Hall discusses the ultimate reductionism of ideas and its relation to economic power. He questions the value of dominant ideas in relation to the "ruling class" and the ideas being the "exclusive property of that class." (pg. 29)

Hall discusses how Althusser began to move the concepts of ideology away from an 'expressive totality' approach to a more linguistic or discursive approach. He also gives the reader a definition of discourse and psychoanalytic theory and then connects the problem of ideology with the way "ideological subjects were formed through psychoanalytic processes." (pg. 31)

One of the important points that Hall raises is the idea of interpretation of "falseness or distortion ideology, from a different standpoint."(p. 33) Hall discusses the idea of ideologies through representation - language as the "medium in which ideology is generated and transformed" and the context driven nature of meaning.

Hall summarizes his article by discussing the on going ideological negotiation that takes place between classes. "Ideas only become effective is they do, in the end, connect with a particular constellation of social forces. In that sense, ideological struggle is part of the general social struggle for mastery and leadership - in short for hegemony."( pg. 43)


According to Hall, one of the origins of the problems of ideology is that Marx never intended for it to have law-like meaning - Marx himself used the term in many different ways. The idea of one class, the "ruling class" dictating ideological meaning is unrealistic because different classes are in constant negotiation. This connects to our past readings regarding the different approaches to representation - reflective, intentional, and constructionist - and meaning construction, and how people construct meaning utilizing their different cultural maps and codes.

There is a strong connection between Hall's 're-reading' of marxist ideology and Barthes' myth. Both are contingent on the ways that signs are created in meaning. Ideology is similar to myth in that it appears natural.

This idea of ideology is transferable to design when we think of the way designers interact with the users/audience/consumers. We provide signs that we hope will frame a certain meaning in the users but we have no control over how they will construct meaning. We use simulation as a strategy to simulate not only the physical attributes of the "real" but their other symptoms as well-behaviors-in the digital space. Is this attempt to simulate our attempt to make the un-natural natural? Are we imposing our ideologies on the users? In a way, we respond to the needs of the users. We co-create with them. Is the end product then a hybrid of user/designer ideologies?

In advertising, designers try to represent certain values in the final product. Desire, sexuality, and elitism can be portrayed as necessities by making them appear natural or appear as something one needs to belong to a certain ideology.

Michèle Wong Kung Fong
Marty Lane

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September 14, 2007

Dick Hebdige. The Function of Subculture

Dick Hebdige. The Function of Subculture
Submitted by Steve Harjula and Valentina Miosuro

A subculture emerges from the culture at large; the ideological, economic, and cultural factors that bear
down on the parent culture are represented in the subculture, cobbled together as a hybridized style.

This is an essay taken from Hebdige’s 1979 book, Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Althusser, Gramsci and Barthes are influential in his writing about the subcultures of skinheads, teddies, punks, bowies (to name a few) in Britain. He proposed that subcultures form as the result of communal and symbolic engagements with the wider culture, a revolutionary idea at the time (subcultures were previously considered deviant).

Hebdige’s subculture examples are taken from his and others ethnographic research. These powerful observations serve as examples in discussing the theory of subculture. The outline will not reference them, only the theoretical points he makes. If you have time read the article, the stories help to understand it.

Youth culture is first described by Cohen as having a class system. Till then, youth were considered one culture unto themselves. The youth subcultures express the latent values that are withheld by their parent culture, but simultaneously the subculture strives to form their own autonomy. The subcultures create imaginary relations that identify them with another culture while the rituals that bind them are influenced by the same values as their parents. This doesn’t mean they mimic their parents actions. The subculture’s members each experience the world differently, their style it not able to be linked back to their parents directly. Hebdige uses Gramsci’s theory of Hegemony to explain that stye is a symbolic form of resistance, or a symptom to the generally held decent in post war Britain.

Hebdige describes the Teddy boys of the 50’s and then 70’s to make the point of specificity (from Gramsci), each subculture occupies a specific moment that affects their particular response to a set of circumstances. In the example of the Teddy boys, their style was similar but the different historic specificities affected what they stood for.

Because subculture is a representation of the social totality it makes sense that media representation of the parent culture affects the subculture as well. Sitting outside the mainstream, subcultures deny and accept the media messages, in a way that, their behavior and style represents a spectacle of the parent cultures withheld values, something the parent culture can react to. These ideas are easily understood because of Hebdige’s observed evidence.

Key Words
youth culture

{Valentina} In the making sense of what subcultures are and how they come to be, Hebdige presents the concepts of conjuncture and specificity that he believes are “indispensable to a study of subcultural study.” Conjuncture as combination of circumstances around a group. Understanding of such context is important as subcultures are symptoms of the conditions of their environment. Making sure to be specific in the description and study of these environments and symptoms. Accepting the challenging complexity of the individual, what he/she brings and how he/she responds. Conjecture and specificity can be seen as tools one can adopt when dealing with the understanding of a subculture. If we were to take a look at the Teddy Boy subculture without these two frames in mind, we might end up only studying the surface and miss the complexities and contradictions within a subculture. We might generalize and dilute its qualities, or miss the subculture group at all.

{Steve} The culture depends on its canary in the mine shaft, spectacle, and symptom of reality that it understands through the subcultures image. But it is not for us to know along with the culture what its reality is. This would make no sense; what if Valentina or I saw the canary dye, we were not in the mine. Why would we even care? The subculture is a spectacle; The social relations as image come to bare, the history that necessitates men to shave their heads. But are still looking in? The culture finally cries out its symptom, it tells us what is wrong, how it feels. And still all we should do is listen. The subculture is that which embodies the symptom, its style is an expression of the cultures values. We realize that it is not our place to understand from outside, for what if we were not here at this moment to decode the symptom, to understand what a skinhead means? It is not for us to know, the symptom’s addressee is not another (our) culture, it is its own. The subculture is like an unsent letter, the only letter that arrives fully at its destination. “The preservation of the unsent letter is its arresting feature. Neither the writing nor the sending is remarkable (we often make drafts of letters and discard them), but the gesture of keeping the message when we have no intention of sending it. By saving the letter, we are in some sense ‘sending’ it after all. We are not relinquishing our idea or dismissing it as foolish or unworthy (as we do when we tear up a letter); on the contrary, we are giving it an extra vote of confidence. We are, in effect, saying that our idea is too precious to be entrusted to the gaze of the actual addressee, who may not grasp its worth, so we ‘send’ it to his equivalent in fantasy, on whom we can absolutely count for an understanding and appreciative reading.” —Janet Maclcom

{Valentina} “the media not only provide groups with substantive images of other groups, they also relay back to working class people a “picture” of their own lives which is “contained” or “framed” by the ideological discourses which surround and situate it.” To follow up on what Steve’s reply, how are these spectacles communicated? How do we find out that the canary is dead? Whether we were there or not, mass media influences the way in which we understand other groups and classes, along with bringing to us images that represent the social totality of all these groups. (thank you S. Hall)

Can the media provide us with images that represent totality? No. Not without leaving details out. Mass Media collapses, stretches and dilutes. Apparent affinities become reason for grouping and forever be dealt with. How does mass media represent International Students that attend U.S. universities? No matter what specific country they are from, they seem to always be represented by a male, from an Asian country (never specified, Asia is then collapsed to what “looks” Asian) or India. Now, this international
guy is most likely always around others just like him and if you tried to talk to him, you might not understand a word. Last week I read an article by Giroux on the Benetton 1991 campaign. The author pointed out an ad where there were 3 children. One white, one black and one Asian. I would attach the photo, but thanks to media, you could assume what the image looked like - as races and nationalities were mixed and combined into the representation of the “best example”. The white child was blond with blue eyes, the black child’s skin tone was really dark. And then there was the Asian child, as if that was a race.

The image portrayed by the media not only affects the way we understand and interact with other groups. It also affects and informs those groups represented, giving them an image of their own lives. This puts in question the group’s identity (should I - as an international student - switch to engineering, a field worth leaving your country for?... does the fact that I have a small accent reflect on my identity as an international student? have i forgotten my roots?)

Outside work steve and valentina discussed in relation to the reading
* Giroux, Consuming Social Change: The United Colors of Benetton.1993
* Riddles, jokes and stories from “Childlore” , folk culture for children, are great examples for a discussion of how subcultures
are symptoms and reactions to their context. Passing on from one to another, children tend to preserve traditions,
especially in jokes, fantasies, pranks, nicknames, superstitions, etc. “The conservatism of childlore contrasts
with the way adult folklore is rapidly modified to fit changing circumstances.” (Iona Opie) Children also often take
from the “grown up” world and subvert in into riddles and stories that make no apparent sense. This is in contrast to
the rational adult world, and in response to “being left out” because of their age.

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Cruising Around the Historical Bloc by George Lipsitz

Cultural Identity
Commodification of culture
Dominant Culture
Cultural bricolage
Bifocality of Perspective
Families of resemblance
Organic intellectuals

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September 12, 2007

Hall - The problem of ideology. Marxism without guarantees.

"The problem of ideology. Marxism without guarantees."
by Stuart Hall

western marxism
false consciousness
base/structure metaphor
psychoanalytic theories
market exchange

Stuart Hall wants to address the debate of ideology as a general problem of theory. He wants to "identify the most telling weaknesses and limitations in the classical marxist formulations about ideology; and to assess what has been gained, what deserves to be lost, and what needs to be retained - and perhaps rethought - in the light of the critiques." (pg. 25) Hall states that it is the western interpretation of ideology that has created much of the debate and problems. Hall's strategy is to not emphasis the theory as the problem of ideology, he instead believes "the problem of ideology is to give an account, within materialistic theory, of how social ideas arise." (pg. 26)

Hall defines ideology as "the mental frameworks - the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and systems of representation - which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works." (pg. 26)

Marx mostly uses the word ideology as linked to manifestations of bourgeois thought, but more specifically to the negative and historic features. "They were contesting the anti-materialist philosophy which underpinned the dominance of those ideas." (pg. 28) Hall discusses the ultimate reductionism of ideas and its relation to economic power. He questions the value of dominant ideas in relation to the "ruling class" and the ideas being the "exclusive property of that class." (pg. 29)

Hall discusses how Althusser began to move the concepts of ideology away from an 'expressive totality' approach to a more linguistic or discursive approach. He also gives the reader a definition of discourse and psychoanalytic theory and then connects the problem of ideology with the way "ideological subjects were formed through psychoanalytic processes." (pg. 31)

One of the important points that Hall raises is the idea of interpretation of "falseness or distortion ideology, from a different standpoint."(p. 33) Hall discusses the idea of ideologies through representation - language as the "medium in which ideology is generated and transformed" and the context driven nature of meaning.

Hall summarizes his article by discussing the on going ideological negotiation that takes place between classes. "Ideas only become effective is they do, in the end, connect with a particular constellation of social forces. In that sense, ideological struggle is part of the general social struggle for mastery and leadership - in short for hegemony."( pg. 43)

According to Hall, one of the origins of the problems of ideology is that Marx never intended for it to have law-like meaning - Marx himself used the term in many different ways. The idea of one class, the "ruling class" dictating ideological meaning is unrealistic because different classes are in constant negotiation. This connects to our past readings regarding the different approaches to representation - reflective, intentional, and constructionist - and meaning construction, and how people construct meaning utilizing their different cultural maps and codes.

There is a strong connection between Hall's 're-reading' of marxist ideology and Barthes' myth. Both are contingent on the ways that signs are created in meaning. Ideology is similar to myth in that it appears natural.

This idea of ideology is transferable to design when we think of the way designers interact with the users/audience/consumers. We provide signs that we hope will frame a certain meaning in the users but we have no control over how they will construct meaning. We use simulation as a strategy to simulate not only the physical attributes of the "real" but their other symptoms as well-behaviors-in the digital space. Is this attempt to simulate our attempt to make the un-natural natural? Are we imposing our ideologies on the users? In a way, we respond to the needs of the users. We co-create with them. Is the end product then a hybrid of user/designer ideologies?

In advertising, designers try to represent certain values in the final product. Desire, sexuality, and elitism can be portrayed as necessities by making them appear natural or appear as something one needs to belong to a certain ideology.

Michèle Wong Kung Fong
Marty Lane

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Louis Althusser: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)


Repressive State Apparatus (RSA)
Ideological State Apparatus (ISA)
modes of production/reproduction

Althusser's investigation contains multiple theses, though the central theme is the Ideological State Apparatus. He approaches the ISA through a critique of Marx's theory of state. The second half of the article describes his theory of ideology, using the ISA of religion (specifically Christianity) as an illustrative example. The concept of the "subject" is key, for it is the subject who creates and perpetuates ideology; in turn, ideology motivates the subject's actions.

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September 07, 2007

Consuming Social Change

Valentina & Kelly C's synopsis of Consuming Social Change: The United Colors of Benetton.

Giroux begins by setting the postmodern stage, a visually competitive environment where the individual in privileged and the era of customization is being ushered in. The concept of singular identities are put aside for the assembling of multiple facets of identity, much to the delight of retailers and manufacturers who see the ‘uniquely me’ trend as a business growth opportunity.

After introducing Benetton into this climate, the author’s goals are outlined in
five points:
- An introduction to the history of Benetton’s advertising campaign
- Analyze the relationship between Benetton as a major clothing distributor in the post-Fordist age and as having a corporate voice in the issues of multiculturalism and diversity
- Examine Benetton’s claim to realism and politics of (re)contextualism
- Deconstruct three of their ads
- Analyze how cultural workers might challenge the implications of Benetton’s cultural politics

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Berger – Ways of Seeing, Chapter Three

surveyor and surveyed


In chapter 3 from Ways of Seeing, John Berger discusses the way women are seen in a different way than men and how this myth continues to evolve throughout history. By taking a closer look into the history of European painting and how the nude woman is shown as an object to be looked at, Berger defends his theory.

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Invention of Photographic Meaning

Keywords: photographic discourse, rhetoric, context-defined,
non-message, uninvested analogue, sign emergence, photographic signs,
realist, symbolist.

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Berger – Ways of Seeing, Chapter One

Visual reciprocity
Bogus religiosity (holy relic)
Authority of the preserve

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Looking at Photographs

in Thinking Photography
Ed. Victor Burgin By Victor Burgin

Hidden beneath its aesthetic veneer, photography wields more power than history gives it credit. It's often viewed as purely formal, yet Burgin asserts that photography is a signifying language with the power to produce and spread ideology. The photographic image is a space where the viewer's cultural and historical knowledge engages in a formal and conceptual discourse. If the viewer is not aware of this conversation, then connotation is free to parade as well-dressed denotation.

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Rhetoric of the Image

“The Rhetoric of the Image”
By Roland Barthes

signs: signifier/signified
photographic myth
coded message

The thesis of Barthes’ essay is “Can analogical representation (the copy) produce true systems of signs and not merely simple agglutinations of symbols.” (p. 32) Barthes’ argument is challenging that of the formal linguists — who found the image to be weak and elementary when compared to language. “Now even — and above all if — the image is in a certain manner the limit of meaning, it permits the consideration of veritable ontology of the process of signification. How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond? Such are the questions that I wish to raise by submitting the image to a spectral analysis of the message it may contain.” (p. 32–33)

Barthes is creating a framework for studying the word/image relationships in advertising. He is setting up his argument that the image contains a type of meaning, denotated and connotated, while language is entirely connotated. The image has more layers, and can be seen as having more depth than language itself. It allows for more interpretation in many ways. It is also more subjective and open to contextual debate. He begins his analysis by first addressing the advertising image because its signification is — for the most part — intentional. “This image straightaway provides a series of discontinuous signs.” (p. 32)

All of these signs and their relationships to each other add up to the whole meaning or meta-meaning. The advertising image uses four different signification processes to form a coherent whole that are of the same cultural meaning. Barthes draws attention to the importance of context and point of view. He points out that signs rely heavily on the cultural and contextual situations in which they reside. The audience will interpret the meaning of an image based on their own experiences and the relationships they bring to the image; they use their predetermined conceptual maps and codes. To fully understand the intent of the image we have to view the image through a specific cultural context. We have to be cognizant of the culture it was intended for.

Barthes moves on to approach the linguistic message within images. “Today at the level of mass communications, it appears that the linguistic message is indeed present in every image as title, caption, accompanying press article, film dialogue, comic strip balloon. Which shows that it is not very accurate to talk of the civilization of the image - we are still, and more than ever, a civilization of writing, writing and speech continuing to be the full terms of the informational structure.” (p.38) The idea here is that writing cannot be separated from image. We need both to talk about the language, and the meaning, since the mind sees the image and text involved in a relationship of interplay (Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics). Neither image or text is divorced from one another, but part of a total holistic meaningful communication.

The article continues by identifying the two types of linguistic functions in signs: anchorage and relay. Anchorage helps identify one meaning where there are many. It implies direct signification.
Relay refers to the “floating chain” of signifieds. This would equate to the signs within an image that are not as direct, that are not equating to one single meaning.

Barthes identifies the denotative image, and proves its false nature, as all images are embedded with codes, and meaning. The denoted image is really “coded iconic meaning” striped of all underlying meanings — “cleared utopianically of its connotations, the image would become radically objective, or, in the last analysis, innocent.” (p. 42) Since all images have meaning, the idea of the detonated image is the first layer of the image, the skin of the image, the forms, and the literal meaning.

If we evaluate images, we need to clearly analyze both photography and other fine arts. Barthes dissects the photograph in comparison to the image, “…, the operation of the drawing (the coding) immediately necessitates a certain division between the significant and the insignificant; the drawing does not reproduce everything (often it reproduces very little), without its ceasing, however, to be a strong message;…” (p. 43) If we turn to the idea of the photograph we must begin to consider the myth of the photographic truth: photography is not a transcoding, but of recording. Barthes points out that Man’s intervention contributes and is the connotational meaning.

In summary Barthes leaves us with this quote: “ The most important thing, however, at least for the moment, is not to inventorize the connotators but to understand that in the total image they constitute discontinuous or better still scattered traits. The connotators do not fill the whole of the lexia, reading them does not exhaust it.” (p. 50) “Or again: connotation is only system, can only be defined in paradigmatic terms; iconic denotation is only syntagm, associates elements without any system: the discontinuous connotators are connected, actualized, ‘spoken’ through the syntagm of the denotation …” (p. 51) How content influences thinking of visual culture and making?

Barthes’ ideas are fundamentally different than the linguist approach to the communicative properties of images. He grants value to images, and dissects how they create and transmit meaning. He (Barthes) establishes a process for looking at the image. He defines connotation and denotation which allows us to evaluate the signs and signifieds in an image.

Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image relates to graphic design because it distinguishes the image from language and defines the relationship between the two. His theory grants responsibility to the image maker — and establishes their ability to communicate.

Gretchen Rinnert
Marty Lane

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