Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Politics of 'Things'

"Not only do human beings not form a separate imperium unto themselves; they do not even command the imperium, nature, of which they are a part." 
-Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza distinguishes the human body from other bodies by noting that its 'virtue' consists in "nothing other than to live by the guidance of reason." Every nonhuman body shares with every human body a conative nature, and thus a virtue appropriate to its material configuration.

This is not the view long held by the Christian church, which promoted a strict hierarchy of 'being', with the material world of minerals holding the lowest significance, and the virtual world of heaven conversely at the zenith of 'being' (though frequently depicted as being built, paradoxically it would seem, from stone and mineral matter).

Two depictions of the Christian 'Great Chain of Being'

"Why advocate the vitality of matter? Because my hunch is that the image of dead of thoroughly instrumentalised matter feeds human hubris and our earth destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption. It does so by preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling) a fuller range of nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies...

...The philosophical project of naming where subjectivity begins and ends is too often bound up with fantasies of a human uniqueness in the eyes of God, of escape from materiality, or of mastery of nature."

-Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter:  A Political Ecology of Things

Cornelia Parker, 'Neither From Nor Towards', 

Monday, 13 December 2010

'The Blind Man's Stick'.

"Now, at last, with the discovery of cybernetics, systems theory, information theory, and so on, we begin to have a formal base enabling us to think about mind and enabling us to think about all these problems in a way which was totally heterodox from about 1850 through to World War II. What I have to talk about is how the great dichotomy of epistemology has shifted under the impact of cybernetics and information theory...

But what about "me"? Suppose I am a blind man, and I use a stick. I go tap, tap, tap. Where do I start? Is my mental system bounded at the handle of the stick? Is it bounded by my skin? Does it start halfway up the stick? Does it start at the tip of the stick?

...The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger Mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by "God," but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology. 

Freudian psychology expanded the concept of mind inwards to include the whole communication system within the body—the automatic, the habitual, and the vast range of unconscious process. What I am saying expands mind outwards. And both of these changes reduce the scope of the conscious self. A certain humility becomes appropriate, tempered by the dignity or joy of being part of something much bigger. A part—if you will—of God. 

If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. 

The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables. If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite."

- Gregory Bateson, Form, Substance, Difference

"I employ the example of the ‘Blind Man’s stick’ (BMS) in order to redraw the traditional boundaries that separate brains, bodies and things. It is argued that the functional anatomy of the human brain is dynamic bio-cultural construct subject to continuous ontogenetic and phylogenetic remodelling by behaviourally important and socially embedded experiences. These experiences are mediated and sometimes constituted by the use of material objects and artefacts (like the stick) which for that reason should be seen as continuous and active parts of the human cognitive architecture."

-Lambros Mala

Locative Media

“It is as if more than four decades of postmodern critique of the Cartesian subject had suddenly evaporated... In the name of a politics of global connectedness, artists and activists too often substitute an abstract ‘connectedness’ for any real engagement with people in other places or even in their own locale... Socially conscious artists and activists would do well to examine the history of globalism, networks, dissent and collective actions in order to understand that they are rooted in the geopolitical and cultural margins.”
- Coco Fusco. Media Artist

Greenwich Emotion Map - Christian Nold

“In adopting the mapping-while-wandering tactics of the dérive, tracing-based locative media suggest that we can re-embody ourselves in the world, thereby escaping the prevailing sense that our experience of place is disappearing in late capitalist society.”

-Kazys Varnelis

“To practically explore this subject, I invented and built the Bio Mapping device, which is a portable and wearable tool recording data from two technologies: a simple biometric sensor measuring Galvanic Skin Response and a Global Positioning System (GPS). The bio-sensor, which is based on a lie-detector, measures changes in the sweat level of the wearers’ fingers. The assumption is that these changes are an indication of ‘emotional’ intensity. The GPS part of the device also allows us to record the geographical location of the wearer anywhere in the world and pinpoint where that person is when these ‘emotional’ changes occur. This data can then be visualised in geographical mapping software such as Google Earth. The result is that the wearer’s journey becomes viewable as a visual track on a map, whose height indicates the level of physiological arousal at that particular moment. The Bio Mapping tool is therefore a unique device linking together the personal and intimate with the outer space of satellites orbiting around the Earth. The device appears to offer the colossal possibility of being able to record a person’s emotional state anywhere in the world, in the form of an ‘Emotional Map’.”  - Christian Nold. ‘Emotional Cartography’

The Internet of Things

“‘Things’ are controversial assemblages of entangled issues, and not simply objects sitting apart from our political passions. The entanglements of things and politics engage activists, artists, politicians, and intellectuals. To assemble this parliament, rhetoric is not enough and nor is eloquence; it requires the use of all the technologies—especially information technology—and the possibility for the arts to re-present anew what are the common stakes.”
-Bruno Latour

'Milk': Tracking trade networks with RFid's

Robert van Kranenburg on the i3 Annual Conference, which examined the emergence of The Internet of Things in 2000:

'The i3 Conference, (pronounced eye-cubed) stood for Intelligent Information Interfaces, and aimed at developing new human-centered interfaces. The work was notable, not least, because it saw people as active participants, rather than passive recipients of information. Among the list of 20-odd projects was one entitled the Disappearing Computer (DC) which explored how you can support everyday life through ‘interacting artifacts’. The idea at that time was that these artifacts would form ‘new people-friendly environments’ in which the computer-as-we-know-it has no

In the philosophy of Socrates there were three domains of knowledge with three corresponding states of knowing that were deigned equally important; Theoria, Techné and Praxis... In Techné with its domain of knowledge poèsis we can retrieve the concepts technology and poetry - related, for example, as follows: the poetics of Socrates can be seen as a catalogue of literary techniques. The original meaning of the word ‘technology’ is about daily know-how or method. It wasn’t until the Great Exhibition of 1851 that technology became associated with machines. It is therefore all the more interesting that the domain of knowledge which belonged to Praxis: Phronesis, has dropped out completely, not only in our language but also in our thought and ways of thinking. Phronesis, that knowledge that any one of us uses daily in the practice of living an everyday existence, is no longer recognised as an important domain of knowledge with a modern linguistic equivalent.

For me this was one of the most important re-articulations that i3 promised, the attempt to recast - at another conceptual level - the three old Greek ways of knowing: an embodied knowing embedded in life and in ‘virtual’ life.

...The research in intelligent information interfaces was, in the words of Dr. Norbert A. Streitz (PhD in physics, PhD in psychology), spearheading the metaphors and ways of thinking that we can focus on in laboratory research. One of his creations is i-LAND, a test bed for exploring how the world of everyday objects and places will be augmented with information processing, while at the same time exploiting the affordances of real objects in the real world. The disappearing computer would, according to Streitz, amounts to, or rather provides, (no not really even provides), but could to thought of as genius loci, - the spirit of the place.

...I was dozing off in the big Conference Hall, thinking about all these new beginnings, this longing for new space to occupy as if it was the wild, Wild West. What worried me most were some rather satisfied minds. I too could visualise a setting in which people resonate with media through simulating processes. Simulating processes that are actual processes, for in a digitised real, any process might become experiential, might resonate. Then a speaker, I believe it was Streitz, came on stage. He spoke of a Bluetooth ring that whenever I walked in the woods could – if I so liked – enhance this walk for me (I wondered who needs to enhance a wood?) by activating a mechanism that would either reveal a screen near the tree or send information on a handheld computer. And on that screen I could read some more about that tree.

I was wide awake and I felt very strange. I looked around me, searching for any human presence in that lecture room; to wink at me, tell me it was all a big sick joke. I recalled my sword and King Arthur and my talking trees. No screens there. That was when I realized. I asked myself could some of what these people be talking about actually be dangerous? And the best thing I can do is stay close to them, track what they are interested in and either hack it or try to confuse the spaces in which they operate."

-Robert Van Kranenburg, The Internet of Things

Future paradigm for the virtual-real

“Cyberspace itself is not located within the physicalist world picture. You cannot pinpoint it on any cosmological map. You cannot determine its coordinates in Euclidian or relativistic space… Like the medieval Empyrean, cyberspace is a space outside physical space.”

David Noble – The Religion of Technology

Digital Britain: Following South Korea's trend

“I believe without proper counter-measures, the UK will also face the same problems that Korea is facing, when high speed internet... becomes more available throughout [the] country.”
-Dr Kim Seong-Byuk, Korean Youth Protection Division

“Addiction to the internet poses a serious threat to the mental health of young Europeans.”

Source - World Health Organisation ‘A Snapshot of the Health of Young People in Europe 2009’

Released in April 2009, The Digital Britain Report outlines the governments plan to have 100% internet coverage in the Uk by 2012, with a minimum speed of 2Mbps and cheaper services across the country. The £300m Home Access Scheme will also aim to get internet into low income homes.

The Digital Britain Report aims to be a guidepath for how Britain can sustain its position as a leading digital economy and society. T
he Digital Britain sectors account for nearly £1 in every £10 that the whole economy produces each year.

'We are at an inflection point in technology, in capability and in demand. Those countries and governments that strategically push forward their digital communications sector will gain substantial and long-lasting competitive advantage'.

Promotional image for the Government's 'Digital Britain' policy document

Previous studies have indicated that Internet accessibility is one of the most decisive factors for overuse by college students (Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2000; Anderson, 2001; Lin & Tsai, 2002). When access is free and easy, college students tend to be vulnerable to becoming addicted to the Internet (Kandell, 1998). In South Korea, adolescents have easy Internet access due to the nationwide Internet infrastructure and are more likely, therefore, to be vulnerable to pathological Internet use. The UK is attempting to emulate Korea's infrastructure, and with it is likely to inherit these trends.
In 2009, the Uk opened its first specialised Internet Addiction facility in Somerset. The Uk organisation ChildWise also published its report, 'Digital Lives' in 2010, examining the behavioural trends of children in conjunction with digital media use. Read the text here.

Immersion - Robbie Cooper

Still from Robbie Cooper's media project, 'Immersion'

Immersion is a project that records video of people “through the screen” as they play games, use the internet and watch TV using an 'Interrotron' camera. The idea being to capture elements of the individuals character, together with their degree of interaction with the screen.

“The game pulls people in much quicker than TV... That kid [above] cries when he plays games. He’s so engrossed by the game that he’s playing that he literally loses the blink reflex.”

- Robbie Cooper, Media Artist

Watch 'Immersion'

Robbie is now working with the Media Center at Bournemouth University, on an 18 month study called “War and Leisure”, of teenagers and war in the media. Using the Facial Action Coding System, developed by Paul Ekman, we’ll be analysing the reactions of teenagers to war in video games, movies, news footage, documentaries and online video. Outside of this study we’re also filming people consuming a range of media- everything from the shopping channel, porn, sports, to programming created for babies.

IAD Fatalities

South Korea was reminded of the tragic consequences of gaming addiction earlier this year when a couple were found guilty of starving their baby to death while they raised a virtual child in an internet cafe. The father, Kim Jae-beom 41, was sentenced to two years in prison in May after admitting neglect of their three-month-old daughter Sa-rang – "love" in Korean – while they spent up to 12 hours a time at a PC bang playing a 3D fantasy game called Prius Online.

"I think of our baby in heaven," he said. "I'll be guilty until the day I die."

His wife, Kim Yun-jeong, 25, expecting their second child next month, was given a suspended two-year sentence. While the couple fed and lavished gifts on their virtual child, Anima, allowing her to acquire magical powers as she grew, their real daughter starved in their single-room apartment. She was fed nothing but powdered milk two or three times a day, before and after her parents' marathon gaming excursions. The court heard how the couple, who met through an online chatroom, arrived home one morning last September after spending another night at a PC bang to find Sa-rang dead. The infant, born prematurely, weighed just 5.5lbs when she died.