Notes and varia

Christo covers the Reichstag

"The wrapping of the Reichstag my colleagues, enables us to see in another light and newly, perceptually experience this central and ambivalent place in German history. The wrapping is no debasement. It is an expression of reverence and creates room for contemplation of the essential. In the Catholic liturgy of Holy Week, the cross is wrapped so that it can be unwrapped in celebration at the high point of Good Friday. In the Jewish faith, the Torah rolls are wrapped in order to remind us of the preciousness of what they contain. The Reichstag will not be desecrated by Christo's wrapping, it will be ennobled - as strange as this may sound for a house of democracy."
Spoken by Konrad Weiss member of the German parliament and a member of the Green Party

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Network of networks diagram

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Breakfast Speech on Learning, May 6, 2006 (Emily Carr Institute Graduation)

“Most people believe that it is education that will save us. But this bland, sweeping, and unexamined assertion reduces us into continuing to uncritically support and tinker with the current story of schooling. It is education that will save us, but not any kind of education—only education of a certain kind: only education that is generative and life-affirming, that invites, engages, and integrates the fullness of our children’s capacities and ways of knowing, and that nurtures the creation of integral minds committed to the creation of a truly just and wise global civilization. Only education that develops our capacity to become more fully human is truly worthy of the human spirit. Only education that invites deep learning and reconnects us to life will light and sustain the fire within?

(Stephanie Pace Marshall)

Learning is a complex and challenging subject. The learning experience both within schools and outside of them has been an area of debate and contention for centuries and we still do not know that much about the optimum conditions for learning or even how humans internalize information and process knowledge. In this context, post-secondary and K-12 institutions are struggling to respond to sometimes-excessive expectations on the part of students and their communities, trying at one and the same time to create value and be valuable.

Stephanie Marshall quotes Mary Catherine Bateson: “You can’t prepare the child for the job market that will exist 20 years from now. So how can you build a curriculum that will shape an individual to be a pioneer in an unknown land — because that’s what the future is? (Stephanie Pace Marshall, “[The Learning Story of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy? ](http://www.learndev.org) The future cannot be known and we do our children a great disservice when we suggest to them that getting a degree, for example, should be connected in a linear way to their future employment. This means that a creative student exploring their often profound and sometimes confusing desire to craft or produce a work of art is has to struggle to explain both the value of their creative process and the outcomes of their creative engagement in the context of an employment picture that may not produce a simple fit. A philosophy student or even a learner with a philosophical outlook will judge speculative thought to be less than useful, largely because it cannot be connected to a clear and discernable outcome. To me, learning is as much about the practice of engaging with materials and ideas as it is about speculative thinking that cannot and should not be translated into a concrete form.

It is interesting to note that the present model for most universities is and has been a contested one. Notions of original research and inquiry only took hold in the late 19th century. Public education as we know it is relatively young with some of the biggest growth coming in the 1960’s. The idea of teaching the liberal arts in a university only reached some critical mass in the late 19th century, while in the 1930’s, research and graduate teaching were prioritized over undergraduate teaching and public service. It was only in the 1960’s that Clark Kerr proposed that a single institution “could perform multiple missions to benefit society.��? (John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformation,��? Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 77, No1 (Jan-Feb 2006) p. 3.) These different positions span the history of post-secondary education and learning and remain in place today with institutions bearing the weight of trying to distinguish among strategies and choices that are not well understood either by the public or by government.

Have you ever wondered why educators continue to rely so heavily on lecture formats within classrooms? In medieval times, before the printing press was invented, before it was possible to disseminate ideas to a broader populace, teachers, who were generally clerics, spoke to students, read from the bible and from other available material. They read and spoke very slowly so that the students could take notes, which was the only way for learners to reproduce the ideas and information for their own personal use. The teachers of the 12th century gained great authority from this teaching strategy. It was the beginning of a process of institutionalization, which to this day remains central to the practice of teaching. But does it remain central to the practice to learning? How do we bring new insights into our understanding of learning? Have we reached the point where our institutions, their rules, regulations, policies and practices are not able to optimize the conditions within which learning can take place?

It is within the context of this discussion that I am so very pleased to introduce Chris Kelly to you. Chris’s biography is rich and varied having been the Superintendent of Schools and Chief Executive Officer for the Richmond School Board for nine years and completing his third year as Superintendent of the Vancouver School Board. As an educator and administrator, Chris’s experience includes elementary and secondary teaching, Aboriginal education, special education, curriculum development, and professional and organizational development. He is presently the President of Canadian Education Association, is on the Advisory committee to the Deans of Education and Science at UBC and a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Global Ethics.

What I have described here only reflects a small portion of what Chris does, how he interweaves his passion for learning and education with the tremendous responsibilities of managing a large k-12 system, how he manages at the same time to play a public role as an advocate for our educational system, how beautifully and clearly he articulates his concerns for the quality of learning and the needs of students. Chris and I have known each other for some years now and every time we have met, our discussions have been rich and varied. So, it pleases me tremendously to announce to you today that we have agreed in principle to explore the possible creation of a specialized high school in Art and Design in Vancouver that would be supported by and developed with Emily Carr Institute. Chris will talk a little more about this, but you can be rest assured that we intend to follow through on this visionary project that we feel will ensure a place, a strong place for the creative arts in the curriculum of young learners.

Paradoxes of New Media (3)

(From Part 2)

There is another important question here. What makes a medium specific discipline
a discipline in any case? Is it the practice of the creators? Is it the fact that a heritage of production and circulation has built up enough to warrant analysis? I think not. Disciplines are produced through negotiation among a variety of players crossing the boundaries of industry, academia and the state. The term New Media has been built upon this detritus, and is a convenient way in which to develop a nomenclature that designates in a part for whole kind of way, that an entire field has been created. But, what is that field? Is it the sum total of the creative work within its rather fluid boundaries? Is it the sum total of the scholarly work that has been published? Is it the existence of a major journal that both celebrates and promotes not only its own existence but also the discipline itself? These issues of boundary making are generally driven by political as well as cultural considerations. They are often governed by curatorial priorities developed through institutions that have very specific stakes in what they are promoting. None of these activities per se may define or even explain the rise, fall and development of various disciplines. But, as a whole, once in place, disciplines close their doors both as a defensive measure, but also to preserve the history of the struggle to come into being.

(Part 3 begins)

I am not suggesting by any means that things have not changed. I am not saying that digital media are simply extensions of existing forms of expression. I am saying that the struggle to define the field or discipline of media studies has always been an ongoing characteristic of both artistic and scholarly work in media. The permanence of this quasi existential crisis interests me. For the most part, for example, media studies ran into a wall when cultural studies appeared as an extension of English Departments, and when Communication Studies grew into an important discipline in its own right in the late 1950’s. Why? Suddenly, everyone was studying the media, commenting about popular culture, appropriating (mushing and mixing) intellectual traditions in a variety of different and often anarchic ways. But, somehow, the discipline as such grew into further and further levels of crisis. Which intellectual model works best? Does one use structural or post-structural modes of analysis? How can we factor in the linguistic, semiotic and ethnographic elements, and also bring in the contextual, political components? So, this is where I return to vantage point.

Juxtapose the following: The film, The Polar Express by Robert Zemeckis, which bridges the gap between digital worlds and the human body and tries to humanize an entirely artificial world; The American election of 2004 which relied on the Internet both for information and misinformation; the spectacular growth of web sites, like Friendster.com, which extend the way humans interact, communicate and develop relationships; the growth of Blogs, which have pushed publishing from the corporate world to the individual; the growing importance of search engines and popular discussions of how to engage with a sea of information; and finally, the spectacular growth of games, game consoles and on-line gaming.

Together, these and many other elements constitute image-worlds, which like a sheath cover the planet, allowing and encouraging workers in India to become office employees of large companies in the West and Chinese workers to produce goods and manage inventories on an unimaginable scale. These image-worlds operate at micro and macro levels. They are all encompassing, a bath of sounds and pictures immersing users in the manipulation of information both for exchange and as tools of power.

Picture these image-worlds as millions of intersecting concentric circles built in pyramidal style, shaped into forms that turn metal into messages and machines into devices that operate at the nano-level. Then imagine using a cell phone/PDA to call up some information that locates humans on a particular street as was done during the crisis in Louisiana and you have processes that are difficult to understand let alone see without a clear and specific choice of vantage point.

Can I stand, so to speak above the fray? How do I escape from this process long enough to be able to look back or ahead? Does Google represent the vantage point? Since historical analysis is by its very nature retrospective and since time is at best an arbitrary metaphor for continua, am I left with a series of fragments, most of which splay off in different directions? It is an irony that the thrust of this conference has been so archeological, trying to pick up the pieces, show what has been missed, connections that have not been made, as if retrospection is suddenly adequate irrespective of politics, conflict and ethics. Most interesting from my point of view is the use of the cognitive and neurosciences, dominated as they are by positivism and empiricism. Even more to the point, and to give you a sense of how important vantage points are, take the best example of all, the computer sciences which until very recently had transformed subjectivity into that insidious term user and for whom the cybernetic dream of linking input and output has determined the shape and form of most computer programs.

The digital age or perhaps better put, the algorithmic age, makes these issues all the more urgent because if the fundamental tropes for human subjectivity can so easily be reduced to terms like user, then not to understand the origins of the research in engineering that went into the trope pose many dangers. Tor Norretranders' brilliant book, The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size (1998) investigates this problem in great depth and it is clear to me that richer paradigms of computer/human interaction are needed if we are to move beyond the limitations of mechanical modes of thinking about digital technologies and their impact on human consciousness. Yet, “user��? is also an outgrowth of devalued models of subjectivity within media studies itself, a confluence of the media’s own evaluation of its viewers (ie the couch potato metaphor) as well as the challenge of studying viewing itself. This is perhaps the greatest irony of the ebb and flow of analysis in media studies. At times, particularly in the early to mid-seventies with the advent and growth of feminism, subjectivity became a site of contestation with a variety of methods from psychoanalysis to sociology to linguistics used as avenues into analysis, criticism and interpretation. All of that heterogeneity is now built into the analysis of new media with varying degrees of success and often with no reference to the historical origins of the intellectual models in use. Subjectivity remains a site of contestation as a concept, explanation and framework for understanding what humans do with the technologies and objects they use.

The conflation of user with experience, the reduction of subjectivity to action and reaction, is only possible if theory and analysis put to the side the far more complex side of human thought and that is the imagination. Digital experiences are highly mediated by technology but imagination, fantasy and daydreams increase the levels of complexity and add many more levels of mediation to the rich interrelationships that humans have with their cultures. All of these levels need to be disentangled if a variety of vantage points are to be constructed. Perhaps then, media studies can begin to make some claims about a paradigm shift of enough strength to warrant the use of the term new…..

End.....

Paradoxes of New Media (2)

(The first paragraph connects part 1 and part 2.)

To understand why New Media may have been convenient for both scholars and artists one need only look at the evolution of media studies. Although humans have always used a variety of media forms to express themselves and although these forms have been an integral part of culture, and in some instances the foundation upon which certain economies have been built, the study of media only developed into a discipline in the 20th century.

There are many reasons for this including and perhaps most importantly, the growth of printing from a text-based activity to the mass reproduction of images (something that has been commented on by many different theorists and practitioners). The convergence of technology and reproduction has been the subject of intense artistic scrutiny for 150 years. Yet, aside from Museums like MOMA the disciplines that we now take for granted, like film, photography, television and so on, came into being in universities only after an intense fight and the quarrel continues to this day.

The arguments were not only around the value of works in these areas, (photography for example, was not bought by serious art collectors until the latter half of the 20th century which may or may not be a validation of photography’s importance), but around the legitimacy of studying various media forms given their designation as the antithesis of high culture. Film was studied in English Departments. Photography was often a part of Art History Departments. Twenty years after television started to broadcast to mass audiences in the early 1950’s there were only a handful of texts that had been written, and aside from extremely critical assertions about the negative effects of TV on an unsuspecting populace (the Postman-Chomsky phenomenon), most of the discourse was descriptive.

The irony is that even Critical Theory in the 1930’s which was very concerned with media didn’t really break the scholarly iceberg that had been built around various media forms. It took the convergence of structuralism, semiotics and linguistics in the late 1960’s, a resurgence of phenomenology and a reconceptualization of the social and political role of the state to provoke a new era of media study. In Canada, this was felt most fully through the work of McLuhan and Edmond Carpenter and was brought to a head by the powerful convergence of experimentation in cinema and video combined with the work of artists in Intermedia, performance and music.

Another way of thinking about this is to ask how many people were studying rock and roll in 1971? After all, rock and roll was disseminated through radio, another medium that was not studied seriously until well after its invention (sound based media have always been the step-children of visual media).

So, the resistance to the appearance of different media forms may explain why media were renamed as new media. It may explain why someone like Lev Manovich relies on the trope of the cinema to explain the many complex levels that make up media landscapes and imageworlds. New in this instance is not only an escape from history, but also suggests that history is not important.

There is another important question here. What makes a medium specific discipline a discipline in any case? Is it the practice of the creators? Is it the fact that a heritage of production and circulation has built up enough to warrant analysis? I think not. Disciplines are produced through negotiation among a variety of players crossing the boundaries of industry, academia and the state. The term New Media has been built upon this detritus, and is a convenient way in which to develop a nomenclature that designates in a part for whole kind of way, that an entire field has been created.

But, what is that field? Is it the sum total of the creative work within its rather fluid boundaries? Is it the sum total of the scholarly work that has been published? Is it the existence of a major journal that both celebrates and promotes not only its own existence but also the discipline itself?

These issues of boundary making are generally driven by political as well as cultural considerations. They are often governed by curatorial priorities developed through institutions that have very specific stakes in what they are promoting. None of these activities per se may define or even explain the rise, fall and development of various disciplines. But, as a whole, once in place, disciplines close their doors both as a defensive measure, but also to preserve the history of the struggle to come into being.

To be continued......

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Paradoxes of New Media (1)

The continuum that links real events with their transformation into images and media forms knows few limits. This is largely because of the power of digital media and digital mediation and is something that has been commented upon in many different contexts. It is perhaps not an accident that terrorists, governments and corporations all make use of the same mediated space. We call this the Internet, but that now seems a rather quaint way of describing the multi-leveled network that connects individuals and societies with often-unpredictable outcomes. Networks, to varying degrees, have always been a characteristic of most social contexts. But, the activity of networking as an everyday experience and pursuit has never been as intense as what we have now, nor have the number of mediated experiences been so great. This may well be one of the cornerstones of the new media environment. However, new media as a term, name, or metaphor is too vague to be that useful. There are many different ways of characterizing the creative process, many different methods available to talk about the evolution of networks and technologies and the ways in which creative work is distributed, and the extraordinarily intense way in which communities and individuals look for and create connections to each other. The activities that are encapsulated by the term media are broad and extend across so many areas, that the danger is that no process of categorization may work. Typologies become encyclopedic so that what we end up with are lists that describe an evolving field but no vantage points to question the methodological choices being made. What distinguishes one list from another?

To understand why New Media may have been convenient for both scholars and artists one need only look at the evolution of media studies. Although humans have always used a variety of media forms to express themselves and although these forms have been an integral part of culture, and in some instances the foundation upon which certain economies have been built, the study of media only developed into a discipline in the 20th century. There are many reasons for this including and perhaps most importantly, the growth of printing from a text-based activity to the mass reproduction of images (something that has been commented on by many different theorists and practitioners). The convergence of technology and reproduction has been the subject of intense artistic scrutiny for 150 years. Yet, aside from Museums like MOMA the disciplines that we now take for granted, like film, photography, television and so on, came into being in universities only after an intense fight and the quarrel continues to this day.

To be continued......

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Every historical period sees itself as contemporary

Every historical period sees itself as contemporary. The inventors of the telegraph made many of the same claims as the designers of the Internet. Pioneers in the production and creation of film in the 1890’s traveled the world in an effort to generate interest in the new medium and to establish networks of playhouses where their films could be viewed (this activity is now being repeated in the Microcinema Movement which uses DV cameras). Every form of transportation that humans have invented has led to their use in the transmission of information from trains to boats and planes. The movement of personal letters across vast distances especially from the 17th century onwards is partially the result of the increase in modes of transport, especially ships (and the idea of a post office as a fulcrum for distribution). Typography remains as important to the World Wide Web as it did to early forms of publishing with the Gutenberg Press. Modes of illustration, although fundamentally altered by sophisticated software, remain embedded in centuries old methods of drawing, painting and sketching.

My point is not to belittle or dilute the importance of new technologies at the beginning of the 21st century. Rather, it is to place them into a context that will connect innovation to history and that will show how the very notion that a computer can create links between different bits of information was an “invention? that came about because of a three hundred year experiment in Western culture with novels and theater. It is important to remember that during the early phase of discussions about computers among engineers and designers, computers were generally thought of as “arithmetic? machines, or glorified calculators. As time progressed, it was the culture of experimental labs like the Bell Labs and Xerox-Parc that began to move computers far beyond initial assumptions both about their power and their utility. Brilliant scientists and engineers ran those labs. The actual role and impact of creative artists and designers needs to be examined with great care, but it is clear that the effort to go beyond simple functionality came about because of the tensions and challenges posed by different disciplinary orientations clashing with each other.

Rust Simulating Decay (On Jean Baudrillard)

This short essay has the following components:

1. An exploration of the lineage and sources for Jean Baudrillard’s very powerful and influential notions of simulation.
2. Some comments on time and decay and history.
3. A few modest reflections on the power of images, imagescapes and image-worlds.

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Let me begin by saying that one way of understanding Baudrillard is to take a careful look at Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. I have not got the time in this piece to examine and distill this relationship, suffice to say that Debord’s notions of commodity, spectacle and social organization appear and reappear in Baudrillard and have been a significant influence on Baudrillard’s very strategic manner of writing and speaking.

Debord and the Situationists with whom Debord worked have had an important influence on French cultural theory and philosophy, and this influence is acknowledged from time to time, but not with enough depth and certainly not to the degree that is deserved.


Time slow simulating change

I will mention one crucial aspect of Debord’s approach and that centers on his assertion that time is turned into a commodity within Capitalist societies. As a commodity, time becomes consumable and in so doing becomes one of the foundations for the transformation of everyday life into spectacle.

The key point is that we not only participate in this but simultaneously become viewers of our own lives. In this sense, we cease to have a direct relationship to experience and instead are caught up in a cycle of increasing mediation and loss. Debord and his group grew to prominence during the May 68 period in France. It is not an accident that some of the most important work of the structuralists had appeared by that time, in particular, the work of Levi-Strauss, Barthes and Foucault with contiguous work by Althusser and Derrida.

The intersection of structuralism and situationism is an important part of Baudrillard’s epistemological framework. In Situationist philosophy, the word pseudo appears and reappears as a trope for what is wrong with Western societies. The English translation, however, doesn’t catch an important additional element to what Debord is saying. I quote in French and I will explain:

Le temps pseudo-cyclique n'est en fait que le déguisement consommable n de la dimension qualitative.

Time as we measure it has the quality of the cyclical attached to it, but this is a false quality because in reality it disguises the ways in which time has become commodified, one of many different consumable items in our society.

Time is a commodity because the production process within Capitalist societies transforms time, gives it a homogeneous character and suppresses its qualitative characteristics.

Pseudo, false, suppression, the victory of commodification over quality and the overwhelming effect of capitalist modes of production on the very definitions that can be made of subjectivity, these are all fundamental to Debord and are foundational to Baudrillard. Debord creates an opposition between the natural order and pseudo nature that is dependent on his definition of time. Debord collapses all the various relations among work and leisure into pseudo time exemplifying the increasing distance and alienation that humans experience as a consequence of their transformation into commodities. Not only do the rhythms of capitalist society work against the best interests of participants, they also transform subjects into objects — the needs of production override the needs of producers with the outcome that the masses become silent witnesses to their own oppression.

This combination of Herbert Marcuse, Marx, Heidegger and the critical theorists of the 1930’s like Adorno characterize all of Debord’s work, although one major difference is the anarchist impulse in Debord and his followers.

Since Debord’s death, the anarchist movement has taken Debord as a spokesman and most of his writings are freely available on their Internet sites. Debord’s approach to writing is aphoristic and quite programmatic. Baudrillard reproduces this approach in many of his books, but most notably in America.
I have not treated Debord with the depth that he deserves, not because he was unimportant. Rather, what interests me is his core assumption that culture is in fact pseudo culture, or false culture. It is not too much of a jump to simulation, but before I deal with simulation, let me suggest that Debord viewed the silence of the masses as a sign of their resistance to Capital and that Baudrillard took up that issue in a piece that he published entitled, “In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities?

This initially creative understanding of silence as resistance was not sustained however in large part because the Situationists witnessed the failure of May 68 to generate a broad-based revolution in France. Their disappointment with the “populace? led to increasing cynicism about any form of revolt to the point where they questioned if the people would ever awake from their stupor.

(to be continued......)

The Practice of Interdisciplinarity in Design and New Media (Final)

Please refer to the last three entries for the context for this series.

The NewMic collaboration began with two major reference points, Palo Alto and MIT’s Media Lab. Again, this was not unusual. Other projects in Montreal, Melbourne, Dublin and Germany referred to and attempted to reflect the successes of MIT and Xerox. In the beginning the mandate of NewMic was described as follows:

To accomplish its mission, NewMIC is focused on the following objectives:

• Attracting and retaining outstanding faculty and graduate and undergraduate students in new media research and in art and design areas.
• Building excellence in new media innovation.
• Creating more skilled IT staff and industry clusters.
• Developing better industry-university-institute collaboration for the purposes of technology transfer.
• Encouraging the transfer and commercialization of technology through incubation support.
• Attracting more venture capital to the new media industry. (March 2001)

The industrial design component was incorporated into the vision by default under the rubric of New Media. This proved to be an error because so much of New Media is driven by the cross disciplinary relationship among interface design, product design and inclusive design. Ultimately, the goal was to frame the experience of users of New Media within a product-oriented set of research pursuits. Ironically, so many of the lessons that designers have learned over the last two decades, the importance of detailed ethnographic inquiry, the need to think about the relationship between product and user, the flexibility that is necessary to make interfaces work for many diverse constituents, the fact that design is really about people. See a recent speech by Dr. Stefano Marzano, CEO & Chief Creative Director, Philips Design and the knowledge that inclusivity cannot be attained without understanding how people live, was not directly applied to the research in New Media.

The emphasis on innovation, technology transfer and commercialization, although necessary, cannot be accomplished in a context that is entirely oriented towards applied research with short timelines. This is a conundrum because it is completely understandable that industry would want to see some results from their investment, but the essence of collaboration is that it takes time. In fact, one of the crucial lessons of the NewMic experience is that developing designs that are environmentally sensitive and inclusive requires not only that people from different disciplines participate, but that time be given over to the development of shared communities of interest. Interdisciplinarity is as much about a coming together as it is about recognizing differences.

Here are some examples of the discussions that were held on various projects:

Scenario 1:

Setting: World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle
Technology: Wireless devices
1. Two organizers need to stay in constant contact. They need to gain access to information quickly and efficiently.
2. Their wireless devices have to have access to a mapping program that allows them to constantly track each other,
3. They run into unexpected problems including some demonstrators destroying public property, additional police blockades and more passive demonstrators who want to march peacefully but find themselves caught up in the action.

Use:

1. Telephonic
2. Exchange of information
3. Mapping
4. Ability to connect to other organizers
5. Ability to send video images quickly to confirm events
6. Ability to allow other organizers to join their private network
7. Ability to gather in snippets of news broadcasts for additional overviews of the information
8. Instant messaging
9. Use of icons to show location and intention

The distance between the devices determines connectivity and peering relationships are established and can change as circumstances permit. An important feature would have to be the ability to identify hostile as well as friendly “connects.��?

Living Archive:

The living archive becomes an adaptable software component of P2P. As the demonstrations develop, the LA brings all of the data into a series of predetermined categories. Then, using AI, it begins to prioritize the input and change the order to reflect moment-to-moment changes in events.

Components:

1. Memory cells
2. Visible icons for the cells
3. Input tracing
4. Output tracing
5. Cells can be rearranged and edited in much the same way as a series of images
6. As different memory cells are attached to each other, the program maps the history
7. Images and sounds form one of the sources for the cells

The key to a successful communications network will be the ad hoc nature of the usage. There will have to be enough elements to allow for changes on the spot.

Response from Alan to the series on Design and Interdisciplinarity

Thanks for this dialogue Ron.

I have been involved in many successful interdisciplinary ventures including going from artistic and/or future vision to successful market products...including disruptive category shifts. In fact, it is refreshing to see that some of the research I pioneered in the VOIP field is finally surfacing as infrastructure shifts. Therefore, I am less curioius about the magic that happens because, as you reference...., it happens, has happened and will continue to happen. I would argue that EVERY product that is on shelves is as a result of interdisciplinary activity!! The person on the assempbly line is as important as your take on the creative and birthing phase. Are all products luscious and desirable? NO!! could they be improved by more inputs and sweeter collaboration? YES!! However, I'm not that interested to hear about another IDEO flexi toothbrush...mine is fine...

I am more interested in hearing your take on why things don't work...I would love to hear about why innovation and imagination transfer fails.... I have thoughts about this...

I think that your third chapter should be about governance. I was involved in a successful bid to set up a research center in Australia in Interaction Design which was very similar to NewMic
http://www.interactiondesign.qut.edu.au/.

The reason for its success is, in part, how it has been set up. The University partners don't have their hands out looking for dollars. The involvement of researchers is the Universities' in-kind input into the organization (a battle actually occurred as one of the University partners kept committing more people so they would contorl the reserach obejective. Eventually we decided that a researcher would need to commit two days a week to be a valid contributor!). The researchers are then rewarded as the papers they produce are part of their tenure track efforts.

This guarantees a stable research output and results in a research pedigree for the organization. Industry partners are then engaged to take part in taking advantage of this stable research base. There is also a component of SME engagement...that is.... small companies are engaged to do small contract pieces to productize research that the larger companies may be interested in. I haven't checked in lately but they're still operating which is more than can be said for NewMic.

Endpoint is that the governance of engaging disparate organizations is all important before the philosophy and spirit of working together. This is usually quite attainable as I have demonstrated and experienced. Reason before philosophy.

In my time at NewMic I had too many phone calls from University researchers asking for money for their individual reserach efforts which had no connection to the desires of the industry partners...Governance period.

Alan

The Practice of Interdisciplinarity in Design and New Media (1)

This short piece examines the history of a multi-disciplinary centre for Design and New Media in Vancouver, Canada. I explore the challenges of developing research models that make it possible for a variety of investigators and practitioners in the areas of Design and New Media to link their work to that of engineers and computer scientists. This is a crucial area for collaborative projects that involve designers and new media creators.

In 2000, the New Media Innovation Centre (NewMic) was started in Vancouver, Canada under the aegis and with the support of five post-secondary academic institutions, industry and the federal and provincial governments. Approximately, nineteen million dollars was invested at the outset mostly from industry and government. I was one of the leaders in the planning and development of NewMic, in large measure because I have a long history of involvement teaching and researching, as well as producing New Media. (The industry members included, Electronic Arts, IBM, Nortel Networks, Sierra Wireless, Telus and Xerox Parc.)

One of the foundational goals of NewMic was to bring engineers, computer scientists, social scientists, artists, designers and industry together, in order to create an interdisciplinary mix of expertise from a variety of areas. The premise was that this group would engage in innovative research to produce inclusive and new media designs of a variety of products, network tools and multimedia applications. The secondary premise was that the research would produce outcomes that could be implemented and commercialized in order to produce added value for all of the partners.

I spent a year at NewMic as a designer/artist in residence in 2002 and was also on its Board of Governors from 2000-2003 until it was closed down late in 2003. There are a number of important features to the history of this short-lived institution that are important markers of the challenges and obstacles facing any interdisciplinary dialogue that includes artists and designers working with engineers and computer scientists. Among the challenges are:

* The tendency among engineers, designers and computer scientists to have an unproblematic relationship to knowledge and knowledge production;

* Lack of clarity as to the meaning, impact and social role of inclusive and new media design products;

* Profound misunderstanding of the relationship between inclusivity, user needs and technological innovation;

* Conflicting cultures and discourses;

* An uninformed and generally superficial understanding of the differences between the cognitive sciences and ethnographic explorations of human-computer interaction;

* Focus on a false distinction between pure and applied research.

Underlying some of these challenges was an apprehension that without interdisciplinarity, it would be impossible to be innovative. The artists and designers from Emily Carr Institute who participated in NewMic and whose concerns were centred on community, creativity, outreach, inclusivity and the ethical implications and effects of new technologies, found themselves in a difficult and demanding position. In my next entry I will examine the benefits and successes as well as some of the problems and failures that were encountered in trying to make NewMic into a world-class environment for new media and design research.

Part Two…

Some recent comments on Research and Wikipedia

From Chris on Research in the Arts

Here in the UK, arts research culture might be a bit more accepted, but it is still nascent. I agree that the terms 'practice-based' and 'theory-based' set up a problematic dichotomy for research culture. In acknowledging the distinction, one runs the risk of mirroring the historical bias towards empiricism. This bias has supported a hierarchy of epistemologies that, descending from quantitative research to qualitative research and from theory-based to practice-based research, denies the creative arts a platform for expression as knowledge.

The ways in which the creative arts shape our understanding of the world are difficult to measure, but no less significant than other models of knowledge. If most 'pure science' researchers would accept that some form of rudimentary research occurs prior to art making, can we take it even further? Can we suggest that an artwork - in itself - is a form of research?

I believe we can. Especially when it involves the active questioning of existing frameworks for understanding, with the inclusion of an 'experiment' designed to fill in the gaps that are opened up by these questions. This occurs most frequently in the new media arts now, an area informed by cognitive models of the human condition, based on active experimentation with new technologies that pose questions about how we perceive.

The conclusions from these arts experiments may not be concrete, indeed they may be difficult to outline and impossible to apply in any economy. But insofar as they function as part of a process of semiosis - the generation of signs and thus meaning... well... they're rather important, and deserve to be encouraged.

From Mary on the idea of an Art School as Wikipedia

If Wikipedia were an art school, it would look like WalMart. Nah. It would look like an academic department that has been around for too long - a congerie of pseudo-experts. Nothing worse than that. Consolidated mediocrity. When I first saw Wikipedia I thought - WOW - post-structuralism meets pedagogy in the form of an ever-evolving set of artifacts. Nope. Take a deeper look at the rules governing the construction of knowledge in Wikipedia -- no controversy blah blah -- but the most interesting thing to me -- no original knowledge -- wow -- and just go look at how this absolutely implausible limit condition is defined and policed. Fascinating. Then go look at the Rosa Parks entry, and carefully go through the history of the page. Look at the contest over "getting it right" and "getting the controversy out of the story". Art school. Wow. I hope not. Wikipedia is modernism run amok. A moebius strip of epistemic spam.

EmilyCarrHalloween.jpg

From a Recent Event at Emily Carr Institute

Comment on New Media Conference

Chris has submitted the following comment on the New Media conference that was held in Banff in late September.

This was one of the most prescient presentations at the conference. The comments on disciplinarity and the forces that can influence the emergence of a field like New Media are very timely.

To ‘zoom out’ a bit - it strikes me that what is operating here is not altogether dissimilar from weightier macro-issues such as nationality and race. Bear with me a moment. A person’s citizenship and skin colour can appear factual and definitive, but it is important to remember that these designations are based on abstract concepts that extend from amorphous ideals. Nations have physical boundaries and citizens, yes, but it is not possible to represent the sum total of the ideas about what it means to be of that nation; these ideas are always in flux. Simlarly, there is no such thing as 'White' or 'Black', really. (If one finds it in the mind it has been arbitrarily assigned and can only be temporary).

The reason I bring up these topics in relation to the (perhaps) seemingly unrelated question of whether there is a discipline called New Media is that I suspect there is a similar ethic to all boundary-making. To suggest that “disciplines close their doors both as a defensive measure, but also to preserve the history of the struggle to come into being is to remind us that inscribing a circle defines both an inside and an outside. I believe some of the reticence to accept the newness of New Media is in part a reaction to this ethical question.

At the moment it does appear that New Media has manifestly coalesced around a critical mass of praxis and theory. This is perhaps best evidenced by the simple fact that a large group of people will attend an international conference under the rubric of a printed catalogue at the door, like a flag. But it is important to keep in mind that the designation functions best as a malleable framework for discussions about the stuff that is supposedly 'inside' the circle - the goings-on, the art, the evolution.

This stuff will outlive any discipline, anyway.

Reflections on New Media (9)

This is the second part of my presentation at the [Refresh Conference in New Media](http://www.mediaarthistory.org) at the Banff Centre

So, the resistance to the appearance of different media forms may explain why media were renamed as new media. It may explain why someone like Lev Manovich relies on the trope of the cinema to explain the many complex levels that make up media landscapes and imageworlds. New in this instance is not only an escape from history, but also suggests that history is not important.

There is another important question here. What makes a medium specific discipline a discipline in any case? Is it the practice of the creators? Is it the fact that a heritage of production and circulation has built up enough to warrant analysis? I think not. Disciplines are produced through negotiation among a variety of players crossing the boundaries of industry, academia and the state. The term New Media has been built upon this detritus, and is a convenient way in which to develop a nomenclature that designates in a part for whole kind of way, that an entire field has been created. But, what is that field? Is it the sum total of the creative work within its rather fluid boundaries? Is it the sum total of the scholarly work that has been published? Is it the existence of a major journal that both celebrates and promotes not only its own existence but also the discipline itself?

These issues of boundary making are generally driven by political as well as cultural considerations. They are often governed by curatorial priorities developed through institutions that have very specific stakes in what they are promoting. None of these activities per se may define or even explain the rise, fall and development of various disciplines. But, as a whole, once in place, disciplines close their doors both as a defensive measure, but also to preserve the history of the struggle to come into being.

I am not suggesting by any means that things have not changed. I am not saying that digital media are simply extensions of existing forms of expression. I am saying that the struggle to define the field or discipline of media studies has always been an ongoing characteristic of both artistic and scholarly work in media. The permanence of this quasi existential crisis interests me. For the most part, for example, media studies ran into a wall when cultural studies appeared as an extension of English Departments, and when Communication Studies grew into an important discipline in its own right in the late 1950’s. Why? Suddenly, everyone was studying the media, commenting about popular culture, appropriating (mushing and mixing) intellectual traditions in a variety of different and often anarchic ways. But, somehow, the discipline as such grew into further and further levels of crisis. Which intellectual model works best? Does one use structural or post-structural modes of analysis? How can we factor in the linguistic, semiotic and ethnographic elements, and also bring in the contextual, political components? So, this is where I return to vantage point.

Juxtapose the following: The film, The Polar Express by Robert Zemeckis, which bridges the gap between digital worlds and the human body and tries to humanize an entirely artificial world; The American election of 2004 which relied on the Internet both for information and misinformation; the spectacular growth of web sites, like Friendster.com, which extend the way humans interact, communicate and develop relationships; the growth of Blogs, which have pushed publishing from the corporate world to the individual; the growing importance of search engines and popular discussions of how to engage with a sea of information; and finally, the spectacular growth of games, game consoles and on-line gaming.

Together, these and many other elements constitute image-worlds, which like a sheath cover the planet, allowing and encouraging workers in India to become office employees of large companies in the West and Chinese workers to produce goods and manage inventories on an unimaginable scale. These image-worlds operate at micro and macro levels. They are all encompassing, a bath of sounds and pictures immersing users in the manipulation of information both for exchange and as tools of power.

Picture these image-worlds as millions of intersecting concentric circles built in pyramidal style, shaped into forms that turn metal into messages and machines into devices that operate at the nano-level. Then imagine using a cell phone/PDA to call up some information that locates humans on a particular street as was done during the crisis in Louisiana and you have processes that are difficult to understand let alone see without a clear and specific choice of vantage point.

Can I stand, so to speak above the fray? How do I escape from this process long enough to be able to look back or ahead? Does Google represent the vantage point? Since historical analysis is by its very nature retrospective and since time is at best an arbitrary metaphor for continua, am I left with a series of fragments, most of which splay off in different directions? It is an irony that the thrust of this conference has been so archeological, trying to pick up the pieces, show what has been missed, connections that have not been made, as if retrospection is suddenly adequate irrespective of politics, conflict and ethics. Most interesting from my point of view is the use of the cognitive and neurosciences, dominated as they are by positivism and empiricism. Even more to the point, and to give you a sense of how important vantage points are, take the best example of all, the computer sciences which until very recently had transformed subjectivity into that insidious term user and for whom the cybernetic dream of linking input and output has determined the shape and form of most computer programs.

The digital age or perhaps better put, the algorithmic age, makes these issues all the more urgent because if the fundamental tropes for human subjectivity can so easily be reduced to terms like user, then not to understand the origins of the research in engineering that went into the trope pose many dangers. Tor Norretranders brilliant book, The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size (1998) investigates this problem in great depth and it is clear to me that richer paradigms of computer/human interaction are needed if we are to move beyond the limitations of mechanical modes of thinking about digital technologies and their impact on human consciousness. Yet, “ user is also an outgrowth of devalued models of subjectivity within media studies itself, a confluence of the media’s own evaluation of its viewers (ie the couch potato metaphor) as well as the challenge of studying viewing itself. This is perhaps the greatest irony of the ebb and flow of analysis in media studies. At times, particularly in the early to mid-seventies with the advent and growth of feminism, subjectivity became a site of contestation with a variety of methods from psychoanalysis to sociology to linguistics used as avenues into analysis, criticism and interpretation. All of that heterogeneity is now built into the analysis of new media with varying degrees of success and often with no reference to the historical origins of the intellectual models in use. Subjectivity remains a site of contestation as a concept, explanation and framework for understanding what humans do with the technologies and objects they use.

The conflation of user with experience, the reduction of subjectivity to action and reaction, is only possible if theory and analysis put to the side the far more complex side of human thought and that is the imagination. Digital experiences are highly mediated by technology but imagination, fantasy and daydreams increase the levels of complexity and add many more levels of mediation to the rich interrelationships that humans have with their cultures. All of these levels need to be disentangled if a variety of vantage points are to be constructed. Perhaps then, media studies can begin to make some claims about a paradigm shift of enough strength to warrant the use of the term new…..

Reflections on New Media (8)

This is the first part of my presentation at the recent Refresh Conference in New Media at the Banff Centre . For those of you who have read my book, there is a wonderful discussion taking place in Professor Dene Grigar's graduate class at the Texas Woman's University

Moments in time — is that what remains of each event that the media covers? There is no giant archive in the sky or database on earth that could possibly record, organize and present the extraordinary wealth of information that now processes itself through every day, every instant, in tandem with every breath that humans take (with all due respect to Google). The flow of information is both circular and endless. To me this flow is an inherent part of what I call imagescapes and imageworlds. The challenge is how to find one or many vantage points that will facilitate analysis, interpretation and description and that will permit imageworlds and imagescapes to be understood beyond a simple phenomenological scrutiny of their surface characteristics. What methods of analysis will work best here and which methods have become less relevant? I would suggest that method (the many ways in which the analysis of phenomena is approached, analyzed and synthesized) is largely dependent on vantage point, which is a concept that is closely related to perspective and attitude. This means that not only is the phenomenon important, but also position, placement, who one is and why one has chosen one form of analysis over another (ideological, philosophical or personal) needs to be transparently visible.

The continuum that links real events with their transformation into images and media forms knows few limits. This is largely because of the power of digital media and digital mediation and is something that has been commented upon in this meeting. It is perhaps not an accident that terrorists, governments and corporations all make use of the same mediated space. We call this the Internet, but that now seems a rather quaint way of describing the multi-leveled network that connects individuals and societies with often-unpredictable outcomes. Networks, to varying degrees, have always been a characteristic of most social contexts. But, the activity of networking as an everyday experience and pursuit has never been as intense as what we have now, nor have the number of mediated experiences been so great. This may well be one of the cornerstones of the new media environment. However, new media as a term, name, or metaphor is too vague to be that useful. There are many different ways of characterizing the creative process, many different methods available to talk about the evolution of networks and technologies and the ways in which creative work is distributed, and the extraordinarily intense way in which communities and individuals look for and create connections to each other. The activities that are encapsulated by the term media are broad and extend across so many areas, that the danger is that no process of categorization may work. Typologies (of which we have been shown many at this conference) become encyclopedic so that what we end up with are lists that describe an evolving field but no vantage points to question the methodological choices being made. What distinguishes one list from another?

To understand why New Media may have been convenient for both scholars and artists one need only look at the evolution of media studies. Although humans have always used a variety of media forms to express themselves and although these forms have been an integral part of culture, and in some instances the foundation upon which certain economies have been built, the study of media only developed into a discipline in the 20th century. There are many reasons for this including and perhaps most importantly, the growth of printing from a text-based activity to the mass reproduction of images (something that has been commented on by many different theorists and practitioners). The convergence of technology and reproduction has been the subject of intense artistic scrutiny for 150 years. Yet, aside from Museums like MOMA the disciplines that we now take for granted, like film, photography, television and so on, came into being in universities only after an intense fight and the quarrel continues to this day. The arguments were not only around the value of works in these areas, (photography for example, was not bought by serious art collectors until the latter half of the 20th century which may or may not be a validation of photography’s importance), but around the legitimacy of studying various media forms given their designation as the antithesis of high culture. Film was studied in English Departments. Photography was often a part of Art History Departments. Twenty years after television started to broadcast to mass audiences in the early 1950’s there were only a handful of texts that had been written, and aside from extremely critical assertions about the negative effects of TV on an unsuspecting populace (the Postman-Chomsky phenomenon), most of the discourse was descriptive. The irony is that even Critical Theory in the 1930’s which was very concerned with media didn’t really break the scholarly iceberg that had been built around various media forms. It took the convergence of structuralism, semiotics and linguistics in the late 1960’s, a resurgence of phenomenology and a reconceptualization of the social and political role of the state to provoke a new era of media study. In Canada, this was felt most fully through the work of McLuhan and Edmond Carpenter and was brought to a head by the powerful convergence of experimentation in cinema and video combined with the work of artists in Intermedia, performance and music. Another way of thinking about this is to ask how many people were studying rock and roll in 1971? After all, rock and roll was disseminated through radio, another medium that was not studied seriously until well after its invention (sound based media have always been the step-children of visual media).

Part Nine…

Bad News, Richard Posner and New Media

Richard Posner, who is a Federal Appeals court Judge as well as Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and an active Blogger, is one of the most prolific writers in the United States. He has a lengthy article in the New York Times Book Review, Sunday, July 31, 2005.

It is a superb piece of writing and a profound analysis of the role that the media play in the everyday lives of the American people. He makes a series of points that I would like to comment on: the proliferation of Blogs means that audiences have more power; that the traditional press has lost a significant percentage of its readership, especially among the generation of twenty to forty-year olds; that the media have become more sensational and polarized along traditional political fault lines of right and left. There is a great deal more in the article, but these three points are central to the Posner’s direction and orientation.

It is interesting the Posner has the stated aim of reviving and enriching public discourse and that he has on numerous occasions commented on the weakening of the role of the public intellectual in American life.

Blogs

The vast majority of Blogs are directed towards a very small readership. They are really more like old style bulletin boards, written sometimes for the pleasure of writing and other times to proclaim allegiance to one or another of the many ideologies that surround us. In general, however, the vast majority of Blogs are private and confessional in orientation. They testify to the everyday experiences that people have, but more importantly Blogs are a sign of the extraordinary importance that Bloggers place on the activities of writing. Ironically, it is the news media, which has highlighted a relatively small number of Blogs and made them the reference point for what is happening in the Blogosphere as a whole. Clearly, publicity is a good thing for those Blogs that receive it. But, for the most part, Blogs are private affairs, diaries that have the potential to be read by a large number of people, but generally are read by family and friends. Are they important? Absolutely. Are they a significant shift in the way the public (which is an amorphous term anyway) sees itself and its neighbors? Yes. Is news being disseminated in a different way because there are now so many people commenting on nearly every aspect of American life? Yes, but here I depart from Posner’s analysis, because my own feeling is that that it is almost impossible to summarize what is being said with the kind of accuracy that is needed to explain and comment upon most Blogs.

Blogs, in my opinion are not about the creation of large communities of interest. They are about communities dividing into smaller and smaller groups with people sharing their interests and concerns through the written word and sometimes through the use of visuals. Blogs reflect and represent something akin to what happens among people when they use the telephone to talk to friends and family. They are about telling stories and more often than not, the stories aren’t that interesting to anyone outside the group. Posner makes a common error in media analysis. He uses the mainstream media themselves as the source for commentary on Blogs. What we need, I believe, is a more historical overview, which links Blogs to nineteenth and twentieth century reading clubs and other organized community based clubs and groups.

 

Reflections on New Media (7)

The Vancouver International Digital Festival brought practitioners/creators, programmers, engineers, artitsts, designers, and many other categories of people together around a common interest in New Media. Actually, the common interest and excitement is around creating content for new audiences. These are audiences for whom the Web, cell phones, networking, chats and so on are an integral part of their daily lives, as integral as all forms of communications have become in the early 21st century.

STOP! What does it mean to make this kind of claim?

How do we know what people know? How do we gain access to the acitivities of individuals and to their understanding of their own experiences? Even the use of "we" in these questions is presumptuous, since I am claiming to stand in for the reader. The problem here is that a particular ideology based on what appears to be "use" has overwhelmed any thinking about quality. The number of people who play videogames explains very little about the experience of playing. It would take a holistic approach involving among other things, experience, background, location, context and so on, to extrapolate anything interesting from figures like, two million people are playing a particular game online. In fact, it would take a "new" approach to ethnography to really open up some substantive discussion about the experiences individuals and communities are having with new technologies.

For example, when hundreds of thousands of people play a game together across a network, pay money, experience pain, loss and gain, how can this phenomena be investigated and thought about?

An example of why this question is so important comes out in Steven Johnson's new book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter where so many claims for audience and youth experience are made, that the book loses its shine because so little of the information comes from any serious ethnographic research and investigation. Not that I disagree with the fundamental premise of the book (which should be clear from its title), but that such an important point needs genuine field work which takes time and effort.

Part Eight…

Reflections on New Media (6)

The panel I chaired at the the Vancouver International Digital Festival was very interesting. Among the comments that were useful: Blogs have been overwhelmed with spam: The Blogosphere is full of people who want to talk and exchange ideas and thoughts, but often that degenerates into arguments and as one speaker put it, "crud": interactivity is a poorly thought out term and needs a great deal of work: we need many new and evolving tools that will allow people to generate content in a variety of ways that are simple and direct, in fact, as direct as using a pen to write on paper: many Blogs are places for confessional writing and this is extremely attractive but also dangerous.

I will add more to this over the coming days.

Part Seven…

Reflections on New Media (5)

VIDFEST opened today in Vancouver. Vidfest is the Vancouver International Digital Festival.

I am chairing a panel on interactivity.

Interactive Design - Reclaiming the Web for Personal Expression

Interactive design explores new forms of interactivity between audiences, users and creators. Products can range from video games to new media and from web design to sensors that transform the built environment into interactive spaces. This evolution, coupled with the increasing popularity of blogs, is changing our understanding of the Web and the ways in which we communicate. Learn from our panel how the web’s myriad forms of personal expression are important for interactive designers to understand and use for their own and their client’s projects.

Panelists:
Heather Armstrong, Blogger, Dooce.com (US)
Dr. Ron Burnett, President, Emily Carr Institute / Author, How Images Think (Can)
Marc Canter, CEO, Broadband Mechanics (US)
Rob McLaughlin, Executive Producer, CBC Radio 3 (Can)
Ross Phillips, Head of Interactive, SHOWstudio (UK)

Part Six…

Reflections on New Media (4)

Chris recently emailed the following response to the discussion on New Media.

It is just possible that the combined influences of an abundance of multimedia input to the very young - impacts their ability to more fully develop effective interpersonal communication skills.

This behavioural process does certainly enhance the speed of developing certain eye - hand - brain coordination to be sure.

Today, military recruiters loiter about video arcades - searching to find the next young 'starfighter' exhibiting the very same skill sets which in turn will set an enemy desert tank ablaze in nanoseconds.
But, we in essence are spending less actual physical time together - as both children and adults.

It's not a fluke that the video game industry now far exceeds the combined revenues of the television and motion picture industries - combined.

As a result, we begin to 'search' for emotional clues to help us establish an effective common ground - in actual, physical 'face to face' meetings - more slowly - and less effectively.
It's rather awkward to 'hug' a computer screen - and get any 'real' emotional feedback..

Perhaps New Media designers and engineers need to now refocus a little more on this human need component to grow more effectively - and ultimately, less dangerously.

Part Five…